SEEMS to have been a favourite of nature; she bestowed upon him several qualities, one of which would be sufficient to recommend him to the attention of man. The prettiness of his shape, the beauty of his plumage, the quickness of his motions, his familiarity with us in winter, and above all, the melody and sweetness of his voice, always claim our admiration, and have insured him that security he enjoys among us. In the brumal season, impelled by the potent stimulus of hunger, he frequents our barns, our gardens, our houses, and often alights, on a sudden, on the rustic floor; there, with his broad eye incessantly open, and looking askew upon the company, he picks up eagerly the crumbs of bread that fall from the table, and then flies off to the neighbouring bush, where, by his warbling strains, he expresses his gratitude for the liberty he has been allowed. He is found in most parts of Europe, but no where so commonly as in several counties of England. His bill is dusky; the forehead, chin, throat, and breast, are of a deep orange colour, inclining to vermillion; the back of the head, neck, back, and tail, are of ash colour, tinged with green; the wings are somewhat darker, the edges inclining to yellow; the legs and feet are dusky. He builds his nest in the crevice of some mossy bank, and sometimes secrets it in the thickest coverts. The elegant Poet of the Seasons gives us a most exact and animated description of this bird in the following lines:
– Half afraid, he first
Against the window beats: then, brisk, alights
On the warm hearth; then, hopping on the floor
Eyes all the smiling family askance,
And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is,
‘Till more familiar grown, the table crumbs
Attract his slender feet.
An old Latin proverb tells us, that two Robin Red-Breasts do not feed on the same tree. We cannot vouch for the truth of this; but it is certain, that the Red-Breast is a solitary bird, and that he does not live in much harmony and friendship with those of his kind. The male may be known from the female by the colour of his legs, which are blacker.
The Red-Start is about the bigness of a robin-red-breast. The breast, rump, and sides, under the wings, are red; the lower belly white; the head, neck, and back, of a lead-colour. He feeds upon insects, and makes his appearance in summer; whether and where he retires in winter is a question which cannot be easily answered. This bird, when taken old, cannot be tamed; but if caught young, and kept warm in the winter, he will enliven the night as well as the day, with the sweet modulations of his song; he may even be taught to imitate the whistle of other birds, but his wild notes are so melodious that it is a pity to substitute any other to them. He is remarkable for shaking his tale from side to side, with a very quick motion. He builds in the hollow of a tree, or holes of walls; and the female lays four or five eggs, which she generally forsakes as soon as she perceives that her nest is known, and that the eggs have been touched. This bird feeds upon flies, spiders, eggs of ants, small and soft berries, and such like. There are several species of this bird, but the difference between them is so inconsiderable, that it would be useless to enumerate them all.