Passing along the shore-path by our lake, one day in June, I heard a great sound of scuffling and yelping before me, as if dogs were hunting rabbits or woodchucks.
On approaching, I saw no sign of such disturbances, and presently a Partridge came running at me through the trees, with ruff and tail expanded, bill wide open, and hissing like a goose,— then turned suddenly, and with ruff and tail furled, but with no pretence of lameness, scudded off through the woods in a circle,—then at me again fiercely, approaching within two yards, and spreading all her furbelows, to intimidate, as before,—then, taking in sail, went off again, always at the same rate of speed, yelping like an angry squirrel, squealing like a pig, occasionally clucking like a hen, and, in general, so filling the woods with bustle and disturbance that there seemed no room for anything else.
Quite overawed by the display, I stood watching her for some time, then entered the underbrush, where the little, invisible brood had been unceasingly piping, in their baby way. So motionless were they, that, for all their noise, I stood with my feet among them, for some minutes, without finding it possible to detect them.
When found and taken from the ground, which they so closely resembled, they made no attempt to escape; but when replaced, they presently ran away fast, as if conscious that the first policy had failed, and that their mother had retreated.
Such is the summer life of these little things; but come again in the fall, when the wild autumnal winds go marching through the woods, and a dozen pairs of strong wings will thrill like thunder through the arches of the trees, as the full-grown brood whirrs away around you.
Not only have we scarcely any species of birds which are thoroughly and unquestionably identical with European
species, but there are certain general variations of habit.
For instance, in regard to migration.
This is, of course, a universal instinct, since even tropical birds migrate for short distances from the equator, so essential to their existence do these wanderings seem.
But in New England
, among birds as among men, the roving habit seems unusually strong, and abodes are shifted very rapidly.
The whole number of species observed in Massachusetts
is about the same as in England
,—some three hundred in all. But of this number, in England
, about a hundred habitually winter on the island, and half that number even in the Hebrides, some birds actually breeding in Scotland
during January and February, incredible as it may seem.
Their habits can, therefore, be observed through a long period of the year; while with us the bright army comes and encamps for a month or two and then vanishes.
You must attend their dress-parades while they last; for you will have but few opportunities, and their domestic life must commonly be studied during a few weeks of the season, or not at all.
Wonderful as the instinct of migration seems, it is not, perhaps, so altogether amazing in itself as in some of