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the stools, would rap with his finger on the hives, and so take the bees as they came out. He has been known to overturn hives for the sake of honey, of which he was passionately fond. Where metheglin was making, he would linger round the tubs and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-wine. As he ran about he used to make
a humming noise with his lips, resembling the buzzing of bees. This lad was lean and sallow, and of a cadaverous complexion: and except in his favourite pursuit, in which he was wonderfully adroit, discovered no manner of understanding.
When a tall youth, he was removed from hence to a distant village, where he died, as I understand, before he arrived at manhood.-Natural History of Selborne.
4. 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 ever 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 naturá, 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.
Here are in this parish, in the sand-pits and banks of the
lakes of Woolmer forest, several colonies of these birds; and yet they are never seen in the village; nor do they at all frequent the cottages that are scattered about in that wild district. The only instance I ever remember where this species haunts any building is at the town of Bishop's Waltham, in this county, where many sand-martins nestle and breed in the scaffold-holes of the back-wall of William of Wykeham's stables; but then this wall stands in a very sequestered and retired enclosure, and faces upon a large and beautiful lake. And indeed this species seems so to delight in large waters, that no instance occurs of their abounding, but near vast pools or rivers; and in particular it has been remarked that they swarm in the banks of the Thames in some places below London-bridge.
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 anything; 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 dispatch, and could remark how much they had scooped that day by the fresh
sand which ran down the bank, and was of a different colour from that which lay loose and bleached in the
In what space of time these little artists are able to mine and finish these cavities I have never been able to discover, for reasons given above; but it would be a matter worthy of observation, where it falls in the way of any naturalist to make his remarks. This I have often taken notice of, that several holes of different depths are left unfinished at the end of summer. To imagine that these beginnings were intentionally made in order to be in the greater forwardness for next spring is allowing perhaps too much foresight and rerum prudentia to a simple bird. May not the cause of these latebrae being left unfinished arise from their meeting in those places with strata too harsh, hard, and solid, for their purpose, which they relinquish, and go to a fresh spot that works more freely? Or may they not in other places fall in with a soil as much too loose and mouldering, liable to flounder, and threatening to overwhelm them and their labours?
One thing is remarkable-that, after some years, the old holes are forsaken and new ones bored; perhaps because the old habitations grow foul and fetid from long use, or because they may so abound with fleas as to become untenantable. This species of swallow moreover is strangely annoyed with fleas; and we have seen fleas, bed-fleas (pulex irritans), swarming at the mouths of these holes, like bees on the stools of their hives.
The following circumstance should by no means be omitted that these birds do not make use of their caverns by way of hybernacula, as might be expected; since banks so perforated have been dug out with care in the winter, when nothing was found but empty nests.
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, incubation, 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 libellulae (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 enclosures, they are dispossessed of their breeding holes by the housesparrow, 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 housemartin 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 sand-hills, and in the banks of some few rivers.
These birds have a peculiar manner of flying; flitting about with odd jerks, and vacillations, not unlike the motions of a butterfly. Doubtless the flight of all hirundines is influenced by, and adapted to, the peculiar sort of insects which furnish their food. Hence it would be worth inquiry to examine what particular genus of insects affords the principal food of each respective species of swallow.
Notwithstanding what has been advanced above, some few sand-martins, I see, haunt the skirts of London, frequenting the dirty pools in Saint George's Fields, and about Whitechapel. The question is where these build, since there are no banks or bold shores in that neighbourhood; perhaps they nestle in the scaffold holes of some old or new deserted building. They dip and wash as they fly sometimes, like the house-martin and swallow.
Sand-martins differ from their congeners in the diminutiveness of their size, and in their colour, which is what is usually called a mouse-colour. Near Valencia, in Spain, they are taken, says Willughby, and sold in the markets, for the table; and are called by the country people, probably from their desultory jerking manner of flight, Papilion de Montagna.-Natural History of Selborne.
THEY who write on natural history cannot too frequently advert to instinct, that wonderful limited faculty, which, in some instances, rises the brute creation, as it were, above reason, and in others leaves them so far below it. Philo