Volume 6, Plate 3



The natural history of the rail is, to the most of our sportsmen, involved in profound and inexplicable mystery. It comes they know not whence, and goes they know not where. Not one can detect their first moment of arrival; yet all at once the reedy shores and grassy marshes of our large rivers swarm with them, thousands being sometimes found within the space of a few acres. These, when they do venture on wing, seem to fly so feebly, and in such short fluttering flights among the reeds, as to render it highly improbable to most people that they could possibly make their way over an extensive tract of country. Yet, on the first smart frost that occurs, the whole suddenly disappear, as if they had never been.


The woodcock is properly a nocturnal bird, feeding chiefly at night, and seldom stirring about till after sunset. At such times, as well as in the early part of the morning, particularly in spring, he rises, by a kind of spiral course, to a considerable height in the air, uttering at times a sudden quack, till, having gained his utmost height, he hovers around in a wild irregular manner, making a sort of murmuring sound; then descends with rapidity as he rose. When uttering his common note on the ground, he seems to do it with difficulty, throwing his head towards the earth, and frequently jetting up his tail. These notes and maneuvers are most usual in spring, and are the call of the male to his favourite female.