Gateway to the Classics: Birds of the Air by Arabella Buckley
Birds of the Air by  Arabella Buckley

Other Small Birds

T HERE are many other small birds which you may find out for yourselves, but I should like to tell you of a few which are interesting. First there is the little Goldfinch, which is so useful to us because it eats thistle seeds and dandelion seeds. It builds a lovely little nest of fine roots, wool, and horsehair, and often lines it with the soft down of the coltsfoot, that big yellow flower which blooms in the spring and has feathery seed-boxes. The goldfinch has a beautiful red forehead and throat, and black wings barred with yellow, and tipped with white. You may know it from the bullfinch because its breast is pale brown, while the bullfinch has a rich red breast and grey and black wings.

Then there is the cock-Linnet with his crimson breast, brown wings, and a red patch on his head. Linnets change colour at different times of the year. In the winter, the breasts of both birds are grey striped with brown.

All birds moult,  that is change their feathers, at least once a year. The father-birds are nearly always more gaudy when they are building their nests. You will notice too that hen-birds are scarcely ever so gay as their mates. This is most likely because they sit on the nests, and it would not do for them to be seen too easily.

Linnets feed in big flocks in the winter. You may see them in the evening dropping down among the gorse and other bushes to sleep. It is sad that both the goldfinch and the linnet are caught and sold to sing in cages. This is why we have not nearly so many in England as we used to have.

I hope you will look out for the Nuthatch, a little bird with a short black beak, a blue-grey back and wings, and a pale yellow breast, shaded with red. He is often seen in orchards and gardens in the autumn, when the nuts are ripe. You may catch sight of him coming down a nut tree, head downwards. He sticks the nuts into the cracks of the trunk and hammers them with his beak to break them. You may sometimes find a little store of nuts which he has hidden at the foot of the tree. He feeds on other things, besides nuts and beech-mast, and he will peck at a piece of bacon in winter, if you hang it out for him.

You must listen for the Blackcap. You will hear him more easily than you will see him. He is a little dark grey bird, with a black head and a pale grey breast, and sings almost as well as a nightingale. He comes back to England in April, and if you listen well you may hear him practising his song. He hides himself in a thick bush and begins gently in a low voice, singing over and over again till he gains strength. In a few days his voice is ready, and he trills out a wild, sweet song all the summer day, flitting from bush to bush as he sings. He feeds on insects and berries, and brings up four or five little ones in a lovely nest made of dry grass and spiders' webs, and lined with horsehair. Then he flies away in October till the next spring. But he has been so often caught that he is not so common as he used to be.


Black-caps in a maple bush.

Then there is the little Whitethroat, which creeps along almost everywhere under the hedges, and is often called the "nettle-creeper." He too is a brown-grey bird with a little red at the tips of his feathers and on his breast. He hops and flies a little way as the hedge-sparrow does, chattering all the time, and sometimes flying higher and higher and singing louder. He, too, comes in May and goes in October.

There are two other little birds you may very likely see. One is the Stonechat, which lives on commons and sits on the top of the furze bushes. It is a small brown-black bird with white markings and a rusty red breast. It cries "chat, chat, chat," and hides its nest so well in the gorse bushes that you will scarcely find one.

The other is the little Dipper or water-ouzel, which hops about the stones in the bed of rapid streams and rivers. It feeds on insects and water snails. It is a black bird not quite as big as a thrush, with a very short tail and a snowy-white breast. It has a curious way of dipping its head down and flirting its tail.

There is not room to tell about magpies or jays, but if you have any near you, you will know them already.

Find out these small birds and any others in your neighbourhood, and try to know their nests and eggs.

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