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Title: Wake-Robin
Author: Burroughs, John, 1837-1921
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wake-Robin" ***

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 [Illustration: ROBINS IN THE MEADOW]



  _Second Edition, corrected, enlarged, and illustrated_

  _Cambridge: The Riverside Press_

  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
  In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

  Copyright, 1876,

  _The Riverside Press, Cambridge_:


In issuing a second and revised edition of Wake-Robin, the author has
added a chapter on The Bluebird, and otherwise enlarged and corrected
the text here and there. The illustrations are kindly furnished by
Prof. Baird, and are taken from the "History of North American Birds,"
by himself, Dr. Brewer, and Mr. Ridgeway, and published by Little,
Brown, & Co.,--the most complete work on our birds that has yet
appeared. The hermit-thrush represented is the Western hermit (_Turdus
ustulatis_), and we have been obliged to substitute the black
fly-catcher (_Saponis nigricans_) for the pewee, and the house finch
(_Corpodacus frontalis_) for the purple finch; but the difference is
hardly appreciable in an uncolored engraving.

_November, 1876._


This is mainly a book about the Birds, or more properly an invitation
to the study of Ornithology, and the purpose of the author will be
carried out in proportion as it awakens and stimulates the interest of
the reader in this branch of Natural History.

Though written less in the spirit of exact science than with the
freedom of love and old acquaintance, yet I have in no instance taken
liberties with facts, or allowed my imagination to influence me to the
extent of giving a false impression or a wrong coloring. I have reaped
my harvest more in the woods than in the study; what I offer, in fact,
is a careful and conscientious record of actual observations and
experiences, and is true as it stands written, every word of it. But
what has interested me most in Ornithology, is the pursuit, the chase,
the discovery; that part of it which is akin to hunting, fishing, and
wild sports, and which I could carry with me in my eye and ear,
wherever I went.

I cannot answer with much confidence the poet's inquiry,

    "Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?"

but I have done what I could to bring home the "earth and the sky"
with the sparrow I heard "singing at dawn on the alder bough." In
other words, I have tried to present a live bird,--a bird in the woods
or the fields,--with the atmosphere and associations of the place, and
not merely a stuffed and labeled specimen.

A more specific title for the volume would have suited me better, but
not being able to satisfy myself in this direction, I cast about for a
word thoroughly in the atmosphere and spirit of the book, which I hope
I have found in "Wake-Robin"--the common name of the white Trillium,
which blooms in all our woods, and which marks the arrival of all the


     I.  THE RETURN OF THE BIRDS               9
    II.  IN THE HEMLOCKS                      47
   III.  ADIRONDAC                            83
    IV.  BIRDS'-NESTS                        109
     V.  SPRING AT THE CAPITAL               145
    VI.  BIRCH BROWSINGS                     177
   VII.  THE BLUEBIRD                        211
  VIII.  THE INVITATION                      225

[Illustration: Hermit-Thrush.]


Spring in our northern climate may fairly be said to extend from the
middle of March to the middle of June. At least, the vernal tide
continues to rise until the latter date, and it is not till after the
summer solstice that the shoots and twigs begin to harden and turn to
wood, or the grass to lose any of its freshness and succulency.

It is this period that marks the return of the birds,--one or two of
the more hardy or half-domesticated species, like the song-sparrow and
the bluebird, usually arriving in March, while the rarer and more
brilliant wood-birds bring up the procession in June. But each stage
of the advancing season gives prominence to certain species, as to
certain flowers. The dandelion tells me when to look for the swallow,
the dog-toothed violet when to expect the wood-thrush, and when I have
found the wake-robin in bloom I know the season is fairly inaugurated.
With me this flower is associated, not merely with the awakening of
Robin, for he has been awake some weeks, but with the universal
awakening and rehabilitation of nature.

Yet the coming and going of the birds is more or less a mystery and a
surprise. We go out in the morning, and no thrush or vireo is to be
heard; we go out again, and every tree and grove is musical; yet
again, and all is silent. Who saw them come? Who saw them depart?

This pert little winter-wren, for instance, darting in and out the
fence, diving under the rubbish here and coming up yards away,--how
does he manage with those little circular wings to compass degrees and
zones, and arrive always in the nick of time? Last August I saw him in
the remotest wilds of the Adirondacs, impatient and inquisitive as
usual; a few weeks later, on the Potomac, I was greeted by the same
hardy little busybody. Does he travel by easy stages from bush to bush
and from wood to wood? or has that compact little body force and
courage to brave the night and the upper air, and so achieve leagues
at one pull?

And yonder bluebird with the earth tinge on his breast and the sky
tinge on his back,--did he come down out of heaven on that bright
March morning when he told us so softly and plaintively that if we
pleased, spring had come? Indeed, there is nothing in the return of
the birds more curious and suggestive than in the first appearance, or
rumors of the appearance, of this little blue-coat. The bird at first
seems a mere wandering voice in the air; one hears its call or carol
on some bright March morning, but is uncertain of its source or
direction; it falls like a drop of rain when no cloud is visible; one
looks and listens, but to no purpose. The weather changes, perhaps a
cold snap with snow comes on, and it may be a week before I hear the
note again, and this time or the next perchance see the bird sitting
on a stake in the fence lifting his wing as he calls cheerily to his
mate. Its notes now become daily more frequent; the birds multiply,
and, flitting from point to point, call and warble more confidently
and gleefully. Their boldness increases till one sees them hovering
with a saucy, inquiring air about barns and out-buildings, peeping
into dove-cotes, and stable windows, inspecting knot-holes and
pump-trees, intent only on a place to nest. They wage war against
robins and wrens, pick quarrels with swallows, and seem to deliberate
for days over the policy of taking forcible possession of one of the
mud-houses of the latter. But as the season advances they drift more
into the background. Schemes of conquest which they at first seemed
bent upon are abandoned, and they settle down very quietly in their
old quarters in remote stumpy fields.

Not long after the bluebird comes the robin, sometimes in March, but
in most of the Northern States April is the month of the robin. In
large numbers they scour the fields and groves. You hear their piping
in the meadow, in the pasture, on the hill-side. Walk in the woods,
and the dry leaves rustle with the whir of their wings, the air is
vocal with their cheery call. In excess of joy and vivacity, they run,
leap, scream, chase each other through the air, diving and sweeping
among the trees with perilous rapidity.

In that free, fascinating, half-work and half-play
pursuit,--sugar-making,--a pursuit which still lingers in many parts of
New York, as in New England, the robin is one's constant companion. When
the day is sunny and the ground bare, you meet him at all points and
hear him at all hours. At sunset, on the tops of the tall maples, with
look heavenward, and in a spirit of utter abandonment, he carols his
simple strain. And sitting thus amid the stark, silent trees, above the
wet, cold earth, with the chill of winter still in the air, there is no
fitter or sweeter songster in the whole round year. It is in keeping
with the scene and the occasion. How round and genuine the notes are,
and how eagerly our ears drink them in! The first utterance, and the
spell of winter is thoroughly broken, and the remembrance of it afar

Robin is one of the most native and democratic of our birds; he is one
of the family, and seems much nearer to us than those rare, exotic
visitants, as the orchard starling or rose-breasted grossbeak, with
their distant, high-bred ways. Hardy, noisy, frolicsome, neighborly
and domestic in his habits, strong of wing and bold in spirit, he is
the pioneer of the thrush family, and well worthy of the finer artists
whose coming he heralds and in a measure prepares us for.

I could wish Robin less native and plebeian in one respect,--the building
of his nest. Its coarse material and rough masonry are creditable neither
to his skill as a workman nor to his taste as an artist. I am the more
forcibly reminded of his deficiency in this respect from observing yonder
humming-bird's nest, which is a marvel of fitness and adaptation, a proper
setting for this winged gem,--the body of it composed of a white,
felt-like substance, probably the down of some plant or the wool of some
worm, and toned down in keeping with the branch on which it sits by minute
tree-lichens, woven together by threads as fine and frail as gossamer.
From Robin's good looks and musical turn we might reasonably predict a
domicile of equal fitness and elegance. At least I demand of him as clean
and handsome a nest as the king-bird's, whose harsh jingle, compared with
Robin's evening melody, is as the clatter of pots and kettles beside the
tone of a flute. I love his note and ways better even than those of the
orchard starling or the Baltimore oriole; yet his nest, compared with
theirs, is a half-subterranean hut contrasted with a Roman villa. There is
something courtly and poetical in a pensile nest. Next to a castle in the
air is a dwelling suspended to the slender branch of a tall tree, swayed
and rocked forever by the wind. Why need wings be afraid of falling? Why
build only where boys can climb? After all, we must set it down to the
account of Robin's democratic turn; he is no aristocrat, but one of the
people; and therefore we should expect stability in his workmanship,
rather than elegance.

Another April bird, which makes her appearance sometimes earlier and
sometimes later than Robin, and whose memory I fondly cherish, is the
Phœbe-bird (_Muscicapa nunciola_), the pioneer of the fly-catchers. In
the inland farming districts, I used to notice her, on some bright
morning about Easter-day, proclaiming her arrival with much variety of
motion and attitude, from the peak of the barn or hay-shed. As yet,
you may have heard only the plaintive, homesick note of the bluebird,
or the faint trill of the song-sparrow; and Phœbe's clear, vivacious
assurance of her veritable bodily presence among us again is welcomed
by all ears. At agreeable intervals in her lay she describes a circle
or an ellipse in the air, ostensibly prospecting for insects, but
really, I suspect, as an artistic flourish, thrown in to make up in
some way for the deficiency of her musical performance. If plainness
of dress indicates powers of song, as it usually does, then Phœbe
ought to be unrivaled in musical ability, for surely that ashen-gray
suit is the superlative of plainness; and that form, likewise, would
hardly pass for a "perfect figure" of a bird. The reasonableness of
her coming, however, and her civil, neighborly ways, shall make up for
all deficiencies in song and plumage. After a few weeks Phœbe is
seldom seen, except as she darts from her moss-covered nest beneath
some bridge or shelving cliff.

Another April comer, who arrives shortly after Robin-redbreast, with
whom he associates both at this season and in the autumn, is the
gold-winged woodpecker, _alias_ "high-hole," _alias_ "flicker,"
_alias_ "yarup." He is an old favorite of my boyhood, and his note to
me means very much. He announces his arrival by a long, loud call,
repeated from the dry branch of some tree, or a stake in the fence--a
thoroughly melodious April sound. I think how Solomon finished that
beautiful description of spring, "And the voice of the turtle is heard
in the land," and see that a description of spring in this farming
country, to be equally characteristic, should culminate in like
manner,--"And the call of the high-hole comes up from the wood."

It is a loud, strong, sonorous call, and does not seem to imply an
answer, but rather to subserve some purpose of love or music. It is
"Yarup's" proclamation of peace and good-will to all. On looking at
the matter closely, I perceive that most birds, not denominated
songsters, have, in the spring, some note or sound or call that hints
of a song, and answers imperfectly the end of beauty and art. As a
"livelier iris changes on the burnished dove," and the fancy of the
young man turns lightly to thoughts of his pretty cousin, so the same
renewing spirit touches the "silent singers," and they are no longer
dumb; faintly they lisp the first syllables of the marvelous tale.
Witness the clear, sweet whistle of the gray-crested titmouse,--the
soft, nasal piping of the nuthatch,--the amorous, vivacious warble of
the bluebird,--the long, rich note of the meadow-lark,--the whistle of
the quail,--the drumming of the partridge,--the animation and
loquacity of the swallows, and the like. Even the hen has a homely,
contented carol; and I credit the owls with a desire to fill the night
with music. All birds are incipient or would-be songsters in the
spring. I find corroborative evidence of this even in the crowing of
the cock. The flowering of the maple is not so obvious as that of the
magnolia; nevertheless, there is actual inflorescence.

Few writers award any song to that familiar little sparrow, the
_Socialis_; yet who that has observed him sitting by the way-side, and
repeating, with devout attitude, that fine sliding chant, does not
recognize the neglect? Who has heard the snow-bird sing? Yet he has a
lisping warble very savory to the ear. I have heard him indulge in it
even in February.

Even the cow-bunting feels the musical tendency, and aspires to its
expression, with the rest. Perched upon the topmost branch beside his
mate or mates,--for he is quite a polygamist, and usually has two or
three demure little ladies in faded black beside him,--generally in
the early part of the day, he seems literally to vomit up his notes.
Apparently with much labor and effort, they gargle and blubber up out
of him, falling on the ear with a peculiar subtile ring, as of turning
water from a glass bottle, and not without a certain pleasing cadence.

Neither is the common woodpecker entirely insensible to the wooing of
the spring, and, like the partridge, testifies his appreciation of
melody after quite a primitive fashion. Passing through the woods, on
some clear, still morning in March, while the metallic ring and
tension of winter are still in the earth and air, the silence is
suddenly broken by long, resonant hammering upon a dry limb or stub.
It is Downy beating a reveille to spring. In the utter stillness and
amid the rigid forms we listen with pleasure; and as it comes to my
ear oftener at this season than at any other, I freely exonerate the
author of it from the imputation of any gastronomic motives, and
credit him with a genuine musical performance.

It is to be expected, therefore, that "Yellow-hammer" will respond to
the general tendency, and contribute his part to the spring chorus.
His April call is his finest touch, his most musical expression.

I recall an ancient maple standing sentry to a large sugar-bush, that,
year after year, afforded protection to a brood of yellow-hammers in
its decayed heart. A week or two before the nesting seemed actually to
have begun, three or four of these birds might be seen, on almost any
bright morning, gamboling and courting amid its decayed branches.
Sometimes you would hear only a gentle, persuasive cooing, or a quiet,
confidential chattering,--then that long, loud call, taken up by first
one, then another, as they sat about upon the naked limbs,--anon, a
sort of wild, rollicking laughter, intermingled with various cries,
yelps, and squeals, as if some incident had excited their mirth and
ridicule. Whether this social hilarity and boisterousness is in
celebration of the pairing or mating ceremony, or whether it is only a
sort of annual "house-warming" common among high-holes on resuming
their summer quarters, is a question upon which I reserve my judgment.

Unlike most of his kinsmen, the golden-wing prefers the fields and the
borders of the forest to the deeper seclusion of the woods, and hence,
contrary to the habit of his tribe, obtains most of his subsistence
from the ground, probing it for ants and crickets. He is not quite
satisfied with being a woodpecker. He courts the society of the robin
and the finches, abandons the trees for the meadow, and feeds eagerly
upon berries and grain. What may be the final upshot of this course of
living is a question worthy the attention of Darwin. Will his taking
to the ground and his pedestrian feats result in lengthening his legs,
his feeding upon berries and grains subdue his tints and soften his
voice, and his associating with Robin put a song into his heart?

Indeed, what would be more interesting than the history of our birds
for the last two or three centuries? There can be no doubt that the
presence of man has exerted a very marked and friendly influence upon
them, since they so multiply in his society. The birds of California,
it is said, were mostly silent till after its settlement, and I doubt
if the Indians heard the wood-thrush as we hear him. Where did the
bobolink disport himself before there were meadows in the North and
rice fields in the South? Was he the same blithe, merry-hearted beau
then as now? And the sparrow, the lark, and the goldfinch, birds that
seem so indigenous to the open fields and so averse to the woods,--we
cannot conceive of their existence in a vast wilderness and without

But to return. The song-sparrow, that universal favorite and firstling
of the spring, comes before April, and its simple strain gladdens all

May is the month of the swallows and the orioles. There are many other
distinguished arrivals, indeed nine tenths of the birds are here by
the last week in May, yet the swallows and orioles are the most
conspicuous. The bright plumage of the latter seems really like an
arrival from the tropics. I see them flash through the blossoming
trees, and all the forenoon hear their incessant warbling and wooing.
The swallows dive and chatter about the barn, or squeak and build
beneath the eaves; the partridge drums in the fresh sprouting woods;
the long, tender note of the meadow-lark comes up from the meadow; and
at sunset, from every marsh and pond come the ten thousand voices of
the hylas. May is the transition month, and exists to connect April
and June, the root with the flower.

With June the cup is full, our hearts are satisfied, there is no more
to be desired. The perfection of the season, among other things, has
brought the perfection of the song and plumage of the birds. The
master artists are all here; and the expectations excited by the robin
and the song-sparrow are fully justified. The thrushes have all come;
and I sit down upon the first rock, with hands full of the pink
azalea, to listen. With me, the cuckoo does not arrive till June; and
often the goldfinch, the king-bird, the scarlet tanager delay their
coming till then. In the meadows the bobolink is in all his glory; in
the high pastures the field-sparrow sings his breezy vesper-hymn; and
the woods are unfolding to the music of the thrushes.

The cuckoo is one of the most solitary birds of our forests, and is
strangely tame and quiet, appearing equally untouched by joy or grief,
fear or anger. Something remote seems ever weighing upon his mind. His
note or call is as of one lost or wandering, and to the farmer is
prophetic of rain. Amid the general joy and the sweet assurance of
things, I love to listen to the strange clairvoyant call. Heard a
quarter of a mile away, from out the depths of the forest, there is
something peculiarly weird and monkish about it. Wordsworth's lines
upon the European species apply equally well to ours:--

    "O blithe new-comer! I have heard,
      I hear thee and rejoice:
    O cuckoo! shall I call thee bird?
      Or but a wandering voice?

    "While I am lying on the grass,
      Thy loud note smites my ear!
    From hill to hill it seems to pass,
      At once far off and near!

            . . . . . . .

    "Thrice welcome, darling of the spring!
      Even yet thou art to me
    No bird, but an invisible thing,
      A voice, a mystery."

The black-billed is the only species found in my locality, the
yellow-billed abounds farther south. Their note or call is nearly the
same. The former sometimes suggests the voice of a turkey. The call of
the latter may be suggested thus: _k-k-k-k-k-kow, kow, kow-ow,

The yellow-billed will take up his stand in a tree, and explore its
branches till he has caught every worm. He sits on a twig, and with a
peculiar swaying movement of his head examines the surrounding
foliage. When he discovers his prey, he leaps upon it in a fluttering

In June the black-billed makes a tour through the orchard and garden,
regaling himself upon the canker-worms. At this time he is one of the
tamest of birds, and will allow you to approach within a few yards of
him. I have even come within a few feet of one without seeming to
excite his fear or suspicion. He is quite unsophisticated, or else
royally indifferent.

The plumage of the cuckoo is a rich glossy brown, and is unrivaled in
beauty by any other neutral tint with which I am acquainted. It is
also remarkable for its firmness and fineness.

Notwithstanding the disparity in size and color, the black-billed
species has certain peculiarities that remind one of the passenger-pigeon.
His eye, with its red circle, the shape of his head, and his motions on
alighting and taking flight, quickly suggest the resemblance; though in
grace and speed, when on the wing, he is far inferior. His tail seems
disproportionately long, like that of the red-thrush, and his flight
among the trees is very still, contrasting strongly with the honest
clatter of the robin or pigeon.

Have you heard the song of the field-sparrow? If you have lived in a
pastoral country with broad upland pastures, you could hardly have
missed him. Wilson, I believe, calls him the grass-finch, and was
evidently unacquainted with his powers of song. The two white lateral
quills in his tail, and his habit of running and skulking a few yards
in advance of you as you walk through the fields, are sufficient to
identify him. Not in meadows or orchards, but in high, breezy
pasture-grounds, will you look for him. His song is most noticeable
after sundown, when other birds are silent; for which reason he has
been aptly called the vesper-sparrow. The farmer following his team
from the field at dusk catches his sweetest strain. His song is not so
brisk and varied as that of the song-sparrow, being softer and
wilder, sweeter and more plaintive. Add the best parts of the lay of
the latter to the sweet vibrating chant of the wood-sparrow, and you
have the evening hymn of the vesper-bird,--the poet of the plain,
unadorned pastures. Go to those broad, smooth, uplying fields where
the cattle and sheep are grazing, and sit down in the twilight on one
of those warm, clean stones, and listen to this song. On every side,
near and remote, from out the short grass which the herds are
cropping, the strain rises. Two or three long, silver notes of peace
and rest, ending in some subdued trills and quavers, constitute each
separate song. Often you will catch only one or two of the bars, the
breeze having blown the minor part away. Such unambitious, quiet,
unconscious melody! It is one of the most characteristic sounds in
Nature. The grass, the stones, the stubble, the furrow, the quiet
herds, and the warm twilight among the hills, are all subtilely
expressed in this song; this is what they are at last capable of.

The female builds a plain nest in the open field, without so much as a
bush or thistle or tuft of grass to protect it or mark its site; you
may step upon it or the cattle may tread it into the ground. But the
danger from this source, I presume, the bird considers less than that
from another. Skunks and foxes have a very impertinent curiosity, as
Finchie well knows,--and a bank or hedge, or a rank growth of grass or
thistles, that might promise protection and cover to mouse or bird,
these cunning rogues would be apt to explore most thoroughly. The
partridge is undoubtedly acquainted with the same process of
reasoning; for, like the vesper-bird, she, too, nests in open,
unprotected places, avoiding all show of concealment,--coming from the
tangled and almost impenetrable parts of the forest, to the clean,
open woods, where she can command all the approaches and fly with
equal ease in any direction.

Another favorite sparrow, but little noticed, is the wood or bush
sparrow, usually called by the ornithologists _Spizella pusilla_. Its
size and form is that of the _socialis_, but is less distinctly
marked, being of a duller redder tinge. He prefers remote bushy
heathery fields, where his song is one of the sweetest to be heard. It
is sometimes very noticeable, especially early in spring. I remember
sitting one bright day in the still leafless April woods, when one of
these birds struck up a few rods from me, repeating its lay at short
intervals for nearly an hour. It was a perfect piece of wood-music,
and was of course all the more noticeable for being projected upon
such a broad unoccupied page of silence. Its song is like the words,
_fe-o, fe-o, fe-o, few, few, few, fee fee fee_, uttered at first high
and leisurely, but running very rapidly toward the close, which is low
and soft.

Still keeping among the unrecognized, the white-eyed vireo, or
fly-catcher, deserves particular mention. The song of this bird is not
particularly sweet and soft; on the contrary, it is a little hard and
shrill, like that of the indigo-bird or oriole; but for brightness,
volubility, execution, and power of imitation, he is unsurpassed by
any of our northern birds. His ordinary note is forcible and emphatic,
but, as stated, not especially musical: _Chick-a-re'r-chick_, he seems
to say, hiding himself in the low, dense undergrowth, and eluding your
most vigilant search, as if playing some part in a game. But in July
or August, if you are on good terms with the sylvan deities, you may
listen to a far more rare and artistic performance. Your first
impression will be that that cluster of azalea, or that clump of
swamp-huckleberry, conceals three or four different songsters, each
vying with the others to lead the chorus. Such a medley of notes,
snatched from half the songsters of the field and forest, and uttered
with the utmost clearness and rapidity, I am sure you cannot hear
short of the haunts of the genuine mocking-bird. If not fully and
accurately repeated, there are at least suggested the notes of the
robin, wren, cat-bird, high-hole, goldfinch, and song-sparrow. The
_pip, pip_, of the last is produced so accurately that I verily
believe it would deceive the bird herself;--and the whole uttered in
such rapid succession that it seems as if the movement that gives the
concluding note of one strain must form the first note of the next.
The effect is very rich, and, to my ear, entirely unique. The
performer is very careful not to reveal himself in the mean time; yet
there is a conscious air about the strain that impresses me with the
idea that my presence is understood and my attention courted. A tone
of pride and glee, and, occasionally, of bantering jocoseness, is
discernible. I believe it is only rarely, and when he is sure of his
audience, that he displays his parts in this manner. You are to look
for him, not in tall trees or deep forests, but in low, dense
shrubbery about wet places, where there are plenty of gnats and

The winter-wren is another marvelous songster, in speaking of whom it is
difficult to avoid superlatives. He is not so conscious of his powers
and so ambitious of effect as the white-eyed fly-catcher, yet you will
not be less astonished and delighted on hearing him. He possesses the
fluency and copiousness for which the wrens are noted, and besides these
qualities, and what is rarely found conjoined with them, a wild, sweet,
rhythmical cadence that holds you entranced. I shall not soon forget
that perfect June day, when, loitering in a low, ancient hemlock wood,
in whose cathedral aisles the coolness and freshness seems perennial,
the silence was suddenly broken by a strain so rapid and gushing, and
touched with such a wild, sylvan plaintiveness, that I listened in
amazement. And so shy and coy was the little minstrel, that I came twice
to the woods before I was sure to whom I was listening. In summer he is
one of those birds of the deep northern forests, that, like the speckled
Canada warbler and the hermit-thrush, only the privileged ones hear.

The distribution of plants in a given locality is not more marked and
defined than that of the birds. Show a botanist a landscape, and he will
tell you where to look for the lady's-slipper, the columbine, or the
harebell. On the same principles the ornithologist will direct you where
to look for the greenlets, the wood-sparrow, or the chewink. In
adjoining counties, in the same latitude, and equally inland, but
possessing a different geological formation and different forest-timber,
you will observe quite a different class of birds. In a land of the
beech and sugar-maple I do not find the same songsters that I know where
thrive the oak, chestnut, and laurel. In going from a district of the
Old Red Sandstone to where I walk upon the old Plutonic Rock, not fifty
miles distant, I miss in the woods the veery, the hermit-thrush, the
chestnut-sided warbler, the blue-backed warbler, the green-backed
warbler, the black and yellow warbler, and many others, and find in
their stead the wood-thrush, the chewink, the redstart, the yellow-throat,
the yellow-breasted fly-catcher, the white-eyed fly-catcher, the quail,
and the turtle-dove.

In my neighborhood here in the Highlands the distribution is very
marked. South of the village I invariably find one species of birds,
north of it another. In only one locality, full of azalea and
swamp-huckleberry, I am always sure of finding the hooded warbler. In
a dense undergrowth of spice-bush, witch-hazel, and alder, I meet the
worm-eating warbler. In a remote clearing, covered with heath and
fern, with here and there a chestnut and an oak, I go to hear in July
the wood-sparrow, and returning by a stumpy, shallow pond, I am sure
to find the water-thrush.

Only one locality within my range seems to possess attractions for all
comers. Here one may study almost the entire ornithology of the State.
It is a rocky piece of ground, long ago cleared, but now fast
relapsing into the wildness and freedom of nature, and marked by those
half-cultivated, half-wild features which birds and boys love. It is
bounded on two sides by the village and highway, crossed at various
points by carriage-roads, and threaded in all directions by paths and
by-ways, along which soldiers, laborers, and truant school-boys are
passing at all hours of the day. It is so far escaping from the axe
and the bush-hook as to have opened communication with the forest and
mountain beyond by straggling lines of cedar, laurel, and blackberry.
The ground is mainly occupied with cedar and chestnut, with an
undergrowth, in many places, of heath and bramble. The chief feature,
however, is a dense growth in the centre, consisting of dogwood,
water-beech, swamp-ash, alder, spice-bush, hazel, etc., with a net-work
of smilax and frost-grape. A little zigzag stream, the draining of a
swamp beyond, which passes through this tangle-wood, accounts for many
of its features and productions, if not for its entire existence. Birds
that are not attracted by the heath or the cedar and chestnut, are sure
to find some excuse for visiting this miscellaneous growth in the
centre. Most of the common birds literally throng this idle-wild; and I
have met here many of the rarer species, such as the great-crested
fly-catcher, the solitary warbler, the blue-winged swamp-warbler, the
worm-eating warbler, the fox-sparrow, etc. The absence of all birds of
prey, and the great number of flies and insects, both the result of
proximity to the village, are considerations which no hawk-fearing,
peace-loving minstrel passes over lightly; hence the popularity of the

But the crowning glory of all these robins, fly-catchers, and warblers
is the wood-thrush. More abundant than all other birds, except the
robin and cat-bird, he greets you from every rock and shrub. Shy and
reserved when he first makes his appearance in May, before the end of
June he is tame and familiar, and sings on the tree over your head, or
on the rock a few paces in advance. A pair even built their nest and
reared their brood within ten or twelve feet of the piazza of a large
summer-house in the vicinity. But when the guests commenced to arrive
and the piazza to be thronged with gay crowds, I noticed something
like dread and foreboding in the manner of the mother-bird; and from
her still, quiet ways, and habit of sitting long and silently within a
few feet of the precious charge, it seemed as if the dear creature had
resolved, if possible, to avoid all observation.

If we take the quality of melody as the test, the wood-thrush,
hermit-thrush, and the veery-thrush, stand at the head of our list of

The mocking-bird undoubtedly possesses the greatest range of mere
talent, the most varied executive ability, and never fails to surprise
and delight one anew at each hearing; but being mostly an imitator, he
never approaches the serene beauty and sublimity of the hermit-thrush.
The word that best expresses my feelings, on hearing the mocking-bird,
is admiration, though the first emotion is one of surprise and
incredulity. That so many and such various notes should proceed from
one throat is a marvel, and we regard the performance with feelings
akin to those we experience on witnessing the astounding feats of the
athlete or gymnast,--and this, notwithstanding many of the notes
imitated have all the freshness and sweetness of the originals. The
emotions excited by the songs of these thrushes belong to a higher
order, springing as they do from our deepest sense of the beauty and
harmony of the world.

The wood-thrush is worthy of all, and more than all, the praises he
has received; and considering the number of his appreciative
listeners, it is not a little surprising that his relative and equal,
the hermit-thrush, should have received so little notice. Both the
great ornithologists, Wilson and Audubon, are lavish in their praises
of the former, but have little or nothing to say of the song of the
latter. Audubon says it is sometimes agreeable, but evidently has
never heard it. Nuttall, I am glad to find, is more discriminating,
and does the bird fuller justice.

It is quite a rare bird, of very shy and secluded habits, being found
in the Middle and Eastern States, during the period of song, only in
the deepest and most remote forests, usually in damp and swampy
localities. On this account the people in the Adirondac region call it
the "Swamp Angel." Its being so much of a recluse accounts for the
comparative ignorance that prevails in regard to it.

The cast of its song is very much like that of the wood-thrush, and a
good observer might easily confound the two. But hear them together
and the difference is quite marked: the song of the hermit is in a
higher key, and is more wild and ethereal. His instrument is a silver
horn which he winds in the most solitary places. The song of the
wood-thrush is more golden and leisurely. Its tone comes near to that
of some rare stringed instrument. One feels that perhaps the
wood-thrush has more compass and power, if he would only let himself
out, but on the whole he comes a little short of the pure, serene,
hymn-like strain of the hermit.

Yet those who have heard only the wood-thrush may well place him first
on the list. He is truly a royal minstrel, and considering his liberal
distribution throughout our Atlantic seaboard, perhaps contributes
more than any other bird to our sylvan melody. One may object that he
spends a little too much time in tuning his instrument, yet his
careless and uncertain touches reveal its rare compass and power.

He is the only songster of my acquaintance, excepting the canary,
that displays different degrees of proficiency in the exercise of his
musical gifts. Not long since, while walking one Sunday in the edge of
an orchard adjoining a wood, I heard one that so obviously and
unmistakably surpassed all his rivals, that my companion, though slow
to notice such things, remarked it wonderingly; and with one accord we
paused to listen to so rare a performer. It was not different in
quality so much as in quantity. Such a flood of it! Such copiousness!
Such long, trilling, accelerating preludes! Such sudden, ecstatic
overtures, would have intoxicated the dullest ear. He was really
without a compeer--a master-artist. Twice afterward I was conscious of
having heard the same bird.

The wood-thrush is the handsomest species of this family. In grace and
elegance of manner he has no equal. Such a gentle, high-bred air, and
such inimitable ease and composure in his flight and movement! He is a
poet in very word and deed. His carriage is music to the eye. His
performance of the commonest act, as catching a beetle, or picking a
worm from the mud, pleases like a stroke of wit or eloquence. Was he a
prince in the olden time, and do the regal grace and mien still adhere
to him in his transformation? What a finely proportioned form! How
plain, yet rich his color,--the bright russet of his back, the clear
white of his breast, with the distinct heart-shaped spots! It may be
objected to Robin that he is noisy and demonstrative; he hurries away
or rises to a branch with an angry note, and flirts his wings in
ill-bred suspicion. The mavis, or red-thrush, sneaks and skulks like a
culprit, hiding in the densest alders; the cat-bird is a coquette and
a flirt, as well as a sort of female Paul Pry; and the chewink shows
his inhospitality by espying your movements like a Japanese. The
wood-thrush has none of these under-bred traits. He regards me
unsuspiciously, or avoids me with a noble reserve,--or, if I am quiet
and incurious, graciously hops toward me, as if to pay his respects,
or to make my acquaintance. I have passed under his nest within a few
feet of his mate and brood, when he sat near by on a branch eying me
sharply, but without opening his beak; but the moment I raised my hand
toward his defenseless household his anger and indignation were
beautiful to behold.

What a noble pride he has! Late one October, after his mates and
companions had long since gone south, I noticed one for several
successive days in the dense part of this next-door wood, flitting
noiselessly about, very grave and silent, as if doing penance for some
violation of the code of honor. By many gentle, indirect approaches, I
perceived that part of his tail-feathers were undeveloped. The sylvan
prince could not think of returning to court in this plight, and so,
amid the falling leaves and cold rains of autumn, was patiently biding
his time.

The soft, mellow flute of the veery fills a place in the chorus of the
woods that the song of the vesper-sparrow fills in the chorus of the
fields. It has the nightingale's habit of singing in the twilight,
as indeed have all our thrushes. Walk out toward the forest in the
warm twilight of a June day, and when fifty rods distant you will hear
their soft, reverberating notes, rising from a dozen different

It is one of the simplest strains to be heard,--as simple as the curve
in form, delighting from the pure element of harmony and beauty it
contains, and not from any novel or fantastic modulation of it,--thus
contrasting strongly with such rollicking, hilarious songsters as the
bobolink, in whom we are chiefly pleased with the tintinnabulation,
the verbal and labial excellence, and the evident conceit and delight
of the performer.

I hardly know whether I am more pleased or annoyed with the cat-bird.
Perhaps she is a little too common, and her part in the general chorus
a little too conspicuous. If you are listening for the note of another
bird, she is sure to be prompted to the most loud and protracted
singing, drowning all other sounds; if you sit quietly down to observe
a favorite or study a new-comer, her curiosity knows no bounds, and
you are scanned and ridiculed from every point of observation. Yet I
would not miss her; I would only subordinate her a little, make her
less conspicuous.

She is the parodist of the woods, and there is ever a mischievous,
bantering, half-ironical undertone in her lay, as if she were conscious
of mimicking and disconcerting some envied songster. Ambitious of song,
practicing and rehearsing in private, she yet seems the least sincere
and genuine of the sylvan minstrels, as if she had taken up music only
to be in the fashion, or not to be outdone by the robins and thrushes.
In other words, she seems to sing from some outward motive, and not from
inward joyousness. She is a good versifier, but not a great poet.
Vigorous, rapid, copious, not without fine touches, but destitute of any
high, serene melody, her performance, like that of Thoreau's squirrel,
always implies a spectator.

There is a certain air and polish about her strain, however, like that
in the vivacious conversation of a well-bred lady of the world, that
commands respect. Her maternal instinct, also, is very strong, and that
simple structure of dead twigs and dry grass is the centre of much
anxious solicitude. Not long since, while strolling through the woods,
my attention was attracted to a small densely grown swamp, hedged in
with eglantine, brambles, and the everlasting smilax, from which
proceeded loud cries of distress and alarm, indicating that some
terrible calamity was threatening my sombre-colored minstrel. On
effecting an entrance, which, however, was not accomplished till I had
doffed coat and hat, so as to diminish the surface exposed to the thorns
and brambles, and looking around me from a square yard of terra firma, I
found myself the spectator of a loathsome, yet fascinating scene. Three
or four yards from me was the nest, beneath which, in long festoons,
rested a huge black snake; a bird two thirds grown, was slowly
disappearing between his expanded jaws. As he seemed unconscious of my
presence, I quietly observed the proceedings. By slow degrees he
compassed the bird about with his elastic mouth; his head flattened, his
neck writhed and swelled, and two or three undulatory movements of his
glistening body finished the work. Then, he cautiously raised himself
up, his tongue flaming from his mouth the while, curved over the nest,
and, with wavy, subtle motions, explored the interior. I can conceive of
nothing more overpoweringly terrible to an unsuspecting family of birds
than the sudden appearance above their domicile of the head and neck of
this arch-enemy. It is enough to petrify the blood in their veins. Not
finding the object of his search, he came streaming down from the nest
to a lower limb, and commenced extending his researches in other
directions, sliding stealthily through the branches, bent on capturing
one of the parent birds. That a legless, wingless creature should move
with such ease and rapidity where only birds and squirrels are
considered at home, lifting himself up, letting himself down, running
out on the yielding boughs, and traversing with marvelous celerity the
whole length and breadth of the thicket, was truly surprising. One
thinks of the great myth, of the Tempter and the "cause of all our woe,"
and wonders if the Arch One is not now playing off some of his pranks
before him. Whether we call it snake or devil matters little. I could
but admire his terrible beauty, however; his black, shining folds, his
easy, gliding movement, head erect, eyes glistening, tongue playing like
subtle flame, and the invisible means of his almost winged locomotion.

The parent birds, in the mean while, kept up the most agonizing
cry,--at times fluttering furiously about their pursuer, and actually
laying hold of his tail with their beaks and claws. On being thus
attacked, the snake would suddenly double upon himself and follow his
own body back, thus executing a strategic movement that at first
seemed almost to paralyze his victim and place her within his grasp.
Not quite, however. Before his jaws could close upon the coveted prize
the bird would tear herself away, and, apparently faint and sobbing,
retire to a higher branch. His reputed powers of fascination availed
him little, though it is possible that a frailer and less combative
bird might have been held by the fatal spell. Presently, as he came
gliding down the slender body of a leaning alder, his attention was
attracted by a slight movement of my arm; eying me an instant, with
that crouching, utter, motionless gaze which I believe only snakes and
devils can assume, he turned quickly,--a feat which necessitated
something like crawling over his own body,--and glided off through the
branches, evidently recognizing in me a representative of the ancient
parties he once so cunningly ruined. A few moments after, as he lay
carelessly disposed in the top of a rank alder, trying to look as
much like a crooked branch as his supple, shining form would admit,
the old vengeance overtook him. I exercised my prerogative, and a
well-directed missile, in the shape of a stone, brought him looping
and writhing to the ground. After I had completed his downfall and
quiet had been partially restored, a half-fledged member of the
bereaved household came out from his hiding-place, and, jumping upon a
decayed branch, chirped vigorously, no doubt in celebration of the

Till the middle of July there is a general equilibrium; the tide
stands poised; the holiday-spirit is unabated. But as the harvest
ripens beneath the long, hot days, the melody gradually ceases. The
young are out of the nest and must be cared for, and the moulting
season is at hand. After the cricket has commenced to drone his
monotonous refrain beneath your window, you will not, till another
season, hear the wood-thrush in all his matchless eloquence. The
bobolink has become careworn and fretful, and blurts out snatches of
his song between his scolding and upbraiding, as you approach the
vicinity of his nest, oscillating between anxiety for his brood and
solicitude for his musical reputation. Some of the sparrows still
sing, and occasionally across the hot fields, from a tall tree in the
edge of the forest, comes the rich note of the scarlet tanager. This
tropical-colored bird loves the hottest weather, and I hear him even
in dog-days.

The remainder of the summer is the carnival of the swallows and
fly-catchers. Flies and insects, to any amount, are to be had for the
catching; and the opportunity is well improved. See that sombre,
ashen-colored pewee on yonder branch. A true sportsman he, who never
takes his game at rest, but always on the wing. You vagrant fly, you
purblind moth, beware how you come within his range! Observe his
attitude, the curious movement of his head, his "eye in a fine frenzy
rolling, glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven."

His sight is microscopic and his aim sure. Quick as thought he has
seized his victim and is back to his perch. There is no strife, no
pursuit,--one fell swoop and the matter is ended. That little sparrow,
as you will observe, is less skilled. It is the _Socialis_, and he
finds his subsistence properly in various seeds and the larvæ of
insects, though he occasionally has higher aspirations, and seeks to
emulate the pewee, commencing and ending his career as a fly-catcher
by an awkward chase after a beetle or "miller." He is hunting around
in the grass now, I suspect, with the desire to indulge this favorite
whim. There!--the opportunity is afforded him. Away goes a little
cream-colored meadow-moth in the most tortuous course he is capable
of, and away goes _Socialis_ in pursuit. The contest is quite comical,
though I dare say it is serious enough to the moth. The chase
continues for a few yards, when there is a sudden rushing to cover in
the grass,--then a taking to wing again, when the search has become
too close, and the moth has recovered his wind. _Socialis_ chirps
angrily, and is determined not to be beaten. Keeping, with the
slightest effort, upon the heels of the fugitive, he is ever on the
point of halting to snap him up, but never quite does it,--and so,
between disappointment and expectation, is soon disgusted, and returns
to pursue his more legitimate means of subsistence.

In striking contrast to this serio-comic strife of the sparrow and the
moth, is the pigeon-hawk's pursuit of the sparrow or the goldfinch. It
is a race of surprising speed and agility. It is a test of wing and
wind. Every muscle is taxed, and every nerve strained. Such cries of
terror and consternation on the part of the bird, tacking to the right
and left, and making the most desperate efforts to escape, and such
silent determination on the part of the hawk, pressing the bird so
closely, flashing and turning and timing his movements with those of
the pursued as accurately and as inexorably as if the two constituted
one body, excite feelings of the deepest concern. You mount the fence
or rush out of your way to see the issue. The only salvation for the
bird is to adopt the tactics of the moth, seeking instantly the cover
of some tree, bush, or hedge, where its smaller size enables it to
move about more rapidly. These pirates are aware of this, and
therefore prefer to take their prey by one fell swoop. You may see one
of them prowling through an orchard, with the yellow-birds hovering
about him, crying, _Pi-ty, pi-ty_, in the most desponding tone; yet he
seems not to regard them, knowing, as do they, that in the close
branches they are as safe as if in a wall of adamant.

August is the month of the high sailing hawks. The hen-hawk is the
most noticeable. He likes the haze and calm of these long, warm days.
He is a bird of leisure, and seems always at his ease. How beautiful
and majestic are his movements! So self-poised and easy, such an
entire absence of haste, such a magnificent amplitude of circles and
spirals, such a haughty, imperial grace, and, occasionally, such
daring aërial evolutions!

With slow, leisurely movement, rarely vibrating his pinions, he mounts
and mounts in an ascending spiral till he appears a mere speck against
the summer sky; then, if the mood seizes him, with wings half-closed,
like a bent bow, he will cleave the air almost perpendicularly, as if
intent on dashing himself to pieces against the earth; but on nearing
the ground, he suddenly mounts again on broad, expanded wing, as if
rebounding upon the air, and sails leisurely away. It is the sublimest
feat of the season. One holds his breath till he sees him rise again.

If inclined to a more gradual and less precipitous descent, he fixes
his eye on some distant point in the earth beneath him, and thither
bends his course. He is still almost meteoric in his speed and
boldness. You see his path down the heavens, straight as a line; if
near, you hear the rush of his wings; his shadow hurtles across the
fields, and in an instant you see him quietly perched upon some low
tree or decayed stub in a swamp or meadow, with reminiscences of frogs
and mice stirring in his maw.

When the south wind blows, it is a study to see three or four of these
air-kings at the head of the valley far up toward the mountain,
balancing and oscillating upon the strong current: now quite
stationary, except a slight tremulous motion like the poise of a
rope-dancer, then rising and falling in long undulations, and seeming
to resign themselves passively to the wind; or, again, sailing high
and level far above the mountain's peak, no bluster and haste, but, as
stated, occasionally a terrible earnestness and speed. Fire at one as
he sails overhead, and, unless wounded badly he will not change his
course or gait.

His flight is a perfect picture of repose in motion. It strikes the
eye as more surprising than the flight of the pigeon and swallow even,
in that the effort put forth is so uniform and delicate as to escape
observation, giving to the movement an air of buoyancy and perpetuity,
the effluence of power rather than the conscious application of it.

The calmness and dignity of this hawk, when attacked by crows or the
king-bird, are well worthy of him. He seldom deigns to notice his
noisy and furious antagonists, but deliberately wheels about in that
aërial spiral, and mounts and mounts till his pursuers grow dizzy and
return to earth again. It is quite original, this mode of getting rid
of an unworthy opponent, rising to heights where the braggart is
dazed and bewildered and loses his reckoning! I am not sure but it is
worthy of imitation.

But summer wanes, and autumn approaches. The songsters of the
seed-time are silent at the reaping of the harvest. Other minstrels
take up the strain. It is the heyday of insect life. The day is
canopied with musical sound. All the songs of the spring and summer
appear to be floating, softened and refined, in the upper air. The
birds in a new, but less holiday suit, turn their faces southward. The
swallows flock and go; the bobolinks flock and go; silently and
unobserved, the thrushes go. Autumn arrives, bringing finches,
warblers, sparrows and kinglets from the North. Silently the
procession passes. Yonder hawk, sailing peacefully away till he is
lost in the horizon, is a symbol of the closing season and the
departing birds.

[Illustration: Yellow-billed Cuckoo.]

[Illustration: Cat-bird.]


Most people receive with incredulity a statement of the number of
birds that annually visit our climate. Very few even are aware of half
the number that spend the summer in their own immediate vicinity. We
little suspect, when we walk in the woods, whose privacy we are
intruding upon,--what rare and elegant visitants from Mexico, from
Central and South America, and from the islands of the sea, are
holding their reunions in the branches over our heads, or pursuing
their pleasure on the ground before us.

I recall the altogether admirable and shining family which Thoreau
dreamed he saw in the upper chambers of Spaulding's woods, which
Spaulding did not know lived there, and which were not put out when
Spaulding, whistling, drove his team through their lower halls. They
did not go into society in the village; they were quite well; they had
sons and daughters; they neither wove nor spun; there was a sound as
of suppressed hilarity.

I take it for granted that the forester was only saying a pretty thing
of the birds, though I have observed that it does sometimes annoy them
when Spaulding's cart rumbles through their house. Generally, however,
they are as unconscious of Spaulding as Spaulding is of them.

Walking the other day in an old hemlock wood, I counted over forty
varieties of these summer visitants, many of them common to other
woods in the vicinity, but quite a number peculiar to these ancient
solitudes, and not a few that are rare in any locality. It is quite
unusual to find so large a number abiding in one forest,--and that not
a large one,--most of them nesting and spending the summer there. Many
of those I observed commonly pass this season much farther north. But
the geographical distribution of birds is rather a climatical one. The
same temperature, though under different parallels, usually attracts
the same birds; difference in altitude being equivalent to the
difference in latitude. A given height above the sea level under the
parallel of thirty degrees may have the same climate as places under
that of thirty-five degrees, and similar Flora and Fauna. At the
head-waters of the Delaware, where I write, the latitude is that of
Boston, but the region has a much greater elevation, and hence a
climate that compares better with the northern part of the State and
of New England. Half a day's drive to the southeast brings me down
into quite a different temperature, with an older geological
formation, different forest-timber, and different birds;--even with
different mammals. Neither the little gray rabbit nor the little gray
fox is found in my locality, but the great northern hare and the red
fox. In the last century a colony of beavers dwelt here, though the
oldest inhabitant cannot now point to even the traditional site of
their dams. The ancient hemlocks, whither I propose to take the
reader, are rich in many things beside birds. Indeed, their wealth in
this respect is owing mainly, no doubt, to their rank vegetable
growths, their fruitful swamps, and their dark, sheltered retreats.

Their history is of an heroic cast. Ravished and torn by the tanner in
his thirst for bark, preyed upon by the lumberman, assaulted and
beaten back by the settler, still their spirit has never been broken,
their energies never paralyzed. Not many years ago a public highway
passed through them, but it was at no time a tolerable road; trees
fell across it, mud and limbs choked it up, till finally travelers
took the hint and went around; and now, walking along its deserted
course, I see only the foot-prints of coons, foxes, and squirrels.

Nature loves such woods, and places her own seal upon them. Here she
shows me what can be done with ferns and mosses and lichens. The soil
is marrowy and full of innumerable forests. Standing in these fragrant
aisles, I feel the strength of the vegetable kingdom and am awed by
the deep and inscrutable processes of life going on so silently about

No hostile forms with axe or spud now visit these solitudes. The cows
have half-hidden ways through them, and know where the best browsing
is to be had. In spring the farmer repairs to their bordering of
maples to make sugar; in July and August women and boys from all the
country about penetrate the old Bark-peelings for raspberries and
blackberries; and I know a youth who wonderingly follows their languid
stream casting for trout.

In like spirit, alert and buoyant, on this bright June morning go I
also to reap my harvest,--pursuing a sweet more delectable than sugar,
fruit more savory than berries, and game for another palate than that
tickled by trout.

June, of all the months, the student of ornithology can least afford
to lose. Most birds are nesting then, and in full song and plumage.
And what is a bird without its song? Do we not wait for the stranger
to speak? It seems to me that I do not know a bird till I have heard
its voice; then I come nearer it at once, and it possesses a human
interest to me. I have met the gray-cheeked thrush (_Turdus aliciæ_)
in the woods, and held him in my hand; still I do not know him. The
silence of the cedar-bird throws a mystery about him which neither
his good looks nor his petty larcenies in cherry time can dispel. A
bird's song contains a clew to its life, and establishes a sympathy,
an understanding, between itself and the listener.

I descend a steep hill, and approach the hemlocks through a large
sugar-bush. When twenty rods distant, I hear all along the line of the
forest the incessant warble of the red-eyed fly-catcher (_Vireosylvia
olivacea_), cheerful and happy as the merry whistle of a school-boy.
He is one of our most common and widely distributed birds. Approach
any forest at any hour of the day, in any kind of weather, from May to
August, in any of the Middle or Eastern districts, and the chances are
that the first note you hear will be his. Rain or shine, before noon
or after, in the deep forest or in the village grove,--when it is too
hot for the thrushes or too cold and windy for the warblers,--it is
never out of time or place for this little minstrel to indulge his
cheerful strain. In the deep wilds of the Adirondac, where few birds
are seen and fewer heard, his note was almost constantly in my ear.
Always busy, making it a point never to suspend for one moment his
occupation to indulge his musical taste, his lay is that of industry
and contentment. There is nothing plaintive or especially musical in
his performance, but the sentiment expressed is eminently that of
cheerfulness. Indeed, the songs of most birds have some human
significance, which, I think, is the source of the delight we take in
them. The song of the bobolink to me expresses hilarity; the
song-sparrow's, faith; the bluebird's, love; the cat-bird's, pride;
the white-eyed fly-catcher's, self-consciousness; that of the
hermit-thrush, spiritual-serenity; while there is something military
in the call of the robin.

The vireosylvia is classed among the fly-catchers by some writers, but
is much more of a worm-eater, and has few of the traits or habits of
the _Muscicapa_ or the true _Sylvia_. He resembles somewhat the
warbling vireo (_Vireo gilvus_), and the two birds are often
confounded by careless observers. Both warble in the same cheerful
strain, but the latter more continuously and rapidly. The red-eye is a
larger, slimmer bird, with a faint bluish crown, and a light line over
the eye. His movements are peculiar. You may see him hopping among the
limbs, exploring the under side of the leaves, peering to the right
and left, now flitting a few feet, now hopping as many, and warbling
incessantly, occasionally in a subdued tone, which sounds from a very
indefinite distance. When he has found a worm to his liking, he turns
lengthwise of the limb, and bruises its head with his beak before
devouring it.

As I enter the woods the slate-colored snow-bird (_Fringilla Hudsonia_)
starts up before me and chirps sharply. His protest when thus disturbed
is almost metallic in its sharpness. He breeds here, and is not esteemed
a snow-bird at all, as he disappears at the near approach of winter, and
returns again in spring, like the song-sparrow, and is not in any way
associated with the cold and the snow. So different are the habits of
birds in different localities. Even the crow does not winter here, and
is seldom seen after December or before March.

The snow-bird, or "black chipping-bird," as it is known among the
farmers, is the finest architect of any of the ground-builders known
to me. The site of its nest is usually some low bank by the roadside
near a wood. In a slight excavation, with a partially concealed
entrance, the exquisite structure is placed. Horse and cow hair are
plentifully used, imparting to the interior of the nest great symmetry
and firmness as well as softness.

Passing down through the maple arches, barely pausing to observe the
antics of a trio of squirrels,--two gray ones and a black one,--I
cross an ancient brush fence and am fairly within the old hemlocks,
and in one of the most primitive, undisturbed nooks. In the deep moss
I tread as with muffled feet, and the pupils of my eyes dilate in the
dim, almost religious light. The irreverent red squirrels, however,
run and snicker at my approach, or mock the solitude with their
ridiculous chattering and frisking.

This nook is the chosen haunt of the winter-wren. This is the only
place and these the only woods in which I find him in this vicinity.
His voice fills these dim aisles, as if aided by some marvelous
sounding-board. Indeed, his song is very strong for so small a bird
and unites in a remarkable degree brilliancy and plaintiveness. I
think of a tremulous vibrating tongue of silver. You may know it is
the song of a wren, from its gushing lyrical character: but you must
needs look sharp to see the little minstrel, especially while in the
act of singing. He is nearly the color of the ground and the leaves;
he never ascends the tall trees, but keeps low, flitting from stump to
stump and from root to root, dodging in and out of his hiding-places,
and watching all intruders with a suspicious eye. He has a very pert,
almost comical look. His tail stands more than perpendicular: it
points straight toward his head. He is the least ostentatious singer I
know of. He does not strike an attitude, and lift up his head in
preparation, and, as it were, clear his throat; but sits there on a
log and pours out his music, looking straight before him, or even down
at the ground. As a songster, he has but few superiors. I do not hear
him after the first week in July.

While sitting on this soft-cushioned log, tasting the pungent acidulous
wood-sorrel (_Oxalis acetellosa_), the blossoms of which, large and
pink-veined, rise everywhere above the moss, a rufous-colored bird flies
quickly past, and, alighting on a low limb a few rods off, salutes me
with "Whew! Whew!" or "Whoit! Whoit!" almost as you would whistle for
your dog. I see by his impulsive, graceful movements, and his dimly
speckled breast, that it is a thrush. Presently he utters a few soft,
mellow, flute-like notes, one of the most simple expressions of melody
to be heard, and scuds away, and I see it is the veery, or Wilson's
thrush. He is the least of the thrushes in size, being about that of the
common bluebird, and he may be distinguished from his relatives by the
dimness of the spots upon his breast. The wood-thrush has very clear,
distinct oval spots on a white ground; in the hermit, the spots run more
into lines, on a ground of a faint bluish-white; in veery, the marks are
almost obsolete, and a few rods off his breast presents only a dull
yellowish appearance. To get a good view of him you have only to sit
down in his haunts, as in such cases he seems equally anxious to get a
good view of you.

From those tall hemlocks proceeds a very fine insect-like warble, and
occasionally I see a spray tremble, or catch the flit of a wing. I watch
and watch till my head grows dizzy and my neck is in danger of permanent
displacement, and still do not get a good view. Presently the bird
darts, or, as it seems, falls down a few feet in pursuit of a fly or a
moth, and I see the whole of it, but in the dim light am undecided. It
is for such emergencies that I have brought my gun. A bird in the hand
is worth half a dozen in the bush, even for ornithological purposes; and
no sure and rapid progress can be made in the study without taking life,
without procuring specimens. This bird is a warbler, plainly enough,
from his habits and manner; but what kind of warbler? Look on him and
name him: a deep orange or flame-colored throat and breast; the same
color showing also in a line over the eye and in his crown; back
variegated black and white. The female is less marked and brilliant. The
orange-throated warbler would seem to be his right name, his
characteristic cognomen; but no, he is doomed to wear the name of some
discoverer, perhaps the first who robbed his nest or rifled him of his
mate,--Blackburn; hence, Blackburnian warbler. The _burn_ seems
appropriate enough, for in these dark evergreens his throat and breast
show like flame. He has a very fine warble, suggesting that of the
redstart, but not especially musical. I find him in no other woods in
this vicinity.

I am attracted by another warble in the same locality, and experience
a like difficulty in getting a good view of the author of it. It is
quite a noticeable strain, sharp and sibilant, and sounds well amid
the old trees. In the upland woods of beech and maple it is a more
familiar sound than in these solitudes. On taking the bird in hand,
one cannot help exclaiming, "How beautiful!" So tiny and elegant, the
smallest of the warblers; a delicate blue-back, with a slight
bronze-colored triangular spot between the shoulders; upper mandible
black; lower mandible yellow as gold; throat yellow, becoming a dark
bronze on the breast. Blue yellow-back he is called, though the yellow
is much nearer a bronze. He is remarkably delicate and beautiful,--the
handsomest as he is the smallest of the warblers known to me. It is
never without surprise that I find amid these rugged, savage aspects
of Nature creatures so fairy and delicate. But such is the law. Go to
the sea or climb the mountain, and with the ruggedest and the savagest
you will find likewise the fairest and the most delicate. The
greatness and the minuteness of Nature pass all understanding.

Ever since I entered the woods, even while listening to the lesser
songsters, or contemplating the silent forms about me, a strain has
reached my ears from out the depths of the forest that to me is the
finest sound in nature,--the song of the hermit-thrush. I often hear him
thus a long way off, sometimes over a quarter of a mile away, when only
the stronger and more perfect parts of his music reach me; and through
the general chorus of wrens and warblers I detect this sound rising pure
and serene, as if a spirit from some remote height were slowly chanting
a divine accompaniment. This song appeals to the sentiment of the
beautiful in me, and suggests a serene religious beatitude as no other
sound in nature does. It is perhaps more of an evening than a morning
hymn, though I hear it at all hours of the day. It is very simple, and I
can hardly tell the secret of its charm. "O spheral, spheral!" he seems
to say; "O holy, holy! O clear away, clear away! O clear up, clear up!"
interspersed with the finest trills and the most delicate preludes. It
is not a proud, gorgeous strain, like the tanager's or the grossbeak's;
suggests no passion or emotion,--nothing personal,--but seems to be the
voice of that calm sweet solemnity one attains to in his best moments.
It realizes a peace and a deep solemn joy that only the finest souls may
know. A few nights ago I ascended a mountain to see the world by
moonlight; and when near the summit the hermit commenced his evening
hymn a few rods from me. Listening to this strain on the lone mountain,
with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your
cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.

I have seldom known two of these birds to be singing at the same time
in the same locality, rivaling each other, like the wood-thrush or the
veery. Shooting one from a tree, I have observed another take up the
strain from almost the identical perch in less than ten minutes
afterward. Later in the day when I had penetrated the heart of the old
"Barkpeeling," I came suddenly upon one singing from a low stump, and
for a wonder he did not seem alarmed, but lifted up his divine voice
as if his privacy was undisturbed. I open his beak and find the inside
yellow as gold. I was prepared to find it inlaid with pearls and
diamonds, or to see an angel issue from it.

He is not much in the books. Indeed, I am acquainted with scarcely any
writer on ornithology whose head is not muddled on the subject of our
three prevailing song-thrushes, confounding either their figures or
their songs. A writer in the "Atlantic"[1] gravely tells us the
wood-thrush is sometimes called the hermit, and then, after describing
the song of the hermit with great beauty and correctness, coolly
ascribes it to the veery! The new Cyclopædia, fresh from the study of
Audubon, says the hermit's song consists of a single plaintive note, and
that the veery's resembles that of the wood-thrush! These observations
deserve to be preserved with that of the author of "Out-door Papers,"
who tells us the trill of the hair-bird (_Fringillia socialis_) is
produced by the bird fluttering its wings upon its sides! The
hermit-thrush may be easily identified by his color; his back being a
clear olive-brown becoming rufous on his rump and tail. A quill from his
wing placed beside one from his tail on a dark ground presents quite a
marked contrast.

I walk along the old road, and note the tracks in the thin layer of
mud. When do these creatures travel here? I have never yet chanced to
meet one. Here a partridge has set its foot; there, a woodcock; here,
a squirrel or mink: there, a skunk; there, a fox. What a clear,
nervous track reynard makes! how easy to distinguish it from that of a
little dog,--it is so sharply cut and defined! A dog's track is coarse
and clumsy beside it. There is as much wildness in the track of an
animal as in its voice. Is a deer's track like a sheep's or a goat's?
What winged-footed fleetness and agility may be inferred from the
sharp, braided track of the gray squirrel upon the new snow! Ah! in
nature is the best discipline. How wood-life sharpens the senses,
giving a new power to the eye, the ear, the nose! And are not the
rarest and most exquisite songsters wood-birds?

Everywhere in these solitudes I am greeted with the pensive, almost
pathetic note of the wood-pewee. The pewees are the true fly-catchers,
and are easily identified. They are very characteristic birds, have
strong family traits, and pugnacious dispositions. They are the least
attractive or elegant birds of our fields or forest. Sharp-shouldered,
big-headed, short-legged, of no particular color, of little elegance
in flight or movement, with a disagreeable flirt of the tail, always
quarreling with their neighbors and with one another, no birds are so
little calculated to excite pleasurable emotions in the beholder, or
to become objects of human interest and affection. The king-bird is
the best dressed member of the family, but he is a braggart; and,
though always snubbing his neighbors, is an arrant coward, and shows
the white feather at the slightest display of pluck in his antagonist.
I have seen him turn tail to a swallow, and have known the little
pewee in question to whip him beautifully. From the great-crested to
the little green fly-catcher, their ways and general habits are the
same. Slow in flying from point to point, they yet have a wonderful
quickness, and snap up the fleetest insects with little apparent
effort. There is a constant play of quick, nervous movements
underneath their outer show of calmness and stolidity. They do not
scour the limbs and trees like the warblers, but, perched upon the
middle branches, wait, like true hunters, for the game to come along.
There is often a very audible snap of the beak as they seize their

The wood-pewee, the prevailing species in this locality, arrests your
attention by his sweet, pathetic cry. There is room for it also in the
deep woods, as well as for the more prolonged and elevated strains.

Its relative, the phœbe-bird, builds an exquisite nest of moss on the
side of some shelving cliff or overhanging rock. The other day,
passing by a ledge near the top of a mountain in a singularly desolate
locality, my eye rested upon one of these structures, looking
precisely as if it grew there, so in keeping was it with the mossy
character of the rock, and I have had a growing affection for the bird
ever since. The rock seemed to love the nest and to claim it as its
own. I said, what a lesson in architecture is here! Here is a house
that was built, but with such loving care and such beautiful
adaptation of the means to the end, that it looks like a product of
nature. The same wise economy is noticeable in the nests of all birds.
No bird would paint its house white or red, or add aught for show.

At one point in the grayest, most shaggy part of the woods, I come
suddenly upon a brood of screech-owls, full grown, sitting together
upon a dry, moss-draped limb, but a few feet from the ground. I pause
within four or five yards of them and am looking about me, when my eye
alights upon these gray, motionless figures. They sit perfectly
upright, some with their backs and some with their breasts toward me,
but every head turned squarely in my direction. Their eyes are closed
to a mere black line; through this crack they are watching me,
evidently thinking themselves unobserved. The spectacle is weird and
grotesque, and suggests something impish and uncanny. It is a new
effect, the night side of the woods by daylight. After observing them
a moment I take a single step toward them, when, quick as thought,
their eyes fly wide open, their attitude is changed, they bend, some
this way, some that, and, instinct with life and motion, stare wildly
around them. Another step, and they all take flight but one, which
stoops low on the branch, and with the look of a frightened cat
regards me for a few seconds over its shoulder. They fly swiftly and
softly, and disperse through the trees. I shoot one, which is of a
tawny red tint, like that figured by Wilson, who mistook a young bird
for an old one. The old birds are a beautiful ashen-gray mottled with
black. In the present instance, they were sitting on the branch with
the young.

Coming to a drier and less mossy place in the woods, I am amused with
the golden-crowned thrush,--which, however, is no thrush at all, but a
warbler, the _Sciurus aurocapillus_. He walks on the ground ahead of
me with such an easy gliding motion, and with such an unconscious,
preoccupied air, jerking his head like a hen or a partridge, now
hurrying, now slackening his pace, that I pause to observe him. If I
sit down, he pauses to observe me, and extends his pretty rumblings on
all sides, apparently very much engrossed with his own affairs, but
never losing sight of me. But few of the birds are walkers, most being
hoppers, like the robin.

Satisfied that I have no hostile intentions, the pretty pedestrian
mounts a limb a few feet from the ground, and gives me the benefit of
one of his musical performances, a sort of accelerating chant.
Commencing in a very low key, which makes him seem at a very uncertain
distance, he grows louder and louder, till his body quakes and his chant
runs into a shriek, ringing in my ear with a peculiar sharpness. This
lay may be represented thus: "Teacher _teacher_, TEACHER, TEACHER,
_TEACHER_!"--the accent on the first syllable and each word uttered with
increased force and shrillness. No writer with whom I am acquainted
gives him credit for more musical ability than is displayed in this
strain. Yet in this the half is not told. He has a far rarer song, which
he reserves for some nymph whom he meets in the air. Mounting by easy
flights to the top of the tallest tree, he launches into the air with a
sort of suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the finches, and
bursts into a perfect ecstasy of song,--clear, ringing, copious,
rivaling the goldfinch's in vivacity, and the linnet's in melody. This
strain is one of the rarest bits of bird-melody to be heard, and is
oftenest indulged in late in the afternoon or after sundown. Over the
woods, hid from view, the ecstatic singer warbles his finest strain. In
this song you instantly detect his relationship to the water-wagtail
(_Sciurus noveboracensis_)--erroneously called water-thrush,--whose song
is likewise a sudden burst, full and ringing, and with a tone of
youthful joyousness in it, as if the bird had just had some unexpected
good fortune. For nearly two years this strain of the pretty walker was
little more than a disembodied voice to me, and I was puzzled by it as
Thoreau by his mysterious night-warbler, which, by the way, I suspect
was no new bird at all, but one he was otherwise familiar with. The
little bird himself seems disposed to keep the matter a secret, and
improves every opportunity to repeat before you his shrill, accelerating
lay, as if this were quite enough and all he laid claim to. Still, I
trust I am betraying no confidence in making the matter public here. I
think this is preëminently his love-song, as I hear it oftenest about
the mating season. I have caught half-suppressed bursts of it from two
males chasing each other with fearful speed through the forest.

Turning to the left from the old road, I wander over soft logs and
gray yielding _débris_, across the little trout brook, until I emerge
in the overgrown "Barkpeeling,"--pausing now and then on the way to
admire a small, solitary white flower which rises above the moss, with
radical, heart-shaped leaves, and a blossom precisely like the
liverwort except in color, but which is not put down in my botany,--or
to observe the ferns, of which I count six varieties, some gigantic
ones nearly shoulder-high.

At the foot of a rough, scraggy yellow birch, on a bank of club-moss, so
richly inlaid with partridge-berry and curious shining leaves,--with
here and there in the bordering a spire of the false wintergreen
(_Pyrola rotundifolia_) strung with faint pink flowers and exhaling the
breath of a May orchard,--that it looks too costly a couch for such an
idler, I recline to note what transpires. The sun is just past the
meridian, and the afternoon chorus is not yet in full tune. Most birds
sing with the greatest spirit and vivacity in the forenoon, though there
are occasional bursts later in the day, in which nearly all voices join;
while it is not till the twilight that the full power and solemnity of
the thrush's hymn is felt.

My attention is soon arrested by a pair of humming-birds, the
ruby-throated, disporting themselves in a low bush a few yards from
me. The female takes shelter amid the branches, and squeaks exultingly
as the male, circling above, dives down as if to dislodge her. Seeing
me, he drops like a feather on a slender twig, and in a moment both
are gone. Then, as if by a preconcerted signal, the throats are all
atune. I lie on my back with eyes half-closed, and analyze the chorus
of warblers, thrushes, finches, and fly-catchers; while, soaring above
all, a little withdrawn and alone, rises the divine soprano of the
hermit. That richly modulated warble proceeding from the top of yonder
birch, and which unpracticed ears would mistake for the voice of the
scarlet tanager, comes from that rare visitant, the rose-breasted
grossbeak. It is a strong, vivacious strain, a bright noon-day song,
full of health and assurance, indicating fine talents in the
performer, but not genius. As I come up under the tree he casts his
eye down at me, but continues his song. This bird is said to be quite
common in the Northwest, but he is rare in the Eastern districts. His
beak is disproportionately large and heavy, like a huge nose, which
slightly mars his good looks; but Nature has made it up to him in a
blush rose upon his breast, and the most delicate of pink linings to
the under side of his wings. His back is variegated black and white,
and when flying low the white shows conspicuously. If he passed over
your head, you would note the delicate flush under his wings.

That bit of bright scarlet on yonder dead hemlock, glowing like a live
coal against the dark background, seeming almost too brilliant for the
severe northern climate, is his relative, the scarlet tanager. I
occasionally meet him in the deep hemlocks, and know no stronger
contrast in nature. I almost fear he will kindle the dry limb on which
he alights. He is quite a solitary bird, and in this section seems to
prefer the high, remote woods, even going quite to the mountain's top.
Indeed, the event of my last visit to the mountain was meeting one of
these brilliant creatures near the summit, in full song. The breeze
carried the notes far and wide. He seemed to enjoy the elevation, and
I imagined his song had more scope and freedom than usual. When he had
flown far down the mountain-side, the breeze still brought me his
finest notes. In plumage he is the most brilliant bird we have. The
bluebird is not entirely blue; nor will the indigo-bird bear a close
inspection, nor the goldfinch, nor the summer redbird. But the tanager
loses nothing by a near view; the deep scarlet of his body and the
black of his wings and tail are quite perfect. This is his holiday
suit; in the fall he becomes a dull yellowish-green,--the color of the
female the whole season.

One of the leading songsters in this choir of the old Barkpeeling is
the purple finch or linnet. He sits somewhat apart, usually on a dead
hemlock, and warbles most exquisitely. He is one of our finest
songsters, and stands at the head of the finches, as the hermit at the
head of the thrushes. His song approaches an ecstasy, and, with the
exception of the winter-wren's, is the most rapid and copious strain
to be heard in these woods. It is quite destitute of the trills and
the liquid, silvery, bubbling notes that characterize the wren's; but
there runs through it a round, richly modulated whistle, very sweet
and very pleasing. The call of the robin is brought in at a certain
point with marked effect, and, throughout, the variety is so great and
the strain so rapid that the impression is as of two or three birds
singing at the same time. He is not common here, and I only find him
in these or similar woods. His color is peculiar, and looks as if it
might have been imparted by dipping a brown bird in diluted pokeberry
juice. Two or three more dippings would have made the purple
complete. The female is the color of the song-sparrow, a little
larger, with heavier beak, and tail much more forked.

In a little opening quite free from brush and trees, I step down to
bathe my hands in the brook, when a small, light slate-colored bird
flutters out of the bank, not three feet from my head, as I stoop
down, and, as if severely lamed or injured, flutters through the grass
and into the nearest bush. As I do not follow, but remain near the
nest, she _chips_ sharply, which brings the male, and I see it is the
speckled Canada warbler. I find no authority in the books for this
bird to build upon the ground, yet here is the nest, made chiefly of
dry grass, set in a slight excavation in the bank, not two feet from
the water, and looking a little perilous to anything but ducklings or
sandpipers. There are two young birds and one little speckled egg,
just pipped. But how is this? what mystery is here? One nestling is
much larger than the other, monopolizes most of the nest, and lifts
its open mouth far above that of its companion, though obviously both
are of the same age, not more than a day old. Ah! I see; the old trick
of the cow-bunting, with a stinging human significance. Taking the
interloper by the nape of the neck, I deliberately drop it into the
water, but not without a pang, as I see its naked form, convulsed with
chills, float down stream. Cruel? So is Nature cruel. I take one life
to save two. In less than two days this pot-bellied intruder would
have caused the death of the two rightful occupants of the nest; so I
step in and turn things into their proper channel again.

It is a singular freak of Nature, this instinct which prompts one bird to
lay its eggs in the nests of others, and thus shirk the responsibility of
rearing its own young. The cow-buntings always resort to this cunning
trick; and when one reflects upon their numbers it is evident that these
little tragedies are quite frequent. In Europe the parallel case is that
of the cuckoo, and occasionally our own cuckoo imposes upon a robin or a
thrush in the same manner. The cow-bunting seems to have no conscience
about the matter, and, so far as I have observed, invariably selects the
nest of a bird smaller than itself. Its egg is usually the first to hatch;
its young overreaches all the rest when food is brought; it grows with
great rapidity, spreads and fills the nest, and the starved and crowded
occupants soon perish, when the parent bird removes their dead bodies,
giving its whole energy and care to the foster-child.

The warblers and smaller fly-catchers are generally the sufferers,
though I sometimes see the slate-colored snow-bird unconsciously duped
in like manner; and the other day, in a tall tree in the woods, I
discovered the black-throated green-backed warbler devoting itself to
this dusky, overgrown foundling. An old farmer to whom I pointed out
the fact was much surprised that such things should happen in his
woods without his knowledge.

These birds may be seen prowling through all parts of the woods at
this season, watching for an opportunity to steal their egg into some
nest. One day while sitting on a log I saw one moving by short flights
through the trees and gradually nearing the ground. Its movements were
hurried and stealthy. About fifty yards from me it disappeared behind
some low brush and had evidently alighted upon the ground.

After waiting a few moments I cautiously walked in the direction. When
about half-way I accidentally made a slight noise, when the bird flew
up, and seeing me hurried off out of the woods. Arrived at the place,
I found a simple nest of dry grass and leaves partially concealed
under a prostrate branch. I took it to be the nest of a sparrow. There
were three eggs in the nest and one lying about a foot below it as if
it had been rolled out, as of course it had. It suggested the thought
that perhaps when the cow-bird finds the full complement of eggs in a
nest, it throws out one and deposits its own instead. I re-visited the
nest a few days afterward and found an egg again cast out, but none
had been put in its place. The nest had been abandoned by its owner
and the eggs were stale.

In all cases where I have found this egg, I have observed both male
and female of the cow-bird lingering near, the former uttering his
peculiar liquid, glassy note from the tops of the trees.

In July the young, which have been reared in the same neighborhood,
and which are now of a dull fawn color, begin to collect in small
flocks, which grow to be quite large in autumn.

The speckled Canada is a very superior warbler, having a lively,
animated strain, reminding you of certain parts of the canary's though
quite broken and incomplete; the bird, the while hopping amid the
branches with increased liveliness, and indulging in fine sibilant
chirps, too happy to keep silent.

His manners are quite marked. He has a habit of courtesying when he
discovers you, which is very pretty. In form he is an elegant bird,
somewhat slender, his back of a bluish lead-color becoming nearly
black on his crown; the under part of his body, from his throat down,
is of a light, delicate yellow, with a belt of black dots across his
breast. He has a fine eye, surrounded by a light-yellow ring.

The parent birds are much disturbed by my presence, and keep up a loud
emphatic chirping, which attracts the attention of their sympathetic
neighbors, and one after another they come to see what has happened.
The chestnut-sided and the Blackburnian come in company. The black and
yellow warbler pauses a moment and hastens away; the Maryland
yellow-throat peeps shyly from the lower bushes and utters his "Fip!
fip!" in sympathy; the wood-pewee comes straight to the tree overhead,
and the red-eyed vireo lingers and lingers, eying me with a curious,
innocent look, evidently much puzzled. But all disappear again, one by
one, apparently without a word of condolence or encouragement to the
distressed pair. I have often noticed among birds this show of
sympathy,--if indeed it be sympathy, and not merely curiosity, or
desire to be forewarned of the approach of a common danger.

An hour afterward I approach the place, find all still, and the
mother-bird upon the nest. As I draw near she seems to sit closer, her
eyes growing large with an inexpressibly wild, beautiful look. She
keeps her place till I am within two paces of her, when she flutters
away as at first. In the brief interval the remaining egg has hatched,
and the two little nestlings lift their heads without being jostled or
overreached by any strange bedfellow. A week afterward and they were
flown away,--so brief is the infancy of birds. And the wonder is that
they escape, even for this short time, the skunks and minks and
muskrats that abound here, and that have a decided partiality for such

I pass on through the old Barkpeeling, now threading an obscure
cow-path or an overgrown wood-road; now clambering over soft and
decayed logs, or forcing my way through a net-work of briers and
hazels; now entering a perfect bower of wild cherry, beech, and
soft-maple; now emerging into a little grassy lane, golden with
buttercups or white with daisies, or wading waist-deep in the red

Whir! whir! whir! and a brood of half-grown partridges start up like
an explosion, a few paces from me, and, scattering, disappear in the
bushes on all sides. Let me sit down here behind the screen of ferns
and briers, and hear this wild-hen of the woods call together her
brood. At what an early age the partridge flies! Nature seems to
concentrate her energies on the wing, making the safety of the bird a
point to be looked after first; and while the body is covered with
down, and no signs of feathers are visible, the wing-quills sprout and
unfold, and in an incredibly short time the young make fair headway in

The same rapid development of wing may be observed in chickens and
turkeys, but not in water-fowls, nor in birds that are safely housed
in the nest till full-fledged. The other day, by a brook, I came
suddenly upon a young sandpiper, a most beautiful creature, enveloped
in a soft gray down, swift and nimble and apparently a week or two
old, but with no signs of plumage either of body or wing. And it
needed none, for it escaped me by taking to the water as readily as if
it had flown with wings.

Hark! there arises over there in the brush a soft, persuasive cooing,
a sound so subtle and wild and unobtrusive that it requires the most
alert and watchful ear to hear it. How gentle and solicitous and full
of yearning love! It is the voice of the mother hen. Presently a faint
timid "Yeap!" which almost eludes the ear, is heard in various
directions,--the young responding. As no danger seems near, the cooing
of the parent bird is soon a very audible clucking call, and the
young move cautiously in the direction. Let me step never so carefully
from my hiding-place, and all sounds instantly cease, and I search in
vain for either parent or young.

The partridge (_Bonasa umbellus_) is one of our most native and
characteristic birds. The woods seem good to be in where I find him.
He gives a habitable air to the forest, and one feels as if the
rightful occupant was really at home. The woods where I do not find
him seem to want something, as if suffering from some neglect of
Nature. And then he is such a splendid success, so hardy and vigorous.
I think he enjoys the cold and the snow. His wings seem to rustle with
more fervency in midwinter. If the snow falls very fast, and promises
a heavy storm, he will complacently sit down and allow himself to be
snowed under. Approaching him at such times, he suddenly bursts out of
the snow at your feet, scattering the flakes in all directions, and
goes humming away through the woods like a bomb-shell,--a picture of
native spirit and success.

His drum is one of the most welcome and beautiful sounds of spring.
Scarcely have the trees expanded their buds, when, in the still April
mornings, or toward nightfall, you hear the hum of his devoted wings.
He selects not, as you would predict, a dry and resinous log, but a
decayed and crumbling one, seeming to give the preference to old
oak-logs that are partially blended with the soil. If a log to his
taste cannot be found he sets up his altar on a rock, which becomes
resonant beneath his fervent blows. Who has seen the partridge drum?
It is the next thing to catching a weasel asleep, though by much
caution and tact it may be done. He does not hug the log, but stands
very erect, expands his ruff, gives two introductory blows, pauses
half a second, and then resumes, striking faster and faster till the
sound becomes a continuous, unbroken whir, the whole lasting less than
half a minute. The tips of his wings barely brush the log, so that the
sound is produced rather by the force of the blows upon the air and
upon his own body as in flying. One log will be used for many years,
though not by the same drummer. It seems to be a sort of temple and
held in great respect. The bird always approaches on foot, and leaves
it in the same quiet manner, unless rudely disturbed. He is very
cunning, though his wit is not profound. It is difficult to approach
him by stealth; you will try many times before succeeding; but seem to
pass by him in a great hurry, making all the noise possible, and with
plumage furled he stands as immovable as a knot, allowing you a good
view and a good shot, if you are a sportsman.

Passing along one of the old Barkpeelers' roads which wander aimlessly
about, I am attracted by a singularly brilliant and emphatic warble,
proceeding from the low bushes, and quickly suggesting the voice of
the Maryland yellow-throat. Presently the singer hops up on a dry
twig, and gives me a good view. Lead-colored head and neck, becoming
nearly black on the breast; clear olive-green back, and yellow belly.
From his habit of keeping near the ground, even hopping upon it
occasionally, I know him to be a ground warbler; from his dark breast
the ornithologist has added the expletive mourning, hence the mourning
ground warbler.

Of this bird both Wilson and Audubon confessed their comparative
ignorance, neither ever having seen its nest or become acquainted with
its haunts and general habits. Its song is quite striking and novel,
though its voice at once suggests the class of warblers to which it
belongs. It is very shy and wary, flying but a few feet at a time, and
studiously concealing itself from your view. I discover but one pair
here. The female has food in her beak, but carefully avoids betraying
the locality of her nest. The ground warblers all have one notable
feature,--very beautiful legs, as white and delicate as if they had
always worn silk stockings and satin slippers. High tree warblers have
dark-brown or black legs and more brilliant plumage, but less musical

The chestnut-sided belongs to the latter class. He is quite common in
these woods, as in all the woods about. He is one of the rarest and
handsomest of the warblers; his white breast and throat, chestnut
sides, and yellow crown show conspicuously. But little is known of his
habits or haunts. Last year I found the nest of one in an uplying
beech-wood, in a low bush near the roadside, where cows passed and
browsed daily. Things went on smoothly till the cow-bunting stole her
egg into it, when other mishaps followed, and the nest was soon empty.
A characteristic attitude of the male during this season is a slight
drooping of the wings, and tail a little elevated, which gives him a
very smart, bantam-like appearance. His song is fine and hurried, and
not much of itself, but has its place in the general chorus.

A far sweeter strain, falling on the ear with the true sylvan cadence,
is that of the black-throated green-backed warbler, whom I meet at
various points. He has no superiors among the true _Sylvia_. His song
is very plain and simple, but remarkably pure and tender, and might be
indicated by straight lines, thus,---- ----=V=¯¯¯¯; the first two
marks representing two sweet, silvery notes, in the same pitch of
voice, and quite unaccented; the latter marks, the concluding notes,
wherein the tone and inflection are changed. The throat and breast of
the male are a rich black like velvet, his face yellow, and his back a

Beyond the Barkpeeling, where the woods are mingled hemlock, beech,
and birch, the languid midsummer note of the black-throated blue-back
falls on my ear. "Twea, twea, twea-e-e!" in the upward slide, and with
the peculiar _z-ing_ of summer insects, but not destitute of a certain
plaintive cadence. It is one of the most languid, unhurried sounds in
all the woods. I feel like reclining upon the dry leaves at once.
Audubon says he has never heard his love-song; but this is all the
love-song he has, and he is evidently a very plain hero with his
little brown mistress. He assumes few attitudes, and is not a bold and
striking gymnast, like many of his kindred. He has a preference for
dense woods of beech and maple, moves slowly amid the lower branches
and smaller growths, keeping from eight to ten feet from the ground,
and repeating now and then his listless, indolent strain. His back and
crown are dark blue; his throat and breast, black; his belly, pure
white; and he has a white spot on each wing.

Here and there I meet the black and white creeping warbler, whose fine
strain reminds me of hair-wire. It is unquestionably the finest
bird-song to be heard. Few insect strains will compare with it in this
respect; while it has none of the harsh, brassy character of the
latter, being very delicate and tender.

That sharp, uninterrupted, but still continued warble, which, before
one has learned to discriminate closely, he is apt to confound with
the red-eyed vireo's, is that of the solitary warbling vireo,--a bird
slightly larger, much rarer, and with a louder, less cheerful and
happy strain. I see him hopping along lengthwise of the limbs, and
note the orange tinge of his breast and sides and the white circle
around his eye.

But the declining sun and the deepening shadows admonish me that this
ramble must be brought to a close, even though only the leading
characters in this chorus of forty songsters have been described, and
only a small portion of the venerable old woods explored. In a
secluded swampy corner of the old Barkpeeling, where I find the great
purple orchis in bloom, and where the foot of man or beast seems never
to have trod, I linger long, contemplating the wonderful display of
lichens and mosses that overrun both the smaller and the larger
growths. Every bush and branch and sprig is dressed up in the most
rich and fantastic of liveries; and, crowning all, the long bearded
moss festoons the branches or sways gracefully from the limbs. Every
twig looks a century old, though green leaves tip the end of it. A
young yellow birch has a venerable, patriarchal look, and seems ill at
ease under such premature honors. A decayed hemlock is draped as if by
hands for some solemn festival.

Mounting toward the upland again, I pause reverently as the hush and
stillness of twilight come upon the woods. It is the sweetest, ripest
hour of the day. And as the hermit's evening hymn goes up from the
deep solitude below me, I experience that serene exaltation of
sentiment of which music, literature, and religion are but the faint
types and symbols.

[Illustration: Maryland Yellow-throat.]


[1] For December, 1858.

[Illustration: Golden-crowned Thrush.]


When I went to the Adirondacs, which was in the summer of 1863, I was in
the first flush of my ornithological studies, and was curious, above all
else, to know what birds I should find in these solitudes--what new
ones, and what ones already known to me.

In visiting vast, primitive, far-off woods one naturally expects to
find something rare and precious, or something entirely new, but it
commonly happens that one is disappointed. Thoreau made three
excursions into the Maine woods, and though he started the moose and
caribou, had nothing more novel to report by way of bird notes, than
the songs of the wood-thrush and the pewee. This was about my own
experience in the Adirondacs. The birds for the most part prefer the
vicinity of settlements and clearings, and it was at such places that
I saw the greatest number and variety.

At the clearing of an old hunter and pioneer by the name of Hewett,
where we paused a couple of days on first entering the woods, I saw
many old friends and made some new acquaintances. The snow-bird was
very abundant here, as it had been at various points along the route,
after leaving Lake George. As I went out to the spring in the morning
to wash myself a purple finch flew up before me, having already
performed its ablutions. I had first observed this bird the winter
before in the Highlands of the Hudson, where, during several clear but
cold February mornings, a troop of them sang most charmingly in a tree
in front of my house. The meeting with the bird here in its breeding
haunts was a pleasant surprise. During the day I observed several pine
finches--a dark-brown or brindlish bird, allied to the common
yellow-bird, which it much resembles in its manner and habits. They
lingered familiarly about the house, sometimes alighting in a small
tree within a few feet of it. In one of the stumpy fields I saw an old
favorite in the grass-finch or vesper-sparrow. It was sitting on a
tall charred stub with food in its beak. But all along the borders of
the woods and in the bushy parts of the fields there was a new song
that I was puzzled in tracing to the author. It was most noticeable in
the morning and at twilight, but was at all times singularly secret
and elusive. I at last discovered that it was the white-throated
sparrow, a common bird all through this region. Its song is very
delicate and plaintive--a thin, wavering, tremulous whistle, which
disappoints one, however, as it ends when it seems only to have begun.
If the bird could give us the finishing strain of which this seems
only the prelude, it would stand first among feathered songsters.

By a little trout brook in a low part of the woods adjoining the
clearing, I had a good time pursuing and identifying a number of
warblers--the speckled Canada, the black-throated blue, the yellow-rumped,
and Audubon's warbler. The latter, which was leading its troop of young
through a thick undergrowth on the banks of the creek where insects were
plenty, was new to me.

It being August, the birds were all moulting and sang only fitfully
and by brief snatches. I remember hearing but one robin during the
whole trip. This was by the Boreas River in the deep forest. It was
like the voice of an old friend speaking my name.

From Hewett's, after engaging his youngest son,--the "Bub" of the
family,--a young man about twenty and a thorough woodsman, as guide,
we took to the woods in good earnest, our destination being the
Stillwater of the Boreas--a long deep dark reach in one of the remote
branches of the Hudson, about six miles distant. Here we paused a
couple of days, putting up in a dilapidated lumberman's shanty, and
cooking our fish over an old stove which had been left there. The
most noteworthy incident of our stay at this point was the taking by
myself of half a dozen splendid trout out of the Stillwater, after the
guide had exhausted his art and his patience with very insignificant
results. The place had a very trouty look, but as the season was late
and the river warm, I know the fish lay in deep water from which they
could not be attracted. In deep water accordingly, and near the head
of the hole, I determined to look for them. Securing a chub I cut it
into pieces about an inch long and with these for bait sank my hook
into the head of the Stillwater and just to one side of the main
current. In less than twenty minutes I had landed six noble fellows,
three of them over one foot long each. The guide and my incredulous
companions, who were watching me from the opposite shore, seeing my
luck, whipped out their tackle in great haste and began casting first
at a respectable distance from me, then all about me, but without a
single catch. My own efforts suddenly became fruitless also, but I had
conquered the guide and thenceforth he treated me with the tone and
freedom of a comrade and equal.

One afternoon we visited a cave some two miles down the stream which
had recently been discovered. We squeezed and wriggled through a big
crack or cleft in the side of the mountain, for about one hundred
feet, when we emerged into a large dome-shaped passage, the abode,
during certain seasons of the year, of innumerable bats, and at all
times of primeval darkness. There were various other crannies and
pit-holes opening into it, some of which we explored. The voice of
running water was everywhere heard, betraying the proximity of the
little stream by whose ceaseless corroding the cave and its entrance
had been worn. This streamlet flowed out of the mouth of the cave and
came from a lake on the top of the mountain; this accounted for its
warmth to the hand which surprised us all.

Birds of any kind were rare in these woods. A pigeon-hawk came
prowling by our camp, and the faint piping call of the nut-hatches,
leading their young through the high trees was often heard.

On the third day our guide proposed to conduct us to a lake in the
mountains where we could float for deer.

Our journey commenced in a steep and rugged ascent, which brought us
after an hour's heavy climbing, to an elevated region of pine forest,
years before ravished by lumbermen, and presenting all manner of
obstacles to our awkward and encumbered pedestrianism. The woods were
largely pine, though yellow birch, beech, and maple were common. The
satisfaction of having a gun, should any game show itself, was the
chief compensation to those of us who were thus burdened. A partridge
would occasionally whir up before us, or a red squirrel snicker and
hasten to his den; else the woods appeared quite tenantless. The most
noted object was a mammoth pine, apparently the last of a great race,
which presided over a cluster of yellow birches, on the side of the

About noon we came out upon a long shallow sheet of water which the
guide called Bloody-Moose Pond, from the tradition that a moose had
been slaughtered there many years before. Looking out over the silent
and lonely scene, his eye was the first to detect an object apparently
feeding upon lily-pads, which our willing fancies readily shaped into
a deer. As we were eagerly waiting some movement to confirm this
impression, it lifted up its head, and lo! a great blue heron. Seeing
us approach, it spread its long wings and flew solemnly across to a
dead tree on the other side of the lake, enhancing, rather than
relieving the loneliness and desolation that brooded over the scene.
As we proceeded it flew from tree to tree in advance of us, apparently
loath to be disturbed in its ancient and solitary domain. In the
margin of the pond we found the pitcher-plant growing, and here and
there in the sand the closed gentian lifted up its blue head.

In traversing the shores of this wild, desolate lake, I was conscious
of a slight thrill of expectation, as if some secret of Nature might
here be revealed, or some rare and unheard-of game disturbed. There is
ever a lurking suspicion that the beginning of things is in some way
associated with water, and one may notice that in his private walks he
is led by a curious attraction to fetch all the springs and ponds in
his route, as if by them was the place for wonders and miracles to
happen. Once, while in advance of my companions, I saw, from a high
rock, a commotion in the water near the shore, but on reaching the
point found only the marks of a musquash.

Pressing on through the forest, after many adventures with the
pine-knots, we reached, about the middle of the afternoon, our
destination, Nate's Pond,--a pretty sheet of water, lying like a
silver mirror in the lap of the mountain, about a mile long and half a
mile wide, surrounded by dark forests of balsam, hemlock, and pine,
and, like the one we had just passed, a very picture of unbroken

It is not in the woods alone to give one this impression of utter
loneliness. In the woods are sounds and voices, and a dumb kind of
companionship; one is little more than a walking tree himself; but
come upon one of these mountain-lakes, and the wildness stands
relieved and meets you face to face. Water is thus facile and
adaptive, that it makes the wild more wild, while it enhances more
culture and art.

The end of the pond which we approached was quite shoal, the stones
rising above the surface as in a summer-brook, and everywhere showing
marks of the noble game we were in quest of--foot-prints, dung, and
cropped and uprooted lily-pads. After resting for a half-hour, and
replenishing our game-pouches at the expense of the most respectable
frogs of the locality, we filed on through the soft, resinous
pine-woods, intending to camp near the other end of the lake, where,
the guide assured us, we should find a hunter's cabin ready built. A
half-hour's march brought us to the locality, and a most delightful
one it was,--so hospitable and inviting that all the kindly and
beneficent influences of the woods must have abided there. In a slight
depression in the woods, about one hundred yards from the lake, though
hidden from it for a hunter's reasons, surrounded by a heavy growth of
birch, hemlock, and pine, with a lining of balsam and fir, the rude
cabin welcomed us. It was of the approved style, three sides inclosed,
with a roof of bark and a bed of boughs, and a rock in front that
afforded a permanent back-log to all fires. A faint voice of running
water was heard near by, and, following the sound, a delicious
spring-rivulet was disclosed, hidden by the moss and _débris_ as by a
new fall of snow, but here and there rising in little well-like
openings, as if for our special convenience. On smooth places on the
logs I noticed female names inscribed in a female hand; and the guide
told us of an English lady, an artist, who had traversed this region
with a single guide, making sketches.

Our packs unslung and the kettle over, our first move was to ascertain
in what state of preservation a certain dug-out might be, which, the
guide averred, he had left moored in the vicinity the summer
before,--for upon this hypothetical dug-out our hopes of venison
rested. After a little searching it was found under the top of a
fallen hemlock, but in a sorry condition. A large piece had been split
out of one end, and a fearful chink was visible nearly to the
water-line. Freed from the tree top, however, and calked with a
little moss, it floated with two aboard, which was quite enough for
our purpose. A jack and an oar were necessary to complete the
arrangement, and before the sun had set our professor of wood-craft
had both in readiness. From a young yellow birch, an oar took shape
with marvelous rapidity--trimmed and smoothed with a neatness almost
fastidious,--no make-shift, but an instrument fitted for the delicate
work it was to perform.

A jack was made with equal skill and speed. A stout staff about three
feet long was placed upright in the bow of the boat, and held to its
place by a horizontal bar, through a hole in which it turned easily: a
half wheel eight or ten inches in diameter, cut from a large chip, was
placed at the top, around which was bent a new section of birch bark,
thus forming a rude semicircular reflector. Three candles placed
within the circle completed the jack. With moss and boughs seats were
arranged--one in the bow for the marksman, and one in the stern for
the oarsman. A meal of frogs and squirrels was a good preparation, and
when darkness came, all were keenly alive to the opportunity it
brought. Though by no means an expert in the use of the gun,--adding
the superlative degree of enthusiasm to only the positive degree of
skill,--yet it seemed tacitly agreed that I should act as marksman,
and kill the deer, if such was to be our luck.

After it was thoroughly dark we went down to make a short trial-trip.
Everything working to satisfaction, about ten o'clock we pushed out in
earnest. For the twentieth time I felt in the pocket that contained the
matches, ran over the part I was to perform, and pressed my gun firmly,
to be sure there was no mistake. My position was that of kneeling
directly under the jack, which I was to light at the word. The night was
clear, moonless, and still. Nearing the middle of the lake, a breeze
from the west was barely perceptible, and noiselessly we glided before
it. The guide handled his oar with great dexterity; without lifting it
from the water or breaking the surface, he imparted the steady, uniform
motion desired. How silent it was! The ear seemed the only sense, and to
hold dominion over lake and forest. Occasionally a lily-pad would brush
along the bottom, and stooping low I could hear a faint murmuring of the
water under the bow: else all was still. Then, almost as by magic, we
were encompassed by a huge black ring. The surface of the lake, when we
had reached the centre, was slightly luminous from the starlight, and
the dark, even forest-line that surrounded us, doubled by reflection in
the water, presenting a broad, unbroken belt of utter blackness. The
effect was quite startling, like some huge conjuror's trick. It seemed
as if we had crossed the boundary-line between the real and the
imaginary, and this was indeed the land of shadows and of spectres. What
magic oar was that the guide wielded that it could transport me to such
a realm! Indeed, had I not committed some fatal mistake and left that
trusty servant behind, and had not some wizard of the night stepped into
his place? A slight splashing in-shore broke the spell and caused me to
turn nervously to the oarsman: "Musquash," said he, and kept straight

Nearing the extreme end of the pond, the boat gently headed around,
and silently we glided back into the clasp of that strange orbit.
Slight sounds were heard as before, but nothing that indicated the
presence of the game we were waiting for; and we reached the point of
departure as innocent of venison as we had set out.

After an hour's delay, and near midnight, we pushed out again. My
vigilance and susceptibility were rather sharpened than dulled by the
waiting; and the features of the night had also deepened and
intensified. Night was at its meridian. The sky had that soft
luminousness which may often be observed near midnight at this season,
and the "large few stars" beamed mildly down. We floated out into that
spectral shadow-land and moved slowly on as before. The silence was
most impressive. Now and then the faint _yeap_ of some traveling bird
would come from the air overhead, or the wings of a bat _whisp_
quickly by, or an owl hoot off in the mountains, giving to the silence
and loneliness a tongue. At short intervals some noise in-shore would
startle me, and cause me to turn inquiringly to the silent figure in
the stern.

The end of the lake was reached, and we turned back. The novelty and
the excitement began to flag; tired nature began to assert her claims;
the movement was soothing, and the gunner slumbered fitfully at his
post. Presently something aroused me. "There's a deer," whispered the
guide. The gun heard, and fairly jumped in my hand. Listening, there
came the cracking of a limb, followed by a sound as of something
walking in shallow water. It proceeded from the other end of the lake,
over against our camp. On we sped, noiselessly as ever, but with
increased velocity. Presently, with a thrill of new intensity, I saw
the boat was gradually heading in that direction. Now, to a sportsman
who gets excited over a gray squirrel, and forgets that he has a gun
on the sudden appearance of a fox, this was a severe trial. I felt
suddenly cramped for room, and trimming the boat was out of the
question. It seemed that I must make some noise in spite of myself.
"Light the jack," said a soft whisper behind me. I fumbled nervously
for a match, and dropped the first one. Another was drawn briskly
across my knee, and broke. A third lighted, but went out prematurely,
in my haste to get it up to the jack. What would I not have given to
see those wicks blaze! We were fast nearing the shore,--already the
lily-pads began to brush along the bottom. Another attempt, and the
light took. The gentle motion fanned the blaze, and in a moment a
broad glare of light fell upon the water in front of us, while the
boat remained in utter darkness.

By this time I had got beyond the nervous point, and had come round to
perfect coolness and composure again, but preternaturally vigilant and
keen. I was ready for any disclosures; not a sound was heard. In a few
moments the trees along-shore were faintly visible. Every object put
on the shape of a gigantic deer. A large rock looked just ready to
bound away. The dry limbs of a prostrate tree were surely his antlers.

But what are those two luminous spots? Need the reader to be told what
they were? In a moment the head of a real deer became outlined; then
his neck and foreshoulders; then his whole body. There he stood, up to
his knees in the water, gazing fixedly at us, apparently arrested in
the movement of putting his head down for a lily-pad, and evidently
thinking it was some new-fangled moon sporting about there. "Let him
have it," said my prompter,--and the crash came. There was a scuffle
in the water, and a plunge in the woods. "He's gone," said I. "Wait a
moment," said the guide, "and I will show you." Rapidly running the
canoe ashore, we sprang out, and holding the jack aloft, explored the
vicinity by its light. There, over the logs and brush, I caught the
glimmer of those luminous spots again. But, poor thing! There was
little need of the second shot, which was the unkindest cut of all,
for the deer had already fallen to the ground, and was fast expiring.
The success was but a very indifferent one, after all, as the victim
turned out to be only an old doe, upon whom maternal cares had
evidently worn heavily during the summer.

       *       *       *       *       *

This mode of taking deer is very novel and strange. The animal is
evidently fascinated or bewildered. It does not appear to be
frightened, but as if overwhelmed with amazement, or under the
influence of some spell. It is not sufficiently master of the
situation to be sensible to fear, or to think of escape by flight; and
the experiment, to be successful, must be done quickly, before the
first feeling of bewilderment passes.

Witnessing the spectacle from the shore, I can conceive of nothing
more sudden or astounding. You see no movement and hear no noise, but
the light grows upon you, and stares and stares like a huge eye from
the infernal regions.

According to the guide, when a deer has been played upon in this
manner and escaped, he is not to be fooled a second time. Mounting the
shore, he gives a long signal snort, which alarms every animal within
hearing, and dashes away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sequel to the deer-shooting was a little sharp practice with a
revolver upon a rabbit, or properly a hare, which was so taken with
the spectacle of the camp-fire, and the sleeping figures lying about,
that it ventured quite up in our midst; but while testing the quality
of some condensed milk that sat uncovered at the foot of a large tree,
poor Lepus had his spine injured by a bullet.

Those who lodge with Nature find early rising quite in order. It is
our voluptuous beds, and isolation from the earth and the air, that
prevents us from emulating the birds and beasts in this respect. With
the citizen in his chamber, it is not morning, but breakfast-time. The
camper-out, however, feels morning in the air, he smells it, sees it,
hears it, and springs up with the general awakening. None were tardy
at the row of white chips arranged on the trunk of a prostrate tree,
when breakfast was halloed; for we were all anxious to try the
venison. Few of us, however, took a second piece. It was black and

The day was warm and calm, and we loafed at leisure. The woods were
Nature's own. It was a luxury to ramble through them,--rank, and
shaggy, and venerable, but with an aspect singularly ripe and mellow.
No fire had consumed and no lumberman plundered. Every trunk and limb
and leaf lay where it had fallen. At every step the foot sank into the
moss, which, like a soft green snow, covered everything, making every
stone a cushion and every rock a bed,--a grand old Norse parlor;
adorned beyond art and upholstered beyond skill.

Indulging in a brief nap on a rug of club-moss carelessly dropped at
the foot of a pine-tree, I woke up to find myself the subject of a
discussion of a troop of chickadees. Presently three or four shy
wood-warblers came to look upon this strange creature that had
wandered into their haunts; else I passed quite unnoticed.

By the lake, I met that orchard-beauty, the cedar wax-wing, spending
his vacation in the assumed character of a fly-catcher, whose part he
performed with great accuracy and deliberation. Only a month before I
had seen him regaling himself upon cherries in the garden and orchard,
but as the dog-days approached, he set out for the streams and lakes,
to divert himself with the more exciting pursuits of the chase. From
the tops of the dead trees along the border of the lake, he would
sally out in all directions, sweeping through long curves, alternately
mounting and descending, now reaching up for a fly high in air, now
sinking low for one near the surface, and returning to his perch in a
few moments for a fresh start.

The pine finch was also here, though, as usual, never appearing at
home, but with a waiting, expectant air. Here also I met my beautiful
singer, the hermit-thrush, but with no song in his throat now. A week
or two later and he was on his journey southward. This was the only
species of thrush I saw in the Adirondac. Near Lake Sandford, where
were large tracts of raspberry and wild cherry, I saw numbers of them.
A boy whom we met, driving home some stray cows, said it was the
"partridge-bird," no doubt from the resemblance of its note, when
disturbed, to the cluck of the partridge.

Nate's Pond contained perch and sun-fish but no trout. Its water was
not pure enough for trout. Was there ever any other fish so fastidious
as this, requiring such sweet harmony and perfection of the elements
for its production and sustenance? On higher ground about a mile
distant was a trout pond, the shores of which were steep and rocky.

Our next move was a tramp of about twelve miles through the wilderness,
most of the way in a drenching rain, to a place called the Lower Iron
Works, situated on the road leading in to Long Lake, which is about a
day's drive farther on. We found a comfortable hotel here, and were glad
enough to avail ourselves of the shelter and warmth which it offered.
There was a little settlement and some quite good farms. The place
commands a fine view to the north of Indian Pass, Mount Marcy, and the
adjacent mountains. On the afternoon of our arrival and also the next
morning the view was completely shut off by the fog. But about the
middle of the forenoon the wind changed, the fog lifted and revealed to
us the grandest mountain scenery we had beheld on our journey. There
they sat about fifteen miles distant, a group of them; Mount Marcy,
Mount McIntyre, and Mount Golden, the real Adirondac monarchs. It was an
impressive sight, rendered doubly so by the sudden manner in which it
was revealed to us by that scene shifter the Wind.

I saw blackbirds at this place, and sparrows, and the solitary sandpiper,
and the Canada woodpecker, and a large number of humming-birds. Indeed
I saw more of the latter here than I ever before saw in any one
locality. Their squeaking and whirring were almost incessant.

The Adirondac Iron Works belong to the past. Over thirty years ago a
company in Jersey City purchased some sixty thousand acres of land
lying along the Adirondac River and abounding in magnetic iron ore.
The land was cleared, roads, dams, and forges constructed, and the
work of manufacturing iron begun.

At this point a dam was built across the Hudson, the waters of which
flowed back into Lake Sandford, about five miles above. The lake
itself being some six miles long, tolerable navigation was thus
established for a distance of eleven miles, to the Upper Works, which
seem to have been the only works in operation. At the Lower Works,
besides the remains of the dam, the only vestige I saw was a long low
mound, overgrown with grass and weeds, that suggested a rude
earth-work. We were told that it was once a pile of wood containing
hundreds of cords, cut in regular lengths and corded up here for use
in the furnaces.

At the Upper Works, some twelve miles distant, quite a village had
been built, which was now entirely abandoned, with the exception of a
single family.

A march to this place was our next undertaking. The road for two or
three miles kept up from the river and led us by three or four rough,
stumpy farms. It then approached the lake and kept along its shores.
It was here a dilapidated corduroy structure that compelled the
traveler to keep an eye on his feet. Blue jays, two or three small
hawks, a solitary wild pigeon, and ruffed grouse were seen along the
route. Now and then the lake gleamed through the trees, or we crossed
on a shaky bridge some of its arms or inlets. After a while we began
to pass dilapidated houses by the roadside. One little frame house I
remember particularly; the door was off the hinges and leaned against
the jambs, the windows had but a few panes left which glared vacantly.
The yard and little garden spot were overrun with a heavy growth of
timothy, and the fences had all long since gone to decay. At the head
of the lake a large stone building projected from the steep bank and
extended over the road. A little beyond the valley opened to the east,
and looking ahead about one mile we saw smoke going up from a single
chimney. Pressing on, just as the sun was setting we entered the
deserted village. The barking of the dog brought the whole family into
the street, and they stood till we came up. Strangers in that country
were a novelty, and we were greeted like familiar acquaintances.

Hunter, the head, proved to be a first-rate type of an Americanized
Irishman. His wife was a Scotch woman. They had a family of five or six
children, two of them grown-up daughters--modest, comely young women as
you would find anywhere. The elder of the two had spent a winter in New
York with her aunt, which perhaps made her a little more self-conscious
when in the presence of the strange young men. Hunter was hired by the
company at a dollar a day to live here and see that things were not
wantonly destroyed but allowed to go to decay properly and decently. He
had a substantial roomy frame house and any amount of grass and
woodland. He had good barns and kept considerable stock, and raised
various farm products, but only for his own use, as the difficulties of
transportation to market some seventy miles distant made it no object.
He usually went to Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain once a year for his
groceries, etc. His post-office was twelve miles below at the Lower
Works, where the mail passed twice a week. There was not a doctor, or
lawyer, or preacher within twenty-five miles. In winter, months elapse
without their seeing anybody from the outside world. In summer, parties
occasionally pass through here on their way to Indian Pass and Mount
Marcy. Hundreds of tons of good timothy hay annually rot down upon the
cleared land.

After nightfall we went out and walked up and down the grass-grown
streets. It was a curious and melancholy spectacle. The remoteness and
surrounding wildness rendered the scene doubly impressive. And the
next day and the next the place was an object of wonder. There were
about thirty buildings in all, most of them small frame houses with a
door and two windows opening into a small yard in front and a garden
in the rear, such as are usually occupied by the laborers in a country
manufacturing district. There was one large two-story boarding-house,
a school-house with a cupola and a bell in it, and numerous sheds and
forges, and a saw-mill. In front of the saw-mill, and ready to be
rolled to their place on the carriage, lay a large pile of pine logs,
so decayed that one could run his walking-stick through them. Near by,
a building filled with charcoal was bursting open and the coal going
to waste on the ground. The smelting works were also much crumbled by
time. The school-house was still used. Every day one of the daughters
assembles her smaller brothers and sisters there and school keeps. The
district library contained nearly one hundred readable books, which
were well thumbed.

The absence of society, etc., had made the family all good readers. We
brought them an illustrated newspaper which was awaiting them in the
post-office at the Lower Works. It was read and reread with great
eagerness by every member of the household.

The iron ore cropped out on every hand. There was apparently mountains
of it; one could see it in the stones along the road. But the
difficulties met with in separating the iron from its alloys, together
with the expense of transportation and the failure of certain railroad
schemes, caused the works to be abandoned. No doubt the time is not
distant when these obstacles will be overcome and this region

At present it is an admirable place to go to. There is fishing and
hunting and boating and mountain climbing within easy reach, and a
good roof over your head at night, which is no small matter. One is
often disqualified for enjoying the woods after he gets there by the
loss of sleep and of proper food taken at seasonable times. This point
attended to, and one is in the humor for any enterprise.

About half a mile northeast of the village is Lake Henderson, a very
irregular and picturesque sheet of water, surrounded by dark evergreen
forests, and abutted by two or three bold promontories with mottled
white and gray rocks. Its greatest extent in any one direction is
perhaps less than a mile. Its waters are perfectly clear and abound in
lake trout. A considerable stream flows into it which comes down from
Indian Pass.

A mile south of the village is Lake Sandford. This is a more open and
exposed sheet of water and much larger. From some parts of it Mount
Marcy and the gorge of the Indian Pass are seen to excellent
advantage. The Indian Pass shows as a huge cleft in the mountain, the
gray walls rising on one side perpendicularly for many hundred feet.
This lake abounds in white and yellow perch and in pickerel; of the
latter single specimens are often caught which weigh fifteen pounds.
There were a few wild ducks on both lakes. A brood of the goosander or
red merganser, the young not yet able to fly, were the occasion of
some spirited rowing. But with two pairs of oars in a trim light
skiff, it was impossible to come up with them. Yet we could not resist
the temptation to give them a chase every day when we first came on
the lake. It needed a good long pull to sober us down so we could

The land on the east side of the lake had been burnt over, and was now
mostly grown up with wild cherry and red raspberry-bushes. Ruffed
grouse were found here in great numbers. The Canada grouse was also
common. I shot eight of the latter in less than an hour on one
occasion; the eighth one, which was an old male, was killed with
smooth pebble stones, my shot having run short. The wounded bird ran
under a pile of brush, like a frightened hen. Thrusting a forked stick
down through the interstices I soon stopped his breathing. Wild
pigeons were quite numerous also. These latter recall a singular freak
of the sharp shinned hawk. A flock of pigeons alighted on the top of a
dead hemlock standing in the edge of a swamp. I got over the fence and
moved toward them across an open space. I had not taken many steps,
when on looking up I saw the whole flock again in motion flying very
rapidly around the butt of a hill. Just then this hawk alighted on the
same tree. I stepped back into the road and paused a moment in doubt
which course to go. At that instant the little hawk launched into the
air and came as straight as an arrow toward me. I looked in amazement,
but in less than half a minute he was within fifty feet of my face,
coming full tilt as if he had sighted my nose. Almost in self-defense
I let fly one barrel of my gun, and the mangled form of the audacious
marauder fell literally between my feet.

Of wild animals, such as bears, panthers, wolves, wild cats, etc., we
neither saw nor heard any in the Adirondacs. "A howling wilderness,"
Thoreau says, "seldom ever howls. The howling is chiefly done by the
imagination of the traveler." Hunter said he often saw bear tracks in
the snow, but had never yet met Bruin. Deer are more or less abundant
everywhere, and one old sportsman declares there is yet a single moose
in these mountains. On our return, a pioneer settler, at whose house
we stayed over-night, told us a long adventure he had had with a
panther. He related how it screamed, how it followed him in the brush,
how he took to his boat, how its eyes gleamed from the shore, and how
he fired his rifle at them with fatal effect. His wife in the mean
time took something from a drawer, and as her husband finished his
recital, she produced a toe-nail of the identical animal with marked
dramatic effect.

But better than fish or game or grand scenery or any adventure by
night or day, is the wordless intercourse with rude Nature one has on
these expeditions. It is something to press the pulse of our old
mother by mountain lakes and streams, and know what health and vigor
are in her veins, and how regardless of observation she deports

[Illustration: Crow-Blackbird.]


How alert and vigilant the birds are, even when absorbed in building
their nests! In an open space in the woods I see a pair of cedar-birds
collecting moss from the top of a dead tree. Following the direction in
which they fly, I soon discover the nest placed in the fork of a small
soft-maple, which stands amid a thick growth of wild cherry-trees and
young beeches. Carefully concealing myself beneath it without any fear
that the workmen will hit me with a chip or let fall a tool, I await the
return of the busy pair. Presently I hear the well-known note, and the
female sweeps down and settles unsuspectingly into the half-finished
structure. Hardly have her wings rested before her eye has penetrated my
screen, and with a hurried movement of alarm she darts away. In a moment
the male, with a tuft of wool in his beak (for there is a sheep-pasture
near), joins her, and the two reconnoitre the premises from the
surrounding bushes. With their beaks still loaded, they move around with
a frightened look, and refuse to approach the nest till I have moved off
and lain down behind a log. Then one of them ventures to alight upon the
nest, but, still suspecting all is not right, quickly darts away again.
Then they both together come, and after much peeping and spying about,
and apparently much anxious consultation, cautiously proceed to work. In
less than half an hour it would seem that wool enough has been brought
to supply the whole family, real and prospective, with socks, if needles
and fingers could be found fine enough to knit it up. In less than a
week the female has begun to deposit her eggs,--four of them in as many
days,--white tinged with purple, with black spots on the larger end.
After two weeks of incubation, the young are out.

Excepting the American goldfinch, this bird builds later in the spring
than any other--its nest, in our northern climate, seldom being
undertaken till July. As with the goldfinch, the reason is, probably,
that suitable food for the young cannot be had at an earlier period.

Like most of our common species, as the robin, sparrow, bluebird,
pewee, wren, etc., this bird sometimes seeks wild, remote localities
in which to rear its young; at others, takes up its abode near that of
man. I knew a pair of cedar-birds, one season, to build in an
apple-tree, the branches of which rubbed against the house. For a day
or two before the first straw was laid, I noticed the pair carefully
exploring every branch of the tree, the female taking the lead, the
male following her with an anxious note and look. It was evident that
the wife was to have her choice this time; and, like one who
thoroughly knew her mind, she was proceeding to take it. Finally the
site was chosen upon a high branch, extending over one low wing of the
house. Mutual congratulations and caresses followed, when both birds
flew away in quest of building material. That most freely used is a
sort of cotton-bearing plant, which grows in old worn-out fields. The
nest is large for the size of the bird, and very soft. It is in every
respect a first-class domicile.

On another occasion, while walking or rather sauntering in the woods
(for I have discovered that one cannot run and read the book of
nature), my attention was arrested by a dull hammering, evidently but
a few rods off. I said to myself, "Some one is building a house." From
what I had previously seen, I suspected the builder to be a red-headed
woodpecker in the top of a dead oak stub near by. Moving cautiously in
that direction, I perceived a round hole, about the size of that made
by an inch and a half auger, near the top of the decayed trunk, and
the white chips of the workman strewing the ground beneath. When but a
few paces from the tree, my foot pressed upon a dry twig, which gave
forth a very slight snap. Instantly the hammering ceased, and a
scarlet head appeared at the door. Though I remained perfectly
motionless, forbearing even to wink till my eyes smarted, the bird
refused to go on with his work, but flew quietly off to a neighboring
tree. What surprised me was, that amid his busy occupation down in the
heart of the old tree, he should have been so alert and watchful as to
catch the slightest sound from without.

The woodpeckers all build in about the same manner, excavating the
trunk or branch of a decayed tree and depositing the eggs on the fine
fragments of wood at the bottom of the cavity. Though the nest is not
especially an artistic work,--requiring strength rather than
skill,--yet the eggs and the young of few other birds are so
completely housed from the elements, or protected from their natural
enemies--the jays, crows, hawks, and owls. A tree with a natural
cavity is never selected, but one which has been dead just long enough
to have become soft and brittle throughout. The bird goes in
horizontally for a few inches, making a hole perfectly round and
smooth and adapted to his size, then turns downward, gradually
enlarging the hole, as he proceeds, to the depth of ten, fifteen,
twenty inches, according to the softness of the tree and the urgency
of the mother-bird to deposit her eggs. While excavating, male and
female work alternately. After one has been engaged fifteen or twenty
minutes, drilling and carrying out chips, it ascends to an upper limb,
utters a loud call or two, when its mate soon appears, and, alighting
near it on the branch, the pair chatter and caress a moment, then the
fresh one enters the cavity and the other flies away.

A few days since I climbed up to the nest of the downy woodpecker, in
the decayed top of a sugar-maple. For better protection against
driving rains, the hole, which was rather more than an inch in
diameter, was made immediately beneath a branch which stretched out
almost horizontally from the main stem. It appeared merely a deeper
shadow upon the dark and mottled surface of the bark with which the
branches were covered, and could not be detected by the eye until one
was within a few feet of it. The young chirped vociferously as I
approached the nest, thinking it was the old one with food; but the
clamor suddenly ceased as I put my hand on that part of the trunk in
which they were concealed, the unusual jarring and rustling alarming
them into silence. The cavity, which was about fifteen inches deep,
was gourd-shaped, and was wrought out with great skill and regularity.
The walls were quite smooth and clean and new.

I shall never forget the circumstance of observing a pair of
yellow-bellied woodpeckers--the most rare and secluded, and, next to the
red-headed, the most beautiful species found in our woods,--breeding in
an old, truncated beech in the Beaverkill Mountains, an offshoot of the
Catskills. We had been traveling, three of us, all day in search of a
trout lake, which lay far in among the mountains, had twice lost our
course in the trackless forest, and, weary and hungry, had sat down to
rest upon a decayed log. The chattering of the young, and the passing to
and fro of the parent birds, soon arrested my attention. The entrance to
the nest was on the east side of the tree, about twenty-five feet from
the ground. At intervals of scarcely a minute, the old birds, one after
another, would alight upon the edge of the hole with a grub or worm in
their beaks; then each in turn would make a bow or two, cast an eye
quickly around, and by a single movement place itself in the neck of the
passage. Here it would pause a moment, as if to determine in which
expectant mouth to place the morsel, and then disappear within. In about
half a minute, during which time the chattering of the young gradually
subsided, the bird would again emerge, but this time bearing in its beak
the ordure of one of the helpless family. Flying away very slowly with
head lowered and extended, as if anxious to hold the offensive object as
far from its plumage as possible, the bird dropped the unsavory morsel
in the course of a few yards, and alighting on a tree, wiped its bill on
the bark and moss. This seems to be the order all day,--carrying in and
carrying out. I watched the birds for an hour, while my companions were
taking their turn in exploring the lay of the land around us, and noted
no variation in the programme. It would be curious to know if the young
are fed and waited upon in regular order, and how, amid the darkness
and the crowded state of the apartment, the matter is so neatly managed.
But ornithologists are all silent upon the subject.

This practice of the birds is not so uncommon as it might at first
seem. It is indeed almost an invariable rule among all land-birds.
With woodpeckers and kindred species, and with birds that burrow in
the ground, as bank swallows, kingfishers, etc., it is a necessity.
The accumulation of the excrement in the nest would prove most fatal
to the young.

But even among birds that neither bore nor mine, but which build a
shallow nest on the branch of a tree or upon the ground, as the robin,
the finches, the buntings, etc., the ordure of the young is removed to a
distance by the parent bird. When the robin is seen going away from its
brood with a slow heavy flight, entirely different from its manner a
moment before on approaching the nest with a cherry or worm, it is
certain to be engaged in this office. One may observe the social-sparrow,
when feeding its young, pause a moment after the worm has been given and
hop around on the brink of the nest observing the movements within.

The instinct of cleanliness no doubt prompts the action in all cases,
though the disposition to secrecy or concealment may not be unmixed
with it.

The swallows form an exception to the rule, the excrement being voided
by the young over the brink of the nest. They form an exception, also,
to the rule of secrecy, aiming not so much to conceal the nest as to
render it inaccessible.

Other exceptions are the pigeons, hawks, and water-fowls.

But to return. Having a good chance to note the color and markings of
the woodpeckers as they passed in and out at the opening of the nest, I
saw that Audubon had made a mistake in figuring or describing the female
of this species with the red spot upon the head. I have seen a number of
pairs of them, and in no instance have I seen the mother-bird marked
with red.

The male was in full plumage, and I reluctantly shot him for a
specimen. Passing by the place again next day I paused a moment to
note how matters stood. I confess it was not without some compunctions
that I heard the cries of the young birds, and saw the widowed mother,
her cares now doubled, hastening to and fro in the solitary woods. She
would occasionally pause expectantly on the trunk of a tree, and utter
a loud call.

It usually happens when the male of any species is killed during the
breeding season, that the female soon procures another mate. There
are, most likely, always a few unmated birds of both sexes, within a
given range, and through these the broken links may be restored.
Audubon or Wilson, I forget which, tells of a pair of fish-hawks, or
ospreys, that built their nest in an ancient oak. The male was so
zealous in the defense of the young that it actually attacked with
beak and claw a person who attempted to climb into his nest, putting
his face and eyes in great jeopardy. Arming himself with a heavy
club, the climber felled the gallant bird to the ground and killed
him. In the course of a few days the female had procured another mate.
But naturally enough the step-father showed none of the spirit and
pluck in defense of the brood that had been displayed by the original
parent. When danger was nigh he was seen afar off, sailing around in
placid unconcern.

It is generally known that when either the wild turkey or domestic
turkey begins to lay, and afterwards to sit and rear the brood, she
secludes herself from the male, who then, very sensibly, herds with
others of his sex, and betakes himself to haunts of his own till male
and female, old and young, meet again on common ground, late in the
fall. But rob the sitting bird of her eggs, or destroy her tender
young, and she immediately sets out in quest of a male, who is no
laggard when he hears her call. The same is true of ducks and other
aquatic fowls. The propagating instinct is strong, and surmounts all
ordinary difficulties. No doubt the widowhood I had caused in the case
of the woodpeckers was of short duration, and chance brought, or the
widow drummed up, some forlorn male, who was not dismayed by the
prospect of having a large family of half-grown birds on his hands at
the outset.

I have seen a fine cock robin paying assiduous addresses to a female
bird, as late as the middle of July; and I have no doubt that his
intentions were honorable. I watched the pair for half an hour. The
hen, I took it, was in the market for the second time that season; but
the cock, from his bright, unfaded plumage, looked like a new arrival.
The hen resented every advance of the male. In vain he strutted around
her and displayed his fine feathers; every now and then she would make
at him in a most spiteful manner. He followed her to the ground,
poured into her ear a fine, half-suppressed warble, offered her a
worm, flew back to the tree again with a great spread of plumage,
hopped around her on the branches, chirruped, chattered, flew
gallantly at an intruder, and was back in an instant at her side. No
use,--she cut him short at every turn.

The _dénouement_ I cannot relate, as the artful bird, followed by her
ardent suitor, soon flew away beyond my sight. It may not be rash to
conclude, however, that she held out no longer than was prudent.

On the whole, there seems to be a system of Women's Rights prevailing
among the birds, which, contemplated from the stand-point of the male,
is quite admirable. In almost all cases of joint interest, the female
bird is the most active. She determines the site of the nest, and is
usually the most absorbed in its construction. Generally, she is more
vigilant in caring for the young, and manifests the most concern when
danger threatens. Hour after hour I have seen the mother of a brood of
blue grossbeaks pass from the nearest meadow to the tree that held her
nest, with a cricket or grasshopper in her bill, while her better-dressed
half was singing serenely on a distant tree or pursuing his pleasure amid
the brunches.

Yet among the majority of our song-birds the male is most conspicuous
both by his color and manners and by his song, and is to that extent a
shield to the female. It is thought that the female is humbler clad
for her better concealment during incubation. But this is not
satisfactory, as in some cases she is relieved from time to time by
the male. In the case of the domestic dove, for instance, promptly at
midday the cock is found upon the nest. I should say that the dull or
neutral tints of the female were a provision of nature for her greater
safety at all times, as her life is far more precious to the species
than that of the male. The indispensable office of the male reduces
itself to little more than a moment of time, while that of his mate
extends over days and weeks, if not months.[2]

In migrating northward, the males precede the females by eight or ten
days; returning in the fall, the females and young precede the males
by about the same time.

After the woodpeckers have abandoned their nests, or rather chambers,
which they do after the first season, their cousins, the nut-hatches,
chickadees, and brown creepers, fall heir to them. These birds,
especially the creepers and nut-hatches, have many of the habits of
the _picidæ_, but lack their powers of bill, and so are unable to
excavate a nest for themselves. Their habitation, therefore, is always
secondhand. But each species carries in some soft material of various
kinds, or, in other words, furnishes the tenement to its liking. The
chickadee arranges in the bottom of the cavity a little mat of a light
felt-like substance, which looks as if it came from the hatter's, but
which is probably the work of numerous worms or caterpillars. On this
soft lining the female deposits six white eggs.

I recently discovered one of these nests in a most interesting
situation. The tree containing it, a variety of the wild cherry, stood
upon the brink of the bald summit of a high mountain. Gray, time-worn
rocks lay piled loosely about, or overtoppled the just visible by-ways
of the red fox. The trees had a half-scared look, and that indescribable
wildness which lurks about the tops of all remote mountains possessed
the place. Standing there I looked down upon the back of the red-tailed
hawk as he flew out over the earth beneath me. Following him, my eye
also took in farms and settlements and villages and other mountain
ranges that grew blue in the distance.

The parent birds attracted my attention by appearing with food in
their beaks, and by seeming much put out. Yet so wary were they of
revealing the locality of their brood, or even of the precise tree
that held them, that I lurked around over an hour without gaining a
point on them. Finally a bright and curious boy who accompanied me
secreted himself under a low, projecting rock close to the tree in
which we supposed the nest to be, while I moved off around the
mountain-side. It was not long before the youth had their secret. The
tree, which was low and wide branching, and overrun with lichens,
appeared at a cursory glance to contain not one dry or decayed limb.
Yet there was one a few feet long, in which, when my eyes were piloted
thither, I detected a small round orifice.

As my weight began to shake the branches, the consternation of both
old and young was great. The stump of a limb that held the nest was
about three inches thick, and at the bottom of the tunnel was
excavated quite to the bark. With my thumb I broke in the thin wall,
and the young, which were full-fledged, looked out upon the world for
the first time. Presently one of them, which a significant chirp, as
much as to say, "It is time we were out of this," began to climb up
toward the proper entrance. Placing himself in the hole, he looked
around without manifesting any surprise at the grand scene that lay
spread out before him. He was taking his bearings and determining how
far he could trust the power of his untried wings to take him out of
harm's way. After a moment's pause, with a loud chirrup, he launched
out and made tolerable headway. The others rapidly followed. Each one,
as it started upward, from a sudden impulse, contemptuously saluted
the abandoned nest with its excrement.

Though generally regular in their habits and instincts, yet the birds
sometimes seem as whimsical and capricious as superior beings. One is
not safe, for instance, in making any absolute assertion as to their
place or mode of building. Ground-builders often get up into a bush,
and tree-builders sometimes get upon the ground or into a tussock of
grass. The song-sparrow, which is a ground builder, has been known to
build in the knot-hole of a fence rail, and a chimney swallow once got
tired of soot and smoke, and fastened its nest on a rafter in a hay
barn. A friend tells me of a pair of barn swallows which, taking a
fanciful turn, saddled their nest in the loop of a rope that was
pendent from a peg in the peak, and liked it so well that they
repeated the experiment next year. I have known the social-sparrow, or
"hair-bird," to build under a shed, in a tuft of hay that hung down,
through the loose flooring, from the mow above. It usually contents
itself with half a dozen stalks of dry grass and a few long hairs from
a cow's tail loosely arranged on the branch of an apple-tree. The
rough-winged swallow builds in the wall and in old stone heaps, and I
have seen the robin build in similar localities. Others have found its
nest in old, abandoned wells. The house-wren will build in anything
that has an accessible cavity, from an old boot to a bomb-shell. A
pair of them once persisted in building their nest in the top of a
certain pump-tree, getting in through the opening above the handle.
The pump being in daily use, the nest was destroyed more than a score
of times. This jealous little wretch has the wise forethought, when
the box in which he builds contains two compartments, to fill up one
of them, so as to avoid the risk of troublesome neighbors.

The less skillful builders sometimes depart from their usual habit,
and take up with the abandoned nest of some other species. The blue
jay now and then lays in an old crow's-nest or cuckoo's-nest. The
crow-blackbird, seized with a fit of indolence, drops its eggs in the
cavity of a decayed branch. I heard of a cuckoo that dispossessed a
robin of its nest; of another that set a blue jay adrift. Large, loose
structures, like the nests of the osprey and certain of the herons,
have been found with half a dozen nests of the blackbird set in the
outer edges, like so many parasites, or, as Audubon says, like the
retainers about the rude court of a feudal baron.

The same birds breeding in a southern climate construct far less
elaborate nests than when breeding in a northern climate. Certain
species of water-fowl that abandon their eggs to the sand and the sun
in the warmer zones, build a nest and sit in the usual way in
Labrador. In Georgia, the Baltimore oriole places its nest upon the
north side of the tree; in the Middle and Eastern States, it fixes it
upon the south or east side, and makes it much thicker and warmer. I
have seen one from the South that had some kind of coarse reed or
sedge woven into it, giving it an open work appearance, like a basket.

Very few species use the same material uniformly. I have seen the nest
of the robin quite destitute of mud. In one instance, it was composed
mainly of long black horse-hairs, arranged in a circular manner, with
a lining of fine yellow grass; the whole presenting quite a novel
appearance. In another case, the nest was chiefly constructed of a
species of rock moss.

The nest for the second brood during the same season is often a mere
make-shift. The haste of the female to deposit her eggs as the season
advances seems very great, and the structure is apt to be prematurely
finished. I was recently reminded of this fact by happening, about the
last of July, to meet with several nests of the wood or bush sparrow
in a remote blackberry field. The nests with eggs were far less
elaborate and compact than the earlier nests, from which the young had

Day after day, as I go to a certain piece of woods, I observe a male
indigo-bird sitting on precisely the same part of a high branch, and
singing in his most vivacious style. As I approach he ceases to sing,
and, flirting his tail right and left with marked emphasis, chirps
sharply. In a low bush near by, I come upon the object of his
solicitude--a thick, compact nest composed largely of dry leaves and
fine grass, in which a plain brown bird is sitting upon four pale blue

The wonder is, that a bird will leave the apparent security of the
tree-tops, to place its nest in the way of the many dangers that walk
and crawl upon the ground. There, far up out of reach, sings the bird;
here, not three feet from the ground, are its eggs or helpless young.
The truth is, birds are the greatest enemies of birds, and it is with
reference to this fact that many of the smaller species build.

Perhaps the greatest proportion of birds breed along highways. I have
known the ruffed grouse to come out of a dense wood and make its nest
at the root of a tree within ten paces of the road, where, no doubt,
hawks and crows, as well as skunks and foxes, would be less liable to
find it out. Traversing remote mountain-roads through dense woods, I
have repeatedly seen the veery, or Wilson's thrush, sitting upon her
nest, so near me that I could almost take her from it by stretching
out my hand. Birds of prey show none of this confidence in man, and,
when locating their nests, avoid rather than seek his haunts.

In a certain locality in the interior of New York, I know, every
season, where I am sure to find a nest or two of the slate-colored
snow-bird. It is under the brink of a low, mossy bank, so near the
highway that it could be reached from a passing vehicle with a whip.
Every horse or wagon or foot passenger disturbs the sitting bird. She
awaits the near approach of the sound of feet or wheels, and then
darts quickly across the road, barely clearing the ground, and
disappears amid the bushes on the opposite side.

In the trees that line one of the main streets and fashionable drives
leading out of Washington city, and less than half a mile from the
boundary, I have counted the nests of five different species at one
time, and that without any very close scrutiny of the foliage, while
in many acres of woodland, half a mile off, I searched in vain for a
single nest. Among the five, the nest that interested me most was that
of the blue grossbeak. Here this bird, which, according to Audubon's
observations in Louisiana, is shy and recluse, affecting remote
marshes and the borders of large ponds of stagnant water, had placed
its nest in the lowest twig of the lowest branch of a large sycamore,
immediately over a great thoroughfare, and so near the ground that a
person standing in a cart or sitting on a horse could have reached it
with his hand. The nest was composed mainly of fragments of newspaper
and stalks of grass, and though so low, was remarkably well concealed
by one of the peculiar clusters of twigs and leaves which characterize
this tree. The nest contained young when I discovered it, and though
the parent birds were much annoyed by my loitering about beneath the
tree, they paid little attention to the stream of vehicles that was
constantly passing. It was a wonder to me when the birds could have
built it, for they are much shyer when building than at other times.
No doubt they worked mostly in the morning, having the early hours all
to themselves.

Another pair of blue grossbeaks built in a graveyard within the city
limits. The nest was placed in a low bush, and the male continued to
sing at intervals till the young were ready to fly. The song of this
bird is a rapid, intricate warble, like that of the indigo-bird,
though stronger and louder. Indeed, these two birds so much resemble
each other in color, form, manner, voice, and general habits that,
were it not for the difference in size,--the grossbeak being nearly as
large again as the indigo-bird,--it would be a hard matter to tell
them apart. The females of both species are clad in the same
reddish-brown suits. So are the young the first season.

Of course in the deep, primitive woods also are nests; but how rarely
we find them! The simple art of the bird consists in choosing common,
neutral-tinted material, as moss, dry leaves, twigs, and various odds
and ends, and placing the structure on a convenient branch, where it
blends in color with its surroundings; but how consummate is this art,
and how skillfully is the nest concealed! We occasionally light upon
it, but who, unaided by the movements of the bird, could find it out?
During the present season I went to the woods nearly every day for a
fortnight, without making any discoveries of this kind; till one day,
paying them a farewell visit, I chanced to come upon several nests. A
black and white creeping warbler suddenly became much alarmed as I
approached a crumbling old stump in a dense part of the forest. He
alighted upon it, chirped sharply, ran up and down its sides, and
finally left it with much reluctance. The nest, which contained three
young birds nearly fledged, was placed upon the ground, at the foot of
the stump, and in such a position that the color of the young
harmonized perfectly with the bits of bark, sticks, etc., lying about.
My eye rested upon them for the second time before I made them out.
They hugged the nest very closely, but as I put down my hand they all
scampered off with loud cries for help, which caused the parent birds
to place themselves almost within my reach. The nest was merely a
little dry grass arranged in a thick bed of dry leaves.

This was amid a thick undergrowth. Moving on into a passage of large
stately hemlocks, with only here and there a small beech or maple rising
up into the perennial twilight, I paused to make out a note which was
entirely new to me. It is still in my ear. Though unmistakably a bird
note, it yet suggested the bleating of a tiny lambkin. Presently the
birds appeared,--a pair of the solitary vireo. They came flitting from
point to point, alighting only for a moment at a time, the male silent,
but the female uttering this strange, tender note. It was a rendering
into some new sylvan dialect of the human sentiment of maidenly love.
It was really pathetic in its sweetness and childlike confidence and
joy. I soon discovered that the pair were building a nest upon a low
branch a few yards from me. The male flew cautiously to the spot, and
adjusted something, and the twain moved on, the female calling to her
mate at intervals, _love-e, love-e_, with a cadence and tenderness in
the tone that rang in the ear long afterward. The nest was suspended to
the fork of a small branch, as is usual with the vireos, plentifully
lined with lichens, and bound and rebound with masses of coarse
spider-webs. There was no attempt at concealment except in the neutral
tints, which made it look like a natural growth of the dim, gray woods.

Continuing my random walk, I next paused in a low part of the woods,
where the larger trees began to give place to a thick second-growth
that covered an old Barkpeeling. I was standing by a large maple, when
a small bird darted quickly away from it, as if it might have come out
of a hole near its base. As the bird paused a few yards from me, and
began to chirp uneasily, my curiosity was at once excited. When I saw
it was the female mourning ground warbler, and remembered that the
nest of this bird had not yet been seen by any naturalist,--that not
even Dr. Brewer had ever seen the eggs,--I felt that here was
something worth looking for. So I carefully began the search,
exploring inch by inch the ground, the base and roots of the tree, and
the various shrubby growths about it, till, finding nothing, and
fearing I might really put my foot in it, I bethought me to withdraw
to a distance and after some delay return again, and, thus forewarned,
note the exact point from which the bird flew. This I did, and,
returning, had little difficulty in discovering the nest. It was
placed but a few feet from the maple-tree, in a bunch of ferns, and
about six inches from the ground. It was quite a massive nest,
composed entirely of the stalks and leaves of dry grass, with an inner
lining of fine, dark-brown roots. The eggs, three in number, were of
light flesh color, uniformly specked with fine brown specks. The
cavity of the nest was so deep that the back of the sitting bird sank
below the edge.

In the top of a tall tree, a short distance farther on, I saw the nest
of the red-tailed hawk,--a large mass of twigs and dry sticks. The
young had flown, but still lingered in the vicinity, and, as I
approached, the mother-bird flew about over me, squealing in a very
angry, savage manner. Tufts of the hair and other indigestible
material of the common meadow mouse lay around on the ground beneath
the nest.

As I was about leaving the woods my hat almost brushed the nest of the
red-eyed vireo, which hung basket-like on the end of a low, drooping
branch of the beech. I should never have seen it had the bird kept her
place. It contained three eggs of the bird's own, and one of the
cow-bunting. The strange egg was only just perceptibly larger than the
others, yet three days after, when I looked into the nest again and
found all but one egg hatched, the young interloper was at least four
times as large as either of the others, and with such a superabundance
of bowels as to almost smother his bedfellows beneath them. That the
intruder should fare the same as the rightful occupants, and thrive
with them, was more than ordinary potluck; but that it alone should
thrive, devouring, as it were, all the rest, is one of those freaks of
Nature in which she would seem to discourage the homely virtues of
prudence and honesty. Weeds and parasites have the odds greatly
against them, yet they wage a very successful war nevertheless.

The woods hold not such another gem as the nest of the humming-bird.
The finding of one is an event to date from. It is the next best thing
to finding an eagle's nest. I have met with but two, both by chance.
One was placed on the horizontal branch of a chestnut-tree, with a
solitary green leaf, forming a complete canopy, about an inch and a
half above it. The repeated spiteful dartings of the bird past my
ears, as I stood under the tree, caused me to suspect that I was
intruding upon some one's privacy; and following it with my eye, I
soon saw the nest, which was in process of construction. Adopting my
usual tactics of secreting myself near by, I had the satisfaction of
seeing the tiny artist at work. It was the female unassisted by her
mate. At intervals of two or three minutes she would appear with a
small tuft of some cottony substance in her beak, dart a few times
through and around the tree, and alighting quickly in the nest
arrange the material she had brought, using her breast as a model.

The other nest I discovered in a dense forest on the side of a
mountain. The sitting bird was disturbed as I passed beneath her. The
whirring of her wings arrested my attention, when, after a short
pause, I had the good luck to see, through an opening in the leaves,
the bird return to her nest, which appeared like a mere wart or
excrescence on a small branch. The humming-bird, unlike all others,
does not alight upon the nest, but flies into it. She enters it as
quick as a flash but as light as any feather. Two eggs are the
complement. They are perfectly white, and so frail that only a woman's
fingers may touch them. Incubation lasts about ten days. In a week the
young have flown.

The only nest like the humming-bird's, and comparable to it in
neatness and symmetry, is that of the blue-gray gnatcatcher. This is
often saddled upon the limb in the same manner, though it is generally
more or less pendent; it is deep and soft, composed mostly of some
vegetable down covered all over with delicate tree-lichens, and,
except that it is much larger, appears almost identical with the nest
of the humming-bird.

But the nest of nests, the ideal nest, after we have left the deep
woods, is unquestionably that of the Baltimore oriole. It is the only
perfectly pensile nest we have. The nest of the orchard oriole is
indeed mainly so, but this bird generally builds lower and shallower,
more after the manner of the vireos.

The Baltimore oriole loves to attach its nest to the swaying branches
of the tallest elms, making no attempt at concealment, but satisfied
if the position be high and the branch pendent. This nest would seem
to cost more time and skill than any other bird structure. A peculiar
flax-like substance seems to be always sought after and always found.
The nest when completed assumes the form of a large, suspended, gourd.
The walls are thin but firm, and proof against the most driving rain.
The mouth is hemmed or overhanded with horse-hair, and the sides are
usually sewed through and through with the same.

Not particular as to the matter of secrecy, the bird is not particular
as to material, so that it be of the nature of strings or threads. A
lady friend once told me that while working by an open window, one of
these birds approached during her momentary absence, and, seizing a
skein of some kind of thread or yarn, made off with it to its
half-finished nest. But the perverse yarn caught fast in the branches,
and, in the bird's efforts to extricate it, got hopelessly tangled.
She tugged away at it all day, but was finally obliged to content
herself with a few detached portions. The fluttering strings were an
eye-sore to her ever after, and passing and repassing, she would give
them a spiteful jerk, as much as to say, "There is that confounded
yarn that gave me so much trouble."

From Pennsylvania, Vincent Barnard (to whom I am indebted for other
curious facts) sent me this interesting story of an oriole. He says a
friend of his, curious in such things, on observing the bird
beginning to build, hung out near the prospective nest skeins of
many-colored zephyr yarn, which the eager artist readily appropriated.
He managed it so that the bird used nearly equal quantities of various
high, bright colors. The nest was made unusually deep and capacious,
and it may be questioned if such a thing of beauty was ever before
woven by the cunning of a bird.

Nuttall, by far the most genial of American ornithologists, relates
the following:--

    "A female (oriole), which I observed attentively, carried off to
    her nest a piece of lamp-wick ten or twelve feet long. This long
    string and many other shorter ones were left hanging out for
    about a week before both the ends were wattled into the sides of
    the nest. Some other little birds making use of similar
    materials, at times twitched these flowing ends, and generally
    brought out the busy Baltimore from her occupation in great

    "I may perhaps claim indulgence for adding a little more of the
    biography of this particular bird, as a representative also of
    the instincts of her race. She completed the nest in about a
    week's time, without any aid from her mate; who indeed appeared
    but seldom in her company and was now become nearly silent. For
    fibrous materials she broke, hackled, and gathered the flax of
    the _asclepias_ and _hibiscus_ stalks, tearing off long strings
    and flying with them to the scene of her labors. She appeared
    very eager and hasty in her pursuits, and collected her
    materials without fear or restraint, while three men were
    working in the neighboring walks and many persons visiting the
    garden. Her courage and perseverance were indeed truly
    admirable. If watched too narrowly, she saluted with her usual
    scolding, _tshrr, tshrr, tshrr_, seeing no reason, probably, why
    she should be interrupted in her indispensable occupation.

    "Though the males were now comparatively silent on the arrival
    of their busy mates, I could not help observing this female and
    a second, continually vociferating, apparently in strife. At
    last she was observed to attack this _second_ female very
    fiercely, who slyly intruded herself at times into the same tree
    where she was building. These contests were angry and often
    repeated. To account for this animosity, I now recollected that
    _two_ fine males had been killed in our vicinity; and I
    therefore concluded the intruder to be left without a mate; yet
    she had gained the affections of the consort of the busy female,
    and thus the cause of their jealous quarrel became apparent.
    Having obtained the confidence of her faithless paramour, the
    _second_ female began preparing to weave a nest in an adjoining
    elm, by tying together certain pendent twigs as a foundation.
    The male now associated chiefly with the intruder, whom he even
    assisted in her labor, yet did not wholly forget his first
    partner who called on him one evening in a low affectionate
    tone, which was answered in the same strain. While they were
    thus engaged in friendly whispers, suddenly appeared the rival,
    and a violent _rencontre_ ensued, so that one of the females
    appeared to be greatly agitated, and fluttered with spreading
    wings as if considerably hurt. The male though prudently neutral
    in the contest, showed his culpable partiality by flying off
    with his paramour, and for the rest of the evening left the tree
    to his pugnacious consort. Cares of another kind more imperious
    and tender, at length reconciled, or at least terminated these
    disputes with the jealous females; and by the aid of the
    neighboring bachelors, who are never wanting among these and
    other birds, peace was at length completely restored, by the
    restitution of the quiet and happy condition of monogamy."

Let me not forget to mention the nest under the mountain ledge, the
nest of the common pewee,--a modest mossy structure, with four pearl
white eggs,--looking out upon some wild scene and overhung by beetling
crags. After all has been said about the elaborate, high-hung
structures, few nests perhaps awaken more pleasant emotions in the
mind of the beholder than this of the pewee,--the gray, silent rocks,
with caverns and dens where the fox and the wolf lurk, and just out of
their reach, in a little niche, as if it grew there, the mossy

Nearly every high projecting rock in my range has one of these nests.
Following a trout stream up a wild mountain gorge, not long since, I
counted five in the distance of a mile, all within easy reach, but
safe from the minks and the skunks, and well housed from the storms.
In my native town I know a pine and oak clad hill, round-topped, with
a bold, precipitous front extending half-way around it. Near the top,
and along this front or side, there crops out a ledge of rocks
unusually high and cavernous. One immense layer projects many feet,
allowing a person or many persons, standing upright, to move freely
beneath it. There is a delicious spring of water there, and plenty of
wild, cool air. The floor is of loose stone, now trod by sheep and
foxes, once by the Indian and the wolf. How I have delighted from
boyhood to spend a summer-day in this retreat or take refuge there
from a sudden shower! Always the freshness and coolness, and always
the delicate mossy nest of the phœbe-bird! The bird keeps her place
till you are within a few feet of her, when she flits to a near
branch, and, with many oscillations of her tail, observes you
anxiously. Since the country has become settled this pewee has fallen
into the strange practice of occasionally placing its nest under a
bridge, hay-shed, or other artificial structure, where it is subject
to all kinds of interruptions and annoyances. When placed thus, the
nest is larger and coarser. I know a hay-loft beneath which a pair has
regularly placed its nest for several successive seasons. Arranged
along on a single pole, which sags down a few inches from the flooring
it was intended to help support, are three of these structures,
marking the number of years the birds have nested there. The
foundation is of mud with a superstructure of moss, elaborately lined
with hair and feathers. Nothing can be more perfect and exquisite than
the interior of one of these nests, yet a new one is built every
season. Three broods, however, are frequently reared in it.

The pewees, as a class, are the best architects we have. The king-bird
builds a nest altogether admirable, using various soft cotton and woolen
substances, and sparing neither time nor material to make it substantial
and warm. The green-crested pewee builds its nest in many instances
wholly of the blossoms of the white-oak. The wood-pewee builds a neat,
compact, socket-shaped nest of moss and lichens on a horizontal branch.
There is never a loose end or shred about it. The sitting bird is
largely visible above the rim. She moves her head freely about and seems
entirely at her ease,--a circumstance which I have never observed in any
other species. The nest of the great-crested fly-catcher is seldom free
from snake skins, three or four being sometimes woven into it.

About the thinnest, shallowest nest, for its situation, that can be
found is that of the turtle-dove. A few sticks and straws are
carelessly thrown together, hardly sufficient to prevent the eggs from
falling through or rolling off. The nest of the passenger-pigeon is
equally hasty and insufficient, and the squabs often fall to the
ground and perish. The other extreme among our common birds is
furnished by the ferruginous thrush, which collects together a mass
of material that would fill a half-bushel measure; or by the
fish-hawk, which adds to and repairs its nest year after year, till
the whole would make a cart-load.

The rarest of all nests is that of the eagle, because the eagle is the
rarest of all birds. Indeed so seldom is the eagle seen that its
presence always seems accidental. It appears as if merely pausing on
the way, while bound for some distant unknown region. One September,
while a youth, I saw the ring-tailed eagle, an immense, dusky bird,
the sight of which filled me with awe. It lingered about the hills for
two days. Some young cattle, a two-year-old colt, and half a dozen
sheep were at pasture on a high ridge that led up to the mountain, and
in plain view of the house. On the second day this dusky monarch was
seen flying about above them. Presently he began to hover over them,
after the manner of a hawk watching for mice. He then with extended
legs let himself slowly down upon them, actually grappling the backs
of the young cattle, and frightening the creatures so that they rushed
about the field in great consternation; and finally, as he grew bolder
and more frequent in his descents, the whole herd broke over the fence
and came tearing down to the house "like mad." It did not seem to be
an assault with intent to kill, but was perhaps a stratagem resorted
to in order to separate the herd and expose the lambs, which hugged
the cattle very closely. When he occasionally alighted upon the oaks
that stood near, the branch could be seen to sway and bend beneath
him. Finally, as a rifleman started out in pursuit of him, he launched
into the air, set his wings, and sailed away southward. A few years
afterward, in January, another eagle passed through the same locality,
alighting in a field near some dead animal, but tarried briefly.

So much by way of identification. The bird is common to the northern
parts of both hemispheres, and places its eyrie on high precipitous
rocks. A pair built on an inaccessible shelf of rock along the Hudson
for eight successive years. A squad of Revolutionary soldiers, also,
found a nest along this river, and had an adventure with the bird that
came near costing one of their number his life. His comrades let him
down by a rope to secure the eggs or young, when he was attacked by
the female eagle with such fury that he was obliged to defend himself
with his knife. In doing so, by a misstroke, he nearly severed the
rope that held him, and was drawn up by a single strand from his
perilous position. Audubon, from whom this anecdote is taken, figures
and describes this bird as the golden eagle, though I have little
doubt that Wilson was right, and that the golden eagle is a distinct

The sea-eagle, also, builds on high rocks, according to Audubon,
though Wilson describes the nest of one which he saw near Great Egg
Harbor, in the top of a large yellow pine. It was a vast pile of
sticks, sods, sedge, grass, reeds, etc., etc., five or six feet high
by four broad, and with little or no concavity. It had been used for
many years, and he was told that the eagles made it a sort of home or
lodging-place in all seasons. This agrees with the description which
Audubon gives of the nest of the bald eagle. There is evidently a
little confusion on both sides.

The eagle in all cases uses one nest, with more or less repair, for
several years. Many of our common birds do the same. The birds may be
divided, with respect to this and kindred points, into five general
classes. First, those that repair or appropriate the last year's nest,
as the wren, swallow, bluebird, great-crested fly-catcher, owls,
eagles, fish-hawk, and a few others. Secondly, those that build anew
each season, though frequently rearing more than one brood in the same
nest. Of these the phœbe-bird is a well-known example. Thirdly, those
that build a new nest for each brood, which includes by far the
greatest number of species. Fourthly, a limited number that make no
nest of their own, but appropriate the abandoned nests of other birds.
Finally, those who use no nest at all, but deposit their eggs in the
sand, which is the case with a large number of aquatic fowls. Thus,
the common gull breeds in vast numbers on the sand bars or sand
islands off the south coast of Long Island. A little dent is made in
the sand, the eggs are dropped, and the old birds go their way. In due
time the eggs are hatched by the warmth of the sun, and the little
creatures shift for themselves. In July countless numbers of them, of
different ages and sizes, swarm upon these sandy wastes. As the waves
roll out they rush down the beach, picking up a kind of sea gluten,
and then hasten back to avoid the next breaker.

[Illustration: Phœbe-bird.]


[2] A recent English writer upon this subject presents an array of
facts and considerations that do not support this view. He says that,
with very few exceptions, it is the rule that, when both sexes are of
strikingly gay and conspicuous colors, the nest is such as to conceal
the sitting bird; while, whenever there is a striking contrast of
colors, the male being gay and conspicuous, the female dull and
obscure, the nest is open and the sitting bird exposed to view. The
exceptions to this rule among European birds appear to be very few.
Among our own birds, the cuckoos and blue jays build open nests,
without presenting any noticeable difference in the coloring of the
two sexes. The same is true of the pewees, the king-bird, and the
sparrows, while the common bluebird, the oriole, and orchard starling
afford examples the other way.

[Illustration: Purple Finch.]



I came to Washington to live in the fall of 1863, and, with the
exception of a month each summer spent in the interior of New York,
have lived here ever since.

I saw my first novelty in Natural History the day after my arrival. As
I was walking near some woods north of the city, a grasshopper of
prodigious size flew up from the ground and alighted in a tree. As I
pursued him, he proved to be nearly as wild and as fleet of wing as a
bird. I thought I had reached the capital of grasshopperdom, and that
this was perhaps one of the chiefs or leaders, or perhaps the great
High Cock O'lorum himself, taking an airing in the fields. I have
never yet been able to settle the question, as every fall I start up a
few of these gigantic specimens, which perch on the trees. They are
about three inches long, of a gray striped or spotted color, and have
quite a reptile look.

The greatest novelty I found, however, was the superb autumn weather,
the bright, strong, electric days, lasting well into November, and the
general mildness of the entire winter. Though the mercury occasionally
sinks to zero, yet the earth is never so seared and blighted by the
cold, but that in some sheltered nook or corner signs of vegetable
life still remain, which on a little encouragement even asserts
itself. I have found wild flowers here every month in the year;
violets in December, a single houstonia in January (the little lump of
earth upon which it stood was frozen hard), and a tiny, weed-like
plant, with a flower almost microscopic in its smallness, growing
along graveled walks, and in old plowed fields in February. The
liverwort sometimes comes out as early as the first week in March, and
the little frogs begin to pipe doubtfully about the same time.
Apricot-trees are usually in bloom on All-Fool's-day, and the
apple-trees on May-day. By August, mother hen will lead forth her
third brood, and I had a March pullet that came off with a family of
her own in September. Our calendar is made for this climate. March is
a spring month. One is quite sure to see some marked and striking
change during the first eight or ten days. This season (1868) is a
backward one, and the memorable change did not come till the 10th.

Then the sun rose up from a bed of vapors, and seemed fairly to
dissolve with tenderness and warmth. For an hour or two the air was
perfectly motionless, and full of low, humming, awakening sounds. The
naked trees had a rapt, expectant look. From some unreclaimed common
near by came the first strain of the song-sparrow; so homely, because
so old and familiar, yet so inexpressibly pleasing. Presently a full
chorus of voices arose; tender, musical, half-suppressed, but full of
genuine hilarity and joy. The bluebird warbled, the robin called, the
snow-bird chattered, the meadow-lark uttered her strong, but tender
note. Over a deserted field a turkey-buzzard hovered low, and alighted
on a stake in the fence, standing a moment with outstretched,
vibrating wings, till he was sure of his hold. A soft, warm, brooding
day. Roads becoming dry in many places, and looking so good after the
mud and the snow. I walk up beyond the boundary and over Meridian
Hill. To move along the drying road and feel the delicious warmth is
enough. The cattle low long and loud, and look wistfully into the
distance. I sympathize with them. Never a spring comes, but I have an
almost irresistible desire to depart. Some nomadic or migrating
instinct or reminiscence stirs within me. I ache to be off.

As I pass along, the high-hole calls in the distance precisely as I
have heard him in the North. After a pause he repeats his summons.
What can be more welcome to the ear than these early first sounds!
They have such a margin of silence!

One need but pass the boundary of Washington city to be fairly in the
country, and ten minutes' walk in the country brings one to real
primitive woods. The town has not yet overflowed its limits like the
great Northern commercial capitals, and Nature, wild and unkempt,
comes up to its very threshold, and even in many places crosses it.

The woods, which I soon reach, are stark and still. The signs of
returning life are so faint as to be almost imperceptible, but there is
a fresh, earthy smell in the air, as if something had stirred here under
the leaves. The crows caw above the wood, or walk about the brown
fields. I look at the gray, silent trees long and long, but they show no
sign. The catkins of some alders by a little pool have just swelled
perceptibly; and brushing away the dry leaves and _débris_ on a sunny
slope, I discover the liverwort just pushing up a fuzzy, tender sprout.
But the waters have brought forth. The little frogs are musical. From
every marsh and pool goes up their shrill, but pleasing chorus. Peering
into one of their haunts, a little body of semi-stagnant water, I
discover masses of frogs' spawn covering the bottom. I take up great
chunks of the cold, quivering jelly in my hands. In some places there
are gallons of it. A youth who accompanies me wonders if it would not be
good cooked, or if it could not be used as a substitute for eggs. It is
a perfect jelly, of a slightly milky tinge, thickly imbedded with black
spots about the size of a small bird's eye. When just deposited, it is
perfectly transparent. These hatch in eight or ten days, gradually
absorb their gelatinous surroundings, and the tiny tadpoles issue forth.

In the city, even before the shop-windows have caught the inspiration,
spring is heralded by the silver poplars, which line all the streets
and avenues. After a few mild, sunshiny March days, you suddenly
perceive a change has come over the trees. Their tops have a less
naked look. If the weather continues warm, a single day will work
wonders. Presently the tree will be one vast plume of gray, downy
tassels, while not the least speck of green foliage is visible. The
first week in April these long mimic caterpillars lie all about the
streets and fill the gutters.

The approach of spring is also indicated by the crows and buzzards,
which rapidly multiply in the environs of the city, and grow bold and
demonstrative. The crows are abundant here all winter, but are not
very noticeable except as they pass high in air to and from their
winter-quarters in the Virginia woods. Early in the morning, as soon
as it is light enough to discern them, there they are, streaming
eastward across the sky, now in loose, scattered flocks, now in thick,
dense masses, then singly and in pairs or triplets, but all setting in
one direction, probably to the waters of Eastern Maryland. Toward
night they begin to return, flying in the same manner, and directing
their course to the wooded heights on the Potomac, west of the city.
In spring these diurnal mass movements cease; the clan breaks up, the
rookery is abandoned, and the birds scatter broadcast over the land.
This seems to be the course everywhere pursued. One would think that,
when food was scarcest, the policy of separating into small bands or
pairs, and dispersing over a wide country, would prevail, as a few
might subsist where a larger number would starve. The truth is,
however, that in winter, food can be had only in certain clearly
defined districts and tracts, as along rivers and the shores of bays
and lakes.

A few miles north of Newburg, on the Hudson, the crows go into
winter-quarters in the same manner, flying south in the morning and
returning again at night, sometimes hugging the hills so close during
a strong wind, as to expose themselves to the clubs and stones of
school-boys ambushed behind trees and fences. The belated ones, that
come laboring along just at dusk, are often so overcome by the long
journey and the strong current, that they seem almost on the point of
sinking down whenever the wind or a rise in the ground calls upon them
for an extra effort.

The turkey-buzzards are noticeable about Washington as soon as the
season begins to open, sailing leisurely along two or three hundred
feet over head, or sweeping low over some common or open space, where,
perchance, a dead puppy or pig or fowl has been thrown. Half a dozen
will sometimes alight about some such object out on the commons, and
with their broad dusky wings lifted up to their full extent, threaten
and chase each other, while perhaps one or two are feeding. Their
wings are very large and flexible, and the slightest motion of them,
while the bird stands upon the ground, suffices to lift its feet
clear. Their movements when in air are very majestic and beautiful to
the eye, being in every respect identical with those of our common hen
or red-tailed hawk. They sail along in the same calm, effortless,
interminable manner, and sweep around in the same ample spirals. The
shape of their wings and tail, indeed their entire effect against the
sky, except in size and color, is very nearly the same as that of the
hawk mentioned. A dozen at a time may often be seen high in air,
amusing themselves by sailing serenely round and round in the same

They are less active and vigilant than the hawk; never poise themselves
on the wing, never dive and gambol in the air, and never swoop down upon
their prey; unlike the hawks also, they appear to have no enemies. The
crow fights the hawk, and the king-bird and crow-blackbird fight the
crow; but neither takes any notice of the buzzard. He excites the enmity
of none, for the reason that he molests none. The crow has an old grudge
against the hawk, because the hawk robs the crow's nest, and carries off
his young; the king-bird's quarrel with the crow is upon the same
grounds. But the buzzard never attacks live game, or feeds upon new
flesh when old can be had.

In May, like the crows, they nearly all disappear very suddenly,
probably to their breeding haunts near the sea-shore. Do the males
separate from the females at this time, and go by themselves? At any
rate, in July I discovered that a large number of buzzards roosted in
some woods near Rock Creek, about a mile from the city limits; and, as
they do not nest anywhere in this vicinity, I thought they might be
males. I happened to be detained late in the woods, watching the nest
of a flying squirrel, when the buzzards, just after sundown, began to
come by ones and twos and alight in the trees near me. Presently they
came in greater numbers, but from the same direction flapping low over
the woods, and taking up their position in the middle branches. On
alighting, each one would blow very audibly through his nose, just as
a cow does when she lies down; this is the only sound I have ever
heard the buzzard make. They would then stretch themselves after the
manner of turkeys, and walk along the limbs. Sometimes a decayed
branch would break under the weight of two or three, when, with a
great flapping, they would take up new positions. They continued to
come till it was quite dark, and all the trees about me were full. I
began to feel a little nervous, but kept my place. After it was
entirely dark and all was still, I gathered a large pile of dry leaves
and kindled it with a match, to see what they would think of a fire.
Not a sound was heard till the pile of leaves was in full blaze, when
instantaneously every buzzard started. I thought the tree-tops were
coming down upon me, so great was the uproar. But the woods were soon
cleared, and the loathsome pack disappeared in the night.

About the first of June I saw numbers of buzzards sailing around over
the great Falls of the Potomac.

A glimpse of the birds usually found here in the latter part of winter
may be had in the following extract, which I take from my diary under
date of February 4th:--

    "Made a long excursion through the woods and over the hills.
    Went directly north from the Capitol for about three miles. The
    ground bare and the day cold and sharp. In the suburbs, among
    the scattered Irish and negro shanties, came suddenly upon a
    flock of birds, feeding about like our Northern snow-buntings.
    Every now and then they uttered a piping disconsolate note, as
    if they had a very sorry time of it. They proved to be
    shore-larks, the first I had ever seen. They had the walk
    characteristic of all larks; were a little larger than the
    sparrow; had a black spot on the breast, with much white on the
    under parts of their bodies. As I approached them the nearer
    ones paused, and, half squatting, eyed me suspiciously.
    Presently, at a movement of my arm, away they went, flying
    exactly like the snow-bunting, and showing nearly as much
    white." (I have since discovered that the shore-lark is a
    regular visitant here in February and March, when large
    quantities of them are shot or trapped, and exposed for sale in
    the market. During a heavy snow I have seen numbers of them
    feeding upon the seeds of various weedy growths in a large
    market-garden well into town.) "Pressing on, the walk became
    exhilarating. Followed a little brook, the eastern branch of the
    Tiber, lined with bushes and a rank growth of green brier.
    Sparrows started out here and there and flew across the little
    bends and points. Among some pines just beyond the boundary, saw
    a number of American goldfinches, in their gray winter dress,
    pecking the pine-cones. A golden-crowned kinglet was there also,
    a little tuft of gray feathers, hopping about as restless as a
    spirit. Had the old pine-trees food delicate enough for him
    also? Farther on, in some low open woods, saw many
    sparrows,--the fox, white-throated, white-crowned, the Canada,
    the song, the swamp,--all herding together along the warm and
    sheltered borders. To my surprise saw a cheewink also, and the
    yellow-rumped warbler. The purple finch was there likewise, and
    the Carolina wren and brown creeper. In the higher, colder woods
    not a bird was to be seen. Returning, near sunset, across the
    eastern slope of a hill which overlooked the city, was delighted
    to see a number of grass-finches or vesper sparrows (_Fringilla
    graminea_),--birds which will be forever associated in my mind
    with my father's sheep pastures. They ran before me, now
    flitting a pace or two, now skulking in the low stubble, just as
    I had observed them when a boy."

A month later, March 4th, is this note:--

    "After the second memorable inauguration of President Lincoln,
    took my first trip of the season. The afternoon was very clear
    and warm,--real vernal sunshine at last, though the wind roared
    like a lion over the woods. It seemed novel enough to find
    within two miles of the White House a simple woodsman chopping
    away as if no President was being inaugurated! Some puppies,
    snugly nestled in the cavity of an old hollow tree, he said,
    belonged to a wild dog. I imagine I saw the 'wild dog,' on the
    other side of Rock Creek, in a great state of grief and
    trepidation, running up and down, crying and yelping, and
    looking wistfully over the swollen flood, which the poor thing
    had not the courage to brave. This day, for the first time, I
    heard the song of the Canada sparrow, a soft, sweet note, almost
    running into a warble. Saw a small, black, velvety butterfly
    with a yellow border to its wings. Under a warm bank found two
    flowers of the houstonia in bloom. Saw frogs' spawn near Piny
    Branch, and heard the hyla."

Among the first birds that make their appearance in Washington, is the
crow-blackbird. He may come any time after the 1st of March. The birds
congregate in large flocks, and frequent groves and parks, alternately
swarming in the tree-tops and filling the air with their sharp jangle,
and alighting on the ground in quest of food, their polished coats
glistening in the sun from very blackness, as they walk about. There
is evidently some music in the soul of this bird at this season,
though he makes a sad failure in getting it out. His voice always
sounds as if he were laboring under a severe attack of influenza,
though a large flock of them heard at a distance on a bright afternoon
of early spring, produce an effect not unpleasing. The air is filled
with crackling, splintering, spurting, semi-musical sounds,--which are
like pepper and salt to the ear.

All parks and public grounds about the city are full of blackbirds.
They are especially plentiful in the trees about the White House,
breeding there and waging war on all other birds. The occupants of one
of the offices in the west wing of the Treasury one day had their
attention attracted by some object striking violently against one of
the window-panes. Looking up, they beheld a crow-blackbird pausing in
mid-air, a few feet from the window. On the broad stone window-sill
lay the quivering form of a purple finch. The little tragedy was
easily read. The blackbird had pursued the finch with such murderous
violence, that the latter, in its desperate efforts to escape, had
sought refuge in the Treasury. The force of the concussion against the
heavy plate-glass of the window had killed the poor thing instantly.
The pursuer, no doubt astonished at the sudden and novel termination
of the career of its victim, hovered a moment, as if to be sure of
what had happened, and made off.

(It is not unusual for birds, when thus threatened with destruction
by their natural enemy, to become so terrified as to seek safety in
the presence of man. I was once startled, while living in a country
village, to behold, on entering my room at noon, one October day, a
quail sitting upon my bed. The affrighted and bewildered bird
instantly started for the open window, into which it had no doubt been
driven by a hawk.)

The crow-blackbird has all the natural cunning of his prototype, the
crow. In one of the inner courts of the Treasury building there is a
fountain with several trees growing near. By midsummer, the blackbirds
become so bold as to venture within this court. Various fragments of
food, tossed from the surrounding windows, reward their temerity. When
a crust of dry bread defies their beaks, they have been seen to drop
it into the water, and when it had become soaked sufficiently, to take
it out again.

They build a nest of coarse sticks and mud, the whole burden of the
enterprise seeming to devolve upon the female. For several successive
mornings just after sunrise, I used to notice a pair of them flying to
and fro in the air above me, as I hoed in the garden, directing their
course, on the one hand, to a marshy piece of ground about half a mile
distant, and disappearing on their return, among the trees about the
Capitol. Returning, the female always had her beak loaded with
building material, while the male, carrying nothing, seemed to act as
her escort, flying a little above and in advance of her, and uttering
now and then his husky, discordant note. As I tossed a lump of earth
up at them the frightened mother-bird dropped her mortar, and the pair
skurried away, much put out. Later, they avenged themselves by
pilfering my cherries.

The most mischievous enemies of the cherries, however, here, as at the
North, are the cedar waxwings, or "cherry-birds." How quickly they spy
out the tree! Long before the cherry begins to turn, they are around,
alert and cautious. In small flocks they circle about, high in air,
uttering their fine note, or plunge quickly into the tops of remote
trees. Day by day they approach nearer and nearer, reconnoitring the
premises, and watching the growing fruit. Hardly have the green lobes
turned a red cheek to the sun, before their beaks have scarred it. At
first they approach the tree stealthily, on the side turned from the
house, diving quickly into the branches in ones and twos, while the
main flock is ambushed in some shade tree not far off. They are most
apt to commit their depredations very early in the morning and on
cloudy, rainy days. As the cherries grow sweeter the birds grow
bolder, till, from throwing tufts of grass, one has to throw stones in
good earnest, or lose all his fruit. In June they disappear, following
the cherries to the north, where by July, they are nesting in the
orchards and cedar groves.

Among the permanent summer residents here (one might say city
residents, as they seem more abundant in town than out), the yellow
warbler or summer yellow-bird is conspicuous. He comes about the
middle of April, and seems particularly attached to the silver
poplars. In every street, and all day long, one may hear his thin,
sharp warble. When nesting, the female comes about the yard, pecking
at the clothes-line, and gathering up bits of thread to weave into her

Swallows appear in Washington from the first to the middle of April.
They come twittering along in the way so familiar to every New England
boy. The barn swallow is heard first, followed in a day or two by the
squeaking of the cliff-swallow. The chimney-swallows, or swifts, are
not far behind, and remain here, in large numbers, the whole season.
The purple martins appear in April, as they pass north, and again in
July and August on their return, accompanied by their young.

The national capital is situated in such a vast spread of wild,
wooded, or semi-cultivated country, and is in itself so open and
spacious, with its parks and large government reservations, that an
unusual number of birds find their way into it in the course of the
season. Rare warblers, as the black-poll, the yellow red-poll, and the
bay-breasted, pausing in May on their northward journey, pursue their
insect game in the very heart of the town.

I have heard the veery-thrush in the trees near the White House; and one
rainy April morning, about six o'clock, he came and blew his soft,
mellow flute in a pear-tree in my garden. The tones had all the
sweetness and wildness they have when heard in June in our deep Northern
forests. A day or two afterward, in the same tree, I heard for the first
time the song of the golden-crowned wren, or kinglet,--the same liquid
bubble and cadence which characterize the wren-songs generally, but much
finer and more delicate than the song of any other variety known to me;
beginning in a fine, round, needle-like note, and rising into a full,
sustained warble;--a strain, on the whole, remarkably exquisite and
pleasing, the singer being all the while as busy as a bee, catching some
kind of insects. If the ruby-crowned sings as well (and no doubt it
does), Audubon's enthusiasm concerning its song, as he heard it in the
wilds of Labrador, is not a bit extravagant. The song of the kinglet is
the only characteristic that allies it to the wrens.

The Capitol grounds, with their fine large trees of many varieties draw
many kinds of birds. In the rear of the building the extensive grounds
are peculiarly attractive, being a gentle slope, warm and protected, and
quite thickly wooded. Here in early spring I go to hear the robins,
cat-birds, blackbirds, wrens, etc. In March the white-throated and
white-crowned sparrows may be seen, hopping about on the flower-beds or
peering slyly from the evergreens. The robin hops about freely upon the
grass, notwithstanding the keeper's large-lettered warning, and at
intervals, and especially at sunset, carols from the tree-tops his loud
hearty strain.

The king-bird and orchard starling remain the whole season, and breed
in the tree-tops. The rich, copious song of the starling may be heard
there all the forenoon. The song of some birds is like scarlet,--strong,
intense, emphatic. This is the character of the orchard starlings; also
of the tanagers and the various grossbeaks. On the other hand, the songs
of other birds, as of certain of the thrushes, suggests the serene blue
of the upper sky.

In February, one may hear, in the Smithsonian grounds, the song of the
fox-sparrow. It is a strong, richly modulated whistle,--the finest
sparrow note I have ever heard.

A curious and charming sound may be heard here in May. You are walking
forth in the soft morning air, when suddenly there comes a burst of
bobolink melody from some mysterious source. A score of throats pour
out one brief, hilarious, tuneful jubilee, and are suddenly silent.
There is a strange remoteness, and fascination about it. Presently you
discover its source skyward, and a quick eye will detect the gay band
pushing northward. They seem to scent the fragrant meadows afar off,
and shout forth snatches of their songs in anticipation.

The bobolink does not breed in the District, but usually pauses in his
journey and feeds during the day in the grass-lands north of the city.
When the season is backward, they tarry a week or ten days, singing
freely and appearing quite at home. In large flocks they search over
every inch of ground, and at intervals hover on the wing or alight in
the tree-tops, all pouring forth their gladness at once, and filling
the air with a multitudinous musical clamor.

They continue to pass, traveling by night, and feeding by day, till
after the middle of May, when they cease. In September, with numbers
greatly increased, they are on their way back. I am first advised of
their return by hearing their calls at night as they fly over the
city. On certain nights the sound becomes quite noticeable. I have
awakened in the middle of the night, and, through the open window, as
I lay in bed, heard their faint notes. The warblers begin to return
about the same time, and are clearly distinguished by their timid
_yeaps_. On dark cloudy nights the birds seem confused by the lights
of the city, and apparently wander about above it.

In the spring the same curious incident is repeated, though but few
voices can be identified. I make out the snow-bird, the bobolink, the
warblers, and on two nights during the early part of May I heard very
clearly the call of the sandpipers.

Instead of the bobolink, one encounters here, in the June meadows, the
black-throated bunting, a bird closely related to the sparrows, and a
very persistent, if not a very musical songster. He perches upon the
fences and upon the trees by the roadside, and, spreading his tail,
gives forth his harsh strain, which may be roughly worded thus: _fscp
fscp_, _fee fee fee_. Like all sounds associated with early summer, it
soon has a charm to the ear quite independent of its intrinsic

Outside of the city limits, the great point of interest to the rambler
and lover of nature is the Rock Creek region. Rock Creek is a large,
rough, rapid stream, which has its source in the interior of Maryland,
and flows into the Potomac between Washington and Georgetown. Its
course, for five or six miles out of Washington, is marked by great
diversity of scenery. Flowing in a deep valley, which now and then
becomes a wild gorge with overhanging rocks and high precipitous
headlands, for the most part wooded; here reposing in long, dark
reaches, there sweeping and hurrying around a sudden bend or over a
rocky bed; receiving at short intervals small runs and spring
rivulets, which open up vistas and outlooks to the right and left, of
the most charming description,--Rock Creek has an abundance of all the
elements that make up not only pleasing, but wild and rugged scenery.
There is, perhaps, not another city in the Union that has on its very
threshold so much natural beauty and grandeur, such as men seek for in
remote forests and mountains. A few touches of art would convert this
whole region, extending from Georgetown to what is known as Crystal
Springs, not more than two miles from the present State Department,
into a park unequaled by anything in the world. There are passages
between these two points as wild and savage, and apparently as remote
from civilization, as anything one meets with in the mountain sources
of the Hudson or the Delaware.

One of the tributaries to Rock Creek within this limit is called Piny
Branch. It is a small, noisy brook, flowing through a valley of great
natural beauty and picturesqueness, shaded nearly all the way by woods
of oak, chestnut, and beech, and abounding in dark recesses and hidden

I must not forget to mention the many springs with which this whole
region is supplied, each the centre of some wild nook, perhaps the
head of a little valley one or two hundred yards long, through which
one catches a glimpse, or hears the voice of the main creek rushing
along below.

My walks tend in this direction more frequently than in any other.
Here the boys go too, troops of them, of a Sunday, to bathe and prowl
around, and indulge the semi-barbarous instincts that still lurk
within them. Life, in all its forms, is most abundant near water. The
rank vegetation nurtures the insects, and the insects draw the birds.
The first week in March, on some southern slope where the sunshine
lies warm and long, I usually find the hepatica in bloom, though with
scarcely an inch of stalk. In the spring runs the skunk cabbage pushes
its pike up through the mould, the flower appearing first, as if
Nature had made a mistake.

It is not till about the 1st of April that many wild-flowers may be
looked for. By this time the hepatica, anemone, saxifrage, arbutus,
houstonia, and bloodroot may be counted on. A week later, the
claytonia, or spring beauty, water-cress, violets, a low buttercup,
vetch, corydalis, and potentilla appear. These comprise most of the
April flowers, and may be found in great profusion in the Rock Creek
and Piny Branch region.

In each little valley or spring run some one species predominates. I
know invariably where to look for the first liverwort, and where the
largest and finest may be found. On a dry, gravelly, half-wooded
hill-slope the birds-foot violet grows in great abundance, and is
sparse in neighboring districts. This flower, which I never saw in the
North, is the most beautiful and showy of all the violets, and calls
forth rapturous applause from all persons who visit the woods. It
grows in little groups and clusters, and bears a close resemblance to
the pansies of the gardens. Its two purple, velvety petals seem to
fall over tiny shoulders like a rich cape.

On the same slope, and on no other, I go about the 1st of May for
lupine, or sun-dial, which makes the ground look blue from a little
distance; on the other, or northern side of the slope, the arbutus,
during the first half of April, perfumes the wild-wood air. A few
paces farther on, in the bottom of a little spring run, the mandrake
shades the ground with its miniature umbrellas. It begins to push its
green finger-points up through the ground by the 1st of April, but is
not in bloom till the 1st of May. It has a single white, wax-like
flower, with a sweet, sickish odor, growing immediately beneath its
broad leafy top. By the same run grow water-cresses and two kinds of
anemones,--the Pennsylvania and the grove anemone. The bloodroot is
very common at the foot of almost every warm slope in the Rock Creek
woods, and, where the wind has tucked it up well with the coverlid of
dry leaves, makes its appearance almost as soon as the liverwort. It
is singular how little warmth is necessary to encourage these earlier
flowers to put forth! It would seem as if some influence must come on
in advance underground and get things ready, so that when the outside
temperature is propitious, they at once venture out. I have found the
bloodroot when it was still freezing two or three nights in the week;
and have known at least three varieties of early flowers to be buried
in eight inches of snow.

Another abundant flower in the Rock Creek region is the spring beauty.
Like most others it grows in streaks. A few paces from where your
attention is monopolized by violets or arbutus, it is arrested by the
claytonia, growing in such profusion that it is impossible to set the
foot down without crushing the flowers. Only the forenoon walker sees
them in all their beauty, as later in the day their eyes are closed,
and their pretty heads drooped in slumber. In only one locality do I
find the ladies'-slipper,--a yellow variety. The flowers that overleap
all bounds in this section are the houstonias. By the 1st of April
they are very noticeable in warm, damp places along the borders of the
woods and in half-cleared fields, but by May these localities are
clouded with them. They become visible from the highway across wide
fields, and look like little puffs of smoke clinging close to the

On the 1st of May I go to the Rock Creek or Piny Branch region to hear
the wood-thrush. I always find him by this date leisurely chanting his
lofty strain; other thrushes are seen now also, or even earlier, as
Wilson's, the olive-backed, the hermit,--the two latter silent, but
the former musical.

Occasionally in the earlier part of May I find the woods literally
swarming with warblers, exploring every branch and leaf, from the
tallest tulip to the lowest spice-bush, so urgent is the demand for
food during their long Northern journeys. At night they are up and
away. Some varieties, as the blue yellow-back, the chestnut-sided, and
the Blackburnian, during their brief stay, sing nearly as freely as in
their breeding haunts. For two or three years I have chanced to meet
little companies of the bay-breasted warbler, searching for food in an
oak wood, on an elevated piece of ground. They kept well up among the
branches, were rather slow in their movements, and evidently disposed
to tarry but a short time.

The summer residents here, belonging to this class of birds, are few.
I have observed the black and white creeping warbler, the Kentucky
warbler, the worm-eating warbler, the redstart, and the gnatcatcher,
breeding near Rock Creek.

Of these the Kentucky warbler is by far the most interesting, though
quite rare. I meet with him in low, damp places in the woods, usually on
the steep sides of some little run. I hear at intervals a clear, strong,
bell-like whistle or warble, and presently catch a glimpse of the bird
as he jumps up from the ground to take an insect or worm from the under
side of a leaf. This is his characteristic movement. He belongs to the
class of ground warblers, and his range is very low, indeed lower than
that of any other species with which I am acquainted. He is on the
ground nearly all the time, moving rapidly along, taking spiders and
bugs, overturning leaves, peeping under sticks and into crevices, and
every now and then leaping up eight or ten inches, to take his game from
beneath some overhanging leaf or branch. Thus each species has its range
more or less marked. Draw a line three feet from the ground, and you
mark the usual limit of the Kentucky warbler's quest for food. Six or
eight feet higher bounds the usual range of such birds as the
worm-eating warbler, the mourning ground warbler, the Maryland
yellow-throat. The lower branches of the higher growths and the higher
branches of the lower growths are plainly preferred by the black-throated
blue-backed warbler, in those localities where he is found. The thrushes
feed mostly on and near the ground, while some of the vireos and the true
fly-catchers explore the highest branches. But the Sylviadæ, as a rule,
are all partial to thick, rank undergrowths.

The Kentucky warbler is a large bird for the genus, and quite notable
in appearance. His back is clear olive-green; his throat and breast
bright yellow. A still more prominent feature is a black streak on the
side of the face, extending down the neck.

Another familiar bird here, which I never met with in the North, is
the gnatcatcher, called by Audubon the blue-gray fly-catching warbler.
In form and manner it seems almost a duplicate of the cat-bird, on a
small scale. It mews like a young kitten, erects its tail, flirts,
droops its wings, goes through a variety of motions when disturbed by
your presence, and in many ways recalls its dusky prototype. Its color
above is a light, gray blue, gradually fading till it becomes white on
the breast and belly. It is a very small bird, and has a long, facile,
slender tail. Its song is a lisping, chattering, incoherent warble,
now faintly reminding one of the goldfinch, now of a miniature
cat-bird, then of a tiny yellow-hammer, having much variety, but no
unity, and little cadence.

Another bird which has interested me here is the Louisiana water-thrush,
called also large-billed water-thrush, and water-wagtail. It is one of a
trio of birds which has confused the ornithologists much. The other two
species are the well-known golden-crowned thrush (_Sciurus aurocapillus_)
or wood-wagtail, and the Northern, or small, water-thrush (_Sciurus

The present species, though not abundant, is frequently met with along
Rock Creek. It is a very quick, vivacious bird, and belongs to the
class of ecstatic singers. I have seen a pair of these thrushes, on a
bright May day, flying to and fro between two spring runs, alighting
at intermediate points, the male breaking out into one of the most
exuberant, unpremeditated strains I ever heard. Its song is a sudden
burst, beginning with three or four clear round notes much resembling
certain tones of the clarionet, and terminating in a rapid, intricate

This bird resembles a thrush only in its color, which is olive-brown
above, and grayish-white beneath, with speckled throat and breast. Its
habits, manners, and voice suggest those of the lark.

I seldom go the Rock Creek route without being amused and sometimes
annoyed by the yellow-breasted chat. This bird also has something of
the manners and build of the cat-bird, yet he is truly an original.
The cat-bird is mild and feminine compared with this rollicking
polyglot. His voice is very loud and strong and quite uncanny. No
sooner have you penetrated his retreat, which is usually a thick
undergrowth in low, wet localities, near the woods or in old fields,
than he begins his serenade, which for the variety, grotesqueness,
and uncouthness of the notes, is not unlike a country _skimmerton_.
If one passes directly along, the bird may scarcely break the silence.
But pause a while or loiter quietly about, and your presence stimulates
him to do his best. He peeps quizzically at you from beneath the
branches, and gives a sharp feline mew. In a moment more he says very
distinctly, _who, who_. Then in rapid succession follow notes the most
discordant that ever broke the sylvan silence. Now he barks like a
puppy, then quacks like a duck, then rattles like a kingfisher, then
squalls like a fox, then caws like a crow, then mews like a cat. Now
he calls as if to be heard a long way off, then changes his key, as if
addressing the spectator. Though very shy, and carefully keeping himself
screened when you show any disposition to get a better view, he will
presently, if you remain quiet, ascend a twig, or hop out on a branch
in plain sight, lop his tail, droop his wings, cock his head, and become
very melodramatic. In less than half a minute he darts into the bushes
again, and again tunes up, no Frenchman rolling his r's so fluently.
_C-r-r-r-r-r,--whrr,--that's it,--chee,--quack, cluck,--yit-yit-yit,--now
hit it,--tr-r-r-r,--when,--caw, caw,--cut, cut,--tea-boy,--who, who,--mew,
mew_,--and so on till you are tired of listening. Observing one very
closely one day, I discovered that he was limited to six notes or changes,
which he went through in regular order, scarcely varying a note in a
dozen repetitions. Sometimes, when a considerable distance off, he will
fly down to have a nearer view of you. And such a curious, expressive
flight,--legs extended, head lowered, wings rapidly vibrating, the whole
action piquant and droll!

The chat is an elegant bird both in form and color. Its plumage is
remarkably firm and compact. Color above, light olive-green; beneath,
bright yellow; beak, black and strong.

The cardinal grossbeak, or Virginia redbird, is quite common in the
same localities, though more inclined to seek the woods. It is much
sought after by bird-fanciers, and by boy gunners, and consequently is
very shy. This bird suggests a British red-coat; his heavy, pointed
beak, his high cockade, the black stripe down his face, the expression
of weight and massiveness about his head and neck, and his erect
attitude, give him a decided soldierlike appearance; and there is
something of the tone of the fife in his song or whistle, while his
ordinary note, when disturbed, is like the clink of a sabre.
Yesterday, as I sat indolently swinging in the loop of a grape-vine,
beneath a thick canopy of green branches, in a secluded nook by a
spring run, one of these birds came pursuing some kind of insect, but
a few feet above me. He hopped about, now and then uttering his sharp
note, till, some moth or beetle trying to escape, he broke down
through the cover almost where I sat. The effect was like a firebrand
coming down through the branches. Instantly catching sight of me, he
darted away much alarmed. The female is tinged with brown, and shows
but little red except when she takes flight.

By far the most abundant species of woodpecker about Washington is the
red-headed. It is more common than the robin. Not in the deep woods,
but among the scattered dilapidated oaks and groves, on the hills and
in the fields, I hear, almost every day, his uncanny note, _ktr-rr,
ktr-r-r_, like that of some larger tree-toad, proceeding from an oak
grove just beyond the boundary. He is a strong scented fellow, and
very tough. Yet how beautiful, as he flits about the open woods,
connecting the trees by a gentle arc of crimson and white! This is
another bird with a military look. His deliberate, dignified ways, and
his bright uniform of red, white, and steel-blue, bespeak him an
officer of rank.

Another favorite beat of mine is northeast of the city. Looking from
the Capitol in this direction, scarcely more than a mile distant, you
see a broad green hill-slope, falling very gently, and spreading into
a large expanse of meadow-land. The summit, if so gentle a swell of
greensward may be said to have a summit, is covered with a grove of
large oaks; and, sweeping back out of sight like a mantle, the front
line of a thick forest bounds the sides. This emerald landscape is
seen from a number of points in the city. Looking along New York
Avenue from Northern Liberty Market, the eye glances, as it were, from
the red clay of the street, and alights upon this fresh scene in the
distance. It is a standing invitation to the citizen to come forth and
be refreshed. As I turn from some hot, hard street, how inviting it
looks! I bathe my eyes in it as in a fountain. Sometimes troops of
cattle are seen grazing upon it. In June the gathering of the hay may
be witnessed. When the ground is covered with snow, numerous stacks,
or clusters of stacks, are still left for the eye to contemplate.

The woods which clothe the east side of this hill, and sweep away to
the east, are among the most charming to be found in the District. The
main growth is oak and chestnut, with a thin sprinkling of laurel,
azelia, and dogwood. It is the only locality in which I have found the
dog-tooth violet in bloom, and the best place I know of to gather
arbutus. On one slope the ground is covered with moss, through which
the arbutus trails its glories.

Emerging from these woods toward the city, one sees the white dome of
the Capitol soaring over the green swell of earth immediately in
front, and lifting its four thousand tons of iron gracefully and
lightly into the air. Of all the sights in Washington, that which will
survive longest in my memory is the vision of the great dome thus
rising cloud-like above the hills.

[Illustration: Pewee.]

[Illustration: Cardinal Grossbeak.]


The region of which I am about to speak lies in the southern part of
the State of New York, and comprises parts of three counties,--Ulster,
Sullivan, and Delaware. It is drained by tributaries of both the
Hudson and Delaware, and, next to the Adirondac section, contains more
wild land than any other tract in the State. The mountains which
traverse it, and impart to it its severe northern climate, belong
properly to the Catskill range. On some maps of the State they are
called the Pine Mountains, though with obvious local impropriety, as
pine, so far as I have observed, is nowhere found upon them. "Birch
Mountains" would be a more characteristic name, as on their summits
birch is the prevailing tree. They are the natural home of the black
and yellow birch, which grow here to unusual size. On their sides
beech and maple abound; while mantling their lower slopes, and
darkening the valleys, hemlock formerly enticed the lumberman and
tanner. Except in remote or inaccessible localities, the latter tree
is now almost never found. In Shandaken and along the Esopus, it is
about the only product the country yielded, or is likely to yield.
Tanneries by the score have arisen and flourished upon the bark, and
some of them still remain. Passing through that region the present
season, I saw that the few patches of hemlock that still lingered high
up on the sides of the mountains were being felled and peeled, the
fresh white bowls of the trees, just stripped of their bark, being
visible a long distance.

Among these mountains there are no sharp peaks, or abrupt declivities,
as in a volcanic region, but long, uniform ranges, heavily timbered to
their summits, and delighting the eye with vast, undulating horizon
lines. Looking south from the heights about the head of the Delaware,
one sees, twenty miles away, a continual succession of blue ranges,
one behind the other. If a few large trees are missing on the sky
line, one can see the break a long distance off.

Approaching this region from the Hudson River side, you cross a rough,
rolling stretch of country, skirting the base of the Catskills, which
from a point near Saugerties sweep inland; after a drive of a few
hours you are within the shadow of a high, bold mountain, which forms
a sort of but-end to this part of the range, and which is simply
called High Point. To the east and southeast it slopes down rapidly to
the plain, and looks defiance toward the Hudson, twenty miles distant;
in the rear of it, and radiating from it west and northwest, are
numerous smaller ranges, backing up, as it were, this haughty chief.

From this point through to Pennsylvania, a distance of nearly one
hundred miles, stretches the tract of which I speak. It is a belt of
country from twenty to thirty miles wide, bleak and wild, and but
sparsely settled. The traveler on the New York and Erie Railroad gets
a glimpse of it.

Many cold, rapid trout streams, which flow to all points of the
compass, have their source in the small lakes and copious mountain
springs of this region. The names of some of them are Mill Brook, Dry
Brook, Willewemack, Beaver Kill, Elk Bush Kill, Panther Kill,
Neversink, Big Ingin, and Callikoon. Beaver Kill is the main outlet on
the west. It joins the Delaware in the wilds of Hancock. The Neversink
lays open the region to the south, and also joins the Delaware. To the
east, various Kills unite with the Big Ingin to form the Esopus, which
flows into the Hudson. Dry Brook and Mill Brook, both famous trout
streams, from twelve to fifteen miles long, find their way into the

The east or Pepacton branch of the Delaware itself takes its rise near
here, in a deep pass between the mountains. I have many times drunk at
a copious spring by the roadside, where the infant river first sees
the light. A few yards beyond, the water flows the other way,
directing its course through the Bear Kill and Schoharie Kill into the

Such game and wild animals as still linger in the State, are found in
this region. Bears occasionally make havoc among the sheep. The
clearings at the head of a valley are oftenest the scene of their

Wild pigeons, in immense numbers, used to breed regularly in the
valley of the Big Ingin and about the head of the Neversink. The
tree-tops for miles were full of their nests, while the going and
coming of the old birds kept up a constant din. But the gunners soon
got wind of it, and from far and near were wont to pour in during the
spring, and to slaughter both old and young. This practice soon had
the effect of driving the pigeons all away, and now only a few pairs
breed in these woods.

Deer are still met with, though they are becoming scarcer every year.
Last winter near seventy head were killed on the Beaver Kill alone. I
heard of one wretch, who, finding the deer snowbound, walked up to
them on his snowshoes, and one morning before breakfast slaughtered
six, leaving their carcasses where they fell. There are traditions of
persons having been smitten blind or senseless when about to commit
some heinous offense, but the fact that this villain escaped without
some such visitation throws discredit on all such stories.

The great attraction, however, of this region, is the brook trout,
with which the streams and lakes abound. The water is of excessive
coldness, the thermometer indicating 44° and 45° in the springs, and
47° or 48° in the smaller streams. The trout are generally small, but
in the more remote branches their number is very great. In such
localities the fish are quite black, but in the lakes they are of a
lustre and brilliancy impossible to describe.

These waters have been much visited of late years by fishing parties,
and the name of Beaver Kill is now a potent word among New York

One lake, in the wilds of Callikoon, abounds in a peculiar species of
white sucker, which is of excellent quality. It is taken only in
spring, during the spawning season, at the time "when the leaves are
as big as a chipmunk's ears." The fish run up the small streams and
inlets, beginning at nightfall, and continuing till the channel is
literally packed with them, and every inch of space is occupied. The
fishermen pounce upon them at such times, and scoop them up by the
bushel, usually wading right into the living mass and landing the fish
with their hands. A small party will often secure in this manner a
wagon load of fish. Certain conditions of the weather, as a warm south
or southwest wind, are considered most favorable for the fish to run.

Though familiar all my life with the outskirts of this region, I have
only twice dipped into its wilder portions. Once in 1860 a friend and
myself traced the Beaver Kill to its source, and encamped by Balsam
Lake. A cold and protracted rain-storm coming on, we were obliged to
leave the woods before we were ready. Neither of us will soon forget
that tramp by an unknown route over the mountains, encumbered as we
were with a hundred and one superfluities which we had foolishly
brought along to solace ourselves with in the woods; nor that halt on
the summit, where we cooked and ate our fish in a drizzling rain; nor,
again, that rude log-house, with its sweet hospitality, which we
reached just at nightfall on Mill Brook.

In 1868 a party of three of us set out for a brief trouting excursion,
to a body of water called Thomas's Lake, situated in the same chain of
mountains. On this excursion, more particularly than on any other I
have ever undertaken, I was taught how poor an Indian I should make,
and what a ridiculous figure a party of men may cut in the woods when
the way is uncertain and the mountains high.

We left our team at a farm-house near the head of the Mill Brook, one
June afternoon, and with knapsacks on our shoulders struck into the
woods at the base of the mountain, hoping to cross the range that
intervened between us and the lake by sunset. We engaged a good-natured,
but rather indolent young man, who happened to be stopping at the house,
and who had carried a knapsack in the Union armies, to pilot us a
couple of miles into the woods so as to guard against any mistakes at
the outset. It seemed the easiest thing in the world to find the lake.
The lay of the land was so simple, according to accounts, that I felt
sure I could go to it in the dark. "Go up this little brook to its
source on the side of the mountain," they said. "The valley that
contains the lake heads directly on the other side." What could be
easier! But on a little further inquiry, they said we should "bear well
to the left" when we reached the top of the mountain. This opened the
doors again; "bearing well to the left" was an uncertain performance in
strange woods. We might bear so well to the left that it would bring us
ill. But why bear to the left at all, if the lake was directly opposite?
Well, not quite opposite; a little to the left. There were two or three
other valleys that headed in near there. We could easily find the right
one. But to make assurance doubly sure, we engaged a guide, as stated,
to give us a good start, and go with us beyond the bearing-to-the-left
point. He had been to the lake the winter before and knew the way. Our
course, the first half-hour, was along an obscure wood-road which had
been used for drawing ash logs off the mountain in winter. There was
some hemlock, but more maple and birch. The woods were dense and free
from underbrush, the ascent gradual. Most of the way we kept the voice
of the creek in our ear on the right. I approached it once, and found
it swarming with trout. The water was as cold as one ever need wish.
After a while the ascent grew steeper, the creek became a mere rill that
issued from beneath loose, moss-covered rocks and stones, and with much
labor and puffing we drew ourselves up the rugged declivity. Every
mountain has its steepest point, which is usually near the summit, in
keeping, I suppose, with the providence that makes the darkest hour just
before day. It is steep, steeper, steepest, till you emerge on the
smooth, level or gently rounded space at the top, which the old ice-gods
polished off so long ago.

We found this mountain had a hollow in its back where the ground was
soft and swampy. Some gigantic ferns, which we passed through, came
nearly to our shoulders. We passed also several patches of swamp
honeysuckles, red with blossoms.

Our guide at length paused on a big rock where the land began to dip
down the other way, and concluded that he had gone far enough, and
that we would now have no difficulty in finding the lake. "It must lie
right down there," he said, pointing with his hand. But it was plain
that he was not quite sure in his own mind. He had several times
wavered in his course, and had shown considerable embarrassment when
bearing to the left across the summit. Still we thought little of it.
We were full of confidence, and, bidding him adieu, plunged down the
mountain-side, following a spring run that we had no doubt led to the

In these woods, which had a southeastern exposure, I first began to
notice the wood-thrush. In coming up the other side I had not seen a
feather of any kind, or heard a note. Now the golden _trillide-de_ of
the wood-thrush sounded through the silent woods. While looking for a
fish-pole about half-way down the mountain, I saw a thrush's nest in a
little sapling about ten feet from the ground.

After continuing our descent till our only guide, the spring run,
became quite a trout brook, and its tiny murmur a loud brawl, we began
to peer anxiously through the trees for a glimpse of the lake, or for
some conformation of the land that would indicate its proximity. An
object which we vaguely discerned in looking under the near trees and
over the more distant ones, proved, on further inspection, to be a
patch of ploughed ground. Presently we made out a burnt fallow near
it. This was a wet blanket to our enthusiasm. No lake, no sport, no
trout for supper that night. The rather indolent young man had either
played us a trick, or, as seemed more likely, had missed the way. We
were particularly anxious to be at the lake between sundown and dark,
as at that time the trout jump most freely.

Pushing on, we soon emerged into a stumpy field, at the head of a
steep valley, which swept around toward the west. About two hundred
rods below us was a rude log-house, with smoke issuing from the
chimney. A boy came out and moved toward the spring with a pail in his
hand. We shouted to him, when he turned and ran back into the house
without pausing to reply. In a moment the whole family hastily rushed
into the yard, and turned their faces toward us. If we had come down
their chimney, they could not have seemed more astonished. Not making
out what they said, I went down to the house, and learned to my
chagrin that we were still on the Mill Brook side, having crossed only
a spur of the mountain. We had not borne sufficiently to the left, so
that the main range, which, at the point of crossing, suddenly breaks
off to the southeast, still intervened between us and the lake. We
were about five miles, as the water runs, from the point of starting,
and over two from the lake. We must go directly back to the top of the
range where the guide had left us, and then, by keeping well to the
left, we would soon come to a line of marked trees, which would lead
us to the lake. So turning upon our trail, we doggedly began the work
of undoing what we had just done,--in all cases a disagreeable task,
in this case a very laborious one also. It was after sunset when we
turned back, and before we had got half-way up the mountain it began
to be quite dark. We were often obliged to rest our packs against
trees and take breath, which made our progress slow. Finally a halt
was called, beside an immense flat rock which had paused in its slide
down the mountain, and we prepared to encamp for the night. A fire was
built, the rock cleared off, a small ration of bread served out, our
accoutrements hung up out of the way of the hedgehogs that were
supposed to infest the locality, and then we disposed ourselves for
sleep. If the owls or porcupines (and I think I heard one of the
latter in the middle of the night) reconnoitred our camp, they saw a
buffalo robe spread upon a rock, with three old felt hats arranged on
one side, and three pairs of sorry-looking cowhide boots protruding
from the other.

When we lay down, there was apparently not a mosquito in the woods; but
the "no-see-ems," as Thoreau's Indian aptly named the midges, soon found
us out, and after the fire had gone down annoyed us much. My hands and
wrists suddenly began to smart and itch in a most unaccountable manner.
My first thought was that they had been poisoned in some way. Then the
smarting extended to my neck and face, even to my scalp, when I began to
suspect what was the matter. So wrapping myself up more thoroughly, and
stowing my hands away as best I could, I tried to sleep, being some time
behind my companions, who appeared not to mind the "no-see-ems." I was
further annoyed by some little irregularity on my side of the couch. The
chambermaid had not beaten it up well. One huge lump refused to be
mollified, and each attempt to adapt it to some natural hollow in my own
body brought only a moment's relief. But at last I got the better of
this also and slept. Late in the night I woke up, just in time to hear a
golden-crowned thrush sing in a tree near by. It sang as loud and
cheerily as at midday, and I thought myself, after all, quite in luck.
Birds occasionally sing at night, just as the cock crows. I have heard
the hair-bird, and the note of the king-bird; and the ruffed grouse
frequently drums at night.

At the first faint signs of day, a wood-thrush sang a few rods below
us. Then after a little delay, as the gray light began to grow around,
thrushes broke out in full song in all parts of the woods. I thought I
had never before heard them sing so sweetly. Such a leisurely, golden
chant!--it consoled us for all we had undergone. It was the first
thing in order,--the worms were safe till after this morning chorus. I
judged that the birds roosted but a few feet from the ground. In fact,
a bird in all cases roosts where it builds, and the wood-thrush
occupies, as it were, the first story of the woods.

There is something singular about the distribution of the wood-thrushes.
At an earlier stage of my observations I should have been much surprised
at finding it in these woods. Indeed, I had stated in print on two
occasions that the wood-thrush was not found in the higher lands of the
Catskills, but that the hermit-thrush and the veery, or Wilson's thrush,
were common. It turns out that this statement is only half true. The
wood-thrush is found also, but is much more rare and secluded in its
habits than either of the others, being seen only during the breeding
season on remote mountains, and then only on their eastern and southern
slopes. I have never yet in this region found the bird spending the
season in the near and familiar woods, which is directly contrary to
observations I have made in other parts of the State. So different are
the habits of birds in different localities.

As soon as it was fairly light we were up and ready to resume our
march. A small bit of bread-and-butter and a swallow or two of whiskey
was all we had for breakfast that morning. Our supply of each was very
limited, and we were anxious to save a little of both, to relieve the
diet of trout to which we looked forward.

At an early hour we reached the rock where we had parted with the
guide, and looked around us into the dense, trackless woods with many
misgivings. To strike out now on our own hook, where the way was so
blind and after the experience we had just had was a step not to be
carelessly taken. The tops of these mountains are so broad, and a
short distance in the woods seems so far, that one is by no means
master of the situation after reaching the summit. And then there are
so many spurs and offshoots and changes of direction, added to the
impossibility of making any generalization by the aid of the eye, that
before one is aware of it he is very wide of his mark.

I remembered now that a young farmer of my acquaintance had told me
how he had made a long day's march through the heart of this region,
without path or guide of any kind, and had hit his mark squarely. He
had been bark-peeling in Callikoon,--a famous country for bark,--and,
having got enough of it, he desired to reach his home on Dry Brook
without making the usual circuitous journey between the two places.
To do this necessitated a march of ten or twelve miles across several
ranges of mountains and through an unbroken forest,--a hazardous
undertaking in which no one would join him. Even the old hunters who
were familiar with the ground dissuaded him and predicted the failure
of his enterprise. But having made up his mind, he possessed himself
thoroughly of the topography of the country from the aforesaid
hunters, shouldered his axe, and set out, holding a straight course
through the woods, and turning aside for neither swamps, streams, nor
mountains. When he paused to rest he would mark some object ahead of
him with his eye, in order that on getting up again he might not
deviate from his course. His directors had told him of a hunter's
cabin about midway on his route, which if he struck he might be sure
he was right. About noon this cabin was reached, and at sunset he
emerged at the head of Dry Brook.

After looking in vain for the line of marked trees, we moved off to
the left in a doubtful, hesitating manner, keeping on the highest
ground and blazing the trees as we went. We were afraid to go down
hill, lest we should descend too soon; our vantage-ground was high
ground. A thick fog coming on, we were more bewildered than ever.
Still we pressed forward, climbing up ledges and wading through ferns
for about two hours, when we paused by a spring that issued from
beneath an immense wall of rock that belted the highest part of the
mountain. There was quite a broad plateau here, and the birch wood was
very dense, and the trees of unusual size.

After resting and exchanging opinions, we all concluded that it was
best not to continue our search encumbered as we were; but we were not
willing to abandon it altogether, and I proposed to my companions to
leave them beside the spring with our traps, while I made one thorough
and final effort to find the lake. If I succeeded and desired them to
come forward, I was to fire my gun three times; if I failed and wished
to return, I would fire it twice, they, of course responding.

So filling my canteen from the spring, I set out again, taking the
spring run for my guide. Before I had followed it two hundred yards it
sank into the ground at my feet. I had half a mind to be superstitious
and to believe that we were under a spell, since our guides played us
such tricks. However, I determined to put the matter to a further
test, and struck out boldly to the left. This seemed to be the
keyword,--to the left, to the left. The fog had now lifted, so that I
could form a better idea of the lay of the land. Twice I looked down
the steep sides of the mountain, sorely tempted to risk a plunge.
Still I hesitated and kept along on the brink. As I stood on a rock
deliberating, I heard a crackling of the brush, like the tread of some
large game, on a plateau below me. Suspecting the truth of the case, I
moved stealthily down, and found a herd of young cattle leisurely
browsing. We had several times crossed their trail, and had seen that
morning a level, grassy place on the top of the mountain, where they
had passed the night. Instead of being frightened, as I had expected,
they seemed greatly delighted, and gathered around me as if to inquire
the tidings from the outer world,--perhaps the quotations of the
cattle market. They came up to me, and eagerly licked my hand,
clothes, and gun. Salt was what they were after, and they were ready
to swallow anything that contained the smallest percentage of it. They
were mostly yearlings and as sleek as moles. They had a very gamy
look. We were afterwards told that, in the spring, the farmers round
about turn into these woods their young cattle, which do not come out
again till fall. They are then in good condition,--not fat, like
grass-fed cattle, but trim and supple, like deer. Once a month the
owner hunts them up and salts them. They have their beats, and seldom
wander beyond well-defined limits. It was interesting to see them
feed. They browsed on the low limbs and bushes, and on the various
plants, munching at everything without any apparent discrimination.

They attempted to follow me, but I escaped them by clambering down
some steep rocks. I now found myself gradually edging down the side of
the mountain, keeping around it in a spiral manner, and scanning the
woods and the shape of the ground for some encouraging hint or sign.
Finally the woods became more open, and the descent less rapid. The
trees were remarkably straight and uniform in size. Black birches,
the first I had seen, were very numerous. I felt encouraged. Listening
attentively, I caught from a breeze just lifting the drooping leaves,
a sound that I willingly believed was made by a bull-frog. On this
hint, I tore down through the woods at my highest speed. Then I paused
and listened again. This time there was no mistaking it; it was the
sound of frogs. Much elated, I rushed on. By and by I could hear them
as I ran. _Pthrung, pthrung_, croaked the old ones; _pug, pug_,
shrilly joined in the smaller fry.

Then I caught, through the lower trees, a gleam of blue, which I first
thought was distant sky. A second look and I knew it to be water, and
in a moment more I stepped from the woods and stood upon the shore of
the lake. I exulted silently. There it was at last, sparkling in the
morning sun, and as beautiful as a dream. It was so good to come upon
such open space and such bright hues, after wandering in the dim,
dense woods! The eye is as delighted as an escaped bird, and darts
gleefully from point to point.

The lake was a long oval, scarcely more than a mile in circumference,
with evenly wooded shores, which rose gradually on all sides. After
contemplating the scene for a moment, I stepped back into the woods
and loading my gun as heavily as I dared, discharged it three times.
The reports seemed to fill all the mountains with sound. The frogs
quickly hushed, and I listened for the response. But no response
came. Then I tried again, and again, but without evoking an answer.
One of my companions, however, who had climbed to the top of the high
rocks in the rear of the spring thought he heard faintly one report.
It seemed an immense distance below him, and far around under the
mountain. I knew I had come a long way, and hardly expected to be able
to communicate with my companions in the manner agreed upon. I
therefore started back, choosing my course without any reference to
the circuitous route by which I had come, and loading heavily and
firing at intervals. I must have aroused many long-dormant echoes from
a Rip Van Winkle sleep. As my powder got low, I fired and halloed
alternately, till I came near splitting both my throat and gun.
Finally, after I had begun to have a very ugly feeling of alarm and
disappointment, and to cast about vaguely for some course to pursue in
the emergency that seemed near at hand,--namely, the loss of my
companions now I had found the lake,--a favoring breeze brought me the
last echo of a response. I rejoined with spirit, and hastened with all
speed in the direction whence the sound had come, but after repeated
trials, failed to elicit another answering sound. This filled me with
apprehension again. I feared that my friends had been misled by the
reverberations, and I pictured them to myself hastening in the
opposite direction. Paying little attention to my course, but paying
dearly for my carelessness afterward, I rushed forward to undeceive
them. But they had not been deceived, and in a few moments an
answering shout revealed them near at hand. I heard their tramp, the
bushes parted, and we three met again.

In answer to their eager inquiries, I assured them that I had seen the
lake, that it was at the foot of the mountain, and that we could not
miss it if we kept straight down from where we then were.

My clothes were soaked with perspiration, but I shouldered my knapsack
with alacrity, and we began the descent. I noticed that the woods were
much thicker, and had quite a different look from those I had passed
through, but thought nothing of it, as I expected to strike the lake
near its head, whereas I had before come out at its foot. We had not
gone far when we crossed a line of marked trees, which my companions
were disposed to follow. It intersected our course nearly at right
angles, and kept along and up the side of the mountain. My impression
was that it led up from the lake, and that by keeping our own course
we should reach the lake sooner than if we followed this line.

About half-way down the mountain, we could see through the interstices
the opposite slope. I encouraged my comrades by telling them that the
lake was between us and that, and not more than half a mile distant.
We soon reached the bottom, where we found a small stream and quite an
extensive alder-swamp, evidently the ancient bed of a lake. I
explained to my half-vexed and half-incredulous companions that we
were probably above the lake, and that this stream must lead to it.
"Follow it," they said; "we will wait here till we hear from you."

So I went on, more than ever disposed to believe that we were under a
spell, and that the lake had slipped from my grasp after all. Seeing
no favorable sign as I went forward, I laid down my accoutrements, and
climbed a decayed beech that leaned out over the swamp and promised a
good view from the top. As I stretched myself up to look around from
the highest attainable branch, there was suddenly a loud crack at the
root. With a celerity that would at least have done credit to a bear,
I regained the ground, having caught but a momentary glimpse of the
country, but enough to convince me no lake was near. Leaving all
incumbrances here but my gun, I still pressed on, loath to be thus
baffled. After floundering through another alder-swamp for nearly half
a mile, I flattered myself that I was close on to the lake. I caught
sight of a low spur of the mountain sweeping around like a half
extended arm, and I fondly imagined that within its clasp was the
object of my search. But I found only more alder-swamp. After this
region was cleared, the creek began to descend the mountain very
rapidly. Its banks became high and narrow, and it went whirling away
with a sound that seemed to my ears like a burst of ironical laughter.
I turned back with a feeling of mingled disgust, shame, and vexation.
In fact I was almost sick, and when I reached my companions, after an
absence of nearly two hours, hungry, fatigued, and disheartened, I
would have sold my interest in Thomas's Lake at a very low figure. For
the first time, I heartily wished myself well out of the woods. Thomas
might keep his lake, and the enchanters guard his possession! I
doubted if he had ever found it the second time, or if any one else
ever had.

My companions who were quite fresh, and who had not felt the strain of
baffled purpose as I had, assumed a more encouraging tone. After I had
rested a while, and partaken sparingly of the bread and whiskey, which
in such an emergency is a great improvement on bread and water, I
agreed to their proposition that we should make another attempt. As if
to reassure us, a robin sounded his cheery call near by, and the
winter-wren, the first I had heard in these woods, set his music-box
going, which fairly ran over with fine, gushing, lyrical sounds. There
can be no doubt but this bird is one of our finest songsters. If it
would only thrive and sing well when caged, like the canary, how far
it would surpass that bird! It has all the vivacity and versatility of
the canary, without any of its shrillness. Its song is indeed a little
cascade of melody.

We again retraced our steps, rolling the stone, as it were, back up
the mountain, determined to commit ourselves to the line of marked
trees. These we finally reached, and, after exploring the country to
the right, saw that bearing to the left was still the order. The trail
led up over a gentle rise of ground, and in less than twenty minutes
we were in the woods I had passed through when I found the lake. The
error I had made was then plain; we had come off the mountain a few
paces too far to the right, and so had passed down on the wrong side
of the ridge, into what we afterwards learned was the valley of Alder

We now made good time, and before many minutes I again saw the mimic
sky glance through the trees. As we approached the lake a solitary
woodchuck, the first wild animal we had seen since entering the woods,
sat crouched upon the root of a tree a few feet from the water,
apparently completed nonplussed by the unexpected appearance of danger
on the land side. All retreat was cut off, and he looked his fate in
the face without flinching. I slaughtered him just as a savage would
have done, and from the same motive,--I wanted his carcass to eat.

The mid-afternoon sun was now shining upon the lake, and a low, steady
breeze drove the little waves rocking to the shore. A herd of cattle
were browsing on the other side, and the bell of the leader sounded
across the water. In these solitudes its clang was wild and musical.

To try the trout was the first thing in order. On a rude raft of logs
which we found moored at the shore, and which with two aboard shipped
about a foot of water, we floated out and wet our first fly in
Thomas's Lake; but the trout refused to jump, and, to be frank, not
more than a dozen and a half were caught during our stay. Only a week
previous, a party of three had taken in a few hours all the fish they
could carry out of the woods, and had nearly surfeited their neighbors
with trout. But from some cause they now refused to rise, or to touch
any kind of bait: so we fell to catching the sun-fish which were small
but very abundant. Their nests were all along shore. A space about the
size of a breakfast-plate was cleared of sediment and decayed
vegetable matter, revealing the pebbly bottom, fresh and bright, with
one or two fish suspended over the centre of it, keeping watch and
ward. If an intruder approached, they would dart at him spitefully.
These fish have the air of bantam cocks, and with their sharp, prickly
fins and spines, and scaly sides, must be ugly customers in a hand to
hand encounter with other finny warriors. To a hungry man they look
about as unpromising as hemlock slivers, so thorny and thin are they;
yet there is sweet meat in them, as we found that day.

Much refreshed, I set out with the sun low in the west to explore the
outlet of the lake and try for trout there, while my companions made
further trials in the lake itself. The outlet, as is usual in bodies
of water of this kind, was very gentle and private. The stream, six or
eight feet wide, flowed silently and evenly along for a distance of
three or four rods, when it suddenly, as if conscious of its freedom,
took a leap down some rocks. Thence, as far as I followed it, its
descent was very rapid, through a continuous succession of brief
falls like so many steps down the mountain. Its appearance promised
more trout than I found, though I returned to camp with a very
respectable string.

Toward sunset I went round to explore the inlet, and found that as
usual the stream wound leisurely through marshy ground. The water
being much colder than in the outlet, the trout were more plentiful.
As I was picking my way over the miry ground and through the rank
growths, a ruffed grouse hopped up on a fallen branch a few paces
before me, and, jerking his tail, threatened to take flight. But as I
was at that moment gunless and remained stationary, he presently
jumped down and walked away.

A seeker of birds, and ever on the alert for some new acquaintance, my
attention was arrested, on first entering the swamp, by a bright,
lively song, or warble, that issued from the branches overhead, and
that was entirely new to me, though there was something in the tone of
it that told me the bird was related to the wood-wagtail and to the
water-wagtail or thrush. The strain was emphatic and quite loud, like
the canary's, but very brief. The bird kept itself well secreted in
the upper branches of the trees and for a long time eluded my eye. I
passed to and fro several times, and it seemed to break out afresh as
I approached a certain little bend in the creek, and to cease after I
had got beyond it; no doubt its nest was somewhere in the vicinity.
After some delay the bird was sighted and brought down. It proved to
be the small, or Northern, water-thrush (called also the New York
water-thrush)--a new bird to me. In size it was noticeably smaller
than the large, or Louisiana, water-thrush, as described by Audubon,
but in other respects its general appearance was the same. It was a
great treat to me, and again I felt myself in luck.

This bird was unknown to the older ornithologists, and is but poorly
described by the new. It builds a mossy nest on the ground, or under
the edge of a decayed log. A correspondent writes me that he has found
it breeding on the mountains in Pennsylvania. The large-billed
water-thrush is much the superior songster, but the present species
has a very bright and cheerful strain. The specimen I saw, contrary to
the habits of the family, kept in the tree-tops like a warbler, and
seemed to be engaged in catching insects.

The birds were unusually plentiful and noisy about the head of this
lake; robins, blue jays, and woodpeckers greeted me with their
familiar notes. The blue jays found an owl or some wild animal a short
distance above me, and, as is their custom on such occasions,
proclaimed it at the top of their voices, and kept on till the
darkness began to gather in the woods.

I also heard here, as I had at two or three other points in the course
of the day, the peculiar, resonant hammering of some species of
woodpecker upon the hard, dry limbs. It was unlike any sound of the
kind I had ever before heard, and, repeated at intervals through the
silent woods, was a very marked and characteristic feature. Its
peculiarity was the ordered succession of the raps, which gave it the
character of a premeditated performance. There were first three
strokes following each other rapidly, then two much louder ones with
longer intervals between them. I heard the drumming here, and the next
day at sunset at Furlow Lake, the source of Dry Brook, and in no
instance was the order varied. There was melody in it, such as a
woodpecker knows how to evoke from a smooth, dry branch. It suggested
something quite as pleasing as the liveliest bird-song, and was if
anything more woodsy and wild. As the yellow-bellied woodpecker was
the most abundant species in these woods I attributed it to him. It is
the one sound that still links itself with those scenes in my mind.

At sunset the grouse began to drum in all parts of the woods about the
lake. I could hear five at one time, _thump, thump, thump, thump,
thr-r-r-r-r-r-rr_. It was a homely, welcome sound. As I returned to
camp at twilight, along the shore of the lake, the frogs also were in
full chorus. The older ones ripped out their responses to each other
with terrific force and volume. I know of no other animal capable of
giving forth so much sound, in proportion to its size, as a frog. Some
of these seemed to bellow as loud as a two-year-old bull. They were of
immense size, and very abundant. No frog-eater had ever been there.
Near the shore we felled a tree which reached far out in the lake.
Upon the trunk and branches the frogs had soon collected in large
numbers, and gamboled and splashed about the half-submerged top, like
a parcel of school-boys, making nearly as much noise.

After dark, as I was frying the fish, a panful of the largest trout
was accidentally capsized in the fire. With rueful countenances we
contemplated the irreparable loss our commissariat had sustained by
this mishap; but remembering there was virtue in ashes, we poked the
half-consumed fish from the bed of coals and ate them, and they were

We lodged that night on a brush-heap and slept soundly. The green,
yielding beech-twigs, covered with a buffalo robe, were equal to a
hair mattress. The heat and smoke from a large fire kindled in the
afternoon had banished every "no-see-em" from the locality, and in the
morning the sun was above the mountain before we awoke.

I immediately started again for the inlet, and went far up the stream
toward its source. A fair string of trout for breakfast was my reward.
The cattle with the bell were at the head of the valley, where they had
passed the night. Most of them were two-year-old steers. They came up to
me and begged for salt, and scared the fish by their importunities.

We finished our bread that morning, and ate every fish we could catch,
and about ten o'clock prepared to leave the lake. The weather had been
admirable, and the lake was a gem, and I would gladly have spent a
week in the neighborhood; but the question of supplies was a serious
one, and would brook no delay.

When we reached, on our return, the point where we had crossed the
line of marked trees the day before, the question arose whether we
should still trust ourselves to this line, or follow our own trail
back to the spring and the battlement of rocks on the top of the
mountain, and thence to the rock where the guide had left us. We
decided in favor of the former course. After a march of three quarters
of an hour the blazed trees ceased, and we concluded we were near the
point at which we had parted with the guide. So we built a fire, laid
down our loads, and cast about on all sides for some clew as to our
exact locality. Nearly an hour was consumed in this manner and without
any result. I came upon a brood of young grouse, which diverted me for
a moment. The old one blustered about at a furious rate, trying to
draw all attention to herself, while the young ones, which were unable
to fly, hid themselves. She whined like a dog in great distress, and
dragged herself along apparently with the greatest difficulty. As I
pursued her, she ran very nimbly, and presently flew a few yards.
Then, as I went on, she flew farther and farther each time, till at
last she got up, and went humming through the woods as if she had no
interest in them. I went back and caught one of the young, which had
simply squatted close to the leaves. I took it up and set it on the
palm of my hand, which it hugged as closely as if still upon the
ground. I then put it in my coatsleeve, when it ran and nestled in my

When we met at the sign of the smoke, opinions differed as to the most
feasible course. There was no doubt but that we could get out of the
woods; but we wished to get out speedily and as near as possible to
the point where we had entered. Half ashamed of our timidity and
indecision, we finally tramped away back to where we had crossed the
line of blazed trees, followed our old trail to the spring on the top
of the range, and, after much searching and scouring to the right and
left found ourselves at the very place we had left two hours before.
Another deliberation and a divided council. But something must be
done. It was then mid-afternoon, and the prospect of spending another
night on the mountains, without food or drink, was not pleasant. So we
moved down the ridge. Here another line of marked trees was found, the
course of which formed an obtuse angle with the one we had followed.
It kept on the top of the ridge for perhaps a mile, when it entirely
disappeared, and we were as much adrift as ever. Then one of the party
swore on oath, and said he was going out of those woods, hit or miss,
and wheeling to the right, instantly plunged over the brink of the
mountain. The rest followed, but would fain have paused and ciphered
away at their own uncertainties, to see if a certainty could not be
arrived at as to where we would come out. But our bold leader was
solving the problem in the right way. Down and down and still down we
went, as if we were to bring up in the bowels of the earth. It was by
far the steepest descent we had made, and we felt a grim satisfaction
in knowing that we could not retrace our steps this time, be the issue
what it might. As we paused on the brink of a ledge of rocks, we
chanced to see through the trees distant cleared land. A house or barn
also was dimly descried. This was encouraging; but we could not make
out whether it was on Beaver Kill or Mill Brook or Dry Brook, and did
not long stop to consider where it was. We at last brought up at the
bottom of a deep gorge, through which flowed a rapid creek that
literally swarmed with trout. But we were in no mood to catch them,
and pushed on along the channel of the stream, sometimes leaping from
rock to rock, and sometimes splashing heedlessly through the water,
and speculating the while as to where we would probably come out. On
the Beaver Kill, my companions thought; but, from the position of the
sun, I said, on the Mill Brook, about six miles below our team; for I
remembered having seen, in coming up this stream, a deep, wild valley
that led up into the mountains, like this one. Soon the banks of the
stream became lower, and we moved into the woods. Here we entered upon
an obscure wood-road, which presently conducted us into the midst of a
vast hemlock forest. The land had a gentle slope, and we wondered why
the lumbermen and barkmen who prowl through these woods had left this
fine tract untouched. Beyond this the forest was mostly birch and

We were now close to the settlement, and began to hear human sounds.
One rod more, and we were out of the woods. It took us a moment to
comprehend the scene. Things looked very strange at first; but quickly
they began to change and to put on familiar features. Some magic
scene-shifting seemed to take place before my eyes, till, instead of
the unknown settlement which I at first seemed to look upon there
stood the farm-house at which we had stopped two days before, and at
the same moment we heard the stamping of our team in the barn. We sat
down and laughed heartily over our good luck. Our desperate venture
had resulted better than we had dared to hope, and had shamed our
wisest plans. At the house our arrival had been anticipated about this
time, and dinner was being put upon the table.

It was then five o'clock, so that we had been in the woods just
forty-eight hours; but if time is only phenomenal, as the philosophers
say, and life only in feeling, as the poets aver, we were some months,
if not years, older at that moment than we had been two days before.
Yet younger too,--though this be a paradox,--for the birches had
infused into us some of their own suppleness and strength.

[Illustration: Bluebird.]


When Nature made the bluebird she wished to propitiate both the sky
and the earth, so she gave him the color of the one on his back and
the hue of the other on his breast, and ordained that his appearance
in spring should denote that the strife and war between these two
elements was at an end. He is the peace-harbinger; in him the
celestial and terrestrial strike hands and are fast friends. He means
the furrow and he means the warmth; he means all the soft, wooing
influences of the spring on the one hand, and the retreating footsteps
of winter on the other.

It is sure to be a bright March morning when you first hear his note;
and it is as if the milder influences up above had found a voice and
let a word fall upon your ear, so tender is it and so prophetic, a
hope tinged with a regret.

"_Bermuda! Bermuda! Bermuda!_" he seems to say, as if both invoking
and lamenting, and behold! Bermuda follows close, though the little
pilgrim may be only repeating the tradition of his race, himself
having come only from Florida, the Carolinas, or even from Virginia,
where he has found his Bermuda on some broad sunny hill-side thickly
studded with cedars and persimmon trees.

In New York and in New England the sap starts up in the sugar-maple the
very day the bluebird arrives, and sugar-making begins forthwith. The
bird is generally a mere disembodied voice; a rumor in the air for two
or three days before it takes visible shape before you. The males are
the pioneers, and come several days in advance of the females. By the
time both are here and the pair have begun to prospect for a place to
nest, sugar-making is over, the last vestige of snow has disappeared,
and the plow is brightening its mould-board in the new furrow.

The bluebird enjoys the preëminence of being the first bit of color
that cheers our northern landscape. The other birds that arrive about
the same time--the sparrow, the robin, the phœbe-bird--are clad in
neutral tints, gray, brown, or russet; but the bluebird brings one of
the primary hues and the divinest of them all.

This bird also has the distinction of answering very nearly to the
robin-redbreast of English memory, and was by the early settlers of
New England christened the blue-robin.

It is a size or two larger, and the ruddy hue of its breast does not
verge so nearly on an orange, but the manners and habits of the two
birds are very much alike. Our bird has the softest voice, but the
English redbreast is much the most skilled musician. He has indeed a
fine, animated warble, heard nearly the year through about English
gardens and along the old hedge-rows, that is quite beyond the compass
of our bird's instrument. On the other hand, our bird is associated
with the spring as the British species cannot be, being a winter
resident also, while the brighter sun and sky of the New World has
given him a coat that far surpasses that of his transatlantic cousin.

It is worthy of remark that among British birds there is no _blue_-bird.
The cerulean tint seems much rarer among the feathered tribes there than
here. On this continent there are at least three species of the common
bluebird, while in all our woods there is the blue jay and the
indigo-bird,--the latter so intensely blue as to fully justify its name.
There is also the blue grossbeak, not much behind the indigo-bird in
intensity of color; and among our warblers the blue tint is very common.

It is interesting to know that the bluebird is not confined to any one
section of the country; and that when one goes west he will still have
this favorite with him, though a little changed in voice and color,
just enough to give variety without marring the identity.

The western bluebird is considered a distinct species, and is perhaps a
little more brilliant and showy than its Eastern brother; and Nuttall
thinks its song is more varied, sweet, and tender. Its color approaches
to ultramarine, while it has a sash of chestnut-red across its
shoulders,--all the effects, I expect, of that wonderful air and sky of
California, and of those great western plains; or if one goes a little
higher up into the mountainous regions of the West he finds the Arctic
bluebird, the ruddy brown on the breast changed to greenish-blue, and
the wings longer and more pointed; in other respects not differing much
from our species.

The bluebird usually builds its nest in a hole in a stump or stub, or
in an old cavity excavated by a woodpecker, when such can be had; but
its first impulse seems to be to start in the world in much more
style, and the happy pair make a great show of house-hunting about the
farm-buildings, now half persuaded to appropriate a dove-cot, then
discussing in a lively manner a last year's swallow's nest, or
proclaiming with much flourish and flutter that they have taken the
wren's house, or the tenement of the purple martin; till finally
nature becomes too urgent, when all this pretty make-believe ceases,
and most of them settle back upon the old family stumps and knot-holes
in remote fields, and go to work in earnest.

In such situations the female is easily captured by approaching very
stealthily and covering the entrance to the nest. The bird seldom
makes any effort to escape, seeing how hopeless the case is, and
keeps her place on the nest till she feels your hand closing around
her. I have looked down into the cavity and seen the poor thing
palpitating with fear and looking up with distended eyes, but never
moving till I had withdrawn a few paces; then she rushes out with a
cry that brings the male on the scene in a hurry. He warbles and lifts
his wings beseechingly, but shows no anger or disposition to scold and
complain like most birds. Indeed, this bird seems incapable of
uttering a harsh note, or of doing a spiteful, ill-tempered thing.

The ground-builders all have some art or device to decoy one away from
the nest, affecting lameness, a crippled wing, or a broken back,
promising an easy capture if pursued. The tree-builders depend upon
concealing the nest or placing it beyond reach. But the bluebird has
no art either way, and its nest is easily found.

About the only enemies the sitting bird or the nest is in danger of,
are snakes and squirrels. I knew of a farm-boy who was in the habit of
putting his hand down into a bluebird's nest and taking out the old
bird whenever he came that way. One day he put his hand in, and
feeling something peculiar, withdrew it hastily, when it was instantly
followed by the head and neck of an enormous black snake. The boy took
to his heels and the snake gave chase, pressing him close till a
plowman near by came to the rescue with his ox-whip.

There never was a happier or more devoted husband than the male bluebird
is. But among nearly all our familiar birds the serious cares of life
seem to devolve almost entirely upon the female. The male is hilarious
and demonstrative, the female serious and anxious about her charge. The
male is the attendant of the female, following her wherever she goes. He
never leads, never directs, but only seconds and applauds. If his life
is all poetry and romance, hers is all business and prose. She has no
pleasure but her duty, and no duty but to look after her nest and brood.
She shows no affection for the male, no pleasure in his society; she
only tolerates him as a necessary evil, and, if he is killed, goes in
quest of another in the most business-like manner, as you would go for
the plumber or the glazier. In most cases the male is the ornamental
partner in the firm, and contributes little of the working capital.
There seems to be more equality of the sexes among the woodpeckers,
wrens, and swallows; while the contrast is greatest, perhaps, in the
bobolink family, where the courting is done in the Arab fashion, the
female fleeing with all her speed and the male pursuing with equal
precipitation; and were it not for the broods of young birds that
appear, it would be hard to believe that the intercourse ever ripened
into anything more intimate.

With the bluebirds the male is useful as well as ornamental. He is the
gay champion and escort of the female at all times, and while she is
sitting he feeds her regularly. It is very pretty to watch them
building their nest. The male is very active in hunting out a place
and exploring the boxes and cavities, but seems to have no choice in
the matter and is anxious only to please and encourage his mate, who
has the practical turn and knows what will do and what will not. After
she has suited herself he applauds her immensely, and away the two go
in quest of material for the nest, the male acting as guard and flying
above and in advance of the female. She brings all the material and
all does the work of building, he looking on and encouraging her with
gesture and song. He acts also as inspector of her work, but I fear is
a very partial one. She enters the nest with her bit of dry grass or
straw, and having adjusted it to her notion, withdraws and waits near
by while he goes in and looks it over. On coming out he exclaims very
plainly, "_Excellent! excellent!_" and away the two go again for more

The bluebirds, when they build about the farm-buildings, sometimes
come in conflict with the swallows. The past season I knew a pair to
take forcible possession of the domicile of a pair of the latter--the
cliff species that now stick their nests under the eaves of the barn.
The bluebirds had been broken up in a little bird-house near by, by
the rats or perhaps a weasel, and being no doubt in a bad humor, and
the season being well advanced, they made forcible entrance into the
adobe tenement of their neighbors, and held possession of it for some
days, but I believe finally withdrew, rather than live amid such a
squeaky, noisy colony. I have heard that these swallows, when ejected
from their homes in that way by the phœbe-bird, have been known to
fall to and mason up the entrance to the nest while their enemy was
inside of it, thus having a revenge as complete and cruel as anything
in human annals.

The bluebirds and the house-wrens more frequently come into collision.
A few years ago I put up a little bird-house in the back end of my
garden for the accommodation of the wrens, and every season a pair
have taken up their abode there. One spring a pair of bluebirds looked
into the tenement and lingered about several days, leading me to hope
that they would conclude to occupy it. But they finally went away, and
later in the season the wrens appeared, and after a little coquetting,
were regularly installed in their old quarters and were as happy as
only wrens can be.

One of our younger poets, Myron Benton, saw a little bird

    "Ruffled with whirlwind of his ecstasies,"

which must have been the wren, as I know of no other bird that so
throbs and palpitates with music as this little vagabond. And the pair
I speak of seemed exceptionably happy, and the male had a small
tornado of song in his crop that kept him "ruffled" every moment in
the day. But before their honeymoon was over the bluebirds returned.
I knew something was wrong before I was up in the morning. Instead of
that voluble and gushing song outside the window, I heard the wrens
scolding and crying at a fearful rate, and on going out saw the
bluebirds in possession of the box. The poor wrens were in despair;
they wrung their hands and tore their hair, after the wren fashion,
but chiefly did they rattle out their disgust and wrath at the
intruders. I have no doubt that if it could have been interpreted it
would have proven the rankest and most voluble Billingsgate ever
uttered. For the wren is saucy, and he has a tongue in his head that
can outwag any other tongue known to me.

The bluebirds said nothing, but the male kept an eye on Mr. Wren; and
when he came too near, gave chase, driving him to cover under the
fence, or under a rubbish-heap or other object, where the wren would
scold and rattle away, while his pursuer sat on the fence or the
pea-brush waiting for him to reappear.

Days passed, and the usurpers prospered and the outcasts were
wretched; but the latter lingered about, watching and abusing their
enemies, and hoping, no doubt, that things would take a turn, as they
presently did. The outraged wrens were fully avenged. The mother
bluebird had lain her full complement of eggs and was beginning to
set, when one day, as her mate was perched above her on the barn,
along came a boy with one of those wicked elastic slings and cut him
down with a pebble. There he lay like a bit of sky fallen upon the
grass. The widowed bird seemed to understand what had happened, and
without much ado disappeared next day in quest of another mate. How
she contrived to make her wants known without trumpeting them about I
am unable to say. But I presume the birds have a way of advertising
that answers the purpose well. Maybe she trusted to luck to fall in
with some stray bachelor or bereaved male, who would undertake to
console a widow of one day's standing. I will say, in passing, that
there are no bachelors from choice among the birds; they are all
rejected suitors, while old maids are entirely unknown. There is a
Jack to every Gill; and some to boot.

The males being more exposed by their song and plumage, and by being
the pioneers in migrating, seem to be slightly in excess lest the
supply fall short, and hence it sometimes happens that a few are
bachelors perforce; there are not females enough to go around, but
before the season is over there are sure to be some vacancies in the
marital ranks, which they are called on to fill.

In the mean time the wrens were beside themselves with delight; they
fairly screamed with joy. If the male was before "ruffled with
whirlwind of his ecstasies," he was now in danger of being rent
asunder. He inflated his throat and caroled as wren never caroled
before. And the female, too, how she cackled and darted about! How
busy they both were! Rushing into the nest, they hustled those eggs
out in less than a minute, wren time. They carried in new material,
and by the third day were fairly installed again in their old
quarters; but on the third day, so rapidly are these little dramas
played, the female bluebird reappeared with another mate. Ah! how the
wren stock went down then! What dismay and despair filled again those
little breasts! It was pitiful. They did not scold as before, but
after a day or two withdrew from the garden, dumb with grief, and gave
up the struggle.

The bluebird, finding her eggs gone and her nest changed, seemed
suddenly seized with alarm and shunned the box; or else, finding she
had less need for another husband than she thought, repented her
rashness and wanted to dissolve the compact. But the happy bridegroom
would not take the hint, and exerted all his eloquence to comfort and
reassure her. He was fresh and fond, and until this bereaved female
found him I am sure his suit had not prospered that season. He thought
the box just the thing, and that there was no need of alarm, and spent
days in trying to persuade the female back. Seeing he could not be a
step-father to a family, he was quite willing to assume a nearer
relation. He hovered about the box, he went in and out, he called, he
warbled, he entreated; the female would respond occasionally and come
and alight near, and even peep into the nest, but would not enter it,
and quickly flew away again. Her mate would reluctantly follow, but he
was soon back, uttering the most confident and cheering calls. If she
did not come he would perch above the nest and sound his loudest notes
over and over again, looking in the direction of his mate and
beckoning with every motion. But she responded less and less
frequently. Some days I would see him only, but finally he gave it up;
the pair disappeared, and the box remained deserted the rest of the


[Illustration: Sprague's Lark.]


Years ago, when quite a youth, I was rambling in the woods, one
Sunday, with my brothers, gathering black birch, wintergreens, etc.,
when, as we reclined upon the ground, gazing vaguely up into the
trees, I caught sight of a bird, that paused a moment on a branch
above me, the like of which I had never before seen or heard of. It
was probably the blue yellow-backed warbler, as I have since found
this to be a common bird in those woods; but to my young fancy it
seemed like some fairy bird, so curiously marked was it, and so new
and unexpected. I saw it a moment as the flickering leaves parted,
noted the white spot on its wing, and it was gone. How the thought of
it clung to me afterward! It was a revelation. It was the first
intimation I had had that the woods we knew so well held birds that we
knew not at all. Were our eyes and ears so dull, then? There was the
robin, the blue jay, the bluebird, the yellow-bird, the cherry-bird,
the cat-bird, the chipping-bird, the woodpecker, the high-hole, an
occasional redbird, and a few others, in the woods, or along their
borders, but who ever dreamed that there were still others that not
even the hunters saw, and whose names no one had ever heard?

When, one summer-day, later in life, I took my gun, and went to the
woods again, in a different, though, perhaps, a less simple spirit, I
found my youthful vision more than realized. There were, indeed, other
birds, plenty of them, singing, nesting, breeding, among the familiar
trees, which I had before passed by unheard and unseen.

It is a surprise that awaits every student of ornithology, and the
thrill of delight that accompanies it, and the feeling of fresh, eager
inquiry that follows, can hardly be awakened by any other pursuit.
Take the first step in ornithology, procure one new specimen, and you
are ticketed for the whole voyage. There is a fascination about it
quite overpowering. It fits so well with other things--with fishing,
hunting, farming, walking, camping-out--with all that takes one to the
fields and woods. One may go a blackberrying and make some rare
discovery; or while driving his cow to pasture, hear a new song, or
make a new observation. Secrets lurk on all sides. There is news in
every bush. Expectation is ever on tiptoe. What no man ever saw before
may the next moment be revealed to you. What a new interest the woods
have! How you long to explore every nook and corner of them! You would
even find consolation in being lost in them. You could then hear the
night birds and the owls, and, in your wanderings, might stumble upon
some unknown specimen.

In all excursions to the woods or to the shore, the student of
ornithology has an advantage over his companions. He has one more
resource, one more avenue of delight. He, indeed, kills two birds with
one stone, and sometimes three. If others wander, he can never go out
of his way. His game is everywhere. The cawing of a crow makes him
feel at home, while a new note or a new song drowns all care. Audubon,
on the desolate coast of Labrador, is happier than any king ever was;
and on shipboard is nearly cured of his sea-sickness when a new gull
appears in sight.

One must taste it to understand or appreciate its fascination. The
looker-on sees nothing to inspire such enthusiasm. Only a little
feathers and a half-musical note or two; why all this ado? "Who would
give a hundred and twenty dollars to know about the birds?" said an
eastern governor, half contemptuously, to Wilson, as the latter
solicited a subscription to his great work. Sure enough. Bought
knowledge is dear at any price. The most precious things have no
commercial value. It is not, your Excellency, mere technical knowledge
of the birds that you are asked to purchase, but a new interest in
the fields and woods, a new moral and intellectual tonic, a new key to
the treasure-house of nature. Think of the many other things your
Excellency would get; the air, the sunshine, the healing fragrance and
coolness, and the many respites from the knavery and turmoil of
political life.

Yesterday was an October day of rare brightness and warmth. I spent
the most of it in a wild, wooded gorge of Rock Creek. A persimmon-tree
which stood upon the bank had dropped some of its fruit in the water.
As I stood there, half-leg deep, picking them up, a wood-duck came
flying down the creek and passed over my head. Presently it returned,
flying up; then it came back again, and, sweeping low around a bend,
prepared to alight in a still, dark reach in the creek which was
hidden from my view. As I passed that way about half an hour
afterward, the duck started up, uttering its wild alarm note. In the
stillness I could hear the whistle of its wings and the splash of the
water when it took flight. Near by I saw where a raccoon had come down
to the water for fresh clams, leaving his long, sharp track in the mud
and sand. Before I had passed this hidden stretch of water, a pair of
those mysterious thrushes, the gray-cheeked, flew up from the ground
and perched on a low branch.

Who can tell how much this duck, this foot-print in the sand, and
these strange thrushes from the far North, enhanced the interest and
charm of the autumn woods?

Ornithology cannot be satisfactorily learned from the books. The
satisfaction is in learning it from nature. One must have an original
experience with the birds. The books are only the guide, the
invitation. Though there remain not another new species to describe,
any young person with health and enthusiasm has open to him or her the
whole field anew, and is eligible to experience all the thrill and
delight of original discoverers.

But let me say, in the same breath, that the books can by no manner of
means be dispensed with. A copy of Wilson or Audubon, for reference
and to compare notes with, is invaluable. In lieu of these, access to
some large museum or collection would be a great help. In the
beginning, one finds it very difficult to identify a bird from any
verbal description. Reference to a colored plate, or to a stuffed
specimen, at once settles the matter. This is the chief value of the
books; they are charts to sail by; the route is mapped out, and much
time and labor saved. First, find your bird; observe its ways, its
song, its calls, its flight, its haunts; then shoot it (not ogle it
with a glass), and compare with Audubon. In this way the feathered
kingdom may soon be conquered.

The ornithologists divide and subdivide the birds into a great many
families, orders, genera, species, etc., which, at first sight, are
apt to confuse and discourage the reader. But any interested person
can acquaint himself with most of our song-birds, by keeping in mind a
few general divisions, and observing the characteristics of each. By
far the greater number of our land-birds are either warblers, vireos,
fly-catchers, thrushes, or finches.

The warblers are, perhaps, the most puzzling. These are the true
Sylvia, the real wood-birds. They are small, very active, but feeble
songsters, and, to be seen, must be sought for. In passing through the
woods, most persons have a vague consciousness of slight chirping,
semi-musical sounds in the trees overhead. In most cases these sounds
proceed from the warblers. Throughout the Middle and Eastern States,
half a dozen species or so may be found in almost every locality, as
the redstart,[3] the Maryland yellow-throat, the yellow warbler (not
the common goldfinch, with black cap, and black wings and tail), the
hooded warbler, the black and white creeping warbler; or others,
according to the locality and the character of the woods. In pine or
hemlock woods, one species may predominate; in maple or oak woods, or
in mountainous districts, another. The subdivision of ground warblers,
the most common members of which are the Maryland yellow-throat, the
Kentucky warbler, and the mourning ground warbler, are usually found
in low, wet, bushy, or half-open woods, often on, and always near the

The summer yellow-bird, or yellow warbler, is not now a wood-bird at
all, being found in orchards and parks, and along streams and in the
trees of villages and cities.

As we go north the number of warblers increases, till, in the northern
part of New England, and in the Canadas, as many as ten or twelve
varieties may be found breeding in June. Audubon found the black-poll
warbler breeding in Labrador, and congratulates himself on being the
first white man who had ever seen its nest. When these warblers pass
north in May, they seem to go singly or in pairs, and their black caps
and striped coats show conspicuously. When they return in September
they are in troops or loose flocks, are of a uniform dull drab or
brindlish color, and are very fat. They scour the tree-tops for a few
days, almost eluding the eye by their quick movements, and are gone.

According to my own observation, the number of species of warblers
which one living in the middle districts sees, on their return in the
fall, is very small compared with the number he may observe migrating
North in the spring.

The yellow-rumped warblers are the most noticeable of all in the
autumn. They come about the streets and garden, and seem especially
drawn to dry, leafless trees. They dart spitefully about, uttering a
sharp chirp. In Washington I have seen them in the outskirts all

Audubon figures and describes over forty different warblers. More
recent writers have divided and subdivided the group very much,
giving new names to new classifications. But this part is of interest
and value only to the professional ornithologist.

The finest songster among the Sylvia, according to my notions, is the
black-throated green-back. Its song is sweet and clear, but brief.

The rarest of the species are Swainson's warbler, said to be
disappearing; the cerulean warbler, said to be abundant about Niagara;
and the mourning ground warbler, which I have found breeding about the
head-waters of the Delaware, in New York.

The vireos, or greenlets, are a sort of connecting link between the
warblers and the true fly-catchers, and partake of the characteristics
of both.

The red-eyed vireo, whose sweet soliloquy is one of the most constant
and cheerful sounds in our woods and groves, is, perhaps, the most
noticeable and abundant species. The vireos are a little larger than
the warblers, and are far less brilliant and variegated in color.

There are four species found in most of our woods, namely, the red-eyed
vireo, the white-eyed vireo, the warbling vireo, and the solitary
vireo,--the red-eyed and warbling being most abundant, and the
white-eyed being the most lively and animated songster. I meet the
latter bird only in the thick, bushy growths of low, swampy localities,
where, eluding the observer, it pours forth its song with a sharpness
and a rapidity of articulation that are truly astonishing. This strain
is very marked, and, though inlaid with the notes of several other
birds, is entirely unique. The iris of this bird is white, as that of
the red-eyed is red, though in neither case can this mark be
distinguished at more than two or three yards. In most cases the iris of
birds is a dark hazel, which passes for black.

The basket-like nest, pendent to the low branches in the woods, which
the falling leaves of autumn reveal to all passers, is, in most cases,
the nest of the red-eyed, though the solitary constructs a similar
tenement, but in much more remote and secluded localities.

The general color of this group of birds is very light ash beneath,
becoming darker above, with a tinge of green. The red-eyed has a crown
of a bluish tinge.

Most birds exhibit great alarm and distress, usually with a strong
dash of anger, when you approach their nests; but the demeanor of the
red-eyed, on such an occasion, is an exception to this rule. The
parent birds move about softly amid the branches above, eying the
intruder with a curious, innocent look, uttering, now and then, a
subdued note or plaint, solicitous and watchful, but making no
demonstration of anger or distress.

The birds, no more than the animals, like to be caught napping; but I
remember, one autumn day, of coming upon a red-eyed vireo that was
clearly oblivious to all that was passing around it. It was a young
bird, though full grown, and it was taking its _siesta_ on a low
branch in a remote heathery field. Its head was snugly stowed away
under its wing, and it would have fallen an easy prey to the first
hawk that came along. I approached noiselessly, and when within a few
feet of it paused to note its breathings, so much more rapid and full
than our own. A bird has greater lung capacity than any other living
thing, hence more animal heat, and life at a higher pressure. When I
reached out my hand and carefully closed it around the winged sleeper,
its sudden terror and consternation almost paralyzed it. Then it
struggled and cried piteously, and when released, hastened and hid
itself in some near bushes. I never expected to surprise it thus a
second time.

The fly-catchers are a larger group than the vireos, with stronger-marked
characteristics. They are not properly songsters, but are classed by some
writers as screechers. Their pugnacious dispositions are well known, and
they not only fight among themselves but are incessantly quarreling with
their neighbors. The king-bird, or tyrant fly-catcher, might serve as the
type of the order.

The common pewee excites the most pleasant emotions, both on account
of its plaintive note and its exquisite mossy nest.

The phœbe-bird is the pioneer of the fly-catchers, and comes in april,
sometimes in march. It comes familiarly about the house and out-buildings
and usually builds beneath hay-sheds or under bridges.

The fly-catchers always take their insect prey on the wing, by a
sudden darting or swooping movement; often a very audible snap of the
beak may be heard.

These birds are the least elegant, both in form and color, of any of
our feathered neighbors. They have short legs, a short neck, large
heads, and broad, flat beaks, with bristles at the base. They often
fly with a peculiar quivering movement of the wings, and when at rest
oscillate their tails at short intervals.

There are found in the United States nineteen species. In the Middle
and Eastern districts, one may observe in summer, without any special
search, about five of them, namely, the king-bird, the phœbe-bird, the
wood-pewee, the great-crested fly-catcher (distinguished from all
others by the bright ferruginous color of its tail), and the small
green-crested fly-catcher.

The thrushes are the birds of real melody, and will afford one more
delight perhaps than any other class. The robin is the most familiar
example. Their manners, flight, and form are the same in each species.
See the robin hop along upon the ground, strike an attitude, scratch
for a worm, fix his eye upon something before him or upon the
beholder, flip his wings suspiciously, fly straight to his perch, or
sit at sundown on some high branch caroling his sweet and honest
strain, and you have seen what is characteristic of all the thrushes.
Their carriage is preëminently marked by grace, and their songs by

Beside the robin, which is in no sense a wood-bird, we have, in New
York, the wood-thrush, the hermit-thrush, the veery, or Wilson's
thrush, the olive-backed thrush, and, transiently, one or two other
species not so clearly defined.

The wood-thrush and the hermit stand at the head as songsters, no two
persons, perhaps, agreeing as to which is the superior.

Under the general head of finches, Audubon describes over sixty
different birds, ranging from the sparrows to the grossbeaks, and
including the buntings, the linnets, the snow-birds, the cross-bills,
and the red-birds.

We have nearly or quite a dozen varieties of the sparrow in the
Atlantic States, but perhaps no more than half that number would be
discriminated by the unprofessional observer. The song-sparrow, which
every child knows, comes first; at least, his voice is first heard.
And can there be anything more fresh and pleasing than this first
simple strain heard from the garden fence or a near hedge, on some
bright, still March morning?

The field or vesper-sparrow, called also grass-finch, and bay-winged
sparrow, a bird slightly larger than the song-sparrow and of a lighter
gray color, is abundant in all our upland fields and pastures, and is
a very sweet songster. It builds upon the ground, without the
slightest cover or protection, and also roosts there. Walking through
the fields at dusk I frequently start them up almost beneath my feet.
When disturbed by day they fly with a quick, sharp movement, showing
two white quills in the tail. The traveler along the country roads
disturbs them earthing their wings in the soft dry earth, or sees them
skulking and flitting along the fences in front of him. They run in
the furrow in advance of the team, or perch upon the stones a few
roads off. They sing much after sundown, hence the aptness of the name
vesper-sparrow, which a recent writer, Wilson Flagg, has bestowed upon

In the meadows and low wet lands the Savannah sparrow is met with, and
may be known by its fine, insect-like song. In the swamp, the

The fox-sparrow, the largest and handsomest species of this family,
comes to us in the fall, from the North, where it breeds. Likewise the
tree or Canada sparrow, and the white-crowned and white-throated

The social-sparrow, _alias_ "hair-bird," _alias_ "red-headed
chipping-bird," is the smallest of the sparrows, and, I believe, the
only one that builds in trees.

The finches, as a class, all have short conical bills, with tails more
or less forked. The purple finch heads the list in varied musical

Beside the groups of our more familiar birds which I have thus hastily
outlined, there are numerous other groups, more limited in specimens but
comprising some of our best known songsters. The bobolink, for instance,
has properly no congener. The famous mocking-bird of the Southern States
belongs to a genus which has but two other representatives in the
Atlantic States, namely, the cat-bird and the long-tailed or ferruginous

The wrens are a large and interesting family, and as songsters are
noted for vivacity and volubility. The more common species are the
house-wren, the wood-wren, the marsh-wren, the great Carolina wren,
and the winter-wren, the latter perhaps deriving its name from the
fact that it breeds in the North. It is an exquisite songster, and
pours forth its notes so rapidly and with such sylvan sweetness and
cadence, that it seems to _go off_ like a musical alarm.

Wilson called the kinglets wrens, but they have little to justify the
name, except their song, which is of the same continuous, gushing,
lyrical character as that referred to above. Dr. Brewer was entranced
with the song of one of these tiny minstrels in the woods of New
Brunswick, and thought he had found the author of the strain in the
black-poll warbler. He seems loath to believe that a bird so small as
either of the kinglets could possess such vocal powers. It may indeed
have been the winter-wren, but from my own observation I believe the
golden-crowned kinglet quite capable of such a performance.

But I must leave this part of the subject and hasten on. As to works
on ornithology. Audubon's, though its expense puts it beyond the reach
of the mass of readers, is, by far, the most full and accurate. His
drawings surpass all others in accuracy and spirit, while his
enthusiasm and devotion to the work he had undertaken, have but few
parallels in the history of science. His chapter on the wild goose is
as good as a poem. One readily overlooks his style, which is often
verbose and affected, in consideration of enthusiasm so genuine and
purpose so single.

There has never been a keener eye than Audubon's, though there have been
more discriminative ears. Nuttall, for instance, is far more happy in
his descriptions of the songs and notes of birds, and more to be relied
upon. Audubon thinks the song of the Louisiana water-thrush equal to
that of the European nightingale, and, as he had heard both birds, one
would think was prepared to judge. Yet he has, no doubt, overrated the
one and underrated the other. The song of the water-thrush is very
brief, compared with the philomel's, and its quality is brightness and
vivacity, while that of the latter bird, if the books are to be
credited, is melody and harmony. Again, he says the song of the blue
grossbeak resembles the bobolink's, which it does about as much as the
color of the two birds resembles each other; one is black and white and
the other is blue. The song of the wood-wagtail, he says, consists of a
"short succession of simple notes beginning with emphasis and gradually
falling." The truth is they run up the scale instead of down; beginning
low and ending in a shriek.

Yet considering the extent of Audubon's work, the wonder is the errors
are so few. I can, at this moment, recall but one observation of his,
the contrary of which I have proved to be true. In his account of the
bobolink he makes a point of the fact that in returning South in the
fall they do not travel by night as they do when moving North in the
spring. In Washington I have heard their calls as they flew over at
night for four successive autumns. As he devoted the whole of a long
life to the subject, and figured and described over four hundred
species, one feels a real triumph on finding in our common woods a
bird not described in his work. I have seen but two. Walking in the
woods one day in early fall, in the vicinity of West Point, I started
up a thrush that was sitting on the ground. It alighted on a branch a
few yards off, and looked new to me. I thought I had never before seen
so long-legged a thrush. I shot it, and saw that it was a new
acquaintance. Its peculiarities were its broad, square tail; the
length of its legs, which were three and three quarters inches from
the end of the middle toe to the hip-joint; and the deep uniform
olive-brown of the upper parts, and the gray of the lower. It proved
to be the gray-cheeked thrush (_Turdus aliciæ_), named and first
described by Professor Baird. But little seems to be known concerning
it, except that it breeds in the far North, even on the shores of the
Arctic Ocean. I would go a good way to hear its song.

The present season I met with a pair of them near Washington, as
mentioned above. In size this bird approaches the wood-thrush, being
larger than either the hermit or the veery; unlike all other species,
no part of its plumage has a tawny or yellowish tinge. The other
specimen was the Northern or small water-thrush, cousin-german to the
oven-bird and half-brother to the Louisiana water-thrush or wagtail. I
found it at the head of a remote mountain lake among the sources of
the Delaware, where it evidently had a nest. It usually breeds much
farther North. It has a strong, clear warble, which at once suggests
the song of its congener. I have not been able to find any account of
this particular species in the books, though it seems to be well

More recent writers and explorers have added to Audubon's list over
three hundred new species, the greater number of which belong to the
Northern and Western parts of the Continent. Audubon's observations
were confined mainly to the Atlantic and Gulf States and the adjacent
islands; hence the Western or Pacific birds were but little known to
him, and are only briefly mentioned in his works.

It is, by the way, a little remarkable how many of the Western birds
seem merely duplicates of the Eastern. Thus, the varied-thrush of the
West is our robin, a little differently marked; and the red-shafted
woodpecker is our golden-wing, or high-hole, colored red instead of
yellow. There is also a Western chickadee, a Western chewink, a
Western blue jay, a Western meadow-lark, a Western snow-bird, a
Western bluebird, a Western song-sparrow, Western grouse, quail,
hen-hawk, etc., etc.

One of the most remarkable birds of the West seems to be a species of
skylark, met with on the plains of Dakota, which mounts to the height
of three or four hundred feet, and showers down its ecstatic notes. It
is evidently akin to several of our Eastern species.

A correspondent, writing to me from the country one September, says,
"I have observed recently a new species of bird here. They alight upon
the buildings and fences as well as upon the ground. They are
_walkers_." In a few days he obtained one, and sent me the skin. It
proved to be what I had anticipated, namely, the American pipit, or
titlark, a slender brown bird, about the size of the sparrow, which
passes through the States in the fall and spring, to and from its
breeding haunts in the far North. They generally appear by twos and
threes, or in small loose flocks, searching for food on banks and
plowed ground. As they fly up, they show two or three white quills in
the tail like the vesper-sparrow. Flying over, they utter a single
chirp or cry every few rods. They breed in the bleak, moss-covered
rocks of Labrador. Their eggs have also been found in Vermont, and I
feel quite certain that I saw this bird in the Adirondac Mountains in
the month of August. The male launches into the air, and gives forth a
brief but melodious song, after the manner of all larks. They are
_walkers_. This is a characteristic of but few of our land-birds. By
far the greater number are _hoppers_. Note the track of the common
snow-bird; the feet are not placed one in front of the other, as in
the track of the crow or partridge, but side and side. The sparrows,
thrushes, warblers, woodpeckers, buntings, etc., are all hoppers. On
the other hand, all aquatic or semi-aquatic birds are walkers. The
plovers and sandpipers and snipes run rapidly. Among the land-birds,
the grouse, pigeons, quails, larks, and various blackbirds, walk. The
swallows walk, also, whenever they use their feet at all, but very
awkwardly. The larks walk with ease and grace. Note the meadow-lark
strutting about all day in the meadows.

Besides being walkers, the larks, or birds allied to the larks, all
sing upon the wing, usually poised or circling in the air, with a
hovering, tremulous flight. The meadow-lark occasionally does this in
the early part of the season. At such times its long-drawn note or
whistle becomes a rich, amorous warble.

The bobolink, also, has both characteristics, and, notwithstanding the
difference of form and build, etc., is very suggestive of the English
skylark, as it figures in the books, and is, no doubt, fully its equal
as a songster.

Of our small wood-birds we have three varieties, east of the
Mississippi, closely related to each other, which I have already spoken
of, and which walk, and sing, more or less, on the wing, namely, the two
species of water-thrush or wagtails, and the oven-bird or wood-wagtail.
The latter is the most common, and few observers of the birds can have
failed to notice its easy, gliding walk. Its other lark trait, namely,
singing in the air, seems not to have been observed by any naturalist.
Yet, it is a well established characteristic, and may be verified by any
person who will spend a half-hour in the woods where this bird abounds
on some June afternoon or evening. I hear it very frequently after
sundown, when the ecstatic singer can hardly be distinguished against
the sky. I know of a high, bald-top mountain where I have sat late in
the afternoon and heard them as often as one every minute. Sometimes the
bird would be far below me, sometimes near at hand; and very frequently
the singer would be hovering a hundred feet above the summit. He would
start from the trees on one side of the open space, reach his climax in
the air, and plunge down on the other side. Its descent after the song
is finished is very rapid, and precisely like that of the titlark when
it sweeps down from its course to alight on the ground.

I first verified this observation some years ago. I had long been
familiar with the song, but had only strongly suspected the author of
it, when, as I was walking in the woods one evening, just as the
leaves were putting out, I saw one of these birds but a few rods from
me. I was saying to myself, half audibly, "Come, now, show off, if it
is you; I have come to the woods expressly to settle this point," when
it began to ascend, by short hops and flights, through the branches,
uttering a sharp, preliminary chirp. I followed it with my eye; saw it
mount into the air and circle over the woods, and saw it sweep down
again and dive through the trees, almost to the very perch from which
it had started.

As the paramount question in the life of a bird is the question of
food, perhaps the most serious troubles our feathered neighbors
encounter are early in the spring, after the supply of fat with which
nature stores every corner and by-place of the system, thereby
anticipating the scarcity of food, has been exhausted, and the sudden
and severe changes in the weather which occur at this season make
unusual demands upon their vitality. No doubt many of the earlier
birds die from starvation and exposure at this season. Among a troop
of Canada sparrows, which I came upon one March day, all of them
evidently much reduced, one was so feeble that I caught it in my hand.

During the present season, a very severe cold spell, the first week in
March, drove the bluebirds to seek shelter about the houses and
out-buildings. As night approached, and the winds and the cold
increased, they seemed filled with apprehension and alarm, and in the
outskirts of the city came about the windows and doors, crept behind
the blinds, clung to the gutters and beneath the cornice, flitted from
porch to porch, and from house to house, seeking in vain for some safe
retreat from the cold. The street pump, which had a small opening,
just over the handle, was an attraction which they could not resist.
And yet they seemed aware of the insecurity of the position; for, no
sooner would they stow themselves away into the interior of the pump,
to the number of six or eight, than they would rush out again, as if
apprehensive of some approaching danger. Time after time the cavity
was filled and refilled, with blue and brown intermingled, and as
often emptied. Presently they tarried longer than usual, when I made a
sudden sally and captured three, that found a warmer and safer lodging
for the night in the cellar.

In the fall, birds and fowls of all kinds become very fat. The
squirrels and mice lay by a supply of food in their dens and retreats,
but the birds, to a considerable extent, especially our winter
residents, carry an equivalent in their own systems, in the form of
adipose tissue. I killed a red-shouldered hawk, one December, and on
removing the skin found the body completely encased in a coating of
fat one quarter of an inch in thickness. Not a particle of muscle was
visible. This coating not only serves as a protection against the
cold, but supplies the waste of the system, when food is scarce, or
fails altogether.

The crows at this season are in the same condition. It is estimated that
a crow needs at least half a pound of meat per day, but it is evident
that for weeks and months during the winter and spring, they must
subsist on a mere fraction of this amount. I have no doubt a crow or
hawk, when in their fall condition, would live two weeks without a
morsel of food passing their beaks; a domestic fowl will do as much. One
January, I unwittingly shut a hen under the floor of an out-building,
where not a particle of food could be obtained, and where she was
entirely unprotected from the severe cold. When the luckless Dominick
was discovered, about eighteen days afterward, she was brisk and lively,
but fearfully pinched up, and as light as a bunch of feathers. The
slightest wind carried her before it. But by judicious feeding she was
soon restored.

The circumstance of the bluebirds being emboldened by the cold, suggests
the fact that the fear of man, which now seems like an instinct in the
birds, is evidently an acquired trait, and foreign to them in a state of
primitive nature. Every gunner has observed, to his chagrin, how wild
the pigeons become after a few days of firing among them; and, to his
delight, how easy it is to approach near his game in new or unfrequented
woods. Professor Baird tells me that a correspondent of theirs visited a
small island in the Pacific Ocean, situated about two hundred miles off
Cape St. Lucas, to procure specimens. The island was but a few miles in
extent, and had probably never been visited half a dozen times by human
beings. The naturalist found the birds and water-fowls so tame that it
was but a waste of ammunition to shoot them. Fixing a noose on the end
of a long stick, he captured them by putting it over their necks and
hauling them to him. In some cases not even this contrivance was needed.
A species of mocking-bird, in particular, larger than ours, and a
splendid songster, made itself so familiar as to be almost a nuisance,
hopping on the table where the collector was writing, and scattering the
pens and paper. Eighteen species were found, twelve of them peculiar to
the island.

Thoreau relates that in the woods of Maine the Canada jay will
sometimes make its meal with the lumbermen, taking the food out of
their hands.

Yet, notwithstanding the birds have come to look upon man as their
natural enemy, there can be little doubt that civilization is on the
whole favorable to their increase and perpetuity, especially to the
smaller species. With man come flies and moths, and insects of all
kinds in greater abundance; new plants and weeds are introduced, and,
with the clearing up of the country, are sowed broadcast over the

The larks and snow-buntings that come to us from the North, subsist
almost entirely upon the seeds of grasses and plants; and how many of
our more common and abundant species are field-birds, and entire
strangers to deep forests?

In Europe some birds have become almost domesticated, like the
house-sparrow, and in our own country the cliff-swallow seem to have
entirely abandoned ledges and shelving rocks, as a place to nest, for
the eaves and projections of farms and other out-buildings.

After one has made the acquaintance of most of the land-birds, there
remain the sea-shore and its treasures. How little one knows of the
aquatic fowls, even after reading carefully the best authorities, was
recently forced home to my mind by the following circumstance: I was
spending a vacation in the interior of New York, when one day a
stranger alighted before the house, and with a cigar box in his hand
approached me as I sat in the doorway. I was about to say that he
would waste his time in recommending his cigars to me, as I never
smoked, when he said that, hearing I knew something about birds, he
had brought me one which had been picked up a few hours before in a
hay-field near the village, and which was a stranger to all who had
seen it. As he began to undo the box I expected to see some of our own
rarer birds, perhaps the rose-breasted grossbeak or Bohemian
chatterer. Imagine, then, how I was taken aback, when I beheld
instead, a swallow-shaped bird, quite as large as a pigeon, with
forked tail, glossy-black above, and snow-white beneath. Its
parti-webbed feet, and its long graceful wings, at a glance told
that it was a sea-bird; but as to its name or habitat I must defer my
answer till I could get a peep into Audubon, or some large collection.

The bird had fallen down exhausted in a meadow, and was picked up just
as the life was leaving its body. The place must have been one hundred
and fifty miles from the sea, as the bird flies. As it was the
sooty-tern, which inhabits the Florida Keys, its appearance so far
north and so far inland may be considered somewhat remarkable. On
removing the skin I found it terribly emaciated. It had no doubt
starved to death, ruined by too much wing. Another Icarus. Its great
power of flight had made it bold and venturesome, and had carried it
so far out of its range that it starved before it could return.

The sooty-tern is sometimes called the sea-swallow, on account of its
form and power of flight. It will fly nearly all day at sea, picking
up food from the surface of the water. There are several species, some
of them strikingly beautiful.



[3] I am aware that the redstart is generally classed among the
fly-catchers, but its song, its form, and its habits are in every
respect those of a warbler. Its main fly-catcher mark is its beak, but
to the _muscicapa_ proper it presents little or no resemblance to the
general observer.



  Audubon,                                    231, 241

  Birds, as to nesting, classified,                143
    songs of various,               17, 18, 52, 53, 67
    distribution of, in a locality,                 29
                     geographically,                50
    instinct of cleanliness in,                    116
                propagation in,                    119
    relations of the sexes of,                     118

  Blackbird, Crow,                                 157

  Bluebird,                            12, 13, 211-224

  Bobolink,                                        163

  Bunting, Black-throated,                         164
           Cow,                                 18, 70

  Buzzard, Turkey,                                 152

  Cat-bird,                                         36

  Cedar-bird,                            100, 111, 160

  Chat, Yellow-breasted,                           172

  Chickadee,                                       122

  Creeper, Black and White,                         80

  Crow, 152

  Cuckoo, Black-billed,                         23, 24
          Yellow-billed,                            23

  Dakota Skylark,                             243, 244

  Eagles, The,                                     141

  Finch, Pine,                                 86, 100
         Purple,                                69, 86

  Finches, The,                                    238

  Fly-catchers, The,                               236

  Gnatcatcher.                                     134

  Goldfinch, American,                             112
             Blue,                                 129
             Cardinal,                             174

  Grossbeak, Rose-breasted,                         67

  Grouse, Canada,                             107, 206

  Hawk, Hen,                                        43
        Pigeon,                                     42
        Red-tailed,                                132

  Heron, Great Blue,                                90

  Humming-bird,                           67, 101, 133

  Indigo-bird,                                     126

  Jay, Canada,                                     250

  King-bird,                                        62

  Kinglets, The,                                   240

  Lark, Shore,                                     155

  Larks, The,                                      244

  Oriole, Baltimore,                          126, 135
          Orchard,                                 162

  Owl, Screech,                                     63

  Partridge,                                        75

  Pewees, The,                                 62, 140

  Phœbe-bird,                              16, 63, 139

  Redbird,                                         174

  Robin,                                       14, 126

  Skylark, Dakota,                            243, 244

  Snow-bird,                               55, 86, 127

  Sparrow, Canada,                                 157
           Chipping,                       18, 41, 124
           Field,                              24, 238
           Fox,                                    163
           White-throated,                          86
           Wood, or Bush,                      26, 126

  Sparrows, The,                                   238

  Swallows, The,                         117, 124, 161

  Tanager, Scarlet,                                 68

  Tern, Sooty,                                     250

  Thrush, Golden-crowned,                           64
          Gray-cheeked,                            242
          Hermit,                      33, 57, 59, 100
          Louisiana Water,                         171
          New York Water,                     203, 243
          Wilson's,                        35, 56, 161
          Wood,                   31, 34, 57, 187, 190

  Thrushes, The,                                   237

  Titlark, American,                               244

  Vireo, Red-eyed,                        54, 132, 235
         Solitary,                                 130
         Warbling,                                  80
         White-eyed,                           28, 234

  Vireos, The,                                     234

  Veery,                                   35, 56, 161

  Wren, Winter,                             12, 28, 55

  Wrens, The,                                      240

  Wagtails, The,                                   245

  Warbler, Audubon's,                               87
           Blackburnian,                            58
           Black-throated Blue-back,                79
           Black-throated Green-back,               79
           Blue-Gray (or Gnatcatcher),        134, 171
           Blue, Yellow-back,                       58
           Chestnut-sided,                          78
           Kentucky,                               170
           Mourning Ground,                    77, 131
           Speckled Canada,                 70, 73, 87
           Varied Creeping,                    80, 130

  Warblers, The,                              171, 232

  Woodpecker, Downy,                           19, 115
              Golden-winged,                    17, 20
              Red-headed,                     113, 174
              Yellow-bellied,                 115, 204

Transcriber's Notes

  All obvious punctuation errors have been corrected.
  Hyphenation has been normalised.
  Pg 22. The word 'wanderdering' was changed to 'wandering.'
  Pg 36. The extra 'the' was removed from the following sentence, "It
    has the the nightingale's habit of singing in the twilight, as
    indeed have all our thrushes."
  Pg 56. The word 'intruder' was changed to 'intruders.'
  Pg 65. The word 'for' was changed to 'far' in the following sentence,
    "He has a for rarer song, which he reserves for some nymph whom he
    meets in the air."
  Pg 76. The word 'righful' was changed to 'rightful.'
  Pg 76. The second occurence of the word 'when' was removed from the
    following sentence, "Scarcely have the trees expanded their buds,
    when, in the still April mornings, or toward nightfall, when you
    hear the hum of his devoted wings."
  Pg 91. The sentence, "In the woods are sounds and voices, and a
    dumb kind of companionship; one is little more than a walking
    tree himself; but come upon these one of mountain-lakes, and the
    wildness stands relieved and meets you face to face," has been
    changed to "In the woods are sounds and voices, and a dumb kind
    of companionship; one is little more than a walking tree
    himself; but come upon one of these mountain-lakes, and the
    wildness stands relieved and meets you face to face". Pg 104.
  Pg 104. The word 'docdor' was changed to 'doctor.'
  Pg 108. The words 'over night' were changed to 'over-night.'
  Pg 120. The word 'cannnot' was changed to 'cannot.'
  Pg 126. The word 'linging' was changed to 'lining.'
  Pg 128.  A comma has been added to the sentence, "Among the five,
    the nest that interested me most was that of the blue grossbeak."
  Pg 173. The word 'duke' was changed to 'duck.'
  Pg 184. The word 'nighfall' was changed to 'nightfall.'
  Pg 192. One occurrence of the word 'the' was removed from the
    following sentence, "After looking in vain for the line of
    marked trees, we moved off to the the left in a doubtful,
    hesitating manner, keeping on the highest ground and blazing the
    trees as we went."
  Pg 251. The word 'parti-webbed' was retained as it may have been a
    word intentionally invented by the author.

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