Animal Biography

Animal Biography:
Land Birds









Bird of Paradise






















English Index

Systematic Index




There is no division of the animal creation in which we are more led to admire the wisdom of the Supreme Being than in the different feathered tribes. Their structure, and habits of life, are wonderfully fitted for the various functions they have to perform. Every class of animals has indeed its peculiar and appropriate designation. The quadrupeds, muscular and vigorous, tread the earth in common with man; and are either subdued to docility, or left to range in their native wilds. The Birds, generally feeble and timid, wing their flight in the air, and thus elude the force which they are not able to resist. When elevated high in the atmosphere, notwithstanding the tendency of all bodies towards the centre of the earth, they glide with ease and vigour; vary their course to every direction with the utmost promptitude; and at last descend, often from the clouds, on a particular spot, with the greatest exactness, and without the slightest danger.

Their bodies are clad with feathers; which are much lighter than coverings of hair, and therefore better calculated for aiding their flight than these would be. The feathers lie over each other, close to the body, like the tiles of a house; and are arranged from the fore-part backwards, by which the animals are enabled the more conveniently to cut their way through the air. For the purpose of giving warmth II.150 to the body, a short and extremely soft down fills up all the vacant spaces between the shafts of the feathers. Their elevation from the earth is also aided by their bones being hollow, and very light comparatively with those of terrestrial animals. That they may the more easily make their way through the air, the head is small and the bill somewhat wedge-shaped. The neck is long, and easily moveable in all directions; and the body is slender, sharp on the under side, and flat or round on the back.

They urge themselves forward in the air by means of wings. These are so constructed, that in striking downwards, they expand very greatly; and, except that they are somewhat hollow on the under side, they become, in this act, almost two planes. The muscles that move the wings downwards, are exceedingly large; and have been estimated, in some instances, to constitute not less than the sixth part of the weight of the whole body. When a bird is on the ground, and intends to fly, he takes a leap, stretches his wings from the body, and strikes them downwards with great force. By this stroke they are put into an oblique direction, partly upwards and partly horizontally forwards. That part of the force tending upwards, is destroyed by the weight of the bird; and the horizontal force serves to carry him forwards. The stroke being completed, he moves up his wings; which, being contracted, and having their edges turned upwards, meet with very little resistance from the air. When they are sufficiently elevated, he takes a second stroke downwards, and the impulse of the air again moves him forward. These II.151 successive strokes act only as so many leaps taken in air. When the bird wants to turn to the right or left, he strikes strongly with the opposite wing, which impels him to the proper side. The tail acts like the rudder of a ship; except that it moves him upwards or downwards, instead of sideways. If the bird wants to rise, he raises his tail; and if to fall, he depresses it: whilst he is in an horizontal position, it keeps him steady.

A bird, by spreading his wings, can continue to move horizontally in the air for some time, without striking; because he has acquired a sufficient velocity, and, his wings being parallel to the horizon, meet with but small resistance; and, when he begins to fall, he can easily steer himself upwards by his tail, till the motion he had acquired is nearly spent, when he must renew it by two or three more strokes of his wings. On alighting, he expands his wings and tail full against the air, that they may meet with all the resistance possible.

The centre of gravity in birds is somewhat behind the wings; and, to counterbalance it, most of them may be observed to thrust out their head and neck in flying. This is very apparent in the flight of Ducks, Geese, and several other kinds of water-fowl, whose centre of gravity is further backwards than in the land birds. In the Heron, on the contrary, whose long head and neck, although folded up in flight, overbalance the rest of the body, the long legs are extended, in order to give the proper counterpoise, and to supply what is wanting from the shortness of the tail.


Somewhat more than a century ago, many attempts were made to enable man to raise himself into the air by means of artificial wings. This idea, however, was in the highest degree absurd. The pectoral muscles in man are vastly too weak for the purpose, being not a sixtieth part of the muscles of the body; while those of a bird are equal, if not greater, than all the others put together. In addition to this circum­stance, the centre of gravity in man is so situated, that, allowing him to have sufficient power in his pectoral muscles, he would still never be able to make his way through the air, for his body would always assume an upright position.

The feathers of birds would perpetually imbibe the moisture of the atmosphere; and during rain absorb so much wet, as would almost, if not wholly, impede their flight; had not the wise economy of nature obviated this by a most effectual expedient. They are each furnished, on their rump, with two glands, in which a quantity of unctuous matter is constantly secreting. This is occasionally pressed out by means of the bill, and used for the lubrication of the feathers. The birds that share, as it were, the habitations of man, and live principally under cover, do not require so great a supply of this fluid; and therefore are not provided with so large a stock as those that rove abroad, and reside in the open element. It is on this account that poultry, when wet, make the ruffled and uncomfortable appearance that we observe.

As these animals are continually passing among hedges and thickets, they are provided, for the defence II.153 of their eyes from external injuries, as well as from too much light when flying in opposition to the rays of the sun, with a nictating or winking membrane, which can at pleasure be drawn over the whole eye, like a curtain. This covering is neither opake nor wholly pellucid, but is somewhat transparent; and it is by means of this, that the Eagle is said to gaze at the sun.—In Birds we find that the sight is much more piercing, extensive, and exact, than in the other orders of animals. The eye is much larger in proportion to the bulk of the head, than in any of these. This is a superiority conferred upon them not without a corresponding utility; it seems even indispensable to their safety and subsistence. Were this organ in birds dull, or in the least degree opake, from the rapidity of their motion they would be in danger of striking against various objects in their flight. In this case their celerity, instead of being an advantage, would become an evil, and their flight must be restrained by the danger resulting from it. Indeed, we may consider the velocity with which an animal moves, as a sure indication of the perfection of its vision. Among the quadrupeds, the Sloth has its sight greatly limited; whilst the Hawk, as it hovers in the air, can espy a Lark sitting on a clod, perhaps at twenty times the distance at which a man or a dog could perceive it.

Birds respire by means of air-vessels, that are extended through the whole body, and adhere to the under surface of the bones. These, by their motion, force the air through the true lungs, which are very small, somewhat of the shape of the human lungs, II.154 and are seated in the uppermost part of the chest and closely braced down to the back and ribs. The lungs which are never expanded by air, are destined for the sole purpose of oxydating the blood. Mr. John Hunter made a variety of experiments to discover the use of this general diffusion of air through the bodies of birds; and from these he found, that it prevents their respiration from being stopped or interrupted by the rapidity of their motion through a resisting medium. The resistance of the air increases in proportion to the celerity of the motion; and were it possible for a man to move with a swiftness equal to that of a Swallow, the resistance of the air, as he is not provided with reservoirs similar to those of birds, would soon suffocate him.

The abode of these tribes is very various; for they inhabit every corner of the world, from the hottest to the coldest regions. Some species are confined to particular countries; others are widely dispersed; and many change their abode at certain seasons of the year, and migrate to climates better suited to their temperament or mode of life, for a certain period, than those which they leave. Many of the birds of our own island, directed by a peculiar and unerring instinct, retire, before the commencement of the cold season, to the southern parts of Africa, and again return in the spring. The causes usually assigned for migration are, either a defect of food, or the want of a secure and proper asylum for incubation and the nutrition of their young. They generally perform their migrations in large companies; and, in the day, follow a leader, who is occasionally II.155 changed. Many of the tribes make a continual cry during the night in order to keep themselves together. Thus they

Rang’d in figure, wedge their way; and urge

Their airy caravan; high over seas

Flying, and over lands, with mutual wing

Easing their flight.

The flights of birds across the Mediterranean were recorded nearly three thousand years ago. “There went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought Quails from the sea, and let them fall upon the camp, and a day’s journey round about it, to the height of two cubits above the earth.”⁕1

The following is a table of the migration of several of the British Birds, taken on the average of about twenty-six years; from the observations of Mr. Markwick, inserted in the first and fourth volumes of the Linnean Transactions.

First seen. Last seen.
Swallow Hirundo rustica April 18 Oct. 31
Martin Hirundo urbica May 4 Oct. 16
Sand Martin Hirundo riparia May 26 Sept. 12
Swift Hirundo apus May 9 Sept. 3
Goatsucker Caprimulgus europæus Sept. 7 Sept. 27
Turtle Dove Columba turtur June 5 Aug. 10
Wry-neck Yunx torquilla April 16 Sept.
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus May 1 July 10
Nightingale Motacilla luscinia April 25 Sept. 20
Blackcap Motacilla atricapilla May 10 Sept. 18
White-throat Motacilla sylvia April 22 Sept. 16
Wheat-ear Motacilla œnanthe May 4 Sept. 26
II.156 Whinchat Motacilla rubetra June 1 Sept. 21
Redstart Motacilla phœnicurus April 24 Sept. 1
Willow-wren Motacilla trochilus April 23 Sept. 24
Fly-catcher Muscicapa grisola May 8 Sept. 30
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio June 1 Aug. 16
Land rail Rallus crex Sept. 1 Oct. 20
Quail Tetrao coturnix Aug. 20    
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris Nov. 21 April 10
Red-wing Turdus iliacus Nov. 1 March 18
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola Oct. 20 April 1
Snipe Scolopax galinago Nov. 20 March 20
Jack Snipe Scolopax gallinula Dec. 26 March 16
Sea Lark Charadrius hiaticula April 1    
Greater Tern Sterna hirundo April 1 Oct. 8
Lesser Tern Sterna minuta May 20 Oct. 16
Royston Crow Corvus cornix May 22 March 26⁕2

It appears from very accurate observations, founded on numerous experiments, that the peculiar notes, or song, of the different species of Birds, are altogether acquired, and are no more innate than language is in man. The attempt of a nestling bird to sing, may be exactly compared with the imperfect endeavour of a child to talk. The first essay seems not to possess the slightest rudiments of the future song; but, as the bird grows older and stronger, it is not difficult to perceive what it is aiming at. Whilst the scholar is thus endeavouring to form his song, when he is once sure of a passage, he commonly raises his tone, which he drops again when he is not equal to II.157 what he is attempting. What the nestling is thus not thoroughly master of, he hurries over; lowering his tone, as if he did not wish to be heard, and could not yet satisfy himself.—A common Sparrow, taken from the nest when very young, and placed near a Linnet and Goldfinch, (though in a wild state it would only have chirped,) adopted a song that was a mixture of the notes of these two. Three nestling Linnets were educated, one under a Sky-lark, another under a Wood-lark, and the third under a Titlark; and, instead of the song peculiar to their own species, they adhered entirely to that of their respective instructors. A Linnet, taken from the nest when but two or three days old, and brought up in the house of Mr. Mathews, an apothecary, at Kensington, from want of other sounds to imitate, almost articulated the words “pretty boy” as well as some other short sentences. Its owner said, that it had neither the note nor the call of any bird whatever. It died in the year 1772.

These, and other well-authenticated facts, seem to prove decisively, that Birds have no innate notes, but that, like mankind, the language of those to whose care they are committed at birth will be the language they adopt in after life. It may, however, seem somewhat unaccountable, from these observations, why, in a wild state, they adhere so steadily to the song of their own species only, when so many others are to be heard around them. This arises from the attention paid by the nestling bird to the instructions of its own parent only, generally disregarding the notes of all the rest. Persons, however, who have an accurate ear, and have studied the notes of II.158 different Birds, can very often distinguish some that have a song mixed with those of another species; but these are in general so trifling, as can scarcely be looked upon as any thing more than mere varieties of provincial dialects.

It may not be altogether uninteresting to the English reader, to be furnished with a table of the comparative merits of the singing-birds of his own island. In this, the number 20 is adopted as the point of absolute perfection.

Mellowness of Tone. Sprightly Notes. Plaintive Notes. Compass. Execution.
Nightingale 19 14 19 19 19
Sky-lark 4 19 4 18 18
Wood-lark 18 4 17 12 8
Titlark 12 12 12 12 12
Linnet 12 16 12 16 18
Goldfinch 4 19 4 12 12
Chaffinch 4 12 4 8 8
Greenfinch 4 4 4 4 6
Hedge-sparrow 6 0 6 4 4
Aberdavine, or Siskin 2 4 0 4 4
Red-poll 0 4 0 4 4
Thrush 4 4 4 4 4
Blackbird 4 4 0 2 2
Robin 6 16 12 12 12
Wren 0 12 0 4 4
Reed-sparrow 0 4 0 2 2
Black-cap, or the Norfolk Mock-nightingale 14 12 12 14 14

In this table no mention is made of either the Bullfinch, or the Redstart; since the wild note of the first (though usually considered as a singing-bird) is not acquired by instruction, but a jarring and disagree­able noise; and the latter is omitted because the composer of the table was not sufficiently acquainted with its song to be able to estimate it aright.


The food of Birds is, of course, very different in the different kinds. Some are altogether carnivorous; others, as many of the web-footed tribes, live on fish; some on insects and worms, and many on fruits or grain.—The extraordinary powers of the gizzard in the granivorous tribes, in comminuting their hard food, so as to prepare it for digestion, would, were they not supported by incontrovertible facts founded on experiment, appear to exceed all credibility. In order to ascertain the strength of these stomachs, the ingenious Spallanzani made many cruel, though at the same time curious and very interesting, experiments. Tin tubes, full of grain, were forced into the stomachs of Turkies; and, after remaining twenty hours, were found to be broken, compressed, and distorted in the most irregular manner. The stomach of a Cock, in the space of twenty-four hours, broke off the angles of a piece of rough jagged glass; and, upon examining the gizzard, no wound or laceration appeared. Twelve strong tin needles were firmly fixed in a ball of lead, with their points projecting about a quarter of an inch from the surface; thus armed, it was covered with a case of paper, and forced down the throat of a Turkey: the Bird retained it a day and a half without exhibiting the least symptom of uneasiness: the points of all the needles were broken off close to the surface of the ball, except two or three, of which the stumps projected a little. Twelve small lancets, very sharp both at the points and edges, were fixed in a similar ball of lead, which was given in the same manner to a Turkey-cock, and left eight hours II.160 in the stomach: at the expiration of which time that organ was opened, but nothing appeared except the naked ball; the twelve lancets having been broken to pieces—the stomach at the same time remaining perfectly sound and entire. From these facts it was concluded, that the stones so often found in the stomachs of many of the feathered tribes, are highly useful in assisting the gastric juices to grind down the grain and other hard substances which constitute their food. The stones themselves also, being ground down and separated by the powerful action of the gizzard, are mixed with the food, and no doubt contribute very greatly to the health as well as to the nutriment of the animals.

All Birds are oviparous, or produce eggs, from which, after the process of incubation, or sitting for a certain length of time, the young are extruded. These eggs differ in the different species, both in number, figure, and colour. They contain the rudiments of the future young; for the maturation and bringing to perfection of which, in the incubation, a bubble of air is always placed at the large end, betwixt the shell and the inside skin. It is supposed that, from the warmth communicated by the sitting Bird to this confined air, its spring is increased beyond its natural tenor, and at the same time its parts are put into motion by the gentle rarefaction. Hence pressure and motion are communicated to the parts of the egg, which in some unknown manner gradually promote the formation and growth of the young till the appointed time of its exclusion. Housewives, when they suspect an egg is not good, put their tongue to II.161 the great end to feel if it be warm: if that is not the case, it is considered a certain proof that, the air having by degrees made its escape, the egg is at length become putrid or addled.⁕3 The use of that part of the egg called the treadle, is not only to retain the different liquids in their proper places, but also to keep the same part of the yolk always uppermost; which it will effectually do, though the egg be turned nearly every way. The mechanism seems to be this: the treadle is specifically lighter than the white in which it swims; and, being connected to the membranes of the yolk at a point somewhat out of the direction of its axis, this causes one side to become heavier than the other: thus the yolk, being made buoyant in the midst of the white, is, by its own heavy side, kept with the same part always uppermost.

The nests of Birds are, in general, constructed with astonishing art; and with a degree of architectural skill and propriety, that would foil all the boasted imitative talents of man, the haughty lord of the creation.

Mark it well: within, without

No tool had he that wrought; no knife to cut,

No nail to fix, no bodkin to insert,

No glue to join; his little beak was all.

And yet, how neatly finish’d! What nice hand,

With ev’ry implement and means of art,

And twenty years apprenticeship to boot,


Could make me such another? Fondly then

We boast of excellence, whose noblest skill

Instinctive genius foils.

Both the male and female generally assist in this interesting concern. They each bring materials to the place: first sticks, moss, or straws, for the foundation and exterior; then hair, wool, or the down of animals or plants, to form a soft and commodious bed for their eggs, and the bodies of their tender young when hatched. The outsides of the nests bear in general so great a resemblance in colour to the surrounding foliage or branches, as not easily to be discovered even by persons who are in search of them.

This act of nidification is one of those wonderful contrivances of nature that would compel us, however we might otherwise be inclined to doubt it, to believe that we, and every other part of the creation, are constantly under the protection of a superintending Being, whose goodness knows no bounds. Without this, what can we suppose it is that instigates a creature that may never before have had young, to form a hollow nest to contain eggs (things that as yet it knows nothing of), and to concentrate a proper proportion of heat for the incubation? Without this, what can we suppose it is that dictates the necessity of forming the outside with coarse materials, as a foundation, and of lining it within with more delicate substances? How do these animals learn that they are to have eggs, and that these eggs will require a nest of a certain size and capacity? Who is it that teaches them to calculate the time II.163 with such exactness, that they never lay their eggs before the receptacle for them is finished? No person can surely be so blind as to observe all this, and not be able to perceive the superintendence of a beneficent wisdom influencing every operation. If such be the case, he must have the powers of his understanding totally obliterated, and his mind enveloped in impenetrable darkness.

The divisions of this class of animals are principally founded in their habits of life; and in the natural resemblance of their external parts, particularly of their bills. The grand division is into Land Birds, and Water Birds. The Land Birds comprise the Linnæan orders of Rapacious Birds, the Pies, the Passerine, and Gallinaceous Birds:—The others consist of the orders of Waders, and Swimmers.⁕4

⁕1 Numbers, chap. xi. ver. 31.

⁕2 These observations were made in Sussex. The times when the Birds were both first and last seen, sometimes differ very considerably; owing, in a great measure, to the difficulty of always seeing them on their immediate arrival, and the impossibility of ascertaining the departure of the last of the species.

⁕3 M. Reaumur, the celebrated French naturalist, who seldom confined his speculations to mere curiosity, has shewn that, by stopping up the ports of an egg with varnish or a slight covering of mutton suet, it may be preserved perfectly fresh, and generally even fit for incubation, for five or six months after it has been laid.

⁕4 Accipitres, Picæ, Gallinæ,—Grallæ, and Anseres.

Notes and Corrections: Birds

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Like mammals, birds have two very asymmetrical layers of classification before you even get to the Orders. First there are the two subclasses: Paleo­gnathae or ratites—ostriches, kiwis and similar large flightless birds—and Neognathae, everything else. The “everything else” side is again divided into two infraclasses: Gallo­anserae—ducks, chickens, and many familiar game birds—and everything else. Once you get to this second “everything else”, it seems as if half of what’s left is somewhere in the order Passeri­formes, with its tangle of sub- and infra-orders.

they are provided . . . with a nictating
text unchanged: expected nictitating

Rang’d in figure, wedge their way; and urge
[Milton, Paradise Lost, VII.426 and 428-430:

rang’d in figure wedge their way

Intelligent of seasons, and set forth

Their airy caravan high over seas

Flying, and over lands with mutual wing

Easing their flight

Was Bingley quoting from memory? I don’t find a text with his exact wording.]

brought Quails from the sea, and let them fall upon the camp, and a day’s journey round about it, to the height of two cubits above the earth
[Once you’ve finished calculating the size of the Ark, take a break to compute how many quails it would take to cover an area of several hundred square miles to a depth of three feet.]

The following is a table
[The three missing Last Seen dates—the day of the month for Wry-neck, and the entire column for Quail and Sea Lark—were also missing in the 1st edition, and so presumably from the original Linnean Transactions article. About two-thirds of the listed birds don’t have a writeup in the present book.]

the number 20 is adopted as the point of absolute perfection
[If you are not picturing a line of five judges holding up their respec­tive scores as they rate the birds in competition . . . you’re a better man than I.]

the twelve lancets having been broken to pieces
text has lances
[The first edition also has “lances”, reinforcing the idea that the sole purpose of this second edition was to add new material, not to correct errors in the first.]

Housewives, when they suspect an egg is not good, put their tongue to the great end to feel if it be warm
[The first edition had “Women” where this one has “Housewives”. Huh.]

is, by its own heavy side, kept with the same part always uppermost
text has side,kept without space

Mark it well: within, without
[Hurdis, “The Village Curate” again.]

If such be the case, he must have the powers of his under­standing totally obliterated, and his mind enveloped in impenetrable darkness.
[A corollary of increasing scientific discoveries was the necessity to assert, periodically, that anyone who does not believe in God must be an imbecile.]

The grand division is into Land Birds, and Water Birds.
[Well . . . No. Not really. But we’ll get to that.]

color picture of Californian Vulture, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 301:
Californian Vulture


In this tribe, the individuals of which are the most ravenous of all the feathered race, the bill is straight, and hooked only at the end; its edges are II.164 sharp like a knife, and the base is covered with a thin skin. The head, cheeks, and, in many species, the neck, are either naked, or clad only with down or short hairs. The tongue is large, fleshy, and cleft at the end. The craw often hangs over the breast. The legs and feet are covered with great scales; and the first joint of the middle toe is connected to that of the outermost by a strong membrane. The claws are large, a little hooked, and very blunt: and the inside of the wings is covered with down.

The characters that principally distinguish this from the following tribe are, the want of feathers on part of the head, and sometimes even on the whole head and neck; and the voracious manners of these birds, since they never kill prey from choice, but in general devour only such animals as are either dying or found dead and putrid. Their sense of smelling is so exquisite, that they are able to scent a dead body at the distance of many miles. “They are (says Mr. Pennant) greedy and voracious to a proverb; and not timid, for they prey in the midst of cities, undaunted by mankind.” In some of the battles in the East, where vast slaughter takes place of Elephants, Horses, and Men, voracious animals crowd to the field from all quarters, of which Jackals, Hyænas, and Vultures, are the chief. Even in the places where the last are otherwise seldom observed, the plain will on these occasions be found covered with them. Vast multitudes will be seen in the air descending from every side to partake in the carnage. These the Indians believe to be brought by having an instinctive presentiment of slaughter some days before the event.


It is observed that Vultures, in general, become less numerous as the climate becomes colder; and that in the more northern countries they are never found. They are undoubtedly a kind disposition of Providence, in the hotter regions, to prevent the putrid effluvia of the dead from too much injuring the health of the living.

⁕1 The Land Birds commence with Linnæus’s first order, the Rapacious Birds.—In these, the bill is somewhat hooked, having the upper mandible either dilated a little towards the point, or furnished with a tooth-like process. The nostrils are open. The feet are stout, and armed with strong hooked claws, three placed forwards and one backwards.—The animals of this order are all carnivorous; they consist of Vultures, Eagles or Hawks, and Owls. They associate in pairs, build their nests in lofty situations, and usually produce four young ones at a brood. The female is generally both larger and stronger than the male.

Notes and Corrections: The Vulture Tribe

The two vultures described in this section are both limited to the Americas. Or, at least, their respective binomials have now been assigned to New World vultures. Shaw’s Vultur Californianus is now Gymnogyps californianus, in the same family as genus Vultur.

[Footnote] The animals of this order . . . consist of Vultures, Eagles or Hawks, and Owls
[Owls are now their own order, Strigiformes (“owl-type birds”). More recently, family Accipitridae—notably subfamily Accipitrinae, an enormous subfamily containing dozens of genera including both vultures and eagles—was split off into yet another order, Accipitri­formes. Anything left over remains in order Falconiformes.]

engraving of Male Condor, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 2:
Male Condor


This vast bird, in size considerably exceeding the largest Eagle, is an inhabitant of South America. Its wings extend to the dimensions of eighteen feet; its body, bill, and talons are proportionably large and strong: and its courage is equal to its strength. The throat is naked, and of a red colour. The upper parts in some individuals, (for they differ greatly in colour,) are variegated with black, grey, and white; and the belly is scarlet.—The head of a Condur that was shot at Port Desire, off Penguin Island, resembled that of an Eagle; except that it had a large comb upon it. Round the neck it had a white ruff, much resembling a lady’s tippet. The feathers on the back were as black as jet, and perfectly bright. The legs were remarkably strong and large; the talons like those of an Eagle, except that they were not so sharp; and the wings, when extended, measured from point to point, twelve feet.⁕1—In the Leverian Museum there II.166 are two specimens of the Condur, supposed to be male and female; on the breast they have a kind of pendulous pear-shaped substance. The male measures ten feet from tip to tip of the wings.

engraving of Female Condor, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 3:
Female Condor

Of the strength of the Condur we may form some idea from the following account of one shot by Father Feuillée: “The Condur (says this writer) is a bird of prey that inhabits the valley of Ylo in Peru. I discovered one that was perched upon a great rock: I approached it within musket-shot and fired; but, as my piece was only loaded with swan-shot, the lead could not do much more than pierce its feathers. I perceived, however, from its motions, that it was wounded: for it rose heavily, and could with difficulty reach another great rock, five hundred paces distant, upon the sea-shore. I therefore charged my piece with a bullet, and hit the Bird under the throat. I then saw that I had succeeded, and ran to secure the victim: but it struggled obstinately with death; and, resting upon its back, repelled my attempts with its extended talons. I was at a loss on what side to lay hold of it; and I believe that if it had not been mortally wounded, I should have found great difficulty in securing it. At last I dragged it down from the top of the rock; and, with the assistance of a sailor, carried it away to my tent.”

Some writers have affirmed that the Condur is twice as large as the Eagle, and so strong that it can pounce and devour a whole Sheep; that it spares not even Stags, and easily overthrows a man. Others say that its beak is so firm that it can II.167 pierce a Cow’s hide, and that two of them are able to kill that animal and devour the carcase.⁕2

engraving of Condur Vulture, no later than 1804

Latham Supplement plate 102:
Condur Vulture

Ulloa tells us, that he once saw, in South America, a Condur seize and fly away with a Lamb. “Observing (says he) on a hill adjoining to that where I stood, a flock of Sheep in great confusion, I saw one of these birds flying upwards from among them with a Lamb betwixt its claws; and when at some height, it dropped it. The Bird immediately followed, took it up and let it fall a second time; when it flew out of sight, on account of the Indians, who, at the cries of the boys and the barking of the Dogs, were running towards the place.”⁕3

Frezier, in a voyage to the South Seas, also thus describes the Condur:—“We one day killed a bird of prey called the Condur; which was nine feet from the end of one wing to the end of the other, and had a brown comb or crest, but not jagged like that of a Cock. The fore-part of its throat was red, without feathers, like a Turkey. These birds are generally large and strong enough to take up a Lamb. In order to separate one of those animals from the flock, they form themselves into a circle, and advance towards them with their wings extended, that, by being driven too close together, the full-horned Rams may not be able to defend their young. They then pick out the Lambs, and carry them off.—Garcilasso says, there are some Condurs in Peru sixteen feet from the point of one wing to the other, and that a certain nation of Indians adore them.”

engraving of Male Condor, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 4:
Male Condor from Humboldt


These enormous animals make their nests among the highest and most inaccessible rocks. The female lays two white eggs, somewhat bigger than those of the Turkey.

In the country that they inhabit, they seem to supply the place of Wolves; and are as much feared by the inhabitants as Wolves are in other climates. In consequence of this, many modes of destroying them are adopted.—Sometimes a person, covering himself with the hide of a newly skinned animal, goes out, and so manages it, that the bird will frequently attempt to attack him in this disguise: other persons that have hidden themselves, then come forward to his assistance; and, all at once falling on the bird, overpower and kill it.—A dead carcass is also sometimes put within a very high inclosure; and when the Condur has satiated himself, and is unable to rise freely, persons are in readiness to subdue him. On these latter occasions the bird is inactive; but in general he possesses a very quick flight, soaring frequently to a height beyond the reach of human vision.⁕4 Sometimes they are caught by means of traps and springes.

It has been generally imagined, that this dreadful animal gave rise to the exaggerated description of the bird that makes so conspicuous a figure in the Arabian Tales under the name of Roc: but this seems very improbable, as we have no satisfactory evidence of the Condur’s having been ever found on the old Continent. We are rather inclined to suppose that the traditions respecting the Roc originated II.169 in a very different bird; a variety of the Bearded Eagle, or the well-known Lammer-geyer of the Alps,⁕5 which is occasionally seen among the mountains of the East.

Synonyms.—Vultur Gryphus. Linn.—Magellanic Vulture. Shaw’s Trav.—Manque, by the inhabitants of Chili.—Condur. Latham.——Latham’s Second Supplement, fig. 1.

⁕1 Hawksworth’s Voyages.

⁕2 Buffon’s Birds.

⁕3 Ulloa’s Voyage to South America.

⁕4 Latham’s Second Supplement.

⁕5 Falco Barbatus of Linnæus.

Notes and Corrections: The Condur

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New World vultures, including condors, are a separate family, Cathartidae, in the Accipitri­formes (diurnal predators) order. The genus name Vultur is now applied to Andean condors, so Linnaeus’s binomial Vultur gryphus still holds.

And now the bad news: Though its average wingspan is over 3m (10 ft), the book’s “eighteen feet” is an exaggeration.

one shot by Father Feuillée
[Er, Father, don’t you have souls to take care of?]

It has been generally imagined
text has generaly

[Synonyms] Latham’s Second Supplement, fig. 1
[Although the cited illustration is the first plate in Latham’s second supplement, it is actually numbered CII (102).]

[Footnote] Falco Barbatus of Linnæus.
[Now Gypaetus barbatus, the bearded vulture; see below.]


This bird, which is very common in many of the warmer parts both of Europe, Asia, and America, is totally unknown in England. Its length is about four feet and a half, and general weight betwixt four and five pounds. The head is small; and covered with a red skin, beset only with a few black bristles; which gives it a distant resemblance to a Turkey. The whole plumage is dusky, mixed with purple and green. The legs are of a dirty flesh-colour, and the claws black.⁕1

The resemblance of these birds at a distance to the Turkey, was the cause of considerable vexation to one of the officers engaged in the expedition round the world, under Woodes Rogers. In the island of Lobos, immense numbers of them were seen; and, highly delighted with the prospect of such delicious fare after a long and tedious voyage, the officer would not wait even till the boat could put him ashore, but, with his gun in his hand, leapt overboard and swam to land. Coming near to a large collection of the birds, he fired among them, and II.170 killed several: but when he came to seize his game, he was sadly disappointed in finding that they were not Turkies, and their stench was almost insupportable.⁕2

Their bodies are extremely offensive to the smell; and they perch at nights on rocks or trees, with their wings partly extended, apparently to purify themselves. They soar to a vast height, and have in the air the sailing motions of the Kite. Carrion and filth of almost every description are their favourite food; and from the fineness of their scent, they can distinguish prey at an immense distance. They will eat even Snakes, and sometimes seize on live Lambs. When a dead body of any size is thrown out, they may be observed coming from all quarters, each wheeling about in gradual descent till he reaches the ground. They are not easily driven from their prey; but, when in the act of devouring, will suffer persons to approach very near them.⁕3

In some parts of the torrid zone, they haunt the towns in immense multitudes. In Carthagena, they may be seen sitting on the roofs of the houses, or even stalking along the streets. They are here of infinite service to the inhabitants; devouring that filth which would otherwise, by its intolerable stench, render the climate still more unwholesome than it is. When they find no food in the cities, they seek for it among the cattle of the adjoining pastures. If any animal is unfortunate enough to have a sore on its back, they instantly alight on it, II.171 and attack the part affected. The poor creature may in vain attempt to free itself from the gripe of their talons: even rolling on the ground is of no effect, for the Vultures never quit their hold till they have completed its destruction.

In few creatures are the designs of Providence more clearly developed than in this. Filthy as they are in their manners, their appearance, and their smell, yet is even this filthiness a blessing to mankind. In hot countries, where putridity takes place in a few hours after death, what might be the effects of the aggregated stench, if it were not for the exertions of animals of this description! But in some countries they are rendered even of still further importance to mankind, by destroying the eggs of the Alligator, an animal which must otherwise become intolerable, by its prodigious increase. They watch the female in the act of depositing her eggs in the sand; and no sooner does she retire into the water, than they dart to the spot, and feast upon the contents of these.

It is either the birds of this species, or some other nearly allied to it, that Kolben has mentioned as frequenting many parts about the Cape of Good Hope. He says that they exhibit infinite dexterity in anatomizing a dead animal. They separate the flesh from the bones in such a manner as to leave the skin almost entire. On approaching a body thus destroyed, no one, till he had examined it, could possibly imagine that it was merely bone and skin, deprived entirely of the internal substance. They begin by tearing an opening in the belly, through which they pluck out and greedily devour the entrails: then entering the hollow, II.172 they also tear away all the flesh; and this without affecting the external appearance. “It often happens (says this writer) that an Ox returning home alone to its stall from the plough, lies down by the way: it is then, if the Vultures perceive it, that they fall upon it with fury, and inevitably devour the unfortunate animal. They sometimes attempt the Oxen while grazing in the fields; and then, to the number of a hundred or more, make their sudden attack all together.”⁕4

The sloth, the filth, and the voracity of these birds, almost exceed credibility. Whenever they alight on a carcass that they can have liberty to tear at their ease, they gorge themselves in such a manner that they become unable to fly, and even if pursued can only hop along. At all times they are birds of slow flight, and unable readily to raise themselves from the ground; and when overfed, they are utterly helpless. On the pressure of danger, however, they have the power of ridding themselves of their burthen by vomiting up what they have eaten; and they then fly off with greater facility.

Synonyms.—Vultur Aura. Linn.—Vautour de Brésil. Buff.—Turkey Buzzard. Catesby.—Carrion Crow. Sloane.—Strunt-vogel? Kolben.—Carrion Vulture. Latham.

⁕1 Penn. Arct. Zool.

⁕2 Woodes Rogers, 148.

⁕3 Catesby, i. 6.

⁕4 Kolben, ii. 135.

Notes and Corrections: The Carrion Vulture

Vultur aura is now Cathartes aura, the turkey vulture, in the same Cathartidae family as condors. Shaw has a description but no picture.

they exhibit infinite dexterity in anatomizing a dead animal
[Let us stipulate that this is the old “anatomy = skeleton” usage: our turkey vultures are not making a scientific study of the corpse, but merely skeletonizing it.]

[Synonyms] Strunt-vogel? Kolben.
[Question mark in the original. A Struntvogel is definitely some kind of vulture, although not necessarily the turkey vulture.]

engraving of Secretary Bird, no later than 1827

Latham Synopsis Vol. I plate 2:
The Secretary


This, as well as the last, is an excessively rapacious tribe of birds. They prey altogether on animal food; yet seldom feed on carrion, except when driven to it by necessity. They are able to sustain II.173 hunger for a very great length of time; often taking in as much food at once as will last them for several days without a fresh supply. Many of the species eat fish, and others are content with Snakes and reptiles.

They never associate; and, except during the breeding season, even two of them are seldom seen together. They are very quick-sighted; and soar to amazing heights in the air. When they discern their prey, they dart down upon it with the swiftness of an arrow: and their strength is so great, that some of them have been known to carry to their young birds, a load nearly as heavy as themselves, from a distance of forty miles, and upwards. Most of them build their nests in lofty and inaccessible places; but a few of the species form them on the ground. In general, the females are much larger than the males; for the purpose, as some have conjectured, of more easily providing food for their young.

The bill is hooked; and is furnished at the base with a naked membranaceous skin, called the cere. The head and neck are thickly beset with feathers. The nostrils are small, and placed in the cere; and the tongue is broad, fleshy, and generally cleft at the end. The legs and feet are strong, muscular, and scaly; and, from their large, hooked, and very sharp claws, well calculated for the predacious manners of the animals. The middle toe is connected to the outermost by a strong membrane, and the claw of the outer toe is smaller than that of any of the others.

This tribe differs from the last principally in the II.174 animals having their bill and claws much more hooked and sharp; in having the head and neck in general thickly covered with feathers, instead of being naked or covered only with down; and also in their usually killing their prey and eating it while fresh. The exuviæ and bones of their food they always emit at the mouth, in the form of round pellets.

About a hundred and forty different species have been discovered, of which upwards of twenty are natives of these kingdoms; but from the extreme difference in appearance between many of the males and females of the same species, it is frequently found difficult to ascertain them.

Notes and Corrections: The Falcon Tribe

Falcons are a family to themselves, Falconidae, in order Falconi­formes. In fact they’re about all that is left of the order now that Acciptriformes have packed up and left.

engraving of “African Snake-Eater”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 14:
African Snake-Eater


In its external appearance, this bird (though in an artificial system it is with propriety arranged immediately after the Vultures) resembles in some respects both the Eagle and the Crane, two birds much unlike each other; having the head of the former, and somewhat the form of body of the latter. When standing erect, the distance from the top of the head to the ground is full three feet. The bill is black, sharp, and crooked, like that of an Eagle. The cere is white; and round the eyes there is a place bare of feathers, and of a deep orange colour. The upper eye-lids are beset with strong bristles, like eye-lashes. II.175 The general colour of the plumage is a bluish ash-colour; and the ends of the wings, the thighs, and vent, are blackish. The tail is somewhat ash-coloured, except at the end, which for above an inch is black, and then tipped with white: the two middle feathers are twice as long as any of the rest. The legs are long, brown, and stouter than those of a Heron; the claws are shortish, but crooked, and of a black colour. From the back of the head spring several long dark-coloured feathers, that hang loose behind like a pendent crest, which the bird can erect or depress at pleasure. “The Dutch (says Le Vaillant) gave it the name of Secretary, on account of the bunch of quills behind its head: for in Holland, clerks, when interrupted in their writing, stick their pen in their hair behind their right ear; and to this the tuft of the bird was thought to bear some resemblance.”⁕1

This Secretary Falcon is found in the Interior parts of Africa, Asia, and the Philippine Islands. The Hottentots at the Cape of Good Hope distinguish it by a name that signifies the Serpent-eater; and it would almost seem that nature had principally destined it for the purpose of confining within due bounds the race of Serpents, which is very extensive in all the countries that this bird inhabits.

The mode in which it seizes these dangerous creatures is very peculiar. When it approaches them, it is always careful to carry the point of one II.176 of its wings forwards, in order to parry off their venomous bites; sometimes it finds an opportunity of spurning and treading upon its antagonist, or else of taking him on its pinions and throwing him into the air. When by this proceeding it has at length wearied out its adversary, and rendered him almost senseless, it kills and then swallows him at leisure without danger.⁕2

M. Le Vaillant tells us, that he was witness to an engagement between the Secretary Falcon and a Serpent. The battle was obstinate, and conducted with equal address on both sides. But the Serpent at length feeling the inferiority of his strength, employed, in his attempt to regain his hole, all that cunning which is attributed to the tribe; while the bird, apparently guessing his design, stopped him on a sudden and cut off his retreat, by placing herself before him at a single leap. On whatever side the reptile endeavoured to make his escape, his enemy still appeared before him. Then, uniting at once both bravery and cunning, he erected himself boldly to intimidate the bird; and hissing dreadfully, displayed his menacing throat, inflamed eyes, and a head swoln with rage and venom.—“Sometimes this threatening appearance produced a momentary suspension of hostilities; but the bird soon returned to the charge, and, covering her body with one of her wings as a buckler, struck her enemy with the bony protuberances of the other. I saw him at last stagger and fall: the conqueror then fell upon him II.177 to dispatch him, and with one stroke of her beak laid open his skull.”

At this instant M. Le Vaillant fired at and killed her. In her craw he found, on dissection, eleven tolerably large Lizards; three Serpents, as long as his arm; eleven small Tortoises, most of which were about two inches in diameter; and a number of Locusts and other insects, several of them sufficiently whole to be worth preserving and adding to his collection. He observed too, that, in addition to this mass of food, the craw contained a sort of ball, as large as the egg of a Goose, formed of the vertebræ of Serpents and Lizards, shells of different Tortoises, and wings, claws, and shields, of different kinds of Beetles. This indigestible mass, when become sufficiently large, the Secretary would, doubtless, have vomited up, in the manner of other birds of prey.⁕3

Dr. Solander says, he has seen one of these birds take up a Snake, a small Tortoise, or other reptile, in its claw, and dash it with such violence against the ground, that the creature immediately died; if, however, this did not happen to be the case, he tells us that the operation was repeated till the victim was killed, after which it was eaten.

The Secretary is easily tamed; and, when domesticated, will eat any kind of food, either dressed or raw. If well fed, it not only lives with poultry on amicable terms, but, if it sees any quarrel, will even run to part the combatants and restore order. It is true, II.178 if pinched with hunger, it will fall, without scruple, on the Ducklings and Chickens. But this abuse of confidence, if it may be so termed, is the effect of imperious want, and the pure and simple exercise of that necessity which rigorously devotes one half of the living creation to satisfy the appetite of the rest.

Tame Secretaries were seen by M. Le Vaillant in several of the plantations at the Cape. He says they commonly lay two or three white eggs, nearly as large as those of a Goose. The young remain a great while in the nest; because, from their legs being long and slender, they cannot easily support themselves. Even at the age of four months, they may be seen to walk resting on the heel; which gives them a very awkward appearance.⁕4 But when they are seven months old, and have attained their full growth and size, they display much grace and ease in their motions, which well accord with the stately figure of the bird.⁕5

However shrewd and cunning this bird may be in its general conduct, yet M. de Buffon seems to have attributed to it a much greater degree of intelligence than it really possesses:—“When a painter (says he, quoting a letter of the Viscount de Querhoent) was employed in drawing one of the Secretary Falcons, it approached him, looked attentively upon his paper, stretched out its neck, and erected the feathers of its head, as if admiring its own figure. It II.179 often came with its wings raised, and its head projected, to observe what he was doing. It also thus approached me two or three times when I was sitting at a table in its hut in order to describe it.” This stretching out of its head, and erection of its crest, seem, however, to have arisen from nothing more than that love which almost all domesticated birds evince, of having their heads scratched. And these birds, when rendered familiar, are well known to approach every person who comes near, and to stretch out their necks by way of making known this desire.

This singular Bird has not been long known, even at the Cape: but when we consider its social and familiar dispositions, we are disposed to think that it would be adviseable to multiply the species, particularly in our colonies; for it is hardy enough to endure even European climates, where it might be serviceable in destroying not only the pernicious reptiles, but Rats and Mice.

The Secretary Falcons make a flat nest with twigs, not unlike that of some of the Eagles, full three feet in diameter, and line it with wool and feathers. This is usually formed in some high tuft of trees; and is often so well concealed, as not easily to be discovered even by the most scrutinizing eye.—It is a very singular circum­stance, that in their contests these birds always strike forward with their legs; and not, like all others, backward.

Synonyms.—Falco Serpentarius. Linn.—Secretaire. Sonnerat.—Secretary Vulture. Lath.—Secretary. Kerr.——Latham’s Syn. vol. i. tab. 2.

⁕1 New Travels, ii. 244.—Latham, i. 20.

⁕2 Sparrman.

⁕3 Le Vaillant’s New Travels, ii. 246.

⁕4 Thunberg says, that they are not to be reared without great difficulty, as they are very apt to break their legs. Vol. i. p. 148.

⁕5 Le Vaillant.

Notes and Corrections: The Secretary Falcon

The secretary bird, Falco serpentarius, was also called Vultur serpentarius, reflecting early uncertainty about just what kind of bird it is. Eventually they settled on Sagittarius serpentarius. Sagittariinae are a subfamily within Accipitridae, so it is technically not a falcon but an eagle.


engraving of Bearded Vulture , no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 5:
Bearded Vulture from Edwards


The Bearded Eagles, of which so many fabulous tales have been related, are inhabitants of the highest parts of the great chain of the Alps, that separates Switzerland from Italy. They are frequently seen of immense size. One that was caught in the Canton of Glarus measured, from the tip of the beak to the extremity of its tail, nearly seven feet, and eight feet and a half from tip to tip of its wings; but some have been shot that were much larger. The beak is of a purplish flesh colour, and hooked only at the point; and the head and neck are covered with feathers. Beneath the throat hangs a kind of beard, composed of very narrow feathers, like hairs. The legs are covered with feathers quite to the toes, which are yellow: the claws are black. The body is of a blackish brown above; and the under parts are white, with a tinge of brown.

These birds form their nests in the clefts of rocks, inaccessible to man; and usually produce three or four young ones at a time. They live on Alpine animals: such as the Chamois, White Hares, Marmots, Kids, and particularly Lambs; from which last circum­stance they are called by the Swiss peasants Lammer-geyer, or Lamb-vultures.⁕1 The Bearded II.181 Eagles seldom appear but in small parties, usually consisting of the two old birds and their young.

If common report may be credited, this rapacious bird does not confine its assaults to the brute creation, but sometimes attacks and succeeds in carrying off young children.—Gesner, on the authority of Fabricius, says, respecting it, that some peasants between Miesen and Brisa, cities in Germany, losing every day some of their cattle, which they sought for in the forests in vain, observed by chance a very large nest resting on three oaks, constructed with sticks and branches of trees, and as wide as the body of a cart. They found in this nest three young birds; already so large, that their wings extended seven ells. Their legs were as thick as those of a Lion; and their nails, the size of a man’s fingers. In the nest were found several skins of Calves and Sheep.⁕2

It appears to have been from one of the two varieties of this bird that are sometimes seen in Persia and other eastern countries, rather than the Condur as is generally supposed, that the fabulous stories of the Roc of the Arabian Tales originated; since the latter is confined to the wild districts of South America, and has never been fully ascertained to have visited the old continent.

One of these varieties it is that Mr. Bruce describes himself as having seen on the highest part of the mountain of Lamalmon, not far from Gondar, the II.182 capital of Abyssinia. He says, that on account of the tuft growing beneath its beak, the inhabitants called it Abou Duch’n, or Father Long-beard. Mr. Bruce supposed it not only one of the greatest of the Eagle kind, but certainly one of the largest birds in the creation. From wing to wing the animal measured eight feet four inches; and from the tip of its tail to the point of its beak, when dead, four feet seven inches. It weighed twenty-two pounds and was very full of flesh. Its legs were very short, but the thighs extremely muscular. Its eyes were remarkably small, the aperture being scarcely half an inch. The crown of the head was bald, as was also the front where the bill and skull joined.

“This noble Bird (says our author) was not an object of any chace or pursuit, nor stood in need of any stratagem to bring him within our reach. Upon the highest top of the mountain Lamalmon, while my servants were refreshing themselves from that toilsome rugged ascent, and enjoying the pleasure of a most delightful climate, eating their dinner in the outer air, with several large dishes of boiled Goat’s flesh before them, this enemy, as he turned out to be to them, suddenly appeared; he did not stoop rapidly from a height, but came flying slowly along the ground, and sat down close to the meat, within the ring the men had made round it. A great shout, or rather cry of distress, called me to the place. I saw the Eagle stand for a minute, as if to recollect himself; while the servants ran for their lances and shields. I walked up as nearly to him as I had time to do. His attention was fully fixed upon II.183 the flesh. I saw him put his foot into the pan, where there was a large piece in water prepared for boiling; but finding the smart, which he had not expected, he withdrew it, and forsook the piece that he held.

“There were two large pieces, a leg and a shoulder, lying upon a wooden platter: into these he thrust both his claws, and carried them off; but I thought he still looked wistfully at the large piece which remained in the warm water. Away he went slowly along the ground, as he had come. The face of the Cliff over which criminals are thrown, took him from our sight. The Mahometans that drove the Asses were much alarmed, and assured me of his return. My servants, on the other hand, very unwillingly expected him, and thought he had already more than his share.

“As I had myself a desire of more intimate acquaintance with him, I loaded a rifle-gun with ball, and sat down close to the platter by the meat. It was not many minutes before he came, and a prodigious shout was raised by my attendants, “He is coming, he is coming,” enough to have dismayed a less courageous animal. Whether he was not quite so hungry as at his first visit, or suspected something from my appearance, I know not; but he made a small turn, and sat down about ten yards from me, the pan with the meat being between me and him. As the field was clear before me, and I did not know but his next move might bring him opposite to some of my people, so that he might actually get the rest of the meat and make off, I shot him II.184 with the ball through the middle of his body, about two inches below the wing, so that he lay down upon the grass without a single flutter.

Upon laying hold of his monstrous carcase, I was not a little surprized at seeing my hands covered and tinged with yellow powder or dust. On turning him upon his belly, and examining the feathers of his back, they also produced a dust, the colour of the feathers there. This dust was not in small quantities; for, upon striking the breast, the yellow powder flew, in full greater quantity than from a hairdresser’s powder-puff. The feathers of the belly and breast, which were of a gold colour, did not appear to have any thing extraordinary in their formation; but the large feathers in the shoulder and wings seemed apparently to be fine tubes, which, upon pressure, scattered this dust upon the finer part of the feather; but this was brown, the colour of the feathers of the back. Upon the side of the wing, the ribs, or hard part of the feathers, seemed to be bare, as if worn; or, I rather think, were renewing themselves, having before failed in their functions.

“What is the reason of this extraordinary provision of nature, it is not in my power to determine. As it is an unusual one, it is probably meant for a defence against the climate, in favour of the birds which live in those almost inaccessible heights of a country doomed, even in its lower parts, to several months excessive rain.”

Mr. Bruce the same day shot a Heron; which differed in no respect from ours, except that it was smaller, and had upon its breast and back a blue II.185 powder, in full as great quantity as that of the bird just described⁕3.

Synonyms.—Falco Barbatus. Linn. Gmel.—Vultur Barbatus. Linn.—Lammer-geyer. Var.—Vulturine Eagle. Albin.—Bearded Bastard-eagle. Kerr.

⁕1 It is, however, to be remarked, that the Swiss peasants do not altogether confine the appellation of Lammer-geyer to this species, but sometimes extend it to other large birds of prey.

⁕2 Buffon.

⁕3 Appendix to Bruce’s Travels.

Notes and Corrections: The Bearded Eagle

Falco barbatus or Vultur barbatus is now known as Gypaetus barbatus, the bearded vulture, in family Accipitridae.

already so large, that their wings extended seven ells
[The canonical ell is 45 inches (3ft 9in or a little over 1m); seven of them is almost exactly 8m. Even if you postulate that Bingley had in mind the French or Flemish ell, used for measuring fabric, which is only 27 inches (2ft 3in) . . . nuh-uh.]

engraving of Golden Eagle, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 17:
Golden Eagle


The Golden Eagle is a native of Europe, and even of some of the more mountainous parts of Great Britain. It is a large species, weighing twelve or fourteen pounds; measuring in length three feet, and from tip to tip of his wings seven feet and a half. The bill is deep blue, and the cere yellow. The head and neck are of a dark brown, bordered with tawny: the hind-part of the head is of a bright rust-colour, and the rest of the body brown. The tail is blotched with ash-colour. The legs are yellow, and feathered to the toes, which are scaly; the claws are remarkably large, the middle one being two inches in length.⁕1

engraving of Golden Eagle, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 5:

This Eagle has been generally considered by mankind to bear the same dominion over the birds, which has been, almost universally, attributed to the Lion over the quadrupeds. The Comte de Buffon, taking up the idea, is also of opinion that they have many points of resemblance, both physical and moral. “Magnanimity (he says) is equally conspicuous in both; they despise the small animals, and disregard their insults. It is only after a series of provocations, after being teased with the noisy or harsh notes of the Raven or Magpie, that the Eagle determines to punish their temerity or their insolence II.186 with death. Besides, both disdain the possession of that property which is not the fruit of their own industry; rejecting with contempt the prey which is not procured by their own exertions. Both are remarkable for their temperance. This species seldom devours the whole of his game, but, like the Lion, leaves the fragments and offals to the other animals. Though famished for want of prey, he disdains to feed upon carrion.

“Like the Lion also he is solitary, the inhabitant of a desert, over which he reigns supreme, excluding all the other birds from his silent domain. It is more uncommon, perhaps, to see two pairs of Eagles in the same tract of mountain, than two families of Lions in the same part of the forest. They separate from each other at such wide intervals, as to afford ample range for subsistence; and esteem the value and extent of their dominion to consist in the abundance of the prey with which it is replenished.

“The eyes of the Eagle have the glare of those of the Lion, and are nearly of the same colour; the claws are of the same shape; the organs of sound are equally powerful, and the cry equally terrible.⁕2—Destined, both of them, for war and plunder, they are equally fierce, equally bold and untractable. It is impossible to tame them, unless they be caught when in their infancy.—It requires much patience and art to train a young Eagle to the chace; and after he has attained to age and strength, his caprices and momentary impulses of passion are sufficient II.187 to create suspicions and fears in his master.—Authors inform us that the Eagle was anciently used in the East for Falconry; but this practice is now laid aside: he is too heavy to be carried on the hand without great fatigue; nor is he ever brought to be so tame or so gentle as to remove all suspicions of danger. His bill and claws are crooked and formidable: his figure corresponds with his instinct; his body is robust; his legs and wings strong; his flesh hard; his bones firm; his feathers stiff; his attitude bold and erect; his movements quick; his flight rapid. He rises higher in the air than any other of the winged race; and hence he was termed by the ancients the Celestial Bird, and was regarded in their mythology as the messenger of Jupiter. He can distinguish objects at an immense distance; but his power of smell is inferior to that of the Vulture. By means of his exquisite sight he pursues his prey; and, when he has seized it, he checks his flight, and places it upon the ground, to examine its weight before he carries it off. Though his wings are vigorous; yet, his legs being stiff, it is with difficulty he can rise, especially if he is loaded. He is able to bear away Geese and Cranes: he also carries off Hares, young Lambs, and Kids. When he attacks Fawns or Calves, he instantly gluts himself with their blood and flesh, and afterwards transports their mangled carcases to his nest, or aery.”⁕3

engraving of Golden Eagle, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 16

Formed for war, these birds are solitary and unsociable. They are also fierce, but not implacable; II.188 and though not easily tamed, are certainly capable of great docility, and in some cases, especially when gently treated, of inviolable attachment. This, however, happens but rarely; as, of the two, the keeper is often the more savage and unrelenting. His inhuman harshness the bird sometimes suddenly and severely revenges.—A gentleman who lived in the south of Scotland had, not many years ago, a tame Eagle; which the keeper one day injudiciously thought proper, for some petty fault, to lash with a horsewhip. About a week afterwards, the man chanced to stoop within reach of its chain; when the enraged animal, recollecting the late insult, flew in his face with so much fury and violence, that he was terribly wounded, but was luckily driven so far back by the blow as to be out of all further danger. The screams of the Eagle alarmed the family; who found the poor man lying at some distance in a very bloody plight, equally stunned with the fright and the fall. The animal was still pacing and screaming in a manner not less threatening than majestic. It was even dreaded, whether, in so violent a rage, he might not break loose; which indeed, fortunately perhaps for them, he did, just as they withdrew,—and escaped for ever.

This species build their nests in elevated rocks, ruinous and solitary castles and towers, and other sequestered places. The nest is quite flat; and not hollow, like those of other birds. The male and female commonly place it between two rocks, in a dry and inaccessible situation. The same nest, it is said, serves the Eagle during life. Its form resembles II.189 that of a floor. Its basis consists of sticks about five or six feet in length, which are supported at each end; and these are covered with several layers of rushes and heath.

High from the summit of a craggy cliff,

Hung o’er the deep,—such as amazing frowns

On utmost Kilda’s shore, whose lonely race

Resign the setting sun to Indian worlds,—

The royal Eagle draws his vigorous young,

Strong-pounc’d, and ardent with paternal fire;

Now, fit to raise a kingdom of their own,

He drives them from his fort, the towering seat,

For ages, of his empire.

An Eagle’s nest was found in the Peak of Derbyshire, which Willughby describes in the following manner: “It was made of great sticks, resting one end on the edge of a rock, the other on a birch tree. Upon these was a layer of rushes, and over them a layer of heath, and on the heath rushes again; upon which lay one young, and an addle egg; and by them a Lamb, a Hare, and three Heath Pouts. The nest was about two yards square, and had no hollow in it.”⁕4

The females never lay above two or three eggs. These they hatch in thirty days. They feed their young with the slain carcases of such small animals as come in their way, as Hares, Lambs, or Geese; and, though they are at all times formidable, they are particularly so while bringing up their young.

It is said that a countryman once got a comfortable II.190 subsistence for his family out of an Eagle’s nest, during a summer of famine. He protracted the assiduity of the old birds beyond their usual time, by clipping the wings and thus retarding the flight of the young; and tying them so as to increase their cries, which is always found to increase the dispatch of the parents in supplying their wants. It was lucky for him that the old ones did not detect their plunderer, otherwise their resentment might have proved fatal.⁕5—For a peasant, not many years ago, resolved to rob an Eagle’s nest, which he knew to be built in a small island in the beautiful lake of Killarney. He stripped himself for this purpose, and swam over when the old birds were gone; but, in his return, while yet up to the chin in water, the parents coming home, and missing their offspring, quickly fell on the plunderer, killed him on the spot, and rescued their young.

Thus the bold Bird her helpless young attends,

From danger guards them, and from want defends;

In search of prey she wings the spacious air,

And with th’ untasted food supplies her care.

Several instances have been recorded, of children being seized and carried off by Eagles to their young. In the year 1737, in the parish of Norderhougs, in Norway, a boy somewhat more than two years old was running from the house to his parents, who were at work in the fields at no great distance, when an Eagle pounced upon, and flew off with him in II.191 their sight. It was with grief and anguish that they beheld their child dragged away, but all their screams and efforts to prevent it were in vain.⁕6—Anderson, in his History of Iceland, says, that in that island children of four or five years of age have been sometimes taken away by Eagles; and Ray relates, that in one of the Orkneys, a child of a year old was seized in the talons of an Eagle, and carried above four miles to its nest. The mother, knowing the place, pursued the bird, found her child in the nest, and took it away unhurt.⁕7

The form of the Golden Eagles is extremely fibrous and muscular; but their chief strength lies in their beak, their talons, and their wings. There is scarcely any quadruped a match for them; as they are capable of giving the most terrible annoyance, without much danger to themselves. One flap of their wing has been known to strike a man dead in an instant.

They are remarkable for their longevity, and their power of sustaining abstinence from food for a great length of time. One that died at Vienna had been in confinement above a hundred years; and one that was in the possession of a gentleman of Conway, in Caernarvonshire, was, from the neglect of his servants, kept for three weeks without any sustenance whatever.⁕8

Synonyms.—Falco Chrysaëtos. Linn.—Grand Aigle. Buff. Orn, in Norway.—Golden Eagle. Var.——Bew. Birds, p. 5.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 16.

⁕1 Latham, i. p. 31.

⁕2 The voice of the Lion and Eagle, notwithstanding this assertion of the Comte de Buffon, will not bear comparison with each other. The one is a deep and dreadful base; and the other a piercing treble, altogether destitute of majesty.

⁕3 Buffon’s Birds.

⁕4 Willughby, p. 21.

⁕5 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 168.

⁕6 Pontoppidan, part il. p. 89.

⁕7 Ray Prodrom. Hist. Nat. Scot.

⁕8 Penn. Brit. Zool. i.

Notes and Corrections: The Golden Eagle

skip to next section

Falco chrysaëtos is now Aquila chrysaetos; as its name indicates, it’s an eagle, not a falcon. There are half a dozen subspecies, distributed all around the northern hemisphere.

The illustration that Bingley calls “tab. 16” is in fact the title page to the second half of Pennant’s Volume I.

[Synonyms] Orn, in Norway
[Really Ørn (Örn), but Bingley is not partial to diacritics at the best of times, let alone in footnotes.]

rejecting with contempt the prey which is not procured by their own exertions
[I don’t know about golden eagles, but I believe it has been estab­lished that lions are perfectly happy to scavenge other animals’ fresh kills.]

transports their mangled carcases to his nest, or aery.”
text has single for double close quote

High from the summit of a craggy cliff
[Thomson’s Seasons: Spring, 755-63.]

Thus the bold Bird her helpless young attends
[Pope’s translation of Iliad IX.323-324 (lines 424-47 in Pope, who seems to have expanded on his text):

ὡς δ᾽ ὄρνις ἀπτῆσι νεοσσοῖσι προφέρῃσι

μάστακ᾽ ἐπεί κε λάβῃσι, κακῶς δ᾽ ἄρα οἱ πέλει αὐτῇ ]


engraving of Osprey, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 13:


The Osprey frequents large rivers, lakes, and the sea-shores both of Europe and America. It is about two feet long, and somewhat more than five feet broad; and its wings, when closed, reach beyond the end of the tail. The head is small; and on the top is black or brown, variegated with white. The upper parts of the body, and the whole of the tail, are brown; and the belly is white. It is a singular circum­stance in this bird, that the outer toe turns easily backward, so as on occasion to have toes two forward and two backward, and has a much larger claw than the inner one. This, and the peculiar roughness of the whole foot underneath, are well adapted to secure the fish, their slippery prey.

This bird often affords amusement to strangers on the larger rivers of America. During the spring and summer months, the Osprey is frequently seen hovering over the rivers, or resting on the wing for several minutes at a time without the least visible change of place. It then suddenly darts down, and plunges into the water, whence it seldom rises again without some fish in its talons.—When it rises into the air, it immediately shakes off the water, which it throws around like a mist, and pursues its way towards the woods. The Bald Eagle,⁕1 which on these occasions is generally upon the watch, instantly II.193 pursues, and if it can overtake, endeavours to soar above it. The Osprey, solicitous for its own safety, drops the fish in alarm; the Eagle immediately pounces at this prey, and never fails to catch it before it reaches the water, leaving the Hawk to begin his work afresh.

It is somewhat remarkable, that whenever the Osprey catches a fish, it always makes aloud screaming noise; which the Eagle, if within hearing, never fails to take as a signal. Sometimes it happens that, if the Osprey is pretty large and strong, it will contend with the Eagle for its rightful property; and, though generally conquered in the end, a contest of this sort has been sustained for upwards of half an hour.⁕2

The Osprey usually builds its next on the ground, among reeds; and lays three or four white eggs, rather smaller than those of a Hen. Mr. Montagu says that he once saw the nest of this bird on the top of a chimney of a ruin in an island of Loch Lomond in Scotland. It was large and flat, formed of sticks laid across, and lined with flags; and it rested on the sides of the chimney.⁕3

Synonyms.—Falco Haliëtos. Linn.—Bald Buzzard, or Sea Eagle. Ray.—Fishing Hawk. Catesby.—Fishing Eagle. Montagu.—Balbuzzard. Buff.—Osprey. Latham. Penn.——Bew. Birds, p. 13.

⁕1 Falco Leucocephalus of Linnæus.

⁕2 Catesby, i. 2.—Burnaby’s Travels in North America, p. 28.—Brickell, p. 172.

⁕3 Montagu, Art. Osprey.

Notes and Corrections: The Osprey

Falco haliaetos, the osprey, is now Pandion haliaeetus—not to be confused with sea eagles, genus Haliaeetus. Among birds of prey, ospreys are their own family, Pandionidae, parallel to eagles and secretary birds.

[Synonyms] Falco Haliëtos.
[Shaw and Bewick both spell it Haliætus, which is also wrong; it’s haliaëtos or haliæetos in separate syllables.]

[Footnote] Falco Leucocephalus of Linnæus
[Now Haliaeetus leucocephalus.]

engraving of “Common Buzzard”, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 15:


The Buzzard is about twenty inches in length, and in breadth four feet and a half. Its bill is lead-coloured. II.194 The upper parts of the body are dusky; and the lower pale, varied with brown. The wings and tail are marked with bars of a darker hue. The tail is greyish beneath, and tipped with a dusky white. The legs are yellowish, and the claws black.

This well-known bird is of a sedentary and indolent disposition: it continues perched for many hours upon a tree or eminence, from whence it darts upon such prey as comes within its reach. It feeds on birds, small quadrupeds, reptiles, and insects. Though possessed of strength, agility, and weapons to defend itself, it is cowardly, inactive, and slothful: it will fly from a Sparrow-hawk; and, when overtaken, will suffer itself to be beaten, and even brought to the ground, without resistance.⁕1

engraving of Buzzard, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 25:

The following anecdote will shew that the Buzzard may be so far tamed as even to be rendered a faithful domestic. I shall copy it from the letter of M. Fontaine, inserted in the work of the Comte de Buffon. “In 1763 (says this gentleman) a Buzzard was brought to me that had been taken in a snare. It was at first extremely wild and unpromising. I undertook to tame it; and I succeeded, by leaving it to fast, and constraining it to come and eat out of my hand. By pursuing this plan, I brought it to be very familiar: and, after having shut it up about six weeks, I began to allow it a little liberty, taking the precaution, however, to tie both pinions of its wings. In this condition it walked out into my garden, and returned when I called it to feed. After II.195 some time, when I judged that I could trust to its fidelity, I removed the ligatures; and fastened a small bell, an inch and a half in diameter, above its talon, and also attached on the breast a bit of copper having my name engraved on it. I then gave it entire liberty: which it soon abused; for it took wing, and flew as far as the forest of Belesme. I gave it up for lost; but four hours after, I saw it rush into my hall, which was open, pursued by five other Buzzards, who had constrained it to seek again its asylum.

“After this adventure, it ever preserved its fidelity to me, coming every night to sleep on my window; it grew so familiar as to seem to take singular pleasure in my company. It attended constantly at dinner; sat on a corner of the table, and very often caressed me with its head and bill, emitting a weak sharp cry, which, however, it sometimes softened. It is true that I alone had this privilege. It one day followed me when I was on horseback, more than two leagues, flying above my head.

“It had an aversion both to Dogs and Cats; nor was it in the least afraid of them; it had often tough battles with them, but always came off victorious. I had four very strong Cats, which I collected into my garden with my Buzzard: I threw to them a bit of raw flesh; the nimblest Cat seized it; the rest pursued; but the bird darted upon her body, bit her ears with his bill, and squeezed her sides with his talons so forcibly, that the Cat was obliged to relinquish her prize. Often another Cat snatched it the instant it dropped; but she suffered II.196 the same treatment, till the Buzzard got entire possession of the plunder. He was so dexterous in his defence, that when he perceived himself assailed at once by the four Cats, he took wing, and uttered a cry of exultation. At last, the Cats, chagrined with their repeated disappointment, would no longer contend.

“This Buzzard had a singular antipathy: he would not suffer a red cap on the head of any of the peasants; and so alert was he in whipping it off, that they found their heads bare without knowing what was become of their caps. He also snatched wigs, without doing any injury; and he carried these caps and wigs to the tallest tree in a neighbouring park, which was the ordinary deposit of his booty.

“He would suffer no other bird of prey to enter his domain; he attacked them very boldly, and put them to flight. He did no mischief in my court-yard; and the poultry, which at first dreaded him, grew insensibly reconciled to him. The Chickens and Ducklings received not the least harsh usage; and yet he bathed among the latter. But, what is singular, he was not gentle to my neighbours’ poultry: and I was often obliged to publish that I would pay for the damages that he might occasion. However, he was frequently fired at; and, at different times, received fifteen musket-shots without suffering any fracture. But once, early in the morning, hovering over the skirts of a forest, he dared to attack a Fox; and the keeper, seeing him on the shoulders of the Fox, fired two shots at him: the Fox was killed, and the Buzzard had his wing II.197 broken; yet, notwithstanding this fracture, he escaped from the keeper, and was lost seven days. This man having discovered, from the noise of the bell, that he was my bird, came next morning to inform me. I sent to make search near the spot; but the bird could not be found, nor did it return till seven days after. I had been used to call him every evening with a whistle, which he did not answer for six days; but on the seventh, I heard a feeble cry at a distance, which I judged to be that of my Buzzard: I repeated the whistle a second time, and heard the same cry. I went to the place from whence the sound came; and, at last, found my poor Buzzard with his wing broken, who had travelled more than half a league on foot to regain his asylum, from which he was then distant about a hundred and twenty paces. Though he was extremely reduced, he gave me many caresses. It was six weeks before he was recruited, and his wounds were healed; after which, he began to fly as before, and follow his old habits for about a year; he then disappeared for ever. I am convinced that he was killed by accident; and that he would not have forsaken me from choice.”⁕2

The Buzzard is one of the most common of the Hawk kind that we have in this country. It breeds in large woods; and usually builds in an old Crow’s nest, which it enlarges, and lines in the inside with wool and other soft materials. It feeds and tends II.198 its young, which are generally two or three in number, with great assiduity. Ray affirms, that if the female be killed during the time of incubation, the male Buzzard will take the charge of them, and patiently rear them till they are able to provide for themselves.

Synonyms.—Falco Buteo. Linn.—Buse. Buff.—Buzzard. Penn.—Common Buzzard. Lath.——Bew. Birds, p. 15.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 25.

⁕1 Latham, i. 48.

⁕2 Letter of M. Fontaine, Curé de Saint Pierre de Belesme, to the Comte de Buffon.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Buzzard

Linnaeus’s Falco buteo is now a genus of its own, Buteo, with more than 20 species—most of them hawks rather than buzzards—of which the “common buzzard” is the flagship B. buteo.

he would not suffer a red cap on the head of any of the peasants
[Unlike, say, bulls, birds of prey really do have color vision.]

engraving of Hen Harrier, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 28:
Hen Harrier


The Hen Harrier is about seventeen inches long, and three feet wide. Its bill is black, and cere yellow. The upper parts of its body are of a bluish grey: and the back of the head, the breast, belly, and thighs, white; the two former marked with dusky streaks. The two middle feathers of the tail are grey; and the outer webs of the others are of the same colour, but the inner ones are marked with alternate bars of white and rust-colour. The legs are long, slender, and yellow; and the claws black.⁕1

These birds are often seen about forests, heaths, and other retired places; especially in the neighbourhood of marshy grounds, where they destroy vast numbers of Snipes. They sail with great regularity all over a piece of marsh, till they discover them, when they immediately pounce upon and seize them.

engraving of Hen-Harrier, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 33:

A gentleman who was shooting in Hampshire, by chance sprung a Pheasant in a wheat-stubble, and shot at it; when, notwithstanding the report of the II.199 gun, it was pursued by a Hen Harrier, but escaped into some covert. He then sprung a second, and a third, in the same field, and these likewise got away; the Hawk hovering round him all the while he was beating the field, conscious, no doubt, of the game that lurked in the stubble. Hence we may conclude, that this bird of prey was rendered very daring and bold by hunger, and that Hawks are not always in a condition to strike their game. We may further observe, that they cannot pounce on their quarry when it is on the ground, where it might be able to make a stout resistance; since so large a fowl as a pheasant could not but be visible to the piercing eye of a Hawk, when hovering over it. Hence that propensity in game to cowering and squatting till they are almost trod on; which doubtless was intended as a mode of security, though it has long been rendered destructive by the invention of nets and guns.⁕2

A Hen Harrier that was shot some years ago near London, was first observed dodging round the lower parts of some old trees, and now and then seeming to strike against the trunks of them with its beak or talons, but still continuing on the wing. The cause of this very singular conduct could not even be guessed, till after it was killed; when, on opening its stomach, nearly twenty small brown Lizards⁕3 were found there, which it had artfully seized, by coming suddenly round upon them. They were each bitten or torn into two or three pieces.⁕4


These destructive birds may be caught in a trap baited with a stuffed Rabbet’s-skin and covered nicely over with moss.—They breed annually on the Cheviot-hills; and from a Hen Harrier and Ring Tail⁕5 having been shot on the same nest, it appears that these are not two distinct species, however different they may be in appearance, but in reality the male and female of the same.⁕6 Their nests are formed on the ground, and the usual number of young is about four.

Synonyms.—Falco Cyaneus. Linn.—Oiseau S. Martin. Buff.—Blue Hawk. Edwards.—Hen Harrier. Var.——Bew. Birds p. 33.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 28.

⁕1 Latham, i. 88.

⁕2 White’s Naturalist’s Calendar, p. 70.

⁕3 Lacerta Agilis of Linnæus.

⁕4 Edwards’s Gleanings, i. 33.

⁕5 Falco Pygargus of Linnæus.

⁕6 Linn. Tran. iv. 13.

Notes and Corrections: The Hen Harrier

skip to next section

Falco cyaneus, the hen harrier, northern harrier or marsh hawk, is now Circus cyaneus, in the same Accipitrinae subfamily as hawks, eagles, vultures and so on.

The English name may sound as if it means “something that annoys, pesters or bothers hens”, but in fact “harrier” is the general name for the entire Circus genus: swamp harrier, spotted harrier, long-winged harrier, pallid harrier . . . .

not two distinct species . . . but in reality the male and female of the same
[Close, but no cigar. Linnaeus’s Falco pygargus is another harrier species, now Circus pygargus, Montagu’s harrier—named in honor of the same Montagu who was cited in the Osprey section, a few pages back. What the two of them were doing in the same nest is a question best left unasked.]

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 28
text has 88
[Thanks to Pennant’s peculiar numbering, his Volume I doesn’t even have a plate 88.]

[Footnote] Latham, i. 88.
text has 28
[That explains the “tab. 88” in the previous footnote: Bingley simply got his references mixed up.]

[Footnote] Lacerta Agilis of Linnæus.
[Surprisingly, Lacerta agilis still has that binomial. (It is surprising because, as we will learn in the next volume, Linnaeus treated all cold-blooded animals with four legs—crocodiles, salamanders, you name it—as lizards.) Bingley calls it the Nimble Lizard.]

engraving of Sparrowhawk, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 27:


The male Sparrow Hawk is about twelve, and the female fifteen, inches in length. The exterior feathers of the upper parts of the latter are brown, with dusky edges; and on the back of the head there are some whitish spots. The under parts are yellowish white, waved with light brown. The chin is streaked with perpen­dicular lines of brown. The tail is barred with dark brown, and is white at the end. The legs are yellow, and the claws black.—The male is somewhat different. The upper part of its breast is of a dark lead-colour, the bars on this part are more numerous, and the under parts are altogether darker. In both sexes the bill is blue and the cere yellow.

The Sparrow Hawk is a bold bird, and is the dread of the tenants of the farm-yard, making at II.201 times great havock among the young poultry of all kinds; and it will commit its depredations in the most daring manner, even in the presence of a man.

It is a very obedient and docile bird; and, when properly trained, capable of great attachment. “I very well remember one that I had when a boy (says the compiler of Beauties of Natural History), that used to accompany me through the fields, catch his game, devour it at his leisure, and, after all, find me out wherever I went: nor, after the first or second adventure of this kind, was I ever afraid of losing him. A peasant, however, to my great mortification, one day shot him, for having made too free with some of his poultry. He was about as large as a Wood-pigeon; and I have seen him fly at a Turkey-cock, and when beaten, return to the charge with undaunted intrepidity: I have also known him kill a Fowl five or six times as big as himself.”

The female builds her nest in hollow trees, high rocks, or lofty ruins; sometimes she is contented with the old nest of a Crow: she generally lays four or five eggs.—This bird may be trained to hunt Partridges and Quails.

Synonyms.—Falco Nisus. Linn.—Epervier. Buff.—Sparrow Hawk. Var.——Bew. Birds p. 27.

Notes and Corrections: The Sparrow Hawk

Falco nisus is now Accipiter nisus, the Eurasian sparrowhawk. Genus Accipiter has dozens of species; it is surprising we haven’t met one sooner.

she generally lays four or five eggs.
text has egs


This lately discovered species is about the size of the Common Falcon. The plumage is in general of a pale lead or dove-colour, with the top of the head and the scapulars inclining to brown. The under parts of the breast are of a pearly grey, II.202 crossed with numerous grey stripes. The quills are black. The tail is wedge-shaped, the outer feathers one-third shorter than the middle ones, and the tip white. The bill and claws are black, and the cere and legs orange. It is a native of Caffraria and some of the neighbouring countries.

In the breeding-time the male is remarkable for its song; which it utters every morning and evening, and, like the Nightingale, not uncommonly all the night through. It sings out in a loud tone for more than a minute, and after an interval begins anew. During its song it is so regardless of its own safety, that any one may approach very near to it; but at other times it is very suspicious and takes flight on the slightest alarm. Should the male be killed, the female may also be shot without difficulty: for her attachment to him is such, that she continues flying round with the most plaintive voice; and, often passing within a few yards of the gunner, it is an easy matter to kill her. But if the female happens to be shot first, the affection of her mate does not prove so romantic; for, retiring to the top of some distant tree, he is not easily approached: he does not, however, cease to sing, but becomes so wary as to fly entirely away from that neighbourhood on the least alarm.

The female forms her nest between the forks of trees, or in bushy groves. She lays four white round eggs.—This Falcon, for its size, is a very destructive species. It preys on Partridges, Hares, Quails, Moles, Rats, and other small animals.⁕1

Le Faucon Chanteur. Le Vaillant.

⁕1 Le Vaillant, Ois. d’Afrique, i. p. 117.

Notes and Corrections: The Chaunting Falcon

Bingley may have been over-eager in rushing to include this description. Shaw’s vol. VII—published a few years after Bingley—identifies it as Falco musicus. Other suggested synonyms, from later in the century, are Melierax musicus and Nisus canorus. Putting all these together, maybe it’s Melierax canorus, the pale chanting goshawk, which lives in southern Africa. Even though there exists at least one preserved specimen under this binomial, the name isn’t attached to any currently identified species. One source refers to it as “The supposed Chaunting Falcon [=Circus cyaneus]”, implying that it’s just another hen harrier.


engraving of “Eagle Owl”, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 29:
Eagle Owl


In this tribe, as in the last, the bill is hooked, but it is not furnished with a cere. The nostrils are oblong, and covered with bristly feathers. The head, ears, and eyes, are very large; the tongue is cleft.

These birds seem to differ from the Falcons, much in the same manner as Moths differ from Butterflies: the Owls being nocturnal, and pursuing their prey only in the night; and the Falcons flying altogether in the day-time. They feed principally on small birds and quadrupeds, and on nocturnal insects; the exuviæ and bones of which, (as in the Falcons,) are always discharged at the mouth, in the form of small pellets. Their eyes are so constructed, that they are able to see much more distinctly in the dusk of the evening than in the broad glare of sunshine. Most animals, by the contraction and dilatation of the pupil of the eye, have, in some degree the power of shutting out or admitting light, as their necessities require: but in the Owls this property is observed in singular perfection; and in addition to this, there is an irradiation on the back of the eye, which greatly aids their vision in the obscure places that they frequent.

Incapable of seeing their prey, or of avoiding danger sufficiently, in the full blaze of day, they keep concealed, during this time, in some secure retreat, suited to their gloomy habits, and there continue in solitude and silence.—If they venture II.204 abroad, every thing dazzles and distracts them. Legions of birds flock around them, and single them out as objects of derision and contempt. The Blackbird, the Thrush, the Jay, the Bunting, and the Red-breast, all come in a crowd, and employ their little arts of insult and abuse. The smallest, the feeblest, and the most contemptible enemies of this bewildered creature, are then the foremost to injure and torment him. They increase their cries and turbulence around him, flap him with their wings, and, like all cowards, are ready to exhibit their courage when they are sensible that the danger is but small. The unfortunate wanderer, not knowing where he is, whom to attack, nor whither to fly, patiently sits and suffers all their indignities with the utmost stupidity. His appearance by day is enough to set the whole grove in an uproar. An aversion that the smaller birds bear to the Owl, with a temporary assurance of their own security, urges them to pursue him, whilst they encourage each other by their mutual cries to lend assistance in the general cause.—Bird-catchers, aware of this singular propensity, having first limed several of the outer branches of a hedge, hide themselves near it, and imitate the cry of the Owl: when instantly all the little creatures flock to the place in hopes of their accustomed game; but, instead of meeting a stupid and dazzled antagonist, they find themselves ensnared.

This want of sight (which, however, is not common to every one of the species) is compensated by their peculiar quickness of hearing; for the latter sense is much more acute in the Owls than in most other birds.


The head is round, and formed somewhat like that of a Cat. About the eyes, the feathers are ranged as if proceeding from a common centre in the middle of the eye; and they extend in a circle to some distance. The legs are clad with down or feathers, even to the origin of the claws, which are very sharp and hooked. Three of the toes stand forward, and one backward; but the fore-toes can occasionally be turned back, to suit either for perching or climbing, as occasion may require.

In winter, Owls retire into holes in towers and old walls, and pass that season in sleep. The number of species is about fifty; of which twenty are provided with long feathers, surrounding the openings of the ears, and called, from the appearance they give to the animals, horns.—In their general modes of life, the Owls may be looked upon as the Cats of the feathered species.

Notes and Corrections: The Owl Tribe

Owls are an order of their own, Strigiformes. There are two families, but most owls are in Strigidae, blandly labeled “typical owls”.

engraving of Great Horned Owl, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 28:
Great Horned Owl from Leverian Museum


This large species, which is equal in size to some of the Eagles, inhabits inaccessible rocks and desert places in most parts of Europe, Asia, and America; and is sometimes, though but rarely, seen in this country. The body is of a tawny red colour: marked with lines and spots, elegantly varied, of black, brown, ash, and rust colour. The wings are long; and the tail is short, and marked with transverse dusky streaks. The legs are thick, of a brick-dust red, and (except in one variety) feathered to the claws, which are large, hooked, and dusky.


Although the Owls are in general superstitiously considered by the people of most countries as birds of ill omen, and the messengers of woe; yet the Athenians alone, among the ancients, seem to have been free from this popular prejudice, and to have regarded them rather with veneration than abhorrence, The present species, which is very common in many parts of Greece, was even considered as a favourite bird of Minerva; and at Athens the inhabitants had a proverb, Noctuas Athenas mittere, “to send Owls to Athens,” exactly equivalent to the one used by us, “to send coals to Newcastle.”

engraving of Virginian Horned Owl, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 30:
Virginian Horned Owl

This Owl sees better during the day than almost any other of the tribe. It has been frequently observed preying on its game of birds and the smaller quadrupeds in full day-light.

M. Cronstedt has recorded a pleasing instance of the attachment of these birds to their young. This gentleman resided several years on a farm in Sudermania, near a steep mountain, on the summit of which two Eagle Owls had their nest. One day in the month of July, a young one, having quitted the nest, was seized by some of his servants. This bird, after it was caught, was shut up in a large hen-coop; and the next morning M. Cronstedt found a young Partridge lying dead before the door of the coop. He immediately concluded that this provision had been brought thither by the old Owls; which he supposed had been making search in the night-time for their lost young one, and had been led to the place of its confinement by its cry. This proved to have been the case, by the same mark of attention being repeated for fourteen successive nights. The II.207 game which the old ones carried to it consisted principally of young Partridges, for the most part newly killed, but sometimes a little spoiled. One day a Moor-fowl was brought, so fresh, that it was still warm under the wings. A putrid Lamb was also found, at another time, probably what had been spoiled by lying long in the nest of the old Owls; and it is supposed that they brought it merely because they had no better provision at the time.—M. Cronstedt and his servant watched at a window several nights, that they might observe, if possible, when this supply was deposited. Their plan did not succeed: but it appeared that these Owls, which are very sharp-sighted, had discovered the moment when the window was not watched; as food was found to have been deposited for the young before the coop one night when this had been the case.

In the month of August the parents discontinued this attendance; but at that period all birds of prey abandon their young to their own exertions.—From this instance it may be readily concluded, how great a quantity of game must be destroyed by a pair of these Owls during the time they employ in rearing their young. And as the edible species of forest animals repair chiefly in the evening to the fields, they are particularly exposed to the acute sight, smell, and claws, of these birds of the night.⁕1

It is said, that sometimes, when falconers wish to lure the Kite for the purpose of training the Falcon, they disfigure this Owl, by fastening to it the tail of II.208 a Fox. The animal, rendered thus grotesque, is let loose; and he sails slowly along, flying, as he usually does, very low. The poor Kite, either curious to observe so odd an animal, or, perhaps, inquisitive to know whether it may not be eligible prey, flies after it. He approaches near, and hovers immediately over it; when the falconer, loosing a strong-winged Falcon against him, seizes him at once, and drags him into captivity.⁕2

Synonyms.—Strix Bubo. Linn.—Grand Duc. Buff.—Great Owl, or Eagle Owl. Willughby.—Great Eared Owl. Lath.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 29.

⁕1 Transactions of the Philosophical Society of Stockholm.

⁕2 Beauties of Natural History.

Notes and Corrections: The Great Horned Owl

Strix bubo (“owl owl” in the usual two languages) is now Bubo bubo, the Eurasian eagle-owl. (Genus Strix is restricted to “earless” owls; genus Bubo is eagle-owls and horned owls.) The great horned owl is another Bubo species, B. virginianus. In fact, this article probably covers most of what is now genus Bubo.

at Athens the inhabitants had a proverb, Noctuas Athenas mittere
[Bingley, or his sources, did not make this up; I find it in texts as early as the 17th century. But I am not convinced this Latin proverb existed in Athens.]

a farm in Sudermania
[Södermanland, it turns out, on Sweden’s east coast.]

engraving of White Owl, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 51:


This Owl is well known by its frequenting churches, old houses, and uninhabited buildings; where it continues during the day, and whence, in the evening, it ranges abroad in quest of food. It received the name of Screech Owl from its loud and frightful cries during its flight. In its repose it makes a blowing noise, much resembling the snoring of a man.

It generally quits its hiding-place in the twilight; and takes a regular circuit round the fields, skimming along the ground in search of its food, which consists chiefly of Field-mice and small Birds.—Like the rest of the tribe, it afterwards emits the bones, feathers, hair, and other indigestible parts, at the mouth, in the form of small pellets. A gentleman, on digging up a decayed pollard-ash that had been II.209 frequented by Owls for many generations, found at the bottom many bushels of this refuse.—Sometimes these Owls, when they have satisfied their appetite, will, like Dogs, hide the remainder of their meat. Mr. Stackhouse, of Pendarvis in Cornwall, informs me, that in his pleasure-grounds he often finds Shrew-mice lying in the gravel walk, dead, but with no external wound. He conjectures that they are struck by the Owls, in mistake for Field-mice; and these birds afterwards finding their error, in having destroyed animals to which they have a natural antipathy, leave them untouched. This gentleman discovered by accident another of the antipathies of White Owls. A Pig having been newly killed, he offered a tame Owl a bit of the liver: nothing, he says, could exceed the contemptuous air with which the bird spurned it from him.

engraving of Barn Owl, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 33:
Barn Owl

The plumage of these Owls is very elegant. A circle of soft white feathers surrounds each of the eyes. All the upper parts of the body are of a fine pale yellow, variegated with white spots; and the under parts are entirely white, The legs are feathered, down to the claws.⁕1

The Mongol and Kalmuc Tartars pay almost divine honours to the White Owl; for they attribute to it the preservation of Jenghis Khan, the founder of their empire.—That Prince, with a small army, happened to be surprised and put to flight by his enemies. Compelled to seek concealment in a coppice, an Owl settled on the bush under which he was II.210 hidden. This circum­stance induced his pursuers not to search there, since they supposed it impossible that that bird would perch where any man was concealed. The Prince escaped; and thenceforth his countrymen held it sacred, and every one wore a plume of the feathers of the White Owl on his head. To this day, the Kalmucs continue the custom on all their great festivals; and some tribes have an idol, in the form of an Owl, to which they fasten the real legs of this bird.⁕2

The White Owl makes no nest; but deposits its eggs, generally five or six in number, in the holes of the walls, or under the eaves of old buildings. While the young are in the nest, the male and female alternately sally out in quest of food. They are seldom absent more than five minutes, when they return with the prey in their claws; but as it is necessary to shift it from thence into their bill, for the purpose of feeding their young, they always alight to do that before they enter the nest. As the young continue for a great length of time in the nest, and are fed even long after they are able to fly, the old birds have to supply them with many hundreds of Mice: on this account they are generally considered as useful animals in the destruction of those vermin.

Synonyms. Strix Flammea. Linn.—Effraie, ou Fresaie. Buff.—Common Owl. Kerr.—White Owl, Church Owl, Barn Owl, Howler, Madge-howler, Gillihowler. Willughby.—Hissing Owl, or Screech Owl. Montagu.——Bew. Birds p. 51.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 206.

⁕2 Penn. Arct. Zool.

Notes and Corrections: The White Or Screech Owl

Strix flammea is now Asio flammeus, the short-eared owl. But that’s just Linnaeus’s binomial. Screech owls are genus Otus, particularly O. asio. Barn owls, meanwhile, are a family of their own, Tytonidae, featuring genus Tyto, of which the ordinary barn owl is T. alba.

Jenghis Khan, the founder of their empire
[If only this spelling had become standard, we would not be afflicted with the common misspelling and mispronunciation “Ghenghis”.]

useful animals in the destruction of those vermin.
final . missing


engraving of Brown Owl, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 32:
Brown Owl


The Brown Owl measures somewhat more than a foot in length; and is spotted with black on the head, wings, and back. Its breast is of a pale ash-colour, with dusky, jagged, longitudinal streaks; and the circle round the eyes is ash-coloured, spotted with brown.

This is one of the most rapacious of all the Owls. It resides in the woods during the day; but at the approach of evening, when many animals, as Hares, Rabbets, and Partridges, come out to feed, it begins to be very clamorous and active: it destroys such multitudes of these, as on calculation would appear astonishing. In the dusk of the evening, the Brown Owls approach the farmers’ dwellings; and frequently enter the Pigeon-houses, where they sometimes commit dreadful ravages. They also kill great quantities of Mice, and skin them with as much dexterity as a cook-maid does a Rabbet. They seize their prey with great fierceness; and always beginning at the head, tear it in pieces with much violence. Were they to appear abroad at any time but in the night, when all the poultry are gone to roost, the havoc they would commit in the farm-yard would be prodigious. They do not devour every part of the animals that they destroy: the hinder parts they generally leave untouched.


On examining a nest of these Owls that had in it two young ones, several pieces of young Rabbets, Leverets, and other small animals, were found. The Hen and one of the young ones were taken away; the other was left to entice the Cock, which was absent when the nest was discovered. On the following morning, there were found in the nest no fewer than three young Rabbets, that had been brought to this young one by the Cock during the night.—These birds are occasionally very furious and bold in defence of their young. A carpenter some years ago, passing through a field near Gloucester, was suddenly attacked by an Owl that had a nest in a tree near the path. It flew at his head; and the man struck at it with a tool that he had in his hand, but missed his blow. The enraged bird repeated the attack; and fastening her talons in his face, lacerated him in a most shocking manner.⁕1

When these animals hoot, they inflate their throats to the size of a Hen’s egg. They breed in hollow trees, or ruined buildings; laying commonly four whitish elliptical eggs. It is not difficult to catch them in traps; or they may easily be shot in the evenings, by any person who can allure them by imitating tolerably well the squeaking of a Mouse.

Synonyms.—Strix Ulula. Linn.—Chouette, ou Grand Chevêche. Buff.—Grey Owl. Willughby.—Great Brown Owl. Albin.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 32.

⁕1 Gent. Mag. vol. 35. p. 294.

Notes and Corrections: The Brown Owl

Strix ulula is now Surnia ulula, the northern hawk owl.


engraving of Grey Shrike, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 37:
Grey Shrike


In these birds the bill is strong, straight at the base, and hooked or bent towards the end; and the upper mandible is notched near the tip. The base is not furnished with a cere. The tongue is jagged at the end. The outer toe is connected to the middle one as far as the first joint.

This tribe is arranged by Linnæus, and some other writers, in the last-recited order, among the Rapacious Birds. Mr. Pennant, in the later editions of his works, and Mr. Latham, have each, and, as appears to me, with great propriety, begun the present order of Pies with it. If the Shrike is retained in the former order, on account of its principally feeding on animal food; it would be difficult to dispose properly of the Kingfisher, the Woodpecker, and some other genera which. do the same. If we dwell on the curvature of the bill; how will this agree with the Parrot-kind, whose natural food is fruit? And as to the Shrike’s living on other birds; II.214 whenever opportunity offers, several both of the Crow tribe, and others, do the like. Their habits resemble, in a great measure, those of the Pies; as Linnæus has himself acknowledged: and although he has arranged them, among the Rapacious Birds, he seems to consider them as holding a kind of middle place, between the Pies and (on account of their smallness) the Passerine order. They seem, however, to stand with greater propriety at the head of the Pies; forming there a connecting link between them and the Rapacious Birds.

They are inhabitants of every quarter of the world; and are found in all climates, except within the Arctic Circle.

⁕1 The Linnæan order Pies commences with this tribe.—In all the birds of this order, the bill is sharp-edged, and convex on its upper surface. The legs are short, pretty strong, and in some species formed for perching (that is, with three toes forward, and one backward;) in others formed for climbing, with two toes forward and two back­wards; and in others for walking, that is, without any back toe.—The principal genera are the Shrikes, Crows, Rollers, Orioles, Grackles, Humming-birds, Parrots, Toucans, Cuckoos, Wood-peckers, Hornbills, and Kingfishers.—They live on various kinds of food, and are in general reckoned unfit for the table. Some of them associate in pairs, and others congregate. They usually build their nests on trees, and the male feeds the female during the process of incubation.

Notes and Corrections: The Shrike Tribe

Shrikes, family Laniidae, are in superfamily Corvoidea (“crow-type things”) within order Passeriformes (“sparrow-like” or perching birds). The same superfamily contains Corvidae, crows and jays—and magpies, suggesting that Messrs. Pennant and Latham were on the right track. Kingfishers and woodpeckers, on the other hand, are each their own order.

[Footnote] The Linnæan order Pies
[With few exceptions, every bird listed in the footnote is now its own order.]

engraving of Great Female Shrike, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 33:
Great Female Shrike


The Great Shrike, or Butcher-bird, is a native both of Europe and America; and is in general about ten inches in length. Its bill is black, about an inch long, and hooked at the end. The upper parts of the plumage are of a pale ash-colour; and the wings and tail are black, varied with white. The throat, breast, and belly, are of a dirty white; and the legs are black. The female differs very little in appearance from the male.

The muscles that move the bill of this Shrike are II.215 very thick and strong; an apparatus peculiarly necessary to a species whose mode of killing its prey is so singular, and whose manner of devouring it is so extraordinary. He seizes the smaller birds by the throat, and thus strangles them; and it is probably for this reason that the Germans call him by a name signifying “The Suffocating Angel.” When his prey is dead, he fixes it on some thorn; and thus spitted, tears it to pieces with his bill. Even when confined in a cage, he will often treat his food in much the same manner, by sticking it against the wires before he devours it.⁕1

engraving of “Great Ash-Coloured Shrike”, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 58:

In spring and summer, he imitates the voices of other birds; by way of decoying them within his reach, that he may destroys them: excepting this, his natural note is the same throughout all seasons. When kept in a cage, even where he seems perfectly contented, he is always mute.⁕2

Mr. Bell, who travelled from Moscow, through Siberia, to Pekin, says, that in Russia these birds are often taken by the bird-catchers, and made tame. He had one of them given to him, which he taught to perch on a sharpened stick fixed in the wall of his apartment. Whenever a small bird was let loose in the room, the Shrike would immediately fly from his perch, and seize it by the throat in such a manner as almost in a moment to suffocate it. He would then carry it to his perch, and spit it on the end (which was sharpened for the purpose); drawing it on carefully and forcibly with his bill and claws. If II.216 several birds were given him, he would use them all, one after another, in the same manner. These were so fixed, that they hung by the neck till he had leisure to devour them. This uncommon practice seems necessary to these birds, as an equivalent for the want of strength in their claws to tear their food to pieces. From this they derive their title of Butcher-birds. They are much admired by the Russians, on account of the diversion they afford in seizing and killing their prey.⁕3

In America, the Great Shrike has been observed to adopt an odd stratagem for the apparent purpose of decoying its prey. A gentleman there, accidentally observing that several Grasshoppers were stuck upon the sharp thorny branches of some trees, enquired of a person who lived close by, the cause of the phenomenon; and was informed that they were stuck there by this bird, which is called by the English in America Nine-killer. On further enquiry he was led to suppose, that this was an instinctive stratagem adopted by the bird in order to decoy the smaller birds, which feed on insects, into a situation from whence he could dart on and seize them. He is called Nine-killer from the supposition that he sticks up nine Grasshoppers in succession. That the insects are placed there as food to tempt other birds, is said to appear from their being frequently left untouched for a considerable length of time.⁕4


The female forms her nest of heath and moss, lining it with wool and gossamer. She lays six eggs; which are about as big as those of a Thrush, and of a dull olive-green, spotted at the end with black.—These birds are supposed to live to the age of five or six years; and they are much valued by husbandmen, on the supposition that they destroy Rats, Mice, and other vermin. They are rarely found in the cultivated parts of our island; inhabiting only the mountainous wilds, among furze and unfrequented thickets.

Synonyms.—Lanius Excubitor. Linn.—Piegriesche Grise. Buff.—White Whiskey John. Phil. Tran.—Mattages, Wierangle, Murdering-bird, Shreek or Shrike, Night Jar, Mountain Magpie, French Pie. Montagu.—Greater Butcher-bird. Willughby.—Great Cinereous Shrike. Latham.—Great Shrike. Penn.——Bew. Birds p. 58.—Penn. Brit. Zool. i. tab. 33.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 213.

⁕2 Latham.

⁕3 Edwards’s Gleanings, iii. 233.

⁕4 Paper by Mr. Heckewelder, in Amer. Phil. Tran. iv. 124.

Notes and Corrections: The Great Shrike

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Lanius excubitor, the great grey shrike, is still known by that name. In fact I think it is the first bird species in this book that is still in the genus Linnaeus assigned it to. There are almost 30 Lanius species, of which L. excubitor alone has at least seven subspecies.

the Germans call him by a name signifying “The Suffocating Angel
[Dunno about that, but the modern German word for shrike, Würger, also means “strangler”—and, appropriately enough, “chokeweed”. The verb is würgen, to strangle.]

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. i. tab. 33
text has 71
[This is a simple goof on Bingley’s part. In Pennant’s British Zoology, each plate is cross-referenced to a description number; the Great Shrike is no. 71, pictured on Plate XXXIII.]

engraving of Tyrant Shrike, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 41:
Tyrant Shrike


This bird is about the size of a Thrush. The bill is of a blackish brown colour, and furnished with bristles at the base. The upper parts of the plumage are of a lead colour, the under parts are white, and the breast inclines to ash-colour. The tail is brown, and the legs are dark brown. It is an inhabitant of Carolina.

The courage of this little creature, if we are to believe the account given to us by Catesby, is very singular. He is said to pursue and put to flight all kinds of birds that come near his station, from the smallest to the largest, none escaping his fury: “nor did I ever see (says Catesby) any that dared to oppose him while flying; for he does not offer to attack them when sitting. I have seen one of them fix on the back of an Eagle, and persecute him II.218 so, that he has turned on his back, and into various postures in the air, in order to get rid of him; and at last was forced to alight on the top of the next tree, from whence he dared not to move, till the little Tyrant was tired, or thought fit to leave him. This is the constant practice of the cock, while the hen is brooding. He sits on the top of a bush, or small tree, not far from her nest, near which if any small birds approach, he drives them away; but the great ones, as Crows, Hawks, and Eagles, he will not suffer to come within a quarter of a mile of him without attacking them. These birds have only a chattering note, which they utter with great vehemence all the time they are fighting. When their young are flown, they are as peaceable as other birds.”⁕1

From authority so deservedly great as that of Catesby, I feel it unpleasant in any manner to dissent; but by a letter lately received by Dr. Latham, from Mr. Abbot, of Georgia, observations seem to have been made somewhat different from the above:—“A Tyrant Shrike (he says) having built its nest on the outside of a large lofty pine, I was one day considering how I could procure the eggs; when, viewing the nest, I perceived a Crow alight on the branch, break and suck the eggs, and displace the nest, appearing all the while unconcerned, notwithstanding both the cock and hen continued flying at and striking him with their bills all the while; but as soon as the Crow had completed the robbery, he departed.”⁕2


The eggs are flesh-coloured, and prettily marked at the larger end with dark pink and a few black spots.

Synonyms.—Lanius Tyrannus. Linn.—Gobe mouche, de la Caroline. Buff.—Carolina Tyrant. Catesby.

⁕1 Catesby’s Carolina, i. 55.

⁕2 Latham’s Second Supplement, p. 73.

Notes and Corrections: The Tyrant Shrike

Lanius tyrannus has been reclassified and is now the head of its own genus: Tyrannus tyrannus, the Eastern kingbird. It is not a shrike at all; you’ll find it in family Tyrannidae, superfamily Tyranni, another branch of the Passeriformes order.

When their young are flown, they are as peaceable as other birds.”
close quote missing
[Position of quotation mark confirmed from 1st edition.]

color picture of “Guinea Parrakeet”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 35:
Guinea Parrakeet


This most extensive tribe is remarkably distinct from all others. The beak is hooked all the way from the base, and the upper mandible is moveable. The nostrils are round; and placed in the base of the bill, which in some species is furnished with a cere. The tongue is broad and blunt; the head large, and the crown flat. The legs are short, with two toes placed before and two behind, for the purpose of climbing; at which these birds are very expert.

They are principally found within the Tropics, where they live for the most part on fruit and seeds; though they will occasionally, when kept in a cage, eat both flesh and fish. They are gregarious, and excessively noisy and clamorous; yet though they associate in vast multitudes, they live chiefly in pairs of one male and a female. The place they hold among the birds seems to be exactly that which the Apes and Monkeys occupy among the quadrupeds; for, like these, they are very numerous, imitative, and mischievous. They breed in the hollows of trees, like the Owls; seldom forming any nest, and laying two and three eggs each time. It is said that the male and female sit alternately. In Europe, they have sometimes been known to lay eggs; but they seldom sit upon them in these cool climates.


The toes of the Parrots are sufficiently flexible to answer every purpose of hands, for holding their food, or carrying it to their mouth. In climbing, they always use their bill to assist the feet. They are, in general, very long-lived.

In a domestic state they are exceedingly docile, and very imitative of sounds; most of the species being able to counterfeit even the human voice, and to articulate words with great distinctness: but their natural voice is a loud, harsh, and unpleasant scream. Alexander the Great is supposed to have been the first who introduced Parrots into Europe.

Notes and Corrections: The Parrot Tribe

Parrots are order Psittaciformes, consisting of the single family Psittacidae, divided into many subfamilies, one of which is predictably Psittacinae: parrots, parakeets, macaws and so on, totaling several dozen genera.


This Macaw, which is a native of Jamaica, Guiana, and the Brasils, is about seventeen inches in length. Its bill is black; and on the cheeks there is a bare white patch, marked with black lines, in which the eyes are placed. The general colour of the plumage is green. The forehead is of a chesnut purple; and the crown is blue, which colour blends itself with the green as it passes backwards. On the lower part of the thighs, the feathers are red; and the wings are, in different parts, crimson, blue, and black. The tail is green above, near the ends blue, and beneath of a dull red. The legs are brown, and the claws black.

This bird is as beautiful as it is rare; and it is still more amiable for its social and gentle disposition. II.221 It soon becomes familiar with persons whom it sees frequently, and is pleased in receiving and repaying their caresses. But it has an aversion to strangers; and also particularly to children, and flies at them with great fury.

It is exceedingly jealous: it becomes enraged at seeing a young child sharing its mistress’s caresses and favours; it tries to dart at the infant, but, as its flight is short and laborious, it can only exhibit its displeasure by gestures and restless movements, and continues to be tormented by these fits till she leaves the child, and takes the bird on her finger. It is then overjoyed, murmurs satisfaction, and sometimes makes a noise exactly like the laugh of an old person. Nor can it bear the company of other Parrots: and if one be lodged in the same room, seems to enjoy no comfort.

It eats almost every article of human food. It is particularly fond of bread, beef, fried fish, pastry, and sugar. It cracks nuts with its bill, and picks them dexterously with its claws. It does not chew the soft fruits; but sucks them, by pressing its tongue against the upper mandible: and the harder sorts of food, such as bread and pastry, it bruises or chews, by pressing the tip of the lower mandible upon the most hollow part of the upper.

Like all the other Parrots, the Green Macaw uses its claws with great dexterity; it bends forward the hinder toe to lay hold of the fruits and other things which are given it, and to carry them to its bill. The Parrots, therefore, employ their toes, nearly in the manner as the Squirrels and Monkeys II.222 do their fore-paws; they also cling and hang by them. There is another habit common to the Parrots: they never climb nor creep without fastening by the bill; with this they begin, and they use their feet only as secondary instruments of motion.⁕1

Synonyms.—Psittacus Severus. Linn.—Ara Vert. Buff.—Maracana. Willughby.—Brazilian Green Macaw. Latham.

⁕1 Buffon’s Birds.

Notes and Corrections: The Brasilian Green Macaw

Macaws are not Psittacus—a genus that has been trimmed back to grey parrots—but they are closely related, forming genus Ara in the same subfamily. A. severus is formally the chestnut-fronted macaw.

engraving of “Guinea Parrot”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 64:
Guinea Parrot


The Ethiopian or Guinea Parrot is a small species, about the size of a Lark; and is so often seen in cages, as to be a very common species in this country. This may, in some degree, lessen the admiration due to its uncommon elegance; for it is one of the most brilliant of the whole tribe. Its general colour is green; its bill, chin, and front, are red; and the rump is blue.

These birds are very common, not only in Guinea, but also in Ethiopia, Java, and the East Indies, where immense flocks of them are seen. In those countries they often commit as much damage to the corn and fruits, as the Sparrows do in Europe.

The trading vessels seldom fail to bring away considerable quantities of them in cages; but they are so tender that most of them die in their passage to our colder climates. It has also been observed that the firing of a vessel’s great guns is fatal to many of them, which drop down dead from fear. Although very imitative of the manners of other birds, it is a II.223 difficult thing to teach them to articulate words. Some have attained this art, but the instances are very rare.

They are exceedingly kind and affectionate towards each other; and it is observed that the male generally perches on the right side of the female. She seldom attempts to eat before him.⁕1

A male and female of this species were lodged together in a large square cage. The vessel which held their food was placed at the bottom. The male usually sat on the same perch with the female, and close beside her. Whenever one descended for food, the other always followed; and when their hunger was satisfied, they returned together to the highest perch of the cage. They passed four years together in this state of confinement; and from their mutual attentions and satisfaction, it was evident that a strong affection for each other had been excited. At the end of this period, the female fell into a state of languor, which had every symptom of old age; her legs swelled, and knots appeared upon them, as if the disease had been of the nature of the gout. It was no longer possible for her to descend and take her food as formerly; but the male assiduously brought it to her, carrying it in his bill and delivering it into hers. He continued to feed her in this manner, with the utmost vigilance, for four entire months. The infirmities of his mate, however, increased every day; and at length she became no longer able to sit upon the perch: she remained now crouched at the bottom, II.224 and from time to time made a few useless efforts to regain the lower perch; while the male, who remained close by her, seconded these her feeble attempts with all his power. Sometimes he seized with his bill the upper part of her wing, to try to draw her up to him; sometimes he took hold of her bill, and attempted to raise her up, repeating his efforts for that purpose several times. His countenance, his gestures, his continual solicitude; every thing, in short, indicated in this affectionate bird an ardent desire to aid the weakness of his companion, and to alleviate her sufferings. But the scene became still more interesting when the female was on the point of expiring. Her unfortunate partner went round and round her without ceasing; he redoubled his assiduities and his tender cares; he attempted to open her bill, in order to give her some nourishment; his emotion became every instant redoubled; he went to her and returned with the most agitated air, and with the utmost inquietude: at intervals he uttered the most plaintive cries; at other times, with his eyes fixed upon her, he preserved a sorrowful silence. His faithful companion at length expired; he languished from that time, and survived her only a few months.⁕2

Synonyms.—Psittacus Pullarius. Linn.—Perruche à tete rouge, de Guinée; Moineau de Guinée. Buff.—Little Red-headed Parrot, or Guinea Sparrow. Edw.—Red-headed Guinea Parrakeet. Lath.—Ethiopian Parrot. Kerr.

⁕1 Barbot, 220.

⁕2 Bonnet, Contemplation de la Nature.

Notes and Corrections: Ethiopian Parrot

Psittacus pullarius is now Agapornis pullarius (“chicken-type lovebird”), the red-headed lovebird, in the same subfamily as parrots and macaws. Fun fact: The “agape” part of the genus name means charity or brotherly love, ἀγάπη, as opposed to other kinds of love like “philia” (friendship) or “eros” (romantic or physical love).



This is a well-known Parrot, being the species that is now most commonly brought into Europe. It is of nearly the size of a small Pigeon; and, including its tail, is about twenty inches in length. The bill is black; the cere, and the skin round the eyes, are mealy, and white. Its plumage is chiefly ash-coloured: the rump and lower part of the belly are hoary, with ash-coloured edges: the feathers on the head, neck, and under parts, are hoary on their edges. The tail is of a bright red, having the shafts of the feathers blackish. The legs are ash-coloured; and the claws blackish.

The Ash-coloured Parrot is a native of Guinea, and several of the inland parts of Africa. It is superior to the Green Parrot, both in the facility and the eagerness with which it imitates the human voice: it listens with attention, and strives to repeat; it dwells constantly on some syllables which it has heard, and seeks to surpass every voice by the loudness of its own. We are often surprised by its repeating words or sounds which were never taught it, and which it could scarcely be supposed to have noticed. It seems to prescribe to itself tasks, and tries every day to retain its lesson. This engages its attention even in sleep; and, according to Marcgrave, it prattles in its dreams. Its memory, if early cultivated, becomes sometimes astonishing. II.226 Rhodiginus mentions a Parrot which could recite correctly the whole of the Apostles’ Creed.

A Parrot which Colonel O’Kelly bought for a hundred guineas at Bristol, not only repeated a great number of sentences, but answered many questions: it was also able to whistle a variety of tunes. It beat time with all the appearance of science; and so accurate was its judgment, that, if by chance it mistook a note, it would revert to the bar where the mistake was made, correct itself, and still beating regular time, go through the whole with wonderful exactness.—Its death was thus announced in the General Evening Post for the ninth of October 1802. “A few days ago died, in Half-moon Street, Piccadilly, the celebrated Parrot of Colonel O’Kelly. This singular bird sang a number of songs in perfect time and tune. She could express her wants articulately, and give her orders in a manner approaching nearly to rationality. Her age was not known; it was, however, more than thirty years, for previously to that period Mr. O’Kelly bought her at Bristol for a hundred guineas. The colonel was repeatedly offered five hundred guineas a-year for the bird, by persons who wished to make a public exhibition of her; but this, out of tenderness to the favourite, he constantly refused. The bird was dissected by Dr. Kennedy and Mr. Brooke; and the muscles of the larynx, which regulate the voice, were found, from the effect of practice, to be uncommonly strong.”

A Parrot belonging to the sister of the Comte de Buffon, would frequently speak to himself, and seem to fancy that some one addressed him. He often II.227 asked for his paw, and answered by holding it up. Though he liked to hear the voice of children, he seemed to have an antipathy to them; he pursued them, and bit them till he drew blood. He had also his objects of attachment; and though his choice was not very nice, it was constant. He was excessively fond of the cook-maid; followed her every where, sought for, and seldom missed finding her. If she had been some time out of his sight, the bird climbed with his bill and claws to her shoulders, and lavished on her his caresses. His fondness had all the marks of close and warm friendship. The girl happened to have a very sore finger, which was tedious in healing, and so painful as to make her scream. While she uttered her moans, the Parrot never left her chamber. The first thing he did every day, was to pay her a visit; and this tender condolence lasted the whole time of the cure, when he again returned to his former calm and settled attachment. Yet this strong predilection for the girl seems to have been more directed to her office in the kitchen, than to her person; for when another cook-maid succeeded her, the Parrot shewed the same degree of fondness to the new-comer, the very first day.

Parrots of this species not only imitate discourse, but also mimic gestures and actions. Scaliger saw one that performed the dance of the Savoyards, at the same time that it repeated their song. The one last-mentioned was fond of hearing a person sing; and when he saw him dance, he also tried to caper, but with the worst grace imaginable, holding-in his toes, and tumbling back in a most clumsy manner.


The society which the Parrot forms with Man is, from its use of language, much more intimate and pleasing than what the Monkey can claim from its antic imitation of our gestures and actions. It highly diverts and amuses us; in solitude it is company; it takes part in conversation, it laughs, it breathes tender expressions, or mimics grave discourse; and its words, uttered indiscriminately, please by their incongruity, and sometimes excite surprize by their aptness. Willughby tells us of a Parrot, which, when a person said to it, “Laugh, Poll, laugh,” laughed accordingly, and the instant after screamed out, “What a fool, to make me laugh!” Another, which had grown old with its master, shared with him the infirmities of age. Being accustomed to hear scarcely any thing but the words, “I am sick;” when a person asked it, “How d’ye do, Poll? how d’ye do?” “I am sick,” it replied in a doleful tone, stretching itself along, “I am sick.”

Goldsmith says, that a Parrot belonging to King Henry VII., from having been kept in a room next the Thames, in his palace at West­minster, had learned to repeat many sentences from the boatmen and passengers. One day, sporting on its perch, it unluckily fell into the water. The bird had no sooner discovered its situation, than it called out, aloud, “A boat! twenty pounds for a boat!” A waterman happening to be near the place where the Parrot was floating, immediately took it up, and restored it to the King; demanding, as the bird was a favourite, that he should be paid the reward that it had called out. This was refused; but it was agreed II.229 that, as the Parrot had offered a reward, the man should again refer to its determination for the sum he was to receive—“Give the knave a groat,” the bird screamed aloud, the instant the reference was made.

Mr. Locke, in his Essay on the Human Understanding, has related an anecdote concerning a Parrot, of which, however incredible it may appear to some, he seems to have had so much evidence, as at least to have believed it himself.⁕1 The story is this: During the government of Prince Maurice in Brasil, he had heard of an old Parrot that was much celebrated for answering like a rational creature many of the common questions that were put to it. It was at a great distance; but so much had been said about it, that his curiosity was roused, and he directed it to be sent for. When it was introduced into the room where the Prince was sitting in company with several Dutchmen, it immediately exclaimed, in the Brasilian language, “What a company of white men are here!” They asked it, “Who is that man?” (pointing to the Prince): the Parrot answered, “Some General or other.” When the attendants carried it up to him, he asked it, through the medium of an interpreter, (for he was ignorant of its language,) “From whence do you come?” the Parrot answered, “From Marignan.” The Prince asked, “To whom do you belong?” It answered, “To a Portugueze.” He asked again, “What do II.230 you do there?” It answered, “I look after the Chickens.” The Prince, laughing, exclaimed, “You look after Chickens!” The Parrot in answer said, “Yes, I; and I know well enough how to do it;” clucking at the same time, in imitation of the noise made by the hen to call together her young.

This account came directly from the Prince to the above author: he said, that though the Parrot spoke in a language he did not understand, yet he could not be deceived, for he had in the room both a Dutchman who spoke Brasilian, and a Brasilian who spoke Dutch; that he asked them separately and privately, and both agreed very exactly in giving him the Parrot’s discourse. If the story is devoid of foundation, the Prince must have been deceived, for there is not the least doubt that he believed it.

The power of imitating exactly articulate discourse, implies in the Parrot a very peculiar and perfect structure of organ; and the accuracy of its memory (though independent of understanding) manifests a closeness of attention and a strength of mechanical recollection that no other bird possesses in so high a degree. Accordingly, all the naturalists have remarked the singular form of its bill, its tongue, and its head. Its bill, round on the outside and hollow within, has, in some measure, the capacity of a mouth, and allows the tongue to play freely: and the sound, striking against the circular border of the lower mandible, is there modified as on a row of teeth, while the concavity of the upper mandible reflects it like a palate; and hence the animal does II.231 not utter a whistling sound, but a full articulation. The tongue, which modulates all sounds, is proportionably larger than in man; and would be more voluble, were it not harder than flesh, and invested with a strong horny membrane.

From the peculiar structure of the upper mandible of its bill, the Parrot has a power, which no other birds have, of chewing its food. Its bill is like a hand, which throws the food into the gizzard; or an arm, which splits or tears it. The Parrot seizes its food sideways, and gnaws it deliberately. The lower mandible has little motion, but that from right to left is most perceptible; and this is often performed when the bird is not eating, whence some have supposed it to ruminate. In such cases, however, the bird may be only whetting the edge of this mandible, with which it cuts and bites its aliment.

The females of this species lay their eggs, which do not exceed two, in the hollows of trees; and there is no way of getting at their young, except by cutting down and cleaving the trees.

Synonyms.—Psittacus Erithacus. Linn.—Perroquet Cendré, ou Jaco. Buff.—Hoary Parrot. Kerr.—Ash coloured, and Red Parrot. Edwards.

⁕1 It is taken from a writer of some celebrity; the author of Memoirs of what passed in Christendom, from 1672 to 1679.

Notes and Corrections: Ash-Coloured Parrot

Psittacus erithacus is the African grey parrot, the best-known member of the Psittacus genus, now restricted to grey parrots.

It would be interesting to know how the cited sources can be so sure the first-discussed parrot was female, the second one male. Unlike most birds, you can’t tell the sex of an African grey by looking.

demanding, as the bird was a favourite, that he should be paid the reward that it had called out
[I am not absolutely certain it was a good idea to ask Henry VII for money in any amount, whether 20 pounds or merely a groat.]

engraving of “Amazon Parrot”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 74:
Amazon Parrot


The length of the Yellow-winged Parrot is about thirteen inches. The bill is whitish, and the cere hoary. The general colour of the body is green; and the feathers on the hind part of the neck and on the back have black margins. The forehead is of a whitish ash-colour; and the top of the head, and the II.232 cheeks, throat, and fore part of the neck, are yellow: the hind part of the head is yellow-green. The thighs and the ridges of the wings are yellow: the remainder of the wings are, in different parts, red, yellow, and green, with the greater quills black. The four middle tail-feathers are green, and yellowish near the end; the others are partly red and partly green. The legs are hoary, and the claws ash-coloured. It is a native of South America.⁕1

We know very little of the habits of this bird in a state of nature; but Father Bougot, who had one of them for some time in his possession, communicated to the Comte de Buffon the following account of its manners and disposition in a tame state:—

“It is (he says) very susceptible of attachment to its master; it is fond of him, but requires frequent caresses, and seems disconsolate if neglected, and vindictive if provoked. It has fits of obstinacy; it bites during its ill humour, and immediately laughs, exulting in its mischief. Correction and rigorous treatment serve but to harden it; gentle usage alone succeeds in mollifying its temper.

“Its inclination to gnaw whatever it can reach, has very destructive effects; it cuts the cloth of the furniture, splits the wood of the chairs, and tears paper, pens, &c. And if it be removed from the spot, its proneness to contradiction will instantly hurry it back. But this mischievous bent is counterbalanced by agreeable qualities; for it remembers readily what it is taught to say. Before it articulates, II.233 it claps its wings and plays on its roost: in the cage it becomes dejected and continues silent; and never prattles well except when it enjoys liberty.

“In its cheerful days it is affectionate, receives and returns caresses, and listens and obeys; but a peevish fit often interrupts this harmony. It seems affected by the change of weather, and becomes silent; the way to reanimate it is to sing beside it, and it then strives by its noisy screams to surpass the voice which excites it. It is fond of children; in which respect it differs from most other Parrots. It contracts a predilection for some of them, and suffers them to handle and carry it; it caresses them, and if any person then touches them, it bites at him fiercely. If its favourite children leave it, it is unhappy, follows them, and calls loudly after them. During moulting, it is much reduced, and seems to endure great pain; and this state lasts nearly three months.”

Synonyms.—Psittacus Ochropterus. Linn.—Crick à tete et gorge jaune. Buff.—Yellow-headed Creature. Bancroft.—Yellow-winged Parrot. Latham.

⁕1 Latham, i. 289.

Notes and Corrections: Yellow-Winged Parrot

Best guess for Psittacus ochropterus after studying Shaw’s list of synonyms: Amazona ochrocephala, the yellow-crowned parrot. Like everything we have met so far, Amazon parrots are a genus in the Psittacinae subfamily—a large one, with dozens of species. Bingley’s account probably conflates several of them.

[Synonyms] Crick à tete et gorge jaune. Buff.
[“Crick” seems wildly improbable, but it really is what Buffon calls it. Or, at least, how his 1793 translator spells it (in volume VI of nine). In the original French (volume XI of, I think, eighteen), Buffon spelled it Crik.]


These birds are all natives of the hotter parts of South America, where they feed on fruits. They are very noisy, and are generally seen in small flocks of eight or ten in number: they are continually moving from place to place in quest of food, going northward or southward as the fruits ripen. They are easily tamed if brought up young, and in this state are very familiar. They breed in the hollows of trees, frequently in places deserted by the Woodpeckers; II.234 and the female lays two eggs. It is probable that they have more than one brood in the year.

Their beaks are enormously large, and convex: they are bent at the end, hollow, very light, and jagged at the edges. The nostrils are small and round, placed close to the head. The tongue is long, narrow, and feathered at the edges. The feet, adapted for climbing, have the toes placed two forwards and two backwards.

Notes and Corrections: The Toucan Tribe

Toucans are most closely related to woodpeckers. Within order Piciformes, toucans are family Ramphastidae, with a long list of genera headed predictably by Ramphastos.


This species is a native of Guiana and Brasil, and is about twenty inches in length. The bill is six inches long, and near two inches thick at the base; and is of a yellowish green colour, reddish at the tip. The nostrils are at the base of the bill; but are not, as in some of the species, covered with feathers. The principal upper parts of the body, and the throat and neck, are of a glossy black, with a tinge of green; the lower part of the back, the rump, upper part of the tail, and small feathers of the wings, are the same, with a cast of ash-colour. The breast is of a fine orange. The belly, sides, thighs, and the short feathers of the tail, are bright red: the remainder of the tail is of a greenish black, tipped with red. The legs and claws are black.⁕1

The Red-bellied Toucan feeds chiefly on fruits. It is easily tamed, and in that state will eat almost any II.235 thing that is offered to it. Pozzo, who bred up a Toucan, and had it perfectly domesticated, tells us that it leaped up and down, wagged its tail, and cried with a voice resembling that of a Magpie. It fed upon the same things as Parrots: but was most greedy of grapes; which, being plucked off one by one, and thrown to it, it would with great dexterity catch in the air before they fell to the ground. Its bill, he adds, was hollow, and on that account very light, so that the bird had but little strength in this apparently formidable weapon; nor could it peck or strike smartly with it. But its tongue seemed to assist the efforts of this unwieldy machine: it was long, thin, and flat, not much unlike one of the feathers on the neck of a Dunghill Cock; this the bird moved up and down, and often extended five or six inches from the bill. It was of a flesh-colour, and very remarkably fringed on each side with small filaments.

It is probable that this long tongue has greater strength than the thin hollow beak that contains it; and that the beak is only a kind of sheath for this peculiar instrument used by the Toucan in making its nest and in obtaining its provision.

The Toucan builds its nest in the holes of trees, that are either formed by itself, or that from accident it meets with; and no bird, says M. de Buffon, better secures its young from external injury. It has not only Birds, Men, and Serpents, to guard against; but a numerous train of Monkies, still more prying, mischievous, and hungry, than all the rest. The Toucan, however, sits in its hole, defending the entrance with II.236 its great beak; and if the Monkey ventures to offer a visit of curiosity, the Toucan gives him such a welcome, that he is soon glad to escape with safety.⁕2

The Red-bellied Toucan is said to be in great request in South America; both from the delicacy of its flesh, and on account of the beauty of its plumage, particularly the feathers of the breast. The skin of this part the Indians pluck off, and, when dry, glue to their cheeks: they consider these an irresistible addition to their beauty.

In several parts of South America these birds have the name of Preacher Toucan; from the habit of having one of this flock perched at the top of a tree, above its companions, while they are asleep. This makes a continued noise resembling ill-articulated sounds, moving its head during the time to the right and left, in order, it is said, to deter birds of prey from seizing on them.

Synonyms.—Ramphastos Picatus. Linn.—Toucan à Ventre Rouge. Buff.—Preacher Toucan. Latham.—Toucan, or Brasilian Pye. Will.—Red-bellied Toucan. Kerr.

⁕1 Latham, i. 329.

⁕2 There appears to be some doubt as to the real strength of the beak of the Toucan. This assertion of M. de Buffon seems to contradict what he has before said of the weakness of this enormous and apparently disproportionate member. Willughby, p. 129, says, that notwithstanding its extreme lightness, “yet it is of a bony substance: and therefore it is not to be wondered that, dexterously used, it should by many strokes pierce a tree; having, perchance, the instinct to chuse a rotten one.” It is from this writer that Buffon has derived the latter part of the above account.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Bellied Toucan

Ramphastos picatus doesn’t seem to exist. Shaw equates it with the Aldrovandine toucan, Ramphastos aldrovandi . . . which also doesn’t exist. Let’s go with Ramphastos dicolorus, the red-breasted or green-billed toucan. (The competing names make sense when you remember that in a toucan, the two body parts—breast and bill—are about the same size.)


color picture of “Common Jay”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 549:
Common Jay


Few animals are more generally dispersed over the world than the different species of Crow; some of them being found in almost every climate. They are very prolific, clamorous, and in usual sufficiently social to unite in flocks. Most of them make their nests in trees, and the number of young that they produce is five or six. They feed promiscu­ously on animal and vegetable substances. Some of the species, when in great numbers, are supposed to be injurious to man, in devouring grain; but they seem to make ample amends for this injury, by the immense quantities of noxious insects and other vermin which they destroy.

They have a strong bill; with the upper mandible a little bent, the edges sharp, and, in general, a small notch near the tip. The nostrils are covered with bristles reflected over them; and the tongue is divided at the end. The toes are placed forward, and one backward; the middle one joined to the outer one as far as the first joint.

Notes and Corrections: The Crow Tribe

With crows we return to order Passeriformes, superfamily Corvoidea, previously met under Shrikes. Crows, along with jays and magpies, are family Corvidae. If the birds described in this part of Animal Biography are any indicator, Linnaeus did a good job of this family. Everything he assigned to genus Corvus is in Corvidae.

engraving of Raven, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 66:


The Raven is an inhabitant not only of our own island, but also of most other parts of the world.—Among the ancients it was esteemed a bird of much importance in augury; and the various changes and II.238 modulations of its voice were studied with the greatest attention, and were too often used by designing men to mislead the unwary.

It frequents the neighbourhood of great towns; where it is useful in devouring the carrion and filth, which it scents at a vast distance. It is a cunning bird, and generally careful in keeping beyond the reach of a gun.

When brought up young, the Raven becomes very familiar; and, in a domestic state, he possesses many qualities that render him highly amusing. Busy, inquisitive, and impudent, he goes every where, affronts and drives off the Dogs, plays his tricks on the poultry, and is particularly assiduous in cultivating the good-will of the cook-maid, who is generally his favourite in the family. But with the amusing qualities, he often also has the vices and defects of a favourite. He is a glutton by nature, and a thief by habit. He does not confine himself to petty depredations on the pantry or the larder; he aims at more magnificent plunder—at spoils that he can neither exhibit nor enjoy, but which, like a miser, he rests satisfied with having the satisfaction of sometimes visiting and contemplating in secret. A piece of money, a tea-spoon, or a ring, is always a tempting bait to his avarice: these he will slily seize upon, and, if not watched, will carry to his favourite hole.

Mr. Montagu was informed by a gentleman, that his butler having missed many silver spoons, and other articles, without being able to account for the mode in which they disappeared, at last observed a II.239 tame Raven, that was kept about the house, with one in his mouth; and, on watching him to his hiding-place, discovered there upwards of a dozen more.⁕1

Notwithstanding the injury these birds do to the farmer, a popular respect is paid to them, from their having been the birds that fed the Prophet Elijah in the wilderness. This prepossession in favour of the Raven is of a very ancient date; since the Romans themselves, who thought the bird ominous, paid to it, from motives of fear, the most profound veneration.

A Raven, as Pliny informs us, that had been kept in the Temple of Castor, flew down into the shop of a taylor, who was highly delighted with its visits. He taught the bird several tricks; but particularly to pronounce the names of the Emperor Tiberius, and the whole Royal Family. The taylor was beginning to grow rich by those who came to see this wonderful Raven; till an envious neighbour, displeased at his success, killed the bird, and deprived the taylor of all his hopes of future fortune. The Romans, however, thought it necessary to take the poor taylor’s part; they accordingly punished the man who offered the injury, and gave the Raven all the honours of a magnificent interment.

The female builds her nest early in the spring, in trees and the holes of rocks; in which she lays five or six blueish-green eggs, spotted with brown. She sits about twenty days; during which time she is II.240 constantly attended by the male, who not only provides her with abundance of food, but, whenever she leaves the nest, takes her place.

Of the perseverance of the Raven in the act of incubation, Mr. White has related the following singular anecdote:—In the centre of a grove near Selborne, there stood an Oak, which, though shapely and tall on the whole, bulged out into a large excrescence near the middle of the stem. On this tree a pair of Ravens had fixed their residence for such a series of years, that the oak was distinguished by the title of “The Raven-tree.” Many were the attempts of the neighbouring youths to get at this eyry: the difficulty whetted their inclinations, and each was ambitious of surmounting the arduous task; but, when they arrived at the swelling, it jutted out so in their way, and was so far beyond their grasp, that the boldest lads were deterred, and acknowledged the undertaking to be too hazardous. Thus the Ravens continued to build, nest upon nest, in perfect security; till the fatal day arrived on which the wood was to be levelled. This was in the month of February, when those birds usually sit. The saw was applied to the trunk, the wedges were inserted into the opening, the woods echoed to the heavy blows of the beetle or mallet, the tree nodded to its fall; but still the dam persisted to sit. At last, when it gave way, the bird was flung from her nest; and, though her parental affection deserved a better fate, was whipped down by the twigs, which brought her dead to the ground.

The Raven feeds chiefly on small animals; and is II.241 said to destroy Rabbets, young Ducks, and Chickens; and sometimes even Lambs, when they happen to be dropped in a weak state. In the northern regions, it preys in concert with the White Bear, the Arctic Fox, and the Eagle: it devours the eggs of other birds, and eats shore-fish, and shell-fish; with the latter it soars into the air, and drops them from on high to break the shells and thus get at the contents. In the act of feeding, it shifts its prey from the bill to the feet, and from the feet to the bill, to ease itself. Willughby says,⁕2 that it may be trained to fowling, like a Hawk.

Le Vaillant found a variety of the Raven, differing from ours in size only and the greater curvature of its beak, in Saldanha-bay, at the Cape of Good Hope; where, he informs us, it unites in large flocks, often attacking and killing the young Antelopes.⁕3

Its faculty of scent must be very acute; for in the coldest of the winter-days, at Hudson’s-bay, when every kind of effluvia is almost instantaneously destroyed by the frost, Buffaloes and other beasts have been killed where not one of these birds was seen; but in a few hours, scores of them would gather about the spot to pick up the offal and blood.⁕4

The flesh of the Raven is eaten by the natives of Greenland. They likewise use the skins sewed together as an inner garment, and form the split quills into fishing-lines. The quills are in great request in our own country for the tuning of harpsichords.

Synonyms.—Corvus Corax. Linn.—Corbeau. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 66.

⁕1 Montagu, Art. Raven.

⁕2 P. 132.

⁕3 Ois. d’Afrique, ii. pl. 51.

⁕4 Hearne, 404.

Notes and Corrections: The Raven

Corvus corax (“crow crow”) still has the binomial Linnaeus gave it.


engraving of Crow, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 34 (partial):


The Carrion Crow is less than the Raven; but is similar to it in colour, external appearance, and in many of its habits.—These birds live chiefly in pairs, in the woods, where they build their nests on the trees. The female lays five or six eggs, much like those of the Raven; and, while sitting, is always fed by the male. They feed on putrid flesh of all sorts; as well as on worms, insects, and various kinds of grain. Like the Ravens, they will sometimes pick out the eyes of Lambs when just dropped. They also do much mischief in Rabbet-warrens, by killing and devouring the young Rabbets; and Chickens and young Ducks do not always escape their attacks.

“We once saw this bird (says Mr. Montagu) in pursuit of a pigeon, at which it made several pounces like a Hawk; but the Pigeon escaped by flying in at the door of a house. We have also seen it strike a Pigeon dead, from the top of a barn.” It is so bold a bird, that neither the Kite, the Buzzard, nor the Raven, approaches its nest without being attacked and driven away. When it has young it will even insult the Peregrine Falcon, and at one pounce frequently brings that bird to the ground.⁕1

When poultry Hens lay their eggs in hedge-bottoms II.243 or stack-yards, Crows are often caught in the act of devouring them.—On the northern coast of Ireland a friend of Dr. Darwin saw above a hundred Crows at once preying upon Muscles: each Crow took a Muscle up in the air twenty or forty yards high, and let it fall on the stones, and thus, by breaking the shell, got possession of the animal. It is related that a certain ancient philosopher walking along the sea-shore to gather shells, one of these unlucky birds mistaking his bald head for a stone, dropped a shell-fish upon it, and killed at once a philosopher and an oyster.⁕2

engraving of Crow, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 68 (vignette)

The familiarity and audacity of the Crows in some parts of the East is astonishing. They frequent the courts of the houses belonging to the Europeans; and, as the servants are carrying-in dinner, will alight on the dishes, and fly away with the meat, if not driven off by persons who attend with sticks for that purpose.⁕3

In some parts of North America they are extremely numerous, and destroy the new-sown maize by pulling it out of the ground and devouring it. The ripening plants they also injure very greatly; picking a hole in the leaves which surround the ears, and thus exposing them to corruption by letting in the rain. The inhabitants of Pennsylvania and New Jersey allowed a reward of three-pence or four-pence a-head for destroying them; but the law was soon repealed, on account of the expence which it brought upon the public treasury.⁕4


There are at present more of these birds bred in England than in any other country of Europe. In the reign of Henry VIII., Crows had become so numerous, and were thought so prejudicial to the farmer, that they were considered an evil worthy of parliamentary redress; and an act was passed for their destruction, in which also Rooks and Choughs were included. Every hamlet was ordered to destroy a certain number of Crows’-nests for ten successive years; and the inhabitants were compelled to assemble at stated times during that period, in order to consult on the most proper and effectual means of extirpating them.⁕5

The following are singular modes adopted in some countries for catching these birds:—A Crow is fastened alive on its back firmly to the ground, by means of a brace on each side, at the origin of the wings. In this painful position the animal struggles and screams; the rest of its species flock to its cries from all quarters, with the intention, probably, of affording relief. But the prisoner, grasping at every thing within reach to extricate himself from his situation, seizes with his bill and claws, which are left at liberty, all that come near him, and thus delivers them a prey to the bird-catcher.—Crows are also caught with cones of paper baited with raw flesh; as the Crow introduces his head to devour the bait, which is near the bottom, the paper, being besmeared with birdlime, sticks to the feathers of the neck, and he remains hooded. Unable to get rid of this bandage, II.245 which covers his eyes entirely, the Crow rises almost perpen­dicularly into the air, the better to avoid striking against any object; till, quite exhausted, he sinks down near the spot from which he mounted.

If a Crow be put into a cage, and exposed in the fields, his calls generally attract the attention of others that are in the neighbourhood, who flock round their imprisoned brother. This plan is sometimes adopted in order to get these birds within gunshot; for, however shy they might otherwise be, their care is said in this case to be so much occupied on their friend, as to render them almost heedless of the gunner’s approach.

Willughby says, that this bird is capable of being taught to articulate several words with considerable distinctness.⁕6 By the ancients it was esteemed, particularly when it appeared on the left hand, as a bird of bad omen.

The Crow is so rare in Sweden, that Linnæus speaks of it as a bird that he never knew killed in that country but once.—These birds are often seen white, or pied; a circum­stance that takes place much more frequently in black species than in any others.⁕7

Synonyms.—Corvus Corone. Linn.—Corbine. Buff.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 34.

⁕1 Montagu; Art. Crow, Carrion.

⁕2 Zoonomia.

⁕3 Penn. Outl. ii. 91.

⁕4 Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 288.

⁕5 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 110.

⁕6 Willughby, 123.

⁕7 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 221.

Notes and Corrections: The Carrion Crow

Corvus corone (again “crow crow”, because the Greeks had a word for it) still has this binomial.

a certain ancient philosopher
[Darwin says hesitantly “(I think it was Anaxagoras)”.]

The Crow is so rare in Sweden
[In Norway, on the other hand, one of the oldest extant songs—probably dating from the 16th century—is about a crow.]


engraving of Rook, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 71:


The Rook is about the size of the Carrion Crow, but its plumage is more glossy. It also differs in having its nostrils, and the root of the bill, naked; in the Crow these are covered with bristly hair. This arises from the Rook’s thrusting its bill continually into the earth in search of worms and other food.

Besides insects, the Rooks feed on different kinds of grain, thus causing some inconvenience to the farmer; but this seems greatly repaid by the good they do to him, in extirpating the maggots of some of the most destructive of the Beetle tribe.—In Suffolk, and in some parts of Norfolk, the farmers find it their interest to encourage the breed of Rooks, as the only means of freeing their grounds from the grub which produces the Cock-chafer, which in this state destroys the roots of corn and grass to such a degree, “that (says Mr. Stillingfleet, one of the most accurate observers of nature whom this country ever produced) I have myself seen a piece of pasture-land where you might turn up the turf with your foot.” An intelligent farmer in Berkshire informed this gentleman, that one year, while his men were hoeing a field of turnips, a great number of Rooks alighted in a part of it where they were not at work. The consequence was a remarkably fine crop in this part, II.247 while in the remainder of the field there was scarcely any turnips that year.⁕1

These birds are gregarious, being sometimes seen in flocks so great as to darken the air in their flight. They build their nests on high trees, close to each other; generally selecting a large clump of the tallest trees for this purpose. When once settled, they every year frequent the same place. Rooks are, however, but bad neighbours to each other; for they are continually fighting and pulling to pieces each other’s nests. These proceedings seem unfavourable to their living in such close community; and yet, if a pair offers to build on a separate tree, the nest is plundered and demolished at once. Some unhappy couples are not permitted to finish any nest till the rest have all completed their buildings; for as soon as they get a few sticks together, a party comes and demolishes the whole. It generally happens that one of the pair is stationed to keep guard, while the other goes abroad for materials.—From their conduct in these circum­stances our cant-word rooking, for cheating, originated.⁕2

As soon as the Rooks have finished their nests, and before they lay, the cocks begin to feed the hens; who receive their bounty with a fondling tremulous voice, and fluttering wings, and all the little blandishments that are expressed by the young while in a helpless state. This galant deportment of the males is continued through the whole season of incubation.

New-comers are often severely beaten by the old II.248 inhabitants, (who are not fond of intrusions from other societies,) and even frequently driven quite away. Of this an instance occurred near Newcastle, in the year 1783. A pair of Rooks, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish themselves in a rookery at no great distance from the Exchange, were compelled to abandon the attempt, and take refuge on the spire of that building; and, although constantly interrupted by other Rooks, they built their nest on the top of the vane, and reared their young, undis­turbed by the noise of the populace below them:—the nest and its inhabitants were of course turned about by every change of the wind. They returned and built their nest every year on the same place, till the year 1793, soon after which the spire was taken down. A small copper-plate was engraved, of the size of a watch-paper, with a representation of the top of the spire and the nest; and so much pleased were the inhabitants and other persons with it, that as many copies were sold as produced to the engraver the sum of ten pounds.

A remarkable circumstance respecting these birds occurred a few years ago at Dallam Tower, in Westmoreland, the seat of Daniel Wilson, Esq.—There were two groves adjoining to the park; one of which had for many years been the resort of a number of Herons, that regularly every year built and bred there. In the other was a very large rookery. For a long time the two tribes lived peaceably together. At length, in the spring of 1775, the trees of the heronry were cut down, and the young brood perished by the fall of the timber. The parent birds, II.249 not willing to be driven from the place, endeavoured to effect a settlement in the rookery. The Rooks made an obstinate resistance; but, after a desperate contest, in the course of which many of the Rooks and some of the Herons lost their lives, the latter at length succeeded in obtaining possession of some of the trees, and that very spring built their nests afresh. The next season a similar conflict took place; which, like the former, was terminated by the victory of the Herons. Since this time, peace seems to have been agreed upon between them: the Rooks have relinquished part of the grove to the Herons, to which part alone they confine themselves; and the two communities appear to live together in as much harmony as before the dispute.⁕3

The following anecdote of this sagacious community is related by Dr. Percival, in his Dissertations: “A large colony of Rooks had subsisted many years in a grove on the banks of the river Irwell, near Manchester. One serene evening, I placed myself within the view of it, and marked with attention the various labours, pastimes, and evolutions, of this crowded society. The idle members amused themselves with chasing each other through endless mazes; and, in their flight, they made the air resound with an infinitude of discordant noises. In the midst of these playful exertions, it unfortunately happened that one Rook, by a sudden turn, struck his beak against the wing of another. The sufferer instantly II.250 fell into the river. A general cry of distress ensued. The birds hovered, with every expression of anxiety, over their distressed companion. Animated by their sympathy, and, perhaps, by the language of counsel known to themselves, he sprang into the air, and, by one strong effort, reached the point of a rock which projected into the water. The joy became loud and universal; but, alas! it was soon changed into notes of lamentation; for the poor wounded bird, in attempting to fly towards his nest, dropped into the river, and was drowned, amidst the moans of his whole fraternity.”

There seems to exist a wonderful antipathy between these birds and the Raven: Mr. Markwick says that in the year 1778, as soon as a Raven had built her nest in a tree adjoining to a very numerous rookery, all the Rooks immediately forsook the spot, and have not returned to build there since. At the Bishop of Chichester’s rookery, at Broomham, near Hastings, upon a Raven’s building her nest in one of the trees, all the Rooks forsook the spot; they, however, returned to their haunts in the autumn, and built their nests there the succeeding year. It is no very difficult task to account for this antipathy. The Raven will scarcely suffer any bird whatever to come within a quarter of a mile of its nest, being very fierce in defending it. It besides seizes the young Rooks from their nests, to feed its own young. This Mr. Lambert was an eye-witness to, at Mr. Seymer’s, at Harford, in Dorsetshire; for there was no peace in the rookery night nor day, till II.251 one of the old Ravens was killed, and the rest were destroyed.⁕4

They begin to build in March; and, after the breeding season is over, forsake their nesting trees, and for some time roost elsewhere; but they have always been observed to return in August. In October, they repair their nests.⁕5

When the first brood of Rooks are sufficiently fledged, they all leave their nest-trees in the day-time, and resort to some distant place in search of food: but return regularly every evening, in vast flights, to their nest-trees; where, after flying round several times with much noise and clamour till they are all assembled together, they take up their abode for the night.

Mr. White, in his Natural History of Selborne, speaking of the evening exercises of Rooks in the autumn, remarks, that just before dusk they return in long strings from the foraging of the day, and rendezvous by thousands over Selborne Down, where they wheel round, and dive in a playful manner in the air, exerting their voices; which being softened by the distance, become a pleasing murmur, not unlike the cry of a pack of hounds in deep-echoing woods. When this ceremony is over, with the least gleam of light they retire to the deep beech woods of Tisted and Kepley. We remember (says Mr. White) a little girl, who, as she was going to bed used to remark, on such an occurrence, in the true spirit of physico-theology, that the Rooks were saying II.252 their prayers; and yet this child was much too young to be aware that the Scriptures have said of the Deity—that “He feedeth the Ravens, who call upon him.”

In the parts of Hampshire adjacent to the New Forest, after the Rook has reared his progeny, and has carried off such of them as have escaped the arts of men and boys, he retires every evening at a late hour, during the autumn and winter months, to the closest coverts of the forest, having spent the day in the open fields and inclosures in quest of food. His late retreat to the forest is characteristic of the near approach of night.

Retiring from the downs, where all day long

They pick their scanty fare, a black’ning train

Of loitering Rooks thick urge their weary flight,

And seek the shelter of the grove.—

But although the forest may be called his winter habitation, he generally every day visits his nursery; preserving the idea of a family, which he begins to make provision for very early in the spring.

Among all the sounds of animal nature, few are more pleasing than the cawing of Rooks. The Rook has but two or three notes, and when he attempts a solo we cannot praise his song; but when he performs in concert, which is his chief delight, these notes, although rough in themselves, being intermixed with those of the multitude, have, as it were, all their rough edges worn off, and become harmonious, especially when softened in the air, where the bird chiefly performs. We have this music in perfection, II.253 when the whole colony is raised by the discharge of a gun.

Dr. Darwin has remarked, that a consciousness of danger from mankind is much more apparent in Rooks than in most other birds. Any one who has in the least attended to them, will see that they evidently distinguish that the danger is greater when a man is armed with a gun than when he has no weapon in his hands. In the spring of the year, if a person happens to walk under a rookery with a gun in his hand, the inhabitants of the trees rise on their wings, and scream to the unfledged young to shrink into their nests from the sight of the enemy. The country people observing this circum­stance so uniformly to occur, assert that Rooks can smell gun-powder.

In England these birds remain during the whole year; but both in France and Silesia they migrate. It is a singular circum­stance, that the island of Jersey should be entirely without Rooks; particularly when we know that they frequently fly over from our country into France.⁕6

The young birds, when skinned and made into pies, are much esteemed by some persons; they are, however, very coarse meat.

Synonyms.—Corvus Frugilegus, Linn.—Freux ou Frayonne. Buff.——Bew. Birds, p. 71.

⁕1 Stillingfleet’s Tracts.

⁕2 Willughby.

⁕3 Hutchinson’s Cumberland, i. 18.

⁕4 Linn. Tran. i. 127. iii. 15.

⁕5 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 222.

⁕6 Latham’s Second Supplement, 108.

Notes and Corrections: The Rook

Corvus frugilegus (“grain-gathering crow”) still has this binomial.

the size of a watch-paper
[Which, in turn, is about the size of a watch—say 4-5 cm across, or generally less than 2 inches.]

Retiring from the downs, where all day long
[Thomson’s Seasons: Winter 139-142]

engraving of Jackdaw, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 34 (partial):


The Jackdaws are common birds in England, II.254 where they remain during the whole year; but in some parts of the Continent they are migratory.

They frequent old towers and ruins in great flocks, where they build their nests; and they have been sometimes known to build in hollow trees, near a rookery, and to join the Rooks in their foraging-parties. In some parts of Hampshire, from the great scarcity of towers or steeples, they are obliged to form their nests under-ground, in the Rabbet holes; they also build in the interstices between the upright and cross stones of Stonehenge, far out of the reach of the shepherd boys who are always idling about that place. In the Isle of Ely, from the want of ruined edifices, they often build their nests in chimneys. In a grate, below one of these nests, which had not been used for some time, a fire was lighted; the materials of the nest caught fire, and they were in such quantity, that it was with great difficulty the house could be preserved from the flames.⁕1

engraving of Jackdaw, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 73:

These birds feed principally on worms, and the grubs of insects; but I was once witness to a singular deviation from their usual mode in this respect. I was walking with a friend in the Inner Temple garden, about the middle of May 1802, when we observed a Jackdaw hovering, in a very unusual manner, over the Thames. A barrel was floating near the place, a buoy to a net that some fishermen were hauling; and we at first thought the bird was about to alight upon it. This, however, proved a II.255 mistake; for he descended to the surface of the Water, and fluttered for a few seconds with his bill and feet immersed; he then rose, flew to a little distance, and again did the same; after which he made a short circuit, and alighted on a barge, about fifty yards from the garden, where he devoured a small fish. When this was done, he made a third attempt, caught another, and flew off with it in his mouth.

Jackdaws are easily tamed; and may, with a little difficulty, be taught to pronounce several words. They conceal such parts of their food as they cannot eat; and often along with it small pieces of money, or toys, frequently occasioning, for the moment, suspicions of theft in persons who are innocent. They may be fed on insects, fruit, and grain, and small pieces of meat.

In Switzerland there is found a variety of the Jackdaw, that has a white ring round its neck. In Norway, and other cold countries, Jackdaws have been seen entirely white.

Synonyms.—Corvus Monedula. Linn.—Chouets. Buffon.——Bew. Birds p. 73.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 34.

⁕1 White’s Selborne.—Latham’s Second Supplement.

Notes and Corrections: The Jackdaw

Corvus monedula (“crow jackdaw”), then as now, is the Eurasian jackdaw. For those keeping track, that’s four consecutive binomials that are unchanged since Linnaeus.

In the Isle of Ely, from the want of ruined edifices
[This is not the first time, and will not be the last, that we will be given to understand that ruined castles and towers form a prominent part of the English landscape.]

engraving of Jay, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 44:


This beautiful bird is well known in our woods; it builds in the trees an artless nest, composed of sticks, fibres, and twigs, in which it lays five or six eggs. Its delicate cinnamon-coloured back and breast, with blue wing-coverts barred with black and white, render it one of the most elegant birds produced in these islands. Its bill is black, and II.256 chin white; and on its forehead is a beautiful tuft of white feathers, streaked with black, which it has the power of erecting at pleasure. Its voice is harsh, grating, and unpleasant.

When kept in a domestic state, the Jay may be rendered very familiar, and will catch and repeat a variety of sounds. One of them has been heard to imitate so exactly the noise made by the action of a saw, as to induce passengers to suppose that a carpenter was at work in the house.

engraving of Jay, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 80:

A Jay kept by a person in the north of England had learned, at the approach of cattle, to set a cur Dog upon them, by whistling and calling him by his name. One winter, during a severe frost, the Dog was by this means excited to attack a Cow that was big with Calf; when the poor animal fell on the ice, and was much hurt. The Jay was complained of as a nuisance, and its owner was obliged to destroy it.⁕1

The young Jays continue with the old ones till the next pairing time; they then chuse each its mate, and separate, in order to produce a new progeny. The old birds, when enticing their fledged young to follow them, make a noise like the mewing of a Cat.

These birds feed in general on acorns, nuts, seeds, and fruit of all kinds; and in summer they are often found injurious to gardens, from their devouring the peas and cherries.—Mr. Wallis, in his Natural History of Northumberland, says, “They come two or three together out of the wood into my little garden at II.257 Simonburn, in the rasp and goose-berry season, and can hardly be frightened away; proclaiming it (as it were) in loud clamours from tree to tree, to be their own property.”

Synonyms.—Corvus Glandarius. Linn.—Geay. Buffon.——Bew. Birds p. 80.

⁕1 Bewick’s Birds, i. 82.

Notes and Corrections: The Jay

Jays are not Corvus, although they are in the same family. There are a number of jay genera; Linnaeus’s Corvus glandarius is now Garrulus glandarius (“talkative acorn-eater”), the Eurasian jay.

engraving of Magpie, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 75:


The Magpie is an elegant bird; and feeds, like the Crow, on almost all substances, animal as well as vegetable, that come in its way. It forms its nest with great art: leaving a hole in the side for admittance, and covering the whole upper part with a texture of thorny branches, closely entangled, by which a retreat is secured from the rude attacks of other birds; the inside is furnished with a sort of mattrass, composed of wool and other soft materials, on which the young, which are generally seven or eight in number, repose.

It is a crafty, and, in a tame state, a familiar bird; and may be taught to pronounce not only words, but short sentences, and even to imitate any particular noise that it hears.

Plutarch relates a singular story of a Magpie belonging to a barber at Rome. This bird could imitate, to a wonderful extent, almost every noise that it heard. Some trumpets happened one day to be sounded before the shop; and for a day or two afterwards the Magpie was quite mute, and seemed pensive and melancholy. This surprized all who knew it; and they supposed that the sound of the trumpets II.258 had so stunned it as to deprive it at the same time both of voice and hearing. It appears, however, that this was not the case; for, says this writer, the bird had been all the time occupied in profound meditation, and was studying how to imitate the sound of the trumpets: accordingly, in the first attempt, it perfectly imitated all their repetitions, stops, and changes. This new lesson, however, made it entirely forget every thing that it had learned before.

The Magpie is found in certain districts of Norway; but not in any great quantity. If it makes its appearance in parts where it is not commonly seen, it is considered as a sign of the approaching death of some principal person in the neighbourhood.⁕1 In our own country the Magpie is also esteemed a bird of omen. In various parts of the north of England, if one of these birds is observed flying by itself, it is accounted by the vulgar a sign of ill luck: if there are two together, they forebode something fortunate: three indicate a funeral; and four a wedding.

Like the other birds of its tribe, the Magpie is greatly addicted to stealing; and when it is satiated, will frequently even hoard up its provisions. It often commits ravages in Rabbet-warrens and poultry-wards, by killing the young animals, and destroying eggs. It may be taken by means of a steel trap baited with a Rat or a dead bird.

Synonyms.—Corvus Pica. Linn.—Pie. Buff.—Pianet. Willughby.——Bew. Birds p. 75.

⁕1 Acerbi, ii. 228.

Notes and Corrections: The Magpie

Magpies, like jays, are their own genus in the Corvidae family. Corvus pica is now Pica pica, the black-billed magpie.

one of these birds . . . is accounted by the vulgar a sign of ill luck: if there are two together, they forebode something fortunate: three indicate a funeral; and four a wedding
[See Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum, for other variants.]



The Cinereous Crow, a bird confined to North America, and very common about Hudson’s-bay, is so small as seldom to weigh three ounces. Its plumage is brown-grey; the feathers are very long, soft, and silky, and in general so much unwebbed as in many parts of the body to resemble hair.

This bird is very familiar, and fond of frequenting habitations, either houses or tents; and it is so much inclined to pilfering, that no kind of provisions, either fresh or salted, is secure from its depredations. It is sufficiently bold to come into tents, sit on the edge of the kettle when hanging over the fire, and steal victuals out of the dishes.

It is very troublesome to the hunters, both English and Indian; frequently following them a whole day: it will perch on a tree while the hunter is baiting his Martin-traps, and, as soon as his back is turned, go and eat the baits.—It is a kind of mock-bird; and has, of course, a variety of notes. It is easily tamed, but never lives long in confinement; always pining away (notwithstanding its eating freely) from the moment it is caught.

The care that this bird takes in laying up in summer a stock of fruit for winter provision, when no fruit is to be had abroad, is a remarkable instance of foresight in the bird tribes; for this propensity is uncommon among them.


Its nest is built in trees, exactly in the manner of those of the Blackbird and Thrush; and the female lays four blue eggs, but seldom hatches more than three. It breeds early in the spring; and, though it sometimes steals flesh, it never eats it, but feeds principally on fruits, moss, and Worms.⁕1

Synonyms.—Corvus Canadensis. Linn.—Geay brun de Canada. Buff.—Whiskey Jack, or Geeza. Hearne.—Cinereous Crow. Latham.

⁕1 Hearne, 405.

Notes and Corrections: The Cinereous Crow

Corvus canadensis is not a crow but a jay. It now goes by Perisoreus canadensis, the gray jay.

is so small as seldom to weigh three ounces
[If you are used to mammalian weights, this seems tiny. But its length is around 30cm (1 foot), with a wingspan of 45cm (18 inches).]

engraving of Red Legged Crow, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 35:
Red Legged Crow


This species, which is partial to rocky and mountainous habitations, is not very common in any part of the world; it is, however, found in some particular parts of both Asia and Africa. In our country, it frequents some places in Cornwall and North Wales, inhabiting the cliffs and ruinous castles along the shores. A few are found on Dover-cliff, where they came entirely by accident: a gentleman in the neighbourhood had a pair sent from Cornwall as a present, which escaped, and stocked those rocks. They are not constant to their abode; but frequently, in the course of the year, desert the place for a week or ten days at a time.

The colour of this Crow is a fine blue or purple black; and its bill and legs are of a bright and deep orange.⁕1

It is a very tender bird, of an elegant form, and unable to bear severe weather. Active, restless, and II.261 meddling, it is not to be trusted where things of consequence lie. It is much taken with glittering objects; and very apt to snatch up bits of lighted sticks, so that instances have occurred of houses being set on fire by it. The injury that it does to thatched houses is sometimes very great; for, tearing holes into them with its long bill in search of worms and insects, the rain is admitted and quickens their decay. It will also often pick out lime from walls, in search of Spiders and Flies.

engraving of Red-Legged Crow, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 77:

These birds commonly fly very high, and make a more shrill noise than the Jackdaw. The Cornish peasantry attend so much to them, that it is very common to see them tame in their gardens. They shriek out aloud at the appearance of any thing strange or frightful; but when applying for food, or desirous of pleasing those who usually fondle them, their chattering is very soft and engaging.

When tame, they are very docile and amusing, and extremely regular to their time of feeding. But, however familiar they may be to their immediate friends, they will not admit a stranger to touch them.

Their nests are built about the middle of the cliffs, or in the most inaccessible parts of ruins. The eggs, which are four or five, are somewhat longer than those of the Jackdaw, and of a cinereous white, marked with irregular dusky blotches. From their being very tender, these birds are seldom seen abroad but in fine weather.⁕2

Synonyms.—Corvus Graculus. Linn.—Coracias. Buffon.—Cornish Chough. Willughby.—Killegrew. Charlton.—Cornwall Kae. Sibbald.—Red-legged Crow. Penn.——Bew. Birds, p. 77.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 35.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 229.

⁕2 Borlase, 243.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Legged Crow

Corvus graculus is now Pyrrhocorax graculus (“fire-crow jackdaw”), the alpine or yellow-billed chough. The genus name becomes clear as you read Bingley’s description.



The characteristics of this tribe are, a straight, conic, very sharp-pointed bill; with the mandibles, equal in length, and the edges sharp and inclining inwards. The nostrils are small; they are situated at the base of the bill, and are partly covered. The tongue is cleft at the end. The toes stand three forward and one backward, and the middle one is joined near the base to the outer.

It is a noisy, gregarious, and voracious race; and is confined almost exclusively to America. Most of the species form pendulous nests, from the exterior branches of trees, which secure them from the rapacious animals. Several of these are usually constructed on one tree. The birds in many parts are extremely numerous; and feed, most of them, on fruits, but some on insects and grain.

Notes and Corrections: The Oriole Tribe

Old World orioles, genus Oriolus, are a family of their own, Oriolidae, within the same superfamily as crows and shrikes. New World orioles, genus Icterus, are in a different branch of the Passeriformes order, most closely related to blackbirds. Fun fact: The pitohui, the world’s only known poisonous bird, is also in the Oriolidae family.

color picture of Red-Shouldered Oriole, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 341:
Red-Shouldered Oriole


Is about the size of a Starling, being nearly nine inches long. The bill is black, and almost an inch in length. The whole body is of a deep black; except the upper part of the wings, which is of a full red. The legs are black.

These birds are peculiar to America; in some parts of which they sometimes appear in such immense flocks, that frequently at one draw of a net more II.263 than three hundred are caught. They feed on insects, wheat, and maize; and are exceedingly destructive to the grain. Their common name in America is Maize-thief: they seldom attack the maize except just after it is sown, or afterwards on the ear becoming green, when, pecking a hole in the side, the rain is admitted, and the grain spoiled. They are supposed to do this in search of insects. The farmers sometimes attempt their destruction, by steeping the maize in a decoction of white hellebore before it is sown: the birds that eat this prepared corn are seized with a vertigo, and fall down.⁕1 They are so bold and voracious, that the flock may frequently be shot-at two or three times before they can be driven off; indeed it often happens, that during the second loading of the gun their number increases.

Catesby tells us, that these birds, in Carolina and Virginia, always breed among the rushes; the points of which they weave so as to form a sort of roof or shed, under which they build their nest, at so judicious a height that it can never be reached even by the highest floods.⁕2 Latham says, that they build between the forks of trees, three or four feet from the ground, in swamps which are seldom penetrable by man.

They are easily caught in traps, in thickets which they frequent; and are, without difficulty, rendered tame, and even taught to speak. They are fond of singing; and are exceedingly playful, either when II.264 confined or when suffered to run about the house. With the liveliness and familiarity which they possess, it is said to be highly diverting to place them before a looking-glass, and observe their strange and whimsical gesticulations: sometimes they erect the feathers of their head, and hiss at the image; then lowering their crest, they set up their tail, quiver their wings, and strike at it with their bills. Whether taken young or old, they become immediately tame. It is very common to keep them in a cylindrical cage with bells, which they turn round in the same manner as Squirrels are often made to do in this country. When they have been confined in a cage for some years, they are said to become perfectly white, and so stupid and inanimate as at last not to be able to feed themselves; this, however, never happens abroad.⁕3

Synonyms. Oriolus phœniceus. Linn.—Commandeur. Buff.—Scarlet-feathered Indian Bird. Willughby.—Red-winged Starling. Catesby.—Red-bird. Brickell.—Red-winged Oriole. Latham.

⁕1 Latham.—Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 300.

⁕2 Catesby, i. 13.

⁕3 Brickell, p. 190.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Winged Oriole

Oriolus phœniceus, this book’s “red-winged oriole”, is probably Agelaius phoeniceus, the red-winged blackbird. Although it isn’t strictly speaking an oriole, it is in the same family, Icteridae. Fun fact: Red-winged blackbirds, atypically for birds, are polygynous: a domi­nant male has a harem of anywhere from five to fifteen females, each of which has sole responsibility for incubation and primary respon­sibility for feeding.

[Synonyms] Oriolus phœniceus. Linn.
text has Phœnicius


The Icteric Oriole is a native of Carolina and Jamaica; and in size is somewhat less than a Black-bird. It feeds on insects; for the purpose of killing which, the Americans keep it in their houses. It hops about, like the Magpie; and has also many other gestures of that bird. Albin tells us, that in all its actions it resembles the Starling; and adds, that sometimes four or five of them will unite to attack a larger bird, which, after they have killed, they eat II.265 in a very orderly manner, each chusing his part according to his valour. In a wild state, they are so fierce and bold, that when disturbed they will attack even man; but when introduced into our society, they are said to be easily tamed.

Their nests are constructed in a cylindrical form; several on the same tree, and suspended from the extremity of the branches, where they wave freely in the air. In these situations they are far out of the reach of such animals as would otherwise destroy the young. Several other species construct their nests in a similar manner.

Synonyms.—Oriolus Icterus. Linn.—Troupiale. Buff.—Banana Bird from Jamaica. Albin.—Large Banana Bird from Jamaica. Brown.—Yellow and black Pie. Catesby.—Icteric Oriole. Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Icteric Oriole

The binomial Oriolus icterus is now assigned to Icterus icterus, the troupial. But Bingley’s description—and Linnaeus’s name—conflates several species; it’s quite a large genus. The troupial itself is only found in South America, mainly Colombia and Venezuela. For Jamaica, try Icterus leucopteryx, the Jamaican oriole; for the Carolinas, one option is Icterus galbula, the Baltimore oriole; for “banana bird”, try Icterus bonana, the Martinique oriole.


This species is found in Senegal, and some other parts of Africa. Two females that were brought from thence being kept together in a cage, it was observed that they entwined some of the stalks of the Pimpernel, with which they were fed, in the. wires. As this seemed to shew a disposition for forming a nest, some rush-stalks were put into the cage: on which they presently made a nest large enough to hide one of them; but it was as often deranged as made, the work of one day being spoiled the next. This seemed to prove that the fabrication of the nest in a state of nature, was the work of both male and female, and that the female is not able to finish this important work by herself.

A bird of this species having by accident obtained II.266 a thread of sewing-silk, wove it among the wires of its cage; and on being supplied with more, it interlaced the whole very confusedly, so as to prevent most part of that side of the cage from being seen through. It was found to prefer green and yellow silks to those of any other colour.

Synonyms.—Oriolus Textor. Linn.—Cap-more. Buff.—Weaver Oriole. Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Weaver Oriole

Oriolus textor, the weaver oriole, is probably the same bird as Cuvier’s Ploceus textor. If so, it is not an oriole at all but a weaver finch.

color picture of “Superb Paradise-Bird”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 1021:
Superb Paradise-Bird


The Birds of Paradise have their bills slightly bent, and the base clad with velvet-like feathers. The nostrils are small, and covered. The tail consists of ten feathers; the two middle ones of which, in several of the species, are very long, and webbed only at the base and tips. The legs and feet are large and strong; having three toes forward and one backward, the middle one connected to the outer as far as the first joint.

This tribe has, till lately, been very imperfectly known; and of the manners of the individuals we are even yet almost entirely ignorant. No class of birds has given rise to more fables than this. From different writers we are taught to understand that they never touch the ground, from the time of their exclusion from the egg to their death; that they live wholly on the dew, and are produced without legs; that when they sleep they hang themselves by the two long feathers of the tail to the branch of a tree; that the female produces her egg in the air, which the male receives in an orifice in his body, where it is hatched; and a thousand other stories, too ridiculous even to mention.


The whole race, as far as we are at present acquainted with them, are natives of New Guinea, from whence they migrate into the neighbouring isles. They are in general extremely brilliant in their colours.

Notes and Corrections: The Bird Of Paradise Tribe

Birds of paradise are the picturesquely named family Paradis­aeidae within superfamily Corvoidea, meaning that, yes, their nearest relatives are crows.

The illustration is from the final volume of Shaw’s Miscellany. The bird he knew as Paradisea superba is now Lophorina superba.

that they . . . are produced without legs
[The species name, apoda, of the greater bird of paradise actually means “footless”. Apparently Linnaeus didn’t notice that the legs of his prepared skins had been removed. (So had the wings, which are still harder to overlook.)]

engraving of “Paradise Bird”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VII plate 58:
Great or Common Paradise Bird


There are two varieties of this species, both of which chiefly inhabit the islands of Arrou. They are supposed to breed in New Guinea, and to reside there during the wet monsoon; but they retire to the Arrou isles, about a hundred and forty miles eastward, during the dry or western monsoon.

They always migrate in flocks of thirty or forty, and have a leader which the inhabitants of Arrou call the king: he is said to be black, to have red spots, and to fly far above the flock, which never desert him, but settle in the same place as he does. They never fly with the wind, as in that case their loose plumage would be ruffled, and blown over their heads; and a change of wind often compels them to alight on the ground, from which they cannot rise without great difficulty. When they are surprised by a heavy gale, they instantly soar to a higher region, beyond the reach of the tempest; there, in a serene sky, they float at ease on their light flowing feathers, or pursue their journey in security. During their flight they cry like Starlings; but when a storm blows in their rear, they express II.268 their distressed situation by a note somewhat resembling the croaking of a Raven. In calm weather, great numbers of these birds may be seen flying, both in companies and singly, in pursuit of the larger butterflies and other insects on which they feed.

They never willingly alight but on the highest trees. They feed on fruits, and the insect tribes.

Their arrival at Arrou is watched by the natives; who either shoot them with blunt arrows, or catch them with bird-lime or in nooses. When caught, they make a vigorous resistance, and defend themselves stoutly with their bills. They are instantly killed, the entrails and breast-bone are taken out, and they are then dried with smoke and sulphur for exportation to Banda, where they are sold for half a rix-dollar each. They are sent to all parts of India and to Persia, to adorn the turbans of persons of rank, and even the trappings of the horses. Not long ago, they formed an additional ornament to the elegant head-dresses of the British fair.⁕1

Synonyms.—Paradisea apoda. Linn.—Oiseau de Paradis. Buff.—Birds of Paradise. Willughby.—Greater Bird of Paradise. Latham.

⁕1 Latham, ii. 471.—Shaw’s Mus. Lev. 83.—Penn. Outlines, i. 149.—Forrest’s Voyage to New Guinea.

Notes and Corrections: The Greater Bird Of Paradise

Paradisaea apoda (“footless bird-of-paradise”) still has that binomial. There are at least seven species in the genus, and a number of other genera, which would explain the “two varieties” reference.

the Arrou isles, about a hundred and forty miles eastward
[Bingley, or his source, is holding his map upside-down. The Aru Islands are southwest of New Guinea, on the Indonesia side.]

the elegant head-dresses of the British fair
[Otherwise known as women.]

engraving of Cuckoo and Wryneck, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 36:
F. Cuckoo (top); Wryneck (bottom)


These birds have their bill weak, and more or less bending. The nostrils are bounded by a small rim; and the tongue is short, and pointed. The toes are placed two forwards and two backwards. The tail is wedge-shaped, and consists of ten soft feathers.


The different species are scattered through the four quarters of the globe, but are much more usual in the hot than in temperate or cold climates. Only one is found in Great Britain, and not more than two or three are natives even of Europe.

Notes and Corrections: The Cuckoo Tribe

Cuckoos are an order to themselves, Cuculiformes, consisting of the single family Cuculidae, which also includes roadrunners. Old World cuckoos are the subfamily Cuculinae.

engraving of “European Cuckow”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 16:
European Cuckow


The Cuckoo visits us early in the spring. Its well-known cry is generally heard about the middle of April, and ceases about the latter end of June: its stay is short, the old Cuckoos being said to quit this country early in July. These birds are generally supposed to build no nest; but, what is also extraordinary, the female Cuckoo deposits her solitary egg in that of another bird, by whom it is hatched. The nests she chuses for this purpose are generally selected from those of the following birds; the Hedge-sparrow, Water-wagtail, Titlark, Yellow-hammer, Green Linnet, or the Whinchat. Of these it has been observed that she shews much the greatest partiality to the nest of the Hedge-sparrow.

We owe the following account of the economy of this singular bird in the disposal of its egg, to the accurate observations of Mr. Edward Jenner; communicated to the Royal Society, and published in the second part of the lxxviiith volume of their transactions.

He observes that, during the time the Hedge-sparrow II.270 is laying her eggs, which generally occupies four or five days, the Cuckoo contrives to deposit her egg among the rest, leaving the future care of it entirely to the Hedge-sparrow. This intrusion often occasions some disorder; for the old Hedge-sparrow at intervals, whilst she is sitting, not only throws out some of her own eggs, but sometimes injures them in such a way that they become addle, so that it frequently happens that not more than two or three of the parent-bird’s eggs are hatched: but, what is very remarkable, it has never been observed that she has either thrown out or injured the egg of the Cuckoo. When the Hedge-sparrow has sat her usual time, and has disengaged the young Cuckoo and some of her own offspring from the shell, her own young ones, and any of her eggs that remain unhatched, are soon turned out: the young Cuckoo then remains in full possession of the nest, and is the sole object of the future care of the foster-parent. The young birds are not previously killed, nor the eggs demolished; but they are left to perish together, either entangled in the bush that contains the nest, or lying on the ground under it.—Mr. Jenner next proceeds to account for this seemingly unnatural circum­stance; and, as what he has advanced is the result of his own repeated observations, I shall give it nearly in his own words: “On the 18th of June, 1787, he examined a nest of a Hedge-sparrow, which then contained a Cuckoo’s and three Hedge-sparrow’s eggs. On inspecting it the day following, the bird had hatched; but the nest then contained only a young Cuckoo and one young Hedge-sparrow. II.271 The nest was placed so near the extremity of a hedge, that he could distinctly see what was going forward in it; and, to his great astonishment, saw the young Cuckoo, though so lately hatched, in the act of turning out the young Hedge-sparrow. The mode of accomplishing this was curious: the little animal, with the assistance of its rump and wings, contrived to get the bird upon its back, and, making a lodgment for its burthen by elevating its elbows, climbed backwards with it up the side of the nest till it readied the top; where resting for a moment, it threw off its load with a jerk, and quite disengaged it from the nest. After remaining a short time in this situation, and feeling about with the extremities of its wings, as if to be convinced that the business was properly executed, it dropped into the nest again. Mr. J. made several experiments in different nests, by repeatedly putting in an egg to the young Cuckoo; which he always found to be disposed of in the same manner. It is very remarkable, that nature seems to have provided for the singular disposition of the Cuckoo, in its formation at this period; for, different from other newly-hatched birds, its back, from the scapulæ downward, is very broad, with a considerable depression in the middle, which seems intended by nature for the purpose of giving a more secure lodgment to the egg of the Hedge-sparrow or its young one, while the young Cuckoo is employed in removing either of them from the nest. When it is above twelve days old, this cavity is quite filled up, the back assumes the shape of that of nestling birds in general, and at that time the disposition for turning II.272 out its companion entirely ceases. The smallness of the Cuckoo’s egg, which in general is less than that of the House-sparrow, is another circum­stance to be attended to in this surprising transaction, and seems to account for the parent Cuckoo’s depositing it in the nests of such small birds only as have been mentioned. If she were to do this in the nest of a bird that produced a larger egg, and consequently a larger nestling, the design would probably be frustrated; the young Cuckoo would be unequal to the task of becoming sole possessor of the nest, and might fall a sacrifice to the superior strength of its partners.”

engraving of Cuckoo, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 104:

Mr. Jenner observes, that it sometimes happens that the eggs of two Cuckoos are deposited in the same nest; and gives the following instance, which fell under his observation. Two Cuckoos and a Hedge-sparrow were hatched in the same nest; one Hedge-sparrow’s egg remained unhatched. In a few hours a contest began between the Cuckoos for possession of the nest, which continued undetermined till the afternoon of the following day, when one of them, which was somewhat superior in size, turned out the other, together with the young Hedge-sparrow and the unhatched egg. This contest, he adds, was very remarkable: the combatants alternately appeared to have the advantage, as each carried the other several times nearly to the top of the nest, and again sank down oppressed by the weight of its burthen; till at length, after various efforts, the strongest prevailed, and was afterwards brought up by the Hedge-sparrows.


There is certainly no reason to be assigned from the formation of this bird, why, in common with others, it should not build a nest, incubate its eggs, and rear its own young; for it is in every respect perfectly formed for all these offices. To what cause then may we attribute the above singularities? May they not be owing to the following circum­stances?—the short residence this bird is allowed to make in the country where it is destined to propagate its species, and the call that nature has upon it during that short residence to produce a numerous progeny. The Cuckoo’s first appearance here is about the middle of April: its egg is not ready for incubation till some weeks after its arrival, seldom before the middle of May. A fortnight is taken up by the sitting bird in hatching the egg. The young bird generally continues three weeks in the nest before it flies, and the foster-parents feed it more than five weeks after this period; so that if a Cuckoo should be ready with an egg much sooner than the time pointed out, not a single nestling, even of the earliest, would be fit to provide for itself before its parent would be instinctively directed to seek a new residence, and be thus compelled to abandon its offspring; for the old birds take their final leave of this country the first week in July.

“There seems (says Mr. Tenner) no precise time fixed for the departure of young Cuckoos. I believe they go off in succession, probably as soon as they are capable of taking care of themselves; for although they stay here till they become nearly equal in size, and in growth of plumage, to the parent, II.274 yet in this very state the fostering care of the Hedge-sparrow is not withdrawn from them. I have frequently seen the young Cuckoo of such a size, that the Hedge-sparrow has perched on its back, or half-expanded wing, in order to gain sufficient elevation to put the food into its mouth. At this advanced age it is probable that the young Cuckoos procure some food for themselves; like the young Rook, for instance, which in part feeds itself, and is partly fed by the old ones, till the approach of the pairing season.”

The same instinctive impulse which directs the Cuckoo to deposit her eggs in the nests of other birds, directs her young one to throw out the eggs and young of the owner of the nest. The scheme of nature would be incomplete without it; for it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the birds destined to find nourishment for the Cuckoo, to find it also for their own young ones, after a certain period; nor would there be room for them all to inhabit the nest.

The above are certainly well-attested instances of the Cuckoo’s laying its eggs in the nests, and trusting its young to the protection, of other birds; yet we have also instances, equally well attested, of their hatching and feeding their own nestlings:

The Rev. Mr. Stafford one day walking in Blossopdale, in Derbyshire, saw a Cuckoo rise from its nest; which was on the stump of a tree that had been some time felled, so as almost to resemble the colour of the bird. In this nest were two young Cuckoos; one of which he fastened to the ground by means of II.275 a peg and line; and very frequently, for many days, beheld the old Cuckoo feed them.

Mr. Daines Barrington, who recorded this account, was also furnished with two other instances of Cuckoos’ nests, in which the proper parents fed their young; the one within four miles of London, and the other on the south-west coast of Merionethshire.

It has been conjectured by some, that the Cuckoo remains in this country hidden in hollow trees, and in a torpid state, during the winter. In support of this opinion, Willughby, on the credit of another person, relates the following story: “The servants of a gentleman in the country, having stocked up, in one of the meadows, some old, dry, rotten willows, thought proper, on a certain occasion, to carry them home. In heating a stove, two logs of this timber were put into the lower part, and fire was applied as usual. But soon, to the great surprise of the family, was heard the voice of a Cuckoo, chirping three times from under the stove. Wondering at so extraordinary a cry in winter time, the servants drew the willow logs from the furnace, and in the midst of one of them saw something move; when taking an ax, they opened the hole, and, thrusting in their hands, first they plucked out nothing but feathers; afterwards they got hold of a living animal, and this was the Cuckoo that the fire had waked. It was, indeed, (continues our historian) brisk and lively, but wholly naked and bare of feathers, and without any winter provision in its hole. This Cuckoo the boys kept two years afterwards, alive in II.276 the stove; but whether it repaid them with a second song, the author of the tale has not thought fit to inform us.”⁕1

A few years ago a young Cuckoo was found in a torpid state, in the thickest part of a close furze-bush. When taken up, it soon exhibited signs of life, but was quite destitute of feathers. Being kept warm, and carefully fed, it grew and recovered its coat. In the spring following it made its escape; and in flying across the river Tyne, was heard to give its usual call.⁕2

It would be wrong to assert as a general fact, that the Cuckoos remain torpid in this country during the winter, because half a dozen (or perhaps not so many) instances are recorded of their having been found in this state. We are led much rather to suppose, that these accidental occurrences have arisen probably from their being young birds that had not been strong enough to leave us at the usual time of migration, and had therefore sought for shelter and warmth in the places where they have been discovered.

It is supposed that there are more male Cuckoos than females: Mr. Pennant observed that five male birds were caught in a trap in one season; and Dr. Latham says, that out of at least half a dozen that he attended to, chance never directed him to a female. The males alone being vocal may, however, be one cause why our specimens are chiefly of this sex; their note directing the gunner to take aim, whilst the female is secured by her silence.


The young birds, though helpless and foolish for a great length of time, may be, and often are, brought up tame, so as to become familiar. In this state they will eat bread and milk, fruits, insects, eggs, and flesh either cooked or raw; but in a state of nature, they are supposed to live principally on caterpillars. When fat, they are said to be as good eating as the Land Rail.⁕3

Synonyms.—Cuculus canorus. Linn.—Coucou. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 104.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 36.

⁕1 Willughby, 98.

⁕2 Introduction to Bewick’s Birds, p. xvii.

⁕3 Latham.—Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 232.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Cuckoo

skip to next section

Cuculus canorus, the common cuckoo, still has that name.

the female Cuckoo deposits her solitary egg in that of another bird, by whom it is hatched
[Technical term of the day: Brood parasite.]

the accurate observations of Mr. Edward Jenner
[Better known as Smallpox Guy.]

to find it also for their own young ones, after a certain period
text has ones,after without space

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 36.
text has 39

engraving of Great Honey-Guide, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 27:
Great Honey-Guide


The Bee Cuckoo, in its external appearance, does not much differ from the common Sparrow; except that it is somewhat larger, and of a rather lighter colour; it has also a yellow spot on each shoulder, and the feathers of its tail are dashed with white.

This bird is peculiar for its faculty of discovering and pointing out to Man, and to the animal called the Ratel,⁕1 the nests of wild Bees. It is itself exceedingly fond both of honey and the bee-maggots; and it knows that, when a nest is plundered, some must fall to the ground, which consequently comes to its share; but, in general, a part is purposely left by the plunderers as a reward for its services. The way in which this bird communicates to others the discovery it has made, is as surprising as it is well adapted to the purpose.


The morning and evening are its principal meal times; at least, it is then that it shews the greatest inclination to come forth, and with a grating cry of cherr, cherr, cherr, to excite the attention of the Ratel, as well as of the Hottentots and Colonists, of whose country it is a native. Somebody then generally repairs to the place whence the sound proceeds; when the bird, continually repeating its cry of cherr, cherr, cherr, flies on slowly and by degrees towards the quarter where the swarm of Bees have taken up their abode. The persons thus invited accordingly follow; taking great care at the same time not to frighten their guide by any unusual noise, but rather to answer it now and then with a soft and very gentle whistle, by way of letting the bird know that its call is attended to. When the Bees’-nest is at some distance, the bird often makes long stages or flights, waiting for its sporting companions between each flight, and calling to them again to come on; but it flies to shorter distances, and repeats its cry more frequently and with greater earnestness, in proportion as they approach nearer the nest. When the bird has sometimes, in consequence of its great impatience, got too far ahead of its followers; but particularly when, on account of the unevenness of the ground, they have not been able to keep pace with it; it has flown back to meet them, and with redoubled cries, denoting still greater impatience, upbraiding them as it were for being so tardy. When it comes to the Bees’-nest, whether built in the cleft of a rock, or in a hollow tree, or in some cavity of the earth, it hovers over the spot for the II.279 space of a few seconds (a circum­stance to which Dr. Sparrman was twice eye-witness); after which it sits in silence, and for the most part concealed, in some neighbouring tree or bush, in expectation of what may happen, and with a view of receiving its share of the booty. It is probable that this bird always hovers more or less, in the manner just mentioned, over the Bees’-nest, before it hides itself; though the people do not always pay attention to this circum­stance: at all events, however, one may be assured that the Bees’-nest is very near, when, after the bird has guided its followers to some distance, it is on a sudden silent.

Having, in consequence of the bird’s directions, found and plundered the nest, the hunters, by way of acknowledgment, usually leave it a considerable share of that part of the comb in which the young Bees are hatching; which is probably to the bird the most delicate morsel.⁕2

The above account of Sparrman has met with severe though somewhat ill-natured animadversions from the pen of Mr. Bruce. I shall insert them in his own words. “I cannot, (he says,) for my own part, conceive that, in a country where there are so many thousand hives, there was any use for giving to a bird a peculiar instinct or faculty of discovering honey, when, at the same time, nature hath deprived him of the power of availing himself of any advantage from the discovery; for Man seems in this case to be made for the service of the Moroc, which is very II.280 different from the common and ordinary course of things: Man certainly needs not this bird; for on every tree, and on every hillock, he may see plenty of honey at his own deliberate disposal. I cannot then but think, with all submission to these natural philosophers, (Dr. Sparrman, and Jerome Lobo who has also given an account of this bird,) that the whole of this is an improbable fiction: nor did I ever hear a single person in Abyssinia suggest, that either this or any other bird had such a property. Sparrman says it was not known to any inhabitant of the Cape, any more than that of the Moroc was in Abyssinia; it was a secret of nature hid from all but these two great men, and I most willingly leave it among the catalogue of their particular discoveries.”

Dr. Sparrman says, that a nest which was shown to him as belonging to this bird, was composed of slender filaments of bark, woven together in the form of a bottle: the neck and opening hung downwards; and a string in an arched shape was suspended across the opening, fastened by the two ends, perhaps for the bird to perch on.

Mr. Barrow, who in the years, 1797 and 1798 travelled into the interior of the southern extremity of Africa, fully confirms the truth of Dr. Sparrman’s account. He says, that every one there is too well acquainted with the Moroc to have any doubts as to the certainty either respecting the bird or its information of the repositories of the Bees. He tells us further, that it indicates to the inhabitants with equal certainty the dens of Lions, Tigers, Hyænas, and other beasts of prey and noxious animals. M. Le II.281 Vaillant says that the Hottentots are very partial to the Moroc, on account of the service it renders them; and that once when he was about to shoot one, they on that account begged him to spare its life.⁕3

Synonyms.—Cuculus indicator. Linn.—Coucou indicateur. Buff.—Honey Guide. Moroc. Sparrman.

⁕1 Viverra mellivora of Linnæus.

⁕2 Sparrman’s Voyages to the Cape.

⁕3 Travels in Africa, i. 116.

Notes and Corrections: The Bee Cuckoo, or Moroc

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Cuculus indicator is probably the greater honeyguide, Indicator indicator. Honeyguides are not cuckoos at all, but a family in the same Piciformes order as woodpeckers and toucans. Like cuckoos, they are brood parasites, which may have led Linnaeus astray.

Shaw’s illustration may or may not depict the bird Bingley is talking about. General Zoology describes several honeyguides, with the genus name Indicator: “Sparrman’s Honey-guide”, Indicator sparr­manii (with Cuculus indicator listed as a synonym); “Great Honey-Guide”, Indicator major; and Little Honey-Guide, Indicator minor. Only the third binomial is still in use. Both of the first two—and also Cuculus indicator—are listed elsewhere as synonyms for what is now Indicator indicator.

Man seems in this case to be made for the service of the Moroc, which is very different from the common and ordinary course of things
[The word “anthropocentric” did not come into general use until the late 19th century. As it turns out, Sparrman was right and Bruce was wrong. Indicator indicator is one of two honeyguide species with the described behavior; it is how they got their name.]

[Footnote] Viverra mellivora of Linnæus
[Also known as the Ratel, described in Volume I.]

color picture of White-Billed Woodpecker, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 497:
White-Billed Woodpecker


The Woodpeckers are a very singular race of birds, that live almost entirely on insects, which they pick out of decayed trees and from the bark of such as are sound. These they transfix and draw from the crevices by means of their tongue; which is bony at the end, barbed, and furnished with a curious apparatus of muscles for the purpose of throwing it forwards with great force. Their bill is also so strong and powerful, that by means of it they are able to perforate even such trees as are perfectly sound. In the holes which they thus make, they construct their nests. Their voice is acute, and very unpleasant.

The bill is straight, strong, and angular; and at the end, in most of the species, formed like a wedge, for the purpose of piercing the trees. The nostrils are covered with bristles. The tongue is very long, slender, cylindrical, bony, hard, and jagged at the end. The toes are placed two forward and two backward; and the tail consists of ten hard, stiff, and sharp-pointed feathers.

Notes and Corrections: The Woodpecker Tribe

Woodpeckers are the third family in order Piciformes, alongside honeyguides and toucans. As it happens, none of the three described woodpeckers are currently assigned to genus Picus, where Linnaeus put them—but they are all in the Picidae family.


engraving of “Great Black Woodpecker”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 29:
Great Black Woodpecker


This Woodpecker weighs about eleven ounces. Its plumage is black; except the crown of the head, which is of a rich crimson. The head of the female is only marked with red behind.—It inhabits Switzerland, Germany, and several of the northern regions; and is migratory. It is sometimes, but very rarely, found in this country.

This bird lives on insects; which it catches on the bark of trees, or between the bark and wood. It darts out its long tongue, sometimes three or four inches beyond the bill, transfixes the insects with the end, and then with a very quick motion retracts it and swallows them. The feathers of the tail are very stiff; and so firmly set into the rump, that when the bird has fastened its claws into the inequalities of the bark, he places his strong tail feathers against it, and thus, standing as it were erect, forms a hole by means of its bill. It is able to pierce not only sound, but even hard trees, as the oak and hornbeam. The hole thus made is enlarged within, for the greater convenience of depositing its nest. The damage it does to timber by this means is very great.⁕1

The female lays two or three white eggs. This bird has a very loud note, and feeds on caterpillars and insects.

Synonyms.—Picus Martius. Linn.—Pic Noir. Buff.—Greatest Black Woodpecker. Penn.

⁕1 Phil. Tran. vol. xxix. p. 509.

Notes and Corrections: The Black Woodpecker

The black woodpecker, Picus martius, is now Dryocopus martius, another genus in the woodpecker family.


engraving of White-billed Woodpecker, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 30:
White-billed Woodpecker


Is of about the size of a Crow. The bill is white, three inches long, and channelled. On the head is a red pointed crest; the head itself and the body in general are black: but the lower part of the back, the rump, and upper tail-coverts, are white. From the eye a white stripe arises, and passes on each side of the neck down to the back.

It is found in Carolina, Virginia, and various parts of South America; where the Spanish settlers have given it the name of Carpenter, from the noise that it makes with its bill against the trees in the woods. This is heard at a very great distance; and when several of them are at work together, the sound is not much unlike that proceeding from woodmen or carpenters. It rattles its bill against the sides of the orifice, till even the woods resound. A bushel of chips, a proof of its labours, is often to be found at the foot of the tree. On examination, its holes have been generally found of a winding form, the better to protect the nest from the effects of the weather.

Catesby (from whose work the above account has been principally taken) says likewise that the Canadian Indians make a kind of coronets with the bills of these birds, by setting them in a wreath with the points outwards; and that for this purpose they will II.284 purchase them at the rate of two or three buck-skins per bill.⁕1

Synonyms.—Picus principalis. Linn.—Grand Pic Noir à bec blanc. Buff.—Largest White-billed Woodpecker. Catesby.—White-billed Woodpecker. Latham.

⁕1 Catesby, i. 16.

Notes and Corrections: The White-Billed Woodpecker

Best guess for Picus principalis, the white-billed woodpecker: Campephilus principalis, the ivory-billed woodpecker. In fact the whole genus is collectively known as ivory-billed woodpeckers.

color picture of Red-Headed Woodpecker, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 126:
Red-Headed Woodpecker


This species is about nine inches long. The bill is about an inch and a quarter in length, of a lead colour with a black tip. The head and neck are of a most beautiful crimson; the back and wings black; the rump, breast, and belly, white; and the first ten quills black, the eleventh black and white, and the rest white with black shafts.—It inhabits Carolina, Canada, and most other parts of North America; migrating southwards according to the severity of the weather.

According to Kalm, the Red-headed Woodpeckers are very common birds; and exceedingly destructive to the maize-fields and orchards, picking the ears of maize, and destroying vast quantities of apples. They attack the trees in flocks, and eat so much of the fruit that nothing but the skin is left. In some years they are much more numerous than in others. A premium of twopence per head was formerly paid from the public funds of some of the states, in order, if possible, to extirpate the breed: but this has been much neglected of late.

They remain the whole year in Virginia and Carolina, but are by no means seen in such numbers in winter as during summer. In the winter they are very tame, and are frequently known to come into II.285 the houses in the same manner as the Redbreast does in England.

They build, like the other species, in holes that they form in the trees, but generally pretty high from the ground. It is said that the noise they make with their bills in this operation may be heard more than a mile.—Their flesh is by many people accounted good eating.

Synonyms.—Picus Erythrocephalus. Linn.—Pic de Virginie. Buff.—Red-headed Woodpecker. Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Headed Woodpecker

The red-headed woodpecker, Picus erythrocephalus, is now Melanerpes erythrocephalus, yet another woodpecker genus. (There are lots of them.)

engraving of Nuthatch and Kingfisher, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 38:
Nuthatch (top); Kingfisher (bottom)


The characters of this tribe are, a bill for the most part straight, having on the lower mandible a small angle: small nostrils covered with bristles: a short tongue, horny at the end and jagged: toes placed three forward and one backward; the middle toe joined closely at the base to both the outer; and the back toe as large as the middle one.

In the manners of the different species, which very nearly correspond with those of the following (the only one found in England), we observe a considerable alliance to the Woodpeckers. Most of them feed on insects; and some on nuts, whence their English name is derived.

Notes and Corrections: The Nut-Hatch Tribe

With nuthatches we return yet again to order Passeriformes and the hideously complicated superfamily Passerida (“kinda-sorta-sparrowish-type birds”). Dig down deep enough and you will reach the nuthatch family, Sittidae, featuring genus Sitta.

engraving of European Nut Hatch, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 13:
European Nut Hatch


The length of this bird is five inches and three II.286 quarters. The bill is strong and straight, about three quarters of an inch long; the upper mandible is black, and the lower white. All the upper parts of the body are of a bluish grey: the cheeks and chin are white; the breast and belly pale orange coloured; and the quills dusky. The tail is short; and consists of twelve feathers, the two middle ones of which are grey, the two outer spotted with white, and the rest dusky. The legs are pale yellow; the claws are large, and the back one very strong.

This is a shy and solitary bird; and, like the Woodpecker, frequents the woods, running up and down the trees. It often moves its tail like the Wagtail.

engraving of Nuthatch, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 121:

The Nut-hatch, the Squirrel, and the Field-mouse, which live much on hazel-nuts, have each a very curious way of getting at the kernel. Of the two latter, the Squirrel, after rasping off the small end, splits the shell in two with his long fore-teeth, as a man does with his knife; the Field-mouse nibbles a hole with his teeth, as regular as if drilled with a whimble, and yet so small that one would wonder how the kernel could be extracted through it; while the Nut-hatch picks an irregular ragged hole with his bill;—but as this last artist has no paws to hold the nut firm while he pierces it, he, like an adroit workman, fixes it as it were in a vice, in some cleft of a tree, or in some crevice; when, standing over it, he perforates the stubborn shell. On placing nuts in the chink of a gate-post where Nut-hatches have been known to haunt, it has always been found that these birds have readily penetrated them. While at work, they make a rapping noise that may be heard II.287 at a considerable distance. Dr. Plott informs us that this bird, by putting its bill into a crack in the bough of a tree, sometimes makes a violent sound as if the branch was rending asunder. Besides nuts, it feeds also on Caterpillars, Beetles, and various other insects.

The female deposits her eggs, six or seven in number, in some hole of a tree, frequently in one that has been deserted by the Woodpecker, on rotten wood mixed with moss. If the entrance be too large, she nicely stops up part of it with clay, leaving only a small hole for herself to pass in and out. While the hen is sitting, if a stick be put into the hole she hisses like a Snake; and she is so much attached to her eggs, that she will sooner suffer any one to pluck off her feathers than fly away. During the time of incubation, she is assiduously attended by the male, who supplies her with food. If the barrier of plaster at the entrance of the hole be destroyed while these birds have eggs, it is speedily replaced; a peculiar instinct, to prevent their nest from being destroyed by the Woodpecker and other birds of superior size and strength, which build in similar situations.⁕1

The Nut-hatch is supposed not to sleep perched (like most other birds) on a twig; for it has been observed, that when kept in a cage, notwithstanding it would perch now and then, yet at night it generally crept (if possible) into some hole or corner to sleep: and it is remarkable, that when perched, or II.288 otherwise at rest, it had mostly the head downwards, or at least even with the body, and not elevated like other birds.

It does not migrate; but in winter approaches nearer inhabited places, and is sometimes seen in orchards and gardens.—The young ones are accounted very good eating.

Synonyms.—Sitta Europea. Linn.—Sittlelle ou Torchepot. Buff.—Nut-hatch or Nut-jobber. Willughby.—Woodcracker. Plott.—Nutbreaker. Albin.—European Nut-hatch. Latham.——Bew. Birds p. 121.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 38.

⁕1 Montagu, art. Nut-hatch.

Notes and Corrections: The European Nut-Hatch

Sitta europea still has that binomial, though it now more broadly called the Eurasian nuthatch. There are a staggering number of subspecies.

as if drilled with a whimble
[Generally spelled “wimble”, in which form you will still find it in dictionaries. It’s the generic term for drilling or boring tools such as gimlets and augers, to say nothing of Black & Decker cordless electric drills.]

color picture of “Common Kingfisher”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 129:
Common Kingfisher


These birds frequent the banks of rivers; living principally on fish, which they catch with great dexterity. They swallow their prey whole, but afterwards throw up the indigestible parts. Their wings are short; yet they fly very swiftly.

The bill is triangular, long, unbent, thick, and sharp. The tongue is fleshy, short, flat, and acute. The feet, except in a few species, are formed for climbing, with the toes two backward and two forward.

Notes and Corrections: The Kingfisher Tribe

Kingfishers are family Alcedinidae within order Coraciiformes, which covers kingfishers, hoopoes, hornbills and the like.

engraving of Common Kingfisher, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 10:
Common Kingfisher


This is the most beautiful of all the British birds. Its length is seven inches, and its breadth eleven. The bill is near two inches long, and black; but the base of the lower mandible is yellow. The top of the head, and the sides of the body, are of a dark green, marked with transverse spots of blue. The tail is of a deep blue; and the other parts of the body are dusky orange, white, and black. The legs are red.


This bird is found throughout Europe. It preys on the smaller fish. It sits frequently on a branch projecting over the current; there it remains motionless, and often watches whole hours to catch the moment when a little fish springs under its station; it dives perpen­dicularly into the water, where it continues several seconds, and then brings up the fish, which it carries to land, beats to death, and afterward swallows.

When the Kingfisher cannot find a projecting bough, it sits on some stone near the brink, or even on the gravel; but the moment it perceives the fish, it takes a spring upward of twelve or fifteen feet, and drops perpen­dicularly from that height. Often it is observed to stop short in its rapid course, and remain stationary, hovering (in manner not unlike some of the Hawk tribe) over the same spot for several seconds. Such is its mode in winter, when the muddy swell of the stream, or the thickness of the ice, constrains it to leave the rivers, and ply along the sides of the unfrozen brooks. At each pause it continues, as it were, suspended at the height of fifteen or twenty feet; and, when it would change its place, it sinks, and skims along within a foot of the surface of the water, then rises and halts again. This repeated and almost continual exercise shews that the bird dives for many small objects, fishes or insects, and often in vain; for in this way it passes over many a league.

“The Kingfishers (says M. Gmelin) are seen all over Siberia; and their feathers are employed by the Tartars and the Ostiacs for many superstitious uses. II.290 The former pluck them, cast them into water, and carefully preserve such as float; and they pretend, that if with one of these feathers they touch a woman, or even her clothes, she must fall in love with them. The Ostiacs take the skin, the bill, and the claws, of this bird, and shut them in a purse; and as long as they preserve this sort of amulet, they believe that they have no ill to fear. The person who taught me this means of living happy, could not forbear shedding tears; he told me that the loss of a Kingfisher’s skin that he had, caused him to lose also his wife and his goods. I observed that such a bird could not be very rare, since a countryman of his had brought me one, with its skin and feathers: he was much surprised, and said that if he had the luck to find one he would give it to no person.”⁕1

M. D’Aubenton kept these birds for several months, by means of small fish put into basons of water, on which they fed; for, on experiment, they refused all other kinds of nourishment.

The Kingfisher lays its eggs, to the number of seven or more, in a hole in the bank of the river or stream that it frequents. Dr. Heysham had a female brought alive to him at Carlisle, by a boy who said he had taken it the preceding night when sitting on its eggs. His information on the subject was, that “having often observed these birds frequent a bank upon the river Peteril, he had watched them carefully, and at last saw them go into a small hole in the bank. The hole was too narrow to admit his II.291 hand; but as it was made in soft mold, he easily enlarged it. It was upwards of half a yard long: at the end of it the eggs, which were six in number, were placed upon the bare mould, without the smallest appearance of a nest.” The eggs were considerably larger than those of the Yellow-hammer, and of a transparent white colour.⁕2—It appears from a still later account than this, that the direction of the holes is always upward; that they are enlarged at the end; and have there a kind of bedding formed of the bones of small fish, and some other substances, evidently the castings of the parent animals. This is generally about half an inch thick, and mixed in with the earth. There is every reason to believe, that both male and female come to this spot for no other purpose than to eject the refuse of their food, for some time before the latter begins to lay: and that they dry it by the heat of their bodies; as they are frequently known to continue in the hole for hours, long before the period of laying. On this disgorged matter the female deposits and hatches her eggs. When the young are nearly full-feathered, they are extremely voracious; and the old birds not supplying them with all the food they can devour, they are continually chirping, and may be discovered by their noise.

It was once believed that, when the body of a Kingfisher was suspended by a thread, some magnetic influence always turned its breast to the north. This, however, is as fabulous as the tradition that it will II.292 preserve woollen cloth from the depredations of moths.⁕3

Synonyms.—Alcedo Ispida. Linn.—Martin-pêcheur ou Alcyon. Buff.—European Kingfisher. Penn.—Common Kingfisher. Latham.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 38.

⁕1 Voyage en Sibérie, par M. Gmelin, quoted in Buffon’s Birds.

⁕2 Heysham; in Hutchinson’s Cumberland; vol. i. p. 9.

⁕3 Montagu, art. Kingfisher.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Kingfisher

Alcedo ispida may be an error for Alcedo hispida. Both forms are attested; hispidus (“hairy”) is a word, while ispidus isn’t. The common kingfisher is now Alcedo atthis, with a number of subspecies including A. a. hispidoides and A. a. ispida.

engraving of Creeper and “Hoopo”, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 39:
Creeper (top); Hoopo (bottom)


The Creepers are dispersed through most countries of the globe. They feed chiefly on insects, in search of which they run up and down the stems and branches of trees. Most of the species breed in hollows of trees, where they lay many eggs.

Their bill is much curved, slender, and pointed. The tongue is generally acute, (though sometimes flat,) fringed, or tubular. The legs are strong, and formed with three toes forward.

Notes and Corrections: The Creeper Tribe

Creepers take us back once again to order Passeriformes, suborder Passerida, superfamily Muscicapoidea. Creepers are a family of their own, Certhiidae.

engraving of Common Creeper, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 24:
Common Creeper


Except the Humming-bird, this is the smallest of all the British feathered tribes; its weight being no more than five drams. The length of its feathers, and the manner that it has of ruffling them, give it however an appearance much beyond its real size. Its bill is hooked; and its legs slender, with the claws very long, to enable it to creep up and down the bodies of trees, in search of insects. Its colour is a mixed grey, with the under parts white. The quill feathers of the wings are brown, and several of them are tipped with white. The tail is long, and consists II.293 of twelve stiff feathers. It is found both in Europe and Asia; and is also very common in some parts of North America, particularly in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia.

This little bird seems peculiarly fond of the society of man; and it must be confessed that in some parts of the world it is often protected by his interested care. From observing its utility in destroying insects, it has long been a custom, in many parts of the United States, to fix a small box at the end of a long pole, in gardens and about houses, as a place for it to build in. In these boxes the animals form their nest, and hatch their young; which the parent birds feed with a variety of different insects, particularly those species that are injurious in gardens. A gentleman who was at the trouble of watching these birds, for the purpose, observed that the parents generally went from the nest and returned with insects from forty to sixty times in an hour, and that in one particular hour they carried food no fewer than seventy-one times. In this business they were engaged during the greater part of the day. Allowing twelve hours to be thus occupied, a single pair of these birds would destroy at least six hundred insects in the course of one day, on the supposition that the two birds took only a single insect each time. But it is highly probable that they often took more.⁕1

engraving of Creeper, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 125:

I suspect that it is this bird which Mr. St. John has called a Wren, recording the following story of its II.294 bravery and selfishness. Three birds had built their nests almost contiguous to each other. A Swallow had affixed hers in the corner of a piazza next his house; a bird he calls a Phebe in the other corner; and a Wren possessed a little box which he had made on purpose, and hung between. These were all quite tame. The Wren had for some time shewn signs of dislike to the box which had been given to it, though it was not known on what account. At length, however, it resolved, small as it was, to drive the Swallow from its habitation; and, astonishing to say, it succeeded. “Impudence,” says Mr. St. John, “gets the better of modesty; and this exploit was no sooner performed, than the Wren removed every material to its own box with the most admirable dexterity. The signs of triumph appeared very visible: it fluttered its wings with uncommon velocity; and an universal joy was perceivable in all its movements. The peaceable Swallow, like the passive Quaker, meekly sat at a small distance, and never offered the least resistance. But no sooner was the plunder carried away, than the injured bird went to work with unabated ardour, and in a few days the depredations were repaired.” Mr. St. John, to prevent any repetition of the same violence, removed the Wren’s box to another part of the house.⁕2

In America, the Creeper hatches twice during the summer, and has generally from eighteen to twenty eggs at a time.

Synonyms.—Certhia familiaris. Linn.—Grimpereau. Buff.—Ox-eye Creeper. Charlton.——Bew. Birds, p. 125.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 39.

⁕1 Barton’s Fragments of the Natural History of Pennsylvania, p. 22.

⁕2 Letters of an American Farmer, p. 40.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Creeper

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Certhia familiaris is now known as the Eurasian tree-creeper. The one from “some parts of North America, particularly in the neigh­bourhood of Philadelphia” may be C. americana, the brown creeper or American treecreeper.

Except the Humming-bird, this is the smallest of all the British feathered tribes
[Say what now? Hummingbirds are unknown in the Old World, let alone Britain, although their nearest relatives, the swifts, are common. I’m prepared to accept “smallest of the feathered tribes” without geographic modifier, or “smallest of all the British feathered tribes” without mentioning the hummingbird. But not both.]

Letters of an American Farmer
[“Mr. St. John” was in fact a Frenchman, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, born Michel-Guillaume-Saint-Jean de Crèvecœur. His Letters were first published in 1782.]



This diminutive inhabitant of New Spain, smaller even than the last-mentioned species, I mention merely for the purpose of describing its nest; which, differing in this respect from those of most of the other species of Creepers, is pensile.

The nest is formed not unlike a chemist’s retort placed with the mouth downwards, through which the bird ascends to its offspring placed in the bulb at the top. Its length is fourteen or sixteen inches; and it is suspended to the most extreme and tender branches of the trees by means of a kind of woven work, of the same materials as the exterior of the nest. In the broadest part of the bulb, it measures about six inches in diameter. Within, it is lined with extremely soft and downy materials, to guard the bodies of the tender young from injury; and it is altogether so very light, as to be driven about by the most gentle breeze.⁕1

Synonyms.—Certhia Mexicana. Linn.—Oiseau Rouge à bec de Grimpereau. Buff.

⁕1 Seba, p. 70. t. 42.—p. 106 t. 68.

Notes and Corrections: The Red Creeper

Certhia mexicana is simply C. americana again, described in a different source so Bingley didn’t realize they’re the same creeper. Unfortunately, it isn’t at all red, so it is anyone’s guess what bird he is really talking about. Volume III of Shaw’s Miscellany offers both a “scarlet creeper”, C. coccinea, and a “cardinal creeper”, C. cardinalis. The first is now Vestiaria coccinea, the ‘l‘iwi, from Hawaii; the second is Myzomela cardinalis, the cardinal honeyeater, from elsewhere in the South Pacific. Right color, wrong location.

color picture of “Red-Throated Humming-Bird”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 66:
Red-Throated Humming-Bird


The Humming Birds are the most diminutive of all the feathered tribes. They are natives of the warmer parts of America, and of some of the West-India islands; and bear a great resemblance to each other in manners. Their principal food is the nectar II.296 at the bottom of the tubular flowers; which they extract, like Bees, while on the wing, by means of their long and slender bill. Their name is derived from the humming noise they make with their wings, which is even louder than their voice. They are gregarious; and construct an elegant hemispherical nest, in which they lay two small white eggs, that are hatched by the sitting of the male and female alternately. The young are often attacked and devoured by Spiders.—These birds may be caught by blowing water upon them from a tube; or, like many of our small birds, they may be shot with sand.—Small as they are, they are extremely bold and pugnaceous; and their flight is very rapid. Their colours are too brilliant to be expressed by any pencil.

The characters of the tribe are, a slender weak bill, incurvated in some species, in others straight: the nostrils minute: the tongue very long, and formed of two conjoined cylindrical tubes: the legs weak; the toes placed three forward and one backward: and the tail consisting of ten feathers.

Notes and Corrections: The Humming-Bird Tribe

Hummingbirds are family Trochilidae, sharing the order Apodiformes (“footless”, go figure) with two families of swifts—including the edible-nest swiftlets, which Bingley’s sources thought was a swallow. It’s an enormous family, with over a hundred genera and at least 300 species.

engraving of Red Throated Humming Bird, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. VIII plate 43:
Red Throated Humming Bird


The length of this diminutive creature is a little more than three inches; of which its bill occupies three quarters of an inch. The male is green-gold on the upper part, with a changeable copper gloss; the under parts grey. The throat and fore-part of II.297 the neck are of a ruby colour; in some lights as bright as fire. When viewed sideways, the feathers appear mixed with gold, and beneath of a dull garnet colour. The two middle feathers of the tail are the same as the upper plumage, and the rest are brown.

Who can paint

Like Nature? Can imagination boast,

Amid its gay creation, hues like these?

The female, instead of the bright ruby throat, has only a few obscure small brown spots; and all the outer tail feathers, which in the male are plain, are in the female tipped with white. The bill and legs are black in both sexes.

This beautiful little creature is as admirable for its vast swiftness in the air, and its manner of feeding, as for the elegance and brilliancy of its colours.

It flies so swiftly, that the eye is incapable of pursuing it; and the motion of its wings is so rapid, as to be imperceptible to the nicest observer. Lightning is scarcely more transient than its flight, nor the glare more bright than its colours.

It never feeds but upon the wing, suspended over the flower which it extracts nourishment from; for its only food is the honeyed juice lodged in the nectaria of the flowers, which it sucks through the tubes of its curious tongue. Like the Bee, having exhausted the honey of one flower, it wanders to the next in search of new sweets. It admires most those flowers that have the deepest tubes; and in the countries which these birds inhabit, whoever sets plants of this description before his windows is sure to be II.298 visited by multitudes of them. It is very entertaining to see them swarming around the flowers, and trying every tube by putting in their bills. If they find that their brethren have anticipated them, and robbed the flower of its honey, they will, in a rage, (if possible,) pluck it off, and throw it on the ground; sometimes they tear it in pieces.

The most violent passions animate at times these diminutive creatures. They have often dreadful contests, when numbers happen to dispute the possession of the same flower. They will tilt against one another with such fury, as if they meant to transfix their antagonists with their long bills. During the fight, they frequently pursue the conquered into the apartments of those houses whose windows are left open; take a turn round the room, as flies do in England; and then suddenly regain the open air. They are fearless of mankind; and in feeding, will suffer persons to come within two yards of them; but on a nearer approach, they dart away with wonderful swiftness. Mr. St. John says that their contentions often last till one or other of the combatants is killed.

The Red-throated Humming-bird most frequently builds on the middle of a branch⁕1 of a tree; and the nest is so small, that it cannot be seen by a person who stands on the ground. Whoever, therefore, is desirous of seeing it, must get up to the branch, that II.299 he may view it from above; it is from this reason that the nests are not more frequently found. The nest is quite round: the outside for the most part composed of the green moss common on old pales and trees; and the inside, of the softest vegetable down the birds can collect. Sometimes, however, they vary the texture; using flax, hemp, hairs, and other similar materials. The female lays two eggs, of the size of a pea; which are white, and equal in thickness at both ends.

Ferdinandez Oviedo, an author of great repute, speaks, from his own knowledge, of the spirited instinct even of these diminutive birds in defence of their young: “When they observe any one climbing the tree in which they have their nests, they attack him in the face, attempting to strike him in the eyes, and coming, going, and returning, with such swiftness, that a man would scarcely credit it who had not seen it himself.”⁕2

The Humming-bird is seldom caught alive; a friend of M. Du Pratz had, however, this pleasure. He had observed one of them enter the bell of a Convolvulus; and, as it had quite buried itself to get at the bottom, he ran immediately to the place, shut the flower, cut it from the stalk, and carried off the bird a prisoner. He could not, however, prevail upon it to eat; and it died in the course of three or four days.⁕3

Charlevoix informs us that he had one of them in Canada for about twenty-four hours. It suffered II.300 itself to be handled; and even counter­feited death, that it might escape. A slight frost in the night destroyed it.⁕4

“My friend Captain Davies informs me,” says Dr. Latham, in his Synopsis, “that he kept these birds alive for four months by the following method:—He made an exact representation of some of the tubular flowers, with paper fastened round a tobacco-pipe, and painted them of a proper colour: these were placed in the order of nature, in the cage in which the little creatures were confined: the bottoms of the tubes were filled with a mixture of brown sugar and water, as often as emptied; and he had the pleasure of seeing them perform every action; for they soon grew familiar, and took their nourishment in the same manner as when ranging at large, though close under the eye.”⁕5

Synonyms. Trochilus colubris. Linn.—Rubis. Buff.—Humming Bird. Catesby.—Red-throated Honeysucker. Penn.—Red-throated Humming Bird. Latham.

⁕1 This is not, however, always the case; as they are often known to take up with some low bush, or even a tobacco-stalk: the nests have also been seen fixed to the side of a pod of Ocra, (Hibiscus esculentus of Linnæus.)

⁕2 Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 336.

⁕3 Du Pratz, p. 282.

⁕4 Charlevoix.

⁕5 Latham, i. 769.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Throated Humming Bird

Trochilus colubris is now Archilochus colubris, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Yes, I do realize that Shaw’s two illustrations are the identical picture. But you can never have too many illustrations.

Who can paint / Like Nature?
[Thomson’s Seasons: Spring 468-70.]


engraving of Common Starling, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 44:
Common Starling


In this tribe the bill is straight, and depressed. The nostrils are guarded above by a prominent rim. The tongue is hard and cloven; and the middle toe is connected to the outermost as far as the first joint.

There are several species; but only two of them (which are the following) have been hitherto found in this kingdom.

⁕1 The Linnæan order of Passerine Birds commences with this tribe.—These birds have their bill of a conical form, and pointed at the end; and the feet are formed for perching and hopping, the toes being slender and divided, with slender, bent, and sharp claws.—Of this order the principal genera are the Finches, Grossbeaks, Buntings, Thrushes, Flycatchers, Swallows, Larks, Wagtails, Titmice, and Pigeons.—While breeding they live mostly in pairs; building, in various situations, nests that are in general of singular and curious construction. They feed their young by pushing the food down their throats with their own bills. Most of them sing. Some live on seeds, and others on insects: the former are reckoned good food, but the latter species are never eaten.

Notes and Corrections: The Stare Tribe

Starlings are family Sturnidae in—stop me if you’ve heard this one—order Passeriformes, suborder Passerida, superfamily Musci­capoidea.

[Footnote] The Linnæan order of Passerine Birds commences with this tribe.
[In fact it commenced quite a while ago; there have been at least ten earlier “tribes” that are now assigned to Passeriformes (perching birds). Most of the listed genera are now separate families within Passeriformes. Grosbeaks and buntings share the Cardinalidae family with cardinals; pigeons, conversely, are an order of their own.]

engraving of Starling, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 88:


Few birds are more generally known than the Starling; being an inhabitant of almost all climates, and sufficiently common in every part of England.

In the winter season these birds collect in vast flocks: and may be known at a great distance by their whirling mode of flight; which Buffon compares to a sort of vortex, in which the collective II.302 body performs an uniformly circular revolution, and at the same time continues to make a progressive advance. The evening is the time when the Starlings assemble in the greatest numbers, and betake themselves to the fens and marshes. In the fens of Lincolnshire they collect in myriads, and do great damage to the inhabitants by roosting on the reeds, and breaking them down by their weight; reeds being the thatch of the country.

They chatter much in the evening and morning, both when they assemble and disperse. So attached are they to society, that they not only join those of their own species, but also birds of a different kind, and are frequently seen in company with Redwings, Fieldfares, and even with Owls, Jackdaws, and Pigeons.—Their principal food consists of snails, worms, and insects: they likewise eat various kinds of grain, seeds, and fruit, and are said to be particularly fond of cherries. It is reported of them that they get into pigeon-houses for the purpose of sucking the eggs.

The female builds an artless nest, of straw and small fibres, in the hollows of trees, rocks, or old walls, and sometimes in cliffs overhanging the sea. She lays four or five eggs, of a pale greenish ash-colour.—The young birds are of a dusky brown colour till they first moult.

The Starling is a very familiar bird, and in a state of captivity easily trained. Its natural voice is strong and hoarse; but it may be taught without difficulty to repeat short sentences, or whistle tunes with great exactness. In a state of confinement it will eat small pieces of raw flesh, or bread soaked in water.

Synonyms.—Sturnus vulgaris. Linn.—L’Etourneau. Buff.—Stare. Penn.—Stare or Starling. Will.——Bew. Birds, i. 88.

Notes and Corrections: The Starling

Sturnus vulgaris still has this binomial, and is still dismissively called the common starling.


engraving of Water Ouzel, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 30:
Water Ouzel


The Water Ouzel is in size somewhat less than the Blackbird. Its bill is black, and almost straight. The eye-lids are white. The upper parts of the head and neck are of a deep brown; and the rest of the upper parts, the belly, vent, and tail, are black. The chin, the fore part of the neck, and breast, are white or yellowish. The legs are black.

This bird frequents the banks of springs and brooks, which it never leaves; preferring the limpid streams whose fall is rapid, and whose bed is broken with stones and fragments of rocks.

Its habits are very singular. Aquatic birds, with palmated feet, swim or dive; those which inhabit the shores, without wetting their body, wade with their tall legs; but the Water Ouzel walks quite into the flood, following the declivity of the ground. It is observed to enter by degrees, till the water reaches its neck; and it still advances, holding its head not higher than usual, though completely immersed. It continues to walk under the water; and even descends to the bottom, where it saunters as on a dry bank. The following is M. Herbert’s account of this extraordinary habit, which he communicated to the Comte de Buffon:

“I lay concealed on the verge of the lake Nantua, in a hut formed of pine-branches and snow; where I was waiting till a boat, which was rowing on the II.304 lake, should drive some wild Ducks to the water’s edge. Before me was a small inlet, the bottom of which gently shelved, that might be about two or three feet deep in the middle. A Water Ouzel stopped here more than an hour, and I had full leisure to view its manœuvres. It entered into the water, disappeared, and again emerged on the other side of the inlet, which it thus repeatedly forded. It traversed the whole of the bottom, and seemed not to have changed its element, and discovered no hesitation or reluctance in the immersion. However, I perceived several times, that as often as it waded deeper than the knee, it displayed its wings, and allowed them to hang to the ground. I remarked too, that when I could discern it at the bottom of the water, it appeared enveloped with air, which gave it a brilliant surface; like some sorts of beetles, which in water are always inclosed in a bubble of air. Its view in dropping its wings on entering the water, might be to confine this air; it was certainly never without some, and it seemed to quiver. These singular habits were unknown to all the sportsmen with whom I talked on the subject; and, perhaps, without the accident of the snow-hut in which I was concealed, I should also have for ever remained ignorant of them; but the above facts I can aver, as the bird came quite to my feet, and that I might observe it I refrained from killing it.”⁕1

This bird is found in many parts of Europe. The female makes her nest on the ground, in some mossy II.305 bank near the water, of hay and dried fibres, lining it with dry oak-leaves, and forming to it a portico or entrance of moss. The eggs are five in number; white, tinged with a fine blush of red.⁕2 A pair of these birds, which had for many years built under a small wooden bridge in Caermarthenshire, were found to have a nest early in May: this was taken, but it contained no eggs, although the bird flew out of it at the time. In a fortnight after, they had completed another nest in the same place, inclosing five eggs, which was taken: and in a month after this, a third nest, under the same bridge, was taken, that had in it four eggs; undoubtedly the work of the same birds, as no others were seen about that part. At the time the last nest was taken, the female was sitting; and the instant she quitted it she plunged into the water, and disappeared for a considerable time, till at last she emerged at a great distance down the stream.—At another time, a nest of the Water Ouzel was found in a steep projecting bank (over a rivulet) clothed with moss. The nest was so well adapted to the surrounding materials, that nothing but one of the old birds flying in with a fish in its bill could have led to the discovery. The young were nearly feathered, but incapable of flight; and the moment the nest was disturbed, they fluttered out and dropped into the water, and, to the astonishment of the persons present, instantly vanished, but in a little time re-appeared at some distance down the stream; and it was with difficulty that two out of the five were taken.


The Water Ouzel will sometimes pick up Insects at the edge of the water. When disturbed, it usually flirts up its tail, and makes a chirping noise. Its song in spring is said to be very pretty. In some places it is supposed to be migratory.⁕3

Synonyms.—Sturnus cinclus. Linn.—Merle d’eau. Buff.—Water Ouzel. Water Crake. Penn.—Water Crow or Piet. Montagu.

⁕1 Buffon.

⁕2 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 312.

⁕3 Montagu; art. Ouzel, Water.

Notes and Corrections: The Water Ouzel

Sturnus cinclus is now Cinclus cinclus, the white-throated dipper (US) or water ouzel (UK), with a staggering number of subspecies. As flagship of the Cinclidae family, it isn’t technically a starling at all, though it is in the same superfamily. But then, so are hundreds of other birds.

and that I might observe it I refrained from killing it
[For a pre-20th-century naturalist, this is a headline-worthy decision.]

engraving of Fieldfare Thrush, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 19:
Fieldfare Thrush


The Thrushes have the following generic character: a straightish bill, bending towards the point, and slightly notched near the end of the upper mandible; the nostrils oval, and for the most part naked; the tongue slightly jagged at the end; the corners of the mouth furnished with a few slender hairs; and the middle toe connected to the outer as far as the first joint.

Most of the species, which are very numerous, feed on berries, and particularly on those of the juniper. Many of them have a melodious song.

Notes and Corrections: The Thrush Tribe

Thrushes, robins and bluebirds are family Turdidae in superfamily Passeroidea, suborder Passerida, order Passeriformes. Unlike so many of Linnaeus’s genera, which have been largely redefined as families, genus Turdus still holds dozens of species—mostly thrushes, along with a scattering of robins and blackbirds.

engraving of Fieldfare, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 98:


These birds, which are well-known winter inhabitants of this island, arrive here in great flocks from Russia, Siberia, and other more northern parts of the continent, about the beginning of October, and feed during that season on the hawthorn, holly, and other berries. They leave us in March, for their breeding-places in Sweden and Norway.


As, while with us, they are associated in flocks, and are in a foreign country, they have evident marks of keeping a kind of watch, to remark and announce the appearance of danger. On our approaching a tree that is covered with them, they continue fearless, till one at the extremity of the bush, rising on his wings, gives a loud and peculiar note of alarm; when they all immediately fly, except one other, who continues till the person approaches still nearer, to certify, as it were, the reality of the danger, and then he also flies off, repeating the note of alarm.

Though they build their nests in high trees, and sit on trees in the day-time, yet they always roost on the ground.—They were held in high esteem by the Roman epicures; who had them in their aviaries, and fattened them with crumbs of bread mixed with minced figs.

Synonyms.—Turdus pilaris. Linn.—Littorne ou Tourdelle. Buff.——Bew. Birds, p. 98.

Notes and Corrections: The Fieldfare

Turdus pilaris, the fieldfare, still has that binomial.

engraving of Blackbirds (male and female), no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 47:
M. & F. Blackbird


This well-known bird needs no description. It breeds early; and prepares a nest composed externally of green moss, fibrous roots, and other similar materials: the inside is plastered with earth, and afterwards lined with fine dry grass. The nest is usually placed in a thick bush, or against the side of a tree, or on a stump in the side of a bank. The female lays four or five light-blue eggs; thickly covered with pale rust-coloured spots, particularly at the large end: these are hatched after about fourteen days incubation.

engraving of Black Ouzel, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 94:


The food of the Blackbird is principally worms and shelled snails; the latter of which, in order to get at the animal, it dashes with great dexterity against the stones; all kinds of insects, as well as fruit, it also eagerly seeks after. In confinement it will eat crumbs of bread; and even flesh, either raw or cooked.

This is a solitary bird; never congregating, but preferring woods and retired situations. Its song is a shrill kind of whistle of various notes; which, although extremely fine, is too loud for any place except woods or open grounds. It commences this early in the spring, and continues it through some part of the summer; it desists during the moulting season, but resumes it for some time in September and the first winter months.⁕1

Synonyms.—Turdus Merula. Linn.—Merle. Buff.—Amsel. Montagu.——Bew. Birds, p. 94.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 47.

⁕1 Montagu, art. Blackbird.—Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 309.

Notes and Corrections: The Blackbird

Turdus merula is still the common blackbird.

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 47.
text has 42
[Pennant’s plates use Roman numerals, so the error is XLII vs. XLVII.]

engraving of “Mocking Thrush”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 20:
Mocking Thrush


The Mimic Thrush, or Mocking Bird, is about the size of a Blackbird, but somewhat more slender. The plumage is grey, but paler on the under parts than above.

It is common throughout America and Jamaica; but changes its place in the summer, being then seen much more to the northward than in winter. It cannot vie with the feathered inhabitants of those countries in brilliancy of plumage; but is content with much more rare and estimable qualifications. II.309 It possesses not only natural notes of its own, which are truly musical and solemn; but it can at pleasure assume the tone of every other animal in the forest, from the Humming Bird to the Eagle, and descending even to the Wolf or the Raven. One of them confined in a cage has been heard to mimic the mewing of a Cat, the chattering of a Magpie, and the creaking of the hinges of a sign-post in high winds.

This capricious little mimic seems to have a singular pleasure in archly leading other birds astray. He is said at one time to allure the smaller birds with the call of their mates; and when they come near, to terrify them with the scream of an Eagle. There is scarcely a bird of the forest that is not at some time deceived by his call.

But he is not like the mimics among mankind, who very seldom possess any independent merit. A Garrick and a Foote have not pleased more in their own characters, than the Mocking-bird does in his. He is the only one of the American singing birds that can be compared with those of Europe; and, were it not for the attention that he pays to every sort of disagreeable noises which tend to debase his best notes, there can be little doubt that he would be fully equal to the song of the Nightingale in its whole compass.⁕1 He frequents the dwellings of the American farmers; where, sitting on the roof or chimney, he sometimes pours forth the most sweet and varied notes imaginable. The Mexicans, on account of his various notes and his imitative powers, II.310 call him “the Bird of Four Hundred Tongues.” In the warmer parts of America he sings incessantly from March to August, both day and night; beginning with his own compositions, and frequently finishing by borrowing from the whole feathered choir. He repeats his tunes with such artful sweetness as to excite both pleasure and surprize.

It is not, however, in the powers of voice alone, that these birds are pleasing; they may even be said to dance. When excited into a kind of ecstacy by their own music, they gradually raise themselves from the place where they stand, and with their wings extended, drop with their head down to the same spot, and whirl round, accompanying their melody with a variety of pretty gesticulations.⁕2

They frequently build their nests in the bushes or fruit-trees about houses; but they are so shy, that if a person only looks at the nest, they immediately forsake it. The young may be brought up in a cage, and rendered domestic; but this is to be done only with great difficulty, not one attempt in ten being successful for that purpose. If the young are taken in the nest, the mother will feed them for a few days, but is sure to desert them afterwards. If a cat happens to approach the nest, the parent bird will fly at the head of the animal, and with a hissing noise scare it away.

It feeds its young with grasshoppers; and when it wants any of these insects, it flies into the pastures, flaps its wings near the ground, and makes a booty II.311 of three or four at a time, with which it returns to the nest. It also feeds on different kinds of berries; and is itself eaten by the Americans, who account it very delicate food.⁕3

Synonyms.—Turdus Polyglottus. Linn.—Grand Moqueur. Buff.—Singing Bird, Mocking Bird, or Nightingale. Sloane.—Mock Bird. Catesby.—Mimic Thrush. Penn.

⁕1 Phil. Tran. vol. lxiii.

⁕2 Brown’s Jamaica, 469.—Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 15.

⁕3 Penn. Arct. Zool.

Notes and Corrections: The Mocking Bird

Turdus polyglottus is now Mimus polyglottus in family Mimidae. It is not quite a thrush, though we are still in the same superfamily.


To this new species, which is found in the interior of the south of Africa, but only in places which the Migrating Locusts⁕1 frequent, Mr. Barrow has affixed the specific name of Gryllivorus. This seems to have been done with great propriety; as, when such is to be obtained, its whole food seems to consist of the larvæ of this insect; and, in districts which the Locust does not infest, this bird is very seldom to be found.

The head, breast, and back, are of a pale ash-colour; and the abdomen and rump white. The wings and tail are black; the latter short, and a little forked. From the angle of the mouth a naked area of sulphureous yellow extends under the eye, and a little beyond it; and there are two naked black streaks under the throat.

Nature, which has seldom given a bane without accompanying it with an antidote, seems to have peculiarly ordained this bird as a relief to the inhabitants of the country where it is found, from the dreadful attacks of those most voracious and most numerous of all insects. For, however astonishing the multitudes of Locusts may be, the numbers of II.312 Gryllivori are not less so. Their nests, which at a distance seem of a most enormous size, appear on examination to consist of a number of cells, each of which forms a separate nest, with a tube that leads into it through the side; so that what seemed but one great nest, is found to consist of a little society of perhaps ten or twenty. One roof of inter­woven twigs covers the whole, like that made over the nest of the Magpie of our country.

Mr. Barrow saw a vast number of these in the district of Sneuwberg, about 150 leagues north-east of the Cape. The Gryllivori had not visited that colony for thirteen years before; that is to say, since the last time the Locusts had infested it. These birds had, he says, taken up a temporary abode here; in a place which they were not likely, in a short space of time, to be under the necessity of quitting for want of food. Of the innumerable multitudes of the incomplete insect, or larva of the Locusts, that at this time infected this part of Africa, no adequate idea could possibly be formed; in an area of nearly two thousand square miles, the whole surface of the earth might be literally said to be covered with them.

The Gryllivori attended closely the last flight of Locusts, and departed along with them; since which time till the year 1797, (in which Mr. Barrow visited Africa,) not one of them was to be found in the country.⁕2

Turdus Gryllivorus. Barrow.

⁕1 Gryllus Migratorius of Linnæus.

⁕2 Barrow’s Travels, 256.

Notes and Corrections: The Locust-Eating Thrush

Turdus gryllivorus, the locust-eating thrush, appears to be the same as the white-rumped thrush, Turdus bicolor or Sturnus bicolor, which Buffon cross-references as “Brown Blackbird of the Cape of Good Hope”. Some sources offer the local name “sprew”, which leads me finally to—among other things—Spreo bicolor, now known as Lamprotornis bicolor, the African pied starling.

[Footnote] Gryllus Migratorius of Linnæus.
[Described in the Insects section of Volume III.]


engraving of Crossbill and Grosbeak, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 41:
Crossbill[?] (top); Common Grosbeak (bottom)


In the Grosbeaks we observe a strong, thick, and convex beak; rounded from the base to the point of each mandible, and admirably adapted for breaking in pieces the shells of the seeds on which they feed. The nostrils are small and round; and the tongue is formed as if the end was cut off. The toes, except in one species, are placed three forwards.

Notes and Corrections: The Grosbeak Tribe

Grosbeaks, cardinals and buntings are family Cardinalidae in the now-familiar superfamily Passeroidea in suborder Passerida of order Passeriformes. As it turns out, none of the described birds are strictly speaking grosbeaks; most aren’t even in the right family. Quite a few are weavers, while several are actually finches, which will be this book’s next “tribe”.

The upper image in Shaw’s two-bird plate is unlabeled, but the plate falls in the middle of the descriptions of two kinds of Crossbill, Common and White-Winged. (Grosbeaks are the immediately following section.) Fortunately it was facing left, so the beak didn’t get cut off in scanning.

The toes, except in one species, are placed three forwards.
[Crystal ball says that if all the others are grosbeaks-or-similar, this one species isn’t.]

engraving of Crossbill, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 130:


Doctor Townson, while at Gottingen, kept several Cross-bills; which, by kind treatment soon becoming tame, he suffered to be loose in his study. He had thus constant opportunities of observing them, and as often of admiring their docility and sagacity; but the singular structure of their bills chiefly engaged his attention.

This structure the Comte de Buffon, perhaps unthinkingly, and certainly unjustly, has considered as one of Nature’s freaks, calculated to render the bird much less essential service than a beak in some other form would have done. But notwithstanding the apparently awkward and useless shape of this member, it has been found, on attentively watching the manners of the bird, to have the best possible adaption to its destination and habits.


The two mandibles do not lie straight; but pass, for a considerable part of their length, on the side of each other, like the blades of a pair of scissars. By means of this peculiar construction, the Cross-bills are able to procure their food with the utmost address. They live principally on the seeds of the cones of the fir or pine; and it is to extract these, that this structure is principally adapted. In this operation, they fix themselves across the cone, then bring the points of the beak from their crossed or lateral position to be immediately over each other. In this reduced compass, they insinuate it between the scales, and distending the two mandibles to their usual position sideways, force the scales open; and then again bringing the points into contact, pick out the seed, in the same manner as if their bills had the form of those of other birds.⁕1

The degree of lateral force which they are able to exert, is very surprising: and they are at times fond of exercising it for mere amusement; which renders them, in a tame state, not a little mischievous. Those which Doctor Townson had at Gottingen, would often come to his table while he was writing, and carry off his pencils, little chip boxes in which he occasionally kept insects, and other similar objects, and tear them to pieces almost instantaneously. Their mode of operation was first to peck a little hole, to insert into this their bill, and II.315 then split or tear the object by the lateral force. When he gave them, as he often did, almonds in their shells, they got at the kernel in the same manner; first pecking a hole, and then enlarging this by wrenching off the pieces by the lateral force.

Notwithstanding the apparent awkwardness of this beak, they are able, by bringing the mandibles point to point, even to pick up and eat the smallest seeds. The German bird-catchers generally feed them with poppy and other small seeds; and they shell hemp-seeds in eating them as well as any other birds whatever.⁕2

The male Cross-bills are red, varied with brown or green; and at certain seasons of the year, they change to a deep red, to orange, or pale yellow. The females are of an olive green, which they also change occasionally. They breed in Austria; building their hemispherical nest in the branches of high trees, in which they lay a few whitish eggs, spotted towards the thicker end with red. They are somewhat rare in this country.

Synonyms.—Loxia Curvirostra. Linn.—Bec Croise. Buff.—Shell Apple, or Cross-bill. Penn.—Cross-beak. Townson.——Bew. Birds p. 130.

⁕1 While in this act, they are so perfectly intent on their business, as to suffer themselves to be taken by means of a horse-hair noose fixed to a long fishing rod. They are discovered by the twittering noise they make while feeding. Montagu, art. Cross-bill.

⁕2 Townson’s Tracts, 116.

Notes and Corrections: The Cross-Bill

skip to next section

The binomial Loxia curvirostra (“curved beak”) now belongs to the red crossbill, technically not a grosbeak but a finch, in the neigh­boring family Fringillidae.

The place name spelled “Gottingen” should really be “Göttingen” with an umlaut.

the best possible adaption to its destination and habits
[It is surprising how often the word “adaption” or “adaptation” shows up in this long-before-Darwin book, written by a clergyman.]

color picture of Cardinal Grosbeak, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 105:
Cardinal Grosbeak


This bird is nearly eight inches in length. The bill is stout, and of a pale red colour. On the head is a pointed crest: the plumage is in general of a fine red, but round the bill and throat it is black. The legs are of the same colour as the bill.

It is an inhabitant of several parts of North America; II.316 and from the melody of its song, which is said somewhat to resemble that of the Nightingale, some of the Americans give it the same name. In spring and during great part of the summer, it sits on the tops of the highest trees, and with its loud and piercing notes makes the forests echo.

engraving of Cardinal Grosbeak, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 46:
Cardinal Grosbeak

The Cardinal Grosbeaks are chiefly remarkable for laying up during the summer their winter provision of maize and buck-wheat. Nearly a bushel of maize has been found in the retreat of one of these birds, artfully covered with leaves and small branches of trees, and only a small hole left for the bird to enter at.⁕1

The inhabitants frequently keep them in cages; where they will sing, with a very short interval of silence, through the whole year.

Synonyms.—Loxia Cardinalis. Linn.—Grosbec de Virginie. Buff.—Red Grosbeak. Albin.—Cardinal Grosbeak. Latham.

⁕1 Du Pratz, 282.

Notes and Corrections: The Cardinal Grosbeak

Loxia cardinalis has been promoted to its own genus and is now the northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, which comes in a stunning array of subspecies. (Just to confuse us, there is also a genus of “cardinal-grosbeaks”, Pheucticus, in the same family. But none of those are bright red.) As it turns out, the “Cardinal Grosbeak” will be the only bird in this section that is even in the same family as grosbeaks.

color picture of Grenadier Grosbeak, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 240:
Grenadier Grosbeak


The Grenadier Grosbeak is of about the size of a Sparrow. The body is in general of a beautiful red colour. The forehead, sides of the head, chin, breast, and belly, are black. The wings are brown, and the legs pale brown.

engraving of Grenadier Grosbeak, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 44:
Grenadier Grosbeak

The Cape of Good Hope, and some other parts of Africa, are frequented by this bird; which is supposed to be the Finch described by Kolben in his account of the Cape. He says it is chiefly found in marshy and reedy grounds, where it makes its nest and produces its young. The nest is formed among II.317 the reeds with small twigs, interwoven so closely with cotton as not to be penetrated by any weather. It is also divided into two compartments; of which the upper is for the male, and the lower for the female and the young. In winter, he further informs us, these birds change from scarlet to ash-colour.

The appearance of these birds among the green reeds of their native climates, is said to have a wonderful effect; for, from the extreme brightness of their colours, they appear like so many scarlet lilies.

Synonyms.—Loxia Orix. Linn.—Cardinal du Cap de Bonne Espérance. Buff.—Grenadier Grosbeak. Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Grenadier Grosbeak

Loxia orix may be Euplectes orix, the Southern red bishop. If so, it is not a grosbeak but a weaver, family Ploceidae.


This is somewhat larger than the last species: having the bill strong and black; the head, throat, and breast, black; the upper parts of the body, the belly, and thighs, of pale yellowish brown; the quills and tail brown, edged with yellow; and the legs reddish grey.

This bird is found in Abyssinia. It forms a curious nest, of a pyramidal shape; which is suspended from the ends of branches, like the nests of some others of this tribe. The opening is on one side, facing the east: the cavity is separated in the middle by a partition to half its height; up this the bird ascends perpen­dicularly, and then descending on the other side, forms its nest in the further chamber. By this means the brood is defended from Snakes, Squirrels, Monkeys, and other mischievous animals; besides being secured from the rains, which in that country last sometimes for five or six months together.

Synonyms. Loxia Abyssinica. Linn.—Grosbec d’Abyssinie. Buff.

Notes and Corrections: The Abyssinian Grosbeak

Loxia abyssinica, the Abyssinian grosbeak, may be the northern or Abyssinian grosbeak-canary, formerly Serinus donaldsoni but recently renamed Crithagra donaldsoni. Either way it is a canary in the Fringillidae family, making it a cousin of the crossbill.



The Bengal Grosbeak seems to be the same as is described by Sir William Jones in the Asiatic Researches. “It is,” he says, “rather larger than a Sparrow; with yellow brown plumage, a yellowish head and feet, light-coloured breast, and a conic beak very thick in proportion to its body.

“This bird is exceedingly common in Hindostan: he is astonishingly sensible, faithful and docile; never voluntarily deserting the place where his young are hatched, but not averse, like most other birds, to the society of mankind, and easily taught to perch on the hand of his master. In a state of nature he generally builds his nest on the highest tree that he can find, especially on the palmyra, or on the Indian fig-tree, and he prefers that which happens to overhang a well or a rivulet: he makes it of grass, which he weaves like cloth, and shapes like a large bottle, suspending it firmly on the branches, but so as to rock with the wind, and placing it with its entrance downwards to secure it from birds of prey. His nest usually consists of two or three chambers; and it is popularly believed that he lights them with Fire-flies, which he is said to catch alive at night, and confine with moist clay or with cow-dung. That such Flies are often found in his nest, where pieces of cow-dung are also stuck, is indubitable; but as their light could II.319 be of little use to him, it seems probable that he only feeds on them.

“He may be taught with ease to fetch a piece of paper, or any small thing that his master points out to him. It is an attested fact, that if a ring be dropped into a deep well, and a signal given to him, he will fly down with amazing celerity, catch the ring before it touches the water, and bring it up to his master with apparent exultation; and it is confidently asserted, that if a house or any other place be shown to him once or twice, he will carry a note thither immediately, on a proper signal being made. One instance of his docility I can myself mention with confidence, having often been an eye-witness of it. The young Hindoo women at Benares, and in other places, wear very thin plates of gold, called ticas, slightly fixed, by way of ornament, between their eye-brows; and when they pass through the streets, it is not uncommon for the youthful libertines, who amuse themselves with training these birds, to give them a signal, which they understand, and send them to pluck the pieces of gold from the foreheads of their mistresses, which they bring in triumph to the lovers.”

Synonyms.—Loxia Bengalensis. Linn.—Orchef. Buff.—Bengal Sparrow. Albin.—Yellow-headed Indian Sparrow. Edwards.—Indian Grosbeak, Bayas.—Asiat. Res.

Notes and Corrections: The Bengal Grosbeak

Loxia bengalensis—the Yellow-headed Indian Sparrow, Bengal Sparrow or Orchef—is probably the Black-Throated or Black-Breasted Weaver, Ploceus benghalensis. If so, it’s a close relative of the “Grenadier Grosbeak” met earlier.

he will fly down with amazing celerity, catch the ring before it touches the water, and bring it up to his master
[Pics or it didn’t happen.]

very thin plates of gold, called ticas
[ṭhika or ṭhiki, “happiness marks”, indicating that the woman is not a widow.]


The Sociable Grosbeaks are inhabitants of the interior country at the Cape of Good Hope, where they were first discovered by Mr. Paterson.

Few other birds live together in such large societies, II.320 or have a mode of nidification so uncommon, as these. They build their nests in a species of mimosa; which grows to an uncommon size, and seems well suited to them, on account of its ample head, and strong wide-spreading branches, well calculated to admit and support the extensive mansion they have to erect upon it. The tallness and smoothness of its trunk is also a perfect defence against the Serpent and Monkey tribes. The mode in which the nests are fabricated is highly curious. In one tree, described by Mr. Paterson, there could not be fewer than from eight hundred to a thousand under one general roof. Mr. P. calls it a roof, because he says it resembles that of a thatched house; and projects over the entrance of the nest below, in a very singular manner. The industry of these birds “seems almost equal (says this traveller) to that of the Bee. Throughout the day they appear to be busily employed in carrying a fine species of grass; which is the principal material they employ for the purpose of erecting this extraordinary work, as well as for additions and repairs. Though my short stay in the country was not sufficient to satisfy me by ocular proof, that they added to their nest as they annually increased in numbers; still, from the many trees which I have seen borne down by the weight, and others which I have observed with their boughs completely covered over, it would appear that this is really the case. When the tree, which is the support of this aërial city, is obliged to give way to the increase of weight, it is obvious that they are no longer protected, and are under the necessity of rebuilding II.321 in other trees. One of these deserted nests I had the curiosity to break down, to inform myself of the internal structure of it; and found it equally ingenious with that of the external. There are many entrances; each of which forms a regular street, with nests on both sides, at about two inches distance from each other. The grass with which they build is called the Boshman’s-grass; and I believe the seed of it to be their principal food; though, on examining their nests, I found the wings and legs of different insects. From every appearance, the nest which I dissected had been inhabited for many years; and some parts of it were much more complete than others. This, therefore, I conceive to amount nearly to a proof, that the animals added to it at different times, as they found necessary, from the increase of the family, or rather of the nation or community.”⁕1

Loxia Socia.

⁕1 Paterson’s Journeys among the Hottentots.

Notes and Corrections: The Sociable Grosbeak

Loxia socia, the sociable grosbeak, is yet another weaver, this time Philetairus socius (“sociable sociable”), the sociable weaver. Unsociably, it is the only species in its genus, though there are a fair number of subspecies.

engraving of “Bullfinch Grosbeak”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 52:
Bullfinch Grosbeak


This species is not uncommon in England; where it makes its nest in bushes, in which, in May, the female lays five or six eggs.—In the summer it mostly frequents woods, and the more retired places; but in winter it approaches gardens and orchards, where it makes great havoc among the buds of the trees.

In a state of nature the Bulfinch has but three cries, all of which are unpleasant: but if man deigns II.322 to instruct it methodically, and accustom it to finer, mellower, and more lengthened strains, it will listen with attention; and the docile bird, whether male or female, without relinquishing its native airs, will imitate exactly, and sometimes even surpass, its master. “I know a curious person (says the author of the Ædonologie) who having whistled some airs quite plain to a Bulfinch, was agreeably surprized to hear the bird add such graceful turns, that the master could scarcely recognise his own music, and acknowledged that the scholar excelled him.” It must, however, be confessed, that, if the Bulfinch be ill-directed, it acquires harsh strains. A friend of the Comte de Buffon saw one that had never heard any person whistle but carters; and it whistled like them, with the same strength and coarseness. The Bulfinch also learns easily to articulate words and sentences; and utters them with so tender an accent, that we might almost suppose it felt their force.

engraving of Bullfinch, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 138:

These birds are, besides, susceptible of personal attachment, which is often strong and durable.—Some have been known, after escaping and living a whole year in the woods, to recognize the voice of their mistress, and return to forsake her no more. Others have died of melancholy, on being removed from the first object of their attachment. They will also remember injuries received: a Bulfinch that had been thrown to the ground in its cage by some of the rabble, though it did not appear much affected at the time, fell into convulsions ever after at the sight of any mean-looking person, and expired in one of these fits eight months after its first accident.

Synonyms.—Loxia Pyrrhula. Linn.—Bulfinch, Alp, or Nope. Willughby.—Red-hoop, Tony-hoop. Montagu.——Bew. Birds p. 138.

Notes and Corrections: The Bulfinch

Loxia pyrrhula has been upgraded to its own genus and is now Pyrrhula pyrrhula, the Eurasian bullfinch. As its common name suggests, it’s really a finch, family Fringillidae.

the author of the Ædonologie
[Bingley isn’t able to name the said author, because the quoted passage is lifted directly from a footnote in Buffon’s Natural History of Birds. The full title is Aedonologie ou Traité du Rossignol franc ou chanteur, by Louis Daniel Arnault De Nobleville (1701–1778). In spite of Bingley’s Æ ligature, it’s properly Aëdonologie in separate syllables.]


color picture of American Finch, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 361:
American Finch


The Finches are readily distinguished from other Birds, by their having a very conical and sharp-pointed bill, which is somewhat slender towards the end. They are a numerous and active race, dispersed very widely over the world, and feeding principally on insects and grain.

Notes and Corrections: The Finch Tribe

Finches are family Fringillidae in the Passeroidea superfamily; we have already met several of them in the Grosbeak Tribe. Linnaeus appears to have lumped finches together with sparrows, genus Passer (Latin for “sparrow”). The latter are the flagship of the whole taxonomy: family Passeridae, superfamily Passeroidea, suborder Passerida, and finally order Passeriformes.

color picture of Common Sparrow, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 329:
Common Sparrow


No bird is better known in every part of Great Britain than the Sparrow; which frequents our habitations, and is seldom absent from our gardens or fields. It is a very familiar bird, but so crafty as not to be easily taken in snares.

In a wild state its note is only a chirp: this arises, however, not from want of powers, but from its attending solely to the note of the parent bird. A Sparrow, when fledged, was taken from the nest, and educated under a Linnet: it also heard by accident a Goldfinch; and its song was, in consequence, a mixture of the two.

engraving of House Sparrow, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 154:

Few birds are more execrated by the farmers, and, perhaps, more unjustly so, than the Sparrows. It is true, they do some injury in our rural economy; but they have been fully proved to be much more useful than they are noxious. Mr. Bradley, in his General Treatise on Husbandry and Gardening, shews, that a pair of Sparrows, during the time they II.324 have their young to feed, destroy on an average every week 3360 Caterpillars. This calculation he found upon actual observation. He discovered that the two parents carried to the nest forty Caterpillars in an hour. He supposed the Sparrows to enter the nest only during twelve hours each day, which would cause a daily consumption of 480 Caterpillars. This sum gives 3360 Caterpillars extirpated weekly from a garden. But the utility of these birds is not limited to this circum­stance alone; for they likewise feed their young with Butterflies and other winged insects, each of which, if not destroyed in this manner, would be the parent of hundreds of Caterpillars.

Sparrows build early in the spring; generally forming their nests under the eaves of houses, and in holes in the walls. When such convenient situations are not to be had, they build in the trees a nest bigger than a man’s head, with an opening like a mouth at the side, resembling that of a Magpie,—except that it is formed of straw and hay, and lined with feathers, and so nicely managed, as to be a defence both against wind and rain.⁕1 They likewise form their nests in the bottoms of Rooks’ nests; and this seems a favourite situation with them.

Mr. Smellie relates a pleasing anecdote of the affection of these birds towards their young;—“When I was a boy (says this gentleman), I carried off a nest of young Sparrows, about a mile from my place of residence. After the nest was completely removed, and while I was marching II.325 home with them in triumph, I perceived with some degree of astonishment, both parents following me at some distance, and observing my motions in perfect silence. A thought then struck me, that they might follow me home, and feed the young according to their usual manner. When just entering the door I held up the nest, and made the young utter the cry which is expressive of the desire of food. I immediately put the nest and the young in the corner of a wire cage, and placed it on the outside of a window. I chose a situation in the room where I could perceive all that should happen, without being myself seen. The young animals soon cried for food. In a short time both parents, having their bills filled with small Caterpillars, came to the cage; and after chatting a little, as we would do with a friend through the lattice of a prison, gave a small worm to each. This parental intercourse continued regularly for some time; till the young were completely fledged, and had acquired a considerable degree of strength. I then took one of the strongest of them, and placed him on the outside of the cage, in order to observe the conduct of the parents after one of their offspring was emancipated. In a few minutes both parents arrived, loaded, as usual, with food. They no sooner perceived that one of their children had escaped from prison, than they fluttered about, and made a thousand noisy demonstrations of joy both with their wings and their voices. These tumultuous expressions of unexpected happiness at last gave place to a more calm and soothing conversation. By their voices and their movements it was II.326 evident that they earnestly intreated him to follow them, and to fly from his present dangerous state. He seemed to be impatient to obey their mandates; but, by his gestures, and the feeble sounds he uttered, he plainly expressed that he was afraid to try an exertion he had never before attempted.—They, however, incessantly repeated their solicitations; by flying alternately from the cage to a neighbouring chimney-top, they endeavoured to shew him how easily the journey was to be accomplished. He at last committed himself to the air, and alighted in safety. Upon his arrival another scene of clamorous and active joy was exhibited. Next day I repeated the same experiment, by exposing another of the young on the top of the cage. I observed the same conduct with the remainder of the brood, which consisted of four. I need hardly add, that not one either of the parents or children ever afterwards revisited the execrated cage.⁕2

Synonyms.—Fringilla domestica. Linn.—Moineau franc. Buff.—House Sparrow. Willughby.——Bew. Birds p. 154.

⁕1 Darwin’s Zoonomia.

⁕2 Smellie’s Philosophy of Natural History, ii. 439.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Sparrow

Fringilla domestica is now Passer domesticus, the common or house sparrow.

color picture of “Golden Finch”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 749:
Golden Finch


The Goldfinches are very beautiful and well-known birds; much esteemed for their docility, and the sweetness of their note. They are fond of orchards, and frequently build their elegant mossy nest in an apple or pear tree. The eggs are five; white, marked with deep purple spots at the large end.

They are readily tamed after being caught; and are remarkable for their extreme docility, and the II.327 attention they pay to instructions. It requires very little trouble to teach them to perform several movements with accuracy; to fire a cracker, and to draw up small cups containing their food and drink: for this last purpose, they must have fastened round them a small belt of soft leather, two lines broad, with four holes, through which the feet and wings are passed; and the ends joining under the belly, are to be held by a ring which supports the chain and cup.

engraving of Goldfinch, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 165:

Some years ago the Sieur Roman exhibited in this country the wonderful performances of his birds. These were Goldfinches, Linnets, and Canary-birds.—One appeared dead, and was held up by the tail or claw without exhibiting any signs of life. A second stood on its head, with its claws in the air. A third imitated a Dutch milkmaid going to market, with pails on its shoulders. A fourth mimicked a Venetian girl looking out at a window. A fifth appeared as a soldier, and mounted guard as a sentinel. The sixth was a cannoneer, with a cap on its head, a firelock on its shoulder, and a match in its claw; and discharged a small cannon. The same bird also acted as if it had been wounded: it was wheeled in a little barrow, to convey it (as it were) to the hospital; after which it flew away before the company. The seventh turned a kind of windmill. And the last bird stood in the midst of some fire-works which were discharged all round it: and this without exhibiting the least sign of fear.

engraving of Goldfinch, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. IX plate 68:

In solitude the Goldfinch delights to view its image in a mirror; fancying, probably, that it sees another of its own species: and this attachment to II.328 society seems to equal the cravings of nature; for it is often observed to pick up the hemp-seed, grain by grain, and advance to eat at the mirror, imagining, no doubt, that it is thus feeding in company.

Towards winter these birds usually assemble in flocks. They feed on various kinds of seeds, but are more partial to those of the thistle than any others.

Synonyms.—Fringilla carduelis. Linn.—Chardonneret. Buff.—Goldfinch, or Thistlefinch. Willughby.——Bew. Birds p. 165.

Notes and Corrections: The Goldfinch

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Fringilla carduelis has been promoted to its own genus and is now Carduelis carduelis, the European goldfinch. There are dozens of other species; Bingley and his sources have probably conflated some of them.

Whether accidentally or by design, Shaw’s Miscellany shows the American goldfinch or “Golden finch” two separate times. After going through a series of names—Fringilla tristis, Carduelis Americana, C. tristis—it has settled on Spinus tristis, another genus in the finch family.

a small belt of soft leather, two lines broad
[The “line”, as a unit of measurement, is 1/12 inch, so “two lines” is 1/6 inch, otherwise known as a pica.]

[Synonyms] Fringilla carduelis. Linn.
text has carduelus


This species, which has the general name of Canary-bird, was originally peculiar to those islands, from whence the name is derived. They appear to have been first brought into Europe about the fourteenth century; but they are now so commonly bred in our own country, that we are not often under the necessity of crossing the ocean for them.

Not being able to obtain any very singular particulars of the manners of a bird known to every person, I have introduced it here principally for the purpose of reciting a curious anecdote of one of them, related by Dr. Darwin:—“On observing a Canary-bird (says this gentleman) at the house of Mr. Hervey, near Tutbury, in Derbyshire, I was told it always fainted away when its cage was cleaned; and I desired to see the experiment. The cage being taken from the ceiling, and the bottom drawn out, the bird began to tremble, and turned quite white about the root of its bill: he then opened his mouth as if for breath, and respired quick, stood up straighter II.329 on his perch, hung his wings, spread his tail, closed his eyes, and appeared quite stiff and cataleptic for nearly half an hour; and at length, with much trembling and deep respirations, came gradually to himself.”⁕1

It is by no means generally known, that the song of the Canary-bird is generally composed either of the Titlark’s or the Nightingale’s notes. Mr. Barrington saw two of the birds which came from the Canary-islands, neither of which had any song at all; and he was informed that a ship afterwards brought over a great many of them, with the same defect. Most of the birds that are imported from the Tyrol, have been educated under parents, the progenitors of which were instructed by a Nightingale. Our English Canary-birds have, however, more of the Titlark’s than of the Nightingale’s notes.

Synonyms.—Fringilla Canaria. Linn.—Serin des Canaries. Buff.—Canary-bird. Willughby.

⁕1 Darwin’s Zoonomia.

Notes and Corrections: The Canary-Finch

Yes, canaries are finches. Most are genus Serinus, though a few have recently been spun-off to Crithagra, like the previous section’s “Abyssinian grosbeak”. Linnaeus’s Fringilla canaria is now Serinus canaria, the island, Atlantic or common canary. (I do not understand why it is not Serinus canarius; the rules are quite strict about grammatical agreement. Serinus is not even a noun but a late Latin adjective, so they really have no excuse.)

engraving of Skylark, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 55 (partial):
Sky Lark


In this genus the bill is straight, slender, bending a little towards the end, and sharp-pointed. The nostrils are covered with feathers and bristles; and the tongue is cloven at the end. The toes are divided to the origin; and the claw of the back toe is very long, and either straight or very little bent.

Notes and Corrections: The Lark Tribe

Larks are family Alaudidae in superfamily Sylvoidea, the third main division of suborder Passerida.

engraving of Skylark, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 178:


The Sky-lark forms its nest on the ground, generally II.330 between two clods of earth, and lines it with dried grass and roots. In this the female lays four or five eggs, which are hatched in about a fortnight; and she generally produces two broods in the year.

When hatched, the mother watches over them with a truly maternal affection; she may then be seen fluttering over their heads, directing their motions, anticipating their wants, and guarding them from danger.

The instinctive warmth of attachment which the female Sky-lark bears to her young, often discovers itself at a very early period; and even before she is capable of becoming a mother, which might be supposed to precede, in the order of nature, the maternal solicitude. A young hen bird, says the Comte de Buffon, was brought to me in the month of May, which was not able to feed without assistance: I caused her to be educated: and she was hardly fledged, when I received from another place a nest of three or four unfledged Sky-larks. She took a strong liking to these new-comers, which were scarcely younger than herself; she tended them night and day, cherished them beneath her wings, and fed them with her bill. Nothing could interrupt her tender offices; if the young were torn from her, she flew back to them as soon as she was liberated, and would not think of effecting her own escape, which she might have done a hundred times. Her affection grew upon her; she neglected food and drink; she now required the same support as her adopted offspring, and expired at last consumed with maternal anxiety. None of the young ones survived II.331 her; they died one after another; so essential were her cares, which were equally tender and judicious.

The common food of the young Sky-larks is worms and insects; but after they are grown up, they live chiefly on seeds, herbage, and most other vegetable substances.

They are easily tamed, and become so familiar as to eat off the table, and even alight on the hand; but they cannot cling by the toes, on account of the form of the hind toe, which is too long and straight. This is the reason why they never perch on trees.

The Lark commences his song early in spring, and continues it during the whole of the summer. It is heard chiefly in the morning and evening, and it is one of those few birds that chaunt their mellow notes on the wing. Thomson elegantly describes it as the leader of the warbling choir;—

Up springs the Lark,

Shrill voic’d and loud, the messenger of morn:

Ere yet the shadows fly, he, mounted, sings

Amid the dawning clouds, and from their haunts

Calls up the tuneful nations.

The Lark mounts almost perpendicularly, and by successive springs, into the air; where it hovers at a vast height. Its descent is in an oblique direction: unless threatened by some ravenous bird of prey, or attracted by its mate; when it drops to the ground like a stone. When it first leaves the earth, its notes are feeble and interrupted; but as it rises, they gradually swell to their full tone. There is something in the concomitant scenery, that renders the music of the Lark peculiarly delightful: the placid landscape II.332 and various rural charms all contribute to heighten our relish for its pleasing song.

These birds become musical in the spring, and continue so for several months; but in winter their song forsakes them. They then assemble in flocks, grow fat, and are caught in vast numbers by the bird-catchers. As many as four thousand dozen have been known to be taken in the neighbourhood of Dunstable, between September and February; but this holds no proportion to what are sometimes caught in different parts of Germany, where there is an excise upon them. Keysler says, that the excise alone produced six thousand dollars (about nine hundred pounds sterling) every year to the city of Leipsic; the Larks of which place are famous all over Germany, as being of a most delicate flavour. But it is not only at Leipsic that they are taken in such numbers; but also in the country about Naumburg, Merseburg, Halle, and other parts.⁕1

Those caught in the day-time are taken in clap-nets, of fifteen yards in length, and two and a half in breadth; and are enticed by means of bits of looking-glass fixed in a piece of wood, and placed in the middle of the nets. These are put in a quick whirling motion, by a string which the larker commands; he also makes use of a decoy bird. This kind of nets are used only till the fourteenth of November; for the Larks will not frolic in the air, and of course cannot be inveigled in this manner, except in fine sunny weather. When the weather grows II.333 gloomy, the Larker changes his engine; and makes use of a trammel-net, twenty-seven or twenty-eight feet long, and five broad; which is put on two poles, eighteen feet long, and carried by men, who pass over the fields and quarter the ground as a setting-dog would; when they hear or feel that a Lark has hit the net, they drop it down, and so the birds are taken.

Synonyms.—Alauda Arvensis. Linn.—Alouette. Buff.—Field-lark or Sky-lark. Penn.——Bew. Birds, p. 178.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 355.—Keysler’s Travels, iv. 315.

Notes and Corrections: The Sky-Lark

Alauda arvensis, then as now, is the Eurasian skylark.

[Synonyms] Alouette
[So that’s what an alouette is. But why would you want to pluck its feathers?]

Thomson elegantly describes it
[Thanks for the pointer, Bingley. Seasons: Spring 590-94.]

engraving of “Nightingale Warbler”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 51:
Nightingale Warbler


The Warblers have a weak and slender bill, small, and somewhat depressed nostrils, and the tongue cloven at the end. The exterior toe is joined beneath to the base of the middle one.

Most of these birds prey on insects: some of them are gregarious; and migrate, on the approach of the cold weather, to warmer climates. This is a very extensive tribe, containing in the whole above a hundred and seventy species, of which our own country boasts nearly twenty.

Notes and Corrections: The Warbler Tribe

Old World warblers are several subfamilies of family Sylviidae in superfamily Sylvoidea, next door to larks. New World warblers are family Parulidae in the adjacent superfamily Passeroidea, making them more closely related to cardinals and grosbeaks.

engraving of Nightingale, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 199:


The Nightingale, though greatly and deservedly esteemed for the excellence of its song, is not remarkable for variety or richness of colours. The upper part of its body is of a rusty brown, tinged with olive; the under parts are of a pale ash-colour, almost II.334 white at the throat and belly. Its length is about six inches.

These birds leave us in August; in order, as it is supposed, to retire to the distant regions of Asia, They return regularly in the commencement of April; and about a month afterwards begin to construct their nest. They hatch twice, and sometimes even three times, in the season. They seldom visit the northern or western counties.

It is very remarkable, that all the gay and brilliant birds of America should be entirely destitute of that pleasing power of song which gives so peculiar a charm to the groves and fields of Europe: and one of our most elegant poets has beautifully expressed the supposed superiority of our island in this respect:—

Nor envy we the gaudy robes they lent

Proud Montezuma’s realm, whose legions cast

A boundless radiance waving on the sun,

While Philomel is ours; while in our shades,

Through the soft silence of the list’ning night,

The sober-suited songstress trills her lay.

The Nightingale seems to have been fixed upon almost universally as the most exquisite of singing birds, which superiority it certainly may boldly challenge: one reason, however, of this bird’s being more attended to than others is, that it sings in the night. Hence Shakespeare says,

The Nightingale, if she should sing by day,

When ev’ry Goose is cackling, would be thought

No better a musician than the Wren.

Mr. Barrington once kept a very fine Nightingale for three years, during which time he paid a II.335 particular attention to its song. Its tone was infinitely more mellow than that of any other bird; though at the same time, by a proper exertion, it could be excessively brilliant. When this bird sang its song round, in its whole compass, he observed sixteen different beginnings and closes; at the same time that the intermediate notes were commonly varied in their succession with so much judgment, as to produce a most pleasing variety.—Another point of superiority in the Nightingale, is its continuance of song without a pause; which Mr. Barrington observed to be sometimes not less than twenty seconds. Whenever respiration, however, became necessary, it was taken with as much judgment as by an opera singer.

In this place it may be remarked, that Nightingales in general, in a wild state, do not sing above ten weeks in the year; while those confined in a cage continue their song for nine or ten months; and a caged Nightingale sings infinitely more sweetly than those which we hear abroad in the spring. The latter, as the bird-fanciers term it, are so rank, that they seldom sing any thing but short and loud jerks; which consequently cannot be compared to the notes of a caged bird, since the instrument is thus overstrained.

The music of the Nightingale, when out of doors, and with the corresponding darkness and scenery, has always been considered as plaintive or melancholy; and sometimes as even conveying ideas of distress.


Flet noctem; ramoque sedens, miserabile carmen

Integrat, et mœstis latè loca questibus implet.

Darkling she wails the sadly-pleasing strains,

And melancholy music fills the plains.

From the dissections of several birds made by Mr. John Hunter, at the request of the Hon. Daines Barrington, it appeared that in the best singers the muscles of the larynx were the strongest. Those in the Nightingale were stronger than in any other bird of the same size.—When we consider the size of many singing birds, it is really amazing to what a distance their notes can be heard. It is supposed that those of a Nightingale may be heard above half a mile, if the evening be calm.

Nightingales will adopt the notes of other birds, and they will even chant the stiff airs of a Nightingale-pipe. They may be instructed to sing by turns with a chorus, and to repeat their couplet at the proper time. Mr. Stackhouse, of Pendarvis, in Cornwall, informs me that he has remarked of the Nightingale that it will modulate its voice to any given key: he says, if any person whistles a note to it, the bird will immediately try, in its strain, an unison with it. Nightingales may also be taught to articulate words. The sons of the emperor Claudius, according to Pliny, had some Nightingales that spoke Greek and Latin. But what that author subjoins is more marvellous: that these birds prepared every day new expressions, and even of considerable length, with which they entertained their masters. The arts of flattery might work upon the understandings II.337 of young princes; but a philosopher like Pliny ought not to have credited such a story, nor to have published it under the sanction of his name. Several authors, accordingly, resting on the authority of the Roman naturalist, have amplified the marvellous tale. Gesner, among others, quotes a letter from a person of credit (as he states), who mentions two Nightingales belonging to an inn-keeper at Ratisbon, which passed the night in discoursing in German on the political interests of Europe—on the events that had already happened, and on those that might be expected, and that afterwards actually took place.⁕1 It is true that the author of the letter endeavours to render the story more probable, by telling us that the birds only repeated what they had heard from some officers or deputies of the diet, who frequented the tavern: but still the whole is so absurd as to merit no serious remark.

Nightingales are solitary birds; never associating in flocks like many of the smaller birds, but hiding themselves in the thickest parts of hedges and bushes, and seldom singing but during the night.

The London bird-catchers take them in a net-trap, (somewhat larger than a cabbage-net,) the bottom of which is surrounded with an iron ring. This is baited with a Meal-worm from the baker’s shop; and ten or a dozen have been sometimes caught in a day by this means.

Synonyms.—Motacilla Luscinia. Linn.—Le Rossignol. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 199.

⁕1 Willughby.

Notes and Corrections: The Nightingale

skip to next section

Motacilla luscinia (“wagtail nightingale”) is now the head of its own genus as Luscinia luscinia. That’s the Thrush Nightingale; the Common Nightingale is L. megarhynchus (“big beak”). It isn’t a warbler at all, but more of a flycatcher: family Muscicapidae in superfamily Muscicapoidea.

one of our most elegant poets
[One of Bingley’s favorite poets, at least. Thomson’s Seasons again: Summer 741-46.]

Hence Shakespeare says
[Or, if you prefer, Shakespeare has Portia say. It’s the kind of thing she would say.]

Flet noctem; ramoque sedens
[Virgil, Georgics IV.514-515. As usual, Bingley has cribbed his translation from Shaw.]

Gesner, among others, quotes a letter
text has Gessner

This is baited with a Meal-worm from the baker’s shop
[Memo to self: Do not patronize William Bingley’s baker.]



The Pensile Warbler is nearly five inches long. The bill is dusky; the head greyish black; and the back deep grey. Round the eye there is a white streak, and between that and the bill a range of yellow dots. The throat, neck, and breast, are yellow. The belly is white; and the sides of the neck and body are dotted with black spots. The wing-coverts are white and black, in bands. The tail is dark grey, having the four outer feathers marked with large spots of white.⁕1

The sagacity displayed by this bird in building and placing its nest is truly remarkable. She does not fix it at the forking of the branches, as is usual with most other birds; but suspends it to binders hanging from the netting which she forms from tree to tree, especially those which fall from branches that hang over the rivers and deep ravines. The nest consists of dry blades of grass, the ribs of leaves, and exceedingly small roots, interwoven with the greatest art; it is fastened on, or rather it is worked into, the pendent strings. It is in fact a small bed, rolled into a ball, so thick and compacted as to exclude the rain; and it rocks in the wind without receiving any harm.

But the elements are not the only enemies against which this bird has to struggle: with wonderful sagacity it provides for the protection of its nest from II.339 other accidents. The opening is not made on the top nor side of the nest, but at the bottom. Nor is the entrance direct. After the bird has made its way into the vestibule, it must pass over a kind of partition, and through another aperture, before it descends into the abode of its family. This lodgment is round and soft; being lined with a species of lichen, which grows on the trees, or with the silky down of plants.

The birds of this species have a very delicate song, which is continued throughout the year. They are natives of St. Domingo, and some other of the islands of the West Indies, where they feed chiefly on insects and fruit.

Synonyms.—Motacilla Pensilis. Linn.—Cou-jaune. Buff.—Pensile Warbler. Latham.

⁕1 Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Pensile Warbler

Motacilla pensilis, also called Sylvia pensilis, seems to be the Yellow-Throated Warbler, also known as Sylvicola pensilis. (The latter binomial is definitely defunct, since Sylvicola is currently an insect genus.) If this is right, the bird now has an entirely new name, Setophaga dominica. As a New World warbler, it is in family Parulidae.

engraving of Pied Wagtail, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 188:


These active and lively little birds run about the sides of ponds and small streams, in search of insects and worms; and in the spring and autumn are constant attendants on the plough, for the sake of the worms thrown up by that instrument.

engraving of White Wagtail, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 55 (partial):
White Wagtail

The generality of the Wagtails disappear in the autumn; but how they dispose of themselves during the winter, is somewhat difficult to account for. They are often to be seen even in the middle of winter. If there happens to be a fine day, and the sun shines bright, they are sure to make their appearance; chirping briskly, and seeming delighted with the fine weather, though they had not perhaps been II.340 seen for three weeks or a month before.—Whence then do they come? Certainly not from a far-distant country; there not being time for a very long journey in the space of a single day; and, besides, they never seem to be tired or lifeless, but are very brisk and lively on such occasions.⁕1

Synonyms.—Motacilla Alba. Linn.—Lavandiere. Buff.—White Wagtail. Penn.—Black and White Water-Wagtail, Pied Wagtail. Bewick.——Bew. Birds p. 188.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 55.

⁕1 Lin. Tran. i. 126.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Wagtail

Motacilla alba (“white wagtail”), the common or white wagtail, still has that binomial. Wagtails are family Motacillidae in superfamily Passeroidea, making them more closely related to New World warblers than to Old World warblers.

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 55
text has 54

engraving of “White-Rump”, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 229:


This bird visits England annually in the middle of March, and leaves us in September. The females come first, about a fortnight before the males; and they continue to come till the middle of May. In some parts of England they are found in vast plenty, and are much esteemed. About Eastbourne, in Sussex, they are taken in snares made of horse-hair, placed beneath a long turf. Being very timid birds, the motion even of a cloud, or the appearance of a Hawk, will immediately drive them into the traps. These traps are first set every year on St. James’s day, the twenty-fifth of July; soon after which they are caught in astonishing numbers, considering that they are not gregarious, and that more than two or three are scarcely ever seen flying together. The number annually ensnared in the district of Eastbourne alone, is said to amount to nearly two thousand dozen. The birds caught are chiefly young ones, and they are invariably found in the greatest number when an easterly wind prevails: they always II.341 come against the wind. A gentleman informed Mr. Markwick, that his father’s shepherd once caught eighty-four dozen of them in a day.⁕1 Great quantities of them are eaten on the spot by the neighbouring inhabitants; others are picked, and sent up to the London poulterers; and many are potted, being as much esteemed in England as the Ortolans are on the continent.

The vast plenty of these birds on the downs about Eastbourne, is supposed by Mr. Pennant to be occasioned by a species of fly, their favourite food, that feeds on the wild thyme, and abounds on the adjacent hills.

A few of the birds breed in the old rabbet-burrows there. The nest is large, and made of dried grass, Rabbets’-down, a few feathers, and horse-hair. The eggs are from six to eight, and are of a light colour.⁕2

Synonyms.—Motacilla Oenanthe. Linn.—Cul-blanc, ou Vitrec, ou Motteux. Buff.—Wheat-ear, Fallow-smich, White-tail. Willughby.—White-rump. Bewick.——Bew. Birds p. 229.

⁕1 Paper of Mr. Markwick, in the Linnæan Transactions, vol. iv. p. 17.

⁕2 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 384.

Notes and Corrections: The Wheat-Ear

Motacilla oenanthe is now the head of its own genus, Oenanthe oenanthe, the Northern wheatear. It is in the same family, Muscicapidae, as nightingales.

Liddell and Scott’s lexicon is not absolutely certain that οἰνάνθη is the bird known in English as the wheatear. Linnaeus doesn’t seem to have had any doubts.

engraving of Redbreast, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 204:


This pretty bird needs no description. It is reckoned among the birds of passage; but, as the Comte de Buffon has elegantly expressed himself, the departure in the autumn not being marked,—or, to use his expression, “not being proclaimed among the Red-breasts, as among other birds at that season, collected into flocks,—many stay behind; and these are either the young and inexperienced, or some II.342 which can derive support from the slender resources of the winter. In that season they visit our dwellings, and seek the warmest and most sheltered situations; and, if any one still continues in the woods, it becomes the companion of the faggot-maker, cherishes itself at his fire, pecks at his bread, and flutters the whole day round him, chirping its slender pip. But, when the cold grows more severe, and thick snow covers the ground, it approaches our houses, and taps on the window with its bill, as if to entreat an asylum, which is cheerfully granted; and it repays the favour by the most amiable familiarity, gathering the crumbs from the table, distinguishing affectionately the people of the house, and assuming a warble, not indeed so rich as that of the spring, but more delicate. This it retains through all the rigours of the season; to hail each day the kindness of its host, and the sweetness of its retreat. There it remains tranquil, till the returning spring awakens new desires, and invites to other pleasures: it now becomes uneasy, and impatient to recover its liberty.”

Thomson has charmingly described the annual visits of this little favourite, in lines that have been often quoted:

The Red-breast, sacred to the household Gods,

Wisely regardful of th’ embroiling sky,

In joyless fields, and thorny thickets, leaves

His shivering mate, and pays to trusted Man

His annual visit. Half-afraid he first

Against the window beats; then brisk alights

On the warm hearth; then, hopping o’er the floor,

Eyes all the smiling family askance,

And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is;


Till, more familiar grown, the table-crumbs

Attract his slender feet.

The Red-breast generally builds its nest by the roots of trees, in some concealed spot near the ground. This is composed of dried leaves, mixed with hair and moss, and lined with feathers. The female lays from five to seven eggs. In order the more successfully to conceal its nest, we are told that it covers it with leaves, suffering only a narrow winding entrance under the heap to be left.

This bird feeds principally on insects and worms; and its delicacy in preparing the latter is somewhat remarkable:—It takes a worm by one extremity, in its beak, and beats it on the ground till the inner part comes away; then, taking it in the same manner by the other end, it entirely cleanses the outer part, which alone it eats.

Its general familiarity has given it a peculiar denomination in several countries. The inhabitants of Bornholm call it Tommi Liden; the Norwegians, Peter Ronsmad; the Germans, Thomas Gierdet; and we give it the familiar name of Robin Red-breast.

Synonyms.—Motacilla Rubecula. Linn.—Le Rouge-Gorge. Buff.—Robin Red-breast, or Ruddock. Willughby.——Bew. Birds, p. 204.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Breast

Motacilla rubecula or Sylvia rubecula is now Erithacus rubecula, in family Muscicapidae, like the wheatear. (New World robins are an entirely different bird, Turdus migratorius, in the thrush family.)

Thomson has charmingly described
[Seasons: Winter 246-56.]

His annual visit. Half-afraid he first
text has nnual

engraving of European Wren, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 60:
European Wren


The Wren is found throughout Europe. Its nest is curiously constructed: being composed chiefly of moss, and lined with feathers; and in shape almost oval, with only one small entrance. This is generally found in some corner of an out-house, stack II.344 of wood, or hole in a wall, near our habitations; but when the Wren builds in the woods, it is often in a bush near the ground, on the stump of a tree, or even on the ground. The female lays from ten to eighteen eggs. It is very remarkable, that the materials of the nest are generally adapted to the place where it is formed: if against a hay-rick, its exterior is composed of hay; if against the side of a tree clad with white lichens, it is covered with the same substance; and if built against a tree covered with green moss, or in a bank, its exterior always bears the same correspondence. The lining is invariably of feathers. The Wren does not, as is usual with most other birds, begin the bottom of its nest first: when against a tree, its primary operation is to trace the outline, which is of an oval shape, upon the bark, and thus fasten it with equal strength to all parts. It then in succession closes the sides and top, leaving only a small hole for entrance. If the nest is placed under a bank, the top is first begun and well secured in some small cavity; and by this the fabric is suspended.

engraving of Wren, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 227:

The song of the Wren is much admired; being, though short, a very pleasing warble, and louder than could be expected from the size of the bird. This it continues throughout the year; and it has been heard to sing unconcerned even during a fall of snow. It sings also very late in the evening; though not, like the Nightingale, after dark.

Synonyms.—Motacilla Troglodytes. Linn.—Troglodyte. Buff.—Kitty Wren. Bewick.——Bew. Birds p. 227.

Notes and Corrections: The Wren

Motacilla troglodytes later became its own genus, Troglodytes, and family, Troglodytae. T. troglodytes is the winter wren; another common one is T. aedon, the house wren.

Linguistic trivia: The word “troglodyte” was just starting to show up in English; it wouldn’t become common until mid-century. A τρώγλη, inciden­tally, is a hole of any kind, not specifically a cave.

[Synonyms] Motacilla Troglodytes. Linn.
text has Troglodytus


color picture of Yellow Wren, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 189:
Yellow Wren


This bird is a little bigger than the common Wren. The upper parts are of a pale olive-green; the under pale yellow, with a streak of yellow over the eyes. The wings and tail are brown, edged with yellowish green; and the legs are yellowish.

It is pretty common in England; it is migratory, but comes early in the year. It makes its nest in holes at the roots of trees, in hollows of dry banks, and other similar places. This is round, and not unlike that of the Wren. The eggs are dusky white, marked with reddish spots; and are five in number.

A Willow-wren had built in a bank of one of the fields of Mr. White, near Selborne. This bird a friend and himself observed, as she sat in her nest; but they were particularly careful not to disturb her, though she eyed them with some degree of jealousy. Some days after, as they passed the same way, they were desirous of remarking how the brood went on; but no nest could be found, till Mr. White happened to take up a large bundle of long green moss, thrown as it were carelessly over the nest, in order to mislead the eye of any impertinent obtruder.

The Willow-wren may be justly termed the Nightingale of the northern snowy countries of Europe. It settles on the most lofty branches of the birch trees, and makes the air resound with its bold and melodious song.⁕1

Synonyms.—Motacilla Trochilus. Linn.—Bouillot ou Chantre. Buff.—Small Yellow Bird. Roy.—Green Wren. Albin.—Yellow Wren. Penn.

⁕1 Acerbi, ii. 224.

Notes and Corrections: The Willow-Wren

Motacilla trochilus is now Phylloscopus trochilus, the willow warbler, in the Sylviidae family. So far in this book, it is the only member of the “warbler tribe” that is definitely an Old World Warbler.



This, like the last two, is a very small species, measuring scarcely more than three inches in length. Its colour is entirely yellow.

It inhabits India; and is remarkable for nothing so much as the construction of its nest, which is extremely curious. This is composed of two leaves; the one generally dead, which it fixes, at the end of some branch, to the side of a living one, by sewing both together with little filaments (its bill serving as a needle), in the manner of a pouch or purse, and open at the top. Sometimes, instead of a dead leaf and a living one, two living leaves are sewed together; and thus connected, they seem rather the work of human art, than of an uninstructed animal. After the operation of sewing is finished, the cavity is lined with feathers and soft vegetable down. The nest and birds are together so very light, that the leaves of the most exterior and slender twigs of the trees are chosen for the purpose; and, thus situated, the brood is completely secured from the depredations of every invader.

Synonyms. Motacilla Sutoria. Linn.—Taylor Bird. Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Taylor Bird

Tailorbirds, Linnaeus’s Motacilla sutoria, are now Orthotomus sutorius and other species in the Orthotomus (“cutting straight”) genus. They may or may not be in the Sylviidae family, but are definitely in the Sylvoidea superfamily.

Parts of Bingley’s description are identical to Shaw’s Vol. X, first published 1817, suggesting that they both swiped from the same earlier source. (I doubt it was Shaw who swiped from Bingley, consi­dering how often the borrowing has definitely gone in the other direction.)


This is a diminutive but sprightly tribe, possessed both of much courage and strength. Their general II.347 food is seeds, fruit, and insects; and a few will eat flesh. Some of them will venture to assault birds that are twice or thrice their own bulk; and in this case they direct their aim chiefly at the eyes. They often seize upon birds that are weaker than themselves; which they kill, and having picked a hole in the skull, eat out the brains. They are very prolific, laying eighteen or twenty eggs at a time. Their voice is in general unpleasant.

The bill is straight, strong, hard, sharp-pointed, and a little compressed. The nostrils are round, and covered with bristles. The tongue appears cut off at the end, and is terminated by three or four bristles. The toes are divided to their origin; and the back toe is very large and strong.

Notes and Corrections: The Titmouse Tribe

Titmice and chickadees are family Paridae within superfamily Sylvoidea, suborder Passerida, order Passeriformes. Most are genus Parus, which has dozens of species and still more subspecies. It is therefore impressive that Bingley managed to select two titmouse species that are not in this genus; in fact both are in the Penduline Tits family.


These birds are about four inches and a half in length. The fore part of the head is whitish, and the hind part and the neck are ash-coloured. The upper parts of the plumage are grey; the forehead is black; the throat and the front of the neck are of a very pale ash-colour; and the rest of the under parts are yellowish. The quills and tail are brown, edged with white; and the legs are reddish grey.⁕1

They are natives of Poland, Italy, Siberia, and most of the intervening country; where they frequent the watery places for the sake of aquatic insects, on which they feed.


The most curious fact in the history of these birds, is the exquisite art displayed in the construction of their nest. They employ the light down found on the buds of the willow, the poplar, and the aspen; on thistles, dandelions, &c. With their bill they entwine this filamentous substance, and form a thick close web, almost like cloth: this they fortify externally with fibres and small roots, which penetrate into the texture, and in some measure compose the basis of the nest. They line the inside with the same down, but not woven, that their young may lie soft: they shut it above to confine the warmth; and they suspend it with hemp, nettles, &c. from the cleft of a small pliant branch (over some stream), that it may rock more gently assisted by the spring of the branch. In this situation the brood are well supplied with insects, which constitute their chief food; and are also thus protected from their enemies. The nest sometimes resembles a bag, and sometimes a short purse. The aperture is made in the side, and is almost always turned towards the water: it is nearly round, and only an inch and a half in diameter, or even less, and is commonly surrounded by a brim more or less protuberant; this however is sometimes wanting.

These nests are seen in the fens of Bologna, in those of Tuscany, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany. The peasants regard them with superstitious veneration: one of them is usually suspended near the door of each cottage; and the possessors esteem it a defence against thunder, and its little architect as a sacred bird.

Synonyms.—Parus Pendulinus. Linn.—Mésauge de Pologne, ou Remiz. Buff.—Mountain Titmouse. Albin.—Penduline Titmouse. Latham.

⁕1 Latham.

Notes and Corrections: The Penduline Titmouse

Parus pendulinus is now known as Remiz pendulinus, the Eurasian penduline tit. Depending on whom you ask, it is either in Remizidae, a family of its own within Sylvoidea, or in Remizinae, a subfamily of Paridae. But nobody seems to be getting especially worked up about it.



The Cape Titmouse constructs its nest of the down of a species of Asclepias. This luxurious nest is made of the texture of flannel; and equals the fleecy-hosiery in softness. Near the upper end projects a small tube, about an inch in length, with an orifice about three-fourths of an inch in diameter. Immediately under the tube is a small hole in the side, that has no communication with the interior of the nest: in this hole the male sits at nights, and thus both male and female are screened from the weather.⁕1

Synonyms.—Parus Capensis. Linn.—Petit Deuil. Buff.—Cape Titmouse. Latham.

⁕1 Barrow.

Notes and Corrections: The Cape Titmouse

Parus capensis is probably Anthoscopus minutus, formerly A. capensis, the Cape penduline-tit, representing another genus in the Remizidae family. Or, if you prefer, the Remizinae subfamily; see previous section. Unsurprisingly, the name “cape titmouse” is now applied to an entirely different bird, found in Baja California.

engraving of Swallow and Swift, no later than 1804

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 58:
Swallow (top); Swift (bottom)


The bill of the Swallow is short, broad at the base, small at the point, and somewhat bent. The nostrils are open. The tongue is short, broad, and cloven. The tail, except in one species, is forked; and the wings are long. The legs are short, and (except in four species, in which they are all placed forwards) the toes are placed three before and one behind.

Swallows are easily distinguished from all other birds, not only by their structure, but by their twittering voice, and their manner of life. They fly with great rapidity, seldom walk, and perform all II.350 their functions either on the wing or sitting. By means of their wide mouth they readily catch insects in the air, or on the surface of the water; and on these they entirely subsist.

Naturalists have been much divided in their opinions respecting the migration of the Swallow Tribe from this country. This is a subject into which if I were to enter at length, I should not only occupy too many pages of this work, but should also trespass too much both on the time and patience of the reader: I shall therefore be very brief in my account of it.—

The Hon. Daines Barrington, and several other writers, have supposed that Swallows do not leave this country; but that they lie concealed, and in a torpid state, during winter, under water: that the Martins lie concealed during the same time in crevices of rocks, and other lurking places above ground: that the Sand Martins remain in the holes in which they form their nests: and that the Swifts continue all winter in their holes in churches and old buildings.—That there have been many well-authenticated instances of the birds being found torpid in each of these situations, both here and in some other countries, cannot be denied. But a migration of the major part of these birds is not to be contradicted, by what seems to be rather the effect of chance than design. Those birds that have been late hatched, and have not acquired sufficient strength to accompany their companions in their journey, may alone have supplied the above-mentioned instances. Were the whole of these species to remain, we should II.351 undoubtedly, since their numbers are immense, be supplied with more numerous and more generally known instances than have hitherto been recorded. Mr. John Hunter, on dissecting several Swallows, observed in them nothing differing from other birds in the organs of respiration; and immediately concluded, perhaps without considering the very respectable names that appear as witnesses in instances to the contrary, that it is highly absurd to suppose that any of them could remain for a long time under the water. That the actual migration of the Swallow Tribe does, however, take place, has been fully proved from a variety of well-attested facts; most of which have been taken from the observations of navigators who were eye-witnesses of their flights, and whose ships have sometimes afforded to them resting-places in their toilsome journeys.

A single instance is recorded of some Swallows having, with warmth and care, been preserved alive through the winter; by a Mr. Pearson, of London, who, on the 14th of February, 1786, exhibited them to the Society for Promoting Natural History. They died from neglect in the following summer.

Notes and Corrections: The Swallow Tribe

Swallows are the Hirundinidae family within superfamily Sylvoidea. They live almost everywhere on the planet except Australia, so it is no wonder the author’s sources are uncertain about whether they migrate or not. This section also includes a few swifts, which are not swallows; they are in the same order as hummingbirds.

except in four species
[Crystal ball says he is talking about the swifts, which aren’t swallows at all; they’re not even in the same order.]

engraving of Common Swallow, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 9:
Common Swallow


This Swallow is well known throughout England; where it takes up its residence during the summer months, building generally in the insides of our chimneys, a few feet from the top. Its nest is composed II.352 of mud mixed with straw and hair, and lined with feathers. It lays four or five eggs, and has two broods in the year.

The progressive method by which the young are introduced to their proper habits, is very curious. They first, but not without some difficulty, emerge from the shaft: for a day or two they are fed on the chimney-top; and then are conducted to the dead leafless bough of some neighbouring tree, where, sitting in a row, they are attended by the parents with great assiduity. In a day or two after this, they are strong enough to fly, but continue still unable to take their own food: they therefore play about near the place, where the dams are watching for Flies; and, when a mouthful is collected, at a certain signal the dam and the nestling advance, rising towards each other and meeting at an angle; the young all the while uttering such a short quick note of gratitude and complacency, that a person must have paid very little regard to the wonders of nature who has not remarked this scene.

As soon as the dam has disengaged herself from the first brood, she immediately commences her preparations for a second, which is introduced into the world about the middle or latter end of August.

engraving of Chimney Swallow, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 252:

During every part of the summer, the Swallow is a most instructive pattern of unwearied industry and affection; for, from morning to night, while there is a family to be supported, she spends the whole time in skimming along, and exerting the most sudden turns, and quick evolutions; avenues, and long walks under hedges, pasture-fields, and mown meadows II.353 where cattle graze, are their delight, especially if there are trees interspersed, because in such spots insects most abound. When a Fly is taken, a smart snap from their bill is to be heard, not unlike the noise of the shutting of a watch-case; but the motion of the mandibles is too quick for the eye.

The Swallow is the excubitor to the House-martins and other little birds, announcing the approach of birds of prey: for as soon as a Hawk or an Owl appears, the Swallow calls, with a shrill alarming note, all his own fellows and the Martins about him; who pursue in a body, and buffet and strike their enemy till they have driven him from the place, darting down upon his back and rising in a perpen­dicular line in perfect security. This bird will also sound the alarm, and strike at Cats, when they climb on the roofs of houses, or otherwise approach the nests.

Wonderful is the address, Mr. White justly observes, which this adroit bird exhibits in ascending and descending with security through the narrow passage of a chimney. When hovering over the mouth of the funnel, the vibrations of its wings acting on the confined air, occasion a rumbling like distant thunder. It is not improbable that the dam submits to the inconvenience of having her nest low down in the shaft, in order to have her brood secure from rapacious birds; and particularly from Owls, which are frequently found to fall down chimneys, probably in their attempts to get at the nestlings.⁕1

The Swallows are generally supposed to retire in II.354 the winter to Senegal, and some other parts of Africa. Dr. Russel says, that Swallows visit the country about Aleppo towards the end of February; where, like those in Europe, they breed. Having hatched their young, they disappear about the end of July; and returning in the beginning of October, continue somewhat more than a fortnight, and then disappear till the spring.⁕2 They are found in almost all parts of the Old Continent, and are by no means uncommon in North America.

Professor Kalm, in his Travels into America, says, that a very reputable lady and her children related to him the following story respecting these birds, assuring him at the same time that they were all eye-witnesses to the fact:—“A couple of Swallows built their nest in the stable belonging to the lady; and the female laid eggs in the nest, and was about to brood them. Some days after, the people saw the female still sitting on the eggs; but the male, flying about the nest, and sometimes settling on a nail, was heard to utter a very plaintive note, which betrayed his uneasiness. On a nearer examination, the female was found dead in the nest; and the people flung her body away. The male then went to sit upon the eggs; but after being about two hours on them, and perhaps finding the business too troublesome, he went out, and returned in the afternoon with another female, which sat upon the nest, and afterwards fed the young ones till they were able to provide for themselves.”⁕3


At Camerton Hall, near Bath, a pair of Swallows built their nest on the upper part of the frame of an old picture, over the chimney-piece; entering through a broken pane in the window of the room. They came three years successively; and in all probability would have continued to do so, had not the room been put in repair, which prevented their access to it.⁕4

Another pair was known to build for two years together, on the handles of a pair of garden shears, that were stuck up against the boards in an outhouse; and therefore must have had their nest spoiled whenever the implement was wanted: and what is still more strange, a bird of the same species built its nest on the wings and body of an Owl, that happened by accident to hang dead and dry from the rafter of a barn, and so loose as to be moved by every gust of wind. This Owl, with the nest on its wings, and with eggs in the nest, was brought as a curiosity to the museum of Sir Ashton Lever. That gentleman, struck with the oddity of the sight, furnished the bringer with a large shell, desiring him to fix it just where the Owl had hung. The person did so; and the following year a pair, probably the same, built their nest in the shell, and laid eggs.

The Owl and the shell made a strange and grotesque appearance; and are now not the least singular specimens in that wonderful collection of the curiosities of art and nature, the Leverian Museum.

“By the myriads of insects,” says a writer in the II.356 Gentleman’s Magazine, “which every single brood of Swallows destroy, in the course of a summer, these birds defend us in a great measure from the personal and domestic annoyance of Flies and Gnats; and what is of infinitely more consequence, they keep down the numbers of our minute enemies, which, either in the grub or winged state, would otherwise prey on the labours of the husbandman. Since then Swallows are guardians of our corn, they should every where be protected by the same popular veneration which in Egypt defends the Ibis, and the Stork in Holland. We more frequently hear of unproductive harvests on the Continent than in this country; and it is well known that Swallows are caught and sold as food, in the markets of Spain, France, and Italy. When this practice has been very general and successful, I have little doubt that it has at times contributed to the scarcity of corn. In England, we are not driven to such resources to furnish our tables. But what apology can be made for those, and many there are, whose education and rank should have taught them more innocent amusements, but who wantonly murder Swallows under the idle pretence of improving their skill in shooting game? Besides the cruelty of starving whole nests by killing the dam, they who follow this barbarous diversion would do well to reflect, that by every Swallow they kill, they assist the effects of blasts, mildews, and vermin, in causing a scarcity of bread. Every lord of a manor should restrain his gamekeeper from this execrable practice; nor should he permit any person to sport on his lands who does II.357 not refrain from it. For my part, I am not ashamed to own, that I have tempted Martins to build round my house, by fixing scallop shells in places convenient for their ‘pendent beds and procreant cradles;’ and have been much pleased in observing with what caution the little architect raises a buttress under each shell, before he ventures to form his nest on it.”

All the tribe have been observed to drink as they fly along, sipping the surface of the water; but the Swallow alone, in general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a pool many times successively. In very hot weather, House-martins and Bank-martins also sometimes dip and wash.

This species feeds on small Beetles, as well as on Gnats and Flies; and often settles on dug ground, or paths, for gravel, which assists in grinding and digesting its food. Horsemen, on wide downs, are often closely attended by a small party of Swallows, for miles together; which play before and behind them, sweeping around, and collecting all the insects that are roused by the trampling of the horses’ feet. When the wind blows hard, the birds, without this expedient, are often forced to alight in order to pick up their lurking prey.

Mr. White informs us, that for some weeks before the Swallows depart, they (without exception) forsake houses and chimneys, and roost in trees; and they usually withdraw about the beginning of October, though some few stragglers may be seen at times till the first week in November. Mr. Pennant says, that for a few days previous to their departure, they assemble in vast flocks on house-tops, II.358 churches, and trees, from whence they take their flight.

I shall conclude the account of this bird, with an anecdote from M. de Buffon. This celebrated writer informs us, that a shoemaker in Brasil put a collar on a Swallow, containing an inscription to this purpose:

“Pretty Swallow, tell me, whither goest thou in winter?”

And in the ensuing spring received, by the same courier, the following answer:

“To Antony at Athens;—Why dost thou enquire?”

The most probable conjecture on this story is, that the answer was written by some one who had caught the bird in Switzerland; for both Belon and Aristotle assure us, that though the Swallows live half the year in Greece, yet they always pass the winter in Africa.

Synonyms.—Hirundo Rustica. Linn.—Hirondelle de Cheminée, ou Hirondelle Domestique. Buff.—House or Chimney Swallow. Penn.——Bew. Birds p. 252.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 58.

⁕1 White’s Selborne.

⁕2 Russel’s Aleppo.

⁕3 Kalm’s Travels, ii. 144.

⁕4 Barrington’s Miscellanies, p. 239.

Notes and Corrections: The Chimney Swallow

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Hirundo rustica is and remains the barn swallow, with at least six subspecies.

who pursue in a body, and buffet and strike their enemy
text has pursuein a body,and without spaces

the following story respecting these birds
[I believe it. In fact, Animal Diversity Web says:

Unmated adults often associate with a breeding pair for up to an entire season. Though these “helpers” do not usually feed the young, they may help with nest defense, nest building, incubation and brooding.

Bingley would not have approved of the immediately following sentence:

“Helpers” are predominantly male, and may succeed in mating with the resident female, leading to polygyny.

Is it possible the female described by Kalm’s “very reputable lady” was in fact a male? Male and female swallows do not look especially different.]

pendent beds and procreant cradles
Banquo in Macbeth,

no jutty, frieze,

Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird

Hath made his pendent bed and procreant cradle

This final sentence really belongs in the following section, since both Banquo and the nameless “writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine” are talking about martins. Perhaps Bingley didn’t want to break up a quotation that started out talking about swallows.]

both Belon and Aristotle assure us
[I don’t know about Belon, who isn’t included in Bingley’s general list of sources in Volume I. But I personally would not take Aris­totle’s unsupported word on any aspect of natural history.]

[Synonyms] Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 58.
text has 56

engraving of Martin, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 255:


These birds begin to appear about the 16th of April: and generally for some time pay no attention to the business of nidification; but play and sport about, either to recruit from the fatigue of their journey, or else that their blood may recover its true tone and texture, after having been so long benumbed by the severities of winter.

About the middle of May, if the weather be fine, the Martin begins to think of providing a mansion II.359 for its family. The crust or shell of its nest seems to be formed of such dirt or loam as is most readily met with; and it is tempered and wrought together with little pieces of broken straws, to render it tough and tenacious.

As this bird often builds against a perpendicular wall, without any projecting ledge under, its utmost efforts are necessary to get the first foundation firmly fixed, so as to carry safely the superstructure. On this occasion the bird not only clings with its claws, but partly supports itself by strongly inclining its tail against the wall, making that a fulcrum; and thus fixed, it plasters the materials into the face of the brick or stone. But that this work may not, while soft, incline down by its own weight, the provident architect has the prudence and forbearance not to proceed too fast; but by building only in the morning, and dedicating the rest of the day to food and amusement, gives it sufficient time to dry and harden. About half an inch seems to be a sufficient layer for a day. Thus careful workmen, when they build mud-walls, (informed at first, perhaps, by this little bird,) add but a moderate layer at a time, and then desist, lest the work should become top-heavy, and so be ruined by its own weight. By this method, in about ten or twelve days, a hemispherical nest is formed, with a small aperture towards the top; strong, compact, and warm, and perfectly fitted for all the purposes for which it was intended. But nothing is more common than for the House-sparrow, as soon as the shell is finished, to seize on it, eject the owner, and to line it according to II.360 its own peculiar manner.—After so much labour is bestowed in erecting a mansion, as Nature seldom works in vain, Martins will breed for several years successively in the same nest, where it happens to be well sheltered and secured from the injuries of the weather. The shell or crust of the nest is a sort of rustic work, full of knobs and protuberances on the outside: nor is the inside smoothed with any great exactness; but is rendered soft and warm, and fit for incubation, by a lining of small straws, grasses, and feathers, and sometimes by a bed of moss interwoven with wool.

In this nest are produced four or five young; which, when arrived at full growth, become impatient of confinement, and sit all day with their heads out at the orifice, where the dams, by clinging to the nest, supply them with food from morning to night. After this they are fed by the parents on the wing; but this feat is performed by so quick and almost imperceptible a flight, that a person must attend very exactly to the motions of the birds, before he is able to perceive it.

As soon as the young are able to provide for themselves, the dams repair their nests for a second brood. The first flight then associate in vast flocks; and may be seen on sunny mornings and evenings, clustering and hovering around towers and steeples, and on the roofs of churches and houses. These congregatings usually begin to take place about the first week in August. From observing the birds approaching and playing about the eaves of buildings, many persons have been led to suppose that more than two old birds attend on each nest.


The Martins are often very capricious in fixing on a nesting-place, beginning many edifices and leaving them unfinished; but (as has been before observed) when a nest has been once completed in a sheltered situation, it is made to serve for several seasons. In forming their nests these industrious artificers are at their labour, in the long days, before four o’clock in the morning: in fixing their materials, they plaster them on with their chins, moving the head with a quick vibratory motion.

Sometimes in very hot weather they dip and wash as they fly, but not so frequently as the Swallows. They are the least agile of all the British hirundines; their wings and tails are short, and therefore they are not capable of those surprising turns, and quick and glancing evolutions, that are so observable in the Chimney Swallows.

Their motion is placid and easy: generally in the middle region of the air; for they seldom mount to any great height, and never sweep long together over the surface of the ground or water. They do not wander far in quest of food; but are fond of sheltered places near some lake, or under some hanging wood or hollow vale, especially in windy weather.

They breed the latest of all our Swallows, never being without unfledged young even so late as Michaelmas.

As the summer declines, the flocks increase in number every day from the accession of the second broods; till at length, round the villages on the Thames, they swarm in myriads, darkening even the face of the sky as they frequent the aits of that river, II.362 where they roost. The bulk of them retire, in vast companies, about the beginning of October; but some have been known to remain so late as till the sixth of November: they are the latest of all the species in withdrawing. It would seem that either these are very short-lived birds, or that they undergo vast destruction in their absence, or do not return to the districts where they were bred; for the numbers that appear in the spring, bear no proportion to those that retired in the preceding year.⁕1

During the residence of a Mr. Simpson at Welton in North America, he one morning heard a noise from a couple of Martins that were flying from tree to tree near his dwelling. They made several attempts to get into a box or cage fixed against the house, which they had before occupied; but they always appeared to fly from it again with the utmost dread, at the same time repeating those loud cries which first drew his attention. Curiosity led this gentleman to watch their motions. After some time a small Wren⁕2 came from the box, and perched on a tree near it; when her shrill notes seemed to amaze her antagonists. Having remained a short time, she flew away. The Martins took this opportunity of returning to the cage; but their stay was short. Their diminutive adversary returned, and made them retire with the greatest precipitation. They continued manœuvering in this way the whole day; but the following morning, on the Wren’s quitting the cage, the Martins immediately returned, took possession II.363 of their mansion, broke up their own nest, went to work afresh with extreme industry and ingenuity, and soon barricaded their doors. The Wren returned, but could not now re-enter. She made attempts to storm the nest, but did not succeed. The Martins, abstaining from food nearly two days, persevered during the whole of that time in defending the entrance; and the Wren, finding she could not force the works, raised the siege, quitted her intentions, and left the Martins in quiet possession of their nest.⁕3

Synonyms.—Hirundo Urbica. Linn.—Hirondelle à Croupien blanc ou de fenêtre. Buff.—Martin, Martlet, Martinet. Willughby.—Window Swallow. Bewick.—House Martin. Montagu.——Bew. Birds p. 255.

⁕1 White’s Selborne.

⁕2 Probably Certhia Familiaris of Linn.

⁕3 American Medical Repository.

Notes and Corrections: The Martin

Hirundo urbica is now Delichon urbicum, formally the Northern house martin, another genus in the Hirundinidae family.

as they frequent the aits of that river
[Word of the day: An ait, with a variety of spellings including “eyot”, is a small island or islet.]

[Footnote] Probably Certhia Familiaris of Linn.
[Since the episode is said to have happened in America, it may be C. americana instead. Either way, it isn’t a wren but a creeper.]

engraving of Sand Martin, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 11:
Sand Martin


The Sand-martin is about four inches and three quarters in length. It is common about the banks of rivers and sand-pits, where it digs itself a round and regular hole in the sand or earth: this is horizontal, serpentine, and generally about two feet deep. At the farther end of this burrow, the bird constructs her rude nest of grass and feathers. “Though one would at first be disinclined to believe (says Mr. White) that this weak bird, with her soft tender bill and claws, should ever be able to bore the stubborn sand-bank without entirely disabling herself; yet with these feeble instruments have I seen a pair of them make great dispatch; and could remark how much they had scooped in a day, by the fresh sand which ran down the bank, and which was of a II.364 different colour from what lay loose and had been bleached in the sun. In what space of time these little artists are able to mine and finish these cavities, I have never been able to discover; but it would be a matter worthy of observation, where it falls in the way of any naturalist to make such remarks. This I have often taken notice of, that several holes of different depths are left unfinished at the end of the summer. To imagine that these beginnings were intentionally made in order to be in the greater forwardness for next spring, is allowing perhaps too much foresight to a simple bird. May not the cause of these being left unfinished arise from the birds meeting in those places with strata too harsh, hard, and solid, for their purpose; which they relinquish, and go to a fresh spot that works more freely? Or may they not in other places fall in with a soil as much too loose and mouldering, liable to flounder, and threatening to overwhelm them and their labours? One thing is remarkable—that, after some years, the old holes are forsaken, and new ones bored; perhaps because the former habitations were become foul and fetid from long use, or because they so abounded with Fleas as to become untenable.” This species is so strangely annoyed with Fleas, that these vermin have been sometimes seen swarming at the mouths of their holes, like Bees on the stools of their hives.

engraving of Sand Martin, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 258:

The Sand-martin appears in this country about the same time as the Swallow, and lays from four to six white and transparent eggs.—These birds seem not to be of a very sociable disposition, never (with us) II.365 congregating in the autumn. They have a peculiar manner of flying: flitting about with odd jerks and vacillations, not unlike the motions of a Butterfly.⁕1

Synonyms.—Hirundo Riparia. Linn.—Hirondelle de Rivage. Buff.—Sand Martin, or Shore Bird. Willughby.—Bank Martin, or Sand Swallow. Bewick.——Bew. Birds p. 258.

⁕1 White’s Selborne.

Notes and Corrections: The Sand-Martin

Hirundo riparia has been upgraded to its own genus in the Hirundinidae family, and is now Riparia riparia.

engraving of “Esculent Swallow”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 12:
Esculent Swallow and nest


The Esculent Swallow is said to be less in size than the Wren. The bill is thick. The upper parts of the body are brown, and the under parts whitish. The tail is forked; and each feather is tipped with white. The legs are brown.

The nest of this bird is exceedingly curious; and is composed of such materials that it is not only edible, but is accounted among the greatest dainties by the Asiatic epicures. It generally weighs about half an ounce; and is in shape like a half-lemon, or, as some say, like a saucer, with one side flatted, which adheres to the rock. The texture somewhat resembles isinglass, or fine gum-dragon: and the several layers of the component matter are very apparent; it being fabricated from repeated parcels of a soft slimy substance, in the same manner as the Martins form their nests of mud. Authors differ much as to the materials of which this nest is composed: some suppose it to consist of sea-worms of the Mullusca class; others, of the Sea-qualm (a kind of Cuttle fish), or a glutinous sea-plant called Agal-agal. It has also been supposed that the Swallows rob other birds of II.366 their eggs; and after breaking the shells, apply the white of them in the composition of these structures.

The best sort of nests, which are perfectly free from dirt, are dissolved in broth, in order to thicken it; and are said to give it an exquisite flavour.—Or they are soaked in water, to soften them; then pulled to pieces; and, after being mixed with ginseng, are put into the body of a fowl. The whole is then stewed in a pot, with a sufficient quantity of water, and left on the coals all night. On the following morning it is ready to be eaten.

These nests are found in vast numbers in certain caverns of various islands in the Soolo Archipelago. The best kind sell in China at from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars the picle;⁕1 the black and dirty ones for only twenty dollars. It is said that the Dutch alone export from Batavia one thousand picles of these nests every year; which are brought from the islands of Cochin-China, and those lying east of them. It is much to be wondered, that among other luxuries imported by us from the East, these nests should not have found their way to our tables; but as yet they are so scarce in England, that they are kept as rarities in the cabinets of collectors.

The following is the account given of the nests of the Esculent Swallow by Sir George Staunton:⁕2 “In the Cass (a small island near Sumatra) were found two caverns, running horizontally into the side of the rock; and in these were a number of those II.367 birds’-nests so much prized by the Chinese epicures. They seem to be composed of fine filaments; cemented together by a transparent viscous matter, not unlike what is left, by the foam of the sea, upon stones alternately covered by the tide, or those gelatinous animal substances found floating on every coast. The nests adhere to each other, and to the sides of the cavern; mostly in rows, without any break or interruption. The birds that build these nests are small grey Swallows, with bellies of a dirty white. They were flying about in considerable numbers; but were so small, and their flight was so quick, that they escaped the shot fired at them. The same sort of nests are said to be also found in deep caverns at the foot of the highest mountains in the middle of Java, at a distance from the sea: from which source it is thought that the birds derive no materials, either for their food, or the construction of their nests; as it does not appear probable they should fly, in search of either, over the intermediate mountains, which are very high, or against the boisterous winds prevailing thereabout. They feed on insects, which they find hovering over stagnated pools between the mountains, and for the catching of which their wide-opening beaks are particularly adapted. They prepare their nests from the best remnants of their food. Their greatest enemy is the Kite; who often intercepts them in their passage to and from the caverns, which are generally surrounded with rocks of grey limestone, or white marble. The nests are placed in horizontal rows; at different depths, from fifty to five hundred feet. The colour and value of II.368 the nests depend on the quantity and quality of the insects caught; and, perhaps, also on the situation where they are built. Their value is chiefly ascertained by the uniform fineness and delicacy of their texture; those that are white and transparent being most esteemed, and fetching often in China their weight in silver.

“These nests are a considerable object of traffic among the Javanese; many of whom are employed in it from their infancy. The birds, after having spent nearly two months in preparing their nests, lay each two eggs, which are hatched in about fifteen days. When the young birds become fledged, it is thought the proper time to seize upon their nests; which is done regularly three times a-year, and is effected by means of ladders of bamboo and reeds, by which the people descend into the caverns: but when these are very deep, rope ladders are preferred. This operation is attended with much danger; and several perish in the attempt. The inhabitants of the mountains generally employed in this business, begin always by sacrificing a Buffalo; which custom is observed by the Javanese on the eve of every extraordinary enterprize. They also pronounce some prayers, anoint themselves with sweet-scented oil, and smoke the entrance of the cavern with gum-benjamin. Near some of the caverns a tutelar goddess is worshipped; whose priest burns incense, and lays his protecting hands on every person preparing to descend. A flambeau is carefully prepared at the same time, with a gum which exudes from a tree growing in the vicinity, and which is not easily extinguished by fixed air or subterraneous vapours.”

Synonyms.—Hirundo Esculenta. Linn.—Salangane. Buff.—Esculent Swallow. Latham.

⁕1 About twenty-five pounds.

⁕2 In his Account of the Embassy to China.

Notes and Corrections: The Esculent Swallow

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Hirundo esculenta is not only not Hirundo, it is not even a swallow. “Edible-nest swiftlets” are Aerodramus fuciphagus (“airborne seaweed-eater”) with many subspecies. The genus as a whole is a fairly large one in family Apodidae, swifts, in the same order as hummingbirds.

Although the bird’s population is declining slightly, its conservation status is currently listed as “Least Concern”. Fortunately, bird’s nests—unlike, say, silkworm cocoons—can easily be harvested after the young birds are fledged.

Authors differ much as to the materials of which this nest is composed
[In fact it is none of the suggested materials, but the bird’s own saliva. If you think this sounds revolting, follow my example and go settle your stomach with a spoonful of bee vomit.]

sea-worms of the Mullusca class
spelling unchanged
[When we come to mollusks in Volume III, the spelling will be the expected Mollusca.]


engraving of Common Swift, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. X plate 8:
Common Swift


The Swift is a large species; being often near eight inches long, with an extent of wing near eighteen inches, though the whole weight of the bird is not more than an ounce. The feet are so small, that the actions of walking and rising from the ground seem very difficult; Nature has, however, made the bird ample compensation, by furnishing it with abundant means for an easy and continual flight. It spends more of its time on the wing than any other Swallow, and its flight is more rapid. It breeds under the eaves of houses, in steeples, and other lofty buildings; and makes its nest of grass and feathers.

The feet of this Swallow are of a particular structure, all the toes standing forward. The least toes consist of only one bone; the others of two each; in which they differ from the toes of all other birds: this is, however, a construction nicely adapted to the purposes in which the feet of these birds are employed.

engraving of Swift, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 259:

The Swift visits us the latest, and leaves us the soonest, of any of the tribe: it does not often arrive before the beginning of May, and seldom remains later than the middle of August.

It is the most active of all birds: being on the wing, in the height of summer, at least sixteen hours in the day; withdrawing to rest, in the longest days, about a quarter before nine in the evening, some time after II.370 all the other day-birds are gone. Just before they retire, large groupes of them assemble high in the air, screaming, and shooting about with wonderful rapidity. This bird is, however, never so alert as in sultry louring weather; when it expresses great alacrity, and calls forth all its powers.

In hot mornings, the Swifts collect together in little parties, and dash round the steeples and churches, squeaking at the same time in a very clamorous manner. These are supposed to be the males, serenading the sitting hens; as they seldom make this noise till they come close to the walls or eaves, and those within always utter in return a faint note of complacency. When the hen has been occupied all the day in sitting, she rushes forth, just before it is dark, to relieve her weary limbs; she snatches a scanty meal for a few minutes, and then returns to her task of incubation.

Swifts, when shot while they have young, are found to have a little cluster of insects in their mouths, which they pouch and hold under their tongue. In general, they fly and feed higher in the air than the other species. They also range to vast distances; for motion is but a slight labour to them, endowed as they are with such wonderful powers of wing. Sometimes in the summer they may, however, be observed hawking very low, for hours together, over pools and streams; in search of the Cadew-flies, May-flies, and Dragon-flies,⁕1 that frequent the banks and surface of waters, and which II.371 afford them a plentiful and succulent nourishment.—Sometimes they pursue and strike at birds of prey when they are sailing about in the air; but they do not express so much vehemence and fury on these occasions as the Swallows.

Swifts differ from all the other British hirundines, in breeding but once in the summer, and in producing no more than two young ones at a time.

The main body of these birds retire from this country before the middle of August, generally by the tenth, (which is but a short time after the flight of their young,) and not a single straggler is to be seen on the twentieth. This early retreat is totally unaccountable, as that time is often the most delightful in the year. But what is yet more extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia; where they can by no means be influenced by any defect of heat, or even (as one would suppose) of food. This is one of those incidents in natural history, which not only baffle our researches, but elude all our conjectures.

In the month of February 1766, a pair of Swifts were found adhering by their claws, and in a torpid state, under the roof of Longnor Chapel, in Shropshire: on being brought to the fire, they revived, and moved about the room.

The voice of the Swift is a harsh scream; yet there are few ears to which it is not pleasing, from an agreeable association of ideas, since it is never heard but in the most lovely summer weather. These birds never settle on the ground unless by accident, from the difficulty they have in walking, or rather (as it II.372 may be called) in crawling; but they have a strong grasp with their feet, by which they readily cling to walls and other places that they frequent. Their bodies being flat, they can enter a very narrow crevice; and where they cannot pass on their bellies, they will turn up edgewise to push themselves through.⁕2

Synonyms.—Hirundo Apus. Linn.—Martinet Noir. Buff.—Black Martin or Swift, Willughby.—Deviling. Bewick.——Bew. Birds p. 259.

⁕1 Phryganeæ, Ephemeræ, and Libellulæ of Linnæus.

⁕2 White’s Selborne.

Notes and Corrections: The Black Martin, Or Swift

Hirundo apus (“footless swallow”) is now Apus apus, the flagship of its genus. And of its family, Apodinae. And of its order, Apodiformes. Unlike Passeriformes—which accounts for at least half of all the birds we have met so far—it is not a very large order. Its best-known other member is Trochilidae, the hummingbird family.

large groupes of them assemble high in the air
spelling unchanged

[Footnote] Phryganeæ, Ephemeræ, and Libellulæ of Linnæus.
[All described in the Insects section of Volume III.]


The Pigeons constitute a tribe that forms a connecting link between the Passerine Birds and the Poultry.—They are much dispersed over the world, some of the species being found even in the arctic regions. Their principal food is grain: they drink much; and not at intervals like other birds, but by a continued draught, like the quadrupeds. During the breeding time they associate in pairs, and pay court to each other with their bills. The female lays two eggs, and the young that are produced are for the most part a male and a female. They usually breed more than once in the year; and the parent birds divide the labour of incubation by sitting alternately on the eggs.

Both the male and female assist in feeding their young. This, in most of the species with which we are acquainted, is done by means of a substance in appearance not unlike curd, and analogous to milk in quadrupeds, that is secreted in their crop. During incubation, the coats of the crop are gradually enlarged II.373 and thickened, like what happens to the udders of female quadrupeds during the time of uterine gestation. On comparing the state of the crop when the bird is not sitting, with its appearance on these occasions, the difference is found to be very remarkable. In the first case it is thin and membranous; but when the young are about to be hatched, it becomes thicker, and takes a glandular appearance, having its internal surface very irregular.—Whatever may be the consistence of this substance when just secreted, it probably very soon coagulates into a granulated white curd; and in this form it is always found in the crop. If an old Pigeon be killed just when the young ones are hatching, the crop will be found as above described, having in its cavity pieces of white curd mixed with the common food of the bird, such as barley, peas, &c.—The young Pigeons are fed for a little while with this substance only: about the third day some of the common food is to be found along with it. As the Pigeon grows older, the proportion of common food is increased; so that by the time it is seven, eight, or nine days old, the secretion of the curd ceases in the old ones, and of course no more is found in the crop of the young.—It is a curious fact, that the parent Pigeon has at first a power to throw up this curd without any mixture of common food; although afterwards both are thrown up in the proportion required for the young ones.⁕1


Pigeons have a weak, slender bill, straight at the base; with a soft protuberance, in which the nostrils are situated. The legs are short, and in most of the species red; and the toes are divided to the origin.—The voice of these birds is plaintive and mournful.

⁕1 What is here termed curd, is not literally such, but is so called from its much resembling that substance in appearance. Hunter on Anim. Econ. p. 235

Notes and Corrections: The Pigeon Tribe

With this, we are finally and decisively through with Passeriformes. Pigeons are an order of their own, Columbiformes, made up of just two families. The Columbidae family is broken into several subfamilies, among them your basic Columbinae, “dove-type-things”. (The other family, Raphidae, consists of two genera with three species—all extinct—between them. One of the three is, or was, Raphus cucullatus, the dodo.)

a substance . . . analogous to milk in quadrupeds, that is secreted in their crop
[This is really true. In pigeons it is known as “crop milk”; flamingos and emperor penguins produce something similar.]

engraving of Stock Pigeon, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 1:
Stock Pigeon


This bird, from being the parent stock whence all the varieties of the Domestic-pigeon are derived, is often called the Stock-dove. It is still found in many parts of our island in a wild state: forming its nest in holes of rocks, and old towers, and in the hollows of trees; but never, like the Ring-dove, on the boughs.

Multitudes of Wild-pigeons visit us in the winter, from their more northerly summer retreats; appearing about November, and again retiring (except a few that breed with us) in the spring. While the beech woods were suffered to cover large tracts of ground, these birds used to haunt them in myriads, frequently extending above a mile in length as they went out in a morning to feed.

engraving of Wild Pigeon, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 267:

In a state of domestication, these Pigeons are rendered of very material service. They frequently breed eight or nine times in a year; and though only two eggs are laid at a time, their increase is so rapid and prodigious, that at the expiration of four years, the produce and descendants of a single pair may amount to the immense number of nearly fifteen thousand.


The usual way to entice Pigeons to remain at a required spot, is to place what is called a salt-eat near them: this is composed of loam, old rubbish, and salt, and will so effectually answer the purpose as to decoy even those belonging to other places; it is on this account held illegal.

We have a singular anecdote related of the effect of music on a Pigeon; by Mr. John Lockman, in some reflections concerning operas, prefixed to his musical drama of Rosalinda. This person being at the house of Mr. Lee, a gentleman who lived in Cheshire, and whose daughter was a fine performer on the harpsichord, he observed a Pigeon, which, whenever the young lady played the song of “Speri si,” in Handel’s opera of Admetus, (and this only,) would descend from an adjacent dove-house, to the room-window where she sat, and listen to it apparently with the most pleasing emotions; and when the song was finished, it always returned immediately to the dove-house.

There are upwards of twenty varieties of the Domestic-pigeon; and of these the Carriers are the most justly celebrated. They obtained their name from the circum­stance of their conveying letters and small packets from one place to another.

It is through attachment to their native place, and particularly to the spot where they have brought up their young, that they are thus rendered useful to mankind. The bird is conveyed from its home to the place whence the information is intended to be sent; the letter is tied under its wing, and it is let II.376 loose. From the instant of its liberation, its flight is directed through the clouds, at an amazing height, to its home: by an instinct altogether inconceivable, it darts onward in a straight line to the very spot from whence it was taken; but how it can direct its flight so exactly, will probably for ever remain unknown to us.

These birds are not now rendered of the same use as formerly, in carrying letters from governors in besieged cities to generals about to relieve them; from princes to their subjects, with tidings of some fortunate event; or from lovers to their mistresses with the dictates of their passion; nor, since the executions at Tyburn have ceased, will they again be let loose the moment the fatal cart is drawn away, to notify to distant friends the departure of the unhappy criminal.

The rapidity of their flight is very wonderful. Lithgow assures us that one of them will carry a letter from Babylon to Aleppo (which, to a man, is usually a thirty days journey) in forty-eight hours.—To measure their speed with some degree of exactness, a gentleman some years ago, on a trifling wager, sent a Carrier-pigeon from London by the coach to a friend at St. Edmund’s-bury; and along with it a note, desiring that the Pigeon two days after its arrival there, might be thrown up precisely when the town clock struck nine in the morning. This was accordingly done; and the Pigeon arrived in London, and flew into the Bull-inn, in Bishopsgate-street, at half an hour past eleven o’clock, of the same morning, having flown seventy-two miles in two hours and a half.⁕1


The Carrier-pigeon is easily distinguished from the other varieties, by a broad circle of naked white skin round the eyes, and by its dark blue or blackish colour.

Synonyms.—Columba Oenas. Linn.—Stock-dove. Penn.—Rockier. Montagu.——Bew. Birds p. 267.

⁕1 Annual Register for 1765.

Notes and Corrections: The Wild Pigeon

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Columba oenas, the stock dove, still has that name. But Bingley and his sources have probably conflated it with Columba livia, the common pigeon or rock dove. The domesticated subspecies, C. livia domestica, includes homing pigeons.

the song of “Speri si,” in Handel’s opera of Admetus
[That would be Admeto, re di Tessaglia. But the closest match I can find to the named song is “Gioia si, speri si” from Handel’s Scipione. The title role was written for a castrato, which does not make modern performance easy.]

[Synonyms] Rockier, Montagu.
[Montagu gives “rockier” as a provincial name for the Rock Pigeon, Columba livia.]

engraving of Ring Dove, no later than 1827

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 270:


These are the largest of all the British Pigeons, generally weighing about twenty ounces; and may at once be distinguished by their size from all the rest. They build on the branches of trees, generally preferring those of the pine. The nest is large and open, formed principally of dried sticks; and the eggs, which may be frequently seen through the bottom of the nest, are larger than those of the Domestic-pigeon.

The food of this, as well as of the other species, is principally grain: but a neighbour of the Rev. Mr. White, of Selborne, shot a Ring-dove as it was returning from feeding, and going to roost; and when his wife had picked and drawn it, she found its craw stuffed with the most nice and tender tops of turnips.

Hence we may see that granivorous birds, when their usual kinds of subsistence fail, can feed on the leaves of vegetables. There is indeed reason to suppose, that they would not be long healthy without these substances; for Turkies, though corn-fed, delight in a variety of plants, such as cabbage, lettuce, endive, &c.; and poultry pick much grass; while II.378 Geese live for months together on commons by grazing alone.

Nought is useless made.

————————On the barren heath

The shepherd tends his flock; that daily crop

Their verdant dinner from the mossy turf

Sufficient; after them, the cackling Goose,

Close-grazer, finds wherewith to ease her wants.

Attempts have frequently been made to domesticate these birds, by hatching their eggs in dove-houses under the common Pigeon; but as soon as the young ones were able to fly, they always escaped to their proper haunts. Mr. Montagu was at considerable pains in endeavours of this nature; and though he so far tamed them within doors, as to have them become exceedingly troublesome, yet he never could produce a breed, either by themselves, or with the tame Pigeon. Two bred up together with a male Pigeon, were so tame as to eat out of the hand; but as they shewed no signs of breeding in the spring, they were, in the month of June, suffered to take their liberty, by the window of the room being left open in which they were confined. It was supposed, that the Pigeon might induce them to return to their usual place of abode, either for food or to roost; but from that moment they assumed their natural habits, and nothing more was seen of them, although the Pigeon remained.—This gentleman bred up a curious assemblage of birds, which lived together in perfect amity: it consisted of a common pigeon, a Ring-dove, a White-owl, and a Sparrow-hawk; and the Ring-dove was master of the whole.⁕1


About the beginning of winter, the Ring-doves assemble in great flocks, and leave off cooing. The multitude thus collected during that season, is so disproportioned to those which continue here the whole year, as to render it certain that much the greatest part of them quit the country in the spring. It is most probable that these go into Sweden and the adjoining countries, to breed; and return thus far southwards in autumn, from being unable to sustain the rigours of that climate in the winter months. They again begin to coo in March; soon after which those that are left among us commence their preparations for breeding.

Synonyms.—Columba palumbus. Linn.—Le Pigeon Ramier. Buff.—Queest, Cushat, or King Dove. Willughby.—Ring Pigeon. Latham.—Wood Pigeon. Montagu.——Bew. Birds p. 270.

⁕1 Montagu; art. Dove, Ring.

Notes and Corrections: The Ring Dove

Columba palumbus, the wood pigeon, still has that name.

Nought is useless made.
[For variety’s sake, not Thomson’s Seasons but John Philips (1676–1708), Cider. (Really.) The long dash represents two skipped lines:

Thus nought is useless made; nor is there land,

But what, or of itself, or else compell’d,

Affords advantage. On the barren heath

The shepherd tends . . .

and so on.]


Is about the size of the Common Pigeon. Its bill is black. Round the eyes there is a crimson mark; and the head, throat, and upper parts of the body, are ash-coloured. The sides of the neck are of a glossy, variable purple. The fore part of the neck and breast are vinaceous; and the under parts are the same, but paler. The tail is tolerably long. The legs are red, and the claws black.

The Passenger Pigeons visit the different parts of North America, in enormous flocks. In the southern provinces their numbers depend greatly on the mildness or severity of the season; for in very mild weather few or none of them are to be seen. Actuated by necessity, they change their situations in search of II.380 acorns, mast, and berries, which the warmer provinces yield in vast abundance. When they alight, the ground is quickly cleared of all esculent fruits; to the great injury of the Hog, and other mast-eating animals. After having devoured every thing that has fallen on the surface, they form themselves into a great perpen­dicular column; and fly round the boughs of trees, from top to bottom, beating down the acorns with their wings; and they then, in succession, alight on the earth, and again begin to eat.⁕1

“I think,” says Mr. Blackburne, in a letter to Mr. Pennant, “that these are as remarkable birds as any in America. They are in vast numbers in all parts; and have been of great service, at particular times, to our garrisons, in supplying them with fresh meat, especially at the out-posts. A friend told me, that in the year in which Quebec was taken, the whole army were supplied with this subsistence, if they chose it. The way was this. Every man took his club, (for they were forbid to use their firelocks,) when they flew, as it was termed, in such quantities, that each person could kill as many as he wanted. They in general begin to fly soon after day-break, and continue till nine or ten o’clock; and again about three in the afternoon, and continue till five or six: but what is very remarkable, they always fly westerly. The times of flying here are in the spring, about the latter end of February or the beginning of March, and they continue every day for eight or ten days; and again in the fall, when they II.381 appear at the latter end of July or the beginning of August. The inhabitants catch vast quantities of them in clap-nets, with stale Pigeons. I have seen them brought to the market at New York by sackfuls. People in general are very fond of them, and I have heard many say that they think them as good as our Common Blue Pigeon: but I cannot agree in this opinion; the flesh tastes most like our Queest, or Wild Pigeon, but is better meat. Sir William Johnston told me, that at one shot, with a blunderbuss, he killed above a hundred and twenty.

“I must remark one singular fact: that notwithstanding the whole people of a town go out a pigeoning, as they call it, they do not, on some days, kill a single hen bird; and on the very next day, not a single cock, (and yet both sexes always fly westerly:) and when this is the case, the people are always assured that there will be a great quantity of them that season.”⁕2

They were so numerous when La Hontan was in Canada, that the bishop, he says, had been compelled more than once to exorcise them formally, on account of the damage they committed. Many of the trees were said to have had more Pigeons on them than leaves, in this migration; and for eighteen or twenty days, it was supposed sufficient might have been killed to supply food for a thousand men.⁕3

Mr. Weld, who very lately travelled through the States of North America, informs us that a gentleman of the town of Niagara assured him, that once as he was embarking there on board a ship for Toranto, II.382 a flight of them was observed coming from that quarter; that as he sailed over the lake Ontario to Toranto, forty miles distant from Niagara, Pigeons were seen flying over-head the whole way in a contrary direction to that in which the vessel proceeded; and that on his arriving at the place of his destination, the birds were still observed coming down from the north in as large bodies as had been noticed at any time during the whole voyage. Supposing therefore that the Pigeons moved no faster than the vessel, the flight, according to this gentleman’s account, must have extended at least eighty miles.⁕4

During their migrations, these Pigeons are very fat. It is a singular fact, that Mr. St. John found in the craw of one of them some undigested rice, when the nearest rice-fields were at least 560 miles from his habitation. He naturally concluded that either they must fly with the celerity of the wind, or else digestion must be in a great measure suspended during their flight.⁕5

The Indians often watch the roosting-places of these birds; and knocking them on the head in the night, bring them away by thousands. They preserve the oil, or fat; which they use instead of butter. There was formerly scarcely any little Indian town in the interior parts of Carolina, where a hundred gallons of this oil might not at any time be purchased.⁕6


By the colonists they are generally caught in a net extended on the ground; to which they are allured by tamed Pigeons of their own species, that are blinded, and fastened to a long string. The short flights and repeated calls of the shackled birds, never fail either to excite their curiosity, or bring some of them down to attempt their relief; when they are immediately inclosed. Every farmer has a tamed Pigeon in a cage at his door all the year round, to be ready against the season of their flight.⁕7

M. du Pratz, when he was in America, placed under their roosting-trees vessels filled with flaming sulphur, the fumes of which brought them to the ground in immense numbers.

Synonyms.—Columba Migratoria. Linn.—Pigeon de Passage. Buff.—Pigeon of Passage. Catesby.—Passenger, or Migratory Pigeon. Penn.

⁕1 Du Pratz, 279.

⁕2 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. p. 1.

⁕3 La Hontan, i. 61.

⁕4 Travels in North America.

⁕5 Letters of an American Farmer, 37.

⁕6 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 4.

⁕7 Hector St. John, 37.

Notes and Corrections: The Passenger Pigeon

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Columba migratoria is now Ectopistes migratorius, a single-species genus in the Columbinae subfamily. Make that a zero-species genus, because this is the bird that was famously hunted to extinction in the course of the 19th century, in spite of its “enormous flocks”.

acorns, mast, and berries
[Two different dictionaries, British and American, tell me that “mast” is a general term for acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts and the like, especially when eaten by pigs. To Bingley it must have had a narrower meaning.]

but what is very remarkable, they always fly westerly
[At some other latitude, do they always fly easterly so as to end up where they started? Or are we to suppose they circle the globe, always in a clockwise direction?]

the bishop, he says, had been compelled more than once to exorcise them formally
[We previously met animal exorcisms in Volume I, in the section on the Lemming.]

as he was embarking there on board a ship for Toranto
spelling unchanged


engraving of Common Turkey, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 8:
Common Turkey


Of the present tribe two species only have been hitherto discovered; one (which is that known in this country) in America, and the other in the more retired parts of India.

The bill in both is convex, short, and strong. The head and neck, or throat, and sometimes all three, are covered with naked carunculated flesh, the skin of which is flaccid and membranaceous. The tail is broad, and the birds have the power of expanding it.

⁕1 The Linnean order of Gallinaceous Birds commences here.—In these the bill is convex, the upper mandible lying in an arch over the lower one; and the nostrils are arched over with a cartilaginous membrane. The feet are formed for running, without a back toe; and the toes are rough underneath.—The principal genera are the Pheasants, Turkies, Peacocks, Bustards, Pintadoes, and Grouse.—They live mostly on the ground; scraping the earth with their feet, and feeding on grain and seeds, which are macerated in a crop previously to digestion. They usually associate in families consisting of one male and several females. The nests are formed, with very little art, on the ground; and the females lay a great number of eggs: they generally lead their young ones very early in quest of food, which they point out to them by a particular call. The flesh is much esteemed.

In the Peacock tribe I find nothing that is either pleasing or deser­ving of attention, except a beautiful plumage. The species so well known in our country, is a native of the East. Its voice is a loud and disgusting scream; and the damage it does to plants in our gardens, is scarcely compensated by its elegant appearance there.

Notes and Corrections: The Turkies

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Go all the way up the line to subclass Neognathae, one of the two major divisions of birds. Everything we have met so far was in infraclass Neoaves (“modern birds”); now we get the other infraclass, Galloanserae (“chicken-and-goose-type-things”). This leads to order Galliformes, superfamily Phasianoidea (“pheasant-type things”), family Phasianidae, and finally subfamily Meleagridinae, containing the single genus Meleagris.

There are two species of Meleagris—but not the two Bingley had in mind, since turkeys are strictly a North American bird. In fact, by the time Shaw’s General Zoology got to turkeys, in Volume XI, they had already been cut back to one species. The one Bingley assigns to “the more retired parts of India” is probably some kind of grouse or pheasant.

Trivia: The word meleagris actually means “guineafowl”, since Latin couldn’t be expected to have a name for a purely American bird. (The common guineafowl, in case anyone wondered, is Numida meleagris.)

Throughout this section, spanning the best-known game birds, aspiring poachers will find much useful and instructive information.

[Footnote] The principal genera
[Linnaeus was mistaken about bustards, but everything else is spot-on. Peafowl are in the same family as turkeys, but a different subfamily, most closely related to pheasants.]

[Footnote] In the Peacock tribe I find nothing that is either pleasing or deserving of attention
[Spoiler: This is the book’s first, last and only mention of peafowl. Bingley seems to have disliked them far more than their behavior warrants.]


engraving of Turkey, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 286:


The Common Turkey is a native of North America, and was introduced from thence into England in the reign of Henry the Eighth. According to Tusser’s “Five hundred Pointes of good Husbandrie,” it began about the year 1585 to form an article in our rural Christmas feasts:

Beefe, mutton, and porke, shred pies of the best,

Pig, veale, goose and capon, and turkie well drest,

Cheese, apples, and nuts, jolly carols to heare,

As then in the countrie is counted good cheare.

The Turkey is one of the most difficult birds to rear of any that we have; and yet in its wild state it is found, in great plenty, in the forests of Canada that are covered with snow above three-fourths of the year.

The hunting of these birds forms one of the principal diversions of the natives of that country. When they have discovered the retreat of the Turkies, which in general is near fields of nettles⁕1 or where there is plenty of any kind of grain, they send a well-trained dog into the midst of the flock. The birds no sooner perceive their enemy, than they run off at full speed, and with such swiftness that they leave the dog far behind. He, however, follows; and, as they cannot go at this rate for any length of time, at last forces them to take shelter in a tree: where II.386 they sit, perfectly spent and fatigued, till the hunters come up, and with long poles knock them down one after another.

Turkies are among themselves extremely furious, and yet against other animals they are generally weak and cowardly. The domestic Cock often makes them keep at a distance; and the latter seldom venture to attack him but with united force, when the Cock is rather oppressed by their weight than annoyed by their weapons. There have, however, occurred instances in which the Turkey-cock has not been found wanting in prowess:—A gentleman of New York received from a distance a Turkey-cock and hen, and a pair of Bantams, which he put into his yard with other poultry. Some time after, as he was feeding them from the barn-door, a large Hawk suddenly turned the corner of the barn, and made a pitch at the Bantam-hen: she immediately gave the alarm, by a noise which is natural to her on such occasions; when the Turkey-cock, who was at the distance of about two yards, and no doubt understood the Hawk’s intentions and the imminent danger of his old acquaintance, flew at the tyrant with such violence, and gave him so severe a stroke with his spurs when about to seize his prey, as to knock him from the hen to a considerable distance; and the timely aid of this faithful auxiliary completely saved the Bantam from being devoured.⁕2

To this I can add another instance (though very II.387 different in its nature) of the gallantry of the Turkey-cock; which also affords a singular example of deviation from instinct. In the month of May 1798, a female Turkey belonging to a gentleman in Sweden was sitting upon eggs; and as the cock in her absence began to appear uneasy and dejected, he was put into the place with her. He immediately sat down by her side; and it was soon found that he had taken some eggs from under her, which he covered very carefully. The eggs were put back, but he soon afterwards took them again. This induced the owner, by way of experiment, to have a nest made, and as many eggs put in as it was thought the cock could conveniently cover. The bird seemed highly pleased with this mark of confidence; he sat with great patience on the eggs, and was so attentive to the care of hatching them as scarcely to afford himself time to take the food necessary for his support. At the usual period, twenty-eight young ones were produced; and the cock, who was in some measure the parent of this numerous offspring, appeared perplexed on seeing so many little creatures picking around him, and requiring his care. It was however thought proper not to entrust him with the rearing of the brood, lest he should neglect them; they were therefore taken away and reared by other means.⁕3

The disposition of the female is in general much more mild and gentle than that of the male. When leading out her young family to collect their food, II.388 though so large and apparently so powerful a bird, she gives them very little protection against the attacks of any rapacious animal that comes in her way. She rather warns them to shift for themselves, than prepares to defend them. “I have heard a Turkey-hen, when at the head of her brood, (says the abbé de la Pluche,) send forth the most hideous scream, without my being able to perceive the cause: her young, however, immediately when the warning was given, skulked under the bushes, the grass, or whatever else seemed to offer shelter or protection. They even stretched themselves at their full length on the ground, and continued lying motionless as if dead. In the mean time the mother, with her eyes directed upwards, continued her cries and screaming as before. On looking up, in the direction in which she seemed to gaze, I discovered a black spot just under the clouds, but was unable at first to determine what it was: however, it soon appeared to be a bird of prey, though at first at too great a distance to be distinguished. I have seen one of these animals continue in this agitated state, and her whole brood pinned down as it were to the ground, for four hours together; whilst their formidable foe has taken his circuits, has mounted, and hovered directly over their heads: at last, upon his disappearing, the parent changed her note, and sent forth another cry, which in an instant gave life to the whole trembling tribe, and they all flocked round her with expressions of pleasure as if conscious of their happy escape from danger.”⁕4


It appears that in the wilds of America the Turkey grows to a much larger size than with us. Josselyn says, that he has eaten part of a turkey-cock which, after it was plucked and the entrails were taken out, weighed thirty pounds.⁕5 Lawson, whose authority is unquestionable, saw half a Turkey serve eight hungry men for two meals, and says that he had seen others which he believed would each weigh forty pounds.⁕6 Some writers even assert that instances have occurred of Turkies weighing no less than sixty pounds.

The females lay their eggs in spring, generally in some retired and obscure place; for the cock, enraged at the loss of his mate while she is employed in hatching, is apt otherwise to break them. They sit on their eggs with so much perseverance, that, if not taken away, they will almost perish with hunger before they will entirely leave the nest. They are exceedingly affectionate to their young.⁕7

Turkies are bred in great numbers in Norfolk, Suffolk, and some other counties, from whence they are driven to the London markets in flocks of several hundreds. The drivers manage them with great facility, by means of a bit of red rag tied to the end of a long stick; which, from the antipathy these birds bear to that colour, effectually answers the purpose of a scourge.

In a wild state Turkies are gregarious; and associate in flocks, sometimes of five hundred. They frequent II.390 the great swamps of America, to roost; but leave these situations at sunrise, to repair to the dry woods in search of acorns and berries. They perch on trees, and gain the height they wish by rising from bough to bough: they generally mount to the summits of even the loftiest, so as to be often beyond musket-shot.⁕8 They are very swift runners: but fly awkwardly; and about the month of March, they become so fat that they cannot fly beyond three or four hundred yards, and are then easily run down by a horseman.

It is very seldom indeed that wild Turkies are now seen in the inhabited parts of America: and they are only found in any great numbers, in the distant and most unfrequented parts.—If the eggs of these be hatched under tame Turkies, the young are said still to retain a certain degree of wildness, and to perch separate from the others: yet they will mix and breed together in the season. The Indians sometimes use the breed produced from the wild birds, to decoy within their reach those still in a state of nature.

The Indians make an elegant clothing of the feathers. They twist the inner webs into a strong double string with hemp, or the inner bark of the mulberry-tree, and work it like matting. This appears very rich and glossy, and as fine as silk shag. The natives of Louisiana make fans of the tail; and of four tails joined together the French used formerly to construct a parasol.⁕9

Synonyms.—Meleagris gallo-pavo. Linn.—Dindon. Buff.—New England Wild Turkey. Ray.——Bew. Birds, p. 286.

⁕1 Turkies are particularly fond of the seeds of nettles. The seeds of the fox-glove are a deadly poison to them.

⁕2 American Medical Repository.

⁕3 New Transactions of the Academy of Sciences at Stockholm.

⁕4 Buffon’s Birds.

⁕5 New England’s Rarities, p. 8.

⁕6 Lawson’s Carolina, p. 149, and 27.

⁕7 Phil. Tran. vol. lxxi. p. 67.

⁕8 Lawson, 45.

⁕9 Phil. Tran. vol. lxxi. p. 67.—Lawson, p. 18 and 149.—Du Pratz, p. 277.

Notes and Corrections: The American Or Common Turkey

Meleagris gallo-pavo (“chicken-peacock”) still has that binomial, give or take a hyphen. (The other turkey, based in Mesoamerica, is Meleagris ocellatus.)

The Turkey is one of the most difficult birds to rear
word “to” invisible

the antipathy these birds bear to that colour
[I don’t know about antipathy. But turkeys, unlike bulls, can see color.]


engraving of Pheasant, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 282:


The characters of the present tribe are a short, convex, and strong bill; the head more or less covered with carunculated bare flesh on the sides, which in some species is continued upwards to the crown, and beneath so as to hang pendant under each jaw; and the legs, for the most part, furnished with spurs.

The females produce many young ones at a brood; which they take care of for some time, leading them abroad and pointing out food for them. These are at first clad with a thick, soft down. The nests of the whole tribe are formed on the ground.

Notes and Corrections: The Pheasant Tribe

Pheasants are another subfamily, Phasianinae, in the same family as turkeys.

engraving of Common Pheasant, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 13:
Common Pheasant


This beautiful bird can scarcely be said to be found in a state of nature in Great Britain. It is, however, very common in almost all the southern parts of the Old Continent, from whence it was originally imported into our country. In America it is not known.

Pheasants are much attached to the shelter of thickets and woods where the grass is very long; but, like the Partridges, they often breed also in clover fields. They form their nests on the ground: and the females lay from twelve to fifteen eggs, which are smaller than those of the domestic hen. In the mowing of clover near the woods frequented by II.392 Pheasants, the destruction of their eggs is sometimes very great. In some places, therefore, game-keepers have directions to hunt them from these fields as soon as they begin to lay, until their haunt is broken and they retire into the corn. Poultry hens are often kept ready for sitting on any eggs that may be exposed by the scythe; and with care, numbers are thus rescued from destruction. The nest is usually composed of a few dry vegetables put carelessly together; and the young follow the mother like Chickens, as soon as they break the shell.—The Pheasants and their brood remain in the stubbles and hedge-rows, if undisturbed, for some time after the corn is ripe. If disturbed, they seek the woods, and only issue thence in the mornings and evenings to feed in the stubbles.—They are very fond of corn: they can, however, procure a subsistence without it; since they often feed on the wild berries of the woods, and on acorns.

In confinement the female neither lays so many eggs, nor hatches and rears her brood with so much care and vigilance, as in the fields out of the immediate observation of Man. In a mew she will very rarely dispose them in a nest or sit upon them at all. Indeed, in the business of incubation and rearing the young, the Domestic hen is generally made a substitute for the hen Pheasant.

The wings of these birds are very short, and ill adapted for consi­derable flights. On this account, the Pheasants on the island called Isola Madre in the Lago Maggiore at Turin, as they cannot fly over the lake are altogether imprisoned. When they attempt to cross the lake, unless picked up by the boatmen, they are always drowned.


The Pheasant is in some respects a very stupid bird. On being roused, it will often perch on a neighbouring tree; where its attention will be so fixed on the dogs, as to suffer the sportsman to approach very near. It has been asserted, that the Pheasant imagines itself out of danger whenever its head only is concealed. Sportsmen, however, who will recount the stratagems that they have known old cock Pheasants adopt in thick and extensive coverts, when they have found themselves pursued, before they could be compelled to take wing, will convince us that this bird is by no means deficient in at least some of the contri­vances necessary for its own preservation.

As the cold weather draws on, the Pheasants begin to fly at sunset into the branches of the oak-trees, for roosting during the night. This they do more frequently as the winter advances, and the trees lose their foliage. The male birds, at these times, make a noise, which they repeat three or four times, called by sportsmen, cocketing. The hens, on flying up, utter one shrill whistle, and then are silent. Poachers avail themselves of these notes, to discover the roosting places, where (in woods that are not well watched) they shoot them with the greatest certainty. Where woods are watched, the poacher, by means of phosphorus, lights a number of brimstone matches; and the moment the sulphureous fumes reach the birds, they drop into his possession. Or he fastens a snare of wire to the end of a long pole; and by means of this, drags them, one by one, from the trees. He sometimes too catches these II.394 birds in nooses made of wire, or twisted horsehair, or even with a briar set in the form of a noose, at the verge of a wood. The birds entangle themselves in these, as they run, in the morning or evening, into the adjacent fields to feed. Foxes destroy great numbers of Pheasants.

The males begin to crow the first week in March. This noise can be heard at a considerable distance.—They will occasionally come into farm-yards in the vicinity of coverts where they abound, and sometimes produce a cross breed with the common fowls.

It has been contended that Pheasants are so shy as not to be tamed without great difficulty. Where, however, their natural fear of Man has been counteracted from their having been bred under his protection; and where he has almost constantly appeared before their eyes in their coverts; they will come to feed immediately on hearing the keeper’s whistle. They will follow him in flocks; and scarcely allow the pease to run from his bag into the troughs placed for the purpose, before they begin to eat. Those that cannot find room at one trough, follow him with the same familiarity to others.

Pheasants are found in most parts of England; but are not plentiful in the north; and they are seldom seen in Scotland. Wood, and corn lands, seem necessary to their existence.—Were it not for the exertions of gentlemen of property, in preserving these birds in their woods from the attacks of sportsmen, it is more than probable that in the course of a few years the breed would be extinct. II.395 The demand for them at the tables of the luxurious, and the easy mark they offer to the sportsman, parti­cularly since the art of shooting flying has been generally practised, would soon complete their destruction. Mr. Stackhouse, of Pendarvis in Cornwall, informs me that above forty years ago, he recollects hearing old people say, that in their youth, and in the generation before them, Pheasants were very plentiful in that county. The race has here been long unknown.

The general weight of male Pheasants is from two pounds and twelve ounces, to three pounds and four ounces. That of the hens is usually about ten ounces less.

The female birds have sometimes been known to assume the elegant plumage of the male. But with Pheasants in a state of confinement, those that take this new plumage always become barren, and are spurned and buffeted by the rest. From what took place in a hen Pheasant, in the possession of a lady, a friend of Sir Joseph Banks, it would seem probable that this change arises from some alteration of temperament at a late period of the animal’s life. This lady had paid particular attention to the breeding of Pheasants. One of the hens, after having produced several broods, moulted, and the succeeding feathers were exactly those of a cock. This animal never afterwards had young ones.—Similar observations have been made respecting the Pea-hen. Lady Tynte had a favourite pied Pea-hen, which at eight several times produced chicks. Having moulted when about eleven years old, the lady and her family were II.396 astonished by her displaying the feathers peculiar to the other sex, and appearing like a pied Peacock. In this process the tail, which was like that of the cock, first appeared. In the following year she moulted again, and produced similar feathers. In the third year she did the same, and then had also spurs resembling those of the cock. The hen never bred after this change of her plumage. She is now preserved in the Leverian Museum.⁕1

Synonyms.—Phasianus colchicus. Linn.—Faisan. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 282.

⁕1 Daniel, ii. 385.—Montagu; art. Pheasant, Common.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Pheasant

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Phasianus colchicus, the common pheasant or ring-neck pheasant, still has that binomial.

In America it is not known.
[At one time there was a Phasianus americanus, which certainly sounds American. But the name hasn’t been seen since 1915, so it must have been reclassified, if not utterly discarded as a nomen nudum. Today you can find pheasants in North America—as well as in New Zealand and Australia—but only because they’ve been introduced.]

the females lay from twelve to fifteen eggs
text has fiften

engraving of “Domestic Cock”, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 276:


The Domestic Cock differs very much from the wild descendants of its primitive stock; which are said to inhabit the forests of India, and most of the islands of the Indian seas.

His beautiful plumage and undaunted spirit, as well as his great utility, have rendered him a favourite in all countries where he has been introduced. His courage is scarcely to be subdued by the most powerful assailants; and though he should die in the effort, he will defend his females against enemies that are much stronger than himself.

“I have just witnessed (says the Comte de Buffon) a curious scene. A Sparrow-hawk alighted in a populous court-yard: a young Cock of this year’s hatching instantly darted at him, and threw him on his back. In this situation the Hawk defending himself with his talons and his bill, intimidated the Hens and Turkies, which screamed tumultuously II.397 round him. When he had a little recovered himself, he rose and was taking wing; when the Cock rushed upon him a second time, overturned him, and held him down so long that he was caught.”⁕1

The Cock is very attentive to his females, hardly ever losing sight of them. He leads, defends, and cherishes them; collects them together when they straggle; and seems to eat unwillingly till he sees them feeding around him. Whenever any strange Cock appears within his domain, he immediately attacks the intruder, and if possible drives him away.

His jealousy does not, however, seem to be altogether confined to his rivals: it has been sometimes observed to extend even to his beloved female; and he appears capable of being actuated by revenge, founded on suspicions of her conjugal infidelity. Dr. Percival, in his Dissertations, relates an incident which happened not long ago at the seat of a gentleman near Berwick, that justifies this remark. “My mowers,” says this gentleman, “cut a Partridge on her nest; and immediately brought the eggs (fourteen) to the house. I ordered them to be put under a very large beautiful hen, and her own to be taken away. They were hatched in two days, and the hen brought them up perfectly well till they were five or six weeks old. During that time they were constantly kept confined in an out-house, without being seen by any of the other poultry. The door happening to be left open, the Cock got in. My housekeeper hearing the Hen in distress, ran to her assistance; II.398 but did not arrive in time to save her life. The Cock, finding her with the brood of Partridges, had fallen upon her with the utmost fury, and killed her. The housekeeper found him tearing her with both his beak and spurs; although she was then fluttering in the last agony, and incapable of any resistance. This Hen had formerly been the Cock’s greatest favourite.”

The patience and perseverance of the Hen in hatching, is truly extraordinary. She covers her eggs with her wings, fostering them with a genial warmth; and often turns them and changes their situations, that all their parts may receive an equal degree of heat. She seems to perceive the importance of her employment; and is so intent in her occupation, as to neglect in some measure even the necessary supplies of food and drink. In about three weeks the young brood burst from their confinement; when in her present character of a mother, from the most cowardly and voracious she becomes (in the protection of her young) the most daring and abstemious of all animals. If she casts her eyes on a grain of corn, a crumb of bread, or any aliment, though ever so inconsiderable, that is capable of division, she will not touch the least portion of it; but gives her numerous train immediate notice of her success by a peculiar call, which they all understand. They flock in an instant around her, and the whole treasure is appropriated to them. Though by nature timid, and apt to fly from the smallest assailant; yet when marching at the head of her brood she is a heroine, is fearless of danger, and will fly in the face of the fiercest animal that offers to annoy her.


As the chickens reared by the Hen bear no proportion to the number of eggs she produces, many artificial schemes of rearing have been attempted. The most successful, though by no means the most humane, is said to be where a capon is made to supply the place of a hen. He is rendered very tame; the feathers are plucked from his breast, and the bare parts are rubbed with nettles. The chickens are then put to him; and by their running under his breast with their soft and downy bodies, his pain is so much allayed, and he feels so much comfort to his featherless part, that he soon adopts them, feeding them like a Hen, and assiduously performing all the functions of the tenderest parent.

Chickens have long been hatched in Egypt by means of artificial heat. This is now chiefly practised by the inhabitants of a village called Berme, and by those who live at a little distance from it. Towards the beginning of autumn, these persons spread themselves all over the country; and each of them is ready to undertake the management of an oven. These ovens are of different sizes, each capable of containing from forty to eighty thousand eggs; and the number of ovens in different parts is about three hundred and eighty-six. They are usually kept in exercise for about six months; and as each brood takes up twenty-one days in hatching, it is easy in every one of them to produce eight different broods of Chickens in the year.

The ovens where these eggs are placed, are of the most simple construction; consisting only of a low arched apartment of clay. Two rows of shelves are II.400 formed, and the eggs are placed on these in such a manner as not to touch each other. They are slightly moved five or six times in every twenty-four hours. All possible care is taken to diffuse the heat equally throughout; and there is but one aperture, just large enough to admit a man stooping. During the first eight days the heat is rendered great; but during the last eight it is gradually diminished, till at length, when the young brood are ready to come forth, it is reduced almost to the state of the natural atmosphere. At the end of the first eight days it is known which of the eggs will be productive.

Every person who undertakes the care of an oven, is under the obligation only of delivering to his employer two-thirds of as many chickens as there have been eggs given to him; and he is a gainer by this bargain, as it always happens, except from some unlucky accident, that many more than that proportion of the eggs produce chickens.

A calculation has been made of the number of chickens thus hatched every year in Egypt, on the supposition that upon an average only two-thirds of the eggs are productive, and that each brood consists of at least 30,000 chickens; and from this it appears that the ovens in Egypt give life annually to almost a hundred millions of these animals.

This useful and advantageous mode of hatching eggs, was introduced into France by the ingenious M. de Reaumur; who, by a number of experiments, reduced the art to certain principles. He found that the degree of heat necessary for producing all kinds of domestic fowls was the same; the only difference II.401 consisting in the time during which it ought to be communicated to the eggs: it will bring the Canary-bird to perfection in eleven or twelve days, while the Turkey-poult requires twenty or twenty-eight.

M. de Reaumur found that stoves heated by means of pipes from a baker’s oven, or the furnaces of glass-houses, succeeded better than those made hot by layers of dung, the mode preferred in Egypt. These should have their heat kept as nearly equal as possible; and the eggs should be frequently removed from the sides into the middle, in order that each may receive an equal portion.—After his eggs were hatched, he had the offspring put into a kind of low boxes without bottoms, and lined with fur; whose warmth supplied the place of a hen, and in which the Chickens could at any time take shelter. These were kept in a warm room till the Chickens acquired some strength; they then could be placed with safety, exposed to the open air, in a court-yard.

As to the mode in which the young brood are fed—they are generally a whole day after being hatched, before they take any food at all; and then a few crumbs of bread are given for a day or two, after which time they begin to pick up insects and grain for themselves. But in order to save the trouble of attending them, Capons are taught to watch them in the same manner as Hens. M. de Reaumur says, that he has seen above two hundred Chickens at once, all led about and defended by only three or four Capons. It is asserted that even Cocks may be taught to perform this office; which they will continue to do all their lives afterward.


The progress of the incubation of the Chicken in the natural way, is a subject too curious and too interesting to be passed over without notice. The Hen has scarcely sat on the egg twelve hours, when some lineaments of the head and body of the Chicken appear. The heart may be seen to beat at the end of the second day: it has at that time somewhat the form of a horse-shoe, but no blood yet appears. At the end of two days, two vesicles of blood are to be distinguished, the pulsation of which is very visible: one of these is the left ventricle, and the other the root of the great artery. At the fiftieth hour, one auricle of the heart appears, resembling a noose folded down upon itself. The beating of the heart is first observed in the auricle, and afterwards in the ventricle. At the end of seventy hours, the wings are distinguishable; and on the head two bubbles are seen for the brain, one for the bill, and two others for the fore and hind part of the head. Towards the end of the fourth day, the two auricles, already visible, draw nearer to the heart than before. The liver appears towards the fifth day. At the end of a hundred and thirty-one hours, the first voluntary motion is observed. At the end of seven hours more, the lungs and stomach become visible; and four hours after this, the intestines, the loins, and the upper jaw. At the hundred and forty-fourth hour, two ventricles are visible, and two drops of blood instead of the single one which was seen before. The seventh day, the brain begins to have some consistence. At the hundred and ninetieth hour of incubation, the bill opens, and the II.403 flesh appears in the breast; in four hours more, the breast-bone is seen; and in six hours after this, the ribs appear forming from the back, and the bill is very visible, as well as the gall-bladder. The bill becomes green at the end of two hundred and thirty-six hours; and if the Chicken is taken out of its coverings, it evidently moves itself. The feathers begin to shoot out towards the two hundred and fortieth hour, and the scull becomes gristly. At the two hundred and sixty-fourth hour, the eyes appear. At the two hundred and eighty-eighth, the ribs are perfect. At the three hundred and thirty-first, the spleen draws near the stomach, and the lungs to the chest. At the end of three hundred and fifty-five hours, the bill frequently opens and shuts; and at the end of the eighteenth day, the first cry of the Chicken is heard. It afterwards gets more strength, and grows continually till at length it is enabled to set itself free from its confinement.

In the whole of this process, we must remark that every part appears exactly at its proper time; if, for example, the liver is formed on the fifth day, it is founded on the preceding situation of the Chicken, and on the changes that were to follow. No part of the body could possibly appear either sooner or later, without the whole embryo suffering; and each of the limbs becomes visible at the fit moment. This ordination, so wise and so invariable, is manifestly the work of a Supreme Being: but we must still more sensibly acknowledge his creative powers, when we consider the manner in which the Chicken is formed out of the parts which compose the egg. II.404 How astonishing must it appear to an observing mind, that in this substance there should be, at all, the vital principle of an animated being! That all the parts of an animal’s body should be concealed in it, and require nothing but heat to unfold and quicken them! That the whole formation of the Chicken should be so constant and regular! That, exactly at the same time, the same changes will take place in the generality of eggs! That the Chicken, the moment it is hatched, is heavier than the egg was before! But even these are not all the wonders in the formation of the bird from the egg (for this instance will serve to illustrate the whole of the feathered tribes): there are others, altogether hidden from our observation; and of which, from our very limited faculties, we must ever remain ignorant.

I cannot take leave of this animal, without a few observations on the savage diversion of cock-fighting; which even still (to the disgrace of a Christian nation), is encouraged, not merely by the lowest and meanest, but even by some that are stationed in the highest ranks of society. The Shrove-Tuesday massacre of throwing at these unfortunate animals is, indeed, almost discontinued; but the cock-pit yet remains a reproach to the characters of Englishmen. The refinements which in this country have taken place in the pitting of these courageous birds against each other, would strike almost the rudest of the savage tribes of mankind with horror. The Battle-royal and the Welsh-main would scarcely be tolerated by any nation of the world. In the former, an unlimited number of Cocks are pitted, II.405 of which only the last-surviving bird is accounted the victor. Thus, suppose there were at first sixteen pair of Cocks: of these, sixteen are killed; the remaining sixteen are pitted a second time; the eight conquerors of these are pitted a third time; the four conquerors a fourth time; and lastly, the two conquerors of these the fifth time: so that (incredible barbarity!) thirty-one Cocks must be inhumanly murdered in a single battle, for the sport and pastime of men who bear the sacred name of Christians!

Are these your sovereign joys, Creation’s lords?

Is death a banquet for a godlike soul?

The greatest rivals of the English in the practice of cock-fighting, are the inhabitants of Sumatra and some other parts of the East. They indeed pay, perhaps, a greater attention to the training and feeding of these birds than we ever did, even when that diversion was at its height among us. They arm one of the legs only, not with a slender gaff as we do, but with a little implement in the form of a scymiter, with which the animals make the most terrible destruction. The Sumatrians fight their Cocks for vast sums: a man has been known to stake his wife or his children; a son his mother or sisters; on the issue of a battle. In disputed points, four arbitrators are appointed; and if they cannot agree, there is no appeal but to the sword. Some of them have a notion that their Cocks are invulnerable: a father on his death-bed has, under this persuasion, been known to direct his son to lay his whole property II.406 on a certain bird, fully persuaded of consequent success.⁕2

Synonyms. Phasianus Gallus. Linn.—Coq commun. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 276.

⁕1 Buffon’s Birds.

⁕2 Marsden, 234.—Penn. Outlines, ii. 270.

Notes and Corrections: The Domestic Cock

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Phasianus gallus is now the head of its own genus as Gallus gallus, in the same subfamily as pheasants and peafowl. This is nothing new; a number of Linnaeus’s contemporaries had already declared Gallus as a separate genus.

I cannot take leave of this animal, without a few observations
[This is not the first time that our author has spent an inordinate amount of time describing something he says is too horrible to describe.]

Are these your sovereign joys
[Edward Lovibond (d. 1775), On Rural Sports.]


The birds of this tribe known in Great Britain, are the different species of Grous, Partridges, and Quails. Of these the Grous are inhabitants chiefly of bleak and mountainous tracts of country. To defend them from the effects of cold, their legs are feathered down to the toes. The nostrils are small, and are hidden under the feathers. Their legs are very stout, and their tail generally long. Partridges and Quails inhabit warmer and more cultivated parts of the country. Their tail is short, and their nostrils are covered with a hard prominent margin.

They have all strong, convex bills; and some of the species have a naked scarlet skin above each eye.—The flesh of all the species is brown, but is excellent food.

Notes and Corrections: The Grous Tribe

Grouse and ptarmigans are Tetraoninae, a third subfamily (after turkeys and pheasants) of Phasianidae. Genus Tetrao, which gave its name to the subfamily, is now limited to capercailzies.


The size of this bird is between that of a Pheasant and a Partridge. The bill is brownish. The head is crested; and, as well as all the upper parts, is variegated with different tints of brown mixed with black. II.407 The feathers on the neck are long and loose; and may be erected at pleasure, like those of the Cock. The throat and the fore part of the neck are orange brown; and the rest of the under parts yellowish white, having a few curved marks on the breast and sides. The tail consists of eighteen feathers; all of which are crossed with narrow bars of black, and one broad band of the same near the end. The legs are covered to the toes (which are flesh-coloured, and pectinated on the sides) with whitish hairs.

The Ruffed Grous has hitherto been found only on the New Continent. It is a fine bird when his gaiety is displayed; that is, when he spreads his tail like that of a Turkey-cock, and erects the circle of feathers round his neck like a ruff, walking very stately with an even pace, and making a noise somewhat like a Turkey. This is the moment that the hunter seizes to fire at him; for if the bird sees that it is discovered, it immediately flies off to the distance of some hundred yards before it again settles.

There is something very remarkable in what is called the thumping of these birds. This they do, as the sportsmen tell us, by clapping their wings against their sides. They stand upon an old fallen tree, that has lain many years on the ground; in which station they begin their strokes gradually, at about two seconds of time from one another, and repeat them quicker and quicker until they make a noise not unlike distant thunder. This continues from the beginning about a minute; the bird ceases for six or eight minutes, and then begins again. The sound is often heard at the distance of nearly half a mile; II.408 and sportsmen take advantage of this note, to discover the birds, and shoot them. The Grous commonly practise their thumping during the spring and fall of the year; at about nine or ten o’clock in the morning, and four or five in the afternoon.

The history of these birds is thus farther illustrated by Mr. Brooke, of Maryland in North America. “They lay their eggs, from twelve to sixteen in number, in nests which they make either by the side of fallen trees, or the roots of standing ones. I have found their nests when a boy; and have endeavoured to take the old bird, but never could succeed: she would let me put my hand almost upon her before she would quit her nest; then by artifice she would draw me off from her eggs, by fluttering just before me for a hundred paces or more, so that I have been in constant hopes of taking her. When the nestlings are hatched, and a few days old, they hide themselves so artfully among the leaves, that it is difficult to find them.”⁕1

Synonyms.—Tetrao umbellus. Linn.—Coq de bruyere à fraise. Buff.—Ruffed Heathcock. Edwards.—Ruffed Grous. Latham.

⁕1 Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 333.—La Hontan.

Notes and Corrections: The Ruffed Grous

Tetrao umbellus now has a genus all to itself as Bonasa umbellus.

engraving of “Black Grous”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 19:
Black Grous


These birds were formerly to be found in great abundance in the north of England, but they have now become very scarce. This is owing to various causes; but principally to the great improvement in the art of shooting-flying, and to the inclosure of waste lands. Some few are yet found in Wales; and in particular parts of the New Forest in Hampshire II.409 they are in tolerable plenty, being preserved as royal game, and always excepted in the warrants to kill game there. They are partial to moun­tainous and woody situations, far removed from the habitations of men.

Their food is various; but principally consists of the mountain fruits and berries, and in winter the tops of heath. It is somewhat remarkable that cherries and pease are fatal to these birds. They perch and roost in the same manner as the Pheasant.

The Black Grous never pair; but in the spring the males assemble at their accustomed resorts on the tops of heathy mountains, when they crow and clap their wings. The females at this signal resort to them. The males are very quarrelsome, and Tight together like game-cocks. On these occasions they are so inattentive to their own safety, that it has often happened that two or three have been killed at one shot; and instances have occurred of their having been knocked down with a stick.

The female forms an artless nest on the ground; and lays six or eight eggs of a dull yellowish white colour, marked with numerous very small ferruginous specks, and towards the smaller end with some blotches of the same. These are hatched very late in the summer. The young males quit their parent in the beginning of winter, and keep together in flocks of seven or eight till the spring.

engraving of “Black Grouse”, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 298:

These birds will live and thrive in menageries, but they have not been known to breed in a state of confinement. In Sweden, however, a spurious breed has sometimes been produced with the Domestic Hen.


In Russia, Norway, and other extreme northern countries, the Black Grous are said to retire under the snow during winter.—The shooting of them in Russia is thus conducted. Huts full of loop-holes, like little forts, are built for this purpose, in woods frequented by these birds. Upon the trees within shot of the huts, are placed artificial decoy birds. As the Grous assemble, the company fire through the openings; and so long as the sportsmen are concealed, the report of the guns does not frighten the birds away. Several of them may therefore be killed from the same tree, when three or four happen to be perched on branches one above another. The sportsman has only to shoot the undermost bird first, and the others upward in succession. The uppermost bird is earnestly employed in looking down after his fallen companions, and keeps chattering to them till he becomes the next victim.

During the winter the inhabitants of Siberia take these birds in the following manner. A number of poles are laid horizontally on forked sticks, in the open birch forests. Small bundles of corn are tied on these, by way of allurement; and at a little distance some tall baskets of a conical shape are placed, having their broad part uppermost. Just within the mouth of each basket, is placed a small wheel; through which passes an axis so nicely fixed, as to admit it to play very readily, and on the least touch either on one side or the other to drop down and again recover its situation. The Black Grous are soon attracted by the corn on the horizontal poles. The first comers alight upon them, II.411 and after a short repast, fly to the baskets, and attempt to settle on their tops; when the wheel drops sideways, and they fall headlong into the trap. These baskets are sometimes found half-full of birds thus caught.

The weight of an old black cock is nearly four pounds; but that of the female is not often more than two.⁕1

Synonyms.—Tetrao tetrix. Linn.—Heath-cock, Black Game, or Grous. Will.—Black Cock. Penn.——Bew. Birds, vol. i. p. 298.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 266—Daniel, ii. 413.

Notes and Corrections: The Black Grous

Tetrao tetrix is now Lyrurus tetrix, the Eurasian black grouse.

[Synonyms] Bew. Birds, vol. i. p. 298
[Volume II of Bewick’s Birds was not published until after this second edition of Bingley. But he must have learned that it was in preparation; one or two later footnotes will also specify “vol. i.”]

engraving of Red Ptarmigan, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 20:
Red Ptarmigan


The heathy and mountainous parts of the northern counties of England are in general well stocked with Red Grous. These birds are likewise very common in Wales, and the Highlands of Scotland; but they have not yet been observed in any of the countries of the Continent.

In winter they are usually found in flocks of sometimes forty or fifty, which are termed by sportsmen, packs; and become remarkably shy and wild. They keep near the summits of the heathy hills, seldom descending to the lower grounds. Here they feed on the mountain berries, and on the tender tops of the heath.

engraving of Red Grouse, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 301:

They pair in spring; and the females lay from six to ten eggs, in a rude nest formed on the ground. The young brood (which during the first year are called poults) follow the hen till the approach of winter; when they unite with several others into packs.


Red Grous have been known to breed in confinement, in the menagerie of the late Duchess Dowager of Portland. This was in some measure effected by her Grace causing fresh pots of heath to be placed in the menagerie almost every day.

The usual weight of the male bird is about nineteen, and that of the female fifteen, ounces.—The flesh, as in all others of this tribe, is an excellent food, but it very soon corrupts. To prevent this, the birds should be drawn immediately after they are shot.⁕1

Synonyms.—Tetrao Scoticus. Linn. Gmel.—Red Game, Gorcock, or Moorcock. Will.—Moor-fowl, in Scotland.——Bew. Birds, vol. i. p. 301.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 269.—Daniel, ii. 416.

Notes and Corrections: The Red Grous

Tetrao scoticus is probably Lagopus lagopus (“rabbit foot”), the red grouse or willow ptarmigan. But it is not easy to disentangle it from the Ptarmigan or “White Grouse”, below.

engraving of Ptarmigan and (female) Grouse, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 43:
Ptarmigan (right); F. Grous (left)


The Ptarmigan is somewhat larger than a Pigeon. Its bill is black; and its plumage, in summer, is of a pale brown colour elegantly mottled with small bars and dusky spots. The head and neck are marked with broad bars of black, rust-colour, and white. The wings and belly are white.

These birds moult in the winter months, and change their summer dress for one more warm; and, instead of having their feathers of many colours, they then become white. By a wonderful provision every feather also, except those of the wings and tail, becomes double; a downy one shooting out of the base of each; which gives an additional protection against the cold. In the latter end of February II.413 a new plumage begins to appear, first about the rump, in brown stumps: the first rudiments of the coat they assume in the warm season, when each feather is single.⁕1 In answer to enquiries made by Sir Joseph Banks, Dr. Solander, and some other naturalists, from Captain George Cartwright, who resided many years on the coast of Labrador, on the subject of the Grous changing their colour, he says, “I took particular notice of those I killed: and can aver, for a fact, that they get at this time of the year (September) a very large addition of feathers, all of which are white; and that the coloured feathers at the same time change to white. In spring, most of the white feathers drop off, and are succeeded by coloured ones; or, I rather believe, all the white ones drop off, and they get an entirely new set. At the two seasons they change very differently: in the spring beginning at the neck, and spreading from thence; now they begin on the belly, and end on the neck.”⁕2

engraving of White Grouse, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 303:

Their feet, by being feathered entirely to the toes, are protected from the cold of the northern regions.⁕3 Every morning they take a flight directly upwards into the air, apparently to shake the snow from their wings and bodies. They feed in the mornings and evenings, and in the middle of the day they bask in the sun.


About the beginning of October they assemble in flocks of a hundred and fifty or two hundred, and live much among the willows, the tops of which they eat. In December they retire from the flats about Hudson’s-bay to the mountains, where in that month the snow is less deep than in the low lands, to feed on the mountain berries.⁕4

Some of the Greenlanders believe that the Ptarmigans, to provide a subsistence through the winter, collect a store of mountain berries into some cranny of a rock near their retreat. It is, however, generally supposed, that by means of their long, broad, and hollow nails, they form lodges under the snow, where they lie in heaps to protect themselves from the cold. During winter they are often seen flying in great numbers among the rocks.⁕5

engraving of Common Ptarmigan, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 21:
Common Ptarmigan

Though sometimes found in the mountains of the north of Scotland, the Ptarmigans are chiefly inhabitants of that part of the globe which lies about the Arctic Circle. Their food consists of the buds of trees, young shoots of pine, heath, and fruits and berries which grow on the mountains. They are so stupid and silly, as often to suffer themselves without any difficulty to be knocked on the head, or to be driven into any snare that is set for them. They frequently stretch out their neck, apparently in curiosity, and remain otherwise unconcerned, while the fowler takes aim at them: when frightened they fly off; but immediately after alight, and stand staring II.415 at their foe. When the hen bird is killed, it is said that the male will not forsake her, but may then also be killed with great ease. So little alarmed are they at the presence of mankind, as even to bear driving like poultry: yet notwithstanding this apparent gentleness of disposition, it is impossible to domesticate them; for when caught they refuse to eat, and always die soon afterwards.⁕6

Their voice is very extraordinary; and they do not often exert it but in the night. It is very rarely that they are found in Denmark: but by some accident one of these birds, some years ago, happened to stray within a hundred miles of Stockholm, which very much alarmed the common people of the neighbourhood; for from its nightly noise a report very soon arose that the wood where it took up its residence was haunted by a ghost. So much were the people terrified by this supposed sprite, that nothing could tempt the post-boys to pass the wood after dark. The spirit was, however, at last happily removed; by some gentlemen sending their game-keepers into the wood by moonlight, who soon discovered and killed the harmless Ptarmigan.⁕7

Ptarmigans form their nests on the ground, in dry ridges; and lay from six to ten dusky eggs with reddish-brown spots.

The usual method of taking these birds is in nets made of twine, twenty feet square, connected to four poles, and propped with sticks in front. A long line is fastened to these, the end of which is held by II.416 a person who lies concealed at a distance. Several people drive the birds within reach of the net; which is then pulled down, and is often found to cover fifty or sixty of them. They are in such plenty in the northern parts of America, that upwards of ten thousand are frequently caught for the use of the Hudson’s-bay Settlement, between November and May.

They are taken by the Laplanders by means of a hedge formed with the branches of birch trees, and having small openings at certain intervals with a snare in each. The birds are tempted to feed on the buds and catkins of the birch; and whenever they endeavour to pass through the openings, they are instantly caught.

They are excellent food; being said to taste so like the Common Grous, as to be scarcely distinguishable from it.⁕8

Synonyms.—Tetrao lagopus. Linn.—Lagopede. Buff.—White Game. Willughby.—Snicariper. Scheffer.—Snoripa, in Lapland. Consett.—Willow Partridge, about Hudson’s Bay.——Bew. Birds p. 303.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 43.

⁕1 Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 360.

⁕2 Cartwright’s Labrador.

⁕3 Mr. Barrington says, that in summer both their legs and feet are rather bare of plumage; and that although in winter the feathers wrap very closely round the toes, yet none of them spring from beneath. Phil. Tran.

⁕4 Phil. Tran. vol. lxiii. p. 224.

⁕5 Crantz, i. 76.—Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 273.

⁕6 Crantz, i. 76.

⁕7 Consett, 72.

⁕8 Penn. Arct. Zool. i. 362.—Crantz, i. 76.—Scheffer.

Notes and Corrections: The Ptarmigan

Tetrao lagopus is probably Lagopus muta, the rock ptarmigan.

[Synonyms] Snoripa, in Lapland.
[Possibly, but it doesn’t sound especially Lapp (Saami). He’s probably aiming for snørype (Norwegian) or snörypa (Swedish), “snow ptarmigan”.]

in the spring beginning at the neck
text has begin-/ing at line break

engraving of Common Partridge, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 23:
Common Partridge


Is an inhabitant of all the temperate parts of Europe. The extremes of heat and cold are unfavourable to its propagation; and it flourishes best in cultivated countries, living principally on the labours of the husbandman. In Sweden these birds burrow beneath the snow; and the whole covey crowds together under this shelter to guard against the intense cold. In Greenland the Partridge is brown during summer; but as soon as the winter sets in, it becomes clothed with a thick and warm down, and its exterior II.417 assumes the colour of the snows. Near the mouth of the River Oi in Russia, the Partridges are in such quantities, that the adjacent mountains are crowded with them.—These birds have been seen variegated with white, and sometimes entirely white, where the climate could not be supposed to have any influence in this variation, and even among those whose plumage was of the usual colour.

Partridges have ever held a distinguished place at the tables of the luxurious, both in this country and in France. We have an old distich.

If the Partridge had the Woodcock’s thigh,

’Twould be the best bird that e’er did fly.

They pair about the third week in February; and sometimes after pairing, if the weather be very severe, they collect together, and again form into covies. The female lays her eggs, usually from fifteen to eighteen in number, in a rude nest of dry leaves and grass, formed upon the ground:⁕1 these are of a greenish-grey colour. The period of incubation is three weeks. So closely do these birds sit on their eggs when near hatching, that a Partridge with her nest has been carried in a hat to some distance, and in confinement she has continued her incubation, and there produced young ones.⁕2—The great hatch is about the first ten days in June; and the earliest birds begin to fly towards the latter end of that month. The young brood are able to run about as II.418 soon as they are hatched, and they are even sometimes seen incumbered with a piece of the shell sticking to them. The parents immediately lead them to ant-hills, on the grubs of which insects they at first principally feed.

engraving of Partridge, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 305:

At the season when the Partridge is produced, the various species of Ants loosen the earth about their habitations. The young birds therefore have only to scrape away the earth, and they can satisfy their hunger without difficulty. A covey that some years ago invited the attention of the Rev. Mr. Gould, gave him an opportunity of remarking the great delight they take in this kind of food. On his turning up a colony of Ants, and withdrawing to some distance, the parent birds conducted their young to the hill, and fed very heartily. After a few days, they grew more bold, and ventured to eat within twelve or fourteen yards of him. The surrounding grass was high; by which means they could, on the least disturbance, immediately run out of sight, and conceal themselves. The excellence of this food for Partridges may be ascertained from those that are bred up under a Domestic Hen, if constantly supplied with Ants’ grubs and fresh water, seldom failing to arrive at maturity. Along with the grubs it is recommended to give them, at intervals, a mixture of Millepedes, or Wood-lice, and Earwigs, to prevent their surfeiting on one luxurious diet;⁕3 fresh curds mixed with lettuce, chickweed, or groundsel should also be given them.


The affection of Partridges for their young is peculiarly interesting. Both the parents lead them out to feed; they point out to them the proper places for their food, and assist them in finding it by scratching the ground with their feet. They frequently sit close together, covering their young ones with their wings; and from this situation they are not easily roused. If, however, they are disturbed, most persons acquainted with rural affairs know the confusion that ensues. The male gives the first signal of alarm, by a peculiar cry of distress; throwing himself at the same moment more immediately into the way of danger, in order to mislead the enemy. He flutters along the ground, hanging his wings and exhibiting every symptom of debility. By this stratagem he seldom fails of so far attracting the attention of the intruder, as to allow the female to conduct the helpless, unfledged brood, into some place of security.—“A Partridge (says Mr. White, who gives an instance of this instinctive sagacity) came out of a ditch, and ran along shivering with her wings and crying out as if wounded and unable to get from us. While the dam feigned this distress, a boy who attended me, saw the brood, which was small and unable to fly, run for shelter into an old Fox’s hole, under the bank.”—Mr. Markwick relates that “as he was once hunting with a young Pointer, the Dog ran on a brood of very small Partridges. The old bird cried, fluttered, and ran tumbling along just before the Dog’s nose, till she had drawn him to a considerable distance; when she took wing and flew farther off, but not out of the field. On this the II.420 Dog returned nearly to the place where the young ones lay concealed in the grass; which the old bird no sooner perceived, than she flew back again, settled just before the Dog’s nose, and a second time acted the same part, rolling and tumbling about till she drew off his attention from her brood, and thus succeeded in preserving them.”—This gentleman says also, that when a Kite was once hovering over a covey of young Partridges, he saw the old birds fly up at the ferocious enemy, screaming and fighting with all their might to preserve their brood.⁕4

The eggs of the Partridge are frequently destroyed by Weesels, Stoats, Crows, Magpies, and other animals. When this has been the case, the female frequently makes another nest and lays afresh. The produce of these second hatchings are those small birds that are not perfectly feathered in the tail till the beginning of October. This is always a puny, sickly race; and the individuals seldom outlive the rigours of the winter.

It is said that those Partridges which are hatched under a Domestic Hen, retain through life the habit of calling whenever they hear the clucking of Hens.

The Partridge, even when reared by the hand, soon neglects those who have the care of it; and shortly after its full growth, altogether estranges itself from the house where it was bred. This will invariably be its conduct, however intimately it may have connected itself with the place and inhabitants II.421 in the early part of its existence. Among the very few instances of the Partridge’s remaining tame, was that of one reared by the Rev. Mr. Bird. This, long after its full growth, attended the parlour at breakfast and other times, received food from any hand that gave it, and stretched itself before the fire and seemed much to enjoy the warmth. At length, it fell a victim to the decided foe of all favourite birds, a Cat.⁕5

On the farm of Lion Hall, in Essex, belonging to Colonel Hawker, a Partridge, in the year 1788, formed her nest, and hatched sixteen eggs, on the top of a pollard oak tree. What renders this circum­stance the more remarkable is, that the tree had, fastened to it, the bars of a stile, where there was a footpath; and the passengers in going over, discovered and disturbed her before she sat close. When the brood was hatched, they scrambled down the short and rough boughs, which grew out all around from the trunk of the tree, and reached the ground in safety.⁕6

In the year 1798, the following occurrence took place at East Dean in Sussex; which will tend to prove that Partridges have no powers of migration.—A covey of sixteen Partridges being routed by some men at plough, directed their flight across the cliff to the sea, over which they continued their course about three hundred yards. Either intimidated or otherwise affected by that element, the whole were then observed to drop into the water. Twelve of II.422 them were soon afterwards floated to shore by the tide; where they were picked up by a boy, who carried them to Eastbourne and sold them.⁕7

It has long been a received opinion among sportsmen as well as naturalists, that the female Partridge has none of the bay feathers on the breast like the male. This, however, on dissection, has proved to be a mistake: for Mr. Montagu happening to kill nine birds in one day, with very little variation as to the bay mark on the breast, he was led to open them all, and discovered that five of them were females. On carefully examining the plumage, he found that the males could only be known by the superior brightness of colour about the head; which alone, after the first or second year, seems to be the mark of distinction.⁕8

Synonyms.—Tetrao perdix. Linn.—Perdix grise. Buff.——Bew. Birds p. 305.

⁕1 So many as thirty-three eggs have been found in one nest, and of these twenty-three produced young ones. Daniel.

⁕2 This circumstance was related to Mr. Montagu, by a gentleman of undoubted veracity. See Montagu, art. Partridge.

⁕3 Gould on English Ants, p. 98.

⁕4 Markwick’s edition of White’s Works in Natural History, ii. 171.

⁕5 Daniel, ii. 402.

⁕6 Ibid. ii. 400.

⁕7 Daniel, ii. 402.

⁕8 Montagu, art. Partridge.

Notes and Corrections: The Partridge

Partridges are not quite as closely related to grouse as Linnaeus thought. Along with Old World quails, they are subfamily Perdicinae within Phasianidae. Tetrao perdix, the grey partridge, is now Perdix perdix, flagship of both the genus and the subfamily.

engraving of Common Quail, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 24:
Common Quail


Is an inhabitant of nearly all the countries of the world, and in all is esteemed excellent food. In appearance it is so like the Partridge, as sometimes to be called Dwarf Partridge; and in the manners of the two species there is a great resemblance. They feed, form their nest, and rear their young, nearly in the same way. They are, however, in many respects very different. Quails migrate to other countries; they are always smaller; and have not a bare space between the eyes, nor the figure of a horse-shoe on their breasts. The eggs too are less than those of II.423 the Partridge, and very different in colour. Their voices are unlike. Quails seldom live in covies; except when their wants unite the feeble family to their mother, or some powerful cause urges at once the whole species to assemble, and traverse together the extent of the ocean, holding their course to the same distant lands. They are much less cunning than the Partridge; and more easily ensnared, especially when young.

The females lay about ten eggs, in the incubation of which they are occupied three weeks. The eggs are whitish; but marked with ragged, rust-coloured spots. Quails have been supposed, but without foundation, to breed twice in the year.

These birds usually sleep during the day, concealed in the tallest grass; lying on their sides, with their legs extended, in the same spot, even for hours together. So very indolent are they, that a Dog must absolutely run upon them before they are flushed; and when they are forced upon wing, they seldom fly far.—Quails are easily drawn within reach of a net, by a call imitating their cry, which is not unlike the words whit, whit, whit: this is done with an instrument called a quail-pipe.

engraving of Quail, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 308:

They are found in most parts of Great Britain, but no where in any great quantity.—The time of their migration from this country is August or September. They are supposed to winter in Africa; and they return early in the spring. If to the circum­stance of their generally sleeping in the day, is added that of their being seldom known to make their first annual appearance in the day-time, it may be inferred II.424 that they perform their journey by night, and that they direct their course to those countries where the harvest is preparing, and thus change their abode to obtain a subsistence. At their arrival in Alexandria, such multitudes are exposed in the markets for sale, that three or four may be bought for a medina (less than three-farthings). Crews of merchant vessels have been fed upon them; and complaints have been laid at the consul’s office by mariners against their captains, for giving them nothing but Quails to eat.

With wind and weather in their favour, they have been known to perform a flight of fifty leagues across the Black Sea in the course of a night; a wonderful distance for so short-winged a bird.

Such prodigious quantities have appeared on the western coasts of the kingdom of Naples, in the vicinity of Nettuno, that a hundred thousand have in one day been caught within the space of three or four miles. Most of these are taken to Rome; where they are in great request, and are sold at extremely high prices.—Clouds of Quails also alight, in spring, along the coasts of Provence; especially in the lands belonging to the Bishop of Frejus, which border on the sea. Here they are sometimes found so exhausted, that for a few of the first days they may be caught with the hand.—In some parts of the south of Russia they abound so greatly, that at the time of their migration they are caught by thousands, and sent in casks to Moscow and Petersburgh.

We import great quantities of these birds from France, for the table; all of which are males. They II.425 are conveyed by stage-coaches; about a hundred in a large square box, divided into five or six compartments, one above another, just high enough to admit the Quails to stand upright. Were they allowed a greater height than this, they would soon kill themselves; and even with this precaution, the feathers on the top of the head are generally beaten off. These boxes have wire on the fore part, and each partition is furnished with a small trough for food, They may be forwarded in this manner, without difficulty, to great distances.

With respect to these birds having an instinctive knowledge of the precise time for emigration; we have a very singular fact in some young Quails, which having been bred in cages from the earliest period of their lives, had never enjoyed and therefore could not feel the loss of liberty. For four successive years they were observed to be restless, and to flutter with unusual agitations, regularly in September and April; and this uneasiness lasted thirty days at each time. It began constantly about an hour before sunset. The birds passed the whole night in these fruitless struggles; and always on the following day appeared dejected and stupid.

Quails are birds of undaunted courage; and their quarrels often terminate in mutual destruction. This irascible disposition induced the ancient Greeks and Romans to fight them with each other, as the moderns do Game-cocks. And such favourites were the conquerors, that in one instance Augustus punished a prefect of Egypt with death for bringing to his table one of these birds which had acquired celebrity II.426 for its victories. The fighting of Quails is even now a fashionable diversion in China, and in some parts of Italy.⁕1

Synonyms.—Tetrao coturnix. Linn.—Le Caille. Buff.——Bew. Birds, i. p. 308.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. i. 276.—Daniel, ii. 450.—Latham.—Bell, i. 371.

Notes and Corrections: The Quail

Old World quails are several genera in subfamily Perdicinae, alongside partridges. (New World quails are a whole separate family, parallel to Phasianidae.) Tetrao coturnix is now Coturnix coturnix.

This irascible disposition
text has iracible

engraving of Great Bustard, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 314:


The Bustards have a somewhat convex bill, with open and oblong nostrils. The legs are long, and naked above the knees. The feet have only three toes, all placed forward.

There are about twelve different species, all of which are confined to the Old Continent.

Notes and Corrections: The Bustard Tribe

Bustards may look like turkeys, but they’re not even remotely related. Returning to subclass Neognathae, infraclass Neoaves, we get a whole new order, Gruiformes, in which bustards are the family Otididae. (Elsewhere in the order we will later meet cranes, herons and the like.)

engraving of Bustard, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. I plate 44:


This is the largest land-fowl produced in our island, the male often weighing twenty-five pounds and upwards. The length is near four feet, and the breadth nine. The head and neck are ash-coloured. The back is transversely barred with black, and bright rust-colour. The belly is white: and the tail, consisting of twenty feathers, is barred with red and black. The legs are dusky. On each side of the lower mandible of the bill, there is a tuft of feathers about nine inches long.

The female is not much more than half the size of the male. The top of her head is of a deep orange, and the rest of the head brown. Her colours are not II.427 so bright as those of the male, and she wants the tuft on each side of the head. There is likewise another very essential difference between the male and the female: the former being furnished with a sac, or pouch, situated in the fore-part of the neck, and capable of containing above two⁕1 quarts of water; the entrance to which is immediately under the tongue. This singular reservoir was first discovered by Dr. Douglas, who supposes that the bird fills it with water to supply its thirst in the midst of those extensive plains where it is accustomed to wander: it likewise makes a further use of it in defending itself against the attacks of birds of prey; on these occasions it throws out the water with such violence, as not unfrequently to baffle the pursuit of its enemy.

engraving of Great Bustard, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 30:
Great Bustard

This bird makes no nest: but the female lays her eggs in some hole in the ground, in a dry corn-field; these are two in number, as big as those of a Goose, and of a pale olive brown, marked with spots of a deeper colour. If, during her absence from the nest, any one handles or even breathes upon the eggs, she immediately abandons them. The young follow the dam soon after they are excluded from the egg, but are not capable for some time of flying.

The Bustards are, I believe, confined to the Old Continent, and a few of its adjacent islands: and feed on green corn, the tops of turnips, and various other vegetables, as well as on Worms; but they have been known also to eat Frogs, Mice, and young birds of the smaller kind, which they swallow whole. They II.428 are remarkable for their great timidity; carefully avoiding Mankind, and being easily driven away in whole herds by the smallest Dog.

In England they are now and then met with in flocks of fifty or more: they frequent the open countries of the south and east parts, from Dorsetshire as far as the wolds in Yorkshire, and are often seen on Salisbury Plain. They are slow in taking wing, but run with great rapidity; and the young ones are even sometimes coursed and taken by Greyhounds.

Synonyms.—Otis tarda. Linn.—Outarde. Buff.—Bustard. Willughby.——Bew. Birds p. 314.—Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. i. tab. 44.

⁕1 Some writers say seven.—Montagu.

Notes and Corrections: The Great Bustard

Otis tarda still has that binomial. It is the only species in its genus, though there are plenty of other genera in the family. Thanks to a combination of hunting in some areas and habitat loss in others, it is listed as “Vulnerable”, which is conservation-speak for “could be better, could be worse”.


This singular tribe, of which only two species have been yet discovered, stands arranged even in Gmelin’s edition of the Systema Naturæ, among the birds of the next following order, the Waders; but both in its formation and habits it differs so materially from the whole of that tribe, that I have not hesitated to follow the example of Dr. Latham, and to place it here, where it seems with greatest propriety to stand.

The bill is moderately long, having the upper mandible a little convex. The nostrils are oblong, sunk, and pervious. The tongue is cartilaginous, flat, and fringed at the tip. The legs are naked a little above the knees; and the toes are placed three before and one behind.

Notes and Corrections: The Trumpeters

Trumpeters—no relation to trumpeter swans—are genus Psophia in the single-genus family Psophiidae, in the same Gruiformes order as bustards. In other words, Gmelin was right and Latham was wrong. Sorry, Bingley.

only two species have been yet discovered
[There are probably three, the other two being P. leucopetera and P. viridis.]



This bird inhabits the arid mountains and upland forests of some parts of South America. It is twenty-two inches in length; and its legs are five inches high, and completely covered with small scales, which reach two inches above the knee. Its general plumage is black: and the feathers of the head and neck are very short and downy; those of the fore-part of the neck, and upper part of the breast, of a very glossy gilded green, with a reflection of blue in some lights. The feathers between the shoulders are rust-coloured, changing into a pale ash-colour as they pass downwards; they are loose and silky. Those of the scapulars are long; and hang over the tail, which is very short, and consists of twelve blackish feathers. The legs are greenish; and the bill is yellowish green, having the nostrils pervious.

The most characteristic and remarkable property of these birds consists in the wonderful noise which they often make, either of their own accord, or when urged by their keepers. To induce them to this, it is sometimes necessary to entice the bird with a bit of bread to come near; and then making the same kind of sound, which the keepers can well imitate, the bird will frequently be disposed to repeat it. This equivocal noise, which somewhat resembles the moan of Pigeons, is at times preceded by a savage cry, interrupted by a sound approaching that of scherck, scherck. In this way, the bird utters five, II.430 six, or seven times, with precipitation, a hollow voice emitted from within its body, nearly as if one pronounced tou, tou, tou, tou, tou, tou, with the mouth shut, resting upon the last tou . . . . a very long time, and terminating by sinking gradually with the same note. It also much resembles the lengthened doleful noise which the Dutch bakers make by blowing a glass trumpet, to inform their customers when the bread comes out of the oven. This odd sort of tone is probably owing to the extent of the bird’s lungs, and the capacity of their membranaceous cells: and it may probably be communicated through the muscles and teguments of its body, for there appears no proof that it proceeds from its mouth to the external air, which conveys the impulse to the ear.

This bird, when tamed, distinguishes its master and benefactor with marks of affection.—“Having (says Vosmaër) reared one myself, I had an opportunity of experiencing this. When I opened its cage in the morning, the kind animal hopped round me, expanding both his wings, and trumpeting, as if to wish me good-morning. He shewed equal attention when I went out and returned: no sooner did he perceive me at a distance, than he ran to meet me; and even when I happened to be in a boat, and set my foot on shore, he welcomed me with the same compliments, which he reserved for me alone, and never bestowed upon others.”

The Trumpeter is easily tamed, and always becomes attached to its benefactor. When bred up in the house, it loads its master with caresses, and follows his motions; and if it conceives a dislike to II.431 persons on account of their forbidding figure, or of injuries received, it will pursue them sometimes to a considerable distance, biting their legs, and testifying every mark of displeasure. It obeys the voice of its master; and even answers the call of others, to whom it bears no ill-will. It is fond of caresses, and offers its head and neck to be stroked; and if once accustomed to these familiarities, it becomes troublesome, and will not be satisfied without continual fondling. It makes its appearance as often as its master sits down to table: and begins with driving out the Dogs and Cats from the room; for it is so obstinate and bold that it never yields, but often after a tough battle will put a middle-sized Dog to flight. It avoids the bites of its antagonist by rising in the air; and retaliates with violent blows of its bill and nails, aimed chiefly at the eyes: and after it gains the superiority, it pursues the victory with the utmost rancour, and, if not taken off, will destroy the fugitive. By its intercourse with Man, its instincts become moulded like those of Dogs; and we are assured that it can be trained to attend a flock of Sheep. It even shews a degree of jealousy of its human rivals; for when at table it bites fiercely the naked legs of the Negroes and other domestics who come near its master.

Almost all these birds have also a habit of following people through the streets, and out of town; even those whom they have never seen before. It is difficult to get rid of them: if a person enters a house, they will wait his return, and again join him though after an interval of three hours. “I have sometimes II.432 (says M. de la Borde) betaken myself to my heels; but they ran faster, and always got before me; and when I stopped, they stopped also.—I know one that invariably follows all the strangers who enter its master’s house, accompanies them into the garden, takes as many turns there as they do, and attends them back again.”⁕1

In a state of nature this bird, as I have already observed, inhabits the vast forests in the warm climates of America; and it never visits the cleared grounds, nor the settlements. It associates in numerous flocks. It walks and runs, rather than flies; since it never rises more than a few feet from the ground, and then only to reach some short distance, or to gain some low branch. It feeds on wild fruits; and, when surprised in its haunts, makes its escape by the swiftness of its feet, at the same time emitting a shrill cry not unlike that of a Turkey.

Synonyms.—Psophia Crepitans. Linn.—Caracara. Buff.

⁕1 Note communicated to the Comte de Buffon.

Notes and Corrections: The Gold-Breasted Trumpeter

Psophia crepitans, the grey-winged trumpeter, still has that binomial.

nearly as if one pronounced tou, tou, tou, tou, tou, tou, with the mouth shut
[Try pronouncing a vowel—any vowel—with your mouth shut. Go on, try it.]

color picture of “American Ostrich”, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 72:
American Ostrich


In the Ostriches, the bill is straight and depressed. The wings are small in proportion to the size of the body, and altogether useless for flight. The legs are naked above the knee: the number of the toes, in one species, is two, and in the remaining species three; and these are placed forwards.

Notes and Corrections: The Ostrich Tribe

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At the very top of the taxonomy, birds are divided into Neognathae (“new jaws”) and Paleognathae (“old jaws”, otherwise known as ratites). Everything we have met so far, including the turkeys and pheasants, was on the Neognath side. Paleognath birds include order Struthioniformes, which has separate families for ostriches (Africa and, until recently, Asia), rheas (South America), emus (Australia), and a few other large flightless birds such as kiwis and cassowaries. Ostriches are family Struthionidae, consisting of the single genus Struthio, which in turn contains but one species.

Pictured is the “American Ostrich” from Shaw’s Miscellany. Shaw calls it Struthio rhea; it has also gone by Struthio americana, and is now Rhea americana. (There is also a Lesser Rhea or Darwin’s Rhea; anomalously it was formerly placed in a genus of its own as Pterocnemia pennata, but is now called Rhea pennata.)


engraving of Black Ostrich, no later than 1804

Latham Synopsis Vol. III plate 71:
Black Ostrich


The Ostrich stands so very high, as to measure from seven to nine feet from the top of the head to the ground: from the back, however, it is seldom more than three or four feet, the rest of its height being made up by its extremely long neck. The head is small; and, as well as the greater part of the neck, is covered with only a few scattered hairs. The feathers of the body are black and loose; those of the wings and tail are of a snowy white, waved and long, having here and there a tip of black. The wings are furnished with spurs. The thighs and flanks are naked; and the feet are strong, and of a grey-brown colour.

The sandy and burning deserts of Africa and Asia are the only native residences of the Black Ostriches. Here they are seen in flocks, so large as sometimes to have been mistaken for distant cavalry.

There are many circumstances in the economy of this animal which shew it to be peculiarly different from the rest of the feathered race. It seems to form one of the links of union in the great chain of nature, connecting the winged with the four-footed tribes. Its strong-jointed legs, and (if I may venture so to call them) cloven hoofs, are well adapted both for speed and defence. The wings and all its feathers are insufficient to raise it from the ground: its camel-shaped neck is covered with hair: its voice is a kind II.434 of hollow mournful lowing: and it grazes on the plain with the Qua-cha and the Zebra.

engraving of Black Ostrich, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 27:
Black Ostrich

The Ostriches frequently do great damage to the farmers in the interior of Southern Africa; by coming in flocks into their fields, and destroying the ears of wheat so effectually, that in a large tract of land it often happens that nothing but the bare straw is left behind. The body of the bird is not higher than the corn; and when it devours the ears, it bends down its long neck, so that at a little distance it cannot be seen: but on the least noise it rears its head, and generally contrives to escape before the farmer gets within gun-shot of it.

When the Ostrich runs, it has a proud and haughty look; and even when in extreme distress, never appears in great haste, especially if the wind is with it. Its wings are frequently of material use in aiding its escape; for when the wind blows in the direction that it is pursuing, it always flaps them. In this case the swiftest horse cannot overtake it: but if the weather is hot and there is no wind, or if it has by any accident lost a wing, the difficulty of out-running it is not so great.⁕1

The Ostrich is one of the few polygamous birds found in a state of nature; one male being generally seen with two or three, and frequently with five, females. It has been commonly believed that the female Ostrich, after depositing her eggs in the sand, and covering them up, trusts them to be hatched by the heat of the climate, and leaves the young to shift II.435 for themselves. Even the author of the book of Job alludes to the Ostrich, “which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust; and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear; because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.”⁕2—Recent travellers have, however, assured us, that no bird whatever has a stronger affection for her offspring than this, and that none watches her eggs with greater assiduity. It happens, probably, in those hot climates, that there is less necessity for the continual incubation of the female; and she frequently leaves her eggs, which are in no fear of being chilled by the weather: but though she sometimes forsakes them by day, she always carefully broods over them by night; and Kolben, who saw great numbers of these birds at the Cape of Good Hope, affirms that they sit on their eggs like other birds, and that the males and females take this office by turns, as he had frequent opportunities of observing. Nor is it more true that they forsake their young as soon as excluded from the shell. On the contrary, these are not able to walk for several days after they are hatched. During this time the old ones are very assiduous in supplying them with grass and water, and careful to defend them from harm: and will even themselves encounter every danger in their defence. The females which are II.436 united to one male, deposit all their eggs in the same place, to the number of ten or twelve each: these they hatch all together, the male also taking his turn of sitting on them. Between sixty and seventy eggs have sometimes been found in one nest. The time of incubation is six weeks. For want of knowing that the Ostrich is polygamous, Linnæus has suffered an error respecting this bird to slip into his Systema Naturæ, where it is asserted that one female sometimes lays nearly fifty eggs.

M. Le Vaillant informs us, that he started an Ostrich from its nest in Africa, where he found eleven eggs quite warm, and four others at a short distance. Those in the nest had young in them; but his attendants eagerly caught up the detached ones, assuring him that they were perfectly good to eat. They informed him, that near the nest are always placed a certain number of eggs which the birds do not sit upon, and which are designed for the first nourishment of the future young. “Experience (says M. Le Vaillant) has convinced me of the truth of this observation; for I never afterwards met with an Ostrich’s nest, without finding eggs disposed in this manner at a small distance from it.”⁕3

Some time after this, M. Le Vaillant found a female Ostrich on a nest containing thirty-two eggs; and twelve eggs were arranged at a little distance, each in a separate cavity formed for it. He remained near the place some time; and saw three II.437 other females come and alternately seat themselves in the nest; each sitting for about a quarter of an hour, and then giving place to another, who, while waiting, sat close by the side of her whom she was to succeed.

That the Ostriches bear great affection to their offspring, may be inferred from the assertion of Professor Thunberg: that he once rode past the place where a hen Ostrich was sitting on her nest; when the bird sprang up and pursued him, evidently with a view to prevent his noticing her eggs or young. Every time he turned his Horse towards her, she retreated ten or twelve paces; but as soon as he rode on again she pursued him, till he had got to some considerable distance from the place where he started her.⁕4

The nest appears to be merely a hole in the ground, formed by the birds’ trampling the earth for some time with their feet.

If the eggs are touched by any person in the absence of the parents, they immediately discover it by the scent at their return; and not only desist from laying any more in the same place, but trample to pieces with their feet all those that have been left. The natives of Africa, therefore, are very careful in taking part of the eggs away, not to touch any of them with their hands, but always push them out of the nest with a long stick.

In the interior of the eggs are frequently discovered a number of small oval-shaped pebbles, about II.438 the size of a marrow-fat pea; of a pale yellow colour, and exceedingly hard. Mr. Barrow says, he saw in one egg nine, and in another twelve of them.⁕5

This gentleman, who has favoured the world with an excellent description of the south of Africa, says, that the eggs of the Ostrich are there considered as a great delicacy. They are prepared in various ways; but he esteems as best that adopted by the Hottentots. This is simply to bury them in hot ashes; and through a hole made in the upper end, to stir the contents incessantly round till they acquire the consistence of an omlet: prepared in this manner, he says, he often found them an excellent repast in the course of his long journeys over the wilds of Africa.⁕6 These eggs are easily preserved for a great length of time, even at sea; and without any of that trouble of constantly turning them, which is necessary with Hen’s-eggs: this is owing entirely to the thickness and strength of their shells. At the Cape of Good Hope they are usually sold for about sixpence sterling each. From their large size, one of them is sufficient to serve two or three persons at a meal.⁕7

Thunberg saw necklaces and ornaments for the waist, that the Hottentots had made of the shells of the eggs, by grinding bits of them into the form of small rings.⁕8

The Ostrich itself is chiefly valuable for its plumage; and the Arabians have reduced the chace of it II.439 to a kind of science. They hunt it, we are told, on horseback: and begin their pursuit by a gentle gallop; for should they at the outset use the least rashness, the matchless speed of the game would immediately carry it out of their sight, and in a very short time beyond their reach. But when they proceed gradually, it makes no particular effort to escape. It does not go in a direct line, but runs first on one side and then on the other; this its pursuers take advantage of, and by rushing directly onward save much ground. In a few days, at most, the strength of the animal is exhausted; and it then either turns on the hunters and fights with the fury of despair, or hides its head and tamely receives its fate.

Frequently the natives conceal themselves in the skin of one of these birds, and by that means are able to approach near enough to surprise them.

Some persons breed up Ostriches in flocks: for they are tamed with very little trouble; and in their domestic state few animals may be rendered more useful. Besides the valuable feathers which they cast; the eggs which they lay; their skins, which are used by the Arabians as a substitute for leather, and their flesh, which many esteem as excellent food; they are sometimes made to serve the purpose of Horses.

In a tame state, it is very pleasant to observe with what dexterity they play and frisk about. In the heat of the day, particularly, they will strut along the sunny side of a house with great majesty, perpetually fanning themselves with their expanded II.440 wings, and seeming at every turn to admire and be enamoured of their own shadows. During most parts of the day, in hot climates, their wings are in a kind of vibrating or quivering motion, as if designed principally to assuage the heat.

They are very tractable and familiar towards persons who are acquainted with them; but are often fierce towards strangers, whom they frequently attempt to push down, by running furiously upon them; and on succeeding in this effort, they not only peck at their fallen foe with their bills, but strike at him with their feet, with the utmost violence, The inner claw being exceedingly strong. Dr. Shaw says he once saw an unfortunate person who had his abdomen entirely ripped up by one of these strokes. While thus engaged, the Ostriches sometimes make a fierce hissing noise, and have their throats inflated and mouths open. At other times they have a kind of cackling voice, as in some of the poultry; this they use when they have overcome or routed an adversary. During the night they often utter a doleful or hideous cry, somewhat resembling the distant roaring of a Lion, or the hoarse tone of a Bear or an Ox, as if they were in great agony.

They will swallow with the utmost voracity, rags, leather, wood, iron, or stone, indiscriminately. “I saw one at Oran (says Dr. Shaw) that swallowed, without any seeming uneasiness or inconvenience, several leaden bullets, as they were thrown upon the floor, scorching hot from the mould!⁕9


During the time of Mr. Adanson’s residence at Podor, a French factory on the south bank of the river Niger, he says, that two Ostriches, which had been about two years in the factory, afforded him a sight of a very extraordinary nature. These gigantic birds, though young, were of nearly the full size. “They were (he continues) so tame, that two little Blacks mounted both together on the back of the largest. No sooner did he feel their weight, than he began to run as fast as possible, and carried them several times round the village; as it was impossible to stop him, otherwise than by obstructing the passage. This sight pleased me so much that I wished it to be repeated; and, to try their strength, directed a full-grown Negro to mount the smallest, and two others the largest. This burthen did not seem at all disproportioned to their strength. At first they went at a pretty sharp trot; but when they became heated a little, they expanded their wings, as though to catch the wind, and moved with such fleetness that they scarcely seemed to touch the ground. Most people have, one time or other, seen a Partridge run; and consequently must know that there is no man whatever able to keep up with it; and it is easy to imagine, that if this bird had a longer step, its speed would be considerably augmented. The Ostrich moves like the Partridge, with this advantage; and I am satisfied that those I am speaking of would have distanced the fleetest Race-horses that were ever bred in England. It is true, they would not hold out so long as a Horse; but they II.443 would undoubtedly be able to go over the space in less time. I have frequently beheld this sight; which is capable of giving one an idea of the prodigious strength of an Ostrich, and of shewing what use it might be of, had we but the method of breaking and managing it as we do a Horse.”⁕10

Synonyms.—Struthio Camelus. Linn.—Autruche. Buff.—Ostrich. Willughby.

⁕1 Thunberg, ii. 241.

⁕2 Job, ch. 39. ver. 14.-17.

⁕3 The same observation was made by Dr. Shaw, who travelled through Barbary about the beginning of the last century.—Shaw’s Travels, p. 69.

⁕4 Thunberg, ii. 242.

⁕5 Professor Thunberg was informed, that in the eggs a kind of stone was sometimes found, which was set and used for buttons.—Travels, i. 178.

⁕6 Barrow, 94.

⁕7 Thunberg, i. 301.

⁕8 Thunberg, ii. 176.

⁕9 Shaw’s Travels, p. 68, 69.

⁕10 Voyage to Senegal.

Notes and Corrections: The Black Ostrich

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Struthio camelus, the ostrich, still has that binomial. It is the only species in its family. Bingley’s sources apparently didn’t bother to mention that only the males are black-and-white; female ostriches are brown.

The Ostrich is one of the few polygamous birds
[As usual, when Bingley says “polygamous” he means polygynous. (Polyandry in birds is admittedly very rare, most often seen among shorebirds.)]

the author of the book of Job alludes to the Ostrich
[The book of Job is generally believed to be the oldest part of the Bible. But no particular antiquity is required here, since ostriches didn’t disappear from southwest Asia until well into the 20th century.]

to the

Those marked with an * are varieties of some other species; and those printed in Italics are Synonyms.

AIGLE, grand 185
Allouette 329
Alp 321
Amsel 307
Ara vert 229
Autruche 433
Balbuzzard 192
Baldbuzzard 192
Banana bird 264
Bank martin 363
Bayas 318
Bec croise 313
Bengal Sparrow 318
Bird of Paradise Tribe 266
—— greater 267
—— Oiseau de Paradis 267
Birds 149
Blackbird 307
Black game 408
Blue Hawk 198
Bouillot, ou chantre 345
Brasilian green Macaw 220
—— Pie 234
Bulfinch 321
Buse 193
Bustard Tribe 426
—— great 426
—— Outarde 426
Butcherbird, great 214
Buzzard, common 193
Canary-bird 328
Cap-more 265
Caracara 429
Cardinal du Cape de bonne Espérance 316
Carolina tyrant 217
Chardonneret 326
Choucas 253
Chouette, ou grand cheveche 211
Commandeur 262
Condur 165
Coq, commun 396
—— de bruyere 406
Coracias 260
Corbeau 237
Corbine 242
Cornish Chough 260
Cornwall Kae 260
Coucou 269
Coucou, indicateur 277
Cou-jaune 338
Crake, water 303
Creeper Tribe 292
—— common 292
—— red 295
—— Grimpereau 292
—— Ox-eye 292
—— Ciseau rouge à bec de Grimpereau 295
Crick à tete et gorge jaune 231
Cross-bill 313
Crow Tribe 237
—— Raven 237
—— carrion 242
—— Rook 246
—— Jackdaw 253
—— Jay 255
—— Magpie 257
—— cinereous 259
—— red-legged 260
—— Choucas 253
—— Coracias 260
—— Corbeau 237
—— Corbine 242
—— Cornish Chough 260
—— Cornwall Kae 260
—— Freux, ou Frayonne 246
—— Geay 255
—— —— brun de Canada 259
—— Geeza 259
—— Killegrew 260
—— Pianet 257
—— Pie 257
—— water 303
—— Whiskey Jack 259
Cuckoo Tribe 268
—— common 269
—— bee 277
—— Moroc 277
—— Coucou 269
—— —— indicateur 277
—— Honey Guide 277
Cul blanc 340
Cushat 377
Deviling 369
Dindon 385
Eagle, bearded 180
—— golden 185
—— bearded bastard 180
—— fishing 192
—— sea 192
Effraie, ou Fresaie 208
Epervier 200
Faisan 391
Falcon Tribe 172
—— secretary 174
—— Bearded Eagle 180
—— Golden Eagle 185
—— Osprey 192
—— Common Buzzard 193
—— Hen Harrier 198
—— Sparrow Hawk 200
—— chaunting 201
—— Balbuzzard 192
—— Bald buzzard 192
—— Bearded bastard Eagle 180
—— Blue Hawk 198
—— Buzzard 193
—— Epervier 200
—— Fishing Eagle 192
—— —— Hawk 192
—— Grand Aigle 185
—— Lammer-geyer 180
—— Le Faucon Chanteur 201
—— Oiseau S. Martin 198
—— Orn 185
—— Sea Eagle 192
—— Secretaire 174
—— Secretary 174
—— Vulturine Eagle 180
Fallow Smich 340
Faucon chanteur 201
Fieldfare 306
Finch Tribe 323
—— common Sparrow 323
—— Goldfinch 326
—— Canary 328
—— Chardonneret 326
—— House Sparrow 323
—— Moineau Franc 323
—— Serin des Canaries 328
—— Thistlefinch 326
Fishing Hawk 192
Freux, ou Frayonne 246
Geay 255
—— brun de Canada 259
Geeza 259
Gillibowter 208
Goldfinch 326
Goresch 411
Grand duck 205
—— moqueur 308
—— pic noir a bec blanc 283
Grimpereau 292
Grosbeak Tribe 313
—— Cross-bill 313
—— cardinal 315
—— grenadier 316
—— Abyssinian 317
—— Bengal 318
—— sociable 319
—— Bulfinch 321
—— Alp 321
—— Bayas 317
—— Bec croise 313
—— Bengal Sparrow 318
—— Cardinal du Cape de bonne Esperance 316
—— Grosbec d’ Abyssine 317
—— —— de Virginie 315
—— Indian 318
—— Nope 321
—— Orchef 318
—— red 315
—— Red hoop 321
—— Shell apple 313
—— Tonney-hoop 321
—— Yellow-heuded Indian Sparrow 318
—— d’ Abyssinie 317
—— de Virginie 315
Grous Tribe 406
—— ruffed 406
—— black 408
—— red 411
—— Ptarmigan 412
—— Partridge 416
—— Quail 422
—— Coq de Bruyere 406
—— Lagopede 412
—— Perdix grise 400
—— Ruffed Heathcock 406
—— Snicariper 412
—— Snoripa 412
—— White Game 412
—— Willow Partridge 412
Guinea Sparrow 222
Hawk, blue 198
—— fishing 192
—— Sparrow 200
Heathcock 408
Hen Harrier 198
Hirondelle a croupien blanc, ou de fenêtre 358
—— de Chimenee, ou Hirondelle domestique 351
—— de Rivage 363
Honeysucker, red-throated 296
Howlet 208
Humming-bird Tribe 295
—— red-throated 296
—— Red-throated Honey-sucker 296
—— Rubis 296
Jackdaw 253
Jay 253
Indian bird, scarlet feathered 262
Killegrew 260
Kingfisher Tribe 288
—— common 288
—— European 288
—— Martin pecheur ou Alcyon 288
Kitty wren 343
Lagopede 412
Lammer geyer 180
Lark Tribe 329
—— ſky 329
—— allouette 329
—— field 329
Littorne ou Tourdelle 306
Macaw, Brasilian green 220
Madge howlet 208
Magpie 257
—— mountain 214
Manque 165
Maracana 220
Martin 358
—— black 369
—— sand 363
—— bank 363
—— house 358
—— pecheur, ou Alcyon 288
Martinet 358
—— noir 369
Martlet 358
Mattages 214
Merle 307
—— d’eau 303
Messange de Pologne, ou Remiz 347
Mocking bird 308
Moineau franc 323
Moor-cock 411
Moroc 277
Murdering pie 214
Nightjar 214
Nightingale 333
—— mock 308
Nine killer 216
Nope 321
Nutbreaker 285
Nutjobber 285
Nuthatch Tribe 285
—— European 285
—— Nutbreaker 285
—— Nutjobber 285
—— Sittelle, ou Torchepot 285
—— Woodcracker 285
Oiseau de Paradis 267
—— S. Martin 198
Orchef 318
Oriole Tribe 262
—— red-winged 262
—— icteric 264
—— weaver 265
—— Cap more 265
—— Commandeur 262
—— Scarlet-feathered Indian bird 262
—— Red winged Starling 262
—— Red bird 262
—— Troupiale 264
—— Banana bird 264
—— Large Banana bird 264
—— Yellow and black pie 264
Orn 185
Osprey 192
Ostrich Tribe 432
—— black 433
—— Autruche 433
Outarde 426
Ouzel, water 303
Owl Tribe 203
—— great horned 205
—— white 208
—— brown 211
—— barn 208
—— Chouette, on grand Chevêche 211
—— church 208
—— common 208
—— eagle 205
—— Effraie, ou Fresaie 208
—— Gillihowter 208
—— Grand duc 205
—— great 205
—— —— brown 211
—— —— eared 205
—— grey 211
—— hissing 208
—— Howlet 208
—— Madge Howlet 208
—— screech 208
Parrakeet, red-headed Guinea 222
Parrot Tribe 219
—— Brasilian green Macaw 220
—— Ethiopian 222
—— aſh-coloured 225
—— yellow-winged 231
—— Ara-vert 220
—— Crick à tête et gorge jaune 231
—— Guinea Sparrow 222
—— hoary 225
—— little red-headed 222
—— Maracana 220
—— Peroquet cendre, ou Jaco 225
—— Perruche à tête rouge de Guinée 222
—— red 225
—— Red-headed guinea Parrakeet 222
Partridge 416
—— willow 412
Perdix grise 416
Perroquet cendre, ou Jaco 225
Petit Deuil 349
Pheasant Tribe 391
—— common 391
—— Domestic cock 396
—— Coq ccmmun 396
—— Faisan 391
Pianet 257
Pic de Virginie 284
—— noir 282
Pie 257
—— griesche grise 214
—— yellow and black 264
Piet water 303
Pigeon Tribe 372
—— wild 374
—— Ring-dove 377
—— passenger 379
—— Cushat 397
—— migratory 379
—— de Passage 379
—— ramier 377
—— Queest 377
—— ring 377
—— Rockier 374
—— Stock Dove 374
Ptarmigan 412
Queest 377
Raven 237
Red bird 262
Red breast 341
Red game 411
Ring-dove 377
Rockier 374
Rook 246
Le Rossignol 333
Le Rouge gorge 341
Rubis 296
Ruddock 341
Salangana 365
Sand Martin 363
Sea Eagle 192
Serin des Canaries 328
Shell apple 313
Shore bird 363
Shrike Tribe 213
—— great 214
—— tyrant 217
—— Carolina tyrant 217
—— French pie 214
—— Gobe-mouche de la Caroline 217
—— Great butcher-bird 214
—— great cinereous 214
—— Mattages 214
—— Mountain Magpie 214
—— Murdering pie 214
—— Nightjar 214
—— Nine-killer 216
—— Piegriesche grise 214
—— Skreek 214
—— White Whiskey-John 214
—— Wierangle 214
Sittelle, ou Torchepot 285
Skreek 214
Sky-lark 324
Snoripa 412
Sparrow, common 323
—— Bengal 318
—— Guinea 222
—— yellow-headed Indian 318
Sparrow-hawk 200
Stare Tribe 301
—— Starling 301
—— water ouzel 303
—— Merle d’eau 303
—— Water Crake 303
—— —— Crow, or Piet 303
Starling 301
—— red-winged 262
Stock Dove 374
Strunt-vogel 169
Swallow Tribe 349
—— chimney 357
—— Martin 358
—— Sand Martin 363
—— Esculent 365
—— Black Martin 369
—— Swift 369
—— Bank Martin 363
—— Deviling 369
—— Hirondelle a croupien blanc ou de fenêtre 358
—— —— de Chimenée ou Hirondelle domestique 351
—— —— de Rivage 363
—— House Martin 358
—— Salangane 365
—— sand 363
—— Shore bird 363
—— window 358
Swift 369
Taylor bird 346
Thrush Tribe 306
—— Fieldfare 306
—— Blackbird 307
—— Mockingbird 308
—— locust-eating 311
—— Amsel 307
—— Grand Moqueur 308
—— Littorne, ou Tourdelle 306
—— Merle 307
—— mimic 308
—— Mock Nightingale 308
—— Solitary Sparrow 308
Titmouse Tribe 346
—— penduline 347
—— Cape 349
—— Mésange de Poligne, ou Remiz 347
—— mountain 347
—— penduline 347
—— Petit Deuil 349
Toucan Tribe 233
—— red bellied 234
—— Brasilian pie 234
—— Preacher 234
—— a ventre rouge 234
Troglodyte 343
Troupiale 264
Trumpeter Tribe 428
—— gold-breasted 429
—— Caracara 429
Turkey Tribe 384
—— American or common 385
—— Dindon 385
—— New England wild 385
Turkey Buzzard 169
Vautour de Brésil 169
Vulture Tribe 163
—— Condur 163
—— carrion 169
—— Carrion Crow 169
—— Magellanic 165
—— Manque 165
—— Secretary 174
—— Strunt-vogel 169
—— Turkey buzzard 169
—— Vautour de Brésil 169
Wagtail, common 339
—— black and white 339
—— pied 339
—— white 339
Warbler Tribe 333
—— Nightingale 333
—— pensile 338
—— Common Wagtail 339
—— Wheat-ear 340
—— Red-breast 341
—— Wren 343
—— Willow Wren 345
—— Taylor bird 346
—— Bouillot, ou Chantre 345
—— Cou-jaune 338
—— Cul blanc 338
—— Fallow Smich 338
—— Green Wren 345
—— Kitty-wren 343
—— Le Rossignol 333
—— Le Rouge gorge 341
—— Pied Wagtail 339
—— Ruddock 341
—— Small yellow bird 345
—— Troglodyte 343
—— White rump 340
—— White tail 340
—— White Wagtail 339
—— Yellow Wren 345
Wheatear 340
Whiskey Jack 259
—— John, white 214
White-game 412
—— -rump 340
—— -tail 340
Wierangle 214
Willow Wren 345
Woodpecker Tribe 281
—— black 282
—— white-billed 283
—— red-headed 284
—— Grand pic noir à bec blanc 283
—— greatest black 282
—— largest white-billed 203
—— Pic de Virginie 284
—— —— Noir 282
Wren 343
—— green 345
—— kitty 343
—— willow 345
—— yellow 345
Notes and Corrections: Index

spelling unchanged, here and below

Crick à tete et gorge jauné
text has Creck

[Lark Tribe] allouette
spelling unchanged

[Owl Tribe] Effraie, ou Fresaie   208
page number missing

[Pie Tribe] griesche grise
[Printed as shown. The bird’s name is Piegrische grise—a shrike, not a pie—which explains why it is fifty pages away from the surrounding listings.]

[Sparrow Tribe] Guinea 222
[The page reference is not an error; the “Guinea Sparrow” is a parrot.]

[Warbler Tribe] Cou-jaune
text has Cou-janue


AVES 149
Accipitres. 163
Vultur Genus 163
—— gryphus 165
—— aura 162
Falco Genus 172
—— serpentarius 174
—— barbatus 180
—— chrysaëtos 185
—— haliaëtos 192
—— buteo 193
—— cyaneus 198
—— nisus 200
Strix Genus 203
—— bubo 205
—— flammea 208
—— ulula 211
Picæ. 213
Lanius Genus 213
—— excubitor 214
—— tyrannus 217
Psittacus Genus 219
—— severus 220
—— pullarius 222
—— erithacus 225
—— ochropterus 231
Ramphastos Genus 233
—— picatus 234
Corvus Genus 237
—— corax 237
—— corone 242
—— frugilegus 246
—— monedula 253
—— glandarius 255
—— pica 257
—— Canadensis 259
—— graculus 260
553 Oriolus Genus 262
—— Phoeniceus 262
—— icterus 264
—— textor 265
Paradisea Genus 266
—— apoda 267
Cuculus Genus 268
—— canorus 269
—— indicator 277
Picus Genus 281
—— martius 282
—— Principalis 283
—— erythrocephalus 284
Sitta Genus 285
—— Europæa 285
Alcedo Genus 288
—— ispida 288
Certhia Genus 292
—— familiaris 292
—— Mexicana 295
Trochilus Genus 295
—— colubris 296
Sturnus Genus 301
—— vulgaris 301
—— cinclus 303
Turdus Genus 306
—— pilaris 306
—— merula 307
—— polyglottus 308
—— gryllivorus 311
Loxia Genus 313
—— curvirostra 313
—— cardinalis 315
—— Abyssinica 317
—— Bengalensis 318
—— Socia 319
—— pyrrhula 321
Fringilla Genus 323
—— domestica 323
—— carduelis 327
—— canaria 328
Alauda Genus 329
—— arvensis 329
Motacilla Genus 333
—— luscinia 333
—— pensilis 338
—— alba 339
—— oenanthe 340
—— rubecula 341
—— troglodytes 343
—— trochilus 343
—— sutoria 346
Parus Genus 346
—— pendulinus 347
—— Capensis 349
Hirundo Genus 349
—— rustica 351
—— urbica 358
—— riparia 363
—— esculenta 365
—— apus 369
Columba Genus 372
—— oenas 374
—— palumbus 377
—— migratoria 379
Meleagris Genus 384
—— gallopavo 385
Phasianus Genus 391
—— colchicus 391
—— gallus 396
Tetrao Genus 406
—— umbellus 406
—— tetrix 408
—— scoticus 411
—— lagopos 412
—— perdix 416
—— coturnix 422
Otis Genus 426
—— tarda 426
Psophia Genus 428
—— crepitans 429
Struthio Genus 432
—— camelus 433


Avian taxonomy is best left to the professionals, if only because an ornithologist’s version of “Let’s put on a show in the barn!” seems to be “Let’s define a new order!” At the end of the Water Birds section I’ve given a few snippets of the first few taxonomic divisions, featuring birds that Linnaeus never realized were related.

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.