Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
By Gilbert White (17201793)
From Natural History of Selborne
SELBORNE, 30th March, 1768.
DEAR SIRSome intelligent country people have a notion that we have, in these parts, a species of the genus Mustelinum, besides the weasel, stoat, ferret, and polecat; a little reddish beast, not much bigger than a field-mouse, but much longer, which they call a cane. This piece of intelligence can be little depended on; but further inquiry may be made.
A gentleman in this neighbourhood had two milk-white rooks in one nest. A booby of a carter, finding them before they were able to fly, threw them down and destroyed them, to the regret of the owner, who would have been glad to have preserved such a curiosity in his rookery. I saw the birds myself nailed against the end of a barn, and was surprised to find that their bills, legs, feet, and claws were milk-white.
A few years ago I saw a cock bullfinch in a cage, which had been caught in the fields after it was come to its full colours. In about a year it began to look dingy; and blackening every succeeding year, it became coal-black at the end of four. Its chief food was hempseed. Such influence has food on the colour of animals! The pied and mottled colours of domesticated animals are supposed to be owing to high, various, and unusual food.
I had remarked, for years, that the root of the cuckoo-pint (arum) was frequently scratched out of the dry banks of hedges, and eaten in severe snowy weather. After observing, with some exactness, myself, and getting others to do the same, we found it was the thrush kind that searched it out. The root of the arum is remarkably warm and pungent.
In the middle of February I discovered, in my tall hedges, a little bird that raised my curiosity: it was of that yellow-green colour that belongs to the salicaria kind, and, I think, was soft-billed. It was no parus; and was too long and too big for the golden-crowned wren, appearing most like the largest willow-wren. It hung sometimes with its back downwards, but never continuing one moment in the same place. I shot at it, but it was so desultory that I missed my aim.
I wonder that the stone-curlew, Charadrius ædicnemus, should be mentioned by the writers as a rare bird: it abounds in all the champaign parts of Hampshire and Sussex, and breeds, I think, all the summer, having young ones, I know, very late in the autumn. Already they begin clamouring in the evening. They cannot, I think, with any propriety be called, as they are by Mr. Ray, circa aquas versantes; for with us, by day at least, they haunt only the most dry, open, upland fields and sheep-walks, far removed from water: what they may do in the night I cannot say. Worms are their usual food, but they also eat toads and frogs.