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Another elegant species, with a yellow breast, and fine grey back, visits us in autumn, remains during winter about our warm spring heads, and leaves us in spring for the north.
The third, called the YELLOW or SPRING WAGTAIL, arrives in the spring, and staying the summer, departs south in autumn. This sort is lighter in figure than the others, of a fine sulphur colour, and is more partial to ploughed fields and upland pastures than its brethren. It is often seen among sheep, and is hence called by Buffon bergeronette de printems, or little shepherdess of the spring. Sometimes they are seen in flocks of twenty, or more, dispersed over half a field; chasing the insects, picking up what is to be found, chirruping to each other, and balancing up and down on their legs. The two latter species, though to a certain degree migratory, do not, probably, entirely leave our country. All these birds are remarkably active, cheerful and engaging in appearance. They run merrily along the margins of our small streams; sometimes coursing over an island of water-cresses, or other aquatic plants, in search of insects; or disporting on the shaven grass plots near our houses. What quick observant eyes each of these birds possesses ! no little smooth caterpillar, though no bigger than a midge, hanging on the lower side the stem of a grass, escapes their prying search !
We have often paused to look at a pool, or slow stream, almost matted over with that beautiful flower, the white water lily. The common moor hen walks across it, flirting up her tail, and pecking here and there. The water rail lightly treads upon it, as her proper path, and eyes all her foes on shore in security. And the wagtails, pacing leisurely on the broad leaves (their well-spread carpet), look curiously into every flower as they pass.
The third division, viz. sojourners or ReSIDENT BIRDS, remain to be considered. Of these, only five belong to the soft billed birds; the rest are able to feed themselves on grain, berries, and wild fruits, which they can find in the hardest weather. The five which, notwithstanding the departure of all their tuneful comrades, remain faithfully with us, though rain and hail beat dark December, seem especially to demand our protection; and two of them, at least, have always received it, - the robin and the wren.
It is remarked, by an accurate and pleasing author, that the former has some familiar name given him, in all European countries: about Bornholm, Tomme-Liden; in Norway, Peter Ronjmad; in Germany, Thomas Gierdet; and with us, Robin redbreast, or ruddock.*
Every one is acquainted with this familiar and interesting bird; its song is singularly pleasing. In a scale of the qualities of singing birds, made by an ingenious observer, the robin stands very high.*
* Supplement to Pennant's British Zoology.
“ Few observers of nature can have passed unheeded the sweetness and peculiarity of note of the Robin, and its various indications with regard to atmospheric changes. The mellow liquid notes of spring and summer, the melancholy sweet pipings of autumn, and the jerking chirps of winter. He may be considered as part of the naturalist's barometer. On a summer evening, though the weather be unsettled, he sometimes takes his stand on the topmost twig that looks up to the sky, or on the housetop, singing cheerfully and sweetly: when this is observed, it is an unerring promise of succeeding fine weather.” +
The Wren also is a general favourite: even his nest (and as snug and comfortable a nest it is as bird need desire, being covered over and well sheltered from all weather,) is shielded by a fortunate superstition from the depredation of schoolboys, who remember the old line, « The robin and the wren are God's cock and hen."
This little, brown, active bird, bustling and prying into every dark recess, with his short tail erect, and every now and then pouring forth his best energies in song, can never pass unnoticed. In America he is also found; and another species of nearly similar habits. Wilson relates of the latter the following anecdote : - In the month of June, a mower hung up his coat, under a shed near the barn: two or three days elapsed before he had occasion to put it on again: thrusting his arm up the sleeve, he found it completely filled with some rubbish, as he expressed it; and on extracting the whole mass, found it to be the nest of a wren, completely finished, and lined with a large quantity of feathers. In his retreat he was followed by the little forlorn proprietors, who scolded him with great vehemence for thus ruining the whole
* Hon. Daines Barrington on the singing of birds, Supplement to Pennant's British Zoology. + Mag. Nat. Hist. No. xxi.
economy of their household affairs.” The same author relates the behaviour of one of these birds, whose mate had been killed :“ On returning, at first he sung with great vivacity for an hour or so; but becoming uneasy, went off for half an hour: then returning, chanted as before; went to the top of the house, stable, and weeping willow, that she might hear him; but seeing no appearance of her, he returned once more, visited the nest, ventured cautiously into the window, gazed about with suspicious looks, his voice sinking to a low melancholy note as he stretched his little neck about in all directions. Returning to the box,