meadow-pipit defined in 1930 yearmeadow-pipit - Meadow-Pipit;
meadow-pipit - Hind claw longer than the toe, slightly curved. Upper parts ash tinged with olive, the centre of each feather dark brown; under parts dull buffy white, with numerous elongated spots of dull brown. Length, five inches and three-quarters.
To the uninformed the pipits are lesser larks; they are lark-like in figure, in their sober, mottled colouring, in habits, language, and, to some extent, in the action which accompanies their song. But, in spite of these outward resemblances, modern authorities have removed them from the position they once occupied next to the larks in classification, to place them by the side of the wagtails, which are now supposed to be their nearest relations. And when wagtails and pipits are seen running and flying about together, it strikes us that there is among them a certain family resemblance; but we see, too, that the wagtails have diverged greatly, and are much more graceful in figure, have longer tails, and a gayer plumage; they are also more aerial in habit, and warble a more varied strain. From the fact that the numerous species of pipits are so much alike, not only in appearance, but also in habits, language, and flight, and that they are so widely distributed on the globe, being found both on continents and oceanic islands, it may be inferred that the modest earth-loving pipit represents the original form from which the wagtails have sprung.
Of our three species, the meadow-pipit is by far the most numerous, being found in all open situations, moist or dry, meadow and waste-land, moor and mountain-side, and close by the sea, where one can listen to meadow-pipit and rock-pipit singing together, or alternately, like birds of one species, and compare the two songs, that are so much alike. This species is, moreover, to be met with in all parts of our country, from the warm Hampshire and Dorset coasts to the western islands of Scotland; but while in the main a resident all the year round in the southern parts of the country, in the bleak and barren districts of the farther north he is migratory, and moves southward in winter in considerable flocks.
The meadow-pipit seeks his food on the ground, and moves nimbly about in search of minute beetles, caterpillars, and seeds, pausing at intervals to stand motionless for a few seconds, with head raised and tail slowly moving up and down. When approached he displays a curious mixture of timidity and tameness, and eyes the intruder with suspicion, but flies with reluctance. The flight is a succession of jerky movements, the bird rising and falling in a somewhat wild, erratic manner.
In the love season the male pipit occasionally takes his stand on a weed or low bush; but on moors, hills, and stony waste lands he prefers a stone or mound of earth for a perch. From such an elevation he is able to keep watch on the movements of his mate, and, when the singing spirit takes him, to launch himself easily on the air. To sing he soars up to a height of forty feet or more, then glides gracefully down, with tail spread and wings half-closed and motionless, presenting the figure of a barbed arrow-head. In his descent he emits a series of notes with little or no variation in them, slightly metallic in sound, and very pleasing. These notes are occasionally repeated as the bird sits motionless on the ground.
In describing bird-melody it is sometimes borne in on us that all that has, or can be, said about the song of any species is not only inadequate, but in a sense even false, inasmuch as a single song of an individual is described as compared with that of some other, usually nearly related, species. Thus, the meadow-pipit's song is said to be less rich and varied, and in every way inferior to that of the tree-pipit. This is true enough, so far as it goes, but it does not take into account the different scenes in the midst of which the two distinct sounds are heard. The song of a single meadow- pipit, heard close at hand, is a slight performance - an attenuated and not very dulcet sound. The effect is wholly different and most delightful when a dozen or twenty birds are within hearing, singing at intervals at a distance, on a perfectly calm day on the moors or downs. As the little widely-scattered, unseen melodists rise and fall, the sounds they emit are refined to something bell-like and delicate: the effect is unique and indescribably charming and fairy-like.
The nest is a neat structure, usually placed in a small cavity in the ground, under a bunch of grass or heather, and is made of dry bents, and lined with fine grass, fibrous roots, and hair. Four to six eggs are laid; these vary greatly in colour and markings, but the most common form is white, thickly mottled over with greyish brown. When the nest is approached the parent birds display great solicitude, flying from place to place, and incessantly uttering a sharp but plaintive chirp of alarm.
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