Bewick’s Birds:
Water Birds
by Thomas Bewick











group of men sailing model ships in a river




[Price 15s. in Boards.]




seated man watches as cat laps from his bowl

low archway around smoking furnace

Notes and Corrections: Advertisement

Typographic trivia: The Advertisement—printed entirely in italics—used the round “s” expected of its 19th-century date, while retaining the equally old-fashioned “ct” ligature. The remainder of the book will revert to long ſ.

a separation of interests took place between the editors
[I really, really want to know the backstory. It sounds juicy.]


two men with packs shaking hands in front of a half-built house


to the


IN the preceding volume of British Land Birds, the characters of that part of the first great division of the feathered tribes, the beautiful tenants of the air, the woods, and the fields, have been described, and their figures faithfully delineated. Amongst these were enumerated not only the carnivorous and rapacious kinds, which, by the accuracy of their scent, discover putrid bodies at a vast distance, and those which, endowed with piercing sight, soar aloft in search of their living prey, and dart upon it from an immeasurable height, with the rapidity of an arrow; but also the various other kinds of land birds, which, although less noticed, are eminently useful to man, by clearing the earth and the atmosphere of myriads of insects, in every stage of their progressive growth, from the invisible egg to the period when they are enabled to flutter on the wing. These, together with the other branches of this great family, whose lives may be said vi to be spent more innocently than those of the rapacious kinds, all contribute their services to man, by clearing the earth of the seeds of noxious plants, as well as the trees of innumerable destructive insects, with which they feed their young, and claim for themselves, meanwhile, but a small return of the produce of the fields and gardens, which too often is ungratefully begrudged them.

Nearly the whole of this amusing group appear to relieve each other, and are, in succession, the constant neighbours, or attendants on the habitations of men. They are the subtenants of the cultivated world, and most of them, especially those that are granivorous, may well be termed wild poultry, and are the valued property of the sportsman. Some of these also, uniting with others of the soft-billed tribe, form the husbandman’s cheerful band of choristers, whose comings and goings proclaim the seasons; while, by their notes poured forth from every tree, and vale, and woody glen, they enliven the face of nature. But having described this division of birds in the former volume, we must now bid them adieu, with this testimony of their usefulness—that they are the industrious, regulating little messengers of Providence, without whose assistance the plough and the spade would often find their labours bestowed in vain; and, weak as these instruments may appear, without their aid, instead of a land of overflowing plenty, adorned with flowers and fruits, and trees and woods, in rich luxuriance, and in all their varied beauty, where every grove is made vocal with responsive praises, we should too frequently meet with nothing but the barrenness, and the silence, and the dreariness of a desert.

Leaving those denizens⁕1 of nature to enjoy their own native woods, the sheltering coppice, or extended plain, the task now assigned us is to delineate the figures, and to describe the vii characters of the other two divisions of this numerous family—the waders and the swimmers: these are generally found far removed from the cultivated world. In exploring the track which leads us, step by step, to an acquaintance with them, we must travel through reeds and rushes, with doubtful feet, over the moss-covered faithless quagmire, amidst oozing rills, and stagnant pools. The former division of these inhabitants of the marsh are called waders. All the genera, and the different species of this division have divided toes: they are apparently fitted for living on land, but are furnished with propensities and appetites which direct them chiefly to seek their food in moist and watery places, or on the margins of lakes and rivers, and yet they avoid those depths, where it might seem to be found in the greatest abundance. Most of them have long bills, formed to perforate the soft mud and moist earth, and long legs, bare above the knees, whereby they are enabled to wade through shallow waters in search of food, without wetting their plumage. Others have shorter legs, feathered down to the knees, and bills of varied length: whence it may appear that these are more limited in their powers, and pick up only such insects or grasses, seeds or roots of aquatic plants, as are to be met with near the surface of the ground, or in shallow pools; whilst others again are known to plunge into the water, and by partial swimmings to extricate themselves from it, after they have seized their prey, whether fishes or insects. Some of this class, in the warmer and temperate climates, breed and rear their young in the fens, where they remain throughout the year: others again, but these are few, after the business of incubation is over, disappear, and are supposed to direct their flight northward; while others, and these by much the greater number, are known invariably to leave the north, and to migrate southward on the approach of the winter months, and to return northward in the spring. It must be observed that the swamps, and inland waters of temperate climes, are also stocked with a numerous set of inhabitants viii of the second class—the swimmers. Some of these, likewise, after having reared their young, migrate much in the same way as the waders.

The ornithologist, who does not content himself with bare names and appearance, in examining the economy of the various kinds of birds, and the structure of their several parts, will find ample room for the exercise of his labours in the most minute investigation; and although he can scarcely overlook the slow, and almost imperceptible degrees, by which nature has removed one class of beings from another, yet in his attempts to trace the relationship, or affinity, which one bears to another, he will, with his utmost care, find himself at a loss to ascertain that precise link in the chain, where the doubtful crossing line is drawn, and by which the various genera and species are to be separated. But, however, after he shall have examined a few gradations, upwards or downwards, he will more readily discover the modes of life which the several kinds are destined to pursue; and their ability to perform the various evolutions necessary for the procuring of their food in that exactitude to which the Author of nature hath formed them. In some of those which run on the surface of the soft mud, and can occasionally take the water, the indications of their ability for swimming are furnished very sparingly: these indications first appear in the breadth of the undersides of the toes, with the two outer toes joined by a small web. The scalloped membranes attached to the sides of the toes form the next advance; some are webbed to the nails, with deep indentations in the middle, between each toe; others have only three toes, all placed forwards, and fully united by webbed membranes: some have the addition of back toes, either plain, or with webbed appendages to each; and others again have the four toes fully webbed together. The thighs, in the most expert divers, are placed very far back; their legs are almost as flat and thin as a knife; and they are enabled to fold up their toes so closely, that the least possible resistance is ix made while they are drawing them forwards to repeat their strokes in the water. Many of these divers are provided internally with a receptacle, seated about the windpipe, for a stock of air, which serves the purpose of respiration, whilst they remain under water: and the whole of the tribe of swimmers have their feathers bedded upon a soft, close, warm down; and are furnished with a natural oil, supplied from a gland in the rump. This oil they press out with their bills from a kind of nipple, and with it preen and dress their plumage, which is thereby rendered impenetrable to the water, and, in a great degree, to the most extreme cold.

Of the number of these birds, both waders and swimmers, a great proportion may not improperly be termed fresh-water birds, as they rear their young, and spend the greater part of their time inland. In this class are the Ardea, Scolopax, and Tringa, with divided toes,—the Fulica, Phalaropus, and Podiceps, with finned feet; together with others of the web-footed kinds, chiefly of the genera of the Mergus and Anas. Among these various kinds, some species are found, which only occasionally visit the sea-shores: others have not been noticed there at all; while others are seen there frequently, feeding on the beach: some, like little boats, keep within bays and creeks, near the shore; others, meanwhile, adventure into the ocean, and sport amidst its waves. To particularize these, with their various places of abode, and the times of their migrations, would here be tedious and unnecessary: they are noticed in the description of each bird.

The northern extremities of the earth seem as if they were set apart for the nations of the feathered race, as their peculiar heritage—a possession which they have held coeval with creation. There, amidst lakes and endless swamps, where the human foot never trod, and where, excepting their own cries, nothing is heard but the winds, they find an asylum where they can rear their young in safety, unmolested, and surrounded by a profusion x of plenty. This ample provision consists chiefly of the larvæ of gnats and other insects, with which the atmosphere must be loaded in that region, during the summer months. The eggs of these insects deposited in the mud, and hatched by the influence of the unsetting summer’s sun, arise, like exhalations, in multiplied myriads, and, as we may conceive, afford a never failing supply of food to the feathered tribes. An equal abundance of food is also provided for the young of those kinds of birds, which seek it from the waters, in the spawn of fishes, or the small fry, which fearlessly sport in their native element, undisturbed by the angler or the fisherman. In these retirements they remain, or only change their haunts from one lake or misty bog to another, to procure food, or to mix with their kind; and thus they pass the long enlightened season. As soon as the sun begins, in shortened peeps, to quit his horizontal course, the falling snows, and the hollow blasts foretel the change, and are the signals for their departure,—then it is, that the widely-spreading winged host, having gathered together, in separate tribes, their plump well-fledged families, directed by instinctive knowledge, leave their native wilds, the arctic regions, that prolific source, whence these multiplied migrators, in flocks innumerable, and in directions like radii from the centre of a circle, are poured forth to replenish the more southern quarters of the globe. In their route, they are impelled forwards, or stop short, in greater or lesser numbers, according to the severity or mildness of the season, and are thus more equally distributed over the cultivated world; where man, habituated to consider every thing in the creation as subservient to his use, and ever watchful to seize all within his grasp, makes them feel the full force of his power. Wherever they settle under his dominion, these pretty wanderers afford a supply to the wants of some, pamper the luxury of others, and keep the eager sportsman in constant employment.

Leaving the lakes and inland watery wastes to pursue his researches xi by the brooks and the rivers, in their lengthened course to the estuaries and to the sea, the ornithologist is delighted with the view of the various clean-feathered inhabitants, feeding or preening themselves on the shores, swimming or diving in the current, or wheeling aloft on the wing. Many of these divide their time between the fresh and the salt waters, and serve as aerial guides, to direct his sight over the vast expanse to other classes of birds that almost entirely commit themselves to the ocean; and with whose tribes, at certain seasons, these associate. This multifarious host, thus assembled in distinct families, is sometimes seen to cover the surface of the water to a vast extent: and of all these various families, those of the Anas genus, which keep much at sea, form the most considerable, amounting in the whole to ninety-eight species, besides varieties,⁕2 a number exceeding that of any other kind. And, when we consider that each family of this genus is often seen in considerable flocks, and add them to those which may more properly be called sea-fowl—beginning with the Alca, and ending with the Pelicanus—consisting of nine distinct British genera and their species, we shall find the aggregate far to exceed in number the whole of the birds that are supported on the land. Whilst these fishers, in their flying squadrons, are viewed from the cliffs and shores of the sea, soaring aloft, or resting secure on the lowering precipice, the ear is often pierced with their harsh shrill cries, screamed forth in mingled discord with the roaring of the surge. Grating as their cries are, these birds are often hailed by the mariner, as his only pilots, while he is tossed to and fro, amidst solitary rocks and isles inhabited only by the sea-fowl.

Although it is not certainly known to what places some of these kinds retire to breed, yet it is ascertained that the greater xii part of them hatch and rear their young on the rocky promontories and inlets of the sea, and on the innumerable little isles with which the extensive coast of Norway is studded, from its southern extremity—the Lindesness, or Naze, to the North Cape, that opposes itself to the Frozen Ocean. The Hebrides, or Western Scottish Isles, are also well known to be a principal rendezvous to sea-fowl, and celebrated as such by Thomson’s

“Or where the northern ocean, in vast whirls,

“Boils round the naked melancholy isles

“Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge

“Pours in among the stormy Hebrides;

“Who can recount what transmigrations there

“Are annual made? what nations come and go?

“And how the living clouds on clouds arise?

“Infinite wings! till all the plume-dark air,

“And rude resounding shore are one wild cry.”

Other parts of the world—the bleak shores and isles of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, &c. with the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, are also enlivened in their seasons by swarms of sea-fowl, which range the intervening open parts of the seas to the shoreless frozen ocean. There a barrier is put to further enquiry, beyond which the prying eye of man must not look, and there his imagination only must take the view, to supply the place of reality. In these forlorn regions of unknowable dreary space, this reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulations of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold; even here, so far as human intelligence has been able to penetrate, there appears to subsist an abundance of animals in the air, and in the waters: and, perhaps, it may not be carrying conjecture too far, to suppose, that every region of the earth, air, and water, however ungenial the clime may appear to us, is replete with animals, suited, each kind, to the place assigned to it.


Certain it is, however, that the deeps of the frozen zone are the great receptacle whence the finny tribes issue, in so wonderful a profusion, to restock all the watery world of the northern hemisphere; and that this immense icy protuberance of the globe, this gathering together, this hoard of congealed waters, is periodically diminished by the influence of the unsetting summer’s sun, whose rays being perpetually, though obliquely, shed, during that season, on the widely extended rim of the frozen continent, gradually dissolve its margin, which is thus crumbled into innumerable floating isles, that are driven southward to replenish the seas of warmer climes.⁕3

Amidst these drifts of ice, and following this widely spreading current, teeming with life, the whole host of sea-fowl find in the waters an inexhaustible supply of food: for the great movement, the immense southward migration of fishes is then begun, and shoal after shoal, probably as the removal of their dark icy canopy unveils them to the sun, are invited forth, and, guided by its light and heat, poured forward in thousands of myriads, in multitudes which set all calculation at defiance. The flocks of sea birds, for their numbers, baffle the power of figures;⁕4 but the swarms of fishes, as if engendered in the clouds, and showered down like the rain, are multiplied in an incomprehensible degree; they may indeed be called infinite, if infinity were applicable to any thing created. Of all these various tribes of fishes, thus pressing forward on their southern route, that of the Herring is the most numerous. Closely embodied in resplendent columns of many miles in length and breadth, and in depth from the surface to the bottom of the sea, the shoals of this tribe peacefully glide along, and glittering like a huge reflected rainbow, xiv or Aurora Borealis, attract the eyes of all their attendant foes. Other kind of fishes, in duller garbs, keep also together in bodies, but change their movements as may best suit their different modes of attack or defence, in preying upon, or escaping from each other as they pass along.⁕5 All these various tribes of fishes, but particularly that of the Herring, are in their turns encountered and preyed upon by the whole hosts of sea-fowl, which continually watch all their motions. Some are seen to hover over the shoals of fishes, and to wheel about in quick and glancing evolutions, and then to dart down like a falling plummet upon the selected object, which is gliding near the surface of the water, and instantly to rise, and devour the living victim on the wing. Others, equally alert and rapid in their pursuit, plunge and dive after their prey to greater depths; while the less active birds seem content to devour only such of the fishes as have been killed or wounded, and cast out on the flanks, or left in the rear of the main body.

In this great, this wonderful emigration of birds and fishes, it is evident that they are amply provided on their way with an abundance of food, which they derive from each other; and that the shoals of fishes which the sea-fowl attend, are impelled southward xv by instinct, aided by currents, for the accomplishment of their mission. The birds, also, in their progress to fulfil the same high purpose, are by these enticed forwards, as it were, to follow the seasons, and to wing their way to the posts assigned them in climes adapted to the fulfilling of the great duties of rearing their young, and of leading them forth to pursue the unalterable course of nature: and thus they spend out the varied year in the same ceaseless traversings on the globe.

Notwithstanding the prodigious multitudes of the inhabitants of the ocean, which are thus destroyed by each other, and by their winged enemies, yet, like a small toll, or like a measure of sand taken from the beach, there is no visible diminution of them; for although many divisions of the larger kinds, by keeping in the mid-sea deeps, escape notice, and are dispersed like the fowl that follow to feed on them; yet others are mixed with the smaller sorts, and form part of those vast shoals which yearly present themselves to man, filling every creek and inlet of the northern shores, particularly those of the British isles; where this wonderful influx appears as if offered to give employment to thousands, and to supply an inexhaustible source of commerce: but this, like other overflowing bounties of Providence, seems to be too little regarded: the waste, indeed, in this instance, is sufficient to feed half the human race.

It is a melancholy reflection, that, from man, downwards, to the smallest living creature, all are found to prey upon and devour each other. The philosophic mind, however, sees this waste of animal life again and again repaired by fresh stores, ever ready to supply the void, and the great work of generation and destruction perpetually going on, and to this dispensation of an all-wise Providence, so interesting to humanity, bows in awful silence.

In returning from these digressions to the subject of the present enquiry, let the imagination picture to itself countless multitudes of birds, wafted, like the clouds, around the globe, xvi which in ceaseless revolutions turns its convexities to and from the sun, causing thereby a perpetual succession of day and night, summer and winter, and these migrators will be seen to follow its course, and to traverse both hemispheres from pole to pole. To those, who, contemplating this world of wonders, extend their views beyond the common gropings of mankind, it will appear, that Nature, ever provident that no part of her empire should be unoccupied, has peopled it with creatures of various kinds, and filled every corner of it with animation. To follow her into all her recesses would be an endless task; but so far as these have been explored, every step is marked with pleasantness: and while the reflecting mind, habituated to move in its proper sphere, breaks through the trammels of pride, and removes the film of ignorance, it soars with clearer views towards perfection, and adores that Infinite Wisdom which appointed and governs the unerring course of all things.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Thus the men,

“Whom Nature’s works can charm, with God himself

“Hold converse; grow familiar day by day

“With his conceptions; act upon his plan,

“And form to his the relish of their souls.”

Akenside’s Pleasures of Imagination, Book 3, l. 630.

⁕1 “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feedeth them.”—See Matt. vi. 26.

⁕2 It is very probable that many of these varieties, as well perhaps as others that are accounted distinct species, may be a mixed breed, the produce of a kind somewhat different; and that this may also be the case with the varieties of other genera of birds.

⁕3 The same happens in the southern hemisphere by the melting of the ice at the south pole.

⁕4 A bird may lay ten eggs and hatch them; but the roe of a herring is said to contain ten thousand.

⁕5 “Fishes are the most voracious animals in nature. Many species prey indiscriminately on every thing digestible that comes in their way, and devour not only other species of fishes, but even their own. As a counterbalance to this voracity they are amazingly prolific. Some bring forth their young alive; others produce eggs. The viviparous Blenny brings forth 200 or 300 live fishes at a time. Those which produce eggs are all much more prolific, and seem to proportion their stock to the danger of consumption. Lewenhock affirms that the Cod spawns above nine millions in a season. The Flounder produces above one million, and the Mackarel above 500,000. Scarcely one in a hundred of these eggs, however, is supposed to come to maturity: but two wise purposes are answered by this amazing increase; it preserves the species in the midst of numberless enemies, and serves to furnish the rest with a sustenance adapted to their nature.”—Encycl. Britan.

one man carrying another on his back

Notes and Corrections: Introduction

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the Ardea, Scolopax, and Tringa, with divided toes,—the Fulica, Phalaropus, and Podiceps, with finned feet . . . . Mergus and Anas
[Phalaropus, and Podiceps are from Latham 1787, the rest from Linnaeus 1758.

beginning with the Alca, and ending with the Pelicanus
[The latter is Boddaert’s spelling, consistently used by Bewick; Linnaeus’s spelling is Pelecanus. Genus Alca (auks) is now family Alcidae, taking us back to order Charadriiformes, while Pelecanus is predictably order Pelecaniformes.]

Or where the northern ocean, in vast whirls
[Thomson, as Bewick says: Autumn 862-70.]

poured forward in thousands of myriads
[Tens of millions. Bewick can be forgiven for not knowing the word crore.]


man riding packhorse



1 Sanderling 1
2 Long-legged Plover 4
Of the Oyster-catcher 6
1 Oyster-catcher 7
1 Water Crake 10
2 Water Rail 13
1 Water Ouzel 16
1 Kingfisher 19
Of the Spoonbill 24
1 Spoonbill 25
Of the Crane 28
1 Crane 29
2 Stork 32
Of the Heron 26
1 Heron 37
2 Great White Heron 42
3 Night Heron 43
4 Egret 45
5 Bittern 47
6 Little Bittern 51
Of the Curlew 53
1 Curlew 54
2 Whimbrel 57
Of the Snipe 59
1 Woodcock 60
2 Great Snipe 67
3 Common Snipe 68
4 Judcock 73
xviii 5 Knot 75
Of the Godwit 77
1 Godwit 78
2 Red Godwit 80
3 Cinereous Godwit 83
4 Cambridge Godwit 84
5 Lesser Godwit 85
6 Greenshank 86
7 Spotted Redshank 88
8 Redshank 91
Of the Sandpiper 94
1 Ruff 95
2 Shore Sandpiper 99
3 Green Sandpiper 100
4 Gambet 102
5 Ash-coloured Sandpiper 103
6 Common Sandpiper 104
7 Brown Sandpiper 107
8 Greenwich Sandpiper 108
9 Black Sandpiper 110
10 Spotted Sandpiper 111
11 Red-legged Sandpiper 112
12 Red Sandpiper 116
13 Dunlin 117
14 Purre 119
15 Little Stint 122
1 Turnstone 124
2 Turnstone (morinella) 126
1 Water Hen 128
Of the Coot 132
1 Coot 133
2 Greater Coot 137
Of the Phalarope 138
1 Red Phalarope 139
2 Grey Phalarope 140
Of the Grebe 142
1 Great-crested Grebe 145
2 Tippet Grebe 147
3 Eared Grebe 149
4 Dusky Grebe 150
5 Red-necked Grebe 152
6 Little Grebe 154
7 Black-chin Grebe 156
Of the Avoset 157
1 Avoset 158
Of the Auk or Penguin 161
1 Great Auk 162
2 Razor-bill 164
3 Black-billed Auk 167
4 Puffin 168
5 Little Auk 172
Of the Guillemot 174
1 Guillemot 175
2 Lesser Guillemot 177
3 Black Guillemot 179
4 Spotted Guillemot 181
Of the Divers 182
1 Great Northern Diver 183
2 Imber 185
3 Lesser Imber 187
4 First Speckled Diver 189
5 Second Speckled Diver 191
6 Red-throated Diver 193
7 Black-throated Diver 195
Of the Tern or Sea Swallow 197
1 Common Tern 199
2 Lesser Tern 201
3 Black Tern 203
4 Sandwich Tern 204
5 Sterna nævia 207
6 Brown Tern 208
Of the Gull 209
1 Black-backed Gull 212
2 Herring Gull 214
3 Wagel 216
4 Common Gull 218
5 Winter Gull 221
6 Black-headed Gull 222
7 Brown-headed Gull 226
8 La Grande mouette blanche 228
9 Kittiwake 229
10 Tarrock 231
11 Skua Gull 233
12 Black-toed Gull 236
13 Arctic Gull 239
Of the Petrel 241
1 Fulmar 243
2 Shearwater 246
3 Stormy Petrel 249
Of the Mergus 252
1 Goosander 254
2 Dun-diver 257
3 Red-breasted Merganser 261
4 Smew 264
5 Red-headed Smew 266
6 Lough-diver 268
Of the Anas 270
1 Wild Swan 272
2 Mute Swan 277
3 Swan Goose 281
4 Canada Goose 283
5 Egyptian Goose 287
6 Red-breasted Goose 289
xx 7 Grey Lag Goose 292
8 Tame Goose 297
9 White fronted Wild Goose 305
10 Bean Goose 306
11 Bernacle 307
12 Brent Goose 311
13 Eider Duck 314
14 Musk Duck 320
15 Velvet Duck 322
16 Scoter 324
17 Mallard 327
18 Tame Duck 333
19 Hook-billed Duck 338
20 Scaup Duck 339
21 Shieldrake 342
22 Shoveler 345
23 Red-breasted Shoveler 349
24 Gadwall 350
25 Wigeon 352
26 Bimaculated Duck 355
27 Pochard 336
28 Ferruginous Duck 359
29 Pintail Duck 360
30 Long-tailed Duck 363
31 Golden-eye 367
32 Morillon 371
33 Tufted Duck 372
34 Garganey 374
35 Teal 376
Of the Pelican 379
1 Corvorant 381
2 Crested Corvorant 383
3 Shag 390
4 Gannet 393

men climbing a cliff over a torrent





woodcut of Sanderling

(Charadrius Calidris, Lin.—Maubeche, Buff.)

This bird weighs almost two ounces; is about eight inches in length, and fifteen in breadth, from tip to tip. The bill is an inch long, slender, black and grooved on the sides nearly from the tip to the nostril; the brow to the eyes white; the rest of the head pale ash-colour, mottled in brown streaks from the forehead to the hinder part of the 2 neck, and on each side of the upper part of the breast; back, scapulars, and greater coverts, brownish ash, edged with dull white, and irregularly marked with dark brown spots. The pinions, lesser coverts, and bastard-wings, dark brown; the quills, which extend beyond the tail, are of the same colour on their exterior webs and points, except four of the middle ones, which are white on the outer webs, forming, when the wing is closed, a sharp wedge-shaped spot; inner webs brownish ash; the secondary quills brown, tipped with white; the rump and tail coverts are also brown, edged with dirty white; the tail feathers brownish ash, edged with a lighter colour, the two middle ones much darker than the rest; the throat, fore part of the neck, breast, belly, thighs and vent are white; the toes and legs black, and bare a little above the knees. This bird is of a slender form, and its plumage has a hoary appearance among the Stints, with which it associates on the sea-shore, in various parts of Great-Britain. It wants the hinder toe, and has, in other respects, the look of the Plover and Dotterel, to which family it belongs.

Latham says, this bird, like the Purre, and some others, varies considerably, either from age or the season; for those he received in August, had the upper parts dark ash-coloured, and the feathers deeply edged with a ferruginous colour; but others sent to him in January were of a plain dove-coloured 3 grey; they differed also in some other trifling particulars.

The specimen from which this drawing and description were taken, was furnished by the Rev. H. Cotes, of Bedlington; and it is the only one which the author has had an opportunity of examining.

man on low branch overhanging a stream

Notes and Corrections: Sanderling

Charadrius calidris is another head-scratcher, like Ch. pluvialis in the first volume—only more so. Over the years there have been at least four genera called Calidris, two of them in family Scolopacidae; here we seem to be dealing with the one defined by Merrem in 1804, not to be confused with Gmelin’s from 1789. The name “sanderling” today refers to Calidris alba, originally Tringa alba (Pallas, not Linnaeus).


woodcut of Long-Legged Plover

(Charadrius himantopus, Lin.—L’Echasse, Buff.)

Its slender black bill is two inches and a half long, from the tip of which to the end of the tail, it measures only about thirteen inches; but to the toes, a foot and a half. The wings are long, measuring, from tip to tip, twenty-nine inches; irides red; the crown of the head, back and wings, of a glossy black; tail light grey, except the two outside feathers which are white; as are all the other parts of its plumage, except a few dusky spots on the back of the neck. Its long, weak and disproportionate legs are of a blood red, and measure, from the foot to the upper naked part of the thigh, about eight inches; the toes are short, and the outer and middle ones are connected by a membrane at the base.


Ornithologists mention only a few instances of this singularly-looking species having been met with in Great-Britain;⁕1 but it is common in other countries.

Latham⁕2 says, “it is common in Egypt, being found there in the marshes in October; its food is said to consist principally of flies. It is likewise plentiful about the Salt Lakes, and often seen on the shores of the Caspian Sea, as well as by the rivers which empty themselves into it; and in the southern deserts of Independent Tartary: We have also seen it in Chinese paintings; and it is known at Madras, in the East Indies.” It is also often met with in the warmer parts of America; is sometimes seen as far north as Connecticut, and also in Jamaica.

⁕1 Sir Robert Sibbald makes mention of two that were shot in Scotland—Pennant of one that was shot near Oxford—and of five others which were shot in Frincham pond in Surrey.

⁕2 Pliny says it is a native of Egypt.

man on stilts crossing a river

Notes and Corrections: Long-Legged Plover

Charadrius himantopus is now Himantopus himantopus, the black-winged stilt. The genus is, once again, from Brisson.

the southern deserts of Independent Tartary
[The part of Central Asia that was later sucked into Russia—and, unlike the -stans, never managed to wrest itself free.]



Its bill is long, compressed and cuneated at the end; nostrils linear; tongue scarcely a third of the length of the bill; toes, three in number, all placed forwards, the exteriors united to the middle by a strong membrane, as far as the first joint.

This separate and single genus of birds, though no where numerous, is widely dispersed over the globe, being met with in every country which travellers have visited.

two women, one with a basket on her head, by the seashore

Notes and Corrections: Of the Oyster-Catcher

Oystercatchers, Linnaeus’s genus Haematopus, are now family Haematopodidae in order Charadriiformes. It’s a very small family, with no more than ten or twelve species and probably just one genus.

This separate and single genus of birds
[In Bewick’s time, there really was only one Haematopus species; props to Linnaeus for recognizing that it needed its own genus. Other species were described in the course of the 19th century.]


woodcut of Oyster-Catcher

(Hæmatopus ostralegus, Lin.—L’Hutrier, Buff.)

The Oyster-catcher generally weighs about sixteen ounces, measures seventeen inches in length, and is two feet eight inches in breadth. The bill is of a bright scarlet, about three inches long, wide at the nostrils, and grooved beyond them nearly half its length; thence to the tip it is vertically compressed on the sides, and ends obtusely: with this instrument, which, in its shape and structure, is peculiar to this bird, it easily disengages the limpets from the rocks, and plucks out the oysters from their half-opened shells: on these it feeds, as well 8 as on other kinds of shell-fish, sea-worms and insects. The irides are of a lake-coloured red; orbits orange; under eye-lids white, and (in many specimens) a crescent-shaped stroke of this colour crosses the throat; the head, neck, upper part of the back, scapulars, lesser coverts of the wings and end of the tail are black; the quills, in some, are of a dark brown, striped less or more in the middle and in the inner webs with white; the secondary quills are white towards their base, and the uncovered points black, narrowly edged with white; the breast, belly, vent, upper half of the tail, lower part of the back and greater wing coverts are white; the legs and feet are of a pale red, short and strong; the toes, three in number, are each surrounded with a membraneous edge, and covered with a hard, scaly skin, which enables the bird to climb and traverse the rough and sharp shell-covered rocks, in quest of prey, without injury.

Although the Oyster-catcher is not provided with powers fitted for an expert swimmer, yet it does not shew any aversion to taking the water, upon which it may be said to float rather than swim. These birds are the constant inhabitants of the sea-shores, and are seldom found inland. In winter, they assemble in flocks, are then shy and wild; and are seen in pairs, only in the breeding-season and in the summer. The female deposits her eggs in an open and dry situation, out of tide mark, sheltered merely 9 by a tuft of bent grass, without any other nest than the bare sand and fragments of shells, blown thither by the wind. She lays four or five eggs of a greenish grey colour, spotted with black, which she leaves during the day exposed to the influence of the sun, and is careful to sit upon them herself only during the night and in bad weather. The young ones may easily be tamed, and will associate with domestic poultry.

mounted man flying a kite, with three men walking after

Notes and Corrections: Oyster-Catcher

Haematopus ostralegus, the Eurasian oystercatcher, still has that binomial.


woodcut of Water Crake

(Rallus Porzana, Lin.—La Marouette, Buff.)

This bird weighs above four ounces, and measures nearly nine inches in length, and about fifteen in breadth. The bill is of a greenish yellow, and not more than three quarters of an inch long. The top of the head to the nape is dusky, slightly streaked with rusty brown; a brown and white mottled stripe passes from the bill, over and behind the eyes; the cheeks and throat are of a freckled dull grey. The neck and breast are olive, marked with small white spots; the sides dusky and olive, crossed with bars of white, and the under parts are a mixture of cinereous 11 dirty white and yellow. The colour of the plumage of all the upper parts is dusky and olive brown, spotted, edged, barred or streaked with white: the spots on the wing coverts are surrounded with black, which gives them a studded or pearly appearance; and the white bars and streaks on the scapulars and tertials form a beautiful contrast to the black ground of the feathers on these parts. The legs are of a yellowish green. The Water Crake in its figure and general appearance, though much less, is extremely like the Corn Crake or Land Rail; but its manners and habits are very different. Its common abode is in low, swampy grounds, in which are pools or streamlets, overgrown with willows, reeds, and rushes, where it lurks and hides itself with great circumspection: it is wild, solitary, and shy, and will swim, dive, or skulk under any cover; and sometimes, it is said, will suffer itself to be knocked on the head, rather than rise before the sportsman and his dog. The species is very scarce in Great Britain, and from its extreme vigilance it is rarely to be seen. It is supposed to be migratory here, as well as in France and Italy, where it is found early in the spring; it is also met with in other parts of Europe, but no where in great numbers. The conformation of its nest is curious: it is made of rushes and other light buoyant materials, woven and matted together, so as to float on, and to rise or fall with the ebbing or 12 flowing of the water, like a boat; and to prevent its being swept away by floods, it is moored or fastened to the pendant stalk of one of the reeds, by which it is skreened from the sight, and sheltered from the weather. The female lays from six to eight eggs. The young brood do not long require the fostering care of the mother, but as soon as they are hatched, the whole of the little black shapeless family scramble away from her, take to the water, separate from each other, and shift for themselves. The flesh is said to have a fine and delicate flavour, and is esteemed by epicures a delicious morsel.

Adorable is that divine wisdom, and infinite that providential care, which instructs these birds thus to secure the continuance of their species, and to provide for the safety of their future offspring!

feather of Water Crake

Notes and Corrections: Water Crake

Rallus porzana is now Porzana porzana, the spotted crake, in family Rallidae, order Gruiformes.


woodcut of Water Rail

(Rallus aquaticus, Lin.—Le Rale d’Eau, Buff.)

This bird, though a distinct genus of itself, has many traits in its character very similar to both the Corn Crake and the Water Crake: it is migratory, like the former, to which it also bears some resemblance in its size, in its long shape, and in the flatness of its body: its haunts and manner of living are nearly the same as those of the latter; but it differs from both in the length of its bill, and in its plumage. It weighs about four ounces and a half, and measures twelve inches in length and sixteen in breadth. The bill is slightly curved, and one inch and three quarters long; the upper mandible is dusky edged with red; the under 14 reddish orange; the irides red. The top of the head, hinder part of the neck, back, scapulars, coverts of the wings, and tail, are black, edged with dingy brown. The ridge of the wings is white, the bastard wing barred with white, the inside barred with brown and white, and the quills and secondaries dusky. The side feathers are beautifully crossed with black and white, and slightly tipped with pale reddish brown. The inner side of the thighs, the belly, and the vent are pale brown, and in some specimens, specked with blueish ash. The sides of the head, chin, fore part of the neck, and breast, are of a dark hoary lead colour, slightly tinged with pale rufous. The tail consists of twelve short black feathers, edged and tipped with dirty red; some of those on the underside barred with black and white. The legs which are placed far behind, are a dull dirty red; the toes long and without any connecting membrane. Latham says “the eggs are more than an inch and a half long, of a pale yellowish colour, marked all over with dusky brown spots, nearly equal in size, but irregular.”

The Water Rail is a shy and solitary bird. Its constant abode is in low wet places, much overgrown with sedges, reeds, and other coarse herbage, among which it finds shelter, and feeds in hidden security. It runs, occasionally flirting up its tail, through its tracts with the same swiftness as the Corn Crake runs through the meadows and corn-fields, shews 15 as great an aversion to take flight as that bird, and has more of the means in its power of disappointing the sportsman. It generally exhausts his patience, and distracts and misleads his dog, by the length of time to which it can protract its taking wing; and it seldom rises until it has crossed every pool, and run through every avenue within the circuit of its retreats. It is, however, easily shot when once flushed, for it flies but indifferently, with its legs dangling down while on the wing. This bird is not very common in Great Britain, but is said to be numerous in the marshes of the northern countries of Europe, whence, partially and irregularly, it migrates southward, even into Africa, during the severity of the winter season. Buffon says “they pass Malta in the spring and autumn,” and to confirm this, adds, “that the Viscount de Querhoënt saw a flight of them at the distance of fifty leagues from the coasts of Portugal on the 17th of April, some of which were so fatigued that they suffered themselves to be caught by the hand.” The flesh of the Water Rail is not so generally esteemed as that of the Land Rail, and yet by many it is thought rich and delicious eating.

woman preparing to beat dog stealing food

Notes and Corrections: Water Rail

Rallus aquaticus still has that binomial.

many traits in its character very similar to both the Corn Crake and the Water Crake
[The Corncrake—then Rallus crex, now Crex crex—was described in Volume I. In spite of the diverging genera, all three crakes remain in family Rallidae.]


woodcut of Water Ouzel

(Sturnus Cinclus, Lin.—Le Merle d’Eau, Buff.)

The length of the Water Ouzel is about seven inches and a half from the point of the beak to the end of its tail, which is very short, and gives the bird a thick and stumpy appearance. The mouth is wide; the bill black, about three quarters of an inch long; the upper mandible rather hollow in the middle, and bent a little downwards at the point; the eye-lids are white, and the irides hazel. The upper parts of the head and of the neck are deepish rusty brown; the back, rump, scapulars, wing coverts, belly, vent, and tail are black; but each feather on these parts is distinctly edged with a hoary grey colour. The breast, fore part of the 17 neck and throat, are of a snowy white; and the black and white on the belly and breast are separated by a rusty brown. The legs and toes are short and strong, the scales pale blue, the hinder part and joints brown; the claws are curved, and the toes are distinctly parted, without any membraneous substance between to join them.

This solitary species is removed from the place it has hitherto holden in all systems among the land birds: it ought not to be classed any longer with the Ouzels and Thrushes, to which it bears no affinity. Its manners and habits are also different from those birds, and are peculiar to itself. It is chiefly found in the high and mountainous parts of the country, and always by the sides of brooks and rocky rivers, but particularly where they fall in cascades, or run with great rapidity among stones and fragments of broken rocks; there it may be seen perched on the top of a stone in the midst of the torrent, in a continual dipping motion, or short courtesy often repeated, whilst it is watching for its food, which consists of small fishes and insects. The feathers of this bird, like those of the Duck tribe, are impervious to water, whereby it is enabled to continue a long time in that fluid without sustaining the least injury. But the most singular trait in its character, (and it is well authenticated) is that of its possessing the power of walking, in quest of its prey, on the pebbly bottom 18 of a river, in the same way, and with the same ease as if it were on dry land. The female makes her nest in the banks of the rivulet, of the same kind of materials, and nearly of the same form as that of the common Wren; and lays four or five eggs, which are white, lightly blushed with red.

wooded riverban

Notes and Corrections: Water Ouzel

Sturnus cinclus is now Cinclus cinclus, also known as the (white-throated) dipper. It isn’t at all related to the last few birds; genus Cinclus is the namesake and head—in fact, the sole member—of family Cinclidae in superfamily Muscicapoidea. That brings us back to order Passeriformes (“generic tweetybirds”), an order we all thought we’d seen the last of in Volume I.

This solitary species . . . ought not to be classed any longer with the Ouzels and Thrushes
[Idle query: When did Thomas Bewick, engraver, get to be such an ornithological authority?]


woodcut of Kingfisher

(Alcedo ispida, Linn. Le Martin-pêcheur, Buff.)

This splendid little bird is of rather a clumsy shape, the head being large in proportion to the size of the body, and the legs and feet very small. In length it is only seven inches, in breadth eleven; and its weight is about two ounces and a quarter. The bill, measured from the corners of the mouth, is two inches long, vertically compressed on the sides, strong, straight, and tapering to a sharp point: the upper mandible is black, fading into a red colour towards the base; the under one, as well as the inside of the mouth, is of a reddish orange: the irides are hazel, inclining to red. A broad stripe passes from the bill over the eye to the 20 hinder part of the neck, of a bright orange colour, but margined on the side of the mouth, and crossed, below the eye, by a narrow black stroke, and it is terminated behind the auriculars with a slanting wedge-shaped white spot. The throat is white; the rest of the head, and the wing coverts are of a deep shining green, spotted with bright light blue: the scapulars and exterior webs of the quills are of the same colour, but without spots. The middle of the back, the rump, and the coverts of the tail are of a most resplendent azure: the tail, which consists of twelve short feathers, is of a rich deep blue, and the whole under part of the body of a bright orange. The legs and toes are of a red colour, and are peculiar in their shape and conformation, the three forward toes being unconnected from the claws to the first joints, from whence they appear as if grown into each other; and the inner and hinder ones are placed in a line on the inside of the foot, whereby the heel is widened, and seems pressed out.

It is difficult to conceive why ornithologists have classed the Kingfisher with land birds, as its habits and manner of living are wholly confined to the waters, on the margins of which it will sit for hours together on a projecting twig, or a stone; at one while fluttering its wings and exposing its brilliant plumage to the sun; at another, hovering in the air, like the Kestril, it waits the moment 21 when it may seize its prey, on which it darts with almost unerring certainty: often it remains for several seconds under the water, before it has gained the object of its pursuit, then brings up the little fish, which it carries to the land, beats to death, and swallows.

The female commonly makes her nest by the sides of rivers or brooks, in a hole made by the mole, or the water-rat: this she enlarges or contracts to suit her purpose; and it is conjectured, from the difficulty of finding the nest, that frequently the hole which leads to it is under water.

The author was favoured with a stuffed specimen of this bird, together with its nest and six eggs, by G. W. Wentworth, of Wolley-Hall, near Wakefield, esquire. In the compactness of its form, the nest resembled that of the Chaffinch: it was made entirely of small fish bones, cemented together with a brown glutinous substance. The eggs were of a clear white.

To take notice of the many strange and contradictory accounts of this bird, as well as of its nest, transmitted to us by the antients, and to enumerate 22 the properties ascribed to it by the superstitious in all ages, would occupy too large a portion of this work: but the following modern instance seems worthy of notice:—

Dr Heysham of Carlisle, in his Catalogue of Cumberland Animals, says, “On the 7th of May a boy from Upperby brought me a Kingfisher alive, which he had taken when sitting on her eggs the night before: from him I received the following information:—Having often this spring observed these birds frequent a bank upon the river Peteril, he watched them carefully, and saw them go into a small hole in the bank. The hole was too small to admit his hand, but as it was made of soft mould 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, there being not the smallest appearance of a nest.” If the boy was correct in his relation to Dr Heysham, it may be concluded that these birds sometimes, from necessity perhaps, build a nest, and sometimes make the dry mould answer that purpose.


Kingfishers are not so numerous as might be expected from the number of eggs found in their nests, owing probably to the young being destroyed by the floods, which must often rise above the level of the holes where they are bred.

Except in the breeding season, this bird is usually seen alone, flying near the surface of the water with the rapidity of an arrow, like a little brilliant meteor, by which appearance the eye is enabled to follow its long-continued course. Considering the shortness of its wings, the velocity with which it flies is surprising.

Ornithologists inform us that Kingfishers are found in almost every part of the globe; but it does not appear that more than this one species has ever been seen in Europe.

1 Their nests are wonderful—of the figure of a ball rather elevated, with a very narrow mouth; they look like a large sponge: they cannot be cut with a knife, but may be broken with a smart stroke: they have the appearance of petrified sea-froth. It is not discovered of what they are formed; some think of Prickly-back bones, since they live upon fish. Pliny.

Aristotle compares the nest to a gourd, and its substance and texture to these sea-balls or lumps of interwoven filaments which are cut with difficulty; but, when dried, become friable.

Ælian and Plutarch describe it as being made to float on the placid face of the ocean.

man wading in deep stream, with castle in the background

Notes and Corrections: Kingfisher

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Alcedo ispida is now Alcedo atthis, which Linnaeus originally called Gracula atthis. There are quite a few subspecies, so he can’t be faulted for thinking there were two different birds. Kingfishers, including but not limited to genus Alcedo and family Alcedinidae, make up an order of their own, Coraciiformes. (Fun fact: Kooka­burras, genus Dacelo, are in the same family.)

Kingfishers also figure in Bingley’s Animal Biography and Shaw’s Naturalist’s Miscellany. There I learned that Brisson attempted to define a genus Ispida, but unlike most of his contributions, it didn’t take hold.

It is difficult to conceive why ornithologists have classed the Kingfisher with land birds
[Not half so difficult as it is to conceive why ornithologists insisted on a great and fundamental divide between land birds and water birds.]

G. W. Wentworth, of Wolley-Hall, near Wakefield, esquire
[Er, I’m pretty sure the honorific “esquire” belongs to Mr. Wentworth, not to his home town.]



The bill is broad, long, flat, and thin, the end widening into a roundish form not unlike a spoon; the nostrils small, and placed near the base; the tongue small and pointed, and the feet semi-palmated.

This genus consists of only three known species, and three varieties, and these are thinly dispersed over various parts of the globe. Their common residence is on the sea-shores, or the contiguous fenny swamps which are occasionally overflowed by the tide, or on such low marshy coasts as are constantly covered with stagnant pools of water. These places they very seldom quit, but they sometimes are seen by the sides of lakes or rivers in the interior parts of the country. They feed on various kinds of little fishes, and small shell-fish, which they swallow whole, also on worms, insects, frogs, and the various other inhabitants of the slimy pools, through which they wade, and search the mud with their curiously constructed bills; and sometimes they eat the weeds, grasses, and roots which grow in those boggy places.

bird flying over low branch

Notes and Corrections: Of the Spoonbill

Then as now, spoonbills are genus Platalea. Today that puts them in family Threskiornithidae (ibises), order Pelecaniformes—neither of which existed in Bingley’s time. There are more species than the three Linnaeus knew about—but not a whole lot more.


woodcut of Spoonbill

(Platalea leucorodia, Lin.—La Spatule, Buff.)

The Spoonbill measures two feet eight inches in length, and is about the bulk of the common Heron, but its legs and neck are shorter. The whole plumage is white, though some few have been noticed with the quills tipped with black.

The bill, which flaps together not unlike two pieces of leather, is the most striking feature in this bird: it is six inches and a half long, broad and 26 thick at the base, and very flat towards the extremity, where, in shape, it is widened and rounded like the mouth of a mustard spatula. It is rimmed on the edges with a black border, and terminated with a small downward bent point or nib. The colour of the bill varies in different birds; in some, the little ridges which wave across the upper bill, are spotted, in others striped with black or brown, and generally the ground colour of both mandibles is in different shades of deeper or lighter yellow. The insides, towards the gape of the mouth, near the edges, are studded with small hard tubercles or furrowed prominences, and are also rough near the extremities of the bill, which enables these birds to hold their slippery prey. A black bare skin extends from the bill round the eyes, the irides of which are grey; the skin which covers the gullet is also black and bare, and is capable of great distention. The feathers on the hinder part of the head are long and narrow, and form a sort of tuft or crest which falls behind. The toes are connected near their junction by webs which reach the second joint of the outer toe and the first of the inner ones, and slightly border them on each side to their extremities. The feet, legs, and bare part of the thighs are covered with a hard and scaly skin of a dirty black colour.

The White Spoonbill migrates northward in the summer, and returns to southern climes on the approach 27 of winter, and is met with in all the intermediate low countries, between the Ferro Isles and the Cape of Good Hope. It is said that they were formerly numerous on the marshes of Sevenhuys, near Leyden in Holland. In England they are rare visitants: Pennant mentions that a flock of them migrated into the marshes near Yarmouth in April, 1774.

Like the Rooks and the Herons, they build their nests on the tops of large trees, lay three or four eggs, the size of those of a hen, of a white colour sprinkled with pale red, and are very noisy during the breeding season. The intestines are described as being very long, and the trachea arteria is like that of the Crane, and makes a double injection in the thorax.

man and dog sitting near a low stone wall

Notes and Corrections: Spoonbill

Platalea leucorodia, the Eurasian spoonbill, still has that binomial.

all the intermediate low countries, between the Ferro Isles and the Cape of Good Hope
[That definitely covers most of the planet—at least on the Atlantic side. In Volume I, Bewick said “Ferro Isles” in a context that made it safe to say he’s talking about the Færø islands.]



The characters by which this genus is distinguished, are a long, strong, straight, sharp-pointed bill, nostrils linear, tongue pointed, the toes connected by a membrane as far as the first joint, and the middle claw of some of the species pectinated. Their thighs are half naked, and their legs long, by which, without wetting their plumage, they are enabled to wade deep in the water, where they stand motionless awaiting the approach of the unsuspecting finny tribes, and the moment these are within reach, they strike them with their bill, admirably formed for the purpose, with the rapidity of a dart. Their body is slender, and covered with a very thin skin; their wings, which are very large and strong, contain twenty-four quills; and their tails are short. They live mostly in lakes and fens upon water animals; they also occasionally eat grain and herbage, and they build their nests chiefly upon the ground. Their flesh is savoury.

The Crane differs from the Stork and the Heron in the singular conformation of the windpipe, which “entering far into the breast bone, (which has a cavity to receive it) and being thrice reflected, goes out again at the same hole, and so turns down to the lungs.” It differs from them also in some other particulars, both internally and externally.


Notes and Corrections: Of the Crane

Linnaeus’s genus Ardea subsumes at least three entirely different types of birds. Today’s genus Ardea, great herons, heads up family Ardeidae in order Pelecaniformes—the same order as spoonbills. Cranes, meanwhile, are order Gruiformes, including but not limited to family Gruidae. (An even more numerous member of the order is family Rallidae, coots and rails, which we met earlier and will meet again.) And storks are order Ciconiiformes, which also encompasses Linnaeus’s genus Mycteria (wood storks).

[Footnote] Willoughby
[Bewick will use this spelling consistently; it’s generally given as Willughby. Willughby died in 1672; Bewick is probably using the 1767 edition of his work, as cited in Bingley: The Ornithology of Francis Willughby of Middleton, in the County of Warwick, Esq. F.R.S. edited by John Ray, F.R.S.]


woodcut of Crane

(Ardea Grus, Lin.—La Grue, Buff.)

The bill is about four inches long, straight, pointed, and compressed at the sides, of a greenish black colour, turning lighter towards the point; the tongue is broad and short, and horny at the 30 tip. The forehead, to the middle of the crown, is covered with black hairy down, through which, if the bird be healthy, the skin appears red; behind this it is nearly bare, and entirely so for the space of about two inches on the nape of the neck, which is ash coloured. The sides of the head, behind the eyes, and the hinder part of the neck are white. The space between the bill and the eyes, the cheeks, and the fore part of the neck, are of a blackish ash colour. The greater wing coverts are also blackish, and those farthest from the body, with the bastard wing and quills are quite black: the rest of its plumage is of a fine waved light ash colour. From the pinion of each wing springs an elegant tuft of loose feathers, curled at the ends, which fall gracefully over the tail, in their flexibility, their position, and their texture, resembling the plumes of the Ostrich. The legs and bare part of the thighs are black. The Crane measures, when extended, from the tip of the bill to the toes, more than five feet in length, and weighs nearly ten pounds; its gait is erect, and its figure tall and slender.

This species is widely spread, and, in its migrations, performs the boldest and most distant journies,

“Marking the tracts of air, the clamorous Cranes

“Wheel their due flight, in varied lines descried;

“And each with out-stretch’d neck his rank maintains

“In marshall’d order through the ethereal void.”


In the summer they spread themselves over the north of Europe and Asia as far as the arctic circle, and in the winter are met with in the warmer regions of India, Syria, Egypt, &c. and at the Cape of Good Hope. The course of their flight is discovered by the loud noise they make, for they soar to such a height as to be hardly visible to the naked eye. Like the Wild-geese, they form themselves into different figures, describing a wedge, a triangle, or a circle. It is said that they formerly visited the fens and marshes of this island in large flocks, but they have now entirely forsaken it.

gnarled tree overhanging a river

Notes and Corrections: Crane

Ardea grus is now Grus grus, yet another of Brisson’s genera. This spin-off led to family Gruidae and order Gruiformes: cranes all the way down.

Marking the tracts of air, the clamorous Cranes
[I thought for sure this was Thomson’s Seasons again, but no. It’s a translation of Lorenzo de Medici, from Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, called the Magnificent, 1795 and later.]


woodcut of Stork

(Ardea Ciconia, Lin.—La Cigogne, Buff.)

The White Stork is smaller than the Crane, but much larger than the Heron: its length, from the point of the bill to the end of the tail is three feet six inches; and its breadth, from tip to tip, above six feet. The bill is of a fine red colour, and its length, from the tip to the corners of the mouth is seven inches; the legs and bare part of the thighs are also of the same colour; the former below the 33 knees measure eight inches, and the latter five. The plumage is of a bright white, except the quills, greater coverts, and some of the scapulars, which are black; the eyes are dark and full, the orbits bare of feathers, and of a dusky reddish hue. The neck is long and arched; the feathers near the breast, like those of the Heron, are long and pendulous, the secondary quills are nearly of the same length as the primaries, and when the wings are closed, they cover its short tail. The female nearly resembles the male in her plumage and general appearance: her nest is made of dry sticks, twigs, and aquatic plants, sometimes on large trees or the summits of high rocky cliffs: this, however, seldom happens, for the Stork prefers the neighbourhood of populous places, where it finds protection from the inhabitants, who, for ages, have regarded both the bird and its nest as sacred; and commonly place them boxes on the tops of the houses wherein to make their nests, to which they return after the most distant journies, and every Stork takes possession of his own box. When these are not provided for them, they build on the tops of chimnies, steeples, and lofty ruins.

The Stork lays from two to four eggs, the size and colour of those of a goose, and the male and female sit upon them by turns. They are singularly attentive to their young, both together never 34 quitting the nest, which is constantly watched by one of them, while the other is seeking for, and bringing provisions, which the young receive with a sort of whistling noise.

The food of the Stork consists of serpents, lizards, frogs, small fish, &c. for which it watches with a keen eye, on the margins of lakes and pools, and in swamps and marshes. In low countries abounding with places of this description, the Stork is a welcome visitant, and always meets a friendly reception.

In its migrations this bird avoids alike the extremes of heat and cold: in summer it is never seen farther north than Sweden or Russia, and in winter it is not known to venture further southward than Egypt, where it is constantly seen during that season: in the intermediate countries, both in Asia and Europe, it is common in the temperate seasons of the year.

Before the Storks take their departure from their northern summer residence, they assemble in large flocks, and seem to confer on the plan of their projected route. Though they are very silent at other times, on this occasion they make a singular clattering noise with their bills, and all seems bustle and consultation. It is said that the first north wind is the signal for their departure, when the whole body become silent, and move at once, generally 35 in the night, and, taking an extensive spiral course, they are soon lost in the air.

The Stork is now seldom seen in Britain: Wallis, in his history of Northumberland, mentions one which was killed near Chollerford-bridge, in the year 1766. Its skin was nailed up against the wall of the inn at that place, and drew crowds of people from the adjacent parts to view it. The foregoing figure was taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe museum.

“The Stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times; and the Turtle and the Crane, and the Swallow observe the time of their coming.” Jeremiah viii. 7.

man riding a bird, drawn by a flock of leashed birds

Notes and Corrections: Stork

Ardea ciconia is now Ciconia ciconia—Brisson again. Working up the chain we get family Ciconiidae and order Ciconiiformes.



Some ornithologists have separated this tribe from the Cranes and the Storks, and from the difference observable in the conformation of their parts, consider them as a distinct genus: others, preferring the Linnæan system, class the whole together, and thus make them amount to above eighty distinct species, besides varieties, widely distributed over various parts of the globe, all differing in their size, figure, and plumage, and with talents adapted to their various places of residence, or their peculiar pursuits. But notwithstanding the difference in the colours of their plumage and their bills, the manners of all are nearly the same, as is also their character, which is stigmatized with cowardice and rapacity, indolence, and yet insatiable hunger: they are, indeed, excessively voracious and destructive; but from the meagre-looking form of their bodies, to an inaccurate observer, the greatest abundance might seem insufficient for their support.

dog running after a bird

Notes and Corrections: Of the Heron

Linnaeus’s genus Ardea has been narrowed down to great herons; herons-as-a-whole are family Ardeidae in order Pelecaniformes. All six of Bewick’s herons are in this family, though four of them were were spun-off into new genera in the early decades of the 19th century.

Some ornithologists have separated this tribe from the Cranes and the Storks
[It might be more accurate to say that the Cranes and Storks have been separated from the Herons, who got to keep the name.]


woodcut of Heron

(Ardea Major, Lin.—Le Heron hupé, Buff.)

Although the Heron is of a long, lank, aukward shape, yet its plumage gives it on the whole an agreeable appearance; but when stripped of its feathers, it looks as if it had been starved to death. It seldom weighs more than between three and four pounds, notwithstanding it measures about three feet in length, and in the breadth of its wings, from tip to tip, above five. The bill is six inches long, straight, pointed, and strong, and its edges are thin and slightly serrated; the upper mandible 38 is of a yellowish horn colour, darkest on the ridge, the under one yellow. A bare skin, of a greenish colour, is extended from the beak beyond the eyes, the irides of which are yellow, and give them a fierce and piercing aspect. The brow and crown of the head are white, bordered above the eyes by black lines which reach the nape of the neck, where they join a long flowing pendent crest of the same colour. The upper part of the neck, in some, is white, in others pale ash; the fore part, lower down, is spotted with a double row of black feathers, and those which fall over the breast are long, loose, and unwebbed; the shoulders and scapular feathers are also of the same kind of texture, of a grey colour, generally streaked with white, and spread over its down-clothed back. The ridge of the wing is white, coverts and secondaries lead colour, bastard wings and quills of a blueish black, as are also the long soft feathers which take their rise on the sides under the wings, and, falling down, meet at their tips, and hide all the under parts: the latter, next the skin, are covered with a thick, matted, dirty white down, except about the belly and vent, which are almost bare. The tail is short, and consists of twelve feathers of a cinereous or brownish lead colour; the legs are dirty green, long, bare above the knees, and the middle claw is jagged on the inner edge.

The female has not the long flowing crest, or 39 the long feathers which hang over the breast of the male, and her whole plumage is more uniformly dull and obscure. In the breeding season they congregate in large societies, and, like the Rooks, build their nest on trees, with sticks, lined with dried grass, wool, and other warm materials. The female lays from four to six eggs, of a pale greenish blue colour.


The Heron is described by Buffon as exhibiting the picture of wretchedness, anxiety, and indigence, condemned to struggle perpetually with misery and want, and sickened by the restless cravings of a famished appetite, &c. However faithful this ingenious naturalist may have been in pourtraying the appearance of the Heron, yet others are not inclined to adopt his sentiments in describing its habits and manners, or to agree with him in opinion that it is one of the most wretched of animated beings. It is probable that it suffers no more than other birds, many species of which employ equal attention in looking for their prey, and it is not unlikely that the Heron derives pleasure from it instead of pain. This bird, however, is of a melancholy deportment, a silent and patient creature; and will, in the most severe weather, stand motionless a long time in the water, fixed to a spot, in appearance like the stump or root of a tree, waiting for its prey, which consists of frogs, water-newts, eels, and other kinds of fish; and it is also said that it will devour field-mice.

The Heron traverses the country to a great distance in quest of some convenient or favourite fishing spot, and in its aerial journies soars to a great 41 height, to which the eye is directed by its harsh cry, uttered from time to time while on the wing. In flying it draws the head between the shoulders, and the legs stretched out seem, like the longer tails of some birds, to serve the office of a rudder. The motion of their wings is heavy and flagging, and yet they get forward at a greater rate than would be imagined.

In England Herons were formerly ranked among the royal game, and protected as such by the laws; and whoever destroyed their eggs was liable to a penalty of twenty shillings for each offence. Heron hawking was at that time a favourite diversion among the nobility and gentry of the kingdom, at whose tables this bird was a favourite dish, and was as much esteemed as pheasants and peacocks.

“A remarkable circumstance, with respect to these birds, occurred not long ago, at Dallam Tower, in Westmorland, the seat of Daniel Wilson, Esq:—

“There were two groves adjoining to the park: one of which, for many years, had been resorted to by a number of Herons, which there built and bred; the other was one of the largest rookeries in the country. The two tribes lived together for a long time without any disputes. At length the trees occupied by the Herons, consisting of some very fine old oaks, were cut down in the spring of 1775, and the young brood perished by the fall of the timber. The parent birds immediately set about preparing new habitations, in order to breed again; but, as the trees in the neighbourhood of their old nests were only of a late growth, and not sufficiently high to secure them from the depredations of boys, they determined to effect a settlement in the rookery. The Rooks made an obstinate resistance; but, after a very violent contest, in the course of which many of the Rooks, and some of their antagonists, lost their lives, the Herons at last succeeded in their attempt, built their nests, and brought out their young.

“The next season the same contests took place, which terminated like the former, by the victory of the Herons. Since that time peace seems to have been agreed upon between them: the Rooks have relinquished possession of that part of the grove which the Herons occupy; the Herons confine themselves to those trees they first seized upon, and the two species live together in as much harmony as they did before their quarrel.” Heysham.

man taking shelter under a wind-blown tree

Notes and Corrections: Heron

Ardea major seems to be the same bird as Ardea cinerea, the grey heron.


(Ardea alba, Lin.—Le Heron blanc. Buff.)

The great white Heron is of nearly the same bulk as the common Heron, but its legs are longer. It has no crest, and its plumage is wholly white; its bill yellow, and its legs black.

Its character and manner of living are the same as those of the common Heron, and it is found in the same countries, though this species is not nearly so numerous. It has rarely been seen in Great Britain. Pennant, in his Arctic Zoology, says it is found in the Russian dominions, about the Caspian and Black Seas, the lakes of Great Tartary, and the river Irtisch, and sometimes as far north as latitude 53. Latham says, it is met with at New York, in America, from June to October; at different seasons of the year it is found in Jamaica, and in the Brazils: and our circumnavigators have met with it at New Zealand.

underbrush and ladder

Notes and Corrections: Great White Heron

Ardea alba is also known as the great egret.

and our circumnavigators have met with it at New Zealand
[I was all set to say Nope, different heron. But Ardea alba really is found all over the planet, excepting only the polar regions and—understandably—the major deserts.]


woodcut of Night Heron

(Ardea nycticorax, Lin.—Le Bihoreau, Buff.)

The length of this bird is about twenty inches. The bill is three inches and three-quarters long, slightly arched, strong, and black, inclining to yellow at the base; the skin from the beak round the eyes is bare, and of a greenish colour; irides yellow. A white line is extended from the beak over each eye; a black patch, glossed with green, covers the crown of the head and nape of the neck, from which three long narrow white feathers, tipped with brown, hang loose and waving: the hinder part of 44 the neck, coverts of the wings, sides and tail, are ash-coloured; throat white, fore part of the neck, breast and belly yellowish white or buff; the back black, the legs a greenish yellow.

The female is nearly of the same size as the male, but she differs considerably in her plumage, which is less bright and distinct, being more blended with clay or dirty white, brown, grey, and rusty ash-colour, and she has not the delicate plumes which flow from the head of the male.

The Night Heron frequents the sea-shores, rivers, and inland marshes, and lives upon crickets, slugs, frogs, reptiles, and fish. It remains concealed during the day, and does not roam abroad until the approach of night, when it is heard and known by its rough, harsh, and disagreeable cry, which is by some compared to the noise made by a person straining to vomit. Some ornithologists affirm that the female builds her nest on trees, others that she builds it on rocky cliffs: probably both accounts are right. She lays three or four white eggs.

This species is not numerous, although widely dispersed over Europe, Asia, and America.

The above figure was taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum, and is the only one the author has seen. The bird is indeed very uncommon in this country. Latham mentions one in the Leverian Museum, which was shot not many miles from London, in May, 1782.

Notes and Corrections: Night Heron

Ardea nycticorax is now Nycticorax nycticorax, the black-crowned night heron. (The specificity of the English name suggests there are other night herons, or perhaps other black-crowned birds.) For variety’s sake, the genus was not defined by Brisson but by Forster in 1817.


woodcut of Egret

(Ardea Garzette, Lin.—Egretta, Buff.)

The Egret is one of the smallest, as well as the most elegant of the Heron tribe: its shape is delicate, and its plumage as white as snow; but what constitute its principal beauty are the soft, silky, flowing plumes on the head, breast, and shoulders: they consist of single slender shafts, thinly set with pairs of fine soft threads, which float on the slightest breath of air. Those which arise from the shoulders are extended over the back, and flow beyond the tail. These plumes were formerly used to decorate the helmets of warriors: they are now applied to a gentler and better purpose, in ornamenting 46 the head-dresses of the European ladies, and the turbans of the Persians and Turks.

The Egret seldom exceeds a pound and a half in weight, and rarely a foot and a half in length. A bare green skin is extended from the beak to the eyes, the irides of which are pale yellow: the bill and legs are black. Like the common Heron they perch and build their nests on trees, and live on the same kinds of food.

This species is found in almost every temperate and warm climate, and must formerly have been plentiful in Great Britain, if it be the same bird as that mentioned by Leland in the list or bill of fare prepared for the famous feast of Archbishop Nevil, in which one thousand of these birds were served up. No wonder the species has become nearly extinct in this country!

man fishing, standing in deep water

Notes and Corrections: Egret

Ardea garzetta is now Egretta garzetta, another Forster genus.


woodcut of Bittern

(Ardea Stellaris, Lin.—Le Butor, Buff.)

The Bittern is nearly as large as the common Heron; its legs are stronger, body more plump and fleshy, and its neck is more thickly cloathed with feathers. The beak is strong at the base, straight, sharp on the edges, and gradually tapers to an acute point; the upper mandible is brown, the under inclining to green; the mouth is wide, 48 the gape extending beyond the eyes, with a dusky patch at each angle: the irides are yellow. The crown of the head is somewhat depressed, and covered with long black feathers; the throat is yellowish white, the sides of the neck pale rust colour, variegated with black, in spotted, waved, and narrow transverse lines, and on the fore part the ground colour is whitish, and the feathers fall down in less broken and darker lengthened stripes. These neck feathers, which it can raise and depress at pleasure, are long, and loose, and inclining backward, cover the neck behind; those below them on the breast, to the thighs, are streaked lengthwise with black, edged with yellowish white: the thighs, belly, and vent are of a dull pale yellow, clouded with dingy brown. The plumage on the back and wings is marked with black zigzag lines, bars and streaks, upon a ground shaded with rust colour and yellow. The bastard wings, greater coverts, and quills are brown, barred with black. The tail, which consists only of ten feathers, is very short; the legs are of a pale green, bare a little above the knees; the claws, particularly those on the hind toes, are long and sharp, the middle ones serrated.

The female is less than the male; her plumage is darker, and the feathers on her head, breast, and neck are shorter, and the colours not so distinctly marked. She makes an artless nest, composed 49 chiefly of the withered stalks and leaves of the high coarse herbage, in the midst of which it is placed, and lays from four to six eggs of a greenish white colour.

The Bittern is a shy solitary bird; it is never seen on the wing in the day time, but sits, commonly with the head erect, hid among the reeds and rushes in the marshes, where it always takes up its abode, and from whence it will not stir, unless it is disturbed by the sportsman. When it changes its haunts, it removes in the dusk of the evening, and then rising in a spiral direction, soars to a vast height. It flies in the same heavy manner as the Heron, and might be mistaken for that bird, were it not for the singularly resounding cry which it utters from time to time while on the wing; but this cry is feeble when compared to the hollow booming noise which it makes during the night time, in the breeding season, from its swampy retreats.

The Bittern, when attacked by the Buzzard, or other birds of prey, defends itself with great courage, and generally beats off such assailants; neither does it betray any symptoms of fear, when wounded by the sportsman, but eyes him with a keen undaunted look, and when driven to extremity, 50 will attack him with the utmost vigour, wounding his legs, or aiming at his eyes with its sharp and piercing bill. It was formerly held in much estimation at the tables of the great, and is again recovering its credit as a fashionable dish.

This bird lives upon the same water animals as the Heron, for which it patiently watches, unmoved, for hours together.

1 “The Bittern booms along the sounding marsh,

“Mixt with the cries of Heron and Mallard harsh.”

man seated on riverbank, fishing

Notes and Corrections: Bittern

Ardea stellaris is now Botaurus stellaris. Another newish genus, this one from Stephens 1819.

[Footnote] “The Bittern booms along the sounding marsh
[Thomson’s Seasons, Spring 22-25, has:

The bittern knows his time with bill ingulf’d

To shake the sounding marsh; or, from the shore

The plovers when to scatter o’er the heath,

And sing their wild notes to the listening waste.

But there’s not a word about Herons and Mallards. Or, for that matter, booming.]


woodcut of Little Bittern

(Ardea minuta, Lin.—Le Blongios, Buff.)

This bird, in the bulk of its body, is not much bigger than the Throstle, measuring only about fifteen inches in length. From the corners of the mouth, a black stroke extends across the under side of the cheeks; and a patch of black, glossed with green and edged with chesnut, covers the crown of its head. On the back, rump, and scapulars, the feathers are dark brown, edged with pale rusty-coloured red; the sides of the neck, and the breast, are of the same colours, but the brown on the middle of each feather is in narrower streaks. The belly is white; the hinder part of the neck is 52 bare, but the long feathers on the fore part lie back and cover it. The tail is short, and of a black green colour, edged and tipped with tawney: the legs dirty green. The Little Bittern has seldom been met with in Great Britain.

The above drawing and description were taken from an ill-stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum.

man standing in a shallow river, fishing

Notes and Corrections: Little Bittern

Ardea minuta is now Ixobrychus minutus, the common little bittern. (Is it just me, or . . . does the English name sound like something one bird would hurl at another in the course of a quarrel?) The genus is a still rarer one, defined by Billberg—a name I confess I have never heard of—in 1828.

not much bigger than the Throstle
[Page 100 of the first volume.]



The bill is long, equally incurvated, and terminated in a blunt point; nostrils linear, and longitudinal near the base; tongue short and sharp pointed; and the toes are connected as far as the first joint by a membrane. b With the Curlew, Linnæus begins a numerous tribe of birds under the generic name of Scolopax, which, in his arrangement, includes all the Snipes and Godwits, amounting, according to Latham, to forty-two species and eight varieties, spread over various parts of the world, but no where very numerous.

Buffon describes fifteen species and varieties of the Curlew, and Latham ten, only two or three of which are British birds. They feed upon worms which they pick up on the surface, or with their bills dig from the soft earth: on these they depend for their principal support; but they also devour the various kinds of insects which swarm in the mud, and in the wet boggy grounds, where these birds chiefly take up their abode.

rubble and fenceposts

Notes and Corrections: Of the Curlew

Curlews were part of Linnaeus’s genus Scolopax, but already in 1760 Brisson had given them a genus of their own, Numenius. If it makes Linneans feel any better, they are still in family Scolopacidae of order Charadriiformes.


woodcut of Curlew

(Scolopax arquata, Lin.—Le Courlis, Buff.)

The Curlew generally measures about two feet in length, and from tip to tip above three feet. The bill is about seven inches long, of a regular curve, and tender substance at the point, which is blunt. The upper mandible is black, gradually softening into brown towards the base; the under one flesh coloured. The head, neck, upper part of the back, and wing coverts, are of a pale brown, the middle of each feather black, edged and deeply indented with pale rust colour, or light grey. The breast, belly, and the lower part of the back are dull white, the latter thinly spotted with black, 55 and the two former with oblong strokes more thickly set, of the same colour. The quill feathers are black, the inner webs crossed or spotted with white: the tail is barred with black, on a white ground tinged with red: the legs are bare a little above the knees, of a blueish colour, and the toes are thick, and flat on the underside.

These birds differ much in size, as well as in the different shades of their plumage; some of them weighing not more than twenty-two ounces, and others as much as thirty-seven. In the plumage of some the white parts are much more distinct and clear than in others, which are more uniformly grey, and tinged with pale brown.

The female is so nearly like the male, that any particular description of her is unnecessary: she makes her nest upon the ground, in a dry tuft of rushes or grass, of such withered materials as are found near, and lays four eggs of a greenish cast, spotted with brown.

The Curlew is met with by travellers in most parts of Europe, from Iceland to the Mediterranean Islands. In Britain their summer residence is upon the large, heathy, boggy moors, where they breed. Their food consists of worms, flies, and insects, which they pick out of the soft mossy ground by the marshy pools, which are common in such places. In winter they depart to the sea-side, where they are seen in great numbers, and then live upon the 56 worms, marine insects, and other fishy substances which they pick up on the beach, and among the loose rocks and pools left by the retiring tide. The flesh of the Curlew has been characterized by some as very good, and of a fine flavour; by others as directly the reverse: the truth is, that, while they are in health and season, and live on the moors, scarcely any bird can excel them in goodness; but when they have lived some time on the sea-shore, they acquire a rank and fishy taste.

boys chasing a dog down village street

Notes and Corrections: Curlew

Scolopax arquata is now Numenius arquata.

The flesh of the Curlew has been characterized by some as very good
text has charactized


woodcut of Whimbrel

(Scolopax Phœopus, Lin.—Le petite Courlis, Buff.)

The Whimbrel is only about half the size of the Curlew, which it very nearly resembles in shape, the colours of its plumage, and manner of living. It is about seventeen inches in length, and twenty-nine in breadth, and weighs about fourteen ounces. The bill is about three inches long, the upper mandible black, the under one pale red. The upper part of the head is black, divided in the middle of the crown by a white line from the brow to the hinder part: between the bill and the eyes there is a darkish oblong spot: the sides of the head, neck, and breast, are of a pale brown, marked with narrow 58 dark streaks pointing downwards: the belly is of the same colour, but the dark streaks upon it are larger; about the vent it is quite white; the lower part of the back is also white. The rump and tail feathers are barred with black and white; the shafts of the quills are white, the outer webs totally black, but the inner ones marked with large white spots: the secondary quills are spotted in the same manner on both the inner and outer webs. The legs and feet are of the same shape and colour as those of the Curlew.

The Whimbrel is not so commonly seen on the sea-shores of this country as the Curlew; it is also more retired and wild, ascending to the highest mountain heaths in spring and summer to feed and rear its young.

Notes and Corrections: Whimbrel

Scolopax Phæopus is now Numenius phaeopus, the Eurasian whimbrel.

Scolopax Phœopus, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Phæopus

Le petite Courlis, Buff.
text unchanged: error for Le petit
[Dictionary tells me courlis is masculine, so that makes it le petit.]

man with a long pole near riverbank



The bill is long, straight, narrow, flexible, and rather blunt at the tip; the nostrils are linear, and lodged in a furrow; the tongue is pointed and slender; the toes divided, or very slightly connected, and the back toe very small.

This division of the numerous Scolopax genus of Linnæus amounts, according to Latham, to about twenty species, besides varieties, of which only the Woodcock, common Snipe, and Judcock, and their varieties, are accounted British birds.

Pennant has placed the Woodcock after the Curlews as the head of the Godwits and Snipes; and others are of opinion that the Knot, from the similarity of its figure to that of the Woodcock, ought to be classed in this tribe. In these sub-divisions ornithologists may vary their classifications without end. As in a chain doubly suspended, the rings of which gradually diminish towards the middle, the leading features of some particular bird may point it out as a head to a tribe; others from similarity of shape, plumage, or habits, will form, by almost imperceptible variations, the connecting links; and those which may be said to compose the curvature of the bottom, by gradations equally minute, will rise to the last ring of the other end, which, as the head of another tribe, will be marked with characters very different from the first.

Notes and Corrections: Of the Snipe

Snipes originally shared Linnaeus’s genus Scolopax with a number of other birds, such as the curlew above. The genus is now restricted to woodcocks; snipes have been spun-off to Brisson’s genus Gallinago and the still newer Lymnocryptes (jack snipes). All are in family Scolopacidae.

and those which may be said to compose the curvature of the bottom, by gradations equally minute, will rise to the last ring of the other end
[That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.]


woodcut of Woodcock

(Scolopax Rusticola, Lin.—La Becasse Buff.)

The Woodcock measures fourteen inches in length, and twenty-six in breadth, and generally weighs about twelve ounces. The shape of the head is remarkable, being rather triangular than round, with the eyes placed near the top, and the ears very forward, nearly on a line with the corners of the mouth. The upper mandible, which measures about three inches, is furrowed nearly its whole length, and at the tip, it projects beyond, and hangs over the under one, ending in a kind of knob, which, like those of others of the same genus, is susceptible of the 61 finest feeling, and calculated by that means, aided, perhaps, by an acute smell, to find the small worms in the soft moist grounds, from whence it extracts them with its sharp-pointed tongue. With the bill it also turns over and tosses the fallen leaves in search of the insects which shelter underneath. The crown of the head is of an ash colour, the nape and back part of its neck black, marked with three bars of rusty red: a black line extends from the corners of the mouth to the eyes, the orbits of which are pale buff; the whole under parts are yellowish white, numerously barred with dark waved lines. The tail consists of twelve feathers, which, like the quills, are black, and indented across with reddish spots on the edges: the tip is ash-coloured above, and of a glossy white below. The legs are short, feathered to the knees, and, in some, are of a blueish cast, in others, of a sallow flesh colour. The upper parts of the plumage are so marbled, spotted, barred, streaked and variegated, that to describe them with accuracy would be difficult and tedious. The colours, consisting of black, white, grey, ash, red, brown, rufous and yellow, are so disposed in rows, crossed and broken at intervals by lines and marks of different shapes, that the whole seems to the eye, at a little distance, blended together and confused, which makes the bird appear exactly like the withered stalks and leaves of ferns, sticks, moss and grasses, which form the back ground of the 62 scenery by which it is sheltered in its moist and solitary retreats. The sportsman only, by being accustomed to it, is enabled to discover it, and his leading marks are its full dark eye, and glossy silver-white tipped tail. In plumage the female differs very little from the male, and, like most other female birds, only by being less brilliant in her colours.

The flesh of the Woodcock is held in very high estimation, and hence it is eagerly sought after by the sportsman. It is hardly necessary to notice, that in cooking it, the entrails are not drawn, but roasted within the bird, from whence they drop out with the gravy upon slices of toasted bread, and are relished as a delicious kind of sauce.

The Woodcock is migratory, and in different seasons is said to inhabit every climate: it leaves the countries bordering upon the Baltic in the autumn and setting in of winter, on its route to this country. They do not come in large flocks, but keep dropping in upon our shores singly, or sometimes in pairs, from the beginning of October till December. They must have the instinctive precaution of landing only in the night, or in dark misty weather, for they are never seen to arrive; but are frequently discovered the next morning in any ditch which affords shelter, and particularly after the extraordinary fatigue occasioned by the adverse gales which they often have to encounter in their aerial voyage. They do not remain near the shores to take their rest 63 longer than a day, but commonly find themselves sufficiently recruited in that time to proceed inland, to the very same haunts which they left the preceding season.⁕1 In temperate weather they retire to the mossy moors, and high bleak mountainous parts of the country; but as soon as the frost sets in, and the snows begin to fall, they return to lower and warmer situations, where they meet with boggy grounds and springs, and little oozing mossy rills which are rarely frozen, and seek the shelter of close bushes of holly, furze and brakes in the woody glens, or hollow dells which are covered with underwood: there they remain concealed during the day, and remove to different haunts and feed only in the night. From the beginning of March to the end of that month, or sometimes to the middle of April, they all keep drawing towards the coasts, and avail themselves of the first fair wind to return to their native woods: should it happen to continue long to blow adversely, they are thereby detained; and as their numbers increase, 64 they are more easily found and destroyed by the merciless sportsman.

The female makes her nest on the ground, generally at the root or stump of a decayed tree; it is carelessly formed of a few dried fibres and leaves, upon which she lays four or five eggs, larger than those of a Pigeon, of a rusty grey colour, blotched and marked with dusky spots. The young leave the nest as soon as they are freed from the shell, but the parent birds continue to attend and assist them until they can provide for themselves. Buffon says they sometimes take a weak one under their throat, and convey it more than a thousand paces.

Latham mentions three varieties of British Woodcocks: in the first, the head is of a pale red, body white, and the wings brown; the second is of a dun, or rather cream colour; and the third of a pure white.⁕2 Dr Heysham, in his Catalogue of Cumberland Animals, mentions his having met with one, the general colour of which was a fine 65 pale ash, with frequent bars of a very delicate rufous: tail brown, tipped with white; and the bill and legs flesh colour. In addition to these, some other varieties are taken notice of by the late Marmaduke Tunstall, Esq. of Wycliffe, in his interleaved books on ornithology.

Latham and Pennant assert, that some Woodcocks deviate from the course which nature seems to have taught their species, by remaining throughout the year, and breeding in this country; and this assertion Mr Tunstall corroborates by such a number of well-authenticated instances, that the fact is unquestionable.

When the Woodcock is pursued by the sportsman, its flight is very rapid, but short, as it drops behind the first suitable sheltering coppice with great suddenness, and in order to elude discovery, runs swiftly off, in quest of some place where it may hide itself in greater security.

To describe the various methods which are practised by fowlers to catch this bird, would be tedious; but it may not be improper to notice those most commonly in use, and against which it does not seem to be equally on its guard as against the gun. It is easily caught in the nets, traps, and springes which are placed in its accustomed runs or paths, as its suspicions are all lulled into security by the silence of the night; and it will not fly or leap over any obstacles which are placed in its 66 way, while it is in quest of its food; therefore, in those places, barriers and avenues formed of sticks, stones, &c. are constructed so as to weir it into the fatal openings where it is entrapped: in like manner, a low fence made of the tops of broom stuck into the ground, across the wet furrow of a field, or a runner from a spring which is not frozen, is sufficient to stay its progress, and to make it seek from side to side for an opening through which it might pass, and there it seldom escapes the noose that is set to secure it.

At the root of the first quill in each wing is a small-pointed narrow feather very elastic, and much sought after by painters, by whom it is used as a pencil. A feather of a similar kind is found in the whole of this tribe, and also in every one of the Tringas and Plovers which the author has examined. The annexed figure represents a scapular feather of the Woodcock.

⁕1 In the winter of 1797, the gamekeeper of E. M. Pleydell, Esq. of Whatcombe, in Dorsetshire, brought him a Woodcock, which he had caught in a net set for rabbits, alive and unhurt. Mr P. scratched the date upon a bit of thin brass, and bent it round the Woodcock’s leg, and let it fly. In December the next year, Mr Pleydell shot this bird with the brass about its leg, in the very same wood where it had been first caught by the gamekeeper.—(Communicated by Sir John Trevelyan, Bart.)

⁕2 A white Woodcock was seen three successive winters in Penrice wood, near Penrice-Castle, in Glamorganshire: it was repeatedly flushed and shot at during that time, in the very same place where it was first discovered: at last it was found dead, with several others which had perished by the severity of the weather, in the winter of 1793.—This account, which was communicated to the author by Sir John Trevelyan, Bart. on the authority of the Rev. Dr Hunt, proves not only the existence of white Woodcocks, but also the truth of the assertion, that the haunts of this bird are the same year after year.

feather of Woodcock

Notes and Corrections: Woodcock

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Scolopax rusticola, the Eurasian woodcock, still has that binomial.

La Becasse Buff.
[Properly Bécasse with acute accent. In fact GBIF says it is speci­fically bécasse des bois, implying that there are other, similar birds that live in non-forest environments.]

in cooking it, the entrails are not drawn
[For detailed instructions, see Beeton’s Book of Household Management or Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery.]

The annexed figure represents a scapular feather of the Woodcock.
[This is one of the rare times an illustration in the end-of-page position has had any connection with the subject of the article. There will be several more; Bewick seems to have liked snipes and woodcocks.]


(Scolopax Media.)

Latham gives the following description of this bird:—“Size between the Woodcock and Snipe: weight eight ounces: length sixteen inches: bill four inches long, and like that of the Woodcock: crown of the head black, divided down the middle by a pale stripe: over and beneath each eye another of the same: the upper parts of the body very like the Common Snipe: beneath white: the feathers edged with dusky black on the neck, breast, and sides; and those of the belly spotted with the same, but the middle of it is plain white: quills dusky: tail reddish, the two middle feathers plain, the others barred with black: legs black.” He adds, “This is a rare species. A fine specimen of it was shot in Lancashire, now in the Leverian Museum; said also to have been met with in Kent.”

The author has seen three specimens of a large kind of Snipe called, by some sportsmen, from being always found alone, the Solitary Snipe. They weighed the same as the above-mentioned, but differed in some slight particulars, measuring only twelve inches in length, and from tip to tip about nineteen. The upper parts of the plumage were nearly like those of the Common Snipe: the breast, sides, belly and vent white, spotted, barred, and undulated with black. It is not clearly ascertained whether this be a distinct species of Snipe, or whether it acquires its bulk and change of plumage from age, and its solitary habits from ceasing to breed.

Notes and Corrections: Great Snipe

Scolopax media is now Gallinago media. The original binomial is not Linnaeus but Latham, leading to the sincere query: Did English ornithologists simply refuse to acknowledge Brisson’s existence? Latham named his snipe as recently as 1787, while Brisson’s genus goes back to 1760.


woodcut of Common Snipe

(Scolopax Gallinago, Lin.—La Becassine, Buff.)

The common Snipe is generally about four ounces in weight, and measures twelve inches in length, and fourteen in breadth. The bill is nearly three inches long; in some pale brown, in others greenish yellow, rather flat and dark at the tip, and very smooth in the living bird; but it soon becomes dimpled like the end of a thimble, after the bird is dead: the head is divided lengthwise by three reddish or rusty white lines, and two of black; one of the former passes along the middle of the crown, and one above each eye: a darkish mark is extended from the corners of the mouth nearly 69 to each eye, and the auriculars form spots of the same colour: the chin and fore part of the neck are yellowish white, the former plain, the latter spotted with brown. The scapulars are elegantly striped lengthwise on one web, and barred on the other with black and yellow: the quills are dusky, the edge of the primaries, and tips of the secondaries, white; those next to the back barred with black, and pale rufous: the breast and belly are white: the tail coverts are of a reddish brown, and so long as to cover the greater part of it: the tail consists of fourteen feathers, the webs of which, as far as they are concealed by the coverts, are dusky, thence downward, tawney or rusty orange, and irregularly marked or crossed with black. The tip is commonly of a pale reddish yellow, but in some specimens nearly white: the legs are pale green.

The common residence of the Snipe is in small bogs or wet grounds, where it is almost constantly digging and nibbling in the soft mud, in search of its food, which consists chiefly of a very small kind of red transparent worm, about half an inch long; it is said also to eat slugs, and the 70 insects and grubs, of various kinds, which breed in great abundance in those slimy stagnant places. In these retreats, when undisturbed, the Snipe walks leisurely, with its head erect, and at short intervals keeps moving the tail. But in this state of tranquillity it is very rarely to be seen, as it is extremely watchful, and perceives the sportsman or his dog at a great distance, and instantly conceals itself among the variegated withered herbage, so similar in appearance to its own plumage, that it is almost impossible to discover it while squatted motionless in its seat: it seldom, however, waits the near approach of any person, particularly in open weather, but commonly springs, and takes flight at a distance beyond the reach of the gun. When first disturbed, it utters a kind of feeble whistle, and generally flies against the wind, turning nimbly in a zigzag direction for two or three hundred paces, and sometimes soaring almost out of sight; its note is then something like the bleating of a goat, but this is changed to a singular humming or drumming noise, uttered in its descent.

From its vigilance and manner of flying, it is one of the most difficult birds to shoot. Some sportsmen can imitate their cries, and by that means draw them within reach of their shot; others, of a less honourable description, prefer the more certain and less laborious method of catching them in the night by a springe like that which is used for the Woodcock.


The Snipe is migratory, and is met with in all countries: like the Woodcock, it shuns the extremes of heat and cold by keeping upon the bleak moors in summer, and seeking the shelter of the vallies in winter. In severe frosts and storms of snow, driven by the extremity of the weather, they seek the unfrozen boggy places, runners from springs, or any open streamlet of water, and they are sure to be found, often in considerable numbers, in these places, where they sometimes sit till nearly trodden upon before they will take their flight.

Although it is well known that numbers of Snipes leave Great Britain in the spring, and return in the autumn, yet it is equally well ascertained that many constantly remain and breed in various parts of the country, for their nests and young ones have been so often found as to leave no doubt of this fact. The female makes her nest in the most retired and inaccessible part of the morass, generally under the stump of an alder or willow: it is composed of withered grasses and a few feathers: her eggs, four or five in number, are of an oblong shape, and of a greenish colour, with rusty spots: the young ones run off soon after they are freed from the shell, but they are attended by the parent birds until their bills have acquired a sufficient firmness to enable them to provide for themselves.


The Snipe is a very fat bird, but its fat does not cloy, and very rarely disagrees even with the weakest stomach. It is much esteemed as a delicious and well flavoured dish, and is cooked in the same manner as the Woodcock.

Mr Tunstall mentions a “very curious pied Snipe which was shot in Bottley meadow, near Oxford, September 8, 1789, by a Mr Court: its throat, breast, back and wings were beautifully covered or streaked with white, and on its forehead was a star of the natural colour; it had also a ring round the neck and the tail, with the tips of the wings of the same colour.”

feather of Common Snipe

feather of Common Snipe

Notes and Corrections: Common Snipe

Scolopax gallinago is now Gallinago gallinago, flagship of Brisson’s genus.


woodcut of Judcock

(Scolopax Gallinula, Lin.—La petite Becassine, Buff.)

The Judcock, in its figure and plumage, nearly resembles the Common Snipe; but it is only about half its weight, seldom exceeding two ounces, or measuring more, from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail, than eight inches and a half: the bill is black at the tip, and light towards the base, and rather more than an inch and a half in length. A black streak divides the head lengthwise from the base of the bill to the nape of the neck, and another, of a yellowish colour, passes over each eye to the hinder part of the head: in the midst of this, above the eye, is a narrow black stripe running parallel with the top of the head from the crown to 74 the nape. The neck is white, spotted with brown and pale red. The scapulars and tertials are very long and beautiful; on their exterior edges they are bordered with a stripe of yellow, and the inner webs are streaked and marked with bright rust colour on a deep brown, or rather bronze ground, reflecting in different lights a shining purple or green. The quills are dusky. The rump is of a glossy violet or blueish purple; the belly and vent white. The tail consists of twelve pointed feathers of a dark brown, edged with rust colour; the legs are of a dirty or dull green.

The Judcock is of nearly the same character as the Snipe, it feeds upon the same kinds of food, lives and breeds in the same swamps and marshes, and conceals itself from the sportsman with as great circumspection, among the rushes or tufts of coarse grass. It, however, differs in this particular, that it seldom rises from its lurking place until it is almost trampled upon, and, when flushed, does not fly to so great a distance. It is as much esteemed as the Snipe, and is cooked in the same manner.

The eggs are not bigger than those of a lark; in other respects they are very like those of the Snipe.

feather of Judcock

Notes and Corrections: Judcock

Scolopax gallinula is now Lymnocryptes minimus, the jack snipe—for variety’s sake, not a Brisson 1760 genus.


woodcut of Knot (bird)

(Tringa Canutus, Lin.—Le Canut, Buff.)

These birds, like others of the same genus, differ considerably from each other in their appearance, in different seasons of the year, as well as from age and sex. The specimen from which the above drawing was taken, measured from the point of the bill to the tip of the tail, eight inches and a half, the extended wings about fifteen, and it weighed two ounces eight drachms: the bill was one inch and three-eighths long, black at the tip, and dusky, fading into orange towards the base; tongue of nearly the same length, sharp and horny at the point; sides of the head, neck, and breast, cinereous, edged with ash-coloured grey; the chin white, 76 and a stroke of the same colour passed over each eye. All the upper parts of the plumage were darkish brown, but more deep and glossy on the crown of the head, back and scapulars, and each feather was edged with ash or grey: the under parts were a cream-coloured white, streaked or spotted with brown on the sides and vent: the greater coverts of the wings, tipped with white, which formed a bar across them when extended: the legs reddish yellow, and short, not measuring more than two inches and one-eighth from the middle toe nail to the knee; the thighs feathered very nearly to the knee; toes divided without any connecting membrane.

This bird is caught in Lincolnshire and the other fenny counties, in great numbers, by nets, into which it is decoyed by carved wooden figures, painted to represent itself, and placed within them, much in the same way as the Ruff. It is also fattened for sale, and esteemed by many equal to the Ruff in the delicacy of its flavour. The season for taking it is from August to November, after which the frost compels it to disappear.

This bird is said to have been a favourite dish with Canute, king of England; and Camden observes, that its name is derived from his—Knute, or Knout, as he was called, which, in process of time, has been changed to Knot.

Pennant says fourteen dozen have been taken at once.

Notes and Corrections: Knot

Tringa canutus is now Calidris canutus, the (red) knot. This seems to be the same genus as the sanderling—originally Tringa alba—from earlier in the volume. The knot has an interesting distribution: almost the entire continents of Europe and North America, but only the coasts of Asia, Australia, Africa and South America. Granted, this may have more to do with the geographical distribution of dedicated birdwatchers than that of the bird itself.

Camden observes, that its name is derived from his—Knute, or Knout, as he was called, which, in process of time, has been changed to Knot
[The name Bewick spells “Canute” does in fact mean “knot” (the current Norwegian spellings are Knut for the name, knute for the noun). But Camden has probably got his etymology backward, since the bird’s name seems to be cognate with the word for “knot” in most Germanic languages.]



Buffon enumerates eight species of this division of the Scolopax genus, under the name of Barges, including the foreign kinds; and Latham makes out the same number of different sorts, all British. They are a timid, shy, and solitary tribe; their mode of subsistence constrains them to spend their lives amidst the fens, searching for their food in the mud and wet soil, where they remain during the day, shaded and hidden among reeds and rushes, in that obscurity which their timidity makes them prefer. They seldom remain above a day or two in the same place, and it often happens that in the morning not one is to be found in those marshes where they were numerous the evening before. They remove in a flock in the night, and, when there is moonlight, may be seen and heard passing at a vast height. Their bills are long and slender, and, like the common Snipe’s, are smooth and blunt at the tip: their legs are of various colours, and long. When pursued by the sportsman, they run with great speed, are very restless, spring at a great distance, and make a scream as they rise. Their voice is somewhat extraordinary, and has been compared to the smothered bleating of a goat. They delight in salt marshes, and are rare in countries remote from the sea. Their flesh is delicate and excellent food.

Notes and Corrections: Of the Godwit

Godwits, another part of Linnaeus’s sprawling genus Scolopax, are now Brisson’s genus Limosa. Bewick lumps them together with redshanks, Linnaeus’s genus Tringa. Both are in family Scolopacidae.


woodcut of Godwit

(Scolopax œgocephala, Lin.—La grande Barge grise, Buff.)

The weight of this bird is about twelve ounces; length about sixteen inches: the bill is four inches long, and bent a little upwards, black at the point, gradually softening into a pale purple towards the base; a whitish streak passes from the bill over each eye: the head, neck, back, scapulars, and coverts, are of a dingy reddish pale brown, each feather marked down the middle with a dark spot. The fore part of the breast is streaked with black; the belly, vent, and tail are white, the latter regularly barred with black: the webs of the first six quill feathers are black, edged on the interior sides with 79 reddish brown: the legs are in general dark coloured, inclining to a greenish blue.

The Godwit is met with in various parts of Europe, Asia, and America: in Great Britain, in the spring and summer, it resides in the fens and marshes, where it rears its young, and feeds upon small worms and insects. During these seasons it only removes from one marsh to another; but when the winter sets in with severity, it seeks the salt marshes and the sea-shore.

The Godwit is much esteemed, by epicures, as a great delicacy, and sells very high. It is caught in nets, to which it is allured by a stale, or stuffed bird, in the same manner, and in the same season, as the Ruffs and Reeves.

sapling trap ready to spring

Notes and Corrections: Godwit

Scolopax ægocephala may be the same bird as S. limosa, now Limosa limosa, the black-tailed godwit.

Scolopax œgocephala, Lin.
text unchanged: error for ægocephala
[The printer seems to have had trouble distinguishing between œ (oe) and æ (ae). Should we blame Bewick’s handwriting?]


woodcut of Red Godwit

(Scolopax Lapponica, Lin.—La Barge Rousse, Buff.)

This bird exceeds the Common Godwit in size, and is distinguished from it by the redness of its plumage; in other respects its general appearance and manner of living are nearly the same. It measures eighteen inches in length, and weighs about twelve ounces. The bill is nearly four inches long, slightly turned upwards, dark at the tip, and of a dull yellowish red towards the base. The predominant colour of the head, upper part of the shoulders, breast and sides, is a bright ferruginous, or rusty red; streaked on the head with brown, and 81 on the breast and sides barred or marbled with dusky, cinereous, and white; the neck plain dull rusty red. The back, scapulars, greater and lesser coverts, are ash-coloured brown; on the former two, some of the feathers are barred and streaked with black and rust colour, and edged with pale reddish white. The rump is white; the middle of the belly, and the vent, the same, slightly spotted with brown: a bar of white is formed across each wing by the tips of the greater coverts. The exterior webs, and tips of the primary quills, are of a dark brown colour, and the interior webs are white towards their base. In some specimens the tail is barred with black, or dark brown, upon a pale rufous ground; in others it is plain dark brown, with light tips and edges. The legs are dusky, and bare a long space above the knees.

Mr Pennant, in his Arctic Zoology, says, “these birds are found in the north of Europe, and about the Caspian Sea, but never in Siberia, or any part of Northern Asia.” According to Latham, they are plentiful in the fens about Hudson’s Bay, in America. They are not very common in Great Britain. It is praised by those who have eaten it as a very well tasted and delicious bird.

There is reason to suppose that Buffon has described the male and female Red Godwits as two distinct species. In his Planches Enluminees, the Barge Rousse is the female, and the Grande Barge 82 Rousse, the male, Red Godwit. The colours are the same in both, but the feathers of the female are not so variegated, clouded and barred, being of a more uniform rufous, or rust colour, on the head, neck, breast, and belly, and on the upper parts of a more plain brown. His descriptions agree with the foregoing, except that the tail of his Grande Barge Rousse is plain brown, and that of the specimen from which the above drawing was made, is barred with rust colour.

The foregoing figure and description were taken from a bird in full plumage, sent to the author by the Rev. J. Davies, senior fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, to whom he is indebted for most of the fen birds.

man aiming gun at a bird

Notes and Corrections: Red Godwit

Scolopax lapponica is now Limosa lapponica, the bar-tailed godwit.

According to Latham, they are plentiful in the fens about Hudson’s Bay, in America.
[Either they’ve gone extinct in Canada, or it was a different species all along. The obvious candidate is L. haemastica, the Hudsonian godwit.]

senior fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
text has Col-/ledge at line break



This species, as well as several others of the same genus, seems to be very imperfectly known, or ascertained: the slight shades of difference in their size and plumage, probably occasioned only by age or sex, there is cause to suspect may have led nomenclators, in their over anxiety to add new species to their numbers, into errors; but, however this may be, the author will leave the matter as it stands at present, to be elucidated by sportsmen and ornithologists; and as he has never seen this or the three following kinds, he presents only the descriptions of others. Latham says it is the “size of the Greenshank. Bill two inches and a half long, but thicker than in that bird: the head, neck, and back variegated with ash-colour and white: tail slightly barred with cinereous: throat and breast white; the last marked with a few ash-coloured spots: legs long, slender, and ash-coloured.” He mentions one as having been shot near Spalding, in Lincolnshire. Pennant says “it is about the size of the Greenshank, which it nearly resembles in its colours, but the bill is so much thicker, as to form a specific distinction.”

man walking into the sunset

Notes and Corrections: Cinereous Godwit

With neither a picture nor a binomial, Bewick doesn’t give us much to go on, does he.



Larger than the Common Redshank. Head, upper part of the neck, and back, cinereous brown: lesser wing coverts brown, edged with dull white, and barred with black: primaries dusky, whitish on their inner sides: secondaries barred, dusky and white: underside of the neck and breast, dirty white: belly and vent, white: tail barred, cinereous and black: legs orange: shot near Cambridge.” Latham.

man with gun and dog in a farmyard


(Scolopax limosa, Lin.—La Barge, Buff.)

Length seventeen inches: weight nine ounces. Bill near four inches long, dusky, the base yellowish: irides white: the head and neck are cinereous: cheeks and chin white: back, brown: on the wings, a line of white: vent and rump, white: two middle tail feathers, black; the others, white at the ends, which increases on the outer feathers, so as the exterior ones are white for nearly the whole length: legs, dusky. This inhabits Iceland, Greenland, and Sweden. Migrates in flocks in the south of Russia. Seen about Lake Baikal: and is said also to have been met with in England.” Latham.

man dragging branch through light snow

Notes and Corrections: Lesser Godwit

Scolopax limosa is now Limosa limosa, flagship of Brisson’s godwit genus.

This inhabits Iceland, Greenland, and Sweden.
[Iceland and Sweden, sure. But I don’t see any members of genus Limosa in Greenland, though they are plentiful everywhere else.]


woodcut of Greenshank

(Scolopax glottis, Lin.—La Barge variée, Buff.)

The Greenshank is of a slender and elegant shape, and its weight small in proportion to its length and dimensions, being only about six ounces, although it measures from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail fourteen inches, and to the toes twenty; and from tip to tip of the wings, twenty-five. The bill is about two inches and a half long, strait and slender, the upper mandible black, the under reddish at its base. The upper parts of its plumage are pale brownish ash-colour, but each feather is marked down the shaft with a glossy bronze brown; the under parts, and rump, are of a pure white: a 87 whitish streak passes over each eye: the quill feathers are dusky, plain on the outer webs, but the inner ones are speckled with white spots: the tail is white, crossed with dark waved bars: the legs are long, bare about two inches above the knees, and of a dark green colour: the outer toe is connected by a membrane to the middle one as far as the first joint.

This species is not numerous in England, but they appear in small flocks, in the winter season, on the sea-shores and the adjacent marshes; their summer residence is in the northern regions of Russia, Siberia, &c. where they are said to be in great plenty; they are also met with in various parts of both Asia and America. Their flesh, like all the rest of this genus, is well-flavoured, and esteemed good eating.

The above figure and description were taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum.

man blowing at a small fire

Notes and Corrections: Greenshank

Scolopax glottis is the same bird as Tringa nebularia, originally Scolopax nebularia, the common greenshank. No, I don’t know why Gunnerus’s binomial from 1767 won out over Linnaeus’s from 1758—or, for that matter, why it wasn’t assigned to Linnaeus’s genus Tringa all along. But pause for a moment of ticklement at the thought that the greenshank belongs to the redshank genus.


woodcut of Spotted Redshank

(Scolopax Totanus, Lin.—Le Chevalier rouge, Buff.)

The length of this bird, from the tip of the bill to the end of the tail, is twelve inches, and to the end of the toes fourteen inches and a half; its breadth twenty-one inches and a quarter, and its weight about five ounces two drachms, avoirdupois. The bill is slender, measures two inches and a half from the corners of the mouth to the tip, and is, for half its length, nearest the base, red; the other part black: irides hazel: the head, neck, breast, and belly are spotted in streaks, mottled and barred with dingy ash-brown and dull white, darker on the crown and hinder part of the neck: the throat 89 is white, and lines of the same colour pass from the upper sides of the beak over each eye, from the corners of which two brown ones are extended to the nostrils: the ground colour of the shoulders, scapulars, lesser coverts, and tail, is a glossy olive brown,—the feathers on all these parts are indented on the edges, more or less, with triangular-shaped white spots. The back is white; the rump barred with waved lines of ash-coloured brown, and dingy white: the vent feathers are marked nearly in the same manner, but with a greater portion of white: the tail and coverts are also barred with narrow waved lines, of a dull ash-colour, and, in some specimens, are nearly black and white. Five of the primary quills are dark brown, tinged with olive; the shaft of the first quill is white; the next six are, in the male, rather deeply tipped with white, and slightly spotted and barred with brown: the secondaries, as far as they are uncovered, when the wings are extended, are of the same snowy whiteness as the back. The feathers which cover the upper part of the thighs, and those near them, are blushed with a reddish or vinous colour: the legs are of a deep orange red, and measure, from the end of the middle toe nail to the upper bare part of the thigh, five inches and a half.

A stuffed specimen of this elegant-looking bird, from which the figure and description were taken, was the gift of Mr Rediough, of Ormskirk: another 90 of these birds, in perfect plumage, was shot by Mr John Bell, of Alemouth, merchant, in September, 1801; it differed from the former in being more sparingly spotted with white on the upper parts, and in its breast, belly, and the inside of the wings, being of a snowy whiteness, and its sides, under the wings, more delicately spotted with pale brown.

feather of Spotted Redshank

Notes and Corrections: Spotted Redshank

Scolopax totanus is now Tringa totanus, the common redshank.

its weight about five ounces two drachms, avoirdupois
text has avoirdupoise


woodcut of Redshank

(Scolopax Calidris, Lin.—Le Chevalier aux Pieds Rouges, Buff.)

This bird weighs about five ounces and a half: its length is twelve inches, and the breadth twenty-one. The bill, from the tip to the corners of the mouth, is more than an inch and three-quarters long, black at the point, and red towards the base: the feathers on the crown of the head are dark brown, edged with pale rufous; a light or whitish line passes over, and encircles each eye, from the corners of which a dark brown spot is extended to the beak: irides hazel: the hinder part of the neck is obscurely spotted with dark brown, on a rusty ash-coloured ground; the throat and fore part are 92 more distinctly marked or streaked with spots of the same colour: on the breast and belly, which are white, tinged with ash, the spots are thinly distributed, and are shaped something like the heads of arrows or darts. The general appearance of the upper parts of the plumage is glossy olive brown; some of the feathers are quite plain, others spotted on the edges with dark brown, and those on the shoulders, scapulars, and tertials are transversely marked with the same coloured waved bars, on a pale rusty ground: the bastard wing and primary quills are dark brown; the inner webs of the latter are deeply edged with white, freckled with brown, and some of those quills next the secondaries are elegantly marked, near their tips, with narrow brown lines, pointed and shaped to the form of each feather: some of the secondaries are barred in nearly the same manner, others are white: back white: the tail feathers and coverts are beautifully marked with alternate bars of dusky and white, the middle ones slightly tinged with rust colour: legs red, and measure from the end of the toes to the upper bare part of the thigh, four inches and a half.

This species is of a solitary character, being mostly seen alone, or in pairs only. It resides the greater part of the year in the fen countries, in the wet and marshy grounds, where it breeds and rears its young. It lays four eggs, whiteish, tinged with olive, and marked with irregular spots of black, chiefly 93 on the thicker end. Pennant and Latham say, “it flies round its nest, when disturbed, making a noise like a Lapwing.” It is not so common on the sea-shores as several others of its kindred species.

Ornithologists differ much in their descriptions of the Redshank, and probably have confounded it with others of the red-legged tribe, whose proper names are yet wanting, or involved in doubt and uncertainty. Latham, in his supplement, describes this bird as differing so much in its summer and winter dress, and in its weight, as to appear to be of two distinct species. There is reason to believe that several species of the Scolopax and Tringa genera which have not yet been taken into the list of British birds, appear occasionally in Great Britain, and that this circumstance, together with the difference of age and sex, has occasioned much confusion. The figure and description of this pretty bird were taken from a specimen sent by the Rev. J. Davies, of Trinity College, Cambridge: on comparing it with that figured in the Planches Enluminées, under the title of Le Chevalier rayé, and the striated Sandpiper of Pennant and Latham, the difference was so slight, that there is no doubt of its being the same species.

distant view of river mouth

Notes and Corrections: Redshank

Sigh. I will be happy if I never see the name Calidris again. Scolopax calidris may or may not be the same bird as Totanus calidris, Scolopax totanus and—current name—Tringa calidris . . . the common redshank. The one from the previous article. (Totanus is a Cuvier genus from 1800 that was in use for quite a while, but now seems to have disappeares.)

Ornithologists differ much in their descriptions of the Redshank, and probably have confounded it with others of the red-legged tribe
[I don’t doubt it.]



The tongue is slender; toes divided, or very slightly connected at the base by a membrane; hinder toe weak; their bills are nearly of the same form as those of the preceding species, but shorter: their haunts and manner of life are also very similar. Latham has enumerated thirty-seven species and nine varieties of this genus, seventeen of which are British, exclusive of those which in this work are placed among the Plovers; but the history and classification of this genus are involved in much uncertainty.

tangle of bushes

Notes and Corrections: Of the Sandpiper

Today, “Sandpiper” means family Scolopacidae, including all the genera from the last few sections and quite a few more. Most of them started out in Linnaeus’s genus Tringa.


woodcut of Ruff (bird)

(Tringa Pugnax, Lin.—Le Combattant, Buff.)

The male of this curious species is called the Ruff, and the female the Reeve: they differ materially in their exterior appearance; and also, what is remarkable in wild birds, it very rarely happens that two Ruffs are alike in the colours of their plumage.⁕1 The singular, wide-spreading, variegated tuft of feathers which, in the breeding season, grows out of their necks, is different in all. This tuft or ruff, a portion of which stands up like ears behind each eye, is in some black, 96 in others black and yellow, and in others again white, rust colour, or barred with glossy violet, black and white. They are, however, more nearly alike in other respects: they measure about a foot in length, and two in breadth, and, when first taken, weigh about seven ounces and an half; the female seldom exceeds four. The bill is more than an inch long, black at the tip, and reddish yellow towards the base; the irides are hazel: the whole face is covered with reddish tubercles, or pimples: the wing coverts are brownish ash-colour: the upper parts and the breast are generally marked with transverse bars, and the scapulars with roundish-shaped glossy black spots, on a rusty-coloured ground: quills dusky: belly, vent, and tail coverts white: the tail is brown, the four middle feathers of it are barred with black: the legs are yellow. The male does not acquire the ornament of his neck till the second season, and, before that time, is not easily distinguished from the female, except by being larger. After moulting, at the end of June, he looses his ruff and the red tubercles on his face, and from that time until the spring of the year, he again, in plumage, looks like his mate.

These birds leave Great Britain in the winter, and are then supposed to associate with others of the Tringa genus, among which they are no longer recognized as the Ruff and Reeve. In the spring, as soon as they arrive again in England, and take 97 up their abode in the fens where they were bred, each of the males (of which there appears to be a much greater number than of females) immediately fixes upon a particular dry or grassy spot in the marsh, about which he runs round and round, until it is trodden bare: to this spot it appears he wishes to invite the female, and waits in expectation of her taking a joint possession, and becoming an inmate. As soon as a single female arrives, and is heard or observed by the males, her feeble cry seems as if it roused them all to war, for they instantly begin to fight, and their combats are described as being both desperate and of long continuance: at the end of the battle she becomes the prize of the victor.⁕2 It is at the time of these battles that they are caught in the greatest numbers in the nets of the fowlers, who watch for that opportunity: they are also, at other times, caught by clap, or day nets,⁕3 and are drawn together by means of 98 a stuffed Reeve, or what is called a stale bird, which is placed in some suitable spot for that purpose.

The Ruff is highly esteemed as a most delicious dish, and is sought after with great eagerness by the fowlers who live by catching them and other fen birds, for the markets of the metropolis, &c. Before they are offered for sale, they are commonly put up to feed for about a fortnight, and are during that time fed with boiled wheat, and bread and milk mixed with hempseed, to which sugar is sometimes added: by this mode of treatment they become very fat, and are often sold as high as two shillings and sixpence each.⁕4 They are cooked in the same manner as the Woodcock.

The female, in the beginning of May, makes her nest in a dry tuft of grass, in the fens, and lays four white eggs, marked with rusty spots.

These birds are common in the summer season in the fens of Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, and are also found in other more northern regions, even as far as Iceland.

⁕1 Buffon says, that Klien compared above a hundred Ruffs together, and found only two that were similar.

⁕2 Buffon says, “they not only contend with each other in single rencounter, but they advance to combat in marshalled ranks.”

⁕3 These nets, which are about fourteen yards long, and four broad, are fixed by the fowler over night: at day-break in the morning he resorts to his stand, at a few hundred yards distance from the place, and at a fit opportunity pulls his cord, which causes his net to fall over and secure the prize. Mr Pennant says, an old fowler told him he once caught forty-four birds at one haul, and, in all, six dozen that morning: he also adds, that a fowler will take forty or fifty dozen in a season. The females are always set at liberty.

⁕4 In a note communicated by the late George Allan, Esq. of the Grange, near Darlington, he says, “I dined at the George Inn, Coney-street, York, August 18, 1794, (the race week) where four Ruffs made one of the dishes at the table, which, in the bill, were separately charged sixteen shillings.”

thumbnail view of distant castle

Notes and Corrections: Ruff

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Tringa pugnax is now Philomachus pugnax. (When doublets like Pugnax pugnax don’t appeal, a solid second choice is to say the same thing in both Greek and Latin.) This is another Merrem 1804 genus, like the earlier Calidris; he must have liked sandpipers.

After moulting, at the end of June, he looses his ruff
text unchanged: error for loses

[Footnote] Buffon says, that Klien compared
text unchanged: error for Klein
[I don’t know if the error is Bewick’s or Buffon’s. I suppose he means German polymath Jacob Theodor Klein (1685–1759).]

[Footnote] Buffon says, “they not only contend with each other in single rencounter, but they advance to combat in marshalled ranks.”
[Pics or it didn’t happen.]


(Tringa Littorea, Lin.—Le Chevalier varié, Buff.)

Under this name Latham describes this bird, which, it is said, migrates from Sweden into England at the approach of winter. He makes it a variety of the last species, and says it does not differ materially from it, “The spots on the back are ferruginous instead of white: the shaft of the first quill is white, as in the Green Sandpiper; and the secondaries have white tips:⁕1 the legs are brown.” Brunnich mentions a further variety, wherein the first quill has a black shaft, and the spots on the back and wings are less; and observes, that they differ in age and sex.⁕2

⁕1 These are marks so common to many of this genus, that they cannot be considered as a feature sufficient to distinguish any particular species.

⁕2 Buffon’s figure in the Planches Enluminées differs from this description.

two men next to a keg mounted on wheels

Notes and Corrections: Shore Sandpiper

Tringa littorea may be the same bird as Scolopax glottis, now Tringa nebularia, the greenshank from a few chapters back.


woodcut of Green Sandpiper

(Tringa Ochropus, Lin.—Le Becasseau, ou Cul-blanc, Buff.)

This bird measures about ten inches in length, to the end of the toes nearly twelve, and weighs about three ounces and a half: the bill is black, and an inch and a half long: a pale streak extends from it over each eye; between which and the corners of the mouth, there is a dusky patch. The crown of the head and hinder part of the neck are of a dingy brownish ash-colour, in some specimens narrowly streaked with white: the throat white: fore part of the neck mottled or streaked with brown spots, on a white or pale ash-coloured ground. The whole upper parts of the plumage are of a glossy bronze, or olive brown, elegantly marked on the edge of each feather with small roundish white spots: the quills are without spots, and are of a 101 darker brown: the secondaries and tertials are very long: the inside of the wings are dusky, edged with white grey; and the inside coverts next the body are curiously barred, from the shaft of each feather to their edges, with narrow white lines, formed nearly of the shape of two sides of a triangle. The belly, vent, tail coverts, and tail, are white; the last broadly barred with black, the middle feathers having four bars, and those next to them decreasing in the number of bars towards the outside feathers, which are quite plain: the legs are green.

This bird is not any where numerous, and is of a solitary disposition, seldom more than a pair being seen together, and that chiefly in the breeding season. It is a scarce bird in England, but is said to be more common in the northern parts of the globe, even as far as Iceland. It is reported that they never frequent the sea-shores, but their places of abode are commonly on the margins of the lakes in the interior and mountainous parts of the country.

two feathers of Green Sandpiper

Notes and Corrections: Green Sandpiper

Tringa ochropus still has that binomial. But not for want of trying; in the intervening two and a half centuries it has also gone by Totanus ochropus (Cuvier 1800), Rhyacophilus ochropus (Kaup 1829) and Helodromus ochropus (Gray 1849).

is said to be more common in the northern parts of the globe
[The green sandpiper is found all over Eurasia and Africa, except Siberia and—understandably enough—the various desert regions.]


(Tringa gambetta, Lin.—La Gambette, Buff.)

This is the Chevalier Rouge of Brisson, and the Red-legged Horseman of Albin. For want of a specimen of this bird, the following description is borrowed from Latham:—

“Size of the Greenshank: length twelve inches. Bill of a reddish colour, with a black tip: the irides yellowish green: head, back, and breast cinereous brown, spotted with dull yellow: wing coverts and scapulars cinereous, edged with dull yellow: prime quills dusky; shaft of the first white; tail dusky, bordered with yellow: legs yellow. This inhabits England, but is not common: has been shot on the coast of Lincolnshire. Known in France; but is there a rare bird. Has a note not unlike the whistle of a Woodcock; and the flesh is esteemed. Inhabits Scandinavia and Iceland; called in the last Stelkr. It has also been taken in the frozen sea between Asia and America.”

The figure of this bird, in the Planches Enluminées of Buffon, is red legged, and also differs in plumage from this description.

small jug

Notes and Corrections: Gambet

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Tringa gambetta may be yet another name for the common redshank, Tringa totanus. Or, then again, it may be today’s Tringa erythropus, the spotted redshank, described by Bewick under the name “red-legged sandpiper”. To further mix things up: a decade or so after Bewick, there was an attempt at a genus Gambetta, but it has since been collapsed into Brisson’s Limosa (godwits). Today, the English “gambet” is another name for the redshank—any or all of them.

This is the Chevalier Rouge of Brisson
[So he has heard of Brisson. Never would have guessed it.]

Inhabits Scandinavia and Iceland; called in the last Stelkr.
[For what it’s worth, GBIF offers stelkur as an Icelandic name for T. totanus.]


Tringa Cinerea.

This bird weighs between four and five ounces, and measures ten inches in length, and about nineteen in breadth. The whole upper parts of the plumage are of a brownish ash-colour: the head is spotted, and the neck streaked with dusky lines: the feathers of the back, scapulars, and wing coverts, are elegantly marked or bordered on their ridges and tips, with two narrow lines of dull white, and dark brown. Some specimens have black spots on the breast, but most commonly the whole under parts are pure white; the tail is cinereous, edged with white, and its coverts are barred with black: legs dirty green; toes edged with a fine narrow scallopped membrane.

The Ash-coloured Sandpiper, it is said, breeds in the northern parts of both Europe and America. Pennant says they appear in vast flocks on the shores of Flintshire in the winter season; and Latham, that they are seen in vast numbers on the Seal-Islands, near Chateaux Bay; and also that they breed and remain the whole summer at Hudson’s Bay, where they are called by the natives Sasqua pisqua nishish.

two bushels and a hoop

Notes and Corrections: Ash-Coloured Sandpiper

Tringa cinerea—not Linnaeus but Guldenstadt—is now Xenus cinereus, the terek sandpiper; in fact it has genus Xenus all to itself. It doesn’t seem to be more frequent around the Terek river than anywhere else in the Eastern Hemisphere.

they breed and remain the whole summer at Hudson’s Bay
[Nope, not Xenus cinereus.]


woodcut of Common Sandpiper

(Tringa hypoleucos, Lin.—La Guignette, Buff.)

This bird weighs about two ounces, and measures seven inches and a half in length. The bill is about an inch long, black at the tip, fading into pale brown towards the base. The head, and hinder part of the neck, are brownish ash, streaked downwards with dark narrow lines: the throat is white, and a streak of the same colour surrounds and is extended over each eye: the cheeks and auriculars are streaked with brown: the fore part of the neck to the breast is white, mottled and streaked with spots and lines of a brown colour, pointing downwards: in some the breast is plain white: belly and vent white. The ground colour of all the upper parts of the plumage is ash, blended with glossy 105 olive bronze brown: the coverts, scapulars, lower part of the back and tail coverts, are edged with dull white, and most elegantly marked with transverse dark-coloured narrow waved lines: the first two quills are plain brown; the next nine are marked on the middle of their inner webs, with white spots; the secondaries are also marked in the same manner, on both webs, and tipped with white. The tail consists of twelve feathers: the four middle ones are of an olive brown, dark at the tips; those next to them, on each side, are much lighter coloured, mottled with dark brown, and tipped with white; the two outside ones are edged and tipped in the same manner, but are barred on their webs with dark brown: legs pale dull green, faintly blushed with red.

This description was taken from a perfect bird, the present of the right honourable Lord Charles Aynsley, of Little-Harle Tower, Northumberland, in May, 1798. By comparing it with other birds, and other descriptions, (no doubt taken with equal accuracy) the truth of the observation so often made, that two birds even of the same species, are very seldom exactly alike, will be proved.

This elegant little bird breeds in this country, but the species is not numerous, yet they are frequently seen in pairs during the summer months; and are well known by their clear piping note, by their flight, by jerking up their tails, and by their manner of running 106 after their insect prey on the pebbly margins of brooks and rivers. The female makes her nest in a hole on the ground near their haunts; her eggs, commonly five in number, are much mottled and marked with dark spots, on a yellowish ground. They leave England in the autumn, but whither they go is not particularly noticed by ornithologists. Buffon says they retire far north; and Pennant and Latham that they are met with in Siberia and Kamtschatca, and are also not uncommon in North America.

woman hanging clothes on the line

Notes and Corrections: Common Sandpiper

Tringa hypoleucos is now Actitis hypoleucos. For variety’s sake, genus Actitis isn’t Brisson; it was not defined until 1811. It has only two members—but between the two of them they cover most of the globe.

and are also not uncommon in North America
[Nope again. GBIF shows Actitis hypoleucos all over the eastern hemisphere, with the usual exception of desert regions. It is completely unattested in the Americas, barring a few stragglers that seem to have wandered across the Bering Strait. There are plenty of American sandpipers, including Actitis macularius, the spotted sandpiper, described a few pages further along.]



Pennant describes this bird, which, he says, was bought in the London market, and preserved in the collection of the late M. Tunstall, Esq. of Wycliffe:—“Size of a Jacksnipe: the bill is black: the head, upper part of the neck, and back, are of a pale brown, spotted with black: coverts of the wings dusky, edged with dirty white: underside of the neck white, streaked with black: the belly white: tail cinereous: legs black.”

building with smoking chimney overlooking a river

Notes and Corrections: Brown Sandpiper

Fusca is . . . not a binomial. There exists, or once existed, a Tringa fuscus or Scolopax fusca, now merged into Pallas’s T. erythropus. See under Gambet, above, and Red-Legged Sandpiper, below.



Size of the Redshank: weight nearly eight ounces: length twelve inches and a half. Bill an inch and a half long, black: crown of the head reddish brown, streaked with black: nape, cheeks, and neck, ash-colour; the middle of the feathers dusky down the shaft: lower part of the neck and back black; the feathers margined on the sides with pale ferruginous, and some of those of the back at the tips also: chin nearly white: fore part of the neck very pale ash-colour, as far as the breast, which is of a dusky white: belly, sides, vent, and upper tail coverts on each side, and the whole of the under ones, white: lesser wing coverts ash-colour; the greater, the same, obscurely margined with pale ferruginous; greatest tipped with white; under wing coverts pure white: prime quills dusky, the shafts more or less white; secondaries and scapulars nearly the colour of the back; the secondaries and primaries very little differing in length: the lower part of the back, rump, and middle of the tail coverts, ash-colour: tail a little rounded at the end, brownish ash-colour, somewhat mottled with brownish near the tips, and fringed near to the end with pale ferruginous: legs dusky olive green, bare an inch above the knee: the outer and 109 middle toe connected at the base.” The bird from which the above description was taken, was shot by Dr Leith, at Greenwich, on the 5th of August, 1785, and sent to Mr Latham, who considered it as a new species.

man climbing ruins of stone wall

Notes and Corrections: Greenwich Sandpiper

Grenovicensis is, again, not a binomial. “Greenwich sandpiper” may be another name for the ruff—but whose name is anyone’s guess. Bewick seems to be regurgitating Latham’s description, based on an examination of a single specimen.

[Good heavens. And to think Dracula is almost a century in the future.]



Size of a Thrush: the beak short, blunt at the point, and dusky: nostrils black: the irides yellow: the head small, and flatted at the top: the colour white, most elegantly spotted with grey: the neck, shoulders, and back mottled in the same manner, but darker, being tinged with brown; in some lights these parts appeared of a perfectly black, and glossy: the wings were long: the quill-feathers black, crossed near their base with a white line: the throat, breast, and belly white, with faint brown and black spots of a longish form, irregularly dispersed; but on the belly become larger and more round: the tail short, entirely white, except the two middle feathers, which are black: legs long and slender, and of a reddish brown colour.” This bird was shot in Lincolnshire; and the description communicated to Mr Pennant by Mr Bolton.

sun setting over the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Black Sandpiper

This time around the description comes at third hand: from a Mr Bolton as quoted by Pennant. There are several bird species named leucurus or leucura (“white tail”), including the white-tailed lapwing Vanellus leucurus. That’s in family Charadriidae, not Scolopacidae—and it wasn’t described until 1823.

these parts appeared . . . the wings were long . . . become larger and more round . . . which are black
[The confusion of tenses is in the original—whether that means Bewick, Pennant, Bolton or some combination thereof.]


woodcut of Spotted Sandpiper

(Tringa macularia, Lin.—La Grive d’eau, Buff.)

This bird measures about eight inches in length: the bill is black at the tip, and fades into a reddish colour towards the base; a white streak is extended over each eye, and a brownish patch between them and the bill: the whole upper part of the plumage is of a glossy lightish brown, with green reflections: the head and neck are marked with longish small dark spots: on the back, scapulars, and wing coverts the spots are larger, and of a triangular shape: the rump is plain: the greater quills are dusky; secondaries tipped with white; as are also the greater and lesser coverts, which form two oblique white lines across the extended wings: the 112 two middle feathers of the tail are greenish brown; the side ones white, crossed with dusky lines: the breast, belly, and vent are white, but in the female, spotted with brown: legs of a dirty flesh-colour.

This species is not common in England. The specimen from which the foregoing figure was drawn, was shot in the month of August, on the bleak moors above Bellingham, in Northumberland; and the author is indebted for it, and many other favours of the same kind, at different times, to Mr John Wingate, of the Westgate, Newcastle.

man sitting by rough river

Notes and Corrections: Spotted Sandpiper

Tringa macularia is now Actitis macularius. Although it is most common in the Americas, it is also found in western Europe, so Bewick is entitled to include it in his British Birds.


woodcut of Red-Legged Sandpiper

(Tringa Erythropus.)

This bird measures from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail, ten inches: the bill is an inch and three-eighths long, black at the tip, and reddish towards the base: the crown of the head is spotted with dark brown, disposed in streaks, and edged with pale brown and grey: a darkish patch covers the space between the corners of the mouth and the eyes: the chin is white; the brow and cheeks pale brown, prettily freckled with small dark spots: the hinder part of the neck is composed of a mixture of pale brown, grey and ash, with a few indistinct dusky spots; the fore part, and the breast, are white, clouded with a dull cinnamon colour, and sparingly and irregularly marked with black spots, 114 reflecting a purple gloss: the shoulder and scapular feathers are black, edged with pale rust colour, and have the same glossy reflections as those on the breast: the tertials are nearly of the same length as the quills, and are marked like the first annexed figure: the ridges of the wings are a brownish ash-colour; the coverts, back, and rump are nearly the same, but inclining to olive, and the middle of each feather is of a deeper dusky brown: the primary quills are deep olive brown: the exterior webs of the secondaries are also of that colour, but lighter, edged and tipped with white, and the inner webs are mostly white towards the base: the tail coverts are glossy black, edged with pale rust colour, and tipped with white; but in some of them a streak of white passes from the middle upwards, nearly the whole length, as in the second figure. The tail feathers are lightish brown, except the two middle ones, which are barred with spots of a darker hue: the belly and vent are white: legs bare above the knees, and red as sealing-wax: claws black. The female is less than the male, and her plumage more dingy and indistinct: an egg taken out of her previous to stuffing, was surprisingly large, considering her bulk, being about the size of that of a magpie, of a greenish white colour, spotted and blotched with brown, of a long shape, and pointed at the smaller end.

The foregoing figure and description were taken from a pair, male and female, which were shot on 115 Rippengale fen, in Lincolnshire, on the 14th of May, 1799, by Major Charles Dilke, of the Warwickshire cavalry, who also obligingly pointed out several leading features of these birds, in which they differ materially from the Scolopax Calidris of Linnæus, called here the Redshank or Poolsnipe. He says, “this bird is a constant inhabitant of the fens, and is known to sportsmen by its singular notes, which are very loud and melodious, and are heard even when the bird is beyond the reach of sight.”

The description of this bird, which, it seems, is common in the fen countries, has been more particularly attended to, because it has not been described in any of the popular works on ornithology; at least, not so accurately as to enable a naturalist to distinguish it by the proper name.

several feathers of Red-Legged Sandpiper

Notes and Corrections: Red-Legged Sandpiper

Tringa erythropus, the spotted redshank, still has that binomial—if only because it went through its name-changes early. Pallas originally named it Scolopax erythropus; for reasons I don’t profess to understand, this name beat out Linnaeus’s Sc. fusca and/or Tr. fuscus from several years earlier. (And, incidentally, what the deuce is a tringa or perhaps τρίγγα, and why is it grammatically mascu­line? Did Aldrovandus simply make it up?)

an egg taken out of her previous to stuffing, was surprisingly large, considering her bulk
[Just wait, Thomas, until you see a kiwi egg.]


(Tringa Icelandica, Lin.)

Latham describes this bird in the following manner:—“Length from eight to ten inches: bill brown, one inch and a half long, and a little bent downwards: head, hinder part of the neck, and beginning of the back, dusky, marked with red; fore part of the neck and breast cinereous, mixed with rust colour, and obscurely spotted with black: lesser wing coverts cinereous: quills dusky: secondaries tipped with white: the two middle tail feathers dusky; the others cinereous: legs long and black.” The same author mentions another variety, which is called by Pennant the Aberdeen Sandpiper: it has the breast reddish brown, mixed with dusky: belly and vent white: in other respects it is like the Red Sandpiper, of which it is supposed by Latham to be the female, or a young bird. He adds, “the Red Sandpiper has appeared in great flocks on the coasts of Essex: the Aberdeen, in Scotland. They have also been met with on the coasts of New York, Labrador, and Nootka Sound; and are also found in Iceland. In summer they frequent the neighbourhood of the Caspian sea; and also the river Don. It is perpetually running up and down on the sandy banks, picking up insects and small worms, on which it feeds.”

Notes and Corrections: Red Sandpiper

Tringa islandica has been downgraded to a subspecies, Calidris canutus islandica, where C. canutus is the Knot described earlier in the volume.

Tringa Icelandica, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Islandica


woodcut of Dunlin

(Tringa Alpina, Lin.—La Brunette, Buff.)

This bird is nearly of the size of the Judcock, and its bill is of the same shape, but much shorter in proportion to the bulk: it may also be easily distinguished among its associates, the Purres, Dottrels, Sanderlings, &c. by the redness of the upper parts of its plumage; the ground colour of which, from the beak to the rump, is ferruginous, or rusty red; but the middle of each feather is black, and the edges of some of them are narrowly fringed with yellowish white, or ash-coloured grey: in some specimens the lesser wing coverts are dingy ash-coloured brown, in others they are of a clear brown, edged with ferruginous rather deeply: the quills and greater coverts are dark brown, the latter deeply tipped with white, which, together with the bases of 118 the secondaries, forms an oblique bar across the extended wings: the primaries, except the first three, are edged on the exterior webs with white; their shafts are also mostly white, and each feather is sharply pencilled and distinctly defined with a light colour about the tips: a darkish spot covers each side of the head from the corners of the mouth, and a pale streak passes from the bill over each eye: the throat and fore part of the neck to the breast, are of a yellowish white, mottled with brown spots: a dusky crescent-shaped patch, the feathers of which are narrowly edged with white, covers the breast, the horns pointing towards the thighs: the belly and vent are white: the middle tail feathers black, edged with ferruginous; the others pale ash, edged with white: legs and thighs black. The female is rather larger than the male, but in other respects resembles him pretty nearly.

The above description and figure were taken from a pair, sent by the Rev. C. Rudston, of Sandhutton, near York, the 22d of April, 1799; and the author has been favoured with numbers of these and others of the same genus, by the Rev. H. Cotes, vicar of Bedlington; not two of which were exactly alike, probably owing to the difference of age or sex.

In some specimens, supposed to be female, this patch was wanting.

Notes and Corrections: Dunlin

Tringa alpina is now Calidris alpina.


woodcut of Purre

(Tringa Cinclus, Lin.—L’Alouette de Mer, Buff.)

In the north of England these birds are called Stints, in other parts, the Least Snipe, Ox-Bird, Ox-Eye, Bull’s-Eye, Sea-Lark, and Wagtail: they generally measure about seven inches and a half in length, and in breadth about fourteen; but sometimes they weigh and measure rather more. The bill is black, grooved on the sides of the upper mandible, and about an inch and a quarter in length: tongue of nearly the same length, sharp and hard at the point: a whitish line runs from the brow over each eye, and a brownish one from the sides of the mouth to the eyes, and over the cheeks: the fore part of the neck is pale ash-colour, mottled with brown: the head, hinder part of the neck, upper part of the back, and scapulars, are brownish ash-colour, but the middle of the feathers on these parts 120 is dark brown; hence there is a more or less mottled and streaked appearance in different birds. The upper side of the scapulars, next the back, are deep brown, edged with bright ferruginous; tertials, rump, and tail coverts nearly the same: bastard wing, primary and secondary quills, deep brown: lesser coverts brown, edged with yellowish white: greater coverts of nearly the same colour, but tipped with white: the throat, breast, belly, and vent, white: the two middle feathers of the tail are dusky, the rest ash-coloured: legs, thighs, and toes black, inclining to green. The female has not the bright ferruginous edged feathers on the upper scapulars, and her whole plumage is more uniformly of a brownish ash-colour, mixed with grey.

The Purre, with others of the same genus, appears in great numbers on the sea-shores, in various parts of Great Britain, during the winter season: they run nimbly near the edges of the flowing and retiring waves, and are almost perpetually wagging their tails, whilst they are, at the same time busily employed in picking up their food, which consists chiefly of small worms and insects. On taking flight, they give a kind of scream, and skim along near the surface of the water with great rapidity, as well as with great regularity; they do not fly directly forward, but perform their evolutions in large semicircles, alternately in their sweep approaching 121 the shore and the sea, and the curvature of their course is pointed out by the flock’s appearing suddenly and alternately in a dark or in a snowy white colour, as their backs or their bellies are turned to or from the spectator.⁕1

The Purre leaves this country in the spring, but whither it retires to breed is not yet known. It is said to be widely dispersed over both Europe and America.

By the kindness of his friends the author has been furnished with many of these birds; and on the most minute inspection, as has before been noticed in respect of others of this genus, they all differed in a greater or less degree from each other.⁕2

⁕1 It is somewhat remarkable that birds of different species, such as the Ring-dottrel, Sanderling, &c. which associate with the Purre, Dunlin, &c. should understand the signal, which, from their wheeling about altogether with such promptitude and good order, it would appear is given to the whole flock.

⁕2 In a variety of this species, obligingly presented by Geo. Strickland, Esq. of Ripon, the bill was bent a little downward; and the fore part of the neck and the breast were of a pale reddish buff colour: in other respects it did not differ materially.

There is reason to suspect that some ornithologists have denominated this bird the Dwarf Curlew; and probably the Cincle, or L’Alouette de Mer, of Buffon, and the variety of the Purre, described by Latham, only differ from the specimen whence the above drawing was taken, in age or sex.

Notes and Corrections: Purre

Tringa cinclus . . . doesn’t seem to exist. Earlier in the volume we met Sturnus cinclus, now Cinclus cinclus, the water ouzel or white-throated dipper; there’s nothing else called cinclus (-a, -um). The English name is no help, since “purre” is currently just another name for the dunlin. Some sources equate Tr. cinclus with Calidris minuta, the little stint—not to be confused with the still littler C. pusilla, below—which started out (in 1812) as Tr. minuta.


woodcut of Little Stint

(Tringa pusilla, Lin.—La petite Alouette de Mer, Brisson.)

This bird, the least of the Sandpiper tribe, in its figure and plumage nearly resembles the last two kinds. It weighs twelve pennyweights troy, and measures in length, extended, from the point of the beak to the end of the tail, nearly six inches; from tip to tip of its wing, about eleven inches and a half; and the bill, to the corners of the mouth, is five-eighths of an inch. The feathers on the crown of the head are black, edged with rust colour: it is marked, like most of the genus, by a light streak over each eye, and a darkish spot below and before them: the throat, fore part of the neck, and belly are white; and the breast is tinged with pale reddish 123 yellow: the shoulders and scapulars are black, edged with white on the exterior webs of each feather, and on the interior with rust colour: back and tail dusky: legs slender, and nearly black.

This figure and description were taken from a bird shot by Robert Pearson, Esq. of Newcastle, on the 10th of September, 1801, the only one the author has seen. It will be remarked that it differs from Pennant and Latham’s descriptions, simply in the feathers on the upper parts not being edged with black and pale rusty brown.

distant view of land, rocks and water

Notes and Corrections: Little Stint

Tringa pusilla is now Calidris pusilla, the semipalmated sandpiper. Like the Spotted Sandpiper from a few chapters back, it lives mainly in the Americas, but also in western Europe.

It weighs twelve pennyweights troy
[This is not the first time Bewick has given a bird’s weight in troy rather than avoirdupois. For what it’s worth, Animal Diversity says it ranges from 21 to 32g (.74 to 1.13 oz).]


woodcut of Turnstone

(Tringa interpres, Lin.—Le Coulon-chaud, Buff.)

This is a plump made, and prettily variegated bird, and measures about eight inches and a quarter in length: the bill is black, straight, strong, and not more than an inch in length: the ground colour of the head and neck is white, with small spots on the crown and hinder parts; a black stroke crosses the forehead to the eyes; the auriculars are formed by a patch of the same colour, which, pointing forward to the corners of the mouth, and falling down, is spread over the sides of the breast, whence ascends another branch, which, like a band, goes 125 about the lower part of the neck behind. The back, scapulars, and tertials are black, edged with rusty red; lesser coverts of the wings cinereous brown; greater coverts black, edged with ferruginous, and tipped with white: primary and secondary quills black, the latter white at the ends: the rump and tail coverts are white, crossed with a black bar: tail black, tipped with white: the fore part of the breast, belly and vent white: thighs feathered nearly to the knees: legs and feet red.

In some specimens the lower part of the neck is white.

moon over cliffs and raging torrent

Notes and Corrections: Turnstone

Tringa interpres is now Arenaria interpres—another Brisson genus—the ruddy turnstone. Although the formatting of Bewick’s Contents suggests that he doesn‘t consider this and following bird to be quite sandpipers, we are still in family Scolopacidae.


woodcut of Turnstone (morinella)

(Tringa morinella, Lin.—Le Coulon-chaud cendré, Buff.)

This bird is like the preceding species in its size and shape. The bill is short, strong, thick at the base, and of a dark horn colour, tinged with red: the crown and hinder part of the head are dusky, edged with greyish brown; the fore part, from the eyes to the bill, pale brown; a curved band of the latter colour bounds the lower part of the neck, points forward, and falls down towards the points of the wings; between this band and the head, is a demi-ring of brownish black, which nearly surrounds the neck, a branch from which strikes upwards to the corners of the mouth, and another falls down, forming a kind of inverted gorget on the fore part of the neck, and sides of the breast; 127 the colour of the throat is white, which tapers to a point on the fore part of the neck: the upper parts of the plumage are dusky, edged with rusty or brownish red; but some of the scapulars next to the wings are partly edged with white: the tertials are long, and deeply edged and tipped with a fine pale rufous brown: the ridge of the wings and bastard quills are brownish black; the lesser coverts adjoining the ridge, white: primaries and secondaries, black,—the bases of the former, and tips of the latter, white; the greater coverts are also deeply tipped with white, which, when the wing is extended, forms a bar quite across it: the under parts of the plumage, lower part of the back, and tail coverts are white, excepting a black patch which crosses the rump. The tail consists of twelve black feathers, tipped with white, except the two middle ones, which are entirely black: the legs and toes are short, and of an orange red. The male excels the female in the beauty of his plumage; her pyebald marks are not so distinct, and her colours are uniformly more dull and confused.

These birds frequent the sea shores in various parts of Great Britain, and have obtained their name from their manner of turning over small stones in quest of their prey, which lies concealed under them.

This species of Turnstone is chiefly confined to the northern, as is the former to the southern parts> of Great Britain.

Notes and Corrections: Turnstone (Morinella)

Tringa morinella is now the subspecies Arenaria interpres morinella, which explains why both have the same English name. Not sure what it’s doing among British Birds, though, since this subspecies is only supposed to exist in the Americas, especially along the coast.


woodcut of Water Hen

(Fulica chloropus, Lin.—La Poule d’Eau, Buff.)

The weight of this bird varies from ten and a half to fifteen ounces: the length from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail is about fourteen inches, the breadth twenty-two: the bill is rather more than an inch long, of a greenish yellow at the tip, and reddish towards the base, whence a singular kind of horny or membraneous substance shields the forehead as far as the eyes: this appendage to the bill is as red as sealing wax in the breeding season; at other times it varies or fades into a white colour. The head is small and black, except a white spot 129 under each eye, the irides of which are red: all the upper part of the plumage is of a dark shining olive green, inclining to brown; the under parts are of a dark hoary lead colour: vent feathers black; those on the belly and the thighs tipped with dirty white: the long loose feathers on the sides, which hang over the upper part of the thighs, are black, streaked with white: the ridge of the wing, outside feathers of the tail, and those underneath, are white: the upper bare part of the thighs is red; from the knees to the toes, the colours are different shades, from pale yellow to deep green: the toes are very long, the middle one measuring, to the end of the nail, nearly three inches; their undersides are broad, being furnished with membraneous edgings their whole length on each side, by which the bird is enabled to swim, and easily run over the surface of the slimy mud by the sides of the waters, where it frequents.

The body of the Water Hen is long and compressed at the sides, and the legs are placed far behind; its feathers are thickly set, or compact, and are bedded upon down. Like the Water Rail and Water Crake, it lives concealed, during the day, among reeds and willows, by the sides of rivers or rivulets, which it prefers to bogs and stagnant pools: like those birds, it can run over the surface of such waters as are thickly covered with weeds, and it dives and hides itself with equal ease: like the Water 130 Crake, it also flirts up its tail when running, and flies with its legs hanging down, but is a better swimmer. In the evenings, it creeps, runs, and skulks by the margins of the waters, among the roots of the bushes, osiers, and long loose herbage which over-hang the banks, in quest of its food, which consists of water insects, small fishes, worms, aquatic plants and seeds. It is likewise granivorous, and, if killed in September or October, after having had the advantage of a neighbouring stubble, its flesh is very good.

The female makes her nest of a large quantity of withered reeds and rushes, closely interwoven, and is particularly careful to have it placed in a most retired spot, close by the brink of the waters; and, it is said, she never quits it without covering her eggs with the leaves of the surrounding herbage. Pennant and Latham say, she builds her nest upon some low stump of a tree, or shrub, by the water’s side: no doubt she may sometimes vary the place of her nest, according as particular circumstances may command, but she generally prefers the other mode of building it. She lays six or seven eggs at a time, and commonly has two hatchings in a season. The eggs are nearly two inches in length, and are irregularly and thinly marked with rust-coloured spots on a yellowish white ground. The young brood remain but a short time in the nest, under the nurturing care of the mother; but as soon as 131 they are able to crawl out, they take to the water, and shift for themselves.

Although the Water Hen is no where very numerous, yet one species or other of them is met with in almost every country in the known world. It is not yet ascertained whether they ever migrate from this to other countries, but it is well known that they make partial flittings from one district to another, and are found in the cold mountainous tracts in summer, and in lower and warmer situations in winter.

On examination of several specimens of this bird, in full feather, they were found; like most birds of plain plumage, very little different from each other.

farm from a distance

Notes and Corrections: Water Hen

Fulica chloropus is now Gallinula chloropus, the common moorhen. It definitely isn’t a sandpiper, but why Bewick kept it apart from the immediately following Coot section is not for me to speculate. Like them, it is in family Rallidae of order Gruiformes.



Bill strong, thick, sloping to a point; the base of the upper mandible rising far up into the forehead: both mandibles of equal length: nostrils inclining to oval, narrow, short: body compressed: wings and tail short: toes long, furnished with broad scalloped membranes between each joint, on each side; the inner toe has two, the middle three, and the outer four scallops: and the hinder toe, one plain membrane adhering to it its whole length.

The Coot is met with in various parts of Europe, Asia, and America; its flesh is of a strong marshy taste; for which, by some people, it is much liked; while others, for the same reason, hold it in little estimation.

rowboat drawn up on a riverbank

Notes and Corrections: Of the Coot

With coots, Linnaeus’s genus Fulica, we finally part company with family Scolopacidae. Coots are in family Rallidae of order Gruiformes; we met their relatives, genus Rallus, earlier in the volume.


woodcut of Coot

(Fulica atra, Lin.—La Foulque, ou Morrelle, Buff.)

This bird generally weighs, when in full condition, about twenty-eight ounces, and measures fifteen inches in length. The bill is of a greenish white colour, more than an inch and a quarter long: a callous white membrane, like that of the Water Hen, but larger, is spread over the forehead, which also, as in that bird, changes its colour to a pale red in the breeding season: irides red: the upper part of the plumage is black, except the outer edges of the wings, and a spot under each eye, which are white: the under parts are of a hoary dark ash or lead colour. The skin is 134 cloathed with a thick down, and covered with close fine feathers: the thighs are placed far behind, are fleshy and strong, bare, and yellow above the knees: the legs and toes are commonly of a yellowish green, but sometimes of a lead colour.

The Common Coot has so many traits in its character, and so many features in its general appearance like the Rails and Water Hens, that to place it after them, seems a natural and easy gradation: Linnæus and other ornithologists, however, describe it as of a genus distinct from those birds, and from the waders in general, on account of its being fin-footed, and its constant attachment to the waters, which, indeed, it seldom quits. With it naturalists begin the numerous tribe of swimmers, and rank it among those that are the most compleatly dependent upon the watery element for their support: it swims and dives with as much ease as almost any of them; and also, like those which seldom venture upon land, it is a bad traveller, and may be said not to walk, but to splash and waddle between one pool and another, with a laboured, ill-balanced, and aukward gait.

These birds, like those of the preceding kinds, skulk and hide themselves, during the day, among rushes, sedges, and weeds, which grow abundantly in the loughs and ponds, where they take up their constant abode: they rarely venture abroad, except in the dusk, and in the night, in quest of their food, 135 which consists of the herbage, seeds, insects, and the slippery inhabitants of stagnant waters. It seldom happens that the sportsman and his dog can force the Coot to spring from its retreat; for it will, in a manner, bury itself in the mud rather than take wing, and when it is very closely pursued, and compelled to rise, it does this with much flustering and apparent difficulty.

This species is met with in Great Britain, at all seasons of the year, and it is generally believed that it does not migrate to other countries, but changes its stations, and removes in the autumn from the lesser pools or loughs, where the young have been reared, to the larger lakes, where flocks assemble in the winter. The female commonly builds her nest in a bush of rushes, surrounded by the water;⁕1 it is composed of a great quantity of coarse dried weeds, well matted together, and lined within with softer and finer grasses: she lays from twelve to fifteen eggs at a time, and commonly hatches twice in a season: her eggs are about the size of those of a pullet, and are of a pale brownish white colour, 136 sprinkled with numerous small dark spots, which, at the thicker end, seem as if they had run into each other, and formed bigger blotches.

As soon as the young quit the shell, they plunge into the water, dive, and swim about with great ease; but they still gather together about the mother, and take shelter under her wings, and do not entirely leave her for some time. They are at first covered with sooty-coloured down, and are of a shapeless appearance: while they are in this state, and before they have learned, by experience, to shun their foes, the Kite, Moor Buzzard, and others of the Hawk tribe, make dreadful havoc among them;⁕2 and this, notwithstanding the numerous brood, may account for the scarcity of the species.

⁕1 A Bald Coot built her nest in Sir William Middleton’s lake, at Belsay, Northumberland, among the rushes, which were afterwards loosened by the wind, and, of course, the nest was driven about, and floated upon the surface of the water, in every direction; notwithstanding which, the female continued to sit as usual, and brought out her young upon her moveable habitation.

⁕2 The Pike is also the indiscriminate devourer of the young of all these water birds.

small three-masted boat drawn up on a riverban

Notes and Corrections: Coot

Fulica atra, the (Eurasian) coot, still has that binomial.


(Fulica aterrima, Lin.—La Grande Foulque, ou la Macroule, Buff.)

This is of a larger size than the last, but differs not in the colour of the plumage, except that it is blacker. Brisson distinguishes the two by the colour of the bare part of the forehead, which is in this white; and the garters, which are of a deep red. This bird is said to be found in Lancashire and Scotland. It should seem to be a mere variety of the former, did not authors join in advancing the contrary. They are more plentiful on the continent, being found in Russia and the western part of Siberia very common; and are also in plenty at Sologne and the neighbouring parts, where they call it Judelle. The people eat them on maigre days, and the flesh is much esteemed.” Latham.

“This can be no distinction, as birds differ in the colour of these parts according to the season.” Latham.

horse grazing

Notes and Corrections: Greater Coot

Fulica aterrima (“blackest coot”) is probably the same bird as F. atra (“black coot”).

The people eat them on maigre days
[This sounds bogus, but there is an alarmingly long list of birds and even mammals that count as fish for “fasting” purposes.]



Bill strait and slender: nostrils minute: body and legs like the Sandpiper: toes furnished with scalloped membranes.

waves crashing against rough cliffs

Notes and Corrections: Of the Phalarope

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I thought we were done with Scolopacidae, but apparently not; the family includes genus Phalaropus. That would be Brisson’s from 1760, not Latham’s from 1787. It’s not a large genus, but does include two species defined by Linnaeus, both originally in Tringa.

In case anyone wondered, a 20th-century comic poet whose name escapes me wrote something like this:

I think that I shall never see

The crimson-necked phalarope

But still some day I live in hope

To see the red-necked phalarope.

That answers that question.


(Tringa hyperborea, Lin.—Le Phalarope cendre, Buff.)

The bill is black, slender, strait, about an inch long, and bent a little downwards at the tip. A dusky stripe passes through the eyes to the back part of the head, where it is joined to a reddish one above it, which falls down on the sides of the neck: the chin and throat are white; the top of the head, hinder part of the neck, breast, and wing coverts of a lead colour, darkest on the breast: the back and scapulars are the same, but striped with yellowish rusty edges: the greater coverts are crossed with a white stripe; the quills dusky: the tail coverts are barred with black and white: tail short, and of a cinereous colour: belly white: legs black.

This species is rarely met with in England; but it is said to be pretty common on the Continent. It is, however, a native of the Arctic regions, and only migrates southward to shun the long dreary freezing period of the winter months. In summer it returns to breed and rear its young, and has been met with by voyagers and travellers in Hudson’s Bay, Greenland, Spitzbergen, &c. It is seen in Greenland in April, and is said to leave it in September.

Notes and Corrections: Red Phalarope

Tringa hyperborea is the same bird as Phalaropus lobatus—originally Tringa lobata—the red-necked or northern phalarope, coming up next.

Le Phalarope cendre, Buff.
[I tend to think it’s really cendré.]


woodcut of Grey Phalarope

(Tringa Lobata, Lin.—Le Phalarope, à festons dentiles, Buff.)

The bill of this bird is nearly an inch long: the upper mandible is of a dusky horn colour, grooved on each side, and flatted near the tip; the under one is orange towards the base. The eyes are placed high in the head; there is a dark patch underneath each, and the same on the hinder part of the head and neck. The shoulder and scapular feathers are of a fine lead colour, edged with white: fore part of the head, throat, neck, and breast, white: the belly is also white, but slightly dashed with pale rust colour: the greater coverts are broadly tipped with white, which forms an oblique bar across the wings, when closed; some of the first 141 and secondary quills are narrowly edged with white: on the middle of the back the feathers are brown, edged with bright rust colour: on the rump there are several feathers of the same colour, but mixed with others of white, rufous, and lemon. The wings are long, and, when closed, reach beyond the tail: the primary quills are dusky, the lower part of their inner sides white; secondaries tipped with white: tail dusky, edged with ash-colour: legs black. The scalloped membranes on its toes differ from those of the Red Phalarope, in being finely serrated on their edges.

This curious and pretty bird, like the preceding, is a native of the northern regions of Europe, Asia, and America, and migrates southward in the winter. It has seldom been met with in any part of the British Isles. Ray, however, saw one at Brignal, in Yorkshire; and Mr Pennant mentions one which was shot in the same county; Mr Tunstall another, shot at Staveley, in Derbyshire;—and the specimen from which this drawing and description were taken, was shot near the city of Chester, by Lieutenant-Colonel Dalton, of the 4th regiment of dragoons, on the 14th of October, 1800.

houses on riverbank

Notes and Corrections: Grey Phalarope

Tringa lobata is now Phalaropus lobatus—i.e. the same bird as the previous article. Animal Diversity tells me the species “exhibits reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning the females are more brightly colored in their breeding plumage than the males”. That may be why Linnaeus thought it was two different birds, T. hyperborea and T. lobata. But it is also possible that Bewick got his notes mixed up; the English name “gray phalarope” today applies to Ph. fulicarius, which Linnaeus called Tringa fulicarius.



The bills of this genus are compressed on the sides, and though not large, are firm and strong, straight and sharp-pointed: nostrils linear: a bare space between the bill and the eyes: tongue slightly cloven at the end: body depressed: feathers thickly set, compact, very smooth and glossy: wings short; scapulars long; no tail: legs placed far behind, much compressed, or flattened on the sides, and serrated behind with a double row of notches; toes furnished on each side with membranes; the inner toes broader than the outer; the nails broad and flat.

This genus is ranked by Ray and Linnæus with the Diver and Guillemot; but as the Grebes differ materially from those birds, Brisson, Pennant, and Latham have separated them.

The Grebes are almost continually upon the water, where they are remarkable for their agility: at sea they seem to sport with the waves, through which they dart with the greatest ease, and, in swimming, slide along, as it were without any apparent effort, upon the surface, with wonderful velocity; they also dive to a great depth in pursuit of their prey. They frequent fresh water lakes and inlets of rivers, as well as the ocean, to which they are obliged to resort in severe seasons, when the 143 former are bound up by the ice. No cold or damp can penetrate their thick close plumage, which looks as it were glazed on the surface, and by which they are enabled, while they have open water, to brave the rigours of the coldest winter. They can take wing from the water, or drop from an eminence, and fly with great swiftness to a considerable distance; but, when they happen to alight on the land, are very helpless, for they cannot either rise from the flat surface of the ground, or make much progress in walking upon it. On shore they sit with the body erect, commonly upon the whole length of their legs, and, in attempting to regain the water, they aukwardly waddle forward in the same position; and if, by any interruption, they happen to fall on the belly, they sprawl with their feet, and flap their short wings as if they were wounded, and may easily be taken by the hand, for they can make no other defence than by striking violently with their sharp-pointed beak. They live upon fish, and, it is said, also upon fresh-water roots and sea-weeds. They are generally very fat and heavy in proportion to their size.

The females generally build their nests in the holes of the rocky precipices which overhang the sea-shores; and those which breed on lakes, make theirs of withered reeds and rushes, &c. and fix it among the growing stalks of a tuft or bush of such like 144 herbage, close by the water’s edge. They lay from two to four eggs at one hatching.

The skins of these birds are dressed with the feathers on, and made into warm beautiful tippets and muffs: the under part only is used for this purpose; and a skin of one of the species sells as high as fourteen shillings.

high rocks at water’s edge

Notes and Corrections: Of the Grebes

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Grebes, part of Linnaeus’s genus Colymbus, are now an order of their own, Podici­pediformes, consisting of the single family Podici­pedidae, all going back to Latham’s 1787 genus Podiceps. (The family and order names sound as if someone thought the genus was Podicipes, and expanded from there. By ordinary grammatical rules it ought to have been Podici­pidae and Podicipi­formes.) The name must have taken a while to catch on, since the family has also gone by Colymbidae.

Anomalously, genus Colymbus no longer exists at all. (Compare Linnaeus’s genus Simia, which covered all apes and monkeys, excluding only Homo on one side and Lemur on the other.) The parts that weren’t spun-off to Podiceps are now genus Gavia, loons—which are also now an order of their own. At that point there is not much to do but throw out the genus entirely.

Brisson, Pennant, and Latham have separated them
[At this point I counted. Brisson is mentioned nine times in this second volume, though his genus names are never used.]


woodcut of Great-Crested Grebe

(Colymbus cristatus, Lin.—Le Grèbe huppé, Buff.)

This bird is the largest of the Grebes, weighing about two pounds and a half, and measuring twenty-one inches in length, and thirty in breadth. The bill is about two inches and a quarter long, dark at the tip, and red at the base: the bare stripe, or lore, between the bill and eyes, is, in the breeding season, red, afterwards changes to dusky: irides, 146 fine pale crimson. The head, in adult males, is furnished with a great quantity of feathers, which form a kind of ruff, surrounding the upper part of the neck; those on each side of the head, behind, are longer than the rest, and stand out like ears: this ruff is of a bright ferruginous colour, edged on the underside with black. The upper parts of the plumage are of a sooty or mouse-coloured brown; the under parts of a glossy or silvery white: the inner ridge of the wing is white; the secondaries of the same colour, forming an oblique bar across the wings, when closed: the outside of the legs are dusky, the inside and toes of a pale green.

This species is common in the fens and lakes in various parts of England, where they breed and rear their young. The female conceals her nest among the flags and reeds which grow in the water, upon which it is said to float, and that she hatches her eggs amidst the moisture which ouzes through it. It is made of various kinds of dried fibres, stalks and leaves of water plants, and (Pennant says) of the roots of bugbane, stalks of water-lilly, pond-weed, and water-violet; and he asserts, that when it happens to be blown from among the reeds, it floats about upon the surface of the open water.

These birds are met with in almost every lake in the northern parts of Europe, as far as Iceland, and southward to the Mediterranean; they are also found in various parts of America.

Notes and Corrections: Great-Crested Grebe

Colymbus cristatus is now Podiceps cristatus, the great crested grebe. The presence or absence of a hyphen raises the question of whether it’s the whole bird or only its crest that is impressively large.


woodcut of Tippet Grebe

(Colymbus urinator, Lin.—La Grebe Buff.)

This bird differs from the last only in being somewhat less, in having its neck, in most specimens, striped downward on the sides with narrow lines of dusky and white, and in having no crest.

Modern ornithologists begin to suspect, that the Tippet Grebe is the female of the Great-crested Grebe, or a young bird of that species. Latham says, “It is with some reluctance that we pen our doubts concerning the identity of this, as a species, at least as being distinct from the Great-crested Grebe, in contradiction to what former authors have recorded on the subject. It is certain that the last-named bird varies exceedingly at different periods 148 of life; and we are likewise as certain that the birds which have been pointed out to us as the Geneva Grebes, have been no other than young ones of the Great-crested, not having yet attained the crest; and whoever will compare Brisson’s three figures of the birds in question, will find (the crest excepted) that they all exactly coincide, allowing for their different periods of age. We have been further led into this opinion from the circumstance of a large flock of them, which appeared in various parts of the shores of the Thames, from Gravesend to Greenwich, last winter, many of which were killed, and came under our inspection: among them we found the greatest variety about the head, from being perfectly without a crest, to the most complete one, with all the intermediate stages above-mentioned.”

In the progress of this work, the author has been favoured, by sporting friends, with several of these birds, which differed from each other in the manner described by Mr Latham, and induced him to adopt the opinion of that gentleman concerning them.

half-dressed man on a riverbank

Notes and Corrections: Tippet Grebe

Colymbus urinator doesn’t seem to exist—thereby saving me the willpower exercise of deciding whether to look up, or to refuse to look up, the reason for its name. (For what it’s worth, Lacepède apparently tried to institute a genus Urinator in what is now family Gaviidae, but it didn’t catch on.) Most likely it is the same bird as the previous article’s C. cristatus, now Podiceps cristatus.

Modern ornithologists begin to suspect
[. . . and later ornithologists presumably brought it to a certainty.]


(Colymbus auritus, Lin.—Le petit Grebe huppé, Buff.)

This bird measures about twelve inches in length, and twenty-two from tip to tip of the wings. The bill is black, inclining to red towards the base, rather slender, nearly an inch long, and slightly bent upwards at the point: lore and irides red: the head is thickly set and enlarged with feathers of a sooty black colour, except two large, loose and spreading orange-coloured tufts, which take their rise behind each eye, flow backward, and nearly meet at their tips: the neck and upper parts of the plumage are black, the under parts of a glossy white: the sides a rusty chesnut colour: legs greenish black. The male and female are nearly alike, only the latter is not furnished or puffed up about the head with such a quantity of feathers.

This species is not numerous in the British Isles. Pennant says they inhabit and breed in the fens near Spalding, in Lincolnshire, and that the female makes a nest not unlike that of the Crested Grebe, and lays four or five small white eggs. The Eared Grebe is found in the northern regions of Europe, as far as Iceland, and is also met with in southern climates. The circumnavigator Bougainville says, it is called the “Diver with Spectacles” in the Falkland Islands.

Notes and Corrections: Eared Grebe

Colymbus auritus is now Podiceps auritus, the horned grebe.

Bougainville says, it is called the “Diver with Spectacles” in the Falkland Islands
[Nope, different grebe. Podiceps auritus is completely unattested in the southern hemisphere.]


woodcut of Dusky Grebe

(Nigricans, ——. La petite Grebe, Buff.)

This species measures about an inch less in length, and two in breadth, than the last. The bill is more than an inch long, and of a pale blue colour, with reddish edges: lore and orbits red: irides bright yellow: the upper part of the head, hinder part of the neck, scapulars, and rump, are of a dark sooty, or a mouse-coloured brown: the feathers on the back are nearly of the same colour, but glossy, and with greyish edges: the ridge of the wings and secondary quills are white, the rest 151 of the wing dusky. There is a pale spot before each eye: the cheeks and throat are white: the fore part of the neck is light brown; and the breast and belly are white and glossy like satin: the thighs and vent are covered with dirty white downy feathers: the legs are white behind, dusky on the outer sides, and pale blue on the inner sides and shins: the toes and webbed membranes are also blue on the upper sides, and dark underneath.

This description was taken from a very perfect bird caught in Sand Hutton Car, near York, on the 28th of January, 1799, by the Rev. C. Rudston: other specimens of this species have differed in the shades of their plumage and colour of the bill: in some the upper mandible is yellow, from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth, and the under one entirely of that colour.

man using a pole in shallow river

Notes and Corrections: Dusky Grebe

Today the only bird with nigricans in its name is a lark. So this is probably another case of a single bird—maybe P. auritus—being misinterpreted as two different species.

Nigricans, ——.
[Could Bewick not read his own notes?]


woodcut of Red-Necked Grebe

(Colymbus subcristatus, ——. Le Jougri, Buff.)

This bird measures from the bill to the rump seventeen inches, to the end of the toes twenty-two, and weighs eighteen ounces and three-quarters. The bill is about two inches long, dusky or horn-coloured on the ridge and tip, and on the sides of it, towards the corners of the mouth, of a reddish yellow; the underside of the lower mandible is also of the latter colour: lore dusky: irides dark hazel: the cheeks and throat are of a dirty or greyish white: the upper part of the head is black, with a greyish cast; and the feathers are lengthened on each side on a line with the eyes backward, so as to look like a pair of rounded ears; these it can raise or depress at pleasure: the fore part and sides of the neck are of a dingy brown, mixed with feathers of a bright rusty red: the upper parts of the plumage are of a darkish mouse-coloured brown, lightest on the wing coverts, deepest on the 153 scapulars and rump, and edged with grey on the shoulders; the under parts are of a glossy white, like satin, mottled with indistinct brownish spots: primary quills brownish tawney, with dark-coloured tips; secondaries white: outer sides of the legs dusky, inner sides sallow green: webs of the outer toes flesh-colour, middle ones redder, and the inner ones orange.

Pennant supposes the Red-necked Grebe to be only a variety of the Great-crested Grebe; but Latham, who had been furnished with several specimens, is of opinion that it is a distinct species. He describes the adult males, in full feather, as having their necks of an uniform reddish chesnut; and the younger birds, when they have not obtained their full plumage, to be only partially spotted on their necks with that colour.

The foregoing figure and description were taken from a specimen, the gift of George Silvertop, of Minsteracres, Northumberland, Esq. January 16th, 1802.

sailing ship in a storm

Notes and Corrections: Red-Necked Grebe

Colymbus subcristatus (Jaquin 1784) is now Podiceps grisegena—originally C. grisegena—because Boddaert got there first. Cursory research suggests that the Jaquins or Jacquins, father (Nikolaus Joseph, 1727–1817) and son (Josef Franz, 1766–1839), do not have a very strong record when it comes to attaching names to clearly identifiable species. But this is generally a problem for botanists rather than ornithologists.

Pennant supposes . . . but Latham . . . is of opinion that it is a distinct species
[Point to Latham.]


woodcut of Little Grebe

(Colymbus minutus, Lin.—Le Castagneux, Buff.)

This is the least of the Grebe tribe, weighing only between six and seven ounces, and measuring to the rump ten inches, to the end of the toes thirteen, and about sixteen from tip to tip of the wings. The bill is scarcely an inch long, of a dusky reddish colour: irides hazel: the head is thickly cloathed with a downy kind of soft feathers, which it can puff up to a great size, or lay down flat at pleasure: the cheeks are mostly of a bay colour, fading towards the chin and throat into a yellowish white. The neck, breast, and all the upper parts of the plumage, are of a brown or chesnut colour, tinged with red, lightest on the rump: the belly is white, clouded with ash-colour, mixed with red: thighs and vent grey: greater quills dark brown; the lesser white on their inner webs: legs dirty olive green.


The Little Grebe is a true aquatic, for it seldom quits the water, nor ventures beyond the sedgy margins of the lake where it has taken up its abode. It is a most excellent diver, and can remain a long while under water, in pursuit of its prey, or to shun danger. It is found in almost every lake, and sometimes upon rivers, but seldom goes out to sea. Its food is of the same kind, and its habits much the same as those of the other Grebes.

Ornithologists and sportsmen describe the nest of this bird as being of a large size, and composed of a very great quantity of grass and water plants, at least a foot in thickness, and so placed in the water, that the female hatches her eggs amidst the continual wet, in which they were first laid: and it is conjectured that the natural warmth of her body occasions a fermentation of the herbage, which greatly aids the incubation. She lays from four to six eggs, of a yellowish dull white colour, and is said to cover up, or hide them, with the surrounding leaves, every time she has occasion to stir abroad.

This species of the Grebe is an inhabitant of both Europe and America. In several specimens furnished by the author’s sporting friends, the difference was very trifling, except that the plumage of some was more dashed with red than that of others.

Notes and Corrections: Little Grebe

Colymbus minutus seems to be Tachybaptus ruficollis (by way of Pallas’s C. ruficollis). The genus is generically “least grebes”.

This species of the Grebe is an inhabitant of both Europe and America.
[Not if it’s really T. ruficollis, it isn’t.]



This bird is described as being larger than the last. “Chin black: fore part of the neck ferruginous; hinder part mixed with dusky: belly cinereous and silver intermixed. Inhabits Tiree, one of the Hebrides.” Latham.

tall rocks near the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Black-Chin Grebe

He doesn’t give much information, does he? Some sources call it Podiceps hebridicus—but that’s not much help, since this species doesn’t seem to exist. It may be another variant of Tachybaptus ruficollis, which has more than its share of subspecies.



Bill long, slender, very thin, depressed, and bending considerably upwards: nostrils narrow and pervious: tongue short: legs very long: feet palmated; the webs deeply indented from the nails towards their middle: back toe placed high, and very small.

The Avoset is migratory, and is met with in temperate climates, on the shores in various parts of Europe.

man plowing with two horses

Notes and Corrections: Of the Avoset

Avocets—current spelling—are genus Recurvirostra, flagship of family Recurvirostridae in order Charadriiformes. The family also contains Brisson’s genus Himantopus, stilts, which we met earlier.

[The text says Justissima Tellus, “most righteous land”, from one of Bewick’s favorite sources, Virgil’s Georgics.]


woodcut of Avoset

(Recurvirostra Avosetta, Lin.—L’Avocette, Buff.)

This bird, which is the only British species of Avoset, does not much exceed the Lapwing in the bulk of its body; but, from the length of its legs, it is much taller. It measures about eighteen inches in length, to the end of the toes twenty-two, and from tip to tip thirty, and weighs from twelve to fourteen ounces. The bill is black, about three inches and a half long, and of a singular conformation, looking not unlike flexible flat pieces of whalebone, curved upwards to the tip: the irides are hazel: the head round, black on the upper 159 part to below the nape of the neck: above and beneath each eye. In most specimens, there are small white spots; but in the one from which the above figure was taken, a streak of that colour passed over each eye towards the hinder part of the head. The thighs are naked, and, as well as the legs and feet, are of a fine pale blue colour. The whole plumage of the Avoset is white, intersected with black; and, like most of the variegated or pyebald birds, the patches of these colours are not placed exactly the same in every individual; therefore, as the bird cannot be mistaken, a more minute description is unnecessary.

These birds are common in the winter about the lakes, mouths of rivers, and marshes, in the southern parts of England; and they assemble in large flocks on the fens, in the breeding season. When the female is frightened off her nest, she counterfeits lameness; and when a flock is disturbed, they fly, with their necks stretched out, and their legs extended behind, over the head of the spectator, much in the same way as the Peewit or Lapwing, making a shrill noise, and uttering a yelping cry of twit, twit, all the time. The places where they have been feeding may be traced out by the semicircular marks left in the mud or sand by their bills in scooping out their food, which consists of spawn, worms, insects, &c. Latham says, “they lay two eggs, the size of those of a pigeon, an inch and 160 three quarters in length, of a cinereous grey, singularly marked with deep brownish dark patches, of irregular sizes and shapes, besides some under markings of a dusky hue.” They keep near the shore, wading about, up to the belly in the water, and sometimes swimming. In all their motions they are smart, lively, and volatile, and do not remain long stationary in one spot.

man and dog approaching wall with gate

Notes and Corrections: Avoset

Recurvirostra avosetta still has that binomial.



Bill strong, thick, convex, compressed on the sides: nostrils linear, placed parallel to the edge of the bill: tongue almost as long as the bill: toes, three in number, all placed forwards.

tall rocks by seacoast

Notes and Corrections: Of the Auk, or Penguin

Auks and penguins have nothing to do with each other. But since they occupy much the same ecological niche in their respective hemispheres, and look somewhat alike, it is understandable that early naturalists would use the names interchangeably. Penguins, in the current sense of the word, are now an order of their own, Sphenisci­formes. Auks, Linnaeus’s genus Alca, are family Alcidae in—I honestly wasn’t expecting this—order Charadriiformes. The family also includes puffins, murres and guillemots.


woodcut of Great Auk

(Alca impennis, Lin.—Le Grand Pingoin, Buff.)

The length of this bird, to the end of the toes, is three feet. The bill is black, and four inches and a quarter long; both mandibles are crossed obliquely with several ridges and furrows, which meet at the edges. Two oval-shaped white spots occupy nearly the whole space between the bill and the eyes: the head, back part of the neck, and all the upper parts of the body and wings are covered with 163 short, soft, glossy black feathers, excepting a white stroke across the wings, formed by the tips of the lesser quills: the whole under side of the body is white: the wings are very short, not exceeding four inches and a quarter, from the tips of the longest quill feathers to the first joint: legs black, short, and placed near the vent.

From the inability of these birds to fly or walk, they are seldom seen out of the water, and it is remarked by seamen, that they never wander beyond soundings. The female lays only one egg, which she deposits and hatches on a ledge close to the sea-mark: it is of a very large size, being about six inches in length, of a white colour, streaked with lines of a purple cast, and blotched with dark rusty spots at the thicker end.

This species is not numerous any where: it inhabits Norway, Iceland, the Ferro Isles, Greenland, and other cold regions of the north, but is seldom seen on the British shores.

The Gair-fowl described by Martin, in his voyage to St Kilda, and account of that island, published in 1698, differs in some particulars from the foregoing: he says, “it is larger than the Solan Goose, black, red about the eyes, has a large white spot under each eye, a long broad bill; stands erect, has short wings, cannot fly; lays one egg, twice the size of that of the Solan Goose, variously speckled with black, green, and dusky spots.”

Notes and Corrections: Great Auk

Alca impennis is now Pinguinus impennis. (The genus is from a new source, Bonnaterre 1791. It isn’t a penguin, just another member of family Alcidae.)


woodcut of Razor-Bill

(Alca torda, Lin.—Le Pingoin, Buff.)

The wings of this species are more furnished with feathers, and longer in proportion to the size of the bird than those of the last; they measure, extended, about twenty-seven inches: the length of the bird, from bill to tail, is eighteen. The bill is black, strong, curved towards the point, and sharply edged; the upper mandible is crossed with four transverse grooves, and the under one with three, the broadest of which is white, and forms a band across them both: the inside of the mouth is yellow: the base of the bill is covered with feathers a great way forward, upon which, on each side, is placed a singular, narrow, white streak, which passes to the corner of the eye; another white stripe, 165 or bar, formed by the tips and lesser quills, crosses each wing obliquely: the upper part of the head, hinder part of the neck, back, rump, and tail coverts are of a soft glossy black, and look something like velvet: the cheeks, chin, and throat are of a dull sooty dark brown: ridge and pinions of the wing, light brown: coverts and quills dusky: legs black.

These birds associate with the Guillemots, and also breed in the same places. About the beginning of May they take possession of the highest impending rocks, for the purpose of incubation, and upon the ledges of these rocks they congregate in great numbers, sitting closely together, tier above tier, and row above row: there they deposit their single large egg on the bare rock; and notwithstanding the numbers of them, which are thus as it were mixed together, yet no confusion takes place, for each bird knows her own egg, and hatches it in that situation.

It has often excited wonder that as the eggs have no nest or bedding to rest upon, they are not rolled off into the sea by gales of wind, or upon being touched by the birds: it is also said, that if they are removed by the human hand, it is impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to replace them in their former steady situation. This is accounted for by some ornithologists, who assert that the egg is fixed to the spot upon which it is first laid, by a glutinous 166 substance with which the shell is covered, and which keeps it firmly in its place until the young is produced. The egg of this Auk is three inches long, of a greenish white colour, irregularly marked with dark spots. They are gathered, with other kinds, in great numbers, by the neighbouring inhabitants, from the rocky promontories in various parts of the British isles, but particularly in the north, where the men who are accustomed to gather these eggs, are let down over the precipices by ropes, which are tied to, or held by, their companions above.

The foregoing figure and description were taken from a specimen in perfect plumage, shot on Jarrow-Slake, near the mouth of the Tyne, in May, by the late Mr Thomas Walton, of Farnacres, to whose memory, for many favours of the same kind, the author feels a large debt of gratitude.

Notes and Corrections: Razor-Bill

Alca torda still has that binomial. Do not ask why genus Alca—which obviously means “auk”—is now restricted to razorbills.

It has often excited wonder that as the eggs have no nest or bedding to rest upon, they are not rolled off into the sea
[I don’t know about A. torda specifically, but some members of genus Alca lay eggs that are almost pointed at one end. If moved, they will roll around in a small circle, but they can’t go far.]

[The tombstone reads, cheerfully, “Good Times & Bad Times & all Times get over”.]

new moon over toppled gravestone


(Alca Pica, Lin.—Le Petit Pingoin, Buff.)

Latham says, “This weighs eighteen ounces: is in length fifteen inches: breadth twenty-four. The bill is not above half the breadth of the Razor-bill’s, and very little curved, perfectly smooth throughout the whole of its surface, except a slight indentation at the base: inside of the mouth of a pale flesh-colour: the top of the head, taking in the eyes, part of the neck, the back, wings, and tail, are black; on the sides of the neck the black comes forward so as almost to meet on the fore part: the sides of the head, throat, fore part of the neck, and all beneath, white: from behind the eye a dusky black mark tends to the hinder part of the head, as in the Lesser Guillemot; the white on the sides of the head is less pure than that on the under parts: all the secondary quills are tipped with white; and the primaries are of a deeper black than the others: legs brownish black.” Linnæus says the legs are red, but no other author records it. Latham further observes, “This, from its external marks, should appear to be a different species from the Razor-bill, but we are pretty certain it is no other than the young of that bird.”

Notes and Corrections: Black-Billed Auk

Alca pica seems to be either the same bird as A. torda, or at most the subspecies A. torda pica.


woodcut of Puffin

(Alca Arctica, Lin.—Le Macareux, Buff.)

The Puffin weighs about twelve ounces, and measures twelve inches in length, and twenty-one in breadth. Its singular bill looks not unlike a kind of sheath slipped over both mandibles, and, from its appearance, the bird is not improperly named Coulterneb, or Knife-bill. At the base, where it is about an inch and a half in depth, it is rimmed with a white callous border, the two corners of which project above the brow, and below the chin. It is about the same in length, curved towards the point, compressed vertically, very flat, and transversely furrowed on the sides; the half of 169 it adjoining to the head is smooth, and of a fine lead coloured blue; the other part, to the tip, red: the nostrils are placed in long narrow slits, near the edge of the bill: the corners of the mouth, when closed are curiously puckered, and form a kind of small star, or rose: the eyes are protected by small callous protuberances, both above and below: the edges of the eye-lids are crimson: irides grey: the chin and cheeks are white, bordered with grey, the latter much puffed up with feathers, which makes the head look large and round. From behind the corner of each eye, the feathers are curiously separated, forming a narrow line, which reaches to the hinder part of the head: the crown of the head, hinder part of the neck, and upper part of the plumage are black, and a collar of the same colour encircles the neck: the under parts are white: the tail consists of sixteen feathers: the legs are reddish orange.

The Puffin, like others of the same genus, takes wing with great difficulty, and walks upon the whole length of the leg and foot, with a wriggling aukward gait. In tempestuous weather it takes shelter in caverns and holes in the nearest rocks, or in those made by the rabbit on the beach, among the bent grass, in which it sits dosing, in snug security, till the return of calm weather; for these birds cannot brave the storm, and it is not uncommon, when they have been overtaken by it, to find 170 them drowned and cast on shore. Various kinds of fish, such as small crabs, shrimps, sprats, and also sea-weeds, are said to be the food upon which they live; but it is evident, from the structure, great strength, and sharpness of the bill, that they are furnished with powers to crush and pluck out other kinds of shell-fish, which ornithologists have not noticed.

The female makes no nest; she deposits her single whitish coloured egg upon the bare mould, in a hole dug out and formed in the ground, by her mate and herself, for that purpose; or in those which they find ready made by the rabbits, whom they easily dislodge. The parent birds are very attentive to their young, which they will defend to the last, by severely biting whatever enemy attempts to molest them, and will suffer themselves to be taken rather than desert them: and yet, notwithstanding this uncommon attachment, when the day of migration comes, the young ones which are not able to fly are left behind, and mostly perish of want, or are destroyed by birds of prey.

The bite of these birds is very severe: one sent to the author in a box covered with netting, caught hold of the finger of a poor man, and brought away the fleshy part, as if it had been cut out with a knife: but they may be tamed, and soon become familiar. They are fed on fish and other animal substances.


These birds are spread over various parts of the northern world, and are met with on almost all the rocky cliffs on the coasts of Britain and Ireland, and on many of the surrounding isles, in immense numbers. They congregate in flocks of a magnitude regulated by the accommodations afforded them at their breeding places, at which they first assemble early in April, but do not settle to prepare for the business of incubation till May. They hatch their young in the beginning of July; from which time until nearly the middle of August they are employed in nurturing and rearing their brood: when this is accomplished, the whole associated swarm leaves the place at once, and pursues its route to other regions, more suited to their future exigencies, there to spend the remainder of the varied year.

The foregoing figure and description were taken from a perfect specimen of an old bird, the present of Mrs Cheney, late Miss Harriot Carr, of Dunston-Bank; and on comparing it with several others, it appeared evident that their bills increase in size with their age.

man carrying a pack

Notes and Corrections: Puffin

Alca arctica is now Fratercula arctica, the Atlantic puffin. It’s been a while since we met a new Brisson genus.


woodcut of Little Auk

(Alca alle, Lin.—Le petit Guillemot, Buff.)

This is plump round-shaped bird, and measures about nine inches in length. The bill is black, short, thick, strong, and convex; it is feathered from the corners of the mouth half way forward towards the point. The crown of the head is flat and black; all the upper parts of the plumage are of the same colour, except a narrow bar of white, formed by the tips of the lesser quills across the wings, and the scapulars, which are streaked downwards with the same: the cheeks and under parts are white: legs and toes yellowish; webs dusky.


These birds are inhabitants of Spitzbergen and Greenland, and are also met with at Newfoundland, where they are called Ice Birds; but they are rare visitants of the British Isles. That from which the above figure and description were taken, was caught alive on the Durham coast, and was, for a short time, fed with grain.

man leading a cow through a deep river, with arched bridge in the background

Notes and Corrections: Little Auk

Alca alle is now Alle alle, the dovekie.

This is plump round-shaped bird
text unchanged: expected a plump

[. . . but why can’t he just take his cow over the bridge? Is there a toll?]



The bills of birds of this genus, though of a slender shape, are firm, strong, and pointed: the upper mandible slightly bending towards the end: base covered with soft short feathers: nostrils lodged in a hollow near the base: tongue slender, almost the length of the bill: thighs placed in the abdomen: no back toe.

The Guillemots appear to be a stupid race of birds: they do not, like many other kinds, become cautious from experience, but suffer themselves repeatedly to be shot at, as if they did not know danger, or care for life; for notwithstanding they have seen their associates drop at every fire, they still continue to wheel about in the same circle, and to alight again on the same place whence they were at first disturbed.

These birds are numerously spread over various parts of the northern world, whence they are driven by the approach of winter to seek more temperate climes. At that season they arrive on the British shores, where they remain until they have reared their young.

Notes and Corrections: Of the Guillemot

Guillemots—not to be confused with «guillemets»—are in the same family, Alcidae, as auks and puffins. Linnaeus put them in genus Colymbus, along with loons and divers.


woodcut of Guillemot

(Colymbus Troile, Lin.—Le Guillemot, Buff.)

The Guillemot is a plump heavy bird in proportion to its size, weighing about twenty-four ounces, and measuring only seventeen inches in length, and twenty-seven and a half in breadth. The bill is a blueish black colour, about two inches and three-quarters long, from the tip to the corners of the mouth, the inside of which is yellow: both mandibles are slightly notched near their points: irides hazel: from each eye to the hinder part of the head, a narrow line is formed by a singular division of the feathers, which here, as well as on the head and neck, are close and smooth, and of a dull dusty mouse-colour; the back, wings, and tail are nearly the same, but have a lead-coloured cast: the tips of the lesser quills, and the breast, 176 belly, and vent, are white: legs dusky and brown: nails black.

The female lays only one egg, which is large in proportion to her size, being about three inches in length: they are not all alike; those of one bird being of a whitish ground, and of another, perhaps, pale blue, or pale sea-green, and all of them are curiously and irregularly spotted and streaked with black.

It has been before observed, that these birds associate with, and breed in the same places as the Razor-bill, and that they are, in many places, indiscriminately called Willocks.

man, woman and dog walking through a storm

Notes and Corrections: Guillemot

Colymbus troile is now Uria aalge, the common murre, by way of Pontoppidan’s Colymbus aalge. As usual, do not ask why a name from 1763 dislodged one from—presumably—1758. Uria is yet another Brisson genus.

[Now, does that mean even more foolish than the average guillemot he just got through describing? Or is it an inherent modifier, like “damyankee”?]


woodcut of Lesser Guillemot


This species weighs about nineteen ounces, and measures in length sixteen inches, and in breadth twenty-six. The bill is shaped like that of the last, and is about two inches and a half long: the stroke formed by the divided feathers behind the eye, is dusky, on a white ground: the cheeks, fore part of the neck and breast, tips of the secondary quills, and the whole of the under parts, are white, except a few dull spots on the auriculars, and some freckles on the breast: the front and crown of the head, back of the neck, and the whole of the upper 178 parts, are dusky, inclining to lead-colour: the legs and feet dusky, blushed with red.

Some naturalists suspect that the lesser Guillemot is only the young of the foregoing species; but this is not yet ascertained, neither is it known where they breed. They, however, seldom associate with the Guillemots that breed on the British shores, which they visit only during the winter season, and almost all of them retire northward in the spring.

The bird from which the above drawing and description were taken, was caught alive at Tynemouth, in the latter end of September, 1801: the tide had left it in a situation surrounded by rocks, upon the flat sand, from which it could not raise itself to take flight. While the drawing was making, it sat under a table trimming its feathers, and appeared perfectly at ease, and not the least alarmed at the peeping curiosity of the children who surrounded it. When this business was finished, it was taken and set down upon an open part of the shore, where it immediately began to waddle towards the water, with the whole leg and foot extended on the ground, and as soon as it reached its beloved element, it flapped its wings, darted through the surge, dived, and appeared in that place no more.

Notes and Corrections: Lesser Guillemot

Ringuia, which is obviously not a binomial, may be the same bird as Uria aalge. Today the name “marrot” applies to any of a variety of birds: razorbill, guillemot, puffin and so on, depending on your dialect.

Some naturalists suspect that the lesser Guillemot is only the young of the foregoing species
[I wouldn’t be surprised.]

While the drawing was making, it . . .appeared perfectly at ease, and not the least alarmed
[Well, he did just get through saying that guillemots aren’t any too bright when it comes to self-preservation.]


woodcut of Black Guillemot

(Colymbus Grylle Lin.—Le petit Guillemot noir, Buff.)

The length of the Black Guillemot is about fourteen inches, breadth twenty-two, and its weight fourteen ounces. The bill is black, slender shaped, and pointed; the upper mandible slightly bent at the point: the inside of the mouth red. The whole plumage is sleek and glossy, and of a sooty-coloured black, excepting a large patch of white on the coverts of each wing: its feathers appear all unwebbed, and look like silky hair: the legs and feet are red: claws black. In some of this species the whole plumage is black, in others the lesser quills are tipped with white; and all those that remain in the northern climates are said to turn white in winter.

These birds are found in great numbers in the North Sea, in Greenland, Iceland, Spitzbergen, 180 and the Fero Isles, and when the winter sets in, they migrate southward along the shores of Scotland and England, where some of them remain and breed. The nest is formed in the deep crevices of the rocks which overhang the sea: the eggs are of a grey colour: some ornithologists assert that the female lays only one, others that she lays two. They commonly fly in pairs, and so low that they raise the surface of the sea by the flapping of their narrow wings.

The Greenlanders eat the flesh of this bird, and use its skin for cloathing, and the legs as a bait for their fishing lines. Ray, Albin, Willoughby, and Edwards have named it the Greenland Dove, or Sea Turtle. In the Orkney Islands it is called the Tyste.

The foregoing figure was taken from a drawing presented to the author.

people skating on frozen pond

Notes and Corrections: Black Guillemot

Colymbus grylle is now Cepphus grylle. But I don’t know where he got Colymbus; Linnaeus’s original genus was Alca.

Greenland, Iceland, Spitzbergen, and the Fero Isles
spelling unchanged
[In general he spells it “Ferro”, but there will be another “Fero” a few pages further along.]



This is a variety of the last species, which the author has not seen. It is thus described by Latham:—“In this the plumage is in patches of white and black on the upper parts, and all beneath white. In Brunnich’s bird the belly was spotted black and white: he supposed it to be a bird of the first year.”

Latham enumerates several other varieties of this species of birds, but as they have not been observed to visit the British Isles, they do not come within the scope of this work. There are, however, others which are occasionally met with in this country, but whether the differences may not be owing to age or sex, is not yet ascertained. One of these, presented in October, 1802, by the Rev. H. Cotes, of Bedlington, differed from the lesser Guillemot in its bill’s being much shorter, measuring only about an inch and a half on the ridge of the upper mandible, and in having the hinder part of the head surrounded by a continuation of the white feathers which cover the cheeks, but mixed with dusky spots.

man carrying heavy baskets

Notes and Corrections: Spotted Guillemot

As the author says, it’s probably just a variety of Cepphus grylle. Maybe even a subspecies; there are several.



The bills are strong, straight, and pointed: the upper mandibles the longest; the edges of each bending inwards: nostrils linear, the upper part divided by a small cutaneous appendage: tongue long, pointed, and serrated on each side near the base: thighs placed far backward: legs thin and flat, and extended horizontally: the toes, four in number; the exterior the longest; the back one small, and joined to the interior by a thin membrane: tail short, consisting of twenty feathers. These birds are broad, flat, and long bodied, and swim in a squat position on the water. Ornithologists enumerate eight species of this genus, six of which, besides some doubtful varieties, frequent the British shores.

man on wave-beaten rocks

Notes and Corrections: Of the Divers

Divers or loons, another part of Linnaeus’s genus Colymbus, are now mostly genus Gavia (Forster 1788) in family Gaviidae, order Gaviiformes. There are other genera, and possibly one other family, but Gavia is by far the most numerous. Although Bewick describes seven different divers, they all collapse into just three species, now Gavia immer, G. stellata and G. arctica.


woodcut of Great Northern Diver or Loon

(Colymbus glacialis, Lin.—L’Imbrim, Buff.)

The Great Diver weighs about sixteen pounds; measures three feet six inches in length, and four feet eight in breadth. The bill is black, four inches and a half long, and strongly formed: the head is of a deep black, glossed with green and purple reflexions: the neck appears as if wrapped obliquely round with a bandage of the same colours as the head; the feathers in the spaces between are white, streaked down the middle with narrow black lines; the sides of the breast are marked in the same manner: the whole of the upper parts are black, spotted with white: the spots on the scapulars are the largest, and of an oblong square shape, placed in 184 rows, two on the end of each feather: the under parts are white: quills and tail black. The female is less than the male, and her whole upper plumage inclines more to brown. Her under parts are of a dirty white, and the bandages on her neck and the spots on her body are not so distinct.

This species of the Diver seldom visits the British shores, except in very severe winters. In the summer season it inhabits the north of Europe, and the Arctic coasts, as far as the river Ob in the Russian dominions, and Hudson’s Bay in North America, and is common in the intermediate dreary countries in the same latitudes. They seldom quit the sea, or are seen inland, except at the breeding season, when, for the purposes of ovation and incubation, they repair to the fresh-water lakes in the Fero Isles, Spitzbergen, Iceland, Greenland, &c. on the shores and small islets of which they make their nests and rear their young. The female is said to lay only two eggs, which are of a dirty white or stone colour: when she quits her nest, she flies very high, and on her return darts down upon it in an oblique direction.

The natives of some of the northern countries dress or tan the skins of these birds, as well as those of several other water-fowls, and make them into caps, pelices, and other warm garments.

The foregoing figure was taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum.

Notes and Corrections: Great Northern Diver

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Colymbus glacialis is now Gavia immer, the common loon, by way of Brünnich’s Colymbus immer.

weighs about sixteen pounds; measures three feet six inches in length, and four feet eight in breadth
[Holy ### that’s enormous. Going by the description at Animal Diversity, sixteen pounds is near the upper end of its weight range (1.6 to 8 kg), while its wingspan (“breadth”) can be even more, averaging around five feet (152 cm).]

caps, pelices, and other warm garments
[Readers of Regency romances may be more familiar with the spelling “pelisse”.]


(Colymbus Immer, Lin.—Le Grand Plongeon, Buff.)

The Imber measures from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail nearly three feet, and from tip to tip of the wings three feet eight inches. The bill is four inches and a quarter long, and of a dark horn colour. The upper parts of the plumage are dark brown, each feather on the back and wings edged with light brownish ash: the front and crown of the head, and hinder part of the neck, are slightly broken with spots of the same light brownish ash-colour: the cheeks and sides of the neck, to the breast, are speckled with brown: near to the lower part of the neck the brown colour spreads forward towards the front, which, as well as the throat, is white: the breast and belly are also of a glossy white: vent mottled with brown. The quills and tail are dusky, but the feathers on the latter are edged with dirty white: the legs are of a dark dingy lead colour. The plumage of the female is less distinct in its colours, being nearly of a dull brown on the upper parts, and dull white beneath.

This species is of nearly the same manners and habits as the last: they are both excellent divers and fishers, and are inhabitants of the same northern countries; but this is oftener met with farther 186 southward, towards Scotland and its numerous adjacent isles. It is also spread more abroad in other countries both in Europe, Asia, and America. Latham describes it as being common in Switzerland, where it is known by the name of Fluder. He says “it makes its nest among the reeds and flags, and places it in the water; so that it is continually wet, as in some of the Grebe genus. It utters a loud shrill cry.” He adds that it is “sometimes taken twenty yards deep under water, viz. with a net or iron hook baited with a fish:” and Buffon also asserts, that “it dives to very great depths, and swims under water to the distance of an hundred paces without ascending to take breath: a portion of air included in its dilated wind-pipe supplies its respiration during this interval.”

A fine specimen was presented by Admiral Byron, when governor of Newfoundland, to Mr Tunstall.

man in rowboat on open water

Notes and Corrections: Imber

Colymbus immer is the same bird as the preceding, now Gavia immer. Although Bewick attributes the binomial to Linnaeus, it’s really Brünnich.


woodcut of Lesser Imber


Bill black and horn-colour, tinged with blue, three inches long, pointed and slender: nostrils very near the base: tongue pointed: crown of the head, and back of the neck, mouse colour: irides brown: scapulars, back, rump, tail, and wings, black, edged with grey: quill feathers black: tail very short and rounded. The whole under side of the body, from the throat to the tail, silvery white, except a brown bar which crosses the vent: inner coverts of the wings white: legs remarkably flat, and placed close 188 to the tail; they are black and grey, with a blue tinge: the feet are very large, webs entire and flesh-colour. Length two feet one inch, extent of the wings three feet two inches; weight three pounds eight ounces. This bird was shot on Windermere Lake, in Westmoreland, in December, 1794.”

This work is indebted for the above drawing and description, to Geo. Strickland, Esq. of Ripon, who further adds,—“As this species of the Colymbus much resembles the Imber in the colour of its plumage, I have given it the name of the Lesser Imber, as in weight and size it is one-third less. I have not met with any description of it, and the specimen now in my possession is the only one I have seen.”

winter mountain scene

Notes and Corrections: Lesser Imber

. . . doesn’t give much information, does it? If it isn’t G. immer again, it is most likely either G. stellata or G. arcticus.


woodcut of Speckled Diver

(Colymbus stellatus, Lin.—Le petit Plongeon, Buff.)

This species generally weighs about two pounds and a half, and somewhat exceeds two feet in length, and three and a half in breadth. The bill is three inches long, of a light colour, and has rather a cast upwards: the crown of the head and upper parts of the body are dusky, inclining to grey; and, excepting the hinder part of the neck, lesser coverts and quills, which are plain, the rest of the plumage is speckled all over with small white spots; those on the scapulars and middle wing-coverts are the largest, and marked more distinctly on the margins of each feather, near to their tips. The fore part of the neck is of an ash-colour: cheeks, chin, throat, 190 and under parts, of glossy white: tail tipped with white: legs and toes dusky; webs pale.

The natural habits of the Speckled Diver are much the same as those of the kinds before described, but it seems still more to shun the rigours of the north, and remains longer in the temperate climates. In the winter season it keeps its route southward, and is then met with in the Baltic, the German ocean, and on various parts of the British shores. In the spring it retires northward to the lakes of the continent, and the islands within the Arctic circle, to breed and rear its young. The female makes her nest in the grass, near the edge of the water, and lays two eggs of a longish oval shape, larger than those of a Hen: they are of a dingy stone-colour, spotted with black.

The foregoing figure was done from a stuffed specimen.

riverboat with one square sail

Notes and Corrections: First Speckled Diver

Colymbus stellatus is now Gavia stellata, the red-throated diver. Although Bewick says “Lin.”, it was actually named by Pontoppidan.


woodcut of Speckled Diver


The length of this bird, to the end of the tail, is two feet four inches, and rather more to the end of the longest, or outside toe; the extended wings are three feet four inches, from tip to tip; and it weighs three pounds and a quarter. The bill, from the tip to the brow, is two inches and an eighth, and a little more than three inches to the corners of the mouth: both mandibles are white, faintly blushed with a livid or purple cast, except on the ridge of the upper one, where it is of a dark horn-colour, fading off lighter towards the tip, which is entirely white: the irides are of a clear brown. The head and hinder part of the neck have a hoary dark ash-coloured appearance, at a little distance; but on a nearer view, the feathers on the crown and brow, which are very small, are dark in the middle, and distinctly edged with light grey; those from the nape downwards are larger, but the edges are less defined. The sides of the mouth, about the 192 eyes, also the cheeks and throat, are white, but are partially dulled or freckled by a mixture of numerous small brownish ash-coloured spots: the fore part of the neck is darkened with closer set and larger spots, inclining more to brown. All the upper parts of the plumage are of a deep or black brown, and except the greater coverts and the quills, are speckled all over with oblong oval white spots, placed on the side of each feather, near the tip. The whole under side of the body is white, but crossed by a brown bar at the vent. The tail is brown, very short, and of a rounded or fan shape: the legs on the insides, down the shins, and on the edges behind, are white: the middle of the webs, the two inner toes, and the terminating joint of the outer one, together with all the nails, are the same: all the other parts of the legs and feet are dusky.

A pair of these birds were shot on the Tyne, at Newcastle, in the month of January, by Mr Pollock. They differed somewhat from the preceding species, but very little, excepting in weight, from each other. This figure and description were taken from the larger. The smaller, which probably was the female, weighed only two pounds and a half. Although a particular chapter has been allotted to these birds, the author does not suppose them to be a distinct species from the preceding, which was probably a very old female.

Notes and Corrections: Second Speckled Diver

As Bewick himself admits, this is probably just a variant of what is now Gavia stellata.


woodcut of Red-Throated Diver

(Colymbus septentrionalis, Lin.—Le Plongeon à gorge rouge, Buff.)

This bird measures three feet five inches in breadth, two feet to the end of the tail, and four inches more to the end of the toes, and weighs nearly three pounds. The bill is dark coloured, and less than that of the Speckled Diver: the irides reddish: head and sides of the neck bluish lead colour: throat rusty red: the hinder part of the neck from the nape towards the shoulders and sides of the breast, is streaked downwards with dusky and white. The upper parts of the plumage are of a greyish dusky colour, thinly sprinkled all over with small white spots, which on the coverts and scapulars assume a more streaked or lengthened form: the under parts are white: the legs dark, 194 with a reddish tinge. The male and female are nearly alike in their plumage.

This species inhabits the same cold countries as the other Divers, and its manners and habits do not differ from theirs; but it is of a more lively character, and has a more sprightly appearance than any of the preceding kinds: also, like the rest of the genus, it is driven, in severe winters, from the northern to more southern climes. They breed, and are common in Greenland, Hudson’s Bay, Iceland, the Shetland and Orkney Isles, &c. The female makes her nest, which is composed of moss and herbage, lined with a little of her own down, on the very edge of the shore: she lays two eggs, which are nearly of the size of those of a hen, but of a longer shape, and of a dingy bluish white, thinly marked with dusky spots. They live in pairs with inconceivable affection, run swiftly upon the water, dive immediately, but are very aukward upon the land, from which they rise with great difficulty. Their flight, however, when once on the wing, is both strong and swift: they rise to a great height, making at intervals a disagreeable croaking, or a loud howling cry.

sailing ships on the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Red-Throated Diver

Colymbus septentrionalis was Linnaeus’s name for Pontoppidan’s C. stellatus, now Gavia stellata.


(Colymbus Arcticus, Lin.—Le Lumme, ou petit Plongeon de la mer du Nord, Buff.)

This bird is somewhat bigger than the Red-throated Diver, and differs from it in its plumage; but in every other respect they are very much alike. The fore parts of the head, the throat, and front of the neck, are black, changing in different lights to glossy purple or green: on the sides of the neck this long black patch is bordered by a stripe of black and white oblong spots, pointing downwards, and falling over each side of the breast. The hinder part of the head and neck are ash-coloured: upper parts of the plumage black, marked on the scapulars with square white spots, and on the wing coverts with smaller round ones: the under parts are white: quills dusky; tail black; legs dark, and reddish on the inside.

The Black-throated Diver, like the preceding, is common in all the Arctic regions, and but rarely visits England. It has the same disagreeable cries, which, in both kinds, are believed by the natives of Norway, the Orkney Isles, &c. to forebode heavy rains or bad weather. Their skins are dressed, and made into caps, hoods, &c. and are much esteemed as a covering for the head and breast in the rigorous climates in which they are found, the great thickness 196 of the feathers rendering them very fit for that purpose.

By many naturalists it is thought that this differs from the former bird in sex only.

A bird, suspected to be of this species, was caught in the month of March, in a pool near Dukesfield, Northumberland, and presented to the author, by Mr Thomas Crawhall: it wanted the black patch on the throat; its tail, like the First Grey Speckled Diver’s, was tipped with white, and its legs were marked like those of the second; but in measurement it exceeded the latter, being two feet two inches from the bill to the tail.

man carrying a heavy bundle on his back

Notes and Corrections: Black-Throated Diver

Colymbus arcticus is now Gavia arctica.



Birds of this genus have straight, slender-shaped, and pointed bills: nostrils linear: tongue slender and sharp: their legs are small, the webs deeply scallopped from the toe ends to the middle, and the back toe small: the wings are very long, and the tail forked. These birds continue long on the wing, and, in their quick and circling evolutions, they rise and sink in the air, or glide along near the surface of the waters, sometimes snapping at the insects in their way, or, suddenly checking their course, darting down upon their finny prey, which they swallow in the ascent, without delaying their progress. Their common residence is the sea-shores, or the mouths of large rivers, whose courses, however, they sometimes traverse nearly to their rise. They also visit loughs and lakes very distant from the ocean, and likewise make excursions a long way out to sea. They congregate in large flocks, but particularly in the breeding season, when they are more than usually restless, wheeling and redoubling their varied flight high in the air, and uttering their loud screams in clamorous confusion. Some of the species are described as breeding on 198 the shores, and depositing their two eggs upon the bare rock; others lay three or four eggs in a hole made in the dry sand; and some kinds nestle among the reeds and rushes in the marshy borders of the lakes which they frequent. The young ones keep the nest a good while after they have been hatched, not offering to leave it until their wings have attained sufficient length and strength to enable them to fly with ease and safety.

One kind or another of these birds is met with by navigators in almost every part of the world. Latham enumerates twenty-three species, besides varieties: five of the former and one of the latter are British.

In the young of some species, the tails are nearly even at the ends.

farmyard in winter

Notes and Corrections: Of the Terns, or Sea Swallows

Terns, Linnaeus’s genus Sterna, are part of family Laridae in order Charadriiformes—an order that begins to look like the seafaring equivalent of Passeriformes. The family also includes Linnaeus’s Larus, gulls, and Rynchops, skimmers, along with a few dozen other genera defined in later centuries. Sometimes you will see parallel families: Laridae, Sternidae, Rhynchopidae. But mostly they are treated as subfamilies—replace -idae with -inae—within Laridae.


woodcut of Common Tern

(Sterna Hirundo, Lin.—La grande Hirondelle de mer, Buff.)

This bird measures above fourteen inches in length, thirty in breadth, and weighs more than four ounces. The bill is of a crimson colour, tipped with black, and about two inches and a quarter in length: the head is capped with a longish black patch, which extends over the eyes, and ends in a point below the nape of the neck: the throat, cheeks, neck, and the whole of the under parts are white: the tail, which is long, and greatly forked, is also white, except the two outside feathers, which are black on their exterior webs; but in flying, these forks are frequently closed so as to look like a single feather. The upper part of the plumage is 200 of a fine pale lead colour: the quills are of a deeper cast, the outside ones the darkest: the legs and feet red.

The female, it is said, forms her nest in the moss or long coarse grass, near the lake, and lays three or four eggs of a dull olive colour, marked with different sized black spots at the thicker end: it is added, that she covers them only during the night, or in the day when it rains: at all other times she leaves the hatching of them to the heat of the sun.

This clean-looking bird is pretty common in the summer months on the sea-coasts, rivers and lakes of the British Isles, and is also met with in various parts of Europe, Asia, and America. It migrates southward to the Mediterranean, and to the Madeira and Canary Isles, and northward as far as Spitzbergen and Greenland.

man crouching in bushes

Notes and Corrections: Common Tern

Sterna hirundo still has that binomial. (Hirundo is Linnaeus’s swallow genus. This seems to have been a fairly popular naming option: “It obviously isn’t a {type-of-animal}, but it has so many points in common that we’ll use {type-of-animal} as its species name.” So, for example, Macropus—the original kangaroo genus—gives us Scarabaeus macropus, the kangaroo beetle.)


woodcut of Lesser Tern

(Sterna minuta, Lin.—La petite Hirondelle de Mer, Buff.)

The Lesser Tern measures about eight inches in length, and nineteen in breadth, and weighs a little more than two ounces. It looks like the former species in miniature—is equally, if not more delicately elegant in its plumage and general appearance—and its manners and habits are much the same; but it is not nearly so numerous, or so widely dispersed. It differs from the Common Tern in having the black patch on its head divided by a white spot on the front of its brow, in the tail being wholly white, and, in proportion to the size of the bird, much shorter or less forked, and in the bill and the feet being more inclined to orange 202 or yellow. Nothing can exceed the clean, clear, and glossy whiteness of its close-set feathers on the under parts of the body; but the upper plumage is of a plain sober lead-coloured grey. The egg is an inch and a half in length, of a dirty yellowish brown, dashed all over with reddish blotches.

This bird is met with in the summer months about the Baltic, in some parts of Russia, the river Irtish in Siberia, the Black and Caspian seas, and in America near New York, &c. In Belon’s time “the fishermen floated a cross of wood, in the middle of which was fastened a small fish for a bait, with limed twigs stuck to the four corners, on which the bird darting, was entangled by the wings.”

man resting under a bush

Notes and Corrections: Lesser Tern

Sterna minuta may be Sternula albifrons, the little tern, by way of Pallas’s Sterna albifrons. (Fun fact: There is also a “least tern”, Sternula antillarum, but it is only found in the Americas.)

In Belon’s time
[The quoted passage is lifted verbatim from the 1793 translation of Buffon’s Natural History of Birds.]


(Sterna fissipedes, Lin.—L’Epouvantail, Buff.)

This bird measures about ten inches in length, and twenty-four in breadth, and weighs about two ounces and a half. The bill, head, neck, breast, and belly, are a dull black: back, wings, and tail, a deep ash-colour: vent, and the exterior feather on each side of its sharp forked tail, white; and in the male there is a white spot on the throat. The legs and feet are a dusky red, the webs much depressed in the middle.

The Black Tern is of a size between that of the last two. Like them it frequents the sea-shores in summer; but its habits and manners are somewhat different: it has a shriller cry, does not associate with them, and seems rather to prefer the rivers, fens, marshes, and lakes inland, to the sea. It breeds and rears its young among the reeds and rushes in the former places, and is said to lay three or four eggs of a dirty greenish colour, spotted and encircled about the middle with black. It feeds on beetles, maggots, and other insects, as well as on small fishes; and, like the rest of the genus, is very noisy, clamorous, and restless. Voyagers and ornithologists say it is met with in Hudson’s Bay, Newfoundland, and Iceland, and that it is common in Siberia, and the salt lakes in the desarts of Tartary.

Notes and Corrections: Black Tern

Sterna fissipedes is now Chlidonias niger, by way of Linnaeus’s alternate name Sterna nigra.


woodcut of Sandwich Tern

(Sandvicencis, Latham.)

A pair of these birds, male and female, were shot on the Fern Islands, on the coast of Northumberland, in July, 1802, from the former of which this figure was taken. They measured two feet nine inches from tip to tip of the wings: the bills were tipped with yellow: the black feathers which capped and adorned their heads were elongated behind, forming a kind of peaked crest, which overhung 205 the nape and hinder part of the neck: the feathers of the fore part of the neck and breast, when ruffled up, appeared delicately and faintly blushed with red. In other respects they corresponded so nearly with Mr Latham’s accurate description, that to attempt giving any other is needless.—“Length eighteen inches: bill two inches; colour black with the tip horn colour: tongue half the length of the bill: irides hazel: forehead, crown, hind head, and sides above the eyes, black: the rest of the head, neck, under parts of the body and tail, white; the back and wings pale hoary lead colour: the first five quills hoary black, the inner webs deeply margined with white; the sixth like the others, but much paler; the rest of the quills like the back: the tail is forked, the outer feather six inches and a quarter in length; the wings reach beyond it: legs and claws black: the under part of the feet dusky red.” “Some specimens have the top of the head dotted with white.” “In young birds the upper parts are much clouded with brown; and the whole of the top of the head greatly mixed with white: but this is not peculiar, as the young of other Terns with black heads are in the same state.” “It is pretty common on the Suffolk and Kentish coasts in the summer months, breeds there in the month of June, is supposed to lay its eggs upon the rocks, and to hatch them about the middle of July.” He adds, “Whether 206 these birds only visit us at uncertain seasons, or have hitherto passed unnoticed among other Terns, we know not; but believe that this has not yet been recorded as a British species.” “They generally make their appearance in the neighbourhood of Romney in Kent, about the middle of April, and take their departure in the beginning of September.”

These birds, as well as specimens of nearly the whole of the different kinds which breed on the Fern Isles, were, after great trouble and risk, shot there, expressly for the use of this work, by Major Shore and Lieutenant Henry Forster Gibson, of the 4th Dragoons: and the author takes this opportunity of expressing the high sense of gratitude he feels to those gentlemen, for the facilities they have given to his labours.

rock surrounded by crashing waves

Notes and Corrections: Sandwich Tern

Sterna sandvicensis is now Thalasseus sandvicensis.

Sandvicencis, Latham.
text unchanged: error for Sandvicensis


Sterna nævia, Lin.—La Guisette, Buff.

Latham says this bird is in “length eleven inches and a half. Bill dusky: back part of the head and nape black, edged with rufous brown: the eye half surrounded at the back part with a black crescent: the rest of the head, neck, and under parts, white: back and wings of a bluish brown, the margins of the feathers paler: the outward part of the wing more inclined to blue grey: the wings exceed the tail in length; the last very little forked: legs dusky brown.” He adds, “This by authors has been considered as a species, but is, no doubt, a young bird merely of the Sandwich Tern.”

Buffon gives a figure, and describes this bird as common on the coast of Picardy, and frequently seen flying on the rivers Seine and Loire: that it is of a middle size between the Greater and Lesser Tern, but differs from them in some particulars in its habits and œconomy, viz: that it feeds more upon insects, flies, &c., is not so clamorous as the Greater Tern, does not lay its eggs on the naked sand, but makes its nest in the marshes with a few dried herbs, in a tuft of grass or moss, in some insulated hillock, and that it sits upon its eggs closely (generally three in number) till the young are hatched.

Notes and Corrections: Sterna Nævia

Sterna naevia is a head-scratcher in any language. The binomial has been equated with Rallus lariformis and Larus fissipes—neither of which get us any further—as well as Sterna cantiaca. The last brings us back, by a circuitous route, to Thalasseus sandvicensis. Another suggestion is the lesser crested tern, Th. bengalensis, which, in spite of the name, is occasionally seen in the British Isles.

This . . . is, no doubt, a young bird merely of the Sandwich Tern.
[All right then. Thalasseus sandvicensis it is.]


(Sterna nigra, Lin. Sterna Fusca, Ray.—Brown Tern, Willoughby. Brown Gull, Pennant.)

The whole underside white; the upper brown; the wings partly brown, partly ash-colour: the head black: the tail not forked. These birds fly in companies.”

This short and imperfect account is all that ornithologists have been enabled to give of this doubtful species, which has found its way into notice merely from the communications of Mr Johnson to Mr Ray, copied by the latter into his Synopsis of Birds, &c.

Mr R. Johnson, the correspondent, friend, and assistant of the immortal Ray, was vicar of Brignal in Yorkshire. He died there on the 7th of May, 1695, aged 66 years.

man talking to another riding a donkey

Notes and Corrections: Brown Tern

Sterna nigra is now Chlidonias niger, previously met under the name “black tern”. Don’t confuse Ray’s S. fusca with Linnaeus’s S. fuscata, now Onychoprion fuscatus, the sooty tern.



The bill is strong and straight, but bent downwards at the point: the nostrils are pervious, oblong, and narrow, and are placed in the middle; the lower mandible has an angular prominence on the underside, which tapers towards, and forms its tip: the tongue is a little cloven. The body is cloathed with a great quantity of down and feathers, which, together with the large head and long wings, give these birds an appearance of bulk, without a proportionate weight. Their legs are small, naked above the knees: feet webbed, and the back toe detached, and very small.

This genus, which some naturalists have described as consisting of about nineteen species, besides a few varieties, is numerously dispersed over every quarter of the known world, and is met with, at certain seasons, in some parts, in such multitudes, that the whole surface of the ground is covered with their dung; and their eggs are gathered by the inhabitants in prodigious quantities. They assemble together in a kind of straggling mixed flocks, consisting of various kinds, and greatly enliven the beach by their irregular movements, whilst their shrill cries are deadened by the noise of the waves, or nearly drowned in the roarings of the surge. They occasionally take a wide range over 210 the ocean, and are met with by navigators many leagues distant from the land. Their plumage, which in each individual of the species varies with its age, is clean and agreeable, but their carriage and gait are ungraceful, and their character is stigmatised as cowardly, cruel, lazy, thievish, and voracious; for which reason they have by some been called the vulture of the sea: and it is certain (though this trait is not peculiar to them) that the stronger will rob the weaker kinds, and that they are all greedy and gluttonous, almost indiscriminately devouring whatever comes in their way, whether of fresh or putrid substances, until they are obliged to disgorge their overloaded stomachs. On the contrary, they are able to endure hunger a long while: Buffon mentions one that lived nine days without tasting food.

Some ornithologists divide this genus of birds into two kinds, calling the larger Gulls, and the lesser Mews, and class with the former kind those which measure eighteen or twenty inches from the point of the bill to the end of the tail; and with the latter all those which are of less dimensions. The larger kinds are not so common in the warm, as they are in the cold climates, where they remain to breed and rear their young, feeding chiefly upon 211 the rotting carcases of dead whales, &c. which they find floating on the sea, among the ice, or driven on shore by the winds and waves; and many are said to remain in the dreary regions of ice and snow during the winter, the extreme severity of which does not compel them all to quit their native climes.

In the temperate and cultivated countries they occasionally leave the shores, and make excursions inland, tempted probably to search for a change of food, such as worms, slugs, &c. and of these they find, for a time, an abundant supply on the downs and pastures which they visit. The jelly-like substance which is sometimes met with in the fields, and known by the name of star-shot, is believed to be the remains of half-digested worms, &c. which they have discharged from their over-loaded stomachs.

Hence the confusion which has arisen among authors and nomenclators, respecting this numerous tribe of birds.

Notes and Corrections: Of the Gull

Gulls, Linnaeus’s genus Larus, gave their name to family Laridae and subfamily Larinae, gulls and kittiwakes. The genus also included skuas, which have been spun-off not only to their own genus, Stercorarius, but a different family, Stercorariidae.

[Bewick couldn’t lay his hands on a picture of a vomiting gull, as described in the text, so had to make do with a vomiting man.]

man seated at table, vomiting onto the floor


woodcut of Black-Backed Gull

(Larus marinus, Lin.—Le Goiland noir, Buff.)

This species, which is the largest of the tribe, measures twenty-nine inches in length, and five feet nine inches in breadth, and weighs nearly five pounds. The bill is pale yellow, very firm, strong, and thick, and nearly four inches long from the tip to the corners of the mouth: the projecting angle on the lower mandible is red, or orange, with a black spot in the middle, on each side: the irides are yellow, and the edges of the eye-lids orange. The upper part of the back and wings are black: 213 all the other parts of its plumage, and the tips of the quills, are white: the legs pale flesh colour.

Gulls of this species are common in the northern parts of Europe, the rocky isles of the North Sea, and in Greenland, but are only thinly scattered on the coasts of England, where they, however, sometimes remain to breed on the highest cliffs which overhang the sea: their eggs are of a round shape, of a dark olive colour, thinly marked with dusky spots, and quite black at the thicker end. Their cry of kac, kac, kac, quickly repeated, is roughly hoarse and disagreeable.

Mr Pennant says, “I have seen on the coast of Anglesea a bird that agrees in all respects with this, except in size, in wanting the black spot on the bill, and in the colour of the legs, which in this are of a bright yellow: the extent of the wings is only four feet five: the length only twenty-two inches: the weight one pound and a half. This species, or perhaps variety, (for I dare not assert which) rambles far from the sea, and has been shot at Bullstrode, in Middlesex.” One of this sort was shot by Mr Latham on the Thames, near Dartford, and measured full two feet in length.

man riding past grave marked with a cross

Notes and Corrections: Black-Backed Gull

Larus marinus, the great black-backed gull, still has that binomial. In case anyone wondered, the “great” is to distinguish it from the lesser black-backed gull, L. fuscus.


(Larus fuscus, Lin.—Le Goiland in manteau gris-brun, ou le Bourgmestre, Buff.)

The weight of this bird exceeds thirty ounces; the length is about twenty-three inches, and the breadth fifty-two. The spot on the angular knob of the under mandible is deep orange; the rest of the bill yellow: irides pale yellow; edges of the eye-lids red. The back and wing coverts are of a dark bluish ash-colour: the first five quills in most specimens are black on the upper parts, and have each a roundish white spot on the outer webs near the tips; others are marked differently on the quills: legs pale flesh colour. The back and wings of some of this species, which are supposed to be the young not arrived at full plumage, are ash-coloured, spotted with brown: the old ones are said to turn quite white.

The haunts, manners, and habits, as well as the general appearance of this Gull, are very similar to those of the preceding species, but this is much more common on the British shores: they make their nests of dry grass on the projecting ledges of the rocks, and lay three eggs of a dull whitish colour, spotted with black. They have obtained their name from pursuing the shoals of herrings, and preying upon those fish. Fishermen describe them as the 215 constant, bold, intruding attendants on their nets, from which they find it difficult to drive them away. This species, like the preceding, is met with in the cold northern seas, but has been observed to wander farther into southern climates.

Naturalists are divided in their opinions respecting the Black-backed Gull, the Herring Gull, and the Wagel: it is by some suspected that they are all of one species, and that the difference between them is owing merely to their age and sex. This, as well as much more respecting the Gull tribe, remains to be determined by further investigation. The Glaucous Gull of Pennant and Latham, which they do not consider as a British bird, called by the Dutch Burgermeister, or Burgomaster, and figured in the Planches Enluminées under the name Goiland cendrée, is also one of the number involved in the same doubt, and is probably not a species distinct from the Herring Gull; and Latham has the same doubt respecting the Silvery Gull.

sailing ships at sea, birds near the shore

Notes and Corrections: Herring Gull

Larus fuscus still has that binomial. In English it is also known as the lesser black-backed gull, while equivalents of “herring gull” show up in various Scandinavian languages.


woodcut of Wagel

(Larus nævius, Lin.—Le Goiland varié ou le Grisard, Buff.)

This Gull is about two feet in length, and five in breadth, and weighs nearly three pounds; but the individuals vary much in their size, some of them being less, and others larger than these dimensions. The bill is black, scarcely three inches long: the irides dark blue. The whole plumage is a mixture of ash-coloured brown and white. The feathers on the back are dark in the middle, with whitish grey edges: the wing coverts nearly the same, but more spotted; and the under parts of the body 217 have a much lighter and more mixed appearance: the quills are plain black: the middle tail feathers the same, but tipped with white, and crossed with a narrow white bar towards the root or base: the side feathers are mottled black and white: the legs are of a dirty white, sometimes blushed with red.

Mr Pennant treated of the Wagel as a distinct species, from an opinion he had formed, “that the first colours of the irides, of the quill feathers, and of the tail, are in all birds permanent.” Further observation, however, caused him to alter his mind. Other observers say that this Gull is the young of the Herring Gull, and that it does not change its grey plumage until the fourth year.

flock of sea birds over the water

Notes and Corrections: Wagel

Larus nævius (not Linnaeus as such, but his successor Gmelin) is the same bird as L. marinus.


woodcut of Common Gull

(Larus Canus, Lin.—La Grande Mouette cendrée, Buff.)

The Common Gull generally measures between sixteen and seventeen inches in length, thirty-six, and sometimes more, in breadth, and weighs about one pound. The bill is pale yellow, tinged with green, and an inch and three-quarters long: irides hazel: edges of the eye-lids red: the upper part of the head and cheeks, and the hinder part and sides of the neck, are streaked with dusky spots: the 219 back, scapulars, and wings are of a fine pale bluish grey: the throat, rump, tail, and all the under parts are pure white: the first two quills are black, with a pretty large white spot near the tips; the next four are tipped with black, and the secondaries largely with white: the legs are greenish, or a dirty white. This is nearly the description of an individual specimen; but from the number which the author has examined, it is certain that these birds vary in the markings of the head, quills, tail, and in the colour of the bills and feet, hardly two of them being found exactly alike. Some have the head quite white; some the quills plain black at the ends; others the tail tipped with black, and the feet blushed with red, green, or blue. Their plumage and look altogether is very clean and agreeable.

The habits and manners of this species are much the same as those of the rest of the genus: they are spread all over the globe, and are the most common and numerous of all the Gulls which frequent the British shores. They breed on the rocky cliffs: and lay two eggs, nearly of the size of those of a Hen, of an olive brown colour, marked with dark reddish blotches, or irregular spots. At the mouths of the larger rivers, they are seen in numbers, picking up the animal substances which are cast on shore, or come floating down with the ebbing tide: for this kind of food they watch with a quick eye, and 220 it is curious to observe how such as are near the breakers will mount upon the surface of the water, and run splashing towards the summit of the wave to catch the object of their pursuit. This species also, at particular seasons, resorts to the inland parts of the country to feed upon worms, &c. Some persons who live near the sea commonly eat this, as well as various other kinds of Gulls, which they describe as being good food, when they have undergone a certain sweetening process before cooking, such as burying them in fresh mould for a day, or washing them in vinegar.

Buffon says, the bluish bill and feet, always observable in this species, ought to distinguish it from every other, in which the feet are generally of a flesh-colour, more or less vermillion or livid.

man and boy pausing to look at inscribed pillar

Notes and Corrections: Common Gull

Larus canus still has that binomial.


(Larus hybernus, Lin.—La Mouette d’hyver, Buff.)

This generally exceeds the Common Gull in its weight and admeasurement. The bill is lightish, except at the tip, of a slender shape, and about two inches long: irides hazel. It is marked with oblong dusky spots on the top of the head and hinder part of the neck: back and scapulars pale ash-coloured grey; but these feathers are spotted with brown: wing coverts pale brown, edged with dingy whiter the first quill is black, the six following more or less black at the ends; the others tipped with white: the tail is crossed with a broad black bar near the end: all the other parts of the plumage are white: legs bluish dirty white. Mr Pennant asserts that this is only a young bird, not a species distinct from the Common Gull; and he also differs from Linnæus in his opinion that it is the same as the Larus tridactylus, or Tarrock.

man sitting in a comfortable chair, with dog nearby

Notes and Corrections: Winter Gull

Larus hybernus is probably the same bird as L. tridactylus, now Rissa tridactyla, the black-legged kittiwake. I don’t know why Bewick thinks the hybernus binomial is from Linnaeus; it isn’t.

he also differs from Linnæus in his opinion that it is the same as the Larus tridactylus
[If I could figure out whom “his opinion” refers to—Pennant or Linnaeus—I would be able to say which of the two was right.]


woodcut of Black-Headed Gull

(Larus ridibundus, Lin.—La Mouette rieuse a pattes rouges, Brisson.—La Mouette rieuse, Buff.)

This pretty looking bird measures fifteen inches in length, thirty-six in breadth, and weighs about two ounces. The bill is of rather a slender make, and of a full red colour: the irides hazel: edges of the eye-lids red: head black; but in some specimens it inclines to a mouse-coloured brown. The back and wings are of a delicate pale lead, or ash-colour; the neck, tail, and all the under parts, pure white. The first quills in the specimen from which the above drawing was made, were black on the outer webs; those next them white, and black 223 towards their tips: others of the quills were partly ash-coloured, and partly white: the legs red.

The Black-cap Gulls breed on the marshy edges of rivers, lakes, and fens in the interior parts of the country. The female makes her nest among the reeds and rushes, of heath or dried grass, and lays three or four eggs of an olive brown colour, blotched over with spots and streaks of dull rusty red. As soon as the young are able to accompany them, they all retire from those places, and return to the sea.

In former times these birds were looked upon as valuable property, by the owners of some of the fens and marshes in this kingdom, who, every autumn, caused the little islets or hafts, in those wastes, to be cleared of the reeds and rushes, in order properly to prepare the spots for the reception of the old birds in the spring, to which places at that season they regularly returned in great flocks to breed. The young ones were then highly esteemed as excellent eating, and on that account were caught in great numbers before they were able to fly. Six or seven men, equipped for this business, waded through the pools, and with long staves drove them to the land, against nets placed upon the shores of these hafts, where they were easily caught by the hand, and put into pens ready prepared for their reception. The gentry assembled 224 from all parts to see the sport. Dr Plot,⁕1 in his natural History of Staffordshire, published in 1686, gives the above particulars, and says that in this manner as many have been caught in one morning as, when sold at five shillings per dozen, (the usual price at that time) produced the sum of twelve pounds ten shillings; and that in the several drifts on the few succeeding days of this sport, they have been taken in some years in such abundance, that their value, according to the above rate, was from thirty to sixty pounds—a great sum in those days. These were the See-Gulles of which we read as being so plentifully provided at the great feasts of the ancient nobility and bishops of this realm. Although the flesh of these birds is not now esteemed a dainty, and they are seldom sought after as an 225 article of food, yet in the breeding season, where accommodation and protection are afforded them, they still regularly resort to the same old haunts, which have been occupied by their kind for a long time past.⁕2 The foregoing figure and description were taken from a specimen shot on Prestwick-Car, near Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Larus Atricilla of Linnæus (Laughing Gull of Catesby, &c.) is by some naturalists believed to be an old bird of this species, differing from it only in being rather larger, and in having the legs black.

⁕1 Dr Plot describes them as coming annually “to certain pools in the estate of the right worshipful Sir Charles Skrymsher, Knight, to build and breed, and to no other estate but that of this family, in or near the county, to which they have belonged ultra hominum memoriam, and never moved from it, though they have changed their station often.” What the Doctor relates of the attachment of these birds to the head of that family, of their removal to another spot immediately on his death, and of their returning again with the same predilection to his heir, is curious enough, although bordering very much upon the marvellous.—Willoughby gives nearly the same account in his excellent ornithology, published in 1678, and computes the sale of the birds to amount to twenty-five pounds per annum.

⁕2 This is the case with the flocks which now breed at Pallinsburne, in Northumberland, where they are accounted of great use in clearing the surrounding lands of noxious insects, worms, slugs, &c.

building with smoking chimney overlooking a river

Notes and Corrections: Black-Headed Gull

skip to next section

Larus ridibundus is now Chroicocephalus ridibundus, a genus not defined until well after Bewick’s time.

La Mouette rieuse a pattes rouges, Brisson.
text has pattos

The Larus Atricilla of Linnæus (Laughing Gull of Catesby, &c.) is by some naturalists believed to be an old bird of this species
[It would be odd if “Laughing Gull” were not the same bird, since that’s what ridibundus means. But, just to confuse us, the laughing gull really is a different bird, now Leucophaeus atricilla.]



Four of these birds, two males and two females, were shot out of a flock on Prestwick-Car, Northumberland, in the middle of May, by Mr John Wingate, of Newcastle, who favoured the author with a pair: they were of the same kind as the one described by Dr Heysham in his Catalogue of Cumberland Animals, and communicated by him to Mr Latham. The bill and feet red; the edges of the eye-lids the same: inside of the mouth reddish orange: irides hazel. The female, which was rather less than the male, weighed about seven ounces, and measured fourteen inches in length, and thirty-five in breadth: her head and throat were mouse-coloured brown, the feathers, in places, very slightly edged or fringed with white. The plumage on the head of the male was of the same colour, but much more dappled and broken with white. In both, the neck, throat, and belly were white; back and scapulars of a fine pale blue grey colour: middle coverts of the wings light brown, edged with greyish white; the exterior webs, and part of the interior ones of the first four quills, were black: tail white, tipped with black: toes short.

Dr Heysham says, “It is clear,” from his description, “that it neither agrees with the Tarrock 227 nor the Pewit, and it could not be a young bird, as it was killed in June, and the ovary contained eggs.” This reasoning does not appear decisive; the bird might be old enough to breed, although not in perfect plumage, to which some species do not attain in less than two or three years: therefore, whether it really was the young of the Black-headed Gull, or a distinct species, remains to be determined by further investigation.

The male of the Brown-headed Gull is by some ornithologists called the Kittiwake (the Larus Rissa of Linnæus); but as there is no end of the conjectures, opinions, and doubts respecting many of the Gulls, which, from the slightest differences of plumage, have, in some instances, been branched out into new varieties, in this work the descriptions of others have been given in preference to making alterations, when the author could not with certainty throw any new light upon the subject.

snowy scene

Notes and Corrections: Brown-Headed Gull

Today the name “brown-headed gull” applies to Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus, a species which (a) wasn’t defined until 1840, and (b) is restricted to south and southeast Asia. There is also a red-legged kittiwake, with similar objections; that one lives in the north Pacific. And “pickmire” is one of those awkward dialectal terms that denotes different birds in different parts of Britain.


woodcut of Grande Mouette Blanche

La Grande Mouette blanche, Belon.

Mr Pennant describes this as a variety of the Black-headed or Pewit Gull; he says, “It differed in having the edges of the eye-lids covered with white soft feathers. The fore part of the head white; the space round the eyes dusky: from the corner of each eye is a broad dusky bar, surrounding the hind part of the head; behind that is another reaching from ear to ear: the ends, interior and exterior edges of the three first quill feathers, black; the ends and interior sides only of the two next white; beneath a black bar: the rest, as well as the secondaries, ash-colour.” “In all other respects it resembled the Common Pewit Gull.” “The fat was of a deep orange colour.”

The above figure was taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum.

Notes and Corrections: La Grande Mouette blanche

Mr Pennant describes this as a variety of the Black-headed or Pewit Gull
[I daresay.]


woodcut of Kittiwake

(Larus Rissa, Linnæus.)

The Kittiwake measures from fourteen to seventeen inches in length, thirty-eight to forty in breadth, and weighs generally about fourteen ounces. The bill is of a greenish yellow: the inside of the mouth and edges of the eye-lids are orange: irides dark: the head, neck, under parts and tail, pure white: back and wings a lead or ash-coloured grey: the exterior edge of the first quill feather, and the tips of the next four or five are black: legs dusky: hinder toe not bigger than a small wart. Some specimens of the Kittiwake are described as having the auriculars tipped with black.


These birds chiefly haunt the rocky promontories and islets on the British coasts; they are likewise widely dispersed over the world, particularly in the north, and are met with from Newfoundland to Kamtschatka, as well as in all the intermediate parts, and as far north as navigators have visited.

This specimen was shot on one of the Fern islands in July, 1803.

kayak drawn up on ice floe, with icebergs in the backgraound

Notes and Corrections: Kittiwake

Kittiwakes are now genus Rissa in the same subfamily as gulls. Anomalously, there is no Rissa rissa.


(Larus tridactylus, Lin.—La Mouette cendrée tachetée, Buff.)

This bird is somewhat less than the Kittiwake. The bill is black, short, and strong: the head, neck, breast, belly, and tail are all white, with the exception of the tips of ten of the middle feathers of the tail, a spot on the auriculars, another under the throat, and a crescent-shaped patch on the hinder part of the neck, all of which are black: the back and scapulars are of a bluish grey: lesser coverts of the wings deepish brown, edged with grey: some of the greater covert feathers are of the same colour, and others of plain grey: the outer webs and ends of the first four quills, and the tips of the next two, are black; all the rest are wholly white: the legs are of a dingy ash-colour: the hinder toe, like that of the Kittiwake, is only a kind of small, and apparently useless, protuberance.

The habits and manners of these birds are the same as those of the Kittiwake: they are met with in the same countries, and at the same breeding-places, from Greenland to Scotland and its isles. They leave the sea-shores in autumn, and spread themselves over the northern ocean, making, it is said, the floating isles of ice their chief resting places. In the spring they return to the rocky crags to breed; and in the month of June the female lays 232 two eggs of a dingy greenish colour, spotted with brown: these, as well as the flesh of the birds, are held in great estimation by the Greenlanders, who also use their skins for caps and garments.

After many doubts and surmises respecting the Tarrock, the prevailing opinion among ornithologists is, that it is only the Kittiwake not arrived at full age and plumage.

A specimen of this bird, presented by Charles John Brandling, Esq. of Gosforth, had not the black spot on the throat. The lesser wing coverts were very dark brown; the first five quills were black on the outer webs and tips; the tips of the next two were marked with a black spot; and the two outside feathers of the tail were tipped in the same way.

ruined tower overlooking water

Notes and Corrections: Tarrock

Larus tridactylus is now Rissa tridactyla, the black-legged kittiwake. It is probably the same bird as the “winter gull” from a few chapters back—and also the previous chapter’s Larus rissa.


woodcut of Skua Gull

(Larus catarractes, Lin.—Le Goiland brun, Buff.)

This stout Gull is two feet in length, and between four and five from tip to tip of the extended wings, and weighs about three pounds. The bill is dark, more than two inches long, strong, much hooked, and sharp at the tip; and, what is singular, it is covered to the nostrils with a kind of cere, something like that of the Hawk tribe. The whole upper plumage is of a deep brown, edged with a dull rust colour: the under parts are of the same colours, but lighter; and, in some birds, the head and throat are dashed or mixed with ash-grey, and have the secondary quills tipped with white: the tail is white at the root, the shafts are of the same colour, and the 234 webs of deep brown: the legs and toes are covered with coarse black scales; the claws are strong and hooked, the inner one more so than the rest.

This fierce species is met with by navigators in the high latitudes of both hemispheres, where they are much more common than in the warm or temperate parts of the globe. In Captain Cook’s voyages round the world, they are often mentioned, and, from their being numerous about the Falkland Isles, the seamen called them Port-Egmont Hens. They are also common in Norway, Iceland, the Shetland and Ferro Isles, &c. It is said that they prey not only upon fish, but also upon the lesser sorts of water-fowl, and even upon young lambs: this, however, is doubted, and, by some of the northern islanders, even denied: they on the contrary assert, that these birds afford protection to the flocks, by driving away the Eagle, which they furiously attack whenever it comes within their reach, and on this account they are highly valued. It is, however, well ascertained that they are uncommonly courageous in defence of their own young, and that they seize, with the utmost vengeance, upon any animal, whether man or beast, that offers to disturb their nests; and it is said also, that they sometimes attack the shepherds even while they are watching their flocks upon the hills, who are obliged, in their own defence, to guard their heads, and to ward off the blows of the assailants by holding a 235 pointed stick towards them, against which they sometimes dash with such force as to be killed on the spot. In like manner, they who are about to rob the nests, hold a knife, or other sharp instrument, over their heads, upon which the enraged bird precipitates, and transfixes itself. They make their nests among the dry grass, and, when the young are reared, they disperse themselves, commonly in pairs, over the ocean.

The feathers of this species, as well as those of other Gulls, are by many people preferred to those of the Goose; and in some parts they are killed in great numbers, merely for the sake of the feathers. On the English coasts they are not very common: that from which the foregoing figure was taken, was shot near Tynemouth, in the month of September.

sailing ships on a dark sea

Notes and Corrections: Skua Gull

Larus catarractes seems to be the same bird as Stercorarius skua—genus by Brisson, species by Brünnich—the great skua, also attested as Lestris catarrhactes, Catharacta skua and a few others. The name Stercorarius (“shitty”) must be considered a boon to ornithologists, as it saves them the trouble of learning how to spell “Catarrhactes”. Skuas and jaegers aren’t gulls; they are a family of their own, Stercorariidae, elsewhere in order Charadriiformes.


woodcut of Black-Toed Gull

(Larus Crepidatus.—Le Stercorare, Buff.)

This bird measures sixteen inches and a half in length, and three feet four inches in breadth, and weighs eleven ounces. The bill is of a lead colour, dark at the point, from which to the brow it is little more than an inch in length: the nostrils are placed near the nail or tip in a kind of cere not much unlike that of the Skua Gull. The whole upper and under plumage is dark brown, each feather slightly edged and tipped with ferruginous: the 237 greater wing coverts, and the first and secondary quills are dusky, and more distinctly tipped with rusty spots. The tail consists of twelve feathers, the two middle ones longer than the rest; it is of the same colour as the quills, except at the concealed part of its root, which is white. The legs are slender, and of a lead colour; the thighs and part of the joint, and the toes, black: the webs are of the same colour, excepting a small space between the first joints of the toes, which is white.

The Black-toed Gull described by Mr Pennant differs from this in some particulars: he says “the head and neck are of a dirty white: the hinder part of the latter plain, the rest marked with oblong dirty spots: the breast and belly are white, crossed with numerous dusky and yellowish lines: the feathers on the sides and vent are barred transversely with black and white: the back, scapulars, coverts of the wings, and tail, are black, beautifully edged with white or pale rust-colour: the shafts and tips of the quill feathers are white: the exterior web, and upper half of the interior web, black; but the lower part of the latter white: the tail consists of twelve black feathers tipped with white.” The male is said to be blacker and darker than the female.

These birds are not common on the British shores, nor, although widely dispersed over the face of the ocean, are they numerous any where. They 238 do not exceed the Lesser Gulls, or Mews, in size, yet their greater ferocity enables them to carry into effect that continual persecution which is prompted by their ravenous appetite. As soon as they perceive that one of the Mews has seized a prey, they pursue and attack it with the speed and vigour of a Hawk, until the harassed bird, through fatigue or fear, is compelled to drop or disgorge the object of contention, which the pursuer catches in the fall, commonly before it reaches the water. Distant observers have supposed this dropping substance to be the dung of the fugitive, and hence the Black-toed Gull obtained the name of the Dung-bird.

This is the weight given by Mr Pennant. The specimen from which this figure and description were taken weighed only eight ounces, but it was very lean. It was shot on the Durham coast, by Mr John Forster of Newcastle, the first of October, 1800.

small sailboat on stormy sea

Notes and Corrections: Black-Toed Gull

Larus crepidatus is probably Stercorarius parasiticus, the Arctic skua, by way of Linnaeus’s Larus parasiticus. (GBIF, like Bewick, doesn’t seem to know who came up with crepidatus.)


(Larus parasiticus, Lin.—Le Labbe à longue queue, Buff.)

The length of this species is twenty-one inches: the bill is dusky, about an inch and a half long, pretty much hooked at the end, but the strait part is covered with a sort of cere. The nostrils are narrow, and placed near the end, like the former. In the male the crown of the head is black: the back, wings, and tail dusky: but the lower part of the inner webs of the quill feathers, white: the hind part of the neck, and the whole under side of the body, white: the tail consists of twelve feathers, the two middlemost nearly four inches longer than the others: the legs black, small, and scaly.”—“The female is entirely brown; but of a much paler colour below than above: the feathers in the middle of the tail only two inches longer than the others. Linnæus has separated this from its mate, his Larus Parasiticus, and made it a synonym to his Larus Catarractes, a bird as different from this as any other of the whole genus.” Pennant.

The habits and manners of this species are the same as those of the last. It pursues the smaller Gulls for the purpose of robbing them of their prey, and like the other, is called the Dung-bird, from similar groundless notions. It is pretty common 240 in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and America. Numbers of them frequent the Hebrides in the breeding season, which is from May till August. The female makes her nest of moss on the dry grassy tufts in boggy places, and lays two eggs of an ash-colour, spotted with black.

surf beating against rocks

Notes and Corrections: Arctic Gull

Larus parasiticus is now Stercorarius parasiticus, the Arctic skua—in other words, the same bird as the preceding.



The bills of this genus are straight, except the end, which is bent or hooked: the nostrils, for the most part, contained in one tube; but in a few species they are distinct and separate. Legs small, and naked above the knees: three toes placed forward, and a spur behind, instead of a back toe: wings very long and strong.

These birds are the constant, roving, adventurous inhabitants of the ocean; one species or another of them is met with by navigators in every climate, and at the greatest distances from land. They seem to sport with the tempest, and run on foot, swim, or fly at pleasure over the foaming billows, with amazing velocity. In flying they generally keep so near to the undulating waters, that the tips of their wings often beat upon the surface, and thereby accelerate their progress. In calm weather they float and repose, as it were, on the bosom of the ocean. They are seldom seen on shore, and when they are, it is only in the breeding season, and then merely for the purposes of incubation. The females deposit their eggs in holes in the ground, or in the deep hidden caverns and 242 recesses of the rocks, where they and their mates, while employed in rearing their young, are heard in croaking, clucking converse, not unlike the unvaried hollow sounds of a number of frogs. They are accounted a stupid race of birds, because they seem fearless of danger, and suffer themselves to be so nearly approached as easily to be shot, or even knocked on the head. In the preservation of their young they seem to have only one mode of defence, and that is the singular faculty of squirting oil from their bills, with great force, on the face of their enemy; by which means they sometimes succeed in disconcerting his attempts to rob their nests. They are a remarkably oily fat race of birds.

Ornithologists have reckoned nineteen species, and a few varieties, of the Petrel, whose nostrils are contained in a single tube,—and four species which have nostrils divided into two tubes. Three species only of this genus are accounted British birds.

Some species of them are known to dive also.—Cook’s Voyages.

small boat with square sails

Notes and Corrections: Of the Petrel

Petrels and albatrosses, Linnaeus’s genus Procellaria, are now their own order, Procellariiformes or “tube-nosed swimmers”. The order includes a fair number of families, of which the most numerous is the flagship Procellariidae.

These birds are the constant, roving, adventurous inhabitants of the ocean
text has adventrous

They are a remarkably oily fat race of birds.
[The OCR saw fit to read this as “They fire a . . .” which is pretty funny in view of the immediately preceding sentence about squirting oil from their bills.]


woodcut of Fulmar

(Procellaria glacialis, Lin.—Le Fulmar, ou Petrel Puffin gris blanc, Buff.)

The Fulmar measures seventeen inches in length, and weighs about twenty-two ounces. The bill is strongly formed, and about two inches long; the hook or nail of the upper mandible, and the truncated termination or tip of the under one, are yellow; the other parts of it are of a greyish colour, and, in some specimens, blushed with red: the nostrils are contained in one sheath, divided into two tubes. The head, neck, all the under parts, and the tail, are white: back and wing coverts blue grey: quills dusky blue: legs yellowish, inclining 244 more or less, in some specimens, to red. The body is thickly cloathed with feathers upon a close fine down.

This species is much more common in cold, than in warm or temperate climates: it has been met with in both the arctic and antarctic regions, in all parts which navigators have been able to visit, even to the foot of those impenetrable barriers, the floating islands and eternal mountains of ice and snow.

In the northern parts of the world, the natives of the various coasts and islands easily catch these heedless birds in great numbers. Pennant, speaking of those which breed on, or inhabit, the Isle of St Kilda, says—“No bird is of such use to the islanders as this: the Fulmar supplies them with oil for their lamps, down for their beds, a delicacy for their tables, a balm for their wounds, and a medicine for their distempers.” He says also, that it is a “certain prognosticator of the change of the wind: if it comes to land, no west wind is expected for some time; and the contrary when it returns and keeps the sea.”

These birds are extremely greedy and gluttonous, and will devour any floating putrid substances, such as the filth from the ships, which they fearlessly follow. They also pursue the whales, but particularly the bloody track of those which are wounded, and in such great flocks as thereby sometimes to discover the prize to the fishers, with whom they generally 245 share; for when the huge animal is no longer able to sink, the Fulmars, in multitudes, alight upon it, and ravenously pluck off and devour lumps of the blubber, until they can hold no more.

The female is said to lay only one large white and very brittle egg, which she hatches about the middle of June.

church on a headland, with gravestones in the foreground

Notes and Corrections: Fulmar

Procellaria glacialis is now Fulmarus glacialis, the northern fulmar.

it has been met with in both the arctic and antarctic regions
[Nope, that would be Fulmarus glacialoides, the Antarctic fulmar, named in 1840.]

[The visible part of the gravestone reads “This Stone was erected to perpetuate the Memory of”—and the rest is either buried or broken off.]


woodcut of Shearwater

(Procellaria Puffinus, Lin.—Le puffin, Buff.)

This species measures in length fifteen inches, and in breadth thirty-one, and weighs about seventeen ounces. The bill is about an inch and three-quarters long; the tip black, the other parts yellowish: the tubular nostrils are not so prominent as in others of this genus. The inner coverts of the wings, and under parts of the body, are white: the head, tail, thighs, and upper parts, black, tinted more or less with grey: the legs are flattened on the sides, and weak; light-coloured, or whitish on the fore parts, and dusky behind.

The Shearwater is found in greater or smaller numbers in almost every part of the watery world, 247 in both hemispheres, and in every climate; but they are met with in greater abundance in the north. In the Hebrides, and other islands with which the seas of Scotland are dotted, these birds are caught by the natives in great numbers, and are used for the same purposes as the Fulmar.

Willoughby, whose excellent ornithology has thrown so much light on this branch of natural history, and cleared the paths for subsequent writers, gives the following account of the coming of these birds to breed in the Isle of Man:—

“At the south end of the Isle of Man lies a little islet, divided from Man by a narrow channel, called the Calf of Man, on which are no habitations but only a cottage or two lately built. This islet is full of rabbits, which the Puffins coming yearly dislodge, and build in their burroughs. They lay each but one egg before they sit, like the Razor-bill and Guillem, although it be the common persuasion that they lay two at a time, of which the one is always addle.” “The old ones early in the morning, at break of day, leave their nests and young, and the island itself, and spend the whole day in fishing at sea, never returning or once setting foot on the island before evening twilight: so that all day the island is so quiet and still from all noise as if there were not a bird about it.” He observes that they feed the young ones from the contents of their loaded stomachs during the night, that they 248 become extremely fat, and are taken and salted down for keeping, and that the Romish church permitted them to be eaten in lent. He adds further respecting the young ones:—“When they come to their growth, they who are intrusted by the lord of the island (the Earl of Derby) to draw them out of the rabbit-holes, that they may the more readily know and keep account of the number they take, cut off one foot, and reserve it, which gave occasion to that fable, that the Puffins are single-footed. They usually sell them for about nine-pence the dozen, a very cheap rate.”

The above figure was taken from a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum.

rock by the edge of the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Shearwater

Procellaria puffinus—Brünnich, not Linnaeus—is now Puffinus puffinus, the Manx shearwater. In spite of its English name, it is found all around the Atlantic, and on both coasts of the Americas.


woodcut of Stormy Petrel

(Procellaria pelagica, Lin.—L’Oiseau de tempète, Buff.)

This is the least of all the web-footed birds, measuring only about six inches in length, and thirteen in breadth. The bill is half an inch long, hooked at the tip; the nostrils tubular. The upper parts of the plumage are black, sleek, and glossed with bluish reflections: the brow, cheeks, and under parts, sooty brown: the rump, and some feathers on the sides of the tail, white: legs slender, black, and scarcely an inch and three-quarters in length, from the knee joint to the end of the toes.

This bird resembles the Chimney Swallow in general appearance, in the length of its wings, and in the swiftness of its flight. It is sometimes met with by navigators on every part of the ocean, diving, 250 running on foot, or skimming over the surface of the heavy rolling waves of the most tempestuous sea, quite at ease, and in security; and yet it seems to foresee, and fear the coming storm, long before the seaman can discover any appearance of its approach; and this these little sure prognosticators make known by flocking together under the wake of the ship, as if to shelter themselves from it, or to warn the mariners, and prepare them to guard against the danger. They are silent during the day, and their clamorous piercing voice is heard only in the night. In the breeding season they betake themselves to the promontories, where, in the fissures of the rocks, they breed and rear their young, which they conduct to the watery element as soon as they are able to crawl, and immediately lead them forward to roam, with themselves, over the dreary and trackless waste.

Mr Pennant, on the authority of Brunnich, says, that “the inhabitants of the Ferro Isles make this bird serve the purposes of a candle, by drawing a wick through the mouth and rump, which being lighted, the flame is fed by the fat and oil of the body.” Like others of this genus, it squirts oil from its bill on the face of its enemy.

Although it has been generally said that these birds are never seen but at sea, except during the period of incubation; yet some instances occur of their having been shot inland. Mr Latham speaks 251 of one which was shot at Sandwich, in Kent, in a storm of wind, among a flock of Hoopoes, in the month of January,—of another shot at Walthamstow, in Essex,—and of a third which was killed near Oxford. The late M. Tunstal, Esq. of Wycliffe, had one sent to him, which was shot near Bakewell, in Derbyshire; and the specimen from which the above figure and description were taken, was found dead in a field near Ripon, in Yorkshire, and obligingly sent to the author by Lieutenant-Colonel Dalton, late of the 4th Dragoons. It is probable that sickness, or the extreme violence of some hurricane had driven these birds so far from their natural element.

man and dog walking across barren fields

Notes and Corrections: Stormy Petrel

Procellaria pelagica is now Hydrobates pelagicus, the British storm petrel. In fact “northern storm petrels” make up a fairly large family, Hydrobatidae, in order Procellariiformes.



Birds of this genus have roundish slender bills, furnished at the end with a hard, horny, crooked nail; edges of the mandibles very sharply toothed, or serrated; nostrils small, subovated and placed near the middle of the bill: tongue rough, with hard indented papillæ turned backward; legs short; feet webbed; toes long, and the outer ones about the same length as the middle: the head is small, but the quantity of soft silky feathers with which it is furnished, and which they can bristle up from the nape of the neck to the brow, gives it a large appearance. They are a broad, long-bodied, and flat-backed kind of birds, and swim very squatly on the water, the body seeming nearly submerged, with only the head and neck clearly seen. They are excellent divers, remaining a long while under water, and getting to a great distance before they appear again. They fly near the surface of the water, and, notwithstanding the shortness of their wings, with great swiftness, though seldom to any great distance. They devour a large quantity of fish; and their pointed, sharp-toothed, and hooked bills, are well calculated for holding fast their slippery prey, none of which, when once within their gripe, can escape.


Latham enumerates six species and three varieties of this genus, five of which are accounted British birds. George Strickland, Esq. of Ripon, to whom this work is much indebted for sundry communications, enumerates six species of this genus, which are all met with in Great Britain and its adjacent isles: the author agrees with him likewise in opinion, that much remains to be done in order to clear up the doubts in which their history is involved, and by which the classification of the different species is confused: he says—“The genus Mergus, though only a very small tribe of birds, still remains in the greatest obscurity, and I have not yet met with any ornithologist who has not, in my opinion, multiplied the number of the species, by considering birds of this genus as of different kinds, when they differed only in sex.” His arrangement is as follows:—

Genus Mergus.
Species 1. Merganser Goosander.
2. Castor Dun-Diver.
3. Serrator Less Dun-Diver.
4. Albellus Smew.
5. —— Lough-Diver.
6. Minutus Red-headed Smew.

Notes and Corrections: Of the Mergus

Mergansers, Linnaeus’s genus Mergus, are in the duck family, Anatidae, and subfamily, Anatinae. Smews have been spun-off to a genus of their own in the same subfamily. Brisson tried to define a genus Merganser, but it didn’t catch on.

His arrangement is as follows
[Two of the listed species—Mergus merganser and M. serrator—are still in genus Mergus. Three, in fact, since M. castor is the same bird as M. merganser. A fourth, M. albellus, is now in the closely related genus Mergellus; so is the fifth, M. minutus, since it is probably the same bird.]


woodcut of Goosander

(Mergus Merganser, Lin.—L’Harle, Buff.)

The male generally weighs about four pounds, and measures in length nearly two feet, and in breadth three feet two inches. The bill is slender, and turned a little upwards; it is three inches long from the hooked nail or tip to the corners of the mouth, but little more than two inches on the ridge; both mandibles are black on the upper and under parts, and crimson on the sides; they are sharply toothed on the edges, and on the inside of the upper, which is narrow, thin, and hard at the tip, there is a double row of smaller teeth: the tongue is furnished with a similar kind of double row, running along the middle, and edged with a kind of hairy border: the irides are commonly of a fine 255 red colour, but in some dusky. The head is covered or crowned with a great quantity of feathers, which, when erected, form a crest; at other times they are laid flatly down, and fall over the nape of the neck: these feathers are of a glossy bottle green colour; and the cheeks, throat, and upper fore part of the neck, dull black: the lower part of the neck, the breast, belly, vent, and inner coverts of the wings are of a beautiful kind of cream colour: the upper part of the back, and adjoining scapulars are a fine glossy black; the others bordering on the wing, white: the coverts at the setting on of the wing, black; the rest pure white; the secondary quills are the same, narrowly edged with black: the primaries dusky: the middle of the back and rump are ash-colour; from the thighs to the sides of the tail, waved and freckled with ash and white: the tail consists of eighteen dark bluish grey feathers: the legs and feet are deep scarlet, like sealing-wax. Willoughby says—“It hath a huge bony labyrinth on the windpipe, just above the divarications; and the windpipe hath, besides, two swellings out, one above another, each resembling a powder-puff.” It is probable that the whole genus have a similar kind of windpipe, and that the use of it is to contain the air, which the bird respires while diving, and remaining long under water.


The Goosander is an inhabitant of the cold northern latitudes, and seldom makes its appearance in the temperate or more southern climates, to which it is driven only by the inclemency of the weather, in severe winters, in search of those parts of rivers or lakes which are not bound up by the frost. It leaves this country early in the spring, and goes northward to breed, and is never seen during the summer months in any part of England; but in hard winters (which the appearance of these birds presages) they are common on the fresh-water pools, rivers, and fens in the east riding of Yorkshire, and on the fens of Lincolnshire. Their flesh is by some accounted rank and fishy; others say that it is dry unpleasant food, and, in corroboration of this, quote the old vulgar proverb, “He who would regale the devil, might serve him with Merganser and Cormorant.” The author, in some instances, has found these proverbs to be not well founded; but never having tasted of this particular species, he cannot hazard a contrary opinion.

The foregoing description was taken from a bird in full plumage, with which this work was favoured by Robert Pearson, Esq. of Newcastle, 20th March, 1800.

The Red-breasted Goosander has the same.

roasted bird on a plate

Notes and Corrections: Goosander

Mergus merganser, the common merganser, still has that binomial.


woodcut of Dun-Diver

(Mergus castor, Lin.—L’Harle cendré, ou le Bievre, Buff.)

This is of the same form as the Goosander, but differs from that bird in its plumage and size: it measures twenty-seven inches in length, and thirty-five in breadth,—and, when in good condition, weighs sometimes between three and four pounds. The bill, from the tip to the corners of the mouth, is two inches and a quarter long, of a red colour, but darker on its ridge; the hooked horny nail of the upper mandible is blackish; the tip of the under one white. The head and upper part of the neck are of a deep chesnut; the chest, the feathers of which are soft, very long, and pendent, is of a deeper shade of the same colour: the chin and upper part of the throat are white: the back, scapulars, 258 coverts of the wings, rump, and sides of the body, are of a bluish ash or lead colour: the fore part of the neck, breast, belly, and vent, are yellowish white: the bastard and primary quills dark brown: a large white patch or bar is formed on the middle of the wing, by the tips of the greater coverts and the outer webs of six of the secondary quills; but those nearest to the body are of a hoary dark ash; the tail, which consists of fourteen feathers, is nearly of the same colour: the legs are orange red.

The habits, manners, and haunts of this species are nearly the same as those of the last; but the Dun-diver is met with in this country in greater numbers.⁕1 They have long been looked upon and treated of by ornithologists as the female of the Goosander; later observations, however, have wrought a change of opinion among the modern investigators of this branch of natural history, and it is now generally agreed that the Dun-diver is a distinct species. Dr Heysham, of Carlisle, was probably the first who, by dissection, removed some of the doubts in which this matter was involved:—in his Catalogue of Cumberland Animals,⁕2 he says, 259 “This has generally been considered as the female of the Goosander.” “The following circumstances which have come under my observation, however, render this opinion somewhat doubtful:—1st, The Dun-divers are far more numerous than the Goosanders. 2d, The Dun-divers are all less than the Goosanders, (the largest I have seen being little more than three pounds) but of various sizes, some being under two pounds. 3d, The crest of the Dun-diver is considerably longer than the crest (if it can be so called) of the Goosander. 4th, Dun-divers have been found, upon dissection, to be males. 5th, The neck of the largest Dun-diver, and which has proved to be a male, is nothing like so thick as the neck of the Goosander.” “On the 26th of December, 1783, I dissected a Dun-diver, which was rather more than three pounds in weight; its length was twenty-seven inches, and its breadth thirty-five inches. It proved to be a male: the testes, though flaccid, were very distinct, and about half an inch in length. In the middle of January, 1786, I received two Dun-divers, both of which I dissected: the first was a small one, about two pounds in weight; it proved to be a female; the eggs were very distinct: the second was much larger, and weighed three pounds; its crest was longer, and its belly of a fine yellowish rose-colour: it was a male, and the testes were beginning to grow turgid. I have dissected only one Goosander, 260 and that proved to be a male. Therefore, until a Goosander be found, upon dissection, to prove a female, or two Goosanders to attend the same nest, the doubts respecting these birds cannot be satisfactorily removed.”

Although Willoughby describes this as the female Goosander, yet he expresses his doubts of the matter, from its being, like that bird, furnished with a kind of large labyrinth, which, he says, is to be found in the males only of the Duck tribe, and whence he conjectures that this is also peculiar to all the males of the Mergi, and that all the females are without it; but he notices one of this family (which at Venice is called Cokall) in which this labyrinth, or enlargement of the windpipe was wanting. Respecting the Dun-diver he further observes, that “the stomach of this bird is as it were a craw and a gizzard joined together. The upper part, resembling the craw, hath no wrinkles or folds in its inner membrane, but is only granulated with small papillary glandules, resembling the little protuberances on the third ventricle of a Beef, called the manifold, or those on the shell of a Sea-urchin.”

The above figure was drawn from one in full plumage and perfection, for which this work was indebted to Robert Pearson, Esq. of Newcastle, the 28th of February, 1801.

⁕1 Latham, on the authority of Mr Jackson, says they breed on the islands of the river Shannon, near Killaloe, in Ireland and are frequently seen there the whole summer.

⁕2 See additional ornaments to Hutchinson’s History of Cumberland.

small fish

Notes and Corrections: Dun-Diver

Mergus castor is the same bird as M. merganser. (Castor means beaver—as does bièvre, though the dictionary tags it “Obs.” I don’t see the resemblance, myself.)

The habits, manners, and haunts of this species are nearly the same as those of the last
[Very nearly, it turns out.]


woodcut of Red-Breasted Merganser

(Mergus serrator, Lin.—L’Harle huppé, Buff.)

This bird measures one foot nine inches in length, and two feet seven in breadth, and weighs about two pounds. The bill, from the tip to the angles of the mouth, is three inches in length, slender, and of a rather roundish form, and, like those of the rest of this genus, hooked at the tip, and toothed on the edges: the upper mandible is dark brown, tinged with green, and edged with red; the lower one wholly red: the irides are deep red: the head, long pendent crest, and upper part of the neck, are of a glossy violet black, changing in different lights to a beautiful gilded green: the rest of the neck and belly white: the breast rusty 262 red, spotted with black on the front, and bordered on each side with five or six white feathers, edged with black: the upper part of the back, glossy black; the lower, the rump, and sides, are prettily marked with transverse zigzag lines of brown and pale grey: the ridge of the wings, and adjoining coverts, are dusky; the feathers nearest to the wings are white: the greater coverts, and some of the secondary quills, black and white; the others, and the scapulars, are also party-coloured of the same hue: the primary quills are black; some of those next to the body tipped with white, and others of them white on the upper half, and black to their points. The tail is short, its colour brown: the legs and feet are of a deep saffron-coloured red. These birds, both male and female, are said to differ much in their plumage; some having more white on them than others, and some also brighter colours, and more distinctly marked.

The female (which the author has not seen) is described as differing from the male in having only the rudiment of a crest. Mr Pennant says—“The head and upper part of the neck are of a deep rust-colour: throat white: fore part of the neck and breast marbled with deep ash-colour: belly white: great quill feathers dusky: lower half of the nearest secondaries black; the upper white; the rest dusky: back, scapulars, and tail, ash-coloured: the upper half of the secondary feathers white; the lower half black; the others dusky.”


In a male of this species which was shot at Sandwich, in Kent, Latham says—“I observed that the feathers which compose the crest, were simply black; also down the middle of the crown, as well as the space before the eye, and beneath the chin and throat; but in the rest of the neck the black had a gloss of green.” He also describes it as having “a curious and large labyrinth,” similar, it is supposed, to those of other males of this genus which have been noticed before.

The Red-breasted Merganser is not common in Britain, particularly in the southern parts of the island; but they are met with in great flocks at Newfoundland, Greenland, and Hudson’s Bay, during the summer months; they are found also in various other northern parts of the world, and in the Mediterranean sea.

monkey reaching for bird roasting over a fire

Notes and Corrections: Red-Breasted Merganser

Mergus serrator still has that binomial.


woodcut of Smew

(Mergus albellus, Lin.—Le petit Harle huppé, ou la Piette, Buff.)

The Smew is about the size of a Wigeon: the bill is nearly two inches long, of a dusky blue colour, thickest at the base, and tapering into a more slender and narrow shape towards the point; it is toothed like those of the rest of this tribe: the irides are dark: on each side of the head, an oval-shaped black patch, glossed with green, is extended from the corners of the mouth over the eyes: the under side of the crest is black; the other parts of the head and neck white: the breast, belly, and vent are also white, excepting a curved black stroke, 265 pointing forward from the shoulders on each side of the upper part of the breast, which, on the lower part, has also similar strokes pointing the same way: the back, the coverts on the ridge of the wings, and the primary quills, are black: the secondaries and greater coverts black, tipped with white: the middle coverts and the scapulars white: the sides, under the wings to the tail, are agreeably variegated and crossed with dark waved lines. The tail consists of sixteen dark ash-coloured feathers; the middle ones are about three inches and a half long, the rest gradually tapering off shorter on each side: the legs and feet are of a bluish lead colour. This species is at once distinguished from the rest of the Mergi by its black and white piebald appearance, although the individuals vary from each other in the proportion and extent of those colours on their plumage.

man fishing on a riverbank

Notes and Corrections: Smew

Mergus albellus is now Mergellus albellus. It could just as well have been named Albellus albellus, since it seems to be the only member of its genus. In fact someone did try to define a genus Albellus a few years before Mergellus, but it didn’t catch on.


(Mergus minutus, Lin.—L’Harle etoilé, Buff.)

This bird measures fifteen inches and a half in length, and twenty-four in breadth, and weighs about fourteen or fifteen ounces. The bill is of a bluish lead colour, the tip dusky: the head and crest are of a reddish brown, with a dusky spot between the bill and the eyes: the cheeks, throat, belly, sides of the body, and vent, are white: the middle of the neck is encircled with pale brown; the lower part of it, the breast, and shoulders, are clouded with dingy brown and pale grey: the ridge of the wings, and adjoining lesser coverts are grey; the middle coverts white; the greater and the secondary quills, like those of the Smew, black, tipped with white; the primary quills dusky: the back, scapulars, rump, and tail, of a deep brownish ash-colour: legs and feet dull pale blue.

The Red-headed Smew has long been considered, by some ornithologists, as a distinct species, while others have maintained that it is only the female of the last; and this matter is still doubtful. Mr Pennant, in the supplement to his Arctic Zoology, says, it is now found to be the female of the Smew; Mr Latham is of the same opinion;—but 267 Mr Strickland thinks differently; he rests his opinion chiefly on the great disproportion in their weight: the former, he says, is two pounds two ounces, while this is only about fourteen ounces.

man and dog walking across a narrow bridge

Notes and Corrections: Red-Headed Smew

Mergus minutus is probably the same bird as Mergellus albellus from the previous section.



This is somewhat less than the Smew. “The head and hinder part of the neck are rust-coloured; the head slightly crested: back, scapulars, and tail dusky: fore part of the neck white: breast clouded with grey: on the lesser coverts of the wings a great bed of white; on the primaries and greater coverts two transverse lines of white: legs dusky.” In describing this as the female of the Smew, Mr Pennant says it has “around the eyes a spot of the same colour and form as in the male;” he afterwards corrects his error in supposing it the female, and adds—“The bird I thought to be the female, and called the Lough-diver, is a distinct kind. Mr Plymley informs me that he dissected several, and found males and females without any distinction of plumage in either sex.”

Having had no opportunity of examining either of the two birds last described, the author has been obliged to relate merely what others have said concerning them, and is at a loss how to reconcile their different opinions, not only indeed concerning these, but others of this tribe; to some of which no known females have yet been distinctly attached: and whilst it is evident that this is a circumstance which cannot happen, it is also plain that much further investigation is necessary in order to elucidate 269 their history. The finishing hand of some scientific ornithologist is yet wanting, whose zeal and industry in the pursuit may be rewarded by the means and opportunities of acquiring such information as may clear up those doubts, and remove those difficulties, which have hitherto rendered this class of birds so imperfectly known.

The Lough-diver, the White Nun, and the Red-headed Smew seldom visit this country, except in very severe winters, by which they are driven from their haunts in the northern parts of the world. Their manners and habits are alike; they also differ little from the rest of the genus, which all live on fish of various kinds, which they eagerly hunt after, both at sea and in the fresh-water lakes, as necessity or inclination impels them to visit the one or the other.

low branches overhanging stream

Notes and Corrections: Lough-Diver

You don’t give us much to go on, do you, Thomas? Most likely, it’s yet another smew, from a different age, sex, or time of year.



The bill of this genus is strong, broad, depressed, or flat, and commonly furnished at the end with a nail; the edges of the mandibles divided into lamillæ or teeth: nostrils small and oval: tongue broad, edges near the base, fringed: feet webbed; the middle toe the longest.

This genus, in which ornithologists have included all the Swans, Geese, and Ducks, amounts, according to the latest enumeration, to ninety-eight species, and about fourteen varieties; thirty-three of the former, and one of the latter, are accounted British birds.

From the Swan downward to the Teal, they are all a clean-plumaged beautiful race of birds, and some of them exquisitely so. Those which have been reclaimed from a state of nature, and live dependent on man, are extremely useful to him: under his protection they breed in great abundance, and without requiring much of his time or care, lead their young to the pool almost as soon as they are hatched, where they instantly, with instinctive perception, begin to search for their food, which at first consists chiefly of weeds, worms, and insects; these they sift, as it were, from the mud, and for that purpose their bills are admirably adapted. When they are further advanced in life, they pick 271 up the sodden scattered grain of the farm-yard, which, but for their assiduous searchings, would be lost. To them also are allotted the larger quantities of corn which are shaken by the winds from the over-ripened ears in the fields. On this clean and simple food they soon become fat, and their flesh is accounted delicious and nourishing.

In a wild state, birds of various kinds preserve their original plumage; but when tamed they soon begin to vary, and shew the effects of domestication: this is the case with the tame Goose and the Duck, which differ as much from the wild of their respective kinds, as they do from each other.

line of ducks walking away from stream

Notes and Corrections: Of the Anas

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Linnaeus’s genus Anas gave its name to family Anatidae and subfamily Anatinae—a very large subfamily, containing teals and mergansers along with a staggering assortment of ducks-by-that-name. Another subfamily is Anserinae, geese and swans. The family as a whole makes up the vast majority of order Anseriformes (“goose-type things”). There are other families, but as far as I can make out, all of them are either extinct, tropical or Australian.

Fair warning: Ducks and their relatives will take up the next 100 pages, or almost the entire remainder of the volume.

This genus, in which ornithologists have included all the Swans, Geese, and Ducks
[Here a genus, there a family, over there an order. Same difference.]


(Anas Cygnus ferus, Lin.—Le Cygne sauvage, Buff.)

The Wild Swan measures five feet in length, and above seven in breadth, and weighs from thirteen to sixteen pounds. The bill is three inches long, of a yellowish white from the base to the middle, and thence to the tip, black: the bare space from the bill over the eye and eye-lids is yellow: the whole plumage in adult birds is of a pure white, and, next to the skin, they are cloathed with a thick fine down: the legs are black.

This species generally keeps together in small flocks, or families, except in the pairing season, and at the setting in of winter. At the latter period they assemble in immense multitudes, particularly on the large rivers and lakes of the thinly inhabited northern parts of Europe, Asia, and America: but when the extremity of the weather threatens to become insupportable, in order to shun the gathering storm, they shape their course high in air, in divided and diminished numbers, in search of milder climates. In such seasons they are most commonly seen in various parts of the British isles, and in other more southern countries of Europe. The same is observed of them in the North American states. They do not, however, remain longer than 273 till the approaching of the spring, when they again retire northward to the arctic regions to breed. A few, indeed, drop short, and perform that office by the way, for they are known to breed in some of the Hebrides, the Orkney, Shetland, and other solitary isles; but these are hardly worth notice: the great bodies of them are met with in the large rivers and lakes near Hudson’s Bay, and those of Kamtschatka, Lapland, and Iceland. They are said to return to the latter place in flocks of about a hundred at a time in the spring, and also to pour in upon that island from the north, in nearly the same manner, on their way southward in the autumn. The young which are bred there remain throughout the first year; and in August, when they are in moult, and unable to fly, the natives taking advantage of this, shoot, kill them with clubs, and hunt them down with dogs, by which they are easily caught. The flesh is highly esteemed by them as a delicious food, as are also the eggs, which are gathered in the spring. The Icelanders, Kamtschatdales, and other natives of the northern world, dress their skins with the down on, sew them together, and make them into garments of various kinds: the northern American Indians do the same, and sometimes weave the down as barbers weave the cawls for wigs, and then manufacture it into ornamental dresses for the women of rank, while the larger feathers are formed into caps and plumes 274 to decorate the heads of their chiefs and warriors. They also gather the feathers and down in large quantities, and barter or sell them to the inhabitants of more civilized nations.

Buffon is of opinion that the Tame Swan has been derived originally from the wild species; other naturalists entertain a contrary opinion, which they form chiefly on the difference between them in the singular conformation of the windpipe. Willoughby says, “The windpipe of the Wild Swan, after a strange and wonderful manner enters the breast-bone in a cavity prepared for it, and is therein reflected, and after its egress at the divarication is contracted into a narrow compass by a broad and bony cartilage, then being divided into two branches, goes on to the lungs: these branches before they enter the lungs, are dilated, and as it were swollen out into two cavities.” Dr Heysham corroborates the above, and adds, that the Wild Swan, in this particular, differs not only from the Tame Swan, but also from every other bird. The only observable external difference between the two species is in the markings of the bill, (which are figured in the subjoined head) and in the Wild Swan’s being of less bulk than the mute or tame kind.

Much has been said, in ancient times, of the singing of the Swan, and many beautiful and poetical descriptions have been given of its dying song.—“No fiction of natural history, no fable of antiquity, 275 was ever more celebrated, oftener repeated, or better received: it occupied the soft and lively imagination of the Greeks; poets, orators, and even philosophers, adopted it as a truth too pleasing to be doubted.” “The dull insipid truth,” however, is very different from such amiable and affecting fables, for the voice of the Swan, singly, is shrill, piercing, and harsh, not unlike the sound of a clarionet when blown by a novice in music. It is, however, asserted by those who have heard the united and varied voices of a numerous assemblage of them, that they produce a more harmonious effect, particularly when softened by the murmur of the waters.

At the setting in of frosty weather, the Wild Swans are said to associate in prodigious multitudes, and thus united, to use every effort to prevent the water from freezing: this they accomplish by the continual stir kept up amongst them; and by constantly dashing it with their extended wings, they are enabled to remain as long as it suits their convenience, in some favourite part of a lake or river which abounds with their food.

The Swan is very properly entitled the peaceful Monarch of the Lake; conscious of his superior strength, he fears no enemy, nor suffers any bird, however powerful, to molest him; neither does he prey upon any one. His vigorous wing is as a shield against the attacks even of the Eagle, and the 276 blows from it are said to be so powerful as to stun or kill the fiercest of his foes. The Wolf or the Fox may surprise him in the dark, but their efforts are vain in the day. His food consists of the grasses and weeds, and the seeds and roots of plants which grow on the margins of the water, and of the myriads of insects which skim over, or float on its surface; also occasionally of the slimy inhabitants within its bosom.

The female makes her nest of the withered leaves and stalks of reeds and rushes, and lays commonly six or seven thick-shelled white eggs: she is said to sit upon them six weeks before they are hatched. Both male and female are very attentive to their young, and will suffer no enemy to approach them.

head of Wild Swan

Notes and Corrections: Wild Swan

Anas cygnus is now Cygnus cygnus, the whooper swan; there don’t seem to be any subspecies. Along the way, it went through a succession of other names including Cygnus ferus and Olor cygnus (“swan swan”). Genus Cygnus was only defined about five minutes before this second volume of British Birds, and took a few decades to catch on, so we can’t fault Bewick for not knowing about it.

In spite of what Bewick says, Cygnus cygnus is not indigenous to North America. There are a fair number of them today, but that’s because they have been introduced, along with other domestic birds. He’s probably thinking of C. buccinator, the trumpeter swan, though it would be more fun if he meant C. columbianus, whose English name is—wait for it—Bewick’s Swan.


woodcut of Mute Swan

(Anas Cygnus mansuetus, Lin—Le Cygne, Buff.)

The plumage of this species is of the same snowy whiteness as that of the Wild Swan, and the bird is covered next the body with the same kind of fine close down; but it greatly exceeds the Wild Swan in size, weighing about twenty-five pounds, and measuring more in the length of the body and extent of the wings. This also differs in being furnished with a projecting, callous, black tubercle, or 278 knob, on the base of the upper mandible, and in the colour of the bill, which in this is red, with black edges and tip: the naked skin between the bill and the eyes is also of the latter colour: in the Wild Swan this bare space is yellow.

The manners and habits are much the same in both kinds, particularly when they are in a wild state; for indeed this species cannot properly be called domesticated; they are only as it were partly reclaimed from a state of nature, and invited by the friendly and protecting hand of man to decorate and embellish the artificial lakes and pools which beautify his pleasure grounds. On these the Swan cannot be accounted a captive, for he enjoys all the sweets of liberty. Placed there, as they are the largest of all the British birds, so are they to the eye the most pleasing and elegant. What in nature can be more beautiful than the grassy-margined lake, hung round with the varied foliage of the grove, when contrasted with the pure resplendent whiteness of the majestic Swan, wafted along, with erected plumes, by the gentle breeze,—or floating, reflected on the glassy surface of the water, while he throws himself into numberless graceful attitudes, as if desirous of attracting the admiration of the spectator?

The Swan, although possessed of the power to rule, yet molests none of the other water-birds, and is singularly social and attentive to those of 279 his own family, which he protects from every insult. While they are employed with the cares of the young brood, it is not safe to approach near them, for they will fly upon any stranger, whom they often beat to the ground by repeated blows; and they have been known by a stroke of the wing to break a man’s leg. But, however powerful they are with their wings, yet a slight blow on the head will kill them.

The Swan, for ages past, has been protected on the river Thames as royal property; and it continues at this day to be accounted felony to steal their eggs. “By this means their increase is secured, and they prove a delightful ornament to that noble river.” Latham says, “In the reign of Edward IV. the estimation they were held in was such, that no one who possessed a freehold of less than the clear yearly value of five marks, was permitted even to keep any.” In those times, hardly a piece of water was left unoccupied by these birds, as well on account of the gratification they gave to the eye of their lordly owners, as that which they also afforded when they graced the sumptuous board at the splendid feasts of that period: but the fashion of those days is passed away, and Swans are not nearly so common now as they were formerly, being by most people accounted a coarse kind of food, and consequently held in little estimation: but the Cygnets (so the young Swans are called) are still 280 fattened for the table, and are sold very high, commonly for a guinea each, and sometimes for more: hence it may be presumed they are better food than is generally imagined.

This species is said to be found in great numbers in Russia and Siberia, as well as further southward, in a wild state. They are, without an owner, common on the river Trent, and on the salt-water inlet of the sea, near Abbotsbury, in Dorsetshire: they are also met with on other rivers and lakes in different parts of the British isles.

It is the generally received opinion that the Swan lives to a very great age, some say a century, and others have protracted their lives to three hundred years! Strange as this may appear, there are who credit it: the author, however, does not scruple to hazard an opinion, that this over-stretched longevity originates only in traditionary tales, or in idle unfounded hear-say stories; as no one has yet been able to say, with certainty, to what age they attain.

The female makes her nest, concealed among the rough herbage, near the water’s edge: she lays from six to eight large white eggs, and sits on them about six weeks (some say eight weeks) before they are hatched. The young do not acquire their full plumage till the second year.

It is found by experience that the Swan will not thrive if kept out of the water: confined in a court yard, he makes an aukward figure, and soon becomes dirty, taudry, dull, and spiritless.

Notes and Corrections: Mute Swan

Anas cygnus is, again, Cygnus cygnus. But the English name “mute swan” today refers to C. olor (Gmelin’s Anas olor).


(Anas Cynoides, Lin.—L’Oie de Guinée, Buff.)

This species is more than a yard in length, and is of a size between the Swan and the Common Goose: it is distinguished from others of the Goose tribe by its upright and stately deportment,—by having a large knob on the root of the upper mandible, and a skin, almost bare of feathers, hanging down like a pouch, or a wattle, under the throat: a white line or fillet is extended from the corners of the mouth over the front of the brow: the base of the bill is orange: irides reddish brown: a dark brown or black stripe runs down the hinder part of the neck, from the head to the back; the fore part of the neck, and the breast, are yellowish brown: the back, and all the upper parts, brownish grey, edged with a lighter colour: the sides, and the feathers which cover the thighs, are clouded nearly of the same colours as the back, and edged with white; belly white: legs orange.

It is said that these birds originally were found in Guinea only: the breed has, however, now become pretty common, and they are widely dispersed, in a wild as well as a domesticated state, over various parts of the world, both in warm and in cold climates. They are found wild about the lake 282 Baikal, in the east of Siberia, and in Kamtschatka; and they are kept tame in most parts of the Russian empire.

These Geese, like others of the tame kind, vary much both in the colour of the bill, legs, and plumage, as well as in size; but they all retain the knob on the base of the upper mandible, and the pouch or wattle under the gullet. They are kept by the curious in various parts of England, and are more noisy than the Common Goose: nothing can stir either in the night or in the day without their sounding the alarm, by their hoarse cacklings and loud shrill cries. They breed with the Common Goose, and their offspring are as prolific as those of any other kind. The female is of a smaller size than the male; “the head, neck, and breast are fulvous; paler on the upper part: the back, wings, and tail, dull brown, with pale edges: belly white: in other respects they are like the male, but the knob over the bill is smaller.”

Arctic Zoology.

men with a model sailing shipi

Notes and Corrections: Swan Goose

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Anas cygnoides is now Anser cygnoides—the first Brisson genus we’ve seen in a while. As the name suggests, it’s a goose.

Anas Cynoides, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Cygnoides
[With Bewick’s (mis)spelling, it would be a dog goose rather than a swan goose.]

It is said that these birds originally were found in Guinea only
[If so, there has been some intervening hanky-panky, since the species doesn’t seem to exist anywhere on the African continent. In fact the continent isn’t much for genus Anser at all, except in South Africa—and I wouldn’t be surprised if those were introduced by Europeans.]


(Anas Canadensis.—L’Oie à cravate, Buff.)

This is less than the Swan-Goose, but taller and longer than the Common Goose, and may be considered as the connecting link between that species and the Swan. Their average weight is about nine pounds, and the length about three feet six inches. The bill is black, and two inches and a half long: irides hazel; the head and neck are also black, with a crescent-shaped white band on the throat, which tapers off to a point on each side below the cheeks, to the hinder part of the head: the whiteness of this cravat is heightened by its contrast with the dark surrounding plumage, and it looks very pretty: this mark also distinguishes it from others of the Goose tribe. All the upper parts of the plumage, the breast, and a portion of the belly, are of a dull brown, sometimes mixed with grey: the lower part of the neck, the belly, vent, and upper tail coverts, white: quills and tail black: legs dingy blue.

This is another useful species which has been reclaimed from a state of nature, domesticated and multiplied in many parts of Europe, particularly in France and Germany; and it is not very uncommon in England. It is as familiar, breeds as freely, 284 and is in every respect as valuable as the Common Goose: it is also accounted a great ornament on ponds near gentlemen’s seats. Buffon says—“Within these few years, many hundreds inhabited the great canal at Versailles, where they lived familiarly with the Swans; they were oftener on the grassy margins than in the water. There is at present a great number of them on the magnificent pools that decorate the charming gardens of Chantilly.” The wild stock whence these birds were taken are found in the northern parts of America; they are one of those immense families which, when associated with others of the same genus, are said, at certain seasons, to darken the air like a cloud, and to spread themselves over the lakes and swamps in innumerable multitudes.

Mr Pennant, in his Arctic Zoology, gives the following interesting account of the mode of taking the Canada Goose in Hudson’s Bay:—

“The English of Hudson’s Bay depend greatly on Geese, of these and other kinds, for their support; and, in favourable years, kill three or four thousand, which they salt and barrel. Their arrival is impatiently attended; it is the harbinger of the spring, and the month named by the Indians the Goose moon. They appear usually at our settlements in numbers, about St George’s day, O. S. and fly northward to nestle in security. They prefer islands to the continent, as further from the 285 haunts of men. Thus Marble Island was found, in August, to swarm with Swans, Geese, and Ducks; the old ones moulting, and the young at that time incapable of flying.

“The English send out their servants, as well as Indians, to shoot these birds on their passage. It is in vain to pursue them: they therefore form a row of huts made of boughs, at musquet-shot distance from each other, and place them in a line across the vast marshes of the country. Each hovel, or, as they are called, stand, is occupied by only a single person. These attend the flight of the birds, and, on their approach, mimic their cackle so well, that the Geese will answer, and wheel and come nearer the stand. The sportsman keeps motionless, and on his knees, with his gun cocked, the whole time; and never fires till he has seen the eyes of the Geese. He fires as they are going from him, then picks up another gun that lies by him, and discharges that. The Geese which he has killed, he sets up on sticks as if alive, to decoy others; he also makes artificial birds for the same purpose. In a good day (for they fly in very uncertain and unequal numbers) a single Indian will kill two hundred. Notwithstanding every species of Goose has a different call, yet the Indians are admirable in their imitation of every one.

“The vernal flight of the Geese lasts from the middle of April until the middle of May. Their 286 first appearance coincides with the thawing of the swamps, when they are very lean. The autumnal, or the season of their return with their young, is from the middle of August to the middle of October. Those which are taken in this latter season, when the frosts usually begin, are preserved in their feathers, and left to be frozen for the fresh provisions of the winter stock. The feathers constitute an article of commerce, and are sent into England.”

man walking alongside horse

Notes and Corrections: Canada Goose

Anas canadensis is now Branta canadensis. Though Bewick doesn’t say, the species name does go back to Linnaeus.

may be considered as the connecting link between that species and the Swan
[Insert “That’s not how this works” boilerplate.]

about St George’s day, O. S.
[St. George’s Day is April 23. In the eighteenth century, when Pennant’s Arctic Zoology was published, the Old Style date would have been equivalent to May 4 (eleven days later). ]


(Anas Ægyptiaca, Lin.—L’Oie d’Egypte, Buff.)

This beautifully variegated species is nearly of the size of the Grey Lag, or common Wild Goose. The bill red, about two inches in length, tip black, and nostrils dusky: eye-lids red, and the irides pale yellow: the throat, cheeks, and upper part of the head are white: a rusty chesnut-coloured patch on each side of the head surrounds the eyes. About two-thirds of the neck, from the head downwards, is of a pale reddish bay colour, darker at the lower end: a broad deep chesnut-coloured spot covers the middle of the breast: the shoulders and scapulars are of a reddish brown, prettily crossed with numerous dark waved lines: the wing-coverts are white; the greater ones barred near their tips with black: the secondary quills are tinged with reddish bay, and bordered with chesnut; those of the primaries which join them are edged with glossy green, and the rest of the first quills are black: the lower part of the back, the rump, and tail, are black: the belly is white, but all the other fore parts, and sides of the body, from the neck to near the vent, are delicately pencilled with narrow rust-coloured zigzag lines on a pale ash-grey ground: each wing is furnished on the bend with a short blunt spur. The 288 colours of the female are pretty much the same as those of the male, but not by any means so bright or distinctly marked.

This kind is common in a wild state in Egypt, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in various parts of the intermediate territories of Africa, whence they have been brought into, and domesticated in this and other civilized countries, and are now an admired ornament on many pieces of water contiguous to gentlemen’s seats; but neither the author nor his correspondents were able to procure a specimen of this or the two preceding species, for the purpose of making drawings.

group of children with model sailboats in a stream

Notes and Corrections: Egyptian Goose

Anas Ægyptiaca is now Alopochen aegyptica. This is one of the youngest genera I’ve met to date, going back only to 1885. In fact it’s in a different subfamily, Tadorninae, including shelducks or sheld­geese and South American geese—just the kind of thing that wouldn’t be sorted out until far into the 19th century.


woodcut of Red-Breasted Goose

(Anser ruficollis.)

The Red-breasted Goose measures above twenty inches in length, and its extended wings three feet ten in breadth. The bill is short, of a brown colour, with the nail black: irides yellowish hazel: the cheeks and brow are dusky, speckled with white: an oval white spot occupies the space between the bill and the eyes, and is bounded above, on each side of the head, by a black line which falls down 290 the hinder part of the neck: the chin, throat, crown of the head, and hinder part of the neck to the back, are black: two stripes of white fall down from behind each eye, on the sides of the neck, and meet in the middle: the other parts of the neck, and the upper part of the breast, are of a deep rusty red, and the latter is terminated by two narrow bands of white and black: the back and wings are dusky; the greater coverts edged with grey: sides and lower part of the breast, black: belly, upper and under tail coverts, white; legs dusky.

This beautiful species is a native of Russia and Siberia, whence they migrate southward in the autumn, and return in the spring: they are said to frequent the Caspian sea, and are supposed to winter in Persia. They are very rare in this country, only three of them (so far as the author’s knowledge extends) having ever been met with in it, and those all by the late M. Tunstall, Esq. of Wycliffe, in Yorkshire, in whose valuable museum the first of these birds, in high preservation, was placed. It was shot near London in the beginning of the hard frost in the year 1766; and another of them was about the same time taken alive near Wycliffe, and kept there for several years in a pond among the Ducks, where it became quite tame and familiar, Mr Tunstall informed Mr Latham of these particulars, 291 and also mentioned a third of the same kind, which had been shot in some other part of the kingdom. They are said to be quite free from any fishy taste, and are highly esteemed for the table.

The foregoing figure was taken from this specimen.

woman chasing gaggle of geese

Notes and Corrections: Red-Breasted Goose

Anser ruficollis (Pallas) is now Branta ruficollis.


woodcut of Grey Lag Goose

(Anas Anser, Lin.—L’Oie sauvage, Buff.)

This Wild Goose generally weighs about ten pounds, and measures two feet nine inches in length, and five in breadth. The bill is thick at the base, tapers towards the tip, and is of a yellowish red colour, with the nail white: the head and neck are of a cinereous brown, tinged with dull yellow, and from the separations of the feathers, the latter appears striped downwards: the upper part of the plumage is of a deep brown, mixed with ash-grey; each feather is lighter on the edges, and the lesser coverts are tipped with white: the shafts of the primary 293 quills are white, the webs grey, and the tips black: the secondaries black, edged with white: the breast and belly are crossed and clouded with dusky and ash on a whitish ground; and the tail-coverts and vent are of a snowy whiteness: the middle feathers of the tail are dusky, tipped with white; those adjoining more deeply tipped, and the exterior ones nearly all white: legs pale red.

This species is common in this country, and although large flocks of them, well known to the curious, in all the various shapes which they assume in their flight,⁕1 are seen regularly migrating southward in the autumn, and northward in the spring,⁕2 294 yet several of them are known to remain and breed in the fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, and, it is said, in various other parts of Great Britain. Pennant says they reside in the fens the whole year, breed there, and hatch about eight or nine young ones, which are often taken, easily made tame, and much more esteemed for the excellent flavour of their flesh than the domestic Goose: he adds, “The old Geese which are shot are plucked and sold in the market as fine tame ones, and readily bought, the purchaser being deceived by the size; but their flesh is coarse.”⁕3

This species is widely and numerously spread over all the various parts of the northern world, whence some flocks of them migrate a long way southward in the winter. Latham says they seem to be general inhabitants of the globe, are met with from Lapland to the Cape of Good Hope,—are frequent in Arabia, Persia, and China, as well as indigenous to 295 Japan,—and on the American continent from Hudson’s Bay to South Carolina: he also observes that our voyagers have met with them in the Straits of Magellan, Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands, Terra del Fuego, and New Holland. There can be little doubt about the territories assigned to them for their summer residences and breeding places; the lakes, swamps, and dreary morasses of Siberia, Lapland, Iceland, and the unfrequented or unknown northern regions of America seem set apart for that purpose, where, with multitudes of other kinds, in undisturbed security they rear their young, and are amply provided with a variety of food, a large portion of which must consist of the larvæ of the gnats which swarm in those parts, and the myriads of insects that are fostered by the unsetting sun. Pennant says that these Wild Geese appear in Hudson’s Bay early in May, as soon as the ice disappears;—collect in flocks of twenty or thirty, stay about three weeks, then separate in pairs, and take off to breed; that about the middle of August they return to the marshes with their young, and continue there till September. Some of them are caught and brought alive to the factories, where they are fed with corn, and thrive greatly.

Wild Geese are very destructive to the growing corn in the fields where they happen to halt in their migratory excursions. In some countries they are caught at those seasons in long nets, resembling 296 those used for catching Larks: to these nets the Wild Geese are decoyed by tame ones placed there for that purpose. Many other schemes are contrived to take these wary birds; but as they feed only in the day-time, and betake themselves to the water at night, the fowler must exert his utmost care and ingenuity in order to accomplish his ends: all must be planned in the dark, and every trace of suspicion removed; for nothing can exceed the vigilant circumspection and acute ear of the sentinel, who, placed on some eminence, with out-stretched neck, surveys every thing that moves within the circle of the centre on which he takes his stand; and the instant he sounds the alarm, the whole flock betake themselves to flight.

⁕1 The elevated and marshalled flight of the Wild Geese seems dictated by geometrical instinct—shaped like a wedge, they cut the air with less individual exertion; and it is conjectured, that the change of its form from an inverted V, an A, an L, or a straight line, is occasioned by the leader of the van’s quitting his post at the point of the angle through fatigue, dropping into the rear, and leaving his place to be occupied by another.

⁕2 A gentleman in the county of Durham, one morning in the month of April, observed a flock of Wild Geese going northward, in the line of two objects whose distance he knew to be four miles: he found by his watch the exact time they were in flying this distance; from which he calculated, that if they continued to fly at the same rate for twelve hours, they would be at the Orkneys by sun-set, which is twenty-five miles an hour. But it is not probable that these birds ever migrate from the fens in Cambridgeshire, &c. to the Orkneys, or other places where they breed, in one day, or at one flight; for great numbers of them are known to stop for several days, both in going and coming back again, at the mouth of the Tees, Prestwick-Car, the haughs of the river Till, near Wooler in Northumberland, and at some places in the Merse in Scotland.

⁕3 This is the case with all very old Geese, both tame and wild; but the flesh of a middle-aged one of the latter sort, in the spring of the year, when the bird is in full feather, is very tender, finely flavoured, and nowise like that of the Tame Goose either in taste or colour.

two birds floating in a stream

Notes and Corrections: Grey Lag Goose

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Anas anser is now the head of another Brisson genus as Anser anser. (Trivia: Every time I try to type the name Anser, it comes out as Answer. Every. Single. Time.)

our voyagers have met with them in . . . New Holland
[Australia. In Bewick’s time, “New Holland” was the more common term; it wouldn’t entirely fall from use until mid-century.]

[Footnote] the leader of the van’s quitting his post . . . and leaving his place
[There’s no telling whether Bewick assumed the leader was always male, or if he’s just using “he” as the unmarked gender. Male geese do tend to be a little larger than females, so it may be to the flock’s advantage to put a male in front.]


woodcut of Tame Goose

(Anas Anser, Lin.—L’Oye domestique, Buff.)

To describe the varied plumage and the economy of this well-known valuable domestic fowl, may seem to many a needless task; but to others, unacquainted with rural affairs, it may be interesting.⁕1 Their predominant colours are white and grey, with shades of ash, blue, and brown: some of them are yellowish, others dusky, and many are found to differ very little in appearance from the wild kind last described—the original stock whence, in early times, they were all derived. The only permanent mark, which all the grey ones still 298 retain, like those of the wild kind, is the white ring which surrounds the root of the tail. They are generally furnished with a small tuft on the head; and the most usual colour of the males (Gander or Steg) is pure white: the bills and feet in both males and females are of an orange red. By studied attention in the breeding, two sorts of these Geese have been obtained: the less are by many esteemed as being more delicate eating; the larger are by others preferred on account of the bountiful appearance they make upon the festive board. The average weight of the latter kind is between nine and fifteen pounds; but instances are not wanting, where they have been fed to upwards of twenty pounds: this is, however, to sacrifice the flavour of the food to the size and appearance of the bird, for they become disgustingly fat and surfeiting, and the methods used to cram them up are unnatural and cruel. It is not, however, altogether on account of their use as food that they are valuable; their feathers, their down, and their quills,⁕2 have long 299 been considered as articles of more importance, and from which their owners reap more advantages. In this respect the poor creatures have not been spared: urged by avarice, their inhuman masters appear to have ascertained the exact quantity of plumage of which they can bear to be robbed, without being deprived of life. Mr Pennant, in describing the methods used in Lincolnshire, in breeding, rearing, and plucking Geese, says “they are plucked five times in the year; first at Lady-day for the feathers and quills: this business is renewed for the feathers only, four times more between that and Michaelmas:” he adds, that he saw the operation performed even upon Goslings of six weeks old, from which the feathers of the tails were plucked; and that numbers of the Geese die when the season afterwards proves cold. But this unfeeling greedy business is not peculiar to one county, for much the same is practised in others. The care and attention bestowed upon the brood Geese, while they are engaged in the business of incubation, in the month of April, is nearly the same every where: wicker pens are provided for them, placed in rows, and tier above tier, not uncommonly under the same roof as their owner. Some place water and corn near the nests; others drive them to the water twice a‑day, and replace each female upon her own nest as soon as she returns. This business requires the attendance of the Gozzard (Goose-herd) a month at least, in which 300 time the young are brought forth: as soon afterwards as the brood are able to waddle along, they are, together with their dams, driven to the contiguous loughs, and fens or marshes, on whose grassy-margined pools they feed and thrive, without requiring any further attendance until the autumn. To these marshes, which otherwise would be unoccupied, (except by wild birds) and be only useless watery wastes, we are principally indebted for so great a supply of the Goose; for in almost every country where lakes and marshes abound, the neighbouring inhabitants keep as many as suit their convenience, and in this way immense numbers annually attain to full growth and perfection. But in no part of the world are such numbers reared as in the fens of Lincolnshire, where it is said to be no uncommon thing for a single person to keep a thousand old Geese, each of which, on an average, will bring up seven young ones. So far those only are noticed which may properly be called the larger flocks, by which particular watery districts are peopled; and, although their aggregate numbers are great, yet they form only a part of the large family: those of the farm-yard, taken separately, appear as small specks on a great map; but when they are gathered together, and added to those kept by almost every cottager throughout the kingdom, the immense whole will appear multiplied in a ratio almost incalculable. A great part of those 301 which are left to provide for themselves during the summer, in the solitary distant waters, as well as those which enliven the village green, are put into the stubble fields after harvest, to fatten upon the scattered grain; and some are penned up for this purpose, by which they attain to greater bulk; and it is hardly necessary to observe, that they are then poured in weekly upon the tables of the luxurious citizens of every town in the kingdom. But these distant and divided supplies seem trifling when compared with the multitudes which, in the season, are driven in all directions into the metropolis:⁕3 the former appear only like the scanty waterings of the small streamlet; the latter like the copious overflowing torrent of a large river. To the country market towns they are carried in bags and panniers; to the great centre of trade they are sent in droves of many thousands.⁕4 To a stranger it is a most curious spectacle to view these hissing, cackling, gabbling, but peaceful armies, with grave deportment, waddling along (like other armies) to certain destruction. The drivers are each provided with a long stick, at one end of which a red rag is 302 tied as a lash, and a hook is fixed at the other: with the former, of which the Geese seem much afraid, they are excited forward; and with the latter, such as attempt to stray, are caught by the neck and kept in order; or if lame, they are put into an hospital cart, which usually follows each large drove. In this manner they perform their journies from distant parts, and are said to get forward at the rate of eight or ten miles in a day, from three in the morning till nine at night: those which become fatigued are fed with oats, and the rest with barley.

It is universally believed that the Goose lives to a great age, and particular instances are recorded by ornithologists, which confirm the fact: some are mentioned which have been kept seventy years; and Willoughby notices one which lived eighty years. They are, however, seldom permitted to live out their natural life, being sold with the younger ones long before they approach that period. The old ones are called cagmags, and are bought only by novices in market-making; for, from their toughness, they are utterly unfit for the table.

The Tame Goose lays from seven to twelve eggs, and sometimes more: these the careful housewife divides equally among her brood Geese, when they begin to sit. Those of her Geese which lay a second time in the course of the summer, are seldom, if ever, permitted to have a second hatching; but the 303 eggs are used for household purposes. In some countries the domestic Geese require much less care and attendance than those of this country. Buffon, in his elegant and voluminous Ornithology, in which nothing is omitted, gives a particular detail of their history and economy every where: he informs us, that among the villages of the Cossacks, subject to Russia, on the river Don, the Geese leave their homes, in March or April, as soon as the ice breaks up, and the pairs joining each other, take flight in a body to the remote northern lakes, where they breed and constantly reside during the summer; and that on the beginning of winter, the parent birds, with their multiplied young progeny, all return, and divide themselves, every flock alighting at the door of the respective place to which it belongs.

The Goose has for many ages been celebrated on account of its vigilance. The story of their saving Rome by the alarm they gave, when the Gauls were attempting the capitol,⁕5 is well known, and was probably the first time of their watchfulness being recorded; and, on that account, they were afterwards held in the highest estimation by the Roman people. It is certain, that nothing can stir in the night, nor the least or most distant noise be made, but the Geese are roused, and immediately 304 begin to hold their cackling converse; and on the nearer approach of apprehended danger, they set up their more shrill and clamorous cries. It is on account of this property that they are esteemed by many persons as the most vigilant of all sentinels, when placed in particular situations.

⁕1 A certain town lady wondered how a Goose could suckle nine Goslings.

⁕2 “An English archer bent his bow,

“Made of a trusty tree,—

“An arrow of a cloth-yard long,

“Unto the head, drew he:

“Against Sir Hugh Montgomery

“So right his shaft he set,

“The grey Goose wing that was thereon

“In his heart’s blood was wet.”

Chevy Chace.

⁕3 In ancient times they were driven in much the same way, from the interior of Gaul to Rome.

⁕4 In an article which Mr Latham has copied from the St James’s Chronicle of September 2d, 1783, it is noticed, that a drove of about nine thousand Geese passed through Chelmsford on their way to London, from Suffolk.

⁕5 As the poet sings—Et servaturis vigili capitolia voce Anseribus.

men sitting on gravestones blowing horns and waving swords

Notes and Corrections: Tame Goose

Anas anser is, again, Anser anser.

first at Lady-day
[25 March, i.e. nine months before Christmas.]

some are mentioned which have been kept seventy years
[Animal Diversity says more like twenty.]


(Anas albifrons.L’Oye rieuse, Buff.)

This species measures two feet four inches in length, and four feet six in the extended wings, and weighs about five pounds. The bill is thick at the base, of a yellowish red colour; the nail white: from the base of the bill and corners of the mouth, a white patch is extended over the forehead: the rest of the head, neck, and upper parts of the plumage are dark brown: the primary and secondary quills are of the same colour, but much darker; and the wing coverts are tinged with ash: the breast and belly are dirty white, spotted with dusky: the tail is of a hoary ash-coloured brown, and surrounded, like the Lag Goose’s, with a white ring at the base: the legs yellow.

These birds form a part of those vast tribes which swarm about Hudson’s Bay, and the north of Europe and Asia, during the summer months, and are but thinly scattered over the other quarters of the world. They visit the fens and marshy places in England, in small flocks, in the winter months, and disappear about the beginning of March. It is said that they never feed on the corn-fields, but confine themselves wholly to such wilds and swamps as are constantly covered with water.

Notes and Corrections: White-Fronted Wild Goose

Anas albifrons seems to be Anser albifrons, the greater white-fronted goose. But I don’t know where he got Anas; Scopoli’s original name was Branta albifrons. (Genus Branta is still in use; this parti­cular goose just doesn’t happen to be in it.)



This species differs very little in its general appearance from the Grey Lag Goose, the chief distinction between them being in the bill; which in this is small, much compressed near the end, whitish, and sometimes of a pale red in the middle, and black at the base and nail: the latter is shaped somewhat like a horse-bean, from which it has obtained the name of Bean Goose. The length of this bird is two feet seven inches; breadth four feet eleven; its weight about six pounds and a half. The head and neck are of a cinereous brown colour, tinged with ferruginous: breast and belly dirty white, clouded with cinereous: sides and scapulars dark ash, edged with white: the back of a plain ash-colour: coverts of the tail white: lesser coverts of the wings light grey, nearly white; the middle deeper, tipped with white: primaries and secondaries grey, tipped with black: feet and legs saffron colour: claws black.

These birds arrive in the fen counties in the autumn, and take their departure in May. They are said to alight in the corn-fields, and to feed much upon the green wheat, while they remain in England. They are reported to breed in great numbers in the Isle of Lewis, and no doubt on others of the Hebrides, and also at Hudson’s Bay.

Notes and Corrections: Bean Goose

Going by the name, this is probably Anser fabalis (Latham’s Anas fabalis).


woodcut of Bernacle Goose

(Anas Erythropus, Lin.—La Bernache, Buff.)

The Bernacle weighs about five pounds, and measures more than two feet in length, and nearly four and a half in breadth. The bill, from the tip to the corners of the mouth, is scarcely an inch and a half long, black, and crossed with a pale reddish streak on each side: a narrow black line passes from the bill to the eyes, the irides of which are brown: the head is small, and as far as the crown, together with the cheeks and throat, white: the rest of the head and neck, to the breast and shoulders, is black. The upper part of the plumage is prettily marbled or barred with blue grey, black, and white: the 308 feathers of the back are black, edged with white, and those of the wing coverts and scapulars, blue grey, bordered with black near their margins, and edged with white: the quills black, edged a little way from the tips with blue grey: the under parts and tail coverts white: the thighs are marked with dusky lines or spots, and are black near the knees: the tail is black, and five inches and a half long: the legs and feet dusky, very thick and short, and have a stumpy appearance.

In severe winters, these birds are not uncommon in this kingdom, particularly on the northern and western parts, where, however, they remain only a short time, but depart early in the spring to their northern wilds, to breed and spend the summer.

The history of the Bernacle has been rendered remarkable by the marvellous accounts which were in former times related concerning their propagation, or rather their growth. Almost all the old naturalists, as well ornithologists as others, assert that they were produced from shells which grew out of rotten ship-wrecked timber, and other kinds of wood and trees which lay under water, in the sea, and that these shells owed their origin to “spume or froth,” which in a short time, assumed a fungous appearance upon the wood: others affirmed that they were produced from the palms or fruits of a tree like the willow, which, when ripe, dropped off into the water, and became alive, &c. Treatises 309 were written expressly on these chimerical principles, giving a particular description of their first appearance, progressive growth, birth, (or final exclusion from the shell) and of their dropping into the sea, swimming about, and becoming perfectly feathered birds, &c. Other authors, indeed, less credulous, suspected the truth of these assertions: Belon was of the number of those who laughed at the story in his day; and Willoughby, long after him, treated such incoherent narratives with contempt. It must excite regret, that so respectable, so learned, and so grave an author as Gerard, should not only have believed this wonderful transformation, but that he should have introduced the idle tale into his invaluable Herbal. But even to enumerate 310 these authors, or to quote the entertaining parts of the wild whimsies with which they have embellished their descriptions of these birds, would far exceed the limits of this work, and would only serve to prove (were that necessary) how credulous, not only the great unthinking mass, but even the philosophers once were, and how far it was possible for such circumstantially told miracles to lay the understandings of mankind fast asleep. Bartholin discovered that these Goose-bearing conches contained only a shell-fish of a particular kind, a species of multivalve—the Pousse-pieds of Wormius and Lobel, and the Lepas Anatifera of Linnæus.

See Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597, article—“The Goose-tree,” which he seems to have reserved for the conclusion of his work, as being the most wonderful of all he had to describe. A small island called the Pile of Foulders, half a mile from the main land of Lancashire, he says, is the native soil of “the Tree bearing Geese,” and so plentiful is the fruit, that a full-grown bird is sold for three-pence. The honest naturalist, however, although his belief was fixed, admits that his own personal knowledge was confined to certain shells which adhered to a rotten tree that he dragged from the sea between Dover and Romney, in some of which he found “liuing things without forme or shape; in others which were neerer come to ripenes, liuing things that were very naked, in shape like a birde: in others, the birds couered with soft downe, the shell halfe open, and the birde readie to fall out, which no doubt were the foules called Barnakles.”

man and goose threatening each other

Notes and Corrections: Bernacle

Anas erythropus is now Anser erythropus, the lesser white-fronted goose. Looking this up for Bingley’s Animal Biography, I noted that the bigger goose got the species name meaning “white-fronted” (albifrons), while the smaller one had to settle for a reference to its red feet (erythropus) . . . which don’t seem to be any redder than those of any other goose.

The history of the Bernacle has been rendered remarkable
[Yes, indeed. See Bingley.]


woodcut of Brent Goose

(Anas Bernicla, Lin.—Le Cravant, Buff.)

This is of nearly the same shape, but somewhat less than the last, from which it differs in the colour of its plumage, being mostly of an uniform brown, the feathers edged with ash: the upper parts, breast and neck, are darker than the belly, which is more mixed and dappled with paler cinereous and grey: the head and upper half of the neck are black, excepting a white patch on each side of the latter, near the throat: the lower part of the back and rump are also black: the tail coverts above and below, and the vent, white: tail, quills, and legs dusky: the bill is dark, rather of a narrow shape, and only about an inch and a half long: the irides are light hazel. In 312 the females and the younger birds, the plumage is not so distinctly marked, and the white spots on the sides of the neck are often mixed with dusky; but such varyings are discernible in many other birds, for it seldom happens that two are found exactly alike.

The Brent Geese, like other species of the same genus, quit the rigours of the north in winter, and spread themselves southward in greater or less numbers, impelled forward, according to the severity of the season, in search of milder climates. They are then met with on the British shores, and spend the winter months in the rivers, lakes, and marshes in the interior parts, feeding mostly upon the roots, and also on the blades of the long coarse grasses and plants which grow in the water: but indeed their varied modes of living, as well as their other habits and propensities, and their migrations, baitings, breeding places, &c. do not differ materially from those of the other numerous families of the Wild Geese. Buffon gives a detail of the devastations which they made, in the hard winters of 1740 and 1765, upon the corn fields, on the coasts of Picardy, in France, where they appeared in such immense swarms, that the people were literally raised (en masse we suppose) in order to attempt their extirpation, which, however, it seems they could not effect, and a change in the weather only, caused these unwelcome visitants to depart.


The Brent and the Bernacle were formerly, by some ornithologists, looked upon as being of the same species; later observers, however, have decided differently, and they are now classed as distinct kinds. The foregoing figure was drawn from one shot at Axwell-Park, near Newcastle upon Tyne. There was a stuffed specimen in the Wycliffe Museum, which slightly varied in the markings of the plumage.

woman in farmyard confronting a goose

Notes and Corrections: Brent Goose

Anas bernicla is now Branta bernicla. Bewick’s final paragraph explains why the brent goose ended up with a species name that clearly means “barnacle goose”. (Along the way, Pallas even tried to split the difference by calling it Bernicla brenta.)


woodcut of Eider Duck

(Anas mollissima.—L’Eider, Buff.)

This wild, but valuable, species is of a size between the Goose and the domestic Duck, and appears to be one of the graduated links of the chain which connects the two kinds. The full-grown old males generally measure about two feet two inches in length, and two feet eighteen in breadth, and weigh from six to above seven pounds. The head is large; the middle of the neck small, with the lower part of it spread out very broad, so as to form a hollow between the shoulders, which, while the bird is sitting at ease, seems as if fitted to receive its reclining head. The bill 315 is of a dirty yellowish horn colour, darkish in the middle, and measures, from the tip to the corners of the mouth, two inches and a half: the upper mandible is forked in a singular manner towards each eye, and is covered with white feathers on the sides, as far forward as the nostrils. The upper part of the head is of a soft velvet black, divided behind by a dull white stroke pointing downwards: the feathers, from the nape of the neck to the throat, are long, or puffed out, overhanging the upper part of the neck, and look as if they had been clipped off at the lower ends; they have the appearance of pale pea-green velvet shag, with a white line dropping downward from the auriculars on each side. The cheeks, chin, upper part of the neck, back, and lesser wing coverts, are white: the scapulars, and secondary quills, next the body, dirty white: bastard wings, and primary quills, brown; the secondaries and greater coverts are the same, but much darker: the lower broad part of the neck, on the front, to the breast, is of a buff colour; but in some specimens tinged with rusty red: the breast, belly, vent, rump, and tail coverts, are of a deep sooty black: tail feathers hoary brown: legs short, and yellow: webs and nails dusky. The female is nearly of the same shape, though less than the male, weighing only between five and six pounds; but her plumage is quite different, the ground colour being of a reddish brown, 316 prettily crossed with waved black lines; and in some specimens the neck, breast, and belly, are tinged with ash: the wings are crossed with two bars of white: quills dark: the neck is marked with longitudinal dusky streaks, and the belly is deep brown, spotted obscurely with black.

The Eider Duck lays from three to five large, smooth, pale olive-coloured eggs; these she deposits and conceals in a nest, or bed, made of a great quantity of the soft, warm, elastic down, plucked from her own breast, and sometimes from that of her mate. The ground-work or foundation of the nest is formed of bent-grass, sea-weeds, or such like coarse materials, and it is placed in as sheltered a spot as the bleak and solitary place can afford.

In Greenland, Iceland, Spitzbergen, Lapland, and some parts of the coasts of Norway, the Eiders flock together, in particular breeding places, in such numbers, and their nests are so close together, that a person in walking along can hardly avoid treading upon them. The natives of these cold climates eagerly watch the time when the first hatchings of the eggs are laid: of these they rob the nest, and also of the more important article, the down with which it is lined, which they carefully gather and carry off. These birds will afterwards strip themselves of their remaining down, and lay a second hatching, of which also they are sometimes robbed: but, it is said, that when this cruel treatment 317 is too often repeated, they leave the place, and return to it no more. The quantity of this valuable 318 commodity, which is thus annually collected in various parts, is uncertain. Buffon mentions one particular year, in which the Icelandic company sold as much as amounted to upwards of eight hundred and fifty pounds sterling. This, however, must be only a small portion of the produce, which is all sold by the hardy natives, to stuff the couches of the pampered citizens of more polished nations.

The great body of these birds constantly resides in the remote northern, frozen climates, the rigours of which their thick cloathing well enables them to bear. They are said to keep together in flocks in the open parts of the sea, fishing and diving very deep in quest of shell-fish and other food, with which the bottom is covered, and when they have satisfied themselves, they retire to the shore, whither they at all times repair for shelter, on the approach of a storm. Other less numerous flocks of the Eiders branch out, colonize, and breed further southward in both Europe and America: they are found on the promontories and numerous isles of the coast: of Norway, and on those of the northern, and the Hebrides or western isles of Scotland, and also on the Fern Isles, on the Northumberland coast, which latter is the only place where they are known to breed in England, and may be said to be their utmost southern limit in this quarter, although a few solitary instances of single birds being shot further southward along the coast have sometimes happened. 319 Mr Tunstal had a stuffed specimen in his Museum, which was shot in January, at Hartlepool, on the Durham coast. The foregoing figure and description were taken from a perfect bird, in full plumage, shot in April, near Holy Island.

It is not known that any attempts to domesticate this species have succeeded. Such as were made by the Rev. Dr Thorp, of Ryton, entirely failed of success.

The following particulars, from Von Troil’s Letters on Iceland, are given, on account of the singular trait of character which is mentioned—that of two females occupying only one nest:—

“The Eider birds build their nests on little islands not far from the shore, and sometimes even near the dwellings of the natives, who treat them with such kindness and circumspection as to make them quite tame. In the beginning of June they lay five or six eggs, and it is not unusual to find from ten to sixteen eggs in one nest, with two females, who agree remarkably well together. The whole time of laying continues six or seven weeks, during which time the natives visit the nest, for the purpose of taking the down and eggs, at least once a week. They first carefully remove the female, and then take away the down and part of the eggs; after which she lays afresh, covering her eggs with new down plucked from her breast: this being taken away, the male comes to her assistance, and covers the eggs with his down, which is left till the young are hatched. One female, during the whole time of laying, generally gives half a pound of down. The down from dead birds is accounted of little worth, having lost its elasticity. There are generally exported fifteen hundred or two thousand pounds of down on the company’s account, exclusive of what is privately sold.—The young ones quit the nest soon after they are hatched, and follow the female, who leads them to the water, where, having taken them on her back, she swims with them a few yards, and then dives, and leaves them floating on the water: in this situation they soon learn to take care of themselves, and are seldom afterwards seen on the land, but live among the rocks, and feed on insects and sea-weed.”

man on riverbank reaching into the water

Notes and Corrections: Eider Duck

Anas mollissima is now Somateria mollissima, the common eider. Although Bewick doesn’t say, the name is in fact from Linnaeus. With the eider we take leave of subfamily Anserinae, geese and swans, and move over to subfamily Anatinae, ducks and teals. (Mergansers, which Bewick treated separately, are in the same subfamily.)


(Anas moschatus, Lin.—Le Canard Musque, Buff.)

This species is less than the last, but much larger than the Common Duck, measuring about two feet in length. The bill is two inches long; the tip and nostrils brown; the other parts of it red, as is also the naked warty skin which joins its base, and surrounds the eyes. The crown of the head is rather tufted or crested, and black: the cheeks, throat, and fore part of the neck, white, irregularly marked with black: the belly, from the breast to the thighs, white. The general colour of the rest of the plumage is deep brown,—darkest, and glossed with green on the back, rump, quills, and tail: the two outside feathers of the latter, and the first three of the former, are white: the legs and feet are red, short, and thick. This is the general appearance of the Musk Duck; but as it is domesticated in almost every country, it varies very much, like all other birds in that state. In the female, the bare warty, or carunculated skin, which is spread from the bill over the eyes, is of a much duller red, and does not cover so large a portion of the head as it does in the male: she is also of a less size.

Ornithologists are in doubt, as to the country to which these birds originally belonged; it is, however 321 agreed, that they are natives of the warm climates. Mr Pennant says they are met with, wild, about lake Baikal, in Asia; Ray, that they are natives of Louisiana; Marcgrave, that they are met with in Brazil; and Buffon, that they are found in the overflowed savannas of Guiana, where they feed in the day-time upon the wild rice, which grows there in abundance, and return in the evening to the sea: he adds, “they nestle on the trunks of rotten trees; and after the young are hatched, the mother takes them one after another by the bill and throws them into the water.” It is said that great numbers of the young brood are destroyed by the alligators, which are common in those parts. These birds have obtained the name of Musk Duck, from their musky smell, which arises from the liquor secreted in the glands on the rump. They are a thriving and prolific species, and their flesh, which is high-flavoured, is by many very much esteemed. They will associate with the Common Ducks; and instances are not wanting of their producing a mixed breed.

bird flying over the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Musk Duck

skip to next section

Anas moschata is now Cairina moschata, the Muscovy duck.

Anas moschatus, Lin.
text unchanged: error for moschata

Ornithologists are in doubt, as to the country to which these birds originally belonged
[The Americas, apparently, or the parts that are now Latin America.]

Mr Pennant says they are met with, wild, about lake Baikal, in Asia
[Mr Pennant is mistaken.]


woodcut of Velvet Duck

(Anas fusca, Lin.—La grande Macreuse, Buff.)

The Velvet Duck is larger than a Mallard, weighing about three pounds two ounces, and measuring above twenty inches in length. The upper mandible is broad, and flat, and rises into a kind of black knob at the base: the nostrils are of the same colour, and stand out on each side; the middle, or ridge, and the nail, are red; the rest of it is orange yellow, edged with black. The under mandible is pale or yellowish white, edged and spotted with black, and tipped with deep yellow: both are coarsely serrated. The head is large, the eyes small, with a spot of white below each; and the irides are nearly of the same colour. All the rest of the plumage, 323 excepting a white stroke or band which crosses the closed wings in an oblique direction, is of a soft smooth sooty black, glossed with a cast of purple on the head, upper part of the neck, and shoulders, and inclining to brown on the sides, belly, and vent: the outer sides of the legs and toes are of a fine crimson colour; the inner sides deep yellow; the webs and nails black; and the joints of both legs and toes look as if they were stained or bespattered with ink: the tail, consisting of fourteen feathers, is short and pointed. The female is without the protuberance on the base of the bill, and has a white spot behind the ears, and her plumage is more inclined to brown.

These birds are natives of the northern parts of the world, where they rear their young, and continue during the summer months, but retire southward in winter, at which season they are met with in greater or less numbers, and according to the severity of the weather, approach towards the temperate climates of Europe, Asia, and America. In the latter quarter they are frequently seen as far south as New York, and spread themselves in small numbers along the shores of western Europe, as far as France, where they sometimes appear in company with the large flocks of Scoters, and are often caught in the fishermen’s nets with those birds; but they are seldom met with on the British shores.

Notes and Corrections: Velvet Duck

Anas fusca is now Melanitta fusca, the velvet scoter.


woodcut of Scoter

(Anas Nigra, Lin.—La Macreuse, Buff.)

The Scoter is less than the Velvet Duck, weighing generally about two pounds nine ounces, and measuring twenty-two inches in length, and thirty-four in breadth. The base of the upper mandible is raised up into a kind of large knob, divided downwards in the middle by a narrow bright or deep yellow stripe, which is spread round the projecting edges of the nostrils, and extended nearly to the tip: the rest of the bill is black, grooved along near the edges, where it is broad and flat: the under mandible is also black: irides dusky. From the curious conformation and appearance of the bill, 325 (of which a more accurate figure is subjoined) this species cannot easily be mistaken, although it is said that the knob in some specimens is red; in that of the females it is hardly noticeable, and in the younger males it is of a small size. The eye-lids are yellow, the irides dark, and the whole of its close smooth plumage is black, glossed on the head and neck with purple. The tail consists of sixteen sharp-pointed feathers, of which the middle are the longest legs brown. In some of the young females the plumage is grey.

In severe winters the Scoters leave the northern extremities of the world in immense flocks, dispersing themselves southward along the shores of more temperate climates. They are only sparingly scattered on the coasts of England; but according to Buffon, they appear in great numbers on the northern coasts of France, to which they are attracted by beds of a certain kind of small bivalve shell-fish, (vaimeaux) which abound in those parts, and of which they are very fond, for they are almost incessantly diving in quest of them. Over these beds of shell-fish, the fishermen at low water spread their long nets, floated or supported horizontally two or three feet from the sand: these they leave to be covered by the overflowing tide, which also brings the Scoters prowling along with it, within their accustomed distance from the beach. As soon as the first of them perceives the shells, it instantly dives, when 326 all the rest follow the example, and numbers are entangled in the floating meshes of the net. In this way it is said that sometimes twenty or thirty dozen have been taken in a single tide. These birds are sold to the Roman catholics, who eat them on fast days and in lent, when their religious ordinances have forbidden the use of all animal food, except fish; but these birds, and a few others of the same fishy flavour, have been exempted from the interdict, on the supposition of their being cold blooded, and partaking of the nature of fish.

The Scoters seldom quit the sea, upon which they are very nimble, and are indefatigable expert divers; but they fly heavily, near the surface of the water, and to no great distance, and are said to walk aukwardly erect on the land.

head of Scoter Duck

Notes and Corrections: Scoter

Anas nigra is now Melanitta nigra, the common or black scoter.


woodcut of Mallard

(Anas boschas, Lin.—Le Canard Sauvage, Buff.)

The Wild Drake weighs from thirty-six to forty ounces, and measures twenty-three inches in length, and thirty-five in breadth. The bill is of a yellowish green colour, not very flat, about an inch broad, and two and a half long, from the corners of the mouth to the tip of the nail: the head and upper half of the neck, are of a glossy deep changeable green, terminated in the middle of the neck by a white collar, with which it is nearly encircled: the lower part of the neck, breast, and shoulders, are of a deep vinous chesnut: the covering scapular feathers are of a kind of silvery white; those underneath rufous; and both are prettily crossed with 328 small waved threads of brown: wing coverts ash: quills brown; and between these intervenes the beauty-spot (common in the Duck tribe) which crosses the closed wing in a transverse oblique direction; it is of a rich glossy purple, with violet or green reflections, and bordered by a double streak of black and white. The belly is of a pale grey, delicately pencilled and crossed with numberless narrow waved dusky lines, which, on the sides and long feathers that reach over the thighs, are more strongly and distinctly marked: the upper and under tail-coverts, lower part of the back, and rump, are black; the latter glossed with green: the four middle tail-feathers are also black, with purple reflections, and, like those of the domestic Drake, are stiffly curled upwards; the rest are sharp-pointed, and fade off to the exterior sides, from a brown to a dull white: legs, toes, and webs red.

The plumage of the female is very different from that of the male, and partakes of none of his beauties except the spot on the wings. All the other parts are plain brown, marked with black.—She makes her nest, lays from ten to sixteen greenish white eggs, and rears her young, generally in the most sequestered mosses or bogs, far from the haunts of man, and hidden from his sight among reeds and rushes. To her young helpless unfledged family, (and they are nearly three months before they can fly), she is a fond, attentive, and watchful parent, 329 carrying or leading them from one pool to another as her fears or inclinations direct her; and she is known in this country to use the same wily stratagems to mislead the sportsman and his dog, as those before noticed respecting the partridge.

Like the rest of the Duck tribes, the Mallards, in prodigious numbers, quit the north at the end of autumn, and migrating southward, arrive at the beginning of winter in large flocks, and spread themselves over all the loughs and marshy wastes in the British isles. They pair in the spring, when the greater part of them again retire northward to breed; but many straggling pairs stay with us: they, as well as preceding colonists of their tribes, remain to rear their young, who become natives, and continue with us throughout the year.

Many and various are the contrivances which have been used, in both ancient and modern times, to catch these wild, shy, and wary birds, and from the avidity with which the sport is still followed, it is hardly necessary to observe how highly they are esteemed, and what place they hold as a delicacy on the table. To describe these various contrivances would swell out this part of their history beyond its proper limits,—and Willoughby, Buffon, Pennant, Latham, and others, have left little new to add on this head. It will not be proper, 330 however, to omit noticing the decoy, which from its superiority over every other method, promises to continue long in use; for in that mode the Mallard and other Ducks are taken by thousands at a time; whereas all the other schemes of lying in ambush, shooting, baited hooks, wading in the water with the head covered in a perforated wooden vessel, or in a calabash, &c.⁕2 are attended with much watching, toil, and fatigue, and are also comparatively trifling in point of success.

The decoys now in use are formed by cutting pipes or tapering ditches, widened and deepened as they approach the water, in various semicircular directions, through the swampy ground, into particular large pools, which are sheltered by surrounding trees or bushes, and situated commonly in the midst of the solitary marsh. At the narrow points of these ditches, farthest from the pool, by which they are filled with water, the fowlers place their funnel nets: from these the ditch is covered 331 by a continued arch of netting, supported by hoops, to the desired distance; and all along both sides, skreens formed of reeds are set up so as to prevent the possibility of the birds seeing the decoy-man; and as these birds feed during the night, all is ready prepared for this sport in the evening. The fowler, then, placed on the leeward side, sometimes with the help of his well-trained dog, but always by that of his better trained tame Decoy-Ducks, begins the business of destruction. The latter, directed by his well-known whistle, or excited forward by the floating hempseed, which he strews occasionally upon the water, entice all the Wild Ducks after them under the netting; and as soon as this is observed, the man or his dog, as the fitness of opportunity may direct, is from the rear exposed to the view of the birds, by which they are so alarmed that they dare not offer to return, and are prevented by the nets from escaping upwards: they therefore press forward in the utmost confusion to the end of the pipe, into the purse nets there prepared to receive them, while their treacherous guides remain behind in conscious security. The season allowed by act of parliament for catching these birds in this way, continues only from the latter end of October till February.

Particular spots or decoys, in the fen countries, are let to the fowlers at a rent of from five to thirty pounds per annum; and Pennant instances 332 a season in which thirty-one thousand two hundred Ducks, including Teals and Wigeons, were sold in London only, from ten of these decoys near Wainfleet, in Lincolnshire. Formerly, according to Willoughby, the Ducks, while in moult and unable to fly, were driven by men in boats, furnished with long poles, with which they splashed the water between long nets, stretched vertically across the pools, in the shape of two sides of a triangle, into lesser nets placed at the point, and in this way, he says, four thousand were taken at one driving in Deeping-Fen; and Latham has quoted an instance of two thousand six hundred and forty-six being taken in two days, near Spalding in Lincolnshire; but this manner of catching them while in moult is now prohibited.

Vol. I. page 307.

⁕2 This method of taking Wild Geese or Ducks is represented, as well as those anciently in use, of taking almost every kind of wild animals, in an old folio book, consisting of 105 engravings, by Collaert and others, from the paintings of Johannes Stradanus. The wooden vessel which conceals the head of the fowler, is there represented, as it were floating about among the unsuspecting flocks, while with his hand the dextrous sportsman is pulling all those within his reach, one after another, by the legs under water. This method is still practised in China.

man with gun and dog

Notes and Corrections: Mallard

Anas boschas is now Anas platyrhynchos. Both names go back to Linnaeus 1758, suggesting that he has once again mistaken one bird for two.

wading in the water with the head covered in a perforated wooden vessel, or in a calabash
[The method is described in John Hill’s Review of the Works of the Royal Society (page10-11 and notes), as well as in Beeton’s Book of Household Management.]


woodcut of Tame Duck

(Anas domestica, Lin.—Le Canard domestique, Buff.)

This valuable domestic owes its origin to the Mallard, the last described species, but has long been reclaimed from a state of nature. Many of them appear in nearly the same plumage as the wild ones; others vary greatly from them, as well as from each other, and may be said to be marked with almost all colours; but all the males (Drakes) still retain the unvarying mark of their wild original in the curled feathers of the tail. Long domestication has, however, deprived the Tame Duck of that keen, quick, and sprightly look and shape which distinguish the Mallard, and substituted a more dull and less elegant form and appearance in 334 their stead. In the wild state they pair, and are monogamous, but become polygamous when tame.

The Count de Buffon, whose lively and ingenious flights of imagination are peculiar to himself, says—“Man made a double conquest when he subdued inhabitants at once of the air and of the water. Free in both these vast elements, equally fitted to roam in the regions of the atmosphere, to glide through the ocean or plunge under its billows, the aquatic birds seemed destined by nature to live for ever remote from our society, and from the limits of our dominion.” “Eggs taken from the reeds and rushes amidst the water, and set under an adopted mother, first produced, in our farm-yards, wild, shy, fugitive birds, perpetually roving and unsettled, and impatient to regain the abodes of liberty.” These, however, after they had bred and reared their own young in the domestic asylum, became attached to the spot; and their descendants, in process of time, grew more and more gentle and tractable, till at last they appear to have nearly relinquished and forgotten the prerogatives of the savage state, although they still retain a strong propensity to roam abroad, in search, no doubt, of the larger pools, marshy places, and bogs, which it is natural to suppose they must prefer to the beaten, hard, pebbly-covered surface surrounding the scantily watered hamlet: and indeed it is well known to every observing good housewife, that 335 where they are long confined to such dry places, they degenerate in both strength and beauty, and lose much of the fine flavour of those which are reared in spots more congenial to their nature. That these, and such like watery places, which their health requires for them to wash, dive, feed, rest, and sport in, are not better tenanted by these useful and pretty birds, is much to be regretted, and marks strongly a falling off—a want of industry⁕1 in those females to whose lot it falls, and whose duty it is to contribute their quota of attention to these lesser but not uninteresting branches of rural economy. Were this done, and ponds made in aid of the purpose in every suitable contiguous situation, there can be no doubt but that a multiplied flock of Ducklings, to an inconceivable amount, might be annually reared with a comparatively trifling additional expence; for the various undistinguishable animal and vegetable substances upon which they chiefly live, and for which they unceasingly search with their curiously constructed bills, sifting and separating every alimentary particle from the mud, unless fed upon by them, are totally lost. When older, they also devour worms, spawn, water insects, and sometimes frogs and small fishes,—together with the various seeds of bog and water 336 plants, of which they find an abundant supply when left to provide for themselves in those wet places.

When they, with other kinds of fowl, are busily employed in picking up the waste about the barn door, they greatly enliven and beautify the rural scene.

“A snug thack house, before the door a green:

“Hens on the midding, Ducks in dubs are seen.

“On this side stands a barn, on that a byre;

“A peat-stack joins, and forms a rural square.”⁕2

To this may be added, the no less pleasing peep at the mill and mill-dam, when well furnished with these their feathered inhabitants. The village schoolboy witnesses with delight the antic movements of the busy shapeless little brood, sometimes under the charge of a foster mother, who with anxious fears paddles by the brink, and utters her unavailing cries, while the Ducklings, regardless of her warnings, and rejoicing in the element so well adapted to their nature, are splashing over each other beneath the pendent foliage; or, in eager pursuit, snap at their insect prey on the surface, or plunge after them to the bottom: some meanwhile are seen perpendicularly suspended, with the tail only above water, engaged in the general search after food.


Scenes like these, harmonized by the clack of the mill and its murmuring water-fall, afford pleasures little known to those who have always been engaged in mere worldly pursuits: but such picturesque beauties pass not unnoticed by the young naturalist; their charms invite his first attentions, and probably bias his inclinations to pursue studies which enlarge and exalt his mind, and can only end with his life.

⁕1 “The thrifty huswife is aye weel kend by her sonsy swarms o’ bonny chucky burdies.” Scotch Proverb.

⁕2 Allan Ramsay.

man leaning on barred gate, smoking a pipe

Notes and Corrections: Tame Duck

Anas domestica is, I think, A. platyrhynchos again, with a side option of a domestica subspecies.

In the wild state they pair, and are monogamous, but become polygamous when tame.
[As we know, the same thing happened when Canis lupus was domesticated.]


(Anas adunca, Lin.—Le Canard à bec courbé, Brisson.)

The bill of this differs from that of the Mallard and of the Tame Duck, in being broader, longer, and in bending more downwards; but as this bird is of the same species, so in other respects it nearly resembles them, and this variation of the bill is probably only one of those accidental sportings of nature, not very uncommon in all domestic animals; every variety of which, each with its original peculiarities, (for like begets like) may easily be kept up as long as caprice shall feel gratified by continuing them. Latham says these birds seem only to be kept in England out of curiosity, but that according to the information he received, they are full as common in Germany as the other sort of Tame Ducks. He also mentions other varieties of the Mallard. Those with copped heads, others wanting the webs of their feet, &c. if added to the list, would only serve to mislead the young enquirer; and to the experienced ornithologist such details are unnecessary.

funnel in half-full bottle

Notes and Corrections: Hook-Billed Duck

Anas adunca is, once again, A. platyrhynchos; the confusion of names has even drawn the attention of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Today the name “Hookbill” refers to a centuries-old domestic breed, once very popular but now critically endangered.


woodcut of Scaup Duck

(Anas Marila, Lin.)

This species is less than the Mallard; some of them, it is said, weighing only a pound and a half, while others exceed that weight by eight or nine ounces, and measure, when stretched out, nearly twenty inches in length, and thirty-two in breadth. The bill is broad and flat, more than two inches long, from the corners of the mouth to the tip, and of a fine pale blue or lead colour, with the nail black: irides bright deep yellow: the head and upper half of the neck are black, glossed with green: the lower part of the latter, and the breast, are of a sleek plain black: the throat, rump, upper and under coverts of the tail, and part of the thighs, are of the same colour, but dull, and more inclining to brown. The tail, when spread out, is fan-shaped, and consists of fourteen short 340 brown feathers: the back, scapulars, wing-coverts, and tertials, are varied from white to deeper shades of pale ash, and ash-brown, and are prettily marked with delicately freckled, or more distinctly pencilled transverse dark waved lines: the bastard wings, greater coverts, and the exterior webs of the first two or three primary quills, (the interior webs of which are brownish ash) and the tips of all the rest, are deep brown, more or less sprinkled with white, and crossed with narrow waved white lines: some of the primary quills towards the body, are white; the bases of the secondaries, of the same colour, form an oblique bar across the wings, which is stopped by a single under tertial feather, of plain brown, with green reflections: the belly is white, and shaded off towards the vent with the same kind of sprinkled and waved lines as those so predominant on a large portion of the plumage. The legs are short; toes long, and, as well as the outer or lateral webs of the inner toes, are of a dirty pale blue colour; all the joints and the rest of the webs are dusky. These birds are said to vary greatly in their plumage, as well as size, but those which have come under the author’s observation were all nearly alike.

The Scaup Duck, like others of the same genus, quits the rigours of the dreary north in the winter months, and in that season only is met with, in small numbers, on various parts of the British shores.

Notes and Corrections: Scaup Duck

Anas marila is now Aythya marila, the greater scaup. This makes it a close relative of the pochard, a few chapters further along.


woodcut of Shieldrake

(Anas tadorna, Lin.—La Tadorne.)

The male of this prettily marked species is somewhat larger than the Mallard, measuring about two feet in length, three and a half in breadth, and weighing commonly two pounds ten ounces. The bill is red, with the nail and nostrils black: the upper mandible is broad, flat, and grooved on the edges towards the point, where it has rather a cast upwards; it is also depressed in the middle, and raised into a knob or tubercle at the base. The head, and upper part of the neck, are of a glossy dark or bottle green: the lower part of the neck, to the breast, is encircled with white, and joined by 342 a broad band of bright orange bay, which is spread over, and covers the breast and shoulders. The back, wing-coverts, rump, upper tail-coverts, and sides of the belly to the vent, and tail, are white: a dusky stripe, tinged with rufous, runs along the middle from the breast, the whole length of the belly: part of the scapulars next the wings are black, and those next the body white: the bastard wing, and some of the first primary quills, are black; the exterior webs of the next adjoining ones are glossed with gold green, which forms the speculum or beauty-spot of the wings: this spot is bounded, and partly covered by the orange webs of the three succeeding quill-feathers, which separate it from the scapulars. The tail is white, but some of its feathers are tipped with black: the legs pale red. The female is less than the male, and her plumage is not so vivid and beautiful. She makes her nest, and rears her young, under ground, in the rabbit-holes which are made in the sand-hills near the sea-shore: it is chiefly formed of the fine down plucked from her own breast: she lays from twelve to sixteen roundish white eggs, and the incubation lasts about thirty days. During this time the male, who is very attentive to his charge, keeps watch in the day-time on some adjoining hillock, where he can see all around him, and which he quits only when impelled by hunger, to procure subsistence. The female also leaves the nest, for the same purpose, 343 in the mornings and evenings, at which times the male takes his turn and supplies her place. As soon as the young are hatched, or are able to waddle along, they are conducted, and sometimes carried in the bill, by the parents, to the full tide, upon which they launch without fear, and are not seen afterwards out of tide-mark until they are well able to fly: lulled by the roarings of the flood, they find themselves at home amidst an ample store of their natural food, which consists of sand-hoppers, sea-worms, &c. or small shell-fish, and the innumerable shoals of the little fry, which have not yet ventured out into the great deep, but are left on the beach, or tossed to the surface of the water by the restless surge.

If this family, in their progress from the nest to the sea, happen to be interrupted by any person, the young ones, it is said, seek the first shelter, and squat close down, and the parent birds fly off: then commences that truly curious scene, dictated by an instinct analogous to reason, the same as has been already noticed in the Mallard and the Partridge: the tender mother drops, at no great distance from her helpless brood, trails herself along the ground, flaps it with her wings, and appears to struggle as if she were wounded, in order to attract attention, and tempt a pursuit after her. Should these wily schemes, in which she is also aided by her mate, succeed, they both return when the danger 344 is over, to their terrified motionless little offspring, to renew the tender offices of cherishing and protecting them.

These birds are sometimes watched to their holes, which are dug up to the nest, whence the eggs are taken, and hatched, and the young reared by a Tame Duck. In this way many gentlemen, tempted by the richness of their garb, have their ponds stocked with these beautiful birds; but as they are of a roving disposition, and are apt to stray, or to quit altogether such limited spots, it is generally found necessary to pinion or disable a wing to secure them. The Shieldrake has been known to breed with the Common Duck; but it is not well ascertained whether the hybrids thus produced will breed again or not.

This species is dispersed, in greater or less numbers, over the warm, as well as the cold climates, in various parts of the world: they are met with as far north as Iceland in the spring, and in Sweden and the Orkney Islands in the winter. Captain Cook notices them, among other sea-fowl, on the coast of Van Deimen’s land, and they have been seen, in great numbers, at the Falkland Islands. Although they are not numerous on the British and the opposite shores, yet they are common enough in the British isles, where they remain throughout the year, always in pairs, and occasionally straggle away from the sea-coasts to the lakes inland.

Notes and Corrections: Shieldrake

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Anas tadorna is now the head of its own genus as Tadorna tadorna, the (common) shelduck.

on the coast of Van Deimen’s land
[Correctly Van Diemen’s land, now known as Tasmania. Several members of genus Tadorna are found in and around Australia, but T. tadorna isn’t one of them. Most likely it’s T. tadornoides, the Australian shelduck, or T. radjah, the Radjah shelduck. There’s also T. variegata—already named by Gmelin in 1789—primarily found in New Zealand.]

they have been seen, in great numbers, at the Falkland Islands
[Sorry, Bewick, different duck. Unless there has been some distressing extinction event, genus Tadorna isn’t found in South America at all.]


woodcut of Shoveler

(Anas clypeata, Lin.—Le Souchet, Buff.)

The Shoveler is less than the Wild Duck, commonly weighing about twenty-two ounces, and measuring twenty-one inches in length. The bill is black, three inches long, very broad or spread out, and rounded like a spoon at the end, with the nail hooked inward and small: the insides of the mandibles are remarkably well furnished with thin pectinated rows, which fit into each other like a weaver’s brake, and through which no dirt can pass, while the bird is separating or sifting the small worms and insects from amongst the mud, by the edges of the water, where it is continually searching for them: 346 the irides are of a fine pure yellow; the head and upper half of the neck of a dark glossy changeable green: the lower part of the neck, breast, and scapulars, white: the back is brown: belly and sides chesnut bay; and the wing coverts of a fine pale sky blue, terminated with white tips, which form an oblique stripe across the wings, and an upper border to the beauty-spot, or spangle, which is of a glossy changeable bronze, or resplendent green, and also divides or crosses the wings in the same direction: the greater quills and the tail are dusky, but in the latter the outside feathers, and the edges of some of the adjoining ones, are white: a ring of white also encircles the rump and the vent, behind which the feathers under the tail are black: legs and feet red. The female is smaller than the male, from which she also differs greatly in the colours of her plumage,—the coverts and spangle-spot on her wings being less brilliant, and the other parts, composed of white, grey, and rusty, crossed with curved dusky lines, giving her much the appearance of the Common Wild Duck. She makes her nest, lined with withered grasses, on the ground, in the midst of the largest tufts of rushes or coarse herbage, in the most inaccessible part of the flaky marsh: she lays ten or twelve pale rusty-coloured eggs; and as soon as the young are hatched, they are conducted to the water by the parent birds, who watch and guard them with the greatest care. 347 They are at first very shapeless and ugly, for the bill is then almost as broad as the body, and seems too great a weight for the little bird to carry. Their plumage does not acquire its full colours until after the second moult.

It would appear, from the varied descriptions of ornithologists, that these birds differ much from each other, both in the colour of the bill, and in the disposition of the markings of their rich-coloured plumage. All, however, agree in ranking the Shoveler among the most beautiful of the Duck tribe; and it is also, in the opinion of many, inferior to none of them in the delicate flavour of its flesh, which is red, juicy, and tender.

It has not yet been ascertained whether the Shoveler breeds in England, where indeed it is a scarce bird; but according to M. Baillon, they are not uncommon in France, where they arrive about the month of February, disperse in the marshes, and a part of them hatch every year. He conjectures that they advance southward, for they are seldom met with after the first northerly wind that blows in March, and he adds, that those of them which then stay behind do not depart till September. He also remarks that hardly any are ever seen during the winter, from which he concludes that they shun the approach of cold. They are said to be met 348 with in Scania and Gothland, and in most parts of Germany, Russia, and Kamtschatka,—and also, in the winter months, in New York and Carolina, in America.

This species is of so wild, shy, and solitary a disposition, that all attempts hitherto made to domesticate them have failed. This work was favoured with the bird from which the foregoing figure and description were taken, by the author’s friends at Cambridge.

The Anas muscaria of Linnæus (Le Souchet à ventre blanc of Brisson) differs only from this in having the belly white, and is considered merely as a variety of the same species.

The friend and correspondent of the Count de Buffon.

man and woman at a pump

Notes and Corrections: Shoveler

Anas clypeata, the northern shoveler, still has that binomial. In case anyone wondered, genus Anas also offers an Australasian shoveler and a Cape shoveler.

The Anas muscaria of Linnæus . . . is considered merely as a variety of the same species.
[I daresay.]



Size of a Common Duck. Bill large, serrated on the sides, and entirely of a brownish yellow colour: head large: eyes small: irides yellow: breast and throat of a reddish brown: back brown, growing paler towards the sides: the tips and pinions of the wings grey: quills brown; the rest of a greyish brown: the speculum, or wing-spot, purple, edged with white: tail short, and white: vent of a bright brown, spotted with darker: legs short and slender: feet small, and of a reddish brown colour.”

“In the female all the colours are fainter, and the speculum of the wings blue.”

“This species is sometimes taken in the decoys of Lincolnshire.”

man in bushes overlooking river

Notes and Corrections: Red-Breasted Shoveler

Latham, writing in 1824, says it’s simply the Common Shoveler at some particular age or stage of life. I’ll take his word for it.


(Anas strepera, Lin.—Le Chipeau, Buff.)

The Gadwall is less than the Mallard, measuring about nineteen inches in length, and twenty-three in breadth. The bill is flat, black, and two inches long, from the tip to the corners of the mouth: the head, and upper part of the neck, are of a rufous brown colour, lightest on the throat and cheeks, and finely speckled and dotted all over with black and brown: the feathers on the lower part of the neck, breast, and shoulders, look like scales, beautifully margined and crossed with curved black and white lines: those of the back, scapulars, and sides, are brown, marked transversely with narrower waved streaks of a dusky colour: the belly and thighs are dingy white, more or less sprinkled with grey: the lower part of the back dark brown: rump and vent black; and the tail ash, edged with white. The ridge and lesser coverts of the wing are of a pale rufous brown, crossed obliquely by the beauty-spot, which is a tri-coloured bar of purplish red, white, and black: the greater quills are dusky: legs orange red. The wings of the female are barred like those of the male, but the colours are of a much duller cast, and her breast, instead of his beautiful markings, is only plain brown, spotted with black.


Birds of this species breed in the desert marshes of the north, and remain there throughout the spring and summer. On the approach of winter they leave the European and Siberian parts of Russia, Sweden, &c. and aided by the first strong north-east wind, commonly make their appearance about the month of November, on the French, British, and other more southern shores, where they remain till the end of February, and then return to their northern haunts. They are very shy and wary birds, feeding only in the night, and lurking concealed among the rushes in the watery waste during the day, in which they are seldom seen on the wing.

These birds shew themselves expert in diving as well as in swimming, and often disappoint the sportsman in his aim; for the instant they see the flash of the pan, they disappear, and dive to a distant secure retreat.

quiet riverside

Notes and Corrections: Gadwall

Anas strepera still has that binomial.


woodcut of Wigeon

(Anas Penelope, Lin.—Le Canard siffleur, Buff.)

This is nearly of the same size as the Gadwall, weighing generally about twenty-three ounces, and measuring nearly twenty inches in length, and two feet three in breadth. The bill is an inch and a half long, narrow, and serrated on the inner edges: the upper mandible is of a dark lead colour, tipped with black. The crown of the head, which is very high and narrow, is of a cream colour, with a small spot of the same under each eye: the rest of the head, the neck, and the breast, are bright rufous chesnut, obscurely freckled on the head with black spots, and darkest on the chin and throat, which are tinged with a vinous colour: a band, composed of beautifully waved, or indented narrow 353 ash-brown and white lines, separates the breast and neck: the back and scapulars are marked with similar feathers, as are also the sides of the body under the wings, even as low as the thighs, but there they are paler: the belly to the vent is white: the ridge of the wing, and adjoining coverts, are dusky ash-brown: the greater coverts brown, edged with white, (in some specimens wholly white) and tipped with black, which forms an upper border to the changeable green beauty-spot of the wings, which is also bordered on the under side by another stripe formed by the deep velvet black tips of the secondary quills: the exterior webs of the adjoining quills are white, and those next the back, which are very long, are of a deep brown, (in some specimens deep black) edged with yellowish white: the greater quills are brown: the vent and upper tail coverts, black. The tail, which consists of fourteen feathers, is of a hoary brownish ash, edged with yellowish white; the two middle ones are sharp-pointed, darker and longer than the rest. The legs and toes are of a dirty lead colour, faintly tinged with green; the middle of the webs and nails black. “The female is brown, the middle of the feathers deepest: the fore part of the neck and breast paler: scapulars dark brown, with paler edges: wings and belly as in the male.” The young of both sexes are grey, and continue in that plain garb till the month of February, after which a change takes 354 place, and the plumage of the male begins to assume its rich colourings, in which, it is said, he continues till the end of July, and then again the feathers become dark and grey, so that he is hardly to be distinguished from the female.

These birds quit the desart morasses of the north on the approach of winter, and as they advance towards the end of their destined southern journey, they spread themselves along the shores, and over the marshes and lakes in various parts of the continent, as well as those of the British Isles; and it is said that some of the flocks advance as far south as Egypt. They remain in these parts during the winter, at the end of which the old birds pair, and the whole tribe, in full plumage, take their departure northward about the end of March. While they remain with us, they frequent the same places, and feed in the same mode as the Mallard, and are often taken in the decoys along with them and other kinds of Ducks.

The Wigeons commonly fly, in small flocks, during the night, and may be known from others by their whistling note while they are on the wing. They are easily domesticated in places where there is plenty of water, and are much admired for their beauty, sprightly look, and busy frolicsome manners.

Mr Baillon, from whom these remarks are taken, adds, that the same changes happen to the Pintail, the Gadwall, and the Shoveler, and that they are also all grey when young.

Notes and Corrections: Wigeon

Anas penelope, the Eurasian wigeon, still has that binomial.


(Anas Glocitans.)

Length twenty inches. Bill deep lead colour; nail black: irides brown: crown brown, changeable with green, ending in a streak of brown at the hinder part of the head, with a small crest: between the bill and eye, and behind each ear, ferruginous spots, the first round, the last oblong and large: throat of a fine deep purple: the rest of the head bright green, continued in streaks down the neck: breast a light ferruginous brown, spotted with black: hind part of the neck and back dark brown, waved with black: wing-coverts ash-coloured; lower coverts streaked with rust-colour: scapulars cinereous: quills the same, inclined to brown: secondaries fine green, ending in a shade of black, edged with white: tail-coverts deep changeable green: twelve feathers in the tail; the two middlemost black, the others brown, edged with white: belly dusky, finely granulated: legs small, yellow: webs dusky.” “Taken in a decoy in England. Has been met with along the Lena, and about the lake Baikal. Has a singular note, somewhat like clucking.” Latham.

Notes and Corrections: Bimaculated Duck

Anas glocitans doesn’t seem to exist—a fact which must come as a surprise to the many people, up to and including James Audubon, who described or painted it. The binomial goes back to Pallas, while the English name—also spelled “bemaculated”, variously duck or teal—is from Pennant. Somewhere along the line it briefly found itself in genus Querquedula, which seems to be inhabited solely by extinct ducks. Most likely it is the same bird as the Baikal teal or squawk duck, Anas formosa.


woodcut of Pochard

(Anas ferina, Lin.—Penelope, le Millouin, Buff.)

The Pochard is nineteen inches in length, and two feet and a half in breadth, and weighs about one pound thirteen ounces. The bill is of a dark lead colour, with the tip and sides near the nostrils, black: irides fine deep yellow. The head and neck are of a glossy chesnut, joined to a large space of sooty black which covers the breast, and is spread over the shoulders: the lower part of the back, rump, tail-coverts, and vent, are also black: the rest of the plumage, both above and below, is wholly covered with prettily freckled slender dusky threads, disposed transversely in close-set zigzag lines on a pale ground, more or less shaded off with ash and brown, and deepest on the wing-coverts. 357 The primary quills are brown, with dusky tips; the secondaries lead colour, tinged with brown, and slightly tipped with dull white. The tail consists of twelve short feathers, of a dark brownish ash, which have also a hoary grey appearance: the legs and toes are lead colour, shaded and dashed with black.

This species is without the beauty-spot on the wings, and has altogether a more plain and half-mourning kind of look than others of this tribe. The specimen from which the above figure was drawn was shot at Axwell-Park, in the county of Durham: the description was taken from one shot in January near Holy Island. The former differed from the latter in wanting the black on the rump and vent, and in some other slight variations in the shadings of its colours.

“The head of the female is of a pale reddish brown: the breast is of rather a deeper colour: the coverts of the wings plain ash-colour: the back marked like that of the male: the belly ash-coloured.”

These birds leave the north on the approach of winter, and migrate southward as far, it is said, as Egypt in Africa, and Carolina and Louisiana, in America. They arrive in the marshes of France about the end of October, in tolerably numerous flocks; and considerable numbers of them are 358 caught in the fens of Lincolnshire during the winter season, and sold in the London markets, where they and the female Wigeons are indiscriminately called Dunbirds, and are esteemed excellent eating. It has not yet been discovered whether any of them remain to breed in England.

The Pochard is of a plump round shape, and its walk is heavy, ungraceful, and waddling; but when on the wing, they fly with greater rapidity than the Mallard, and in flocks of from twenty to forty, commonly in a close compact body, whereby they may be easily distinguished from the triangular shaped flocks of the Wild Duck, as well as by the difference of the noise of their wings.

The few attempts which have been hitherto made to domesticate this species have failed of success. They do pretty well where they have plenty of water, but it is said that they cannot bear walking about on hard pebbly grounds.


man with a pitchfork approaching two ducks

Notes and Corrections: Pochard

Anas ferina is now Aythya ferina, the (common) pochard. That puts it in the same genus, “diving ducks”, as the scaup from a few chapters back.


Anas Rutila.

Weight twenty ounces. The bill long, and flatted, rounded a little at the base, serrated along the edges of each mandible, and furnished with a nail at the end of the upper; colour pale blue: head, neck, and whole upper part of the bird, an agreeable reddish brown: throat, breast, and belly, the same colour, but paler: the legs of a pale blue: webs black.” “One of this species was killed in Lincolnshire. Found in the Swedish rivers, but rarely. Mr Pennant has also received it from Denmark.” Latham.

sailing ships on the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Ferruginous Duck

Anas rutila is probably Aythya nyroca, by way of Güldenstadt’s Anas nyroca. In English it is also known as the white-eyed duck or white-eyed pochard. For a while it went by Nyroca nyroca, thanks to two genera being defined in the same year, 1822. I don’t know whether it was settled by a fistfight between Boie (Aythya) and Fleming (Nyroca) or by some more dignified means.


woodcut of Pintail Duck

(Anas acuta, Lin.—Le Canard à longue queue, Buff.)

This handsome looking bird is twenty-eight inches in length, and thirty-eight in breadth, and weighs about twenty-four ounces. The bill is rather long, black in the middle, and blue on the edges: the irides reddish: the head and throat are of a rusty brown, mottled with small dark spots, and tinged behind the ears with purple: the nape and upper part of the neck are dusky, margined by a narrow white line, which runs down on each side, and falling into a broader stripe of the same colour, extends itself on the fore part as far as the breast; 361 the rest of the neck, the breast, and the upper part of the back, are elegantly pencilled with black and white waved lines: the lower back and sides of the body are undulated in the same manner, but with lines more freckled, less distinct, and paler: the scapulars are long and pointed, each feather black down the middle, with white edges: the coverts of the wings are ash-brown, tipped with dull orange: below these the wing is obliquely crossed by the beauty-spot of glossy bronze purple green, with a lower border of black and white: this spangle is formed by the outer webs and tips of the middle quills: the rest of the quills are dusky. All the tail-feathers are of a brown ash-colour, with pale edges, except the two middle ones, which are black, slightly glossed with green, considerably longer than the others, and end in a point: the belly and sides of the vent are white: under tail-coverts black: legs and feet small, and of a lead colour. The female is less than the male, and her plumage is of a much plainer cast, all the upper parts being brown, with each feather margined more or less with white, inclining to red or yellow: the greater coverts and secondary quills are tipped with cream colour and white, which form a bar across the wings. The fore part of the neck, the breast, and the belly to 362 the vent, are of a dull white, obscurely spotted with brown. The tail is long and pointed, but the two middle feathers do not extend themselves beyond the rest, like those of the male.

These birds do not visit the temperate and warm climates in great numbers, except in very severe winters, the great bulk of them dropping short, and remaining during that season in various parts of the Russian dominions, Sweden, Norway, &c. and also in the same latitudes in both Asia and America. They are seldom numerous in England, but flocks of them are sometimes abundantly spread along the isles and shores of Scotland and Ireland, and on the interior lakes of both those countries, as well as those of the continent as far south as Italy, and in America as far south as New York. They are esteemed excellent eating.

The Pintail Duck is of a taller or more lengthened shape than any of the species, and, in the opinion of the Count de Buffon, seems to form the link between the Duck and the Garganey.

In some, the belly and fore part of the neck are of a reddish buff, or cream colour.

man with dog pointing at birds

Notes and Corrections: Pintail Duck

Anas acuta, the northern pintail, still has that binomial.

Le Canard à longue queue, Buff.
[Do not ask why the name “long-tailed duck” is applied to one bird in French, a different one (below) in English.]


woodcut of Long-Tailed Duck

(Anas Glacialis, Lin.—Canard de Miclon, Buff.)

This species is considerably less than the last, and comes more nearly to the size of the Wigeon. The bill is short, black, and crossed by an orange red bar between the tip and the nostrils, with both mandibles deeply pectinated on the edges. The front of the head, cheeks, and sides of the neck, are pale reddish brown, with an oval-shaped black and chesnut patch, placed on the sides behind the auriculars; the rest of the head and neck is white: the breast, shoulders, back, and lesser wing-coverts, are of a deep chocolate colour, more or less inclining to black or brown in different birds: the greater coverts and primary quills dusky; the secondaries 364 are reddish brown, and form an oblique bar of that colour across the wings: the belly, vent, and scapulars are white; the feathers of the latter long, narrow, and sharp-pointed: the two middle or long feathers of the tail, and one on each side of them, are black; the rest white. The legs and toes are pale blue; webs and nails black: the inner toes and the small ones behind are margined by small lateral webs.

This species is described as varying in the different shades of their plumage. In some the spots on the sides of the upper part of the neck are much larger and darker, and the two tail feathers are double the length of those of others: their legs are also said to be sometimes of deeper or lighter shades of red.

The Long-tailed Ducks, it is said, do not in the winter, like many of the other tribes, entirely quit their native haunts in the northern extremities of the world, but considerable numbers remain there, enduring its gloomy rigours; as well as enjoying the perpetual day, under the influence of the unsetting summer’s sun, during the rest of the thus divided year. Numerous flocks, however, spread themselves southward in the winter, from Greenland and Hudson’s Bay, as far as New York in America; and from Iceland and Spitzbergen, over Lapland, the Russian dominions, Sweden, Norway, and the Northern parts of the British Isles in 365 Europe. The same progress of them is observed in Asia, where they are met with about Kamtschatka, &c. They frequent the lakes in the interior of all those parts as well as the sea-shores. The flocks which visit the Orkney Isles appear in October, and continue there till April; and “about sun-set they are seen in vast companies going to and returning from the bays, in which they frequently pass the night, making such a noise, as in frosty weather may be heard some miles.” They are rather scarce in England, whither they come only in very hard winters, and even then but in small straggling parties. They fly swiftly, but seldom to a great distance, making a loud and singular cry. They are expert divers, and are supposed to live chiefly upon shell-fish.

The female, it is said, makes her nest among the grass near the water, lined, like that of the Eider Duck, with her own equally valuable down. Her eggs are of a bluish white colour, about the size of those of a Pullet. Latham says she lays five; others assert that the number is “seldom fewer than ten, and often as many as fourteen or fifteen.” Some are of opinion that the latter number may be the produce of two females, as is said to be the case with the Eider Duck. When the young are hatched, the mother carries them to the water in her bill.

Latham describes the Anas hyemalis of Linnæus as the female of this species: he says the bill is the 366 same: “sides of the head white; hind head cinereous; the rest of the head, the neck, breast, and back, dusky black: the lower part of the breast and scapulars chesnut; belly white: upper tail coverts and wings, much as in the male: legs dusky reddish brown.” “Some birds of this sex have the brown feathers edged with ferruginous, others not.” “I have likewise observed in some a white spot on each side of the lower part of the neck.” He adds, that in the females which he had seen, the long tail-feathers were wanting.

sailing ships on the ocean

Notes and Corrections: Long-Tailed Duck

Anas glacialis is now Clangula hyemalis—as Latham said, another case of Linnaeus giving two names to the same duck. The genus as a whole is “oldsquaws”, which does not strike me as a name that would be found in the British Isles.


woodcut of Golden-Eye

(Anas clangula, Lin.—Le Garrot, Buff.)

The weight of this species varies from twenty-six ounces to two pounds. The length is nineteen inches, and the breadth thirty-one. The bill is bluish black, short, thick, and elevated at the base: the head large, slightly crested, and black, or rather of a glossy bottle green, with violet reflexions: a large white spot is placed on the space on each side between the corners of the mouth and the eyes, the irides of which are of a golden yellow: the throat, and a small portion of the upper part of the neck, are of a sooty or velvet black; the lower, to the shoulders, the breast, belly, and vent, white; but some of the side feathers, and those which cover the thighs, are tipped with black: the scapulars white and deep black: of the latter colour are 368 also the adjoining long tertial feathers, and those on the greater part of the back: the first fourteen primary quills, with all the outside edge of the wing, including the ridge and a portion of the coverts, are brownish black: the middle part of the wing is white, crossed by a narrow black stripe, which is formed by the tips of the lesser coverts: tail dark hoary brown: legs short, of a reddish yellow colour, with the webs dusky: the inner and hinder toes are furnished with lateral webs; on the latter these webs are large and flapped. Willoughby says “the windpipe hath a labyrinth at the divarication, and besides, above swells out into a belly or puff-like cavity.”

This is the description of an individual adult male, in which, as to the identity of the sex and species, no one can be mistaken: but as younger males have been met with, bearing in every respect the same plumage as the old ones, except in having no white spots before the eyes, and other (supposed) young males have also been seen both with and without those white spots, though with a female-looking garb, and their bills tipped with orange, like that of the Morillon; it is not only uncertain at what age the Golden-eye attains his full dress, but also, from the varied appearances, as well in these, as in those supposed to be females, it is doubtful whether two distinct species are not confounded in one, and the young of one species described 369 as the old of another. Willoughby describes two species; the one, the “smaller reddish-headed Duck,” which he at last supposes to be the female Golden-eye,—and the other the “greater reddish-headed Duck,” “perchance the same as the last described, or the male thereof.” Latham confesses himself equally at a loss with Willoughby; and as some of the correspondents of the author are of one opinion, and some of another, in respect to the sex, as well as the species of these birds, he forbears giving descriptions from other specimens, although accurately taken, because they would not remove the doubts already entertained, or elucidate the subject. It may not be improper, however, to quote Mr Pennant’s account of the female Golden-eye in this place, and that of the Morillon, sent to this work by George Strickland, Esq. of Ripon, in the subsequent account of the latter bird. “The head of the female is of a deep brown, tinged with red: the neck grey: breast and belly white: coverts and scapulars dusky and ash-coloured: middle quill-feathers white; the others, together with the tail, black: the legs dusky. These birds frequent the fresh water, as well as the sea, being found on the Shropshire meres during winter.”⁕2


These birds do not congregate in large flocks, nor are they numerous on the British shores, or on the lakes in the interior. They are late in taking their departure northward in the spring, the specimens before mentioned being shot in April. In their flight they make the air whistle with the vigorous quick strokes of their wings; they are excellent divers, and seldom set foot on the shore, upon which, it is said, they walk with great apparent difficulty, and, except in the breeding season, only repair to it for the purpose of taking their repose.

The attempts which were made by M. Baillon to domesticate these birds, he informs the Count de Buffon, quite failed of success.

A bird was sent to the author by the Rev. J. Davies, of Trinity College, Cambridge, agreeing with this description, except in the legs being yellow.

⁕2 Pennant.

Notes and Corrections: Golden-Eye

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Anas clangula is now Bucephala clangula, the common goldeneye. (There is also a B. islandica, Barrow’s goldeneye—and B. albeola, the bufflehead, which explains the genus name.) For reasons 2C2E, it did not end up in genus Clangula, though it did spend some time there.

it is doubtful whether two distinct species are not confounded in one
[Quite the contrary, going by the following item.]

[The text says “flumina amem sylvasque inglorius”. The lines are from Virgil’s Georgics II, but Bewick’s immediate inspiration was probably Shenstone, who took the words as his motto.]

rock with inscription by a quiet stream


(Anas Glaucion, Lin.—Le Morillon, Buff.)

Bill brown, orange from the nostrils to the point, the knob of which is black; it is an inch and a half long, rather narrow towards the apex; the nostrils are placed very forward: head brown, cheeks tinged with black: irides straw colour: a broad white circle round the neck, the back part of which is mottled with brown: breast, sides of the body, and scapular feathers, white, barred with black: belly white: thighs and vent feathers, brown and white: inner coverts of the wings brown: back and coverts of the wings black, mottled with white: quill feathers and tertials black; secondaries white: tail rounded, and grey: legs and toes yellow brown, with a greenish tinge; webs and claws black. Length one foot four inches; breadth two feet four inches; weight one pound seven ounces.”

“The above is a description of the male bird; the female has not the white circle round the neck, or the yellow on the bill, and has less white on the wings.” “I have shot this species on Coniston lake, and on Eastwaite water, Lancashire, in December,—on Duddon-sands, Cumberland, in April,—and on a pond near Ripon, Yorkshire, in October. They are generally seen in small flocks, diving for their food, near the shore.”—Mr Strickland.

Notes and Corrections: Morillon

Anas glaucion is again Bucephala clangula.


woodcut of Tufted Duck

(Anas fuligula, Lin.—Le petit Morillon, Brisson.)

This is a plump, round, and short-shaped species. The male is distinguished by a pendent crest, overhanging the nape of the neck, two inches in length. The weight is about two pounds, length eighteen inches. The bill is broad, of a dark lead colour; the nail black: irides deep orange: the head is black, glossed with purple: the neck, breast, and all the upper parts, are of a deep brown or black; the scapulars faintly powdered or sprinkled with light spots, so minute as not to be observed at a short distance. The wings are crossed by a narrow white bar: the belly, sides, and under coverts of the wings, are of a pure white: the vent white, 373 mixed with dusky. The tail consists of fourteen very short feathers: the legs are of a dark lead colour; webs black. The female is of a browner colour than the male, and has no crest.

The habits, manners, and haunts of this species are much the same as those of the Golden-eye, and they return northward about the same time. Latham says “the French allow these birds to be eaten on maigre days, and in lent; as they do also the Scoter; but though the flesh of the latter is now and then tolerable, that of the Tufted Duck is seldom otherwise than excellent.”

Notes and Corrections: Tufted Duck

Anas fuligula is now Aythya fuligula.

[The coffin says “A Wonderful” . . . FISH? DISH? Something else entirely?]

man carrying a coffin under a full moon


woodcut of Garganey

(Anas querquedula, Lin.—La Sarcelle, Buff.)

This species, which is only a little bigger than the Teal, is clothed with an elegant plumage, and has altogether a most agreeable and sprightly look. It measures about seventeen inches in length, and twenty-eight in breadth. The bill is of a dark lead colour, nearly black: the irides light hazel. From the crown of the head, over the nape of the neck downwards, it is of a glossy brown: chin black: brow, cheeks, and the upper fore part of the neck, reddish chesnut, with vinous reflections, and sprinkled all over with numerous small pointed white lines. A white stripe passes over each eye, and slanting backwards, falls down on each side of the neck, the lower part of which, with the breast, is light brown, pretty closely crossed with semicircular 375 bars of black: the shoulders and back are marked nearly the same, but on a darker ground: the scapulars are long and narrow, and are striped with ash-colour, black and white. The belly, in some, is white, in others pale reddish yellow; the lower part of it, and the vent, mottled with dusky spots: the sides are freckled and waved with narrow lines of ash-coloured brown, more and more distinctly marked towards the thighs, behind which this series of feathers terminates in a ribband striped with ash, black, white, and lead-coloured blue. The coverts of the wings are of an agreeable bluish ash, margined with white: next to this the exterior webs of the middle quills are glossy green, tipped with white, and form the beauty-spot or spangle of the wings, to which the white tips make a border: the primary quills are ash-brown, edged with white: tail dusky: legs lead colour.—The foregoing figure and description were taken from a male bird in full and perfect plumage. This sex is furnished with a labyrinth.

“The female has an obscure white mark over each eye; the rest of the plumage is of a brownish ash-colour, not unlike the female Teal; but the wing wants the green spot, which sufficiently distinguishes these birds.”

It has not yet been noticed whether any of this species ever remain to breed in England, where indeed they are rather a scarce bird.

Notes and Corrections: Garganey

Anas querquedula still has that binomial.


woodcut of Teal

(Anas crecca, Lin.—La petite Sarcelle.)

This beautiful little Duck seldom exceeds eleven ounces in weight, or measures more, stretched out, than fourteen inches and a half in length, and twenty-three and a half in breadth. The bill is a dark lead colour, tipped with black: irides pale hazel: a glossy bottle-green patch, edged on the upper side with pale brown, and beneath with cream-coloured white, covers each eye, and extends to the nape of the neck: the rest of the head, and the upper part of the neck, are of a deep reddish chesnut, darkest on the forehead, and freckled on the chin and about the eyes with cream-coloured spots: the hinder part of the neck, the shoulders, part of the scapulars, sides under the wings, and lower belly, towards 377 the vent, are elegantly pencilled with black, ash-brown, and white transverse waved lines: the breast, greatly resembling the beautifully spotted appearance of an India shell, is of a pale brown or reddish yellow, and each feather is tipped with a roundish heart-shaped black spot: the belly is a cream-coloured white: back and rump brown, each feather edged with a paler colour: vent black: the primary quills, lesser and greater coverts, are brown; the last deeply tipped with white, which forms a bar across the wings: the first six of the secondary quills are of a fine velvet black; those next to them, towards the scapulars, are of a most resplendent glossy green, and both are tipped with white, forming the divided black and green bar, or beauty-spot of the wings. The tail consists of fourteen feathers, of a hoary brown colour, with pale edges: the legs and feet are of a dirty lead colour. The female, which is less than the male, is prettily freckled about the head and neck with brown and white. She has not the green patch behind the eyes, but a brown streak there which extends itself to the nape of the neck: the crown of the head is dark brown: the upper mandible yellow on the edges, olive green on the sides, and olive brown on the ridge; nail black, and the under bill yellow: breast, belly, and vent glossy yellowish white, spotted on the latter parts with brown: the upper plumage is dark brown, each feather bordered with rusty brown, 378 and edged with grey: the wings and legs nearly the same as those of the male.

The Teal is common in England in the winter months, but it is uncertain whether or not they remain throughout the year to breed, as is the case in France. The female makes a large nest, composed of soft dried grasses, (and, it is said, the pith of rushes) lined with feathers, and cunningly concealed in a hole among the roots of reeds and bullrushes near the edge of the water, and some assert that it rests on the surface of the water so as to rise and fall with it. The eggs are of the size of those of a Pigeon, six or seven in number, and of a dull white colour, marked with small brownish spots; but it appears that they sometimes lay ten or twelve eggs, for Buffon remarks that that number of young are seen in clusters on the pools, feeding on cresses, wild chervil, &c. and no doubt, as they grow up, they feed, like other Ducks, on the various seeds, grasses, and water-plants, as well as upon the smaller animated beings with which all stagnant waters are so abundantly stored. The Teal is highly esteemed for the excellent flavour of its flesh: it is known to breed, and remain throughout the year in various temperate climates of the world, and is met with as far northward as Iceland in the summer.

Dr Heysham says “the Teal is now known to breed in the mosses about Carlisle.”

Notes and Corrections: Teal

Anas crecca, the common or Eurasian teal, still has that binomial.

a most resplendent glossy green
[Otherwise known as . . . teal.]



The bill of this genus is long and strait; the end either hooked or sloping; the nostrils placed in a furrow that runs along the sides of the bill, and in most of the species not distinguishable. The face generally destitute of feathers, being covered only with a bare skin: gullet naked, and capable of great distention: body long, heavy, and flat: legs placed far backward: toes four in number, and all webbed together.

Latham, following the example of Linnæus, includes the Pelican, Man of War bird, Corvorant, Shag, Gannet, and Booby, in this genus, of which he enumerates thirty distinct species and two varieties; four only of this number, and one variety, are British Birds. In confining the present account to these, it is proper to remark that they are not the inhabitants of this country only, but are widely dispersed over the globe, being met with in almost every climate which navigators have visited, whether temperate, hot, or cold. The Gannet only is migratory: large flocks of this species arrive in the spring of the year, and disperse themselves in colonies over the rocky promontories of Scotland and its isles, in various parts of which they breed and rear their young, and as soon as that office is performed, they retire in the autumn to their unknown 380 abodes. Their return each season points out also that of the shoals of the herring, which they hover over, pursue, and chiefly feed upon. These shoals, at that season of increasing warmth, are poured forth on their southern rout, gliding forward in wide glittering columns of myriads upon myriads, from the unknown but prolific regions of the northern pole. These prodigious shoals, with their divisions and subdivisions, in their branched course around the British isles, are attended by the Gannet. On our southern coasts the Pilchard affords these birds another supply of food, in pursuit of which they are enticed as far southward as the Mediterranean sea.

The Corvorant and the Shag remain with us throughout the year, but particularly on our more northern shores, upon whose rocky shelving precipices they station themselves, and perform the offices of incubation, while stragglers occasionally taking a wider range, with outstretched neck and vigorous wing sweep along the coast, and entering the mouths of the rivers, follow their course in quest of food, to the lakes inland.

large and small sailing ships on the sea

Notes and Corrections: Of the Pelican

Oh, thank heaven. I thought we would never be done with ducks. Pelicans, Linnaeus’s genus Pelecanus—which Bewick consistently misspells Pelicanus—are now an order of their own, Pelecaniformes. Two orders, in fact, because cormorants—family Phalacrocoracidae—along with gannets and boobies—family Sulidae—were recently spun off to their own order, Suliformes. (I have noted before now that ornithologists’ equivalent of “Let’s put on a show in the barn!” is “Let’s define a new order!”) This means that none of Bewick’s four “pelicans” are today in order Pelecaniformes, let alone genus Pelecanus. We did meet the order earlier, though, because it also encompasses herons and spoonbills.


woodcut of Corvorant

(Pelicanus Carbo, Lin.—Le Cormoran, Buff.)

The weight of this species varies from four to seven pounds, and the size from thirty-two inches to three feet four or five in length, and from four feet to four feet six inches in breadth. The bill, to the corners of the mouth, measures four inches, and 382 on its ridge two and three-quarters: it is of a dark horn colour, and the tip or nail of the upper bill is much hooked and sharp: from the base of this it is furrowed on each side nearly to the tip, without any visible appearance of nostrils: the lower bill is compressed, and covered about the gape of the mouth with a naked yellowish skin, extended under the chin and throat, where it hangs loose, and forms a kind of pouch, which, together with the springing blades on each side, forming its rim, is capable of distention to a great width, and enables the bird to swallow prey apparently too large to be admitted into its throat: the skin about the eyes is also naked, and of the same colour as the pouch: the eyes, which have a remarkable wild stare, and are placed near the bill, look like two little greenish glass globes. The crown of the head, and the neck, are black: on the hinder part of the former the feathers appear elongated, and form a sort of loose short crest. In some specimens the throat is white, with a kind of stripe passing from it upwards behind each eye; in others the cheeks and throat are mixed with brown and white; and again, in others the head and neck are streaked with scratches of the latter colour: the middle of the belly is white, with a patch of the same colour over each thigh: all the under parts, however, together with the back and rump, are commonly of a glossy blue black, with green reflexions: the shoulders, scapulars, 383 and wing-coverts, are of a bronze brown, tinged and glossed with green, and each feather is bordered with shining bluish black: the secondary quills are nearly of the same colour: the coverts and the primaries are dusky. The tail consists of fourteen stiff hasky dark feathers, which look as if they were discoloured by being dipped in mud or dirty kennel water: the legs are thick, strong, black, and coarse, about two inches and a half long, and the outer toe is more than four in length.

The Corvorant, as before observed, is found in every climate. In Greenland, where it is said they remain throughout the year, the jugular pouch is made use of by the natives as a bladder to float their fishing darts, after they are thrown: their skins, which are tough, are used for garments, and their flesh for food; “but the eggs are too fetid to be eaten even by the Greenlanders.”⁕1

These birds usually assemble in flocks on the summits and inaccessible parts of the rocks which overhang, or are surrounded by the sea, upon which the female makes her nest of the withered sea-tang, weeds, sticks, and grasses, which are cast on shore by the waves: she lays four or more greenish white eggs of the size of those of a Goose, but of a longer shape. There are writers who assert that, in some parts of the world they build their nests on trees, 384 like the Rook and the Heron; other authors, stricken with the singular conformation of the feet⁕2 and serrated claw, have ascribed properties to them which they do not possess, and believe that they hold their prey in one foot, while with the other they push forward to the shore, or carry it thither, in the same manner, on the wing: but this seems mere conjecture, for the feet of this tribe are not fitted for any such purpose; they are, like those of all the expert divers, placed far behind, and while by the position of these, and the powerful strokes from their broad webs, the bird is enabled to pursue and overtake its slippery prey, the hooked sharp-edged beak is the only fit instrument both to catch and to secure it; and there is no need to use the aukward expedient of removing it afterwards to the foot.

At sea, or on the inland lakes, they make terrible havoc. From the greatest height they drop down upon the object of pursuit, dive after it with the rapidity of a dart, and with an almost unerring certainty, seize the victim; then emerging, with the fish across the bill, with a kind of twirl, throw it up into the air, and, dexterously catching it head foremost, swallow it whole.

While at rest on the shore, commonly on the ledge of a projecting rock, these birds sit more or 385 less in an erect posture, and are propped up by the stiff feathers of the tail; and in places where they have not experienced the fatal effects of the gun, they have been known, however wary at other times, to sit and receive repeated shots, without offering to remove out of the danger.⁕3 At other times and places, while they sit in a dozing and stupified state, from the effects of one of their customary surfeits, they may easily be taken, by throwing nets over them, or by putting a noose around their necks, which they avoid no further than by slipping the head from side to side as long as they can.

Notwithstanding the natural wildness of their disposition, it seems, according to some accounts, that certain species of these birds have formerly been tamed and rendered subservient to the purposes of man, both in this and in other countries. Among the Chinese, it is said they have frequently been 386 trained to fish, and that some fishermen keep many of them for that purpose, by which they gain a livelihood. “A ring placed round the neck hinders the bird from swallowing; its natural appetite joins with the will of its master, and it instantly dives at the word of command; when unable to gorge down the fish it has taken, it returns to the keeper, who secures it to himself. Sometimes, if the fish be too big for one to manage, two will act in concert, one taking it by the head and the other by the tail.”⁕4 In England, according to Willoughby,⁕5 they were hood-winked in the manner of the 387 Falcons till they were let off to fish, and a leather thong was tied round the lower part of their necks, to prevent them swallowing the fish. Whitlock tells us “that he had a cast of them manned like Hawks, which would come to hand.” He took much pleasure in them, and relates, that the best he had was one presented to him by Mr Wood, Master of the Corvorants to Charles I.

This tribe seems possessed of energies not of an ordinary kind; they are of a stern sullen character, with a remarkably keen penetrating eye and a vigorous body, and their whole deportment carries along with it the appearance of the wary circumspect plunderer, the unrelenting tyrant, and the greedy insatiate glutton, rendered lazy only when the appetite is palled, and then occasionally puffing forth the fetid fumes of a gorged stomach, vented in the disagreeable croakings of its hoarse hollow voice. Such is their portrait, such the character generally given of them by ornithologists, and Milton seems to have put the finishing hand to it, by making Satan personate the Corvorant, while he surveys, undelighted, the beauties of Paradise.⁕6 It ought, however, to be observed, that this bird, like other animals, led only by the cravings of appetite, and directed by instinct, fills the place and pursues the course assigned to it by nature.

⁕1 Arctic Zoology. This must surely mean the rotten eggs.

⁕2 See the cut, page 389.

⁕3 Dr Heysham relates that, about the year 1759, one of these birds “perched upon the castle at Carlisle, and soon afterwards removed to the cathedral, where it was shot at upwards of twenty times without effect; at length a person got upon the cathedral, fired at, and killed it.” “In another instance, a flock of fifteen or twenty perched, at the dusk of evening, in a tree on the banks of the river Esk, near Netherby, the seat of Sir James Graham. A person who saw them settle, fired at random at them in the dark six or seven times, without either killing any or frightening them away: surprised at this, he came again, at day light, and killed one, whereupon the rest took flight.”

⁕4 Latham.

⁕5 “When they come to the rivers, they take off their hoods, and having tied a leather thong round the lower part of their necks, that they may not swallow down the fish they catch, they throw them into the river. They presently dive under water, and there for a time, with wonderful swiftness, they pursue the fish, and when they have caught them, they arise presently to the top of the water, and pressing the fish lightly with their bills, they swallow them, till each bird hath in this manner swallowed five or six fishes; then their keepers call them to the fist, to which they readily fly, and, little by little, one after another, vomit up all their fish, a little bruised with the nip they gave them with their bills. When they have done fishing, setting the birds on some high place, they loose the string from their necks, leaving the passage to the stomach free and open, and for their reward they throw them part of the prey they have caught, to each, perchance, one or two fishes, which they by the way, as they are falling in the air, will catch most dexterously in their mouths.”—Willoughby.

⁕6 Paradise Lost, Book iv. l. 194.-198.

Notes and Corrections: Corvorant

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Pelecanus carbo is now Phalacrocorax carbo, the (great) cormorant. Cormorants, family Phalacrocoracidae, share order Suliformes with gannets and boobies. The genus (“bald crows”) goes back to Brisson.

Pelicanus Carbo, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Pelecanus

fourteen stiff hasky dark feathers
[The italics imply that Bewick was not entirely certain this dialectal term would be recognized by all his readers. It appears to mean coarse and rough to the touch; the Oxford English dictionary says only that “hasky” soil is dry and stony or gravelly.]

too fetid to be eaten even by the Greenlanders
[A sentiment worthy of Poul Hansen Egede.]

Among the Chinese, it is said they have frequently been trained to fish
[Volume II of Bingley’s Animal Biography has a section about the Fishing Corvorant. It’s probably the subspecies Ph. carbo sinensis.]

[Footnote] This must surely mean the rotten eggs.
[Surely not, since rotten eggs are generally held to be too fetid to be eaten by anyone.]

[Footnote] See the cut, page 389.
[Fun fact: The word “cut” (for “woodcut”) was so well-established that authors later in the 19th century sometimes used it even for illustrations that were, in fact, engravings or etchings.]


woodcut of Crested Corvorant


The crest is black, and longer than that of the Great Black Corvorant: the crown of the head, and nearly the whole neck, are streaked downwards with scratches of white and dusky: a white gorget hangs from the cheeks, and covers the chin; this is bounded behind by a broadish black fillet, which partly covers the auriculars, and is extended to the corner of each eye: a patch of white feathers covers 389 the hinder part of each thigh: the rest of its plumage is the same as that of the preceding species; its character is also similar.

It is not yet clearly ascertained whether this is a variety of the last, or a distinct species, or whether it is the Corvorant in the garb of its highest adult state. Latham inclines to the latter opinion, and supposes the streaked head and different markings of its plumage to be acquired only by age. Buffon, in his Planches Enluminées, has given its figure as the Corvorant; and Pennant, differing from them, makes it a species of the Shag. Mr Tunstall was in doubt on this subject, but discovered, by dissection, that the whiteness under the chin and on the thighs is not confined to the males, for one with these marks, which was sent to him out of Holderness, in Yorkshire, in 1775, was full of eggs. The above figure was taken from the specimen in his museum.

foot of Crested Corvorant

Notes and Corrections: Crested Corvorant

He can’t mean the double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, since that’s an American species not named until 1831, nor yet the crowned cormorant, Microcarbo coronatus, a South African species named still more recently. It is probably, as he says, just another Ph. carbo.


woodcut of Shag or Green Cormorant

(Pelicanus graculus, Lin.—Le petit Cormoran ou le Nigaud, Buff.)

The form, the aspect altogether, the outward conformation of all the parts, the character, manners and habits, and the places of abode, of this species, are nearly like those of the Corvorant; but they do not associate, and these make their nests on the rugged shelvy sides and crevices of the rocky precipices or projecting cliffs which overhang the sea, while the others make theirs on the summits above them; and these are at once distinguished from the others by the greenness of the upper, and 391 brownness of the under plumage, and also in being of a much less size; the largest Shags weighing only about four pounds, and measuring nearly two feet six inches in length, and three feet eight in breadth. The bill is of a more slender make, but nearly as long as that of the Corvorant; the head, in the male, is crested in the same manner; the middle claw is serrated; and its tail, consisting of twelve stiff feathers stained with green, is also of the same form and hoary or dirty appearance as that of the Corvorant: the crown of the head, hinder part of the neck, lower back, and rump, are of a plain black, or very dark green, shining like sattin: the upper back, or shoulders, together with the scapulars and wings, are nearly of the same colour, but with a tinge of bronze brown, and each feather is distinctly edged with purple glossed black: the under parts are clouded with dusky dirty white and brown.

The Shag is as greedy and voracious as the Corvorant, and, like that bird, after having over-gorged its stomach, is often found on shore in a sleepy or stupified state; but when this torpor is over, and they appear again upon the water, they are then extremely alert, and are not easily shot, for both kinds dive the instant they see the flash of the gun, and take care afterwards to keep out of its reach. In swimming they carry their head very erect, while the body seems nearly submerged, and from their 392 feathers not being quite impervious to the water, they do not remain very long upon it at a time, but are frequently seen flying about, or sitting on the shore, flapping the moisture from their wings, or keeping them for some time expanded to dry in the sun and the wind. Notwithstanding the strong and offensive smell emitted from the Shags and the Corvorants, some instances are not wanting of their having been eaten by people in this country, but before they are cooked, they must undergo a certain sweetening process, part of which consists in their being first skinned and drawn, and then wrapped up in a clean cloth, and buried for some time in the earth; after which they are made ready for eating in various ways, though generally potted like Moorgame.

man blowing bubbles

Notes and Corrections: Shag

Pelecanus graculus, the European shag, is the same bird as Pelecanus aristotelis, now Phalacrocorax aristotelis. Both names are from Linnaeus, about five years apart.

Pelicanus graculus, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Pelecanus


woodcut of Gannet

(Pelicanus bassanus, Lin.—Le Fou de Bassan, Buff.)

The Gannet is generally about seven pounds in weight, three feet in length, and six in breadth. The bill is of a pale or lead-coloured blue, six inches long, a little jagged on the edges, strong and straight to the tip, which is inclined a little downwards: the upper bill is furnished with a distinct rib or ridge, running along from the tip nearly to its base, on each side of which it is furrowed, without any visible appearance of nostrils: the tongue is small, and placed far within the mouth, all the 394 inside of which is black: a darkish line passes from the brow over the eyes, which are surrounded with a naked blue skin, and, like those of the Owl, are set in the head so as to look nearly straight forward, and the extreme paleness of the irides gives them a keen wild stare. The gape of the mouth is very wide, and seems more lengthened by a slip of naked black skin, which is extended on each side from the corners beyond the cheeks: these features of its countenance, altogether, give it the appearance of wearing spectacles. A loose black bare dilatable skin, capable of great distention, hung from the blades of the under bill, and extended over the throat, serves it as a pouch to carry provisions to its mate, or its young. The body is flat and well cloathed with feathers; the neck long: the crown of the head, nape, and, in some specimens, the hinder part of the neck, are of a buff colour; greater quills and bastard wings black, and the rest of the plumage white. The tail is wedge-shaped, and consists of twelve tapering sharp-pointed feathers, the middle ones the longest. The legs and feet are nearly of the same colour and conformation as those of the Corvorant, but they are curiously marked by a pea-green stripe, which runs down each shin, and branches off along every one of the toes. The male and female are nearly alike, but the young birds, during the first year, appear as if they were of a distinct species, for their plumage is then of a dusky 395 colour, speckled all over with triangular white spots.

The female makes her nest in the caverns and fissures, or on the ledges of the lowering precipice, as well as on the plain surface of the ground; it is formed of a great quantity of withered grasses and sea-weeds of various kinds, gathered with much labour from the barren soil,⁕1 or picked up floating about upon the water. She lays three eggs, of a white colour, and somewhat less than those of a Goose, although ornithologists assert that she will lay only one egg, if left to herself undisturbed, and that when this egg is taken away she then lays a 396 second, and in like manner a third, which she is generally permitted to hatch, and rear the young one.⁕2 “The male and female hatch and fish by turns; the fisher returns to the nest with five or six herrings in its gorget, all entire and undigested, which the hatcher pulls out from the throat of its provider, and swallows them, making at the same time a loud noise.”

These birds are common on the coasts of Norway and Iceland, and are said to be met with in great numbers about New Holland and New Zealand; they breed also on the coasts of Newfoundland, and migrate southward along the American shores as far as South Carolina: they are noticed, indeed, by navigators, as being met with, dispersed over both hemispheres, and are probably one great family spread over the whole globe; but their greatest known rendezvous is the Hebrides and other solitary rocky isles of North Britain, where their nests, in the months of May and June, 397 are described as so closely placed together, that it is difficult to walk without treading upon some of them; and it is said that the swarms of the old birds are so prodigious, that when they rise into the air, they stun the ear with their noise, and overshadow the ground like the clouds.⁕3 At the small isle of Borea, Martin says “the heavens were darkened by those flying above our heads; their excrements were in such quantity, that they gave a tincture to the sea, and at the same time sullied our boat and cloaths.” Besides this small isle of Borea, and St Kilda, noticed by Martin, Pennant and other writers mention the isle of Ailsa in the Frith of Clyde; the Stack of Souliskerry, near the Orkneys; the Skellig Isles, off the coast of Kerry, Ireland; and the Bass Isle, in the Frith of Forth. This last-mentioned isle is farmed out at a considerable rent for the eggs of the various kinds of water-fowl with which it swarms; and the produce of the Solan Geese forms a large portion of this rent; for great numbers of their young ones are taken 398 every season, and sold in Edinburgh for about twenty-pence each, where they are esteemed a favourite dish, being generally roasted, and eaten before dinner. On the other bleak and bare isles, the inhabitants, during a great part of the year, depend for their support upon these birds and their eggs, which are taken in amazing quantities, and are the principal articles of their food.⁕4 From the nests placed upon the ground the eggs are easily picked up one after another, in great numbers, as fast as they are laid; but in robbing the nests built in the precipices, chiefly for the sake of the birds, the business wears a very different aspect: there, before the dearly earned booty can be secured, the adventurous fowler, trained to it from his youth, and familiarized to the danger, must first approach the brow of the fearful precipice, to view and to trace his progress on the broken pendent rocks beneath him: over these rocks, which (perhaps a hundred fathoms lower) are dashed by the foaming surge, he is from a prodigious height about to be suspended. After addressing himself in prayer to the 399 Supreme Disposer of events, with a mind prepared for the arduous task, he is let down by a rope, either held fast by his comrades, or fixed into the ground on the summit, with his signal cord, his pole-net, his pole-hook, &c. and thus equipped, he is enabled, in his progress, either to stop, to ascend or descend, as he sees occasion. Sometimes by swinging himself from one ledge to another, with the help of his hook, he mounts upwards, and clambers from place to place; and, at other opportunities, by springing backwards, he can dart himself into the hollow caverns of the projecting rock, which he commonly finds well stored with the objects of his pursuit, whence the plunder, chiefly consisting of the full-grown young birds, is drawn up to the top, or tossed down to the boat at the bottom, according to the situation of concurring circumstances of time and place. In these hollows he takes his rest, and sometimes remains during the night, especially when they happen to be at such vast and stupendous heights. To others of less magnitude the fowlers commonly climb from the bottom, with the help of their hooked poles only, by which they assist, and push or pull up, each other from hold to hold, and in this manner traverse the whole front of the frightful scar. To a feeling mind the very sight of this hazardous employment, in whatever way it is pursued, is painful; for, indeed, it often happens that these adventurous poor men, in this life-taking 400 mode of obtaining their living, slip their hold, are precipitated from one projection to another, with increasing velocity, and fall mangled upon the rocks, or are for ever buried in the abyss beneath.

⁕1 “They continue to pluck grass for their nests from their coming in March, till the young fowl is ready to fly, in August or September, according as the inhabitants take or leave the first or second eggs. It is remarkable of them that they never pluck grass but on windy days.”—Martin. [It would appear from this that they are not so successful in taking their prey in boisterous weather as when it is calm.]

Martin gives an account of the Solan Geese stealing the materials of which they form their nests, from each other, and describes a battle between two of them in consequence of a theft of this kind: the one which had robbed the nest flew towards the sea with its load, and returned again as if it had gathered the stuff from a different quarter; but the owner, though at a distance from his nest, had observed the robbery, and waited the return of the thief, which he attacked with the utmost fury. “This bloody battle was fought above our heads, and proved fatal to the thief, who fell dead so near our boat, that our men took him up, and presently dressed and eat him.”

⁕2 “The Solan Geese have always some of their number that keep watch in the night time, and if the centinel is surprised, (as it often happens) all that flock are taken, one after another; but if the centinel be awake at the approach of the creeping fowlers, and hear a noise, he cries softly Grog, Grog, at which the flock do not move; but if this centinel see or hear the fowler approaching, he cries softly Bir, Bir, which would seem to import danger, since immediately after, all the tribe take wing, leaving the disappointed fowlers without any prospect of success for that night.”

⁕3 Martin, in his History of and Voyage to St Kilda, published in 1698, says “the inhabitants of St Kilda take their measures from the flight of these fowls, when the heavens are not clear, as from a sure compass, experience shewing that every tribe of fowls bend their course to their respective quarters, though out of sight of the isle; this appeared clearly in our gradual advances; and their motion being compared, did exactly quadrate with our compass.”

⁕4 “They preserve the eggs in stone huts or pyramids, which they build for that purpose, as well as for a shelter to the fowlers: in these pyramids they cover up the eggs with turf ashes, which defend them from the air, dryness being their only preservative, and moisture their corruption: by this method, it is said, they keep them fresh and fit for use, for six, seven, or even for eight months.”—Martin.

Notes and Corrections: Gannet

Pelecanus bassanus is now Morus bassanus, the (northern) gannet. It is in family Sulidae, in the same order as cormorants.

Pelicanus bassanus, Lin.
text unchanged: error for Pelecanus

slip their hold, are precipitated from one projection to another, with increasing velocity, and fall mangled upon the rocks, or are for ever buried in the abyss beneath
[Well. That’s a dramatic ending.]



broken boat drawn up on shore

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.