[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
IT has long been a problem, whether these birds emigrate from countries to countries, or whether they remain the whole winter where they have abided during the summer season, and then hide themselves in caves, banks of rivers, holes of trees, clefts of rocks, to pass the cold months, in torpid insensibility. Of the possibility of emigrating there is no doubt, as this bird can remain so long on the wing; on another hand, of their having been found clustered together, under the shelving banks of rivers and ponds, many facts may be adduced to prove it; and thus the lover and observer of nature is left in a painful equilibrium. There are several species of the Swallow: the general characters, a small beak, but large wide mouth, for the purpose of swallowing flying insects, their natural food; and their long forked tails and extensive wings to help in pursuing the prey, belong to all of them. The common house-swallow builds at our very windows, and seems not afraid at the sight of man, yet it cannot be tamed, or even kept in cage. The nature of their nest is worthy our serious observation; how the mud is extracted from the sea-shores, rivers, or other watery places; how masoned and formed into a solid building, strong enough to support a whole family, and to face the “pelting storm,” are wonders which ought to raise our mind to Him who bestowed that instinct upon them. The ancient mythologists struck at a bloody spot, which one of the species present on their breast, invented, or applied the story of the unfortunate Procne, which is so well alluded to, and so poetically described by Virgil, in his Georgics, Book IV. v. 15, where speaking of the enemies of the bees, he says,
The Titmouse and the Pecker’s hungry brood,
And Procne, with her bosom stain’d in blood.
Modern poets have not been unmindful of the Swallows, and our immortal Shakespeare mentions them in Macbeth in the following manner, Act I. scene vi.
“This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting Martlet, does approve
By his lov’d masonry, that heav’n’s breath
Swells wooingly here. No jutting frieze
Buttress, or coignes of ‘vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendent bed and procreant cradle:
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observ’d
The air is delicate.”
And undoubtedly Banquo was right, as it is plain that, if this bird passes the winter in hollow caves and muddy banks; in summer, however, he delights in high situations, where the purest air circulates. The Swallow is on the head, neck, back, and rump, of a shining black colour, with purple gloss, and some times with a blue shade; the throat and neck are of the same colour; the breast and belly are white, with a dash of red. The tail is forked, and consists of twelve feathers. The wings are of the same colour with the back. They feed upon flies, worms, insects; and generally hunt their prey on the wing.