« PreviousContinue »
SOME OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING QUAIL.
BY J. CYPRESS, JR.
OCTOBER has arrived, and has entered into the kingdom prepared for him by his summery brethren, departed. A kingdom, truly, within a republic, but mild, magnificent, pro bono publico, and full of good fruits ; so that not a democrat, after the strictest sect of St. Tammany, but bows the knee. Hail ! O King! His accomplished artists are preparing royal palaces among the woods and fields, and on the hill-sides, painting the mountains and arching the streams with glories copied from the latest fashion of rainbows. His keen morning winds and cool evening moors, assiduous servants, are dropping diamonds upon the fading grass and tree-tops, and are driving in the feathery tenants of his marshes, bays, and brakes. Thrice happy land and water lord ! See how they streak the early sky, piercing the heavy clouds with the accurate wedge of their marshalled cohorts, shouting peans as they go—and how they plunge into well-remembered waters, with an exalting sound, drinking in rest and hearty breakfasts! These be seges of herons, herds of cranes, droppings of sheldrakes, springs of teals, trips of wigeons, coverts of cootes, gaggles of geese, sutes of mallards, and badelynges of ducks; all of which the profane and uninitiated, miserable herd, call flocks of fowl, not knowing discrimination! Meadow and upland are made harmonious and beautiful with congregations of plovers, flights of doves, walks of snipes, exaltations of larks, coveys of partridges, and bevies of quail.* For all these vouchsafed comforts may we be duly grateful! But chiefly, thou sun-burned, frost-browned monarch, do we thank thee that thou especially bringest to igorous maturity and swift strength, our own bird of our heart, our family chicken, tetrao coturnix.
* Stow. Strippe. Hakewell.
The quail is peculiarly a domestic bird, and is attached to his birthplace, and the home of his forefathers. The various members of the anatic families educate their children in the cool summer of the far north, and bathe their warm bosoms in July, in the iced-water of Hudson's Bay; but when Boreas scatters the rushes where they builded their bedchambers, they desert their fatherland, and fly to disport in the sunny waters of the south. They are cosmopolites entirely seeking their fortunes with the sun. So, too, heavy-eyed, wise Master Scolopax fixeth his place of abode, not among the hearths and altars where his infancy was nurtured, but he goeth a skaaping where best he may run his long bill into the mud, tracking the warm brookside of juxta-capricornical latitudes. The songsters of the woodland, when their customary crops of insects and berries are cut off in the fall, gather themselves together to renew their loves, and get married in more genial climates. Even black-gowned Mr. Corvus,-otherwise called Jim Crow,-in autumnal fasts contemplateth Australian carcases. Presently, the groves so vocal, and the sky so full, shall be silent and barren. The“ melancholy days” will soon be here. Only thou, dear Bob White—not of the Manhattanwilt remain. Thy cousin, tetrao umbellus,* will be not far off, it is true ; but he is mountainous and precipitous, and lives in solitary places, courting rocky glens and craggy gorges, misandronist. Where the secure deer crops the young mosses of the mountain stream, and the bear steals wild honey, there
* The ruffed grouse, or partridge.
drums the ruffed strutter on his ancient hemlock log. Ice cools not his blood, nor the deep snow-drist, whence he, startled, whirrs impetuous to the solemn pines, and his hiding places of laurel and tangled rhododendron, laughing at cheated dogs and wearied sportsmen. A bird to set traps for. Unfamiliar, rough, rugged hermit. Dry meat. I like him not.
The quail is the bird for me. He is no rover, no emigrant. He stays at home, and is identified with the soil. Where the farmer works, he lives, and loves and whistles.* In budding spring time, and in scorching summer—in bounteous autumn, and in barren winter, his voice is heard from the same bushy hedge fence, and from his customary cedars. Cupidity and cruelty may drive him to the woods, and to seek more quiet seats; but be merciful and kind to him, and he will visit your barn-yard, and sing for you upon the boughs of the apple-tree by your gate-way. But when warm May first woos the
young flowers to open and receive her breath, then begin the loves, and jealousies, and duels of the heroes of the bevy. Duels, too often, alas ! bloody and fatal ! for there liveth not an individual of the gallinaceous order, braver, bolder, more enduring than a cock quail, fighting for his ladye-love. Arms, too, he wieldeth, such as give no vain blows, rightly used. His mandible serves for other purposes than mere biting of grasshoppers and picking up Indian corn.
* I am not unaware that Audubon describes the quail as migratory at the west, and that he says the shores of the Ohio, in the fall, are covered with "flocks.” Nor am I ignorant that Wilson says he has heard that the bird is migratory in Nova Scotia. It may be so; but our quails are better brought up. Nevertheless, I do not care to believe everything that students of Linnæus and Buffon say, who talk of flocks of partridges, and mean bevies of quail. By-the-by, what is the reason that the whole race of or. nithologists call the partidge tetrao, which is latin for a bustard and a wild turkey. It is not the less to be admired that they call the quail perdix Virginiana. If they had supped with Horace and Catullus, and all that set, as Colonel Hawker and I have done in the spirit—they would have found out that the true title was coturnix.—Vide Hawker on Shooting,
While the dire affray rages, Miss Quailina looketh on, from her safe perch on a limb, above the combatants, impartial spectatress, holding her love under her left wing, patiently; and when the vanquished craven finally bites the dust, descends and rewards the conquering hero with her heart and hand.
Now begin the cares and responsibilities of wedded life. Away fly the happy pair to seek some grassy tussock, where, safe from the eye of the hawk, and the nose of the fox, they may rear their expected brood in peace, provident, and not doubting that their espousals will be blessed with a numerous offspring. Oats harvest arrives, and the fields are waving with yellow grain. Now, be wary, oh kind-hearted cradler, and tread not into those pure white eggs ready to burst with life! Soon there is a peeping sound heard, and lo! a proud mother walketh magnificently in the midst of her children, scratching and picking, and teaching them how to swallow. Happy she, if she may be permitted to bring them up to maturity, and uncompelled to renew her joys in another nest.
The assiduities of a mother have a beauty and a sacredness about them that command respect and reverence in all animal nature, human or inhuman—what a lie does that word carry -except, perhaps, in monsters, insects, and fish. I never yet heard of the parental tenderness of a trout, eating up his little baby, nor of the filial gratitude of a spider, nipping the life out of his gray-headed father, and usurping his web. But if you would see the purest, the sincerest, the inost affecting piety of a parent's love, startle a young family of quails, and watch the conduct of the mother. She will not leave you. No, not she. But she will fall at your feet, uttering a noise which none but a distressed mother can make, and she will run, and flutter, and seem to try to be caught, and cheat your
outstretched hand, and affect to be wing-broken, and wounded, and yet have just strength to tumble along, until she has drawn you, fatigued, a safe distance from her threatened children, and the young hopes of her heart; and then will she mount, whirring with glad strength, and away through the maze of trees you have not seen before, like a close-shot bullet, fly to her skulking infants. Listen now. Do you hear those three half-plaintive notes, quickly and clearly poured out ? She is calling the boys and girls together. She sings not now “Bob White !" nor“ ah! Bob White !” That is her husband's lovecall, or his trumpet-blast of defiance. But she calls sweetly and softly for her lost children. Hear them “peep! peep! peep!” at the welcome voice of their mother's love! They are coming together. Soon the whole family will meet again. It is a foul sin to disturb thein ; but retread devious
way, and let her hear your coming footsteps, breaking down the briars, as you renew the danger. She is quiet. Not a word is passed between the fearful fugitives. Now, if you have the heart to do it, lie low, keep still, and imitate the call of the hen-quail. O, mother! mother! how your heart would die if you could witness the deception! The little ones ra their trembling heads, and catch comfort and imagined safety from the sound. “Peep! peep!” they come to you, straining their little eyes, and clustering together, and answering, seem
“ Where is she! Mother! mother! we are here !" I knew an Ethiopian once-he lives yet in hovel, on the brush plains of Matowacs—who called a whole bevy together in that way. He first shot the parent bird ; and when the murderous villain had ranged them in close company, while they were looking over each other's necks, and mingling their doubts, and hopes, and distresses, in a little circle, he levelled his cursed musket at their unhappy breasts, and butchered