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´╗┐Title: Birds Every Child Should Know
Author: Blanchan, Neltje, 1865-1918
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Birds Every Child Should Know" ***

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[Transcriber's notes]
  This is derived from a copy on the Internet Archive:
   http://www.archive.org/details/birdsthateverych00doub

  Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly
  braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred
  in the original book.

  Obvious spelling errors have been corrected but "inventive" and
  inconsistent spelling is left unchanged.

  Thanks to Kathy Danek for introducing me to this book.
[End Transcriber's notes]

{cover}

BIRDS
Every Child Should Know

by Neltje Blanchan

{i}

BIRDS EVERY CHILD SHOULD KNOW


{ii}

[Illustration]
Red-Eyed Vireo.

{iii}

BIRDS THAT EVERY
CHILD SHOULD KNOW

BY


NELTJE BLANCHAN

Author of
  "Bird Neighbours,"
  "Birds that Hunt and Are Hunted,"
  "Nature's Garden," and
  "How to Attract the Birds."


SIXTY-THREE PAGES OF
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM LIFE



NEW YORK
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS

{iv}


Copyright, 1907, by
Doubleday, Page & Company



_All rights reserved,
including that of translation into foreign languages, including the
Scandinavian._

{v}

PREFACE

If all his lessons were as joyful as learning to know the birds in the
fields and woods, there would be no

  "...whining Schoole-boy with his Satchell
  And shining morning face creeping like Snaile
  Unwillingly to schoole."

Long before his nine o'clock headache appears, lessons have begun.
Nature herself is the teacher who rouses him from his bed with an
outburst of song under the window and sets his sleepy brain to
wondering whether it was a robin's clear, ringing call that startled
him from his dreams, or the chipping sparrow's wiry tremulo, or the
gushing little wren's tripping cadenza. Interest in the birds trains
the ear quite unconsciously. A keen, intelligent listener is rare,
even among grown-ups, but a child who is becoming acquainted with the
birds about him hears every sound and puzzles out its meaning with a
cleverness that amazes those with ears who hear not. He responds to
the first alarm note from the nesting blue birds in the orchard and
dashes out of the house to chase away a prowling cat. He knows from
{vi} afar the distress caws of a company of crows and away he goes to
be sure that their persecutor is a hawk. A faint tattoo in the woods
sends him climbing up a tall straight tree with the confident
expectation of finding a woodpecker's nest within the hole in its
side.

While training his ears, Nature is also training every muscle in his
body, sending him on long tramps across the fields in pursuit of a new
bird to be identified, making him run and jump fences and wade brooks
and climb trees with the zest that produces an appetite like a
saw-mill's and deep sleep at the close of a happy day.

When President Roosevelt was a boy he was far from strong, and his
anxious father and mother naturally encouraged every interest that he
showed in out-of-door pleasures. Among these, perhaps the keenest that
he had was in birds. He knew the haunts of every species within a wide
radius of his home and made a large collection of eggs and skins that
he presented to the Smithsonian Museum when he could no longer endure
the evidences of his "youthful indiscretion," as he termed the
collector's mania. But those bird hunts that had kept him happily
employed in the open air all day long, helped to make him the strong,
manly man he is, whose wonderful physical endurance is not the least
factor of his greatness. No one abhors the killing of birds and the
{vii} robbing of nests more than he; few men, not specialists, know so
much about bird life.

Nature, the best teacher of us all, trains the child's eyes through
study of the birds to quickness and precision, which are the first
requisites for all intelligent observation in every field of
knowledge. I know boys who can name a flock of ducks when they are
mere specks twinkling in their rapid rush across the autumn sky; and
girls who instantly recognise a goldfinch by its waving flight above
the garden. The white band across the end of the kingbird's tail leads
to his identification the minute some sharp young eyes perceive it. At
a considerable distance, a little girl I know distinguished a
white-eyed from a red-eyed vireo, not by the colour of the iris of
either bird's eye, but by the yellowish white bars on the white-eyed
vireo's wings which she had noticed at a glance. Another girl named
the yellow-billed cuckoo, almost hidden among the shrubbery, by the
white thumb-nail spots on the quills of his outspread tail where it
protruded for a second from a mass of leaves. A little urchin from the
New York City slums was the first to point out to his teacher, who had
lived twenty years on a farm, the faint reddish streaks on the breast
of a yellow warbler in Central Park. Many there are who have eyes and
see not.

What does the study of birds do for the {viii} imagination, that high
power possessed by humans alone, that lifts them upward step by step
into new realms of discovery and joy? If the thought of a tiny
hummingbird, a mere atom in the universe, migrating from New England
to Central America will not stimulate a child's imagination, then all
the tales of fairies and giants and beautiful princesses and wicked
witches will not cause his sluggish fancy to roam. Poetry and music,
too, would fail to stir it out of the deadly commonplace.

Interest in bird life exercises the sympathies. The child reflects
something of the joy of the oriole whose ecstasy of song from the elm
on the lawn tells the whereabouts of a dangling "cup of felt" with its
deeply hidden treasures. He takes to heart the tragedy of a robin's
mud-plastered nest in the apple tree that was washed apart by a storm,
and experiences something akin to remorse when he takes a mother bird
from the jaws of his pet cat. He listens for the return of the
bluebirds to the starch-box home he made for them on top of the grape
arbour and is strangely excited and happy that bleak day in March when
they re-appear. It is nature sympathy, the growth of the heart, not
nature study, the training of the brain, that does most for us.

  Neltje Blanchan.
  _Mill Neck_, 1906.


{ix}

CONTENTS


CHAPTER               PAGE

I. Our Robin Goodfellow and His Relations                  3

   Robin, Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Wilson's Thrush.

II. Some Neighbourly Acrobats                              17

    Chickadee, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Kinglets.

III. A Group of Lively Singers                             31

    Mockingbird, Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Wrens.

IV. The Warblers                                           51

    Yellow Warbler, Black and White Creeping Warbler,
    Ovenbird, Maryland Yellow-throat, Yellow-breasted Chat.

V. Another Strictly American Family                        62

   The Vireos.

VI. Birds Not of a Feather                                 77

    Butcherbirds, Cedar Waxwing, Tanagers.

VII. The Swallows                                          91

  Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow,
  Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow.

VIII. The Sparrow Tribe                                    105

    Purple Finch, English Sparrow, Goldfinch,
    Vesper Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow,
    White-throated Sparrow, Tree Sparrow,
    Chippy, Field Sparrow, Junco, Song Sparrow,
    Swamp Sparrow, Fox Sparrow,
   Towhee, Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak,
   Indigo Bunting, Snowflake.

{x}

IX. The Ill-assorted Blackbird Family                      135

   Bobolink, Cowbird, Red-wing,
   Meadowlark, Orioles, Blackbirds.

X. Rascals We Must Admire                                  151

   Crow, Blue Jay and Canada Jay.

XI. The Flycatchers                                        159

  Kingbird, Crested Flycatcher, Phoebe,
  Pewee, Least Flycatcher.

XII. Some Queer Relations                                  173

  Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, Chimney Swift, Hummingbird.

XIII. Non-union Carpenters                                 187

  Our Five Common Woodpeckers.

XIV. Cuckoo and Kingfisher                                 203

XV. Day and Night Allies of the Farmer                     211

  Buzzards, Hawks, and Owls.

XVI. Whistler and Drummer                                  233

  Bob-white and Ruffed Grouse.

XVII. Birds of the Shore and Marshes                       245

  Snipe, Sandpiper, Plover, Rails and Coots,
  Bitterns and Herons.

XVIII. The Fastest Flyers                                  265

   Gulls, Ducks, and Geese.

Index                                                      275

{xi}

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Red-eyed Vireo.   Frontispiece

                                          FACING PAGE

It is Only When he is a Baby that you
Could Guess our Robin is Really a Thrush.
(_A. R. Dugmore_)                                            8

Young Bluebirds Taking their First Walk.
(_A. R. Dugmore_)                                            9

Baby Wood Thrushes--Notice the Family
Resemblance Between them and the
Baby Robins and Bluebirds. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                 12

A Wood Thrush Startled by the Click of the
Camera. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                    13

The Chickadee at her Front Door. (_A. R. Dugmore_)           22

Young Nuthatches Learning their First Lesson in
Balancing on a Horizontal Bar.  (_W. E. Carlin_)             23

The Noisy Contents of a Soap Box: a Family
of House Wrens. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                            30

The Marsh Wren's Round Cradle Swung
Among the Rushes. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                          31

{xii}

Like "Brer Rabbit" the Catbird is Usually
"Bred en Bawn in a Brier Patch." (_A. R. Dugmore_)           34

Another Tragedy of the Nests: What Villain
Ate the Catbird's Eggs? (_Verne Morton_)                     35

"Mamma!" Young Mockingbird Calling for
Breakfast. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                 50

All is Well with this Yellow Warbler's Nest.
(_G. C. Embody_)                                             51

Dinner for One: A Black-and-white Warbler
Feeding her Baby. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                          51

The Oven-bird who Calls "Teacher, Teacher,
TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER!"  (_William P. Hopkins_)          58

Oven-bird in her Cleverly Hidden Nest--
Some of the Leaves and Sticks Have Been
Pulled Away From the Front to Secure
her picture. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                               59

Young Oven-birds on Day of Leaving Nest. (_A.R. Dugmore_)    59

A Red-eyed Vireo Baby in his Cradle.  (_A. R. Dugmore_)      76

Out of It. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                 76

Home of the Loggerhead Shrike with Plenty
of Convenient Hooks for this Butcher
Bird to Hang Meat On. (_R. H. Beehe_)                        77

The Cedar Waxwing. (_W. P. Hopkins_)                         84

{xiii}

The Gorgeous Scarlet Tanager, who Sang in
this Tree, Was Killed by a Sling Shot. The Nest
 Was Deserted by his Terrified Mate.  (_A. R. Dugmore_)      85

Young Barn Swallows Cradled Under the
Rafters. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                   96

Baby Barn Swallows Learning to Walk a
Plank. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                     97.

The Most Cheerful of Bird Neighbours: Song
Sparrows. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                  116

A Baby Chippy and its Two Big Rose-breasted
Grosbeak Cousins .                                           116

A Chipping Sparrow Family: One Baby Satisfied, the
 Next Nearly So, the Third Still Hungry. (_A. R. Dugmore_)   117

Cardinal. (_C. W. Beebe_)                                    134

That Dusky Rascal the Cowbird. (_C. W. Beebe_)               135

The Gorgeous Baltimore Oriole. (_A. R. Dugmore_)             146

How do you Suppose these Young Baltimore
Orioles Ever Packed themselves into this
Nest? (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                      147

Young Orchard Orioles. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                     150

"There Were Three Crows Sat on a Tree." (_A. R. Dugmore_)    151

Blue Jay on her Nest. (_R. H. Beebe_)                        158

{xiv}

Five Little Teasers Get No Dinner from
Mamma Blue Jay. (_Craig S. Thomas_)                          159

Not Afraid of the Camera: Baby Blue Jays
Out for their First Airing. (_Craig S. Thomas_)              159

The Dashing Great Crested Flycatcher.  (_A. R. Dugmore_)     162

Baby Kingbirds in an Apple Tree. (_A. R. Dugmore_)           163

Four Crested Flycatchers, who Need to Have
their Hair Brushed. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                        164

Time for these Young Phoebes to Leave the
Nest. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                                      165

Young Phoebes on a Bridge Trestle. (_A. R. Dugmore_)          165

Least Flycatchers in a Rose Bush                   176

Nighthawk Resting in the Sunlight. (_John Boyd_)             177

A Chimney Swift at Rest. (_C. W. Beebe_)                     180

Hummingbird Pumping Food into her Babies'
Crops. (_Julian Burroughs_)                                  181

Twin Ruby-throats. (_Julian Burroughs_)                      181

Our Little Friend Downy. (_A. R. Dugmore_)                   192

The Red-headed Woodpecker. (_C. W. Beehe_)                   193

The Sapsucker. (_G. C Embody_)                               198

Baby Flickers Just Out of their Hole. (_A. R. Dugmore_)       199

{xv}

The Flicker. (_C. W. Beebe_)                                  206

Two Baby Cuckoos on the Rickety Bundle of
Sticks that by Courtesy we Call a Nest. (_Verne Morton_)     207

Waiting for Mamma and Fish. (_A. W. Anthony_)                 210

Young Belted Kingfisher on his Favourite Snag.
(_A. W. Anthony_)                                             210

Kingfisher on the Look-out for a Dinner.  (_A. W. Anthony_)  211

Turkey Buzzard: One of Nature's Best
Housecleaners. (_C. W. Beebe_)                               226

The Beautiful Little Sparrow Hawk. (_C. W. Beebe_)           227

Father and Mother Barn Owls. (_Silas A. Lottridge_)           232

The Heavenly Twins: Young Barn Owls.
(_Silas A. Lottridge_)                                       233

A Little Screech Owl in the Sunlight Where
Only a Photographer Could Find him.  (_C. W. Beehe_)         236

Mrs. White on her Nest while Bob Whistles
to her from the Wild Strawberry Patch. (_A. R. Dugmore_)     237

A Little Girl's Rare Pet. (_C. F. Hodge_)                    242

The Drummer Drumming. (_C. F. Hodge_)                        243

A Flock of Friendly Sandpipers and Turnstones
in Wading. (_Herbert K. Job_)                                258

{xvi}

One Little Sandpiper. (_R. H. Beebe_)                        259

The Coot. (_C. W. Beebe_)                                    259

The Little Green Heron, the Smallest and Most
Abundant Member of his Tribe.  (_W. P. Hopkins_)             260

Half-grown Little Green Herons on Dress
Parade. (_John M. Schreck_)                                  261

Black-crowned Night Heron Rising from a
Morass.  (_Alfred J. Might_)                                 268

Canada Geese. (_Geo. D. Bartlett_) . . 269

The Feather-lined Nest of a Wild Duck                        272

Sea Gulls in the Wake of a Garbage Scow
Cleansing New York Harbour of Floating Refuse.               273

{3}

CHAPTER I

OUR ROBIN GOODFELLOW AND HIS RELATIONS:

American Robin

Bluebird

Wood Thrush

Wilson's Thrush

{4}

{5}

THE AMERICAN ROBIN

Called also: Red-breasted Thrush; Migratory Thrush; Robin Redbreast

It is only when he is a baby that you could guess our robin is really
a thrush, for then the dark speckles on his plump little
yellowish-white breast are prominent thrush-like markings, which
gradually fade, however, as he grows old enough to put on a brick-red
vest like his father's.

The European Cock Robin--a bird as familiar to you as our own, no
doubt, because it was he who was killed by the Sparrow with the bow
and arrow, you well remember, and it was he who covered the poor Babes
in the Wood with leaves--is much smaller than our robin, even smaller
than a sparrow, and he is not a thrush at all. But this hero of the
story books has a red breast, and the English colonists, who settled
this country, named our big, cheerful, lusty bird neighbour a robin,
simply because his red breast reminded them of the wee little bird at
home that they had loved when they were children.

When our American robin comes out of the {6} turquoise blue egg that
his devoted mother has warmed into life, he usually finds three or
four baby brothers and sisters huddled within the grassy cradle. In
April, both parents worked hard to prepare this home for them. Having
brought coarse grasses, roots, and a few leaves or weed stalks for the
foundation, and pellets of mud in their bills for the inner walls
(which they cleverly managed to smooth into a bowl shape without a
mason's trowel), and fine grasses for the lining of the nest, they
saddled it on to the limb of an old apple tree. Robins prefer
low-branching orchard or shade trees near our homes to the tall,
straight shafts of the forest. Some have the courage to build among
the vines or under the shelter of our piazzas. I know a pair of robins
that reared a brood in a little clipped bay tree in a tub next to a
front door, where people passed in and out continually. Doubtless very
many birds would be glad of the shelter of our comfortable homes for
theirs if they could only trust us. Is it not a shame that they
cannot? Robins, especially, need a roof over their heads. When they
foolishly saddle their nest on to an exposed limb of a tree, the first
heavy rain is likely to soften the mud walls, and wash apart the
heavy, bulky structure, when

  "Down tumble babies and cradle and all."

{7}

It is wiser of them to fit the nest into the supporting crotch of a
tree, as many do, and wisest to choose the top of a piazza pillar,
where boys and girls and cats cannot climb to molest them, nor storms
dissolve their mud-walled nursery. There are far too many tragedies of
the nests after every heavy spring rain.

Suppose your appetite were so large that you were compelled to eat
more than your weight of food every day, and suppose you had three or
four brothers and sisters, just your own size, and just as ravenously
hungry. These are the conditions in every normal robin family, so you
can easily imagine how hard the father and mother birds must work to
keep their fledglings' crops filled. No wonder robins like to live
near our homes where the enriched land contains many fat grubs, and
the smooth lawns, that they run across so lightly, make hunting for
earth worms comparatively easy. It is estimated that about fourteen
feet of worms (if placed end to end) are drawn out of the ground daily
by a pair of robins with a nestful of babies to feed. When one of the
parents alights near its home, every child must have seen the little
heads, with wide-stretched, yellow bills, pop up suddenly like
Jacks-in-the-box. How rudely the greedy babies push and jostle one
another to get the most dinner, and how noisily they clamour for it!
Earth worms are the staff of {8} life to them just as bread is to
children, but robins destroy vast quantities of other worms and
insects more injurious to the farmers' crops, so that the strawberries
and cherries they take in June should not be grudged them.

A man of science, who devoted many hours of study to learn the great
variety of sounds made by common barnyard chickens in expressing their
entire range of feeling, from the egg shell to the axe, could
entertain an audience delightfully for an evening by imitating them.
Similar study applied to robins would reveal as surprisingly rich
results, but probably less funny. No bird that we have has so varied a
repertoire as Robin Goodfellow, and I do not believe that any boy or
girl alive could recognise him by every one of his calls and songs.
His softly warbled salute to the sunrise differs from his lovely
even-song just as widely as the rapturous melody of his courting days
differs from the more subdued, tranquil love song to his brooding
mate. Indignation, suspicion, fright, interrogation, peace of mind,
hate, caution to take flight--these and a host of other thoughts, are
expressed through his flexible voice.


[Illustration]
"It is only when he is a baby that you could guess our robin is really
a thrush."


[Illustration]
Young bluebirds taking their first walk.

{9}

Toward the end of June, you may see robins flying in flocks after
sun-down. Old males and young birds of the first brood scatter
themselves over the country by day to pick up the best living they
can, but at night they collect in large numbers at some favourite
roosting place. Oftentimes the weary mother birds are now raising
second broods. We like to believe that the fathers return from the
roosts at sun-up to help supply those insatiable babies with worms
throughout the long day.

After family cares are over for the year, robins moult, and then they
hide, mope, and keep silent for awhile. But in September, in a suit of
new feathers, they are feeling vigorous and cheerful again; and,
gathering in friendly flocks, they roam about the woodland borders to
feed on the dogwood, choke cherries, juniper berries, and other small
fruits. You see they change their diet with the season. By dropping
the undigested berry seeds far and wide, they plant great numbers of
trees and shrubs as they travel. Birds help to make the earth
beautiful. With them every day is Arbour Day.

It is a very dreary time when the last robin leaves us, and an
exceptionally cold winter when a few stragglers from the south-bound
flocks do not remain in some sheltered, sunny, woodland hollow.


THE BLUEBIRD

Is there any sign of spring quite so welcome as the glint of the first
bluebird unless it is his {10} softly whistled song? Before the farmer
begins to plough the wet earth, often while the snow is still on the
ground, this hardy little minstrel is making himself very much at home
in our orchards and gardens while waiting for a mate to arrive from
the South.

Now is the time to have ready on top of the grape arbour, or under the
eaves of the barn, or nailed up in the apple tree, or set up on poles,
the little one-roomed houses that bluebirds are only too happy to
occupy. More enjoyable neighbours it would be hard to find. Sparrows
will fight for the boxes, it is true, but if there are plenty to let,
and the sparrows are persistently driven off, the bluebirds, which are
a little larger though far less bold, quickly take possession. Birds
that come earliest in the season and feed on insects, before they have
time to multiply, are of far greater value in the field, orchard, and
garden than birds that delay their return until warm weather has
brought forth countless swarms of insects far beyond the control of
either bird or man. Many birds would be of even greater service than
they are if they received just a little encouragement to make their
homes nearer ours. They could save many more millions of dollars'
worth of crops for the farmers than they do if they were properly
protected while rearing their ever-hungry families. As two or even
three broods {11} of bluebirds may be raised in a box each spring, and
as insects are their most approved baby food, you see how much it is
to our interest to set up nurseries for them near our homes.

But when people are not thoughtful enough to provide them before the
first of March, the bluebirds hunt for a cavity in a fence rail, or a
hole in some old tree, preferably in the orchard, shortly after their
arrival, and proceed to line it with grass. From three to six pale
blue eggs are laid. At first the babies are blind, helpless, and
almost naked. Then they grow a suit of dark feathers with speckled,
thrush-like vests similar to their cousin's, the baby robin's; and it
is not until they are able to fly that the lovely deep blue shade
gradually appears on their grayish upper parts. Then their throat,
breast, and sides turn rusty red. While creatures are helpless, a prey
for any enemy to pounce upon, Nature does not dress them
conspicuously, you may be sure. Adult birds, that are able to look out
for themselves, may be very gaily dressed, but their children must
wear sombre clothes until they grow strong and wise.

Young bluebirds are far less wild and noisy than robins, but their
very sharp little claws discourage handling. These pointed hooks on
the ends of their toes help them to climb out of the tree hollow, that
is their natural home, into the big world that their presence makes so
cheerful.

{12}

As you might expect of creatures so heavenly in colour, the
disposition of bluebirds is particularly angelic. Gentleness and
amiability are expressed in their soft, musical voice. _Tru-al-ly,
tru-al-ly_, they sweetly assert when we can scarcely believe that
spring is here; and _tur-wee, tur-wee_ they softly call in autumn when
they go roaming through the country side in flocks of azure, or whirl
through Southern woods to feed on the waxy berries of the mistletoe.


THE WOOD THRUSH

_Called also: Song Thrush; Wood Robin; Bell Bird_

Much more shy and reserved than the social, democratic robin is his
cousin the wood thrush, whom, perhaps, you more frequently hear than
see. Not that he is a recluse, like the hermit thrush, who hides his
nest and lifts up his heavenly voice in deep, cool, forest solitudes;
nor is he even so shy as Wilson's thrush, who prefers to live in low,
wet, densely overgrown Northern woods. The wood thrush, as his name
implies, certainly likes the woodland, but very often he chooses to
stay close to our country and suburban homes or within city parks with
a more than half-hearted determination to be friendly.


[Illustration]
BABY WOOD THRUSHES
Notice the family resemblance between them and the baby robins and
bluebirds.


[Illustration]
A wood thrush startled by the click of the camera.


{13}

He is about two inches shorter than the robin. Above, his feathers are
a rich cinnamon brown, brightest on his head and shoulders and shading
into olive brown on his tail. His white throat and breast and sides
are heavily marked with heart-shaped marks of very dark brown. He has
a white eye ring.

_"Here am I"_ come his three clear, bell-like notes of
self-introduction. The quality of his music is delicious, rich,
penetrative, pure and vibrating like notes struck upon a harp. If you
don't already know this most neighbourly of the thrushes--as he is
also the largest and brightest and most heavily spotted of them all--
you will presently become acquainted with one of the finest songsters
in America. Wait until evening when he sings at his best.
_Nolee-a-e-o-lee-nolee-aeolee-lee!_ peals his song from the trees.
Love alone inspires his finest strains; but even in July, when bird
music is quite inferior to that of May and June, he is still in good
voice. A song so exquisite proves that the thrush comes near to being
a bird angel, very high in the scale of development, and far, far
beyond such low creatures as ducks and chickens.

_Pit-pit-pit_ you may hear sharply, excitedly jerked out of some
bird's throat, and you wonder if a note so disagreeable can really
come from the wonderful songster on the branch above your head. By
sharply striking two small stones {14} together you can closely
imitate this alarm call. Whom can he be scolding so severely? It is
yourself, of course, for without knowing it you have come nearer to
his low nest in the beech tree than he thinks quite safe. While
sitting, the mother bird is, however, quite tame. A photographer I
know placed his camera within four feet of a nest, changed the plates,
and clicked the shutter three times for as many pictures without
disturbing the gentle sitter who merely winked her eye at each chick.

Wood thrushes seem to delight in weaving bits of paper or rags into
their deep cradles which otherwise resemble the robins.' A nest in the
shrubbery near a bird-lover's home in New Jersey had many bits of
newspaper attached to its outer walls, but the most conspicuous strip
in front advertised in large letters "A House to be Let or Sold." The
original builders happily took the next lease, and another lot of
nervous, fidgety baby tenants came out of four light greenish-blue
eggs; but, as usual, they moved away to the woods, after ten days, to
join the choir invisible.


WILSON'S THRUSH

The veery, as the Wilson's thrush is called in New England, is far
more common there than {15} the wood thrush, whose range is more
southerly. During its spring and fall migrations only is it at all
common about the elms and maples that men have planted. Take a good
look at its tawny coat and lightly spotted cream buff breast before it
goes away to hide. Like Kipling's "cat that walked by himself," the
veery prefers the "wild, wet woods," and there its ringing, weird,
whistling monotone, that is so melodious without being a melody, seems
to come from you can't guess where. The singer keeps hidden in the
dense, dark undergrowth. It is as if two voices, an alto and a
soprano, were singing at the same time: _Whee-you, whee-you_:--the
familiar notes might come from a scythe being sharpened on a
whetstone, were the sound less musical than it is. The bird is too
wise to sing very near its well-hidden nest, which is placed either
directly on the damp ground or not far above it, and usually near
water. Throughout its life the veery seems to show a distrust of us
that, try as we may, few have ever overcome.

If you have thought that the thrush-like, cinnamon brown,
speckle-breasted bird, with a long twitching tail like a catbird's,
and a song as fine as a catbird's best, would be mentioned among the
robin's relations, you must guess again, for he is the brown thrasher,
not a thrush at all. You will find him in the Group of Lively Singers.

{16}

{17}

CHAPTER II

SOME NEIGHBOURLY ACROBATS


  Chickadee
  Tufted Titmouse
  White-breasted Nuthatch
  Red-breasted Nuthatch
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  Golden-crowned Kinglet

{18}

{19}

THE CHICKADEE

_Called also: Black-capped Titmouse_

Bitterly cold and dreary though the day may be, that "little scrap of
valour," the chickadee, keeps his spirits high until ours cannot but
be cheered by the oft-repeated, clear, tinkling silvery notes that
spell his name. _Chicka-dee-dee: chicka-dee-dee:_ he introduces
himself. How easy it would be for every child to know the birds if all
would but sing out their names so clearly! Oh, don't you wish they
would?

  "Piped a tiny voice near by
  Gay and polite--a cheerful cry--
  _Chick-chickadeedee!_ Saucy note
  Out of sound heart and merry throat.
  As if it said, 'Good day, good Sir!
  Fine afternoon, old passenger!
  Happy to meet you in these places
  Where January brings few faces.'"

No bird, except the wren, is more cheerful than the chickadee, and his
cheerfulness, fortunately, is just as "catching" as measels. None will
respond more promptly to your whistle in imitation of his three very
high, clear call notes, and come nearer and nearer to make quite sure
you {20} are only a harmless mimic. He is very inquisitive. Although
not a bird may be in sight when you first whistle his call, nine
chances out of ten there will be a faint echo from some far distant
throat before very long; and by repeating the notes at short intervals
you will have, probably, not one but several echoes from as many
different chickadees whose curiosity to see you soon gets the better
of their appetites and brings them flying, by easy stages, to the tree
above your head. Where there is one chickadee there are apt to be more
in the neighbourhood; for these sociable, active, cheerful little
black-capped fellows in gray like to hunt for their living in loose
scattered flocks throughout the fall and winter. When they come near
enough, notice the pale rusty wash on the sides of their under parts
which are more truly dirty white than gray. Chickadees are wonderfully
tame: except the chipping sparrow, perhaps the tamest birds that we
have. Patient people, who know how to whistle up these friendly
sprites, can sometimes draw them close enough to touch, and an elect
few, who have the special gift of winning a wild bird's confidence,
can induce the chickadee to alight upon their hands.

Blessed with a thick coat of fat under his soft, fluffy gray feathers,
a hardy constitution and a sunny disposition, what terrors has the
winter for him? When the thermometer goes down, {21} his spirits seem
to go up the higher. Dangling like a circus acrobat on the cone of
some tall pine tree; standing on an outstretched twig, then turning
over and hanging with his black-capped head downward from the high
trapeze; carefully inspecting the rough bark on the twigs for a fat
grub or a nest of insect eggs, he is constantly hunting for food and
singing grace between bites. His _day, day, day_, sung softly over and
over again, seems to be his equivalent for "Give us this day our daily
bread."

How delightfully he and his busy friends, who are always within call,
punctuate the snow-muffled, mid-winter silence with their ringing
calls of good cheer! The orchards where chickadees, titmice,
nuthatches, and kinglets have dined all winter, will contain few
worm-eaten apples next season. Here is a puzzle for your arithmetic
class: If one chickadee eats four hundred and forty-four eggs of the
apple tree moth on Monday, three hundred and thirty-three eggs of the
canker worm on Tuesday, and seven hundred and seventy-seven
miscellaneous grubs, larvae, and insect eggs on Wednesday and
Thursday, how long will it take a flock of twenty-two chickadees to
rid an orchard of every-unspeakable pest? One very wise and thrifty
fruit grower I know attracts to his trees all the winter birds from
far and near, by keeping on several shelves nailed up in his orchard,
{22} bits of suet, cheap raisins, raw peanuts chopped fine, cracked
hickory nuts and rinds of pork. The free lunch counters are freely
patronised. There is scarcely an hour in the day, no matter how cold,
when some hungry feathered neighbour may not be seen helping himself
to the heating, fattening food he needs to keep his blood warm.

At the approach of warm weather, chickadees retreat from public gaze
to become temporary recluses in damp, deep woods or woodland swamps
where insects are most plentiful. For a few months they give up their
friendly flocking ways and live in pairs. Long journeys they do not
undertake from the North when it is time to nest; but Southern birds
move northward in the spring. Happily the chickadee may find a
woodpecker's vacant hole in some hollow tree; worse luck if a new
excavation must be made in a decayed birch--the favourite nursery.
Wool from the sheep pasture, felt from fern fronds, bits of bark,
moss, hair, and the fur of "little beasts of field and wood"--anything
soft that may be picked up goes to line the hollow cradle in the
tree-trunk. How the crowded chickadee babies must swelter in their bed
of fur and feathers tucked inside a close, stuffy hole! Is it not
strange that such hardy parents should coddle their children so?


[Illustration]
The chickadee at her front door.


[Illustration]
Young nuthatches learning their first lesson in balancing on a
horizontal bar.

{23}

TUFTED TITMOUSE

_Called also: Peto Bird; Crested Tomtit; Crested Titmouse_


Don't expect to meet the tufted titmouse if you live very far north of
Washington. He is common only in the South and West.

This pert and lively cousin of the lovable little chickadee is not
quite so friendly and far more noisy. _Peto-peto-peto_ comes his loud,
clear whistle from the woods and clearings where he and his large
family are roving restlessly about all through the autumn and winter.
A famous musician became insane because he heard one note ringing
constantly in his overwrought brain. If you ever hear a troupe of
titmice whistling _Peto_ over and over again for hours at a time, you
will pity poor Schumann and fear a similar fate for the birds. But
they seem to delight in the two tiresome notes, uttered sometimes in
one key, sometimes in another. Another call--_day-day-day_--reminds
you of the chickadee's, only the tufted titmouse's voice is louder and
a little hoarse, as it well might be from such constant use.

Few birds that we see about our homes wear a top knot on their heads.
The big cardinal has a handsome red one, the larger blue jay's is
bluish gray, the cedar waxwing's is a Quaker {24} drab; but the little
titmouse, who is the size of an English sparrow, may be named at once
by the gray pointed crest that makes him look so pert and jaunty. When
he hangs head downward from the trapeze on the oak tree, this little
gray acrobat's peaked cap seems to be falling off; whereas the black
skull cap on the smaller chickadee fits close to his head no matter
how much he turns over the bar and dangles.

Neither one of these cousins is a carpenter like the woodpecker. The
titmouse has a short, stout bill without a chisel on it, which is why
it cannot chip out a hole for a nest in a tree trunk or old stump
unless the wood is much decayed. You see why these birds are so
pleased to find a deserted woodpecker's hole. Not alone are they saved
the trouble of making one, but a deep tunnel in a tree-trunk means
security for their babies against hawks, crows, jays, and other foes,
as well as against wind and rain.

When you find a flock of either chickadees or titmice, you may be sure
it is made up chiefly, if not entirely, of the birds of one or two
broods of the same parents. Their families are usually large and the
members devoted to one another. Titmice nest in April so that you
cannot tell the brothers and sisters from the father and mother when
the troupe of acrobats leave the woods in {25} early autumn and
whistle lustily about your home.


WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH
_Called also: Tree Mouse; Devil Downhead._

When it comes to acrobatic performances in the trees, neither the
chickadee nor the titmouse can rival their relatives, the little
bluish gray nuthatches. Indeed, any circus might be glad to secure
their expert services. Hanging fearlessly from the topmost branches of
the tallest pine, running along the under side of horizontal limbs as
comfortably as along the top of them, or descending the trunk head
foremost, these wonderful little gymnasts keep their nerves as cool as
the thermometer in January. From the way they travel over any part of
the tree they wish, from top and tip to the bottom of it, no wonder
they are sometimes called Tree Mice. Only the fly that walks across
the ceiling, however, can compete with them in clinging to the under
side of boughs.

Why don't they fall off? If you ever have a chance, examine their
claws. These, you will see, are very much curved and have sharp little
hooks that catch in any crack or rough place in the bark and easily
support the bird's weight. As a general rule the chickadee keeps to
the {26} end of the twigs and the smaller branches; the tufted
titmouse rids the larger boughs of insects, eggs, and worms hidden in
the scaly bark; but the nuthatches can climb to more inaccessible
places. With the help of the hooks on their toes it does not matter to
them whether they run upward, downward, or sidewise; and they can
stretch their bodies away from their feet at some very queer angles.
Their long bills penetrate into deep holes in the thick bark of the
tree trunks and older limbs and bring forth from their hiding places
insects that would escape almost every other bird except the brown
creeper and the woodpecker. Of course, when you see any feathered
acrobat performing in the trees, you know he is working hard to pick
up a dinner, not exercising merely for fun. The most familiar
nuthatch, in the eastern United States, is the one with the white
breast; but in the Northern States and Canada there is another common
winter neighbour, a smaller compactly feathered, bluish gray gymnast
with a pale rusty breast, a conspicuous black line running apparently
through his eye from the base of his bill to the nape of his neck, and
heavy white eyebrows. This is the hardy little red-breasted nuthatch.
His voice is pitched rather high and his drawling notes seem to come
from a lazy bird instead of one of the most vigorous and spry little
creatures in the wood. The {27} nasal _ank-ank_ of his white-breasted
cousin is uttered, too, without expression, as if the bird were
compelled to make a sound once in a while against his will. Both of
these cousins have similar habits. Both are a trifle smaller than the
English sparrow. In summer they merely hide away in the woods to nest,
for they are not migrants. It is only when nesting duties are over in
the autumn that they become neighbourly.

Who gave them their queer name? A hatchet would be a rather clumsy
tool for us to use in opening a nut, but these birds have a
convenient, ever-ready one in their long, stout, sharply pointed bills
with which they hack apart the small thin-shelled nuts like beech nuts
and hazel nuts, chinquapins and chestnuts, kernels of corn and
sunflower seeds. These they wedge into cracks in the bark just big
enough to hold them. During the summer and early autumn when insects
are plentiful, the nuthatches eat little else; and then they thriftily
store away the other items on their bill of fare, squirrel fashion, so
that when frost kills the insects, they may vary their diet of insect
eggs and grubs with nuts and the larger grain. Flying to the spot
where a nut has been securely wedged, perhaps weeks before, the bird
scores and hacks and pecks it open with his sharp little hatchet,
whose hard blows may be heard far away.

{28}

Although this tool is a great help to the nuthatches in making their
nests, they appear to be quite as ready to accept a deserted
woodpecker's hole as the chickadee with a smaller bill. A natural
cavity will answer, or, if they must, they will make one in some
forest tree. The red-breasted nuthatches have a curious habit of
smearing the entrance to the hole with fir-balsam or pitch. Why do you
suppose they do it? Perhaps they think this will discourage egg
suckers, like snakes, mice, or squirrels; but, in effect, the sticky
gum often pulls the feathers from their own breasts as they go in and
out attending to the wants of their family.


RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET

Count that a red-letter day on your calendar when first you see either
this tiny, dainty sprite, or his next of kin, the golden-crowned
kinglet, fluttering, twinkling about the evergreens. In republican
America we don't often have the chance to meet two crowned heads.
Energetic as wrens, restless as warblers, and as perpetually looking
for insect food, the kinglets flit with a sudden, jerking motion from
twig to twig among the trees and bushes, now on the lawn, now in the
orchard and presently in the hedgerow down the lane. They have a
pretty {29} trick of lifting and flitting their wings every little
while. The bluebird and pine grosbeak have it too, but their much
larger, trembling wings seem far less nervous.

Happily the kinglets are not at all shy; no bird is that is hatched
out so far north that it never sees a human being until it travels
southward to spend the winter. Alas! It is the birds that know us too
well that are often the most afraid. When the leaves are turning
crimson and russet and gold in the autumn, keep a sharp look out for
the plump little grayish, olive green birds that are even smaller than
wrens, and not very much larger than hummingbirds. Although members of
quite a different family--the kinglets are exclusive--they condescend
to join the nuthatches and chickadees in the orchard to help clean the
farmer's fruit trees or pick up a morsel at the free lunch counter in
zero weather. Love or war is necessary to make the king show us his
crown. But vanity or anger is sufficient excuse for lifting the dark
feathers that nearly conceal the beauty spot on the top of his head
when the midget's mind is at ease. If you approach very near--and he
will allow you to almost touch him--you may see the little patch of
brilliant red feathers, it is true, but you will probably get an
unexpected, chattering scolding from the little king as he flies away.

{30}

In the spring his love song is as surprisingly strong in proportion to
his size as the wren's. It seems impossible for such a volume of
mellow flute-like melody to pour from a throat so tiny. Before we have
a chance to hear it again the singer is off with his tiny queen to
nest in some spruce tree beyond the Canadian border.

[Illustration]
The noisy contents of a soap box: a family of house wrens.

[Illustration]
The marsh wren's round cradle swung among the rushes.

{31}



CHAPTER III

A GROUP OF LIVELY SINGERS


  House Wren
  Carolina Wren
  Marsh Wren
  Brown Thrasher
  Catbird
  Mockingbird

{32}

{33}

THE HOUSE WREN

If you want some jolly little neighbours for the summer, invite the
wrens to live near you year after year by putting up small, one-family
box-houses under the eaves of the barn, the cow-shed, or the
chicken-house, on the grape arbour or in the orchard. Beware of a pair
of nesting wrens in a box nailed against a piazza post: they beat any
alarm clock for arousing the family at sunrise.

Save the starch boxes, cover them with strips of bark, or give them
two coats of paint to match the building they are to be nailed on. Cut
a hole that you have marked on one end of each box by drawing a lead
pencil around a silver quarter of a dollar. A larger hole would mean
that English sparrows, who push themselves everywhere where not
invited, would probably take possession of each house as fast as you
nailed it up. Of course the little one-roomed cottages should have a
number of small holes bored on the sides near the top to give the
wrens plenty of fresh air. Have the boxes in place not later than the
first of April--then watch. Would it not be a pity for any would-be
tenants to pass by your home because they could {34} not find a house
to let? Wrens really prefer boxes to the holes in stumps and trees
they used to occupy before there were any white people with thoughtful
children on this continent. But the little tots have been known to
build in tin cans, coat pockets, old shoes, mittens, hats, glass jars,
and even inside a human skull that a medical student hung out in the
sun to bleach!

When you are sound asleep some April morning, a tiny brown bird, just
returned from a long visit south of the Carolinas, will probably
alight on the perch in front of one of your boxes, peep in the
doorhole, enter--although his pert little cocked-up-tail has to be
lowered to let him through--look about with approval, go out, spring
to the roof and pour out of his wee throat a gushing torrent of music.
The song seems to bubble up faster than he can sing. "Foive notes to
wanst" was an Irishman's description of it. After the wren's happy
discovery of a place to live, his song will go off in a series of
musical explosions all day long, now from the roof, now from the
clothesposts, the fence, the barn, or the wood-pile. There never was a
more tireless, spirited, brilliant singer. From the intensity of his
feelings, he sometimes droops that expressive little tail of his,
which is usually so erect and saucy.


[Illustration]
Like "Brer Rabbit" the catbird is usually "bred and bawn in a brier patch."

[Illustration]
Another tragedy of the nests: what villain ate the catbird's eggs?

{35}

With characteristic energy, he frequently begins to carry twigs into
the house before he finds a mate. The day little Jenny Wren appears on
the scene, how he does sing! Dashing off for more twigs, but stopping
to sing to her every other minute, he helps furnish the cottage
quickly, but, of course, he overdoes--he carries in more twigs and hay
and feathers than the little house can hold, then pulls half of them
out again. Jenny gathers too, for she is a bustling housewife and
arranges matters with neatness and despatch. Neither vermin nor dirt
will she tolerate within her well-kept home. Everything she does to
suit herself pleases her ardent little lover. He applauds her with
song; he flies about after her with a nervous desire to protect; he
seems beside himself with happiness. Let any one pass too near his
best beloved, and he begins to chatter excitedly:
_"Chit-chit-chit-chit"_ as much as to say, "Oh, do go away; go
quickly! Can't you see how nervous and fidgety you make me?"

If you fancy that Jenny Wren, who is patiently sitting on the little
pinkish chocolate spotted eggs in the centre of her feather bed, is a
demure, angelic creature, you have never seen her attack the sparrow,
nearly twice her size, that dares put his impudent head inside her
door. Oh, how she flies at him! How she chatters and scolds! What a
plucky little shrew she is, after all! Her piercing, chattering, {36}
scolding notes are fairly hissed into his ears until he is thankful
enough to escape.


  THE LITTLE BROWN WREN
      From "Boy's Book of Rhyme," by Clinton Scollard

  There's a little brown wren that has built in our tree,
  And she's scarcely as big as a big bumble-bee;
  She has hollowed a house in the heart of a limb,
  And made the walls tidy and made the floors trim
  With the down of the crow's foot, with tow, and with straw
  The cosiest dwelling that ever you saw.

  This little brown wren has the brightest of eyes
  And a foot of a very diminutive size.
  Her tail is as trig as the sail of a ship.
  She's demure, though she walks with a hop and a skip;
  And her voice--but a flute were more fit than a pen
  To tell of the voice of the little brown wren.

  One morning Sir Sparrow came sauntering by
  And cast on the wren's house an envious eye;
  With a strut of bravado and toss of his head,
  "I'll put in my claim here," the bold fellow said;
  So straightway he mounted on impudent wing,
  And entered the door without pausing to ring.

  An instant--and swiftly that feathery knight
  All towsled and tumbled, in terror took flight,
  While there by the door on her favourite perch,
  As neat as a lady just starting for church.
  With this song on her lips, "He will not call again
  Unless he is asked," sat the little brown wren.

If the bluebirds had her courage and hot, quick temper, they would
never let the sparrows drive them away from their boxes. Unfortunately
a hole large enough to admit a {37} bluebird will easily admit those
grasping monopolists; but Jenny Wren is safe, if she did but know it,
in her house with its tiny front door. It is amusing to see a sparrow
try to work his shoulders through the small hole of an empty wren
house, pushing and kicking madly, but all in vain.

What rent do the wrens pay for their little houses? No man is clever
enough to estimate the vast numbers of insects on your place that they
destroy. They eat nothing else, which is the chief reason why they are
so lively and excitable. Unable to soar after flying insects because
of their short, round wings, they keep, as a rule, rather close to the
ground which their finely barred brown feathers so closely match.
Whether hunting for grubs in the wood-pile, scrambling over the brush
heap after spiders, searching among the trees to provide a dinner for
their large families, or creeping, like little feathered mice, in
queer nooks and crannies among the outbuildings on the farm, they are
always busy in your interest which is also theirs. It certainly pays,
in every sense, to encourage wrens.


THE CAROLINA WREN

The house wrens have a tiny cousin, a mite of a bird, called the
winter wren, that is so shy {38} and retiring you will probably never
become well acquainted with it. It delights in mossy, rocky woods near
running water. But a larger chestnut brown cousin, the Carolina wren,
with a prominent white eyebrow, a bird which is quite common in the
Middle and Southern States, sometimes nests in outbuildings and in all
sorts of places about the farm. However, he too really prefers the
forest undergrowths near water, fallen logs, half decayed stumps, and
mossy rocks where insects lurk but cannot hide from his sharp, peering
eyes. Now here, now there, appearing and disappearing, never at rest,
even his expressive tail being in constant motion, he seems more
nervously active than Jenny Wren's fidgety husband.

Some people call him the mocking wren, but I think he never
deliberately tries to imitate other birds. Why should he? It is true
that his loud-ringing, three-syllabled whistle, _"Tea-ket-tle,
Tea-ket-tle, Tea-ket-tle"_ suggests the crested titmouse's _"peto"_ of
two syllables, but in quality only; and some have thought that his
whistled notes are difficult to distinguish from the one-syllabled,
but oft-repeated, long-drawn _quoit_ of the cardinal. These three
birds are frequently to be heard in the same neighbourhood and you may
easily compare their voices; but if you listen carefully, I think you
will not accuse the wren of trying to mock either of the {39} others.
In addition to his ringing, whistled notes, he can make other sounds
peculiarly his own: trills and quavers, scolding _cacks_, rattling
_kringggs_, something like the tree toad's, besides the joyful,
lyrical melody that has given him his reputation as a musician. Even
these do not complete his repertoire. To deliver his famous song, he
chooses a conspicuous position in the top of some bush or low tree;
then, with head uplifted and tail drooping--a favourite posture of all
these lively singers--he makes us very glad indeed that we heard him.
Happily he sings almost as many months in the year as the most
cheerful bird we have, the song sparrow.


THE MARSH WREN

Hidden among the tall grasses and reeds along the creeks and rivers,
lives the long-billed marsh wren, a nervous, active little creature
that you know at a glance. With tail cocked up and even tilted forward
toward her head in the extreme of wren fashion, or suddenly jerked
downward to help keep her balance, she sways with the grass as it
blows in the wind--a dainty little sprite. With no desire to make your
acquaintance, she flies with a short, jerky motion (because of her
short wings) a few rods away, {40} then drops into the grasses which
engulf her as surely as if she had dropped into the sea. You may
search in vain to find her now. Like the rails, she has her paths and
runways among the tall sedges and cat-tails, where not even a boy in
rubber boots may safely follow.

But she does not live alone. Withdraw, sit down quietly for awhile and
wait for the excitement of your visit to subside; for every member of
the wren colony, peering sharply at you through the grasses, was
watching you long before you saw the first wren. Presently you hear a
rippling, bubbling song from one of her neighbours; then another and
another and still another from among the cat-tails which, you now
suspect, conceal many musicians. The song goes off like a small
explosion of melody whose force often carries the tiny singer up into
the air. One explosion follows another, and between them there is much
wren talk--a scolding chatter that is as great a relief to the birds'
nervous energy as the exhaust from its safety valve is to a steam
engine. The rising of a red-winged blackbird from his home in the
sedges, the rattle of the kingfisher on his way up the creek, or the
leisurely flapping of a bittern over the marshes is enough to start
the chattering chorus.

Why are the birds so excited? This is their nesting season, May, and
really they are too {41} busy to be bothered by visitors. Most birds
are content to make one nest a year but not these, who, in their
excess of wren energy, keep on building nest after nest in the
vicinity of the one preferred for their chocolate brown eggs. Bending
down the tips of the rushes they somehow manage to weave them, with
the weeds and grasses they bring, into a bulky ball suspended between
the rushes and firmly attached to them. In one side of this green
grassy globe they leave an entrance through which to carry the finer
grasses for the lining and the down from last season's bursted
cat-tails. When a nest is finished, its entrance is often cleverly
concealed. If there are several feet of water below the high and dry
cradle, so much the better, think the wrens--fewer enemies can get at
them; but they do sometimes build in meadows that are merely damp. In
such meadows the short-billed marsh wren, a slightly smaller sprite,
prefers to live.


THE BROWN THRASHER

_Called also: Brown Thrush; Long Thrush;
Ground Thrush; Red Thrush; French Mocking-bird; Mavis._


People who are not very well acquainted with the birds about them
usually mistake the {42} long-tailed brown thrasher for a thrush
because he has a rusty back and a speckled white breast, which they
seem to think is an exclusive thrush characteristic, which it
certainly is not. The oven-bird and several members of the sparrow
tribe, among other birds, have speckled and streaked breasts, too. The
brown thrasher is considerably larger than a thrush and his habits are
quite different. Watch him nervously twitch his long tail, or work it
up and down like one end of a see-saw, or suddenly jerk it up erect
while he sits at attention in the thicket, then droop it when, after
mounting to a conspicuous perch, he lifts his head to sing, and you
will probably "guess right the very first time" that he is a near
relative of the wrens, not a thrush at all. As a little sailor-boy
once said to me, "He carries his tell-tail on the stern."

Like his cousin, the catbird, the brown thrasher likes to live in
bushy thickets overgrown with vines. Here, running over the ground
among the fallen leaves, he picks up with his long slender bill,
worms, May beetles and scores of other kinds of insects that, but for
him, would soon find their way to the garden, orchard, and fields. Yet
few farmers ever thank him. Because they don't often see him picking
up the insects in their cultivated land, they wrongly conclude that he
does them no benefit, only mischief, {43} because, occasionally, he
does eat a little fruit. It seems to be a dreadful sin for a fellow in
feathers to help himself to a strawberry or a cherry or a little grain
now and then, although, having eaten quantities of insects that, but
for him, would have destroyed them, who has earned a better right to a
share of the profits?

Do you think the brown thrasher looks any more like a cuckoo than he
does like a thrush? Simply because he is nearly as long as the dull
brownish cuckoo and has a brown back, though of quite a different
tawny shade, some boys and girls say it is difficult to tell the two
birds apart. The cuckoo glides through the air as easily as if he were
floating down stream, whereas the thrasher's flight, like the wren's,
is tilting, uneven, flapping, and often jerky. If you make good use of
your sharp eyes, you will be able to tell many birds by their flight
alone, long before you can see the colour of their feathers. The
passive cuckoo has no speckles on his light breast, and the
yellow-billed cuckoo, at least, has white thumb-nail spots on his
well-behaved tail, which he never thrashes, twitches, and balances as
the active, suspicious thrasher does his. Moreover the cuckoo's notes
sound like a tree-toad's rattle, while the thrasher's song--a merry
peal of music--entrances every listener. He seems rather proud of it,
to tell the truth, for although at {44} other times he may keep
himself concealed among the shrubbery, when about to sing, he chooses
a conspicuous perch as if to attract attention to his truly brilliant
performance.

The thrasher has been called a ground "thrush" because it so often
chooses to place its nest at the roots of tall weeds in an open field;
but a low bush frequently suits it quite as well. Its bulky nest is
not a very choice piece of architecture. Twigs, leaves, vine tendrils,
and bits of bark form its walls, and the speckled, greenish blue eggs
within are usually laid upon a lining of fine black rootlets.


THE CATBIRD

Slim, lithe, elegant, dainty, the catbird, as he runs lightly over the
lawn or hunts among the shrubbery, appears to be a fine gentleman
among his kind--a sort of Beau Brummel in smooth, gray feathers who
has preened and prinked until his toilet is quite faultless. You would
not be surprised to hear that he slept on rose petals and manicured
his claws. He is among the first to discover the bathing dish or
drinking pan that you have set up in your garden, for he is not too
squeamish, in spite of his fine appearance, to drink from his bath.
With well-poised, black-capped head erect, and {45} tail up too, wren
fashion, he stands at attention on the rim of the dish, alert,
listening, tense--the neatest, trimmest figure in birddom.

After he has flown off to the nearest thicket, what a change suddenly
comes over him! Can it be the same bird? With puffed out, ruffled
feathers, hanging head, and drooping tail, he now suggests a fat,
tousled schoolboy, just tumbled out of bed. Was ever a bird more
contradictory? One minute, from the depths of the bushy undergrowth
where he loves to hide, he delights you with the sweetest of songs,
not loud like the brown thrasher's, but similar; only it is more
exquisitely finished, and rippling. _"Prut! Prut! coquillicot!"_ he
begins. _"Really, really, coquillicot! Hey, coquillicot! Hey,
victory!"_ his inimitable song goes on like a rollicking recitative.
The next minute you would gladly stop your ears when he utters the
disagreeable cat-call that has given him his name. _"Zeay,
Zeay"_--whines the petulant cry. Now you see him on the ground calmly
looking for grasshoppers, or daintily helping himself to a morsel from
the dog's plate at the kitchen door. Suddenly, with a jerk and a jump,
he has sprung into the air to seize a passing moth. There is always
the pleasure of variety and the unexpected about the catbird.

He is very intelligent and friendly, like his cousin, the mockingbird.
One catbird that {46} comes to visit me at least ten times every day,
can scarcely wait for the milk to be poured into the dog's bowl before
he has flown to the brim for the first drink. Once, in his eagerness,
he alighted on the pitcher in my hand. He has a pretty trick of flying
to the sun dial as if he wished to learn the time of day. From this
point of vantage, he will sail off suddenly, like a flycatcher, to
seize an insect on the wing. He has a keen appetite for so many pests
of the garden and orchard--moths, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars,
spiders, flies and other insects--that his friendship, you see, is
well worth cultivating. Five catbirds, whose diet was carefully
watched by scientific men in Washington, ate thirty grasshoppers each
for one meal.

Yet how many people ignorantly abuse the catbird! Because he has the
good taste to like strawberries and cherries as well as we do, is he
to be condemned on that account? If he kills insects for us every
waking hour from April to October, don't you think he is entitled to a
little fruit in June? The ox that treadeth out the corn is not to be
muzzled, so that he cannot have a taste of it, you remember. A good
way to protect our strawberry patches and cherry trees from catbirds,
mockingbirds, and robins, is to provide fruit that they like much
better--the red mulberry. Nothing attracts so many birds to a place.
A mulberry tree in the chicken {47} yard provides a very popular
restaurant, not only for the song birds among the branches, but for
the scratchers on the ground floor.

Like the yellow-breasted chat, the catbird likes to hide its nest in a
tangle of cat brier along the roadside undergrowth and in bushy,
woodland thickets. Last winter, when that vicious vine had lost every
leaf, I counted in it eighteen catbird nests within a quarter of a
mile along a country lane. Long before the first snowstorm, the
inmates of those nests were enjoying summer weather again from the
Gulf States to Panama. If one nest should be disturbed in May or June,
when the birds are raising their families, all the catbird neighbours
join in the outcry of mews and cat-calls. Should a disaster happen to
the parents, the orphans will receive food and care from some devoted
foster-mother until they are able to fly. You see catbirds are
something far better than intelligent, musical dandies.


THE MOCKINGBIRD

What child is there who does not know the mockingbird, caged or free?
In the North you very rarely see one now-a-days behind prison bars,
for, happily, several enlightened states have made laws to punish
people who keep our wild birds in cages or offer them for sale, dead
or {48} alive. When all the states make and enforce similar laws,
there will be an end to the barbaric slaughter of many birds for no
more worthy end than the trimming of hats for thoughtless girls and
women. Birds of bright plumage have suffered most, of course, but the
mocking-birds' nests have been robbed for so many generations to
furnish caged fledglings for both American and European bird dealers,
that shot guns could have done no work more deadly. Where the people
are too ignorant to understand what mockingbirds are doing for them
every day in the year by eating insects in their gardens, fields,
parks, and public squares, they are shot in great numbers for the sole
offence of helping themselves to a small fraction of the very fruit
they have helped to preserve. Even the birds ought to have a "square
deal" in free America: don't you think so?

Although not afflicted with "the fatal gift of beauty," at least not
the gaudy kind, like the cardinal's and scarlet tanager's, the
mocking-bird's wonderful voice has brought upon him an equal quantity
of troubles. Keenly intelligent though he is, he does not know enough
to mope and refuse to sing in a cage, but whiles away the tedious
hours of his captivity by all manner of amusing and delightful sounds.
Indeed it has been found that the household pet is apt to be a better
mocker than the wild bird--a {49} most unfortunate discovery. Not only
does he imitate the notes of birds about him, but he invents all
manner of quips and vocal jugglery.

His love song is entrancing. "Oft in the stilly night," when the
moonlight sheds a silvery radiance about every sleeping creature, the
mockingbird sings to his mate such delicious music as only the
European nightingale can rival. Perhaps the stillness of the hour, the
beauty and fragrance of the place where the singer is hidden among the
orange blossoms or magnolia, increase the magic of his almost
pathetically sweet voice; but surely there is no lovelier sound in
nature on this side of the sea. Our poet Lanier declared that this
"heavenly bird" will be hailed as "Brother" by Beethoven and Keats
when he enters the choir invisible in the spirit world.

Ever alert, on the _qui vive_, the mockingbird can no more suppress
the music within him, night or day, than he can keep his nervous,
high-strung body at rest. From his restlessness alone you might know
he is the cousin of the catbird and brown thrasher and is closely
related to the wrens. Flitting from perch to perch (fluttering is one
of his chief amusements even in a cage), taking short flights from
tree to tree, and so displaying the white signals on his wings and
tail, hopping lightly, swiftly, gracefully over the ground, bounding
into the air, {50} or the next minute shooting his ashy gray body far
across the garden and leaving a wake of music behind as he flies, he
seems to be perpetually in motion. If you live in the South you can
encourage no more delightful neighbour than this star performer in the
group of lively singers.


[Illustration]

  "MAMMA!"
  Young mockingbird calling for breakfast


[Illustration]

  All is well with this yellow warbler's nest


[Illustration]

  Dinner for one: a black-and-white warbler feeding her baby


{51}

{52}

CHAPTER IV

THE WARBLERS

  Yellow Warbler
  Black and White Creeping Warbler
  Oven-bird
  Maryland Yellow-throat
  Yellow-breasted Chat
  Redstart

{53}

YELLOW WARBLER

_Called also: Summer Yellowbird; Wild Canary._

Rather than live where the skies are gray and the air is cold, this
adventurous little warbler will travel two thousand miles or more to
follow the sun. A trip from Panama to Canada and back again within
five months does not appall him. By living in perpetual sunshine his
feathers seemed to have absorbed some of it, so that he looks like a
stray sunbeam playing among the shrubbery on the lawn, the trees in
the orchard, the bushes in the roadside thicket, the willows and
alders beside the stream. He is shorter than the English sparrow by an
inch. Although you may not get close enough to see that his yellow
breast is finely streaked with reddish brown, you may know by these
marks that he is not what you at first suspected he was--somebody's
pet canary escaped from a cage. It is not he but the goldfinch--the
yellow bird with the black wings--who sings like a canary. Happily he
is so neighbourly that every child may easily become acquainted with
this most common member of the large warbler family.

{54}

I don't believe there is anybody living who could name at sight every
one of the seventy warblers that visit the United States. Some are
very gaily coloured and exquisitely marked, as birds coming to us from
the tropics have a right to be. Some are quietly clad; some, like the
redstart, are dressed quite differently from their mates and young;
others, like the yellow warbler, are so nearly alike that you could
see no difference between the male and female from the distance of a
few feet. Some live in the tops of evergreens and other tall trees;
others, like the Maryland yellow-throat, which seems to prefer low
trees and shrubbery, are rarely seen over twelve feet from the ground.
A few, like the oven-bird, haunt the undergrowth in the woods or live
most of the time on the earth. With three or four exceptions all the
warblers dwell in woodlands, and it is only during the spring and
autumn migrations that we have an opportunity to become acquainted
with them; when they come about the orchard and shrubbery for a few
days' rest and refreshment during their travels. Fortunately the
cheerful little yellow warbler stays around our homes all summer long.
Did you ever know a family so puzzling and contradictory as the
Warblers?

The great majority of these fascinating and exasperating relatives are
nervous, restless little sprites, constantly flitting from branch to
{55} branch and from twig to twig in a never-ending search for small
insects. As well try to catch a weasel asleep as a warbler at rest.
People who live in the tropics, even for a little while, soon become
lazy. Not so the warblers, whose energy, like a steam engine's, seems
to be increased by heat. Of course they do not undertake long journeys
merely for pleasure, as wealthy human tourists do. They must migrate
to find food; and as insects are most plentiful in warm weather, you
see why these atoms of animation keep in perpetual motion. They are
among the last migrants to come north in the spring and among the
first to leave in the autumn because insects don't hatch out in cool
weather, and the birds must always be sure of plenty to eat.
Travelling as they do, chiefly by night, they are killed in numbers
against the lighthouses and electric light towers which especially
fascinate these poor little victims.

Who first misled us by calling these birds warblers? The truth is
there is not one really fine singer, like a thrush, in the whole
family. The yellow-breasted chat has remarkable vocal ability, but he
is not a real musician like the mockingbird, who also likes to have
fun with his voice. The warblers, as a rule, have weak, squeaky, or
wiry songs and lisping _tseep_ call notes, neither of which ought to
be called a warble. The yellow warbler sings as acceptably {56} as
most of his kin. Seven times he rapidly repeats
_"Sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweet--sweeter--sweeter"_ to his
sweetheart, but this happy little lovemaker's incessant song is apt to
become almost tiresome to everybody except his mate.

What a clever little creature she is! More than any other bird she
suffers from the persecutions of that dusky rascal, the cowbird. In
May, with much help from her mate, she builds an exquisite little
cradle of silvery plant fibre, usually shreds of milkweed stalk,
grass, leaves, and caterpillars' silk, neatly lined with hair,
feathers, and the downy felt of fern fronds. The cradle is sometimes
placed in the crotch of an elder bush, sometimes in a willow tree;
preferably near water where insects are abundant, but often in a
terminal branch of some orchard tree.

Scarcely is it finished before the skulking cowbird watches her chance
to lay an egg in it that she may not be bothered with the care of her
own baby. She knows that the yellow warbler is a gentle, amiable,
devoted mother, who will probably work herself to death, if necessary,
rather than let the big baby cowbird starve. But she sometimes makes a
great mistake in her individual. Not all yellow warblers will permit
the outrage. They prefer to weave a new bottom to their nest, over the
{57} cowbird's egg, although they may seal up their own speckled
treasures with it. Suppose the wicked cowbird comes back and lays
still another egg in the two-storied nest: what then? The little
Spartan yellow bird has been known to weave still another layer of
covering rather than hatch out an unwelcome, greedy interloper to
crowd and starve her own precious babies. Two and even three-storied
nests are to be found by bright-eyed boys and girls.


BLACK AND WHITE CREEPING WARBLER

You may possibly mistake this little warbler for a downy woodpecker
when first you see him creeping rapidly over the bark of trees, or
hanging from the under side of the branches. But when he flits
restlessly from twig to twig and from tree to tree without taking time
to examine spots thoroughly; especially when he calls a few thin wiry
notes--_zee-zee-zee-zee_--you may know he is no woodpecker, but a
warbler. Woodpeckers have thick set, high shouldered bodies which they
flatten against the tree trunks; the males wear red in their caps, and
all have larger, stouter bills than the warbler's. Moreover, no
woodpecker is so small as this streaked and speckled little creature
who is usually too intent {58} on feeding to utter a single _zee_. You
could not possibly confuse him with the diligent, placid brown creeper
or with the slate-blue nuthatch which also creeps along the branches
on the under or upper side. Some children I know call this black and
white warbler the little zebra bird. Would that all warblers were so
easily identified!


OVEN-BIRD

_Called also: The Teacher; Golden-crowned Thrush; The Accentor._

"Teacher--_Teacher_--TEACHER--TEACHER--_TEACHER!_" resounds a
penetrating, accented voice from the woods. Who calls? Not an
impatient scholar, as you might suppose, but a shy little thrush-like
warbler who has no use whatever for any human being, especially at the
nesting season in May and June, when he calls most loudly and
frequently. Beginning quite softly, he gradually increases the
intensity of each pair of notes in a crescendo that seems to come from
a point much nearer than it really does. Once heard it is never
forgotten, and you can always be sure of naming at least one bird by
his voice alone. However, his really exquisite love song--a clear,
ringing, vivacious melody, uttered while the singer is fluttering,
hovering, high among the tree-tops--is rarely heard, or if heard is
not recognised as the teacher's aerial serenade. He is a warbler, let
it be recorded, who really can sing, and beautifully, however rarely.


[Illustration]

The ovenbird who calls
"Teacher, _Teacher_, TEACHER, TEACHER, _TEACHER!_"

[Illustration]

Ovenbird in her cleverly hidden nest. Some of the leaves and sticks
have been pulled away from the front to secure her picture.


[Illustration]

Young ovenbirds on day of leaving nest.


{59}

Why is he called the oven-bird? A little girl I know was offered five
dollars by her father if she could find the bird's nest in the high
dry woods near her home. ''Teacher!'' was the commonest sound that
came from them. It rang in her ears all day, so of course she thought
it would be "too easy" to earn the money. Every afternoon, when school
was out, she tramped through the woods hour after hour, poking about
among the dead leaves, the snapping twigs, the velvety moss, the
fallen logs, the young spring growth of the little plants and
creepers, always keeping her eyes on the ground where she knew the
nest would be found. Day after day she continued the search. Every
time she saw a little hump of dead leaves or twigs and grasses her
heart bounded with hope, but on closer examination she found no nest
at all. Finally, one day when she was becoming discouraged, she spied
in the path a little brownish olive bird, about the size of an English
sparrow, but with a speckled, thrush-like breast and a dull orange
V-shaped patch, bordered by black lines, on the top of his head. He
was walking about on the ground, nodding his head as if {60} marking
time, not hopping, sparrow-fashion; and he took very dainty, pretty
steps that suggested a French dancing master. Occasionally he would
scratch the path for insects, like a tiny chicken. Although she had
never seen the teacher, and had expected that the loud voice came from
a much larger bird, she felt sure that this must be he, so she sat
down on a log and watched and waited. Presently she saw him tug at a
fine black hair-like root that lay across the path, and, snapping it
off, quickly fly away, away--oh, where did he go with it? She ran
stumbling after him through the undergrowth to a little clearing.
There another bird, just like him, whom she instantly guessed was his
mate, flew straight toward her, dropped to the ground, ran about
distractedly, dragging one wing as if it were broken, and uttering
sharp, piteous notes of alarm. The little girl didn't like to distress
the birds, of course, but how could she resist the temptation to find
their nest? So on she tramped around and around in an ever widening
circle, the excited birds still hovering near and sharply scolding
her. You may be sure she was quite as excited as they.

At last, a little dome-shaped mound of grasses, half hidden among the
dry brown oak leaves and wild geranium, gladdened her eyes. Running
around to the opposite side she knelt down on the grass, peeped under
the arched roof {61} and into the nest, which was shaped like an
old-fashioned Dutch oven. Was ever a sight so welcome? She almost
screamed with joy. Through the opening on one side, that was about
three inches high, she could see the lining of fine black rootlets,
just like the one she had watched the bird snap off and carry away.
Then she flew home, as if she too had wings, and, calling breathlessly
"Oh Father! Father! I've found it!" burst into the house. A week
before even one white speckled egg had been laid in the oven-bird's
nest, there was a golden half eagle in a happy little girl's palm. A
fortnight later a man with a camera took a picture of the patient
mother-bird, whose pretty striped head you see peeping out from under
the dome.


MARYLAND YELLOW-THROAT

_Called also: Black-masked Ground Warbler_

This gay little warbler looks as if he were dressed for a masquerade
ball with a gray-edged black mask over his face and the sides of his
throat, a brownish green coat and a bright yellow vest. He is smaller
than a sparrow. How sharply the inquisitive fellow peers at you
through his mask whenever you pass the damp thicket, bordering the
marshy land, where he {62} likes best to live! And how quickly he hops
from twig to twig and flies from one clump of bushes to another clump,
in restless, warbler fashion, as he leads you a dance in pursuit! Not
for a second does he stop watching you.

If you come too close, a sharp _pit-pit_ or _chock_ is snapped out by
the excited bird, whose familiar, oft-repeated, sprightly, waltzing
triplet has been too freely translated, he thinks, into, _Fol-low-me,
fol-low-me, fol-low-me_. Pursuit is the last thing he really desires,
and of course he issues no such invitation. What he actually says
almost always sounds to me like _Witchee-tee, witch-ee-tee,
witch-ee-tee_. You will surely hear him if you listen in his marshy
retreats. He sings almost all summer. Except when nesting he comes
into the garden, picks minute insects out of the blossoming shrubbery,
hops about on the ground, visits the raspberry tangle, and hides among
the bushes along the roadside. Only the yellow warbler, of all his
numerous tribe, is disposed to be more neighbourly. In spite of his
local name, he is to be found in winter from Georgia to Labrador and
Manitoba westward to the Plains. You see he is something of a
traveller.

The little bird who bewitches him, and to whom he sings the witch's
song, wears no black mask, so it is not easy to name her if her mate
is not about. Her plumage is duller than his and {63} the sides of her
plump little body, which are yellowish brown, shade into grayish white
underneath. Sometimes you may catch her carrying weeds, strips of
bark, broad grasses, tendrils, reeds, and leaves for the outside of
her deep cradle, and finer grasses for its lining, to a spot on the
ground where plants and low bushes help conceal it. She does not build
so beautiful a nest as the yellow warbler, but like her she, too, poor
thing, sometimes suffers from the sneaking visits of the cowbird.
Unhappily, she is not so clever as her cousin, for she meekly consents
to hatch out the cowbird's egg and let the big, greedy interloper
crowd and worry and starve her own brood. Why does the cowardly
cowbird always choose a victim smaller than herself?


THE YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT

"Now he barks like a puppy, then quacks like a duck, then rattles like
a kingfisher, then squalls like a fox, then caws like a crow, then
mews like a cat--_C-r-r-r-r-r-whrr_--that's it--_Chee-quack, cluck,
yit-yit-yit-now_--hit it--_tr-r-r-r-wheu-caw-caw-cut,
cut-tea-boy-who, who-mew, mew_," writes John Burroughs of this
rollicking polyglot, the chat; but not even that close student of
nature could set down on {64} paper all the multitude of queer sounds
with which the bird amuses himself. He might be mistaken for a dozen
different birds and animals in as many minutes.

Such a secretive roysterer is he that you may rarely see him, however
often you may hear his voice when he is hidden beyond sight in partial
clearings or the bushy, briery, thickety openings in the woods. As he
seems to delight in keeping pursuers off by a natural fence of barbed
wire, the cat brier, wild blackberry, raspberry, and rose bushes are
among his favourite plants. But if you will sit down quietly near his
home, your patience will probably be rewarded by the sight of this
largest of the warblers, with olive green upper parts, a conspicuous
white line running from his bill around his eye and another along his
throat, and a bright yellow breast shading to grayish white
underneath. He is over an inch longer than the English sparrow. His
wife looks just like him.

The zany at the circus can go through no more clownish tricks than the
chat. See him, a mere bunch of feathers, dance and balance in the air,
now fluttering, now falling as if he had been shot, or turning aerial
somersaults, now rising and trailing his legs behind him like a stork,
now dropping out of sight in the thickest part of the thicket. The
instant he spies you, _Chut-Chut_, he scolds from the briars. Shy,
{65} eccentric, absurd, but inspired with a "fine frenzy," which is a
passionate love for his mate and their nest, all his queer notes and
equally queer stunts centre about his home. On moonlight nights,
Punchinello entertains himself and Columbine with a series of
inimitable performances which have earned him the title of yellow
mockingbird. He can throw his voice so that it seems to come from
quite a different direction, as you may sometime have heard a
human ventriloquist do.


THE REDSTART

When this exquisite little warbler flashes his brilliant salmon flame
and black feathers among the trees, darting hither and thither,
fluttering, spinning about in the air after insects caught chiefly on
the wing, you will surely agree that he is the most beautiful as well
as the most lively bird in the woods. The colour scheme of his clothes
suggests the Baltimore oriole's, only the flaming feathers on the
sides of his body, wings, and tail are a pinker shade of flame, and
the black ones which cover his back, throat, and upper breast, are
more glossy, with bluish reflections. Underneath he is white, tinged
with salmon. But you could not possibly mistake this lovely little
sprite for the oriole, he is so much smaller--about an inch {66}
shorter than the sparrow. His cousin, the Blackburnian warbler, a much
rarer bird, with a colour scheme of black, white, and beautiful rich
orange, not salmon flame, can be named instantly by the large amount
of white in his tail feathers. There are so few brilliantly coloured
birds that find their way to us from the tropics, that it should not
take any boy or girl longer to learn them than it does to learn the
first multiplication table. In Cuba the redstart is known as "El
Candelita"--the little candle flame that flashes in the deep, dark,
tropical forest.

Who would believe that this small firebrand, half glowing, half
charred, whirling about through the trees, as if blown by the wind, is
a cousin of the sombre oven-bird that walks so daintily and leisurely
over the ground? The redstart keeps perpetually in motion that he may
seize gnats and other gauzy winged mouthfuls in mid-air--not as the
flycatchers do, by waiting on a fence rail or limb of a tree for a
dinner to fly past, then dashing out and seizing it, but by flitting
about constantly in search of insect prey. The bristles at the base of
his bill prevent many an insect from getting past it. He rests on the
trees only long enough to snatch a morsel, then away he goes again. No
wonder the Spaniards call all the gaily coloured, tropical wood
warblers "Mariposas"--butterflies.

{67}

CHAPTER V

THE VIREOS:

ANOTHER STRICTLY AMERICAN FAMILY

  Red-Eyed Vireo
  White-Eyed Vireo
  Yellow-Throated Vireo
  Warbling Vireo


{68}

{69}

THE VIREOS

You know that if the birds should suddenly perish, there wouldn't be a
leaf, a blade of grass, or any green thing left upon the earth within
a few years--it would be uninhabitable.

When Dame Nature, the most thorough of housekeepers, gave to the birds
the task of restraining insects within bounds so that man and beast
could live, she gave the care of foliage to the vireos. It is true
that most of the warblers, and a few other birds too, hunt for their
food among the leaves, but with nothing like the vireo's painstaking
care and thoroughness. The nervous, restless warblers flit from twig
to twig without half exploring the foliage; whereas the deliberate,
methodical vireos search leisurely above and below it, cocking their
little heads so as to look up at the under side of the leaf above them
and to peck off the destroyers hidden there--bugs of many kinds and
countless little worms, caterpillars, weevils, inchworms, May beetles,
and leaf-eating beetles. Singing as they go, no birds more
successfully combine work and play.

Because they spend their lives among the foliage, the vireos are
protectively coloured; with {70} soft grayish or olive green on their
backs, wings, and tail, whitish or yellow below. Some people call them
greenlets. They are all a little smaller than sparrows. More
inconspicuous birds it would be hard to find or more abundant,
although so commonly overlooked except by people on the look-out for
them. Where the new growth of foliage at the ends of the branches is
young and tender, many insects prefer to lay their eggs that their
babies may have the most dainty fare as soon as they are hatched. They
do not reckon upon the vireos' visits.

Toward the end of April or the first of May, these tireless gleaners
return to us from Central and South America where they have spent the
winter, which of course you know, is no winter on the other side of
the equator, but a continuation of summer for them. Competition for
food being more fierce in the tropics than it is here, millions of
birds besides the warblers and vireos travel from beyond the Isthmus
of Panama to the United States and back again every year in order that
they may live in perpetual summer with an abundance of food. If any
child thinks that birds are mere creatures of pleasure, who sing to
pass the time away, he doesn't begin to understand how hard they must
work for a living. They cannot limit their labours to an eight-hour
day. However, they keep cheerful through at least sixteen busy hours.

{71}

THE RED-EYED VIREO

Almost everywhere in the Eastern United States and Canada, the
red-eyed vireo is the most common member of his family. The only
individual touch to his costume that helps to distinguish him is a
gray cap edged with a black line which runs parallel to his
conspicuous white eyebrow. He wears a dull olive coat and a white
vest. But listen to the Preacher! You have no need to meet him face to
face in order to know him: _"You see it--you know it--do you hear
me?--do you believe it?"_ he propounds incessantly through the long
summer days, even after most other birds are silent. You cannot
mistake his voice. With a rising inflection at the end of each short,
jerky sentence, he asks a question very distinctly and sweetly, then
pauses an instant as if waiting for a reply--an unusually courteous
orator. His monotonous monologue, repeated over and over again, comes
to us from the elms and maples in the village street, the orchard and
woodland, where he keeps steadily and deliberately at work. Some boys
say they can whittle better if they whistle. Vireos seem to hunt more
thoroughly if they sing.

Like the rest of his kin, the red-eyed vireo is quite tame. A little
girl I know actually stroked the pretty head of a mother bird as she
sat brooding in her exquisite nest, and a week later {72} carried one
of the young birds all around the garden on a rake handle.

Vireos are remarkably fine builders--among the very best. Although
their nests are not so deep as the Baltimore orioles', the shape and
weave are similar. The red-eye usually prefers to swing her cradle
from a small crotch in an oak or apple tree or sapling, and securely
lace it through the rim on to the forked twigs. Nests vary in
appearance, but you will notice that these weavers show a preference
for dried grass as a foundation into which are wrought bits of bark,
lichen, wasps' nest "paper," spider web, plant down, and curly vine
tendrils.


THE WHITE-EYED VIREO

It is not often that you can get close enough to any bird to see the
white of his eyes, but the brighter olive green of this vivacious
little white-eyed vireo's upper parts, his white breast, faintly
washed with yellow on the sides, and the two yellowish white bars on
his wings help you to recognise him at a distance. Imagine my surprise
to meet him in Bermuda, over six hundred miles out at sea from the
Carolina coast, where he, too, was taking a winter vacation! In those
beautiful islands, where our familiar catbirds and cardinals also
abound, {73} the white-eyed vireo is the most common bird to be seen.
His sweet, vigorous, irregular interrogation may be heard all day. But
there he is known by quite a different name--"Chick of the Village."
It was a pleasant shock to hear, _"Now, who are you, eh?"_ piquantly
sung out at me, a stranger in the islands, by this old acquaintance in
a hibiscus bush within a few steps of the pier where the steamer
landed.

In the United States where he nests, his manners are less sociable; in
fact they are rather pert, even churlish at times, and never very
friendly. Here he loves to hide in such low, briery, bushy tangles as
the chat and catbird choose. By no stretch of the imagination would
his chic Bermuda name fit him here, for he has little to do with
villages and he resents your advances toward more intimate
acquaintance with harsh, cackling scoldings, half to himself, half to
you, until you, in turn, resent his impertinence and leave him alone--
just what the independent little fellow wanted. He has a strong,
decided character, you perceive.

His precious nest, so jealously guarded, is a deeper cup than that of
his cousin with the red eye, deeper than that of any of the other
vireos, and it usually contains three favourite materials in addition
to those generally chosen by them: they are bits of wood usually
stolen from some woodpecker's hole, shreds of paper, {74} and yards
and yards of fine caterpillar silk, by which the nest is hung from its
slender fork in the thicket. It also contains, not infrequently, alas!
a cowbird's most unwelcome egg.


THE YELLOW-THROATED VIREO

In a family not conspicuous for its fine feathers, this is certainly
the beauty. The clear lemon yellow worn at its throat spreads over its
vest; its coat is a richer and more yellowish green than the other
vireos wear, and its two white wing-bars are as conspicuous as the
white-eyed vireo's. Moreover its mellow and rich voice, like a
contralto's, is raised to a higher pitch at the end of a sweetly sung
triplet. _"See me; I'm here; where are you?"_ the singer inquires over
and over again from the trees in the woodland, or perhaps in the
village when nesting duties are not engrossing. Don't mistake it for
the chat simply because its throat is yellow.

As this is the beauty of the family, so is it also the best nest
builder.


THE WARBLING VIREO

High up in the top of elms and maples that line village streets where
the red-eyed vireo loves {75} to hunt, even among the trees of so busy
a thoroughfare as Boston Common, an almost continuous warble in the
early summer indicates that some unseen singer is hidden there; but
even if you get a glimpse of the warbling vireo you could not tell him
from his red-eyed cousin at that height. Modestly dressed, without
even a white eye-brow or wing-bars to relieve his plain dusty olive
and whitish clothes, he is the least impressive member of his
retiring, inconspicuous family. He asks you no questions in jerky,
colloquial triplets of song, so you may know by his voice at least
that he is not the red-eyed vireo. Some self-conscious birds, like the
song sparrow, mount to a conspicuous perch before they begin to sing,
as if they had to deliver a distinct number on a programme before a
waiting audience. Not so with this industrious little gleaner to whom
singing and dining seem to be a part of the same performance--one and
inseparable. He sings as he goes, snatching a bit of insect food
between warbles.

Although towns do not affright him, he really prefers wooded
border-land and clearings, especially where birch trees abound, when
it is time to rear a family.


[Illustration]

A red-eyed vireo baby in his cradle


[Illustration]

Out of it


[Illustration]

Home of the loggerhead shrike, with plenty of convenient hooks for
this butcher bird to hang meat on.


{76}

CHAPTER VI

BIRDS NOT OF A FEATHER

  Two Butcher-birds
  Cedar Waxwing
  Scarlet Tanager


{77}

{78}

{79}

THE BUTCHER-BIRDS OR SHRIKES

Is it not curious that among our so-called song birds there should be
two, about the size of robins, the loggerhead and the northern shrike,
with the hawk-like habit of killing little birds and mice, and the
squirrel's and blue jay's trick of storing what they cannot eat? They
are butchers, with the thrifty custom of hanging up their meat, which
only improves in flavour and tenderness after a day or two of curing.
Then, even if storms should drive their little prey to shelter and
snow should cover the fields, they need not worry nor starve seeing an
abundance in their larder provided for the proverbial rainy day.

In the Southern and Middle States, where the smaller loggerhead shrike
is most common, some children say he looks like a mockingbird; but the
feathers on his back are surely quite a different gray, a light-bluish
ash, and pearly on his under parts, with white in his black wings and
tail which is conspicuous as he flies. His powerful head, which is
large for his size, has a heavy black line running from the end of his
mouth across his cheek, and his strong bill has a hook on the end
which is useful in tearing the {80} flesh from his victim's bones. He
really looks like nothing but just what he is--a butcher-bird. See
him, quiet and preoccupied, perched on a telegraph pole on the lookout
for a dinner! A kingbird, or other flycatcher which chooses similar
perches, would sail off suddenly into the air if a winged insect hove
in sight, snap it up, make an aerial loop in its flight and return to
its old place. Not so the solitary, sanguinary shrike. When his
wonderfully keen eyes detect a grasshopper, a cricket, a big beetle, a
lizard, a little mouse, or a sparrow at a distance in a field, he
drops like an eagle upon the victim, seizes it with his strong beak,
and flies with steady flapping strokes of the wings, close along the
ground, straight to the nearest honey locust or spiny thorn; then
rises with a sudden upward turn into the tree to impale his prey.
Hawks, who use the same method of procuring food, have very strong
feet; their talons are of great help in holding and killing their
victims; but the shrikes, which have rather weak, sparrow-like feet,
for perching only, are really compelled in many cases to make use of
stout thorns or sharp twigs to help them quiet the struggles of their
victims. Weather-vanes, lightning rods, bare branches, or the
outermost or top branches of tall trees, high poles, and telegraph
wires, which afford a fine bird's eye-view of the surrounding hunting
ground, are favourite points {81} of vantage for both shrikes. When it
is time to husk the corn, every farmer's boy must have seen a shrike
sitting on a fence-rail or hovering in the air ready to seize the
little meadow mice that escape from the shocks.

It is sad to record that sometimes shrikes also sneak upon their prey.
When they resort to this mean method of securing a dinner they leave
the high perches and secrete themselves in clumps of bushes in the
open field. Luring little birds within striking distance by imitating
their call notes, they pounce upon a terror-stricken sparrow before
you could say "Jack Robinson." Shrikes seem to be the only creatures
that really rejoice in the rapid increase of English sparrows. In
summer they prefer large insects, especially grasshoppers, but in
winter when they can get none, they must have the fresh meat of birds
or mice. At any season they deserve the fullest protection for the
service they do the farmer. Shrikes kill only that they themselves may
live, and not for the sake of slaughter, which is a so-called sport
reserved for man alone, who in any case, should be the last creature
to condemn them.

The loggerhead's call-notes are harsh, creaking, and unpleasant, but
at the approach of the nesting season he proves that he really can
sing, although not half as well as his cousin, the northern shrike,
who astonishes us with a fine {82} song some morning in early spring.
Before we become familiar with it, however, the wandering minstrel is
off to the far north to nest within the arctic circle. It is only in
winter that the northern shrike visits the United States, travelling
as far south as Virginia and Kansas between October and April. He is
larger than the loggerhead, being a little over ten inches long, a
goodlooking winter visitor in a gray suit with black and white
trimmings on his wings and tail and wavy bars on his breast. Bradford
Torrey used to visit a vireo that would drink water from a teaspoon
which he held out to her while she sat brooding on her nest. I know a
lady who fed bits of raw meat to a wounded shrike from the tines of a
fork, the best substitute for a thorn she could find, because he found
it awkward to eat from a dish.


THE CEDAR WAXWING

_Called also: Cedarbird; Cherry-bird; Bonnet bird, Silk-tail._

So few birds wear their head feathers crested that it is a simple
matter to name them by their top-knots alone, even if you did not see
the gray plumage of the little tufted titmouse, the dusky hue of the
crested flycatcher, the blue {83} of the jay and the kingfisher, the
red of the cardinal, and the richly shaded grayish-brown of the cedar
waxwing, which is, perhaps, the most familiar of them all. His neat
and well-groomed plumage is fine and very silky, almost dove-like in
colouring, and although there are no gaudy features about it, few of
our birds are so exquisitely dressed. The pointed crest, which rises
and falls to express every passing emotion, and the velvety black
chin, forehead, and line running apparently through the eye, give
distinction to the head. The tail has a narrow yellow band across its
end, and on the wings are the small red spots like sealing wax that
are responsible for the bird's queer name. The waxwing is larger than
a sparrow and smaller than a robin.

But it is difficult to think of a single bird when one usually sees a
flock. Sociable to a degree, the waxwings rove about a neighbourhood
in scattered companies, large and small, to feed on the cedar or
juniper berries, choke-cherries, dog-wood and woodbine berries, elder,
haw, and other small wild fruits on which they feed very greedily;
then move on to some other place where their favourite fruit abounds.
Happily, they care very little about our cultivated fruit and rarely
touch it. A good way to invite many kinds of birds to visit one's
neighbourhood is to plant plenty of {84} berry-bearing trees and
shrubs. The birds themselves plant most of the wild ones, by dropping
the undigested berry seeds far and wide. How could the seeds of many
species be distributed over thousands of miles of land without their
help? It will surprise you to count the number of trees about your
home that have been planted, quite unconsciously, by birds many years
before you were born. Cedarbirds are responsible for no small part of
the beauty of the lanes and hedgerows throughout their wide range from
sea to sea and from Canada to Mexico and Central America. Nature, you
see, makes her creatures work for her, whether they know they are
helping her plans or not.

When a flock of cedarbirds enters your neighbourhood, there is no
noisy warning of their coming. Gentle, refined in manners, courteous
to one another, almost silent visitors, they will sit for hours nearly
motionless in a tree while digesting a recent feast. An occasional
bird may shift his position, then, politely settling himself again
without disturbing the rest of the company, remain quiet as before.
Lisping, _Twee-twee-zee_ call notes, like a hushed whispered whistle,
are the only sounds the visitors make. How different from a roving
flock of screaming, boisterous blue jays!


[Illustration]

The cedar waxwing


[Illustration]

The gorgeous scarlet tanager who sang in this tree was killed by a
sling-shot. The nest was deserted by his terrified mate.

{85}

When rising to take wing, the squad still keeps together, flying
evenly and swiftly in close ranks on a level with the tree-tops along
a straight course; or, wheeling suddenly, the birds dive downward into
a promising, leafy, restaurant. Enormous numbers of insects are
consumed by a flock. The elm-beetle, which destroys the beauty, if not
the life, of some of our finest shade trees, would be exterminated if
there were cedarbirds enough. One flock within a week rid a New
England village of this pest that had eaten the leaves on the double
row of elms which had been the glory of its broad main street for over
a hundred years. When you see these birds in an orchard, look for
better apples there next year. Canker-worms are a _bon bouche_ to
them; so are grubs and caterpillars, especially cutworms.

Sometime after all the other birds, except the tardy little goldfinch,
have nested, the waxwings give up the flocking habit and live in
pairs. Toward the end of June, when many birds are rearing the second
brood, you may see a couple begin to carry grass, shreds of bark,
twine, fine roots, catkins, moss or rags--any or all of these building
materials--to some tree, usually a fruit tree or a cedar; and then, if
you watch carefully, you will find what is not always the case with
humans--the birds' manners at home are even better than when moving in
society abroad. The devoted male brings dainties to his brooding mate
and helps her feed {86} their family. Moreover, cedarbirds are very
good to feathered orphans.


THE SCARLET TANAGER

_Called also: Black-winged Redbird_

People who are now living can remember when scarlet tanagers were as
common as robins. Where are they now? You see a redbird at the north
so rarely that a thrill of excitement is felt when a flash of scarlet
among the tree-tops makes the day a red-letter one on your bird
calendar. Alas! He has, what has certainly proved to be, the fatal
gift of beauty. A scarlet coat with black wings and tail, worn by a
bird larger than a sparrow, makes a shining mark among the foliage for
the shot gun and sling shot. Thousands of tanagers have been
slaughtered to be worn on the unthinking heads of vain girls and
women. Many are killed every year, during the spring and autumn
migrations, by flying against the great lighthouses along our coasts,
the birds' highway of travel. Tanagers, who are only summer visitors
from the tropics, are peculiarly susceptible to cold; a sudden change
in the weather, a drop in the thermometer some time in May just after
they have come here from a warmer {87} climate and are still
especially sensitive, will kill off great numbers in the north woods
and in Canada. They really should postpone their journey a little
while until the weather becomes settled and there are fewer fogs on
the coast.

The male tanager, in his wedding garment, is sometimes mistaken for a
cardinal by people who only half see any object they look at. Bird
study sharpens the sight wonderfully, and teaches boys and girls the
importance of accurate observation. The cardinal, a larger bird, is
almost as large as a robin; he is a rich, deep red all over, and not a
scarlet shade. Moreover he wears a pointed crest by which you may
always know him, while the tanager, whose head is smooth, may be
certainly named by his black wings and tail. After the nesting season,
the tanager begins to moult and then he is a queer looking object
indeed in his motley coat. Only little patches and streaks of scarlet
remain here and there among the olive green feathers that gradually
replace the red ones until, in winter, he becomes completely
transformed into an olive bird with black wings, looking like his
immature sons. How tiresome to have to change his feathers again
toward spring before he can hope to woo and win a mate!

The exacting little lady bird, who demands such fine feathers, is
herself quietly clad in light olive green with a more yellowish tinge
on her {88} lighter breast that she may be in perfect colour harmony
with the leaves she lives and nests among. If she, too, wore scarlet,
I fear the tanager tribe would have disappeared years ago. Happily her
protective colouring, which betrays no nest secrets, has saved the
species. Is it not strange that birds, who spend the rest of their
lives among the tree-tops, hunting among the foliage for insects and
small fruit, should nest so low? Sometimes they place their cradle on
a limb only six feet from the ground. It is a rather shabby, poorly
made affair which very lively tanager youngster might easily tumble
apart. _"Chip--churr"_ calls the gorgeous father from the tree top,
and a reassuring reply that all is well with the nest floats up to him
from his mate. He does not often risk its safety by showing himself
near the nest, securely hidden by the foliage below. If, toward the
end of May, you hear him singing his real song, which is somewhat like
an oriole's mellow, cheery carol, you may be sure he is planning to
spend the summer in your neighbourhood. Not many miles from New York
there is a house built on the top of a hill, whose sides are covered
with oak and chestnut woods, where one may be sure to see tanagers
among the tree tops from any window at any hour of any day from May to
October. Several nests in those woods are saddled on to the horizontal
{89} limbs of the white oak. Not many people are blessed with such
beautiful, interesting neighbours.

In the Southern States, one of the most familiar birds in the orange
groves, orchards, and woods of pine and oak, is the summer tanager,
another smooth-headed redbird, but without a black feather on him. He
is fire red all over. Of the three hundred and fifty species of
tanagers in the tropics, only two think it worth while to visit the
Eastern United States and one of these frequently suffers because he
starts too early. Suppose all should suddenly decide to come north
some spring and spend the summer with us! Our woods would be filled
with some of the most brilliant and gorgeous birds in the world. Don't
you wish all the members of the family were as adventurous as the
scarlet tanager?

{90}

CHAPTER VII

THE SWALLOWS

  Purple Martin
  Barn Swallow
  Cliff Swallow
  Bank Swallow
  Tree Swallow

{91}

{92}

{93}

THE SWALLOWS

If you were a bird, could you think of any way of earning a living
more delightful than sailing about in the air all day, playing
cross-tag on the wing with your companions, skimming low across the
meadows, ponds and marshes, or rising high above them and darting
hither and thither wherever you pleased, without knowing what it means
to feel tired? Swallows are as much in their element when in the air
as fish are in water; but don't imagine they are there simply for fun.
Their long, blade-like wings, which cut the air with such easy, but
powerful strokes, propel them enormous distances before they have
collected enough mosquitoes, gnats and other little gauzy-winged
insects to supply such great energy and satisfy their hunger. With
mouth widely gaping, leaving an opening in the front of their broad
heads that stretches from ear to ear, they get a tremendous draught
down their little throats, but they gather in a dinner piece-meal just
as the chimney swift, whip-poor-will and night-hawk do. Viscid saliva
in the bird's mouth glues the little victims as fast as if they were
caught on sticky fly-paper; then, when {94} enough have been trapped
to make a pellet, the swallow swallows them in a ball, although one
swallow does not make a dinner, any more than one swallow makes a
summer.

These sociable birds delight to live in companies, even during the
nesting season when most feathered couples, however glad to flock at
other times, prefer to be alone. As soon as the young birds can take
wing, one family party unites with another, one colony with another,
until often enormous numbers assemble in the marshes in August and
September. You see them strung like beads along the telegraph wires,
perched on the fences, circling over the meadows and ponds, zigzagging
across the sky. Millions of swallows have been noted in some of these
autumnal flocks. Usually they go to sleep among the reeds and grasses
in a favourite marsh where the bands return year after year; but some
prefer trees. Comparatively little perching is done except at night,
for swallows' feet are very small and weak.

At sunrise, the birds scatter in small bands to pick up on the wing
the long continued meal, which lasts till late in the afternoon. Those
who have gone too far abroad and must travel back to the roost after
sundown shoot across the sky with incredible swiftness lest darkness
overtake them. Relying upon their speed of flight to carry them beyond
the reach of {95} enemies, they migrate boldly by daylight instead of
at night as the timid little vireos and warblers do. During every day
the swallows are with us they must consume billions and trillions of
blood-sucking insects that would pester other animals beside
ourselves. Think of the mosquito bites alone that they prevent! Every
one of us is greatly in their debt.

Male and female swallows are dressed so nearly alike that you can
scarcely tell one from the other. Both twitter merrily but neither
really sings.


THE PURPLE MARTIN

There is a picturesque old inn beside a post road in New Jersey with a
five-storied martin house set up on a pole above its quaint swinging
sign. For over thirty years a record was kept on the pole showing the
dates of the coming and going of the martins in April and September,
which did not vary by more than two or three days during all that
time. The inn-keeper locked up in his safe every night the registers
on which were entered the arrivals and departures of his human guests,
but he valued far more the record of his bird visitors which
interested everybody who stopped at his inn.

{96}

One day, while he was away, a man who was painting a fence for him
thought he would surprise him by freshening up the old, weather-beaten
pole. Alas! He painted over every precious mark. You may be sure the
surprise recoiled upon him like a boomerang when the wrathful
inn-keeper returned. However, the martins continue to come back to
their old home year after year and rear their broods on little heaps
of leaves in every room in the house, which is the cheerful fact of
the story.

These glossy, blue-black iridescent swallows, grayish white
underneath, the largest of their graceful tribe, have always been
great favourites. Even the Indians in the Southern States used to hang
gourds for them to nest in about their camps--a practice continued by
the Negroes around their cabins to this day. Strangely enough these
birds which nested and slept in hollow trees before the coming of the
white men, were among the first to take advantage of his presence.
Now, in the Eastern United States, at least, the pampered darlings of
luxury positively refuse to live where people do not put up houses for
their comfort. In the sparsely settled West, however, they still
condescend to live in trees, but only when they must, like the
chimney-swifts, who, by the way are no relation. Plenty of people
persist in calling them chimney swallows, which is precisely what they
are not. Not even the little house wren has adapted itself so quickly
to civilised men's homes, as the swift and purple martin.


[Illustration]

Young barn swallows cradled under the rafters.

[Illustration]

Baby barn swallows learning to walk a plank.


{97}

Intelligent people, who are only just beginning to realise what birds
do for us and how very much more they might be induced to do, are
putting up boxes for the martins, not only near their own houses, that
the birds may rid the air of mosquitoes, but in their gardens and
orchards that incalculable numbers of injurious pests in the winged
stage may be destroyed. When martins return to us in spring from
Central and South America, where they have passed the winter, insects
are just beginning to fly, and if they can be captured then, before
they have a chance to lay their eggs, you see how much trouble and
money are saved for the farmers by their tireless allies, the
swallows. Unfortunately, purple martins are not so common at the North
as they were before the coming of those saucy little immigrants, the
English sparrows, who take possession, by fair means or by foul, of
every house that they can find. In the South, where the martins are
still very numerous, a peach grower I know has set up in his orchard
rows of poles, with a house on each, either for them or for bluebirds.
He says these bird partners are of inestimable value in keeping his
fruit trees free from insects.

{98}

The curculio, one of the worst enemies every fruit grower has to
fight, destroying as it does millions of dollars worth of crops every
year, is practically unknown in that Georgia planter's orchard. Some
day farmers all over the United States will wake up and copy his good
idea.

A colony of martins circling about a house give it a delightful
home-like air. Their very soft, sweet conversation with one another as
they fly, sounds like rippling, musical laughter.


THE BARN SWALLOW

Do you know where there is an old-fashioned, weather-worn barn, with
its hospitable doors standing open, where you could not find at least
one pair of barn swallows at home beneath its roof? These birds, you
will notice, prefer dilapidated old farm buildings, whose doors are
off their hinges, and whose loose shingles or broken clapboards offer
plenty of entrances and exits. If you like to play around a barn as
well as every child I know, you must be already acquainted with the
exquisite, dark steel-blue swallows with glistening reddish buff
breasts, and deeply forked tails, that dart and glide in and out of
the openings, merrily twittering as they fly. While you tumble about
in the {99} hay among the rafters the swallows go and come, so that,
quite unconsciously, you will associate them with happy hours as long
as you live.

High up on some beam, too high for the children to reach, let us hope,
a pair of barn swallows will plaster their mud cradle. Did you ever
see them gathering pellets of wet soil in their bills at some roadside
puddle? It is, perhaps, the only time you can ever catch them with
their feet on the earth. Each mud pill must be carried to the barn and
fastened on to the rafter. Countless trips are made to the puddle
before a sufficient number of pellets are worked into the deep mud
walls of the ample nursery. Usually grass is mixed with the mud, but
some swallows make their bricks without straw. A lining of fine hay
and plenty of feathers from the chicken yard seem to be essential for
their comfort, which is a pity, because almost always chicken feathers
are infested with lice, and lice kill more young birds than we like to
think about. When there is a nestful of fledglings to feed, sticky
little pellets of insects, caught on the wing, are carried to them by
both parents from daylight to dusk. Do notice how tirelessly they
work!

In a family famous for graceful, rapid flight, the barn swallow easily
excels all his relations. The deep fork in his tail enables him to
steer {100} himself with those marvellously quick, erratic turns,
which make his course through the air resemble forked lightning. But
with what exquisite grace he can also glide and skim across the water,
fields and meadows without an apparent movement of the wing! His
flight seems the very poetry of motion. The ease of it accounts for
the very wide distribution of barn swallows from southern Brazil in
winter to Greenland and Alaska in summer. What a journey to take twice
a year!


THE EAVE OR CLIFF SWALLOW

More than any other bird family, the swallows are becoming
increasingly dependent for shelter upon man, at least when they are
nesting; and as this is the season when they are most valuable to him
because of the enormous numbers of insects they prevent from
multiplying, let us hope that familiarity with us will never breed
contempt and cause them to return to their old, uncivilised building
sites. In the sparsely settled West, the cliff swallow still fastens
its queer, gourd-shaped, mud nest against projecting rocks, but in the
East it is so quick to take advantage of the eaves of the barns and
other out-buildings, that its old name does not apply, and we know it
here only as an eave swallow.

{101}

The barn swallow, as we have seen, chooses to nest upon the rafters
inside the barn, but the eave swallow is content to stay outside under
the shelter of a projecting roof. In such a place you find not one,
but several or many mud tenements plastered in a row against the wall,
for eave swallows are always remarkably sociable, even at the nesting
season. A photograph of a colony I have seen shows one hundred and
fifteen nests nearly all of which touch one another.

Although so often noticed circling about barns, you may know by the
rusty patch on the lower part of his steel-blue back, the
crescent-shaped white mark on his forehead, and the notched, not
deeply forked tail, that the eave swallow is not the barn swallow,
which it otherwise resembles.


THE BANK SWALLOW

_Called also: Sand Martin; Sand Swallow_

Perhaps you have seen a sand bank somewhere, probably near a river or
pond, where the side of the bank was filled with holes as if a small
cannon had been trained against it as a target. In and out of the
holes fly the smallest of the swallows, with no lovely metallic blue
or glistening buff in their dull {102} plumage, which is plain
brownish gray above, white underneath, with a grayish band across the
breast. Only their cousin, the rough-winged swallow, whose breast is
brownish gray, is so plainly dressed.

The giggling twitter of the bank swallows as they wheel and dart
through the air above you, proves that they are never too busy hunting
for a dinner to speak a cheerful word to their friends. Year after
year a colony will return to a favourite bank, whose face has been
honey-combed with such care. Think of the labour and patience required
for so small a bird to dig a tunnel two feet deep, more or less! Some
nests have been placed as far as four feet from the entrance. You are
not surprised at the big kingfisher, who also tunnels a hole in a bank
for his family, because his long, strong bill makes digging
comparatively easy; but for the small-billed, weak-footed swallow, the
work must be difficult indeed. What a pity they cannot hire moles to
make the tunnels with their strong, flat, spade-like feet. No wonder
the birds become attached to the tunnels that have cost so much
labour. When there are no longer any baby swallows on the heaps of
twigs, grass and feathers at the end of them, the birds use them as
resting places by day as well as by night until it is time to gather
in vast flocks and speed away to the tropics.

{103}

THE TREE SWALLOW

_Called also: White-breasted Swallow_


Probably this is the most abundant swallow that we have; certainly
countless numbers assemble every year in the Long Island and Jersey
marshes, perch on the telegraph wires and skim, with much circling,
above the meadows and streams in a perfect ecstasy of flight. At a
little distance the bird appears to be black above and white below,
but as he suddenly wheels past, you see that his coat is a lustrous
dark steel green. Immature birds are brownish gray. All have white
breasts.

As the tree swallows are the only members of their family who spend
the winter in the Southeastern United States, they can easily arrive
at the North some time before their relatives from the tropics
overtake them. And they are the last to leave. Myriads remain in the
vicinity of New York until the middle of October. There is plenty of
time to rear two broods, which accounts for the great size of the
flocks. By the Fourth of July the young of the first broods are off
hunting for little gauzy-winged insects over the low lands; and about
a month later the parents join their flock, bringing with them more
youngsters than you could count. They sleep every night in the
marshes, clinging to the reeds.

{104}

Like the cliff swallow, the tree swallow is fast losing the right to
its name. It takes so kindly to the boxes we set up for martins,
bluebirds and wrens that, where sparrows do not interfere, it now
prefers them to the hollow trees, which once were its only shelter.
But some tree swallows still cling to old-fashioned ways and at least
rest in hollow trees and stumps, even if they do not nest in them.
Some day they may become as dependent upon us as the martins and, like
them, refuse to nest where boxes are not provided.

{105}

CHAPTER VIII

THE SPARROW TRIBE

  Song Sparrow
  Swamp Sparrow
  Field Sparrow
  Vesper Sparrow
  English Sparrow
  Chipping Sparrow
  Tree Sparrow
  White-throated Sparrow
  Fox Sparrow
  Junco
  Snowflake
  Goldfinch
  Purple Finch
  Indigo Bunting
  Towhee
  Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  Cardinal Grosbeak

{106}

{107}

THE SPARROW TRIBE

Like the poor, the sparrows are always with us. There is not a day in
the year when you cannot find at least one member of the great tribe
which comprises one-seventh of all our birds--by far the largest North
American family. What is the secret of their triumphant numbers?

Many members of the hardy, prolific clan, wearing dull brown and
gray-streaked feathers, in perfect colour harmony with the grassy,
bushy places or dusty roadsides where they live, are usually
overlooked by enemies in search of a dinner. Undoubtedly their
protective colouring has much to do with their increase. They are
small birds mostly, not one so large as a robin.

Sparrows being seed eaters chiefly, although none of the tribe
refuses insect meat in season, and all give it to their nestlings,
there is never a time when they cannot find food, even at the frozen
North where some weedy stalks project above the snow. They are not
fastidious. Fussy birds, like fussy people, have a hard time in this
world; but the whole sparrow tribe, with few exceptions, make the best
of things as they {108} find them and readily adapt themselves to
whatever conditions they meet. How wonderfully that saucy little
gamin, the English sparrow, has adjusted himself to this new land!

Members of the more aristocratic finch and grosbeak branches of the
family, however, who wear brighter clothes, pay the penalty by
decreasing numbers as our boasted civilisation surrounds them. Gay
feathers afford a shining mark. Naturally grosbeaks prefer to live
among protective trees. They are delightful singers, and so, indeed,
are some of their plain little sparrow cousins.

All the members of the family have strong, conical bills well suited
to crush seeds, and gizzards, like a chicken's, to grind them fine.
These little grist-mills within the birds' bodies extract all the
nourishment there is from the seed. The sparrow tribe, you will
notice, do immense service by destroying the seeds of weeds, which,
but for them, would quickly overrun the farmer's fields and choke his
crops. Because these hardy gleaners can pick up a living almost
anywhere, they do not need to make very long journeys every spring and
autumn. Their migrations are comparatively short when undertaken at
all. As a rule their flight is laboured, slow, and rather heavy--just
the opposite from the wonderfully swift and graceful flight of the
swallows.

{109}

THE SONG SPARROW

This is most children's favourite bird: is it yours? Although by no
means the belle of the family, the song sparrow is beloved throughout
its vast range if for no other reason than because it is irrepressibly
cheerful. Good spirits are contagious: every one feels better for
having a neighbour always in a good humour. Most birds mope when it
rains, or when they shed their feathers, or when the weather is cold
and dreary, or when something doesn't please them, and cultivate their
voices only when they fall in love in the happy spring-time. But you
may hear the hardy, healthful song sparrow's "merry cheer" almost
every month in the year, in fair weather or in foul, in the middle of
the night and in broad daylight, when a little mate is to be wooed
with light-hearted vivacity, when two, three, or even four broods
severely tax the singer's energy through the summer, when clothes must
be changed in August and when the cold of approaching winter drives
every other singer from the choir. The most familiar song--for this
tuneful sparrow has at least six similar but slightly different
melodies in his repertoire--begins with a full round note three times
repeated, then dashes off into a sweet, short, lively, intricate
strain that almost trips itself in its hasty utterance. Few people
{110} whistle well enough to imitate it. Few birds can rival the
musical ecstasy.

Artlessly self-confident, not at all bashful, the song sparrow mounts
to a conspicuous perch when he sings, rather than let his efforts be
muffled by foliage. Don't mistake him for an English sparrow; notice
his distinguishing marks: the fine dark streaks on his light breast
tend to form a larger blotch in the centre. You see him singing on the
extended branch of some low tree, on the topmost twig of a bush, on a
fence, or a piazza railing from which he dives downward into the
grass, or flies straight along into the bushes, his tail working like
a pump handle as if to help his flight. Very rarely he flies upward.
Diving into a bush is one of his specialties. He best likes to live in
regions near water.

The song sparrows that come almost every day in the year among many
other birds to my piazza roof for waste canary seed and such
delicacies, show refreshing spirit in driving off the English sparrows
who, let it be recorded, can get not a morsel until the song sparrows
are abundantly satisfied. One of the latter is quite able to keep off
half a dozen of his English cousins. How does he do it? Not by his
superior size, for the measurements of both birds show that they are
about the same length although the song sparrow's slightly longer and
{111} more graceful tail makes him appear a trifle larger. Certainly
not by any rowdy, bold assaults, which are the English bird's
specialty. But by simply assuming superiority and expressing it only
by running in a threatening attitude toward each English sparrow who
dares to alight on the roof, does he bluff him into flying away again!
There is never a fight, not even an ill-mannered scolding, just quiet
monopoly for a few minutes, then a joyous outburst of song. After that
the English sparrows may take the songster's leavings.


SWAMP SPARROW

Where rails thread their way among the rushes, and red-winged
blackbirds, marsh wrens, and Maryland yellow-throats like to live,
there listen for the _tweet-tweet-tweet_ of the swamp sparrow. It is a
sweet but rather monotonous little song that he repeats over and over
again to the mate who is busy about her grassy nest in a tussock not
far away, but well hidden among the rank swamp growth.

Some children say it is difficult to tell the plain gray-breasted
swamp sparrow from the larger song sparrow with the streaked breast;
but I am sure their eyes are not so sharp as yours.

{112}

FIELD SPARROW

While the neighbourly song sparrow and the swamp sparrow delight to be
near water, the field sparrow chooses to live in dry uplands where
stunted bushes and cedars cover the hills and overgrown old fields,
and towhees and brown thrashers keep him company. He is not fond of
human society, however, and usually flies away with wavering,
uncertain flight from bush to bush rather than submit to a close
scrutiny of his bright chestnut brown back and crown, flesh-coloured
bill, gray eyebrow, grayish throat, buffy breast and light feet.
Because his tail is a trifle longer than the chippy's he is slightly
larger than the smallest of our sparrows. Unless you notice that his
bill is not black and his head not marked with black and gray streaks
like the chippy's, you might easily mistake him for his sociable,
confiding little cousin who comes hopping to the door.

How differently he sings! Listen for him some evening after sunset
when his simple vesper hymn, clear, plaintive, sweet, rings from the
bush where he perches especially for the performance. Scarcely any two
field sparrows sing precisely alike. Most of them, however, begin with
three clear, smooth, leisurely whistles--_cher-wee, cher-wee,
cher-wee_--then hurry through the other notes--_cheo,
cheo-dee-dee-eee, e, e_--which run rapidly into a trill before they
die away. {113} Others reverse the time and diminish the measures
toward the close. However sung, the song, which makes the uplands
tuneful all day and every day from April to August, does not vary its
quality, which is as fine as the vesper sparrow's.

Hatched in a bush, and almost never seen apart from one, this humble
little bird might well be called the bush sparrow.


VESPER SPARROW

To name this little dingy sparrow that haunts the open fields and
dusty roadsides, you must notice the white feather on each side of his
tail as he spreads it and flies before you to alight upon a fence.
Like the song sparrow, this cousin has some fine dark streaks on his
throat and breast. If you get near enough you will notice that his
wing coverts, which are a bright chestnut brown, make the rest of his
sparrow plumage look particularly pale and dull. Some people call him
the bay-winged bunting; others, the grass finch, because he nests,
like the meadow-lark and many other foolish birds, on the ground where
mice, snakes, mowing machines and cats often make sad havoc of his
young family.

{114}

The field sparrow, as we have seen, prefers neglected old fields
overgrown with bushes, but the vesper sparrow chooses more broad,
open, breezy, grassy country. When busy picking up insects and seed on
the ground, he takes no time for singing, but keeps steadily at work,
unlike the vireos that sing between bites. With him music is a
momentous matter to which he is quite willing to devote half an hour
at a time. He usually mounts to a fence rail or a tree before
beginning the repetitions of his lovely, serene vesper which is most
likely to be heard about sunset, or at sunrise, if you are not a
sleepy-head. Like the rose-breasted grosbeak, he has the delightful
habit of singing through the early hours of the summer night.


ENGLISH SPARROW

Is there a boy or girl in America who does not already know this
saucy, keen-witted little gamin who thrives where other birds would
starve; who insists upon thrusting himself where he is not wanted, not
only in other bird's houses, but about the cornices, pillars, and
shutters of our own, where his noise and dirt drive good housekeepers
frantic; who, without any weapons but his boldness and impudence to
fight with, fears neither man nor beast, and who {115} multiplies as
fast as the rabbit, so that he is rapidly inheriting the earth? Even
children who have never been out of the slums know at least this one
bird, this ever-present nuisance, for he chirps and chatters as
cheerfully in the reeking gutters as in the prettiest gardens; he hops
with equal calm about the horse's feet and trolley cars in crowded
city thoroughfares, as he does about flowery fields and quiet country
lanes; he will pick at the overflow from garbage pails on the sidewalk
in front of teeming tenements and manure on the city pavements with
quite as much relish as he will eat the fresh clean seed spilled by a
canary, or cake-crumbs from my lady's hand. Intense cold he endures
with cheerful fortitude and as intense mid-summer heat without losing
his astonishing vitality. Is it any wonder that a bird so readily
adaptable to all sorts of conditions should thrive like a weed and
beat his way around the world?

Now that he has gained such headway in this country his extermination
is practically impossible, since a single pair of sparrows might have
275,716,983,698 descendants in ten years! It is foolish to talk of
ridding the land of these vermin of birddom. The conditions that kept
them in check at home are lacking in this great land of freedom and so
we Americans must pay the penalty for ignorantly tampering with
nature.

{116}

Sparrows were first imported into Brooklyn in 1851 to rid the shade
trees of inch worms. This feat they accomplished there and in New York
with neatness and despatch. Every one fed, petted, and coddled them
then. It was not until many years later that their true character came
to be thoroughly understood. Then it was found by scientific men in
Washington, after the fairest trial any culprits ever received, that
not all the insects and weed seeds they destroy compensate for the
damage they do in the farmer's grain fields, to say nothing of their
harassing and dispossessing other birds more desirable. But they kill
no birds, so we may hope that, in the course of time, our native
songsters may pluck up courage to claim their rights and hold their
own, learning from the sparrows the important lesson of adaptability.


CHIPPING SPARROW

_Called also: Chippy; Door-step Sparrow; Hair Sparrow._

This summer a pair of the sociable, friendly little chippies--the
smallest members of their clan--decided that they would build in a
little boxwood tree on the verandah of our house next to the front
door through which members of the family passed every hour of the day.


[Illustration]

The most cheerful of bird neighbors: song sparrows


[Illustration]

A baby chippy and its two big rose-breasted grosbeak cousins

[Illustration]

A chipping sparrow family: one baby satisfied, the next nearly so, the
third still hungry.


{117}

While we sat within a few feet of the tree, both birds would carry
into it fine twigs and grasses for the foundation of the nest and,
later, long horse hairs which they coiled around and around to form a
lining. Where did they get so many hairs? A few might have been
switched out of the horses' tails in the stable yard or dropped on the
road, but what amazingly bright eyes the birds must have to find them,
and how curious that chippies alone, of all the feathered tribe,
should always insist upon using them to line their cradles!

From the back of a settle, the round of a rocking chair, or the gnomon
of the sun-dial near the verandah, the little chippy would trill his
wiry tremulo, like the locust's hot weather warning, while his mate
brooded over five tiny greenish-blue eggs in the boxwood tree. Before
even the robin was awake, earlier than dawn, he would start the
morning chorus with the simple little trill that answers for a song to
express every emotion throughout the long day. Both he and his mate
use a chip call note in talking to each other.

When she was tired brooding, of which she did far more than her share,
he would relieve her while she went in search of food. Very often he
would carry to the nest a cabbage worm for her or some other
refreshing delicacy. The screen door might bang beside her while she
sat {118} close upon her treasures without causing her to do more than
flutter an eyelid. Every member of the family parted the twigs of
boxwood that enclosed the nest to look upon her pretty little
reddish-brown head with a gray stripe over the eye and a dark-brown
line running apparently through it. All of us gently stroked her from
time to time. She would occasionally leave the nest for only a minute
or two to pick up the crumbs, chickweed, and canary seed scattered for
her about the verandah floor, and showed not the slightest fear when
we went on with our regular occupations. We were the breathlessly
excited ones, while she hopped calmly about our feet. The chippy is
wonderfully tame--perhaps the tamest bird that we have.

You may be sure there was joy in the household when the nest in the
boxwood contained baby chippies one morning--not a trace of eggshells
which had been carried away early. Insects were the only approved
baby-food and we were greatly astonished to see what large ones were
thrust down the tiny, gaping throats every few minutes. Instead of
flying straight to the nest, both parents would frequently stop to
rest or get proper direction on the back or the arm of a chair where
some one was sitting. In eight days the babies began to explore the
verandah. Then they left us suddenly without {119} a "good-bye." No
guests whom we ever had beneath our roof left a more aching void than
that chipping sparrow family. How we hope they will find their way
back to the boxwood tree from the Gulf States next April!


TREE SPARROW

_Called also: Winter Chippy_

When the friendly little chippy leaves us in autumn, this similar but
larger sparrow cousin comes into the United States from the North, and
some people say they cannot tell the two birds apart or the field
sparrow from either of them. The tree sparrow, which, unlike the
chippy, has no black on his forehead, wears an indistinct black spot
on the centre of his breast where the chippy is plain gray, and the
field sparrow is buffy. The tree sparrow has a parti-coloured bill,
the upper-half black, the lower yellow with a black tip, while the
chippy has an entirely black bill, and the field sparrow a
flesh-coloured or pale-red one. Only the tree sparrow, which is larger
than either of the others, although only as large as a full grown
English sparrow, spends the winter in the Northern United States, and
by that time his confusing relatives are too far south for comparison.
It is in spring and autumn that their {120} ranges over-lap and there
is any possibility of confusion.

When the slate-coloured juncos come from their nesting grounds far
over the Canadian border, look also for flocks of tree sparrows in
fields and door yards, where crab grass, amaranth and fox tail grass,
among other pestiferous weeds, are most abundant. I do not know how
Professor Beal of the Department of Agriculture, arrived at his
conclusions, but he estimates that in a single state--Iowa--the tree
sparrows alone destroy eight hundred and seventy-five tons of noxious
weed seeds every winter. Then how incalculably great must be our debt
to the entire sparrow tribe!

Tree sparrows welcome other winter birds to their friendly flocks that
glean a comfortable living from the weed stalks protruding from the
snow. Their cheerful, soft, jingling notes have been likened by Mr.
Chapman to "sparkling frost crystals turned to music."


WHITE-THROATED SPARROW

_Called also: Peabody-bird; Canada Sparrow_

"What's in a name?" Our English cousins over the border are quite sure
they hear this sparrow sing the praises of _Swee-e-et Can-a-da,
Can-a-da, Can-a-da-ah,_ while the {121} New Englanders think the bird
distinctly says, _I-I-Pea-body, Pea-bod-y, Pea-bod-y-I,_ extolling the
name of one of their first families. You may amuse yourself by fitting
whatever words you like to the well-marked metre of the clear,
high-pitched, plaintive, sweet song of twelve notes. Learn to imitate
it and you will be able to whistle up any white-throat within reach of
your voice in the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, or the deep, cool
woods of Maine, throughout the summer, although the majority of these
hardy sparrows nest on the northern side of the Canadian border. Our
hot weather they cannot abide. When there is a keen breath of frost in
the air and the hedgerows and thickets in the United States are taking
on glorious autumnal tints, listen for the white-throated migrants
conversing with sharp _chink_ call-notes that sound like the ring of a
marble-cutter's chisel.

During the autumn and spring migrations, when these birds are likely
to give us the semi-annual pleasure of coming closer about our homes,
with other members of their sociable tribe, you will see that the
white-throat is a slightly larger and more distinguished bird than the
English sparrow, and that he wears a white patch above his plain, gray
breast. Except the white-crowned sparrow, who wears a black and
white-striped soldier cap on his head, {122} and who sometimes travels
in migrating flocks with his cousins, the white-throated sparrow is
the handsomest member of his plain tribe.


FOX SPARROW

Do you imagine because he is called the fox sparrow that this bird has
four legs, or that he wears a brush instead of feathers for a tail, or
that he makes sly visits to the chicken yard after dark? When you see
his rusty, reddish-brown coat you guess that the foxy colour of it is
alone responsible for his name. His light breast is heavily streaked
and spotted with brown, somewhat like a thrush's, and as he is the
largest and reddest of the sparrows, it is not at all difficult to
identify him.

In the autumn, when the juncos come into the United States from
Canada, small flocks of their fox sparrow cousins, that have spent the
summer from the St. Lawrence region and Manitoba northward to Alaska,
may also be expected. They are often seen in the junco's company among
the damp thickets and weeds, along the roadsides and in stalky fields
bounded by woodland. The fox sparrow loves to scratch among the dead
leaves for insects trying to hide there, quite as well as if he were a
chicken or a towhee or an oven-bird who kick up the {123} leaves and
earth rubbish after his vigorous manner.

From Virginia southward, the people know the fox sparrow only as a
winter resident. Before he leaves them in the spring, he begins to
practise the clear, rich, ringing song, which fairly startles one with
pleasure the first time it is heard.


JUNCO

_Called also: Slate-coloured Snow-bird_

When the skies are leaden and the first flurries of snow warn us that
winter is near, flocks of juncos, that reflect the leaden skies on
their backs, and the grayish-white snow on their breasts, come from
the North to spend the winter. A few enter New England as early as
September, but by Thanksgiving increased numbers are foraging for
their dinner among the roadside thickets, in the furrows of ploughed
fields, on the ground near evergreens, about the barn-yard and even at
the dog's plate beyond the kitchen door.

Notice how abruptly the slate gray colour of the junco's mantle ends
in a straight line across his light breast, and how, when he flies
away, the white feathers on either side of his tail serve as signals
to his friends to follow. Such signals {124} are especially useful
when birds are migrating; without them, many stragglers from the
flocks might get lost. Juncos, who are extremely sociable birds,
except when nesting, need help in keeping together. A crisp, frosty
_'tsip_ call note signifies alarm and away flies the flock. They are
quiet, unassuming visitors, modest in manner and in dress; but how we
should miss them from the winter landscape!


SNOWFLAKE

In the northern United States and Canada, it is the snowflake or snow
bunting, a sparrowy little bird with a great deal of white among its
rusty brown feathers that is the familiar winter visitor. Instead of
hopping, like most of its tribe, it walks over the frozen fields and
rarely perches higher than a bush or fence rail, for it comes very
near being a ground bird. Delighting in icy blasts and snow storms,
flocks of these irrepressibly cheerful little foragers fatten on a
seed diet picked up where other birds would starve.


AMERICAN GOLDFINCH

_Called also: Black-winged Yellow-bird; Thistle Bird; Lettuce Bird;
Wild Canary._

Have you a garden gay with marigolds, sunflowers, coreopsis, zinnias,
cornflowers, and {125} gaillardias? If so, every goldfinch in your
neighbourhood knows it and hastens there to feed on the seeds of these
plants as fast as they form, so that you need expect to save none for
next spring's planting. Don't you prefer the birds when flower seeds
cost only five cents a packet? Clinging to the slender, swaying stems,
the goldfinches themselves look so like yellow flowers that you do not
suspect how many are feasting in the garden until they are startled
into flight. Then away they go, bounding along through the air, now
rising, now falling, in long aerial waves peculiar to them alone. You
can always tell a goldfinch by its wavy course through the air. Often
it accents the rise of each wave as it flies by a ripple of sweet,
twittering notes. The yellow warbler is sometimes called a wild canary
because he looks like a canary; the goldfinch has the same misleading
name applied to him because he sings like one.

But goldfinches by no means depend upon our gardens for their daily
fare. Wild lettuce, mullein, dandelion, ragweed and thistles are
special favourites. Many weed stalks suddenly blossom forth into black
and gold when a flock of finches alight for a feast in the summer
fields, or, browned by winter frost, bend beneath the weight of the
birds when they cling to them protruding through the snow.

{126}

Usually not until July, when the early thistles furnish plenty of
fluff for nest lining, do pairs of goldfinches withdraw from flocks to
begin the serious business of raising a family. A compact, cozy,
cup-like structure of fine grass, vegetable fibre, and moss, is placed
in the crotch of a bush or tree, or sometimes in a tall, branching
thistle plant. Except the cedar wax wings, the goldfinches are the
latest nesters of all our birds. As their love-making is prolonged
through the entire summer, so is the deliciously sweet, tender,
canary-like song of the male. _Dear, dear, dearie,_ you may hear him
sing to his dearest all day long.

In summer, throughout his long courtship, he wears a bright,
lemon-yellow wedding suit with black cap, wings, and tail, while his
sweetheart is dressed in a duller green or olive yellow. After the
August moult, he emerges a dingy olive-brown, sparrowy bird, in
perfect colour harmony with the wintry fields.


PURPLE FINCH

_Called also: Linnet_

It would seem as if the people who named most of our birds and wild
flowers must have been colour-blind. Old rose is more nearly the
colour of this finch who looks like a brown {127} sparrow that had
been dipped into a bath of raspberry juice and left out in the sun to
fade. But only the mature males wear this colour, which is deepest on
their head, rump, and breast. Their sons are decidedly sparrowy until
the second year and their wives look so much like the song sparrows
that you must notice their heavy, rounded bills and forked tails to
make sure they are not their cousins. A purple finch that had been
caged two years gradually turned yellow, which none of his kin in the
wild state has ever been known to do. Why? No ornithologist is wise
enough to tell us, for the colour of birds is still imperfectly
understood.

Like the goldfinches, these finches wander about in flocks. You see
them in the hemlock and spruce trees feeding on the buds at the tips
of the branches, in the orchard pecking at the blossoms on the fruit
trees, in the wheat fields with the goldfinches destroying the larvae
of the midge, or by the roadsides cracking the seeds of weeds that are
too hard to open for birds less stout of bill. When it is time to
nest, these finches prefer evergreen trees to all others, although
orchards sometimes attract them.

A sudden outbreak of spirited, warbled song in March opens the purple
finch's musical season, which is almost as long as the song sparrow's.
Subdued nearly to a humming in October, it is still a delightful
reminder of the {128} finest voice possessed by any bird in the great
sparrow tribe. But it is when the singer is in love that the song
reaches its highest ecstasy. Then he springs into the air just as the
yellow-breasted chat, the oven-bird, and woodcock do when they go
a-wooing, and sings excitedly while mounting fifteen or twenty feet
above his mate until he drops exhausted at her side.


INDIGO BUNTING

_Called also: Indigo-bird._

Every child knows the bluebird, possibly the kingfisher and the blue
jay, too, but there is only one other bird with blue feathers, the
little indigo bunting, who is no larger than your pet canary, that you
are ever likely to meet unless you live in the Southwest where the
blue grosbeak might be your neighbour. If, by chance, you should see a
little lady indigo-bird you would probably say contemptuously:
"Another tiresome sparrow," and go on your way, not noticing the faint
glint of blue in her wings and tail. Otherwise her puzzling plumage is
decidedly sparrowy, although unstreaked. So is that of her immature
sons. But her husband will be instantly recognised because he is the
only very small bird who wears a suit of deep, rich blue with
verdigris-green reflections {129} about the head--bluer than the
summer sky which pales where his little figure is outlined against it.

Mounting by erratic, short flights from the weedy places and bushy
tangles he hunts among to the branches of a convenient tree, singing
as he goes higher and higher, he remains for a time on a conspicuous
perch and rapidly and repeatedly sings. When almost every other bird
is moulting and moping, he warbles with the same fervour and timbre.
Possibly because he has the concert stage almost to himself in August,
he gets the credit of being a better performer than he really is. Only
the pewee and the red-eyed vireo, whom neither midday nor midsummer
heat can silence, share the stage with him then.


TOWHEE

_Called also: Chewink; Ground Robin; Joree_

From their hunting-ground in the blackberry tangle and bushes that
border a neighbouring wood, a family of chewinks sally forth boldly to
my piazza floor to pick up seed from the canary's cage, hemp, cracked
corn, sunflower seed, split pease, and wheat scattered about for their
especial benefit. One fellow grew bold enough to peck open a paper
bag. It is a daily happening to see at least one of the family close
{130} to the door; or even on the window-sill. The song, the English,
the chipping, the field, and the white-throated sparrows--any one or
all of these cousins--usually hop about with the chewinks most
amicably and with no greater ease of manner; but the larger chewink
hops more energetically and precisely than any of them, like a
mechanical toy.

Heretofore I had thought of this large, vigorous bunting as a rather
shy or at least self-sufficient bird with no desire to be neighbourly.
His readiness to be friends when sure of the genuineness of the
invitation, was a delightful surprise. From late April until late
October my softly-whistled _towhee_ has rarely failed to bring a
response from some pensioner, either in the woodland thicket or among
the rhododendrons next to the piazza where the seeds have been
scattered by the wind. _Chewink_, or _towhee_ comes the brisk call
from wherever the busy bunting is foraging. The chickadee,
whippoorwill, phoebe and pewee also tell you their names, but this
bird announces himself by two names, so you need make no mistake.

Because he was hatched in a ground nest and loves to scratch about on
the ground for insects, making the dead leaves and earth rubbish fly
like any barnyard fowl, the towhee it often called the ground robin.
He is a little smaller than robin-redbreast. Looked down upon from
{131} above he appears to be almost a black bird, for his upper parts,
throat and breast are very dark where his mate is brownish; but
underneath both are grayish white with patches of rusty red on their
sides, the colour resembling a robin's breast when its red has
somewhat faded toward the end of summer. The white feathers on the
towhee's short, rounded wings and on the sides of his tail are
conspicuous signals, as he flies jerkily to the nearest cover. You
could not expect a bird with such small wings to be a graceful flyer.

Rarely does he leave the ground except to sing his love-song. Then,
mounting no higher than a bush or low branch, he entrances his
sweetheart, if not the human critic, with a song to which Ernest
Thompson Seton supplies the well-fitted words: _Chuck-burr, pill-a
will-a-will-a._


RED-BREASTED GROSBEAK

Among birds, as among humans, it is the father who lends his name to
the family, however difficult it may be to know the mother and
children by it. Who that had not studied the books would recognise
Mrs. Scarlet Tanager by her name? or Mrs. Purple Finch? or Mrs. Indigo
Bunting? or Mrs. Rose-breasted Grosbeak? {132} The latter lady has not
a rose-coloured feather on her. She is a streaked, brown bird,
resembling an overgrown sparrow, with a thick, exaggerated finch bill
and a conspicuous, white eyebrow. When her husband wears his winter
clothes in the tropics, his feathers are said to be similar to hers,
so that even his name, then, does not fit. But when he returns to the
United States in May he is, in very truth, a rose-breasted grosbeak.
His back is as black as a chewink's; underneath he is grayish white,
and a patch of lovely, brilliant, rose colour on his breast, with wing
linings of the same shade, make him a splendidly handsome fellow.
Perhaps before you get a glimpse of the feathers that are his best
means of introduction, you may hear a thin _eek_ call-note from some
tree-top, or better still, listen to the sweet, pure, mellow, joyously
warbled song, now loud and clear, now softly tender, that puts him in
the first rank of our songsters.

Few birds so conspicuously dressed risk the safety of their nests
either by singing or by being seen near it, but this gentle cavalier
not only carries food to his brooding mate but actually takes his turn
at sitting upon the pale-greenish, blue-speckled eggs. As a lover,
husband, and father he is irreproachable.

A friend who reared four orphan grosbeaks says that they left the nest
when about eleven {133} days old. They were very tame, even
affectionate toward him, hopping over his shoulders, head, knees, and
hands without the least fear, and eating from his fingers. When only
ten weeks old the little boy grosbeaks began to warble. On being
released to pick up their own living in the garden, these pets repaid
their foster-father by eating quantities of potato-bugs, among other
pests. Some people call this grosbeak the potato-bug bird.


CARDINAL GROSBEAK

_Called also: Crested Redbird: Virginia Nightingale._

It was on a cold January day in Central Park, New York, that I first
met a cardinal and was warmed by the sight. Then I supposed that he
must have escaped from a cage, for he is uncommon north of Washington.
With tail and crest erect, he was hopping about rather clumsily on the
ground near the bear's cage, and picking up bits of broken peanuts
that had missed their mark. Presently a dove-coloured bird, lightly
washed with dull red, joined him and I guessed by her crest that she
must be his mate. Therefore both birds were permanent residents in the
park and not escaped pets. Although they look as if they belonged
{134} in the tropics, cardinals never migrate as the rose-breasted
grosbeak and so many of our fair-weather feathered friends do. That is
because they can live upon the weed seeds and the buds of trees and
bushes in winter as comfortably as upon insects in summer. It pays not
to be too particular.

In the Southern States every child knows the common cardinal and could
tell you that he is a little smaller than a robin (not half so
graceful), that he is red all over, except a small black area around
his red bill, and that he wears his head-feathers crested like the
blue jay and the titmouse. In a Bermuda garden, a shelf restaurant
nailed up in a cedar tree attracted cardinals about it every hour of
the day. If you can think of a prettier sight than that dark
evergreen, with the brilliant red birds hopping about in its branches
and the sparkling sapphire sea dashing over gray coral rocks in the
background, do ask some artist to paint it!

Few lady birds sing--an accomplishment usually given to their lover's
only, to help woo them. But the female cardinal is a charming singer
with a softer voice than her mate's--most becoming to one of her
sex--and an individual song quite different from his loud, clear
whistle.

[Illustration]

Cardinal

[Illustration]

That dusky rascal, the cowbird


{135}

CHAPTER IX

THE ILL-ASSORTED BLACKBIRD FAMILY

  Bobolink
  Cowbird
  Red-winged Blackbird
  Rusty Blackbird
  Meadowlark
  Orchard Oriole
  Baltimore Oriole
  Purple and Bronzed Grackles

{136}

{137}

BOBOLINK

_Called also: Reedbird; Ricebird; Ortolan; Maybird_


Such a rollicking, jolly singer is the bobolink! On a May morning,
when buttercups spangle the fresh grasses in the meadows, he rises
from their midst into the air with the merriest frolic of a song you
ever heard. Loud, clear, strong, full of queer kinks and twists that
could not possibly be written down in our musical scale, the rippling,
reckless music seems to keep his wings in motion as well as his
throat; for when it suddenly bursts forth, up he shoots into the air
like a skylark, and paddles himself along with just the tips of his
wings while it is the "mad music" that seemingly propels him:--then he
drops with his song into the grass again. Frequently he pours out his
hilarious melody while swaying on the slender stems of the grasses,
propped by the stiff, pointed feathers of his tail. A score or more of
bobolinks rising in some open meadow all day long, are worth
travelling miles to hear.

If you were to see the mate of one of these merry minstrels apart from
him, you might easily mistake her for another of those tiresome {138}
sparrows. A brown, streaked bird, with some buff and a few white
feathers, she shades into the colours of the ground as well as they
and covers her loose heap of twigs, leaves and grasses in the hay
field so harmoniously that few people ever find it or the clever
sitter.

As early as the Fourth of July, bobolinks begin to desert the choir,
being the first birds to leave us. Travelling southward by easy
stages, they feed on the wild rice in the marshes until, late in
August, enormous flocks reach the cultivated rice fields of South
Carolina and Georgia.

On the way, a great transformation has gradually taken place in the
male bobolink's dress. At the North he wore a black, buff and white
wedding garment, with the unique distinction of being lighter above
than below; but this he has exchanged, feather by feather, for a
striped, brown, sparrowy winter suit like his mate's and children's,
only with a little more buff about it.

In this inconspicuous dress the reedbirds, or ricebirds, as bobolinks
are usually called south of Mason and Dixon's line, descend in hordes
upon the rice plantations when the grain is in the milk, and do
several millions of dollars' worth of damage to the crop every year,
sad, sad to tell. Of course, the birds are snared, shot, poisoned. In
southern markets half {139} a dozen of them on a skewer may be bought,
plucked and ready for the oven, for fifty cents or less. Isn't this a
tragic fate to overtake our joyous songsters? Birds that have the
misfortune to like anything planted by man, pay a terribly heavy
penalty.

Such bobolinks as escape death, leave this country by way of Florida
and continue their four thousand mile journey to southern Brazil,
where they spend the winter; yet, nothing daunted by the tragedies in
the rice fields, they dare return to us by the same route in May. By
this time the males have made another complete change of feather to go
a-courting. Most birds are content to moult once a year, just after
nursery duties have ended; some, it is true, put on a partially new
suit in the following spring, retaining only their old wing and tail
feathers; but a very few, the bobolink, goldfinch, and scarlet tanager
among them, undergo as complete a change as Harlequin.


COWBIRD

This contemptible bird every child should know if for no better reason
than to despise it. You will see it alone or in small flocks walking
about the pastures after the cattle; or, in the {140} West, boldly
perching upon their backs to feed upon the insect parasites--a
pleasant visitor for the cows. So far, so good.

The male is a shining, greenish-black bird, smaller than a robin, with
a coffee-brown head and neck. His morals are awful, for he makes
violent love to any brownish-gray cowbird he fancies but mates with
none. What should be his song is a squeaking _kluck tse-e-e_, squeezed
out with difficulty, or a gurgle, like water being poured from a
bottle. When he goes a-wooing, he behaves ridiculously, parading with
spread wings and tail and acting as if he were violently nauseated in
the presence of the lady. Fancy a cousin of the musical bobolink
behaving so!

And nothing good can be said for the female cowbird. Shirking as she
does every motherly duty, she sneaks about the woods and thickets,
slyly watching her chance to lay an egg in the cradle of some other
bird, since she never makes a nest of her own. Thus she scatters her
prospective family throughout the neighbourhood. The yellow warbler,
who is a famous sufferer from her visits, sometimes outwits her, as we
have seen; but other warblers, less clever, the vireos, some sparrows,
and, more rarely, woodpeckers, flycatchers, orioles, thrushes and
wrens, seem to accept the unwelcome gift without a protest. If you
were a bird so imposed upon, wouldn't {141} you peck holes in that
egg, or roll it out of your nest, or build another cradle rather than
hatch a big, greedy interloper that would smother and starve your own
babies? Probably every cowbird you see has sacrificed the lives of at
least part of a brood of valuable, insectivorous songsters. Without
the least spark of gratitude in its cold heart, a young cowbird
grafter forsakes its over-kind foster parents as soon as it can pick
up its living and remains henceforth among its own kin--of whom only
cows could think well.


RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD

_Called also: Swamp Blackbird_

When you are looking for the first pussy willows in the frozen
marshes, or listening to the peeping of young frogs some day in early
spring, you will, no doubt, become acquainted with this handsome
blackbird, with red and orange epaulettes on his shoulders, who has
just returned, from the South. _''Ke, kong-ker-ee,''_ he flutes from
the willows and alders about the reedy meadows where he and his
bachelor friends flock together and make them ring "with social cheer
and jubilee." A little later, flocks of dingy, brown, streaked birds,
{142} travelling northward, pause to rest in the marshes. Wholesale
courting takes place shortly after and every red-wing in a black
uniform chooses one of the plain, streaked, matter-of-fact birds for
his mate. The remainder continue their unmaidenly journey in search of
husbands, whom they find waiting in cheerful readiness in almost any
marsh. By the first of May all have settled down to home life.

Then how constant are the rich, liquid, sweet _o-ka-lee_ notes of the
red-wing! Ever in foolish fear for the safety of his nest, he
advertises its whereabouts in musical headlines from the top of the
nearest tree, or circles around it on fluttering wings above the
sedges, or _chucks_ at any trespasser near it until one might easily
torture him by going straight to its site.

But how short-lived is this excessive devotion to his family! In July,
the restless young birds flock with the mothers, but the now
indifferent fathers keep apart by themselves. Strange conduct for such
fussy, solicitous birds! They congregate in large numbers where the
wild rice is ripening and make short excursions to the farmers'
fields, where they destroy some grain, it is true, but so little as
compared with the quantity of injurious insects and weed seed, that
the debt is largely in the red-wings' favour.

{143}

RUSTY BLACKBIRD

_Called also: Thrush Blackbird_

This cousin of the red-wing, whom it resembles in size, flight and
notes, is a common migrant in the United States. Nesting is done
farther north. In spring, the rusty blackbirds come from the South in
pairs, already mated, whereas the red-wings and grackles travel then
in flocks. At that time the males are a uniform glossy, bluish-black,
and their mates a slate gray, darker above than below; but after the
summer moult, when they gather in small companies, both are decidedly
rusty. You might mistake them for grackles in the spring, but never
for male red-wings then with their bright epaulettes. Notice the rusty
blackbird's pale yellow eye.


MEADOWLARK

_Called also: Old-field Lark; Meadow Starling_

Every farmer's boy knows his father's friend, the meadowlark, the
brownish, mottled bird, larger than a robin, with a lovely yellow
breast and black crescent on it, that keeps well hidden in the grass
of the meadows or grain fields. Of course he knows, too, that it is
not really a lark, but a starling. When the shy bird takes wing, note
the white feathers on the {144} sides of its tail to be sure it is not
the big, brownish flicker, who wears a patch of white feathers on its
lower back, conspicuous as it flies. The meadowlark has the impolite
habit of turning its back upon one as if it thought its yellow breast
too beautiful for human eyes to gaze at. It flaps and sails through
the air much like bob-white. But flying is not its specialty. It is,
however, a strong-legged, active walker, and rarely rises from the
ground unless an intruder gets very near, when away it flies, with a
nasal, sputtered alarm note, to alight upon a fence rail or other low
perch.

The tender, sweet, plaintive, flute-like whistle,
_Spring-o'-the-year_, is a deliberate song usually given from some
favourite platform--a stump, a rock, a fence or a mound, to which the
bird goes for his musical performance only. He sings on and on
delightfully, not always the same song, for he has several in his
repertoire, and charms all listeners, although he cares to please none
but his mate, that looks just like him.

She keeps well concealed among the grasses where her grassy nest is
almost impossible to find, especially if it be partly arched over at
the top. No farmer who realises what an enormous number of
grasshoppers, not to mention other destructive insects, meadowlarks
destroy, is foolish enough to let his {145} mowing-machine pass over
their nests if he can but locate them. By the time the hay is ready
for cutting in June, the active meadowlark babies are usually running
about through grassy run-ways, but eggs of the second brood too
frequently, alas! meet a tragic end.


ORCHARD ORIOLE

Fortunately many other birds besides this oriole prefer to live in
orchards; otherwise think how many worm-eaten apples there would be!
He usually has the kingbird for company, and, strange to say, keeps on
friendly terms with that rather exclusive fellow; also the robin, the
bluebird, the cedar waxwing and several other feathered neighbours who
show a preference for fruit trees when it is time to nest. You may
know the orchard oriole's cradle by its excellent weaving. It is not a
deep, swinging pouch, like the Baltimore oriole's, but a well-rounded
cup, more like a vireo's, formed of grasses of nearly even length and
width, cut green and woven with far more skill and precision than a
basket made by a boy or a girl is apt to be. Look for it near the end
of a limb, ten to twenty feet up. It is by no means easily seen when
the green, grassy cup matches the colour of the leaves.

The mother oriole is so harmoniously dressed {146} in grayish olive
green, more yellowish underneath, that you may scarcely notice her as
she glides among the trees; but her mate is more conspicuous, however
quietly dressed in black and reddish chestnut--even somberly dressed
as compared with his flashy orange and black cousin, the Baltimore
oriole. Nevertheless, it takes him two, or possibly three years to
attain his fine clothes. By that time his song is rich, sweet and
strong.

Do orioles generally take special delight in the music of a piano? An
orchard oriole who used to come close to our house to feed on the
basket worms dangling from a tamarix bush, returned long after the
last worm had been eaten whenever someone touched the keys. And I have
known more than one Baltimore oriole to fly about the house, joyously
singing, as if attracted and excited by the music in-doors.


BALTIMORE ORIOLE

_Called also: Firebird; Golden Robin; Hang-nest;
Golden Oriole_

A flash of flame among the tender young spring foliage; a rich, high,
whistled song from the blossoming cherry trees, and every child knows
that the sociable Baltimore oriole has just returned from Central
America.


[Illustration]

The gorgeous Baltimore oriole


[Illustration]

How do you suppose these young Baltimore orioles ever packed
themselves into so small a nest?

{147}

Brilliant orange and black feathers like his could no more be
concealed than the fiery little redstart's; and as if they alone were
not enough to advertise his welcome presence in the neighbourhood, he
keeps up a rich, ringing, insistent whistle that you can quickly learn
to imitate. You have often started all the roosters in your
neighbourhood to crowing, no doubt; even so you can "whistle up" the
mystified orioles, who are always disposed to live near our homes.
Although the Baltimore oriole has a Southern name, he is really more
common at the North, whereas the orchard oriole is more at home south
of New England.

Lady Baltimore, who wears a yellowish-olive dress with dusky wings and
tail, has the reputation of being one of the finest nest builders in
the world. To the end of a branch of some tall shade tree, preferably
an elm or willow, although almost any large tree on a lawn or roadside
may suit her, she carries grasses, plant fibre, string, or bits of
cloth. These she weaves and felts into a perfect bag six or seven
inches deep and lines it with finer grasses, hair and wool--a safe,
cozy, swinging cradle for her babies.

But, as you may imagine, those babies have a rather hard time when
they try to climb out of it into the world. Many a one tumbles to the
ground, unable to hold on to the tip of a {148} swaying twig, and not
being strong enough to fly. Then what a tremendous fuss the parents
make! They cannot carry the youngster up into the tree; they are in
deadly fear of cats; they are too worried and excited to leave him
alone; but the plucky little fellow usually hops toward the tree and
with the help of his sharp claws on the rough bark, flutters his way
up to the first limb. People who have brought up broods of orphan
orioles say that they are unusually lively, interesting pets. The
little girl orioles will attempt, instinctively, to weave worsted,
string, grass, or whatever is given them to play with, for of course
they never took a lesson in weaving from their expert mother.


THE PURPLE AND THE BRONZED GRACKLES

_Called also: Crow Blackbirds_

You probably know either one of our two crow blackbirds, similar in
size and habits, one with purplish, iridescent plumage, the commonest
grackle east of the Alleghenies and south of Massachusetts, and the
bronzed grackle, with brassy tints in his black plumage, who overruns
the Western country and from Massachusetts northward. {149} Both have
uncanny, yellow eyes that make you suspect they may be witches in
disguise. Their mates are a trifle smaller and duller.

When the trees are still leafless in earliest spring and the ground is
brown and cold, flocks of blackbirds dot the bare trees or take
shelter from March winds among their favourite evergreens, or walk
solemnly about on the earth like small crows, feeding on fat white
grubs and beetles in a business-like way. They are singularly joyless
birds. A croaking, wheezy whistle, like the sound of a cart wheel that
needs axle-grease, expresses whatever pleasure they may have in life.

Always sociable, living in flocks the entire year through, it is in
autumn only that they band together in enormous numbers, and in the
West especially, do serious havoc in the cornfields. However, they do
incalculable good as insect destroyers, so the farmers must forgive
the "maize thieves."

......

Was ever a family so ill-assorted as the blackbird and oriole clan?
What traits are common to every member of it? Not one, that I know.
Some of the family, as you have seen, are gorgeously clad, like the
Baltimore oriole; some quite plainly, like the cowbird; and although
black seems to be a prevalent colour in the {150} plumage, the
meadowlark, for example, is a brown bird with only a black crescent on
its breast. Most of the males are dressed quite differently from their
mates, although the female grackles are merely duller. Some of these
birds sing exquisitely; others wheeze or croak a few unmusical notes.
Some live in huge flocks; some live in couples. Some, like the
bobolinks, travel to the tropics and beyond every winter; others, like
the meadowlark, can endure the intense cold of the North. Part of the
family feed upon the ground, but the oriole branch live in the trees.
Devotion to mates and children characterise most of the family, but we
cannot overlook the cowbird that neither mates nor takes the slightest
care of its offspring. The cowbird builds no nest, while its cousin,
the Baltimore oriole, is a famous weaver. The bobolink is a
rollicking, jolly fellow; the grackle is solemn, even morose. What a
queer family!


[Illustration]

Young orchard orioles


[Illustration]

"There were three crows sat on a tree"

{151}

CHAPTER X

RASCALS WE MUST ADMIRE

  American Crow
  Blue Jay
  Canada Jay


{152}

{153}

AMERICAN CROW

Two close relatives there are which, like the poor, are always with
us--the crow and the blue jay. Both are mischievous rascals,
extraordinarily clever, with the most highly developed brains that any
of our birds possess. Some men of science believe that, because of
their brain power, they rightly belong at the head of the bird class
where the thrushes now stand; but who wishes to see a family of
songless rogues awarded the highest honours of the class _Aves?_

No bird is so well known to "every child," so admired by artists, so
hated by farmers, as the crow, who flaps his leisurely way above the
cornfields with a _caw_ for friend and foe alike, not caring the least
for anyone's opinion of him, good or bad. Perhaps he knows his own
true worth better than the average farmer, who has persecuted him with
bounty laws, shotgun, and poison for generations. The crow keeps no
account of the immense numbers of grubs and larvae he picks up as he
walks after the plough every spring, nor does the farmer, who
nevertheless counts the corn stolen as fast as it is planted, and as
fast as it ripens, {154} you may be very sure, and puts a price on the
robber's head. Yet he knows that corn, dipped in tar before it is put
in the ground, will be left alone to sprout. But who is clever enough
to keep the crows out of the field in autumn?

How humiliated would humans feel if they realised what these knowing
birds must think of us when we set up in our cornfields the
absurd-looking scares they so calmly ignore! Some crows I know ate
every kernel off every ear around the scare-crow in a neighbour's
field, but touched no stalk very far from it, as much as to say: "We
take your dare along with your corn, Mr. Silly. If the ox that
treadeth out his corn is entitled to his share of it, ought not we,
who saved it from grasshoppers, cutworms, May beetles and other pests,
be sharers in the profits?" Granted; but what about eating the
farmer's young chickens and turkeys as well as the eggs and babies of
little song birds? At times, it must be admitted, the crow's heart is
certainly as dark as his feathers; he is as black as he is painted,
but happily such cannibalism is apt to be rare. Strange that a bird so
tenderly devoted to his own fledglings, should be so heartless to
others'!

Toward the end of winter, you may see a pair of crows carrying sticks
and trash to the top of some tall tree in the leafless woods, {155}
and there, in this bulky cradle, almost as bulky as a squirrel's nest,
they raise their family. Young crows may be easily tamed and they make
interesting, but very mischievous pets. It is only when crows are
nesting that they give up their social, flocking habit.

In winter, if the fields be lean, large picturesque flocks may be seen
at dawn streaking across the sky to distant beaches where they feed on
worms, refuse and small shellfish. More than one crow has been
watched, rising in the air with a clam or a mussel in his claws,
dropping it on a rock, then falling after it, as soon as the shell is
smashed, to feast upon its contents. The fish crow, a distinct
species, never found far inland, although not necessarily seen near
water, may be distinguished from our common crow by its hoarser _car_.
In some cases it joins its cousins on the beaches. With punctual
regularity at sundown, the flocks straggle back inland to go to sleep,
sometimes thousands of crows together in a single roost. Many birds
have more regular meal hours and bed-time than some children seem to
care for. Because crows eat almost anything they can find, and pick up
a good living where other birds, more finical or less clever, would
starve, they rarely need to migrate; but they are great rovers. There
is not a day in the year when you could not find a crow.

{156}

BLUE JAY

This vivacious, dashing fellow, harsh-voiced and noisy, cannot be
overlooked; for when a brightly coloured bird, about a foot long,
roves about your neighbourhood with a troop of screaming relatives,
everybody knows it. In summer he keeps quiet, but throws off all
restraint in autumn. Hear him hammering at an acorn some frosty
morning! How vigorous his motions, how alert and independent! His
beautiful military blue, black and white feathers, and crested head,
give him distinction.

He is certainly handsome. But is his beauty only skin deep? Does it
cover, in reality, a multitude of sins? Shocking stories of murder in
the song bird's nest have branded the blue jay with quite as bad a
name as the crow's. The brains of fledglings, it has been said, are
his favourite tid-bits. But happily scientists, who have turned the
searchlight on his deeds, find that his sins have been very greatly
exaggerated. Remains of young birds were found in only two out of
nearly three hundred blue jays' stomachs analysed. Birds' eggs are
more apt to be sucked by both jays and squirrels than are the
nestlings to be eaten. Do you ever enjoy an egg for breakfast? Fruit,
grain, thin-shelled nuts, and the larger seeds of trees {157} and
shrubs, gathered for the most part in Nature's open store-room, not in
man's, are what the jay chiefly delights in; and these he hides away,
squirrel-fashion, to provide for the rainy day. More than half of all
his food in summer consists of insects, so you see he is then quite as
useful as his cousin, the crow.

Jays are fearful teasers. How they love to chase about some poor,
blinking, bewildered owl, in the daylight! _Jay-jay-jay_, you may hear
them scream through the woods. They mimic the hawk's cry for no better
reason, perhaps, than that they may laugh at the panic into which
timid little birds are thrown at the terrifying sound. A pet jay I
knew could whistle up the stupid house-dog, who was fooled again and
again. This same jay used to carry all its beech nuts to a piazza
roof, wedge them between the shingles, and open them there with ease.
An interesting array of hair pins, matches, buttons, a thimble and a
silver spoon were raked out of his favourite cache under the eaves.


CANADA JAY

_Called also: Whiskey Jack; Moose-bird; Meat-bird_

Anyone who has camped in the northern United States and over the
Canadian border knows that the crow and blue jay have a rogue for
{158} a cousin in this sleek, bold thief, the Canada jay. He is a
fluffy, big, gray bird, without a crest, with a white throat and
forehead and black patch at the back of his neck. This rascal will
walk alone or with his gang into your tent, steal your candles,
matches, venison, and collar-buttons before your eyes, or help himself
to the fish bait while he perches on your canoe, or laugh at you with
an impudent _ca-ca-ca_ from the mountain ash tree where he and his
friends are feasting on the berries; then glide to the ground to slyly
pick a trap set for mink or marten. Fortunate the trapper who, on his
return, does not find either bait gone, or game damaged.

Fearless, amazingly hardy (having been hatched in zero weather),
mischievous and clever to a maddening degree, this jay, like his
cousins, compels admiration, although we know all three to be rogues.


[Illustration]

Blue jay on her nest


[Illustration]

Five little teasers get no dinner from Mamma blue jay


[Illustration]

Not afraid of the camera: baby blue jay out for their first airing

{159}

CHAPTER XI

THE FLYCATCHERS

  Kingbird
  Crested Flycatcher
  Phoebe
  Pewee
  Least Flycatcher

{160}

{161}

THE FLYCATCHERS

When you see a dusky bird, smaller than a robin, lighter gray
underneath than on its sooty-brown back, with a well-rounded, erect
head, set on a short, thick neck, you may safely guess it is one of
the flycatchers--another strictly American family. If the bird has a
white band across the end of its tail it is probably the fearless
kingbird. If the feathers on top of its head look as if they had been
brushed the wrong way into a pointed crest; moreover, if some chestnut
colour shows in its tail when spread, and its pearly gray breast
shades into yellow underneath, you are looking at the noisy "wild
Irishman" of birddom, the crested flycatcher. Confiding Phoebe wears
the plainest of dull clothes with a still darker, dusky crown cap, and
a line of white on her outer tail feathers. She and the plaintive wood
pewee, who has two indistinct whitish bars across her extra-long
wings, are scarcely larger than an English sparrow; while the least
flycatcher, who calls himself _Chebec_, is, as you may suppose, the
smallest member of the tribe to leave the tropics and spend the summer
with us. Male and female members of this {162} family wear similar
clothes, fortunately for "every child" who tries to identify them.

You can tell a flycatcher at sight by the way he collects his dinner.
Perhaps he will be sitting quietly on the limb of a tree or on a fence
as if dreaming, when suddenly off he dashes into the air, clicks his
broad bill sharply over a winged insect, flutters an instant, then
wheels about and returns to his favourite perch to wait for the next
course to fly by. He may describe fifty such loops in mid-air and make
as many fatal snap-shots before his hunger is satisfied. A swallow or
a swift would keep constantly on the wing; a vireo would hunt
leisurely among the foliage; a warbler would restlessly flit about the
tree hunting for its dinner among the leaves; but the dignified,
dexterous flycatcher, like a hawk, waits patiently on his lookout for
a dinner to fly toward him. "All things come to him who waits," he
firmly believes.

None of the family is musically gifted, but all make a more or less
pleasing noise. Flycatchers are solitary, sedentary birds, never being
found in flocks; but when mated, they are devoted home lovers.

We are apt to think of tropical birds as very gaily feathered, but
certainly many that come from warmer climes to spend the summer with
us are less conspicuous than Quakers.


[Illustration]

The dashing, great crested flycatcher


[Illustration]

Baby kingbirds in an apple tree


{163}

KINGBIRD

_Called also: Bee Martin_


In spite of his scientific name, which has branded him the tyrant of
tyrants, the kingbird is by no means a bully. See him high in air in
hot pursuit of that big, black, villainous crow, who dared try to rob
his nest, darting about the rascal's head and pecking at his eyes
until he is glad to leave the neighbourhood! There seems to be an
eternal feud between them. Even the marauding hawk, that strikes
terror to every other feathered breast, will be driven off by the
plucky little kingbird. But surely a courageous home defender is no
tyrant. A kingbird doesn't like the scolding catbird for a neighbour,
or the teasing blue jay, or the meddlesome English sparrow, but he
simply gives them a wide berth. He is no Don Quixote ready to fight
from mere bravado. _Tyrannus tyrannus_ is a libel.

For years he has been called the bee martin and some scientific men in
Washington determined to learn if that name, also, is deserved. So
they collected over two hundred kingbirds from different parts of the
country, examined their stomachs and found bees--mostly drones--in
only fourteen. The bird is too keen sighted and clever to snap up
knowingly a bee with a {164} sting attached, you may be sure; but
occasionally he makes a mistake when, don't you believe, he is more
sorry for it than the beekeeper? He destroys so many robber flies--a
pest of the hives--that the intelligent apiarist, who keeps bees in
his orchard to fertilise the blossoms, always likes to see a pair of
kingbirds nesting in one of his fruit trees. The gardener welcomes the
bird that eats rose chafers; the farmer approves of him because he
catches the gadfly that torments his horses and cattle, as well as the
grasshoppers, katydids and crickets that would destroy his field crops
if left unchecked.

From a favourite lookout on a tall mullein stalk, a kingbird neighbour
of mine would detect an insect over one hundred and seventy feet away,
where no human eye could see it, dash off, snap it safely within his
bill, flutter uncertainly an instant, then return to his perch ready
to "loop the loop" again any moment. The curved clasp at the tip of
his bill and the stiff hairs at the base helped hold every insect his
prisoner. While waiting for food to fly into sight the watcher did a
good deal of calling. His harsh, chattering note, _ching, ching_,
which penetrated to a surprising distance, did not express alarm, but
rather the exultant joy of victory.


[Illustration]

Four crested flycatchers who need to have their hair brushed


[Illustration]

Time for these young phoebes to leave the nest


[Illustration]

Young phoebes on a bridge trestle


{165}

He and his mate were certainly frantic with fear, however, when I
climbed into their apple tree one June morning, determined to have a
peep at the five creamy-white eggs, speckled with brown and pale
lilac, that had just been laid in the nest in a crotch near the end of
a stout limb. Whirling and dashing about my head, the pair made me
lose my balance, and I tumbled ten feet or more to the ground. As the
intruder fell, they might well have exclaimed--perhaps they did--_"Sic
semper tyrannis!"_


CRESTED FLYCATCHER

Far more tyrannical than the kingbird is this "wild Irishman," as John
Burroughs calls the large flycatcher with the tousled head and harsh,
uncanny voice, who prowls around the woods and orchards startling most
feathered friends and foes with a loud, piercing exclamation that
sounds like _What!_ Unlike good children, he is more often heard than
seen.

That the solitary, unpopular bird takes a mischievous delight in
scaring its enemies, you may know when I tell you that it likes better
than any other lining for its nest, a cast snake skin. Is it any
wonder that the baby flycatchers' hair stands on end? If the
great-crest cannot find the skin of a snake to coil {166} around her
eggs, or to hang out of the nest, she may use onion skins, or oiled
paper, or even fish scales; for what was once a protective custom,
sometimes becomes degraded into a cheap imitation of the imitation in
the furnishing of her house. Into an abandoned woodpeckers' hole or a
bluebirds' cavity after the babies of these early nesters have flown,
or into some unappropriated hollow in a tree, this flycatcher carries
enough grasses, weeds and feathers to keep her nestlings cozy during
those rare days of June beloved by Lowell, but which Dr. Holmes
observed are often so rare they are raw.


PHOEBE

_Called also: Bridge Pewee; Dusky Flycatcher;
Water Pewee_


The first of its family to come North, as well as the last to leave us
for the winter, the phoebe appears toward the end of March to snap up
the first insects warmed into life by the spring sunshine. Grackles in
the evergreens, red-wings in the swampy meadows, bluebirds in the
orchard may assure us that summer is on the way; but the homely,
confiding phoebe, who comes close about our houses and barns, brings
the good news home to us every hour.

{167}

_Pewit--phoebe, pewit--phoebe_, he calls continually. As he perches on
the peak of a building or other point of vantage, notice how
vigorously he wags his tail when he calls, and turns his head this way
and that, to keep an eye in all directions lest a bite should fly by
him unawares.

Presently a mate comes from somewhere south of the Carolinas where she
has passed the winter; for phoebes are more hardy than the rest of the
family and do not travel all the way to the tropics. With unfailing
accuracy she finds the region where she built her nest the previous
season or where she herself was hatched. This instinct of returned
direction is marvellous, is it not? Sometimes it is hard enough for us
humans to find the way home when not ten miles away. Did you ever get
lost? Birds almost never do.

Phoebes like a covering over their heads to protect their nests from
spring rains, so you will see a domesticated couple going about the
place like a pair of wrens, investigating niches under the piazza
roof, beams in an empty barn loft and projections under bridges and
trestles. By the middle of April a neat nest of moss and lichen,
plastered together with mud and lined with long hair or wool, if sheep
are near, is made in the vicinity of their home of the year before.
{168} The nursery is exquisitely fashioned--one of the best pieces of
bird architecture you are likely to find.

Some over-thrifty housekeepers, nevertheless, tear down nests from
their piazzas, because the poor little phoebes are so afflicted with
lice that they are considered objectionable neighbours. Many wild
birds, like chickens, have their life-blood drawn by these minute
pests. But a thorough dusting of the phoebe's nest with Persian powder
would bring relief to the tormented birds, save their babies, perhaps,
from death and keep the piazza free from vermin. No birds enjoy a bath
in your fountain or water pan more than these tormented ones.

From purely selfish motives it pays to cultivate neighbours ever on
the lookout for flies, wasps, May beetles, click beetles, elm
destroyers and the moth of the cutworm. The first nest is usually so
infested that the phoebes either tear it down in July, and build a new
one on its site, or else make the second nest at a little distance
from the first. The parents of two broods of from four to six
ravenously hungry, insectivorous young, with an instinctive desire to
return to their old home year after year, should surely meet no
discouragement from thinking farmers' wives.

Shouldn't you think that baby phoebes, reared in nests under railroad
bridges, would {169} be fearfully frightened whenever a train
thundered overhead?


WOOD PEWEE

When you have been wandering through the summer woods did you ever,
like Trowbridge, sit down

  "Beside the brook, irresolute,
  And watch a little bird in suit
  Of sombre olive, soft and brown,
  Perched in the maple branches, mute?
  With greenish gold its vest was fringed,
  Its tiny cap was ebon-tinged,
  With ivory pale its wings were barred,
  And its dark eyes were tender starred.
  'Dear bird,' I said, 'what is thy name?'
  And thrice the mournful answer came.
  So faint and far, and yet so near--
  'Pewee! pe-wee! peer!'"

Doubtless this demure, gentle little cousin of the noisy, aggressive,
crested flycatcher has no secret sorrow preying at its heart, but the
tender pathos of its long-drawn notes would seem to indicate that it
is rather melancholy. And it sings (in spite of the books which teach
us that the flycatchers are "songless, perching birds") from the time
of its arrival from Central America in May until only the tireless
indigo bunting and the red-eyed vireo are left in the choir in August.

But how suddenly its melancholy languor {170} departs the instant an
insect flies within sight! With a cheerful, sudden sally in mid-air,
it snaps up the luscious bite, for it can be quite as active as any of
the family. While not so ready to be neighbourly as the phoebe, the
pewee condescends to visit our orchards and shade trees.

When nesting time comes, it looks for a partly decayed, lichen-covered
branch, and on to this saddles a compact, exquisite cradle of fine
grass, moss and shreds of bark, binding bits of lichen with spiders'
web to the outside until the sharpest of eyes are needed to tell the
stuccoed nest from the limb it rests on. Only the tiny hummingbird,
who also uses lichen as a protective and decorative device, conceals
her nest so successfully.


LEAST FLYCATCHER

_Called also: Chebec_


It is not until he calls out his name, _Chebec! Chebec!_ in clear and
business-like tones from some tree-top that you could identify this
fluffy flycatcher, scarcely more than five inches long, whose dusky
coat and light vest offer no helpful markings. Not a single gay
feather relieves his sombre suit. Isn't this a queer, Quakerly taste
for a bird that spends half his life {171} in the tropics among
gorgeously feathered friends? Even the plain vireos, as a family, wear
finer clothes than the dusky flycatchers. You may know that the chebec
is not one of those deliberate searchers of foliage by his sudden,
murderous sallies in mid-air.

Abundant from Pennsylvania to Quebec, the least flycatchers are too
inconspicuous to be much noticed. They haunt apple orchards chiefly at
nesting time, fortunately for the crop, and at no season secrete
themselves in shady woods as pewees do. A little chebec neighbour of
mine used to dart through the spray from the hose that played on the
lawn late every every afternoon during a drought, and sit on the
tennis net to preen his wet feathers; but he nearly put out my eyes in
his excitement and anger when I presumed on so much friendliness to
peep into his nest.

{172}

{173}

CHAPTER XII

SOME QUEER RELATIONS

  Whip-poor-will
  Nighthawk
  Chimney Swift
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird

{174}

{175}

WHIP-POOR-WILL

A queer, shadowy bird, that sleeps all day in the dense wood and flies
about through open country after dark as softly as an owl, would be
difficult for any child to know were it not for the weird, snappy
triplets of notes that tell his name. Every one knows him far better
by sound than by sight. _Whip-poor-will (chuck) whip-poor-will (chuck)
whip-poor-will (chuck)_ he calls rapidly for about two hours, just
after sunset or before sunrise from some low place, fluttering his
wings at each announcement of his name. But you must be near him to
hear the _chuck_ at the end of each vigorous triplet; most listeners
don't know it is there.

You might be very close indeed without seeing the plump bird, about
the size of a robin, who has flattened himself lengthwise against a
lichen-covered branch until you cannot tell bird from bark. Or he may
be on a rock or an old, mossy log, where he rests serene in the
knowledge that his mottled, dull dark-brown, gray, buff, black and
white feathers blend perfectly with his resting place. He must choose
a spot broad enough to support his {176} whole body, for, like his
cousin, the nighthawk, and his more distant relatives, the hummingbird
and the swift, his feet are too small and weak for much perching. You
never see him standing erect on a twig with his toes clasped around
it, but always squatting when at rest.

A narrow white band across his throat makes his depressed head look as
if it had been separated from his body--a queer effect that may remind
you of the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland." The whip-poor-will's
three outer tail feathers have white ends which help to distinguish
him from the nighthawk. He has a funny little short beak, but his
large mouth stretches from ear to ear, and when he flies low above the
fields after sunset, this trap is kept open, like the swift's and the
swallow's, to catch any night-flying insects--mosquitoes, June bugs,
gnats, katydids and little moths--that cross his path. Long,
stiffened bristles at the ends of his mouth prevent the escape of a
victim past the gaping trap. On the wing the bird is exceedingly swift
and graceful. Some children mistake him for a bat or a nighthawk.

Relying upon the protective covering of her soft plumage, the mother
whip-poor-will builds no nest, but lays a pair of mottled eggs
directly on the ground in the dark woods where a carpet of dead leaves
and decayed wood makes concealment perfect.


[Illustration]

Least flycatchers in a rose bush.


[Illustration]

Nighthawk resting in the sunlight.


{177}

Not even the ovenbird contrives that a peep at her eggs shall be so
difficult for us. It is next to impossible to find them. Unlike the
wicked cowbird, who builds no nest because she has no maternal
instinct, the whip-poor-will, who is a devoted mother, makes none
because none is needed. Once I happened upon two fuzzy, dark,
yellowish-gray, baby whip-poor-wills (mostly mouths) in a hollow of a
decayed, lichen-covered log, which was their "comfy" cradle; but the
frantic mother, who flopped and tumbled about on the ground around
them, whining like a puppy, sent me running away from sheer pity.

In the Southern States a somewhat larger whip-poor-will, but with the
same habits, is known as chuck-will's-widow.


NIGHTHAWK

_Called also: Bull-bat; Night-jar; Mosquito-hawk_

Did you ever hear a rushing, whirring, booming sound as though wind
were blowing across the bung-hole of an empty barrel? The nighthawk,
who makes it, is such a high flyer, that in the dusk of the late
afternoon or early evening, when he delights to sail abroad to get his
dinner, you cannot always see him; but as {178} he coasts down from
the sky--not on a sled, but on his half-closed wings--with tremendous
speed, the rush of air through his stiff, long wing feathers makes an
uncanny, aeolian music that silly, superstitious people have declared
is a bad omen. You might think he would dash out his brains in such a
headlong dive through the air, but before he hits the earth, a sudden
turn saves him and off he goes unharmed, skimming above the ground and
catching insects after the whip-poor-will's manner. He lacks the
helpful bristles at the ends of his fly-trap. Don't imagine, because
of his name, that he flies about only at night. He is not so nocturnal
in his habits as the whip-poor-will. Toward the end of summer,
especially, he may be seen coursing over the open country at almost
any hour of the day. Once in a while, as he hunts, he calls _peent_--a
sharp cry that reminds you of the meadowlark's nasal call-note.
Presently, mounting upward higher and higher, at the leisurely rate of
a boy dragging his sled up hill, he seems to reach the very clouds,
when down he coasts again, faster than a boy's flexible flyer. Listen
for the booming noise of this coaster! Evidently he enjoys the sport
as much as any boy or girl, for he repeats his sky-coasting very often
without having to wait for a snow-storm. Indeed, when winter comes, he
is enjoying another summer in South {179} America. Life without
insects would be impossible for him.

When he is coursing low above the fields, with quick, erratic,
bat-like turns, notice the white spots, almost forming a bar across
his wings, for they will help you to distinguish him from the
whip-poor-will, who carries his white signals on the outer feathers of
his tail. Both of these cousins wear the same colours, only they put
them on differently, the whip-poor-will having his chiefly mottled,
the nighthawk his chiefly barred. The latter wears a broader white
band across his throat. His mate substitutes buff for his white
decorations.

Like the mother whip-poor-will, she makes no nest but places her two
speckled treasures in some sunny spot, either on the bare ground, on a
rock, or even on the flat roof of a house. Since electric lights
attract so many insects to the streets of towns and villages, the
enterprising nighthawk often forsakes the country to rear her children
where they may enjoy the benefits of modern improvements.

Both the nighthawk and the whip-poor-will belong to the goatsucker
family. Did you ever hear a more ridiculous name? Eighty-five innocent
birds of this tribe, found in most parts of the world, have to bear it
because some careless observer may have seen one of their number
flying among a herd of goats in Europe to catch {180} the insects on
them, just as cowbirds follow our cattle; and he imagined the bird was
actually drinking the goat's milk!


CHIMNEY SWIFT

There are some children, and grown-ups, too, who persist in calling
this bird the chimney swallow, although it is not even remotely
related to the swallow family, and its life history, as well as its
anatomy, are quite different from a swallow's, as you shall see.

Down within some unused chimney, the modern babies of this
soot-coloured, dark, grayish-brown bird first open their eyes.
Old-fashioned swifts still nest in hollow trees or caves, but chimneys
are so much more abundant and convenient, that up-to-date birds prefer
them. Without stopping in their flight, the parent swifts snap off
with their beaks or feet, little twigs at the ends of dead branches,
and these they carry, one by one, into a chimney, gluing them against
the side until they have finished an almost flat, shelf-like, lattice
cradle. Where do they get their glue? Only during the nesting season
do certain glands in their mouths flow a brownish fluid that quickly
gums and hardens when exposed to the air. After nursery duties have
ended, the gland shrinks from disuse.


[Illustration]

A chimney swift at rest


[Illustration]

Hummingbird pumping food into her babies' crops


[Illustration]

Twin rubythroats


{181}

When the basket cradle has been stuck against a chimney-side, it looks
as if it were covered with a thin coat of isinglass. On this lattice
from four to six white eggs are laid. A friend, who innocently started
a fire in his library one cold, rainy mid-summer evening, was startled
and shocked when a nest and eggs suddenly fell on the hearth. He had
no idea birds were nesting in his chimney. The rush of their wings he
had thought was the wind. Of course the fire melted the glue, when
down fell the cradle. Happily there were no "babies and all" to tumble
into the flames.

When the baby swifts are old enough to climb out of the lattice, they
still cling near it for about a fortnight waiting for their wings to
grow strong, before they try to leave the chimney. Apparently they
hang themselves up to go to sleep. Shouldn't you think they would fall
on the hearth down stairs? Doubtless they would but for their short,
thin, stiff-pointed tail feathers which help to prop them up where
they cling to the rough bricks and mortar of the chimney lining.
Woodpeckers also prop themselves with their tail feathers, but against
tree trunks. Not until swifts are a month old do the lazy little
fellows climb out of their deep, dark cavern into the boundless sky,
which is their true home. No birds are more tireless, rapid flyers
than they. Their {182} small feet, weak from disuse, could scarcely
hold them on a perch.

One day last July I picked up on the ground a young swift I thought
had dropped from exhaustion in its first flight. As swifts had been
nesting in one of the chimneys, I carried the young bird in my hand
into the house, up stairs, out through an attic window onto the roof,
climbed along the ridgepole in terror for my life, clinging by only
one free hand to the peak of the roof, and at last reached the swift's
chimney. Laying the sooty youngster on the stone chimney-cap I had
crawled cautiously backward only a few feet, when lo! my charge
suddenly bounded off into the air like a veteran to join a flock of
companions playing cross-tag. As it wheeled and darted above the
house, evidently quite as much at ease in the air as any of the merry,
twittering company, don't you believe it started the laugh on me? But
what had brought so able a young flyer to earth? My wounded vanity
tempts me to believe that it had really dropped from fatigue and, once
on the ground, was unable to rise again, whereas it was comparatively
easy to launch itself from the chimney-top.

With mouths agape from ear to ear, the swifts draw in an insect dinner
piecemeal, as they course through the air, just as the whip-poor-will,
nighthawk and swallows do. {183} Fortunate the house where a colony
elect to live, for they rid the air of myriads of gnats and
mosquitoes, as they fly about overhead, silhouetted against the sky.
Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are their hours for
exercise. You will think, perhaps, that they look more like bats than
birds. Watch their rapid wing-beats very closely and see if you can
settle the mooted question as to whether they use both wings at once,
or first one wing and then the other in alternate strokes. After you
have noticed their peculiar, throbbing flight, you will never again
confuse them with the graceful, gliding swallows. Although the swift
is actually shorter than a sparrow, its spread wings measure over a
foot across from tip to tip. No wonder it can fly every waking moment
without feeling tired, and journey from Labrador to Central America
for a winter holiday.


RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

What child does not know the hummingbird, the jewelled midget that
flashes through the garden, poises before a flower as if suspended in
the air by magic, thrusts a needle-like bill into one cup of nectar
after another, then whirs off out of sight in a trice? It is the
smallest {184} bird we have. Suppose a fairy wished to pluck one for
her dinner, as we should pluck a chicken; how large, do you think,
would be the actual body of a hummingbird, without its feathers? Not
much, if any, larger than a big bumble-bee, I venture to guess. Yet
this atom of animation travels from Panama to Quebec or beyond, and
back again every year of its brief life, that it may live where
flowers, and the minute insects that infest them, will furnish drink
and meat the year around. So small a speck of a traveller cannot be
seen in the sky by an enemy with the sharpest of eyes. Space quickly
swallows it. A second after it has left your garden it will be out of
sight. This mite of a migrant has plenty of stay-at-home relatives in
the tropics--exquisite creatures they are--but the ruby-throat is the
only hummingbird bold enough to venture into the eastern United States
and Canada.

What tempts him so far north? You know that certain flowers depend
upon certain insect friends to carry their pollen from blossom to
blossom that they may set fertile seed; but did you know that certain
other flowers depend upon the hummingbird? Only his tongue, that may
be run out beyond his long, slender bill and turned around curves,
could reach the drops of nectar in the tips of the wild columbine's
five inverted horns of plenty. The {185} Monarda or bee-balm, too,
hides a sweet sip in each of its red tubes for his special benefit. So
does the coral honeysuckle. There are a few other flowers that cater
to him, especially, by wearing his favourite colour, by hiding nectar
so deep that only his long tongue can drain it, and by opening in
orderly succession so that he shall fare well throughout the summer,
not have a feast one month and a famine the next. In addition to these
flowers in Nature's garden that minister to his needs, many that have
been brought from the ends of the earth to our garden plots please him
no less. The canna, nasturtium, phlox, trumpet-flower, salvia, and a
host of others, delight his eye and his palate. Don't you think it is
worth while to plant his favourites in your garden if only for the joy
of seeing him about? He is wonderfully neighbourly, coming to the
flower-beds or window-boxes with undaunted familiarity in the presence
of the family. A hummingbird that lived in my garden sipped from a
sprig of honeysuckle that I held in my hand. But the bird is not
always so amiable by any means. A fierce duelist, he will lunge his
rapier-like bill at another hummer with deadly thrusts. A battle of
the midgets in mid-air is a sorry sight. You may know a male by the
brilliant metallic-red feathers on his throat. His mate lacks these,
but her brilliancy has another {186} outlet, for she is one of the
most expert nest-builders in the world. An exquisitely dainty little
cup of plant down, felted into a compact cradle and stuccoed with bits
of lichen bound on by spider-web, can scarcely be told from a knot on
the limb to which it is fastened. Two eggs, not larger than beans, in
time give place to two downy hummers about the size of honey-bees.
Perhaps you have seen pigeons pump food down the throats of their
squabs? In this same way are baby hummingbirds fed. After about three
weeks in the nest, the young are ready to fly; but they rest on
perches the first month of their independence more than at any time
afterward. No weak-footed relative of the swift could live long off
the wing. It is goodbye to summer when the last hummingbird forsakes
our frost-nipped, northern gardens for happier hunting grounds far
away.

{187}

CHAPTER XIII

NON-UNION CARPENTERS

  Downy Woodpecker
  Hairy Woodpecker
  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  Red-headed Woodpecker
  Flicker


{188}

{189}

OUR FIVE COMMON WOODPECKERS

If, as you walk through some old orchard or along the borders of a
woodland tangle, you see a high-shouldered, stocky bird clinging fast
to the side of a tree "as if he had been thrown at it and stuck," you
may be very sure he is a woodpecker. Four of our five common,
non-union carpenters wear striking black and white suits, patched or
striped, the males with red on their heads, their wives with less of
this jaunty touch of colour perhaps, or none, but wearing otherwise
similar clothes. Only the dainty little black and white creeping
warbler could possibly be confused with the smallest of these sturdy,
matter-of-fact artisans, although, as you know, chickadees, titmice,
nuthatches and kinglets also haunt the bark of trees; but the largest
of these is smaller than downy, the smallest of the woodpeckers. One
of the carpenters, the big flicker, an original fellow, is dressed in
soft browns, yellow, white and black, with the characteristic red
patch across the back of his neck.

It is easy to tell a woodpecker at sight or even beyond it, when you
see or hear him hammering for a dinner, or drumming a love song, {190}
or chiseling out a home in some partly decayed tree. How cheerfully
his vigorous taps resound! Hammer, chisel, pick, drill, and drum--all
these instruments in one stout bill--and a flexible barbed spear for a
tongue that may be run out far beyond his bill, like the
hummingbird's, make the woodpecker the best-equipped workman in the
woods. All the other birds that pick insect eggs, grubs, beetles and
spiders from the bark could go all over a tree and feast, but the
woodpecker might follow them and still find plenty left, borers
especially, hidden so deep that only his sticky, barbed tongue could
drag them out.

As you see his body flattened against the tree's side perhaps you
wonder why he doesn't fall off. Do you remember why the swifts, that
sleep against the inside walls of our chimneys, do not fall down to
the hearths below? Like them and the bobolink, the woodpeckers prop
themselves by their outspread, stiffened tails. Moreover, they have
their toes arranged in a curious way--two in front and two behind, so
that they can hold on to a section of bark very much as an iceman
holds a piece of ice between his tongs. Smooth bark conceals no larvae
nor does it offer a foothold, which is why you are likely to see
woodpeckers only on the trunks or the larger limbs of trees where old,
scaly bark grows.

{191}

DOWNY WOODPECKER

A hardy little friend is the downy woodpecker who, like the chickadee,
stays by us the year around. Probably no other two birds are so useful
in our orchards as these, that keep up a tireless search for the
insect robbers of our fruit. Wintry weather can be scarcely too severe
for either, for both wear a warm coat of fat under their skins and
both have the comfort of a snug retreat when bitter blasts blow.

Friend downy is too good a carpenter, you may be sure, to neglect
making a cozy cavity for himself in autumn, just as the hairy
woodpecker does. The chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch, bluebird, wren,
tree swallow, sparrow hawk, crested flycatcher and owls, are not the
only birds that are thankful to occupy his snug quarters in some old
tree after he has moved out in the spring to the new nursery that his
mate and he make for their family. He knows the advantage of a
southern exposure for his hollow home and chisels his winter quarters
deep enough to escape a draught. Here he lives in single
blessedness--or selfishness?--with no thought now for the comfort of
his mate, who, happily, is quite as good a carpenter as he, and as
able to care for herself. She may make a winter home or keep the
nursery.

{192}

Very early in the spring you will hear the downy, like the other
woodpeckers, beating a rolling tattoo on some resonant limb, and if
you can creep close enough you will see his head hammering so fast
that there is only a blur above his shoulders. This drumming is his
love song. The grouse is even a more wonderful performer, for he drums
without a drum, which no woodpecker can do. The woodpecker drums not
only to win a mate, however, but to tell where a tree is decayed and
likely to be an easy spot to chisel, and also to startle borers
beneath the bark, that he may know just where to tunnel for them, when
they move with a faint noise, which his sharp ears instantly detect.

This master workman, who is scarcely larger than an English sparrow,
occasionally pauses in his hammering long enough to utter a short,
sharp _peek, peek_, often continued into a rattling cry that ends as
abruptly as it began. You may know him from his larger and
louder-voiced cousin, the hairy woodpecker, not only by this call
note, but by the markings of the outer tail feathers, which, in the
downy, are white barred with black; and in the hairy, are white
without the black bars. Both birds are much striped and barred with
black and white.

When the weather grows cold, hang a bone with a little meat on it,
cooked or raw, or a lump of suet in some tree beyond the reach of
cats; then watch for the downy woodpecker's and the chickadee's visits
to your free-lunch counter.


[Illustration]

Our little friend downy


[Illustration]

The red-headed woodpecker


{193}

HAIRY WOODPECKER

Light woods, with plenty of old trees in them, suit this busy
carpenter better than orchards or trees close to our homes, for he is
more shy than his sociable little cousin, downy, whom he as closely
resembles in feathers as in habits. He is three inches longer,
however, yet smaller than a robin. In spite of his name, he is covered
with black and white feathers, not hairs. He has a hairy stripe only
down the middle of his broadly striped back.

After he and his mate have decided to go to housekeeping, they select
a tree--a hollow-hearted or partly decayed one is preferred--and begin
the hard work of cutting out a deep cavity. Try to draw freehand a
circle by making a series of dots, as the woodpecker outlines his
round front door, and see, if you please, whether you can make so
perfect a ring. Downy's entrance need be only an inch and a half
across; the hairy's must be a little larger, and the flicker requires
a hole about four inches in diameter to admit his big body. Both mates
work in turn at the nest hole. How the chips fly! Braced in position
by stiff tail feathers and {194} clinging by his stout toes, the
woodpecker keeps hammering and chiseling at his home more hours every
day than a labour union would allow. Two inches of digging with his
strong combination tool means a hard day's work. The hole usually runs
straight in for a few inches, then curves downward into a pear-shaped
chamber large enough for a comfortable nursery. A week or ten days may
be spent by a couple in making it. The chips by which this good
workman is known are left on the nursery floor, for woodpeckers do not
pamper their babies with fine grasses, feathers or fur cradle linings,
as the chickadee and some other birds do. A well-regulated
woodpecker's nest contains five glossy-white eggs.

Sheltered from the rain, wind and sun, hidden from almost every enemy
except the red squirrel, woodpecker babies lie secure in their dark,
warm nursery, with no excitement except the visits of their parents
with a fat grub. Then how quickly they scramble up the walls toward
the light and dinner!


YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER

This woodpecker I am sorry to introduce to you as the black sheep of
his family, with scarcely a friend to speak a good word for him. {195}
Murder is committed on his immensely useful relatives, who have the
misfortune to look ever so little like him, simply because ignorant
people's minds are firmly fixed in the belief that every woodpecker is
a sapsucker, therefore a tree-killer, which only this miscreant is,
and very rarely. The rest of the family who drill holes in a tree
harmlessly, even beneficially, do so because they are probing for
insects. The sapsucker alone drills rings or belts of holes for the
sake of getting at the soft inner bark and drinking the sap that
trickles from it.

Mrs. Eckstorm, who has made a careful study of the woodpeckers in a
charming little book that every child should read, tells of a certain
sapsucker that came silently and early in the autumn mornings to feed
on a favourite mountain ash tree near her dining-room window. In time
this rascal killed the tree. "Early in the day he showed considerable
activity," writes Mrs. Eckstorm, "flitting from limb to limb and
sinking a few holes, three or four in a row, usually above the
previous upper girdle of the limbs he selected to work upon. After he
had tapped several limbs, he would sit patiently waiting for the sap
to flow, lapping it up quickly when the drop was large enough. At
first he would be nervous, taking alarm at noises and wheeling away on
his broad wings till his fright was over, when he would steal quietly
back to his {196} sapholes. When not alarmed, his only movement was
from one row of holes to another, and he tended them with considerable
regularity. As the day wore on he became less excitable, and clung
cloddishly to his tree trunk with ever increasing torpidity, until
finally he hung motionless as if intoxicated, tippling in sap, a
disheveled, smutty, silent bird, stupefied with drink, with none of
that brilliancy of plumage and light-hearted gaiety which made him the
noisiest and most conspicuous bird of our April woods."

But it must be admitted that very rarely does the sapsucker girdle a
tree with holes enough to sap away its life. He may have an orgie of
intemperance once in awhile, but much should be forgiven a bird as
dexterous as a flycatcher in taking insects on the wing and with a
hearty appetite for pests. Wild fruit and soft-shelled nuts he likes
too. He never bores a tree to get insects as his cousins do, for only
when a nest must be chiseled out is he a wood _pecker_ in the strict
sense.

You may know this erring one by the pale, sulphur-yellow tinge on his
white under parts, the white patch above the tail on his mottled black
and white back, his spotted wings with conspicuous white coverts, the
broad black patch on his breast extending to the corners of his mouth
in a chin strap, and the lines of crimson {197} on forehead, crown,
chin and throat. He is smaller than a robin by two inches, yet larger
than the English sparrow, who shares with him a vast amount of public
condemnation.


RED-HEADED WOODPECKER

A pair of red-headed woodpeckers I know, who made their home in an old
tree next to the station yard at Atlanta, where locomotives clanged,
puffed, whistled and shrieked all day long, evidently enjoyed the
noise, for the male liked nothing better than to add to it by tapping
on one of the glass non-conductors around which a telegraph wire ran.
When first I saw the handsome, tri-coloured fellow he was almost
enveloped in a cloud of smoke escaping from a puffing locomotive on
the track next the telegraph pole, yet he tapped away unconcerned and
as merrily as you would play a two-step on the piano. When the vapour
blew away, his glossy bluish black and white feathers, laid on in big
patches, were almost as conspicuous as his red head, throat and upper
breast. His mate is red-headed, too.

All the woodpeckers have musical tastes. A flicker comes to my
verandah to tap a galvanised rain gutter, for no other reason than the
excellent one that he enjoys the sound. Tin {198} roofs everywhere are
popular tapping places. Certain dry, dead, seasoned limbs of hardwood
trees resound better than others and a woodpecker in love is sure to
find out the best one in the spring when he beats a rolling tattoo in
the hope of charming his best beloved. He has no need to sing, which
is why he doesn't.

Fence posts are the red-head's favourite resting places. From these he
will make sudden sallies in mid-air, like a fly-catcher, after a
passing insect; then return to his post.

You remember that the blue jay has the thrifty habit of storing nuts
for the proverbial rainy day, and that the shrike hangs up his meat to
cure on a thorn tree like a butcher. Red-headed woodpeckers, who are
especially fond of beechnuts, acorns and grasshoppers, hide them away,
squirrel fashion, in tree cavities, in fence holes, crevices in old
barns, between shingles on the roof, behind bulging boards, in the
ends of railroad ties, in all sorts of queer places, to feast upon
them in winter when the land is lean. Who knows whether other
woodpeckers have hoarding places? The sapsucker, the hairy and the
downy woodpeckers also like beechnuts; the flicker prefers acorns; but
do they store them for winter use? The red-head's thrifty habit was
only recently discovered: has it been only recently acquired?


[Illustration]

The sapsucker


[Illustration]

Baby flickers just out of their hole


{199}

It must be simpler to store the summer's surplus than to travel to a
land of plenty when winter comes. Heretofore this red-headed cousin
has been reckoned a migratory member of the home-loving woodpecker
clan, but only where he could not find plenty of beechnuts to keep him
through the winter.


FLICKER

_Called also: High-hole; Clape; Golden-winged
Woodpecker; Yellow-hammer; Yucker._


Why should the flicker discard family traditions and wear clothes so
different from those of his relations? His upper parts are dusty
brown, narrowly barred with black, and the large white patch on his
lower back, so conspicuous as he flies from you, is one of the best
marks of identification on his big handsome body. His head is gray
with a black streak below the eye, and a scarlet band across the nape
of the neck, while the upper side of the wing feathers is black
relieved by golden shafts. Underneath, the wings are a lovely golden
yellow, seen only when the bird flies toward you. His breast, which is
a pale, pinkish brown, is divided from the throat by a black crescent,
smaller than the meadowlark's, and below this half-moon of jet there
are many black spots. {200} He is quite a little larger than a robin,
the largest and the commonest of our five non-union carpenters.

See him feeding on the ground instead of on the striped and mottled
tree trunks, where his black and white striped relatives are usually
found, and you will realise that he wears brown clothes, finely
barred, because they harmonise so perfectly with the brown earth. What
does he find on the ground that keeps him there so much of the time?
Look at the spot he has just flown from and you will doubtless find
ants. These are chiefly his diet. Three thousand of them, for a single
meal, he has been known to lick out of a hill with his long, round,
extensile, sticky tongue. Evidently this lusty fellow needs no tonic.
His tail, which is less rounded than his cousins', proves that he has
little need to prop himself against tree trunks to pick out a dinner;
and his curved bill, which is more of a pickaxe than a hammer, drill,
or chisel, is little used as a carpenter's tool except when a nest is
to be dug out of soft, decayed wood. Although he can beat a rolling
tattoo in the spring, he has a variety of call notes for use the year
through. Did you ever see the funny fellow spread his tail and dance
when he goes courting? Flickers condescend to use old holes deserted
by their relatives who possess better tools. You must have noticed
{201} all through these bird biographies that the structure and
colouring of every bird are adapted to its kind of life, each member
of the same family varying according to its habits. The kind of food a
bird eats and its method of getting it, of course, bring about most,
if not all, of the variations from the family type. Each is fitted for
its own life, "even as you and I."

Like your pet pigeon, the hummingbird, and several other birds, parent
flickers pump partly digested food from their own stomachs into those
of their hungry babies. Imagine how many trips would have to be taken
to a nest if ants were carried there one by one! How can the birds be
sure they will not thrust their bills through the eyes of their blind,
naked and helpless babies in so dark a hole? It must be very difficult
to find the mouths and be sure none is neglected. Like the little pig
you all know about, I suspect there is always at least one little
flicker in the dark tree-hollow that "gets none" each trip.


{202}

{203}

CHAPTER XIV

CUCKOO AND KINGFISHER

  Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  Black-billed Cuckoo
  Belted Kingfisher

{204}

{205}

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO

_Called also: Rain Crow_

Do you own a cuckoo clock with a little bird inside that flies out of
a door every hour and tells you the time? Except when it is time to go
to school or to bed you are doubtless amused to hear him hiccough
cuckoo, cuckoo, the mechanical notes that tell his name. Cuckoo clocks
were first made in Europe where the common species of cuckoo calls in
this way, but don't imagine its American cousins do. Our yellow-billed
cuckoo's unmusical, guttural notes sound something like a tree toad's
rattle, _kuk-kuk, kuk-kuk, kuk-kuk, kr-r-r-uck, kr-r-r-uck,
kr-r-r-uck, kr-r-ruck, cow, cow, cow, cow!_ This is his complete
"song," but usually one hears only a portion of it. The black-billed
cuckoo's voice is softer, and its cow notes run together, otherwise
their "songs" are alike. Both of our common cuckoos are slim, graceful
birds about twelve inches long--longer than a robin. They are solitary
creatures and glide silently among the foliage of trees and shrubbery,
rarely giving you a good look at their satiny, grayish-brown backs and
dull-white {206} breasts. You may know the yellow-billed cuckoo by the
yellow lower-half of his long, curved bill, his cinnamon-brown wings
and the conspicuous white thumb-nail spots on his dark tail feathers.
If you were to dip your thumb in white paint, then pinch these outer
quills, you would leave similar marks.

Most birds will not touch the hairy, fuzzy caterpillars--very
disagreeable mouthfuls, one would think. But happily cuckoos enjoy
them as well as the smooth, slippery kind. "I guess they like the
custard inside," said a little boy I know who had stepped on a fat
caterpillar on the path. "Cuckoos might well be called caterpillar
birds," wrote Florence Merriam Bailey, "for they are so given to a
diet of the hairy caterpillars that the walls of their stomachs are
actually permeated with the hairs, and a section of stomach looks like
the smoothly brushed top of a gentleman's beaver hat." When you see
the webs that the tent caterpillar stretches across the ends of the
branches of fruit and nut trees toward the end of summer, or early
autumn, watch for the cuckoo's visits. Orioles, also, tear open the
webs to get at the wiggling morsels inside, but they leave dead and
mutilated remains behind them, showing that their appetite for web
worms is less keen than that of the cuckoos, who eat them up clean.
Fortunately the caterpillar of the terribly destructive gypsy moth is
another favourite dainty.


[Illustration]

The flicker.


[Illustration]

Two baby cuckoos on the rickety bundle of sticks that by
courtesy we call a nest.


{207}

Perhaps you have heard that the cuckoo, like the naughty cowbird,
builds no nest and lays its eggs in other birds' cradles? This is true
only of the European cuckoo. Its American cousin makes a poor apology
for a nest, it is true, merely a loose bundle or platform of sticks,
as flimsily put together as a dove's nest. The greenish-blue eggs or
the naked babies must certainly fall through, one would think. Still
it is all the cuckoos' own, and they are proud of it. But so sensitive
and fearful are they when a human visitor inspects their nursery that
they will usually desert it, never to return, if you touch it, so
beware of peeping!

When the skinny cuckoo babies are a few days old, blue pin-feathers
begin to appear, and presently their bodies are stuck full of fine,
sharply pointed quills like a well-stocked pin cushion. Porcupine
babies you might think them now. But presto! every pin-feather
suddenly fluffs out the day before the youngsters leave the nest, and
they are clothed in a suit of soft feathers like their parents. In a
few months young cuckoos, hatched as far north as New England and
Canada or even Labrador, are strong enough to fly to Central or South
America to spend the winter.

{208}

BELTED KINGFISHER

_Called also: The Halcyon_

This Izaak Walton of birddom, whom you may see perched as erect as a
fish hawk on a snag in the lake, creek or river, or on a dead limb
projecting over the water, on the lookout for minnows, chub, red fins,
samlets or any other small fry that swims past, is as expert as any
fisherman you are ever likely to know. Sharp eyes are necessary to see
a little fish where sunbeams dance on the ripples and the refracted
light plays queer tricks with one's vision. Once a victim is sighted,
how swiftly the lone fisherman dives through the air and water after
it, and how accurately he strikes its death-blow behind the gills! If
the fish be large and lusty it may be necessary to carry it to the
snag and give it a few sharp knocks with his long powerful bill to end
its struggles. These are soon over, but the kingfisher's have only
begun. See him gag and writhe as he swallows his dinner, head first,
and then, regretting his haste, brings it up again to try a wider
avenue down his throat! Somebody shot a kingfisher which had tried to
swallow so large a fish that the tail was sticking out of his mouth,
while its head was safely stored below in the bird's stomach. After
the meat digests, {209} the indigestible skin, bones, and scales of
the fish are thrown up without the least nausea.

A certain part of a favourite lake or stream this fisherman patrols
with a sense of ownership and rarely leaves it. Alone, but
self-satisfied, he clatters up and down his beat as a policeman, going
his rounds, might sound his rattle from time to time. The
rattle-headed bird knows every pool where minnows play, every
projection along the bank where a fish might hide, and is ever on the
alert, not only to catch a dinner, but to escape from the sight of the
child who intrudes on his domain and wants to "know" him. You cannot
mistake this big, chunky bird, fully a foot long, with grayish-blue
upper parts, the long, strong wings and short, square tail dotted in
broken bars of white, and with a heavy, bluish band across his white
breast. His mate and children wear rusty bands instead of blue. The
crested feathers on top of his big, powerful head reach backward to
the nape like an Indian chief's feather bonnet, and give him
distinction. Under his thick, oily plumage, as waterproof as a duck's,
he wears a suit of down under-clothing.

No doubt you have heard that all birds are descended from reptile
ancestors; that feathers are but modified scales, and that a bird's
song is but the glorified hiss of the serpent. Then {210} the
kingfisher and the bank swallow retain at least one ancient custom of
their ancestors, for they still place their eggs in the ground. The
lone fisherman chooses a mate early in the spring and, with her help,
he tunnels a hole in a bank next a good fishing ground. A minnow pool
furnishes the most-approved baby food. Perhaps the mates will work two
or three weeks before they have tunnelled far enough to suit them and
made a spacious nursery at the end of the long hall. Usually from five
to eight white eggs are laid about six feet from the entrance on a
bundle of grass, or perhaps on a heap of ejected fish bones and
refuse. While his queen broods, the devoted kingfisher brings her the
best of his catch. At first their babies are as bare and skinny as
their cuckoo relatives. When the father or mother bird flies up stream
with a fish for them, giving a rattling call instead of ringing a
dinner bell, all the hungry youngsters rush forward to the mouth of
the tunnel; but only one can be satisfied each trip. Then all run
backward through the inclined tunnel, like reversible steam engines,
and keep tightly huddled together until the next exciting rattle is
heard. Both parents are always on guard to drive off mink, rats and
water snakes that are the terrors of their nursery.



[Illustration]

Waiting for mamma and fish


[Illustration]

Young belted kingfisher on his favourite snag


[Illustration]

Kingfisher on the look-out for a dinner


{211}

CHAPTER XV

DAY AND NIGHT ALLIES OF THE FARMER

  Turkey Vulture
  Red-shouldered Hawk
  Red-tailed Hawk
  Cooper's Hawk
  Bald Eagle
  American Sparrow Hawk
  American Osprey
  American Barn Owl
  Short-eared Owl
  Long-eared Owl
  Barred Owl
  Screech Owl

{212}

{213}

TURKEY VULTURE

_Called also: Turkey Buzzard_

Every child south of Mason and Dixon's line knows this big buzzard
that sails serenely with its companions in great circles, floating
high overhead, now rising, now falling, with scarcely a movement of
its wide-spread wings. In the air, it expresses the very poetry of
motion. No other bird is more graceful and buoyant. One could spend
hours watching its fascinating flight. But surely its earthly habits
express the very prose of existence; for it may be seen in the company
of other dusky scavengers, walking about in the roads of the smaller
towns and villages, picking up refuse; or, in the fields, feeding on
some dead animal. Relying upon its good offices, the careless farmer
lets his dead pig or horse or chicken lie where it dropped, knowing
that buzzards will speedily settle on it and pick its bones clean. Our
soldiers in the war with Spain say that the final touch of horror on
the Cuban battlefields was when the buzzards, that were wheeling
overhead, suddenly dropped where their wounded or dead comrades fell.

{214}

Because it is so helpful in ridding the earth of decaying matter, the
law and the Southern people, white and coloured, protect the vulture.
Its usefulness is more easily seen and understood than that of many
smaller birds of greater value which, alas! are a target for every
gunner. Consequently, it is perhaps the commonest bird in the South,
and tame enough for the merest tyro in bird lore to learn that it is
about two and a half feet long, with a wing spread of fully six feet;
that its head and neck are bare and red like a turkey's, and that its
body is covered with dusky feathers edged with brown--an ungainly,
unlovely creature out of its element, the air. Another sable
scavenger, the black vulture or carrion crow, of similar habits, but
with a more southerly range, is common in the Gulf States.

Because it feeds on carrion that not even a goat grudges it, and is
too lazy and cowardly to pick a quarrel, the buzzard has no enemies.
Although classed among birds of prey, it does not frighten the
smallest chick in the poultry yard when it flops down beside it. With
beak and claws capable of gashing painful wounds, it never uses them
for defence, but resorts to the disgusting trick of throwing up the
contents of its stomach over any creature that comes too near. When a
colony of the ever-sociable buzzards are nesting, you may be very sure
{215} no one cares to make a close study of their young.


RED-SHOULDERED HAWK

_Called also: Hen Hawk; Chicken Hawk; Winter Hawk_

Let any one say "Hawk" to the average farmer and he looks for his gun.
For many years it was supposed that every member of the hawk family
was a villain and fair game, but the white searchlight of science
shows us that most of the tribe are the farmers' allies, which, with
the owls, share the task of keeping in check the mice, moles, gophers,
snakes, and the larger insect pests. Nature keeps her vast domain
patrolled by these vigilant watchers by day and by night. Guns may
well be turned on those blood-thirsty fiends in feathers. Cooper's
hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk, and the goshawk, that not only eat our
poultry, but every song bird they can catch: the law of the survival
of the fittest might well be enforced with lead in their case. But do
let us protect our friends, the more heavily built and slow-flying
hawks with the red tails and red shoulders, among other allies in our
ceaseless war against farm vermin!

In the court of last appeal to which all our {216} hawks are
brought--I mean those scientific men in the Department of Agriculture,
Washington, who examine the contents of birds' stomachs to learn just
what food is taken in different parts of the country and at different
seasons of the year--the two so-called "hen hawks" were proved to be
rare offenders, and great helpers. Two hundred and twenty stomachs of
red-shouldered hawks were examined by Dr. Fisher, and only three
contained remains of poultry, while one hundred and two contained
mice; ninety-two, insects; forty, moles and other small mammals;
fifty-nine, frogs and snakes, and so on. The percentage of poultry
eaten is so small that it might be reduced to nothing if the farmers
would keep their chickens in yards instead of letting them roam to
pick up a living in the fields, where the temptation to snatch up one
must be overwhelming to a hungry hawk. Fortunately these two
beneficent "hen hawks," are still common, in spite of our ignorant
persecution of them for two hundred years or more.

Toward the end of summer, especially in September, when nursery duties
have ended for the year and the hawks are care free, you may see them
sailing in wide spirals, delighting in the cooler stratum of air high
overhead. Balancing on wide, outstretched wings, floating serenely
with no apparent effort, they enjoy {217} the slow merry-go-round at a
height that would make any child dizzy. Sometimes they rise out of
sight. _Kee you, kee you_, they scream as they sail. Does the teasing
blue jay imitate the call for the fun of frightening little birds?

But the red-shouldered hawk is not on pleasure bent much of the time.
Perching is its specialty, and on an outstretched limb, or other point
of vantage, it sits erect and dignified, its far-seeing eyes alone in
motion trying to sight its quarry--a mouse creeping through the
meadow, a mole leaving its tunnel, a chipmunk running along a stone
wall, a frog leaping into the swamp, a gopher or young rabbit frisking
around the edges of the wood--when, spying one, "like a thunderbolt it
falls."

If you could ever creep close enough to a red-shouldered hawk, which
is not likely, you would see that it is a powerful bird, about a foot
and a half long, dark brown above, the feathers edged with rusty, with
bright chestnut patches on the shoulders. The wings and dark tail are
barred with white, so are the rusty-buff under parts, and the light
throat has dark streaks. Female hawks are larger than the males, just
as the squaws in some Indian tribes are larger than the braves. It is
said that hawks remain mated for life; so do eagles and owls, for in
their family life, at least, the birds of prey are remarkably devoted,
gentle and loving.

{218}


RED-TAILED HAWK

_Called also: Hen Hawk; Chicken Hawk; Red Hawk_


This larger relative of the red-shouldered hawk (the female red-tail
measures nearly two feet in length) shares with it the hatred of all
but the most enlightened farmers. Before condemning either of these
useful allies, everyone should read the report of Dr. Fisher,
published by the Government, and to be had for the asking. This expert
judge tells of a pair of red-tailed hawks that reared their young for
two successive seasons in a birch tree in some swampy woods, about
fifty rods from a poultry farm, where they might have helped
themselves to eight hundred chickens and half as many ducks; yet they
were never known to touch one. Occasionally, in winter especially,
when other food is scarce, a red-tail will steal a chicken--probably
a maimed or sickly one that cannot get out of the way--or drop on a
bob-white; but ninety per cent, of its food consists of injurious
mammals and insects.

Both of these slandered "hen hawks" prefer to live in low, wet, wooded
places with open meadows for hunting grounds near by.

{219}

COOPER'S HAWK

_Called also: Chicken Hawk; Big Blue Darter_

Here is no ally of the farmer, but his foe, the most bold of all his
robbers, a blood-thirsty villain that lives by plundering poultry
yards, and tearing the warm flesh from the breasts of game and song
birds, one of the few members of his generally useful tribe that
deserves the punishment ignorantly meted out to his innocent
relatives. Unhappily, it is perhaps the most common hawk in the
greater part of the United States, and therefore does more harm than
all the others. It is mentioned in this chapter that concerns the
farmers' allies, only because every child should know foe from friend.

The female Cooper's hawk is about nineteen inches long and her mate a
finger-length smaller, but not nearly so small as the little blue
darter, the sharp-shinned hawk, only about a foot in length, but which
it very closely resembles in plumage and villainy. Both species have
slaty-gray upper parts with deep bars across their wings and ashy-gray
tails. The latter differ in outline, however. Cooper's hawk having a
rounded tail with whitish tip, and the sharp-shinned hawk a square
tail. In maturity Cooper's hawk wears a blackish crown. Both species
have white throats with dark streaks {220} and the rest of their under
parts are much barred with buff and white.

Instead of spending their time perching on lookouts, as the red-tailed
and red-shouldered hawks do, these two reprobates dash after their
victims on the wing, chasing them across open stretches where such
swift, dexterous, dodging flyers are sure to overtake them. Or they
will flash out of a clear sky like feathered lightning and boldly
strike a chicken, though it be pecking corn near a farmer's feet.
These two marauders, and the big slate-coloured goshawk, also called
the blue hen hawk or partridge hawk, stab their cruel talons though
the vitals of more valuable poultry, song and game birds, than any
child would care to read about.


BALD EAGLE

Every American boy and girl knows our national bird, which is the
farmer's ally, however, only when it appears on the money in his
pocket. Without an eagle on that, you must know it would be of little
use to him.

Truth to tell, this majestic emblem of our republic (borrowed from
imperial Rome) that spreads itself gloriously over our coins, flag
poles, public buildings and government documents, is, in real life,
not the bravest of the brave, nor the most intelligent, nor the
noblest, {221} nor the most enterprising of birds, as one fain would
believe. On the contrary, it often uses its wonderful eyesight to
detect a bird more skilful than itself in the act of catching a fish,
and then puts forth its superb strength to rob the successful fisher
of his prey. The osprey is a frequent sufferer, although some of the
water fowl, that patiently course over the waves hour after hour, in
search of a dinner, may be robbed of it by the overpowering pirate.
Dead fish cast up on the beach are not rejected. When fish fail,
coots, ducks, geese and gulls--the fastest of flyers--are likely to
be snatched up, plucked clean of their feathers, and torn apart by the
great bird that drops suddenly upon them from the clouds like Jove's
thunderbolt. Rarely small animals are seized, but there is probably no
well-authenticated case of an eagle carrying off a child.

It is in their family life that hawks and eagles, however cruel at
other times, show some truly lovable traits. Once mated, they know
neither divorce nor family quarrels all their lives. Home is the
dearest spot on earth to them. They become passionately attached to
the great bundle of trash that is at once their nest and their abode.
A tall pine tree, near water, or the rocky ledge of some steep cliff,
is the favourite site for an eagle eyrie. Here the devoted mates will
carry an immense quantity of {222} sticks, sod, cornstalks, pine
twigs, weeds, bones, and other coarse rubbish, until, after annual
repairs for several seasons, the broad, flat nest may grow to be
almost as high as it is wide and look something like a New York
sky-scraper. Both parents sit on the eggs in turn and devote
themselves with zeal to feeding the eaglets. These spoiled children
remain in the nest several months without attempting to fly, expecting
to be waited upon even after they are actually larger than the old
birds. The castings of skins, bones, hair, scales, etc., in the
vicinity of a hawk's or eagle's nest, will indicate, almost as well as
Dr. Fisher's analysis, what food the babies had in their stomachs to
make them grow so big. Immature birds are almost black all over. Not
until they are three years old do the feathers on their heads and
necks turn white, giving them the effect of being bald. Any eagle seen
in the eastern United States is sure to be of this species.

In the West and throughout Asia and Africa lives the golden eagle, of
which Tennyson wrote the lines that apply equally well to our Eastern
"bird of freedom":

  "He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
  Close to the sun in lonely lands,
  Ringed with the azure world he stands.
  The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls:
  He watches from his mountain walls.
  And, like a thunderbolt, he falls."

{223}

AMERICAN SPARROW HAWK

_Called also: Killy Hawk; Rusty-crowned Falcon;
Mouse Hawk._

Just such an extended branch as a shrike or a kingbird would use as a
lookout while searching the landscape o'er for something to eat, the
little sparrow hawk chooses for the same purpose. He is not much
larger than either of these birds, scarcely longer than a robin.
Because he is a hawk, with the family possession of eyes that are both
telescope and microscope, he can detect a mouse, sparrow, garter
snake, spider or grasshopper, farther away than seems to us possible.

Every farmer's boy knows this beautiful little rusty-red hawk, with
slaty-blue cap and wings, and creamy-buff spotted sides, if not by
sight then by sound, as it calls _kill-ee, kill-ee kill-ee_, across
the fields. It does not soar and revolve in a merry-go-round on high
like its cousins, but flies swiftly and gracefully, keeping near
enough to the ground to see everything that creeps or hops through the
grass. Dropping suddenly, like a stone, upon its victim (usually a
grasshopper) it seizes it in its small, sharp, fatal talons and bears
it away to a favourite perch, there to enjoy it at leisure.

{224}

This is the hawk that is so glad to find a deserted woodpecker's hole
for its nest. How many other birds gratefully accept those skilful
carpenters' vacant tenements!


AMERICAN OSPREY

_Called also: Fish Hawk_


A pair of these beautiful big hawks, that had nested year after year
in the top of a tall pine tree on the Manasquan River, New Jersey,
were great pets in that region. An old fisherman of Barnegat Bay told
me that when he was hauling in his seine one day, he saw the male
osprey strike the water with a splash, struggle an instant with a
great fish that had been following his net, and disappear below the
waves, never to rise again. The bird more than met his match that
time. The fish was far larger than he expected, so powerful that it
easily dragged him under, once his talons were imbedded in the fish's
flesh. For the rest of the summer the widowed osprey always stayed
about when the fisherman hauled his net on the beach, and bore away to
her nest the worthless fish he left in it for her special benefit. But
after rearing her family--a prolonged process for all the hawks,
eagles, and owls--she never returned to the {225} neighbourhood.
Perhaps old associations were too painful; perhaps she was shot on her
way South that winter; or perhaps she took another mate with more
sense and less greed, who preferred to reside elsewhere.

As you may imagine, fish hawks always live near water. In summer they
frequent the inlets along the Atlantic coast, but over inland lakes
and rivers also, many fly back and forth. You may know by their larger
size--they are almost two feet long--and by their slow flight that
they are not the winter gulls. Their dusky backs and white under parts
harmonise well with the marine picture, North or South. Their plumage
contains more white than that of any other hawk. No matter how foggy
the day or how quietly the diving osprey may splash to catch his fish
dinner, any bald-headed eagle in the vicinity is sure to detect him in
the act of seizing it, and then to relieve him of it instantly.


OWLS

Like many children I know, owls begin to be especially lively toward
night, only they make no noise as they fly about. Very soft, fluffy
plumage muffles their flight so that they can drop upon a meadow mouse
creeping through the grass in the stilly night before this wee, {226}
timorous beastie suspects there is a foe abroad. As owls live upon
mice, mostly, it is important they should be helped to catch them with
some device that beats our traps. If mice should change their
nocturnal habits, the owl's whole scheme of existence would be upset,
and the hawks would get the quarry that they now enjoy: mice, rats,
moles, bats, frogs and the larger insects. You see the farmer has
invaluable day and night allies in these birds of prey which take
turns in protecting his fields from rodents, one patrol working while
the other sleeps. On the whole, owls are the more valuable to him.
They usually continue their good work all through the winter after the
hawks have gone South. Can you think of any other birds that work for
him at night?

Not only can owls fluff out their loose, mottled plumage, but they can
draw it in so close as to change their shape and size in an instant,
so that they look like quite different birds, or rather not like birds
at all, but stumps of trees. Altering their outlines, changing their
shape and size at will, is one of these queer birds' peculiarities.
Their eyes, set in the centre of feathered discs, do not revolve in
their sockets, but are so fixed that they look only straight ahead,
which is why an owl must turn his head every time he wishes to glance
to the right or left.


[Illustration]

_Turkey buzzard: one of Nature's house cleaners_


[Illustration]

_The beautiful little sparrow hawk_


{227}

Another peculiarity is the owls' method of eating. Bolting entire all
the food they catch, head first, they digest only the nutritious
portions of it. Then, bowing their heads and shaking them very hard,
they eject the bones, claws, skin, hair and fur in matted pellets,
without the least distress. Some children I know, who swallow their
food in a hurry--cherry stones, grape skins, apple cores and all--need
a similar, merciful digestive apparatus.

Like the hawks, owls are devoted, life-long mates. The females are
larger than the males. Some like to live in dense evergreens that hide
them from teasing blue jays and other foes by day; some, like the barn
owl, prefer towers, church steeples or the tops of barns and other
buildings; some hide in hollow trees or deserted woodpeckers' holes,
but all naturally prefer to take their long, daily naps where the
sunlight does not penetrate. They live in their homes more hours than
woodpeckers or any other birds. No doubt we pass by many sleeping owls
without suspecting their presence.


BARN OWL

_Called also: Monkey-faced Owl_


This is the shy, odd-looking, gray and white mottled owl with the
triangular face and slim {228} body, about a foot and a half long,
that comes out of its hole at evening with a wild scream, startling
timid and superstitious people into the belief that it is uncanny. The
American counterpart of "wise Minerva's only fowl," its large
eye-discs and solemn blink certainly make it look like a fit companion
for the goddess of wisdom.

A tame barn owl, owned by a gentleman in Philadelphia, would sit on
his shoulder for hours at a time. It felt offended if its master would
not play with it. The only way the man could gain time for himself
during the bird's waking hours, was to feed it well and leave a
stuffed bird for it to play with when he went out of the room, just as
Jimmy Brown left a doll with his baby sister when he went out to play;
only the man could not tack the owl's petticoats to the floor.

A pair of barn owls lived for many years in the tower of the
Smithsonian Institution, Washington. Dr. Fisher found the skulls of
four hundred and fifty-four small mammals in the pellets cast about
their home. Another pair lived in a tower and on the best of terms
with some tame pigeons. Happily the owls had no taste for squab, but
the debris of several thousand mice and rats about their curious
dwelling proved that their appetite needed no coaxing with such a
delicacy.

{229}

SHORT-EARED OWL

_Called also: Marsh Owl; Meadow Owl_

This owl, and its long-eared cousin, wear the tufts of feathers in
their ears that resemble harmless horns. Unlike its relatives, the
short-eared owl does some hunting by daylight, especially in cloudy
weather, and like the marsh hawk it prefers to live in grassy, marshy
places frequented by meadow mice. On the other hand, the long-eared
owl respects family traditions, and goes about only after dark. "It
usually spends the day in some evergreen woods, thick willow copse or
alder swamp, although rarely it may be found in open places," says Dr.
Fisher. "The bird is not wild and will allow itself to be closely
approached. When conscious that its presence is recognised, it sits
upright, draws the feathers close to its body, and erects the
ear-tufts, resembling in appearance a piece of weather-beaten bark
more than a bird." The long and the short of it is, that few people,
except professional bird students, know very much about these or any
other owls, for few find them by day or forsake their couches when
they are abroad. We may take Dr. Johnson's advice and "give our days
and nights to the study of Addison," but few of us give even a part of
our days and less of our nights to the study of the birds about us.

{230}

BARRED OWL

_Called also: Hoot Owl_

If "a good child should be seen and not heard" what can be said for
this owl? Its deep-toned _whoo-whoo-who-whoo-to-whoo-ah_, like the
wail of some lost soul asking the way, is the only indication you are
likely to have that a hoot owl lives in your neighbourhood. You can
imitate its voice and deliberately "hoot it up." Few people who know
its voice will ever see its smooth, round, bland, almost human face.

"As useless as a last year's nest" can have no meaning to a pair of
these large hardy owls that go about toward the end of winter looking
for a deserted woodpecker's nest or a hawk's, crow's, or squirrel's
bulky cradle in some tree top. Ever after they hold it as their own.

Farmers shoot the owl that occasionally takes one of their broilers or
a game bird, not knowing that the remainder of its diet really leaves
them in its debt.


SCREECH OWLS

A boy I know had a pair of little screech owls invite themselves to
live in a box he had nailed {231} up for bluebirds in his father's
orchard. Although they had full liberty, in time they became tame
pets, even pampered darlings, with a willing slave to trap mice for
them in the corn crib and hay loft. At first mice were plentiful
enough, and every day after school the boy would empty the traps,
climb the apple tree and feed the owls. But presently the mice learned
the danger that may lurk behind an innocent looking lump of cheese.
One foolish, hungry mouse now and then was all the boy could catch.
This he would carry by the tail to his sleeping pets, arouse them by
dangling it against their heads, at which, while half asleep, they
would click their beaks like castanets. When both were wide awake he
would allow one of them to bolt the mouse while he still held on
firmly to the tail. Then, jerking the mouse back out of the owl's
throat, he would allow the other owl to really swallow it. When next
he caught a mouse, the operation was reversed: the owl that had been
satisfied before now gulped the mouse first, only to have it jerked
away and fed to its mate. In this way, strange to say, the boy kept on
friendly terms with the pair for several weeks, when he discovered
that they liked bits of raw beef quite as well as mice. After that he
carried his queer pets to the house and kept them in his room all
winter. Early in the spring they {232} returned to the bird house and
raised a family of funny, fluffy, plump little owlets.

This boy discovered for himself the screech owls' strange
characteristic of changing their colour without changing their
feathers, as moulting song birds change theirs. They have a rusty,
reddish-brown phase and a mottled-gray phase. So far as is known,
these changes of colour are not dependent upon age, sex, or season. No
one understands what causes them or what they mean. Sometimes the same
family will contain birds with plumage that is rusty-brown or gray or
intermediate. But you may always know a screech owl by its small size
(it is only about as long as a robin) and by the ear tufts that make
it look wide-awake and very wise.

By day it keeps well hidden in some deserted woodpecker's hole or a
hollow in some old orchard tree, which is its favourite residence; but
some mischievous little birds, with sharper eyes than ours, often
discover its hiding place, wake it up, and chase it, blinking and
bewildered, all about the farm. By night, when its tormentors are
asleep, this little owl goes forth for its supper, and then we hear
its weird, sweet, shivering, tremulous cry. Because it lives near our
homes and is, perhaps, the commonest of the owls all over our country,
every child can know it by sound, if not by sight.


[Illustration]

Father and mother barn owls


[Illustration]

The heavenly twins: young barn owls

{233}

CHAPTER XVI

MOURNER, WHISTLER, AND DRUMMER

  Mourning Dove
  Bob-White
  Ruffed Grouse


{234}

{235}

MOURNING DOVE

_Called also: Carolina Dove_

Do not waste any sympathy on this incessant love-maker that slowly
sings _coo-o-o, ah-coo-o-o-ooo-o-o-ooo-o-o_, in a sweetly sad voice.
Really he is no more melancholy than the plaintive pewee but, on the
contrary, is so happy in his love that his devotion has passed into a
proverb. Nevertheless, the song he sings to his "turtle dove" sounds
more like a dirge than a rapture. While she lives, there is no more
contented bird in the woods.

Dove lovers are quite self-sufficient. Their larger cousins, the wild
pigeons, that once were so abundant, depended on friends for much of
their happiness and lived in enormous flocks. Now only a few pairs
survive in this land of liberty to refute the adage "In union there is
strength." Because millions of pigeons slept in favourite roosts many
miles in extent, they were all too easily netted, and it did not take
greedy men long to turn the last flock into cash. Happily, doves
preserved their race by scattering in couples over a wide area--from
{236} Panama, in winter, as far north as Ontario in warm weather. Not
until nursery duties, which begin early in the spring, are over, late
in summer, do they give up their shy, unsocial habits to enjoy the
company of a few friends. When they rise on whistling wings from
tree-bordered fields, where they have been feeding on seeds and grain,
not a gun is fired: no one cares to eat them.

Only the cuckoo of our common birds builds so flimsy a nest as the
dove's adored darling. I am sorry to tell you she is a slack,
incompetent housekeeper, but evidently her lover is blind to every
fault. What must the expert phoebe think of such a poorly made, untidy
cradle, or that bustling, energetic housewife, Jenny Wren, or the
tiniest of clever architects, the hummingbird? It is a wonder that the
dove's two white eggs do not fall through the rickety, rimless,
unlined lattice. How scarred and bruised the naked bodies of the twins
must be by the sticks! Like pigeons, hummingbirds, flickers, and some
other feathered parents, doves feed their fledglings by pumping partly
digested food--"pigeon's milk"--from their own crops into theirs.

When they leave the open woodlands to take a dust bath in the road, or
to walk about and collect gravel for their interior grinding machines,
or to get a drink of water before going to sleep, you may have a good
look at them.


[Illustration]

A little screech owl in the sunlight where only a photographer
could find him.


[Illustration]

Mrs. White on her nest while Bob whistles to her from
the wild-strawberry patch.


{237}

As they walk, they bob their heads in a funny manner of their own.
They are bluish, fawn-coloured birds about a foot long. The male has
some exquisite metallic colours on his neck, otherwise he resembles
his best beloved. Both wear black crescent patches on their cheeks.
All the feathers on their long, pointed tails, except the two largest
central ones, have a narrow, black band across the end and are tipped
with white. The breast feathers shade from pinkish fawn to pale buff
below. Beautiful birds these, in spite of their quiet, Quaker clothes.


BOB-WHITE

_Called Also: "Quail-on-Toast"; Partridge_


What a cheerful contrast is Bob White's clear, staccato whistle to the
drawing coo of the amorous dove! Character is often expressed in a
bird's voice as well as in ours. From their voices alone you might
guess that the dove and the quail are no relation. They do not belong
even to the same order, bob-white being a scratching bird and having
the ruffed grouse and barnyard chicken for his kin. Pheasants and
turkeys are distantly related. In the South people call him a
partridge; in {238} New England it is the ruffed grouse that is known
by that name; therefore, to save confusion, why not always give
bob-white the name by which he calls himself? The chickadee, phoebe,
peewee, towhee, whip-poor-will and bobolink, who tell their names less
plainly than he, save every child who tries to know them much trouble.
Don't you wish every bird would introduce himself?

The boy who

  "Drives home the cows from the pasture,
    Up through the long, shady lane,
  Where the quail whistles loud in the wheat fields,
    That are yellow with ripening grain,"

probably "whistles up" those bob-whites on his way home as you would
start up the roosters in the barnyard by imitating their crow. _Bob
White! Ah, Bob White!_ rings from some plump little feathered gallant
on the outskirts of almost any farm during the long nesting season.

A slight depression in some dry, grassy field or a hole at the foot of
an old stump or weed-hedged wall will be lined with leaves and grasses
by both mates in May to receive from ten to eighteen brilliant white
eggs that are packed in, pointed end downwards, to economise space. If
an egg were removed, it would be difficult indeed to re-arrange the
clutch with such economy. Would it not be cruel to touch a {239} nest
which the outraged owners would at once desert?

Just as baby chickens follow the mother about, so downy bob-whites run
after both their parents and learn which seeds, grain, insects and
berries they may safely eat. Man, with his gun and dog and mowing
machines, is their worst enemy, of course; then comes the sly fox and
sneaking weasel that spring upon them from ambush, and the hawk that
drops upon them like a thunderbolt. Birds have enemies above, below,
and on every side. Is it any wonder that they are timid and shy? A
note of alarm from Mamma White summons the chicks, half-running,
half-flying, to huddle close to her or to take shelter beneath her
short wings. Their little grouse cousins find protection in a more
original way. When the mother is busy sitting on a second or third
clutch of eggs, it is Bob himself, a pattern of all the domestic
virtues, who takes full charge of the family. When the last chicks are
ready to join their older brothers and sisters, the bevy may contain
three or four dozen birds, all devotedly attached to one another. At
bed time they squat in a circle on the ground, tails toward the centre
of the ring, heads pointing outward to detect an enemy coming from any
direction. As if their vigilance were not enough, Bob usually remains
outside the ring to act as {240} sentinel. At the sign of danger the
bunch of birds will rise with loud whirring of the wings, as suddenly
as a bomb might burst.

From November onward, every gun in the country will be trained against
them. There is sufficient reason for poor people, who rarely have any
really good food, or enough to eat, shooting game birds in season; but
who has any patience with the pampered epicures for whose order
"quail-on-toast" are cooked by the hundred thousand at city clubs,
restaurants, and private tables, already over-supplied? No chef could
ever tempt me to eat this friendly little song bird that stays about
the farm with his family through the coldest winter to pick up the
buckwheat, cheap raisins, and sweepings from the hay loft that keep
him as neighbourly as a robin. Every farmer who does not post his
place, and who allows this useful ally in his eternal war against
weeds and insect pests to be shot, impoverishes himself more than he
is aware.


RUFFED GROUSE

_Called also: Partridge_

Bob-white and ruffed grouse are the fife and drum corps of the woods.
That some birds are wonderful musicians everybody knows. {241} No
other orchestra contains a member who can drum without a drum. Even
that famous drummer, the woodpecker, needs a dead, dry, resonant,
hardwood limb to tap on before he can produce his best effects. How
does the grouse beat his deep, muffled, thump, thump, thumping,
rolling tattoo? Some scientists have staked their reputation on the
claim that they have seen him drum by rapidly striking his wings
against the sides of his body; but other later-day scientists, who
contend that he beats only the air when his wings vibrate so fast that
the sight cannot quite follow them, are undoubtedly right.

On a fallen log, a stump, a rail fence or a wall, that may have been
used as a drumming stand for many years, the male grouse will strut
with a jerking, dandified gait, puff out his feathers, ruff his neck
frills, raise and spread his fan-shaped tail like a turkey cock, blow
out his cheeks and neck, then suddenly halt and begin to beat his
wings. After a few slow, measured thumps, the stiff, strong wings whir
faster and faster, until there is only a blur where they vibrate. This
is the grouse's love song that summons a mate to their trysting place.
It serves also as a challenge to a rival. Blood and feathers may soon
be strewn around the ground, for in the spring grouse will fight as
fiercely as game-cocks. Sportsmen in the autumn woods {242} often hear
grouse drumming at the old stand, merely from excess of vigour and not
because they take the slightest interest then in a mate. After the
mating season is over, they have less chivalry than barnyard roosters.

Shy, wary birds of wooded, hilly country, grouse are rarely thought of
as possible pets, but the gentle little girl in the picture won the
heart of a drummer and subdued his wildness, as you see. Some people
are trying to domesticate grouse in wire-enclosed poultry yards.

Sometimes when, like "the cat that walked by himself" you wander "in
the wild wet woods," perhaps you will be suddenly startled by the loud
whirring roar of a big brown grouse that suddenly hurls itself from
the ground near your feet. If it were shot from the mouth of a cannon
it could surprise you no less. Then it sails away, dodging the trees
and disappears. Gunners have "educated" the intelligent bird into
being, perhaps, the most wily, difficult game in the woods.

[Illustration]

 A little girl's rare pet: ruffed grouse.

[Illustration]

The drummer drumming


Like the meadowlark, flicker, sparrows and other birds that spend much
time on the ground, the bob-white and ruffed grouse wear brown
feathers, streaked and barred, to harmonise perfectly with their
surroundings. "To find a hen grouse with young is a memorable
experience," says Frank M. Chapman. "While the parent is giving us a
lesson in mother love and bird intelligence, her downy chicks are
teaching us facts in protective colouration and heredity. {243} How
the old one limps and flutters! She can barely drag herself along the
ground. But while we are watching her, what has become of the ten or a
dozen little yellow balls we had almost stepped on? Not a feather do
we see, until, poking about in the leaves, we find one little chap
hiding here and another squatting there, all perfectly still, and so
like the leaves in colour as to be nearly invisible."


{244}

{245}

CHAPTER XVII

BIRDS OF THE SHORE AND MARSHES

  Killdeer
  Semipalmated Or Ring-Necked Plover
  Least Sandpiper
  Spotted Sandpiper
  Woodcock
  Clapper Rail
  Sora Rail
  Great Blue Heron
  Little Green Heron
  Black-Crowned Night Heron
  American Bittern

{246}

{247}

KILLDEER

If you don't know the little killdeer plover, it is surely not his
fault, for he is a noisy sentinel, always ready, night or day, to tell
you his name. _Killdee, killdee_, he calls with his high voice when
alarmed--and he is usually beset by fears, real or imaginary--but when
at peace, his voice is sweet and low. Much persecution from gunners
has made the naturally gentle birds of the shore and marshes rather
shy and wild. Most plovers nest in the Arctic regions, where man and
his wicked ways are unknown. When the young birds reach our land of
liberty and receive a welcome of hot shot, the survivors learn their
first lesson in shyness. Some killdeer, however, are hatched in the
United States. No sportsman worthy the name would waste shot on a bird
not larger than a robin; one, moreover, with musky flesh; yet I have
seen scores of killdeer strung over the backs of gunners in tide-water
Virginia. Their larger cousins, the black-breasted, the piping, the
golden and Wilson's plovers, who travel from the tundras of the far
North to South America and back again every year, have now become rare
because too much cooked {248} along their long route. You can usually
tell a flock of plovers in flight by the crescent shape of the rapidly
moving mass.

With a busy company of friends, the killdeer haunts broad tracts of
grassy land, near water-uplands or lowlands, or marshy meadows beside
the sea. Scattered over a chosen feeding ground, the plovers run about
nimbly, nervously, looking for trouble as well as food. Because worms,
which are their favourite supper, come out of the ground at nightfall,
the birds are especially active then. Grasshoppers, crickets, and
other insects content them during the day.


SEMIPALMATED PLOVER

The killdeer, which is our commonest plover, has a little cousin
scarcely larger than an English sparrow that is a miniature of
himself, except that the semipalmated (half-webbed) or ring-necked
plover has only one dark band across the upper part of his white
breast, while the killdeer wears two black rings. This dainty little
beach bird has brownish-gray upper parts so like the colour of wet
sand, that, as he runs along over it, just in advance of the frothing
ripples, he is in perfect harmony with his surroundings. Relying upon
that fact for {249} protection, he will squat behind a tuft of beach
grass if you pass too near rather than risk flight.

When the tide is out, you may see the tiny forms of these common
ring-necks mingled with the ever-friendly little sandpipers on the
exposed sand bars and wide beaches where all keep up a constant hunt
for bits of shell fish, fish eggs and sand worms.

General Greely found them nesting in Grinnell Land in July, the males
doing most of the incubating as is customary in the plover family,
whose females certainly have advanced ideas. Downy little chicks run
about as soon after leaving the egg as they are dry. In August the
advance guard of southbound flocks begin to arrive in the United
States _en route_ for Brazil--quite a journey in the world to test the
fledgling's wings.


LEAST SANDPIPER


  Across the narrow beach we flit,
    One little sandpiper and I;
  And fast I gather, bit by bit,
    The scattered driftwood bleached and dry.
  The wild waves reach their hands for it,
    The wild wind raves, the tide runs high,
  As up and down the beach we flit,--
    One little sandpiper and I.

  Above our heads the sullen clouds
    Scud black and swift across the sky;
  Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds
    Stand out the white light-houses high.
  Almost as far as eye can reach
    I see the close-reefed vessels fly,
  As fast we flit along the beach,--
    One little sandpiper and I.

  I watch him as he skims along
    Uttering his sweet and mournful cry;
  He starts not at my fitful song,
    Or flash of fluttering drapery.
  He has no thought of any wrong;
    He scans me with a fearless eye.
  Stanch friends are we, well-tried and strong.
    The little sandpiper and I.

  Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night
    When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
  My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
    To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
  I do not fear for thee, though wroth
    The tempest rushes through the sky:
  For are we not God's children both.
    Thou, little sandpiper, and I?

{250}

Almost every child I know is more familiar with Celia Thaxter's poem
about the little sandpiper than with the bird itself. But if you have
the good fortune to be at the seashore in the late summer, when flocks
of the friendly mites come to visit us from the Arctic regions on
their way south, you can scarcely fail to become acquainted with the
companion of Mrs. Thaxter's lonely walks along the beach at the Isles
of Shoals where her father kept the lighthouse.

{251}

The least sandpipers, peeps, ox-eyes or stints, as they are variously
called, are only about the size of sparrows--too small for any
self-respecting gunner to bag, therefore they are still abundant.
Their light, dingy-brown and gray, finely speckled backs are about the
colour of the mottled sand they run over so nimbly, and their breasts
are as white as the froth of the waves that almost never touch them.
Beach birds become marvellously quick in reckoning the fraction of a
second when they must run from under the combing wave about to break
over their little heads. Plovers rely on their fleet feet to escape a
wetting. Least sandpipers usually fly upward and onward if a deluge
threatens; but they have a cousin, the semipalmated (half-webbed)
sandpiper that swims well when the unexpected water suddenly lifts it
off its feet.

These busy, cheerful, sprightly little peepers are always ready to
welcome to their flocks other birds--ring-necked plovers, turnstones,
snipe and phalaropes. If by no other sign, you may distinguish
sandpipers by their constant call, _peep-peep_.


SPOTTED SANDPIPER

Do you know the spotted sandpiper, teeter, tilt-up, teeter-tail,
teeter-snipe, or tip-up, {252} whichever you may choose to call it? As
if it had not yet decided whether to be a beach bird or a woodland
dweller, a wader or a perching songster, it is equally at home along
the seashore or on wooded uplands, wherever ditches, pools, streams,
creeks, swamps, and wet meadows furnish its favourite foods. It stays
with us through the long summer. Did you ever see it go through any of
the queer motions that have earned for it so many names? Jerking up
first its head, then its tail, it walks with a funny, bobbing,
tipping, see-saw gait, as if it were self-conscious and conceited.
Still another popular name was given from its sharp call _peet-weet,
peet-weet_, rapidly repeated, and usually uttered as the bird flies in
graceful curves over the water or inland fields.


WOODCOCK

_Called also: Blind, Wall-eyed, Mud, Bigheaded,
Wood, and Whistling Snipe; Bog-sucker; Bogbird; Timber Doodle._


Whenever you see little groups of clean-cut holes dotted over the
earth in low, wet ground, you may know that either the woodcock or
Wilson's snipe has been there probing for worms. Not even the
woodpecker's combination tool {253} is more wonderfully adapted to its
work than the bill of these snipe, which is a long, straight boring
instrument, its upper half fitted with a flexible tip for hooking the
worm out of its hole as you would lift a string out of a jar on your
hooked finger. Down goes the bill into the mud, sunk to the nostrils;
then the upper tip feels around for its slippery victim. You need
scarcely hope to see the probing performance because earth-worms, like
mice, come out of their holes after dark, which is why snipe are most
active then.

A little boy once asked me this conundrum of his own making: "What is
the difference between Martin Luther and a woodcock?" Just a few
differences suggested themselves, but I did not guess right the very
first time; can you? "One didn't like a Diet of Worms and the other
does," was the small boy's answer.

After the ground freezes hard in the northern United States and
Canada, the woodcock is compelled to go south to Virginia. But by the
time the skunk cabbage and bright-green, fluted leaves of hellebore
are pushing through the bogs and wet woodlands in earliest spring,
back he comes again. An odd-looking, thick-necked, chunky fellow he
is, less than a foot in length, his long, straight, stout bill
sticking far out from his triangular head; his eyes placed so far back
in the upper corners that he must {254} be able to see behind him
quite as well as he can look ahead; the streaks and bars of his
mottled russet-brown, gray and buff and black upper parts being so
laid on that he is in perfect harmony with the russet leaves, earth
and underbrush of his woodland home. When his mate is sitting on her
nest, the mimicry of her surroundings is so perfect it is well-nigh
impossible to find her.

Sportsmen pursue both the woodcock and Wilson's snipe relentlessly,
but happily they are no easy targets. Rising on short, stiff,
whistling wings they fly in a zig-zag, erratic flight, and quickly
drop to cover again, continually breaking the scent for a pursuing
dog.


RAILS

Rails are such shy, skulking hiders among the tall marsh grasses that
"every child" need never hope to know them all; but a few members of
the family that are both abundant and noisy, may be readily recognised
by their voices alone.

All rails prefer to escape from an intruder through the sedges in
well-worn runways rather than trust their short, rounded wings to bear
them beyond danger; and for forcing their way through grassy jungles,
their narrow-breasted, {255} wedge-shaped bodies are perfectly
adapted. Compressed almost to a point in front, but broad and blunt
behind where their queer little short-pointed tails stand up, the
rails' small figures thread their way in and out of the mazes over the
oozy ground with wonderful rapidity.

"As thin as a rail" means much to the cook who plucks one. It offers
even a smaller bite than a robin to the epicure. When a gunner routs a
rail it reluctantly rises a few feet above the grasses, flies with
much fluttering, trailing its legs after it, but quickly sinks in the
sedges again. Except in game bags, you rarely see a rail's varied
brown and gray back or its barred breast. The bill is longer than the
head. The long, widespread, flat toes help the owner to tread a dinner
out of the mud as well as to swim across an inlet; and the short hind
toes enable him to cling when he runs up the rushes to reach the
tassels of grain at the top. No doubt you once played with some
mechanical toy that made a noise something like the peculiar, rolling
cackle of the clapper rail. This "marsh hen," which is common in the
salt meadows along our coast from Long Island southward, continually
betrays itself by its voice; otherwise you might never suspect its
presence unless you are in the habit of pushing a punt up a creek to
get acquainted with the {256} interesting shy creatures that dwell in
what Thoreau called "Nature's sanctuary."

The clapper's cousin, the sora, or Carolina rail, so well known to
gunners, alas! if not to "every child," delights to live wherever wild
rice grows along inland lakes and rivers or along the coast. Its
sweetly whistled spring song _ker-wee, ker-wee_, and "rolling whinny"
give place in autumn to the _'kuk, kuk, 'k-'k'k-'kuk_ imitated by
alleged sportsmen in search of a mere trifle of flesh that they fill
with shot. As Mrs. Wright says of the bobolinks (neighbours of the
soras in the rice fields) so may it be written of them; they only
serve "to lengthen some weary dinner where a collection of animal and
vegetable bric-a-brac takes the place of satisfactory nourishment."


GREAT BLUE HERON

Standing motionless as the sphinx, with his neck drawn in until his
crested head rests between his angular shoulders, the big,
long-legged, bluish-gray heron depends upon his stillness and
protective colouring to escape the notice of his prey, and of his
human foes (for he has no others). In spite of his size--and he stands
four feet high without stockings--it takes the sharpest eyes to detect
him as he waits in {257} some shallow pool among the sedges along the
creek or river side, silently, solemnly, hour after hour, for a little
fish, frog, lizard, snake, or some large insect to come within
striking distance. With a sudden stroke of his long, strong, sharp
bill, he either snaps up his victim, or runs it through. A fish will
be tossed in the air before being swallowed, head downward, that the
fins may not scratch his very long, slender throat. When you are
eating ice cream, don't you wish your throat were as long as this
heron's?

A gunner, who wantonly shoots at any living target, will usually try
to excuse himself for striking down this stately, picturesque bird
into a useless mass of flesh and feathers, by saying that herons help
themselves to too many fish. (He forgets about all the mice and
reptiles they destroy.) But perhaps birds, as well as men, are
entitled to a fair share of the good things of the Creator. Some
people would prefer the sight of this majestic bird to the small,
worthless fish he eats. What do you think about protecting him by law?
Any one may shoot him now. The broad side of a barn would be about as
good a test of a marksman's skill.

The evil that birds do surely lives after them; the good they do for
us is far too little appreciated. Almost the last snowy heron and
{258} the last egret of Southern swamps have yielded their bodies to
the knife of the plume hunter, who cuts out the exquisite decorations
these birds wear during the nesting season. Inasmuch as all the heron
babies depend upon their parents through an unusually long, helpless
infancy, the little orphans are left to die by starvation. For what
end is the slaughter of the innocents? Merely that the unthinking
heads of vain women may be decked out with aigrettes! Don't blame the
poor hunters too much when the plumes are worth their weight in gold.


LITTLE GREEN HERON

_Called also: Poke; Chuckle-head_

This most abundant member of his tropical tribe that spends the summer
with us, is a shy, solitary bird of the swamps where you would lose
your rubber boots in the quagmire if you attempted to know him too
intimately. But you may catch a glimpse of him as he wades about the
edge of a pond or creek with slow, calculated steps, looking for his
supper. All herons become more active toward evening because their
prey does. By day, this heron, like his big, blue cousin, might be
mistaken for a stump or snag among the sedges and bushes by the
waterside, so dark and still is he.


[Illustration]

A flock of friendly sandpipers and turnstones in wading.


[Illustration]

One little sandpiper


[Illustration]

The coot

{259}

Herons are accused of the tropical vice of laziness; but surely a bird
that travels from northern Canada to the tropics and back again every
year to earn its living, as the little green heron does, is not
altogether lazy. Startle him, and he springs into the air with a loud
squawk, flapping his broad wings and trailing his greenish-yellow legs
behind him, like the storks you see painted on Japanese fans.

He and his mate have long, dark-green crests on their odd-shaped,
receding heads and some lengthened, pointed feathers between the
shoulders of their green or grayish-green hunched backs. Their figures
are rather queer. The reddish-chestnut colour on their necks fades
into the brownish-ash of their under parts, divided by a line of dark
spots on the white throat that widen on the breast. Although the
little green heron is the smallest member of this tribe of large birds
that we see in the Northern States and Canada, it is about a foot and
a half long, larger than any bird, except one of its own cousins, that
you are likely to see in its marshy haunts.

Unlike many of their kind a pair of these herons prefer to build their
rickety nests apart by themselves rather in one of those large,
sociable, noisy and noisome colonies which we {260} associate with the
heron tribe. Flocking is sometimes a fatal habit.



BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

_Called also: Quawk; Qua Bird_

When the night herons return to us from the South in April, they go
straight to the home of their ancestors, to which they are devotedly
attached--rickety, ramshackle heronries, mere bundles of sticks in the
tops of trees in some swamp--and begin at once to repair them. The
cuckoo's and the dove's nests are fine pieces of architecture compared
with a heron's. Is it not a wonder that the helpless heron babies do
not tumble through the loose twigs? When they are old enough to climb
around their latticed nursery, they still make no attempt to leave it,
and several more weeks must pass before they attempt to fly. If there
is an ancient heronry in your neighbourhood, as there is in mine,
don't attempt to visit the untidy, ill-smelling place on a hot day.
One would like to spray the entire colony with a deodoriser.

Thanks to the night heron's habits that keep him concealed by day when
gunners are abroad, a few large heronries still exist within an hour's
ride of New York, in spite of much persecution.


[Illustration]

The little green heron: the smallest and most abundant member of his
tribe.


[Illustration]

Half-grown little green herons on dress parade.


{261}

Unlike the solitary little green cousin, the black-crowned heron
delights in company, and a hundred noisy pairs may choose to nest in
some favourite spot. How they squawk over their petty quarrels! Wilson
likened the noise to that of "two or three hundred Indians choking one
another."

Only when they have young fledglings to feed do these herons hunt for
food in broad daylight. But as the light fades they become
increasingly active and noisy; even after it is pitch dark, when the
fishermen go eeling, you may hear them _quawking_ continually as they
fly up and down the creek. Big, pearly-gray birds (they stand fully
two feet high) with black-crowned heads, from which their long,
narrow, white wedding feathers fall over the black top of the back,
the night herons so harmonise with the twilight as to seem a part of
it.


AMERICAN BITTERN

_Called also: Stake-driver; Poke; Freckled Heron; Booming Bittern;
Indian Hen._



Even if you have never seen this shy hermit of large swamps and marshy
meadows you must know him by his remarkable "barbaric yawp." Not a
muscle does this brown and blackish and {262} buff freckled fellow
move as he stands waiting for prey to come within striking distance of
what appears to be a dead stump. Sometimes he stands with his head
drawn in until it rests on his back; or, he may hold his head erect
and pointed upward when he looks like a sharp snag. While he meditates
pleasantly on the flavour of a coming dinner, he suddenly snaps and
gulps, filling his lungs with air, then loudly bellows forth the most
unmusical bird cry you are ever likely to hear. You may recognise it
across the marsh half a mile away or more. A nauseated child would go
through no more convulsive gestures than this happy hermit makes every
time he lifts up his voice to call, _pump-er-lunk, pump-er-hmk,
pump-er-lunk_. Still another noise has earned him one of his many
popular names because it sounds like a stake being driven into the
mud.

A booming bittern I know sits hour after hour, almost every day in
summer, year after year, on a dark, decaying pile of an old dock in
the creek. Our canoe glides over the water so silently it rarely
disturbs him. The timid bird relies on his protective colouring to
conceal him in so exposed a place and profits by his fearlessness in
broad daylight next to an excellent feeding ground. At low tide he
walks about sedately on the muddy flats treading out a dinner.
Kingfishers rattle up and down the {263} creek, cackling rails hide in
the sedges behind it, red-winged blackbirds flute above the phalanxes
of rushes on its banks: but the bittern makes more noise, especially
toward evening, than all the other inhabitants of the swampy meadows
except the frogs, whose voices he forever silences when he can. Frogs,
legs and all, are his favourite delicacy.


{264}

{265}

CHAPTER XVIII

THE FASTEST FLYERS

  Canada Goose
  Wild Ducks
  Herring Gull

{266}

{267}

CANADA GOOSE

Of the millions of migrants that stream across the sky every spring
and autumn, none attract so much attention as the wild geese. How
their mellow _honk, honk_ thrills one when the birds pass like ships
in the night! Such big, strong, rapid flyers have little to fear in
travelling by daylight too, but gunners have taught them the wisdom of
keeping up so high that they look like mere specks. It must be a very
dull child without imagination, who is not stirred by the flight of
birds that are launched on a journey of at least two thousand miles.
Don't you wish you were as familiar with the map as these migrants
must be? Usually geese travel in a wedge-shaped flock, headed by some
old, experienced leader; but sometimes, with their long necks
outstretched, they follow one another in Indian file and shoot across
the clouds as straight as an arrow.

Geese spend much more time on land than ducks do. If you will study
the habits of the common barnyard goose you will learn many of the
ways of its wild relations that nest too far north to be watched by
"every child." Canada geese that have been wounded by {268} sportsmen
in the fall, can be kept on a farm perfectly contented all winter; but
when the honking flocks return from the south in March or April, they
rarely resist "the call of the wild," and away they go toward their
kin and freedom.


WILD DUCKS

Birds that spend their summers for the most part north of the United
States and travel past us faster than the fastest automobile racer or
locomotive--and an hundred miles an hour is not an uncommon speed for
ducks to fly--need have little to fear, you might suppose. But so
mercilessly are they hunted whenever they stop to rest, that few birds
are more timid.

River and pond ducks, that have the most delicious flavour because
they feed on wild rice, celery and other dainty fare, frequent
sluggish streams and shallow ponds. There they tip up their bodies in
a funny way to probe about the muddy bottoms, their heads stuck down
under water, their tails and flat, webbed feet in the air directly
above them, just as you have seen barnyard ducks stand on their heads.
They like to dabble along the shores, too, and draw out roots, worms,
seeds and tiny shellfish imbedded in the banks.


[Illustration]

Black-crowned night heron rising from a morass


[Illustration]

Canada geese


{269}

Of course they get a good deal of mud in their mouths, but fortunately
their broad, flat bills have strainers on the sides, and merely by
shutting them tight, the mud and water are forced out of the gutters.
After nightfall they seem especially active and noisy.

In every slough where mallards, blue- and green-winged teal, widgeons,
black duck and pintails settle down to rest in autumn, gunners wait
concealed in the sedges. Decoying the sociable birds by means of
painted wooden images of ducks floating on the water near the blind,
they commence the slaughter at daybreak. But ducks are of all targets
the most difficult, perhaps, for the tyro to hit. On the slightest
alarm they bound from the water on whistling wings and are off at a
speed that only the most expert shot overtakes. No self-respecting
sportsman would touch the little wood duck--the most beautiful member
of its family group. It is as choicely coloured and marked as the
Chinese mandarin duck, and a possible possession for every one who has
a country place with woods and water on it. Unlike its relatives, the
wood duck nests in hollow trees and carries its babies to the water in
its mouth as a cat carries its kittens.

The large group of sea and bay ducks, contains the canvas-back,
red-head and other vegetarian ducks, dear to the sportsman and
epicure. These birds may, perhaps, be familiar {270} to "every child"
as they hang by the necks in butcher-shop windows, but rarely in life.
Enormous flocks once descended upon the Chesapeake Bay region. To
Virginia and Maryland, therefore, hastened all the gunners in the East
until the canvas-back, at least, is even more rare in the sportsman's
paradise than it is on the gourmand's plate. Every kind of duck is now
served up as canvas-back. Some sea ducks, however, which are fish
eaters, have flesh too tough, rank, and oily for the table. They dive
for their food, often to a great depth, pursuing and catching fish
under water like the saw-billed mergansers or shelldrakes which form a
distinct group. The surf scoters, or black coots, so abundant off the
Atlantic coast in winter, dive constantly to feed on mussels, clams or
scallops. Naturally such athletic birds are very tough.

With the exception of the wood duck, all ducks nest on the ground.
Twigs, leaves and grasses form the rude cradle for the eggs, and, as a
final touch of devotion, the mother bird plucks feathers from her own
soft breast for the eggs to lie in. When there is any work to be done
the selfish, dandified drakes go off by themselves, leaving the entire
care of raising the family to their mates. Then they moult and
sometimes lose so many feathers they are unable to fly. But by the
time the ducklings are {271} well grown and strong of wing, the drake
joins the family, one flock joins another, and the ducks begin their
long journey southward. But very few children, even in Canada, can
ever hope to know them in their inaccessible swampy homes.


HERRING GULL

_Called also: Winter Gull_

"Every child" who has crossed the ocean or even a New York ferry in
winter, knows the big, pearly-gray and white gulls that come from
northern nesting grounds in November, just before the ice locks their
larder, to spend the winter about our open waterways. On the great
lakes and the larger rivers and harbours along our coast, you may see
the scattered flocks sailing about serenely on broad, strong wings,
gliding and skimming and darting with a poetry of motion few birds can
equal. There are at least three things one never tires of watching:
the blaze of a wood fire, the breaking of waves on a beach, and the
flight of a flock of gulls.

Not many years ago gulls became alarmingly scarce. Why? Because silly
girls and women, to follow fashion, trimmed their hats with gull's
wings until hundreds of thousands of these {272} birds and their
exquisite little cousins, the terns or sea-swallows, had been
slaughtered. Then some people said the massacre must stop and happily
the law now says so too. Paid keepers patrol some of the islands where
gulls and terns nest, which is the reason why you may see ashy-brown
young gulls in almost every flock. When they mature, a deep-pearl
mantle covers their backs and wings, and their breasts, heads and
tails become snowy white. Their colouring now suggests fogs and
white-capped waves. Why protect birds that are not fit for food and
that kill no mice nor insects in the farmer's fields? is often asked.
A wise man once said "the beautiful is as useful as the useful," but
the picturesque gulls are not preserved merely to enliven marine
pictures and to please the eye of travellers. They fill the valuable
office of scavengers of the sea. Lobsters and crabs, among many other
creatures under the ocean, gulls, terns and petrels, among many
creatures over it, do for the water what the turkey buzzard does for
the land--rid it of enormous quantities of refuse. When one watches
hundreds of gulls following the garbage scows out of New York harbour,
or sailing in the wake of an ocean liner a thousand miles or more away
from land, to pick up the refuse thrown overboard from the ship's
kitchen, one realises the excellence of Dame Nature's housecleaning.


[Illustration]

The feather-lined nest of a wild duck.

[Illustration]

Sea gulls in the wake of a garbage scow cleansing New York harbour of
floating refuse.


{273}

Gulls are greedy creatures. No sooner will one member of a flock swoop
down upon a morsel of food, than a horde of hungry companions, in hot
pursuit, chase after him to try to frighten him into dropping his
dinner. With a harsh, laughing cry, _akak, kak, akak, kak, kak,_ they
wheel and float about a feeding ground for hours at a time.

And they fly incredibly far and fast. A flock that has followed an
ocean greyhound all day will settle down to sleep at night "bedded" on
the rolling water like ducks while "rocked in the cradle of the deep."
After a rest that may last till dawn, they rise refreshed, fly in the
direction of the vanished steamer and actually overtake it with
apparent ease in time to pick up the scraps from the breakfast table.
Reliable sailors say the same birds follow a ship from our shores all
the way across the Atlantic.



INDEX


Accenter, 58.

Bellbird, 12.
Bittern, 40, 263.
  American, 261.
  Booming, 261, 262.
Blackbird, 149.
  Crow, 148.
  Red-winged, 40, 111, 141, 142, 143, 166, 263.
  Rusty, 143.
  Swamp, 141.
  Thrush, 143.
Bluebird, iii, vi, 9, 10, 11, 12, 29, 36, 97, 104, 128, 145, 166, 191, 231.
Blue Jay, 23, 24, 79, 83, 84, 128, 134, 153, 156, 157, 163, 198, 217,
  227, 232.
Bobolink, 137, 138, 139, 140, 150, 190, 238, 256.
Bob-white, 144, 218, 237, 238, 239, 240, 242.
Bog-bird, 252.
Bog-sucker, 252.
Bonnet-bird, 82.
Bull-bat, 177.
Bunting, 130.
  Bay-winged, 113.
  Indigo, 128, 131, 169.
  Snow, 124.
Butcherbird, 79, 80.
Buzzard, 214.
  Turkey, 213, 272.

Canary, 115, 128.
  Wild, 53, 124, 125.
Canvas-back, 270.
Cardinal, 23, 38, 48, 72, 83, 87, 133, 134.
Catbird, 15, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49. 72, 163.
Cedarbird, 82, 84, 85, 86.
Chat, Yellow-breasted, 47, 55, 63, 64, 74, 128.
Chebec, 161, 170, 171.
Cherry-bird, 82.
Chewink, 129, 130, 132.
Chickadee, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 130, 189, 191, 193, 238.
Chimneyswift, 180.
Chippy, 116, 117, 118.
  Winter, 119.
Chuckle-head, 258.
Chuck-will's-widow, 177.
Clape, 199.
Coot, 221.
  Black, 270.
Cowbird, 56, 57, 63, 74, 139, 140, 141, 149, 150, 177, 180, 207.
Creeper, Brown, 26, 58.
Crow, iv, 24, 63, 149.
  American, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 163, 230.
  Carrion, 214.
  Rain, 205.
Cuckoo, 207, 210, 236, 260.
  Black-billed, 205.
  Yellow-billed, v, 43, 205, 206.

Darter, Big Blue, 219.
  Little Blue, 219.
Devil Downhead, 25.
Dove, 236, 237, 260.
  Carolina, 235.
  Mourning, 235.
Duck, v, 63, 221, 271, 273.
  Black, 269.
  Canvas-back, 269.
  Chinese mandarin, 269.
  Red-headed, 269.
  Wild, 268.
  Wood, 269, 270.

Eagle, 80, 221, 222, 224.
  Bald, 220, 225.
  Golden, 222.

Falcon, Rusty-crowned, 223.
Finch, 108.
  Grass, 113.
  Purple, 126, 127, 131.
Firebird, 146, 193.
Flicker, 144, 189, 193, 198, 199, 200, 201, 242,
Flycatcher, 46, 66, 80, 140, 161, 162, 196, 198.
  Crested, 82, 161, 165, 166, 169, 191.
  Dusky, 166, 170.
  Least, 161, 170, 171.

Goatsucker, 179.
Goldfinch, v, 53, 85.
  American, 124, 125, 126, 127, 139.
Goose, 221.
  Canada, 267.
Goshawk, 215, 220,
Grackle, 143, 150, 166.
  Bronzed, 148.
  Purple, 148.
Grosbeak, 108.
  Blue, 128.
  Cardinal, 133.
  Pine, 29.
  Red-breasted, 131.
  Rose-breasted, 114, 131, 132, 133. 134.
Grouse, 192, 238, 241, 242.
  Ruffed, 237, 238, 240, 242.
Gull, 221, 225, 272, 273.
  Herring, 271.
  Winter, 271.

Halcyon, 208.
Hang-nest, 146.
Hawk, iv, 24, 80, 162, 163, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 230, 239.
  American Sparrow, 191, 223.
  Chicken, 215, 218, 219.
  Cooper's, 215, 219.
  Fish, 208, 224, 225.
  Hen, 215, 216, 218.
  Killy, 223.
  Marsh, 229.
  Mosquito, 177.
  Mouse, 223.
  Partridge, 220.
  Red, 218.
  Red-shouldered, 215, 216, 217, 218, 220.
  Red-tailed, 218, 220.
  Sharp-shinned, 215, 219.
  Winter, 215.
Hen-hawk, Blue, 220.
Hen, Indian, 261.
  Marsh, 255.
  Heron, 257, 258, 259, 261.
  Black-crowned Night, 260, 261,
  Freckled, 261.
  Great Blue, 256.
  Little Green, 258, 259.
High-hole, 199.
Hummingbird, vi, 29, 170, 176, 190, 201, 236.
  Ruby-throated, 183, 184, 185, 186.

Indigo-bird, 128.

Jay, Canada, 157, 158.
Jenny Wren, 236.
Joree, 129.
Junco, 120, 122, 123, 124.

Kingbird, v, 80, 145, 161, 163, 164, 165, 223.
Kingfisher, 40, 63, 83, 102, 128, 210, 262.
  Belted, 208.
Kinglet, 21, 29, 189.
  Golden-crowned, 28.
  Ruby-crowned, 28, 29.

Lark, Old-field, 143.
Lettuce-bird, 124.
Linnet, 126.
Logger-head, 79, 81, 82.

Mallard, 269.
Martin, 104.
  Bee, 163.
  Purple, 95, 96, 97, 98.
  Sand, 101.
Mavis, 41,
Maybird, 137.
Meadowlark, 113, 143, 144, 145, 150, 178, 199, 242.
Meatbird, 157,
Merganser, 270.
Mockingbird, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 55, 79.
  French, 41.
  Yellow, 65.
Moose-bird, 157.

Nighthawk, 93, 176, 177, 179, 182.
Nightingale, 49.
  Virginia, 133.
Nightjar, 177.
Nuthatch, 21, 26, 28, 29, 58, 189, 191.
  Red-breasted, 26, 28.
  White-breasted, 25, 27.

Oriole, vi, 88, 140, 148, 206.
  Baltimore, 65, 72, 145, 146, 147, 149, 150.
  Golden, 146.
  Orchard, 145, 146, 147.
Ortolan, 137.
Osprey, 221, 224, 225.
Oven-bird, 42, 54, 58, 59, 61, 66, 122, 128, 177.
Owl, 191, 215, 224, 225, 226, 227, 231.
  Barn, 227, 228.
  Barred, 230.
  Hoot, 230.
  Long-eared, 229.
  Marsh, 229.
  Meadow, 229.
  Monkey-faced, 227.
  Screech, 230, 232.
  Short-eared, 229.
Ox-eye, 251.

Partridge, 237, 240.
Peabody-bird, 120.
Peep, 251.
Peto-bird, 23.
Petrel, 272.
Pewee, 129, 130, 235, 238.
  Bridge, 166.
  Water, 166.
  Wood, 161,169,170,171.
Phalarope, 251.
Pheasant, 237.
Phoebe, 130, 161, 166, 167, 168, 170, 236, 238.
Pigeon, 201, 236.
  Wild, 235.
Pintail, 269.
Plover, 251.
  Black-breasted, 247.
  Golden, 247.
  Killdeer, 247, 248.
  Piping, 247.
  Ring-necked, 248, 249, 251.
  Semipalmated, 248.
  Wilson's, 247.
Poke, 258, 261.

Quail, 237, 238, 240.
Qua-bird, 260.
Quawk, 260.

Rail, 40, 111, 254, 255, 262.
  Carolina, 256.
Red-bird, Black-winged, 86.
  Crested, 133.
Redstart, 65, 66, 147.
Reedbird, 137, 138.
Ricebird, 137, 138.
Robin, iii, vi, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 46, 79, 83, 86, 87,
  107, 117, 131, 134, 143, 145, 175, 197, 200, 205, 223, 232, 247, 255.
  Golden, 146.
  Ground, 129, 130.
  Redbreast, 5, 130.
  Wood, 12.

Sandpiper, 249, 250.
  Least, 249, 251.
  Semipalmated, 251.
  Spotted, 251.
Sapsucker, 195, 196, 198.
  Yellow-bellied, 194.
Scoter, Surf, 270.
Sea-swallow, 272.
Shelldrakes, 270.
Shrike, 80, 81, 198, 223.
  Northern, 79, 81, 82.
Silk-tail, 82.
Skylark, 137.
Snipe, 251, 253.
  Big-headed, 252.
  Blind, 252.
  Mud, 252.
  Wall-eyed, 252.
  Whistling, 252.
  Wilson's, 252, 254.
  Wood, 252.
Snow-bird, Slate-coloured, 123.
Snowflake, 124.
Sora, 256.
Sparrow, 5, 10, 35, 36, 42, 61, 66, 70, 80, 83, 86,
  104, 107, 127, 128, 132, 138, 140, 183, 242, 251.
  Canada, 120.
  Chipping, iii, 20, 112, 116, 117, 119, 130.
  Door-step, 116.
  English, 24, 27, 33, 53, 59, 64, 81, 97, 108, 110,111, 114, 115,
    116, 119, 121, 130, 161, 163, 192, 197, 248.
  Field, 112, 114, 119, 130.
  Fox, 122, 123.
  Hair, 116.
  Song, 39, 109, 110,111, 112, 113, 127, 130.
  Swamp, 111, 112.
  Tree, 119, 120.
  Vesper, 113, 114.
  White-crowned, 121.
  White-throated, 120, 121, 122, 130.
Stake-driver, 261.
Starling, Meadow, 143.
Stint, 251.
Swallow, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 108, 176, 182, 183.
  Bank, 101, 102, 210.
  Barn, 98, 99, 100, 101.
  Chimney, 180.
  Eave or Cliff, 100, 101, 104.
  Rough-winged, 102.
  Sand, 101,
  Tree, 103, 104, 191.
  White-breasted, 103.
Swift, 97, 176, 180, 181, 182, 183.
  Chimney, 93, 96, 190.

Tanager, Scarlet, 48, 86, 87, 88, 89, 131, 139.
  Summer, 89.
Teacher, 58, 59, 60.
Teal, Blue-winged, 269.
  Green-winged, 269.
Teeter, 251.
Teeter-snipe, 251.
Teeter-tail, 251.
Tern, 272.
Thistlebird, 124.
Thrasher, Brown, 15, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 49, 112.
Thrush, 42, 43, 55, 122, 140, 153.
  Brown, 41.
  Golden-crowned, 58.
  Ground, 41, 44.
  Hermit, 12.
  Long, 41.
  Migratory, 5.
  Red, 41.
  Red-breasted, 5.
  Song, 12.
  Wilson's, 12, 14.
  Wood, 12, 13, 14, 15.
Tilt-up, 251.
Timber Doodle, 252.
Tip-up, 251.
Titmouse, 21, 24, 25, 134, 189, 191.
  Black-capped, 19.
  Crested, 23, 38.
  Tufted, 23, 26, 82.
Tomtit, Crested, 23.
Towhee, 112, 122, 129, 130, 131, 238.
Tree Mouse, 25.
Turkey, 214.
Turnstone, 251.

Veery, 14, 15.
Vireo, 69, 70, 82, 95, 114, 140, 145, 162, 171.
  Red-eyed, v, 71, 72, 74, 75, 129, 169.
  Warbling, 74, 75.
  White-eyed, v, 72, 73, 74.
  Yellow-throated, 74.
Vulture, 214.
  Black, 214.
  Turkey, 213.

Warbler, 28, 54, 55, 59, 64, 65, 66, 69, 70, 95, 162.
  Black and White Creeping, 57, 58, 189.
  Blackburnian, 66.
  Black-masked, Ground, 61.
  Yellow, v, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 62, 63, 125, 140.
Waxwing, 23.
  Cedar, 82, 83, 85, 126, 145.
Whip-poor-will, 93, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 182, 238.
Whiskey Jack, 157.
Widgeon, 269.
Wren, iii, 19, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 42, 43, 45, 49, 104, 167, 191.
  Carolina, 37, 38.
  House, 33, 97.
  Marsh, 39, 40, 41, 111.
  Winter, 37.
Woodcock, 128, 252, 253, 254.
Woodpecker, iv, 22, 24, 26, 28, 57, 73, 140, 166,
  181, 189, 190, 192, 194, 195, 198, 224, 227, 230, 232, 241, 252.
  Downy, 57, 189, 191, 192, 193, 198.
  Golden-winged, 199.
  Hairy, 191, 192, 193, 198.
  Red-headed, 197, 198, 199.

Yellow-bird, Black-winged, 124.
  Summer, 53.
Yellowhammer, 199.
Yellow-throat, Maryland, 54, 61, 111.
Yucker, 199.





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