W HEN you have looked at several birds' nests, you will want to see what the eggs are like. Try first to find those which are near your home. Some are so well hidden, that you will have to watch where the old birds go in and out, before you can find them. Others, like the nests of rooks, magpies and jays, are easy to see, but not easy to reach.
Do not take the eggs. Each will hatch out into a happy little bird, and if you carried the egg home it would only be broken. Your teacher will very likely collect one of each kind, which will do to show the class for many years.
But look well at the eggs in the nest. Then you will know them again when you find them in another place. Count how many there are, and notice if any more are laid afterwards. Then reckon how long the eggs are being hatched, after the last one is laid. You will find it is about a fortnight for the small birds and a day or two longer for rooks and pigeons. Then you can watch the feeding of the young birds, which we shall talk about in the next two lessons.
It is better not even to touch the eggs; for some birds, like the wood-pigeon, will desert their nests if the eggs have been handled. Other birds are not so particular. Mr. Kearton tells us that when he was a boy he used to find plovers' nests and amuse himself by turning the large end of the egg into the middle of the nest. As soon as the tidy mother came back, she always turned them round again with the points in the middle. The baby bird always comes out at the large end, so this gives them more room, as they hatch out.
If you have a laurel hedge in the garden you may find a Thrush's nest in it, with four to six beautiful blue eggs, about an inch long and spotted with black at the large end (see picture, p. 10). The mother will scold you well, and perhaps will not leave the nest, and you will have to take your chance when she is away. You may find a Blackbird's nest not far off. You will know it from the thrush's nest because it is lined with fine roots and grass, so is not hard inside. The eggs are greener with red-brown spots. The Misselthrush generally builds in a tree, and her eggs are a light buff colour spotted with reddish brown and pale lilac.
The Chaffinch will build close to your house, or in the apple trees of the orchard; and a pair of Bullfinches may make their nest in the ivy of the old garden wall, though they are shy birds. The chaffinch's eggs are a pale brown-green colour with brown spots (see picture, p. 20). They are about one-third the size of the thrush's egg. The bullfinch's are a pale blue, spotted with brown or purple. Be careful when you look at the bullfinch's nest, for though the mother will sit still, the father will be angry, and he may make her desert her nest, if he sees you.
You will have to get a ladder if you want to see a Martin's nest, for they build under the eaves of the house. And when you pull away a little of the nest and look in, make sure that you see the right eggs, for a sparrow will often take a martin's nest and lay her eggs in it. You can find out, by watching which bird goes into the nest. But if you cannot do this, you may know by the colour of the eggs. A martin's egg is white without any spots upon it. A sparrow's egg is grey with brown blotches on it. When the sparrow builds her own nest, it is made of straw or hay lined with feathers. It has about five or six eggs in it.
It is easier to look into a Swallow's nest than into a martin's, for it is not covered at the top, and is often put upon a rafter in a barn. It will have about five white eggs in it, with dark red patches on them. Watch these nests carefully, for when the eggs are hatched it is very pretty to see the old swallows teaching the young ones to catch flies (see picture, p. 45).
We must not forget the Robins, though I expect you know their eggs well. They are white, spotted with light red, and you may easily find them, for in the spring there is a robin's nest in almost every bank or hedgerow.
You may look for a Tomtit's nest in all sorts of strange places, from a hole in a tree, to a flower-pot which has been thrown away. There will be a number of little white eggs in it speckled with red. The mother will hiss and peck at you to prevent you from taking them away. But in a few days she will not be afraid, for she is a bold little bird.
You must learn to look for other eggs yourselves. In the barn you may find the Owl's large white eggs, and sometimes young birds and eggs together. In a bank of a river, or a hole in a wall, you may find the nest of a Water-wagtail with greyish white spotted eggs. The Rook's bluish green eggs sometimes fall down from their nests; and the Jackdaws will build in your chimneys.
When you have spent some time hunting for nests and eggs, you will notice how cunningly they are hidden by their colour and their marks.
Wherever you find white eggs like those of the owl, the martin, the woodpecker, the kingfisher, and the pigeon, they are either quite hidden in a bank, a tree trunk, or a deep nest, or they are high up out of reach. Most other eggs are spotted, and they are either some shade of green or grey or brown, like the moss and leaves and twigs of the nest.
In any nest you can find, see how many of the eggs grow up into young birds. Choose one nest each, to watch and see which child can count up most young birds.