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These are soft-billed birds, feeding almost entirely on insects. They are mostly birds of passage, and are very difficult to rear and preserve in health, requiring very great care and attention to their individual peculiarities. Amongst them are our sweetest songsters, yet I do not advocate keeping them in confinement: their migratory habits make them restless at certain seasons, and unless one has the time to devote oneself to them, and can succeed in gaining their hearts so completely as to make up to them for the loss of their natural companions and of their liberty, one cannot be secure of their happiness. In the winter too, when their instinct leads them to resort to warmer climates, they suffer much from cold, unless they can have an habitation of which the temperature is regulated at a certain heat, while fresh air and sunshine are admitted. Even those who have kept Nightingales, as they assert, for several years in health and full song, admit that after five or six years they sing less constantly and sweetly; but that, if set at liberty then, in the month of May, they will be so invigorated as to recover all the beauty and strength of their song. This would seem to betoken an absence of entire happiness in confinement.
The NIGHTINGALE (Luscinia Philomela or Sylvia luscinia), the most beautiful of all our songsters, comes to England towards the end of April, and leaves us at the beginning of September. It is rarely found in the extreme west of England or in Ireland, and visits some parts of Yorkshire only; in the neighbourhood of Carlisle it has been seen, but rarely goes beyond the southern and middle counties. Some say that it is unknown in Cornwall and Devonshire, and that the Nightingale never frequents spots where the cowslip does not grow; but its plain brown plumage and its fondness for secluded districts may enable
it to escape observation unless especially sought. The Nightingale is said always to return to its birthplace, whether marsh, mountain, or wood, and to revisit the same spot year after year. The males always arrive a few days before the females, and are then easily caught by the birdcatchers on the watch for them. They are very inquisitive birds, and very easily snared by a trap-cage baited with mealworms; but they will sometimes refuse to eat at first, and will require to be coaxed to take their food by placing a few mealworms under a glass in the middle of a pan containing raw beef, scraped free from fibre, and mixed with water and hard-boiled egg. The bird will peck at the mealworms moving about under the glass, and, finding the meat palatable, will eat that; but he must be supplied with mealworms and ants' eggs also. If taken captive before he has found a mate, he is more likely to become reconciled to his fate; but if he has already paired when caught, he will possibly pine and sulk, and refuse to eat his food or sing, or will burst forth into a passionate song, and die. Young Nightingales brought up by hand seldom sing well; they require the tuition of the old birds. If taken from the nest, those which have the lightest-coloured plumage and the most white about the throat should be selected, as they are generally the males. The best food for them is ants' eggs mixed with crumbled and moistened white bread, hard-boiled egg, and occasionally a little bread soaked in milk; but the old birds will sometimes feed them if the nest and young ones are placed in a cage in the place from which they have been taken. If they are captured also, they must be placed in a cage lined with cloth or calice, or they will hurt themselves in their frantic endeavours to escape. Mealworms, ants' eggs, bread crumbs, and sand should be put on the floor of the cage, and plenty of fresh water supplied to them: they must be left undisturbed for a time, and then the nest of young birds must be put within their reach; and, if they feed
them, they may all be placed in a breeding-cage together, and are likely to go on well; but if they neglect the young birds' cries for food, the latter must be fed with a quill every hour, and reared by hand. A gentleman who has been very successful in his treatment of Nightingales, and says that he has not eaten a Christmas dinner for twenty years without the Nightingales' song, fed them entirely on scraped raw beef and hard-boiled egg, mixed with water, and made fresh every morning; and on this food his birds brought up a nest of young ones in a cage. Finding the odour of the cage offensive, he tried subsequently to feed his Nightingales on hard-boiled egg and German paste, for which his recipe was 7 lbs. of pea-meal, 2 lbs. coarse Scotch oatmeal, 1 lb. moist sugar, 1 lbs. beef dripping, I lb. honey, 2 quarts hemp-seed, and I pint maw-seed. The dripping and honey were melted together in a saucepan, and the meal and sugar well rubbed in, so as to leave no lumps in the paste; then the hemp-seed, crushed, and the maw-seed were added to it, and, when cool, it was put into an earthern jar. A teacup-full of the paste was mixed every morning with a hard-boiled egg, all, white and yolk, pressed through a fine wire sieve. This was sufficient for five or six softbilled birds, and on this the Nightingales throve well.
Another successful rearer of Nightingales, to whom I am indebted for much interesting information on the subject, tells me that he finds a paste made of pea-meal, egg, mawseed, and sugar answer very well with his birds, but he gives them also beef and egg as before mentioned, and a mealworm or two every day. Boiled vegetables, carrots, turnips, and beetroots, and soft puddings are also recommended for Nightingales, with a little grated bread, and dried ants' eggs. Bechstein recommends the latter as a specific for most of their ailments, with spiders and other insects, and mealworms especially. These, he says, may be obtained by putting some with some meal, old leather, or brown paper in a jar, and moistening the cover tied over it with a little
beer from time to time. Here they will breed freely, and a constant supply will be kept up. The ants' eggs can be procured in summer from the nest of the wood ant, and if placed on a cloth in the sun, with the corners turned up on small leafy branches, the ants will carry them under shelter from the sun, and in this way they are obtained free from dirt, and they may be dried in a frying-pan on sand over a slow fire, and kept in a jar full of sand all the winter.
The cage in which the Nightingale is kept must be from twelve to eighteen inches long, ten or twelve broad, and twelve high. The top should be of green baize or cloth, and the three perches (two near the bottom of the cage, and one higher up) should be covered with the same material, as the bird's feet are very tender, and it is generally necessary to remove the scales which form upon the legs and feet once in about three months. When these grow loose and horny, the legs must be soaked in warm water till they can be gently removed with the point of a penknife; after which the feet and legs must be well dried and anointed with fresh butter or cold cream. A foot-bath of sherry wine for three or four minutes is recommended for the cramp, should the Nightingale suffer from this (trembling and grasping his perch spasmodically). Warmth is very necessary, especially during moulting, which is always a perilous time with the Nightingale; he must be kept from draughts, and fed with the most nourishing diet. A spider or two, or a little green caterpillar, should be given him occasionally, and a blade of saffron put into the water. For the husk, a kind of cough that sometimes attacks the Nightingale in autumn, he should have a spider, ripe elderberries, grated Swede turnip, etc. A bath should be given daily; but it must not be left in the cage, and plenty of dry sand should be strewed on the floor. The food should be kept in pans which may be easily cleansed, and the beef paste must be made afresh once, or, in the summer, twice in the day: if it becomes in the least sour it will kill the bird.
Bullock's heart boiled or roasted, and sheep's heart, is sometimes given, also. No doubt an empty room in which the sunshine and fresh air could be freely admitted, with pine branches or other evergreens for shade and shelter, would give these birds most happiness; but they are said to sing better in cages than in an aviary with other birds. They are very capricious about their song, however: some birds will not sing except in full sunshine; others only in the dark; generally it is found a Nightingale will sing best when alone, but sometimes one bird tries to rival the others, and keeps its supremacy, reducing his companions to silence. They are whimsical about their cage, as well as the position in which it is placed, and will resent any change in it. Most birds dislike a strong light, and yet require plenty of air, so that the best kind of cage would appear to be one with wooden or wire bars on the front and sides, the top being, as before mentioned, of green baize or cloth, and with green gauze curtains hung round the sides, if required, for shade. For the first year or two of confinement the Nightingales suffer from the yearning for migration, for two or three weeks: they are very restless, suddenly starting up and fluttering their wings, and trying to fly upwards; and they would injure themselves then, if they had not a soft roof to their cage. This, however, is said to subside in time, and that they will become very tame and apparently quite happy; but if set at liberty when their song is becoming weak, they soon recover its strength.
The female Nightingale is not so tall as the male; she has a rounder head and shorter neck, and her eyes are smaller and less bright, and her throat less white. The young males have yellowish feathers in the wings and tail, and may be distinguished thus.
The BLACKCAP (Sylvia atricapilla) has a song second only to the Nightingale in power and sweetness, and it is an admirable mimic, learning the notes both of the Canary