Bird World – Part 1

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The Robin, or Redbreast, Erithacus rubecula is Britain’s national bird. It was first mentioned as long ago as A.D. 530, when St Mungo performed a miracle by restoring his tame Robin to life after it had been killed by his pupils. In Britain it is a common bird and is often very tame, searching for worms and other small animals within inches of a gardener. Its continental cousins are rarely as tame. Wherever the English have settled, they have taken their affection for the Robin with them and this has resulted in unrelated birds showing a vague resemblance to the English Robin being given the same name. There are ‘robins’ in India, North America and Australia.

The so-called Robin of North America Turdus migratorius is in fact a large migratory thrush. As can be seen from the photograph, it really bears only the very slightest resemblance to the real Robin. It is, however, like the European bird in that it is an adaptable species; although originally a bird of the forests, It has not only managed to survive the extensive felling of the woods and forests, but has moved into area where it was previously unknown. Like its British counterpart, it is often tame and trusting towards man and has moved into many parks and gardens.

The early settles in Australia noticed pretty little robin-sized birds, some of which had brilliant scarlet breasts, and to these they gave the name ‘Robin’. When the first naturalists began studying the birds of Australia they found that these red-breasted ‘Robins’ were related very closely to a number of equally brightly coloured bird – some black and white, some rich orange, some bright yellow and some bright pink. The whole group of birds kept the name ‘Robin'; hence the Pale Yellow Robin Eopsaltria capito shown in the illustration which lacks any colour remotely resembling red!

Among the world’s most fascinating birds are Africa’s huge family of weavers, which also includes the familiar sparrows. Some of their nests are elaborately woven and beautiful. The architect is usually the male weaver-bird, whose courtship often begins after he has built the nest.

A day or two may elapse before the nest, tightly woven out of vegetable fibres, is completed, and when it is ready it will be securely anchored to its twig or branch. The entrance may be a hole near the bottom or by means of a narrow tube. To attract a mate, some weavers hang upside down from the bottom of the nest and execute a series of eye-catching acrobatic turns to the accompaniment of unmusical chirps. Others may cling to the side, chattering and chirping loudly. Although most weavers are quite noisy birds, few have any real song.

If the hen is interested, she will show her approval of the nest in a practical fashion by flying straight inside and taking up residence. Some kinds of weaver, the Village Weaver Ploceus cuccullatus for instance, are in such a hurry to start a new nest for a second partner that they only wait long enough for the hen to settle on her eggs before moving off.

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