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A Swift (Cypselus murarius Temminck) killed by its flying against a Wall

Some few summers ago, being on a visit at Hastings, I stopped, during an early morning's walk, to watch a party of swifts (Cypselus murarius Temm., Hirundo apus Linn.) dashing round the ruins of the old castle which overlooks the town. While I was thus amusing myself and admiring the extraordinary rapidity of their flight, to my infinite astonishment one of them flew directly against the castle wall. My surprise was so great that at first I thought I was mistaken; but as the spot where the bird fell was not very difficult of approach, I climbed up, and there found the bird fluttering on the ground. I picked it up, but in a very few minutes it died in my hand. I pursued my walk, marvelling at the oddness of the adventure, not knowing to what to attribute so strange an accident. It could not be that the bird, in its eager pursuit of prey, miscalculated the distance, and thus met death? This was just possible, but not very probable. Blindness was out of the question, as both eyes seemed perfect: I was thus completely puzzled. Thinking over the affair some time afterwards, a more satisfactory solution of this ornithological problem occurred to me. It is well known that this bird, I believe, more particularly than the rest of its congeners, is infested with the insects called Hippobosca hirundinis; I have, therefore, but little doubt that the poor bird, in a paroxysm of suffering, occasioned by these tormenting insects, dashed itself unheedingly against the wall. I am the more confirmed in this belief by recollecting that several small reddish insects ran about my hand at the time I held the bird. I shall feel much obliged if you, or any of your correspondents, would favour me with an opinion on the subject.
(Printed 1832 in The magazine of natural history and journal of zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology, and meteorology.)

APUSlife 2002, No. 1593

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