The Charm of Birds Chapter One Part Five

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Adapted by Alison Pryce

Chapter One Part One    Part Two     Part Three    Part Four    Part Five    Part Six    Part Seven

The great tit must have his place among the song-birds of this month. His spring notes begin to be heard now. The rhythm of the notes suggests sawing, but they are evidently intended by the bird to be a song as much as that of any other bud that sings. I have known them to be mistaken early in the year for those of the chiff-chaff, before the latter bird has arrived.

The contribution of the great tit to the bird sounds of this month is no mean one. The notes ring out loud, vigorous, and clear: to one who knows the ways of the great tit the sharpness of his notes suggests the sharpness of his beak. Among others of his own size he is a strong, bold bird, capable of tragedy, as the following story will show. There were traps kept in the garden for rats and other small nuisances. Some of these traps were cages so constructed that it was easy from outside to find the way in, but difficult from the inside to find the exit. Into one of these there had entered a dunnock and a great tit. Presumably the dunnock had entered first, and the tit had come later, attracted by seeing the cage occupied. Whether the tit entered with fell design, or whether having entered he was roused by what Shakespeare calls "vile opportunity," we cannot tell, but the result is known. When in due course I visited the trap the dunnock was a pitiful sight: it lay dead; the skull was broken into and the brain had been eaten. The great tit alone was alive, a patent and. thriving murderer.

"What did you do with the horrible tit? "

"Madam, I set him free, not feeling competent to assess his moral responsibility in the matter."

After all, do we not most of us follow the advice or instruction to "kill and eat," or eat what has been killed for us ?

I have paid less separate attention to the notes of the other common tits, the blue, the coal, and the marsh-tit. There are certain notes of each that I hear in the earlier part of the year and look for as a sign of spring; the notes of the blue- or tom-tit are among my earliest recollections of the kitchen garden: for the sake of these the blue-tit is beloved. There is a happy huskiness in his voice, and his ways and appearance are very engaging. The willow-tit I have not yet distinguished from the marsh-tit, and with impaired sight I could not now discover it for myself. The crested tit I have only seen, and not heard. Its manners are very like those of the blue-tit, and suggest that the notes may resemble those of the bird to which it seems so nearly related. Long- tailed tits appear to be an exception in having no distinct notes for the breeding season. They utter two notes, which are familiar: one a titlike call-note, but very high-almost as high and small as that of a gold-crest's, the other like a small soft rattle; but these notes they utter all through the year, and they appear to be company-keeping or call-notes, and not akin to song.

One trick of the great tit must be mentioned before passing on: I have heard and watched at close quarters a great tit keep up for some time a perfect imitation of the " pink-pink" of a chaffinch. The imitation was so perfect that, had I not been so close that the tit could be seen to be making the sound, I should have considered the performance by any bird but a chaffinch to be incredible. What the sex of this tit was I cannot say. I did not make a record of the time of year, but it was when the trees were bare and the tit was in full view on the lower branches of a beech tree.

Taken altogether, the notes of tits make a very animated contribution to the bird sounds of gardens and woods at the lively time of year.

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