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Scottish Review

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The Moor and the Loch
The Kite


ALTHOUGH abounding in the mountainous regions of Scotland, the kite is not confined to them : I have frequently met with it in the Lowlands, and it is common in Wales. To look at the elegance of its form and the grace of its movements, the keenness of its eye, the strength of its wings, and the aptitude of its claws for seizing prey, one would suppose the kite to be a very mischievous bird; but none of the hawk tribe are less so: even the buzzard, albeit no great adept, is much its superior in the art of destruction. The kite has no quickness of flight, yet is admirably fitted for his mode of life. Subsisting in a great measure on carrion and reptiles, his keen eye and unwearied wing are of the greatest service in discovering his food. Fish, when he can get it, he considers a dainty morsel, and may be most successfully trapped with this bait. I found out his weak point, by noticing the avidity with which he would devour the refuse of the net the day after a draught. I have watched him with delight, sailing aloft with such perfect ease, that the only perceptible motion was that of his tail, piloting him like a helm in his aerial circles- scrutinizing, with his telescopic eye, every field and valley where he might hope to find a prey, and then, suddenly lowering his flight and lessening his circles, gradually alight upon some object, so small that it seemed scarcely possible he could have seen it from such a height.

Indeed, were the sight of the blue falcon and hen-harrier equal to that of the kite, their havoc upon our moors would be much greater than it now is ; but their manner of seeking food is quite a contrast to his. In beating the ground for prey, they, especially the latter, seldom rise higher than twenty yards; but, when once it is sprung, their activity in pursuit is unrivalled. Perhaps I may here be excused for digressing so far as to mention an anecdote of the blue or peregrine falcon, showing that it will beat game out of the heather, and destroy it on the ground: many, I know, suppose it never strikes but on wing. When out breaking a young dog upon the Perthshire moors, I put up a grouse, which, after flying some distance, was pursued by a blue falcon. The poor grouse, seeing it had no chance, dropped down in the heather ; but it was too late, the hawk was directly above. It immediately alighted, beat about the heather for a minute, and presently the grouse fluttered out before it. I saw the chase for about ten yards, when they ran behind a hillock, Ad on my going up to the place, the falcon rose, and there lay the grouse decapitated.

But, to return to the kite - he is the shiest of birds; not even in the hatching season can you often get a shot at him. I have frequently found the nests: they are much like the carrion-crow's, only larger and more impervious. They are lined with whatever the birds can pick up-such as old stockings, worsted gloves, wool or indeed anything soft and warm. There are seldom more than three eggs, often only a couple. Kites generally build in the pine forests on the hills, and select a tree, with a thin bare stem, often very difficult to climb. I once concealed myself at the foot of a tree where a kite was hatching, in order to shoot it on its return to the nest-for they generally fly off at the most distant approach of an enemy. I was perfectly hid; and, after waiting nearly an hour, had an opportunity of witnessing the tact and cunning of the bird. The sun was shining warm upon the nest, or it would, most likely, not have kept me so long ; at last I saw it flying round in very wide circles, which gradually narrowed: it then lighted upon a distant tree, and peering round in every direction, chose a nearer ; and so on, until it came within three or four trees of the nest. It was now within shot ; but I had unfortunately so placed myself as only to command the nest-tree, never doubting that it would light on this before it settled upon the nest. But I was out in my reckoning; as soon as it had tolerably resured itself, it rose perpendicularly in the air, and came down upon its nest like a stone. The manner in which I was concealed prevented my getting a flying shot; so nothing remained but to fire through the nest, which proved a sufficient defence, as the kite flew away, and never returned. A few days after, I climbed the tree with some difficulty, and took two eggs, about the size of a hen's, with dusky-red spots.


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