The People of Gibraltar
1875 - Leonard Howard Lloyd Irby - Ornithologist

Lieutenant Colonel Irby was born in 1836. As a young man he joined the  74th Highland Regiment and after serving in the Crimea was stationed in Gibraltar from 1868 t0 1872 and then again for a few months in 1874.

While he was there Irby helped to make the Straits of Gibraltar known as an important site for studying migratory birds and established a network of military men interested in field ornithology. The result was the book The Ornithology of the Straits of Gibraltar which was published in 1875.  A beautifully illustrated 2nd edition followed twenty years later.  The quotes and pictures below are taken from the latter.

This little work is, it may be distinctly understood, not intended to give any special information to scientific ornithologists, but is published with the view of assisting with trustworthy information any amateur collectors who visit South-western Europe ; and it is hoped especially that it may be useful to officers who, like the writer, may find themselves quartered at Gibraltar. For it admits of little doubt that the study of Natural History will always help to pass away with pleasure many hours that would otherwise be weary and tedious during the time military men may have to " put in " at dear,  scorching old " Gib."

. . . Nearly all the information relating to the birds of the Spanish side of the Straits is collected from personal observations made during a more or less prolonged stay at the Rock, between February 1868 and May 1872, and again from February to May 1874, but including during this time only one summer period, viz. July, August, and the first half of September.

For the first three years of my residence at Gibraltar I was quartered with my regiment, the remaining time being passed there chiefly with a view to ornithological pursuits, from time to time making excursions, generally of about a fortnight's duration, to some part or other within the districts above mentioned, but chiefly confining my attentions to the country within a day's journey of Gibraltar.

. . . in an ibex-shooting expedition, one is amply repaid by the magnificent scenery and the novelty of the affair ; but as far as shooting goes it is a failure, and every ibex killed by a Gibraltar party costs more than I should like to state.

In the immediate vicinity of Gibraltar (or el Penon, as the Spaniards call it), the Cork-wood of Almoraima and the level ground, mud-flats, and old salinas " between the rivers " on the way to Algeciraz offer to the collector capital ground for work. In the Cork-wood particularly several birds are found breeding which do not seem to nest elsewhere.

. . . " Aves de Espana/' by Don Jose Arevalo y Baca, vol. xi. ' Memorias de la Real Academia de Ciencias ' (Madrid, 1887), contains some information on Andalucian birds, and all given on personal observation is no doubt bond fide, but unfortunately he often quotes one upon whom we cannot rely.

The Peewit, Lapwing, or Green Plover. Moorish. Biliat, El Thudi (the Jew). Spanish. Ave fria . . . . This Plover occurs near Tangier in abundant flocks throughout the winter months, arriving from the north during October and November, crossing back again to Europe in February and March. The superstitious Arabs believe that these birds are Jews changed into the shape of birds, and also believe that they still retain all their Israelitish characteristics, even wearing the black Hebrew skull-cap.

The White or Barn-Owl . . . The inhabitants of Tangier consider this bird the clairvoyant friend of the Devil. The Jews believe that their cry causes the death of young children ; so, in order to prevent this, they pour a vessel of water out into the courtyard every time that they hear the cry of one of these Owls passing
over their house.

The Arabs believe even more than the Jews ; for they think that they can cause all kinds of evil to old as well as to young ; but their mode of action is even more simple than that of their antagonists the Jews, as they rest contented with cursing them whenever they hear their cry.

About Gibraltar .  . .  the Bearded vulture is gone.

Booted eagle - the smallest of the European eagles, is, about Gibraltar, entirely migratory

Bush quail - near Gibraltar it is very local and nowhere plentiful

Cinereous vulture - more common near Seville than Gibraltar

In Soto Malabrigo near Casas Viejas - a pair of white-shouldered eagles took possession

Peregrine - One pair nest near O'Hara's Tower occasionally coming into town 

Blue Winged Magpie - for the nearest relative . . all Europe and the greater part of Asia must be crossed

There is little doubt that it was the golden eagle

The plates are by Archibald Thorburn, born in 1860 and one of Britain’s best watercolour artists.

 Archibald Thorburn,