The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 672/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (June, 1897) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issue 672, p. 269–277




Pine Marten in Ireland.—It will perhaps be of interest to your correspondent, Mr. W.W. Flemyng (p. 141), and to other Irish naturalists, to learn that I have five living adult Pine Martens from Ireland. The species is decidedly less rare there than in the three other divisions of the British Isles, but Irish naturalists and the Martens at large will thank me not to indicate the precise localities whence my specimens come. One of them I obtained so recently as the end of February, and in the early morning of the last day of March she gave birth to a litter of young, apparently two in number. Young Martens are, as I discovered in 1882,[1] pure white at birth, beginning to get grizzled within a week, and becoming brown within four weeks; but in the present instance, with a freshly-caught mother, inspection was quite out of the question. Assuming, from the date of her capture, that she might be in young, I prepared a suitable cage for her; but not anticipating the increase would take place so early had not shifted her from the small cage in which I had originally placed her. It was impossible then to move her, and hopeless to expect her not to eat the cubs in a small cage containing merely a little bed-box; so I prepared a large box, and adjusted it without noise, so as to fit against one of the narrow openings through which the cage is cleaned, as we could not, of course, block the only door. This opening is little more than two inches high, but she very soon moved the cubs through it into the more spacious and secluded bedroom. Since the first two days, however, I have been unable to certainly distinguish more than a single voice, so it is not unlikely that one cub has come to grief.

Those who are acquainted with Martens (and those only) will appreciate their gnawing powers; and during the night of Easter Tuesday (April 20th–21st) this Marten ripped out a strip from the front edge of the flooring of the bed-box, the width of which was only 1½ in. at the widest point, through which she got out! She found herself not absolutely at liberty, but inside a large cage, from which, however, she could have escaped almost anywhere. It would seem as if an inspection brought her to the conclusion that it would be very difficult, perhaps hopeless, to get the young away in safety, so she actually squeezed her way again through the 1½ in. opening back into the box, where she still remains. Sundry scraps of iron and zinc wedged in prevent her again using this hole, but, as before, I did not venture to drive nails, or otherwise make a noise. An unusual display on April 29th of the cub's vocal powers, followed, to the moment of writing (May 3rd), by unwonted silence, may mark the opening of its eyes; for young Martens are blind for a little over four weeks. One of my other Irish Martens (a male) is remarkable for having only scattered flecks of white in place of the normal yellowish-white "shirt-front."—Alfred Heneage Cocks (Thames Bank, Great Marlow, Bucks).


Polydactylism in the Horse.—A colt was produced from a cart-horse early this month at a farm near here. Three of its feet have each two quite divided toes. The left hind foot is normal, and it can walk on the hoof of the right one. The two front feet are rather distorted. Otherwise it is a perfect animal. As this peculiarity seems to point to more than ordinary monstrosity, it may interest some readers of 'The Zoologist.' It appears to be rather improbable that it is a high-bred animal.—H.L. Sich (c/o Rev. J. P. Smith, Whixley Vicarage, York).

[With reference to the above interesting record, it may be remembered, as Bateson observes, "Variation in the number of digits in the Horse has been repeatedly observed from the earliest times." The whole subject is treated in that author's 'Materials for the Study of Variation' (pp. 360-73), and many instances given which are grouped and analysed.—Ed.]


Swallow-tailed Kite in Suffolk.—Through the kindness of Dr. Otho Travers, of this town, I was lately afforded an opportunity of examining an example of Elanoides furcatus. It passed into the possession of this gentleman from his father, the late Mr. O.W. Travers, by whom it was shot in Suffolk. I am afraid it is now impossible to state either the exact locality in that county or the year, but, so far as Mr. Travers is able to judge, it was shot by his father near the village of Mildenhall between the years 1830–1840; there can, however, be no doubt as to the county. The specimen in question is in excellent preservation, and is the only one killed in Britain known to be in existence. I have carefully sought for indications that the bird had been in confinement, and of this I cannot entertain the least suspicion. In the opinion of Prof. Alfred Newton this beautiful bird has unquestionably occurred twice in Great Britain, and as it is a very vagrant species, it seems unreasonable to disallow its claim to be considered a wanderer to our shores. The species is a native of Tropical America, and the occurrence of individuals with us is perhaps mainly interesting as showing that "Transatlantic stragglers" are not wholly confined to natives of the northern half of that continent, though whether those stragglers cross by a different route, or in a different way, it is impossible to say. For a description of the species the reader may be referred to Dr. Coues's 'Key,' or to Mr. Ridgway's 'Manual.'— W. Ruskin Butterfield (St. Leonards-on-Sea).

Honey Buzzard in Staffordshire.—Mr. E. Baylis's record of this occurrence (p. 232) contains some errors which are well to be corrected. The date given (1894) is incorrect. I examined the bird some years since, and was informed by the gardener who killed it (not the keeper, as stated) that it was obtained June 16th, 1891; and the record has long since been saved from oblivion, having been recorded fully in the 'Journal' of the Birmingham Natural History Society. Moreover, if Mr. Baylis had referred to McAldowie's 'Birds of Staffordshire,' he would have found several other recorded occurrences; and again an additional specimen recorded by myself in Zool. 1888 (p. 394). As regards Warwickshire, several have occurred within the county.—J. Steele Elliott (Dixon's Green, Dudley).

Breeding of the Common Snipe in Romney Marsh.—Towards the end of April, some three or four years ago, I flushed a Snipe in Romney Marsh; the question immediately occurred to me, does the Snipe breed here? There are many very suitable places, though none of large extent like there are in the fens. Being well acquainted with the bird during the nesting season in the fen country, I at once began to look for the nest, but could not find it. Every year since I have put up three or four in different parts of the marsh, in the month of April; but they always seemed to be only feeding, as the places were generally very wet, and no nest was to be found. On April 24th last, however, while hunting a small piece of rough sedge and rushes with my brother, I saw a Snipe get up right at his feet, and as usual, when there is a nest, fly away slowly and close to the ground. The nest was easily found, situated on the top of a tussock, and contained four typical eggs. We subsequently put up several more Snipe, but they were obviously only feeding, and we were unable to find a second nest. So far as I can make out, this is the first recorded instance of the breeding of this species in Kent; I can find records for all the other southern counties from Cornwall to Essex, and Borrer, in his 'Birds of Sussex,' mentions it as nesting on the Pevensey Levels, only some twenty-five miles from where I found the above nest. Being now at work during my spare time in preparing a History of the Birds of Kent, I should like to hear from any reader of 'The Zoologist' who knows of a previous instance, or would be kind enough to furnish me with any information regarding the occurrence of rare birds, the distribution of local species during the breeding season, winter visitors, or the whereabouts of private collections; all such information will be gratefully acknowledged.—N.F. Ticehurst (Guy's Hospital, London, S.E.).

An Unfortunate Cuckoo.—My attention has recently been directed to a dead Cuckoo found on a moor near here, which must have met its end under somewhat peculiar circumstances—I might say melancholy circumstances—when we consider the long flight which this bird must have taken a short time before it was destroyed. The enemies which may have attacked it in an unwary moment—as it was found beside a small watercourse, where it may have been either drinking, bathing, or otherwise occupying its time—are Stoats, Weasels, Dogs, and Cats; or, among birds, the Merlin, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, and Hooded Crow, of which the first is rare in this neighbourhood. But there were no signs of picked-out eyes, blood-sucking about the neck, or anything that would indicate an attack by any of the above-mentioned animals. The parts eaten away when I saw it were indicative of Rooks, who had fallen upon it after death; and we may suppose from other appearances that it had been perhaps killed in battle, either between one or more of its own kind or with some other bird, as there were feathers, apparently plucked, lying at three places in the vicinity where the dead bird was found, while its neck was practically cleared of feathers in some parts, without indication of cuts. I have seen these birds somewhat pugnacious about the time they arrive, as well as during their stay here, and it is possible that there may have been a fight, ending in the death of one of them. In the vicinity there was a Ring Ouzel's nest, and it is a question whether it would be possible for a Cuckoo to tamper with one of these Thrushes with the view of depositing an egg in its nest. The other birds in the neighbourhood which could have fought would consist of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Grouse, Partridges, Wood-Pigeons, or Rooks. The last mentioned sometimes have great fights with Hawks, and if the Cuckoo possesses the boldness of the Hawk it might enter into a disadvantageous conflict with one or other of these birds.—Wm. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).

[I found a dead Cuckoo several years ago among some trees near Purley, Surrey, and ascribed its death to contact with some tall wire-fencing (?). It was in such perfect condition that it was set up, and is still in my possession. Good authorities—Bowdler Sharpe, Jefferies, amongst others—have recorded that small birds will mob a Cuckoo from its similarity in appearance to a hawk.—Ed.]

Peculiar Nesting Habit of the House Sparrow.—We have a colony of Sparrows which build nests in a creeper on the front of our house. This year the creeper was very slow in coming out, and the nests were therefore very visible to the naked eye; so the Sparrows took a great number of leaves from a tree in front of the house and stuck them about the creeper, with the view apparently of covering up its deficiencies. Of course they dropped four for every one they fixed in the creeper, and those they did get there were soon blown down; but they nearly stripped the side of the tree next the house.—A.L. Lewis (54, Highbury Hill, N.).

Change of Plumage in the Nonpareil Finch.—Last summer I purchased a Nonpareil Finch, Cyanospiza ciris, from a local dealer. When I first had the bird its breast-feathers were scarlet, but since its last moult they have become orange. I should be glad if any readers of 'The Zoologist' could inform me if there is any method of restoring the scarlet colour of the feathers at the next moult. The bird itself is in the best of health, and sings well, and I may say the blue of the head and the green feathers on the back leave nothing to be desired. It is kept in a roomy cage, has plenty of exercise, and in addition to ordinary seed diet has abundance of insect food. I am aware that Nonpareils in captivity are very liable to lose colour, and should be glad of any suggestion as to feeding, &c, which might enable me to remedy this.—Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Cheshire).

Occurrence of the Black-headed Bunting in Sussex.—Early in January of the present year, while looking over some birds in the possession of Mr. Daniel Francis, I recognized an example, in adult female plumage, of the Black-headed Bunting, Euspiza, or, as it is more generally called, Emberiza melanocephala. It was given to Mr. Francis on the morning of Nov. 3rd, 1894—the day on which, as Gould supposed, the first British example was killed twenty-six years before—by one of the men of the coastguard service, who had just picked it up in an exhausted condition close to the metals on the South Coast line of railway near Bexhill. The bird had a shattered wing, and had probably been shot at while perched on the telegraph-wires. Through my friend's kindness the specimen is now in my possession. The original British specimen was shot in this county in November, 1868, and is in the choice collection of Sussex birds formed by Mr. Monk, of Lewes. Since that year it has occurred twice in other parts of Britain, so that the present makes the fourth record. During the breeding season the species is "abundant in Asia Minor, all through the Caucasus" mountains, but it rarely extends westward or northward of the peninsula of Italy; while during the autumnal migration its flight is directed eastward to India, which forms its winter quarters. It is enough to excite one's wonder that individuals should be found in this country (and the same may be said of Heligoland) in November, separated as they then are from their rightful home by almost the whole length of Europe and half that of Asia. A short notice of this occurrence may be seen in the second volume of Dr. Butler's 'British Birds,' p. 192 (Addenda).—W. Ruskin Butterfield (St. Leonards-on-Sea).

Nesting of the Grey Wagtail in Lincolnshire.—I have been delighted in watching a pair of Grey Wagtails, Motacilla melanope, Pallas, which, mirabile dictu, have actually brought off a brood within three feet of my library window. The nest, the exterior of which is composed of fine grasses and roots, and lined with cow-hair, is five feet from the ground, in the wall-ivy. It was commenced the second week in March; I dare not look too closely to ascertain when the first egg was laid. The female commenced sitting about April 25th. The young were hatched on May 9th, on which day both the parents commenced feeding them with insects and their larvæ. These Wagtails were first seen on Nov. 10th, and have kept about the premises ever since. There are several spring-heads and water-courses which they haunt, but none very near the house. It has been a daily pleasure to watch these elegant and chastely coloured little creatures, so suggestive of a north-country beck, running here and there on the lawn, sometimes on the window-sill, or perched on a window-box or the scraper of the side door. When I found they really intended nesting precautions were taken to prevent them being disturbed, and since the female commenced to sit six worthless stray cats have disappeared without subsequent enquiries as to their whereabouts. I was pleased (May 22nd) when the young birds (I think four of them) left the nest, and strong enough to fly to the house-roof and into an old beech-tree on the lawn. The old birds used alternately to bring insects to the nest almost regularly every five minutes, commencing, to my knowledge, at 4 a.m. and to 7.30 p.m. This is the first occasion on which the Grey Wagtail has been recorded nesting in Lincolnshire, and, as far as I am aware, in Eastern England south of the Humber. It is, however, a most regular winter visitant.—John Cordeaux (Great Cotes House, R.S.O., Lincoln).

Arrival of Summer Migrants in Gloucestershire.—The following is a list of some of our summer migrants, with the dates upon which I first observed them in Gloucestershire (near Cheltenham):—Chiffchaff, March 25th; Willow Wren, April 11th; Redstart, April 14th; Whitethroat, April 13th; Swallow, April 13th; House Martin, April 14th; Blackcap, April 16th; Lesser Whitethroat, April 18th; Cuckoo, April 19th; Sand Martin, two seen on April 4th.—Bernard Rivière (Flaxley, 82, Finchley Road, N.W.).

Inherited Instinct in Birds.—It has been asserted, without a shadow of real evidence to support the statement, that birds build their nests by imitation, and that the reason why many of them at the commencement of the season trifle with building material for some time before they produce a satisfactory structure is that they are unable at once to remember exactly what the character of the nest was in which they first saw the light of day. In 'British Birds, with their Nests and Eggs,' now in course of publication, I pointed out that young birds never really see the more complex part of the nest, inasmuch as their vision is mainly confined to the lining (which is moulded into form in the most primitive fashion); and in direct proof of the fact that birds do not build by imitation, I recorded the fact that in 1895 and 1896 different hen Canaries, reared in the usual square box of a London breeding-cage, were turned loose in aviaries in which no typical finch-like nest existed, and, after the lapse of about three hundred years, reproduced nests nearly resembling those of their wild ancestors. This year a still more convincing proof of the instinctive building habit in birds has been given. I turned loose a Canary, also cage-bred, in one of my aviaries, late in April. The bird, without my knowledge, took possession of a square box hung high up on the wirework, and had almost completed a nest therein, when I lifted the box down to see whether any bird had made use of it. Although I hung up the box again, the Canary deserted it, and commenced at once to build an elaborate cup-shaped nest in a dead bush. In three days this nest was completed; the following day she began to lay, and deposited five eggs, upon which (as I write) she is sitting steadily. On the other hand, Goldfinches and other birds reared out-of-doors take possession of cages and boxes in which to nest when in captivity.—Arthur G. Butler (124, Beckenham Road, Beckenham, Kent).


Bull-dog Variety of the Sapphirine Gurnard at Great Yarmouth.—During the middle of May an unusual number of Gurnards were brought to the fish-wharf by local trawlers. The Sapphirine Gurnard, or Tub-fish, Trigla hirundo (local, Latchet), was exceptionally plentiful, and ran to a very large size. In one instance I saw a specimen very prettily mottled with a fine bluish network of markings. The pectoral fins were barred very like those of Trigla lineata. On May 18th a sixteen-inch example was brought to me, exhibiting the peculiar characteristics which have been noticed in several species, and which have gained for that abnormality the title of "bull-dog variety." The "latchet" had a head-piece that had the appearance of having been, in nautical language, "stove in." I have on two or three occasions found this feature displayed in the Gadidæ, in which the deformity amounts to positive ugliness.

Photo of fish, taken by Mr. Rumbold

I am indebted to my friend Mr. C. Rumbold, an amateur photographer living in this town, for the photograph from which the accompanying illustration has been taken. A normal specimen has been introduced to show the contrast. The fish is now in the Cambridge Museum.—Arthur Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).

[Besides the above interesting record relating to the Gurnard, in Mr. Bateson's 'Materials for the Study of Variation,' pp. 57–8, will be found instances of the "bull-dog" variety in the Carp, Chub, Minnow, Pike, Mullet, Salmon, and Trout."— Ed.]


A Gigantic Lobster.— Some of our daily papers having published the statement that the New York Aquarium contained the largest Lobster in the world, the Editor wrote to the Director of that institution, who has kindly supplied the following note on the subject:—

"Replying to your letter of April 20th, I am not authority for the statement that a large Lobster, recently exhibited in the Aquarium and now in the taxidermist's hands, is the 'largest Lobster in the world.' Its weight, as given to me by an assistant of Prof. Bristol, of New York University, was 33 lbs., of which the large forceps furnished 17 lbs. The total length he found to be 23¾ in., from rostrum to end of telson, not including hairs. The straight measurement of the large forceps is 15 in., and its girth 20½ in. The length of the small forceps is 15½ in., and its girth 15¼ in. The carapace is 9¾ in., exclusive of rostrum, which is 2516 in., and its girth behind the cervical groove is 19¾ in. The Lobster is Homarus americanus (M. Edw.). The example was taken by a cod-fishing smack off Sandy Hook late in March. It lived in the Aquarium only three weeks. The lower salinity of the water supply and the reduced pressure were the probable causes of its death. It took no food during captivity. When the salinity of the water is greater, as occurs in the fall of the year, it is practicable to keep large Lobsters alive during the entire winter, and they can easily be induced to feed upon pieces of cod or herring."— Tarleton H. Bean, Director (New York Aquarium).

  1. See 'Zoologist,' 1883, p. 203. The same pair of Martens bred again in 1884 and 1885, and both eventually died well on in their seventeenth year (at least).