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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: 6

grace of motion, and melody—less than the least of the others. Therefore to greatly praise him is to publish our ignorance, or, at all events, to make it appear that he is admired because, being numerous and familiar with man, he has been closely and well looked at, while the wilder and less common species have only been seen at a distance, and therefore indistinctly.

A distinguished American writer on birds once visited England in order to make the acquaintance of our most noted feathered people, and in his haste pronounced the chaffinch the ‘prettiest British songster.’ Doubtless he had seen it oftenest, and closely, and at its best; but he would never have expressed such an opinion if he had properly seen many other British singing birds; if, for instance (confining ourselves to the fringilline family), he had seen his ‘shilfa’s’ nearest relation, the brambling, in his black dress beautifully variegated with buff and brown; or the many-coloured cirl-bunting; or that golden image of a bird, the yellowhammer; or the green siskin, ‘that lovely little oddity,’ seeking his food, tit-like, among the pine needles, or clinging to pendulous twigs; or the linnet in his spring plumage—pale grey and richest brown and carmine—singing among the flowery gorse; or the goldfinch, flitting amidst the apple-bloom in May, or feeding on the thistle in July and August, clinging to the downy heads, twittering as he passes from plant to plant, showing his gay livery of crimson, black, and gold; or the sedentary bullfinch, a miniature hawk in appearance, with a wonderful rose-coloured breast, sitting among the clustering leaves of a dark evergreen—yew or holly.

Beautiful birds are all these, and there are others just as beautiful in other passerine families, but alas! they are at a distance from us; they live in the country, and it is only that small ‘whiff of the country’ to be enjoyed in a public park which fate allows to the majority of Londoners, the many thousands of toilers from year’s end to year’s end, and their wives and children.

To those of us who take an annual holiday, and, in addition, an occasional run in the country, or who are not bound to town, it is hardly possible to imagine how much is meant by that little daily or weekly visit to a park. Its value to the confined millions has accordingly never been, and probably cannot be, rightly estimated. For the poor who have not those periods of refreshment which others consider so necessary to their health and contentment, the change from the close, adulterated atmosphere of the workshop and the living-room, and stone-paved noisy street, to the open, green, comparatively quiet park, is indeed great, and its benefit to body and mind incalculable. The sight of the sun; of the sky, no longer a narrow strip, but wide, infinite over all; the freshness of the unconfined air which the lungs drink in; the green expanse of earth, and large trees standing apart, away from houses—all this produces a shock of strange pleasure and quickens the tired pulse with sudden access of life. In a small way—sad it is to think in how small a way!—it is a return to nature, an escape for the moment from the prison and sick-room of unnatural conditions; and the larger and less artificial the park or open space, and the more abounding in wild, especially bird, life, the more restorative is the effect.

It is indeed invariably the animal life which exercises the greatest attraction and is most exhilarating. It is really pathetic to see how many persons of the working class come every day, all the year round, but especially in the summer months, to that minute transcript of wild nature in Hyde Park at the spot called the Dell, where the Serpentine ends. They are drawn thither by the birds—the multitude of sparrows that gather to be fed, and the wood-pigeons, and a few moorhens that live in the rushes.

‘I call these my chickens, and I’m obliged to come every day to feed them,’ said a paralytic-looking white-haired old man in the shabbiest clothes, one evening as I stood there; then, taking some fragments of stale bread from his pockets, he began feeding the sparrows, and while doing so he chuckled with delight, and looked round from time to time to see if the others were enjoying the spectacle.

To him succeeded two sedate-looking labourers, big, strong men, with tired, dusty faces, on their way home from work. Each produced from his coat-pocket a little store of fragments of bread and meat, saved from the midday meal, carefully wrapped up in a piece of newspaper. After bestowing their scraps on the little brown-coated crowd, one spoke: ‘Come on, mate, they’ve had it all, and now let’s go home and see what the missus has got for our tea’; and home they trudged across the park, with hearts refreshed and lightened, no doubt, to be succeeded by others and still others, London workmen and their wives and children, until the sun had set and the birds were all gone.

Here then is an object lesson which no person who is capable of reading the emotions in the countenance, who has any sympathy with his fellow-creatures, can fail to be impressed by. Not only at that spot in Hyde Park may it be seen, but at all the parks and open spaces in London; in some more than others, as at St. James’s Park, where the gulls are fed during the winter months, and at Battersea and Regent’s Parks, where the starlings congregate every evening in July and August. What we see is the perpetual hunger of the heart and craving of those who are compelled to live apart from Nature, who have only these momentary glimpses of her face, and of the refreshment they experience at sight of trees and grass and water, and, above everything, of wild and glad animal life. How important, then, that the most should be made of our few suitable open spaces; that everything possible should be done to maintain in them an abundant and varied wild bird life! Unfortunately, this has not been seen, else we should not have lost so much, especially in the royal parks. In some of the parks under the County Council there are great signs of improvement, an evident anxiety to protect and increase the stock of wild birds; but even here the most zealous of the superintendents are not fully conscious of the value of what they are themselves doing. They are encouraging the wild birds because they are considered ‘ornaments’ to the park, just as they plant rhododendrons and other exotic shrubs that have big gaily-coloured flowers in their season, and as they exhibit some foreign bird of gorgeous plumage in the park aviary. They have not yet grasped the fact—I hope Mr. Sexby, the excellent head of the parks department, will pardon my saying it—that the feathered inhabitants of our open spaces are something more than ‘ornaments’; that the sight and sound of any wild bird, from the croaking carrion crow to the small lyrical kitty wren or tinkling tomtit, will afford more pleasure to the Londoner—in other words, conduce more to his health and happiness—than all the gold pheasants and other brightly-apparelled prisoners, native and foreign, to be seen in the park cages.

From the foregoing it will be seen that this little book, which comes in place of the one I had, in a vague way, once thought of writing, is in some degree a book with a purpose. Birds are not considered merely as objects of interest to the ornithologist and to a few other persons—objects or creatures which the great mass of the people of the metropolis have really nothing to do with, and vaguely regard as something at a distance, of no practical import, or as