The Bird Book
First edition: 1926
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: Roland Green, Philip Rickman and E. Mansell
Category: Non-series Non-fiction
Type: Non-Fiction Books
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: Roland Green, Philip Rickman and E. Mansell
Category: Non-series Non-fiction
Type: Non-Fiction Books
On This Page...
The first chapter deals with origins, and mentions a queer bird named the Archaeopteryx (the middle 'a' and 'e' are joined together as they used to be in 'encyclopaedia.' This creature lays its fame to being the oldest known bird and we apparently know a good deal about it. Well, maybe ornithologists (EB word) do, but I don't think many Blytoneers would have heard of it. We're told this particular character wasn't the earliest bird because its wings and feathers are too developed, so we're getting a bit of evolution thrown in for good measure.
The book goes on to tell us how birds fly and if you would like to study the subject a little further, go down to the sea and watch some gulls. You might think they use their wings more quickly and deftly than any other bird but it appears that's not the case because plovers and redshanks make gulls look 'slow and clumsy.' Here's an interesting snippet - the 'down' that covers a baby chick is simply the tips of ordinary feathers that are pushing their way upwards and outwards. Enid Blyton has given us plenty of information about birds and their qualities in the stories she's written and most of us have read that an owl's feathers are particularly soft so that when flying at night its potential prey can't hear the swishing of wings.
The subject of nests is covered and several types are described. When you think of it, there's quite a selection right from the ordinary nest lodged in a tree, to those of the Bower-Birds, Kingfishers, and House Martins. The Nuthatch plasters up the opening of its hole with mud so that no bird bigger than itself can get in, and the Reed Warbler constructs its nest between the stalks of plants. Guillemots simply deposit their goods on bare rock and as the egg is smaller at one end, it will simply turn round and round rather than being blown off the cliff should a wind start up. What about a Cuckoo's nest? If one hasn't heard of the cuckoo's egg-laying ritual then one hasn't delved into Enid Blyton books all that extensively.
An interesting supposition is put forward in the chapter devoted to eggs: - Birds that nest in holes and tunnels have white ones because, being hidden, there's no need for the shell to be dark-coloured. White eggs also make it easier for a nesting bird to spot when it flies back to the treetops for another sitting session. That's all very well but what about Herons and Cormorants ... their eggs are white. Maybe that's true but those particular birds nest in fairly inaccessible places as well and anyway, big birds such as Herons are fairly capable of defending their territory from would-be predators. Nature appears to have thought of everything because you'd think a big bird like the Cuckoo would lay a fairly large egg but, as this bird deposits its product in a nest containing smaller eggs, it lays one about the same size as the hosts.'
Young birds are born blind, helpless, and ugly - but not to their parents of course, and Enid Blyton tells us that 'when an egg is about to hatch, the mother bird looks as happy as ever a bird can look.' It's a lot of work caring for the youngsters and a bold bird such as the Missel-Thrush can get into a fierce rage if her progeny are threatened and it might even fly straight at a threatening animal. Sometimes she succeeds in frightening them off but more often than not, the mother is caught and killed. Baby birds are taught to fly or to swim by their respective parents just as human children are also instructed. Young Birds is an interesting chapter.
Like any youngsters, small birds play and this is generally a preparation for their future lives. Just like us in our childhood, play fighting is included on the menu and Cock Sparrows are right into it - "they peck and fly at each other with a tremendous amount of squawking and chirping." We are also told how the Water-Hen's children help to look after a second batch of youngsters that might arrive later on in the season.
Beaks and feet of birds are of course designed for optimum performance and the question as to why a bird doesn't fall off its perch is covered - when the bird squats down a muscle automatically tightens its feet making them close firmly around the perch. A page of diagrams shows the reader a selection of beaks and feet, and there's a very alert-looking eagle amongst them.
Could the most dramatic period in many bird's lives be that of migration? Millions of feathered creatures fly thousands of miles over land and sea to faraway places. The 'why' and 'how' hasn't yet been explained although I'm sure science has produced some reasonably educated guesses since the book first came out round 1926. The chapter on this phenomenon offers a few suggestions about the origins of the migration urge but there are still many questions left for us to ponder. Unfortunately the journey is fraught with danger - "Lighthouse keepers and captains of steamers can relate heart-breaking stories of weary, battered migrants, who, blown out of their way, circle round the lighthouse, or fall helpless on the decks of steamers out at sea. The lighthouse lamp attracts many to their death, for they fly against the glass and kill themselves." Distances vary but according to the book a swallow, ringed in Northumberland round 1919 actually flew all the way to Cape Town, which is situated at the bottom of Africa.
Enid Blyton's right into the subject of bird tables having told us on several occasions how to construct them. She's mentioned bird tables in several of her stories and told us what to put on them and, once again, we are given instructions in the chapter How to Make Friends with the Birds. If they happen to populate your neighbourhood you can look forward to seeing robins, sparrows, finches, thrushes, tits, blackbirds, starlings and many other feathered creatures flying in for a feed. Other slightly more uncommon breeds might also appear - birds such as Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws or the odd Nuthatch. You can become even more beneficent and supply your feathered friends with a pond to splash about in.
Various bird descriptions feature in the next chapter and there's quite a host of them. Did you know, the chaffinch is often known as 'Spink.' Well, I didn't in fact I'd never heard the name before so that's something to file away for posterity. No doubt about it, the bird-watching instinct is well catered to in Enid Blyton Land and pictured is a colourful duo of Wrens to supplement the fairly lengthy chapter entitled Birds of the Garden and Shrubbery. Various illustrations of Wrens are dotted around the Blyton collection of books and this breed of bird is one that I can always identify because of the 'shortish' look about its body and the way it always seems to be glancing upwards.
The garden and shrubbery have been taken care of and we now learn of birds that inhabit the field and hedgerow. The Kestrel is mentioned as ... hovering better than any other hawk. and have you heard of a Meadow-Pipit or a Titlark? No? Well, they exist, as does the Corn, or Common, Bunting. On the other hand, we've all heard of Rooks, Hedge-Sparrows, and Yellow-Hammers.
Birds of the Woods are covered next and there are quite a few of those as well. How the naturalists, and Enid Blyton, can remember all the names is mystifying but it might just be that their memories are better than ours. The birds must intermingle a bit because I saw a Corncrake described in the previous chapter, as was the Willow-wren. Sparrow-Hawks inhabit the woods and they're quite deadly but, just as any lesser bird might tear an insect apart, I guess the ripping to pieces of small animals can be put down to 'nature.' The Nightingale is described as having a " ... liquid, pure voice. He sings with his whole heart and body until the listener feels that the song welling through the night is too beautiful to be real. The nightingale sounds lovely even over the wireless, but there is something more beautiful and magical if you can hear it when sitting outside in the twilight or the moonlight." With the Internet handy I had a listen and would describe the sound as 'loud, and clear with a combination of chirps.' I don't think it filled the romantic image of melody that is generally associated with Nightingales but maybe there are different breeds with alternate methods of twittering.
There's still more to come - namely 'The Commons, Moors, and Hills,' but is Enid Blyton making a few names up? Wheatear, Stonechat, and Peewit! I think not, because Peewit sounds familiar and, curiously, this bird's eggs are actually called Plover's eggs when served at the table. The Scottish people call the Curlew "Whaup" (that's what it says in the book), and now the bird that features in EB's Adventure Series makes an appearance - the Golden Eagle. Found in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland it owes its name to the golden-red feathers on the nape of its neck. The word to describe it is included - 'Majestic,' and a depiction of one with its chicks serves as the frontispiece.
There are water birds of course and these include Ducks, Dippers, Herons, Moor-Hens, Coots, Kingfishers and even Martins and Swifts. There's not much on how the latter two fit in with water although the Sand-Martin apparently skims lakes and ponds for insects.
Surely every part of the country has been accounted for but 'No!' There's the sea of course, and very fittingly, a picture of either Huffin or Puffin graces page #121. It's probably 'Puffin' because the bird is just that - a Puffin, and they are found in such places as Lundy Island, Flamborough Head, and the coasts round Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. In the unlikely event that an existing EB Enthusiast has never read an 'Adventure' book, most Puffins nest in holes which they dig for themselves. The Gulls' and Cormorants' lodgings go without saying, and the Gannet is also described as building a nest in fairly inaccessible spots such as the island of St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides. This bird is also called the 'Solan Goose' although it isn't a goose. So, how did it get to be called by that name? Probably because it's a big white bird whose feathers and down used to be sold for pillows.
That's not all of course and at the end of the book we are told: "There are many, many other birds you are likely to see in your journeys here and there - the Tern, Oyster-Catcher, Shearwater out at sea; plus the Redpoll, Crossbill, Dabchick and many others inland but to tell you of them all would need another book as big again as this one.
An interesting video, if it can be found, would be one that shows a bird constructing its nest right from the start. Presumably Mr. or Mrs. fetches a leaf, feather, or piece of straw and places it on a branch then goes away to fetch something else. That's all very well but when the bird returns, surely nothing's there because the wind, or movement of the tree, would dislodge the theoretical leaf. How do they go about it? Is the leaf first stuck down with something? Good questions! Enid Blyton seemed to know - "Have you ever tried to make a nest yourself. If you have half a day to spare, try it. Collect dead leaves, straw, hairs and down ... and if you are fairly deft with your fingers you will find that you can make a first-rate nest." Admittedly, humans have an advantage seeing we have hands and advanced brains but I still can't see anyone making a nest that looks anything like that of a bird.
Confusion reigned when the Missel Thrush was mentioned. Was it the Mistle-Thrush of which we learnt in The Christmas Book? Wrong spelling? No, Missel-Thrush is simply a variant of Mistle-Thrush according to the dictionary.
Chapter #5 might bring back memories of being attacked when strolling near nesting areas. Birds, endeavouring to protect their homes, often swoop down upon humans and animals but it can be fraught with danger. Most creatures in the firing line will be considerably larger that their attackers and the evidence is there in the shape of an incident filmed when a cat was being annoyed in a yard, recognizable by a vehicle parked at the rear. A 'Mocking Bird' would suitably describe the feathered creature that unfortunately lost its life when Mr. Cat made a leap at the brave but foolish aggressor.
Several EB books show us how to make a bird table and here are three: Birds of Our Gardens - Chapter #2, Enid Blyton's Book of the Year - 'What they did at Miss Brown's School in November,' and Round the Year with Enid Blyton 'Winter Book' Chapter #4.
An EB book called 'The Castle of Adventure' features Golden Eagles being photographed by Jack Trent, an aspiring ornithologist.
'Huffin' and 'Puffin' were the names of two puffins that befriended a boy whose powers over animals have been the subject of much admiration The lad's name is Philip Mannering and he takes part in "The Sea of Adventure"... available at all good bookstores.
How do you get down from an elephant? Some people might not understand this riddle when they hear the answer: 'You don't get down from an elephant, you get down from a duck' - meaning, of course, that down (as mentioned in Chapters #3 and #15) is the name of those very soft feathers found on ducks, or for that matter, Solan Geese.
The official biography relates how Enid Blyton and her dad took long walks together through fields and woodland. Father was a keen, self-taught naturalist and he would air his knowledge of the countryside to his eager companion. Enid Blyton obviously observed a lot on these walks, which would have helped considerably when she was writing books and articles about the natural world.
"He (Papa) knew more about flowers, birds and wild animals than anyone I had ever met," Enid wrote years later.
Another help would have been her excellent memory:
'At the age of nine she could scan a page once, shut her eyes, and then repeat the whole of it almost word for word.'