Page images

but it nevertheless breeds in the Jordan Valley, so that in some places it is only the surplus population that migrates. In August and September, all who can return to their winter quarters.

Migrations of this type probably date back from at least the period when there was continuous land along the route passed over; and it is a suggestive fact that this land connection is known to have existed in recent geological times. Britain was connected with the Continent during, and probably before, the glacial epoch; and Gibraltar, as well as Sicily and Malta, were also recently united with Africa, as is proved by the fossil elephants and other large mammalia found in their caverns, by the comparatively shallow water still existing in this part of the Mediterranean while the remainder is of oceanic profundity, and by the large amount of identity in the species of land animals still inhabiting the opposite shores of the Mediterranean. The submersion of these two tracts of land (which were perhaps of considerable extent) would be a slow process, and from year to year the change might be hardly perceptible. It is easy to see how the migration that had once taken place over continuous land would be kept up, first over lagoons and marshes, then over a narrow channel, and subsequently over a considerable sea, no one generation of birds ever perceiving any difference in the route.

There is, however, no doubt that the sea-passage is now very dangerous to many birds. Quails cross in immense flocks, and great numbers are drowned at sea whenever the weather is unfavourable. Some individuals always stay through the winter in the south of Europe, and a few even in England and Ireland; and were the sea to become a little wider the migration would cease, and the quail, like some other birds, would remain divided between south Europe and north Africa. Aquatic birds are observed to follow the routes of great rivers and lakes, and the shores of the sea. One great body reaches central Europe by way of the Danube from the shores of the. Black Sea; another ascends the Rhone Valley from the Gulf of Lyons.

India and China.- In the peninsula of India and in China great numbers of northern birds arrive during September and October, and leave from March to May. Among the smaller birds are wagtails, pipits, larks, stonechats, warblers, thrushes, buntings, shrikes, starlings, hoopoes, and quails. Some species of cranes and storks, many ducks, and great numbers of Scolopacidæ also visit India in winter; and to prey upon these come a band of rapacious birds—the peregrine falcon, the hobby, kestrel, conimon sparrowhawk, harrier, and the short-eared owl. These birds are almost all natives of Europe and Western Asia; they spread over all northern and central India, mingling with the sedentary birds of the oriental fauna, and give to the ornithology of Hindostan at this season quite a European aspect. The peculiar species of the higher Himalayas do not as a rule descend to the plains in winter, but merely come lower down the mountains; and in southern India and Ceylon comparatively few of these migratory birds appear.

In China the migratory birds follow generally the coast line, coming southwards in winter from eastern Siberia and northern Japan ; while a few purely tropical forms travel northwards in summer to Japan, and on the mainland as far as the valley of the Amoor.

North America.-The migrations of birds in North America have been carefully studied by resident naturalists, and present some interesting features. The birds of the eastern parts of North America are pre-eminently migratory, a much smaller proportion being permanent residents than in corresponding latitudes in Europe. Thus, in Massachusetts there are only about 30 species of birds which are resident all the year, while the regular summer visitors are 106. Comparing with this our own country, though considerably further north, the proportions are reversed; there being 140 residents and 63 summer visitors. This difference is clearly due to the much greater length and severity of the winter, and the greater heat of summer, in America than with us. The number of permanent residents increases pretty regularly as we go southward; but the number of birds at any locality during the breeding season seems to increase as we go


northward as far as Canada, where, according to Mr. Allen, more species breed than in the warm Southern States. Even in the extreme north, beyond the limit of forests, there are no less than 60 species which breed ; in Canada about 160; while in Carolina there are only 135, and in Louisiana, 130. The extent of the migration varies greatly, some species only going a few degrees north and south, while others migrate annually from the tropics to the extreme north of the continent; and every gradation occurs between these extremes. Among those which migrate furthest are the species of Dendroca, and other American flycatching warblers (Mniotiltido), many of which breed on the shores of Hudson's Bay, and spend the winter in Mexico or the West Indian islands.

The great migratory movement of American birds is almost wholly confined to the east coast; the birds of the high central plains and of California being for the most part sedentary, or only migrating for short distances. All the species which reach South America, and most of those which winter in Mexico and Guatemala, are exclusively eastern species; though a few Rocky Mountain birds range southward along the plateaux of Mexico and Guatemala, but probably not as regular annual migrants.

In America as in Europe birds appear in spring with great regularity, while the time of the autumnal return is less constant. More curious is the fact, also observed in both hemispheres, that they do not all return by the same route followed in going northwards, some species being constant visitors to certain localities in spring but not in autumn, others in autumn but not in spring

Some interesting cases have been observed in America of a gradual alteration in the extent of the migration of certain birds. A Mexican swallow (Hirundo lunifrons) first appeared in Ohio in 1815. Year by year it increased the extent of its range till by 1845 it had reached Maine and Canada; and it is now quoted by American writers as extending its annual migrations to Hudson's Bay. An American wren (Troglodytes ludovicianus) is another bird which has spread considerably northwards since

[ocr errors]

the time of the ornithologist Wilson ; and the rice-bird, or “Bobo'-link,” of the Americans, continually widens its range as rice and wheat are more extensively cultivated. This bird winters in Cuba and other West Indian Islands, and probably also in Mexico. In April it enters the Southern States and passes northward, till in June it reaches Canada and extends west to the Saskatchewan River in 54° north latitude.

South Temperate America. The migratory birds of this part of the world have been observed by Mr. Hudson at Buenos Ayres. Às in Europe and North America, there are winter and summer visitors, from Patagonia and the tropics respectively. Species of Pyrocephalus, Milvulus, swallows, and a hummingbird, are among the most regular of the summer visitors. They are all insectivorous birds. From Patagonia species of Tænioptera, Cinclodes, and Centrites, come in winter, with two gulls, two geese, and six snipes and plovers. Five species of swallows appear at Buenos Ayres in spring, some staying to breed, others passing on to more temperate regions farther south. As a rule the birds which come late and leave early are the most regular. Some are very irregular in their movements, the Molothrus bonariensis, for example, sometimes leaves early in autumn, sometimes remains all the winter. Some resident birds also move in winter to districts where they are never seen in summer.

General Remarks on Migration. The preceding summary of the main facts of migration (which might have been almost indefinitely extended, owing to the great mass of detailed information that exists on the subject) appears to accord with the view already suggested, that the “instinct” of migration has arisen from the habit of wandering in search of food common to all animals, but greatly exaggerated in the case of birds by their powers of flight and by the necessity for procuring a large amount of soft insect food for their unfledged young. Migration in its simple form may be best studied in North America, where it takes place over a continuous land surface with a considerable change of climate from south to north. We have here (as probably in Europe and elsewhere) every grade of migration, from species which merely shift the northern and southern

VOL. I.-4

limits of their range a few hundred miles, so that in the central parts of the area the species is a permanent resident, to others which move completely over 1,000 miles of latitude, so that in all the intervening districts they are only known as birds of passage. Now, just as the rice-bird and the Mexican swallow have extended their migrations, owing to favourable conditions induced by human agency; so we may presume that large numbers of species would extend their range where favourable conditions arose through natural causes. If we go back only as far as the height of the glacial epoch, there is reason to believe that all North America, as far south as about 40° north latitude, was covered with an almost continuous and perennial ice-sheet. At this time the migratory birds would extend up to this barrier (which would probably terminate in the midst of luxuriant vegetation, just as the glaciers of Switzerland now often terminate amid forests and corn-fields), and as the cold decreased and the ice retired almost imperceptibly year by year, would follow it up farther and farther according as the peculiarities of vegetation and insect-food were more or less suited to their several constitutions. It is an ascertained fact that many individual birds return year after year to build their nests in the same spot. This shows a strong local attachment, and is, in fact, the faculty or feeling on which their very existence probably depends. For were they to wander at random each year, they would almost certainly not meet with places so well suited to them, and might even get into districts where they or their young would inevitably perish. It is also a curious fact that in so many cases the old birds migrate first, leaving the young ones behind, who follow some short time later, but do not go so far as their parents. This is very strongly opposed to the notion of an imperative instinct. The old birds have been before, the young have not; and it is only when the old ones have all or nearly all gone that the young go too, probably following some of the latest stragglers. They wander, however, almost at random, and the majority are destroyed before the next spring. This is proved by the fact that the birds which return in spring are as a rule not more numerous than those which came the

« EelmineJätka »