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Title: Bird Portraits
Author: Seton, Ernest Thompson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             BIRD PORTRAITS


[Illustration: THE SONG SPARROW]



                             BIRD PORTRAITS


                       _By_ Ernest Seton-Thompson


                         WITH DESCRIPTIVE TEXT

                          _By_ Ralph Hoffmann


                                 BOSTON
                             Ginn & Company
                           The Athenæum Press
                                  1901



                            COPYRIGHT, 1901
                           BY GINN & COMPANY

                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



                                CONTENTS


                                                 PAGE

                  THE SONG SPARROW                  1

                  THE FLICKER                       3

                  THE BROWN THRASHER                5

                  THE BARN SWALLOW                  7

                  THE CHIMNEY SWIFT                 9

                  THE KINGBIRD                     11

                  THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE             13

                  THE WOOD THRUSH                  15

                  THE SCARLET TANAGER              17

                  THE ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK       19

                  THE REDSTART                     21

                  THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD   23

                  BOB-WHITE                        25

                  THE GOLDFINCH                    27

                  THE BLUE JAY                     29

                  THE BROWN CREEPER                31

                  THE BUTCHER BIRD                 33

                  THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET       35

                  THE HERRING GULL                 37

                  THE CHICKADEE                    39



                             _INTRODUCTION_


_This book is called "Bird Portraits" because Mr. Seton-Thompson's
pictures are always faithful and charming portraits of the birds which
he draws. But since a bird's portrait, no matter how accurate, can show
its subject in only one position, singing, feeding, flying, or sitting,
a short account of some of the main events of the bird's life has been
added to each picture._

_Any one who learns from such books as Mr. Seton-Thompson's how beset
with perils is the life of every wild creature will take the greatest
pains at all times, and especially in the nesting season, not only not
to injure or persecute such defenseless little creatures as our song
birds, but also to protect them in every way. Whoever seeks their
acquaintance, in the spirit of friendship, will always be grateful for
the interest and pleasure to be gained from such friends._

_Of the twenty birds whose portraits are here presented, a majority are
only summer residents in the Northern States; some visit us only in
winter; a few spend the whole year near the same spot. The birds which
are first described are those that are most closely associated with the
return of spring; then follow those whose gay colors and bright songs
give much of its charm to early summer; last come those that brave, even
in the North, the tempests of winter._

                                                                   R. H.



                             BIRD PORTRAITS



                            THE SONG SPARROW


After a severe winter, while snow and ice still remind us of the past,
the Song Sparrow, mounting to the top of some bush or small tree,
repeats his cheerful tinkling song, "helping," as Thoreau says, "to
crack the ice" in the ponds. Few people are so unobservant as not to
notice this bright strain, after the silence of winter. A peculiarity of
the song is the amount of variation shown by different individuals and
often by the same bird. At almost regular distances along the bushy
roadside, or over the hedge-intersected fields, one will meet on the
early spring mornings one Song Sparrow after another, each restricted to
his part of the road or field. If one notices the songs of each, it is
evident that, though the songs have the same general character, there
are almost as many ways of beginning a strain as there are singers.
Moreover, the same bird has been observed to alter his song in a short
space of time to two or three different variations. Probably, if one's
ear were acute enough, all birds of one species would be found to sing
with slight differences, but few show in so marked a degree as the Song
Sparrow the tendency to variation which characterizes a species.

In early April, the Song Sparrow builds a nest of grass, either on the
ground beneath a tuft of grass, or under some brambles, or less
frequently a few feet above the ground, in a bush or on the lower limbs
of a tree. In the latter situation, twigs are of course necessary for
the support of the structure. Here again the bird shows a tendency to
vary in its habits. The eggs are from four to five in number, greenish
white, thickly marked with shades of brown, lavender, or purple.
Sometimes an egg is found in the nest much larger than the others; this
has been laid by the lazy Cowbird. As the large egg receives most warmth
and hatches first, the young Cowbird soon crowds out the rightful
occupants of the nest, and the parent Song Sparrows will be seen later,
working busily to feed a great homely youngster as large as themselves,
who will afterwards go off to join a flock of his own kind. Probably
every Cowbird has been reared at the expense of a brood of some small
bird, Sparrow, Warbler, or Vireo.

In June, the young Song Sparrows are able to take care of themselves,
and the energetic parents build another nest and rear another brood. The
brooding time is the chief period of song, so that birds that breed
twice sing later in the summer than others. The Song Sparrow's little
strain may be heard well into August; but toward the end of that month
we hear from the cornfields and gardens a curious, husky warble, unlike
the bright spring carol of the Song Sparrow, but nevertheless made by
that bird. In the fall, and even during the winter, a warm bright day
will occasionally induce a Song Sparrow to sing his lively spring song,
so that where the Song Sparrow winters, the strain may be heard every
month of the year.

In the late summer and fall, the neglected corners of gardens and
fields, where the seeds of weeds and grasses offer an abundance of food,
are the favorite resort of the sparrows. The Song Sparrow may be
distinguished from most of its relatives by its streaked breast, in the
middle of which the spots generally form a conspicuous blotch, and by
its long tail, which it constantly jerks as it flies. The Song Sparrow
is very retiring, and when alarmed, slips into brush heaps or bushes,
where it hides as skillfully as a mouse.

[Illustration: THE FLICKER]



                              THE FLICKER


The Flicker is most beloved in March, when his hearty shout is one of
the characteristic sounds of the first warm days of early spring. The
same week which brings the Bluebird and the Blackbird hears the cheerful
song of the Song Sparrow and the loud call of the Flicker.

Though a woodpecker, the Flicker has departed somewhat from the habits
of its relatives, spending considerable time on the ground, and
depending largely for its food on berries and ants. It is often startled
from lawns and hillsides, where it has been thrusting its long tongue
into colonies of black ants, seizing them on the moist, brushy tip. When
so engaged, the bird may sometimes be closely approached, and a sight of
its plumage is then a revelation to one who has seen from a distance
only its dark brown body and white rump. The ashy gray nape sets off a
bright red patch; there is a handsome black crescent across the breast,
and the male wears black mustaches. The breast is handsomely spotted,
and the quills and undersides of the wing and tail feathers are golden
yellow. Unless one can steal up close to a bird, few of these marks
show; but the Flicker may always be distinguished by his size (he is the
largest of our common birds except the Crow), by the white rump, and the
gleam of yellow which has given him the name Golden-winged Woodpecker.
The flight, too, like that of all the woodpeckers, is characteristic;
the wing strokes are slow, and between them the bird drops a little, so
that its progress is in waves instead of in a straight line.

All the woodpeckers nest in holes, which they chisel out of decayed or
even live wood. A circular entrance leads to a vertical passage, and
this to a wide chamber some distance below. No lining of moss or
feathers is put in; the pure white, nearly round eggs are laid directly
on the chips at the bottom of the cavity, and the young birds after a
few days hang by their claws to the side of the hole. Young Flickers,
like young Humming-birds, are fed by their parents with a liquid food,
which is pumped into their wide-opened mouths, the parent's bill being
thrust far into the young one's.

The Flicker is one of the few birds that frequently return to the old
nest. Most birds, contrary to the common notion, instead of refurnishing
the weather-beaten and insecure structure into which their last year's
home has been converted by snow, rain, and wind, prefer to build a new
one. The material is everywhere at hand, and time is not so precious
before the young are hatched. The Flicker, however, having built in a
stout limb, can safely return for several seasons to the same cavity,
or, if this becomes insecure, can cut another in the same trunk.
Branches are often seen where three or four round openings show the
tenements of several generations of these noisy birds. South of
Massachusetts, Flickers generally spend the whole year in one spot, and
in winter live largely on berries; a favorite food at this season is the
berry of the poison ivy. In the fall, the rum cherry becomes a resort
for all fruit-loving species.

The Flicker, though not known to raise a second brood, has a second
period of song, so that we hear again in June the shout, or mating call,
of the early spring days. Besides this high-pitched _wick, wick, wick_,
the Flicker utters, when startled, a curious note like _worroo_; a sharp
_ti'ou_ is the call to its kind, and the syllables _yucker, yucker_,
often accompanied by ludicrous bowing with wings and tail outspread, are
used to show affection.

[Illustration: THE BROWN THRASHER]



                           THE BROWN THRASHER


The Thrasher is the first great musician of the year; he arrives in the
last week of April, so that his song forms the prelude of the chorus
which is given in May by the true Thrushes, the Bobolink, and the
Oriole. There is a spirit, a brilliancy of execution, and a power in his
song which is perhaps more appropriate to early spring than the rich,
sweet tone of the birds who take up the strain in warmer days. He sings
when spring, though assured, is not everywhere manifest, and the vigor
of his ringing phrases serves to dispel any lingering doubt that the
faint-hearted may yet entertain.

The trees are yet leafless, and the singer can be seen afar off on the
very topmost twig of some hillside tree; his long tail is held straight
below him, his head is up-lifted, and from his full throat comes phrase
after phrase, a succession of the most varied and apparently extremely
difficult notes, executed with an ease and full-hearted joy which, to
the ears of many, place the Thrasher in the class with the true
Thrushes. Like the song of all male birds, the performance is not only
an offering or an invitation to the female, but also an answer to some
rival whose fainter notes reach the ear from the neighboring grove.

This last week of April is often one of the most delightful seasons of
the year, and particularly attractive to a beginner in bird study. There
are only a few bushes in leaf, and those of a delicate green; the dried
leaves under them are starred with white bloodroot; on the hillsides,
the purple violet and yellow five-finger are wide open in the warm sun,
and in the woods, the mayflower and the hepatica surprise the visitor in
spots where the late snow still lingers. The birds are easy to find;
there is no dense foliage to hide them, and the number of species is
still so few that their songs and figures are not difficult to
distinguish.

The Thrasher's song ceases as you approach him. He slips down like a
wren to the undergrowth, where, if you listen, you hear him rustling and
scratching in the dry leaves. If you sit down near by, you will see him
as he mounts again from one twig to the next. His white breast is
heavily spotted with black, his head, back, and tail are of a bright
rufous shade, and his yellow eye glitters like a snake's. When he is
alarmed, he puffs like a turtle, or utters a note curiously like a loud
smack. The whole air of the bird is one of vigor and intelligence. The
sexes are alike in size and color. By watching patiently near the spot
where the male sings, it is often possible to surprise the pair bringing
bark and roots to the bush among whose roots or stems the nest is woven.

It is one of the most delightful experiences in the study of birds thus
to watch a pair of birds building their nest, to note later the laying
of each egg, to see the female brooding till the nestlings are hatched
and finally leave the nest. One always heaves a sigh of relief at the
last moment, for so many tragedies may put an end to the story. The
female Thrasher is very bold when on the nest, and sits close till the
visitor, if he approach quietly, is within a few feet of her. She gazes
fixedly at him with her bright eye, but let him draw a step nearer and
she slips off into the bushes. The eggs are four or five, whitish,
covered with many light brown markings.

The food of the Thrasher consists of insects and fruit. Many linger in
the North till the end of October, and spend the winter in the Southern
States, where the ground is generally free from snow.

[Illustration: THE BARN SWALLOW]



                            THE BARN SWALLOW


There is no pleasanter sight among birds than a family of young reared
in the neighborhood of man and often on some part of his house itself.
Visit an old farmhouse; look about and see how many welcome guests the
farmer shelters without thought of pecuniary profit. Under the woodshed,
on a beam, the Phœbe has built a nest of moss, from which she flies to
the barnyard to pursue the insects that swarm there. In the vines on the
piazza, Robins and Chipping Sparrows have reared their young. In the old
elm over the door, an Oriole has woven a nest with thread twitched from
the clothesline or perhaps purposely laid out for her, and the orchard
shelters numbers of species—Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, Kingbirds, and
Chebecs. Of all these tenants, however, none seem so completely at home
as the swallows; none show so little concern at man's presence; none
take possession so coolly of the boxes, the eaves, or the rafters where
they build. Their kindred lived with man, ages ago, in Greece and Rome;
they have been welcomed each spring as heralds of a joyful season; their
departure has been watched with regret. Though they have but few notes
which are musical, yet their grace, agility, and swiftness have passed
into proverb and song.

There are several species of swallow, or martin, which take advantage of
man's structures in or on which to place their nests, but the most
numerous, the most familiar to people in general, and perhaps the most
attractive, is the Barn Swallow. This is the only species whose outer
tail feathers are long and pointed, and form with the rest of the tail
the peculiar figure known as "swallow-tail." The head, back, wings, and
tail are all of a beautiful lustrous blue, and the tail, when spread,
shows large white spots in the inner feathers. The under parts vary from
whitish in immature birds to a rich chestnut in fully mature ones, who
have also the throat and forehead of a darker reddish brown. The bill
opens far back, so that there is a wide cavity to engulf any insect
which may be met in the ceaseless flight backward and forward over grass
and water.

The nest of the Barn Swallow is familiar to all who have enjoyed life on
a farm. It is made of straws and grass, plastered together with mud, and
is placed on a beam or rafter in the barn. One hospitable farmer drove a
horseshoe into a beam, and on this ledge a swallow built each year.
Through the open door or window of the barn the swallows fly in and out,
and up into the gloom above, where twittering sounds tell of young that
are being fed. As soon as the young are old enough, the parents urge
them to fly, and in a few days they become skillful enough to take food
on the wing. This is an extremely pretty spectacle; the parent and the
young meet, and then fly upward for an instant, their breasts apparently
touching, while the food is passed from one bill to the other. One July
afternoon the writer watched a row of six young swallows clinging to the
shingles on a barn roof, every mouth gaping for food whenever the
parents approached. When the father brought the food, the bird sitting
nearest him got the mouthful, and in an instant later another from the
mother. Five times in succession this favored youngster was fed, while
the other five seemed neglected. But when the little fellow had all that
he could hold, he went to sleep, and the next wide-open mouth received
the food. What seemed at first an unfair arrangement was after all the
surest way to feed all alike.

[Illustration: THE CHIMNEY SWIFT]



                           THE CHIMNEY SWIFT


The Swift is universally known as the Chimney Swallow, from a belief
that it belongs to the swallow family. It is, in fact, no relative of
the swallows, but very nearly related to the Whippoorwill and
Night-hawk. Swifts and swallows both have long, powerful wings, which
enable them to remain for long periods on the wing in a restless search
for insects. Scientists themselves were for a long time misled by the
resemblance in the appearance and habits of the two families, but a
close examination of the skeleton of the two birds has convinced
naturalists that the two families descended from different ancestors,
but have arrived at similar solutions of the problem presented to them
in their search for food.

The Swift builds, as is well known, in the flues of chimneys. It is
often seen in May, dashing past the dead twigs of some tree, and then
off to the chimney, where the twigs are glued together and to the bricks
by the help of saliva secreted by the bird. A common and distressing
experience after a storm in summer is the discovery of the young Chimney
Swifts at the wrong end of the chimney,—on the hearth, in other words.
Even in their proper place in the chimney, the young birds can make
their presence very well known by beginning, as soon as it is light, an
incessant clamor for food.

The long narrow wings, the powerful chest muscles, the cut of the bird's
body, and the way the keel is ballasted, so to speak, enable the bird to
remain for hours in constant flight without apparently experiencing the
least fatigue. Swallows are often seen resting on telegraph wires, but I
have never seen a Swift perch on any support outside a chimney. At night
and during such part of the day as is given up to rest, the bird
supports itself in chimneys by clinging to projections or crevices. The
stiff, sharp-pointed tail feathers aid greatly in supporting it. Before
the coming of the white man, hollow trees served as the roosting and
nesting places of the Swifts.

There is no better practice for the eye than distinguishing swallows
from Swifts, when both species are mingled in the air. The Swift's
flight, though very powerful, suggests that of the bat, on account of
the frequency of the wing strokes; the rapid beating of the wings ceases
at intervals and the bird glides through the air or turns on set wings.
Then the twinkling flight begins again. There are none of those long
sweeping strokes with which the Barn Swallow cleaves the air. The tail
of the Swift, when the bird is flying, generally appears short and
cigar-shaped, or, if spread, it is fan-shaped, not forked like the tails
of all the swallows.

The ordinary note of the Swift is a single sharp cry, slowly or rapidly
repeated; it is characteristic of warm summer evenings when the birds
fly about the houses in twos or threes, pursuing each other and uttering
this note _staccato_. A pretty sight at this time is the Swift sailing
with wings raised above the body, in the position of our common pigeon
just before alighting; the Swift assumes the same attitude above the
chimney, poising a moment before he drops into the flue.

Early in September the Swifts leave the North, and may be seen high
overhead flying southward; unlike many of our small birds, they migrate
by day, their powers of flight protecting them from the birds of prey
which are such a menace to the smaller birds.

[Illustration: THE KINGBIRD]



                              THE KINGBIRD


The swallows and swifts spend hours on the wing, turning to the right or
to the left, upward or back, in pursuit of winged insects. Many other
birds, notably the warbler family, take occasional flights after some
insect which they have startled from the leaves. The habits of another
large family of birds, the Flycatchers, are a compromise between these
two methods of obtaining food. Selecting some post of observation, such
as a dead limb, a fence, or the stalk of a stout weed, they wait
patiently, keeping a sharp watch of the air about them. At sight of an
insect flying near, they fly out in pursuit. If one is near enough to
the bird, a click of its bill will announce the fate of the insect. The
Flycatchers then return to the same or a neighboring perch.

The family is not, on the whole, very good-humored; in fact, they might
justly be accused of irritability and pugnacity. The Kingbird, in
particular, the head of the house, is noted for his constant attacks on
any winged creature that approaches his nest. It must be admitted,
however, that when nesting time is over, he lives very peaceably with
his neighbors; but while the female is brooding the eggs or young, the
excited cry of the male is constantly heard, and every Crow that comes
in sight is pursued, sometimes for a mile. The Kingbird gets above his
victim and darts down at its head; the Crow can be seen wincing at each
vicious jab of the bill. One or two observers have actually seen the
Kingbird ride on the Crow's back for some distance. The Kingbird has a
patch of red concealed under the black feathers of his crown; when he is
angry or excited, these red feathers blaze out. They are very rarely
seen by men, but I imagine the Crows see them oftener than they like.

Apple trees in old orchards are favorite nesting places of the Kingbird,
and no pains are taken to conceal the nest. It is composed of twigs
loosely laid together, and often festooned with white strings or the
dry, woolly heads of the mouse-ear everlasting. The inside of the nest
is neatly lined with feathers, horsehair, or roots, and contains from
three to five white eggs spotted with brown. The Kingbird is here from
the first of May to the first of September, but like all strictly
insectivorous birds, it must spend the winter far to the southward. The
bird's only notes are the shrill cries, _kipper, kipper_, given singly
or quickly repeated. In spring the birds often mount to a considerable
height, uttering this cry continually, and apparently attempting, by
this exhibition, to express the emotion common to all creatures at this
period of the year.

The Kingbird is a very satisfactory bird to beginners; the color pattern
is so marked and the bird is so fond of exposed situations that it is
seen and recognized without difficulty. Except the Cedarbird, whose tail
is tipped with yellow, I know no other small bird of the eastern United
States whose tail feathers are all tipped with a regular edge of light
color. The Kingbird is the bird most commonly seen from a car window; in
almost every field, the mullein stalks or wire fences will display one
or more individuals, their white breasts or black and white tails
showing conspicuously in the landscape.

The Kingbird has often been accused of destroying honeybees. Even
allowing that individuals occasionally do some damage in this way, the
good services of the race in destroying harmful insects far outweigh
these injuries, and the remedy is to drive the bird away from the hives,
not to kill it.

[Illustration: THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE]



                          THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE


The arrival of the Orioles in the first week of May marks for many
people the return of spring. The males come first and take possession at
once of our streets and gardens, calling from the elms, or dashing into
the cherry trees white with blossoms. The females arrive a day or two
later, and the work of house-hunting begins soon after. In the selection
of a nesting site, the judgment of the female alone is naturally allowed
to have entire weight. The male is politely anxious, flying from twig to
twig, as if recommending them; but the female knows that she must sit
for days over her precious eggs, and be swung by all manner of storms,
in whatever situation she finally selects; she means, therefore, to be
sure before she builds.

The number of trees on which hang two nests, one evidently older than
the other, is very noticeable, and probably means that the same pair
return to the same tree to build. Many people have an idea that birds
use the same nest in successive years, but it does not seem likely that
such a skillful architect as the Oriole would patch up the old nest,
when with a few days' labor she can build a new one, clean and strong,
and very likely improved by her former experience. The materials used
for the construction of the nest are tough, fibrous strips for the
framework, and softer materials for the lining. The female often comes
to the clothesline and twitches out some threads, and she is very
thankful for twine or similar material hung out where she can find it.
Lowell, who loved the Oriole next after the Bobolink, hung out
gay-colored threads for his birds, and was rewarded with the sight of a
brilliant nest.

The female builds at first a framework of strong material, which is
attached to the several twigs on which the nest hangs. She actually ties
knots of this material with her long sharp bill, thrusting the end of
the thread through a loop, then reaching over and pulling it tight.
Tragedies sometimes occur during this process, the bird becoming
entangled in her own thread and choking or starving to death. A bit of
comedy is sometimes seen when the Oriole, returning to her half-finished
nest, catches a Summer Yellow-bird in the act of stealing some of the
material. After the frame is completed, the Oriole works from inside,
weaving the web from side to side.

By June, the young hatch, and now the male, who has hitherto had an easy
time, becomes very busy bringing food to the young. In a few days, they
become old enough to cry for it very vigorously, and this they do so
incessantly that their _peet-teet_ becomes one of the characteristic
sounds of early summer. By the middle of July, the young leave the nest,
and then for a week or two the whole family are met with in the country
lanes, the children resembling their mother in color, but easily
distinguished by their short tails and the general downy look about the
head.

The male suffers an eclipse during midsummer; his cheerful whistle is no
longer heard, and we should think that he had already left for the
South, did he not resume his strain in August. In fact, he has been
moulting; but, unlike the Tanager, he replaces his bright feathers by
others as gay, and before he leaves us, he is as bright as when he came.
The wild cherry trees are now a favorite resort for the whole family;
but by the first of September, they leave the Northern States and return
to Central and South America, where they lead a careless life till the
approach of spring reminds them of the village elms a thousand miles
away.

[Illustration: THE WOOD THRUSH]



                            THE WOOD THRUSH


It is difficult to speak without enthusiasm of the song of a Thrush. He
seems wholly to outclass all other birds. When a Rose-breasted Grosbeak,
no mean singer as our birds go, has finished his song, let a Wood Thrush
utter but a phrase of his strain, and the Grosbeak's warble seems
commonplace. Except the Thrushes, we have few birds whose song appeals
to the imagination as human music does. We listen curiously to the songs
of the others, criticise them or comment on them, as we do on a
landscape; but let a Thrush sing and we fall into a reverie, recalling
sad, tender, or solemn ideas and associations.

The Wood Thrush and the Veery, or Wilson's Thrush, are the common
Thrushes of all but the northern part of the Northern States. In the
mountains, the Hermit Thrush is found. This bird is generally considered
superior even to the Wood Thrush in the purity and solemnity of its
cadences. It has one great advantage over its rival; it sings on
mountain sides in clear, still air, so that the finest vibrations of its
voice come to the ear with perfect distinctness. The song of the two
Thrushes is readily distinguished by listening for the phrase
_ee-o-lee'_, with which the Wood Thrush regularly opens his chant. The
Veery has received its name in imitation of its song, which resembles
the syllables _ve[(e-u]ry, ve[(e-u]ry, ve[(e-u]ry_, each phrase lower in
the scale than the preceding.

The Wood Thrush arrives in the Northern States in May, and unlike the
Veery, which is strangely silent on its first arrival, the male Wood
Thrush announces his presence on the morning of his arrival, by chanting
from some low limb his beautiful flute-like notes. In the Middle States,
it is a common and almost familiar bird, building in the gardens even of
large towns; but in wilder regions, it prefers copses, groves of young
trees, and rocky glens, particularly if there is a stream near by. By
the end of May the pair have finished their nest, which resembles that
of the Robin, but is often composed of less coarse material and is
generally placed in the fork of a sapling. The birds often take little
trouble to conceal it, sometimes placing it close to a woodland path,
and the passer-by becomes aware of its nearness by hearing the harsh,
anxious chatter of the parents. The four eggs are blue like the Robin's.
The Robin is, in fact, a near relative of the Thrushes, and the
relationship is shown not only by the shape of the body and the bill,
but by the spotted breast which the young Robins assume with their first
plumage. In the Middle States, this relationship seems to have been
recognized, as the Wood Thrush is there commonly called the Wood Robin.

While the female is brooding the eggs, the male may be heard day after
day from some favorite perch, not too near the nest. The early morning
and the late afternoon are the favorite times for all the Thrushes, but
on cloudy days or in the cool shades of deep woods, they sing all day.
Occasionally the song ceases for several days. Some calamity has
befallen the nest; a squirrel or some other marauder has robbed the
pair, and there are no more outpourings of joy, till with renewed
courage they select some safer spot and build again. In midsummer, the
Thrushes become very silent. Occasionally we come upon a group feeding
in the cherry or viburnum bushes, but few are seen after August, and by
November they are in the tropics. Only the nest filled with snow reminds
us of the pair, whose return in May we await with impatience.

[Illustration: THE SCARLET TANAGER]



                          THE SCARLET TANAGER


In South America, the Tanagers form a large family, but they send to the
more northern of our Eastern States only one representative, the
well-known Scarlet Tanager. A sight of this splendid bird properly,
therefore, suggests the tropics. The Tanager is considered a rare bird,
but it can always be found in suitable situations, and in certain parts
of the country is really a common bird. Oak groves are the favorite
resort of the bird, and since it does not often visit our dooryards,
even in migration, and since we, as a people, do not often visit oak
groves, the sight of a Tanager remains for most people a rare and
exhilarating experience. The bird, too, is of a rather sluggish
disposition, so that even if we visit the spot where a pair are nesting,
they display only a rather languid curiosity. The call-note used by both
sexes is well worth learning, for by its means our attention is often
attracted to a pair which we should otherwise overlook; it consists of
two syllables, resembling the syllables _tschip, tschurr_, uttered in a
hoarse voice. The song of the male is such as a Robin with a cold might
produce.

Either because the Tanager breeds generally at some distance from man,
or because he considers that his brilliant coloring will make up for
other deficiencies, the bird has never, as far as I know, done much to
win the affection of bird lovers. They have enthusiastic praise for his
coat, but little to say of his manners. A story which Wilson tells of a
male Tanager is, however, a worthy exception to this statement. Wilson
found a young bird which had fallen out of the nest and, having brought
it home, put it into a cage with some Orioles. They altogether neglected
the orphan, and as it refused to be fed by Wilson, the latter was about
to return it to the woods, when a male appeared and tried to enter the
cage. Finding this impossible, he went off, but returned with food and
fed the young one for three or four days. At last, he showed so
unmistakably his desire for the release of the young one that the owner
set it free, and the two flew off rejoicing. If this Tanager was a type
of his kind, the species need not fear the application of the proverb,
"Handsome is that handsome does."

Tanagers arrive early in May, and may then be easily observed, as the
trees are not yet in full leaf. Occasionally, in cold storms, all birds
seem to keep near the ground, and on such occasions Tanagers are
sometimes seen feeding on the ground itself, their splendid colors
showing to wonderful advantage. The female is a very plain personage.
Olive green above and greenish yellow below, with dull brownish wings,
is a combination of color that serves very well to keep her concealed
among the leaves. The nest is sometimes placed in orchard trees or even
in low bushes, but frequently in tall oaks. It is loosely built of straw
and twigs, and contains, by the end of May, from three to four eggs of a
light greenish blue, marked with brown and lilac. The young are fed on
insects gathered from the leaves. By the end of the summer, the male
moults his bright red feathers and comes out in a suit resembling that
of the female, but he keeps his black wings and tail. The whole family,
clothed in these inconspicuous colors, migrate southward and remain in
the tropics till the following spring.

[Illustration: THE ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK]



                       THE ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK


To see a Grosbeak for the first time gives a student of birds almost the
same feeling of exaltation as the first sight of a Scarlet Tanager. If
one should hear, in the shade trees about the house, a Robin singing
much faster and with a richer voice than ever before, and, after patient
search, find the twig where the bird was singing, one's first thought
would probably be, "Some escaped cage bird from the tropics." The head
of the male Grosbeak is black, the tail and wings black and white, but
in the center of the white breast is a triangle of pure rose, carried in
some individuals far down the breast. When the bird flies, the white
patches in the wings have a peculiar effect, like a circle of white. The
large, almost monstrous bill, not only accounts for the bird's name, but
explains why he is put into the same family with the sparrows. His
nature, too, is eminently practical, as a sparrow's should be; a
favorite food is the potato bug.

His mate lacks the black and rose, but her beak betrays her. She is not
a particularly interesting bird, and does not even have the credit of
excellence in household matters, at any rate as far as building her nest
is concerned. It is made of a few coarse twigs loosely laid together,—a
little platform through which the eggs sometimes show from below, and
from which one would think they must certainly fall off. The nest is
placed in a bush or low tree, and contains three or four greenish blue
eggs, thickly marked with red. The young are out in July, and though a
few Grosbeaks are occasionally seen in September, most of them have
already left for the tropics by the end of the summer. The same joyous
week of May which brings the Thrushes, Bobolinks, and Orioles brings
them back again.

Just as a knowledge of the hoarse note of the Tanager will often betray
the presence of that splendid bird, so an acquaintance with the sharp
_click_, like that of a pair of shears, which the Grosbeaks make, will
often attract the student and reward him with a sight of the beautiful
rosy breast. Grosbeaks sing for a long time on one perch,—not on the
uppermost spray of the tree, as that other tropical sparrow, the Indigo
bird, loves to do, but, like the Tanager, on some branch well inside the
canopy of leaves. In the first weeks of May, when birds of many species
are mating, two and sometimes three male Grosbeaks may occasionally be
seen pursuing each other, their white wing bars and spots making a showy
contrast to the black. The victor in the struggle then returns to the
tree near the female, and pours out a song of unusual vigor and
sweetness. In May, the Grosbeak visits the blossoming fruit trees,
snipping off the petals and the undeveloped fruit. Suspicion has
therefore fallen on him, but it is now believed by the best authorities
that this "budding" is not severe enough to injure the tree or the crop
of fruit. Nor must we forget to throw into the other balance the result
of his labors in the potato field.

When the adult male Grosbeak moults in summer, the rose on the breast
becomes duller, and the black on the head and back is almost entirely
replaced by brown. Like the Tanager, however, he retains his black wings
and tail, and may thus be distinguished from the brown-winged young
males.

[Illustration: THE REDSTART]



                              THE REDSTART


Almost a fourth of the birds usually seen by a good observer in a
morning's walk in May or June, belong to a family known as Warblers. If
they were really as musical as their name suggests, people might know
them better; but even as it is, their colors are often so bright that
the birds well repay one who takes the trouble to make their
acquaintance. Perhaps the best known of the family is the Yellow
Warbler, not to be confused with the Goldfinch, from which the absence
of the latter's black cap, wings, and tail will distinguish it. The
Oven-bird, whose loud _teach-er, teach-er, teach-er_ is so common a
sound in dry woods in summer, is another member of the Warbler family.
The gayest of them all, however, in most parts of our country, is the
Redstart. His coal black head, with bright orange patches at the
shoulders, and yellowish bands across the wings and tail, suggest a
miniature Oriole.

The Redstart is a splendid bit of color; in Cuba he is known, according
to Mr. Chapman, as "Candelita," the little torch. Black and orange is a
not uncommon combination of color among birds, and never fails to be
effective. The Redstart, moreover, makes the most of his color by
keeping both wings and tail spread, so that the yellow and orange is
constantly displayed. He flits from one twig to another, spreading his
little black-and-yellow fan, flying out, turning his black head and
glowing shoulders toward one, and continually uttering a little song,
not much in itself, and only full of meaning and association to the
bird's friends, to whom it suggests leafy shade near brooks in the
summer heat.

The name of the family to which the Redstart belongs needs, perhaps, a
word of explanation. It simply means that our Warblers are related to a
family of European birds which have well earned their name, since the
family includes the Nightingale and one or two other birds almost as
musical. The name Redstart, too, is English,—_start_ coming from the
Anglo-Saxon word for tail. It was applied in England to a bird with a
red tail, and since our bird has bright color in the tail, the name was
transferred to it by the English settlers.

Many of the Warblers frequent the thick woods and are little noticed;
the Redstart, however, often builds in the trees or shrubbery about the
house, particularly if a brook or pool afford an abundance of insects.
In the crotch of a sapling or on a limb, the female places a pretty nest
built of bark and soft materials. The female resembles the male in the
pattern of color, but the black is replaced by gray, and the orange by a
faint yellowish shade. Males only one year old resemble the female so
closely that the sharp little song often seems to proceed from the bill
of a female; in reality it is a young male that is singing, one not yet
arrived at the full splendor of his future gay plumage.

The Redstart is often victimized by the Cowbird, and one feels the
imposition more keenly in its case than in that of almost any other
bird, for we know that the big clumsy Cowbird is being reared at the
expense of a whole family of these pretty warblers.

The Redstart comes early in May and stays through the summer. Some are
seen even as late as October, but these are, very likely, birds which
have bred far North, where the late summer did not permit them to rear
their young so early as our own birds.

[Illustration: THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD]



                     THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD


The restless activity and general appearance of the Humming-bird make
one almost hesitate to believe that it is really a bird and not a
brilliant tropical insect. It possesses no song; few people see it
except on the wing, and its nest is so rarely found that to most people
the bird is merely a sudden apparition, seen hovering over a flower, its
ruby throat sparkling in the sun. When the Humming-bird's nest is
discovered, it turns out to be a structure as delicate and rare as its
little architect. It is often fixed on a lichen-covered twig, frequently
in orchards, but as often on tall forest trees. To the outside of the
nest, bits of gray lichen are fastened, so that at a distance the nest
is mistaken for a knob of the twig itself. The eggs are always two,
ridiculously small, like pea beans.

The Humming-bird is not a good father. He neglects all the domestic
duties, being rarely seen near the nest after it is completed. The
female brings up the two young birds unaided, feeding them by thrusting
her long bill into their gaping mouths and pumping food into their
throats. The process has been described as "a frightful-looking act."
The food thus administered to the young consists, probably, of
soft-bodied insects, for when Humming-birds visit flowers, it is not
only to gather honey, but also to capture the smaller honey-gatherers.

Many charming stories have been told of the fearlessness of the
Humming-bird. It had often been observed that birds fed from flowers
held in the hand, but it remained for Mrs. Soule to make artificial
trumpet-vine flowers, and by filling them with sugar water, to provide a
daily feast for her Humming-bird neighbors. Though the birds are very
irritable and pugnacious when wild, frequently attacking each other with
the shrill squeaks which are their only notes, yet, in captivity, they
prove very gentle and almost affectionate. The Humming-bird has
discovered another method of obtaining the sweet liquor which it loves.
The Sapsucker, or Yellow-bellied Woodpecker, is in the habit of drilling
rows of small holes into the maples of the northern forests, and sucking
out the sap which fills these little wells. Many insects are attracted
to the sweet fluid, and the Humming-birds also come as uninvited guests
to the feast; so that while the Woodpecker is drinking on one side of
the tree, butterflies, bees, wasps, and Humming-birds are fluttering
about the other.

By the end of September, the season for honey gatherers is about over in
the North, and the wings which can support the little body for so many
seconds in front of a flower, now take it southward to the tropics,
where there are always flowers. It is not until May, not until the red
blossoms of the Japan quince are open, that the Humming-birds return.

The Ruby-throated Humming-bird is the only species found on the Atlantic
coast; the female, however, lacks the ruby throat, and is sometimes
taken for another species. Humming-birds seen at dusk, if caught, will
prove to be, not birds but clear-winged or Humming-bird moths. In South
America, however, there are over four hundred different species of
Humming-birds. A museum case full of these is a marvel of beauty and
interest; the iridescent colors of their gorgets, or throat-pieces, the
variety of shapes which their bills assume, the development of their
throat and tail feathers, give one the impression of a show case full of
fantastic jewels.

[Illustration: BOB-WHITE]



                               BOB-WHITE


Bob-white, unlike the majority of our birds, does not migrate southward
in winter; the whole covey, unless they are killed, spend the whole year
near the spot where they were born, feeding on the fallen grain, seeds,
and various kinds of fruit. In hard winters, they become very tame, and
if fed regularly, come to the barnyard almost like poultry. Most people
are only too familiar with this bird, but not as he looks in life. Then
he is full of energy and spirit; his pure white throat shows against the
black of his head, and his rich reddish brown wings are ready to carry
him off with a whirr that startles one. For one that we see alive, we
see a thousand hanging, bloody and bedraggled, in the markets. Few
people who become really acquainted with Bob-white, who see him sitting
on a stone wall calling his name, or see his mate hurrying her little
ones over the road into the blackberry vines, will care to make another
meal off his little body. We must consider not only the wrong, if we
acknowledge it to be one, done to the individual quail whose life has
been taken, but the danger that threatens his whole race. The cheerful
_Bob-white_ is already a much rarer sound than it used to be, and the
bird has many other dangers to contend against besides the pot-hunter's
gun.

The greatest peril that besets quail in the North is the occasional
midwinter blizzard, followed by intense cold. The quail at night huddle
close together on the ground, their tails touching and their heads
pointing out in a circle. After a great storm in a recent winter, the
melting snow exposed a circle of quail, surprised and buried by the
snow, like the people of Pompeii buried under the falling ashes.

In May, the male begins to whistle the two or three clear notes which
have been translated into "Bob-white," or "More wet." This call is not
only a summons to the female, but also a challenge to other males; if
one hides near by and imitates the whistle accurately enough, a sudden
flight will sometimes bring the angry bird directly to the spot. The
surprise of the visitor is then amusing enough. Stone walls, fences, the
low limbs of trees are favorite perches for the male, and his cheerful
call has long been a familiar sound in farming country, from
Massachusetts southward.

The nest is placed in some tangle of blackberry vines, along the edge of
a field, and is a sight worth a long journey to see. The pure white
eggs, often as many as fifteen, are laid close together in such a manner
that the little body of the female may cover and warm them all. When the
young are hatched, they are covered with down, and run at once, like
chickens, and unlike the little blind naked young which we see in the
nests of song birds. They follow their mother through the tangled grass
or low bushes, feeding on fruit and insects, and later on the grain in
the stubble fields. The whole family keep together, even when the young
are able to care for themselves. When they hear any danger approaching,
they keep close to the ground, relying on their brown coloring to
conceal them. If the danger comes too near, they are off in half a dozen
directions, over walls and bushes, coming quickly to earth again when
they see some sheltering covert. Then, after an interval, one hears a
note something like a guinea hen's, issuing from different parts of the
field. Guided by these sounds, the whole covey reassemble.

[Illustration: THE GOLDFINCH]



                             THE GOLDFINCH


Not the most sullen sky nor the bitterest cold seems to discourage
Goldfinches. They are always cheerful and affectionate, keeping together
for the greater part of the year in larger or smaller flocks, which call
to each other, if separated, by notes as sweet as those of a Canary. In
summer, Goldfinches find an abundance of food in the seeds of many
species of plants, but in winter also many remain even in the Northern
States, searching cheerfully among the dry weeds and grasses, and
uttering their sweet notes. Many people, however, do not notice them at
this season, for when winter comes the head and body of the males of
this species, as of many others, lose the bright black and yellow which
marks them so distinctly in summer, and are clothed in dull brownish
shades. About the first of April, one notices here and there in a flock
a male that shows a few bright yellow feathers, and by another month,
they have moulted their winter dress and are as gay as ever.

In the spring and early summer, the Goldfinches are extremely musical,
spending hours in uttering a simple but pleasing song. Several males now
engage in what seems to be a musical contest, flying out from a tree and
circling about with set wings, all the time keeping up a continual
strain. When flying through the air at a considerable height, they go in
long curves, and utter during each undulation three or four simple
notes. As they seem constantly to have business in one part or other of
the country, the wave-like flight and characteristic notes become a
common feature of the summer landscape.

Though the Goldfinches are here all winter, they delay nesting till very
much later than the other resident birds; the Chickadees have their
first brood already out in the world by the time the Goldfinches
determine on building. The female is a modest-colored little body, as is
often the case where the male is bright. The pair generally build in
July, and choose some thick leafy tree, often a maple or poplar, and
there, on a limb at a considerable height from the ground, construct a
very neat nest, deep and cup-shaped, built of fine materials and lined
with down from plants like the thistle. Here five or six bluish white
eggs are laid, and when in another month the young Goldfinches begin to
fly, it is at once evident from their sharp, insistent crying. As the
calling of the young Orioles is a mark of late June, so the notes of the
young Goldfinches become associated with August.

Goldfinches are very fond of the seeds of many kinds of composite
flowers; they bite holes in unripe dandelion heads and take out the
seeds; thistles are another favorite food, and a row of sunflowers
planted in the garden will not fail to attract them. In winter, besides
the seeds of weeds, they feed on birch seeds, scattering the scales over
the snow, and they even pull out the seeds of the pitch pine, when the
scales begin to loosen toward spring.

No bird has livelier, more cheerful ways than our Goldfinch, and none
becomes a greater favorite. People are often at considerable pains to
remove the dandelion plants from their lawns; if the gay flowers
themselves do not repay one for their presence, many would certainly
allow them to remain in order to have the pleasant spectacle, in summer,
of a flock of yellow Goldfinches scattered about the grass and feeding
on the seeds.

[Illustration: THE BLUE JAY]



                              THE BLUE JAY


Most people are surprised when they first learn that the Blue Jay is a
near relative of the Crow. The difference in color is certainly marked,
but in other ways the resemblance is striking. Neither bird can utter
its most characteristic note without gesticulation. Watch a Crow from a
car window when the _caw_ is inaudible, and the bowing and opening of
the wings are all the more noticeable. The motions which the Jay makes
when screaming are not so well known, as the sound generally comes from
a screen of leaves. Both birds are thieves and seem to relish their
thieving life; both can live on almost any food; both are heartily hated
by their neighbors in bird world. The Jay is more bitterly detested by
the other birds than the Crow. He is himself suspicious, and at the
approach of a hawk, owl, or man, warns the woods by his cries. Besides
the ordinary _djay, djay_, the loud scream so familiar in the autumn
woods, the Jay has other cries; a note like a wheelbarrow turning on an
ungreased axle, a high scream exactly like the Red-shouldered Hawk's,
and such a variety of lesser notes that one never is surprised to find
that any unusual sound heard in the woods is produced by the Blue Jay.

Though one of the noisiest of birds when pursuing an intruder, the Jay
has learned to slip through the trees without a sound, and conceals its
bright blue and white in a remarkable way. A pair of Jays may be nesting
in some evergreen in our very garden, and unless we happen to see the
female slip into the tree, we may remain entirely unaware of their
presence. The nest is roughly constructed of twigs and roots, and is
placed in a tree from six to twenty feet from the ground. On a lining of
finer roots are laid four or five brownish or greenish eggs, spotted
with yellowish brown. The young are hatched by the middle or end of
June.

The Jay in spring is undoubtedly a reprobate. He cannot resist the
temptation to sneak through the trees and bushes, and when he finds a
nest of eggs temporarily left by its owner, to thrust his sharp bill
through the shells; even young birds are devoured. In the autumn,
however, the Jay is a hearty, open fellow, noisy and intent on acorns
and chestnuts. The woods ring with his loud screams, as he travels
through them with his companions. It is amusing at this season to
observe them obtaining chestnuts, a favorite food. They drive their
powerful bills into a nut and wrench it out of the burr, then fly off
with it to a convenient limb and hammer it open. Many Jays spend the
entire winter in the northern woods, subsisting on nuts, but the large
numbers observed in the fall are evidence that many others are moving
southward, where food is more plenty.

Jays and squirrels are curiously associated; both live in the autumn and
winter, innocently enough, on nuts and acorns; both, in spring, poach on
the eggs and young of birds. One becomes fond of each of these rascals
in spite of his undoubted villanies, and is glad that though neither
Squirrel nor Jay is protected by law, and in some states both are
constantly persecuted, neither seems to be diminishing in numbers.

In Europe, the Crow and the Jay have several relatives, many of whom,
such as the Magpie, Rook, and Jackdaw, share the family characteristics.
They are all thieves, clowns, and impudent fellows, and yet win, if not
affection, yet a certain degree of good-humored toleration.

[Illustration: THE BROWN CREEPER]



                           THE BROWN CREEPER


In the bands of little birds which in winter visit the trees about the
houses, there are often three different species, all of which find their
food on the trunks or large limbs of trees, but by such different
methods that a study of their habits is not only interesting but also
extremely instructive. The little Downy Woodpecker, like all its tribe,
hitches up the trunk or along the upper side of the limb, using its
stiff tail feathers as a support, and holding on to the bark by its two
pairs of sharp claws. The Nuthatch, with a short weak tail, and toes
arranged as in all song birds, three in front and one behind, has the
toes, however, spread so wide that it can climb head downward, over,
under, or around the limb. Least known of the three is the Brown
Creeper. It, too, has three toes in front and one behind, but although
not related to the Woodpeckers, it has developed stiff and pointed tail
feathers. It therefore clings to the bark in an upright position, and it
commonly begins at the bottom of the tree and works steadily upward,
often in a spiral.

During the winter months, the Brown Creeper probably visits every
village street and every city park in the Northern States, but as it is
just the color of the weathered bark and moves close to it, it escapes
the notice of nearly every one. If one learns to distinguish the fine
wiry note, and watches the tree from which it proceeds, one sees the
bird flutter to the base of a neighboring tree and begin again its
steady ascent. When two birds are together, they sometimes indulge in a
very pretty flight, and tumble in the air like pigeons. As a rule,
however, the Creeper is solitary, and, in this respect, offers a marked
contrast to its companions and relatives, the sociable Chickadees and
Kinglets.

The eyes of a Creeper are so near the bark which it is inspecting, that
it is not strange that it finds food where we should look in vain. It
has, besides, a very long curved bill which will reach into crevices in
the bark, and before the end of the winter, it has undoubtedly stripped
the trees of a large proportion of the dormant insects and their eggs,
especially as, like the other winter birds, it seems to have a very
regular beat, visiting the same groups or rows of trees every day. Few
birds are so strictly arboreal as the Creepers. The writer has only once
seen one alight on the ground, when the bird flew to a little stream to
bathe. In the ice storms which occasionally clothe every trunk and limb
with a glassy covering, the Creeper has to confine itself to the leeward
side of the trees. Occasionally the Creeper, on account of its practice
of beginning at the bottom of the trunk, flies to a spot on the tree
below the band of tarred paper, which protects the shade trees from the
visits of the canker-worm moth. On reaching the band, the bird makes a
circuit of the trunk, in a vain attempt to find a passage. It is better
provided, however, than the wingless moths, and when the circuit has
been made, a short flight carries it over.

In April, the Creeper leaves its winter quarters for the North, and
joins many other species in the great spruce forests of northern New
England and Canada. Occasionally, on warm mornings before its departure,
the male indulges in a little song, of the thinnest quality imaginable.
When the pair reach their northern home, they hunt for a crevice under
some great flake of loose bark, and there construct their nest. The bark
of trees, therefore, furnishes the Creeper with a cradle at birth and a
home for the rest of its life.

[Illustration: THE BUTCHER BIRD]



                            THE BUTCHER BIRD


Every one who observes the habits of birds soon notices with
astonishment the regularity with which they return each summer to the
same spots to breed. This is perhaps not so strange in the case of
breeding birds; they may be so fastidious in their selection of food or
of a nesting site that only a few places suit them, or the spot where
they bred one year may appeal to their affection and so be selected
again. It is no less evident and more remarkable that birds that spend
only the winter in our neighborhood often have as well defined a home as
those that spend the summer. Every autumn, about the first of November,
if one looks carefully at the topmost twigs of the small trees that are
scattered about the edges of some marsh, the eye may finally catch,
perched on the very top, the figure of a plump gray bird, with black
wings and tail, about the size of a Robin. Its tail often moves as if
the bird were balancing itself. A nearer view would show that its bill
was stout and slightly hooked, like a hawk's. Among song birds, it is
our largest regular winter visitor, and will remain near the same spot
till the end of March, when it retires northward to breed. The same
trees serve year after year as look-out posts; no doubt the bird
remembers where to find the fattest mice and grasshoppers.

The Butcher Bird, or Shrike, is one of the few birds that seem to have
developed a sense of humor. I have seen it attack and drive off birds
far larger than itself, apparently out of simple mischief. It often
indulges in a succession of strange noises, some of which resemble the
song of the Catbird, but the whole performance is interspersed with
chuckles, squeaks, and harsh sounds, or interrupted by a grating cry, so
that it can make no pretense to be called melodious. It seems sometimes
as if the bird were simply amusing itself.

For a while you will regard the Butcher Bird as a good-natured,
good-looking fellow; it is not till you find, near its post of
observation, mice or birds jammed into the crotches of twigs, or
discover a thornbush decorated with grasshoppers and caterpillars, that
you recall certain unpleasant reports about its character. When you
finally see it dash into a flock of sparrows and hear their screech of
terror, or see it tear out its victim's brains with that hooked bill,
you will understand its hawk-like habit of sitting where it can survey
its whole domain. The Hawks clutch their prey in their curved talons,
and then tear it with their beak. The Shrike's claws are neither curved
nor powerful, so that it is evident that it wedges its victims into
forked twigs or impales them on thorns, so that it can then tear off
portions to devour. But why it so often leaves them uneaten (the
practice of thus displaying its wares has earned the bird its name) has
never been satisfactorily explained. Perhaps the bird means to return to
them in times of scarcity, but they are so often left uneaten that it
seems probable that it has formed the habit of hunting and hanging up
its game, often with no thought of eating it.

The Butcher Bird has often been persecuted for the destruction of
smaller birds; it seems far wiser to protect it, not only in order to
preserve so interesting a bird, but because birds form so small a per
cent of its food. In the spring and fall, it lives very largely on
insects, and throughout the winter, mice form a large part of its diet.
There is always danger of blundering when man interferes in the concerns
of nature, and if he once exterminates any creature, it is beyond his
power to re-create it.

[Illustration: THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET AND BROWN CREEPER]



                       THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET


The Golden-crowned Kinglet is, next to the Humming-bird, almost our
smallest bird, and it frequents thick evergreens so continually that it
is rarely seen. There is little in its voice and habits to attract
attention, and its activity and restlessness are so constant that we
rarely catch sight of the bit of color which it possesses,—the crown
which the little king carries. But if we train our ear so that it
catches every fine natural sound, no matter how trifling, we become
aware some crisp winter day of a thin _see, see, see_, often repeated
from some hedge, or group of orchard trees. If we watch, our eye will
catch sight of one or two tiny creatures, flitting restlessly among the
twigs, keeping their wings in almost constant motion, even when not
actually flying. The general color of the bird is a shade known in the
books as olivaceous, but the effect outdoors and at a distance is a dark
gray; across the wings there are little whitish bars, and over the head
dark lines enclose the little crown,—yellow in the female, orange in the
male.

If we succeed in attracting the Chickadees to our trees, by tying up
bones, the Kinglets often come in their company, but their little bills
are too weak to pick at the frozen gristle, and they merely glean from
the twigs and buds. The little scale insects, the eggs of moths and
spiders, all manner of minute objects, are detected by their sharp eyes
and seized by their skillful little bills and tongues. At night, the
band retires to some thick evergreen hedge or grove, ready the next
morning to resume their busy rounds. In April, the male is moved to
utter a simple little song, and by the end of the month the whole
company move to the spruce forests of the North, not to return to us
until the next September.

In the Northern States, the Golden-crowned Kinglet is the only species
that remains all winter, but from Virginia southward its cousin, the
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, is associated with it; in summer, strange to say,
the more Southern winter species goes farther North than the
Golden-crowned, breeding from northern Maine to the frigid zone. A few
years ago, no eggs or nest of either Kinglet had been described, but
when they were at last discovered, they proved as dainty as the little
builders themselves. The nest is globular, with an entrance in the upper
part; it is placed in a thick mass of spruce twigs and composed of
hanging moss, ornamented with bits of dead leaves, and lined chiefly
with feathers. In such a nest, as many as nine eggs are often laid;
imagine the little Golden-crown brooding in this bower.

Like some of the Warbler family, the Kinglet does not let an insect
escape, though it should take wing before it could be seized. The bird,
too, has wings, and darts out after its prey. In winter, it often hovers
under the piazza roofs, or the lintels of the barn door, and while in
the air, picks off the eggs or chrysalids that have been hidden in the
crevices. Occasionally one of the birds, in its eagerness to seize some
attractive morsel, flies sharply against a windowpane. No doubt it is
the part of a thrifty householder to sweep out the insects from his
piazza roof, but there are some, like Lowell, wise enough to leave a few
decayed limbs on their apple trees for the Woodpeckers, a patch or so of
weeds for the Snowbirds, and a chrysalis or two for the hungry Kinglets
in winter.

[Illustration: THE HERRING GULL]



                            THE HERRING GULL


All winter, a traveler along the seashore sees the great gray gulls
wheeling gracefully through the air with outstretched wings, floating
lightly on the water, or sitting in long lines or compact masses on the
bars or flats which are exposed at low tide. The harbors of all the
northern seacoast cities are visited in winter by numbers of these
birds, constantly on the watch for any bits of refuse which may be
thrown from the wharfs or vessels, or brought down by the tides or
currents. Their long and powerful wings make the flight of even so heavy
a bird a sight beautiful to watch, and the water looks deserted when the
motion and color which the gulls furnish is absent. But it is not to the
eye alone that the birds appeal.

The ceaseless activity of the gulls in pursuit of floating refuse and
their inordinate appetite make them invaluable scavengers; without them,
the refuse dumped into the water would return at each tide to pollute
the shore. No idea can be formed of the value of the service performed
by the gulls, till one sees the countless throngs which hover over the
dumping grounds in the lower New York Bay, awaiting the arrival of the
scows with the refuse from that city. As the buzzards and vultures are
protected in all warm countries for their services in devouring carrion,
so ought these scavengers of the northern seas to be guarded from
persecution.

The adult Herring Gull in full plumage has pure white underparts, head
and tail, but a gray mantle, as it is termed, is spread over the wings.
Young birds, however, show many shades of brown, and attain the white
only after a year or two. The small, elegantly built birds, known along
the seacoast as Mackerel Gulls, are not strictly gulls, but terns. They
may be known by their forked tails and by their black caps. It is they
that hover screaming over the water, constantly darting down to strike
at fish.

Gulls breed commonly along the coast of Maine and far northward. Great
colonies occupy a small area, and a visit to their breeding places is a
marvelous experience. At the approach of an intruder, the parents rise
from their nests and circle about overhead, uttering hoarse cries, till
the air is full of their wheeling forms. The downy young squat in the
grass or bushes till the danger is past.

Both gulls and terns have long been persecuted for their soft white and
gray plumage, which is coveted for the adornment of women's hats. As the
destruction of the birds on the islands where they are breeding would
soon destroy the whole race, efforts are being made by the lovers of
birds to protect the birds on all the sandy points or rocky islands
where they rear their young.

Gulls have wonderful powers of flight, and some species often follow
ocean steamers for days, flying constantly about the vessel's stern,
watching for bits of food which may be thrown overboard. When an object
is spied the whole flock dart upon it, and it soon disappears among the
crowd of struggling birds.

In the Eastern States gulls are always associated with the sea, but in
the Mississippi valley certain species are found on the prairies, where
they follow the plough to seize the upturned insects.

[Illustration: THE CHICKADEE]



                             THE CHICKADEE


Throughout the winter, bands of small birds visit the orchards and
ornamental trees of every village and farm, gleaning dormant insects and
their eggs from the twigs and boughs. The best known member and the
leader, apparently, of the company is the Chickadee. There are generally
about half a dozen of these birds together, possibly the parents and
young of the preceding summer. The whole company are rarely in sight at
any one time; some are in one tree, some are flying to the next, one
perhaps is on the ground. There is a constant interchange of lisping
call-notes, which break into excited gurgles, and the familiar _tee,
dee, dee, dee_, when something excites their alarm or curiosity. It is
not hard to disturb their composure; they come more easily than almost
any other bird to the squeaking sound that bird students make to attract
the attention of birds. One fluffy head after another pitches into the
tree nearest the performer; then, by short stages, the boldest comes
nearer to the strange sight and sound, often within arm's length. When
their curiosity is appeased, they return to their examination of the
twigs and branches, or, if startled by a sudden movement, they dive into
the nearest cover.

Their positions when feeding on slender twigs are extremely graceful,
and their agility surprising. When gathering sunflower seeds, of which
they are extremely fond, they cling to the under surface of the drooping
head and pick till they loosen the seed. Then they fly with it to a
branch and hammer it open. A favorite winter food is the berry of the
poison ivy. By tying a bone or a piece of suet to the branches of trees
near the house, not only Chickadees but other birds as well will be
attracted to the spot, and will become regular winter visitors. They are
by no means confined, however, to villages and farms. Often as we push
through the deep snows of the winter forests, the only sound will be the
distant lisp of this hardy bird.

Besides the notes heard so commonly in winter, the Chickadee has a
pensive and extremely gentle whistle, which it utters while sitting
motionless, and oftener in spring than at other seasons, though it may
be heard in every month of the year. It consists of two notes, an exact
interval apart, and each accented. It is often mistaken, especially in
early spring, for the song of the Phœbe, but it may be distinguished by
its purity and sweetness. It is easily imitated by whistling, and the
bird will often answer, or even fly toward the person whistling, and
survey him with astonishment.

It is generally believed by people who see the bird only in winter that
the Chickadees retire northward in spring; it is true that they then no
longer frequent the yards and gardens, but in the woods and retired
orchards many a pair have excavated some decaying birch or apple stump,
and after lining it warmly with moss and feathers, provided amply for
the continuance of their race; sometimes as many as nine eggs are laid.
In winter, the birds spend the night in holes, not necessarily the same
in which they were bred.

Several writers have mentioned instances of the extreme boldness of this
bird; Mr. Chapman has had a Chickadee perch on his hand. One can easily
imagine it, but we do not need such a mark of confidence to feel strong
affection for this companionable and winter-loving bird.



                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected simple spelling, grammar, and typographical
    errors.
 2. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.
 4. The term [(e-u]denotes an "e-u" with a Triple Inverted Breve over
    the characters.





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