The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 716/Notes and Queries

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Notes and Queries  (February, 1901) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 5, issue 716, p. 68–75



The Building of a Dormouse's Nest.—A Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) that I have had in captivity since the middle of September has built three successive nests. The whole process was so unexpected that an account of it may not be without interest to readers of 'The Zoologist.' The Dormouse was kept in a large box with a glass front, rendering observation easy. The bottom was covered with a thick layer of sand, surmounted by a quantity of fine hay. At first the little animal used to sleep curled up in one corner, where its weight formed a slight hollow in the hay. Soon afterwards it took to burrowing in the hay till it was invisible. The hay and sand used to be changed every few days. It preferred acorns to any other food, and drank a good deal of water, sitting on the edge of the glass, and stooping down till the lips were immersed. It slept all day as a rule, but often woke up for a short time in the afternoon, retiring to rest again till about 11 p.m. I presume it was awake most of the night, as the bulk of its food was taken then. About Nov. 20th the Dormouse ceased coming out in the afternoon; so, supposing it was about to enter on its winter sleep, I stopped changing the hay. A few days later I noticed the hay in one spot was raised into a little dome, where the Mouse was ensconced. This dome increased in size daily, and then a small hole appeared in one side, through which the Mouse could be seen curled up inside. Further, it could be seen that the hay was no longer a mere mass of stalks roughly thrown together, but the stalks in the interior were neatly arranged in concentric curves. In short, the Mouse had made a hollow spherical nest in the middle of the hay. I never saw it at work, however, till one evening about 9 o'clock; I heard it moving, and watched what happened. It was inside the nest, all but its head and fore-paws. These last were working with an energy quite surprising in so indolent an animal, trying to scratch towards it a hay-stalk in front of the nest. Finally it seized it by the middle, and dragged it backwards into the nest. Now, rolling itself into a ball, the Mouse began to revolve inside the nest. Over and over it went, time after time, by its movements smoothing out the hay, at the same time rounding the interior of the nest, and pushing it outwards. There seems no reason to suppose that this Dormouse adopted a different plan of nest-building in captivity from that which it used in a natural state. The nests, of which I have examined scores around Shrewsbury, are constructed of long grass, with moss, &c., added for warmth. We know that birds build their nests by laying a foundation first, next raising the sides, and finally putting in the lining. It would seem that the Dormouse acts quite differently. Many birds weave their materials skilfully together, using the beak like a bodkin. The Dormouse has no such tool, and does not weave the grass at all. Apparently he puts together a bundle of grass-stalks, and then dives into the middle, taking in other pieces, one by one, always working from the centre, rounding the nest by revolving inside it, and enlarging it by pressing outwards. This first nest was removed to clean the box. A fresh supply of hay was put in; the Dormouse in two nights constructed a second nest as perfect as the first. Afterwards a third was made under similar circumstances, and there he still resides. I never saw him at work on these, as he made them entirely by night.—H.E. Forrest (Shrewsbury).


Some Appearances of the Ring-Ouzel at St. Leonards-on-Sea.—I have noticed Ring-Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) here during the spring migrations of 1899 and 1900. I saw the first on April 6th, 1899, about midday, near Felsham farm; and on April 15th, 1900, about 7 a.m., I saw another; on Oct. 19th, 1900, I shot a fine specimen (male), and on the 26th I saw three more, all within the same fields. It seems to occur regularly on the autumn migration, about the middle of October, and I should say, judging from my own observations, during the spring migration also.—Michael John Nicoll (10, Charles Road, St. Leonards).

Yellow Wagtails wintering in the Isle of Man.—While on a visit to the Isle of Man, I observed, on Dec. 8th, two Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla campestris) on the cultivated land under Maughold Head, by Ramsey. I have never heard of the bird wintering in the British Isles before, but this interesting instance is no doubt due to the extremely mild winters nearly always experienced in the island.—C.H.B. Grant (Putney).

Notes on the House-Martin and Sand-Martin.—A pair of House-Martins (Chelidon urbica) had three young in the nest at Lower Hagley so exceptionally late as Oct. 16th, 1900, after which date no House-Martins were observed in this neighbourhood, the last Swallows being seen on 9th inst. On Aug. 4th a white House-Martin, probably an albino and a young bird, was in company with others circling around in Hagley Park. A small colony of some six or eight pairs of Sand-Martins (Cotile riparia) have utilised for their nesting accommodation a wall of red sandstone which is built alongside the cutting of the road at Belbroughton.—J. Steele-Elliott (Clent, Worcestershire).

Nesting of the Jackdaw.—During the past year two unusual instances of the nesting of Corvus monedula came under my observation. In Hagley Park by far the commonest nesting species are Jackdaws, and their numbers might be estimated from two to three hundred pairs, the old trees, the church, and various other buildings affording the principal nesting accommodation. Two pairs, however, constructed their nests in a small plantation of young spruce-firs, and on May 8th both contained eggs. The nests, as is usual elsewhere, were constructed in a very slipshod manner, and seemingly very insecure; no attempt had been made to form a dome or covering over the nest, the hollow in which the eggs rested being quite shallow. In the other instance, which was during April, a pair were building their nest within a cowled chimney of a house close to the park, the entrance to which always varied according to the direction of the wind.—J. Steele-Elliott (Clent, Worcestershire).

Nightjar hawking May-flies.—When in company with my friend Mr. H. E. Forrest, on May 19th last, watching the hundreds of Noctule Bats and Swifts hawking the May-flies over the River Severn above Bewdley, two Nightjars (Caprimulgus europæus) eventually joined the company, and seemed to be equally aaept in tailing these insects: they remained there for a considerable time—in fact, until too dark for us to make further observations.—J. Steele-Elliott (Clent, Worcestershire).

Shag in West Suffolk.—An immature Shag (Phalacrocorax carbo) was shot on the roof of a house about four miles north of Bury St. Edmunds on December 17th last, which Mr. Travis, the Bury taxidermist, showed me in the flesh a day or two later. The Shag is a far less common bird in East Anglia than the Cormorant, and perhaps not more than half a dozen specimens have been obtained in Suffolk.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds).

Little Egret in Yorkshire.—Seeing the editorial note in 'The Zoologist' on the proposed continuation of the publication of the Birds of Yorkshire, I am forcibly reminded of a promise I have times and again made myself that I would publish a record of an unrecorded example of the graceful little white Ardea garzetta. As near as I can ascertain, it is about twenty-five years ago since the Chester Society of Natural Science acquired an almost complete collection of British Birds, which, judging from the style of mounting and certain records, had been made during the twenties and thirties of the last century. The whole collection was contained in ordinary box-cases, and almost all the larger sheets of glass used in glazing them were of the old "crown" type, bearing the characteristic nodules. Until the year 1886 this collection was stored in the Society's Rooms in Lower Bridge Street, when it was removed to this Museum. I then found that the majority of the specimens had been so badly attacked by moths and mould that it was desirable to have the greater part of them destroyed. Among the number of those preserved was a very fair specimen of Ardea garzetta, and pasted on the back of the case which contained it was a label, turned yellow by age, bearing the following inscription:—"Egret. Male. Shot March, 1826, near Paul Humberside, Yorkshire." All this is quite clear, but there is no trace of initials or name of the owner or collector. The record is, however, intact and indisputable. It only remains for me to add my apology for having kept ornithologists so long in ignorance of such an interesting fact. Besides the foregoing, there were also the following species, bearing labels in the same handwriting: —

Machetes pugnax, Linn.—"Ruff... Yorkshire," ... is all that I can make out. These are two specimens of each sex in breeding plumage. One of the males has a dark purplish ruff finely vermiculated with buff-white; the other is cream-coloured, sparingly marked with isolated blackish vermiculations.

Himantopus candidus, Bon.—Labelled "Long-legged Plover..... Linconshire." .... All the rest is illegible.

Milvus ictinus, Sav.—"Kite. Female. Caught in a trap, June, 1824, Eglinton Wood, near Doncaster."

Perhaps it may be well to add that the first named species has been remounted, but before I did this I made a photograph of the specimen as it was originally stuffed.—Robt. Newstead (Grosvenor Museum, Chester).

Bittern in Oxfordshire.—A specimen of the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) was brought to me for identification on Jan. 26th, having been shot on that date near Ridge's Weir, on the Thames, by a gamekeeper in the employ of a local gentleman. Though the bird was shot on the Oxfordshire side of the stream, the ornithologists of Berkshire would, I should imagine, be perfectly justified in claiming it as well, seeing that the two counties are there merely divided by the Thames. One of the best authorities on the Birds of Oxfordshire informs me that the Bittern must now be regarded as a rare winter visitor to Oxfordshire. Last year he heard of four specimens having occurred in the county. The year 1900 was, he states, remarkable all over the kingdom for the number of Bitterns which were either shot or seen.—W.H. Warner (Fyfield, near Abingdon).

The Nesting Habits of Moor-hens.—I have been much interested in the article on Moor-hens by your contributor, Mr. Oliver G. Pike (ante, p. 17); and, since he asks if this habit of building nests as landing stages for the young has been observed by other correspondents, I may mention that I have frequently observed it, and that a note to that effect was published in the 'Avicultural Magazine' for January, 1898 (vol. iv. p. 52). There is also an interesting article on the habits of Moor-hens from the pen of Mr. C. L. Hett in the same journal for December, 1897 (vol. iv. p. 27), in which Mr. Hett expresses the opinion that some of these nests are built by the young themselves.—J. Lewis Bonhote (Ditton Hall, Fen Ditton, Cambridge).

Red-necked Phalarope in Lincolnshire.—Though perhaps not so rare on the autumn passage as is generally supposed, the occurrence of the Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus hyperboreus) seems worth placing on record. During the last week of October, 1900, one of these birds was sent to me by a local Plover-catcher which had just been killed at North Cotes. The same man told me that he had caught a similar bird a few days previously, but had allowed it to spoil.—G.H. Caton Haigh (Aber-iâ, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, North Wales).

The Names of British Birds.—Mr. H.A. Macpherson, in his note (Zool. 1900, p. 558), joins issue with me on the derivation of Fulmar, and contends that the word has nothing to do with Foumart or Foulmart. In this, I venture to suggest, he is not quite correct. The English used the word originally (in the form of Foul Mart) to designate the Polecat, on account of the strong smell for which that mammal is notorious. The word was then borrowed by the Gaels of Scotland, and in the form of Fulmair was, for the same reason, bestowed on the Petrel in question. The modern English, in their turn, adopted the Gaelic name, by which the bird is now universally recognised. I think Mr. Macpherson will find, on reference to any trustworthy authority, that I am correct in stating that the word is purely English, and it is through that language that it finds a place in the Gaelic vocabulary. Still, if he can trace the word back to the "purely Gaelic sources" he mentions, I am willing to admit myself in error. A propos of Mr. Aplin's query as to Pie having some reference to the pied plumage of the Magpie and other birds, a question of no little interest is raised. It can, however, be easily understood that Pie, though really imitative of the bird's cry, came to be significant of black and white plumage owing to its association with the Magpie. If, on the other hand, Mr. Aplin contends that Picus (with which Pie is akin) has some connection with pictus, "painted," his suggestion is probably the correct one. Mr. Aplin also calls attention to the ch in Pochard being hard, and cites Poker as another name for the bird. This very fact, instead of making the connection between Pochard and Poacher slighter, in reality considerably strengthens it, since poach has an intimate relation to the word poke (to thrust). As to the guille in Guillemot, there is no manner of doubt that it is the same word as gull. The French had simply adapted the Breton (Celtic) form gwelan, and had added, by way of explanation, their own word of similar meaning, viz. mouette (or mot), which is connected with mew—a word still found in the Scotch name for a gull, namely, maw. In short. Guillemot is a Celtic-Teutonic compound, in which one word explains the other. Finally, Nuthatch does not mean, though it may imply. Nutcracker, but is simply another form of Nut-hacker, i.e. Nut-hewer. The bird may hack at a nut, which may or may not be cracked by the blow.—A.H. Meiklejohn (Highworth, Ashford, Kent).


Molluscs eaten by Wood-Pigeons.—Referring to the notes on this subject (Zool. 1900, p. 484), not only is this usual in wild birds, but also in fancy Pigeons occupying our aviaries; my brother kept a number of the last, which he was in the habit of letting out in early mornings for exercise. After such excursions they fed their young as soon as they returned, and I have frequently cleaned away from round their beaks (i.e. of the squabs) remains of Snails and Slugs: these young were always stronger than the young of those who never had their liberty, and consequently had no opportunity of obtaining such food: though, when I have supplied a handful of the large garden shelled Snails, they have been eagerly eaten, smashing the shells as do Thrushes. My outdoor experience teaches me that Wood-Pigeons and others not only partake of, but search for (as eagerly as Thrushes, &c.), such molluscs as are to be found in our fields and inland waters, to which my experience has been confined.—Wesley T. Page (6, Rylett Crescent, Shepherd's Bush, W.).


Non-Protective Colouration in the Variable Hare.—When reading Mr. Marshall's paper on "Conscious Protective Resemblance" (Zool. 1900, p. 536), some remarks of his recalled to my mind a very striking example of how an instinct, born of a protective colouration, may defeat its own purpose under a change of environment. On p. 542 Mr. Marshall quotes Romanes' remarks about the melanic variety of the Rabbit crouching as steadily as the normally coloured type, and rendering itself "the most conspicuous object in the landscape." In March, 1899, Mr. C. Oldham and I observed a number of Variable Hares (Lepus timidus, Linn.) on the moors in Longdendale, Cheshire. The weather was mild, and we only saw a single patch of snow, but the Hares were still in their white winter pelage, though most of them had already patches of brown about the head and flanks. These animals are the descendants of some Perthshire Hares which were turned down near Greenfield, Yorkshire, about twenty years ago, and which have increased in numbers, and have spread over a large tract of moorland in Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire. In the North of Scotland the moors are snow-covered much later than is usually the case in Cheshire, and the white dress would be a distinct advantage to the Hares, but on the milder bare slopes of these English moors it only tends to make them conspicuous. When the Longdendale moors were snow-covered we have crossed them without seeing a single Hare, though their tracks were visible in the snow in every direction. Again, in summer the grey-brown pelage makes them almost invisible, and we very seldom see any. This was not the case this March, for the white spots on the hillsides were noticeable from a great distance against the dark background of brown bracken, ling, and millstone-grit rock, and they certainly were "the most conspicuous objects in the landscape." The Hares were squatting at the entrance to holes among the stones, or under the shelter of overhanging rocks, and, when we approached, remained perfectly still, evidently instinctively trusting to their protective colouration. They crouched when we got near, laving their ears back, and allowing us to approach within a few yards. One did not move until we were only six yards away, and another let us get within ten yards before it bolted. We stood within this short distance, watching their eyes following our movements, and we could see the wind blowing the loose hair from their backs. The forms where they had been sitting were full of shed hair.

If it were possible for the Hares to reason,[1] it must be evident that they would be conscious that their colour was not in harmony with their surroundings; but it seems perfectly plain that they had been taught by heredity that their safety depended upon their remaining still, and they had no idea of any change of conditions.[2] It might be argued that in twenty years the survival of the habit of remaining still for protection would have been so detrimental to the Hares that either they would have been exterminated by their natural enemies, or that natural selection, through the instrumentality of their enemies, would have caused them to adopt the more protective summer dress much earlier. But it must be taken into consideration that these Grouse-moors are most strictly preserved, and that all the large predaceous birds and carnivorous animals are destroyed whenever they appear. Foxes are trapped in large numbers, and there are hardly any large Hawks. Thus the action of natural selection in regard to colouration is practically annulled, and there is nothing to influence any change. This is a clear case of what Mr. Marshall speaks about on p. 542, an "observation of the demeanour of protectively coloured animals, which find themselves, by natural accident or necessity, in an environment to which their colour is quite unsuited"; and the animals have not altered their habits, but adopted "their usual attitudes of concealment," and it appears to be an unmistakable example of "unreasoning instinct."

It was interesting to note how the Hares escaped when we got so close that they came to the conclusion that they were observed. Out of nine that we bolted, two ran into crevices in the rocks, two ran along the side of the hill, and five went straight uphill at a great pace. The visibility of the Hares may be understood from a remark in a letter from the late Col. Crompton Lees. He tells us that on his moors at Greenfield, Yorkshire, in March, 1893, his keeper from one spot on the hills counted over fifty Hares within range of his field-glass at one time.—T.A. Coward (Bowdon, Cheshire).

  1. R. Kearton ('Nature and a Camera,' p. 176) narrates a practice of the Hare which he well describes as "like a reasoned action deliberately executed to mislead prowing enemies that track them by the scent left in their footprints."—Ed.
  2. A Woodcock has been observed to reason under such conditions. Mr. F.M. Chapman, of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in a lecture on 'Birds in Nature,' remarks:—"That the Woodcock appreciates the value of its costume of brown and black is, he thinks, fairly proved by the experience of a friend of his. Early one spring morning he found a nest of this species occupied by one of the birds. Approaching the bird cautiously, he managed to stroke its plumage without its taking fright, so great was its faith in its protective colours. He also succeeded in taking a photograph of the bird, placing the camera a few feet from it. Focussing was accomplished with difficulty, and only by using the eye of the bird as a focal point. The picture is a veritable puzzle. The bird is invisible to most eyes, though plain enough when once distinguished. While the bird was sitting a slight snow fell. The brown leaves which before had aided its concealment were now covered with a white mantle, and the bird became a conspicuous dark object against this snowy background. It now had no confidence whatever in its colouring, and took wing as soon as a person appeared on its horizon."—Ed.