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Title: A-Birding on a Bronco
Author: Merriam, Florence A., 1863-1948
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 "A-Birding on a Bronco" ***

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Books by Florence A. Merriam.


          BIRDS THROUGH AN OPERA-GLASS. In Riverside Library
          for Young People. Illustrated. 16mo, 75 cents.

          MY SUMMER IN A MORMON VILLAGE. 16mo, $1.00.

          A-BIRDING ON A BRONCO. Illustrated. 16mo, $1.25.


          HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
          BOSTON AND NEW YORK.

[Illustration: MOUNTAIN BILLY UNDER THE GNATCATCHER'S OAK]



A-BIRDING ON A BRONCO

BY FLORENCE A. MERRIAM


                  I do invite you ... to my house ...
          after, we'll a-birding together.
                     SHAKESPEARE.

_ILLUSTRATED_

[Illustration: The Riverside Press.]


          BOSTON AND NEW YORK
          HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
          The Riverside Press, Cambridge
          1896



          Copyright, 1896,

          By FLORENCE A. MERRIAM.


          _All rights reserved._


          _The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A._

          Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.



PREFATORY NOTE.


THE notes contained in this book were taken from March to May, 1889, and
from March to July, 1894, at Twin Oaks in southern California. Twin Oaks
is the post-office for the scattered ranch-houses in a small valley at
the foot of one of the Coast Ranges, thirty-four miles north of San
Diego, and twelve miles from the Pacific.

As no collecting was done, there is doubt about the identity of a few
species; and their names are left blank or questioned in the list of
birds referred to in the text. In cases where the plumage of the two
sexes is practically identical, and only slight mention is made of the
species, the sexes have sometimes been arbitrarily distinguished in the
text.

Several of the articles have appeared before, in somewhat different
form, in 'The Auk,' 'The Observer,' and 'Our Animal Friends;' all the
others are published here for the first time.

The illustrations are from drawings of birds and nests by Louis Agassiz
Fuertes, and from photographs taken in the valley; together with some
of eucalyptus-trees from Los Angeles, for the use of which I am indebted
to the courtesy of Dr. B. E. Fernow, Chief of the Division of Forestry
of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

In the preparation of the book I have been kindly assisted by Miss
Isabel Eaton, and have received from my brother, Dr. C. Hart Merriam,
untiring criticism and advice.

                                                    FLORENCE A. MERRIAM.

  LOCUST GROVE, N. Y.,
  July 15, 1896.



CONTENTS.

                                                      PAGE
              I. OUR VALLEY                             1
             II. THE LITTLE LOVER                      20
            III. LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT             38
             IV. WAS IT A SEQUEL?                      48
              V. LITTLE PRISONERS IN THE TOWER         65
             VI. HINTS BY THE WAY                      81
            VII. AROUND OUR RANCH-HOUSE                86
           VIII. POCKET MAKERS                        103
             IX. THE BIG SYCAMORE                     112
              X. AMONG MY TENANTS                     123
             XI. AN UNNAMED BIRD                      140
            XII. HUMMERS                              147
           XIII. IN THE SHADE OF THE OAKS             159
            XIV. A MYSTERIOUS TRAGEDY                 171
             XV. HOW I HELPED BUILD A NEST            175
            XVI. IN OUR NEIGHBOR'S DOOR-YARD          184
           XVII. WHICH WAS THE MOTHER BIRD?           189
          XVIII. A RARE BIRD                          194
            XIX. MY BLUE GUM GROVE                    211



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                               PAGE

    Mountain Billy under the Gnatcatcher's Oak.    _Frontispiece_
    Our Valley                                                  4
    Head of Black-headed Grosbeak                               8
    Head of Rose-breasted Grosbeak                              8
    In Hot Pursuit (Brewer's Blackbird and Bee-birds)          13
    The Little Lover (Western House Wren)                      20
    A Trying Moment (Western House Wren)                       32
    Nest of Western Gnatcatcher                                39
    Head of California Woodpecker                              66
    Head of Red-headed Woodpecker (Eastern)                    66
    Jacob and Bairdi visiting the Old Nest Tree                78
    Head of Arizona Hooded Oriole                              89
    Head of Baltimore Oriole (Eastern)                         89
    Head of California Chewink                                 93
    Head of Eastern Chewink                                    93
    Valley Quail and Road-runner                               99
    Nest of the Bush-tit                                      104
    Pocket Nest in an Oak                                     108
    The Big Sycamore                                          114
    Along the Line of Sycamores                               124
    Head of Black Phœbe                                       129
    Head of Eastern Phœbe                                     129
    The Little Hummer on her Bow-knot Nest                    148
    The Swing Nest of the Hummer                              157
    A Shady Bower                                             160
    Head of Green-tailed Chewink                              163
    The Nosebag Nest (Vigors's Wren)                          173
    The Plain Titmouse in her Doorway                         176
    Which was the Mother Bird? (Wren-tit and Lazuli Buntings) 189
    The Phainopeplas on the Pepper-tree                       194
    The Phainopepla's Nest in the Oak Brush Island            198
    Eucalyptus Avenue, showing Pollarded Trees on the Right   212
    Eucalyptus Wood stored for Market in a Eucalyptus Grove   214
    Mountain Billy Deserted                                   220



BIRDS REFERRED TO IN THE TEXT.[1]

  White Egret. _Ardea egretta._
  Green Heron. _Ardea virescens anthonyi._
  Spotted Sandpiper. _Actitis macularia._
  Valley Quail. _Callipepla californica vallicola._
  Mourning Dove. _Zenaidura macroura._
  Turkey Vulture. _Cathartes aura._
  Hawk. _Buteo ----._
  Sparrow Hawk. _Falco sparverius deserticolus._
  American Barn Owl. _Strix pratincola._
  Western Horned Owl. _Bubo virginianus subarcticus._
  Burrowing Owl. _Speotyta cunicularia hypogæa._
  Road-runner. _Geococcyx californianus._
  California Woodpecker. _Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi._
  Red shafted Flicker. _Colaptes cafer._
  Dusky Poor-will. _Phalænoptilus nuttalli californicus._
  Black-chinned Hummingbird. _Trochilus alexandri._
  Rufous Hummingbird. _Selasphorus rufus._
  Arkansas Kingbird. _Tyrannus verticalis._
  Cassin's Kingbird. _Tyrannus vociferans._
  Black Phœbe. _Sayornis nigrescens._
  Western Wood Pewee. _Contopus richardsonii._
  Flycatcher. _Empidonax ----._
  Horned Lark. _Otocoris alpestris chrysolæma._
  California Jay. _Aphelocoma californica._
  American Crow. _Corvus americanus._
  Yellow-headed Blackbird. _Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus._
  Red-winged Blackbird. _Agelaius phœnicius ----._
  Arizona Hooded Oriole. _Icterus cucullatus nelsoni._
  Bullock's Oriole. _Icterus bullocki._
  Brewer's Blackbird. _Scholocophagus cyanocephalus._
  Western House Finch. _Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis._
  Goldfinch. _Spinus ----._
  White-crowned Sparrow. _Zonotrichia leucophrys gambeli (?)._
  Golden-crowned Sparrow. _Zonotrichia coronata._
  Heerman's Song Sparrow. _Melospiza fasciata heermanni (?)._
  Spurred Towhee or Chewink. _Pipilo maculatus megalonyx._
  Green-tailed Towhee. _Pipilo chlorurus._
  California Towhee. _Pipilo fuscus crissalis._
  Black-headed Grosbeak. _Habia melanocephala._
  Western Blue Grosbeak. _Guiraca cærulea eurhyncha._
  Lazuli Bunting. _Passerina amœna._
  Louisiana Tanager. _Piranga ludoviciana._
  Cliff Swallow. _Petrochelidon lunifrons._
  Phainopepla. _Phainopepla nitens._
  White-rumped Shrike. _Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides._
  Warbling Vireo. _Vireo gilvus (?)._
  Hutton's Vireo. _Vireo huttoni (?)._
  Least Vireo. _Vireo bellii pusillus (?)._
  Long-tailed Chat. _Icteria virens longicauda._
  American Pipit. _Anthus pensilvanicus._
  California Thrasher. _Harporhynchus redivivus._
  Vigors's Wren. _Thryothorus bewickii spilurus._
  Western House Wren. _Troglodytes ædon aztecus._
  Plain Titmouse. _Parus inornatus._
  Wren-tit. _Chamæa fasciata._
  California Bush-tit. _Psaltriparus minimus californicus._
  Western Gnatcatcher. _Polioptila cærulea obscura._
  Varied Thrush or Oregon Robin. _Hesperocichla nævia._
  Western Bluebird. _Sialia mexicana occidentalis._


FOOTNOTE:

[1] In classification and nomenclature this list conforms to the
American Ornithologists' Union 'Check-List of North American Birds,'
Second Edition, 1895. L. S. Foster, New York.



A-BIRDING ON A BRONCO.



I.

OUR VALLEY.


"CLIMB the mountain back of the house and you can see the Pacific," the
ranchman told me with a gleam in his eye; and later, when I had done
that, from the top of a peak at the foot of the valley he pointed out
the distant blue mountains of Mexico. Then he gave me his daughter's
saddle horse to use as long as I was his guest, that I might explore the
valley and study its birds to the best advantage. Before coming to
California, I had known only the birds of New York and Massachusetts,
and so was filled with eager enthusiasm at thought of spending the
migration and nesting season in a new bird world.

I had no gun, but was armed with opera-glass and note-book, and had
Ridgway's Manual to turn to in all my perplexities. Every morning, right
after breakfast, my horse was brought to the door and I set out to make
the rounds of the valley. I rode till dinner time, getting acquainted
with the migrants as they came from the south, and calling at the more
distant nests on the way. After dinner I would take my camp-stool and
stroll, through the oaks at the head of the valley, for a quiet study of
the nearer nests. Then once more my horse would be brought up for me to
take a run before sunset; and at night I would identify my new birds and
write up the notes of the day. What more could observer crave? The world
was mine. I never spent a happier spring. The freedom and novelty of
ranch life and the exhilaration of days spent in the saddle gave added
zest to the delights of a new fauna. In my small valley circuit of a
mile and a half, I made the acquaintance of about seventy-five birds,
and without resort to the gun was able to name fifty-six of them.

My saddle horse, a white bronco who went by the musical name of Canello,
had been broken by a Mexican whose cruelty had tamed the wild blood in
his veins and left him with a fear of all swarthy skins. Now he could be
ridden bareback by the little girls, with only a rope noose around his
nose, and was warranted to stand still before a flock of birds so long
as there was grass to eat. He was to be relied on as a horse of ripe,
experience and mature judgment in matters of local danger. No power of
bit or spur could induce him to set foot upon a piece of 'boggy land,'
and to give me confidence one of the ranchman's sons said, "Wherever
I've killed a rattlesnake from him he'll shy for years;" and went on to
cite localities where a sudden, violent lurch had nearly sent him over
Canello's head! What greater recommendation could I wish?

If the old horse had had any wayward impulses left, his Mexican bit
would have subdued them. It would be impossible to use such an iron in
the mouth of an eastern horse. They say the Mexicans sometimes break
horses' jaws with it. From the middle of the bit, a flat bar of iron,
three quarters of an inch wide, extended back four inches, lying on the
horse's tongue or sticking into the roof of his mouth, according to the
use of the curb--there was no other rein. The bit alone weighed sixteen
ounces. The bridle, which came from Enseñada in Lower California, then
the seat of a great gold excitement, was made of braided raw-hide. It
was all hand work; there was not a buckle about it. The leather quirt at
the end of the reins was the only whip necessary. When I left the ranch
the bridle was presented to me, and it now hangs behind my study door, a
proud trophy of my western life, and one that is looked upon with
mingled admiration and horror by eastern horsemen.

Canello and I soon became the best of friends. I found in him a valuable
second--for, as I had anticipated, the birds were used to grazing
horses, and were much less suspicious of an equestrian than a foot
passenger--and he found in me a movable stake, constantly leading him
to new grazing ground; for when there was a nest to watch I simply hung
the bridle over the pommel and let him eat, so getting free hands for
opera-glass and note-book. To be sure, there were slight causes of
difference between us. He liked to watch birds in the high alfalfa under
the sycamores, but when it came to standing still where the hot sun beat
down through the brush and there was nothing to eat, his interest in
ornithology flagged perceptibly. Then he sometimes carried the rôle of
grazing horse too far, marching off to a fresh clump of grass out of
sight of my nest at the most interesting moment; or when I was intently
gazing through my glass at a rare bird, he would sometimes give a sudden
kick at a horsefly, bobbing the glass out of range just as I was making
out the character of the wing-bars.

[Illustration: OUR VALLEY]

From the ranch-house, encircled by live-oaks, the valley widened out,
and was covered with orchards and vineyards, inclosed by the low
brush-grown ridges of the Coast Mountains. It was a veritable paradise
for the indolent field student. With so much insect-producing verdure,
birds were everywhere at all times. There were no long hours to sit
waiting on a camp-stool, and only here and there a treetop to 'sky' the
wandering birds. The only difficulty was to choose your intimates.

Canello and I had our regular beat, down past the blooming quince and
apricot orchard, along the brush-covered side of the valley where the
migrants flocked, around the circle through a great vineyard in the
middle of the valley, past a pond where the feathered settlers gathered
to bathe, and so back home to the oaks again.

I liked to start out in the freshness of the morning, when the fog was
breaking up into buff clouds over the mountains and drawing off in veils
over the peaks. The brush we passed through was full of glistening
spiders' webs, and in the open the grass was overlaid with disks of
cobweb, flashing rainbow colors in the sun.

As we loped gayly along down the curving road, a startled quail would
call out, "Who-are-you'-ah? who-are-you'-ah?" and another would cry
"quit" in sharp warning tones; while a pair would scud across the road
like little hens, ahead of the horse; or perhaps a covey would start up
and whirr over the hillside. The sound of Canello's flying hoofs would
often rouse a long-eared jack-rabbit, who with long leaps would go
bounding over the flowers, to disappear in the brush.

The narrow road wound through the dense bushy undergrowth known as
'chaparral,' and as Canello galloped round the sharp curves I had to
bend low under the sweeping branches, keeping alert for birds and
animals, as well as Mexicans and Indians that we might meet.

This corner of the valley was the mouth of Twin Oaks Canyon, and was a
forest of brush, alive with birds, and visited only by the children
whose small schoolhouse stood beside the giant twin oak from which the
valley post-office was named. Flocks of migrating warblers were always
to be found here; flycatchers shot out at passing insects; chewinks
scratched among the dead leaves and flew up to sing on the branches;
insistent vireos cried _tu-whip' tu-whip' tu-whip' tu-wee'-ah_, coming
out in sight for a moment only to go hunting back into the impenetrable
chaparral; lazuli buntings sang their musical round; blue jays--blue
squawkers, as they are here called--went screaming harshly through the
thicket; and the clear ringing voice of the wren-tit ran down the scale,
now in the brush, now echoing from the bowlder-strewn hills above. But
the king of the chaparral was the great brown thrasher. His loud
rollicking song and careless independent ways, so suggestive of his
cousin, the mockingbird, made him always a marked figure.

There was one dense corner of the thicket where a thrasher lived, and I
used to urge Canello through the tangle almost every morning for the
pleasure of sharing his good spirits. He was not hard to find, big brown
bird that he was, standing on the top of a bush as he shouted out
boisterously, _kick'-it-now, kick'-it-now, shut'-up shut'-up, dor'-a-thy
dor'-a-thy_; or, calling a halt in his mad rhapsody, slowly drawled out,
_whoa'-now, whoa'-now_. After listening to such a tirade as this, it
was pleasant to come to an opening in the brush and find a band of
gentle yellow-birds leaning over the blossoms of the white
forget-me-nots.

There were a great many hummingbirds in the chaparral, and at a certain
point on the road I was several times attacked by one of the pugnacious
little warriors. I suppose we were treading too near his nest, though I
was not keen-eyed enough to find it. From high in the air, he would come
with a whirr, swooping down so close over our heads that Canello started
uneasily and wanted to get out of the way. Down over our heads, and then
high up in the air, he would swing back and forth in an arc. One day he
must have shot at us half a dozen times, and another day, over a spot in
the brush near us,--probably, where the nest was,--he did the same thing
a dozen times in quick succession.

In the midst of the brush corner were a number of pretty round oaks, in
one of which the warblers gathered. My favorite tree was in blossom and
alive with buzzing insects, which may have accounted for the presence of
the warblers. While I sat in the saddle watching the dainty birds decked
out in black and gold, Canello rested his nose in the cleft of the tree,
quite unmindful of the busy warblers that flitted about the branches,
darting up for insects or chasing down by his nose after falling
millers.

One morning the ranchman's little girl rode over to school behind me on
Canello, pillion fashion. As we pushed through the brush and into the
opening by the schoolhouse, scattered over the grass sat a flock of
handsome black-headed grosbeaks, the western representative of the
eastern rose-breast, looking, in the sun, almost as red as robins. They
had probably come from the south the night before. As we watched, they
dispersed and sang sweetly in the oaks and brush.

[Illustration: Black-headed Grosbeak.

(One half natural size.)]

[Illustration: Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

(One half natural size.)]

In the giant twin oak under whose shadow the the little schoolhouse
stood was an owl's nest. When I stopped under it, nothing was to be seen
but the tips of the ears of the brooding bird. But when I tried to hoot
after the manner of owls, the angry old crone rose up on her feet above
the nest till I could see her round yellow eyes and the full length of
her long ears. She snapped her bill fiercely, bristled up, puffing out
her feathers and shaking them at us threateningly. Poor old bird! I was
amused at her performances, but one of her little birds lay dead at the
foot of the tree, and I trembled for the others, for the school-children
were near neighbors. Surely the old bird needed all her devices to
protect her young. One day I saw on one side of the nest, below the big
ears of the mother, the round head of a nestling.

It was pleasant to leave the road to ride out under the oaks along the
way. There was always the delightful feeling that one might see a new
bird or find some little friend just gone to housekeeping. One morning I
discovered a bit of a wren under an oak with building material in her
bill. She flew down to a box that lay under the tree and I dismounted to
investigate. A tin can lay on its side in the box, and a few twigs and
yellowish brown oak leaves were scattered about in a casual way, but the
rusted lid of the can was half turned back, and well out of sight in the
inside was a pretty round nest with one egg in it. I was
delighted,--such an appropriate place for a wren's nest,--and sat down
for her to come back. She was startled to find me there, and stopped on
the edge of the board when just ready to jump down. She would have made
a pretty picture as she stood hesitating, with her tail over her back,
for the sun lit up her gray breast till it almost glistened and warmed
her pretty brown head as she looked wistfully down at the box. After
twisting and turning she went off to think the matter over, and,
encouraged perhaps by my whistle, came back and hopped down into the
little nest.

Two weeks later I was much grieved to find that the nest had been broken
up. A horse had been staked under the tree, but he could not have done
the mischief; for while the eggs were there, the nest itself was all
jumbled up in the mouth of the can. I could not get it out of my mind
for days. You become so much interested in the families you are watching
that you feel as if their troubles were yours, and are haunted by the
fear that they will think you have something to do with their accidents.
They had taken me on probation at first, and at last had come to trust
me--and then to imagine that I could deceive them and do the harm
myself!

When Canello and I left the brushy side of the canyon and started across
the valley, the pretty little horned larks, whose reddish backs matched
the color of the road, would run on ahead of us, or let the horses come
within a few feet of them, squatting down ready to start, but not taking
wing till it seemed as if they would get stepped on. Sometimes one sat
on a stone by the roadside, so busy singing its thin chattering song
that it only flitted on to the next stone as we came up; for it never
seemed to occur to the trustful birds that passers-by might harm them.

One of our most interesting birds nested in holes in the open
uncultivated fields down the valley,--the burrowing owl, known
popularly, though falsely, as the bird who shares its nest with prairie
dogs and rattlesnakes. Though they do not share their quarters with
their neighbors, they have large families of their own. We once passed a
burrow around which nine owls were sitting. The children of the ranchman
called the birds the 'how-do-you-do owls,' from the way they bow their
heads as people pass. The owls believe in facing the enemy, and the
Mexicans say they will twist their heads off if you go round them times
enough.

One of our neighbors milked his cows out in a field where the burrowing
owls had a nest, and he told me that his collie had nightly battles with
the birds. I rode down one evening to see the droll performance, and
getting there ahead of the milkers found the bare knoll of the pasture
peopled with ground squirrels and owls. The squirrels sat with heads
sticking out of their holes, or else stood up outside on their hind
legs, with the sun on their light breasts, looking, as Mr. Roosevelt
says, like 'picket pins.' The little old yellowish owls who matched the
color of the pasture sat on the fence posts, while the darker colored
young ones sat close by their holes, matching the color of the earth
they lived in. As I watched, one of the old birds flew down to feed its
young. A comical little fellow ran up to meet his parent and then
scudded back to the nest hole, keeping low to the ground as if afraid of
being seen, or of disobeying his mother's commands. When the ranchman
came with his cows the small owls ducked down into their burrows out of
sight.

Romulus, the collie, went up to the burrows and the old owls came
swooping over his back screaming shrilly--the milkers told me that they
often struck him so violently they nipped more than his hair! When the
owls flew at him, Romulus would jump up into the air at them, and when
they had settled back on the fence posts he would run up and start them
off again. The performance had been repeated every night through the
nesting season, and was getting to be rather an old story now, at least
to Romulus. The ranchman had to urge him on for my benefit, and the owls
acted as if they rather enjoyed the sport, though with them there was
always the possibility that a reckless nestling might pop up its head
from the ground at the wrong moment and come to grief. It would be
interesting to know if the owls were really disturbed enough to move
their nest another year.

When Canello and I faced home on our daily circuit of the valley, we
often found the vineyard well peopled. In April, when it was being
cultivated, there was a busy scene. All the blackbirds of the
neighborhood--both Brewer's and redwings--assembled to pick up grubs
from the soft earth. A squad of them followed close at the plowman's
heels, others flew up before his horse, while those that lagged behind
in their hunt were constantly flying ahead to catch up, and those that
had eaten all they could sat around on the neighboring grape-vines. The
ranchman's son told me that when he was plowing and the blackbirds were
following him, two or three 'bee-birds,' as they call the Arkansas and
Cassin's flycatchers, would take up positions on stakes overlooking the
flock; and when one of the blackbirds got a worm, would fly down and
chase after him till they got it away, regularly making their living
from the blackbirds, as the eagles do from the fish hawks.

[Illustration: In Hot Pursuit.

(Brewer's Blackbird and Bee-birds.)]

One day in riding by the vineyard, to my surprise and delight I saw one
of the handsome yellow-headed blackbirds sitting with dignity on a
grape-vine. Although his fellows often flock with redwings, this bird
did not deign to follow the cultivator with the others, but flew off and
away while I was watching, showing his striking white shoulder patches
as he went. The distinguished birds were sometimes seen assembled
farther down the valley; and I once had a rare pleasure in seeing a
company of them perched high on the blooming mustard.

The son of the ranchman told me an interesting thing about the ordinary
blackbirds. He said he had seen a flock of perhaps five hundred fly down
toward a band of grazing sheep, and all but a few of the birds light on
the backs of sheep. The animals did not seem to mind, and the birds flew
from one to another and roosted and rode to their heart's content. They
would drop to the ground, but if anything startled them, fly back to
their sheep again. Sometimes he had seen a few of the blackbirds picking
out wool for their nests by bracing themselves on the backs of the
sheep, and pulling where the wool was loose. He had also seen the birds
ride hogs, cattle, and horses; but he said the horses usually switched
them off with their tails.

On our way home we passed a small pond made by the spring rains. Since
it was the only body of water for miles around, it was especially
refreshing to us, and was the rendezvous of all our feathered
neighbors--how they must have wished it would last all through the hot
summer months! As I rode through the long grass on the edge of the pond,
dark water snakes often wriggled away from under Canello's feet; but he
evidently knew they were harmless, for he paid no attention to them,
though he was mortally afraid of rattlers. I did not like the feeling
that any snake, however innocent, was under my feet, so would pull him
up out of the grass onto a flat rock overlooking the pond.

In the fresh part of the morning, before the fog had entirely melted
away, the round pool at our feet mirrored the blue sky and the small
white clouds. If a breath of wind ruffled the water into lines, in a
moment more it was sparkling. Along the margin of the water was a border
of wild flowers, pink, purple, and gold; on one side stood a group of
sycamores, their twisted trunks white in the morning sun and their
branches full of singing birds; while away to the south a line of dark
blue undulating hills was crowned by the peak from which we had looked
off on the mountains of Mexico. The air was ringing with songs, the
sycamores were noisy with the chatter of blackbirds and bee-birds, and
the bushes were full of sparrows.

There was an elder on the edge of the pond, and the bathers flew to this
and then flitted down to the water; and when they flew up afterwards,
lighted there to whip the water out of their feathers and sun themselves
before flying off. I never tired watching the little bathers on the
beach. One morning a pipit came tipping and tilting along the sand,
peeping in its wild, sad way. Another time a rosy-breasted linnet
stepped to the edge of the pond and dipped down daintily where the water
glistened in the sunshine, sending a delicate circle rippling off from
its own shadow. Then the handsome white and golden-crowned sparrows came
and bathed in adjoining pools. When one set of birds had flown off to
dry their feathers, others took their places. A pair of blackbirds
walked down the sand beach, but acted absurdly, as if they did not know
what to do in water--it was a wonder any of the birds did in dry
California! Two pieces of wood lay in the shallows, and the blackbirds
flew to them and began to promenade. The female tilted her tail as if
the sight of herself in the pond made her dizzy, but the male finally
edged down gingerly and took a dip or two with his bill, after which
both flew off.

On the mud flats on one side of the pond, bee-birds were busy
flycatching, perching on sticks near the ground and making short sallies
over the flat. Turtle doves flew swiftly past, and high over head hawks
and buzzards circled and let themselves be borne by the wind.

Swallows came to the pond to get mud for their nests. A long line of
them would light on the edge of the water, and then, as if afraid of
wetting their feet, would hold themselves up by fluttering their long
pointed wings. They would get a little mud, take a turn in the air, and
come back for more, to make enough to pay them for their long journeys
from their nests. Sometimes they would skim over the pond without
touching the surface at all, or merely dip in lightly for a drink in
passing; at others they would take a flying plunge with an audible
splash. Now and then great flocks of them could be seen circling around
high up against a background of clouds and blue sky.

One day I had a genuine excitement in seeing a snow-white egret perched
on a bush by the water. I rode home full of the beautiful sight, but
alas, my story was the signal for the ranchman's son to seize his gun
and rush after the bird. Fortunately he did not find him, although he
did shoot a green heron; but it was probably a short reprieve for the
poor hunted creature.

Canello was so afraid of miring in the soft ground that it was hard to
get him across some places that seemed quite innocent. He would test the
suspicious ground as carefully as a woman, one foot at a time; and if he
judged it dangerous, would take the bits, turn around and march off in
the opposite direction. I tried to force him over at first, but had an
experience one day that made me quite ready to take all suggestions in
such matters. This time he was deceived himself. We were on our homeward
beat, off in the brush beyond the vineyard. I was watching for chewinks.
We came to what looked like an old road grown up with soft green grass,
and it was so fresh and tender I let Canello graze along at will; while
keeping my eyes on the brush for chewinks. Suddenly Canello pricked up
his ears and raised his head with a look of terror. Rattlesnakes or
miring--it was surely one or the other! When I felt myself sinking, I
knew which. I gave the horse a cut with the quirt to make him spring off
the boggy ground, and looked off over his side to see how far down he
was likely to go, but found myself going down backwards so fast I had to
cling to the pommel. I lashed Canello to urge him out, and he struggled
desperately, but it was no use. We were sinking in deeper and deeper,
and I had to get off to relieve him of my weight. By this time his long
legs had sunk in up to his body. On touching the ground I had a horrible
moment thinking it might not hold me; but it bore well. Seizing the
bridle with one hand and swinging the quirt with the other, I shouted
encouragement to Canello, and, straining and struggling, he finally
wrenched himself out and stepped on _terra firma_--I never appreciated
the force of that expression before! The poor horse was trembling and
exhausted when I led him up to high ground to remount, and neither of
us had any desire to explore boggy lands after that.

On our morning round, Canello and I attended strictly to business,--he
to grazing, I to observing; but on our afternoon rides I, at least, felt
that we might pay a little more heed to the beauties of the valley and
the joys of horsebacking. Sometimes we would be overtaken by the night
fog. One moment the mustard would be all aglow with sunshine; at the
next, a sullen bank of gray fog would have risen over the mountain,
obscuring the sun which had warmed us and lighted the mustard; and in a
few moments it would be so cold and damp that I would urge Canello into
a lope to warm our blood as we hurried home.



II.

THE LITTLE LOVER.


[Illustration: The Little Lover.

(Western House Wren.)]

ON my second visit to California, I spent the winter in the Santa Clara
valley, riding among the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, where
flocks of Oregon robins were resting from the labors of the summer and
passing the time until they could fly home again; but when the first
spring wild flowers bloomed on the hills I shipped my little roan
mustang by steamer from San Francisco to San Diego, and hurried south to
meet him and spend the nesting season in the little valley of the Coast
Mountains which, five years before, had proved such an ideal place to
study birds.

I went down early in March, to be sure to be in time for the nesting
season; but spring was so late that by the last of April hardly a nest
had been built, and it seemed as if the birds were never coming back.
The weather was gloomy and the prospect for the spring's work looked
discouraging, when one morning I rode over to the line of oaks and
sycamores at the mouth of Ughland canyon I had not visited before. In
this dry, treeless region of southern California only a little water is
needed to cover the bare valley bottoms with verdure. The rushing
streams that flow down the canyons after the winter rains fill their
mouths with rich groves of brush, oaks and sycamores; while lines of
trees border the streams as far as they extend down the valleys. Before
the streams go far, the thirsty soil drinks them up, leaving only dry
beds of sand bordered by trees, until the rains of the following winter.
In April, the water in this particular canyon mouth had already
disappeared, and the wide sand bed under the trees alone remained to
tell of the short-lived stream. But the resulting verdure was enough to
attract the birds. Apparently a party of travelers had just arrived. The
brush and trees were full of song--yellowbirds, linnets, chewinks,
doves, wrens, and, best of all, a song sparrow,--bless his
heart!--singing as if he were on a bush in New York state. It was more
cheering than anything I had heard in California.

When able to listen to something besides song sparrows, I realized that
from the trees in front of me was coming the rippling merry song of a
wren. Wrens are always interesting,--droll, individual little
scraps,--and having found their nests in sycamore holes before, I let my
horse, Mountain Billy, graze nearer to the tree from which the sound
came. Before long the small brown pair flew away together across the oat
field that spread out from the mouth of the canyon. While they were
gone, I took the opportunity to inspect the tree, and found a large hole
with twigs sticking out suggestively. Presently, back flew one of the
wrens with more building material. But this line of sycamores was off
from the highway, and the bird was not used to prying equestrians; so
when she found Mountain Billy and me planted in front of her door, she
doubted the wisdom of showing us that it was her door. Chattering
nervously, she would back and fill, flying all but to the door and then
flitting off again. She could not make up her mind to go inside. But
soon her mate came and--unmindful of visitors, ardent little lover that
he was--sang to her so gayly that it put her in heart; and before I knew
it she had slipped into the tree.

Here was a nest, at last, right over my eye. To encourage myself while
waiting for something to happen, I began a list with the heading NESTS,
when something caught my eye overhead, and glancing up, behold, a
goldfinch walked down a branch and seated herself in a round cup! A few
moments later--buzz--whirr--a hummingbird flew to a nest among the brown
leaves of one of the low-hanging oak sprays not ten feet away! I simply
stared with delight and astonishment. No need of a list for
encouragement now. From Billy's back I could look down into the little
cup, which seemed the tiniest in the world. Forgetting the little lover
and his mate, I sat still and watched this small household.

The young were out of the eggs, though not much more, and their mother
sat on the edge of the nest feeding them. She curved her neck over till
her long bill stood up perpendicularly, when she put it gently into the
gaping bills of her young; the smallest of bills, not more than an
eighth of an inch long, I should judge. I never saw hummingbirds fed so
gently. Probably the small bills and throats were so delicate the mother
was afraid they would not bear the usual jabbing and pumping.

When the little ones were fed, the old bird got down in the nest,
fluffing her feathers about her in a pretty motherly way and settling
herself comfortably to rest, apparently ignoring the fact that Billy was
grazing close beside her. She may have had her qualms, but no mother
bird would leave her tender young uncovered on such a cold morning.

While she was on the nest, there was an approaching whirr, followed by a
retreating buzz--had the father bird started to come to the nest and
fled at sight of me? Remembering the evidence Bradford Torrey collected
to prove that the male bird is rarely seen at the nest, I wondered if
his absence might be explained by his usually noisy flight, for it would
attract the notice of man or beast.

Two days later I carefully touched the tip of my finger to the back of
one of the tiny hummingbirds,--it was very skinny, I regret to
state,--and at my touch the little thing opened its wee bill for food.
That day the mother fed the birds in the regulation way, when we were
only four feet distant. I was near enough to see all the horrors of the
performance. She thrust her bill down their throats till I felt like
crying out, "For mercy's sake, forbear!" She plunged it in up to the
very hilt; it seemed as if she must puncture their alimentary canals.

While waiting for the wrens, I buckled Billy's bridle around the
sycamore and threw myself down on the warm sand under the beautiful
tree. The little horse stood near, outlined against the blue sky, with
the sunlight dappling his back, while I looked up into the light green
foliage of the white sycamore overhead. There seemed to be a great deal
of light stored in these delicate trees. The undersides of the big,
soft, white leaves looked like white Canton flannel; the sunlight
mottled the whitish bark of the trunks and branches; and a great limb
arched above me, making a high vaulted chamber whose skylights showed
the deep blue above.

But there were the little lover and his mate, and I must turn my glass
on them. She came first, with long streamers hanging from her bill, and
at sight of me got so flustered that one of her straws slipped out and
went sailing down to the ground. When the pair had gone again, two
linnets came along. The female saw the wren's doorway, and being in
search of apartments flew up to look at the house. When she came out she
and her mate talked it over and, apparently, she told him something that
aroused his curiosity--perhaps about the wren's twigs she found
inside--for he flew into the dark hole and looked around as she had
done. Then both birds went off to inspect other holes in the tree. The
master of the wren cottage came back in time to see them on their
rounds, and taking up his position in front of his door sang out loudly,
with wings hanging and a general air of, "This is _my_ house, I'd have
you understand!"

When the lord of the manor had flown away, his lady came. I thought
perhaps he had told her of the visitors and she had come to see if they
had disturbed any of her sticks, for she brought no material. She was
afraid to go to the nest in my presence, but flew to a branch near by
and leaned down so far it was a wonder she didn't tip over as she stared
anxiously at the hole--a bad way to keep a secret, my little lady! I
thought. When her merry minstrel came, his song again gave her courage
and she flew inside, turning in the doorway, however, to look out at me.

But what with horses grazing under her windows and linnets making free
with her nest, the poor wren was unsettled in her mind. Possibly it
would be wiser to take out her sticks and build elsewhere. She went
about looking at vacant rooms and examined one opening in the side of
the trunk where I could see only her profile as she hung out of the
hole.

For some time the timid bird would not accept Mountain Billy and me as
part of her immediate landscape, and I watched the premises a number of
days, getting nothing but my labor for my pains, as far as wrens were
concerned.

One day when she did not come, I thought it was a good chance to get a
study of the hummingbird's nest; but alas!--the delicate little
structure hung torn and dangling from the twig, with nothing to tell
what had become of the poor little hummers. I moralized sadly upon the
mutability of human affairs as I took the tattered nest and tied it up
in a corner of my handkerchief; for it was all that was left of the
little home built with such exquisite care and brooded over so
tenderly.

The yellowbird's nest came to an untimely end, too, although its start
was such a bright one. It was a disappointment, for the goldfinches are
such trustful birds and so affectionate and tender in their family
relations that they always win one's warm interest. At first, when this
mother bird went to the nest, her mate stationed himself on the nest
tree, leaning over and looking down anxiously at Billy and me; but
before their home was broken up the watchful guardian fed his pretty
mate at her brooding when we were below.

We had a great many visitors while waiting for the wrens: neighbors came
to sit in our green shade, young housekeepers came looking for rooms to
rent, and old birds who were leading around their noisy families came to
dine with us. Once a pair of flickers started to light in the tree, but
they gave a glance over the shoulder at me and fled. Later I found their
secret--down inside an old charred stump up the canyon. Occasionally I
got sight of gay liveries in the green sycamore tops. A Louisiana
tanager in his coat of many colors stopped one day, and another time,
when looking up for dull green vireos, my eye was startled by a flaming
golden oriole. The color was a keen pleasure. Lazuli buntings, relatives
of our eastern indigo-bird, sang so much within hearing that I felt sure
they were nesting in the weeds outside the line of sycamores--I did find
a pair building in the malvas beyond; a pair of bush-tits, cousins of
the chickadees, came with one of their big families; California towhees
often appeared sitting quietly on the branches; linnets were always
stopping to discuss something in their emphatic way; clamorous blue jays
rushed in and set the small birds in a panic, but seeing me quickly took
themselves off; and a pair of wary woodpeckers hunted over the sycamore
trunks and worked so cautiously that they had finished excavating a nest
only just out of my sight on the other side of the wren tree trunk
before I seriously suspected them of domestic intentions.

One day, when watching at the tree, a great brown and black lizard that
the children of the valley call the 'Jerusalem overtaker' came worming
down the side of an oak that I often leaned against. The rough bark
seemed such a help to it that I imagined the wrens had done wisely in
choosing a smooth sycamore to build in. I looked narrowly at their nest
hole with the thought in mind and saw that the birds had another point
of vantage in the way the trunk bulged at the hole--it did not seem as
if a large lizard could work itself up the smooth slippery rounding
surface, however much given to eggs for breakfast. But in the West
Indies lizards walk freely up and down the marble slabs, so it is
dangerous to say what they cannot do.

Billy had a surprise one day greater than mine over the lizard. He was
grazing quietly near where I sat under the wren tree, when he suddenly
threw up his head. His ears pointed forward, his eyes grew excited, and
as he gazed his head rose higher and higher. I jumped from the ground
and put my hand on the pommel ready to spring into the saddle. As I did
so, across the field I caught a glimpse of a great fawn-colored animal
with a white tip to its tail, bounding through the brush--a deer! Then I
heard voices through the trees and saw the red shawl of a woman in a
wagon rumbling up the road the deer must have crossed.

When Mountain Billy and I pulled ourselves together and started after
the deer, the poor horse was so unstrung he made snakes of all the
sticks he saw and shied at all imaginable bugaboos along the way. We
were too late to see the deer again, but found the marks of its hoofs
where it had jumped a ditch and sunk so deep in the fine sand on the
other side that it had to take a great leap to recover itself.

The sight of the deer made Billy as nervous as a witch for days. Every
time we went to visit the wrens he would stand with eyes glued to the
spot where it had appeared, and when a jack-rabbit came out of the brush
with his long ears up, Billy started as if he thought it would devour
him. I was perplexed by his nervousness at first, but after much
pondering reasoned it out, to my own satisfaction at least. His name
was Mountain Billy, and in the days when he had been a wayward bucking
mustang he lived in the Sierra. Now, even in the hills surrounding our
valley, colts were killed by mountain lions. How much more in the
Sierra. Mountain lions are large fawn-colored animals: that was it:
Mountain Billy was suffering from an acute attack of association of
ideas. The sight of the deer had awakened memories of the nightmare of
his colthood days.

We made frequent visits to the wren tree, and both my nervous little
horse and I had a start one morning, for as we rode in, a covey of quail
flew up with a whirr from under the tree in front of us.

When the wren had become reconciled to us she worked rapidly, flying
back and forth with material, followed by her mate, who sang while she
was on the nest and chased away with her afterwards. Often when she
appeared in the doorway ready to go, his song, which had been just a
merry round before, at sight of her would suddenly change to a most
ecstatic love song. He would sit with drooping tail, his wings sometimes
shaking at his sides, at others raised till they almost met over his
back, trembling with the excitement of his joy. This peculiar tremulous
motion of the wings was marked in both wrens; their emotions seemed too
large for their small bodies.

I found the wrens building, the last of April. The third week in May
the little lover was singing as hard as ever. I wrote in my
note-book--"Wrens do not take life with proper seriousness, their duties
certainly do not tie them down." When the eggs were in the nest, if her
mate sang at her door, the mother bird would fly out to him and away
they would go together; for it never seemed to occur to the care-free
lover that he might brood the eggs in her absence.

When the young hatched, however, affairs took a more serious turn.
Mother wren at least was kept busy looking for spiders, and later, when
both were working together, if not hunting among the green treetops, the
pretty little brown birds often flew to the ground and ran about under
the weeds to search for insects. Once when the mother bird had flown up
with her bill full, she suddenly stopped at the twig in front of the
nest, looking down, her tail over her back wren fashion, the sun on her
brown sides, and her bill bristling with spiders' legs.

[Illustration: A Trying Moment.]

On June 7 I noticed a remarkable thing. For more than five weeks, all
through the building and brooding, the little lover had been acting as
if on his honeymoon--as if the nest were a joke and there were nothing
for him to do in the world but sing and make love to his pretty mate--as
if life were all 'a-courtin'.' On this day he first came to the tree
with food, sang out for his spouse, gave her the morsel, and flew off.
Later in the morning he brought food and his mate carried it to the
young. But afterwards, when she started to take a morsel from him,
behold! he--the gay, frivolous little beau, the minstrel lover--actually
acted as if he didn't want to give it up, as if he wanted to feed his
own little birds himself. With wings trembling at his sides he turned
his back on his mate and started to walk down the branch away from her!
But he was too fond of her to even seem to refuse her anything, and so,
coming back, gave her the morsel. She probably divined his thought, and,
let us hope, was glad to have him show an interest in his children at
last; at all events, when he came again with food and clung to the tip
of a drooping twig waiting although she first lit above him and came
down toward him with bill wide open and wings fluttering in the pretty,
helpless, coquettish way female birds often tease to be fed; suddenly,
as if remembering, she flew off, and--he went in to the nest himself! It
was a conquest; the little lover was not altogether lacking in the
paternal instinct after all! I looked at him with new respect.

On June 12 I wrote: "The wrens seem to have settled down to business."
It was delightful to find the small father actually taking turns feeding
the young. I saw him feed his mate only once or twice, and noticed much
less of the quivering wings, though after leaving the nest he would
sometimes light on a branch and move them tremulously at his sides for a
moment. June 15 I wrote: "The birds are feeding rapidly to-day. I hear
very little song from the male; probably he has all he can attend to.
I'd like to know how many young ones there are in that hole." At all
events, the voices of the young were getting stronger and more
insistent, and it is no bagatelle to keep half a dozen gaping mouths
full of spiders, as any mother bird can tell. This particular mother
wren, however, seemed to enjoy her cares. She often called to the young
from a branch in front of the nest before going in, and stopped to call
back to them with a motherly-sounding _krup-up-up_ as she stood in the
entrance on leaving.

One day as one of the old birds stood in the doorway its mate flew into
the nest right over its head. The astonished doorkeeper was so startled
that it took to its wings.

Before this, in watching the wrens, I had looked off across a sunny
field of golden oats, against the background of blue hills. On June 14,
when I went to the nest, the mowers had been at work around the
sycamores and the oat-field was full of cocks. Just as the wren was most
anxious for peace and quietness, for a safe world into which to launch
her brood, up came this rout of haymakers with all their clattering
machines, laying low the meadows to her very door.

No wonder the little bird met me with nerves on edge. When the eggs had
first hatched, she had objected to me, but mildly. To be sure, once when
she found me staring she flew away over my head, scolding as much as to
say, "Stop looking at my little birds," and finding me there when she
came back, shook her wings at her sides and scolded hard, though her
bill was full; but still her disapproval did not trouble me; it was too
sociable. But now, for some time, affected by the shadow of coming
events, she had been growing more and more fidgety under my gaze,
darting inside, then whisking back to the door to look at me, in again
to her brood and out to me, over and over like a flash--or, like a poor
little troubled mother wren, distracted lest her unruly youngsters
should pop out of the hole in the tree trunk when I was below to catch
them.

On this day, when the wren came up from the dark nest pocket and found
me below, she called back to her little ones in such distress that I
felt reproached. By gazing fixedly through my glass into the dark hole I
could see the head of a sprightly nestling pop up and turn alertly from
side to side as if returning my inspection. The old wren's calls made me
think of a human mother who can no longer control her big wayward
offspring and has to entreat them to do as she bids. It was as if she
said, "Oh, _do_ be good children, _do_ keep still; _do_ put your heads
back; you _naughty_ children, you _must_ do as I tell you!"

On June 16, six weeks after I had found the birds building, I wrote in
my note-book: "I am astonished every morning when I come and find the
wrens still here, but perhaps it's easier feeding them in one spot than
it would be chasing around after them in half a dozen different places."

The young were chattering inside the nest. They all talked at once as
children will, but one small voice assumed the tones of the mother;
probably the oldest brother speaking with the air of authority
featherless children sometimes assume with the weaker members of the
family. When a parent came, I saw the big brother's head pop up from
behind the wall,--the nest was in a pocket below,--and by the time the
old bird got there with food the big throat blocked the way for the
little ones down behind. Sometimes I could see a flutter of small wings
and tails, when the birds were being fed.

As nothing happened, I went off to watch another nest, but in an hour
was back to make sure of seeing the small wrens when they left the nest.
A loud continuous scolding met me on approaching, and one of the old
wrens, with bill full of insects, flew--not up to the nest--but down in
among the weeds! In less than an hour that whole brood of wrens had
flown, and were three or four rods away in the high weeds--safe! I was
taken aback. They had stolen a march on me. Surely I had not been
treated as was fit and proper, being one of the family!

It was amusing to see the young ones fly. They whirled away on their
wings as if they had been flitting around in the big world always; but
their stubby tails sadly interfered with their progress, and they came
to earth before they meant.

Weak cries came from the young hidden in the weeds. They could fly, but
it was different from being safe inside a tree trunk! I hardly
recognized their weak appealing voices, after the stentorian tones that
had issued from the old nest.

The weeds were a most admirable cover, and the dead stalks sticking up
through them served as sentry posts, from which the old birds scolded me
when I followed too close on their heels. The youngsters sometimes
appeared on the stalks, and looked very pert on their long legs with
their short tails cocked over their backs.

In the afternoon I went again to see the little family to which I had
become so much attached and which were now slipping away from me. They
had been led farther up the canyon, where, at a turn in the dry bed of
the stream, the thick cover of weeds was still more protected by brush
and overhanging trees, and the whole thicket was warmed by the afternoon
sunshine. The old birds were busily flying back and forth feeding their
invisible young. They scolded me as they flew past, but kept right on
with their work.

There was little use trying to keep track of the brood after that, and I
thought I had given them up quite philosophically, reflecting that it
was pleasant to leave them in such a sunny protected place. Still, day
after day in riding along the line of sycamores on my way to other
nests, it gave me a pang of loneliness to pass the old deserted wren
tree where I had spent so many happy hours; and though the sycamores
were silent, I could always hear and see the little lover singing to his
pretty mate.



III.

LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT.


WHEN watching the little lover and his brood, I heard familiar voices
farther down the line of oaks, voices of little friends I had made on my
first visit to California, and had always remembered with lively
interest as the jauntiest, most individual bits of humanity I had ever
known in feathers. So, when Mountain Billy and I could be spared by the
other bird families we were watching, we set out to hunt up the little
bluish gray western gnatcatchers.

The (sand) stream that widened under the wren's sycamores narrowed up
the canyon to a--dry ditch, I should say, if it were not disrespectful
to speak that way of a channel that once a year carries a torrent which
excavates canals in the meadows. Billy and I started up this sand ditch,
so narrow between its weed-grown banks that there was barely room for
us, and so arched over in places by chaparral that we could get through
only when Billy put down his ears and I bowed low on the saddle.

[Illustration: Nest of Western Gnatcatcher.

(From a photograph.)]

We had not gone far before we heard the gnatcatchers, bluish gray mites
with heads that are always cocked on one side or the other to look down
at something, and long tails that are always flipping about as their
owners flaunt gayly through the bushes: At sound of their voices I
pulled Billy up out of the ditch, and, slipping from his back, sat down
on the ground to wait for the birds. Eureka! there, in a slender young
oak on the edge of the stream not a rod away, one of the pair was
gliding off its nest, a beautiful lichen-covered, compact little
structure such as I had admired years before. I was jubilant. What a
relief! I had fully expected it to be inside the dense brush, where no
mortal could tell what was going on; and here it was out in the plain
light of day. What a delightful time I should have watching it! Before
leaving the spot, in imagination I had followed the brood out into the
world and filled a note-book with the quaint airs and graces of the
piquant pair.

When insinuating yourself into the secrets of the bird world, it is not
well to be too obtrusive at first: it is a mistake to spend the day when
you make your first call; so contenting myself with thinking of the
morrow, and fixing the small oak in my memory, I took myself off before
the blue-gray should tell on me to her mate. As I rose to go, a dove
flew out of the oak--she had been brooding right over my head. Another
nest, and a mourning dove's, one of the most gentle and winning of
birds! Surely my good star was in the ascendent!

The next day, forgetful of this second nest, I rode Billy right up under
the oak, and was startled to find the pretty dove sitting quietly over
our heads, looking down at us out of her gentle eyes. It was a pleasant
surprise. She let me talk to her, but when I had dismounted Billy
tramped around so uneasily that the saddle caught in the oak branches
and scared the poor bird away. I had hardly seated myself when the
jaunty little gnatcatcher came flying over and lit in an upper branch
of the tree. What a contrast she was to the quiet dove! With many flirts
of the tail she hopped down to the nest, jumping from branch to branch
as if tripping down a pair of stairs. When she dropped into her deep cup
her small head stuck up over one edge, her long tail pointed over the
other.[2]

I looked away a moment, and on glancing back found the nest empty.
On the  instant, however, came the sound of my small friend's voice.
Such a talkative  little person!--not one of your
creep-in-and-out-of-the-nest-without-anybody's-knowing-it kind of a
bird, not she! Her remarks sounded as if made over my head, and when
Billy stamped about the brush and rapped the saddle trying to switch off
flies, I imagined guiltily that they were addressed to me; but while I
wondered if she would keep away all the rest of the morning because she
had discovered me, back she came, talking to herself in complaining
tones and whipping her tail impatiently, even after she stood on the
edge of the nest, evidently absorbed in her own affairs, quite to the
exclusion of the person down in the brush who thought herself so
important!

My doves were attending to me, however, altogether too much. The
brooding bird was anxious to go to her nest. After flying out where she
could see me, she whizzed toward it; but, fearful, hesitated and talked
it over with her mate--both birds cooed with inflated breaths. After
that the branches rattled overhead, but even then, though my back was
turned, the timid bird dared not stay. She must make another inspection.
From an opposite oak she peered through the branches, moving her head
excitedly, and calling out her impressions to her mate. Meanwhile, he
had flown down the sand stream and called back quite calmly. I, also,
cooed reassuringly to her, and soon she quieted down and began to plume
her feathers on the sunny branch. As the gnatcatchers did not honor us
with their attention even when Billy stalked around in plain sight, I
moved a little closer to their nest to give the dove more freedom; and
soon the gentle bird slipped back to her brooding.

Before leaving I went to see the dove in the oak, and spoke caressingly
to her, admiring her soft dove-colored feathers and shining iridescent
neck. She was on her own ground there, and felt that she could safely be
friends, so she only winked in the sun, paying no heed to her mate when
he called warningly. It was especially pleasant to watch this reserved
lady-like bird, after the flippant tell-all-you-know little gnat.

On going away, Billy and I took a run up the canyon. Billy was in high
spirits, and went racing up the narrow road, winding and turning
through the chaparral, brushing me against the the stiff scrub oak and
loping under low branches so fast that the sharp leaves snapped back,
stinging my cheeks. We had a gay ride, with a spice of excitement thrown
in; for on our way home, in the thick dust across our path, besides the
pretty quail tracks that made wall-paper patterns on the road, were the
straight trails of gopher snakes, and the scalloped one of a rattlesnake
we had been just too late to meet.

At our next session with the blue-grays, when she was on the nest, her
mate came back to relieve her and cried in his quick cheerful way, "Here
I am, here I am!" Either she was taking a nap or didn't want to stir,
for she didn't budge till he called insistently, "_Here_ I am, _here_ I
am!" Then he hopped down in her place, and raising his head above the
nest, remarked again, as if commenting upon the new situation, "Here I
am!"

It was quite a different matter when she came back to work. She only
called "hello," not even hinting that he should make way for her, but he
hopped off at the first sound of her voice, flying away promptly to
another tree and calling back like a gleeful boy let out of school,
"Here I am!"

She was no more eager to go to the nest than he, however, and once when
she came flirting leisurely along from twig to twig, she stopped a long
time on the edge of the nest and leaned over, presumably to arrange the
eggs; perhaps she and her mate had different views as to their proper
positions. The next time I visited the gnats, she acted as if she really
could not make up her mind to settle down to brooding on such a
beautiful morning. The fog had cleared away and the air was fresh and
full of life; goldfinches and lazuli buntings were singing merrily, and
light-hearted vireos were shouting _chick-a-de-chick'-de-villet'_ from
the brush. How much pleasanter it would be for such an airy fairy to go
off for a race with her mate than to settle down demurely tucked into a
cup! "Tsang," she cried impatiently as she flew up to catch a fly. She
flirted about the branches, whipped up in front of the nest, couldn't
make up her mind to go in, and flounced off again. But the eggs would
get cold if she didn't cover them, so back she came, hopped up on the
edge of the nest, and stood twisting and turning, glancing this way and
that as though for a fly to chase, till she happened to look down at the
eggs; then she whipped her tail, dropped in and--jumped out again!

During the morning when she was away and her mate was waiting for her to
come back to 'spell' him, he too got impatient. He hopped out of the
nest crying, "Now here I am, quick, come quick!" and as he flew off,
sang out in his funny little soliloquizing way, "Well, here I go; here I
go!"

His restless spouse had only just settled down when a wren-tit--a
wren-like bird with a long tail--flew into a bush near her oak, and she
darted out of the nest to snap her bill over his head. I thought it
merely an excuse to leave her brooding. Calling out "tsang," she again
flew at the brown bird who was hopping around in the bush, so
innocently, as I thought. Conqueror for the moment, she flaunted back to
the nest, and after much ado finally settled down.

For a time all was quiet. Hearing the low cooing of doves, I went to
talk to the pretty bird in the oak, and she let me come near enough to
see her bluish bill and quiet eyes. As I returned to the gnatcatchers, a
chewink was hoeing in the sand stream. Again the wren-tit approached
stealthily. I watched with languid interest till he got to the gnat's
tree. The instant he touched foot upon her domain, she dashed down at
him, crying loudly and snapping her bill in his face. The brown bird
dodged her blows, held his footing in spite of her, and slowly made his
way up to the nest. I was astonished and frightened. He leaned over the
nest, and--what he actually did I could not see, for by that time the
blue-gray's cries had called her mate and they were both screaming and
diving down at him as if they would peck his eyes out; and it sounded as
if they hit him on the back good and hard.

A peaceful lazuli bunting, hearing the commotion, came to investigate,
but when she saw what was happening held back against the side of a twig
as though afraid of getting struck, and soon flew off, having no desire
to get mixed up in that affray.

When the wren-tit had at last been driven from his position, the
gnatcatchers flew up into a tree and, standing near together, talked the
matter over excitedly. Then one of them went back to the nest, reached
down into it and brought up something that it appeared to be eating. Its
mate went to the nest and did the same, after which one of them flew
away with a broken eggshell. When the little creatures turned away from
the plundered nest they broke out into cries of distress that were
pitiful to hear. I felt indignant at the wren-tit. How could a bird with
eggs of its own do such a cruel thing? But then, I reflected, we who
pretend to be better folks than wren-tits do not always spare our
neighbors because of our own troubles. When the poor birds had carried
away their broken eggshell, one of them came and tugged at the nest
lining till it pulled out a long horsehair and what looked like a
feather, apparently trying to take out everything that the egg had
soiled.

When the little housekeeper was working over her nest, a brown towhee
flew into the tree. On the instant there was a flash of wings--the gnat
was ready for war. But after a fair look at the big peaceful bird, she
flew to the next tree without a word--she evidently knew friends from
enemies. I never liked the towhee so well before. But though the
blue-gray had nothing to say against her neighbor sitting up in the tree
if he chose, her nerves were so unstrung that when she lit in the next
tree she cried out "tsang" in an overburdened tone. It sounded so unlike
the usual cry of the light-hearted bird, it quite made me sad.

Whether the poor little gnatcatchers did not recover from this attack
upon their home, and took their nest to pieces to put it up elsewhere,
as birds sometimes do; or whether the stealthy wren-tit again crept in
like a thief in the night to plunder his neighbor's house, I do not
know; but the next time I went to the oak the nest was demolished. It
was a sorry ending for what had promised to be such an interesting and
happy home.

My poor dove's nest had a tragic end, too. What happened I do not know,
but one day the body of a poor little pigeon lay on the ground under the
nest. My sympathies went out to both mothers, but especially to the
gentle dove, now a mourner, indeed.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] As this little pair dressed like twins, I could only infer which was
which from the song and the actions of the two, which were quite
distinct.



IV.

WAS IT A SEQUEL?


AFTER the wren-tit stole in like a thief in the night and broke up the
pretty home of the gnatcatchers, I suspected that they took their house
down to put it up again in a safer place, and so was constantly on the
lookout to find where that safer place was. At last, one day, I heard
the welcome sound of their familiar voices, and following their calls
finally discovered them flying back and forth to a high branch on an old
oak-tree; both little birds working and talking together. Mind, I do not
stake my word on this being the same pair of gnats; but the nest
followed closely on the heels of the plundered one, which was a point in
its favor, and, being anxious to take up the lines with my small friends
again, I let myself think they were the birds of the sand ditch nest. It
was such a delight to find them that I deserted the nest I had been
watching, and went to spend the next morning with my old friends. The
tree they had chosen was a high oak in an open space in the brush, and
they were building fifteen or twenty feet above the ground--so high that
it was necessary to keep an opera-glass focused on the spot to see what
was going on at their small cup.

As the birds worked, I was filled with forebodings by seeing a pair of
wren-tits on the premises. They went about in the casual indifferent way
sad experience had shown might cover a multitude of evil intentions, and
which made me suspect and resent their presence. How had they found the
poor little gnats? It was not hard to tell. How could they help finding
such talkative fly-abouts? But if birds are in danger from all the
world, including those who should be their comrades and champions, why
should not builders keep as still at the nest as brooding birds, instead
of heedlessly giving information to observers that lurk about taking
notes for future misdeeds? But then, could gnatcatchers keep still
anywhere at any time? No, that was not to be hoped for. I could only
watch the little chatterers from hour to hour and be thankful for every
day that their home was unmolested.

It was interesting to see how the jaunty indifferent gnats would act
when settling down to plain matters of business. Strange to say, they
proved to be the most energetic, tireless, and skillful of builders.
Their floor had been laid--on the branch--before I arrived on the scene,
and they were at work on the walls. The plan seemed to be twofold, to
make the walls compact and strong by using only fine bits of material
and packing them tightly in together; while at the same time they gave
form to the nest and kept it trim and shipshape by moulding inside, and
smoothing the rim and outside with neck and bill. Sometimes the bird
would smooth the brim as a person sharpens a knife on a whetstone, a
stroke one way and then a stroke the other. When the sides were not much
above the floor, one bird came with a bit of material which it proceeded
to drill into the body of the wall. It leaned over and threw its whole
weight on it, almost going head first out of the nest, and had to
flutter its wings to recover itself. The birds usually got inside to
build, but there was a twig beside the nest that served for scaffolding,
and they sometimes stood on that to work at the outside.

At first they seemed to take turns at building, working rapidly and
changing places quite regularly; but one morning when seated under the
oak I saw that things were not as they had been. Perhaps a difference of
opinion had arisen on architectural points, and Mrs. Gnatcatcher had
taken matters into her own hands. At all events, this is what happened:
instead of rapid changes of place, when one of the gnats was at work its
mate flew up and started to go to the nest, hesitated, and backed away;
then unwilling to give up having a finger in the pie, advanced again.
This was kept up till the little bird put its pride in its pocket, and
gently gave over its cherished bit of material to its mate at the nest!

Now as these gnatcatchers had the bad taste to dress so nearly alike
that I could not tell them apart, I was left to my own surmises as to
which took the material. Still, who could it have been but Mrs. Gnat?
Would she give over the house to Mr. Gnat at this critical moment? She
doubtless wanted to decorate as she went along, and men aren't supposed
to know anything about such trivial matters! On the other hand, it might
easily be he, for, supposing he had come of a family of superior
builders, surely he would want to see to the laying of substantial
walls; and unquestionably a good wall was the important part of this
nest. Alas! it was a clear case of "The Lady or the Tiger." To
complicate matters, the birds worked so fast, so high over my head, and
so hidden by the leaves, that I had much ado to keep track of their
exchanges at all. If I could only catch them and tie a pink ribbon
around one of their necks!--then, at least, I would know which was doing
what, or if it was doing what it hadn't done before! It is inconsiderate
enough of birds to wear the same kind of clothes, but to talk alike too,
when hidden by the leaves--that, indeed, is a straw to break the camel's
back. If small gray gnatcatchers up in the treetops had only been big
black magpies low in the brush, my testimony regarding their
performances might be of more value; but then, the magpies of my
acquaintance were so shy they would have none of me; so although life
and field work are full of disappointments, they are also full of
compensations.

Not being able to do anything better with the gnat problems, I guessed
at which was which--when I saw No. 2 go to the nest and No. 1
reluctantly make way as if not wanting No. 2 to meddle, I drew my own
conclusions, although they were not scientifically final. I did see one
thing that was satisfactory, as far as it went. One of the birds came
with big tufts of stiff moss sticking out from either side of its bill
like great mustachios, and going up to the nest, handed them to its
mate--actually something big enough for a person to see, once! Whatever
had been the birds' first feeling as to which should put the bricks in
the wall, it was all settled now, and the little helpmate flew off
singing out such a happy good-by it made one feel like writing a sermon
on the moral effect of renunciation. After that I was sure the little
helper fed his (?) mate on the nest, again singing out good-by as he
flitted away. Once when he (?) brought material he found her (?) busy
with what she had, and so went to the other end of the branch, and
waited till she was ready for it, when he flew back and gave it to her.

It was a real delight to watch the little blue-grays at their work. Once
as one of them started to fly away--I am sure this was she--she suddenly
stopped to look back at the nest as if to think what she wanted to get
next; or, perhaps, just to get the effect of her work at a distance, as
an artist walks away from his painting; or as any mother bird would stop
to admire the pretty nest that was to hold her little brood. Another
time one of the gnats,--I was sure this was he,--having driven off an
enemy, flipped his tail by the nest with a paternal air of satisfaction.
The birds made one especially pretty picture; the little pair stood
facing each other close to the nest, and the sun, filtering through the
green leaves over their heads, touched them gently as they lingered near
their home.

One morning when a gnat was in the nest a leaf blew down past it,
startling it so it hopped out in such a hurry that the first I knew it
was seated beneath the nest, flashing its tail.

Back and forth the dainty pair flew across the space of blue sky between
the oak and the brush. They went so fast and carried so little it seemed
as if they might have made their heads save their heels--they brought so
little I couldn't see that they brought anything; but I feel delicate
about telling what I know about nest-making, and it may be that this was
just the secret of the wonderfully compact solid walls of the nest; a
little at a time, and that drilled in to stay.

When one of the small builders flew down near me--within two yards--for
material, I felt greatly pleased and flattered. Her mate warned her, but
she paid no particular attention to him, and with jaunty twists and
turns hopped about on the dead limbs, giving hurried jabs at the cobwebs
she was gathering. Once she rubbed her little cheek against a twig as if
a thread of the cobweb had gotten in her eye. She dashed in among the
dead leaves after something, but flew back with a start as if she had
seen a ghost. She was not to be daunted, however, and after whipping her
tail and peering in for a moment, hopped bravely down again. Sometimes,
when collecting cobweb, the gnat would whip its tail and snap its bill
snip, snip, snip, as if cutting the web with a pair of scissors.

I was amused one day by seeing a gnat fly down from the oak to the brush
with what looked like a long brown caterpillar. The worm dangling from
the tip of his beak was almost as large as the bird, and the little
fellow had to crook his tail to keep from being overbalanced and going
on his bill to the ground.

As the nest went up, the leaves hid it; but I could still see the small
wings and tails flip up in the air over the edge of the cup and jerk
about as the bird moulded. I watched the workers so long that I felt
quite competent to build a nest myself, till happening to remember that
it required gnatcatcher tools.

Ornithologists are discouraging people to wait for, and Mountain Billy
got so restless under the gnat tree that he had to invent a new
fly-brush for himself. On one side of the oak the branches hung low to
the ground, and he pushed into the tangle till the green boughs rested
on his back and he was almost hidden from view. Meanwhile I sat close
beside the chaparral wall, where all sorts of sounds were to be heard,
suggestive of the industries of the population hidden within the brush
at my back. Hearing small footsteps, I peered in through the brown
twigs, and to my delight saw a pair of stately quail walking over the
ground, promenading through the brush avenues. Afterwards I caught sight
of a gray animal, probably a wood rat, running down a branch behind me,
and heard queer muffled sounds of gnawing.

Suddenly, looking back, I was startled to see a big ringed brown and
yellow snake lying like a rope at the foot of the gnat's tree, just
where I had sat. He was about four feet long, and had twenty-three
rings. He started to wind into the crotch of the oak as if meaning to
climb the tree, but instead, crept to a stump and festooned himself
about it worming around the holes as he might do if looking for nest
holes. Imagine how a mother bird would feel to have him come stealing
upon her little brood in that horrid way! When he crawled over the dead
leaves I noted with a shiver that he made no sound. Thinking of the
gnats, I watched his every movement till he had left the premises and
wormed his way off through the brush. Though quite engrossed with the
gnats, it was finally forced upon me that there is more than one family
in the world. The blue-gray's oak was a favored one. A pair of
hang-birds had built there before the gnats came, and now two more
families had come, making four for the big oak.

When first suspecting a house on the north side of the tree, I moved my
chair over there. Presently a vireo with disordered breast feathers flew
down on a dead twig close to the ground and leaned over with a tired
anxious look, and craning her neck, turned her head on one side, and
bent her eyes on the ground scrutinizingly. Then she hopped down, picked
up something, threw it away, picked up another piece and flew back to
her perch with it, as if to make up her mind if she really wanted that.
Then her mate came, raised his crown and looked down at the bit of
material with a puzzled air as if wishing he knew what to say; as if he
felt he ought to be able to help her decide. But he seemed helpless and
could only follow her around when she was at work, singing to her
betimes, and keeping off friends or enemies who came too near. When the
young hatched I noticed a still more marked difference between the
nervous manners of the gnats, and the repose of vireos. While the gnat
flipped about distractedly, the vireo sat calmly beside her nest, an
exquisite white basket hanging under the leaves in the sun, or walked
carefully over the branches looking for food for the young. Some days
before finding out the facts, I suspected that the wood pewee perching
on the old tree had more important business there, for the way he and
his mate flew back and forth to the oak top was very pointed. So again I
moved my chair. To my delight the wood pewee flew up in the tree, sat
down on a horizontal crotch, and went through the motions of moulding.

There were two birds, however, that simply used the tree as a
resting-place, as far as I ever knew. A hummingbird perched on the tip
of a twig, looking from below like a good sized bumblebee as he preened
his feathers and looked off upon the world below. At the other side of
the oak a pretty pink dove perched on a sunny branch that arched against
the blue sky. It sat close to the branch beside the green leaves and
dressed its feathers or dozed quietly in the sun. We had other visitors
that the house owners did not accept so willingly. The gnatcatchers up
the sand ditch whose nest had been broken up by the thief-in-the-night
did not object to brown chippies, but perhaps, if this were the same
pair, they had been made suspicious by their trouble. In any case, when
a brown chippie lit on a limb near the nest, quite accidentally I
believe, and turned to look at the pretty structure, quite innocently I
feel sure, the little gnats fell on him tooth and nail, and when he hid
under the leaves where they could not reach him they fluttered above the
leaves, and the moment he ventured from under cover were both at him
again so violently that at the first opportunity he took to his wings.
There was one curious thing about this attack and expulsion; the gnats
did not utter a word during the whole affair! I had never known them to
be silent before when anything was going on--rarely when there wasn't.

Another morning when I rode in there was a great commotion up in the
oak. A chorus of small scolding voices, and a fluttering of little wings
among the branches told that something was wrong, while a large form
moving deliberately about in the tree showed the intruder to be a blue
jay! Aha! the gossips would wag their heads. I disapprove of gossip, but
as a truthful reporter am obliged to say that I saw the blue jay pitch
down into the brush with something white in his bill--perhaps a
cocoon--and that thereupon a great weeping and wailing arose from the
little folk up in the treetop. A big brown California chewink stood by
and watched the--robbery(?), great big fellow that he was; and not once
offered to take the little fellows' part. I felt indignant. Why didn't
he pitch into the big bully and drive him off before he had stolen the
little birds' egg--if it was an egg. A grosbeak called _ick'_ from the
treetop, but thought he'd better not meddle; and--it was a pair of
wren-tits who looked out from a brush screen and then skulked off,
chuckling to themselves, I dare say, that some one else was up to their
tricks. It gave my faith in birds a great shock, this, together with the
pillage of the gnat's nest by the thief-in-the-night. My spleen was
especially turned against the brown chewink; he certainly was a good
fighter, and might at least have helped to clear the neighborhood of
such a suspicious character.

Where did the egg--if it was an egg--come from? The vireos and pewees
and gnats were still building, I reflected thankfully, though trembling
for their future; and fortunately the hangbird had young. Perhaps the
jay had found a nest that I could not discover.

After that, things went on quietly for several days. The gnats got
through with their building, and went off for a holiday until it should
be time to begin brooding. They flitted about the branches warbling, as
if having nothing special to do; dear little souls, at work as at play,
always together. One of them unexpectedly found himself near me one day;
but when he saw it was only I, whipped his tail and exclaimed "_Oh, it's
you'. I'm' not afraid._"

This peace and quietness, however, did not last. The gnats' house was
evidently haunted, and they did not like--blue--ghosts. One morning
when I got to the oak it was all in a hubbub, and the vireo was
scolding loudly at a blue jay. When the giant pitched into the brush the
wren-tit chattered, and I thought perhaps the jay was teaching him how
it feels to have a shoe pinch. A few moments later I was amazed to see a
gnat jab at the wall till it got a bill full of material and then fly
off to the brush with it! My little birds had moved! Evidently the
neighborhood was too exciting for them. More than ten days of hard
work--no one can tell how hard until after watching a gnatcatcher
build--had been spent in vain on this nest; and if, as suspected, this
was their second, how much more work did that mean? It was a marvel that
the birds could get courage to start in again, especially if they had
had two homes broken up already.

From my position at the big oak I could see that the gnats were carrying
the frame of the old house to a small oak in the brush. The wood pewee
had moved too, and to my surprise and pleasure I found it had begun its
nest on a branch under the gnats, so that both families could be watched
at the same time. I nearly got brushed off the saddle promenading
through the stiff chaparral to find a place where the nests could be
seen from the ground; but when at last successful, I too, like the rest
of the old oak's floating population, moved to pastures new. Hanging my
chair on the saddle, I made Billy carry it for me; then I buckled the
reins around the trunk of the oak and withdrew into the brush to watch
my birds. It was a cozy little nook, from which Billy could be heard
stamping his feet to shake off the flies. The little crack in the
chaparral was a pleasant place to sit in, protected as it was from the
wind, with the sun only coming in enough to touch up the brown leaves on
the ground and warm the fragrant sage, bringing out its delicious spicy
aromatic smell.

The pewee did not altogether relish having us established under its vine
and fig-tree. When it saw Billy under the tree it whistled, and the bit
of grass it had brought for its nest went sailing down to the brush
disregarded. It did not think us as bad as the blue jay, however, for it
came back with a long stem of grass in its bill, and, lighting on a high
branch, called _pee-ree_. To be sure, when it had gone to the nest and I
was inconsiderate enough to turn a page in my note-book, it dashed off.
But if murder will out, so will good intentions; and before long the
timid bird was brooding its nest with Billy and me for spectators.

The gnat's nest here was so much lower than the other one that it was
much easier to watch. The first day the birds built rapidly. One of them
got his spider's web from beside the pewee's nest, when the pewee was
away. He started to go for it once after the owner had returned, caught
sight of him, stopped short, and much to my amusement concluded to sit
down and preen his feathers! The pewee had one special bare twig of his
own that he used for a perch, and when the gnat seated himself there in
his neighbor's absence he looked so small that I realized what a mite of
a bird he really was. He sometimes sat there and talked while his mate
moulded the nest.

When the gnats got to brooding, many of the same pretty performances
were repeated that had marked the first nest of all, up in the sand
ditch. When the bird on the nest hopped out and called, "Come, come,"
its mate, who had been wandering around in the sunny green treetop,
called out in sweet tones, "Good-by, good-by."

When waiting for the gnats to do something, I heard a little sound in
the oak brush by my side, and, looking through the brown branches, saw a
wren-tit come hopping toward me. It came up within three feet of me,
near enough to see its bright yellow eyes. I began to wonder if it had a
nest near by, and felt my prejudices melting away and my heart growing
tender. Some thieves are very honest fellows; it is largely a difference
in ethical standards! I began to feel a keen interest in the bird and
its affairs, for the wren-tit was really a most original bird, and one I
was especially anxious to study.

My newly awakened interest was not chilled by any second tragedy; all
went well with the little blue-grays. The day the gnat's eggs hatched,
the old folks performed most ludicrously. Perhaps they were young
parents, and this being their first brood, maternal and paternal love
had not yet blinded their eyes to the ridiculous; so that they looked
down on these skinny, squirming, big-eyeballed prodigies with mingled
emotions. It looked very much as if they were surprised to find that
their smooth pretty eggs had suddenly turned into these ugly, weak,
hungry things they did not know what to do with. At first it seemed that
something must be wrong at the nest; the little gnat shook her wings and
tail beside it as if afraid of soiling herself; and when she hopped into
it, jerked out again and flitted around distractedly. Every time the
birds looked into the nest they got so excited that, had they been
girls, they surely would have hopped up and down wringing their hands. I
laughed right out alone in the brush, they acted so absurdly.

They began feeding the nestlings in the most remarkable way I had ever
witnessed. When the young mother was on the nest her mate came and
brought her the food, whereupon, instead of jumping off the nest and
feeding the young in the conventional way, she simply raised up on her
feet and, apparently, poked the food backwards into the bills of the
young under her breast! Even when the gnats got to feeding more in the
ordinary way, they did it nervously. They fed as if expecting the young
to bite them. They would fly up on the branch beside the nest, give a
jab down at the youngsters, whip tails and flee. You would have thought
the young parents had been playing house before, and their dolls had
suddenly turned into live hungry nestlings.

I watched this family till the house was deserted, and I had to ride
along a line of brush before finding them. The young were now pretty
silvery-breasted creatures who sat up in a small oak while the old birds
hunted through the brush for food for them. Though I rode Billy into the
chaparral after them, and got near enough to see the black line over the
bill of the father bird, they did not mind, but hunted away quite
unconcernedly; for we had been through many things together, and were
now old and fast friends.



V.

LITTLE PRISONERS IN THE TOWER.


I HAD not spent many days in The Little Lover's door-yard before
realizing that there was something in the wind. If an inoffensive person
fancies sitting in the shade of a sycamore with her horse grazing
quietly beside her, who should say her nay? If, at her approach,
a--feathered--person steals away to the top of the highest, most distant
oak within sight and, silent and motionless, keeps his eye on her till
she departs; if, as she innocently glances up at the trees, she
discovers a second--feathered--person's head extended cautiously from
behind a trunk, its eyes fixed on hers; or if, as she passes along
a--sycamore--street, a person comes to a window and cranes his neck to
look at her, and instantly leaves the premises; then surely, as the
world wags, she is quite justified in having a mind of her own in the
matter. Still more, when it comes to finding chips under a window--who
could do aught but infer that a carpenter lived within? Not I. And so it
came about that I discovered that one of the apartments in the back of
the wren sycamore had been rented by a pair of well-meaning but
suspicious California woodpeckers, first cousins of the eastern
red-heads.

[Illustration: California Woodpecker.

(One half natural size.)]

[Illustration: Red-headed Woodpecker--Eastern.

(One half natural size.)]

It is unpleasant to be treated as if you needed detectives on your
track. It strains your faith in human nature; the rest of the world must
be very wicked if people suspect such extremely good creatures as you
are! And then it reflects on the detectives; it shows them so lacking in
discernment. Nevertheless, "A friend should bear his friend's
infirmities," and I was determined to be friends with the woodpeckers.
One of them kept me waiting an hour one morning. When I first saw it, it
was on its tree trunk, but when it first saw me, it promptly left for
parts unknown. I stopped at a respectful distance from its tree--several
rods away--and threw myself down on the warm sand in the bed of the dry
stream, between high hedges of exquisite lemon-colored mustard. Patient
waiting is no loss, observers must remember if they would be consoled
for their lost hours. In this case I waited till I felt like a
lotus-eater who could have stayed on forever. A dove brooded her eggs on
a branch of the spreading sycamore whose arms were outstretched
protectingly above me; the sun rested full on its broad leaves, and bees
droned around the fragrant mustard, whose exquisite golden flowers waved
gently against a background of soft blue California sky.

But that was not the last day I had to wait. It was over a month before
the birds put any trust in me. The nest hole was excavated before the
middle of May; on June 15 I wrote in my note-book, "The woodpecker has
gotten so that when I go by she puts her head out of the window, and
when I speak to her does not fly away, but cocks her head and looks down
at me."[3] That same morning the bird actually entered the nest in my
presence. She came back to her sycamore while I was watching the wrens,
and flew right up to the mouth of the nest. She was a little nervous.
She poked in her bill, drew it back; put in her head, drew that back;
then swung her body partly in; but finally the tip of her tail
disappeared down the hole.

The next morning, in riding by, I heard weak voices from the woodpecker
mansion. If young were to be fed, I must be on hand. Such luxurious
observing! Riding Mountain Billy out into the meadow, I dismounted, and
settled myself comfortably against a haycock with the bridle over my
arm. It was a beautiful quiet morning. The night fog had melted back and
the mountains stood out in relief against a sky of pure deep blue. The
line of sycamores opposite us were green and still against the blue; the
morning sun lighting their white trunks and framework. The songs of
birds filled the air, and the straw-colored field dotted with haycocks
lay sunning under the quiet sky. In the East we are accustomed to speak
of "the peace of evening," but in southern California in spring there is
a peculiar interval of warmth and rest, a langorous pause in the growth
of the morning, between the disappearance of the night fog and the
coming of the cool trade wind, when the southern sun shines full into
the little valleys and the peace of the morning is so deep and serene
that the labor of the day seems done. Nature appears to be slumbering.
She is aroused slowly and gently by the soft breaths that come in from
the Pacific. On this day I watched the awakening. Up to this time not a
grass blade had stirred, but while I dreamed a brown leaf went whirling
to the ground, the stray stalks of oats left from the mowing began to
nod, and the sycamore branches commenced to sway. Then the breeze
swelled stronger, coming cool and fresh from the ocean; the yellow
primroses, around which the hummingbirds whirred, bowed on their stately
stalks, and I could hear the wind in the moving treetops.

Mountain Billy grazed near me till it occurred to him that stubble was
unsatisfactory, when he betook him to my haycock. Though I lectured him
upon the rights of property and enforced my sermon with the point of the
parasol, he was soon back again, with the amused look of a naughty boy
who cannot believe in the severity of his monitor; and later, I regret
to state, when I was engrossed with the woodpeckers, a sound of munching
arose from behind my back.

The woodpeckers talked and acted very much like their cousins, the
red-heads of the East. When they went to the nest they called
_chuck'-ah_ as if to wake the young, flying away with the familiar
rattling _kit-er'r'r'r'_. They flew nearly half a mile to their regular
feeding ground, and did not come to the nest as often as the wrens when
bringing up their brood. Perhaps they got more at a time, filling their
crops and feeding by regurgitation, as I have seen waxwings do when
having a long distance to go for food.

I first heard the voices of the young on June 16; nearly three weeks
later, July 6, the birds were still in the nest. On that morning, when
I went out to mount Billy, I was shocked to find the body of one of the
old woodpeckers on the saddle. I thought it had been shot, but found it
had been picked up in the prune orchard. That afternoon its mate was
brought in from the same place. Probably both birds had eaten poisoned
raisins left out for the gophers. The dead birds were thrown out under
the orange-trees near the house, and not many hours afterward, when I
looked out of the window, two turkey vultures were sitting on the
ground, one of them with a pathetic little black wing in his bill. The
great black birds seemed horrible to me,--ugly, revolting creatures. I
went outside to see what they would do, and after craning their long red
necks at me and stalking around nervously a few moments they flew off.

Now what would become of the small birds imprisoned in the tree trunk,
with no one to bring them food, no one to show them how to get out, or,
if they were out, to feed them till they had learned how to care for
themselves? Sad and anxious, I rode down to the sycamore. I rapped on
its trunk, calling _chuck'-ah_ as much like the old birds as possible.
There was an instant answer from a strong rattling voice and a weak
piping one. The weak voice frightened me. If that little bird's life
were to be saved, it was time to be about it. The ranchman's son was
pruning the vineyard, and I rode over to get him to come and see how we
could rescue the little prisoners.

On our way to the tree we came on a gopher snake four feet long. It was
so near the color of the soil that I would have passed it by, but the
boy discovered it. The creature lay so still he thought it was dead; but
as we stood looking, it puffed itself up with a big breath, darted out
its tongue, and began to move off. I watched to see how it made the
straight track we so often saw in the dust of the roads. It bent its
neck into a scallop for a purchase, while its tapering tail made an S,
to furnish slack; and then it pulled the main length of its body along
straight. It crawled noiselessly right to the foot of the woodpecker
tree, but was only hunting for a hole to hide in. It got part way down
one hole, found that it was too small, and had to come backing out
again. It followed the sand bed, taking my regular beat, from tree to
tree! To be sure, gopher snakes are harmless, but they are suggestive,
and you would rather their ways were not your ways.

Although the little prisoners welcomed us as rescuers should be
welcomed, they did it by mistake. They thought we were their parents. At
the first blow of the axe their voices hushed, and not a sound came from
them again. It seemed as if we never should get the birds out.

It looked easy enough, but it wasn't. The nest was about twelve feet
above the ground. The sycamore was so big the boy could not reach around
it, and so smooth and slippery he could not get up it, though he had
always been a good climber. He clambered up a drooping branch on the
back of the tree,--the nest was in front,--but could not swing himself
around when he got up. Then he tried the hollow burned at the foot of
the tree. The charred wood crumbled beneath his feet, but at last, by
stretching up and clinging to a knothole, he managed to reach the nest.

As his fingers went down the hole, the young birds grabbed them,
probably mistaking them for their parents' bills. "Their throats seem
hot," the boy exclaimed; "poor hungry little things!" His fingers would
go through the nest hole, but not his knuckles, and the knothole where
he steadied himself was too slippery to stand on while he enlarged the
hole. It was getting late, and as he had his chores to do before dark I
suggested that we feed the birds and leave them in the tree till
morning; but the rescuer exclaimed resolutely, "We'll get them out
to-night!" and hurried off to the ranch-house for a step-ladder and axe.

The ladder did not reach up to the first knothole, four or five feet
below the nest; but the boy cut a notch in the top of the knot and stood
in it, practically on one foot, and held on to a small branch with his
right hand--the first limb he trusted to broke off as he caught
it--while with the left hand he hacked away at the nest hole. It was a
ticklish position and genuine work, for the wood was hard and the
hatchet dull.

I stood below holding the carving-knife,--we hadn't many tools on the
ranch,--and as the boy worked he entertained me with an account of an
accident that happened years before, when his brother had chopped off a
branch and the axe head had glanced off, striking the head of the boy
who was watching below. I stood from under as he finished his story, and
inquired with interest if he were sure his axe head was tight! Before
the lad had made much impression on the hard sycamore, he got so tired
and looked so white around the mouth that I insisted on his getting down
to rest, and tried to divert him by calling his attention to the sunset
and the voices of the quail calling from the vineyard. When he went up
again I handed him the carving-knife to slice off the thinner wood on
the edge of the nest hole, warning him not to cut off the heads of the
young birds.

At last the hole was big enough, and, sticking the hatchet and knife
into the bark, the lad threw one arm around the trunk to hold on while
he thrust his hand down into the nest. "My, what a deep hole!" he
exclaimed. "I don't know as I can reach them now. They've gone to the
bottom, they're so afraid." Nearly a foot down he had to squeeze, but at
last got hold of one bird and brought it out. "Drop him down," I cried,
"I'll catch him," and held up my hands. The little bird came fluttering
through the air. The second bird clung frightened to the boy's coat,
but he loosened its claws and dropped it down to me. What would the
poor old mother woodpecker have thought had she seen these first flights
of her nestlings!

I hurried the little scared brothers under my jacket, my best substitute
for a hollow tree, and called _chuck'-ah_ to them in the most
woodpecker-like tones I could muster. Then the boy shouldered the
ladder, and I took the carving-knife, and we trudged home triumphant; we
had rescued the little prisoners from the tower!

When we had taken them into the house the woodpeckers called out, and
the cats looked up so savagely that I asked the boy to take the birds
home to his sister to keep till they were able to care for themselves.
On examining them I understood what the difference in their voices had
meant. One of them poked his head out of the opening in my jacket where
he was riding, while the other kept hidden away in the dark; and when
they were put into my cap for the boy to carry home, the one with the
weak voice disclosed a whitish bill--a bad sign with a bird--and its
feeble head bent under it so weakly that I was afraid it would die.

Three days later, when I went up to the lad's house, it was to be
greeted by loud cries from the little birds. Though they were in a box
with a towel over it, they heard all that was going on. Their voices
were as sharp as their ears, and they screamed at me so imperatively
that I hurried out to the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards
till I found some food for them. They opened their bills and gulped it
down as if starving, although their guardian told me afterwards that she
had fed them two or three hours before.

When held up where the air could blow on them, they grew excited; and
one of them flew down to the floor and hid away in a dark closet,
sitting there as contentedly as if it reminded him of his tree trunk
home.

I took the two brothers out into the sitting-room and kept them on my
lap for some time, watching their interesting ways. The weak one I
dubbed Jacob, which is the name the people of the valley had given the
woodpeckers from the sound of their cries; the stronger bird I called
Bairdi, as 'short' for _Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi_--the name the
ornithologists had given them.

Jacob and Bairdi each had ways of his own. When offered a palm, Bairdi,
who was quite like 'folks,' was content to sit in it; but Jacob hung
with his claws clasping a little finger as a true woodpecker should; he
took the same pose when he sat for his picture. Bairdi often perched in
my hand, with his bill pointing to the ceiling, probably from his old
habit of looking up at the door of his nest. Sometimes when Bairdi sat
in my hand, Jacob would swing himself up from my little finger, coming
bill to bill with his brother, when the small bird would open his mouth
as he used to for his mother to feed him. Poor little orphans, they
could not get used to their changed conditions!

They did other droll things just as their fathers had done before them.
They used to screw their heads around owl fashion, a very convenient
thing for wild birds who cling to tree trunks and yet need to know what
is going on behind their backs. Once, on hearing a sudden noise, one of
them ducked low and drew his head in between his shoulders in such a
comical way we all laughed at him.

I often went up to the ranch to visit them. We would take them out under
a big spreading oak beside the house, where the little girl's mother sat
with her sewing, and then watch the birds as we talked. When we put them
on the tree trunk, at first they did not know what to do, but soon they
scrambled up on the branches so fast their guardian had to climb up
after them for fear they would get away. Poor little Jacob climbed as if
afraid of falling off, taking short hops up the side of the tree,
bending his stiff tail at a sharp angle under him to brace himself
against the bark. Bairdi, his strong brother, was less nervous, and
found courage to catch ants on the bark. Jacob did a pretty thing one
day. When put on the oak, he crept into a crack of the bark and lay
there fluffed up against its sides with the sun slanting across,
lighting up his pretty red cap. He looked so contented and happy it was
a pleasure to watch him. Another time he started to climb up on top of
my head and, I dare say, was surprised and disappointed when what he had
taken for a tree trunk came to an untimely end. When we put the brothers
on the grass, one of them went over the ground with long hops, while the
other hid under the rocking-chair. One bird seemed possessed to sit on
the white apron worn by the little girl's mother, flying over to it from
my lap, again and again.

The woodpeckers had brought from the nest a liking for dark, protected
places. Bairdi twice clambered up my hair and hung close under the brim
of my black straw hat. Another time he climbed up my dress to my black
tie and, fastening his claws in the silk, clung with his head in the
dark folds as if he liked the shade. I covered the pretty pet with my
hand and he seemed to enjoy it. When I first looked down at him his eyes
were open, though he kept very still; but soon his head dropped on my
breast and he went fast asleep, and would have had a good nap if Jacob
had not called and waked him up.

Jacob improved so much after the first few days--and some doses of red
pepper--that we had to look twice to tell him from his sturdy brother.
He certainly ate enough to make him grow. The birds liked best to be
fed with a spoon; probably it seemed more like a bill. After a little,
they learned to peck at their food, a sign I hailed eagerly as
indicative of future self-support; for with appetites of day laborers
and no one to supply their wants, they would have suffered sorely, poor
little orphans! Sometimes, when they had satisfied their first hunger,
they would shake the bread from their bills as if they didn't like it
and wanted food they were used to.

[Illustration: JACOB AND BAIRDI VISITING THE OLD NEST TREE]

When one got hungry he would call out, and then his brother would begin
to shout. The little tots gave a crooning gentle note when caressed, and
a soft cry when they snuggled down in our hands or cuddled up to us as
they had done under their mother's wing. Their call for food was a
sibilant chirr, and they gave it much oftener than any of the grown-up
woodpecker notes. But they also said _chuck'-ah_ and rattled like the
old birds.

I was glad there were two of them so they would not be so lonely. If
separated they showed their interest in each other. If Bairdi called,
Jacob would keep still and listen attentively, raising his topknot till
every microscopic red feather stood up like a bristle, when he would
answer Bairdi in a loud manly voice.

It was amusing to see the small birds try to plume themselves. Sometimes
they would take a sudden start to make their toilettes, and both work
away vigorously upon their plumes. It was comical to see them try to
find their oil glands. Had the old birds taught them how to oil their
feathers while they were still in the nest? They were thickly feathered,
but when they reached back to their tails the pink skin showed between
their spines and shoulders, giving a good idea of the way birds'
feathers grow only in tracts.

When the little princes were about a month old, I arranged with a
neighboring photographer to have them sit for their picture. He drove
over to the sycamore, and the lad who had rescued the prisoners took
them down to keep their appointment. One of them tried to tuck its head
up the boy's sleeve, being attracted by dark holes. While we were
waiting for the photographer, the boy put Jacob in a hollow of the tree,
where he began pecking as if he liked it. He worked away till he
squeezed himself into a small pocket, and then, with his feathers
ruffled up, sat there, the picture of content. Indeed, the little fellow
looked more at home than I had ever seen him anywhere. The rescuer was
itching to put the little princes back in their hole, to see what they
would do, but I wouldn't listen to it, being thankful to have gotten
them out once.

When Bairdi was on the bark and Jacob was put below him, he turned his
head, raised his red cap, and looked down at his brother in a very
winning way.

Soon the photographer came, and asked, "Are these the little chaps that
try to swallow your fingers?" We were afraid they would not sit still
enough to get good likenesses, but we had taken the precaution to give
them a hearty breakfast just before starting, and they were too sleepy
to move much. In the picture, Jacob is clinging to the boy's hand in his
favorite way, and Bairdi is on the tree trunk.

Mountain Billy pricked up his ears when he discovered the woodpeckers
down at the sycamore, but he often saw them up at the ranch and took me
to make a farewell call on them before I left for the East. We found the
birds perched on the tobacco-tree in front of the ranch-house, with a
tall step-ladder beside it so the little girl could take them in at
night. Their cup of bread and milk stood on the ladder, and when I
called them they came over to be fed. They were both so strong and well
that they would soon be able to care for themselves, as their fathers
had done before them. And when they were ready to fly, they might have
help; for an old woodpecker of their family--possibly an unknown
uncle--had been seen watching them from the top of a neighboring oak,
and may have been just waiting to adopt the little orphans. In any case,
however they were to start out in the world, it was a great satisfaction
to have rescued them from their prison tower.

FOOTNOTE:

[3] The difference in the dress of the woodpeckers is so slight that the
sexes were not distinguished at this nest.



VI.

HINTS BY THE WAY.


ON our way back and forth along the line of oaks and sycamores belonging
to the little prisoners, the little lover, and the gnatcatchers,
Mountain Billy and I got a good many hints, he of places to graze, and I
of new nests to watch.

While waiting for the woodpeckers one day I saw a small brownish bird
flying busily back and forth to some green weeds. She was joined by her
mate, a handsome blue lazuli bunting, even more beautiful than our
lovely indigo bunting, and he flew beside her full of life and joy. He
lit on the side of a cockle stem, and on the instant caught sight of me.
Alas! he seemed suddenly turned to stone. He held onto that stalk as if
his little legs had been bars of iron and I a devouring monster. When he
had collected his wits enough to fly off, instead of the careless gay
flight with which he had come out through the open air, he timidly kept
low within the cockle field, making a circuitous way through the high
stalks.

He could be afraid of me if he liked, I thought,--for after a certain
amount of suspicion an innocent person gets resentful; at any rate, I
was going to see that nest. Creeping up cautiously when the mother bird
was away, so as not to scare her, and carefully parting the mallows, I
looked in. Yes, there it was, a beautiful little sage-green nest of old
grass laid in a coil. I felt as pleased as if having a right to share
the family happiness.

After that I watched the small worker gather material with new interest,
knowing where she was going to put it. She worked fast, but did not take
the first thing she found, by any means. With a flit of the wing she
went in nervous haste from cockle to cockle, looking eagerly about her.
Jumping down to the ground, she picked up a bit of grass, threw it down
dissatisfied, and turned away like a person looking for something. At
last she lit on the side of a thistle, and tweaking out a fibre flew
with it to the nest.

When the house was done, one morning in passing I leaned down from the
saddle, and through the weeds saw her brown wings as she sat on the
nest. A month after the first encounter with the father lazuli, I found
him looking at me around the corner of a cockle stalk, and in passing
back again caught him singing full tilt, though his bill was full of
insects! After we had turned our backs, I looked over my shoulder and
had the satisfaction of seeing him take his beakful to the nest. You
couldn't help admiring him, for though not a warrior who would snap his
bill over the head of an enemy of his home, he had a gallant holiday air
with his blue coat and merry song, and you felt sure his little brown
mate would get cheer and courage enough from his presence to make family
dangers appear less frightful. Even this casual acquaintance with the
little pair gave me a new and tender interest in all of their name I
might know in future.

While watching the lazulis from the sycamores, on looking up on a level
with Billy's ears, I discovered a snug canopied nest held by a jointed
branch of the twisted tree, as in the palm of your hand. It was as if
the old sycamore were protecting the little brood, holding it secure
from all dangers. Looking at the nest, I spied a brown tail resting
against the limb, and then a small brown head was raised to look at me
from between the leaves. It was the little bird whose sweet home-like
song had so cheered my heart in this far-away land, the home song
sparrow, dearer than all the birds of California. It was such a pleasure
to find her that I sat in the saddle and talked to the pretty bird while
she brooded her eggs under the green leaves.

The next time we went down to the sycamore the bird was away, and it
seemed as if the tree had been deserted. It was empty and uninteresting.
Again I came, and this time the father song sparrow sang blithely in
the old tree, while his gentle mate went about looking for food for her
brood. Her little birds had come! How happy and full of business she
seemed! She ran nimbly over the ground, weaving in and out between the
stalks of the oats and the yellow mustard, as if there were paths in her
forest. When she had to run across the sand bed, out in open sight, she
put up her tail, held her wings tight at her sides, and scudded across.
Then with the sunlight through the leaves dappling her back, she ran
around the foot of the sycamore. She had something in her bill, and with
a happy chirp was off to her brood.

There was another family abroad on our beat. When riding past the little
lover's, I heard voices of young birds beyond, and rode out to the oak
in the middle of the field from which they came, to see who it was. It
was a surprise to find a family of full-fledged blue jays--a surprise,
because the jays had been terrorizing the small birds of the
neighborhood till it seemed strange to think they had any family life
themselves. I had come to feel that they were great hobgoblins going
about seeking whom they could devour; but such harsh judgments are
usually false, whether of birds or beasts, and I was convinced against
my will on hearing the tender tone in which the old jays called to their
young.

To be sure, they were imperative in their commands. As I rode, around
the tree, one of them looked at me sharply and proceeded to take
measures to protect his brood. When one of the children told me where he
was, his parent promptly flew over and shouted in his ear, "Be quiet!"
with such a ring of command that an unbroken hush followed. Moreover,
when one child, probably a greedy one, teased for food, its parent ran
down the branch to drive it off; and in some way best known to
themselves the old birds hushed up the boisterous young ones and
spirited them out of my sight. But all these things were in line with
good family government and the best interests of the children, and were
more than atoned for by the soft gentle notes the old birds used when
they were leading around their cherished brood out of harm's way.



VII.

AROUND OUR RANCH-HOUSE.


CLOSE up under the hills, the old vine-covered ranch-house stood within
a circle of great spreading live oaks. The trees were full of noisy,
active blackbirds--Brewer's blackbirds, relatives of the rusty that we
know in New York. The ranchman told me that they always came up the
valley from the vineyard to begin gathering straws for their nests on
his brother's birthday, the twenty-fifth of March. After that time it
was well for passers below to beware. If an unwary cat, or even a hen or
turkey gobbler, chanced under the blackbirds' tree, half a dozen birds
would dive down at it, screaming and scolding till the intruders beat an
humble retreat. But the blackbirds were not always the aggressors. I
heard a great outcry from them one day, and ran out to find them
collecting at the tree in front of the house. A moment later a hawk flew
off with a young nestling, and was followed by an angry black mob.

One pair of the blackbirds nested in the oak by the side of the house,
over the hammock. Though making themselves so perfectly at home on the
premises, driving off the ranchman's cats and gobblers, and drinking
from his watering-trough, if they were taken at close quarters, with
young in their nests, the noisy birds were astonishingly timid. One
could hardly understand it in them.

One afternoon I sat down under the tree to watch them. Mountain Billy
rested his bridle on my knee, and the ranchman's dog came out to join
us; but the mother blackbird, though she came with food in her bill and
started to walk down the branch over our heads, stopped short of the
nest when her eye fell on us. She shook her tail and called _chack_, and
her mate, who sat near, opened wide his bill and whistled _chee_. The
small birds were hungry and grew impatient, seeing no cause for delay,
so raised their three fuzzy heads above the edge of the nest and sent
imperative calls out of their three empty throats. As the parents did
not answer the summons, the young dozed off again, but when the old ones
did get courage to light near the nest there was such a rousing chorus
that they flew off alarmed for the safety of their clamorous brood.
After that outbreak, it seemed as if the mother bird would never go back
to her children; but finally she came to the tree and, after edging
along falteringly, lit on a branch above them. The instant she touched
foot, however, she was seized with nervous qualms and turned round and
round, spreading her tail fan-fashion, as if distracted.

To my surprise, it was the father bird who first went to the nest,
though he had the wit to go to it from the outside of the tree, where he
was less exposed to my dangerous glance. I wondered whether it was
mother love that kept her from the nest when he ventured, or merely a
case of masculine common-sense versus nerves. How birds could imagine
more harm would be done by going to the nest than by making such a fuss
five feet away from it was a poser to me. Perhaps they attribute the
same intelligence to us that some of us do to them!

While the blackbirds were making such a time over our heads, I watched
the hummingbirds buzzing around the petunias and pink roses under the
ranch-house windows, and darting off to flutter about the tubular
flowers of the tobacco-tree by the well. One day the small boy of the
family climbed up to the hummingbird's nest in the oak "to see if there
were eggs yet," and the frightened brood popped out before his eyes. His
sister caught one of them and brought it into the house. When she held
it up by the open door the tiny creature spread its little wings and
flew out into the vines over the window. The child was so afraid its
mother would not find it she carried it back to its oak and watched till
the mother came with food. The hummers were about the flowers in front
of the windows so much that when the front door was left open they often
came into the room.

In an oak behind the barn I found a hummingbird's nest, and, yielding to
temptation, took out the eggs to look at them. In putting them back one
slipped and dropped on the hard ground, cracking the delicate pink shell
as it fell. The egg was nearly ready to hatch, and I felt as guilty as
if having killed a hummingbird.

[Illustration: Arizona Hooded Oriole.

(One half natural size.)]

[Illustration: Baltimore Oriole--Eastern.

(One half natural size.)]

When in the hammock under the oak one day, I saw a pair of the
odd-looking Arizona hooded orioles busily going and coming to a drooping
branch on the edge of the tree. They had a great deal to talk about as
they went and came, and when they had gone I found, to my great
satisfaction, that they had begun a nest. They often use the gray
Spanish moss, but here had found a good substitute in the orange-colored
parasitic vine of the meadows known among the people of the valley as
the 'love-vine' (dodder). The whole pocket was composed of it, making a
very gaudy nest.

Linnets nested in the same old tree. Indeed, it is hard to say where
these pretty rosy house finches, cousins of our purple finches, would
not take it into their heads to build. They nested over the front door,
in the vines over the windows, in the oaks and about the outbuildings,
and their happy musical songs rang around the ranch-house from morning
till night. As I listened to their merry roundelay day after day during
that beautiful California spring, it sounded to me as though they said,
"_How-pretty-it-is'-out, how-pretty-it-is'-out, how-pretty-it-is'!_" The
linnets are ardent little wooers, singing and dancing before the
indifferent birds they would win for their mates. I once saw a rosy
lover throw back his pretty head and hop about before his brown lady
till she was out of patience and turned her back on him. When that had
no effect, she opened her bill, spread her wings, and leaned toward him
as if saying, "If you don't stop your nonsense, I'll----" But the fond
linnets' gallantry and tenderness are not all spent in the wooing. When
the mother bird was brooding her nest over our front door, her
crimson-throated mate stood on the peak of the ridgepole above and sang
blithely to her, turning his head and looking down every little while to
make sure that she was listening to his pretty prattle.

One of the birds that nested in the trees by the ranch-house was the
bee-bird, who was soft gray above and delicate yellow below, instead of
dark gray above and shining white below, like his eastern relative, the
kingbird. The birds used to perch on the bare oak limbs, flycatching. It
was interesting to watch them. They would fly obliquely into the air and
then turn, with bills bristling with insects, and sail down on
outstretched wings, their square tails set so that the white outer
feathers showed to as good advantage as the white border of the
kingbird's does in similar flights. They made a bulky untidy nest in the
oaks by the barn, using a quantity of string borrowed from the ranchman.
Their voices were high-keyed and shrill with an impatient emphasis, and
at a distance suggested the shrill yelping of the coyote. _Kee'-ah,
kee-kee' kee'-ah_, they would cry. The wolves were so often heard around
the ranch-house that in the early morning I have sometimes mistaken the
birds for them.

One of the favorite hunting-grounds of the bee-birds was the orchard,
where they must have done a great deal of good destroying insects. They
were quarrelsome birds, and were often seen falling through the air
fighting vigorously. I saw one chase a sparrow hawk and press it so hard
that the hawk cried out lustily. The ranchman's son told me of one
bee-bird who defended his nest with his life. Two crows lit in a tree
where the flycatcher had a nest containing eggs. The crows had
difficulty in getting to the tree to begin with, for the bee-birds
fought them off; and though they lighted, were soon dislodged and chased
down the vineyard. The man was at work there, and as the procession
passed over his head the bee-bird dove at the crow; the crow struck back
at him, crushing his skull, and the flycatcher dropped through the air,
dead! The other bee-bird followed its dead mate to the ground, and then,
without a cry, flew to a tree and let the crows go on their way.

The bee-bird was one of the noisiest birds about the ranch-house, but
commoner than he; in fact, the most abundant bird, next to the linnet
and blackbird, was the California chewink, or, as the ranchman
appropriately called him, the 'brown chippie;' for he does not look like
the handsome chewink we know, but is a fat, dun brown bird with a thin
_chip_ that he utters on all occasions. He is about the size of the
eastern robin, and, except when nesting, almost as familiar. There were
brown chippies in the door-yard, brown chippies around the barns, and
brown chippies in the brush till one got tired of the sight of them.

The temptations that come to conscientious observers are common to
humanity, and one of the subtlest is to undervalue what is at hand and
overvalue the rare or distant. Unless a bird is peculiarly interesting,
it requires a definite effort to sit down and study him in your own
dooryard, or where he is so common as to be an every-day matter. The
chippies were always sitting around, scratching, or picking up seeds; or
else quarreling among themselves. Feeling that it was my duty to watch
them, I reasoned with myself, but they seemed so mortally dull and
uninteresting it was hard work to give up any time to them. When they
went to nesting, their wild instincts asserted themselves, and they hid
away so closely I was never sure of but one of their nests, and that
only by most cautious watching. Then for the first time they became
interesting! To my surprise, one day I heard a brown chippie lift up his
voice and sing. It was in a sunny grove of oaks, and though his song was
a queer squeaky warble, it had in it a good deal of sweetness and
contentment; for the bird seemed to find life very pleasant. The
ranchman's son told me that up in the canyons at dusk he had sometimes
heard towhee concerts, the birds answering each other from different
parts of the canyon.

[Illustration: California Chewink.

(One half natural size.)]

[Illustration: Eastern Chewink.

(One half natural size.)]

There was a nest in the chaparral which probably belonged to these
chewinks. It was in a mass of poison ivy that had climbed up on a
scrub-oak. I spent the best part of a morning waiting for the birds to
give in their evidence. Brown sentinels were posted on high bare brush
tops, where they chipped at me, and once a brown form flew swiftly away
from the nest bush; but like most people whose conversation is limited
to monosyllables, the towhees are good at keeping a secret. While
watching for them, I heard a noise that suggested angry cats spitting at
each other; and three jack-rabbits came racing down the
chaparral-covered knoll. One of them shot off at a tangent while the
other two trotted along the openings in the brush as if their trails
were roads in a park. Then a cottontail rabbit came out on a spot of
hard yellow earth encircled by bushes, and lying down on its side kicked
up its heels and rolled like a horse; after which the pretty thing
stretched itself full length on the ground to rest, showing a pink light
in its ears. After a while it got up, scratched one ear, and with a kick
of one little furry leg ran off in the brush. Another day, when I sat
waiting, I saw a jack-rabbit's ears coming through the brush. He trotted
up within a few feet, when he stopped, facing me with head and ears up;
a noble-looking little animal, reminding me of a deer with antlers
branching back. He stood looking at me, not knowing whether to be
afraid or not, and turning one ear trumpet and then the other. But
though smiling at him, I was a human being, there was no getting around
that; and after a few undecided hops, this way and that, he ran off and
disappeared in the brush. Near where he had been was a spot where a
number of rabbit runways came to a centre, and around it the rabbit
council had been sitting in a circle, their footprints proved.

Brown chippies were not much commoner around the ranch-house than
western house wrens were, but the big prosaic brown birds seemed much
more commonplace. The wrens were strongly individual and winning
wherever they were met. They nested in all sorts of odd nooks and
corners about the buildings. One went so far as to take up its abode in
the wire-screened refrigerator that stood outside the kitchen under an
oak! Another pair stowed their nest away in an old nosebag hanging on a
peg in the wine shed; while a third lived in one of the old grape crates
piled up in the raisin shed.

The crate nest was delightful to watch. The jolly little birds, with
tails over their backs and wings hanging, would sing and work close
beside me, only three or four feet away. They would look up at me with
their frank fearless eyes and then squeeze down through their crack into
the crate, and sit and scold inside it--such an amusing muffled little
scold! The nest was so astonishingly large I was interested to measure
it. Twigs were strewn loosely over one end of the box, covering a square
nearly sixteen inches on a side. The compact high body of the nest
measured eight by ten inches, and came so near the top of the crate that
the birds could just creep in under the slats. Some of the twigs were
ten inches long, regular broom handles in the bills of the short bobbing
wrens. One of the birds once appeared with a twig as long as itself. It
flew to the side of a beam with it, at sight of me, and stood there
balancing the stick in its bill, in pretty fashion. Another time it flew
to the peak of the shed to examine an old swallow's nest now occupied by
linnets, and amused itself throwing down its neighbors' straws--the
naughty little rogue!

Such jolly songsters! They were fairly bubbling over with happiness all
the time. They had an old stub in front of the shed that might well have
been called the singing stub, for they kept it ringing with music when
they were not running on inside the shed. They seemed to warble as
easily as most birds breathe; in fact, song seemed a necessity to them.
There was a high pole in front of the shed, and one day I found my
ebullient little friend squatting on top to hold himself on while he
sang out at the top of his lungs! Another time I came face to face with
a pair when the songster was in the midst of his roundelay. He stopped
short, bobbed nervously from side to side, and then, rising to his feet
and putting his right foot forward with a pretty courageous gesture,
took up his song again. When the pair were building in the crate, I
stuck some white hen's feathers there, thinking they might like to use
them. Mr. Troglodytes came first, and seeing them, instead of turning
tail as I have known brave guardians of the nest to do, burst out
singing, as if it were a huge joke. Then he hopped down on the rim of
the box to scrutinize the plumes, after which he flew out. But he had to
stop to sing atilt of an elder stem before he could go on to tell his
spouse about them.

One day, when riding back to the ranch, I saw half a dozen turkey
buzzards soaring over the meadow--perhaps there was a dead jack-rabbit
in the field. It was astonishing to see how soon the birds would
discover small carrion from their great height. The ranchman never
thought of burying anything, they were such good scavengers. A few hours
after an animal was thrown out in the field the vultures would find it.
They would stand on the body and pull it to pieces in the most revolting
way. The ranchman told me he had seen them circle over a pair of
fighting snakes, waiting to devour the one that was injured. They were
grotesque birds. I often saw them walk with their wings held out at
their sides as if cooling themselves, and the unbird-like attitude
together with the horrid appearance of their red skinny heads made them
seem more like harpies than before.

They were most interesting at a distance. I once saw three of them
standing like black images on a granite bowlder, on top of a hill
overlooking the valley. After a moment they set out and went circling in
the sky. Although they flew in a group, it seemed as if the individual
birds respected one another's lines so as not to cover the same ground.
Sometimes when soaring they seemed to rest on the air and let themselves
be borne by the wind; for they wobbled from one side to the other like a
cork on rough water.

One of the most interesting birds of the valley is the road-runner or
chaparral cock, a grayish brown bird who stands almost as high as a crow
and has a tail as long as a magpie's. He is noted for his swiftness of
foot. Sometimes, when we were driving over the hills, a road-runner
would start out of the brush on a lonely part of the road and for quite
a distance keep ahead of the horses, although they trotted freely along.
When tired of running he would dash off into the brush, where he stopped
himself by suddenly throwing his long tail over his back. A Texan, in
talking of the bird, said, "It takes a right peart cur to catch one,"
and added that when a road-runner is chased he will rise but once, for
his main reliance is in his running, and he does not trust much to his
short wings. The chaparral cocks nested in the cactus on our hills, and
were said to live largely on lizards and horned toads.

[Illustration: Valley Quail and Road-Runner.]

It became evident that a pair of these singular birds had taken up
quarters in the chaparral on the hillside back of the ranch-house, for
one of them was often seen with the hens in the dooryard. One day I was
talking to the ranchman when the road-runner appeared. He paid no
attention to us, but went straight to the hen-house, apparently to get
cocoons. Looking between the laths, I could see him at work. He flew up
on the hen-roosts as if quite at home; he had been there before and knew
the ways of the house. He even dashed into the peak of the roof and
brought down the white cocoon balls dangling with cobweb. When he had
finished his hunt he stood in the doorway, and a pair of blackbirds lit
on the fence post over his head, looking down at him wonderingly. Was he
a new kind of hen? He was almost as big as a bantam. They sat and looked
at him, and he stood and stared at them till all three were satisfied,
when the blackbirds flew off and the road-runner walked out by the
kitchen to hunt among the buckets for food.

These curious birds seem to be of an inquiring turn of mind, and
sometimes their investigations end sadly. The windmills, which are a new
thing in this dry land, naturally stimulate their curiosity. A small boy
from the neighboring town--Escondido--told me that he had known four
road-runners to get drowned in one tank; though he corrected himself
afterwards by saying, "We fished out _one_ before he got drowned!"

Another lad told me he had seen road-runners in the nesting season call
for their mates on the hills. He had seen one stand on a bowlder fifteen
feet high, and after strutting up and down the rock with his tail and
wings hanging, stop to call, putting his bill down on the rock and going
through contortions as if pumping out the sound. The lad thought his
calls were answered from the brush below.

In April the ranchman reported that he had seen dusky poor-wills,
relatives of our whip-poor-wills, out flycatching on the road beyond the
ranch-house after dark. He had seen as many as eight or nine at once,
and they had let him come within three feet of them. Accordingly, one
night right after tea I started out to see them. The poor-wills choose
the most beautiful part of the twenty-four hours for their activity.
When I went out, the sky above the dark wall of the valley was a quiet
greenish yellow, and the rosy light was fading in the north at the head
of the canyon. White masses of fog pushed in from the ocean. Then the
constellations dawned and brightened till the evening star shone out in
her full radiant beauty. Locusts and crickets droned; bats zigzagged
overhead; and suddenly from the dusty road some black objects started
up, fluttered low over the barley, and dropped back on the road again.
At the same time came the call of the poor-will, which, close at hand,
is a soft burring _poor-will, poor-wil'-low_. Two or three hours later
I went out again. The full moon had risen, and shone down, transforming
the landscape. The road was a narrow line between silvered fields of
headed grain, and the granite bowlders gleamed white on the hills
inclosing the sleeping valley. For a few moments the shrill barking of
coyote wolves disturbed the stillness; then again the night became
silent; peace rested upon the valley, and from far up the canyon came
the faint, sad cry, _poor-wil'-low, poor-wil'-low_.



VIII.

POCKET MAKERS.


THE bush-tits are cousins of the eastern chickadees, which is reason
enough for liking them, although the California fruit growers have a
more substantial reason in the way the birds eat the scale that injures
the olive-trees. The bush-tits might be the little sisters of the
chickadee family, they are so small. They look like gray balls with long
tails attached, for they are plump fluffy tots, no bigger than your
thumb, without their tails. One of them, when preoccupied, once came
within three feet of where I stood. When he discovered me a comical look
of surprise came into his yellow eyes and he went tilting off, for his
long tail gave him a pitching flight as if he were about to go on his
bill, a flight that reminds one of the tail that wagged the dog.

[Illustration: Nest of the Bush-tit.]

There were so many of the gray pocket nests in the oaks that it was hard
to choose which to watch, but one of the most interesting hung from a
branch of the big double oak of the gnatcatchers, above the ranch-house,
where I could see it when sitting in the crotch of the tree. While
watching it I looked beyond over the chaparral wall away to a dark
purple peak standing against a sky flecked with sun-whitened clouds. The
nest was like an oriole's, but nearly twice as long, though the builders
were less than half the size of the orioles. Instead of being open at
the top, it was roofed over, and the only entrance was a small round
hole, the girth of the bird, about two inches under the roof.

One might imagine that such big houses would be dark with only one small
dormer window, and the valley children assured me that the birds hung
living firefly lamps on their walls! I suggested that a Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Fireflies would be needed if that were the
case; but when it comes to that, what bird would choose to brood by
gaslight?

When I first saw the bush-tit in its round doorway, it suggested Jack
Horner's famous plum, comical little ball of feathers! When first
watching the nest the small pair put me on their list of enemies, along
with small boys, blue jays, and owls. To go down into the pocket under
my stare seemed a terrible thing. When one of them came with a bit of
moss for lining, it started for the front door, saw me, stopped, and
turned to go to the back of the nest. Then it tried to get up courage to
approach the house from the side, got in a panic and dashed against the
wall as if expecting a door would open for it. When at last it did make
bold to dart into the nest it was struck with terror, and, whisking
around, jabbed the moss into the outside wall and fled!

Seeing that nothing awful happened, the birds finally took me off the
black list and allowed me to oversee their work, as long as I gave no
directions. Sometimes both little tots went down into the bag to work
together; surely there was plenty of room for many such as they. But it
is not always a matter of cubic inches, and one morning when the second
bird was about to pop in, apparently it was advised to wait a minute.
There was no ill feeling, though, for when the small builder came out it
flew to the twig in front of the door, where its mate was waiting, and
sat down beside it, a little Darby by his Joan.

They worked busily. Sometimes they popped in only to pop out again; at
other times they stayed inside as long as if they had been human
housekeepers, hanging pictures, straightening chairs, and setting their
bric-a-brac in order for the fortieth time; each change requiring mature
deliberation.

One morning--after the birds had been putting in lining long enough to
have wadded half a dozen nests--if my judgment is of any value in such
matters--I discovered that the roof was falling in; it was almost on top
of the front door! The next day, to my dismay, the door had vanished.
What was the trouble? Were the pretty pair young builders; was this
their first nest, and had they paid more attention to decorating their
house inside than to laying strong foundations; or had their pocket been
too heavy for its frame?

However it came about, the wise birds concluded that they would not
waste time crying over spilt milk. They calmly went to work to tear the
first nest to pieces and build a second one out of it. One of them
tweaked out its board with such a jerk it sent the pocket swinging like
a pendulum. But the next time it wisely planted its claw firmly to
steady itself, while it cautiously pulled the material out with its
bill.

If the birds were inexperienced, they were bright enough to profit by
experience. This time they hung their nest between the forks of a strong
twig which had a cross twig to support the roof, so that the accident
that had befallen them could not possibly occur again. They began work
at the top, holding onto the twig with their claws and swinging
themselves down inside to put in their material; and they moulded and
shaped the pocket as they went along.

After watching the progress of the new nest, I went to see what had
become of the old one. It was on the ground. On taking it home and
pulling it to pieces, I found that the wall was from half an inch to an
inch thick, made of fine gray moss and oak blossoms. There was a thick
wadding of feathers inside. I counted _three hundred_, and there were a
great many more! The amount of hard labor this stood for amazed me. No
wonder the nest pulled down, with a whole feather-bed inside! Why had
they put it in? I asked some children, and one said, "To keep the eggs
warm, I guess;" while the other suggested, "So the eggs wouldn't break."
Most of the feathers were small, but there must have been several dozen
chicken's feathers from two to three inches long. Among them was a plume
of an owl.

[Illustration: POCKET NEST IN AN OAK]

Much to my surprise, in the bush-tit's nest there was a broken eggshell.
Had the egg broken in falling, or had a snake been there? One of the
boys of the valley told me about seeing a racer snake go into a
bush-tit's pocket. The cries of the birds rallied several other pairs,
and they all flew about in distress, though not one of them dared touch
the dreadful tail that hung out of the nest hole. As the snake was about
three feet long, the pocket bulged as it moved around inside. There were
four nestlings about a quarter grown, and the relentless creature
devoured them all. The boy waited below with a stick, and when it came
out, killed it and shook it by the tail till the small birds popped out
of its mouth. If my broken eggshell pointed to any such tragedy, it
cleared the birds of the accusation of being poor builders.

The nest, which the first day was a filmy spot in the leaves, by the
next day had become a gray pocket over eight inches long, although I
could still see daylight through it. In working, the birds flew to the
top of the open bag and hopped down inside. I could see the pocket shake
and bulge as they worked within. When they flew away to any distance,
on their return they almost always came with their little call of
_schrit, schrit_.

This nest was so low that I used to throw myself on the sand beneath the
tree to watch it, taking many a sunbath there, with hat drawn down till
I could just see the nest in the pendent branches, and watch the
changing mosaics made by the sky through the moving leaves. When resting
on the sand the thought of rattlesnakes came to me, for the brush on
either side was a shelter for them, and they might easily have crept up
beside me without my hearing them.

The second bush-tit's nest was shorter than the first one. Perhaps the
builders thought the length had something to do with the fall of the
first; or perhaps they didn't feel like collecting three hundred more
feathers, with oak blossoms and moss to match. They first put the frame
of the front door below the supporting cross twig, and then, as if they
thought it needed more support, changed it and put the door above the
twig, so that the roof could not possibly close the hole, even if it did
fall in. The doorway was also made much larger than that of the first
nest.

After making away with the old nest, my conscience smote me. Perhaps the
little pocket makers were not through with it, even if it was on the
ground; so I brought a piece of it back and tied it with a grass stem to
a twig below the nest they were at work on, to save them as much
trouble as might be. When my bird came, her bright eyes were quick to
espy the old nest. She looked around, bewildered, as if wondering
whether she was really awake, and making sure that this strange looking
affair were not her second nest, come to grief in her absence. Being
reassured by her examination, she came back and hopped from twig to twig
inspecting the old piece of nest. At last she caught sight of a feather.
That, apparently, was just what she wanted. She quickly flew over,
pulled out the white plume, and went straight to the new house with it!

I was not able to watch any of my bush-tits through the season, that
year, but five years later, when again in southern California, to my
delight I found the tits building in almost the same tree where they had
been before.

One day an interesting brood was out in the brush, and I took notes on
their proceedings: "A family of young were abroad this morning filling
the leaves with their little moving forms, and the air with their
fledgling cry of _schrit_. As nearly as I could judge, there were ten in
the family--eight young tagging after two old birds. While I watched, a
droll thing happened, proving that a family of eight may affect a
parent's breakfast as well as his nerves. One of the family, which I
took to be the father bird, had some goody in his bill, and one of the
young, presumably, followed him for it, flying up on his twig. The old
bird turned his back upon the little one and went on shaking the grub.
Presently a second one flew down on the other side of him,--he was
between two fires; they touched him on both sides. I watched with
interest to see what he would do about it, and was much amused when he
opened his wings and flew up over their heads out of reach! Would he
come back to feed them after his food was properly prepared? No,--he sat
up on the branch and ate the morsel himself! I was rather shocked by
such a deliberate proceeding, but then it occurred to me that parent
birds have to take a bite themselves once in a while; though of course
their business is to feed the children!"



IX.

THE BIG SYCAMORE.


BEFORE going home from my morning sessions with the little lover and
other feathered friends, I often took a gallop at the foot of the hills
to visit a gigantic old tree, the king of the valley. One such ride is
especially marked in my memory. It was on one of California's most
perfect mornings. When the sun had risen over the valley, the fog
dissolved before it, sinking away until only small white clouds were
left in the tender blue of the notches between the red hills; while the
bared vault overhead had that pure, deep, satisfying color peculiar to
fog-cleared skies; and the cool fresh air was full of exhilaration. It
put Mountain Billy so in tune with the morning that, when I chirrupped
to him, shaking the reins on his neck, he quickly broke into a lope and
his ringing hoofs beat time to my song as we sped down the valley, past
vineyards and orchards and yellow fields of ripening grain. The free
swift motion was a delight in itself, and after days and weeks given to
the details of nest-making, shut away from the world in our little
remote valley at the foot of the mountains, now, when we came to a
break in the hills and our nostrils were greeted by the cool salt breeze
coming from the Pacific, suddenly the whole horizon broadened; the
inclosing valley walls were overlooked; we were galloping under the high
arching heavens in a wind blowing from far over the wide ocean.

Here stood the great sycamore, with branches swaying; for the tree faced
this break in the hills. It seemed as if the old monarch, with roots
firmly planted, had battled for its ground; and now, as a conqueror,
stood with arms uplifted to meet the ocean gales. I had never before
appreciated the dignity of those straight upreared shafts, the vital
strength of those deep grappling roots, the mighty grandeur of this old
battle king.

When one of the trunks fell, I had to hunt the sycamore over to find
where it came from, not missing it in the massive framework that was
left. The giant measured twenty-three feet and a half in circumference,
three feet from the ground. Its enormous branches stretched out
horizontally so far that, between the body of the tree and the tips that
hung to the earth, there was a wide corridor where one could promenade
on horseback. In fact, the tree spanned, from the tip of one branch to
the tip of the other, one hundred and fifty-eight feet. In the
photograph, the figure of a person is almost lost in the complicated
network of the frame of the tree. The treetop was a grove in itself. A
flock of blackbirds flying up into it was lost among the branches.

[Illustration: THE BIG SYCAMORE]

The ranchman knew the sycamore as the 'swallow tree,' because in former
years, before the valley was settled, swallows that have since taken to
barns built there. Between three and four hundred of them plastered
their nests on the underside of the big limbs, about half way up the
tree, where the bark was rough. They built so close together that the
nests made a solid mass of mud. For several seasons, it was said, "they
had bad luck." They began building before the rainy season was over, and
all but a few dozen nests which were in especially protected places were
swept away. The number of nests was so enormous that the ground was
covered several inches deep with mud.

Billy used to improve his time by nibbling barley while I watched birds
in the sycamore corridor. We had not been there long before I discovered
a bee's nest in the hollow of one of the trunks. The owners were busily
flying in and out, and a pair of big bee-birds flew down from their nest
in the treetop and saved themselves trouble by lunching at this
convenient ground floor restaurant. As I sat on Billy, facing the nest,
one of the pair swept down over the mouth of the hole, caught a bee and
settled back on the branch to swallow it. This seemed to be the regular
performance, and was kept up so continuously, even when we were
standing close by, that if, as is supposed, the birds eat only drones,
few but workers would be left in that hive.

The flycatchers seemed well suited to the sycamore; they were birds of
large ideas and sweeping flights. Their nest was at the top of the tree;
probably eighty feet from the ground, but when one of them flew down,
instead of coming a branch at a time, he would set his wings and, giving
a loud cry,--as a child shouts when pushing off his sled at the top of a
steep hill,--he would sail obliquely down from the treetop to the foot
of the hillside beyond. When looking for his material he would hover
over the field like a phœbe. Then, on returning, unlike the other
birds who lived in the tree and used the branches as ladders, he would
start from the ground and with labored flights climb obliquely up the
air to the treetop. Once his material dangled a foot behind him. The
birds seemed to enjoy these great flights.

Their nest was not finished, and while one went for material, the
other--presumably the male--guarded the nest. As there was nothing to
guard as yet, it often seemed a matter of venting his own spleen! When
not occupied in arranging his plumes, he would shoot down at every small
bird that came upstairs; a cowardly proceeding, but perhaps he thought
it necessary to keep his hand in against meeting bigger boys than he!
When coming with material, one of the bee-birds got caught in a heavy
rope of cobweb that dangled from the nest, and had to flutter hard to
extricate itself. About their nests these birds seemed as home-loving as
any others. Their domesticity quite surprised me; they had always seemed
such harsh, scolding, aggressive birds! When one of them sat among the
green leaves, pluming the soft sulphur yellow feathers of its breast, it
looked so gentle and attractive that it was a shock when the familiar
petulant screams again jarred the air. The birds often hunted from the
fence beyond the sycamore, and flew from post to post with legs
dangling, shaking their wings as they lit, with a shrill _kit'r'r'r'r'_.

The sycamore was a regular apartment house; so many birds were moving
among the boughs it was impossible to tell where they all lived. One day
I found a pair of doves sitting on a sunny branch above me. The one I
took to be the male sat perched crosswise, while his mate sat facing
him, lengthwise of the limb. He calmly fluffed out his feathers and
preened himself, while his meek spouse watched him. She fluttered her
wings, teasing him to feed her, but he kept on dressing out his plumes.
Then she edged a little closer, and almost essayed to touch his majesty
with her pretty blue bill, but he sat with lordly composure quite
ignoring her existence till a blackbird bustled up, when they both
started nervously, and turning, sat demurely side by side on the limb,
the wind tilting their long tails.

A pair of bright orange orioles had a nest in the sycamore, though I
never should have known it had I not seen them go to it to feed their
young. It was a well shaded cradle surely, with its canopy of big green
leaves.

There were a good many hints to be had, first and last. A song sparrow
appeared and stood on a branch with its tail perked up in a
business-like way as if it had been feeding a brood. A wren came to the
tree,--a mere pinch of feathers in the giant sycamore,--and though I
lost sight of it, many a hollow up in the fourteenth story might have
afforded a home for the pretty dear without any one's being the wiser,
unless it were the bee-bird in the attic. A family of bush-tits flew
about in the sycamore top, looking like pin-heads in a grove of trees. A
black phœbe sometimes lit on the fence posts under the branches--it
wanted to find a nesting place about the windmill in the opposite field,
I felt sure, though a boy had told me that the bird sometimes plastered
its nest onto the branches of the big tree itself. Besides all the rest,
rosy linnets and blue lazuli buntings made the old tree ring with their
musical roundelays.

One day when I rode down to the sycamore, the meadow bordering it was
full of haycocks, and a rabbit ran out from under one of them,
frightened by the clatter of Billy's hoofs. That morning the tree was
fairly alive with blackbirds and doves--what a deafening medley the
blackbirds made! In the fields near the sycamore flocks of redwings went
swinging over the tall gleaming mustard. This was a great place for
blackbirds, for the big tree was on the edge of the one piece of marsh
land in the valley, and they were quick to take advantage of its reeds
for nesting places.

The cienaga--as they called the swamp--was used as a pasture. It was
pleasant to look out upon, from under the branches of the great tree. A
group of horses stood in the shade of a cluster of oaks on the farther
side of it, while the cows, a beautiful herd of buff and white
Guernseys, waded through the swamp grass to drink near the sycamore, and
the blackbirds wound in and out among them. I had been in a dry land so
long it was hard to believe there was actual water in the marsh till I
saw it drip from their chins and heard the sucking sound as they
laboriously dragged their feet out of the mud--a noise that took me back
to eastern pastures, but sounded strangely unfamiliar here in this
rainless land. One of the pretty Guernseys with a white star in her
forehead strayed up under the tree, and the shadows of the leaves moved
over her as she raised her sensitive face to see who was there.

The son of the ranchman who owned the dairy--the one who invited me down
to see the play between his dog Romulus and the burrowing owl--said that
when herding cows by the sycamore he once caught sight of a coyote wolf.
He clapped his hands to send his dog, Romulus, after the wolf; and the
noise frightened the wild creature so that he started to run up the hill
across the road from the sycamore. Romulus followed hard at his heels
till they got well up the hillside, when the coyote felt that he was on
his own ground and turned on the dog, who fled back to his master with
his tail between his legs. The lad, clapping his hands, set the dog on
the coyote again, and this animated but bloodless performance was
repeated and kept up till both were tired out, the animals chasing each
other back and forth from the sycamore to the hillside with as much
energy and perhaps as much courage as was displayed by that historic
king of France who had five thousand men and--

          "... marched them up a hill and then
           He marched them down again."

On one side of the sycamore was a great wall of weeds higher than my
head when on horseback; a dense mass of yellow mustard, and fragrant
wild celery which was covered with delicate white bloom. I saw
blackbirds carrying material into this thicket, but as I had known of
neighbors' horses getting bitten by rattlesnakes among the high weeds,
did not think it worth while to wade around in it much for such common
birds as they. But one day, seeing a pair of rare blue grosbeaks fly
down into the tangle, I turned Billy right in after them, though holding
his head well up in consideration of the snakes. The birds vanished, so
we stood still to wait. Suddenly I heard a slight sound as of something
slipping through the weeds at Billy's feet, and looking down saw a snake
marked like a rattler; and as it slid by Billy's hoof I noticed with
horror that the end of its tail was blunt--the harmless gopher snake
that resembles the rattler has a tapering tail! I gazed at it
spellbound, but in the dim light could not make out whether it had
rattles or not. I had seen enough, however, and whipping up Billy was
out of those weeds in a hurry. Safely outside, I looked at my little
horse remorsefully--what if my desire to see a new nest had been the
cause of his getting a rattlesnake bite!

The next day when I went down to the sycamore a German was mowing there
with a pair of mules. He was a typical Rhinelander, with blue eyes and
long curling hair and beard, and as he drove he sang in a deep rich
voice one of the beautiful melodies of his fatherland. Screened by the
branches, I listened quite unmindful of my work till my reverie was
interrupted by the man's giving a harsh cry to his mules. It was only an
aside, however, for he dropped back into his song in the same rich
sympathetic voice.

In riding out from the tree on my way home, I saw that he was mowing
just where the snake had been, and warned him to be careful lest the
horses get bitten. At the word rattlesnake his blue eyes dilated, and he
assured me that he would be on his guard. Seeing my glasses and
note-book, he asked if I were studying birds. When told that I was, from
his seat on the mowing-machine he took off his hat and bowed with the
air of a lord, saying in broken English, "I am pleased to meet you!"--a
pleasant tribute to the profession. A few days later, on meeting him, he
asked if I had found the rattlesnake--he had killed it under the
sycamore and hung it on a branch for me to see.

As the memory of my morning rides down to the sycamore brings to mind
the wonderful freshness of California's fog-cleared skies, so my sunset
rides home from the great tree recall the peacefulness of the quiet
valley at twilight. One sunset stands out with peculiar distinctness. As
Mountain Billy turned from the sycamore marsh its leaning blades gleamed
in the evening light, and the sun warmed the sides of the line of buff
Guernseys wading in procession through the high swamp grass to their
out-door milking stand. Beyond, a load of hay was crossing the meadows
with sun on the reins and the pitchforks the men carried over their
shoulders; and beyond, at the head of the valley, the western canyons
were filled with golden haze, while the last shafts of yellow light
loitered over the apricot orchards below, where the tranquil birds were
singing their evening songs. Slowly the long shadows of the mountain
crept over orchard and vineyard until, finally, the sun rounded the last
peak and left our little valley in darkness.



X.

AMONG MY TENANTS.


THE first year I was in California the thought of the orchards that were
to be set out on my ranch appealed to me much less than what the place
already possessed. As an inheritance from the stream that came down in
spring through the Ughland canyon--past the homes of the little lover,
the gnatcatchers, the little prisoners, and the lazulis and blue
jays--there was a straggling line of old sycamores, full of birds'
nests; and a patch of weeds, wild mustard, and willows, which was a
capital shelter for wandering warblers; and a bright sunny spot always
ringing with songs.

So many houses were being put up without so much as a by-your-leave that
it was high time for an ornithological landlady to bestir herself and
look to her ornithological squatters; so, day after day I turned my
horse toward the ranch and spent the morning getting acquainted with my
tenants, riding along the shady line and making friendly calls at each
tree.

Half of the blackbirds who worked in the vineyard must have been
beholden to me for rent, I should judge by the jolly choruses of the
sable hordes moving about my treetops. There was a bee's nest in one of
the sycamores, and one day the buzzing mob 'took after me' so madly that
I had to whip up Canello and beat about with my hat to get clear of
them.

[Illustration: ALONG THE LINE OF SYCAMORES]

Another day, when we stopped under a sycamore, such a loud shrill
whistle sounded suddenly overhead that the horse started. A big bird in
black sat with feathers bristled up about him like a threatening raven,
croaking away sepulchrally directly overhead, bending down gazing at us
out of his yellow eyes as if to see how we took it. It was a laughable
sight. Blackbirds seem such human, humorous birds one can almost fancy
them playing such pranks just for the fun of it.

The blackbird colony was a busy one nesting-time. The builders would fly
down to the road to get material, stepping along quickly, looking from
side to side with an alert, business-like air, as if they knew just what
they wanted. Some of them used the button-balls to line their nests.

A pair had built in one of the round mats of mistletoe at the end of a
branch, and while looking at the nest one day I was amazed to see a
butcherbird come flying in a straight line toward it. He did not reach
his destination, for while still in air both blackbirds darted down at
him and drove him back faster than he had come. The guardian of the nest
escorted him almost home, and when the victorious pair were returning
they were joined by a noisy band of indignant members of the blackbird
clan.

I watched this attack with great interest, not knowing that shrikes were
concerned in blackbird matters, and also because it was welcome news
that one of these strange characters had rented a lot of me. I made a
note of the direction my outlaw tenant took when driven ignominiously
home, and at my earliest convenience called. Such cruel tales are told
of his cold-blooded way of impaling birds and beasts upon thorns and
barbed wires that one naturally looks upon him as a monster; but I found
that he, like many another villain, turns a gentle face to his nest.

He had pitched his tent on the farthest outpost of my ranch in a little
bunch of willows, weeds, and mustard--long since converted into a
well-kept prune orchard. The nest, which was a big round mass of sticks,
was inside the willows in a clump of dry stalks about six feet from the
ground. I had hardly found it before one of the builders swooped down to
it right before my eyes, with the hardihood of one who fears no man;
though it must be acknowledged that the shrikes, like other birds on the
ranch, were so used to grazing horses they quite naturally took me for a
cattle herder.

In this case Canello did not act as my ally. He had been quiet and
docile most of the morning, but now was hungry and saw some grass he
was bent on having, so took the bit in his teeth and made such an
obstinate fight that, before I had conquered him, the shrikes had left
the premises and my call was finished without my hosts.

On my next visit Canello behaved in more seemly manner, and permitted me
to see something of the ways of the maligned birds. You would not have
known them from any one else except for the remarkable stillness of
their neighborhood. Some finches flew overhead as if meaning to stop,
but saw the shrike and went on. I could hear the merry songs of the
assembly down in the sycamores, but not a bird lit while we were
there--the shrikes certainly have a bad name among their neighbors. They
had a proud bearing and an imperative manner, but seemed so gentle and
human in their domestic life that my prejudices were softened, as one's
generally are by near acquaintance, and I became really very fond of my
handsome tenants.

It looked as if the shrike fed his mate. At any rate, they worked
together and rested together, perching in lordly fashion high on the
willows overlooking their home. They did not object to observers when at
work. One day, when Canello's nose appeared by the nest, the builder
looked at him over her shoulder and then quietly slid off the nest,
flying up on her perch to wait till he should leave. It was a temptation
to keep her waiting some time, for the shrike's corner was a pleasant
place to linger in. The sea-breeze was so strong it turned the willow
leaves white side out, and the beautiful glistening mustard grew so high
there that when Canello walked into it, the golden blossoms waved over
our heads. We haunted the premises till the birds had finished their
framework, put in a lining of snow-white plant cotton, and had laid four
eggs.

But when getting to feel like an old friend of the family, on riding
down one day I found the nest lying in the dust of the road broken and
despoiled. It made me as unhappy as if the outlaws had been
unimpeachable bird citizens--which comes of knowing both sides of a
person's character! Do birds hand down traditions of ill luck? However
it may be, five years later I found the nest of a pair in a dark mat of
mistletoe at the end of a high oak branch, which was a much safer place
than the low willow.

While I was watching the first shrike family, Canello had two scares.
Once when we were standing still by the willow we heard what sounded
like a rattlesnake springing its rattle. The nervous horse pricked up
his ears, raised his head, and looked in the grass as if he saw snakes,
and though I succeeded in quieting him, when we went home he started at
every stick and was ready to shy at every shadow. Another morning he saw
a Mexican riding along by the vineyard, a man with a very dark face and
a red shirt. Canello acted much as he had when hearing the rattlesnake,
and did not quiet down till horse and rider were out of sight. The
ranchman told me he had been cruelly treated by the Mexican who broke
him, so perhaps it was another case of association of ideas.

East of the willows, and separated from them by the dark green mallows
and bright yellow California forget-me-nots, was the sycamore where the
shrike was driven off by the blackbirds. Here a little brown wren had
taken up her abode. The nest was in a dead limb with a lengthwise slit,
and a scoop at the end like an apple-corer, so when one of the wrens
flew down its hole with a stick, the twig stuck out of the crack as she
ran along with it. She quite won my heart by her frank way of meeting
her landlady. Instead of flying off, she looked me over and then quietly
sat down in her doorway to wait for her mate.

On the road to my sycamores was a deserted whitewashed adobe. The place
had become overgrown with weeds, vines, and bushes, and was taken
possession of by squirrels and birds. Nature had reclaimed it, covering
its ugly scars with garlands, and making it bloom under her tender
touch. One morning, as I rode by, a black phœbe was perched on the
old adobe chimney of the little house, while his mate sat on the board
that covered the well, in a way that made it easy to jump to a
conclusion. When she flew up to the acacia beside the well and looked
down anxiously, I put the pair on my calling list. It did not take many
visits to prove my conclusion--there was a nest down in the well with
white eggs in it. The phœbes were most trustful birds, and not only
let Canello tramp around their yard, but when a pump was put down the
well, and water pumped up day by day, the brave parents, instead of
deserting their eggs, went on brooding as if nothing had happened.

[Illustration: Black Phœbe.

(One half natural size.)]

[Illustration: Eastern Phœbe.

(One half natural size.)]

Five years later, on going back to the ranch, I found the phœbes
around the old place, but hunted in vain for the nest. A schoolhouse had
been built in the interval, near the old adobe, and the birds perched on
its gables, on the hitching posts in front of it, and on my prune-trees,
that had taken the place of the willows, across the road. They even came
up to my small ranch-house and filled me with delightful anticipations
by inspecting the beams of the piazza; but they could not find what they
wanted and flew off to build elsewhere. Later in the season, a neighbor
whose ranch was opposite mine showed me a phœbe's nest inside his
whitewashed chicken house. It was a mud pocket like a swallow's, made of
large pellets of mud plastered against a board in the peak of the house.
Of course I could never prove that these birds were my old friends, but
it seemed very probable.

The smallest of my tenants was a hummingbird. I saw it fly into a low
spray, and it stayed there so long that when it left I rode up to look,
and found that it was building on the tip of a twig under a sycamore
leaf umbrella, one whose veining showed against the light. By rising in
the saddle I could just reach the twig and pull it down to look inside
the nest; but afterwards I found so many other hummers who could be
watched with fewer gymnastics, I rested content with knowing that this
little friend was there.

One morning, when on the way to the sycamores, I found an oriole's nest
high in a tree. Canello was hungry, but when permitted to eat barley
under the branches kept reasonably quiet. There were two species of
orioles in the valley; and not knowing to which the nest belonged, I
prepared to wait for the return of the owner. The heat was so oppressive
that I took off my hat, and a bird flew into the tree with bill open,
gasping. After my hot ride down the valley the shade of the big tree was
very grateful; and the cool trade wind coming through a gap in the
hills most refreshing.

Suddenly there was a flash--we all waked up--was that the house owner?
What a remarkable bird! and what a display of color!--it had a red head,
fiery in the sun; a black back, and a vivid yellow breast. On looking it
up in Ridgway the stranger proved to be the Louisiana tanager, a high
mountain bird. That was a red letter day for me. No one can know,
without experiencing it, the delight of such discoveries. The pleasure
is as genuine as if the world were made anew for you. In the excitement
the oriole's nest was neglected; but ordinarily the rare unknown birds
did not detract from the enjoyment of the old, more familiar ones.

So when the brilliant stranger flew away and was seen no more I turned
with pleasure to the pair of sparrow hawks who had come to live on the
ranch. A branch had fallen from one of the trees, and the hawks found
its hollow just suited to their needs. It was a good, spacious house,
but a pair of their cousins who had built in a tree over the whitewashed
hovel had made a sad mistake in choosing their dwelling--for the front
door was so small they could hardly enter! I used to stop to watch them,
and was very much amused at their efforts to make the best of it.

Canello could stand up to his knees in alfilaree clover under their
tree, so he allowed me to watch the birds in peace. The first day the
male sparrow hawk flew to the tree with what looked like a snake
dangling from his bill, and as he alighted screamed _kit-kit'ar'r'r'r'_,
spreading his wings and shaking them with emphasis. When this
brought no response, he flew from branch to branch, crying out lustily.
He revolved around the end of a broken limb in whose small hollow was
framed the head of Madame Falco. From her height she looked like a rag
doll at her window. Her funny round face, which filled the doorway, had
black spots for bill and eyes, and dark lines down the cheeks that might
have simulated rag doll tattooing.

Evidently there was some reason why she did not want to come to
breakfast. Once she started to turn back into the nest, but at last
laboriously wedged her way out of the hole and flew to a branch. Her
mate was at her side in an instant, and handed her the snake. She took
it greedily and flew off with it, let us hope because she was afraid of
me, not because she did not want to divide with him, or thought he would
ask her to, after all his devotion and patience!

When the bird went back to her nest, her hesitation about leaving it was
explained. For a long time she sat on a limb near by with tail bobbing,
apparently trying to make up her mind to go in. When she did fly up at
the hole she could not get in, and half fell down. After this failure
she sat down on a branch, her tail tilting as violently as a pipit's,
and when Canello moved around too much, took the excuse and flew off.
Her mate came back with her, but when he saw us, he screamed and flew
away, leaving her to her fate.

She sat looking at her hole a long time before she tried it again, and
when she did try, failed. It was not till her fourth attempt that she
succeeded. The hole was very much too small for her, and the surface of
the branch below it was so smooth and slippery that it gave her nothing
to hold to in trying to wedge herself in. She would fly against the hole
and attempt to hook her bill over the edge, and so draw herself up, but
her shoulders were too big for the space. She tried to make them smaller
by drawing down her wings lengthwise. Once, in her efforts, she spread
her tail like a fan. After her third struggle, she sat for a long time
smoothing her ruffled feathers, shaking herself, scratching her face
with her foot and trying to get her plumes in order.

While making her toilet she apparently thought of a new plan. She went
back to the hole and, raising her claw, fastened it inside the hole and
with a spasmodic effort wedged in her body and disappeared down the
black hollow. Her mate came a moment after, but she did not even appear
in the doorway when he called. Again he came, crying _keek' keek'
kick-er' r' r'_, in tender falsetto; but it was no use. Madame Falco had
had altogether too hard a time getting in, to go out again in a hurry.
He held a worm in his bill till he was tired, changed it to his claw,
letting it dangle from that for a while; and then, as she would make no
sign, finally flew off.

The next day we had another session with the sparrow hawk. She had
evidently profited by experience. She did not fly at the hole in the
violent way she had done the day before, but ambled along a limb to get
as close to it as possible, and then quietly flew up. She made two or
three unsuccessful attempts to enter, but kept at the branch,--falling
back but once. She got half way in once or twice, but could not force
her wings through. She acted as if determined not to give up, and at
last, when she found herself falling backwards, with a desperate effort
drew herself in.

There was another sparrow hawk family across the road from my ranch. In
riding by one day, I saw a youngster looking out from the nest hole with
big frightened eyes. Was it the only child, or was it monopolizing the
fresh air while its brothers were smothering below? Another day there
were two heads in the window; one was the round domed, top of a fluffy
nestling whose eyes expressed only vague fear; but the other was the
strongly marked head of an old sparrow hawk, who eyed us with keen
intelligence. As I stared up, the young one drew back into the hole
behind its parent, probably in obedience to her command; and the old
bird bent such an anxious inquiring gaze upon me that I took the hint
and rode away to save the poor mother worry.

These were not the only hawks of the valley. Once, seeing one of the
large Buteos winging its way with nesting sticks hanging from its claws,
I turned Canello into the field after it, following till it lit in the
top of a high sycamore. The pair were both gathering material. Sometimes
they flew with the twigs in their claws; sometimes in their bills; now
they would fly directly to the nest, again circle around the tree before
alighting. When one was at work, the other sometimes flew up and soared
so high in the sky he looked no larger than a sparrow hawk. In swooping
to the ground suddenly, the hawks would hollow in their backs, stick up
their tails, drop their legs for ballast, and so let themselves come to
earth. While one of the birds was peacefully gathering sticks, two
blackbirds attacked it, apparently on general grounds, because it
belonged to a family that had been traduced since history began. To tell
the honest truth, I trembled a little myself at thought of what might
happen to some of my small tenants, though I reassured myself by
remembering that the facts prove the maligned hawks much more likely to
eat gophers than birds.

In the back of the stub occupied by one of the sparrow hawks it was a
pleasure to find a flicker excavating its nest. Planting its claws
firmly in the hole with tail braced against the bark, the bird leaned
forward, thrusting its head in, over and again, as if feeding young. It
used its feet as a pivot, and swung itself in, farther and farther, as
it worked. Such gymnastics took strong feet, for the bird raised itself
by them each time. It worked like an automatic toy wound up for the
performance. When tired, the flicker hopped up on a branch and vented
its feelings by shouting _if-if-if-if-if-if-if_, after which it quietly
returned to work. The wood was so soft that the excavating made almost
no noise, but it was easy to see what was going on, for the carpenter
simply drew back its head and tossed out the glistening chips for all
the world to see. At the end of a week the flicker was working so far
down in its excavation that only the tip of its tail stuck out of the
door.

The nest of another Colaptes, I found by accident--a fresh chip dropped
from mid-air upon my riding skirt. Just then Canello gave a stentorian
sneeze and the bird came to her window to look down. She did not object
to us, and was loath to turn back inside the dark hole--such a close
stuffy place--when outside there were the rich green leaves of the tree,
the sweet breath of the hayfield and the gentle breeze just springing
up; all the warmth and sunshine and fragrance of the fields. How could
she ever leave to go below? Perhaps she bethought her that soon the dark
hole would be a home ringing with the voices of her little ones; at all
events, she quickly turned and disappeared in her nest.

At the foot of the ranch I discovered a comical, sleepy little brown
owl, dozing in a sycamore window. When we waked it up, it went backing
down the hole. I wondered if it kept awake all day without food, for
surely owl children do not get many meals by daylight. I spoke to the
ranchman's son about it, and he said he thought the old birds fed the
young too much, that he had found about a dozen small kangaroo rats and
mice in their holes! He told me that he had known old owls to change
places in the daytime, and both birds to stay in the hole during the
day. Down the valley, where an old well was only partly covered over, at
different times he had found a number of drowned owls. They seemed to
fly into any dark hole that offered. Three barn owls had been taken from
a windmill tank in the neighborhood in about a month. In a mine at
Escondido the man had found a number of owls sitting in a crevice where
the earth, had caved; and he had seen about a dozen of them fifty to a
hundred feet underground, at the bottom of the mine shaft.

I did not wonder the birds wanted to keep out of sight in the daytime,
knowing what happened to those that stayed out. A pair nested in the top
of a high sycamore on my neighbors' premises, and when one stirred away
from home, it did so to its sorrow. One morning there was such a
commotion I rode down to see what was the matter. A big dark brown form
flew down the avenue of sycamores ahead of us, followed by a mob of all
the feathered house owners in the neighborhood. They escorted it home to
the top of its own tree, where it seated itself on a limb, its big
yellow eyes staring and its long ears dropped down, as if home were not
home with a rout of angry bee-birds and blackbirds screeching and diving
at you over your own doorsill. Two orioles started to fly over from the
next tree, but went back, perhaps thinking it wiser not to make open war
upon such near neighbors; while a sparrow hawk who came to help in the
attack was judged too dangerous an ally and escorted home by a squad of
blackbirds dispatched for the purpose. The poor persecuted owl screwed
its head around to its back as if hoping to see pleasanter sights on
that side; but the uncanny performance did not seem to please its
enemies, and a blackbird flew rudely past, close under its bill, as if
to warn it of what might happen.

The queerest of all my tenants was an old mother barn owl who lived in
the black charred chimney of one of the sycamores. I found a white
feather on the black wood one day in riding by, and pulling Canello up
by the tree, broke off a twig and rapped on the door. She came
blundering out and flew to a limb over our heads--such a queer old
crone, with her hooked nose and her weazened face surrounded by a
circlet of dark feathers. The light blinded her, and with her big round
eyes wide open she leaned down staring to make out who we were. Then
shaking her head reproachfully, she swayed solemnly from side to side.
As the wind blew against her ragged feathers she drew her wings over her
breast like a cloak, making herself look like a poverty-stricken
wiseacre. Finding that we did not offer to go, the poor old crone took
to her wings; but as she passed down the line of sycamores she roused
the blackbird clan, and a pair of angry orioles flew out and attacked
her. My conscience smote me for driving her out among her enemies, but
on our return to the sycamores all was quiet again, and a lizard was
sunning himself on the edge of the old owl's chimney.



XI

AN UNNAMED BIRD.


SIX years ago, on my first visit to California, I found a dainty cup of
a nest out in the oaks, but the name of its owner was a puzzle. On
returning East I consulted those who are wisest in matters of such fine
china, but they were unable to clear up the matter. For five years that
mystery haunted me. At the end of that time, when back in California, up
in those same oaks, I found another cup of the same pattern; but the cup
got broken and that was the end of it.

The fact of the matter is, you can identify perhaps ninety per cent. of
the birds you see, with an opera-glass and--patience; but when it comes
to the other ten per cent., including small vireos and flycatchers, and
some others that might be mentioned, you are involved in perplexities
that torment your mind and make you meditate murder; for it is
impossible to

          Name _all_ the birds without a gun.

On bringing my riddle to the wise men, they shook their heads and asked
why I did not shoot my bird and find out who he was. On saying the word
his skin would be sent to me; but after knowing the little family in
their home it would have been like raising my hand against familiar
friends. Could I take their lives to gratify my curiosity about a name?
I pondered long and weighed the matter well, trying to harden my heart;
but the image of the winning trustful birds always rose before me and
made it impossible. I will put the case before you, and you can judge if
you would not have withheld your hand.

One day, hearing the sound of battle up in the treetops, I hurried over
to the scene of action, when out dashed a pair of courageous little
dull-colored birds in hot pursuit of a blue jay, whom they dove at till
they drove him from the field. My sympathies were enlisted at once.
Fearless little tots to brave a bird four times as big as themselves in
defense of their home! How hard to have to build and rear a brood in the
face of such a powerful foe! I wanted to take up the cudgels for them
and stand guard to see that no harm came.

Planting my camp-stool under their oak, I watched eagerly to have my new
friends show me their home. As I waited, a pair of turtle doves walked
about on the sand under the farther branches of the tree; a pair of
woodpeckers sat on a dead limb lying in wait for their prey; and a
couple of titmice came hunting through the oak--all the world seemed
full of happy home-makers.

But soon I saw a sight that made me forget everything else. There were
my brave little birds up in the oak working upon a beautiful moss cup
that hung from a forked twig. They were building together, flying
rapidly back and forth bringing bits of moss from the brush to put in
their nest.

They worked independently, each hunting moss and placing it to its own
satisfaction. What one did the other would be well pleased with, I felt
sure. But while each worked according to its own ideas, they always
appeared to be working together; they could not bear to be out of sight
of each other long at a time. When the small father bird found himself
at the nest alone, after placing his material he would stand and call to
let his pretty mate know that he was waiting for her; or else sit down
by the nest and warble over such a contented, happy little lay it warmed
my heart just to listen to him.

When his mate appeared the merry birds would chase off for a race
through the treetops. Song and play were mingled with their work, but,
for all that, the happy builders' house grew under their hands, and they
kept faithfully at their task of preparing the home for their little
brood. Once the small, dainty mother bird,--surely it must have been
she,--after putting in her bit of moss, settled down in the nest and
sat there the picture of quiet happiness.

This was all I saw of the nest builders that year. A great storm swept
through the valley, and it must have washed away the frail mossy cup,
for it was gone and the tree was deserted. Nevertheless, the birds had
been so attractive, and their nest so interesting, that through the five
years that passed before my return to California I kept their memory
green, and could never think of them without tenderness--though I could
call them by no name. If they had only worn red feathers in their caps,
it would have been some clue to their coats-of-arms; but, out of hand,
there seemed to be nothing to mark the plain, little, greenish gray
birds from half a dozen of their cousins.

When I finally returned to the California ranch, one of my first
thoughts was for the moss nest makers up in the oaks. Now I had a chance
to solve the mystery without harming one of their pretty feathers, for
by long and patient watching I might get near enough to puzzle out the
'spurious primary' and the subtle distinctions of tint that make such a
difference in calling birds by their right names.

For six weeks I watched and listened in vain, but one day when riding up
the canyon rejoicing at the new life that filled the trees, I stopped
under an oak only a few rods from the one where the nest had been five
years before, and looking up saw a small dull-colored bird with a bit of
moss in its bill walking down into a mossy cup right before my eyes! For
a few moments I was the happiest observer in the land. I had found my
little friend again, after all these years! It looked over the edge of
the twig at me several times, but went on gathering material as
unconcernedly as if it, too, remembered me. The mossy cup seemed
prettier than any rare bit of Sèvres china, for I looked upon it with
eyes that had been waiting for the sight for five years.

As the bird worked, a cottontail rabbit rustled the leaves, and Billy
started forward, frightening the timid animal so that it scampered off
over the ground, showing the white underside of its tail. But though
Billy and the rabbit were both terrified, the brave worker only flew
down to a twig to look at them, and turned back calmly to its task.

The nest was so protectively colored that I could not see it readily,
and sometimes started to find that I had been looking right at it
without knowing it. The prospect of identifying my birds was not
encouraging. You might as well expect to see from the first floor what
was going on up in a cupola as to expect to see from the ground what
birds are doing up in the thick oak tops. You have reason to be thankful
for even a glimpse of a bird in the heavy foliage, and as for 'spurious
primaries,'--"Woe worth the chase!"

Now and then I got a hint of family matters. My two little friends were
working together, and occasionally I saw a bit of moss put in; but it
was evident that the main part of the work was over. One day I waited
half an hour, and when the bird came it acted as if it had really done
all that was necessary, and only returned for the sake of being about
its pretty home.

The birds said a good deal up in the oak, sometimes in sweet lisping
tones, as though talking to themselves about the nest. They often flew
away from it not far over my head. The call note was a loud
whistle--_whee-it'_--and the bird gave it so rapidly that I once took
out my watch to time him, after which he called seventy times in sixty
seconds. Often after whistling loudly he would give a soft low call. His
clear ringing voice was one of the most cheering in the valley.

When the building seemed done and I was looking forward to the brooding,
as the birds would then, perforce, be more about the nest, one sad
morning I rode up through the oaks and found the beautiful moss cup torn
and dangling from its branch. It was the keenest disappointment of the
nesting season, and there had been many. The pretty acquaintance to
whose renewal I had looked forward so many years was now ended.

Again I had to leave California without being able to name my winning
little friends. If I had been too much interested in them before to set
a price on their heads; now, rather than raise my voice against them,
they should remain forever unnamed.[4]

FOOTNOTE:

[4] Since this paper was written, I have consulted an authority on
nests, who thinks that this nameless bird was probably Hutton's vireo.



XII.

HUMMERS.


CALIFORNIA is the land of flowers and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are
there the winged companions of the flowers. In the valleys the airy
birds hover about the filmy golden mustard and the sweet-scented
primroses; on the blooming hillsides in spring the air is filled with
whirring wings and piping voices, as the fairy troops pass and repass at
their mad gambols. At one moment the birds are circling methodically
around the whorls of the blue sage; at the next, hurtling through the
air after a distant companion. The great wild gooseberry bushes with red
fuchsia-like flowers are like bee-hives, swarming with noisy hummers.
The whizzing and whirring lead one to the bushes from a distance, and on
approaching one is met by the brown spindle-like birds, darting out from
the blooming shrubs, gleams of green, gold, and scarlet glancing from
their gorgets.

[Illustration: The Little Hummer on her Bow-Knot Nest.

(From a photograph.)]

The large brown hummers probably stop in the valley only on their way
north, but the little black-chinned ones make their home there, and the
big spreading sycamores and the great live-oaks are their nesting
grounds. In the big oak beside the ranch-house I have seen two or three
nests at once; and a ring of live-oaks in front of the house held a
complement of nests. From the hammock under the oak beside the house one
could watch the birds at their work. If the front door was left open,
the hummers would sometimes fly inside; and as we stepped out they
often darted away from the flowers growing under the windows.

California is the place of all places to study hummingbirds. The only
drawback is that there are always too many other birds to watch at the
same time; but one sees enough to want to see more. I never saw a
hummingbird courtship unless--perhaps one performance I saw was part of
the wooing. I was sitting on Mountain Billy under the little lover's
sycamore when a buzzing and a whirring sounded overhead. On a twig sat a
wee green lady and before her was her lover (?), who, with the sound and
regularity of a spindle in a machine, swung shuttling from side to side
in an arc less than a yard long. He never turned around, or took his
eyes off his lady's, but threw himself back at the end of his line by a
quick spread of his tail. She sat with her eyes fixed upon him, and as
he moved from side to side her long bill followed him in a very droll
way. When through with his dance he looked at her intently, as if to see
what effect his performance had had upon her. She made some remark,
apparently not to his liking, for when he had answered he flew away. She
called after him, but as he did not return she stretched herself and
flew up on a twig above with an amusing air of relief.

This is all I have ever seen of the courtship; but when it comes to
nest-building, I have often been an eye-witness to that. One little
acquaintance made a nest of yellow down and put it among the green oak
leaves, making me think that the laws of protective coloration had no
weight with her, but before the eggs were laid she had neatly covered
the yellow with flakes of green lichen. I found her one day sitting in
the sun with the top of her head as white as though she had been diving
into the flour barrel. Here was one of the wonderful cases of 'mutual
help' in nature. The flowers supply insects and honey to the
hummingbirds, and they, in turn, as they fly from blossom to blossom
probing the tubes with the long slender bills that have gradually come
to fit the shape of the tubes, brush off the pollen of one blossom to
carry it on to the next, so enabling the plants to perfect their flowers
as they could not without help. It is said that, in proportion to their
numbers, hummingbirds assist as much as insects in the work of
cross-fertilization.

Though this little hummer that I was watching let me come within a few
feet of her, when a lizard ran under her bush she craned her neck and
looked over her shoulder at him with surprising interest. She doubtless
recognized him as one of her egg-eating enemies, on whose account she
put her nest at the tip of a twig too slender to serve as a ladder.

Another hummingbird who built across the way was still more
trustful--with people. I used to sit leaning against the trunk of her
oak and watch the nest, which was near the tip of one of the long
swinging branches that drooped over the trail. When the tiny worker was
at home, a yard-stick would almost measure the distance between us. As
she sat on the nest she sometimes turned her head to look down at the
dog lying beside me, and often hovered over us on going away.

The nest was saddled on a twig and glued to a glossy dark green oak
leaf. Like the other nest, it was made of a spongy yellow substance,
probably down from the underside of sycamore leaves; and like it, also,
the outside was coated with lichen and wound with cobweb. The bird was a
rapid worker, buzzing in with her material and then buzzing off after
more. Once I saw the cobweb hanging from her needle-like bill, and
thought she probably had been tearing down the beautiful suspension
bridges the spiders hang from tree to tree.

It was very interesting to see her work. She would light on the rim of
the nest, or else drop directly into the bottom of the tiny cup, and
place her material with the end of her long bill. It looked like trying
to sew at arm's length. She had to draw back her head in order not to
reach beyond the nest. How much more convenient it would have been if
her bill had been jointed! It seemed better suited to probing flower
tubes than making nests. But then, she made nests only in spring, while
she fed from flowers all the year round, and so could afford to stretch
her neck a trifle one month for the sake of having a good long fly spear
during the other eleven. The peculiar feature of her work was her
quivering motion in moulding. When her material was placed she moulded
her nest like a potter, twirling around against the sides, sometimes
pressing so hard she ruffled up the feathers of her breast. She shaped
her cup as if it were a piece of clay. To round the outside, she would
sit on the rim and lean over, smoothing the sides with her bill, often
with the same peculiar tremulous motion. When working on the outside, at
times she almost lost her balance, and fluttered to keep from falling.
To turn around in the nest, she lifted herself by whirring her wings.

When she found a bit of her green lichen about to fall, she took the
loose end in her bill and drew it over the edge of the nest, fastening
it securely inside. She looked very wise and motherly as she sat there
at work, preparing a home for her brood. After building rapidly she
would take a short rest on a twig in the sun, while she plumed her
feathers. She made nest-making seem very pleasant work.

One day, wanting to experiment, I put a handful of oak blossoms on the
nest. They covered the cup and hung down over the sides. When the small
builder came, she hovered over it a few seconds before making up her
mind how it got there and what she had better do about it. Then she
calmly lit on top of it! Part of it went off as she did so, but the rest
she appropriated, fastening in the loose ends with the cobweb she had
brought.

She often gave a little squeaky call when on the nest, as if talking to
herself about her work. When going off for material she would dart away
and then, as if it suddenly occurred to her that she did not know where
she was going, would stop and stand perfectly still in the air, her
vibrating wings sustaining her till she made up her mind, when she would
shoot off at an angle. It seemed as if she would be worn out before
night, but her eyes were bright and she looked vigorous enough to build
half a dozen houses.

"There's odds in folks," our great-grandmothers used to say; and there
certainly is in bird folks; even in the ways of the same one at
different times. Now this hummingbird was content to build right in
front of my eyes, and the hummer down at the little lover's tree, with
her first nest, was so indifferent to Billy and me that I took no pains
to keep at a distance or disguise the fact that I was watching her. But
when her nest was destroyed she suddenly grew old in the ways of the
world, and apparently repented having trusted us. In any case, I got a
lesson on being too prying. The first nest had not been down long before
I found that a second one was being built only a few feet away--by the
same bird? I imagined so. The nest was only just begun, and being
especially interested to see how such buildings were started, I rode
close up to watch the work. A roll of yellow sycamore down was wound
around a twig, and the bottom of the nest--the floor--attached to the
underside of this beam; with such a solid foundation, the walls could
easily be supported.

The small builder came when Billy and I were there. She did not welcome
us as old friends, but sat down on her floor and looked at us--and I
never saw her there again. Worse than that, she took away her nest,
presumably to put it down where she thought inquisitive reporters would
not intrude. I was disappointed and grieved, having already planned---on
the strength of the first experience--to have the mother hummer's
picture taken when she was feeding her young on the nest.

At first I thought this suspicion reflected upon the good sense of
hummingbirds, but after thinking it over concluded that it spoke better
for hummingbirds than for Billy and me. If this were, as I supposed, the
same bird who had to brood her young with Billy grazing at the end of
her bill, and if she had been present at the unlucky moment when he got
the oak branches tangled in the pommel of the saddle, although her
branch was not among them, I can but admire her for moving when she
found that the Philistines were again upon her, for her new house was
hung at the tip of a branch that Billy might easily have swept in
passing.

These nests had all been very low, only four or five feet above the
ground; but one day I found young in one of the common treetop nests. I
could see it through the branches. Two little heads stuck up above the
edge like two small Jacks-in-boxes. Billy made such a noise under the
oak when the bird was feeding the youngsters that I took him away where
he could not disturb the family, and tied him to an oak covered with
poison ivy, for he was especially fond of eating it, and the poison did
not affect him.

Before the old hummer flew off, she picked up a tiny white feather that
she found in the nest, and wound it around a twig. On her return, in the
midst of her feeding, she darted down and set the feather flying; but,
as it got away from her, she caught it again. The performance was
repeated the next time she came with food; but she did it all so
solemnly I could not tell whether she were playing or trying to get rid
of something that annoyed her.

She fed at the long intervals that are so trying to an observer, for if
you are going to sit for hours with your eyes glued to a nest, it
really is pleasant to have something happen once in a while! Though the
mother bird did not go to the nest often, she sometimes flew by, and
once the sound of her wings roused the young, and they called out to her
as she passed. When they were awake, it was amusing to see the little
midgets stick out their long, thread-like tongues, preen their
pin-feathers, and stretch their wings over the nest.

One fine morning when I went to the oak I heard a faint squeak, and saw
something fluttering up in the tree. When the mother came, she buzzed
about as though not liking the look of things, for her children were out
of the nest, and behold!--a horse and rider were under her tree. She
tried to coax the unruly nestlings to follow her into the upper stories,
but they would not go.

[Illustration: The Swing Nest of the Hummer.

(From a Photograph.)]

Although not ready to be led, one of the infants soon felt that it would
be nice to go alone. When a bird first leaves the nest it goes about
very gingerly, but this little fellow now began to feel his strength and
the excitement of his freedom. He wiped his tongue on a branch, and
then, to my astonishment, his wings began to whirl as if he were getting
up steam, and presently they lifted him from his twig, and he went
whirring off as softly as a hummingbird moth, among the oak sprays. His
nerves were evidently on edge, for he looked around at the sound of
falling leaves, started when Billy sneezed, and turned from side to
side very apprehensively, in spite of his out-in-the-world, big-boy
airs. He may have felt hampered by his unused wings, for, as he sat
there waiting for his mother to come, he stroked them out with his bill
to get them in better working order. That done, he leaned over, rounded
his shoulders, and pecked at a leaf as if he were as much grown up as
anybody.

Of all the beautiful hummingbirds' nests I saw in California, three are
particularly noteworthy because of their positions. One cup was set down
on what looked like an inverted saucer, in the form of a dark green oak
leaf wound with cobweb. That was in the oak beside the ranch-house.
Another one was on a branch of eucalyptus, set between two leaves like
the knot in a bow of stiff ribbon. To my great satisfaction, the
photographer was able to induce the bird to have a sitting while she
brooded her eggs. The third nest I imagined belonged to the bird who
took up her floor because Billy and I looked at her. If she were, her
fate was certainly hard, for her eggs were taken by some one, boy or
beast. Her nest was most skillfully supported. It was fastened like the
seat of a swing between two twigs no larger than knitting-needles, at
the end of a long drooping branch. It was a unique pleasure to see the
tiny bird sit in her swing and be blown by the wind. Sometimes she went
circling about as though riding in a merry-go-round; and at others the
wind blew so hard her round boat rose and fell like a little ship at
sea.



XIII.

IN THE SHADE OF THE OAKS.


THERE were half a dozen places in the valley, irrigated by the spring
rains, where I was always sure of finding birds. Among them, on the west
side, was the big sycamore, standing at the lower end of the valley;
while above, in the northwest corner, was the mouth of Twin Oaks canyon
where the migrants flocked in the brush around the large twin oak that
overlooked the little old schoolhouse. On the east side was the Ughland
canyon, at the mouth of which the little lover and his neighbors nested;
while below it straggled the line of sycamores that followed the Ughland
stream down through my ranch. But up at the head of the valley beyond
the ranch-house was the most delightful place of all. There I was always
sure of finding interesting nests to study.

Surrounded by a waste of chaparral, it was a little oasis of great
blooming live-oaks, and in their shade I used often to spend the hot
afternoon hours. In the spring the water that flowed down the hills at
the head of the valley formed a fresh mountain stream that ran down the
Oden canyon and so on through the centre of this grove, feeding the
oaks and spreading out to enrich the valley below. In summer, like the
rest of the canyon streams, only its dry sandy bed remained. Then, when
the meadows were oppressively hot, my leafy garden was a shady bower to
linger in. Its long drooping branches hung to the ground, dainty yellow
warblers flitted about the golden tassels of the blossoming trees, and
the air was full of the happy songs of mated birds.

[Illustration: A SHADY BOWER]

The trail from the ranch-house to the oaks was a line through the low
grass in which grew yellow fly flowers and orange poppies; and over them
every spring, day after day, processions of migrating butterflies
drifted slowly up the canyon. At the entrance of the garden was a
sentinel oak whose dark green foliage contrasted well with the yellow
flowers in the grass outside. It was the chosen hunting-ground of many
birds. Its dead upper branches offered the bee-birds and woodpeckers an
unobstructed view of passing insects, and gave the jays and flickers a
chance to overlook the brush, and take their bearings. The lower limbs
offered perches where doves might come to rest, finches to chatter, and
chewinks to sing; while its hanging boughs and elm-like feathered sides
attracted wandering warblers and songful wrens.

The happy days spent among these beautiful California oaks are now
far in the past, but as I sit in my study in the East and dream back
over those hours my mind is filled with memory pictures. Sauntering
through this oaken gallery, each tree recalls some pleasant hour--the
sight of a new bird, the sound of a new song, the prolonged delight of
some cozy home that I watched till accepted as a friend, when the little
family's fears and joys were my own.

That big double oak, spreading across the middle of the garden, was the
haunted tree whose blue ghost drove away the pewees and gnatcatchers
after they had begun to build; though the vireos and bush-tits braved it
out, and the tiny hummer and gentle dove were not afraid to perch there.
This was hummingbird lane--that small oak held the nest in which the two
wee nestlings sat up like Jacks-in-the-box; these blue sage bushes
growing in the sand were the ones the honey bees and hummers used to
haunt, the hummers probing each lavender lip as they circled round the
whorls; in front of this bush I saw a fairy dancer perform his airy
minuet,--swing back and forth, and then sweep up in the air to dive
whirring down with gorget puffed out and tail spread wide; and here,
when watching a procession of ants, I discovered a tiny hummingbird
building in a drooping branch that overhung the trail. That dead limb
was the perch of a wood pewee, a silent grave bird with a sad call, who
flew on when he was still only a lonely stranger. That oak top was made
memorable by the sight of a flaming oriole, though he came on a cold
foggy morning and answered my calls with a broken song and a
half-hearted scold as he sat with his feathers ruffled up about him.
Under the low spreading branches of that tree the chewinks used to
scratch--I can hear the brown leaves rustle now--the branches were so
low that, if the shy birds flew up to rest from their labors, they could
quickly drop down and disappear in the brush.

On ahead, where the garden narrows to the trail between the walls of
brush, when I was hidden behind a screen of branches, the timid
white-crowned sparrows used to venture out, hopping along quietly or
stopping to sing and pick up seeds on the path. Back a few steps was the
tree where the bush-tits came to build their second nest after the roof
of the first one fell in; the nest which hung on such a low limb that I
watched it from the sand beneath, looking up through the branches at the
blue sky, the canyon walls covered with sun-whitened bowlders, and the
turkey buzzards circling over the mountains.

[Illustration: Green-tailed Chewink.

(One half natural size.)]

Just there, in that small open place between the trees,--how well I
remember the afternoon,--I saw a new bird come out of the bushes; the
green-tailed chewink he proved to be, on his way back to the Rocky
Mountains. He was a beautiful stranger with a soft glossy coat touched
off with yellowish green, while his high-bred gentle manners have made
me remember him with affectionate interest all these years. Across the
garden I heard my first song from that unique rhapsodist, the
yellow-breasted chat. The same place marks another interesting
experience. While I was sitting in the crotch of an oak a thrasher came
out of the brush into an open space in front of me. Her feathers were
disordered and apparently she had come from her nest. She walked with
wings tight at her sides and her tail up at an angle well out of the way
of the rustling leaves; altogether a neat alert figure that contrasted
sharply with the lazy brown chippie which appeared just then in
characteristic negligée, its wings hanging and tail dragging on the
ground. The thrashers of Twin Oaks have bills that are curved like a
sickle, and this bird used her tool most skillfully. Instead of
scratching up the leaves and earth with her feet as chewinks and
sparrows do, the thrasher used her bill almost exclusively. First she
cleared a space by scraping the leaves away, moving her bill through
them rapidly from side to side. Then she made two holes in the ground,
probing deep with her long bill. After taking what she could get from
the second hole, she went back to the first again, as if to see if
anything had come to the surface there. Then she lay down on the sand to
sun herself and acted as though going to take a sun bath, when suddenly
she discovered me and fled.

When watching the bird at work I got a pretty picture in the round disk
of my opera-glass. The glass was focused on the digging thrasher, but a
goldfinch came into the picture and pulled at some stems for its nest
and a cottontail ran rapidly across from rim to rim. I lifted the glass
to follow him and saw him go trotting down the path between the bushes.

The thrasher's curved bill gives a most ludicrous look to the bird when
singing. He looks as if he were trying to turn himself inside out. I
once saw an adult thrasher tease its mate for food, and wondered how it
would be possible for one curved bill to feed another curved bill; but a
few days later I came on a family of young, and discovered for myself
that _they_ have straight bills; a most curious and interesting instance
of adaptation.

At the head of the garden stands a tree that always reminds me of the
horses I rode in California. I watched my first bush-tit's nest under
it, with Canello grazing near; and five years later watched another
bush-tit's nest there, sitting in the crotch of the oak with Mountain
Billy looking over my shoulder. Although Billy was, in his prime, a
bucking mustang, he became more of a petted companion than Canello had
been; and when we were out alone together, we were a great deal of
company for each other. As soon as I dismounted he would put his head
down to have me slip the reins off over his ears, so that he could graze
by himself. Sometimes, when he stood behind me he rested his bridle on
my sun-hat, and once went so far as to take a bite out of the brim--in
consideration of its being straw. If I were sitting on the ground and he
was grazing near, he would at times walk up and gravely raise his face
to look into mine. When he got tired, he would rub up against my arm and
yawn, looking down at me with a friendly smile in his eyes.

Birding was rather dull for Billy--when there was neither grass nor
poison ivy at hand, but he had one never-failing source of
enjoyment--rolling. He tried it in the sand under the oak, one day, with
the saddle on. Before I knew what he was about he was down on his knees,
sitting still, with a comical, helpless look in his eyes, as if quite at
a loss to know what to do next, having become conscious of the saddle.
When I had gotten him on his feet and finished lecturing him I uncinched
the saddle, laid it one side on the ground, took hold of the end of the
long bridle, and told him to roll. A droll abstracted look came into
his eyes, he dropped on his knees and, with a sudden convulsion, threw
his heels into the air and rolled back and forth, rubbing his backbone
vigorously on the sand. After that, the first thing every morning when
we got to the oaks, I unsaddled him and let him roll, and then he would
stand with bare back keeping cool in the shade of the trees.

One morning as we stood under the bush-tit's tree, I discovered a pair
of turtle doves looking out at me from the leaves of the small oak
opposite, craning their necks and moving their heads uneasily. One of
them seemed to be shaping a nest of twigs. I drew Billy around between
us, so that my staring would seem less pointed, and when one of the pair
flew to the ground to spy at me, hurriedly looked the other way to
remove his anxiety. His mate soon joined him, and the two doves walked
away together, fixed their feathers in the sun, stretched their wings,
and lazily picked at the ground. When one whirred back to the nest, the
other soon followed. The gentle lovers put their bills together, while,
unnoticed, I stood behind Billy, looking on and thinking that it was
little wonder such birds should rise from the ground with a musical
whirr.

Billy's oak was the last of the high trees in the garden. Above it was a
grassy space where bright wild flowers bloomed, and pretty cottontail
rabbits often went ambling over the soft turf. On one side of the
opening was a low stocky oak, full of balls of mistletoe, and on the
other a great blossoming bush buzzing with hummingbirds. The mistletoe
had begun to sap the little oak, and on one of its dead twigs a
hummingbird had taken to perching. I wondered if he were the idle mate
of one of my small garden builders, but he sat and sunned himself as if
his conscience were quite clear.

My first experience with gnatcatchers had been here. I suspected a nest,
and the ranchman's daughter went with me to hunt through the brush. She
cautioned me to look out for rattlesnakes, but the brush was so dense
and the ground so covered with crooked snake-like sticks that it was not
an easy matter to tell what you were stepping on. Then, the poison oak
was so thick that I felt like holding up my hands to avoid it. We pushed
our way through the dense chaparral, and my fearless companion got down
on her hands and knees to look through the tangle for the nest. It was
hard disagreeable work, even if one did not object to snakes, and we
were soon so tired that we were ready to sit down and let the birds show
us to their house. We might have saved ourselves all the trouble if we
had done this to begin with, for it was only a few moments before the
little pair went to the mistletoe oak, out in plain sight and within
easy reach--how they would have laughed in their sleeves had they known
what we were hunting for back in the brush! The nest was about the size
of a chilicothe pod, and so covered with lichen that it looked just like
a knot on the tree.

Around the blossoming bush the air fairly vibrated with hummers, darting
up into the sky, shooting down and chasing each other pell
mell--sometimes almost into my face. As I sat by the bush one day, a
handsome male went around with upraised throat, poking his bill up the
red fuchsia-like tubes. Another one was flying around inside the bush,
and I edged nearer to see. The sun shone in, whitening the twigs, and as
the bird whirred about with a soft burring sound, I caught gleams of
red, gold, and green from his gorget, and could see the tiny bird rest
his wee feet on a twig to reach up to a blossom. Then he hummed what
sounded more like a love song than anything I had ever heard from a
hummingbird. He seemed so much more like a real bird than any of his
brothers that I felt attracted to him.

One morning a little German girl, in a red pinafore, and with hair
flying, came riding down the sand stream toward my bush. Her colt reared
and pranced, but she sat as firmly as if she had been a small centaur.
It was a holiday, and she was staking out her horses to graze, making
gala-day work of it. She had one horse down by the little oak already,
and springing off the one she had brought, changed about, jumped as
lightly as a bird upon the other's back and raced home. Soon she came
galloping back again, and so she went and came until tired out, for pure
fun on her free holiday.

In looking over the bright memory pictures of my beautiful oak garden,
there is one to which I always return. The spreading trunks of a great
five-stemmed tree on one side of the grove made a dark oaken couch,
screened by the leafy willow-like branches that hung to the ground.
Here--after looking to see that there were no rattlesnakes coiled in the
dead leaves--I spent many a dreamy hour, reclining idly as I listened to
the free songs of the birds that could not see me behind my curtain. It
was interesting to note the way certain sounds predominated; certain
songs would absorb one's attention, and then pass and be replaced by
others. At one time a jay's scream would jar on the ear and drown all
other voices; when that had passed, the chewinks would fly up from the
leaves and sing and answer each other till the air was quivering with
their trills. Then came the thrashers, with their loud rollicking songs;
and when they had pitched down into the brush, out rang the clear
bell-like tones of the wren-tit, filling the air with sound. Afterwards
the impatient whipped-out notes of the chaparral vireo were followed by
the soft cooing of doves; and then, as the wind stirred the trees and
sent the loosened oak blossoms drifting to the ground, from high out of
an oak top came a most exquisite song. At the first note of this
grosbeak all other songs were forgotten--they were noise and
chatter--this was pure music. It was like passing from the cries of the
street into the hall of a symphony concert. The black-headed grosbeak
has not the spirituality of the hermit thrush, and his ordinary song is
not so remarkable, but his love song excels that of any bird I have ever
heard in finish, rich melody, and music. As I listened, my surroundings
harmonized so perfectly with the wonderful song echoing through the
great trees that the old oak garden seemed an enchanted bower. The
drooping branches were a leafy lattice through which the afternoon sun
filtered, steeping the oaks in thick still sunshine. Last year's leaves
drifted slowly to the ground, while the bees droned about the yellow
tassels of the blooming trees. As a violinist, lingering to perfect a
note, draws his bow again and again over the strings, so this rapt
musician dwelt tenderly on his highest notes, trolling them over till
each was more exquisite and tender than the last, and the ear was
charmed with his love song--a song of ideal love fit to be dreamed of in
this stately green oak garden filled with golden sunlight.



XIV.

A MYSTERIOUS TRAGEDY.


ON a peg just inside the door of the ranchman's old wine shed hung one
of the horses' unused nosebags. A lad on the place told me that a wren
had a nest in it, and added that he had seen a fight between the wren
and a pair of linnets who seemed to be trying to steal her material.

The first time I went to the wine shed both wrens and linnets were
there, but nothing happened and I forgot about the original quarrel. By
peering through a crack in the boarding I could look down on the wren in
the nosebag inside. I could see her dark eyes, the white line over them,
and her black barred tail. She was Vigor's wren. She got so tame that
she would not stir when the creaking door was opened close by her, or
when people were talking in the shed; and I used to go often to see how
her affairs were progressing.

All her eggs hatched in time, and the small birds, from being at first
all eyeball, soon got to be all bill. When I opened the bag to look at
them, the light woke them up and they opened their mouths, showing
chasms of yellow throat.

The mother bird fed them several times when I was watching only a few
feet away. She would come ambling along in the pretty wren fashion, with
her tail over her back; creeping down the side of a lath, running behind
a rafter, scolding as though to make conversation, and then winding down
to the nest through a crack. One day she hesitated, and waited to spy at
me, since I had thought it polite to stare at her! When satisfied, she
hopped along from beam to beam, her bright eyes still upon me. Then her
mate joined her. He had been suspicious of me at our first meeting, but
apparently had changed his mind, for, seeing his spouse hesitate, he
glanced at me unconcernedly, as much as to say, "Is she all you're
waiting for?" and flew out, leaving her to my tender mercies. She hopped
meekly into the bag after that rebuke, but stretched up to peer at me
once more before settling down inside.

One day when I looked in to see how wren matters were progressing, to my
amazement and horror, instead of my wren's nest I found another, high in
the mouth of the bag with one fresh egg in it! The egg was a linnet's,
and the nest had been built right on top of the wren's. Such a stench
came from the bag that I took out the upper nest and found the four
little wrens dead in their crib.

[Illustration: The Nosebag Nest.

(Vigors's Wren.)]

I had become very fond of the winsome mother bird, and so much
interested in her brood that this horrid discovery came like a tragedy
in the family of a friend.

And what did it all mean? Unless the old wrens had been dead, could the
linnets have gotten possession? The wrens were usually able to hold
their own in a discussion. If the nestlings had been alive, would the
linnets--would any bird--have built upon them, deliberately burying them
alive? It seemed too diabolical. On the other hand, what could have
killed the little wrens and left them in the nest? If they had been dead
when the linnets came to build, how could the birds have chosen such a
sepulchre for a building site?

Grieving over my little friends, I cleaned out the nosebag and hung it
up on its peg. Three weeks later I discovered, to my great perplexity,
that a pair of wrens had built in the bottom of the bag and had one egg
in the nest. Now, was this the same pair of birds that had built there
before, and if so, what did it all mean?



XV.

HOW I HELPED BUILD A NEST.


THEY picked out their crack in the oak and began to build without any
advice from me, winning little gray-crested titmice that they were.
Their oak was right behind the ranch-house barn; I found it by hearing
the bird sing there. The little fellow, warmed by his song, flitted up
the tree a branch higher after each repetition of his loud cheery
_tu-whit', tu-whit', tu-whit', tu-whit'_. Meanwhile his pretty mate,
with bits of stick in her bill, walked down a crack in the oak trunk.

Thinking she had gone, I went to examine the place. I poked about with a
twig but couldn't find the nest till, down in the bottom of the crack, I
spied a little gray head and a pair of bright eyes looking up at me. The
bird started forward as if to dart out, but changed her mind and stayed
in while I took a hasty look and fled, more frightened than she by the
intrusion.

The titmice had been flying back and forth from the hen-yard with
chicken's feathers, and it seemed such slow work for them I thought I
would help them. So the next day, when the pair were away, I stuffed a
few white feathers into the mouth of the nest and withdrew under the
shadow of the barn to watch through my glass without being observed.
Then my conscience began to trouble me. What if this interference should
drive the gentle bird to desert her nest?

[Illustration: The Plain Titmouse in her Doorway.]

When I heard the familiar chickadee call--the titmouse often chirrups
like his cousin--it made me quake guiltily. What would the birds do? The
gray pair came flying in with crests raised, and my small friend hopped
down to her doorway. She gave a start of surprise at sight of the
feathers, but after a moment's hesitation went bravely in! While she was
inside, her mate waited in the tree, singing for her; and when she came
out, he flew away with her. Then I crept up to the oak, and to my
delight found that all the feathers had disappeared. She evidently
believed in taking what the gods provide. In fact, she seemed only to
wish that they would provide more, for, after taking a second supply
from me, she stood in the vestibule, cocked her crested head, and looked
about as if expecting to see new treasures.

She had common-sense enough to take what she found at hand, but if she
had not been such a plucky little builder she would have been scared
away by the strange sights that afterwards met her at her nest. Once
when she came, feathers were sticking in the bark all around the crack.
She hesitated--the rush of her flight probably fanned the air so the
white plumes waved in her face--she hesitated and looked around timidly
before getting courage to go in; and on leaving the nest flew away in
nervous haste; but she was soon back again, and ready to take the
feathers down inside the oak. She caught hold of the tip of one that was
wedged into a crack, and tugged and tugged till I was afraid she would
get discouraged and go off without it. She got it, however, and drew it
in backwards. Then she attacked another feather, but finding that it
came harder than the first, let go her hold and took an easier one. She
was not to be daunted, though, and after stowing away the loose one came
back for the tight one again, and persevered till she bent it in several
places, besides breaking off the tip.

When she had flown off, I jumped up, ran to the oak, and stuffed the
doorway full of feathers. Before I had finished, the family sentinel
caught me--I had been in too much of a hurry and he had heard me walking
over the cornstalks. He eyed me suspiciously and gave vent to his
disapproval, but I addressed him in such friendly terms that he soon
flew off and talked to his mate reassuringly, as if he had decided that
it was all right after all. After their conversation she came back and
made the best of her way right down through the feather-bed! I went away
delighted with her perseverance, and charmed by her confidence and
pretty performances.

The next day I heard the titmouse singing in an elder by the kitchen,
and went out to see how the birds acted when gathering their own
material. The songster was idly hunting through the branches, singing,
while his mate--busy little housewife--was hard at work getting her
building stuff. She had something in her beak when I caught sight of
her, but in an instant was down on the ground after another bit. Then
she flew up in the tree looking among the leaves; in passing she swung
a moment on a strap hanging from a branch; then flew down among the
weeds, back up in the tree again; and so back and forth, over and over,
her bill getting fuller and fuller.

I was glad to save her work, and interested to see how far she would
accept my help. Once when I blocked the entrance with feathers and
horsehair she stopped, and, though her bill was full, picked up the
packet and flew out on a branch with it. Was she going to throw away my
present? For a moment my faith in her was shaken. Perhaps her mate had
been warning her to beware of me. She did drop the mat of
horsehair--what did such a dainty Quaker lady as she want of
horsehair?--but she kept tight hold of one of the feathers, although it
was almost as big as she was; and flew back quickly to the nest with it.

This performance proved one point. She would not take everything that
was brought to her. She preferred to hunt for her own materials rather
than use what she did not like. Now the question was, what did she like?

My next experiment was with some lamp wick to which I had tied bits of
cotton. The titmouse took the cotton and would have taken the wicking, I
think, if it had not been fastened in too tight for her. After that I
tried tying bits of cotton to strings, and letting them dangle before
the mouth of the nest. Though I moved up to within twenty feet of the
nest, she paid no attention to me but hurried in. She liked the cotton
so well she stopped in her hallway, reached up to pull at the white
bundles, and tweaked and tugged till, finally, she backed triumphantly
down the hole with one.

Her mate, less familiar with my experiments, started to go to the nest
after her, but the sight of the cotton scared him so he fled
ignominiously back into the treetop. He stayed there singing till she
came out, when he flew up to her with a dainty he had discovered--at
least the two put their bills together; perhaps it was just a caress,
for they were a tender, gentle little pair.

Having proved that my bird liked feathers and cotton, I wanted to see
what she thought of straws. Apparently she did not think much of them.
She looked very much dashed when she came home and found the yellow
sticks protruding from the nest hole. She hesitated, turned her head
over, flew to a twig on one side of the oak and then back to one on the
other side. Finally she mustered courage, and with her crest flattened
as if she did not like it, darted down into the hole. When she flew out,
however, she went right to her mate, and forgetting all her troubles at
sight of him, fluttered her wings and lisped like a young bird as she
put up her bill to have him feed her.

Perhaps it was unkind to bother the poor bird any more, but I meant her
no harm and the fever for experiment possessed my blood. I tied some of
the straws to a piece of wicking and baited it with feathers, thinking
that perhaps she would take the straws for the sake of the feathers and
wicking. I also stuffed the hole with horsehair. She did pull at the
feather end of the line; I saw the straw jerk, and, when she had left,
found a round hole the brave little bird had made right through the
middle of the mat of horsehair I had stopped the nest with.

Straws and horsehair the titmouse evidently classed together. They were
not on her list of building materials. On reflection she decided that
the horsehair would make a good hall carpet, so left it in the
vestibule, though she would have none of it down in her nest; but she
calmly threw my straws down on the ground at the foot of the oak.

I don't know what experiments I might have been tempted to try next had
I not suddenly found myself dismissed--the house was complete. My pretty
Quaker lady sat in the shade of the oak leaves with crest raised and the
flickering sunlight flecking her gray breast. She pecked softly at one
of the white feathers that blew up against her as she listened to the
song of her mate; and then flew away to him without once going to the
nest. Evidently her work was done, and she was waiting till it should be
time to begin brooding.

Ten days later I saw her mate come with his bill full of worms and lean
down by the hole to call her. She answered with a sweet pleading
twitter, and reached up to be fed. When he had gone, perhaps she thought
she would like a second bite. At any rate, she hopped out in the doorway
and flew off to another tree, calling out _tsché-de-de_ so sweetly he
would surely have come back to her had he been within hearing.

A few days later I saw him feed her at the nest five or six times in
half an hour. He would come to the next oak, light and call to her, when
she would answer from inside the tree trunk and he would go to her. I
was near enough to see her pretty gray head and black eyes coming up out
of the crack in the oak. Sometimes when he had fed her he would call out
and she would answer as if saying good-by from down in the nest. One
morning I found the devoted little mate bringing her breakfast to her at
half past six.

Nearly a month later they were feeding their young. The winsome mother
bird, who had looked so tired and nest-worn the last time I saw her, was
now as plump and happy as her spouse. When I thought the pair were away,
I went to try to get sight of the nestlings down the hole. The old birds
appeared as soon as I set foot by the oak and took upon themselves to
scold me. They chattered softly in a way they had never done before.
They quickly got used to me again, however, and fed the little ones
without hesitation right before me, knowing full well that a person who
had helped them build their nest would never harm their little brood;
and it was a disappointment when I had to go away and leave the winning
family.



XVI.

IN OUR NEIGHBOR'S DOOR-YARD.


THE little German girl with the scarlet pinafore was a near neighbor,
living at the head of the valley in a cottage surrounded by great
live-oaks. These trees were alive with birds. Bush-tits flew back and
forth, busily hanging their gray pockets among the leafy folds of the
drooping branches; blue jays flew through, squawking on their way to the
brush; goldfinches, building in the orchard, lisped sweetly as they
rested in the oaks; and a handsome oriole who was building in the grove
flew overhead so slowly he seemed to be retarded by the fullness of his
own sweet song. But I had become so fond of the gentle gray titmouse
whose nest I had helped to build, that of all the bird songs in the
trees, its cheery _tu-whit', tu-whit', tu-whit'_ was most enticing to
me. How delightful it would be to watch another pair of the winning
workers! I did see one of the birds enter a hollow branch, one day, and
not long after saw it go down a hole in an oak trunk; but never saw it
afterwards in either place. Back and forth I followed that elusive
voice, hoping to discover the nest, but I suspect the bird was only
prospecting, and had not even begun to work.

The little German Gretchen became interested in the search for the
titmouse's nest, and told me that a gray bird had built in an oak in
front of her house. I rode right over to see it, but found the gray bird
a female Mexican bluebird, whose brilliant ultramarine mate sat on the
fence of the vegetable garden in plain sight. The children kept better
watch of the nest after that, and a few days later, when in my attic
study, I heard the tramp of a horse, and, looking out, found my little
friend under the window, come to tell me that the eggs had hatched. When
her older sister came for the washing I asked her if she had seen the
old birds go to the nest, and she said, "Yes; one was blue and the other
gray."

When I rode up again, the young had grown so that from the saddle I
could look down the hole and see their big mouths and bristling
pin-feathers. The mother bird was about the tree, and her soft dull
coloring toned in well with the gray bark. The bluebirds had a double
front door, and went in one side to come out the other. I saw both of
them feed the young, the male flying into the hole straight from the
fence post.

It seemed such hard work finding worms out in the hot sun that I
wondered if birds' eyes ever ached from the intentness of their search,
and if there were near-sighted birds. Perhaps the intervals of feeding
depend on the worm supply rather than the dietary principles of the
parents.

Gretchen's mother was bending over her wash-tubs out under the oaks, and
I called her attention to the pretty birds brooding in her door-yard,
telling her that they were good friends of hers, eating up the worms
that destroyed her flowers and vegetables. "So?" she asked, but seemed
ready to let the subject drop there, and hurried back to her work. A
poor widow with a large family of children and a ranch to look after can
find little time, even in beautiful California, to enjoy what Nature
places in her door-yard.

Three weeks later Gretchen came riding down to tell me that there were
eggs in the tree again. The bluebird bid fair to be as hardworked as the
widow, at that rate, I thought, when I went up to look at them. The
children showed me the nest of a goldfinch, near the ground, in one of
the little orange-trees in front of the house. They also pointed out
linnets' nests in the vines by the door, and the oldest child said
eagerly, "When we came home from school there was a hummingbird in the
window, and we caught it," adding, "I think it must have been a father
hummingbird." "Why?" I asked, "was it pretty?" "Yes, it just shined,"
she exclaimed enthusiastically.

When the family were at home, their puppy would bark at us furiously,
and follow us about suspiciously, but when he had been left on the
ranch alone he was glad of our society. Then when I watched the
bluebirds, he came and curled down by my side, becoming so friendly that
he actually grew jealous of Billy, and turned to have me caress him each
time that the little horse walked up to have the flies brushed off his
nose, or having pulled up a bunch of grass by the roots, brought it for
me to hold so that he could eat it without getting the dirt in his
mouth.

Going home one day, Billy came upon a gopher snake. Now Canello had been
brought up in a rattlesnake country, and was always on his guard, but
Billy was 'raised' in the mountains, where snakes are scarce, and did
not seem to know what they were. He had given me a good deal of anxiety
by this indifference--he had stepped over a big one once without seeing
any need for haste--and I had been expecting that he would get bitten.
Here, then, was my chance to give him a scare. The gopher snake was
harmless; perhaps, if I could get him so close to it that he would see
it wriggle away from under his feet, he might be less indifferent to
rattlers.

The gopher snake was three or four feet long, and lay as straight as a
stick across our path. As I urged Billy up beside it, he actually
stepped on the tip of its tail. The poor snake writhed a little, but
gave no other sign of pain; its rôle was to remain a stick. And Billy
certainly acted as if it were. I threw the reins on his neck, thinking
that if he put his head down to graze he might make a discovery. Then a
horrid thought came to me. The people said the rattlers sometimes lost
their rattles. In a general way, rattlers and gopher snakes look alike;
what if this were a rattlesnake, and at my bidding my little horse
should be struck! But no. There was no mistaking the long tapering body
of the gopher, and it lacked the wide flat head of the rattler. But I
might have spared myself my fears. Billy would not even put his head
down, and when I tried to force him upon the snake he quietly turned
aside. To make the snake move, I threw a stick at it, but it was as
obstinate as Billy himself. Then I slipped to the ground, and picking up
a long pole gave it a gingerly little poke. Still motionless! I tried
another plan, taking Billy away a few yards. Then at last the snake
slowly pulled itself along. But the moment we came back it turned into a
stick again, and Billy relapsed into indifference. It was no use. I
could do nothing with either of them. I would see the snake go off,
anyway, I thought, so withdrew and waited till it felt reassured, when
it started. Its silken skin shone as it wormed silently through the
grass and disappeared down a hole without a sound, and I reflected that
it might also come _up_ without a sound, very likely beside me as I sat
on the dead leaves!



[Illustration]



XVII.

WHICH WAS THE MOTHER BIRD?


THE second time I went to California the little whitewashed adobe
opposite my ranch was still standing, but an acacia-tree had grown over
the well where the black phœbe had nested, and the shaft was so
overrun with bushes and vines that it was hard to find a trace of it.
Drawn by pleasant memories, I rode in one morning, sure of finding
something interesting about the old place.

I had not waited long before the chip of a young bird came from the
vines over the well. It proved a callow nestling, with no tail, and
little to mark its parentage. Presently a brown long-tailed wren-tit
came with food in its bill and peered down through the leaves at it; and
then a California towhee came and sat around till satisfied as to whose
child was crying. A moment later a lazuli bunting flew over with food in
her bill, and I at once bethought me of the lazuli-like markings, the
brownish wing-bars and the sharp cry of "quit," which none but a lazuli
could give. That surely was my bird.

But if so, what did this interest on the part of the wren-tit mean? She
hopped about the nestling with tail up and crest raised, chattering to
it in low mysterious tones; and when I suspected her of giving her worm
to it, suddenly turned her head and looked away with a suspiciously
non-committal air. The lazuli, however, sat indifferently on a branch
and plumed her feathers, though when she did fly down toward the young
one, the wren-tit gave way. But even then the lazuli did not feed the
small bird. When she had gone, the wren-tit came back. She spoke low to
the nestling, and drew it down into the thick part of the tangle where I
could not see them, though there was a hint of tiny quivering wings, and
I was morally certain that the old bird was feeding it, especially when
she flew up in sight with the smart air of having outwitted me.

I was getting more and more bewildered. What did it all mean? Were there
two families of young down in the tangle? If not, why were two old birds
feeding one little one, and to which mother did the child belong? The
wisdom of Solomon was needed to solve the riddle.

The wren-tit simply devoted herself to the little bird, going and coming
for it constantly; while the lazuli, ordinarily the most nervous noisy
bird when her young are disturbed, sat around silently, or flew away
without remark. I became so impressed by the wren-tit side of the case
that I quite forgot the lazuli note and markings.

Just as I thought I had come to a decision in the case, a male lazuli
flew in, lighting atilt of an acacia stalk opposite the wren-tit. But
when he saw me he craned his neck and flew off in a hurry--no father,
surely, scared away at the first glimpse of me! However, I was not clear
in my mind, and sat down to puzzle the matter out.

At this juncture Madame Lazuli came with food; the young bird turned
toward her for it, and behold! she took to her wings with all she had
brought. I had hardly time to congratulate myself on this new piece of
testimony, when back came the lazuli with her bill full!

In my perplexity I moved so near the little one that, without meaning
to, I forced the old birds to show their true colors. The situation was
too dangerous to admit of further subterfuge. Both Madame Lazuli and her
handsome blue mate--whom I discovered at a safe distance up on a high
branch out of reach--flew down and dashed about, twitching their tails
from side to side as they cried "quit," in nervous tones; altogether
acting so much like anxious parents that I had to relinquish my theory
that the little bird belonged to the wren-tit. Like the mother whom
Solomon judged, she forgot all else when real danger threatened the
child. Having come to my decision from circumstantial evidence, I
remembered with a start that I had known it all the time, from the
wing-bars and the call note! Nevertheless, my riddle was only half
solved, for how about the wren-tit?

A young bird called from the sycamore at the corner of the adobe, and
when both old birds flew over to it, I thought I'd better follow. I got
there just in time to see a little bird light in the elbow of a limb,
totter as if going to fall, and save itself by snuggling up in the
elbow, where it sat in the sun looking very cozy and comfortable--winning
little tot. The mother lazuli started to come to it, but seeing me flew
away to another branch, where, well screened, she stretched up on her
toes to look at me over the top of a big sycamore leaf. Though the
fledgling called, the mother left without going to it.

The wren-tit had stayed behind at the well; but while the lazuli was
gone, who should come flying in but the foster mother! I was astonished.
Moreover, the instant the youngster set eyes on her, it started up and
flew to her--actually flew into her in its hurry. She admonished it
gently, in a soft chattering voice, for she could not scold it.

When the lazuli came back with food, it was only to see her little bird
flying off to the other side of the tree after the wren-tit! I thought
she seemed bewildered, but she followed in their wake--we all followed.
Here came a closer test. Both lazuli and wren-tit stood before the small
bird. Which would it go to? The lazuli kept silent, but the wren-tit
called softly and the little one raised its wings and flew toward her,
leaving its mother behind.

I watched and waited, but the wren-tit did not give over her kind
offices, and the last I saw of the birds, on riding away, the three were
flying in procession across the brush, the lazuli following its mother
and the wren-tit bringing up the rear.

I went home very much puzzled. Was the wren-tit a lonely mother bird who
had lost her own little ones, or was she merely an old maid with a warm
spot in her heart for other peoples' little folks?



XVIII.

A RARE BIRD.


WE may say that we care naught for the world and its ways, but most of
us are more or less tricked by the high-sounding titles of the mighty.
Even plain-thinking observers come under the same curse of Adam, and,
like the snobs who turn scornfully from Mr. Jones to hang upon the words
of Lord Higginbottom, will pass by a plain _brown chippie_ to study with
enthusiasm the ways of a _phainopepla_! Sometimes, however, in
ornithology as in the world, a name does cover more than its letters,
and we are duped into making some interesting discoveries as well as
learning some of the important lessons in life. In the case of the
phainopepla, no hopes that could be raised by his cognomen would equal
the rare pleasure afforded by a study of his unusual ways.

[Illustration: THE PHAINOPEPLAS ON THE PEPPER-TREE]

On my first visit to Twin Oaks I caught but brief glimpses of this
distinguished bird. Sometimes for a moment he lit on a bare limb and I
had a chance to admire his high black crest and glossy blue-black coat,
which with one more touch of color would become iridescent. He was so
slenderly formed, and his shining coat was so smooth and trim, he
made me think of a bird of glass perched on a tree. But while I gazed at
him he would launch into the air and wing his way high over the valley
to the hillsides beyond, leaving me to marvel at the white disks on his
wings, hidden when perching, but in air making him suggest a black ship
with white sails.

His appearance was so elegant and his ways so unusual that I went back
East regretting I had not given more time to a bird who was so
individual, and resolved that if I ever returned to California my first
pleasure should be to study him. When the time finally came, an
ornithologist friend who knew my plans wrote, exclaiming, "Do study the
phainopeplas!" and added that she felt like making a journey to
California to see that one bird.

From the middle of March till the middle of May I watched and waited for
the phainopeplas. There had been only a few of the birds before, and I
began to fear they had left the valley. When despairing of them,
suddenly one day I saw a black speck cross over to the hills. I wanted
to drop my work and follow, but went on with my rounds, and one bright
morning on my way home after a discouraging hunt for nests, a pair of
phainopeplas flew up right before my eyes almost within sight of the
house. I dropped down behind a bush, and in a moment more the birds flew
to a little oak by the road--a tree I had been sitting under that very
morning! The female seated herself on top of the oak, watching me with
raised crest, while her mate disappeared in a dark mat of leaves,
probably mistletoe, where he stayed so long that the possibility of a
nest waxed to a probability, and I made a rapid but ecstatic ascent to
the observer's seventh heaven. A phainopepla's nest right on my own
doorsill! I could hardly restrain my impatience, and was tempted to shoo
the birds away so I could go to the nest; when suddenly they opened
their wings and, crossing the valley, disappeared up a side canyon!
Pulling myself together and reflecting that I might have known better
than to imagine there would be a nest so near home, I took up my
camp-stool and trudged back to the house.

After that came a number of tantalizing hints. When watching the third
gnatcatcher's nest I had seen a pair of phainopeplas flying suggestively
back and forth from the brush to the various oaks, and thought the
handsome lover fed his mate as his relative the gentle high-bred waxwing
does. Surely the wooing of these beautiful birds should be carried on
with no less fine feeling, courtesy, and tenderness; and so it seems to
be. The black knight flew low over my head slowly, as if inspecting me,
and then came again with his lady, as if having said, "Dear one, I would
consult you upon this impending danger."

After that, something really delightful came about. Day by day, on
riding back to our ranch-house, I found phainopeplas there eating the
berries of the pepper-trees in our front yard. Before long the birds
began coming early in the morning; their voices were the first sounds we
heard on awakening and almost the last at night, and soon we realized
the delightful fact that our trees had become the feeding ground for all
the phainopeplas of the valley. Altogether there were five or six pairs.
It was a pretty sight to see the black satiny birds perched on one of
the delicate sprays of the willowy pepper-trees, hanging over the
grape-like clusters, to pluck the small pink berries. The birds soon
grew very friendly, and, though they gave a cry of warning when the cats
appeared, became so tame they would answer my calls and let me watch
them from the piazza steps, not a rod away.

When they first began to linger about the house we thought they were
building near, and when one flew into an oak across the road, almost
gave me palpitation of the heart by the suggestion. But no nest was
there, and when the bird flew away it rose obliquely into the air
perhaps a hundred feet, and then flew on evenly straight across to the
small oaks on the farther side of a patch of brush that remained in the
centre of the valley, known to the ranchmen as the 'Island.' The flight
looked so premeditated that the first thing the next morning, although
the phainopeplas were at the peppers, I rode on ahead to wait for them
at their nest. We had not been there long before hearing the familiar
warning call. Turning Billy in the direction of the sound, I threw his
reins on his neck to induce him to graze along the way and give our
presence a more casual air, while I looked up indifferently as if to
survey the landscape. To my delight the phainopepla did not seem greatly
alarmed, and, throwing off the assumed indifference that always makes an
observer feel like a wretched hypocrite, I called and whistled to him as
I had done at the house, to let him know that it was a familiar friend
and he had nothing to fear. The beautiful bird started toward me, but on
second thought retreated. I turned my back, but, to my chagrin, after
giving a few low warning calls, my bird vanished. Alas, for the
generations of murderers that have made birds distrust their best
friends--that make honest observers tremble for what may befall the
birds if they put trust in but one of the human species!

[Illustration: THE PHAINOPEPLA'S NEST IN THE OAK BRUSH ISLAND]

It was plain that if I would get a study of these rare birds I must make
a business of it. Slipping from the saddle, I sat down behind a bush and
waited. When the bird came back and found the place apparently deserted,
to my relief he seated himself on a twig and sang away as if nothing had
disturbed his serenity of spirit. But presently the warning call sounded
again. This time it was for a schoolgirl who had staked out her horse
on the edge of the island and was crossing over to the schoolhouse. A
few moments later the bell rang out so loudly that Billy stepped around
his oak with animation, but the phainopeplas were used to it and showed
no uneasiness.

Before long a flash of white announced a second bird, and then, after a
long interval in which nothing happened, the male pitched into a bush
with beak bristling with building material! My delight knew no bounds.
Instead of nesting in the top of an oak in a remote canyon, as I had
been assured the shy birds would do, here they were building in a low
oak not more than an eighth of a mile from the house, and in plain
sight. Moreover, they were birds who knew me at home, and so would
really be much less afraid than strangers, whatever airs they assumed.
In the photograph, the bare twigs of the perch tree show above the line
of the horizon; the nest tree is the low oak beside it on the right. One
thing puzzled me from the outset. While the male worked on the nest, the
female sat on the outside circle of brush as if having nothing to do, in
spite of the fact that her gray dress toned in so well with the brush
that she was quite inconspicuous, while his shining black coat made him
a clear mark from a distance. What did it mean? I invented all sorts of
fancies to account for it. Had she been to the pepper-trees so much
less than he that she was over-troubled by my presence, and therefore
the gallant black knight who sang to her so sweetly and was so tender of
her, seeing her fears, took the work upon himself? Perchance he had
said, "If you are timid, my love, I will build for you while she is by,
for I would not have you come near if it would disquiet you."

In any event, he built away quite unconcernedly not three rods from
where I sat on the ground staring at him. He would fly to the earth for
material, but return to the nest from above, pitching down to it as if
having nothing to hide. Once, when resting, he perched on the tree, and
I talked to him quite freely. That noon the phainopeplas were at the
house before me, and I went out to talk to them while they lunched to
let them know it was only I who had visited their nest, so they would
have new confidence on the morrow.

But on the morrow they flew to another part of the island, and when we
followed, although I hitched Billy farther away from the nest tree and
sat quietly behind a brush screen, they did not come back. A brown
chippie plumed his feathers unrebuked in their oak, making the place
seem more deserted than before. A lizard ran out from the grape cuttings
at my feet, and a little black and white mephitis cantered along over
the ground with his back arched and his head down. He nosed around under
the bushes, showing the white V on his back, exactly like that of our
eastern species. As I rode home, five turkey buzzards were flying low
over the edge of the island, and one vulture rose from a meal of one of
the little black and white animal's relatives, but I saw nothing more of
my birds that day.

The next day the phainopeplas came again to the pepper-trees and ate
their fill while I sat on the steps watching. The male was quite
unconcerned, but when his mate flew near me, he called out sharply; he
could risk his own life, but not that of his love. Again the pair flew
back to the high oaks on the far side of the island. All my hopes of the
first low inaccessible nest vanished. I had driven the birds away. My
intrusiveness had made me lose the best chance of the whole nesting
season. But I would try to follow them. It did not seem necessary to
take Billy. There were only a few trees on that side of the island, and
it would be a simple matter to locate the birds. I would walk over, find
in which tree they were building, and spend the morning with them. I
went. Each oak was encircled by a thick wall of brush, over which it was
almost impossible to see more than a fraction of the tree, and the high
oak tops were impenetrable to eye and glass. After chasing phantoms all
the afternoon I went home with renewed respect for Billy as an adjunct
to field work. In order to locate anything in chaparral, one must be
high enough to overlook the mass.

That afternoon I saw a pair of phainopeplas fly up a canyon on the east,
and another pair fly up another on the west. If I were to know anything
of these birds, I must not be balked by faulty observing; I must at
least do intelligent work. Riding in from the back and tying Billy out
of sight away from the old nest, I swung myself up into a crotch of a
low oak from which I could overlook the whole island. The phainopeplas
soon flew in, but to the opposite side, and I was condemning myself for
having driven them away when, to my amazement, the male flew over and
shot down into the little oak where he had been building before! My
self-reproach took a different form--I had not been patient enough.
Surely if I could wait an hour for an ordinary hummingbird, I could wait
a morning for an absent phainopepla.

From the nest the beautiful bird flew to the bare oak top behind it
which he used for a perch, and--alas! gave his warning call. I was
discovered. He dashed his tail, turned his head to look at me first from
one side and then from the other, and then flew to the top of the
highest tree in sight to verify his observations. Whether he recognized
the object as his pepper-tree acquaintance, I do not know; but to my
great relief he went back to his work. By this time the little tree
which had seemed such a comfortable chair had undergone a change--I felt
as if stretched upon the gridiron of St. Anthony. Climbing down stiffly,
I kneeled behind the brush and practiced focusing my glass on the nest
so that it would not catch the light and frighten the bird, when out he
flew from the nest and sat down facing me in broad daylight! He did not
say a word, but looked around abstractedly, as if hunting for material.

If he were so indifferent, perhaps it would be safe to creep nearer.
Following the paths trodden by the bare feet of the school children, and
spying and skulking, I crept into a good hiding-place about a rod from
the nest. The ground was covered with dead leaves, and I saw a
suggestive round hole--a very large rattlesnake had been killed a few
rods away the week before. I covered the hole with my cloak and then sat
down on the lid--nothing could come up while I was there, at all events.

The phainopepla worked busily for some time, flying rapidly back and
forth with material. Then came the warning cry. I drew in my note-book
from the sun so that it should not catch his eye, and waited. The hot
air grew hotter, beating down on my head. A big lizard wriggled over the
leaves, and I thought of my rattlesnake. Then Billy sneezed in a forced
way, as though to remind me not to go off without him. Growing
restless, I moved the bushes a little--they were so stiff they made a
very good chair-back if one got into the right position--when suddenly,
looking up I saw my phainopepla friend vault into the air from a bush
behind me, where, apparently, he had been sitting taking notes of his
own! What observers birds are, to be sure! The best of us have much to
learn from them.

But though the phainopepla was most watchful, he was open to conviction,
and he and his mate at last concluded that I meant them no harm.
Afterwards, when I moved, they both came and looked at me, but went
about their business quite unmindful of me.

As I had seen from the outset, the male did almost all the building.
When his spouse came in sight he burst out into a tender joyous love
song. She went to the nest now and again, but generally when she came it
was to sun herself on the bare perch tree, where she dressed her plumes
or merely sat with crest raised and her soft gray feathers fluffed about
her feet, while waiting for her mate to get leisure to take a run with
her.

When he had finished his stint and she was not about, he would take his
turn on the perch tree, his handsome glossy black coat shining in the
sun. If an unwitting neighbor lit on his tree he would flatten his
crest and dash down indignantly, but for the most part he perched
quietly except to make short sallies into the air for insects, sometimes
singing as he went; or he just warbled to himself contentedly, what
sounded like the chattering run of a swallow on the wing. One day we had
quite a conversation. His simplest call note was like the call of a
young robin, and while I answered him he gave his note seventeen times
in one minute, and eleven times in the next half minute.

The birds had a great variety of calls and songs, most of which were
vivacious and cheering and seemed attuned to the warmth and brightness
of the California sunshine. The quality of the love song was rich and
flute-like.

The male phainopepla seemed to enjoy life in general and his work in
particular. He frequently sang to himself when going for material; and
once, apparently, when on the nest. When he was building I could see his
black head move about between the leaves. Like the gnatcatchers, he used
only fine bits of material, but he did not drill them in as they did. He
merely laid them in, or at most wove them in gently. Now and then, as
the black head moved in front, the black tail would tilt up behind at
the back of the nest as if the bird were moulding; but there was
comparatively little of that. When completed, the nest was a soft felty
structure.

When working, the male would fly back and forth from the ground to the
nest, carrying his bits of plant stem, oak blossom, and other fine
stuff. He worked so rapidly that it kept me busy recording his visits.
He once went to the nest four times in four minutes; at another time,
seventeen times in a little over an hour. Sometimes he stayed only half
a minute; when he stayed three minutes, it was so unusual that I
recorded it. He worked spasmodically, however. One day he came seventeen
times in one hour, but during the next half hour came only five times.
The birds seemed to divide their mornings into quite regular periods.
When I awoke at half past five I would hear them at the pepper-trees
breakfasting; and some of them were generally there as late as eight
o'clock. From eight to ten they worked with a will, though the visits
usually fell off after half past nine. It was when working in this more
deliberate way that the male would go to his perch on an adjoining tree
and preen himself, catch flies, or sing between his visits. Once he sat
on the limb in front of the nest for nearly ten minutes. By ten o'clock
I found that I might as well go to watch other birds, as little would be
going on with the phainopeplas; and they often flew off for a lunch of
peppers.

Just as the island nest was about done--it was destroyed! I found it on
the ground under the tree. For a time I felt as if no nests could come
to anything; the number that had been destroyed during the season was
disheartening. It seemed as though I no sooner got interested in a
little family than its home was broken up. Sometimes I wondered how a
bird ever had courage to start a nest.

But though it was hard to reconcile myself to the destruction of the
phainopeplas' nest, I found others later. Altogether, I saw three pairs
of birds building, and in each case the male was doing most of the work.
Two of the nests I watched closely, watch and note-book in hand, in
order to determine the exact proportion of work done by each bird. One
nest was watched two hours and a half, during a period of five days, in
which time the male went to the nest twenty-seven times, the female,
only three. The other nest was watched seven hours and thirty-five
minutes, during a period of ten days, in which time the male was at the
nest fifty-seven times; the female, only eight. Taking the total for the
two nests: in ten hours and five minutes the male went to the nest
eighty-four times; the female, eleven. That is to say, the females made
only thirteen per cent of the visits. In reality, although they went to
the nest eleven times, the ratio of work might safely be reduced still
further; for in watching them I was convinced that, as a rule, they came
to the nest, not to build, but to inspect the building done by their
mates. Indeed, at one nest, I saw nothing to make me suspect that the
female did any of the work. Her coming was usually welcomed by a joyous
song, but once the evidence seemed to prove that she was driven away;
perhaps she was too free with her criticisms! In another case the work
was sadly interrupted by the presence of the visitor, for while she sat
in the nest her excited mate flew back and forth as if he had quite
forgotten the business in hand. Perhaps he was nervous, and wanted to
make sure what she was doing in the new house!

In several instances I found that while the males were at work building,
the females went off by themselves. Once I saw Madame Phainopepla bring
her friend home with her. No sooner had the visitor lit than--shocking
to relate--the lord of the house left his work and drove her off with
bill and claw--a polite way to treat his lady's friends, surely! On one
occasion, when I looked up I saw a procession passing overhead--two
females followed by a male. The male flew hesitatingly, as if troubled
by his conscience, and then, deciding that if the nest was ever going to
be built he had better keep at it, turned around and came back to work.
One day when I rode over to the chaparral island, I found two of the
males sitting around in the brush. They played tag until tired, and then
perched on a branch in the sun, side by side, evidently enjoying
themselves like light-hearted, care-free bachelors. Their mates were
not in sight. But suddenly I glanced up and saw two females flying in to
the island high overhead, as if coming from a distance. Instantly the
indifferent holiday air of their mates vanished. They gave their low
warning calls, for I was on the ground and they must not show me their
nests. In answer to the warning the females wavered, and then, when
their mates joined them, all four flew away together.

At other times when I rode in the males would make large circles,
seventy-five feet above me, as if to get a clear understanding of the
impending danger. This was when small nest hunters were about, and the
birds were some whose nests I did not find, and who had no opportunity
to become convinced of my good intentions.

After finding that the males did most of the building, I was anxious to
see how it would be when the brooding began. Three of my nests were
broken up beforehand, however, and the fourth was despoiled after I had
watched the birds on the nest one day. Nevertheless, the evidence of
that day was most interesting as far as it went. It proved that while
the female lacked the architect's instinct, she was not without the
maternal instinct. There were two eggs in the nest, and in the one hour
that I watched, each bird brooded the eggs six times. Before this, the
female had been to the nest so much less than the male that now she was
much shyer; but although Billy frightened her by tramping down the brush
near by, it was she who first overcame her fears and went to cover the
eggs.



XIX.

MY BLUE GUM GROVE.


ONE of the first things I did on getting settled on my ranch, the second
time I was in California, was to get a wagon and go down to my
eucalyptus grove for a load of the pale green aromatic boughs with which
to trim my attic study; for their fragrance is delightful and their
delicate blue-green tone lends itself readily to decorative purposes.
When the supply needed replenishing, I rode down on Mountain Billy and
carried home the sweet-smelling branches on the saddle.

The grove served a more utilitarian purpose, however. The eucalyptus is
an Australian tree, with narrow straight-hanging leaves, and its rapid
growth makes it useful for firewood. A tree will grow forty feet in four
years, and when cut off a few feet above the ground will spring up again
and soon be ready to yield another crop. My grove had never been cut,
but would soon be old enough. In the photograph of a eucalyptus avenue
near Los Angeles, the row of trees on the right have been cut near the
ground and the branching trunks are the consequence.

[Illustration: EUCALYPTUS AVENUE, SHOWING POLLARDED TREES ON THE RIGHT,
NEAR LOS ANGELES]

My eucalyptus or blue gum grove was down near the big sycamore, and
opposite the bare knoll where Romulus and the burrowing owls had their
nightly battles. On one side of it was a rustling cornfield always
pleasant to look at. After the bare yellow stubble and all the reds and
browns of a California summer landscape, its rich dark green color and
its stanch, strong stalks made it seem a very plain honest sort of
field, and its greenness was most grateful to eyes unused to the bright
colors and strong lights of California.

Opposite the little grove, in a small house perched on a hill, an old
sea-captain lived alone. As I rode by one day, he sat with his feet
hanging over the edge of the high piazza, looking off; as if on the prow
of his vessel, gazing out to sea. When I stopped to ask if he had seen
anything noteworthy happen at the grove, he complained that it shut off
his view and kept away the breeze from the ocean! I was too much taken
by surprise to apologize for my trees, but felt reproached; unwittingly
I had destroyed the old captain's choicest pleasure. He had spoken in an
impersonal way that I quite understood,--he had been taken
unawares,--but the next time I rode past, as if to make up for any
apparent rudeness, he came hurrying down the walk to tell me of a crow's
nest he had seen in the grove. To mark it he had fastened a piece of
paper to the wire fence by the road, and another paper to the nest tree,
binding it on with a eucalyptus twig in true sailor fashion.

It was always a relief to leave the hot beating sun and the glare of the
yellow fields and enter the cool shade of the quiet grove. I could let
down the fence and put it up behind me; thus having my small forest all
to myself; and used to enjoy riding up and down the fragrant blue
avenues. The eucalyptus-trees, although thirty or forty feet high, were
lithe and slender; some of them could be spanned by the hands. The rows
were planted ten feet apart, but the long branches interlaced, so one
had to be on the alert, in riding down the lines, to bend low on the
saddle or push aside the branches that obstructed the way. The limbs
were so slender and flexible that a touch was enough to bend back a
green gate fifteen to twenty feet long, and Billy often pushed a branch
aside with his nose. In places, fallen trees barred our path, but Billy
used to step carefully over them.

The eucalyptus-trees change very curiously as they grow old. When young
they are covered with branches low to the ground, and their aromatic
tender leaves are light bluish green; afterwards they lose their lower
branches, while their leaves become stiff and sickle-shaped, dull green
and almost odorless. The same changes are seen in the bark: first the
trunks are smooth and green; then they are hung with shaggy shreds of
bark; this in turn drops off so that the old trees are smooth again.
Some of the young shoots have almost white stems, and their leaves have
a pinkish tinge. Indeed, a young blue gum is as pretty a sight as one
often sees; it is a tree of exquisite delicacy of coloring.

[Illustration: EUCALYPTUS WOOD STORED FOR MARKET, IN A EUCALYPTUS GROVE
NEAR LOS ANGELES]

Mountain Billy and I both liked to wander among the blue gums. Billy
liked it, perhaps, for association's sake, for we had ridden through the
eucalyptus at his home in northern California. I too had pleasant
memories of the northern gums, but my first interest was in finding out
who lived in my little woods. A dog had once been seen driving a coyote
wolf out of it, but that was merely in passing. I did not expect to meet
wolves there. It was said, however, to be a good place for tarantulas,
so at first I stepped over the dead leaf carpet with great caution; but
never seeing any of the big spiders, grew brave and sat indifferently
right on the ground before the nests, or leaning up against the trees.
The ground was almost as hard as a rock, for the eucalyptus absorbed all
the moisture, and that may have had something to do with its freedom
from snakes and scorpions, though it would not explain the absence of
caterpillars and spiders, which just then were so common outside. Though
in the grove a great deal, I never ran into but one cobweb, and was
conscious of the pleasant freedom from falling caterpillars. Moreover, I
never saw a lizard in the blue gums, though dozens of them were to be
seen about the oaks and in the brush.

It was a surprise to find so many feathered folks living in the
eucalyptus, and I took a personal interest in each one of the
inhabitants. The first time we started to go up and down the avenues we
scared up a pair of turtle doves, beautiful, delicately tinted gentle
creatures, fit tenants of the lovely grove. They did not know my
friendly interest in them, and flew to the ground trailing and trying to
decoy me away in such a marked manner that when we passed a young dove a
few yards farther on, it was easy to put two and two together.

Yellow-birds called _cheet'-tee, ca-cheet'-ta-tee_, and the grove became
musical with the sweet calls of the young brood. There was one nest with
a roof of shaggy bark, and I wondered if the birds thought it would be
pleasant to live under a roof, or whether the bark had fallen down on
them after they built. I could get no trace of the owners of the nest,
and it troubled me, not liking to have any little homes in my wood that
I did not know all about. As we went down one aisle, a big bird went
blundering out ahead of us, probably an owl, for afterwards we stumbled
on a skeleton and feathers of one of the family.

In one of the trees we came to an enormous nest made of the unusual
materials that are sometimes chosen by that strange bird, the
road-runner. It was an exciting discovery, for that was before the
road-runner had come to the ranch-house, and I had been pursuing phantom
runners over the hills in the vain attempt to learn something about
them; while here, it seemed, one had been living under my very vine and
fig-tree! To make sure about the nest, I spoke to my neighbor ranchman,
and he told me that when he had been milking during the spring he had
often seen the birds come out of the blue gums, and had also seen them
perching there on the trees. How exasperating! If I had only come
earlier! Now they had gone, and my chance of a nest study was lost.

But my doll was not stuffed with sawdust, for all of that. There was
still much to enjoy, for a mourning dove flew from her nest of twigs
almost over Billy's head, and it made me quite happy to know that the
gentle bird was brooding her eggs in my woods. Then it was delightful to
see a lazuli bunting on her nest down another aisle. It seemed odd, for
there was her little cousin nesting out in the weeds in the bright sun,
while she was raising her brood in the shady forest. The two nests were
as unlike as the sites. The bird outside had used dull green weeds,
while this one used beautiful shining oak stems. I thought the pretty
bird would surely be safe here, but one day when I called, expecting to
see a growing family, I was shocked to find a pathetic little skeleton
in the nest.

One afternoon in riding down the rows, I came face to face with two
mites of hummingbirds seated on a branch. Their grayish green suits
toned in with the color of the blue gums. It was a surprise when one of
them turned to the other and fed it--the mother hummer was small enough
to be taken for a nestling! She sat beside her son and fed him in the
conventional way, by plunging her bill down his open mouth. When she had
flown off, he stretched his wings, whirred them as if for practice, and
then moved his bill as if still tasting the dainty he had had for
supper. He sat very unconcernedly on a low branch right out in the
middle of the road, but Billy did not run over him.

I found two hummers' nests in the eucalyptus during the summer. One
builder was the one the photographer was fortunate enough to catch
brooding; her nest, the one so charmingly placed on a light blue branch
between two straight spreading leaves, like the knot between two bows of
stiff ribbon.

The second nest was on a drooping branch, and, to make it stand level,
was deepened on the down side of the limb, making it the highest
hummingbird's nest I had ever seen. It was attached to a red leaf--to
mark the spot, perhaps--one often wonders how a bird can come back twice
to the same leaf in a forest. How one little home does make a place
habitable! From a bare silent woods it becomes a dwelling-place.
Everything seemed to centre around this little nest, then the only one
in the grove; the tiny pinch of down became the most important thing in
the woods. It was the castle which the trees surrounded.

When I first found the nest it held two white warm eggs about as large
as peas, and I became much interested in watching their progress, often
riding down to see how they were getting on. The hummer did not return
my interest. She was nervous, darting off when Billy shook himself or
when the shadow of a soaring turkey buzzard fell over the nest; but in
spite of that we made ourselves quite at home before her door. I would
dismount and sit on the ground, leaning against a blue gum, while Billy
stood by, in a bower of green leaves, with ears pricked forward
thoughtfully, and a dreamy look of satisfaction in his eyes.
Hummingbirds are such dainty things. Once when this one alighted on the
rim of her nest she whirred herself right down inside. Soon she began to
act so strangely for a brooding bird that, when she flew, I went to feel
in the nest. The tips of my fingers touched what felt like round balls,
but, not satisfied, I pulled down the bough and found one round ball and
one mite of a gray back with microscopic yellow hairs on each side of
the spine. The whole tiny body seemed to throb with its heart beats. I
wondered how such a midget could ever be fed, but found, as in the case
of the hummer under the little lover's tree, that the mother gave its
food most gently, reserving her violent pumping for a more suitable age;
though one would as soon think of poking a needle down a baby's throat
as that bill.

Often, while watching the nest, my thoughts wandered away to the grove
itself. The brown earth between the rows was barred by alternate lines
of sunlight and shadow, and the vista of each avenue ended in blue sky.
Sometimes cool ocean breezes would penetrate the forest. The rows of
trees, with their gently swaying, interlacing branches, cast moving
shadows over the sun-touched leafy floor, giving a white light to the
grove; for the undersides of the young eucalyptus leaves are like snow.
From the stiff, sickle-shaped upper leaves the sun glanced, dazzling the
eyes. Mourning doves cooed, and the sweet notes of yellow-birds filled
the sunny grove with suggestions of happiness. A yellow butterfly
wandered down the blue aisles. Such a secure retreat! I returned to it
again and again, coming in out of the hot yellow world and closing
behind me the doors of my 'rest-house,' for the little wood had come to
seem like a cool wayside chapel, a place of peace.

And when I finally left California, deserting Mountain Billy to return
to the East, of all my haunts the one left the most unwillingly was the
little blue gum grove, the peaceful wayside rest-house, in whose
whitened shade we had spent so many quiet hours together.

[Illustration]



INDEX



  Bee-bird, 114-116, 117.
    catching bees, 114, 115.
    caught in cobweb rope, 116.
    defending nest with life, 91-92.
    domesticity, 116.
    flycatching, 16, 91, 160.
    making living off blackbirds, 13.
    nest, 91.
    nesting site, 91, 115.
    noisy, 15.
    notes, 91, 116.
    quarrelsome, 91, 115, 116.

  Bird Psychology,
    association of ideas, 46, 72, 75, 76, 77, 78, 115, 135, 138, 154,
        198.
    caution, 9, 22, 28, 36, 65, 66, 67, 82, 85, 87, 88, 94, 156, 196,
        198, 201, 202, 204.
    courage, 11-12, 23, 40, 42, 54, 83, 95, 97, 126, 129, 141, 144,
        175, 177, 180, 181, 210, 215.
    curiosity, 25, 97, 100, 151.
    dissimulation, 45, 49, 62, 190, 215.
    emotion,--
      fear, 22, 25, 26, 27, 34, 35, 40, 41, 42, 46, 61, 67, 71, 73, 81,
        87, 88, 105, 133, 135, 154, 164, 177, 180, 191, 215, 218;
      grief, 46, 47, 92;
      joy, 30, 204;
      unusual action under excitement, 30, 58, 63, 64, 81, 87, 88, 191,
        208.
    expression of emotion and ideas,--
      by use of crests, attitudes, and movements, 8, 9, 11, 16, 26, 30,
        31, 32, 33, 34, 39, 41, 42, 44, 46, 49, 53, 56, 59, 63, 64, 67,
        76, 78, 79, 81, 84, 87, 88, 90, 97, 101, 105, 116, 117, 124, 129,
        132, 138, 139, 149, 156, 166, 180, 190, 191, 202, 205, 208, 215.
      By voice,--
        calls of warning, 5, 42, 53, 85, 197, 198, 201, 202, 203, 209;
        conversation, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, 36, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 48, 49,
        52, 59, 62, 69, 71, 74, 75, 78, 84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 109, 110,
        118, 132, 134, 145, 147, 149, 153, 156, 178, 180, 182, 190, 192;
        cries of anger, anxiety, distress, fear, pain, 12, 45, 46, 47,
        58, 86, 91, 94, 133, 138, 191;
        exclamations, 44, 58, 61, 87, 115, 116, 124;
        scoldings, 34, 36, 37, 58, 60, 86, 95, 96, 162, 172, 182;
        songs of happiness, 8, 10, 15, 21, 22, 52, 59, 82, 83, 84, 90,
        93, 95, 96, 97, 122, 126, 142, 169, 175, 178, 198, 205;
        songs of love, 22, 26, 30, 31, 56, 90, 101, 142, 168, 170, 181,
        204, 205, 208.
    humor, 124.
    individuality, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14, 16, 22, 25, 26, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34,
        35, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 49, 50, 52, 54, 56, 62, 63, 64,
        65, 75-80, 81, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99,
        100, 101, 111, 115, 124, 125,126, 132, 136, 139, 142, 143, 149,
        153, 154, 163, 164, 170, 179, 181, 184, 190, 194, 195, 204, 205,
        208, 209, 216-217.
    inherited instincts, 75, 76, 78, 79, 156.
    intelligence shown in,--
      building, 17, 28, 49, 50, 53, 107, 108, 109, 114, 136, 150, 154,
        158, 217-218;
      disciplining young, 85;
      getting food by others' work, 13;
      profiting by mistakes, 107, 109, 133, 134, 153-154 (?);
      protecting young, 8, 9, 12, 36, 37, 85, 135, 156, 191, 215;
      removing nest from danger, 60, 114, 154;
      selecting materials for nest, 14, 53, 56, 82, 89, 96, 107, 127,
        144, 150, 179, 181;
      selecting nesting site, 23, 28, 83, 93, 95, 99, 124, 127, 130,
        131, 150;
      silence of young in danger, 71, 85.
    keen senses, 59, 74, 97.
    local attachment, 6;
      special perches, 57, 62, 126, 129, 167, 202, 204, 206.
    play impulse, 12, 115, 124, 155 (?), 208-209.
    pride of possession, 25, 86, 115, 204-205.
    self-denial, 33, 50, 52.

  Birds,
    adaptation, 150, 152, 163, 164;
      protective coloration, 10, 11, 81, 92, 101, 185, 199.
    domestic life,--
      accept help in building, 97, 152-153, 175-178, 179-180;
      affection, 22, 27, 30, 31, 32, 33, 78, 84, 85, 90, 142, 166,
        180, 182, 196, 201, 204, 208;
      as parents, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 23, 24, 31-38, 46, 55, 63, 64,
        69, 84, 85, 87, 88, 110, 111, 129, 135, 137, 154-155, 156,
        172, 182, 185-186, 189-193, 215, 217;
      companionship of mates, 22, 26, 27, 30, 31, 42, 46, 53, 56,
        59, 62, 81, 83, 87, 89, 90, 106, 109, 126, 141, 142, 145,
        166, 177, 178, 180, 182, 196, 204;
      coquettish airs, 33;
      courtship, 31, 90, 101, 148, 149;
      defense of nest, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 25, 45, 46, 47, 57, 58, 86,
        91, 92, 115, 124-125, 138, 141, 178, 182, 204-205, 209;
      excitement when young hatch, 63;
      family government, 12, 35, 85, 111, 156;
      friendly birds shy at nest, 65, 66, 67, 86, 87, 88, 93, 94,
        99, 105, 153, 198, 202, 203;
      --habits of male at nest:
        absent, 24, 149-155, 167;
        brings mate food for young, 32, 63;
        brings material to mate, 50, 52;
        broods, 43, 44, 62;
        builds while female looks on or goes off with other females, 199,
        200, 203, 204, 207-208;
        feeds mate, 27, 52, 126, 132, 134, 180, 182;
        feeds young, 33, 82, 88;
        guards mate, 27, 42, 53, 201;
        helps mate build, 48, 50, 52, 61, 106, 108, 109, 126, 135, 142,
        145;
        sings while mate builds and broods, 22, 26, 30, 31, 33, 56, 83,
        84, 90, 175, 177, 178;
      interval between building and brooding, 59, 145, 181;
      looking for nesting sites, 25, 26, 129, 184-185;
      lordly airs of male, 25, 115, 116, 117, 172, 208;
      paternal instinct, 31-33, 53, 63, 191, 204, 205;
      persistence in work, 60, 107, 178;
      reluctance to brood, 43, 44;
      tenderness to young, 23, 33, 84, 85.
    food,--
      ants, 76;
      bees, 114, 115;
      carrion, 97;
      cocoons, 100;
      gophers, 136;
      grubs, 12, 13, 111;
      insects, 4, 6, 7, 16, 31, 36, 82, 91, 101, 150, 160;
      lizards and toads, 99;
      pepper berries, 197, 198, 201;
      rats and mice, 137;
      scale, 103;
      seeds, 93, 162;
      snakes, 132;
      spiders, 31;
      worms, 12, 13, 57, 164, 182, 185, 186, 190.
    flight, 5, 7, 16, 17, 24, 30, 81, 91, 98, 99, 103, 115, 118, 147,
        149, 153, 156, 161, 166, 168, 184, 195, 196, 197, 209.
    friendliness when not disturbed, 10, 13, 23, 30, 40, 42, 45, 53,
        59, 61, 64, 67, 83, 86, 89, 92, 95, 97, 100, 105, 126, 128,
        129, 144, 148, 150-151, 153, 158, 171, 178, 180, 182-183, 185,
        186, 197, 200, 201, 204.
    legends about, 11, 105.
    local names,--
      blue jay, 6;
      burrowing owl, 11;
      bush-tit, 56;
      California towhee, 92.
    neighborly relations, 13, 25, 45-48, 49, 57-61, 62, 80, 86, 96,
        100, 108, 115, 116, 124, 125, 126, 130, 138, 147, 171-174,
        189-193, 204-205, 208-209.
    nervousness, 9, 11, 22, 26, 34, 35, 42, 47, 53, 56, 61, 63, 64,
        67, 70, 76, 81, 82, 87, 88, 97, 105, 117, 138, 139, 156,
        166, 177, 180, 191, 208, 218.

  Blackbird, Brewer's, 86-88, 117, 128.
    afraid of a bath, 16.
    attacking hawks and owls, 135, 139.
    a jolly colony, 123, 124.
    building, 124.
    common in valley, 92.
    curiosity about road-runner, 100.
    following plow for grubs, 12, 13.
    nervousness at nest, 87-88.
    nesting sites, 86, 124.
    pranks, 124.
    repulsing shrike, 124, 125.
    ruling dooryard, 86.

  Blackbird, Red-winged, 14.
    eating grubs in vineyard, 12-13.
    following plow, 13.
    nesting in marsh, 118.

  Blackbird, Rusty, 86.

  Blackbird, Yellow-headed,
    in vineyard, 13-14.
    on mustard, 14.

  Blackbirds, 15, 114, 118, 120.
    flocks riding cattle, hogs, and horses, 14.

  Bluebird, Mexican, 187.
    nesting site, 185.
    second nest, 186.

  Blue Jay. See Jay.

  Blue Squawker. See Jay.

  Brown Chippie. See Towhee, California.

  Bunting, Indigo, 81.

  Bunting, Lazuli, 81-83, 123, 189-193.
    call, 190.
    keeping out of quarrel, 45-46.
    nest, 82, 216-217.
    nesting site, 27, 82, 216.
    song, 6, 44, 83, 117.
    taking insects to nest, 82.
    young fed by wren-tit, 189, 190.

  Bush-tit, California, 28, 56, 59, 103-111, 117, 161, 162, 166.
    building, 105-107, 108, 110, 184.
    call notes, 109, 110.
    common bird, 103.
    destroys olive scale, 103.
    legend of firefly lamps, 105.
    local name, 56.
    nest, 103, 104, 105.
    nesting site, 103.
    nest roof falls in, 106.
    second nest better built, 107, 109.
    snake in nest, 108.

  Butcherbird. See Shrike.

  Butterflies, migrating, 160.


  California, southern, 147.
    colors, 212.
    marsh in, 118.
    natural irrigation, 21.
    sky, 67.

  Canello, 2.
    afraid of boggy land, Mexicans, and rattlesnakes, 2-3, 127-128.
    indifferent to water snakes, 15.
    made nervous by hummingbird, 7.
    miring, 17-19.
    visiting feathered tenants with, 123-139.

  Chaparral, 5, 6, 55, 61, 94, 100, 103-104, 159, 167, 197, 201.

  Chaparral cock. See Road-runner.

  Chat, long-tailed, 163.

  Chewink. See Towhee.

  Chickadee, 103, 176.

  Coast Mountains, 1, 4, 6, 15, 102, 104, 112, 113.
    valley in, 1, 2, 4, 5, 20, 112.
    at morning, 5, 68, 112, 137.
    in evening, 19, 101, 102, 121, 122.
    under moonlight, 102.

  Coyote wolves,
    barking, 91, 102.
    chasing a dog, 119.
    in eucalyptus, 214.

  Crow,
    killed bee-bird, 92.
    nest, 212.


  Dove, Mourning, 21, 118, 141, 161, 169, 219.
    a gentle pair, 166.
    brooding, 67.
    friendliness, 42, 45.
    nest, 216.
    nesting site, 40, 166, 216.
    perches, 57, 160.
    superior airs of male, 116, 117.
    timidity, 41, 42.
    trailing, 215.


  Eagle, 13.

  Egret, White, 17.


  Finch, Western House, 117, 160.
    avoids shrike neighborhood, 126.
    bathing, 16.
    courtship, 90.
    common birds, 92.
    discussions, 28.
    examining wren's nest, 25.
    implicated in tragedy, 171-174.
    nesting sites, 90, 96, 172, 186.
    songs, 90.
    stealing wren's material, 171.
    using swallow's nest, 96.

  Flicker, Red-shafted, 136-137, 160.
    building, 136.
    nesting site, 27, 136.
    notes, 136.
    works as if wound up, 136.

  Flowers and Plants,
    blue sage, 61, 147.
    chilicothe, 168.
    dodder, 89-90.
    'fly flower,' 160.
    forget-me-not, 128.
    mallow, 128.
    mustard, 14, 67, 119, 123, 127, 147.
    on border of pond, 15.
    poison oak, 167.
    'poppy,' 160.
    primrose, 69, 147.
    wild celery, 120.
    wild gooseberry, 147.

  Flycatcher, 140.
    in chaparral, 6.

  Fog, 19, 68, 101, 112.


  Goldfinch, 21, 44, 164, 215, 219.
    feeding, 7.
    nest, 23.
    nest destroyed, 27.
    nesting site, 184, 186.
    note, 215.

  Gnatcatcher, Western, 38-64, 81, 123, 161, 205.
    building, 48-60, 61, 62.
    calls, 43, 44, 45.
    comical parents, 63, 64.
    defending nest, 45, 57, 58.
    egg broken by wren-tit, 46.
    eggshell carried away, 46.
    feeding young in new way, 63-64.
    jaunty nervous manners, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 56, 63.
    nest, 39, 41, 60, 168.
    nesting site, 39, 48, 60, 61, 167.
    nest moved, 60.
    spelling each other, 43, 44, 62.
    talkative, 41.

  Gophers, 70, 136.

  Grosbeak, Black-headed,
    migrants, 8, 58.
    song, 170.

  Grosbeak, Blue, 120.


  Hangbird. See Bush-tit.

  Hawk, Buteo, building, 135.
    more likely to eat gophers than birds, 136.

  Hawk, Fish, 13.

  Hawk, Sparrow, 131-135, 136.
    chased by bee-bird, 91.
    nesting site, 131.
    snakes for breakfast, 132.
    too small a front door, 131-134.

  Hawks, 16, 86.

  Heron, Green, 17.


  Lark, Horned,
    on roadsides, 10.
    song, 10.

  Horse, as help in observing, 3-4, 125, 201-204.

  How-do-you-do Owl. See Owl, Burrowing.

  Hummingbird, 147, 186.

  Hummingbird, Black-chinned, 23-25, 147-158, 161, 202, 217-219.
    around flowers by house, 88.
    attacking horse and rider, 7.
    building, 149-155.
    call, 153.
    courtship dance, 149.
    enter house, 89.
    feeding from primroses, 69.
    feeding young, 23, 24, 155, 217.
    help in cross-fertilization, 150.
    nest, 23.
    nest destroyed, 26.
    nesting sites, 23, 89, 130, 147-148, 155, 158, 161, 217-218.
    perch, 57, 167.
    probing tobacco-tree flowers, 88.
    tremulous moulding, 152.

  Hummingbird, Rufous, 147.
    around wild gooseberries, 147, 168.
    song, 168.


  Irrigation, natural, 21, 38, 159-160.


  Jay, California, 59, 61, 84-85, 105, 123, 160, 161.
    disciplining young, 85.
    frightening small birds, 28, 58, 60, 84, 141.
    local name, 6.
    protecting young, 85.
    scream, 169, 184.
    tender to young, 84, 85.


  Kingbird,
    Arkansas. See Bee-bird.
    Cassin's. See Bee-bird.
    Eastern, 91.


  Linnet. See Finch.

  Lions, colts killed by, 30.

  List of Birds referred to, ix.

  List of Illustrations, vii.

  Lizards, as eggers, 28, 150, 200, 203.


  Magpie, 51, 98.

  Mexican bridle, 3.

  Miring, 17-19.

  Mockingbird, thrasher's resemblance to, 6.

  Mountain Billy, 20.
    a good lope, 42-43, 112.
    a narrow escape, 120.
    a petted companion, 165, 187.
    carrying blue gum boughs, 211.
    carrying a chair, 60-61.
    enjoying blue gum grove, 214, 218.
    frightened by deer, 28-30.
    ignoring snakes, 187-188.
    improving his time, 68, 69, 114.
    inventing a fly brush, 54, 55.
    rolling, 165-166.

  Mutual help in nature, 150.


  Nesting season, date in southern California, 21, 30, 67, 69, 86.

  Nests, broken up, 10, 26, 27, 47, 127, 143, 145, 158, 172, 204,
        206, 217.
    building, hard work, 56, 60, 107.
    building methods, 49-50, 52-54, 82, 107, 108, 109, 127, 135,
        136, 142, 150-154, 158, 175, 199, 200, 203, 204, 205-206, 207.
    defective building (?), 106.
    excessive amount of material, 96, 107, 108.
    knothole entrance too small, 131.
    materials of first nest used in second, 60, 107, 109-110, 154.
    moved to safer place, 60, 154.
    odd situations, 9, 95, 130, 171.
    protective coloration, 82, 90, 144, 150.
    rapid building, 108, 206.
    second, 48 (?), 60, 107, 154, 186.
    snakes in, 108.
    third (?), 60.
    time taken to build, 60.
    unusual materials, 14, 89, 90.


  Observing, 1, 2, 40, 60-61, 66, 67, 68, 81, 82, 109, 114, 123,
        130, 135, 139, 141, 166, 195, 196, 197, 198, 201-205, 215.
    assisting in nest building, 97, 109-110, 175-183.
    delight of finding a new bird, 13.
    proportion of birds identified without a gun, 2, 140.
    temptations in, 92, 93, 194.

  Oden Canyon, 159-160.

  Oregon Robin, 20.

  Oriole, 27, 104, 130, 131.

  Oriole, Arizona Hooded,
    building, 89.

  Oriole, Bullock's, 162.
    attacking an owl, 139.
    nest, 117.
    song flight, 184.

  Owl, 105, 215-216.
    asleep in window, 137.
    diet of rats and mice, 137.
    hiding in wells and mining shafts, 137, 138.

  Owl, Barn,
    an old crone, 139.
    nesting site, 139.

  Owl, Burrowing, 119, 212.
    battles with a collie, 11, 12.
    feeding young, 11, 12.
    nest not shared with rattlesnakes, 11.
    screws head off, 11.

  Owl, Western Horned,
    devices to protect young, 8, 9.
    mobbed by neighbors, 138.


  Pewee, Wood, 161-162.
    building, 57, 59, 61.
    nesting site, 57, 60.
    nest moved, 60.
    perch, 62, 161.

  Phainopepla, 194-210.
    a distinguished bird, 194.
    building (done by male), 199, 203, 204, 205, 206.
    call, 205.
    eating pepper berries in door-yard, 197.
    nest, 205.
    nesting site, 199.
    song, 205.

  Phœbe, Black, 115, 128-130, 189.
    brooding under a pump, 129.
    in the hen-house, 130.
    nest, 130.
    nesting site, 117, 128-129, 130.

  Pipit, American, 16.

  Pond, made by spring rains,
    rendezvous of birds, 5, 14-17.

  Poor-will, Dusky,
    call, 101-102.
    flycatching, 101.


  Quail, Valley,
    call, 5.
    flight of covey, 30.
    in chaparral, 55.
    in vineyard, 73.
    tracks, 43.


  Rabbit,
    cottontail, 94, 118, 164.
    jack, 5, 29, 94-95, 97.

  Road-runner, 98-101.
    around ranch-house, 100.
    drowned in windmill tanks, 100.
    eating with hens, 100.
    fleetness, 98.
    hunting cocoons, 100.
    love call, 101.
    nest, 99, 216.

  Robin, 8, 92.


  Shrike, White-rumped, 124-127, 128.
    absence of birds in neighborhood, 126.
    building, 125, 126-127.
    gentle at nest, 125, 126.
    invading blackbird premises, 124-125.
    nest, 125.
    nesting site, 125, 127.

  Snakes,
    gopher, 43, 71, 120, 187-188.
    racer, 108.
    rattle, 43, 120, 121, 203.
    ringed, 55.
    water, 15.

  Sparrow, 15.

  Sparrow, Golden-crowned, 16.

  Sparrow, Song, 21, 22, 117.
    nest, 83-84.
    young, 83.

  Sparrow, White-crowned, 16, 162.

  Squirrels, ground, 11.

  Swallow, 96.

  Swallow, Eave,
    drinking on wing, 17.
    getting mud for nests, 16-17.
    nests on sycamore, 114.


  Tanager, Louisiana, 27.
    a brilliant stranger, 131.

  Thrasher, California, 163-164.
    digging with sickle-shaped bill, 163-164.
    in chaparral, 6.
    song, 6, 169.
    straight bills of young, 164.

  Titmouse, Plain, 141, 184, 175-183.
    building, 175-182.
    gladly accepts feathers, 177.
    needs no horsehair or straw, 179-181.
    nesting sites, 175.
    song, 175.

  Tit, Wren-, 57, 60, 62, 189-193.
    breaking up gnatcatcher's nest, 45, 46, 48.
    skulking manners, 49, 59.
    song, 6, 169.
    usurping a mother's rights, 189-193.

  Towhee, California, 28, 46, 47, 57, 58, 59, 92-95, 163, 189, 200.
    call note, 92.
    common and tame, 92.
    nesting, 93, 94.
    shy at nest, 93-94.
    song, 93.

  Towhee, Green-tailed, 162-163.

  Towhee, Spurred, 18, 160, 162.
    singing, 169.

  Trade wind, 68-69.

  Trees,
    acacia, 189.
    elder, 15.
    eucalyptus, 211-220;
      character of, 213-214, 219-220;
      grove, 211-220;
      raised for fuel, 211.
    live-oaks, 5, 6, 21, 86, 159-170;
      garden of, 159-160, 170;
      sapped by mistletoe, 167.
    pepper, 197.
    sycamore, 15, 21, 24-25, 67, 68;
      the big, 112-122, 159.
    tobacco, 88.
    willow, 123.

  Turkey Buzzard. See Vulture.

  Turtle Dove. See Dove.

  Twin Oaks Canyon, 5-6, 159.


  Ughland Canyon, 21, 38, 123, 159.


  Vineyard, birds eating grubs in, 12-13.

  Vireo, Hutton's, 140-146.
    a devoted pair, 142.
    building, 142, 145.
    call note, 145.
    fond of nest, 143, 145.
    nest, 144.
    nesting site, 141, 144.

  Vireo, Least,
    song, 6, 44, 169.

  Vireo, Warbling, 27, 59.
    building, 56.
    scolding jay, 60.

  Vulture, Turkey, 16, 97-98, 162.
    circle over fighting snakes, 97.
    eating woodpecker, 70.
    eating skunk, 201.
    queer attitude, 98.
    scavenger, 97.
    soaring, 97, 98.


  Warbler, 160.
    migrants, 6, 7, 123.

  Waxwing, 69.

  Whip-poor-will. See Poor-will.

  Woodpecker, California, 65-80, 81, 123.
    building, 28.
    flycatching, 160.
    hunting ground distant from nest, 69.
    long intervals in feeding, 69.
    lying in wait for prey, 141.
    nesting site, 28, 71.
    notes, 69.
    old birds poisoned (?), 70.
    rescuing the young, 71-73.
    young orphans, inherited instincts, 75, 76, 78, 79;
      notes, 78.

  Woodpecker, Red-headed, 66, 69.

  Wood rat,
    in chaparral, 55.

  Wren, 9-10.

  Wren, Vigors's, 170-174.
    linnets quarreling over materials, 171.
    nesting site, 171.
    young buried alive by linnets (?), 172-174.

  Wren, Western House, 20-37, 65, 67, 69, 81, 84, 112, 117, 123, 160,
        219.
    building, 22, 25, 30, 96, 128.
    common birds, 95.
    feeding young on insects, 31.
    nesting takes six weeks, 35.
    nests in sycamore holes, 22, 128.
    odd nesting sites, 95.
    song, 22, 30, 96, 97.
    tremulous motion of wings, 30, 33.


  Yellow-bird. See Goldfinch.

  Young birds,
    Bluebird, 185.
    Brewer's Blackbird, 87.
    Burrowing Owl, 11-12.
    Bush-tit, 28, 110, 111.
    California Jay, 85.
    California Woodpecker, 69-80.
    feather tracts, 79.
    fed at long intervals, 155.
    fed on insects, 31, 36, 76, 82.
    first flights, 36, 73-74, 88, 156.
    Gnatcatchers, 63-64.
    Horned Owl, 9.
    Hummingbird, 23, 24, 88, 155-157, 217, 219.
    interest in each other, 78, 79.
    Lazuli Bunting, 189-193, 217;
      adopted by wren-tit, 189-193.
    Mourning Dove, 47.
    Owl, 137.
    Sparrow Hawk, 135;
      subdued on leaving nest, 36;
      time kept in nest, 69.
    Titmouse, 182-183.
    Vigors's Wren, 171, 172, 174.
    Western House Wren, 33-37.



INDEX TO ILLUSTRATIONS.


  Bee-birds, 13.

  Blackbird, Brewer's, 13.

  Buntings, Lazuli (old and young), 189.

  Bush-tits (birds and nest), 104.

  Bush-tit (nest in oak), 108.


  Chewink, California (head), 93.

  Chewink, Eastern (head), 93.

  Chewink, Green-tailed (head), 163.


  Eucalyptus Avenue, showing pollarded trees, 212.

  Eucalyptus Wood stored for Market in a Eucalyptus Grove, 214.


  Gnatcatcher, Western (birds and nest), 39.

  Grosbeak, Black-headed (head), 8.

  Grosbeak, Rose-breasted (head), 8.


  Hummingbird, Black-chinned (nest), 157.

  Hummingbird, Black-chinned (on nest), 148.


  Mountain Billy Deserted, 220.

  Mountain Billy under the Gnatcatcher's Oak, frontispiece.


  Oaks, Live, 160.

  Oriole, Arizona Hooded (head), 89.

  Oriole, Baltimore, Eastern (head), 89.


  Phainopepla's Nest in Oak Brush, 198.

  Phainopeplas on Pepper-tree, 194.

  Phœbe, Black (head), 129.

  Phœbe, Eastern (head), 129.


  Quail, Valley, 99.


  Road-runner, 99.


  Sycamores, Along the Line of, 124.

  Sycamore, The Big, 114.


  Titmouse, Plain (at nest), 176.


  Valley in Coast Mountains, 4.


  Woodpecker, California, (head), 66.

  Woodpecker, California (young), 78.

  Woodpecker, Red-headed, Eastern (head), 66.

  Wren-tit, 189.

  Wren, Vigors's (at nest), 173.

  Wren, Western House, 32.

  Wren, Western House (singing), 20.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 33, "delighful" changed to "delightful" (It was delightful)

Page 75, "formicivorous" changed to "formicivorus" (Melanerpes
formicivorus)

Page 190, "non-commital" changed to "non-committal" (non-committal air)

Page 190, "eeding" changed to "feeding" (feeding it, especially)

Page 257, "2" changed to "216" (nesting site, 40, 166, 216.)





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