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قراءة كتاب Birds in London

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‏اللغة: English
Birds in London

Birds in London

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

crow, and kestrel and white and brown owl; but who can say that they will breed in the same places in 1899, or even in 1898? For these little green rustic refuges are situated on the lower slopes of a volcano, which is always in a state of eruption, and year by year they are being burnt up and obliterated by ashes and lava.

After I had at once and for ever dropped, for the reasons stated, all idea of a handbook, the thought remained that there was still much to be said about London bird life which might be useful, although in another way. The subject was often in my mind during the summer months of 1896 and 1897, which, for my sins, I was compelled to spend in town. During this wasted and dreary period, when I was often in the parks and open spaces in all parts of London, I was impressed more than I had been before with the changes constantly going on in the character of the bird population of the metropolis. These changes are not rapid enough to show a marked difference in a space of two or three years; but when we take a period of fifteen or twenty years, they strike us as really very great. They are the result of the gradual decrease in numbers and final dying out of many of the old-established species, chiefly singing birds, and, at the same time, the appearance of other species previously unknown in London, and their increase and diffusion. Considering these two facts, one is inclined to say off-hand that the diminution or dying out of one set of species is simply due to the fact that they are incapable of thriving in the conditions in which they are placed; that the London smoke is fatal in the long run to some of the more delicate birds, as it undoubtedly is to the rose and other plants that require pure air and plenty of sunshine; and that, on the other hand, the new colonists that are increasing are species of a coarser fibre, greater vitality, and able, like the plane-tree in the plant world, to thrive in such conditions. It is really not so: the tits and finches, the robin, wren, hedge-sparrow, pied wagtail, some of the warblers, and the missel-thrush, are as vigorous and well able to live in London as the wood-pigeon. They are, moreover, very much more prolific than the pigeon, and find their food with greater ease. Yet we see that these lively, active species are dying out, while the slow, heavy dove, which must eat largely to live, and lays but two eggs on a frail platform of sticks for nest, is rapidly increasing.

Here then, it seemed, was a subject which it might be for the advantage of the bird-lovers in London to consider; and I write in the conviction that there are as many Londoners who love the sight and sound of wild bird life as there are who find refreshment in trees and grass and flowers, who are made glad by the sight of a blue sky, to whom the sunshine is sweet and pleasant to behold.

In going about London, after my mind had begun to dwell on this subject, I was frequently amused, and sometimes teased, by the sight and sound of the everywhere-present multitudinous sparrow. In London there are no grain-growers and market-gardeners, consequently there is no tiresome sparrow question, and no sparrow-clubs to vex the tender-hearted. These sparrows were not to be thought about in their relation to agriculture, but were simply little birds, too often, in many a weary mile, in many an unlovely district, the only representatives of the avian class, flying to and fro, chirping and chirruping from dawn to dark; nor birds only: I had them also for butterflies, seen sometimes in crowds and clouds, as in the tropics, with no rich nor splendid colouring on their wings; and I had them for cicadas, and noisy locusts of arboreal habits, hundreds and thousands of them, whirring in a subdued way in the park trees during the sultry hours. They were all these things and scavengers as well, ever busy at their scavengering in the dusty and noisy ways; everywhere finding some organic matter to comfort their little stomachs, or to carry to their nestlings.

At times the fanciful idea would occur to me that I was on a commission appointed to inquire into the state of the wild bird life of London, or some such subject, and that my fellow commissioners were sparrows, so incessantly were they with me, though in greatly varying numbers, during my perambulations.

After all, the notion that they attended or accompanied me in my walks was not wholly fanciful. For no sooner does any person enter any public garden or park, or other open space where there are trees, than, if he be not too absorbed in his own thoughts, he will see that several sparrows are keeping him company, flying from tree to tree, or bush to bush, alighting occasionally on the ground near him, watching his every movement; and if he sit down on a chair or bench several of them will come close to him, and hop this way and that before him, uttering a little plaintive note of interrogation—Have you got nothing for us? They have come to look on every human being who walks among the park trees and round the garden-beds as a mere perambulating machine for the distribution of fragments of bread. The sparrow’s theory or philosophy of life, from our point of view, is very ridiculous, but he finds it profitable, and wants no better.

I remember that during those days, when the little creatures were so much with me, whether I wanted them or no, some person wrote to one of the newspapers to say that he had just made the acquaintance of the common sparrow in a new character. The sparrow was and always had been a familiar bird to him, but he had never previously seen it gathered in crowds at its ‘afternoon tea’ in Hyde Park, a spectacle which he had now witnessed with surprise and pleasure.

If (I thought) this innumerous feathered company could only be varied somewhat, the modest plumage retouched, by Nature, with harmonious olive green and yellow tints, pure greys and pure browns, with rose, carmine, tile and chestnut reds; and if the monotonous little burly forms could be reshaped, and made in some cases larger, in others smaller, some burlier still and others slimmer, more delicate and aërial in appearance, the spectacle of their afternoon tea would be infinitely more attractive and refreshing than it now is to many a Londoner’s tired eyes.

Their voices, too—for the refashioned mixed crowd would have a various language, like the species that warble and twitter and call musically to one another in orchard and copse—would give a new and strange delight to the listener.

No doubt the sparrow is, to quote the letter-writer’s expression, ‘a jolly little fellow,’ quite friendly with his supposed enemy man, amusing in his tea-table manners, and deserving of all the praise and crumbs we give him. He is even more. To those who have watched him begging for and deftly catching small scraps of bread, suspended like a hawk-moth in the air before the giving hand, displaying his conspicuous black gorget and the pale ash colour of his under surface, while his rapidly vibrating wings are made silky and translucent by the sunlight passing through them, he appears, indeed, a pretty and even graceful creature.


But he is, after all, only a common sparrow, a mean representative of bird life in our midst; in all the æsthetic qualities which make birds charming—beauty of form and colour,