Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

brown, which may in part account for the latter's destructiveness among young game. I recollect nearly all the young pigeons in my father's dove-cot being harried by a pair of brown owls. It was some months before the robbers were discovered.

The wings of the ivy owl are not so long in proportion to its body and tail as those of the white; neither is its flight so buoyant, although equally soft and spectre like. It is thus less formed for beating a large extent of country for mice, and must often content itself with promiscuous feeding. Mice, on the contrary, seem to be almost the exclusive food of the barn owl; and he is a lucky farmer whose barn is tenanted by them. Some aver that the young will die unless they have a constant supply of mice. I have two living proofs against this assertion, which were brought up principally upon raw meat.

A tame white owl supersedes the necessity of a cat. My little boy had one a few years ago kept in the kitchen. Its dexterity in catching mice was the wonder of all who saw it. Once, when a mouse had been troublesome in the night, he darkened the window next morning, and brought up his owl. In a very short time there was a crash, a faint squeak, and the mouse was never heard again. It used sometimes to startle strangers, by coming down upon their shoulders, with the noiseless spirit-like flight which enabled it to surprise the mice ;—when they looked round they encountered a sage face peering inquisitively into theirs. The top of the wings of white owls are beautifully pencilled, and make the best artificial white moths.

The habits of the long-eared owl are pretty much like those of the white, only it is oftener met with in wild unfrequented places, and is also more apt to perch and

rest for awhile, when seeking prey. I have shot them in mistake for woodcocks, flying between me and the sky after nightfall. They skim copses and hedgerows exactly like the white owl, but do not come out so early. I have sometimes put them up in open daylight, out of the heather, where there were neither trees nor rocks. But they are more often flushed from some thick fir-tree, which seems a favourite retreat, especially if surrounded by heath or brushwood. A very fine specimen of this bird was brought me one summer. It had been entangled in a net placed over some seeds, to protect them from the small birds. The mice were also feeding on these seeds, and they of course attracted the owl. It was a beautiful little creature, with its bright eyes of yellowish red, and small face animated by fear. The cry of this owl is neither so loud nor harsh as that of the white.

I have never seen the short-eared owl in search of food, which leads me to suppose it watches prey

like the tawny. I have several times started it in the day-time, during autumn and winter, from tangled heathery dells where there are fir or yew-trees. Pennant says they arrive in this country in October. My brother-in-law shot one on the Arroquhar Moors shortly after the twelfth of August. It rose out of the heather, and, I believe, was pointed by one of his dogs. I had this bird stuffed. I once pursued another from tree to tree, on Inch Connachan, about the beginning of September. It appeared more shy than any of the other owls, and would not let me come within a hundred yards. Mice seemed to have been its attraction to the island, for I remember that after it had been planted to some extent, so much injury was done by the mice, that a boat-load of cats were im

ported on purpose to destroy them! There are a few fine old Scotch firs on the island, and out of one of these flew the owl, always winging his way straight to another when I followed him

up. I never heard of the short-eared owl's nest being found in the West Highlands, so conclude it must be a bird of

passage there.

The long-eared owl generally rears its young in the Castle Rock of Edinburgh, although they are regularly harried by the bird-fanciers. The barn owl also hatches every year in Craig-Millar Castle, about a mile from the city. The male takes up his quarters during the day in a niche of the old dining-hall. When the curious stranger enters, he turns a sleepy face, and then quietly takes himself off by the hole where a window was. My tame ones always show the same dislike of intrusion during their nap. If I move my head from side to side at their wire door, they at once imitate me most absurdly, and continue to make a pendulum of their heads so long as I set them the example.

WILD PIGEONS,

THERE are four kinds of dove found in a wild state in this country, the largest of which is the ring-dove or cushat, common all over the kingdom. This bird, called also the wood-pigeon, is thought to migrate by many, but, if so, multitudes stay behind. Perhaps one reason for the supposition may be, that numbers congregate in the autumn and beginning of winter, under beech trees, to feed upon the mast, and when this is all devoured they separate in search of other food. The first signal for the flocking of wood-pigeons is the yellowing of the grain—they then choose the ripest part of the field, if possible near the centre, as being least accessible, and generally keep to the same place. When the acorns and beech nuts fall, they greedily feed upon them, and I have sometimes taken about a dozen large acorns out of the crop of one bird. The flock are certain to return morning and evening to feed under any clump of old beeches in the neighbourhood of their haunts. First one alights, cautiously looking all round—then another, and so on, until they drop down half a dozen at a time. There are often two hundred in one flock.

By building a wigwam constructed of twigs, and not disturbing the doves afterwards for a week, they will become quite fearless, and feed close to it: my anxiety

to shoot a pure white one which made its appearance among the rest suggested this plan to me. Many people saw this rarity and fancied it a tame pigeon. I, however, examined it with my telescope, and plainly saw that it was a white ring-dove. Its size and shape of tail clearly showed this, but the most certain mark was a blue ring instead of the white one. Notwithstanding my efforts I could not succeed in killing this bird, and only got one random shot, about eighty yards off.

The sleeping place of this flock was a small belt of tall trees, half a mile from their feeding ground. I constantly saw the white dove perched near the top of one of the highest trees, (another undeniable proof of its wood origin,) and maneuvred to obtain a shot, but was completely baffled by the wary bird. Should, however, the night resting-place of ring-doves be known, a few may easily be killed by keeping one side of the plantation and sending some one to make a little noise on the other. They will continue flying overhead, quite within distance, until the reports of your gun have driven them all from their retreat. Many a one have I bagged in this way, as I generally gave the pigeon woods a trial when returning home in the evening. A bad shot may have good sport by waiting for them at dusk under these roosting trees. The only caution necessary is, not to move your gun until the birds have assured themselves that the coast is clear and no enemy lurking near. As they drop in singly, each dove peers round in all directions before settling; whereas, at feed, the first few that alight act as spies to the bevy, the rest heedlessly following. If one should chance to fly up, the whole instantly take wing with a noise like distant thunder.

« ForrigeFortsett »