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The heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
No one who has only seen dried egg shells in collections can at all realize the perfection of the protection afforded by imitation coloring to the eggs when in their natural surroundings. An enthusiastic collector not very long ago made a trip to the North of Scotland with the object of taking with his own hands the eggs of the Dottrel, which, as he had learnt, was breeding on a mountain side. On reaching the spot the birds rose close by him, and, from the way in which they behaved, he was satisfied that eggs were not far off. But, with practised eyes, he hunted in vain until, when on the point of giving up the search as hopeless, he had put his foot upon them and broken all.
Coots' and Snipes' eggs are other instances of color adaptation to surroundings. Conspicuous as are the flattened heaps of dry sedges which are the usual nests of the coots, it is very difficult, unless very close by, to say whether or not they contain eggs. Not only is the groundwork of the egg an exact match to the general color of the dry nest, but the black spots with which they are freely dotted are perfect reproductions of the "little pitted specks" on the decaying sedge.
The writer, when a few years ago exploring with a friend a marsh by a Broad in Norfolk, was shown by a keeper the exact spot-"five feet from yon bush in line with you"-where the day before he had put a snipe off her nest. The bird rose as the spot was approached, but ten minutes' search or more by two pairs of eyes, not unpractised in looking for birds' eggs, failed to discover the nest. It was not until the keeper who had been called in to help had freely relieved himself by strong language levelled at "them d-d carrion crows which won't leave
a thing in the place" that a glossy Maltese cross of four pear-shaped green and brown eggs, mottled in exact imitation of the wet moss around it, revealed itself to all three at once, in the middle of a tuft of sprits.
A favorite breeding-place of the "Lesser" and "Common" Terns is a pebblecovered flat not far above high-water mark near the mouth of a tidal harbor in Norfolk. Here, too, the likeness of the eggs to their surroundings is so close that only a very sharp eye, unless by accident, is likely to find a nest. A few handfuls of selected stones from the beach have, as an illustration of protective coloring, been placed in a glasscovered box (11 in. by 6 in.) with a few scraps of dry seaweed and other odds and ends gathered on the spot and among them two or three eggs of each species. When the box, placed in a good light, is uncovered for a quarter of a minute or even longer, it is the exception for anyone seeing the contents for the first time to count the eggs correctly.
The "survival of the fittest" seems rather a heartless and not, perhaps, of convincing explanation very beautiful provision for the safety of a helpless embryo. But, so far, it is the best that pure science can offer.
"It is," writes Mr. Pycroft in his "Story of Bird Life"-a wonderful shilling's worth-"almost certain that originally all birds laid white eggs, as do their cousins-german the reptiles. But as there is at least one reptile in which there is a distinct tendency to produce a colored, rust-spotted shell, viz., the Tautera lizard of New Zealand, so there may have been many birds in which the same tendency developed itself. Of these many would produce eggs much more strongly marked or spotted than their neighbors'. If a number of such birds migrated, say, from the forest-land of their ancestors to the plains or meadows, a process of
weeding-out would quickly begin. For they would probably at once come in contact with new creatures, who would rapidly discover how good eggs were. Thus, those which were even slightly colored would be in so far disguised. Having a taste for white eggs their enemies would pass the colored so long as white wore to be had. In this way white eggs would become more and more rare, for in course of time the birds which produced these would die, and die without leaving offspring, or so few that they would be swamped by inter-crossing with the newer and more vigorous race who had succeeded in laying colored eggs."
The same process would go on-the nearer the approach of the color to its surroundings the larger the proportion escaping detection-until in the process of the centuries such perfect imitations as the eggs of the Dottrel and Snipe would result, and survive as the abiding type.
Birds, if uneasy for the safety of their eggs, will not unfrequently move them. A Dabchick a year or two ago built her nest in a rather exposed place in the ornamental water in St. James's Park. Before she began to sit she thought it prudent to move it. The nest was cut adrift from the dipping bough, to which it had first been made fast, and towed several yards to a more secluded corner under an overhanging bush, to which it was lashed.
A move of the kind when a nest is a floating raft like a Dabchick's is easy enough. But birds with fewer facilities will occasionally do as much. Mr. Pycroft tells a pathetic story of a pair of Merlins who, after having been fired at several times when on the nest "transported the eggs to a bank forty yards distant, placed a few leaves under them and succeeded in hatching them out." The Bar-tailed Pigeon of North Amer
ica has, he adds, several times been seen, when frightened, to carry its eggs from the nest to another tree. But It is not perhaps very generally known that one at least of the larger Penguins habitually carries its eggs about. An interesting note on the subject, very kindly sent to the writer by a member of the staff of the Challenger, shortly after the return of the ship from her long voyage of discovery, has unfortunately been for the moment mislaid. To quote it from memory, there is a fold of bare skin, with muscles unusually developed, which practically forms a pouch between the legs. From this the egg of more than one bird killed for skinning was only dropped when the tension of the muscles relaxed after death. It is not difficult to conceive the advantage of such an arrangement to a bird breeding upon ice. It is a curious coincidence that the only approach to a pouched bird should have been found in the hemisphere in which the marsupial is a common type in mammals.
The devices of a Partridge or Lapwing to lead away from the nest are familiar enough to everyone who has lived in the country. But to see the perfection to which such deceptive arts can be carried one of the breeding places of the little Arctic Skua in the Shetlands should be visited. The mother bird can limp like a partridge or drop as if shot from the sky, and lie on her side feebly flapping one wing; and not content with this, will deliberately, when hard pressed, lead on to the nest of a common Gull and then go through an elaborate pantomime of distress.
The Shetland shepherds say, and profess to believe, that the young of the little Ringed Plover, which breeds in the islands in quantities, when they want to escape notice throw themselves on their backs and hold a leaf, clasped between the legs, over their stomachs.
"Elusive coloring" plays a scarcely less important part in the protection of birds than of their eggs. This is the case to a greater extent probably than we yet realize-not only with such birds as the Night-jar and Woodcock, which, unless the light happens to glance from an eye, may easily be passed on the ground within a couple of yards without attracting notice, but with others which, looked at as dried skins in the hand, seem very conspicuously marked. Mr. Pycroft quotes as an instance of this the Hoopoe-a bird to which, by-the-bye, more than one curious legend is attached. "It is of a rich buff or sand color with a large and beautiful crest on the head and the wings conspicuously barred with black and white. Yet on the approach of a hawk or other enemy it throws itself flat on the ground, drops its chest, and spreads out its wings, and-heigho! as if in obedience to the magician's wand, our bird has vanished: what appears to be a bundle of rags remains in its place. . . ."
The little Bearded Tit, "the fairy of the fens," is an even more beautiful instance of the kind. Visitors to the Norfolk Broads in midsummer who may have caught a glimpse of the beautiful little bird showing itself for a minute or two, a conspicuous object against the green of the young rushes, may find it difficult to believe that when invisibility is most important it is almost invisible. The eggs-to quote from an earlier chapter,-are laid in April when the tall reeds among which the nest is built, an inch or two from the ground, are ripe for cutting. The prevailing tints of the entire district-land, water and sky-are then the cinnamons, straw colors and pale blue grays miraculously reproduced in the feathers of the bird.
The efficacy of elusive tricks and colors is even more surprising in the case of large birds. The Bittern, which
as it stands stiffly with beak pointed upwards is difficult to see among the reeds, which are its usual hiding place, is an often quoted instance; but one, unluckily, not often now to be found in England, though, according to a writer in the Spectator, a pair has lately nested not far from London.
At Blicking,-the home of Anne Boleyn, in days before the additions were built which now make the Hall one of the most stately examples' of Jacobean architecture in England,-there has been for a great many years a flock of Cinnamon Turkeys. The birds, which are a small and slender variety of rather doubtful origin, colored as the name denotes, are bred and live in a half-wild state with the pheasants. On the occasion of a shooting party a few years ago, a cover had been driven. Two or three only of the beaters remained inside the fence, poking about in a rather bare corner for a possible skulking pheasant or rabbit. The guns were already moving on, when, like the springing of a mine, thirty or forty great birds rose together and scattered themselves, flying strongly, in different directions over the park. Two were required for the house, and a keeper, borrowing a gun from the writer, who accompanied him, followed, with murderous intent, a party of five or six which had lit on a clump of old oaks in the open, a couple of hundred yards or so away. It was not until the trees, which were leafless, had been searched for some seconds, and a suspicion was beginning to suggest itself that a mistake had been made in the marking, that first one and then all were discovered. They stood rigid and motionless, with bodies stretched and wings pressed closely to the sides, most of them not across but in line with the branches on which they had perched, looking more like broken boughs than birds. No one passing under the trees who had not known the Turkeys were there could,
unless by the purest accident, have noticed them.
The "eclipse" of the Mallard Drake during the moult, which is described and illustrated in all its stages in Mr. John Millar's lately published "History of the British Surface Feeding Ducks," is an even more marvellous tale. For the fortnight during which the Drake is without flight feathers, and as helpless as an Apteryx, bright colors of every kind are dropped and the male wears the homely and inconspicuous dress of his mate, blending perfectly with the fading reeds among which he hides. Even the legs and beak change color.
The devices adopted by birds themselves for the protection of their eggs and young would fill a volume, and very pleasant reading if well written it would be. But the patience of the most long suffering of editors has, like the imagination of man, its limits, and one only-perhaps the most curious yet The known-can be mentioned here. Hornbills, like our own Woodpeckers, are birds which breed in holes in trees. In the forests of Borneo which they frequent are snakes and lizards and many little carnivorous mammals with a taste for eggs and young birds. As a protection, presumably from these, when the hen begins to sit, her mate almost completely plasters up the entrance, leaving only a crack open through which she puts her beak for the food which he diligently supplies to her and her family. The European Nuthatch in much the same way plasters up with mud the door of the hole chosen for a nesting-place, but only to reduce it to a convenient size through which both birds pass freely in and out.
A Scottish maiden in olden days would have thought it beneath her dig. nity, however well her future husband's house might be provided, to set up housekeeping without a complete
outfit of homespun linen. On the same principle, perhaps, birds in like interesting circumstances seem to think it incumbent upon them to collect nest materials, whether or not they are likely to be of practical use. A pair of Nuthatches lately took possession of a nesting-box placed in a garden in Norfolk. The entrance hole, which had been cut for Tits, was barely large enough for the Nuthatches. The "untempered mortar" was none the less collected, and as it would have been inconvenient to use it in accordance with precedent at the door, the far end of the box was plastered over.
Almost exactly the same thing was noticed in the case of the second brood of a Swallow whose nest with a first family had been taken down and placed in a soap-box. The feathers of the old nest were used again in their old position, but before an egg of the second clutch was laid, a far corner of the box -a foot or nine inches off-was carefully built up with clay.
The highest place among the birds was until comparatively lately assigned to the Hawks and Eagles. They have now been dethroned, and their post of honor assigned to the "Passeres" on the ground of higher development of brain.
The London sparrow at least has no hesitation in assuming his rights. A gentleman a year or so ago was amusing himself by feeding the birds in St. James's Park. A Wood Pigeon had waddled close up to him and was picking up the crumbs at his feet, when a loose projecting feather-one of the undertail coverts-caught the eye of a sparrow, which at once seized it in its beak. The feather did not at once give way. The pigeon strutted off with offended dignity; the sparrow followed, tugging hard at the feather, and in the end flew off with it in triumph to its nest in a neighboring plane tree.
With Rooks, too, which belong to the same order, if only half the stories told
of their well-ordered commonwealths and rigidly-enforced laws, etc., are true, the position which anatomists have assigned to them as birds of a high order of intelligence is amply justified on other grounds than bones and nerves.
The following was given to the writer as a fact, for the truth of which he could vouch, by a general officer of repute, who had then lately returned from a visit to a friend in whose park it had occurred. A gentleman who had succeeded to a property in Dorsetshire was anxious to people a clump of his ancestral elms with a rookery. Having found three or four Jackdaws' nests in unusually exposed situations, he obtained as many clutches of Rooks' eggs from the nearest colony some miles off, and put them in the place of the Jackdaws' eggs, which he removed. His hope was that the Rooks, if reared at the place, might return there to nest and that thus a rookery might be established. With one exception the birds deserted; but one pair accepted the change and the eggs were hatched off. Feathers had already shown themselves on the young birds, and the experiment was promising success when a small party of Rooks visited the park, and, after a short stay, left in an evidently excited state. A few days later a larger party appeared. They attacked and drove the unfortunate Jackdaws from the nest and then went away, leaving two of their number in charge The Contemporary Review.
of the young birds which, as soon as they were fit for the journey, were taken away, and unless in flocks with others were never seen in the neighborhood again.
Few pleasanter ways of passing the time can be devised by indolent man than taking down the volumes of Grimm's Letters and hunting through them for their references to the absurdities of the celebrated French
THE NEW ACADEMY.
T. Digby Pigott.
Academy. One good story succeeds another, one outrageous vanity pursues its neighbor down the shadowy path of time; one outrageous imposter forces himself into the sacred arena, whilst another no whit more out