For the AMERICAN MAGAZINE.|
Facts and Remarks respecting SWALLOWS.
THE history of our common Swallow has long been a problem in ornithology. --Whilst people in general
supposed them birds of passage, a few who appear to have better informed, supported the contrary. The
opinion of the many was founded on what they thought probable -- that of the few, on fact.
Being told by my nurse that swallows wintered in the moon, and by men after I grew bigger, that they
were birds of passage; to the doctrine of their descending to pass the winter in the gloomy element of water,
I was a real sceptic -- but I now as much doubt the theory of those naturalists who contend they are
birds of passage, as I disbelieve the philosophy of my nurse.
In the year 1780, in conversing with a zoologer who lived about twenty miles from Boston, on the phenomenon
of the sudden exit, but gradual and irregular return of swallows, I observed that geese and other sea fowl, which
in the spring visited the lakes, and in the fall returned, were observed both in their flight from and return
to the sea. -- That black-birds, in the fall of the year were seen in flocks of vast numbers directing their
course to the south-est. -- That as we never observed a collection of swallows appearing to be on their passage to another
country, I thought it probable when they began their passage, they flew only in the night, or that they ascended
beyond the reach of the human eye.
The gentleman replied they were not a bird of passage: That the cause of their sudden disappearance, but
irregular return, was, that they had a fixed day for immersing into the water, but none for emerging from it.
On my doubting his hypothesis, he said, as a neighbor of his, not long before, was draining a pond, in a warm day
near that season of the year in which swallows first appear, his attention was attracted by observing the mud,
which in consequence of draining the pond, had for some time been exposed to the rays of the sun, move and
appear animated. --His curiosity was excited, and he ordered a quantity of this mud to be conveyed to a room in his house,
which he caused to be gradually warmed by a slow fire, till from it there rose a number of swallows, hovering over
the head of himself and family, who had been spectators of their resurrection.
Mr. Hyde, carrier of the public mail, and whose veracity is universally acknowledged, informed me, that he had seen
in the month of January, a swallow, which appeared like a piece of frozen dirt, gradually warmed till it became
animated and flew about the room.
In the year 1782, I lived near the mill-pond in Boston. About the middle of August this pond was
covered with swallows, some flying just above the surface of the water -- others lighting upon the rushes
and water lillies that raised their heads above it. ON my enquiring of a neighbor who had for many
years lived by the pond, the cause of such an unusual collection of swallows to it, he said it was no more than what
happened every year at that season. "For some days before they take their annual flight," continued he, "they
rendezvous at this pond." He then mentioned the day of the month (August) which I do not remember, on which
he said they would all disappear, which took place accordingly. --Perhaps on the banks of this pond, might be a good place
to investigate this phaenonenon.
But a place I think more convenient, and the knowledge of which, has been a principal cause of my offering
this for publication, is at Bethlehem, State of Pennsylvania. As this little elysium is generally visited in
the summer by men of science, I hope this may attract the attention of such as may happen to be there about the
20th of August, to attempt a full discovery.
Before I was convinced that swallows passed the winter under water, I was in the month of August at Bethlehem.
A little before sun-set I used to walk to the gardens between the Monorcas creek and the Lehigh, where I was
astonished at the collection of swallows that were alighting upon, and hovering over the willows which
grow on the bank fo the creek, about opposite the sisters garden. On my enquiring the cause of their
leaving their nests in old buildings and collecting to pass the night in those green willows, I was informed
by the Rev. Mr. Vanvleek, it was what happened every year at that season. About the 20th not one of them
was to be seen. --Perhaps it is from the branches of those willows, that hang over the creek, that they altogether
immerse into the water.
That swallows are properly ambibious, I believe no one will contend. --If they do lie, during the winter, in
a torpid state under water, why they should, whilst in full life and vigor, and in the warmest month of the year,
plunge into an element, in which they cannot exist, except in a state of insensibility, may afford matter for
speculation to the curious.
New York July 23, 1788.