Page images


there are also a few pairs which breed in this country, on the northern moors. In the south it is extremely rare in the summer, and indeed it is not commonly met with south of Yorkshire at any period of the year. . Its usual food is composed of small birds; but when pressed by hunger, it will attack the partridge, (especially the young ones when it has its own brood to supply,) but as it does not strike on the ground, it is seldom that the opportunity offers. It does not therefore do much harm to game, and the lovers of natural history as well as of hawking might well be spared the loss of this beautiful bird at the hands of the keeper. Still there is no doubt that occasionally it will take a partridge or grouse; but while the fox is allowed to have his pheasant occasionally, surely the falconer might be permitted to have an exemption in his favour, when the injury done is so slight. In Northumberland and Cumberland merlins are plentiful enough, and young birds may be obtained in almost any numbers at 5s. to 78. 6d. a-piece. In size this bird is slightly less than the hobby, measuring from ten to twelve inches long. An old male has the beak blue, with a blackish tip; cere yellow; iris dark brown; crown blue grey streaked with dark brown; a collar of reddish brown passing from the cheeks round the neck; back rich bluish grey, each feather having a dark brown shaft; primaries rich black; tail bluish grey, with three faint bands for the basal two thirds, the end being black tipped with white; chin and throat white; under parts of body pale reddish brown streaked and patched with darker brown; legs and toes yellow; claws black. The female has all the upper parts of head and body of a dark liver colour, the edges of all the feathers being faintly tipped with red; tail brown, with five narrow bars of wood brown; under surfaces whity brown with darker streaks and patches; in other respects like the male. The young males resemble the females, except in size. They, as well as the young of the other sex, are called stone falcons in Wales. The nest is built on the ground, with a few bents of grass only. The female lays four or five eggs mottled with two shades of reddish brown, one inch seven lines in length by one inch three lines in breadth.

THE KESTREL (Tinnunculus alaudarius). The Kestrel or Windhover, also called the Stonegall or Standgale, is one of the most graceful birds known in this country, and may be distinguished from all others by its habit of suspending itself over some fixed point with outspread tail and its head always to windward, accompanied by a peculiarly quick motion of the wings, from which it has derived its name of “ Windhover" and “Standgale.” While in this position it is watching some mouse, or possibly a young leveret, which it will no doubt occasionally take; but for one of these which it seizes, it will probably kill a hundred mice. I have opened the stomachs of scores of these birds, and have never yet seen the remains of a leveret. Once, it is true, I came upon a portion of what looked like the skin of a young rabbit, but it might have been that of a rat, as I did not wash and dry it. At all events it had not the colour of the leveret. A large proportion of the contents was composed of mice, with a very few small birds of various kinds. Still, it cannot be said to be to the game preserver sans peur et sans reproche ; for it has neither courage enough boldly to attack game whenever it comes in its way, nor can it always resist the temptation afforded by a delicate leveret which it may espy in the grass when in search of mice. Selby says that they feed on cockchafers during their season, and Montague affirms that he never found any feathers in their stomachs; but I certainly must give my evidence in favour of their occasionally killing small birds as I have mentioned above. A large proportion of those I have examined have been young ones barely fledged, and perhaps at that season the parent birds may be more rapacious than at other seasons, and may also be able more readily to strike young larks and other ground birds in their favourite method by suddenly stooping on them. The kestrel is universally found throughout the United Kingdom. Its length is from thirteen inches in the male to fifteen inches in the female. The former has the beak blue ; cere and eyelids yellow; iris dark brown; crown, cheeks, and nape of the neck ash grey streaked with dusky brown ; upper parts of body of a rich fawn colour, each feather spotted with black on the extreme point; wing

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »