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How-to Study Birds Ebook

How-to Study Birds
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Title: How-to Study Birds
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CHAPTER 1

SPRING JOURNEY

WATCHING birds, and studying and interpreting their lively ways is, or should be, a round the year hobby, for there is no time when there is not something of interest to see in the world of birds. But there is no doubt that when the year is at the spring, then is the time when most is to be seen, for then events crowd fast, one upon the other, with much coming and going, pairing, nesting, and rearing of families, and all the emotional intensity and physical outlay of the breeding phase of birds. We may therefore with reason decide to start our study of a bird's year at the advent of spring, and to this end let us begin our observations on birds with the return of the summer migrants, and see what we can gain from days spent in the fields, or by the sea-shore armed with nothing but binoculars, note-book and most important of all, an inquiring mind.

In the spring, about the middle of April, we go out of doors and find that the woods and fields are becoming populated, in ever increasing numbers, by birds which were not present during the winter. Most probably it is their songs which first attract our attention ; willow-warblers, chiff-chaffs, cuckoos, and many more are all back and proclaiming to everyone that there they are. They have come northwards for over 2000 miles to breed in the same area in which they were born in some previous spring. How this migratory urge came into being has long been a source of speculation among ornithologists, from the curious theory of a bishop Godwin of Hereford, who held that birds migrated to the moon, and that a man might be carried there by harnessing a number of large birds, to the modern theories based on carefully controlled experiments in aviary-laboratories. A favourite theory with the later nineteenth century ornithologists was that known as the " glacial epoch " theory. According to the more extreme interpretations of this theory, migration arose from the successive advance and retreat of the northern ice-cap, the birds retreating before the ice as it pushed southwards, and returning north again as the ice retracted. In this way, over a succession of ice-ages, birds were said to have evolved a north-south swing which became an inherited faculty. There are many factors which are opposed to this view, not the least of which is the length of time during which the ice-cap covered northern Europe before retreating again. This was a matter of some millions of years, and the retention of an .urge in the birds to return to their original home during so long a period of time is unlikely. It is probable that more can be gained by studying present-day conditions than by invoking prehistoric ones, in attempting to explain the origin of migration. The matter is one of immense complexity and so far as we know, no single factor is likely to offer a discrete or clear-cut explanation. In asking why certain birds migrate, the answer that they do so because, under conditions prevailing in the cold season, the normal food supply is not available, appears on the surface to be adequate. But investigation shows that many species are what we know as " partial migrants " ; that is, while certain members of the species stay in the breeding area all "the year round, others perform long and arduous migrations of a thousand miles or more. It has even been shown that, in certain partial migrants, some of the birds from a single brood may migrate in the autumn, whilst others from the same brood remain at home. The British song-thrush, pied wagtail, and robin are examples of" partial-migrants," and here the food problem cannot explain their migration. Complexities and anomalies thus face the would-be student of migration at every turn. The first thing he must decide on, is a sound definition of migration. Perhaps the best is one which states that " migration is a movement of population in which there is a definite shift in the centre of gravity of the population."

CONTENTS

1 SPRING JOURNEY 11
2 ENSURING A PLAGE IN THE SUN 27
3 NUPTIALS AND NESTING 49
4 THE EGG, AND THE YOUNG BIRD 66
5 INHERITANCE AND IMITATION 88
6 AUTUMN FLIGHT 97
7 WATCHING BIRDS IN WINTER I06
Part Two
8 THROUGH THE EYE OF A BIRD Il8
9 COLOUR IN A BIRD'S WORLD 131
10 A BIRD IN THE AIR 144
11 PROBLEMS OF POPULATION 162
12 AIDS TO FIELD WORK 167
13 THE MIND OF A BIRD 169
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES 173
REFERENCES 174
BIRDS ON THE BRITISH LIST MENTIONED IN THE TEXT 184
FOREIGN BIRDS MENTIONED IN TEXT 188
Ebook cover: How-to Study Birds
How-to Study Birds

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