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digest its food. Before they depart, for some weeks, to a bird, they forsake houses and chimneys, and roost in trees, and usually withdraw about the beginning of October; though some few stragglers may appear on, at times, till the first week in November.
THE SAND-MARTIN. — The sand-martin, or bank-martin, is by much the least of any of the British hirundines; and, as far as we have seen, the smallest known hirundo : though Brisson asserts that there is one much smaller, and that is the hirundo esculenta.
But it is much to be regretted that it is scarce possible for any observer to be so full and exact as he could wish in reciting the circumstances attending the life and conversation of this little bird, since it is fera natura, at least in this part of the kingdom, disclaiming all domestic attachments, and haunting wild heaths and commons where there are large lakes ; while the other species, especially the swallow and house-martin, are remarkably gentle and domesticated, and never seem to think themselves safe but under the protection of man.
It is curious to observe with what different degrees of architectonic skill Providence has endowed birds of the same genus, and so nearly correspondent in their general mode of life! for, while the swallow and the house-martin discover the greatest address in raising and securely fixing crusts or shells of loam as cunabula for their young, the bank. martin terebrates a round and regular hole in the sand or earth, which is serpentine, horizontal, and about two feet deep. At the inner end of this burrow does this bird deposit, in a good degree of safety, her rude nest, consisting of fine grasses and feathers, usually goose feathers, very inartificially laid together.
Perseverance will accomplish any thing; though at first one would be disinclined to believe that this weak bird, with her soft and tender bill and claws, should ever be able to bore the stubborn sand-bank without entirely disabling herself; yet with these feeble instruments have I seen a pair of them make great despatch, and could remark how much they had scooped that day by the fresh sand which ran down the bank, and was a different colour from that which lay loose and bleached in the sun.
The sand-martin arrives much about the same time with the swallow, and lays, as she does, from four to six white eggs. But as this species is cryptogame, carrying on the business of nidification, incuba. tion, and the support of its young in the dark, it would not be so easy to ascertain the time of breeding, were it not for the coming forth of the broods, which appear much about the time, or rather somewhat earlier than those of the swallow. The nestlings are supported in common like those of their congeners, with gnats and other small insects; and sometimes they are fed with libellula, (dragon flies,) almost as long as themselves. In the last week in June we have seen a row of these sitting on a rail near a great pool as perchers, and so young and helpless as easily to be taken by hand; but whether the dams ever feed them on the wing, as swallows and house-martins do, we have never yet been able to determine : nor do we know whether they pursue and attack birds of prey.
When they happen to breed near hedges and inclosures, they are dispossessed of their breeding holes by the house-sparrow, which is on the same account a fell adversary to house-martins.
These hirundines are no songsters, but rather mute, making only a little harsh noise when a person approaches their nests. They seem not to be of a sociable turn, never with us congregating with their congeners in the autumn. Undoubtedly they breed a second time, like the house-martin and swallow; and withdraw about Michaelmas.
Though in some particular districts they may happen to abound, yet in the whole, in the south of England at least, is this much the rarest species. For there are few towns or large villages but what abound with house-martins; few churches, towers or steeples, but what are haunted by some swifts; scarce a hamlet or single cottage-chimney that has not its swallow; while the bank-martins, scattered here and there, live a sequestered life among some abrupt sandhills, and in the banks of some few rivers. .
THE SWIFT.—As the swift or black-martin is the largest of the British hirundines, so is it undoubtedly the latest comer. For I remember but one instance of its appearing before the last week in April; and in some of our late frosty harsh springs, it has not been seen till the beginning of May This species usually arrives in pairs.
The swift, like the sand-martin, is very defective in architecture, making no crust, or shell, for its nest; but forming it of dry grasses and feathers, very rudely and inartificially put together.
Swifts, like sand-martins, carry on the business of nidification quite in the dark, in crannies of castles, and towers, and steeples, and upon the tops of the walls of churches under the roof; and therefore cannot be so narrowly watched as those species that build more openly; but, from what I could ever observe, they begin nesting about the middle of May; and I have remarked, from eggs taken, that they have sat hard by the ninth of June.
This hirundo differs widely from its congeners in laying invariably but two eggs at a time, which are milk white, long, and peaked at the small end; whereas the other species lay at each brood from four to six. It is a most alert bird, rising very early, and retiring to roost very late; and is on the wing in the height of summer at least sixteen hours. In the longest days it does not withdraw to rest till a quarter before nine in the evening, before the latest of all day birds. Just before they retire, whole groups of them assemble high in the air, and squeak and shoot about with wonderful rapidity. But this bird is never so much alive as in sultry thundery weather, when it expresses great alacrity, and calls forth all its powers. In hot mornings several, getting together in little parties, dash round the steeples and churches, squeaking as they go in a very clamorous manner; these, by nice observers, are supposed to be males serenading their setting hens; and not without reason, since they seldom squeak till they come close to the walls or eaves, and since those within utter at the same time a. little inward note of complacency.
When the hen has sat hard all day she rushes forth just as it is almost dark, and stretches and relieves her weary limbs, and snatches a scanty meal for a few minutes, and then returns to her duty of incubation. Swifts, when wantonly and cruelly shot while they have young, discover a little lump of insects in their mouths, which they pouch and hold under their tongue. In general they feed in a much higher district than the other species; a proof that gnats and other insects do also abound to a considerable height in the air; they also range to vast distances, since locomotion is no labour to them who are endowed with such wonderful powers of wing. Their powers seem to be in proportion to their levers; and their wings are longer in proportion than those of almost any other bird.
At some certain times in the summer I had remarked that swifts were hawking very low for hours together over pools and streams, and could not help inquiring into the object of their pursuit that induced them to descend so much below their usual range. After some trouble, I found that they were taking phryganea, ephemera, and libel
out of their aurelia state. I then no longer wondered that they should be so willing to stoop for a prey that afforded them such plentiful and succulent nourishment.
They bring out their young about the middle or latter end of July; but as these never become perchers, nor, that ever I could discern, are fed on their wing by their dams, the coming of the young is not so notorious as in the other species.
On the thirtieth of last June I untiled the eaves of a house where many pairs build, and found in each nest only two squab, naked pulli: on the eighth of July I repeated the same inquiry, and found they had made very little progress towards a fledged state, but were still naked and helpless. From whence we may conclude that birds whose way of life keeps them perpetually on the wing, would not be able to quit their nest till the end of the month. Swallows and martins, that have numerous families; are continually feeding them every two or three minutes; while swifts, that have but two young to maintain, are much at their leisure, and do not attend on their nests for hours together.
There is a circumstance respecting the colour of swifts, which seems not to be unworthy our attention. When they arrive in the spring, they are all over of a glossy, dark soot colour, except their chins, which are white; but, by being all day long in the sun and air, they become quite weather-beaten and bleached before they depart, and yet they return glossy again in the spring. Now, if they pursue the sun into lower latitudes, as some suppose, in order to enjoy a perpetual summer, why do they not return bleached ? Do they not rather perhaps retire to rest for a season, and at that juncture moult and change their feathers, since all other birds are known to moult soon after the season of breeding ?
Swifts are very anomalous in many particulars, dissenting from all their congeners not only in the number of their young, but in breeding but once in a summer; whereas all the other British hirundines breed invariably twice. It is past all doubt that swifts can breed but once, since they withdraw in a short time after the flight of their young, and some time before their congeners bring out their second broods. We may here remark, that as swifts breed but once in a summer, and only two at a time, and the other hirundines twice, the latter, who lay from four to six eggs, increase at an average five times as fast as the former.
But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their early retreat. They retire, as to the main body of them, by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner; and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth, while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning of October; many of them all through the month, and some occasionally to the beginning of November. This early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the sweetest season in the year. But, what is most extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be nowise influenced by any defect of heat; or, as one might suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their motions with us by a failure of food, or by a propensity to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a life, or by what? This is one of those incidents in natural history that not only baffles our researches, but almost eludes our guesses !
On the fifth of July, 1775, I again untiled part of a roof over the nest of a swift. The dam sat in the nest; but so strongly was she affected by natural love for her brood, which she supposed to be in danger, that, regardless of her own safety, she would not stir, but lay sullenly by them, permitting herself to be taken in hand. The squab young we brought down and placed on the grass-plot, where they tumbled about, and were as helpless as a new-born child. While we contemplated their naked bodies, their unwieldy disproportioned abdomina, and their heads, too heavy for their necks to support, we could not but wonder when we reflected that these shiftless beings, in a little more than a fortnight, would be able to dash through the air almost with the inconceivable swiftness of a meteor; and perhaps, in their emigration, must traverse vast continents and oceans as distant as the equator.
33.—HYMN OF HEAVENLY BEAUTY.
SPENSER. (The inscription on his monument designates Edmund Spenser as " the prince of poets.” Few have had a better claim to so eminent a title. Mr. Craik, in his excellent little work, Spenser and his Poetry,'has truly said, “ Our only poets before Shakspere who have given to the language any thing that in its kind has not been surpassed, and in some sort superseded, are Chaucer and Spenser-Chaucer in his