Some Birds Of Britain

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Nature Magazine, September 1937

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In Britain, particularly in the southwest, we have many hanging woods-woods that run down the slope of a hill into the valley. I remember one of tall stately beeches and spreading oaks on the border of England and Wales. It was reputed to be a remnant of the original forest of Britain, yet it was cut down during the war to provide timber. A broad path wandered between the trees for a mile or so, and on either side of the path wild daffodils in profusion nodded in the April winds. The tops of the lower trees, crowded with rooks' nests, were on a level with the eyes of anyone walking along the ridge. As one appeared in view, the colony of perhaps two hundred birds rose to circle overhead. As the clamor of the sudden alarm died down, one could watch the birds as they returned to their nests.


The rooks that were building or repairing nests flew to other trees outside the rookery to wrench off long supple twigs. Usually, one bird of a pair remained at the nest, as in the absence of both owners their neighbors would steal all the sticks that had been placed in position. A year or so later, observations were continued from a blind, which was erected in January before any of the colony had returned. It was built into a convenient fork in the topmost branches to resemble, so far as possible, one of those huge collections of four or five nests that are a feature of most rookeries. Five frames, four feet square, were constructed on the ground from hazel rods and beech twigs. These, when completed, resembled the hurdles used to protect young lambs in a sheepfold. Four of the frames were hauled into position in the tree to form the sides of the blind, and the fifth made the roof. The interior was lined with green fabric fastened at many points to minimize the flapping of the material in the wind, a frequent cause of alarm to returning birds.

The camouflage was successful. When the birds returned, so little notice was taken of the structure that two nests within eighteen inches of the blind were occupied immediately. Later a pair of birds commenced to build a nest on the frame that formed the roof. By the third week in March the blind was surrounded by twelve nests, all in the same tree, some of the birds having full clutches of from three to six eggs. At this time the weather became very stormy for a few days, the wind reaching gale force at times. Several nests were blown from the trees, but at once the birds from these began building again.

The success attending this effort induced me to try the method on other species of tree-nesting birds from time to time. The photograph of our large hawk, commonly called the buzzard, feeding her young was obtained from a blind well covered with bracken and foliage in a wood in Central Wales. The hillside sloped sharply enough to permit of this structure being built on the ground thirty-five feet from the nest in the main fork of an ash. Fortunately, many of the leaves on the surrounding trees had been eaten by caterpillars, so that the light was fairly good. On the first day, the first of July, I was in position in the blind by 11 a.m. A friend from a nearby farm had seen me into it and had rearranged the covering of foliage before departing from the tent, which had been in position for three days. One bird alighted in the tree for a few seconds in the early afternoon and searchingly inspected the blind before flying off quietly. The buzzard's flight is almost noiseless, being in this respect much like that of the barn owl.

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