1902 Encyclopedia > Redshank


REDSHANK, the usual name of a bird—the Scolopax calidris of Linnaeus and Totanus calidris of modern authors —so called in English from the colour of the bare part of its legs, which, being also long, are conspicuous as it flies over its marshy haunts or runs nimbly beside the waters it affects. In suitable localities it is abundant throughout the greater part of Europe and Asia, from Iceland to China, mostly retiring to the southward for the winter, though a considerable number remain during that season along the coasts and estuaries of some of the more northern countries. Before the great changes effected by drainage in England it was a common species in many districts, but at the present day there are very few to which it can resort for the purpose of reproduction. In such of them as remain, its lively actions, both on the ground and in the air, as well as its loud notes render the Redshank, during the breeding-season, one of the most observable inhabitants of what without its presence would often be a desolate spot, and invest it with a charm for the lover of wild nature. At other times the cries of this bird may be thought too shrill, but in spring the love-notes of the male form what may fairly be called a song, the constantly repeated refrain of which—hero, leero, leero (for so it may be syllabled)— rings musically around, as with many gesticulations he hovers in attendance on the flight of his mate; or, with a slight change to a different key, engages with a rival; or again, half angrily and half piteously complains of a human intruder on his chosen ground. The body of the Redshank is almost as big as a Snipe's, but its longer neck, wings, and legs make it appear a much larger bird. Above, the general colour is greyish-drab, freckled with black, except the lower part of the back and a conspicuous band on each wing, which are white, while the flight-quills are black, thus producing a very harmonious effect. In the breeding-season the back and breast are mottled with dark brown, but in winter the latter is white. The nest is generally concealed in a tuft of rushes or grass, a little removed from the wettest parts of the swamp whence the bird gets its sustenance, and contains four eggs, usually of a rather warmly tinted brown with blackish spots or blotches; but no brief description can be given that would point out their differences from the eggs of other birds, more or less akin, among which, those of the LAPWING (vol. xiv. p. 308) especially, they are taken and find a ready sale.

The name Redshank, prefixed by some epithet as Black, Dusky, or Spotted, has also been applied to a larger but allied species— theTotamis fusens of ornithologists. This is a much less common bird, and in Great Britain as well as the greater part of Europe it only occurs on its passage to or from its breeding-grounds, which are usually found south of the Arctic Circle, and differ much from those of its congeners—the spot chosen for the nest being nearly always in the midst of forests and, though not in the thickest part of them, often with trees on all sides, generally where a fire has cleared the undergrowth, and mostly at some distance from water. This peculiar habit was first ascertained by Wollcy in Lapland in 1853 and the following year. The breeding-dress this bird assumes is also very remarkable, and seems (as is suggested) to have some correlation with the burnt and blackened surface interspersed with white stones or tufts of lichen on which its nest is made—for the head neck, shoulders, and lower parts are of a deep black, contrasting vividly with the pure white of the back and rump, while the legs become of an intense crimson. At other times of the year the plumage is very similar to that of the common Redshank, and the legs are of the same light orange-red. (A. N.)

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