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Full text of "American birds"

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IRARY 

ERSITYOF 
IFORNIA 
I DIEGO 



AMERICAN BIRDS 




i905 Sy 



Young Golden Eagle, not quite fully fledged. 
White down still showing on breast. 



AMERICAN BIRDS 

STUDIED AND PHOTOGRAPHED 
FROM LIFE 



BY 

WILLIAM LOVELL FINLEY 



ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY 

HERMAN T. BOHLMAN 
AND THE AUTHOR 



CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 
NEW YORK:::::::::::::::::::: 1907 



COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



Published, October, 1907 



TROW DIRECTORY 

PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY 
NEW YORK 



TO 
MY MOTHER 



PREFATORY NOTE 

AN important and sometimes difficult phase in the 
study of bird life is to observe accurately and report 
without false interpretation the habits and actions of 
birds. The naturalist who uses the camera in the field 
often has the advantage of backing his observations with 
proof (not an unimportant thing in nature writing of 
to-day), and if he produces good authentic photographs, 
one may be quite sure they were not secured without 
patient waiting and a careful study of his subjects. 

In this book no attempt has been made to include all 
the different bird families, but a series of representative 
birds from the hummingbird to the eagle has been se- 
lected. Each chapter represents a close and continued 
study with camera and notebook at the home of some bird 
or group of birds, a true life history of each species. 
It is the bird as a live creature, its real wild personality 
and character, that I have tried to portray. 

Many of these studies were made in the West, but in 
the list of birds treated an effort has been made to get a 
selection that is national in scope. In the popular mind 
a song sparrow is a song sparrow from ocean to ocean, 
yet scientifically he represents over a dozen subspecies, 



viii Prefatory Note 

according to the part of the country in which he lives. 
To the ordinary bird lover, however, a robin is the same 
east and west, and the same is true of the chickadee, 
flicker, wren, grosbeak, vireo, warbler, hawk, and others 
dealt with in the following chapters. 

In making this book, I have used many suggestions 
offered by my wife, and I have had her valued assistance 
and criticism. 

In studying bird life, I have been closely associated 
with Mr. Herman T. Bohlman since boyhood. He has 
been my constant companion and helper in the field every 
summer for the past ten years. I owe much to him, for 
this book embraces the chapters in his experience as well 
as in mine. 

WILLIAM L. FINLEY. 

PORTLAND, OREGON, 
August, 1907. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

I. THE HUMMINGBIRD AT HOME .... 3 

II. THE CHICKADEE 15 

III. PHOTOGRAPHING FLICKERS 25 

IV. THE YELLOW-THROAT 35 

V. A FAMILY OF GROSBEAKS 45 

VI. THE RED-TAILED HAWK 57 

VII. JACK CROW 69 

VIII. THE OWL, BIRD OF NIGHT 81 

IX. REARING A WREN FAMILY 91 

X. THE WEAVER OF THE WEST 105 

XL JIMMY THE BUTCHER-BIRD 115 

XII. THE WARBLER AND His WAYS . . . .127 

XIII. KINGFISHERS 139 

XIV. SPARROW Row 151 

XV. Two STUDIES IN BLUE 163 



Contents 



PAGE 



XVI. BASKET MAKERS, THE VIREO AND ORIOLE . 175 

XVII. PHOEBE 189 

XVIII. A PAIR OF COUSINS ROBIN AND THRUSH . 199 

XIX. GULL HABITS 211 

XX. IN A HERON VILLAGE 221 

XXI. THE EAGLE OF MISSION RIDGE . . . .235 

INDEX . . . _, . . . ..;'.. 249 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

Young Golden Eagle, not quite fully fledged. White down 
still showing on breast . . . . Frontispiece 

The Hummer saddled her cup on the lowest branch of a F PA^ G 
small fir . . . . s . . . . . 5 

Mother Hummingbird on edge of nest about to brood 

young 5 

The nestlings began to fork out all over with tiny black 

horns 5 

The Hummer feeding her young by regurgitation. She jabs 
her long bill down the baby's throat and injects him 
with honey 5 

Rufous at home 8 

Young Hummer on the clothes-line in the back yard . . 12 
Young Hummers about to leave nest 12 

Hummingbird poised in mid-air, taking food from the 

geranium cups 12 

Nest and eggs of Chickadee . . . . . . . 17 

Chickadee at the threshold of her home .... 17 

Mother Chickadee at back door of her nest . . . 17 

"Here we are! We are seven! " . . . . . 21 

Chickadees in a family jar 21 

Photographing the Flickers' nest . , . . . . 28 



xii Illustrations 

FACING 
PAGE 

They liked to cling to our clothing . ... 28 

Nest and eggs of Flicker, with side of stump sawed out . 28 

"About face!" 3 2 

A family of young Flickers . . . . . . . 3 2 

Flicker at the front door of her home 32 

Male Yellow-throat ....... 39 

The mother came with a big spider ... -39 

Nest and eggs of Yellow-throat . . . . . -39 

The mother dropped to the perch, and gave the nearer one 

a big caterpillar -4 

Young Yellow-throats quarreling 4 

Mother Grosbeak feeding young ...... 49 

Male Grosbeak feeding young 49 

Nest of eggs of Black-headed Grosbeak .... 52 

Male Grosbeak at nest 52 

Grosbeak babies 52 

A full-grown young Red-tail. The tail end of a carp show- 
ing in the nest 57 

Taking pictures at the aerie of the Red-tail, 120 feet from 

the ground 58 

At the foot of the Hawk's tree 58 

Aerie of the Red-tail in the tall cottonwood .... 58 

Nest and eggs of the Red-tail, April I5th . . . . 61 
Young Red-tails in the downy stage, May 3d . . .61 
Full-grown young Red-tails just before they left the aerie, 

May 24th. Piece of carp showing in nest ... 64 



Illustrations xiii 

FACING 
PAGE 

Young Crows just after hatching 72 

Nest full of young Crows, about half-grown ... 72 

Jack Crow's perch in the apple tree 72 

"Granny" a portrait of a half-grown Barn Owl . . 81 
Full-grown young Barn Owls at the age of eight weeks . 85 

Nest and eggs of the Barn Owl 85 

Downy young Barn Owls about three weeks old . . 85 

A study in sentiment 88 

Barn Owl in full flight ' . .88 

Half-grown Barn Owls, about six weeks old ... 88 

Young Barn Owl in fighting attitude 88 

Wide awake and on the tip-toe of expectancy ... 92 

Mother Wren at the nest hole 96 

A young Vigors Wren just after leaving nest in the dead alder 96 
Feeding young Wrens ........ 96 

The parents lit wherever they found the children . .105 

Bush-tit feeding young on top of cap 105 

Awaiting their turns rather impatiently .... 105 

Bush-tit at door of long hanging nest 108 

Young Bush-tits beside long pendent nest .... 108 
Male Bush-tit with green cutworm for young . . .108 

Jimmy 116 

Jimmy eating from the hand of his mistress . . .116 
Pair of young Shrikes or Butcher-birds . . . .116 
He often perched in the pear tree . . . . . . 116 



xiv Illustrations 

FACING 
PAGE 

Nest and eggs of Black-throated Gray Warbler . . 128 

Two small nestlings . * .128 

Disputing while mother is away 128 

The mother often brought in green cutworms . . 133 

The gray mother rewarded him with a mouthful . . 133 

She did not forget the hungry, more timid fledgling in the 

nest 133 

Taking a portrait of a young Kingfisher .... 140 

The Kingfisher with a broken bill 140 

The first day out of the nest fully fledged . . . .140 

Six of the frowsy-headed Fishers in a pose .... 145 

The door to the Kingfisher's home showing small hole to 
the left where nest was first started; the two little tracks 

at the bottom made by the feet of the bird . . . 145 

They perched on the projecting snags over the water . 145 

Song Sparrows about to break home ties .... 152 

An English Sparrow, actually making a home in a hornet's 

nest 156 

Nest and eggs of the Song Sparrow 156 

Song Sparrow on a fence. One of our most constant singers 156 

The White-crowned Sparrow father with food for young . 160 

Female White-crowned Sparrow 160 

Female White-crowned Sparrow with food for young . . 160 

A pair of White-crowned Sparrows 160 

Young Blue Jay in nest 165 

The Bluebird mother at the nest hole 165 



Illustrations xv 



PAGE 



Young Blue Jay just leaving nest 168 

The young Bluebird was just in the act of jumping for the 

worm the mother held ; .172 

The male Bluebird with food for young . . . .172 
A Mother Bluebird poising an instant after feeding her 

young 172 

Mother Oriole feeding young 177 

Basket nest of the Oriole. A door has been cut in the wall 

of the nest to show the eggs . . . ... -177 

Young Cassin Vireos on branch over basket nest . 177 
Cassin Vireo beside nest . . ' . . . . . .180 

Warbling Vireo feeding young 180 

Warbling Vireo at nest after feeding 180 

Phoebe and young on the wire of the fence .... 193 

Young black Phoebes in nest 193 

Two young black Phoebes just after leaving nest . . 193 

Mother Phoebe feeding young ...... 193 

The Thrush's nest among the ferns 200 

The Thrush on her nest 200 

The Thrush mother at the nest edge 200 

Young Thrush on a wild raspberry 200 

Young Robins at home ........ 208 

A Robin in the cherry tree 208 

Nest and eggs of the Gull 212 

The perfect poise of the Gull 212 

Young Sea Gulls in the nest 212 



xvi Illustrations 

FACING 
PAGE 

A Gull at home on the rocks . . . . . . . 212 

A pair of Gulls on the wharf 214 

Gull just catching a bite that is thrown to it . . . 214 

Tame Gulls about the beach 214 

Gulls perched on the anchor chain awaiting dinner . . 216 

Great Blue Herons coming home from the marshes . . 225 

Family of young Great Blue Herons in tree-top nest . . 225 

Young Great Blue Heron 225 

Great Blue Heron in top of sycamore beside nest . . 225 

Full-grown young Night Heron 229 

Using a reflex camera in the tree-tops among the Herons . 230 

Black-crowned Night Heron on nest 230 

Young Night Heron clinging to limb 230 

Nest and eggs of the Golden Eagle 236 

Working at the aerie of the Golden Eagle. The nestlings 

about three-fourths grown. The nest is five feet across 236 

Photographing the Golden Eagle's nest .... 236 

Downy white Eagles at the age of twenty-five days . . 240 

Mottled young Eagles at the age of forty days . . . 240 

The royal twins at the age of fifty-five days . . . 240 

Pair of young Golden Eagles at the age of sixty-two days 240 



THE HUMMINGBIRD AT HOME 



I 

THE HUMMINGBIRD AT HOME 

HE dropped into our garden like the flying fleck from 
a rainbow, probed at the geranium blossoms and 
disappeared as the flash from a whirling mirror. I had 
often watched him and listened to the musical hum of his 
wings, as it rose and fell in sweetest cadences. I always 
had the unsatisfied tinge of disappointment as I was left 
gazing at the trail of this little shooting star of our gar- 
den, that hummed as well as glowed. I longed to have 
him and call him mine. Not caged, mercy no ! I wanted 
his lichen-shingled home in the Virginia creeper, his two 
pearly eggs, the horned midgets, the little fledglings, the 
mother as she plied them with food, and I wanted the 
glint of real live sunshine that hovered and poised about 
the flowers and got away, a minute ethereal sprite. And 
more than that, I wanted to have forever with me this 
mite that possesses the tiniest soul in feathers. 

It was not till we had studied, had watched and waited 
with the camera for four different nesting seasons about 
the hillside and along the creek, that we succeeded in get- 
ting a series of pictures of the home life of the little Ru- 
fous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rtifus) 1 . 

The first year, by the merest chance, we found a nest 

1 For a description of the more important species in each family the reader is referred 
to the end of the chapter. 

3 



4 American Birds 

that had been placed in a wild blackberry brier just 
above the creek. The green fibres and the lichens that 
shingled the outside of the tiny cup blended exactly with 
the green leaves and stems of the vines. The cotton lining 
of the nest and the two eggs looked precisely like the 
clusters of white blossoms surrounding. One might have 
searched all over the vine a dozen times and yet not have 
discovered the nest. 

Many a spider's suspension-bridge the hummingbird 
had torn away, and many a mouthful of cotton from the 
balms and down from the thistles, she collected. As I 
watched her, it looked to me as if a bill for probing flowers 
was not suitable for weaving nests. Maybe it would have 
been more convenient at times if it had been shorter. But 
she wove in the webs and fibres. She whirred round and 
round and shaped the side of her cup as a potter moulds 
his masterpiece. Then she thatched the outside with ir- 
regular bits of lichen. 

Another pair, of hummers took up a homestead on the 
hillside. The bank had been cut down to build a wood 
road, but the place had been abandoned a generation ago. 
The hummer saddled her tiny cup on the lowest branch of 
a small fir at the top of the bank. It looked as if she had 
picked out a spot to please the photographer. 

When the weather was warm, the mother didn't brood 
long at a time. It often looked to me as if it was only 
child's play at setting. Five minutes was such a long, 
wearisome spell that she just had to take a turn about the 
garden. I often thought the tiny eggs would chill through 
before she returned, and I began to lose hope in her rest- 
less, shiftless manner. But she knew better. 




The Hummer saddled her cup on the lowest branch Mother Hummingbird en edge of nest about to 

of a small fir. brood young. 




The nestlings began to fork out all 
black horns. 



th tiny 



The Hummer feeding her young by regurgitatic 

She jabs her long bill down the baby's throat 

and injects him with honey. 



The Hummingbird at Home 5 

At first the little capsules had such a wonderfully 
delicate flesh-tint of pink. Then, one morning, I stood 
over the nest like Thomas of old. Some one had replaced 
the eggs with two black bugs! It might have been a 
miracle. There was a tiny knob on the end of each bug 
that looked as if it might be the beginning of a bill. Each 
little creature resembled a black bean more than a bird, 
for each possessed a light streak of brown along the mid- 
dle of the back. They couldn't be beans, for they were 
pulsing with life in a lumpy sort of way. I went fre- 
quently to look at them. In a few days the nestlings 
began to fork out all over with tiny black horns, until 
they would have looked like prickly pears had they been 
the right color. At the next stage each tiny horn began 
to blossom out into a spray of brown down, the yellow at 
one end grew into a bill, the black skin cracked a trifle 
and showed two eyes. It was hard to see just how those 
black bugs could turn to birds, but day after day the mira- 
cle worked till I really saw two young hummingbirds. 

When they left the nest, the midgets took up their 
abode in our back yard. The yard was crossed by three 
clothes-lines for perches, and the large apple tree in the 
corner gave abundant shade for the hottest days. In the 
centre was a round bed of geraniums, and along the fence 
were gladioli and nasturtiums. The youngsters simply 
sucked all the honey out of every flower in the yard. 
Every morning I saw them going the rounds and collect- 
ing tribute from the hearts of the new blossoms. As I 
came and went about the house, they soon became accus- 
tomed to the presence of a person, and when I filled some 
flowers with sweet water, it did not take them long to 



6 American Birds 

recognize that the flowers in the hand were better than 
those on the bush. 

Then one day I dipped my finger in sweetened water 
and held it up to one of the twins as he sat on the line. I 
was amused, for such a treat came to him as a complete 
surprise. Before that, when a finger was put up near his 
nose, he poked it, but found nothing attractive; now his 
little tongue darted out and hauled in the sweet. The next 
instant he was buzzing about my face and neck, poking 
for honey. He seemed as enthusiastic as a man who had 
suddenly struck a new mine, for it all looked alike to him. 
If one part was sweet, perhaps it all was, and it was high 
time he was knowing this new source of food, for he had 
seen such things as people before. 

One morning I found one of the young hummers sit- 
ting muffled up on the clothes-line, sound asleep in the sun. 
The instant I touched the line he awoke as if from a bad 
dream, and was all excitement. I didn't have any sweet- 
ened water, but I picked up a ripe plum, tore the skin away, 
and held it up. In went the sharp bill, but it came out 
with thrice the rapidity. Such a face! He almost fell 
backward off the perch and nearly shook his head off, 
scolding in a little squeaky voice all the time. 

It was amusing to watch the little fellows, for each had 
his own perch on a separate line and every once in a while, 
when one went too near the perch of the other, there was 
a little friendly bout and they darted back and forth, 
chasing each other in the sunshine. But, as the days 
passed, I noticed these little conflicts seemed to grow more 
serious. One would dart at the other, and round and 
round the yard they would go, whizzing and screeching, 



The Hummingbird at Home 7 

and then away. Before long one of the twins ceased to 
come at all. 

I don't believe any sun-worshipper of old could be 
more devoted to his idol than the hummingbird. He lives 
in the sun almost as a fish does in the water. The minute 
a cloud crosses the face of the sun his feathers puff up and 
his eye loses its sparkle. It's hard for a hummer to en- 
dure cold and cloudy weather, much more a season of rain. 
But he seems to adapt himself better to a rainy climate 
than many other birds. He has profited by the experience 
of the past. Out of twenty-three different hummingbird 
nests, I found the majority built so that they were entirely 
under shelter. Three were in vines directly under bridges, 
two in Virginia creepers under porches, another in a black- 
berry bush under a log, and so on, every time in a place 
where no amount of rain could bother them. 

I was standing on the hillside one bright May morn- 
ing when two hummers caught my attention. One whirred 
downward like the rush of a rocket. He ascended, whirl- 
ing up till I could see only a blurred speck in the blue. 
Then he dropped headlong like a red meteor, with his 
gorget puffed out and his tail spread wide. Instead of 
striking with a burst of flying sparks, he veered just above 
the bushes with a sound like the lash of a whip drawn 
swiftly through the air, and, as the impetus carried him up, 
a high-pitched musical trill burst out above the whir of 
his wings. Again and again he swung back and forth like 
a comet in its orbit. If he was courting, his aim was surely 
to dazzle and move with irresistible charm. I think his 
method was to sweep at his lady love with a show of glit- 
tering brilliancy and gorgeous display and win her heart 



8 American Birds 

in one grand charge. He must have won her, for the pair 
built a home in the Virginia creeper. They took one of 
the loose strings that had been used to tie up the vines 
and wove it into the fabric of their home; if the floor 
beneath gave way, they would surely have a support from 
above. 

The way the mother would light on her nest was a 
marvel to me. She always stopped on the dead twig of 
a maple before dropping to her home. I saw her do it 
several times. She came at the nest like a meteoric streak. 
I held my breath lest the whole thing be splintered to 
atoms, for she hit the little cup without the slightest pause 
that I could see, yet she lit as lightly as the touch of float- 
ing thistle-down. 

Below the hummer's nest the water trickled down 
the basin of the canon. In places it formed pools and 
dropped over the rocky edges. One of these tiny basins 
was the hummer's bath-tub. It was shallow enough at the 
edge for her to wade. For a moment her wing-tips and 
tail would skim the surface, and it was all over. She 
dressed and preened with all the formality of a queen. 
After the bath I watched her circle about the clusters of 
geraniums and drink at the honey cups of the columbine. 
She seemed only to will to be at a flower and she was 
there; the hum of the wings was all that told the secret. 
She was a marvel in the air. She backed as easily as she 
darted forward. She side-stepped, rose, and dropped as 
easily as she poised. 

While the nestlings were very young the mother never 
left them alone long at a time. If the day was warm, if 
the sun shone on the nest, the mother hovered over with 



The Hummingbird at Home 9 

wings and tail spread wide. When it was hottest, I've 
seen the mother sit forward on the nest edge, spread her 
tail till she showed the white tips of her feathers, and 
keep up a constant quivering, fanning motion with her 
wings to give protection to the frail midgets in the nest. 

When I first crawled in among the bushes close to the 
nest the little mother darted at me and poised a foot from 
my nose, as if to stare me out of countenance. She looked 
me all over from head to foot twice, then she seemed con- 
vinced that I was harmless. She whirled and sat on the 
nest edge. The bantlings opened wide their hungry 
mouths. She spread her tail like a flicker and braced 
herself against the nest side. She craned her neck and 
drew her daggerlike bill straight up above the nest. She 
plunged it down the baby's throat to the hilt and started a 
series of gestures that seemed fashioned to puncture him 
to the toes. Then she stabbed the other baby till it made 
me shudder. It looked like the murder of the infants. 
But they were not mangled and bloody: they were get- 
ting a square meal after the usual hummingbird method 
of regurgitation. They ran out their slender tongues to 
lick the honey from their lips. How they liked it ! Then 
she settled down and ruffled up her breast feathers to let 
her babies cuddle close to her naked bosom. Occasion- 
ally she reached under to caress them with whisperings 
of mother-love. 

I have never seen a hummingbird fledgling fall from 
the nest in advance of his strength as a robin often does. 
When the time comes, he seems to spring into the air full 
grown, clad in glittering armor, as Minerva sprang from 
the head of Jove. While I lay quiet in the bushes I learned 



i o American Birds 

the reason. One youngster sat on the nest edge, stretched 
his wings, combed his tail, lengthened his neck, and 
preened the feathers of his breast. Then he tried his 
wings. They began slowly, as if getting up steam. He 
made them buzz till they fairly lifted him off his feet; 
he had to hang on to keep from going : he could fly, but 
the time was not ripe. A little gnat buzzed slowly past 
within two inches of his eyes. The nestling instinctively 
stabbed at the insect, but fell short. Each bantling took 
turns at practising on the edge of the nest, till they had 
mastered the art of balancing and rising in the air. 

I have never known exactly what to think of the male 
rufous. I never saw such an enthusiastic lover during the 
days of courtship and the beginning of house building. 
He reminded me of a diminutive whirlwind that took 
everything by storm. He simply ran crazy-mad in love. 
As soon as the cottony cup was finished and the mother had 
cradled her twin white eggs the father disappeared. He 
merely dropped out of existence, as Bradford Torrey says 
of his ruby-throat, leaving a widow with the twins on her 
hands. 

This always seems to be the case, for at the differ- 
ent nests where I have watched, I never but once saw the 
male hummer near the nest after the children were born. 
I was lying in the shade of the bushes a few feet from the 
nest one afternoon. For two whole days I had been watch- 
ing and photographing and no other hummer had been 
near. Suddenly a male darted up the canon and lit on a 
dead twig opposite the nest. He hadn't settled before 
the mother hurtled at him. I jumped up to watch. They 
shot up and down the hillside like winged bullets, through 



The Hummingbird at Home 1 1 

trees and over stumps, the mother with tail spread, all the 
while squealing like mad. It looked like the chase of two 
meteors that were likely to disappear in a shower of 
sparks had they struck anything. If it was the father, he 
didn't get a squint at the bantlings. If it was a bachelor 
awooing, he got a hot reception. 

I can't believe the male rufous is an intentional shirk 
and deserter. I think that somewhere back through the 
generations of hummingbird experience, it was found that 
such bright colors and such devotion about the home were 
clews unmistakable for enemies. It is, therefore, the law 
of self-protection that he keep away entirely during the 
period of incubation and the rearing of the young. 

THE HUMMINGBIRD FAMILY 

This is a family of birds easily recognized because they are the 
smallest in size. They have tiny feet and long slender bills to suck the 
nectar from the flowers. They flit through the air with great rapidity, 
their buzzing wings giving the bird the appearance of an insect. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Trocbilus colubris): Male, above, 
green; below, grayish-white; wings and tail, ruddy black; shining ruby- 
red patch on throat. Female, colors less showy and throat-patch lack- 
ing. Summer resident along the Atlantic Coast, arriving the first of 
May and remaining till October. Nest, a tiny cup saddled on a limb. 
Eggs, two in number, pure white and about the size of soup beans. 

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus): Male, general color 
above and below, bright reddish-brown, with more or less green on top 
of head and sometimes extending on back; throat, glancing coppery red, 
below fading into white. Female, similar to male but more brownish in 
color; throat with just a tinge of red. Summer resident of the north 
Pacific Coast, arriving in April. Nest and habits, similar to those of 
Ruby-throat. 

Anna Hummingbird (Calypte anna); Top of head with metallic, 



12 American Birds 

iridescent scales same as throat. Feathers of throat prolonged in a 
ruff. Back and middle tail feathers greenish without any rufous or 
white. Tail forked. Adult female similar, except on head and tail. 
No metallic scales on head, but greenish like back. Throat specked 
with rose. Common resident throughout California. 




Young Hummer on the clothes-line in the back yard. Young Hummers about to leave nest. 




Hummingbird poised in mid-air, taking food from the geranium cups. 



THE CHICKADEE 



II 

THE CHICKADEE 

F I^HE air was crisp. The snow crunched under foot. 
A The waters of Fulton Creek slid noiselessly 
through the lush grasses that hung along the bank. The 
clump of tall firs up the hillside was roughly inked against 
the gray clouds. The dead hush of winter had crept up 
the canon. Suddenly a sound like the tinkling of tiny 
bell-voices broke the stillness. Across the long, white 
stretch between the pointed firs scurried a whole troop of 
black and white fairies. 

I was in the same place a little over three months later. 
The young firs stood in rows rising from the creek side, 
each topped with the brighter green of the new spring 
growth. The alders and dogwoods had suddenly split 
their buds, as if shame had shaken their naked limbs. The 
open glade shimmered with the diamond drops on the ten- 
der shoots of new grass. The air quivered with each 
sound and motion. Everything throbbed with expectancy. 
Where I had seen a dozen fairies, now I saw only two. 
Where the rest of the troop had gone, I do not know. 
This newly wedded pair seemed happy and contented. 

I stood there and watched as one of the midgets 

whirled over to a nearer bush What was he doing there? 

He fidgeted about as if he had put something away and 

couldn't remember just where he had laid it. I looked 

'5 



T 6 American Birds 

around, but saw nothing save the wreck of an old alder; 
dead, rotten, useless, broken off five feet from the ground ; 
not even good for fire-wood; worm-eaten at the bottom, 
almost ready to return as earth to the ground from which 
it had sprung. Rotten, but not entirely useless it gave 
me an idea. 

The little Black-capped Titmouse or Chickadee (Parus 
atricapillus occidentalis) is the most constant feathered 
friend I have, for there is hardly a day in the year 
that I cannot find him, whether it be hot or cold. On 
some of my tramps in the rain and snow the chickadee 
has been the only bit of bird life that has cheered my 
way. I have never found the chickadee moody. I've 
seen him when it was so cold I couldn't understand just 
how he kept his tiny body warm; when it looked like 
all hunting for him and no game. If he was hungry, 
he didn't show it. The wren goes south and lives in 
sunshine and plenty all winter. He goes wild with de- 
light when he returns home in the spring. The chickadee 
winters in the north. He endures the cold and hunger 
of the dreary months. In the spring his cheer seems just 
the same. He doesn't bubble over. He takes his abun- 
dance in quiet and contentment. 

Chickadee never seems to have the blues, but for all 
his cheer and happiness, the loneliest, saddest bird I ever 
saw was a chickadee who had lost his mate. It was cold 
and darkening. I heard the sad, drawn-out " phee-bee " 
note up the ravine. As he came nearer, it sounded like a 
funeral song. The bewildered little fellow was all aflut- 
ter and uneasy, flitting from tree to tree and calling, call- 
ing. I can hear the echo yet, calling for his love. 



The Chickadee 17 

The glade up Fulton Creek just suited the chickadees. 
It was rarely invaded by troublesome people. Chickadee 
likes human society when the snow comes and food grows 
scarce in the woods, but just as soon as he falls in love and 
his mind turns to housekeeping, he looks for a quiet nook. 

The next time I strolled up the creek, one of a newly 
wedded pair suddenly met me just where the path branched 
a few yards below the alder stump. I didn't see him come, 
but he appeared right on the limbs of the maple over the 
trail that led away from the nest. He didn't see me at 
all! The little trickster! He was very industriously 
pecking at nothing I could see with my field-glass. As 
soon as I stopped, he began turning and twisting, stretch- 
ing his neck to look under a leaf. He hung by his toes, 
head down, and swung back up like a circus performer. 
Then he swung head down again, dropped, and lit right 
side up on the branch below. He made a high jump of 
over a foot, but grabbed nothing. And such unconcern ! 
He never looked at me. I thought of the lad across the 
street, who, by his stunts, used to coax me out of the yard 
against orders. The little black-cap drew me now as the 
boy did then. " You're entertaining, but not so clever as 
you seem," I said, as I followed him off down the wrong 
path away from his nest. 

I shall never forget the day we trudged up with the 
camera to get a picture of the eggs. When we reached 
the chickadee villa, the mother was at home. I knocked 
at the base, so she would leave. Then I shook the stub, 
but she did not take the hint. I took a little twig and 
poked in, trying to lift her up. She met my advance with 
a funny little sound, like a mad cat in a box. Drive her 



1 8 American Birds 

out of her own house ? Well, I should say not ! Finally 
I cut a piece right out of the back part of her house, 
where the wall was thin. There she sat without moving, 
while I focused my camera. The little black eyes showed 
a brave spirit that I have seldom seen in a bird. I care- 
fully slid the piece back again and locked it with a string. 

I knew she had done a heroic deed. I sat down under 
the tree to watch. As soon as all was quiet, she shot from 
the door like a winged bullet and struck right on the limb 
beside her mate who had been dee-dee-ing to her all the 
while. Of course, birds do not feel as we feel, but I don't 
believe a sweetheart ever met her lover returning from a 
field of battle with a greater show of joy. They simply 
threw themselves into each other's arms. It wasn't a silent 
meeting either; there were real cracks of kisses and twit- 
ters of praise. Chickadees are not human by any means, 
but had she not defended her home all alone against a 
giant? 

A day or so later, I really did catch both the owners 
away from the nest and I counted one two three four 
five six seven dotted eggs on a cottony couch. When 
the mother returned she seemed so worried that I closed 
the door and started to leave in a hurry. But I hadn't 
stepped away more than ten feet before she was clinging 
at the doorway, and a moment later she popped into the 
hole and continued her brooding. 

What if every egg should hatch, I thought. What 
could any mother and father do with seven children, all 
the same age? Think of it! Two pair of twins and a 
set of triplets, and not one of the youngsters able to assist 
in caring for brother or sister! 



The Chickadee 1 9 

I have often watched old birds feeding young, but I 
never had a good idea of just the amount of insect food 
they did consume till I watched the chickadees for a few 
days after the eggs hatched. Both birds fed in turn, and 
the turns were anywhere from three to ten minutes apart. 
From the time the chicks were born, the parents were busy 
from daylight to dark. They searched every leaf and twig 
along the limbs and trunk to the roots of every tree, under 
bark and moss, in ferns, bushes, and vines, and they hunted 
thoroughly. Such numbers of spiders they ate, and green 
caterpillars, brown worms, grasshoppers, daddy-long-legs, 
moths, millers, and flies, besides untold numbers of eggs 
and larvae. Everything was grist that went to the chicka- 
dee mill. The way they could turn insects into feathers, 
placing the black and white pigment just where it be- 
longed, was simply marvelous. A baby chickadee changes 
about as much in a day as a human baby does in a year. 

One can readily count up how much insect life is de- 
stroyed each day, when the parents return every few min- 
utes with food. Think how closely each bush and tree is 
gone over everywhere about the nest. One chickadee nest 
in an orchard means the death of hundreds and maybe 
thousands of harmful insects and worms every day. It 
more than pays for all the fruit the birds can eat in half 
a dozen seasons. But there are generally other birds nest- 
ing about. Think of the time when seven young chicka- 
dees are turned loose to search among the trees day after 
day during the entire year. 

I spent two whole days at the nest before the chicks 
were ready to leave home. The owners of the stump 
seemed to think we had placed the camera there for their 



2o American Birds 

use, as they generally perched on the tripod. Then they 
always stopped a moment at the door before entering. 
The seven eggs had pretty well filled the nest. Now it 
looked too full. It seemed to me that if the little chicks 
kept on growing they would either have to be stacked up 
one on top of the other or lodged in an upper story. 

Once the mother came with a white miller. She had 
pulled the wings off, but even then it looked entirely too 
big for a baby's mouth. Not a single nestling but wanted 
to try it. When the mother left, I looked in and one little 
fellow sat with the miller bulging out of his mouth. It 
wouldn't go down any further, but he lay back quite happy. 
His stomach was working at a high speed below; I saw 
the miller slowly slipping down until the last leg went in 
as the chick gave a big gulp. 

The day was warm. We built a little perch at the 
front door, and set out one of the youngsters blinking 
in the sunshine. He soon felt at home. He liked it and 
seemed quite perked up and proud. Then we set out an- 
other and another seven in all. It looked like a pub- 
lic dressing-room. Think of being crowded in the tiny 
hole of a hollow, punky stump with six brothers and 
sisters; jammed together with your clothes all wrinkled, 
not even room to stretch out, let alone comb and dress 
and clean yourself properly. They gave us a real chicka- 
dee concert, each trying to outdo the other. " Here-we- 
are ! We-are-seven ! Seven-are-we-dee-dee-dee ! " Even 
the mother and father sounded a " Tsic-a-dee-dee " of 
joy as they fed from the perch instead of diving down 
into the little dungeon. 

I believe there's more family love in the chickadee 




; Here we are ! We 




I90S ByH.T.B&WL.r. 



Chickadees in a family jar. 



The Chickadee 21 

household than in any bird home I have visited. I have 
seen a young flicker jab at his brother in real madness, but 
I never saw two chickadees come to blows. Of course, 
when young chickadees are hungry, they will cry for food 
just as any child. Not one of the seven was the least back- 
ward in coming forward when a morsel of food was in 
sight. Each honestly believed his turn was next. Once 
or twice I saw what looked like a family jar. Each one 
of the seven was crying for food as the mother flew over. 
She herself must have forgotten whose turn it was, for 
she hung beneath the perch a moment to think. How she 
ever told one from the other, so as to divide the meals 
evenly, I don't know. There was only one chick I could 
recognize, and that was pigeon-toed, tousled-headed 
Johnnie. He was the runt of the family, and spoiled, if 
ever a bird was spoiled. 

We trudged up the canon early the next morning. 
Four of the flock had left the nest and taken to the 
bushes. Three stayed at the stump while we set the cam- 
era. It is rarely indeed that one catches a real clear pho- 
tograph of bird home life such as the mother placing a 
green cutworm in the mouth of a hungry chick; a satisfied 
look on the face of the second bantling who had just got 
a morsel; and hope on the face of the third who is sure 
to get the next mouthful: the present, the past, and the 
future in one scene. 

There are perhaps many other families of chickadees 
that live and hunt through the trees along Fulton Creek. 
I rarely visit the place that I do not hear them. But ever 
since the seven left the old alder stump that has now 
fallen to pieces, I never see a flock about this haunt that 



22 American Birds 

they do not greet me with the same song I heard three 
years ago, " Tsic-a-dee-dee I Seven-are-we ! " 

THE CHICKADEE OR TITMOUSE FAMILY 

The Chickadee is one of our few winter residents; he is hardy, al- 
ways cheerful, and braves the coldest winter spell. He is musical after 
his own fashion, always active and restless, heedless of man's presence. 
He is only five inches long with a black and white coat, and is generally 
seen hanging head down, hunting insect eggs and bugs under the limbs 
and leaves. 

Chickadee (Parus atricapillus) : Male and female, top of head and 
back of neck and throat, black; sides of head, white; back, ashy or 
grayish; under parts, whitish. Resident of eastern North America north 
of the Potomac, winter as well as summer. Nest, in a hole in a stump, 
made of wool, hair, and feathers. Eggs, six to nine, white speckled with 
brown. 

Western Chickadee (Parus atricapillus occidentalis): Almost identi- 
cal with above. Lives on the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska. 



PHOTOGRAPHING FLICKERS 



Ill 

PHOTOGRAPHING FLICKERS 

IF I were the owner of the firs about the reed-covered 
pond and were drawing rental from the bird tenants, 
I would rather take a lease from the Flickers (Colaptes 
cafer collaris) than any other feathered family. They're 
not always amoving south and leaving your trees without 
an occupant as soon as the frost nips. When the ther- 
mometer drops low and the kinglets are twittering too 
softly to be heard more than a few yards away, " high- 
hole " always sends a full share of bird cheer up and down 
the scattering woods. Nor is he half as particular as some 
of the other bird residents. He takes the best of the few 
remaining stumps and seems satisfied. Once he pounded 
out a wooden home just below his last year's house. His 
wife didn't like it very much, but they settled it in some 
way and reared a thriving family. 

One January day I was wading through the wet grass 
and low bushes near Ladd's farm when a flicker flapped 
up almost in my face. His mate followed. I found sev- 
eral holes where they had been driving into the ground for 
food. The bug supply under the bark was low, or maybe 
it was purely a voluntary change of diet. 

" Red-hammer " of the West, like " yellow-hammer," 
his eastern cousin, is a rather odd mixture of woodpecker 
,and robin. The Picus family in general takes its food 

25 



26 American Birds 

from the bark of a tree, but red-hammer often feeds on 
berries, grain, and earthworms. According to wood- 
pecker taste, a bird should cling to the side of a tree, 
clutching two toes above and two below, with body 
propped by his tail, but high-hole is independent, and 
often sits on a limb as an ordinary percher. Nature has 
given the flicker a bill slightly curved instead of straight 
and chisel-shaped. But why does this westerner parade 
the woods in a jaunty suit lined with red, while his 
eastern cousin flaunts from tree to tree in a yellow-lined 
jacket? 

High-hole is somewhat of a barbarian among the 
Romans about the pond. He knows nothing about, nor 
does he care for, the finer arts of architecture and music. 
A dark den suits him as well as a mansion. He has a voice 
like the " holler " of a lusty-lunged, whole-souled plough- 
boy. As he swings from stump to stump his wings flash 
red like a beacon light. He shouts " Yar-up ! Yar-up ! 
Yar-up ! " from the tree-top, or occasionally he breaks the 
woody silence with a prolonged jovial " Ha ! Ha I Ha ! " 

There's always a sentiment of the farm about the 
flicker. Occasionally I see one of the birds here in the 
midst of the city, but he always reminds me of a back- 
woods boy on a visit. He never seems at home among 
the clanging of the cars and the rumbling of the wagons 
along the paved streets. A few days ago I saw one of 
these woodpeckers light on the side of a brick building 
above the busy street. I knew it was an inexperienced 
bird, for he began jabbing at the tin cornice in a way that 
seemed to me was likely to splinter his bill. It resounded 
like a drum. He cocked his head with a surprised expres- 



Photographing Flickers 27 

sion that seemed to say, " That's the funniest tree I ever 
tapped." Then he flipped across the street and started 
a tattoo on a window-sill, but some one pushed up the 
window to see who was trying to get in and almost scared 
the youngster witless. The last I saw of him he was tak- 
ing a bee-line straight across the block for the hills. 

With a tinge of regret I have watched the clumps of 
fir thinned year after year. High-hole does not care a 
snap. He can bore a hole in a church steeple as easily as 
in a fir snag. The moral influence on his family is about 
the same in one place as the other. For two seasons I 
watched a red-shafted flicker rear his family in the tall 
steeple of a Presbyterian Church in the heart of the city. 
I was always a little afraid lest the strait-laced divine 
discover the brood of squabbling youngsters sheltered 
under the sacred roof, seize a scourge, and drive them 
from the temple. They worked as hard on the Sabbath 
as any other day of the week. Another flicker dug a 
home in one of the maples that bordered the walk about a 
large grammar-school. The poor hen was harassed half 
to death by attention from the boys, but she reared four 
lusty shouters. 

I have known high-hole for years. For two seasons 
we have photographed him and his family. He has punc- 
tured every old stump about the pond with doors and 
windows. Every one of these old boles is dead to the 
root, yet I generally find them throbbing at the heart more 
vitally than the greenest neighbor in the clump. Red- 
hammer is not altogether idle during the months of rain 
and snow. When he does work, he goes like an automatic 
toy wound to the limit. As soon as the weather brightens 



28 American Birds 

into the first warm, springlike day, he and his wife have 
a wooden house well near its completion. Last spring 
when I first discovered the brand-new hole at the top of 
the stump, the lady of the house sidled around the tree 
like a bashful school-girl, always keeping on the opposite 
side and peeking around the curve. 

Few birds have larger families than high-hole. But, 
were it not for the number of his family, how could he 
hold his own among so many enemies? His conspicuous 
size and color always draw the aim of the small boy's 
gun, and every village lad in the land has collected flicker's 
eggs. He is a fellow of resources, however. If his home 
is robbed, his wife soon lays another set of eggs. It is 
on record that one pair, when tested by the removal of 
egg after egg, laid seventy-one eggs in seventy-three days. 

In the hollowed heart of the punky fir on a bed of 
fine wood bits, lay seven glossy eggs, inanimate, but full 
of promise. They all had the vital flesh tinge of pink. 
Each imprisoned a precious spark of life to be fanned 
by the magic brooding of the mother's breast. 

Red-hammer had grown quite trustful. We got a 
ladder twenty-five feet long which reached about up to 
the nest. The eggs had been placed a foot and a half 
below the round entrance. On the opposite side from the 
entrance and on a level with the eggs, we sawed out a back 
door, giving a good view of the living room and letting 
in a little sunlight. With the camera ready to snap, firmly 
fastened to a small board, we climbed the tree. Holding 
it out to a measured distance, we aimed it downward at 
the eggs. The first attempt came nearer landing camera 
and all in a heap in the shallow water of the pond than 





Photographing the Flickers' nest. 



They liked to cling to our clothing. 




p sawed 



Photographing Flickers 29 

getting a photograph of the eggs, but after several trials 
a good picture was taken. 

Neither mother nor father flicker seemed exactly to 
understand our right of making free with their home. 
The former nervously returned to her nest each time we 
descended the tree. She climbed in the front door. It 
was easy enough to recognize her own eggs, but that new 
door was a puzzle. She had to slip out and examine it 
half a dozen times, returning always by the round door 
above. The change made her a little uneasy, but she soon 
settled down, satisfied to brood and watch her gossiping 
neighbors at the same time. After we fastened up the 
new entrance, flicker affairs went on as usual. 

Some of our later visits were certainly a little tiresome 
for the brooding mother. A knock at the foot of the tree 
was generally followed by an impatient eye and a danger- 
ous-looking bill at the threshold the greeting a busy 
housewife gives an intruding peddler. With a bored look 
she flipped across the way and sat while the visitors nosed 
about and prowled in her house. 

Those naked baby flickers were the ugliest little bird 
youngsters I ever saw. High-hole did not carry their din- 
ners in her bill, as a warbler feeds her young. She nour- 
ished the bantlings with the partially digested food of her 
own craw. She jabbed her long sharp beak down their 
throats till I thought she would stab them to death. Yet 
they liked it. They called for more with a peculiar hiss- 
ing noise. A few feet away it sounded more like the buzz 
of maddened bees. I always feel like jumping to the 
ground and taking to the timber the instant that swarmy 
sound strikes my ear. It's not exactly cowardice, but bird 



30 American Birds 

curiosity once led me to pry into a hornet's nest in a hol- 
low log. I've been a little skittish since. I am not sure 
of Nature's reason for providing woodpeckers with such 
a peculiar baby prattle, but I know the sound has scared 
more than one boy into shying away from a flicker's home. 

In the heart of the fir the growth was rapid. The 
thin drawn lids of each callow prisoner cracked and re- 
vealed a pair of black eyes. Feathers sprouted and spread 
from the rolls of fatty tissue up and down their backs. 
Each bill pointed ever upward to the light; the instant 
the doorway darkened, each sprung open to its limit. The 
nestlings soon took to climbing the walls, not solely for 
amusement. The sharp ears of each youngster caught 
the scrape of the mother's claws the instant she clutched 
the bark of the tree, and this sound always gave rise to 
a neck-stretching scramble toward the door. The young 
woodpeckers had little chance of exercising their wings. 
The next time we climbed the tree with the camera they 
were apparently full grown, strong in climbing, but, to our 
advantage, weak in flying. 

We are not likely to forget the day we climbed the 
stump to picture the young flickers. The full meaning of 
the task had not struck us. Nor had the enjoyment of 
it dawned upon the fledglings. They were bashful at first, 
but after a little coaxing and fondling they were as tame 
as pet pussies. They climbed out and crowded the stump- 
top, where they sat in the warm sunshine stretching, fluff- 
ing, bowing, and preening. 

They liked to cling to our clothing. A coat sleeve 
was easier climbing than a tree trunk, and it was softer to 
penetrate with a peck. There was a streak of ambition 



Photographing Flickers 31 

in the soul of each flicker that would put most people to 
shame. They climbed continually, and always toward the 
top. Up our arms to our shoulders they would go, and 
then to our heads. Just at the instant one's mind and 
energy were directed toward balancing in the tree-top, he 
was sure to get a series of jabs in the cheek. One might 
endure the scratch of the sharp claws as they penetrated 
his clothing, but he would be likely to cringe under the 
sting of a chisel-shaped drill boring with rapid blows into 
his arm. 

I couldn't see any use in the parents working them- 
selves to death feeding such ravenous, full-grown children. 
" They might as well hustle a little for themselves," I 
said, as I climbed the stump next morning. We took all 
five of the fledglings to the ground. Wild strawberries 
they gulped down with a decided relish, until we got tired 
and cut short the supply. We soon had a regular yar- 
uping concert. One young cock clutched the bark with 
his claws, his stiff-pointed tail feathers propping his body 
in the natural woodpecker position, as he hitched nestward 
up the tree, followed by his mates. 

Afterward when I set all five on a near-by limb with 
the order " Company, attention ! Right dress ! " they 
were the rawest and most unruly recruits I ever handled. 
If the upper guide did not keep moving, he received a 
gouge from his impatient neighbor below. This was sure 
either to set the whole squad in motion, or to start a fam- 
ily brawl, without regard to the annoyance of the bird 
photographer. " About, face ! " was executed with the 
same lack of discipline on the part of the feathered com- 
pany. The captain stepped meekly around to the other 



32 American Birds 

side of the limb and planted himself and camera in the 
rear. 

During our early acquaintance the fledgling flickers 
savagely resisted our attempts to coax them out of their 
home. After a few hours in the warm sunshine, they 
fought every effort to put them back. They were no 
longer nestlings, for a bit of confidence had turned them 
into full-fledged birds of the world. 

The following day it was noticed that the flicker popu- 
lation of the fir woods had increased. Here and there 
one caught sight of a bird bearing the emblem of a black 
crescent hung about his neck. Juvenile yar-ups echoed 
among the scattered trees and over the pond. Occasion- 
ally there were flashes of red as wings opened and closed 
and a bird swung through the air in wavelike flight. 

THE WOODPECKER FAMILY 

The Woodpeckers are easily recognized because they habitually 
cling to the bark and climb straight up the limbs, pecking for eggs of 
insects and worms. The bill is strong and chisel-shaped; the tail feathers 
stiff and bristly. The woodpecker foot differs from that of other birds in 
that it has two toes behind and two in front. 

Flicker (Colaptes auratus), Golden-winged Woodpecker, Yellow- 
hammer, High-holder: Male, above, golden-brown, barred with black ; 
white patch on rump; breast, with black crescent; below, brownish 
dotted with black; black patch on cheeks, red band on back of head; 
lining of wings and tail, yellow. Female lacks the black cheek patches. 
Lives in northern and eastern United States to Rocky Mountains, where 
it arrives from the South in April and stays till October. Nests gener- 
ally in a hollow tree. Eggs, pure white, usually six to eight. 

Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes cafer collaris): Much the same as 
above, except wings and tail lined with red. Red instead of black cheek 
patches, and no red on back of head. Common on Pacific Coast. 





A family of young Flickers. 



Flicker at the front door of her home. 



THE YELLOW-THROAT 



IV 
THE YELLOW-THROAT 

JUST below the brow of Marquam Hill, half a mile 
above the creek, a little spring bubbles out of an 
alder copse. Instead of trickling down the hillside like 
an ordinary streamlet, the water scatters and sinks into 
the spongy soil; it forms a wet place an acre or so in 
extent, over which has sprung up a rich growth of swamp 
grass. This is the Yellow-throat's (Geothlypis trichas 
occidentalis} home. I call it the witches' garden. 

There's a fascination about lying in the shade of the 
alders on the brow of the hill. Overhead on the top 
branches of the maple, is the favorite perch of a meadow 
lark, who never fails to rear a brood of singers each sea- 
son. He scatters his notes downward as the wind of au- 
tumn whirls the red and gold-tinted leaves. A flicker 
rattles his salute from the hollow top of a fir stump. A 
grosbeak trills a roundelay that fairly sparkles in the sun- 
shine. But none of these charm me like the fanciful call 
of the yellow-throat. You may hear him almost any time 
of the day calling, "Witch-et-y! Witch-et-y! Witch- 
et-y ! " Yes, you may hear him, but seldom see him. 

I never know just when yellow-throat will return in 

the spring or when he is going to depart in the fall. You 

may hear him one day and find your garden tenantless the 

following. Then, after a long silence, you wake up some 

35 



36 American Birds 

morning and find he's there again, as if he had grown out 
of the ground during the night, like a toadstool. After 
his return, he soon begins to scratch out a hollow in a 
tussock of swamp grass. 

What a little deceiver this golden sprite is! Look- 
ing for his nest is something like searching for the bags of 
gold at the rainbow's tip. If you stand under the alders, 
looking down over the garden, he will call, " Here-it-is! 
Here-it-is ! Here ! " and a minute later he will shriek the 
same lie from another tussock ten yards away. 

It seems to be the appointed duty of this little witch 
to sing his lies all day long, while his wife broods the 
eggs. He wears a jet-black mask across his face. Per- 
haps when Nature gave out the bird clothes, she gave this 
to him just so he could sing his falsehoods without a blush. 
The lady hops about without the sign of a veil, while the 
gentleman always wears a mask; it's the Turkish custom 
reversed. 

While I was honest and open in my treatment of yel- 
low-throat, he simply met every advance with deceit. I 
tried to visit his house again and again when Mrs. Yellow- 
throat was at home, but every time he led me by a dif- 
ferent path to the furthest limits of the garden. I tried 
to take him unawares, but he seemed to do nothing else 
except come out to meet visitors and pilot them in the 
wrong direction. Whenever I got too near the home the 
wife herself slipped off the nest and appeared right before 
me calling, " Here-I-am ! Fol-low-me! Fol-low!" 

At last I tried cunning. I took a long rope, and two 
of us crept up to the edge of the garden late one after- 
noon. We quietly spread out, each taking an end of the 



The Yellow-throat 37 

cord. At a signal we skirted the opposite sides of the gar- 
den on a dead run, brushing the grass tops with the rope. 
Just as it switched across the lower end a yellow streak 
flashed in the air like a rocket, and as quickly disappeared. 
She never dreamed of a snake sweeping the grass tops at 
such a lightning speed as that rope went. It scared her 
witless. I walked over and saw her nest and four eggs 
set down in the middle of a thick tussock. 

At last I had the little deceivers in my power. They 
found me not such a cruel tyrant after all. They had 
played me long, but now the game was mine, and the 
minute they lost, they gave up deceitful methods. Day 
after day the wife kept her vigil of love upon the spotted 
eggs- 

We laid siege with the camera, but not in a way the 
least obtrusive. A service-berry bush grew a few feet 
away, which was a favorite perch of both parents. We 
soon had a rampart of limbs built, from behind which the 
camera was levelled at the bush. After covering every- 
thing with green, and attaching a long hose and bulb to 
the shutter, we were ready. The mother was on the nest 
most of the time, but the father stayed about near at hand 
and kept flitting back and forth, like a watchman on his 
round. Catching his picture was just like waiting for a 
bite on a lazy day at the river. But it was a good deal 
more exciting when the fidgety father lit in the service- 
bush. 

It takes patience to catch bird photographs. Patience 
is the salt of the old bird-catching legend. You may have 
to wait hours at a time. Often a whole day slips by with- 
out getting a single good picture, but if you have had your 



o 8 American Birds 

eyes open, you have not failed to pick up some interesting 
bits of information. 

Hunting and fishing have their moments of intense 
excitement. Occasionally I like to go back to the more 
primitive way by taking to the trail for two or three weeks 
to hunt and fish for a living. It sharpens the senses to 
live as the Indian lived. I have waded mountain streams 
and whipped the riffles for trout. I have hunted the woods 
for a dinner of grouse and quail. There's not a moment 
of more intense excitement that comes to the fisher or 
hunter than comes to the photographer as he lies hidden 
in the bushes, camera focused and bulb in hand, waiting 
for some sly creature to come into position. If it takes 
a fine shot to clip the wing of a flying quail, or to catch 
a buck on the jump, it takes a skilled hand to anticipate 
bird movements that are too rapid for the eye, and click 
the shutter at the exact instant. A smile of deep satis- 
faction sweeps over the face of the photographer as he 
stands over the dim, red-lighted bench and sees the magic 
chemicals transform the white-colored glass, and etch out 
a feathered family as true as life itself. He has a feel- 
ing of higher pleasure than the hunter gets in looking at 
his game. 

Yellow-throat, according to my ideas, was more of an 
ideal husband and father than many male birds. He was 
thoughtful about the home, he worked side by side with 
his wife, and never failed or faltered for an instant. In 
fact, he often marched squarely up in the face of the 
camera, when his mate had some doubt about facing the 
stare of the big round eye. By this time he had forgotten 
his witchety call. He crossed the border of the garden 




Male Yellow-throat. 



The mother came with a big spider. 




Nest and eggs of Yellow-throat. 



The Yellow-throat 39 

with a harsher note of authority, " T'see-here ! " He 
dropped to a quieter, "Quit! Quit!" when he ap- 
proached the nest, as if he were afraid of waking the 
babies. 

One day when I spent all afternoon about the nest, 
my note-book read as follows : " Two of the youngsters 
were out of the nest. Set up a perch for them, focused 
the camera at one o'clock, and hid in the bushes. In five 
minutes the mother came with a big spider, which she held 
carefully, so as not to puncture the body and lose the 
substance. The father was right at her heels. Both fed 
and went away on a hunt together inside of two minutes. 
They returned in five minutes with green cutworms. 
While the mother was feeding one of the bantlings, he 
fluttered with such delight that he fell from the perch in 
trying to swallow his morsel. Both parents stayed about 
watching the young for ten minutes. After they departed, 
the mother returned in three minutes, but had no food. 
She hopped about the limbs over my head, watching her 
children with an anxious eye, till she heard the call of her 
mate, when she left. Inside of eight minutes they were 
both back again with caterpillars and a moth. The mother 
fed, but the father hopped about the bush a moment or so 
and swallowed the mouthful he had, wiping his bill across 
the limb with a satisfied air. In four minutes the father 
was there again with a fat grub, which he gave to one of 
the children. It was such a huge mouthful that it took a 
little push to start it down. He hopped up on the camera, 
stretched his wings, and preened himself till he heard his 
wife." 

The next day as I sat in the shade watching the two 



4 



American Birds 



bantlings, I had to roll over in laughter at their actions. 
Each youngster was afraid his brother would get the next 
morsel, and his fears were quite often realized. Two or 
three times they became so excited that they went at each 
other as if it were going to be a case of " may the best 
man win." I don't believe in brothers quarrelling, but 
once or twice, while I was watching, I saw just cause for 
disagreement. Both mother and father were putting their 
whole energy to satisfying the two little stomachs that 
seemed to go empty as fast as they were filled. The two 
bairns were sitting side by side, when the mother dropped 
to the perch, and gave the nearer one a big caterpillar. 
The father came two minutes later. If he tried to tell 
who had the last bite by looking at those wide-stretched 
mouths, he was fooled. In a twinkling the chick had 
taken the morsel he brought. " That belongs to me," 
yelled the brother in righteous indignation, but it was too 
late, papa was gone; so he squatted down beside his 
squirming brother with a stoical expression that showed 
it was better to be a little too empty than a bit too full. 

Both parents seemed nervous when their children were 
out in the unprotected open. They always tried to coax 
the little ones down into the bushes before giving them 
food. I happened to discover a very urgent reason just 
why these yellow-throats had to keep under cover. My 
camera was well concealed and aimed at a branch where 
the two bantlings were perched, while I was hidden a few 
feet away, waiting to click the shutter on one of the 
parents when they came to feed. By the merest chance I 
happened to look around, and saw a black object whizzing 
earthward like a falling star. Instinctively I jumped up. 




The mother dropped to the perch, and gave the nearer one a big caterpillar 




Young Yellow-throats quarreling. 



The Yellow-throat 41 

It swerved at the very point of striking, and glanced up- 
ward with a swishing sound, and left me gazing at a 
Cooper hawk that sailed off down the hillside. Later I 
discovered what the yellow-throats had known all the 
time that this hunter had a nest in a fir half a mile down 
the canon, and that this very garden was part of his hunt- 
ing preserve. 

The yellow-throats grew in strength, and later set out 
with their parents for the southland. I may never see the 
children again, and I would hardly know them if I did, 
but I am sure the parents will build a new summer cottage 
in the garden as soon as winter goes away. 

THE GROUND WARBLER FAMILY 

This is a part of the Wood Warbler family, but these birds differ 
in that they stay habitually in bushes or among the grass. The nest 
is generally placed on the ground. 

Maryland Yellow-throat (Geotblypis trichas}: Male, top of head, 
olive-gray gradually changing to bright olive on rump; under parts, 
under wing and tail feathers, rich yellow, fading to white on the belly; 
forehead and sides of head masked with black, separated by ash-white 
line from crown. Female, smaller and colors less distinct; no black 
mask on head. Summer resident of eastern United States, arriving 
from the South during the first week in May. Nest placed on the ground 
or in a bushy tangle. 

Western Yellow-throat (Geothlypis tricbas occidentalis}: Like the 
above, but slightly larger owing to longer tail. Nesting habits same as 
above. Inhabits western United States, arriving from the South about 
the second week in April. 

Mourning Warbler (Geotblypis pbiladelpbia): Male and female, 
head, throat, and breast dark slate or gray, making the bird appear as 
if wearing crape; back, olive-green; clear yellow below. In the West, 
this bird is named Macgillivray Warbler. 



A FAMILY OF GROSBEAKS 



A FAMILY OF GROSBEAKS 

ONE day I crossed the road below the yellow-throat's 
garden, broke through the thick fringe of maples 
and syringa brush, and crawled along on my hands and 
knees under the canopy of tall ferns. The ground was soft 
and loamy. The dogwood saplings, the hazel and arrow- 
wood bushes grew so thick that each vied with the other 
in stretching up to reach the life-giving light of the sun's 
rays. Underneath, the blackberry reached out its long, 
slender fingers and clutched the tallest ferns to hang its 
berries where they might catch a glint of the sun, for the 
beams sifted through only in places. I was in the thicket 
of the Grosbeak (Zamelodia mclanocephala} . 

For several years we have watched a pair of grosbeaks 
that spend their summers on the side hill in this clump. 
The same pair, no doubt, has returned to the thicket for 
at least three or four years. It seems I can almost recog- 
nize the notes of their song. If our ears were only tuned 
to the music of the birds, could we not recognize them as 
individuals, as we recognize our old friends? 

In the grosbeak family, the cardinal or red-bird, is 
perhaps more familiar to us, since he is often seen behind 
the bars of a cage. But his colors fade in confinement, and 
he is no longer the brilliant bird of the wild that seems 
to have strayed up from the tropics. But even if the 
45 



46 American Birds 

beauty of this bird should not survive, we have two other 
grosbeaks, the rose-breasted of the eastern states and the 
black-headed of the West, both alike in character and in 
habits. 

The black-headed grosbeak is one of the birds of my 
childhood. As long ago as I can remember, I watched 
for him in the mulberry trees and about the elderberry 
bushes when the fruit was ripe. I could tell him from the 
other birds by his high-keyed call-note long before I knew 
his name. One day when I stopped to look for a bird that 
was carolling in one of the maples along the creek, I saw 
the grosbeak mother singing her lullaby, as she sat on 
her eggs. It looked to me so like a human mother's love. 
Few, if any other birds, sing in the home; perhaps they 
often long to but are afraid. As John Burroughs says, it 
is a very rare occurrence for a bird to sing on its nest, 
but several times I have heard the grosbeak do it. How 
it came to be a custom of the grosbeak I do not know, for 
birds are, in general, very shy about appearing near the 
nest or attracting attention to it. 

Last year I found three spotted eggs in a nest loosely 
built among the leaves of the dogwood limbs. When I 
had seen the father carrying a stick in his mouth, he 
dropped it and looked as uneasy as a boy who had just 
been caught with his pockets full of stolen apples. This 
year the nest was twenty feet down the hill from the old 
home. They came nearer the ground and placed the thin 
framework of their nest between the two upright forks 
of an arrow-wood bush. We had never bothered them 
very much with the camera, but when they put their home 
right down within four and a half feet of the ground, it 



A Family of Grosbeaks 47 

looked to me as if they wanted their pictures taken. It 
was too good a chance for us to miss. The ferns grew 
almost as high as the nest, and it was a fine place to hide 
the camera so as to focus it on the home. 

When I waded through the ferns and pushed aside the 
bushes, the nest was brimful. Above the rim, I could 
see the tiny plumes of white down wavering in a breath 
of air that I couldn't feel. I stole up and looked in. The 
three bantlings were sound asleep. Neither parent hap- 
pened to be near, so I crawled back and hid well down 
in the bushes twelve feet away. The father came in as 
silently as a shadow and rested on the nest edge. He was 
dressed like a prince, with a jet-black hat, black wings 
crossed with bars of white, and the rich, red-brown of his 
vest shading into lemon-yellow toward his tail. He 
crammed something in each wide-opened mouth, stretched 
at the end of a wiggling, quivering neck. The mother 
followed without a word and sat looking about. She 
treated each bobbing head in the same way. Then, with 
head cocked on the side, she examined each baby, turning 
him gently with her bill, and looked carefully to the needs 
of all three before departing. 

The male stayed near the nest. When I arose and stood 
beside the arrow-wood he was scared. "Quit! Quit!" 
he cried, in a high, frightened tone, and when I didn't he 
let out a screech of alarm that brought his wife in a hurry. 
Any one would have thought I was thirsting for the life- 
blood of those nestlings. She was followed by a pair of 
robins, a yellow warbler and a flycatcher, all anxious 
to take a hand in the owl-ousting if, indeed, an owl was 
near. I have often noticed that all the feathered neigh- 



48 American Birds 

bors ot a locality will flock at such a cry of alarm. The 
robins are always the loudest and noisiest in their threats, 
and are the first to respond to a bird emergency call. 

The weather was warm and it seemed to me the young 
grosbeaks grew almost fast enough to rival a toadstool. 
Sunshine makes a big difference. These little fellows got 
plenty to eat, and were where the sun filtered through the 
leaves and kept them warm. The young thrushes across 
the gully were in a dark spot. They got as much food, 
but they rarely got a glint of the sun. They didn't grow 
as much in a week as the grosbeak babies did in three 
days. 

I loved to sit and watch the brilliant father. He 
perched at the very top of the fir and stretched his wings 
till you could see their lemon lining. He preened his black 
tail to show the hidden spots of white. Of course, he 
knew his clothes were made for show. It was the song of 
motion just to see him drop from the fir to the bushes 
below. What roundelays he whistled: " Whit-te-o ! Whit- 
te-o ! Reet ! " Early in the morning he showed the quality 
of his singing. Later in the day it often lost finish. The 
tones sounded hard to get out or as if he were practising; 
just running over the notes of an air that hung dim in his 
memory. But it was pleasing to hear him practise; the 
atmosphere was too lazy for perfect execution. He knew 
he could pipe a tune to catch the ear, but he had to sit on 
the tree-top, as if he were afraid some one would catch the 
secret of his art if he sang lower down. Perhaps he was 
vain, but I have watched him when he seemed to whistle 
as unconsciously as I breathed. 

The morning of July 6th the three young birds left 




Mother Grosbeak feeding young. 




Male Grosbeak feeding young. 



A Family of Grosbeaks 49 

the nest, following their parents out into the limbs of the 
arrow-wood. They were not able to fly more than a few 
feet, but they knew how to perch and call for food. I 
never heard a more enticing dinner-song, such a sweet, 
musical " tour-a-lee." 

The triplets were slightly different in size and strength. 
The eldest knew the note of alarm, and two or three 
times when he got real hungry I heard him utter a shriek 
that brought papa and mamma in a hurry to get there 
before he was clear dead. Then he flapped his wings and 
teased for a morsel. The minute his appetite was sat- 
isfied he always took a nap. There was no worry on his 
mind as to where the next bite was coming from. He 
just contracted into a fluffy ball, and he didn't pause a 
second on the border-land; it was so simple; his lids closed 
and it was done. He slept soundly, too, for I patted his 
feathers and he didn't wake. But at the flutter of wings 
he awoke as suddenly as he dropped asleep. 

The parents fed their bantlings as much on berries as 
on worms and insects. Once I saw the father distribute a 
whole mouthful of green measuring-worms. The next 
time he had visited a garden down the hillside, for he 
brought one raspberry in his bill and coughed up three 
more. Both parents soon got over their mad anxiety 
every time I looked at their birdlings. In fact, they soon 
seemed willing enough for me to share the bits from my 
own lunch, for the youngsters were very fond of pieces 
of cherry taken from a small stick, twirled in the air above 
them. 

We spent the next two days watching and photograph- 
ing, but it took all the third forenoon to find the three 



50 American Birds 

bantlings. The mother had enticed one down the slope 
to the hazel bush near the creek. I watched her for two 
hours before I heard the soft tour-a-lee of the young- 
ster. He perched on my finger and I brought him back 
to the nest. Another we found down in the thimbleberry 
bushes, which, with the third up in the maple sapling over 
the nest, seemed to be in the keeping of the father. 

Nature has given the grosbeak a large and powerful 
bill to crack seeds and hard kernels, but it seemed to me 
this would be rather an inconvenience when it came to 
feeding children. If it was, the parents did not show it. 
The mother always cocked her head to one side so that 
her baby could easily grasp the morsel, and it was all so 
quickly done that only the camera's eye could catch the 
way she did it. She slipped her bill clear into the young- 
ster's mouth, and he took the bite as hurriedly as if he 
were afraid the mother would change her mind and give 
it to the next baby. 

After watching the grosbeak family all day, we put 
the children in a little isolated clump of bushes, late in the 
afternoon, and when we paid our visit early the next morn- 
ing they were still there, but perched well up in the top 
limbs. We had at last reached almost a " bird-in-the- 
hand " acquaintance with the parents. We could watch 
them at close range and they didn't seem to care a snap. 
The mother wore a plain-colored dress in comparison with 
her husband's almost gaudy suit. When he turned his 
head he showed a black silk hat that was enough to dis- 
tinguish any bird, but I, for my part, would hardly have 
called his wife Mrs. Black-headed Grosbeak had I not 
known they were married. 



A Family of Grosbeaks 51 

I have watched a good many bird families, but I never 
saw the work divided as it seemed to be in the grosbeak 
household. The first day I stayed about the nest I noticed 
that the father was feeding the children almost entirely, 
and whenever he brought a mouthful he hardly knew 
which one to feed first. The mother fed about once an 
hour, while he fed every ten or fifteen minutes. This 
seemed rather contrary to my understanding of bird ways. 
Generally the male is wilder than his wife and she has to 
take the responsibility of the home. The next day I 
watched at the nest conditions were the same, but I was 
surprised to see that the parental duties were just reversed. 
The mother was going and coming continually with food, 
while the father sat about in the tree-tops, sang and 
preened his feathers leisurely, only taking the trouble to 
hunt up one mouthful for his bairns to every sixth or 
seventh the mother brought. To my surprise the third 
day I found the father was the busy bird again. Out of 
eighteen plates exposed that day on the grosbeak family 
I got only five snaps at the mother, and three of these 
were poor ones. The fourth day I watched, the mother 
seemed to have charge of the feeding again, but she spent 
most of her time trying to coax the bantlings to follow 
her off into the bushes. It was hardly the father's day 
for getting the meals, but, on the whole, he fed almost as 
much as the mother, otherwise the youngsters would not 
have received their daily allowance. I have watched at 
some nests where the young were cared for almost entirely 
by the mother, and I have seen others where those duties 
were taken up largely by the father. Many times I have 
seen both parents work side by side in rearing a family, but 



5 2 American Birds 

the grosbeak seemed to have a way of dividing duties 
equally and alternating with days of rest and labor. 

The grosbeak family stayed about the thicket for over 
two weeks. I saw the babies when they were almost full- 
grown birds and watched them follow their parents about. 
They were able to find bugs and feed themselves, but each 
child knew it was easier to be fed than to go about looking 
under every twig and leaf. One juvenile flew up to the 
limb beside his father, quivering his wings and begging 
for a bite. His father straightened back and looked at 
him with an air of inquiry, " Why don't you hunt for 
yourself? " The little fellow turned his back as if in 
shame, but he kept on crying. The father flew into the 
next tree; the little beggar followed and squatted right 
beside him as if he half expected a trouncing. I looked 
to see him get it. The father turned and fed him. He 
couldn't resist. In some ways children are the same, and 
bird papas are, perhaps, a good deal like human papas. 

THE GROSBEAK FAMILY 

The Grosbeak is a seed-eater and is related to the sparrow family. 
It is about eight inches in length and has the build of a sparrow, but it is 
an abnormal sparrow, because of its immensely thickened bill. The 
Grosbeak is a good singer, with a finely colored dress. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Zamelodia ludoviciand}: Male, head and 
upper parts, black, except for white rump and white markings on wings 
and tail; breast and under wings, rosy red; bill, white. Female, brownish 
color, no rosy tint on breast; yellow under wings; heavy brown bill. 
Found in eastern United States and southern Canada, from the first of 
May till the middle of September. Nest in bushes and low trees, thin 
and saucer-shaped, made of wiry roots. Eggs, from three to five, dull 
green with dark brown spots and specks. 




Nest and eggs of Black-headed Grosbeak. 



Male Grosbeak at nest. 




Grosbeak babies. 



A Family of Grosbeaks 53 

Black-headed Grosbeak (Zamelodia melanocephala): Male, upper 
parts black with brown collar and brown on rump; two white wing- 
bars; throat and under parts, rich orange-brown, changing to lemon- 
yellow on belly and under wings. Female, plain brown color, sides 
streaked; collar and wing-bars, dull white; yellowish on belly and 
under wings. Inhabits western United States. Nest and eggs similar 
to Rose-breasted Grosbeak. 



THE RED-TAILED HAWK 




A full-grown young Red-tail. 
The tail end of a carp showing in the nest. 



VI 
THE RED-TAILED HAWK 

THAT chicken-hawk's got a nest somewhere down in 
them cottonwoods; he's been round there every 
year nigh as long as I can remember. He's never pestered 
any of my chickens, so I don't pester him," replied the old 
farmer, who had taken us out behind the barn to a little 
knoll where we could see the grove of cottonwood trees 
and the old hawk circling above them. 

This was in the summer of 1898 while we were pass- 
ing up the south bank of the Columbia River on a hunt- 
ing trip. We searched the woods at the time but were 
unable to find the aerie. A year later we happened to be 
in that vicinity early in the springtime before the trees 
had leaved out and made a careful search for the hawk's 
nest. It was near the top of one of the tallest trees, 
and one look sufficed to give us both the same opinion: 
the nest was beyond human reach. 

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo borealis) is perhaps 
the best known of the larger birds of prey throughout 
the United States. It may be found in almost every state 
where the woods still remain thick enough for it to find a 
good nesting place. The Pacific Coast is a better place 
for hawks and eagles than many of the eastern states. 
The tall trees, the sheer cliffs along the waterways, and 
the steep hillsides overlooking the valleys beneath, fur- 
57 



58 American Birds 

nish ideal homes for these birds of prey. Their chosen 
sites are out-of-the-way positions where they are safe from 
human interference. The red-tail is perhaps commonest 
about the hills and in the valleys of California, where it 
builds in the scattered oaks. Almost every little canon 
along the central coast region is occupied by a pair of 
these birds. Their nests are easily found in the early 
spring by scanning the trees for a mile up the hillside with 
a field-glass. The abundance of these hawks is due to the 
large supply of natural food they find about these regions. 
Squirrels, moles, and other rodents are very plentiful, and 
the hawks help to keep in check these pests that are such 
enemies to the farmer. If it were not for the birds of 
prey, the balance of nature would surely swing very much 
against those who till the soil. 

A red-tail likes a high, commanding site for a nest, 
just as a mallard searches the sedge grass about a pond 
for a home, and the pair of hawks in the cottonwood had 
surely found it. We schemed for three different summers, 
after we found this aerie of the red-tail, before we finally 
succeeded in levelling our camera at the eggs. The nest 
tree measured over fourteen feet around at the bottom. 
There was not a limb for forty feet. The nest itself was 
lodged just one hundred and twenty feet up. It was out 
of the question to clamber up such a tree with climbers, 
ropes, or anything else, but we had another plan. 

We had spotted a young cottonwood just fifteen feet 
away. This might serve as a ladder, so we chopped at 
the base till it began to totter. With ropes we pulled it 
over. The crown lodged in the branches of the first large 
limb of the nesting tree, full forty feet up. This formed 



Taking pictures at the aerie of the Red-tail, 
120 feet from the ground. 




At the foot of the Hawk's tree. 



Aerie of the Red-tail in the tall cottonwood. 



The Red-tailed Hawk 59 

a shaky bridge, up which we clambered a third of the 
way to the nest. Hope led us on. We lassoed upper 
branches, dug our climbing-irons into the bark and worked 
slowly up. 

We found a stack of sticks the size of a small hay- 
cock. They were not pitched together helter-skelter. A 
big nest like a hawk's or heron's always gives me the im- 
pression that it is easily thrown together. I examined this 
one and found it as carefully woven as a wicker basket. 
It was strong at every point. Sticks over a yard in length 
and some as big as your wrist, were all worked into a 
compact mass. In the hollowed top, on some bark and 
leaves, lay the two eggs. 

I never saw a more commanding stronghold. It over- 
looked the country for miles in every direction. From 
where the hawk mother brooded her eggs I looked out 
far up the Columbia, and I could see the cavern-cut slopes 
of Mount Hood. Extending to the westward was the long 
line of ponds and lakes, the red-tail's favorite hunting- 
ground, while to the north lay the broad expanse of water, 
and in the distance loomed up the domelike peak of St. 
Helens, covered with perpetual snow. 

How could we ever secure a good series of pictures 
at such a distance from the ground ? It looked impossible 
at first, but a careful examination showed a rare arrange- 
ment of nest and branches. If we could but hoist our 
equipment there was no question as to photographs. Eight 
feet below the aerie the trunk of the tree branched and 
spread in such a way that we could climb to a point just 
above the nest on the opposite limb. We strapped the 
camera in a crotch that seemed built for the purpose, with 



60 American Birds 

the sun coming from the right direction. The trouble 
came in focusing the instrument One hundred and twenty 
feet is not such a dizzy height when you stand on the 
ground and look up, but it is different when you strap 
yourself to the limb of a tree and dangle out backward 
over the brink. No matter how strong the rope, there's 
a feeling of death creeping up and do\vn every nerve in 
your body the first time you try it. 

The eggs of some hawks differ widely in marking, 
but the two we found in the cottonwood year after year 
were always of a bluish-white tint with pale lavender shell 
markings. In her period of housekeeping the mother 
seemed to understand the changes of season. She cradled 
her eggs about the last week of March, before the trees 
had leaved out, so that during the time of incubation 
she had a clear view of the surrounding country. When 
the hawklets were hatched and she had to go back and 
forth carrying them food, and when the young began to 
move about in the nest and peek over the edge, they were 
well protected from a view below as well as from the sun 
and rain above by the thick surrounding foliage. 

The red-tail is often called " chicken-hawk," but he 
does not deserve the name. Many of the hawks carry 
reputations that they do not deserve. Often people who 
live in the country are enemies of the hawks and owls 
and shoot them at every opportunity, because they think 
the hawk is the persistent foe of poultry, whereas this 
is a very small part of his diet. In regions and in seasons 
when animal and insect food is scarce this hawk may catch 
chickens and game birds, but it lives mostly on mice and 
shrews as well as frogs, snakes, lizards, and insects of vari- 




Nest and eggs of the Red-tail, April 




Young Red-tails in the downy stage, May 3d. 



The Red-tailed Hawk 61 

ous kinds. In a prairie and hilly country almost its entire 
food is squirrels, gophers, meadow-mice, and rabbits. 

It has been shown by careful examinations of hun- 
dreds of stomachs of these hawks, carried on under the 
direction of the Department of Agriculture at Washing- 
tqn, that poultry and game birds do not make up more 
than ten per cent of the food of this hawk. All the other 
helpful animals preyed upon, including snakes, will not 
increase the proportion to fifteen per cent, so there is a 
balance of eighty-five per cent in favor of the red-tail. 
This is a fact that every gunner should remember, since 
the hawks destroy so many injurious rodents they should 
never be shot unless in the act of stealing chickens. 

There is a charm in the life of a wild bird of prey. 
Like the Indian that once hunted his daily food through 
forest and over plain, these creatures have every sense de- 
veloped to a high point for their own protection and exist- 
ence. They maintain themselves by preying upon birds, 
fish, and mammals almost as crafty as themselves. 

Off to the west of the hawk's nest, and spreading for 
two or three miles to the north and south, is a network 
of low-lying ponds and lakes. Here the red-tails fished 
and hunted. Skirting one of these lakes, early one morn- 
ing, we came to the top of a low rise between this and 
the next pond. A hundred and fifty yards below, and 
at the edge of the timber, we saw one of the red-tails 
sitting on a dead stump. We crouched in the bushes and 
studied him for several minutes with the field-glass. He 
had not seen us or, at least, he paid no attention to our 
presence. Suddenly he lifted his wings and set out straight 
across the lake, but at the further side he seemed to 



62 American Birds 

change his mind, for he swerved and sailed back a short 
way to the left and suddenly dropped to the water like 
an osprey. With heavy flapping of wings he struggled 
to regain the air with the weight of a large carp that 
was wriggling in his talons. As soon as the hawk reached 
the bank he dropped the fish, evidently to let it die or 
to get a better grip on the load. A few intervening bushes 
cut off our view of the fisher and his catch, but we lay 
quiet till the old hawk took wing again with his fish. He 
could hardly scrape over the tops of the low willows as 
he labored slowly toward his aerie in the cottonwood. 

That afternoon we were again at the nest tree with 
our cameras. The parents, as usual, discovered our ap- 
proach while we were some distance from their home, 
and during the ascent they circled about overhead with 
an occasional loud scream. When we looked into the nest 
the fish feast was over, for only the tail-end of the carp 
remained. The fish was originally over a foot in length, 
and I should have judged it too heavy for the hawk to 
carry such a distance had we not seen him do it. But 
these birds of prey are powerful on the wing; they will 
sometimes attack and kill animals as large as them- 
selves. 

Occasionally a hawk will make a mistake. I have the 
record of one of these hawks that was seen sitting on a 
perch watching the ground below. Suddenly he poised 
and dove straight for the prey. He seemed to strike 
squarely, and began to rise with a small animal in his 
talons. The bird rose for thirty or forty feet, and then, 
with a scream, he began to flutter higher and higher, cir- 
cling around, and all the time feathers were dropping 



The Red-tailed Hawk 63 

from the hawk's body. He reached a height of several 
hundred feet when he began to descend rapidly and soon 
dropped to the ground. The hawk had pounced upon a 
weasel and had clutched it through the hips, but had not 
killed the little animal. Both the bird and his prey were 
dead when found. The weasel, in its death-struggle, had 
literally disemboweled the big bird. 

Our young chieftains in the tall cottonwood, for so 
we called them, were now almost full grown. They were 
as large as their parents, but their heads were still cov- 
ered with downy feathers. Instead of crouching timidly 
in the nest they stood up and walked about or perched in 
the crotch over the aerie. Their home, which was once 
nest-shaped, was worn down about the edges until it was 
a mere platform of sticks. While at first they assumed 
a fighting attitude when we reached the nest, in all our 
visits they never once tried to tear our hands with their 
sharp beaks. How they watched us with those large eyes 
of gray, such sharp, serious eyes ! No movement of ours 
escaped their gaze. After several visits to the aerie we 
learned to regard the hawklets with a sort of love. A 
glimpse of those wild creatures in their home well repaid 
us for the long trip, the ascent of the tree, difficult and 
dangerous as it was. We longed to take them with us so 
as to study their habits, for in a few days they would be 
forever beyond our reach. But what satisfaction could 
we have had in watching these birds behind prison bars? 
I should much rather have had their dried bones. Any- 
thing but a hawk or an eagle in a cage ! 

"Conditions had changed somewhat in the vicinity of 
the hawk's nest by the first of June when we made our 



64 American Birds 

last visit. The river had risen and covered the lowland. 
The water had come up to the base of the tree, and we 
reached it only by wading through the woods for half a 
mile with the cameras strapped to our backs. The warn- 
ing screams of the parents gave assurance that the home 
was not yet deserted. Peering up through the foliage with 
our field-glass we saw two young braves straining their 
necks and watching us over the edge. When we reached 
the large fork below the nest, one of the parents swooped 
downward and swerved above the nest with a loud scream. 
If it was a command it was instantly obeyed, for the young 
hawks spread their wings and skimmed out over the trees 
and on up the bank of the Columbia. 

We made a close study of the red-tail's home in the 
tall cottonwood. He was always a successful hunter. In 
all our visits we never saw the time when his larder was 
empty. Nor did we find that he had to resort to the 
chicken yard for food. There was plenty of wild game. 
On the first visits we found the remains of quail and pheas- 
ants in the aerie. One morning we saw the mangled body 
of a screech owl; almost a case of hawk eat hawk. The 
old red-tail had evidently found the victim returning home 
too late in the morning, and there were no restrictions 
as to race and color in the hawk household. Later in the 
season, when the banks of the Columbia overflowed and 
covered most of the surrounding country, the old hawk 
did not abandon his own preserve. He turned his atten- 
tion entirely to fishing. Where the carp and catfish fed 
about the edges of the ponds he had no trouble in catching 
plenty to eat. Twice we found carp, over a foot in length, 
in the aerie. After that we saw no sign of food other than 



The Red-tailed Hawk 65 

fish, and on our last visit we picked up the head bones 
of seven catfish. 

The wild life of the red-tail has a fascination for me. 
He is as interesting as a person. He has a character as 
clearly marked as that In any feathered creature I ever 
saw. The bleak winter winds that sweep the valley of the 
Columbia and drive the other birds to the southland, 
never bother him. This is his permanent home. He is 
not a vagabond. He is local in his attachments and habits. 
This is his hunting ground. He won it by years of de- 
fence. He beats over the field and along the edge of the 
woods as regularly as the fisherman casts his net. He has 
his favorite perch. He watches the pond as closely for 
carp as the farmer watches his orchard. His routine of life 
is as marked as any inhabitant along the river. Nor can 
I believe he is lacking in the sentiment of home. He adds 
sticks to his house and enlarges it year by year. Who can 
say that the old aerie is not fraught with many hawk mem- 
ories of the past? 

THE HAWK FAMILY 

The Hawks are medium or large-sized birds of powerful build. 
They have strong, hooked bills and well-developed feet and talons. 
Their flight is swift and dashing, and they catch their prey by watching 
and swooping with great speed. They live largely on rabbits, squirrels, 
gophers, and insects; some species capture birds and chickens. 

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo borealis), Red Hawk, Hen Hawk: Male 
and female, above, dark brown, marked with white and gray; breast, 
whitish and buff, streaked across belly with brown; tail, rusty-red with 
black band near end. Common resident throughout eastern North 
America. Nests in March, generally in a tall tree in the woods. Eggs, 
two to four, dirty white, blotched with purplish-brown. 

Western Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo borealis calurus): Same as above 
species, but darker in color. Lives from the Mississippi to the Pacific. 



JACK CROW 



V-II 
JACK CROW 

AFTER the heavy shut-in winter period, the first 
spring day sets my being all ajump to be out and 
away across the hills and the fields, to be refreshed by 
the gladness of the new sunshine and brought out of my 
winter sleep with the other creatures of Nature. 

One morning early, when spring was not yet old, the 
call came to me and I was up and afield with the sun. 
I was eager to be out among the wild folk, and see their 
joy in the good weather and their calmness and rest in 
the sunlit woods. 

Were you ever in a hurry to get to the woods? I was 
that morning, but I didn't want to seem too anxious to 
myself, so I sauntered down the path and struck off 
through the rows of corn toward the dark grove hemming 
them in. I was not at home, and the charm of a strange 
land was with me. 

The green corn-field lay in the hollow with the big 
woods all around. Just at the corner of the field, between 
the tall pines and the rustling corn blades, I picked up a 
young Crow (Corvus americanus) with his wing hurt. 
Surmising that there were others somewhere near, I began 
a hunt and found two more little black fellows in a nest 
in an old pine. It was a real crow home, with the rough 
sticks piled hastily in the crotch of the old storm-broken 
69 



jo American Birds 

pine. But looks were deceptive, for built into that rough 
foundation was a closely woven warm nest. Here, be- 
tween the forest and the fallow land, the provident parents 
had had an eye for a snug home, with an easy living close 
by, but the gun of an angry farmer had made orphans of 
the young birds. 

The crow is a peculiar piece of birdhood. His jetty 
color surely was not given him for protection, so perhaps 
his wits were. Crow wit isn't very deep, but it is certainly 
always ready for use. He is suspicious and always sees 
a trap in the simplest thing, yet his curiosity can't let it 
alone. He is always up and stirring for mischief. Let 
a simple owl appear, and this black villain will heap a 
load of never-suspected crimes upon the foolish night-bird, 
and call all of his neighbors to the trial, in which he him- 
self renders judgment. Then, after thus aiding public 
justice, he will turn around and steal anything that strikes 
his fancy, whether he needs it or not. He needs it just 
because that's all! How can he help being a thief? He 
can't help crow nature. Besides, he is such a cheerful 
bandit, with a gentle, self-confident way of taking things 
from under your very nose. There is ever a hopeful, ex- 
pectant expression on his face, and, even when he is caught, 
he puts on a don't-care look and immediately hunts up 
more trouble. 

The crow walks the earth as if he belonged there. In 
fact, everything that he touches belongs to him. Other 
birds drop down and snatch food from the ground, but 
Master Crow walks about and takes his choice as if it 
were all put there for his selection. It isn't impudence; 
it's a spirit of community rights with man. 



Jack Crow 71 

We made a home out of a dry-goods box for the three 
little waifs, and they seemed happy in their adoption. It 
was interesting to watch them play. When they were little 
fellows and couldn't fly much and had to help them- 
selves along with their wings, they would gather about the 
old splitting-block in the back yard and chase each other 
around and around. Sometimes they hopped over the 
block, chippering and cawing all the time as if they really 
understood and enjoyed it. It looked like real baby play. 

They had another game which seemed to bring out 
all the humor in their bird natures, though you never 
would have guessed it by their faces. They would get 
a piece of paper, or something light, and all climb up 
on the block, and one of them would drop it off. The 
other two would make a dive for it as it fluttered down, 
and one of them would get it. It was his turn then, so 
they stalked slowly back and again took their places on 
the block. And so the game went. They were only 
little chicks and often it took three or four tries for them 
to get over the big block. Finally, they would make such 
a racket that old Jack, the dog, would interfere and pitch 
into them as if he were going to eat them alive, and then 
they would scatter and do something else. As they grew 
older, baby ways were forgotten. Crow craft took the 
place of amusement, and they were stealing and hiding 
things instead of playing. 

The three little crows lived with us for several weeks. 
One night there came on a cold snap late in the season, 
and in the morning we found two of the birds dead in 
the box. The cripple was left. 

After the two crows were gone the one that was left 



72 American Birds 

seemed to have a closer companionship with us. He was 
alone and a cripple; he needed our care and we gave it. 
He was a joy and a sorrow at the same time a joy to 
watch his quick, bright ways, but a sorrow to have any 
dealings with him. 

When Jack Crow was little he would sit up and beg 
us to feed him, his wings fluttering and his bill stuck 
straight up so you could see nothing but a hole in his 
head. And all the while he was caw-awing at us. We 
fed him everything. Fish-worms, berries, and soaked 
corn were the main part of his diet. He was particularly 
fond of hominy. 

The weather continued cold and we were afraid the 
young crow would get chilled and die, so one night we 
put him to bed with old Jack, our dog, and after that we 
could never get them apart. Jack Crow made a regular 
den out of the kennel, and it seemed to me that old Jack 
was consenting to lawlessness in the community when he 
allowed his black companion to bring in his booty and 
store it away. 

It was all " jug-handle " love between the two Jacks. 
Jack Crow clung to the old dog for warmth and safety. 
His was a politic friendship. But it was different with 
old Jack. His dog fidelity told him to protect the little 
black bird, and that was enough for him. There was no 
such faith in the crow's creed. He took toll from friend 
and foe. A dinner call for " Jack " brought both. Two 
dishes were set out and each knew his place, but Jack 
Crow had a short memory. He left his own dish and 
stood close to the dog's plate, watching him eat. He 
seemed to measure every bite old Jack took, and every 



Jack Crow 73 

now and then, when the dog stopped gobbling to take 
a breath, he snatched a chunk and scuttled off as fast as 
his lame wing would let him. Old Jack's wrathful growls 
were his only consolation, for the crow perched just out 
of reach and ate his stolen bit or stowed it away in some 
conspicuous corner. The dog's grievances were soon for- 
gotten, and the crow went tagging him all around the 
yard, hitching along as fast as he could and jabbering 
in an excited, impatient way. 

The children, the dog, and the crow were boon 
companions. In summer they went blackberrying to- 
gether. When they started out the crow always rode on 
some one's shoulder, but when they came back he was 
in a much bigger hurry to get home than the rest and 
flew on ahead. When they arrived they found him skir- 
mishing for something to eat or up to some of his tricks. 

Jack Crow's wings were never clipped. He stayed 
with us of his own free will. He never entirely severed 
his relations with his own kind, for he used to go out 
in the corn-field with the flocks of tramp crows that came 
to forage. We expected to see them resent his company, 
since it generally seems to be the case that wild crows 
hate a crow that is tame and lives with man, and they 
treat him as a traitor to the race. But if Jack got such 
treatment we never knew it. 

We were always afraid when the men went out in the 
field to shoot crows that they would kill our pet. So we 
watched the proceeding with anxiety. Once or twice, when 
they scared up the flocks of birds, old Jack was along, 
and Jack Crow saved his own life by flying out of the flock 
and lighting on the dog's back. All through the summer 



74 



American Birds 



and fall, when he was young and growing strong, he went 
out in the corn-field at will, but dusk always brought him 
home. 

Is it strange that there should be bird friendships? 
Isn't it natural and necessary that the wild creatures who 
brave the outdoor hardships should need the encourage- 
ment and backing of their fellows? Perhaps in the days 
of their prosperity, in the joyous, sunny nesting time, they 
forget their friends and past favors; but it is only for a 
time, and the ingratitude isn't very deep. Besides, they 
are all busy with household cares and don't miss each 
other. But in the fall when family duties are over, and 
parents and young are ready to begin their travels to the 
southland, they remember that company makes the cold 
nights a little less cheerless and shortens the miles of flight. 

There are very few of our common birds that do not 
flock some time in the year. Some, like the water birds, 
both of the coast and the inland, live together all the time 
the gulls, cormorants, pelicans, and terns. And many 
of the land birds prefer to live together in colonies, such 
as the swallows, blackbirds, and crows. 

The crows are very clannish at all times of the year. 
When the season of home-building comes they sometimes 
select a site and several pair will nest in a locality. Of 
course, they may not be very neighborly at this time, but 
they like to have the assurance of their kind close by. 

When the crows begin to flock the farmer feels that 
winter is already at hand. When the first chill winds her- 
alded the winter, and the little corn-field in the hollow 
was but a patch of sear stalks, the black foragers of the 
summer came trooping in to the shelter of the thick pines. 



Jack Crow 75 

In hundreds they came, and blackened the sky as they 
passed, to alight in the skirts of the woods and turn their 
shade to ebon. The small flocks for miles around seemed 
to collect to form one great winter camp in the old pine 
forest. 

In the daytime they departed for the few meagre feed- 
ing-grounds that had been hunted up over the country. 
A big flock usually took the lead, sailing straight in a 
dense mass, and followed by a few scattering small flocks, 
while far in the rear came the stragglers who had for- 
gotten to start on time. 

Sometimes great numbers of them lined the old rail 
fence. In the fall an old rail fence and a crow belong to 
each other. There was a change in their attitude now. 
They were not bubbling over with life as a few months 
ago. Even curiosity was dulled. They had put on the 
mood of another season. They sat with heads hunched 
down between their pointed shoulders, and they sat for 
long spells. There was something ominous in their quiet. 
Winter meant something worse for the crows out there 
in the cold than it did for the farmer and his pet crow 
in his snug nest with the old dog at home. 

Jack Crow weathered the winter in happiness. In the 
yard there was an old half dead apple tree where he used 
to sit and jeer at the dog, when he had been nipping some 
dinner. But the dog wasn't the only one who scolded 
the little torment. This old apple tree was the crow's 
favorite den, and here he stored his treasures. He re- 
treated here for safety and, perched on a limb out of 
reach, he would cock his head on one side and listen gravely 
to the powerless threats sent up to him. We never could 



76 American Birds 

teach him to talk, and it was well for Jack he couldn't 
lest he might have told many of his sins we never dis- 
covered. 

Bright-colored objects and things that glittered seemed 
to attract him. Although he couldn't string his treasures 
and wear them around his neck like an Indian, he never 
lost the enthusiasm of a collector. A thimble was missed 
in the house and the children were accused of misplac- 
ing it. It was not found till a year later. When the old 
apple tree was cut down, up in a hole in the fork were 
found the thimble, a teaspoon, and a lot of broken glass 
and other trinkets. The finding of Jack's storehouse 
cleared up many little troubles for the children. 

There used to be a current notion, which probably 
was well founded, that crows would rob hens' nests. Jack 
Crow's farmer-father said that if he ever got to robbing 
nests he would have to be killed. But he never did. He 
kept his thieving to the more petty, annoying thefts around 
the house. But he lived up to crow character every bit 
and never let the grass grow under his feet. When he 
could sneak into the summer kitchen he would hop on a 
chair, and then upon the table, and snatch things when he 
thought no one was looking. Stealing was pure delight 
to him. 

A crow likes company as a chicken does. But he 
can't be placed in the same class with chickens. What a 
sputtering in the barn-yard when the crows flew over! 
But the chickens were friendly to Jack, for in winter he ran 
around with them, picking up extras beside what he got 
from the table. Jack considered everything a gain. 
He stayed with the family the whole of one year. Early 



Jack Crow 77 

the next spring when the crows first began to come he 
would flap off down the corn rows with them, getting 
acquainted perhaps. At night he would come back to the 
house if the children and old Jack did not hunt him up 
before. Gradually he got to staying out nights, and 
finally he would be gone for two or three days at a time. 
At last he didn't come back at all. We never knew 
whether he was taken back into crow fellowship, or 
whether he departed to a new land to begin life over and 
live as a thoroughbred crow should. 

After he left, the children often took old Jack and 
went down in the corn-field to look for Jack Crow. They 
scared up all the flocks they could find, but never again 
did they see Jack Crow fly out from the swarm of black 
wings that fluttered up into the pine trees on the skirts 
of the field. 



THE CROW FAMILY 

This is a large family, including jays and magpies. The Crow is 
everywhere known because of the black coat. This family has no musical 
ability, as the voice is either hoarse or harsh. The crow walks firmly 
and easily on the ground while the jay hops. The crow is about a foot 
and a half long; he lives on small mammals, cutworms, grain, fruit, 
and the eggs and young of other birds. 

American Crow (Corvus Americanus): Male, plumage, glossy black 
with purplish tinge; bill and feet black. Female, less brilliant. Lives 
throughout the United States, summer and winter. Nest, generally in 
evergreen trees, a platform of rough sticks lined with bark, weeds, and 
leaves. Eggs, four to six, greenish, spotted with brown. 



THE OWL, BIRD OF NIGHT 




" Granny " a portrait of a half-grown Barn Owl. 



VIII 
THE OWL, BIRD OF NIGHT 

THERE is not a tumble-down barn in the country that 
does not shelter good material for a naturalist's 
note-book. Take it all in all the old shacks are the most 
productive. If there is a hole and a snug corner some 
wren or bluebird has likely climbed in and built a home. 
If it be near town some English sparrow has perhaps been 
living there all winter, and, at the first sign of spring, 
has begun carrying in grass and sticks. Or, if the barn is 
very shaky and leaky, it may make a home for an owl. 

The Barn Owl (Strix pratincola} is not hard to please 
when he needs a nesting place. He takes the steeple of a 
church, an old hollow sycamore along the creek, or a cave 
in the mountains. I know of one pair that has lived for 
years in the tower of a court-house. The town clock just 
below the nest must have been a nuisance at first during 
the day-sleep, but it was likely taken as something that 
could not be helped, as we take the clang and rumble of 
the street-cars under our windows at night. 

Years ago our nearest neighbor got a pair of pigeons, 
sawed two holes up in the corner of his barn and nailed 
up a soap box for them. The pigeons disappeared one 
day and the next spring a pair of barn owls moved in. 
That was seven or eight years ago, but the old dusty box 
in the gable is still rented to the same pair. I have no 
doubt they will stay as long as the barn lasts. 
81 



82 American Birds 

Our neighbor says his barn is worn out, and resembles 
Mr. Burroughs' apple tree, which was not much good for 
apples but always bore a good crop of birds. The owl 
home is a valuable asset of the barn. The owner knows 
something of owls as well as of fruit trees ; no other barn 
about the neighborhood shelters such a valuable family 
of birds, and he guards them as closely as he guards his 
cherries. The nest has never been robbed, and when we 
spoke of photographing his owls he looked doubtful until 
we promised him the birds should not be harmed. 

The barn owl is a queer-looking tenant. No one is very 
fond of an owl. More than that, his actions are against 
him. It's natural that we should not care much for a fel- 
low who is up and sneaking around all night and sleeping 
through the day. There is always some suspicion about a 
night-prowler, whether he be bird, man, or beast. How- 
ever, I have often watched the barn owl, and have studied 
his habits, so that I am sure he did more for our neigh- 
bor in one night than the pigeons, swallows, and wrens 
did in a month. Not in singing, mercy no ! Who ever 
heard of a song coming from a hooked bill? It was in 
real service about the farm, as watchman or policeman, 
to rid the place of injurious animals. 

It was not an easy matter to photograph these barn 
owls in the very peak of the old barn. The minute we 
came near the nest box the old owl pitched headlong out 
of the hole and landed in a willow tree opposite. We had 
to climb a ladder and swing into the rafters to reach the 
nest. In such a place we could hardly handle a camera. 
There was not even a loft to work from, so we set up a 
long ladder and nailed to it a couple of cross-pieces strong 



The Owl, Bird of Night 83 

enough to hold a board. Crawling up in a stooping po- 
sition we took the back out of the nest box and fixed it 
so that it would drop down to show the inside, and then 
could be fastened up again. 

A month later we climbed up into the gable end of 
the barn and pulled out three of the funniest, fuzziest, 
monkey-faced little brats that I have ever set eyes upon. 
They blinked, snapped their bills, and hissed like a boxful 
of snakes. We took them to the ground and doubled up 
in laughter at their queer antics. They bobbed and 
screwed around in more funny attitudes in a minute than 
any contortionist I ever saw. 

We found them graded in size and height, as care- 
fully as a carpenter builds the steps of a staircase. They 
were lumpy-looking, as if some amateur taxidermist had 
taken them in hand and rammed the cotton in, wad at 
a time with a stick, till he had the youngsters bulging 
out in knobs all over. 

The eldest we called the colonel, but looking at him 
from a humanized standpoint, it seemed to me he had 
been put together wrongly, for his chest had slipped clear 
around on his back. At times he was a peaceable-looking 
citizen, but he was always shy and cautious. He turned 
his back on the camera in disgust, or sat in a sour state 
of silence, but one eye was always open, watching every 
movement we made. 

While the nestlings were in the downy stage the 
mother always stayed with them during the day. She 
seemed to be a widow, with triplets on hejr hands, for we 
never saw the father. If he came to see the children or 
to help in the house it was only in the dark of the night. 



84 American Birds 

When the nestlings grew older the mother slept in the 
cypress tree during the day. Twice I tried to climb the 
tree to get a good view of her, but each time she flew 
out as soon as I got a few feet up. She seemed to have 
no trouble in seeing by day as well as by night, but 
the eyes of the owl are undoubtedly much keener after 
dark. 

We crept out one night and hid in a brush-heap by 
the barn. It was not long before the scratching and soft 
hissing of the young owls told us their breakfast-time 
had come. The curtain of the night had fallen. The 
day creatures were at rest. Suddenly a shadow flared 
across the dim-lit sky; there was a soundless sweeping of 
wings as the shadow winnowed back again. The young 
owls, by instinct, knew of the approach of food, for 
there was a sudden outburst in the soap box like the 
whistle of escaping steam. It was answered by a rasp- 
ing, witching screech. I thought of the time when we 
used to creep out at the dead of night and scare an old 
negro by drawing a chunk of resin along a cord attached 
to the top of an empty tin can. Again and again the 
shadow came and went. Then I crept into the barn, 
felt my way up, and edged along the rafters to the hen- 
roosty old box. Silently I waited and listened to a nasal 
concert that might have come from a cageful of snakes. 
As soon as food was brought I lit a match, and saw one of 
the little " monkey- faces " tearing the head from the body 
of a young gopher. 

The barn owl kills the largest squirrel quickly and 
easily, for the animal apparently terror-stricken does not 
show much fight. With sharp talons stuck firmly into the 




Full-grcuvn young Barn Owls at the age of eight weeks. Nest and eggs of the Bam O\ 




jwny young Barn Owls about three weeks old. 



The Owl, Bird of Night 85 

back of the squirrel, and with wings spread, an owl can 
break the animal's neck with a few hard blows of his beak. 
The head is usually eaten first, either because that is a 
favorite part, or because the destruction of the head gives 
the bird better assurance of the animal's death. 

The next time I climbed the cobwebbed rafters to 
photograph the young owls I cautiously thrust in my hand 
to pull out the nearest nestling. In a twinkling he fell 
flat on his back and clutched me with both claws. Of all 
the grips I ever felt, that was the most like a needle-toothed 
steel trap. I felt the twinge of pain as the sharp talons 
sank into the flesh. I cringed and the grip tightened. 
The slightest movement was the signal for a tenser grasp. 
It was the clutch that fastens in the prey and never re- 
laxes till the stillness of death follows. I hung to the 
rafters and gritted my teeth till I could wedge in my thumb 
and pry the claws loose. 

The young owls were hardly old enough to fly, but 
they could raise their wings and run like a cat for the 
darkest corner. We had never tried the camera on such 
a ferocious lot of birds. They knew the art of self- 
defense like a professional prize-fighter. Approach one, 
and he was on his guard. He would turn on his back in 
a second and throw up his claws. " Come on, I'm ready," 
he seemed to say, and we kept our distance. The oldest 
one had a villainous temper; he was as much opposed to 
having his picture taken as a superstitious Indian. Gen- 
erally he sat with his chin resting on his chest like a broken- 
down lawyer. Once, when the photographer was least 
expecting it, he dropped on to his trousers' leg as lightly 
as a feather, but with the strength and tenacity of a mad 



86 American Birds 

bull-pup. The claws sank through to the flesh, and before 
they could be pried loose they had drawn blood in three 
places. 

All birds of prey swallow a great deal of indigestible 
matter, such as the fur and bones of animals and the feath- 
ers of birds. After the nutritious portions have been ab- 
sorbed, the rest of the mass is formed into pellets in the 
stomach, and is vomited up before a new supply of food is 
eaten. By the examination of these pellets, found about 
the nest or under the roost, a scientist can get a good idea 
of the character of the food that has been eaten. Besides, 
one generally finds in the nest the remains of creatures 
upon which the young birds have been feeding. 

The birds of prey are well able to fulfil their mission 
in the world of natural things. All parts of the organic 
world are linked together in a thousand ways, and one 
form of life is dependent upon other forms, while the 
whole has been summed up in a general law called the 
" balance of nature." If, for example, we were to kill 
off our birds of prey, we would have no check against the 
rodents that infest our fields. Nature made these birds 
with strong wings and acute eyes ; she gave them powerful 
claws to pierce the entrails of the small animals, and 
strong, hooked bills for tearing the flesh. They digest 
food so rapidly that they are continually on the hunt, and 
eat a large amount each day. 

The owls as a family are the most helpful birds of 
prey to the farmer. With few exceptions they are night 
hunters. Their eyes and ears are remarkably acute, and 
are keenest in the early hours of the night and morning. 
Many harmful rodents are most active in their search for 



The Owl, Bird of Night 87 

food during the night, and the owls are the natural check 
upon them. The hawk hunts by day and the owl by night, 
and the work of one supplements that of the other. 

A pair of barn owls occupied one of the towers of the 
Smithsonian Institution at Washington. When the young 
were half-grown the floor was strewn with pellets. An 
examination of two hundred of these showed a total of 
four hundred and fifty-four skulls. Four hundred and 
twelve of these were mice, twenty rats, twenty shrews, one 
mole, and one vesper sparrow. 

A family of young barn owls will number from three 
to seven birds. It is hard to believe what an amount of 
vermin a family of owls will consume. An old owl will 
capture as much or more food than a dozen cats in a night. 
The owlets are always hungry; they will eat their own 
weight in food every night, and more, if they can get it. 
A case is on record where a half-grown owl was given all 
the mice it could eat. It swallowed eight, one after the 
other. The ninth followed all but the tail, which for 
some time hung out of the bird's mouth. The rapid diges- 
tion of the birds of prey is shown by the fact that in three 
hours the little glutton was ready for a second meal, and 
swallowed four more mice. If this can be done by a single 
bird, what effect must a whole nestful of owls have on the 
vermin of a community? 

I wondered at the changes in the owl faces as they grew 
older. When I first saw them in white down, I thought 
the face was that of a sheep, and then a monkey, and then 
I didn't know just what it resembled. The third time 
we visited the nest each youngster had a face that surely 
looked like some old grandmother dressed in a nightcap. 



88 American Birds 

Later on, when we saw them full-grown, they had grown 
to 'be more owl-like and dignified. 

An owl spreads terror among the small ground folk 
as a ghost among negroes. It is the owl's shadow-silent 
wings, his sharp, sound-catching ear, and his night-piercing 
eyes that make him the superior of the mouse, the mole, 
the gopher, and the squirrel. He fans over the field with 
an ominous screech that sets a mouse scampering to his 
hole, but his ear has caught the footstep ; those wings are 
swift, those steel trap claws are always ready; his drop is 
sure, his grip is death. 

It would be difficult to point out a more useful bird 
than the barn owl in any farming country. Like many 
other birds, it deserves the fullest protection, but man is 
often its worst enemy. 

THE OWL FAMILY 

The Owls are distinguished from all other birds by having very 
large heads. The large, round eyes looking forward instead of sidewise 
give a full-face view. The bill is hooked; the claws long, hooked, and 
very sharp. They live on animal food, catching small animals, birds, 
reptiles, and insects at night-time. The strange and weird cries this 
bird makes at night connect it with things superstitious. 

American Barn Owl (Strix pratincola) : Male and female, face, white 
edged with yellowish; under parts, pure white to yellowish-brown, dotted 
with blackish spots; upper parts, yellowish-brown, more or less mottled 
with gray. Lives throughout the warmer parts of North America, where 
it nests in February and March. Nests in hollow trees, caves, towers, 
and belfries. Eggs, from three to eight, dirty white. 



REARING A WREN FAMILY 



IX 
REARING A WREN FAMILY 

WHY shouldn't a little wren have an enormous appe- 
tite? " I mused, as I lay hidden in the tall grass 
watching the father as he fed the eldest of the family of 
five, that had flown for the first time from the nest in the 
hollow stump to the alder branches below. " Of course 
we admit that the tiny bobtailed youngster must have the 
most rapid sort of double-action digestive apparatus when 
we remember that he is full-grown within two weeks from 
the day he is hatched. The chief object of his life must 
be to eat and to sleep." 

Wrens are interesting little chaps anyhow droll, 
fidgety individuals, each with great self-esteem. My in- 
terest in a certain brown family had increased with every 
visit for a whole month. One picks up many acquaint- 
ances rambling about the hills, but, like people, some are 
more interesting than others, and acquaintanceship often 
warms into friendship as the days pass by. 

While out birding in the latter part of June I was 
trudging along up one of the shaded paths of the fir- 
covered hillsides, when a little bird whizzed headlong 
down in its tippling flight, barely dodging my head. Both 
of us were rather flustered at this sudden and unexpected 
meeting. The moment's pause on an overhanging branch 
was sufficient for me to recognize the hurrying stranger 



92 American Birds 

as a Vigors Wren (Thryomanes bewickii spilurus) . 
But I hardly had time to see just what the small white par- 
cel was, she carried in her mouth. It may have been a 
white miller, soon to be thrust down a gaping throat, but 
this little brown bird was too wise to show me her home. 

The next day, however, I stole a march, and was well 
hidden in the bushes near where I thought the nest must 
be, when the wren appeared. I hardly expected to escape 
that sharp round eye, and was prepared for the scolding 
that followed ; in fact, I took it cheerfully, without a word 
in reply. In her bill she held a strip of snake-skin. Rather 
an uncanny mouthful, to be sure. She fidgeted about with 
her tail over her back, and then whirled away to a large 
upturned root covered with vines. Here she hopped about 
in the tangle of brier and fern, apparently forgetful of 
my presence; but those sharp brown eyes, behind which 
are generations of care and cunning gained in contact with 
nature, are never heedless. Her action would have de- 
ceived any other creature, but I knew her too well; at the 
likeliest moment, and in an eye's twinkling, she suddenly 
popped up into the dead body of an alder tree and disap- 
peared into a tiny round hole. 

Wrens have traditions, and, like some people, are per- 
haps slightly superstitious. I was not sure that a Vigors 
wren thought there had to be a bit of snake-skin in her 
home, but I do not remember ever examining the nest of 
her cousin, the Parkman wren, without finding it. May- 
be it is for protection, as it is said that a snake will not 
venture where a scrap of its own skin is found. Years and 
years ago the first wrens must have fought for themselves 
among tribes of reptiles, and now the birds never think 



Rearing a Wren Family 93 

of starting housekeeping without searching up the hill- 
sides, through the meadows, or back in the deep woods 
until the cast-off scaly coat of some snake is found and 
borne home in triumph as a safeguard. 

Almost every feathered creature has some interesting 
trait of protection. I have always found that the red- 
breasted nuthatch, after he has dug out his wooden home 
in some dead stump, never fails to collect a good supply 
of soft pitch to plaster about the round doorway of his 
log-house. 

Ever since I discovered the wren building its home 
in the alder stub my interest had grown, and I was anx- 
ious to win its friendship, principally because most birds 
had finished nesting for the season. Why had the nest 
not been placed nearer the ground instead of at a dis- 
tance of twelve feet, and why was such a dark, narrow 
home chosen that I could hardly get a glimpse of the in- 
terior ? 

Experience had taught me not to try to win the affec- 
tions of a bird too rapidly, especially at a season when it 
was so busy with household affairs. When I thought I 
could safely do so, I went up near the nest rather cautiously 
and timidly, and sat down in the tall ferns. It surprised 
me somewhat that neither parent scolded at my approach. 
After watching and waiting for almost half an hour and 
seeing neither wren, I became impatient and knocked 
gently on the tree trunk to pay my respects to the brown 
head that might be thrust from the round door above. 
Again I knocked, and then a little harder. It was queer 
that a wren could not feel such an earthquake against the 
pillar of her home. I shook the tree vigorously. Could 



94 American Birds 

it be possible the nest was deserted? Visions of all sorts 
of bird accidents flashed through my mind as I swung up 
into the branches and rapped at the round door. All was 
dark within ; not even the white eggs could be seen. This 
was bad luck indeed, I thought. Then, with the aid of 
a little mirror that is always handy to examine dark 
cracks, I reflected a ray of light through the door to the 
innermost depths. There sat the mother, her brown back 
almost indistinguishable from the dry sides of the house, 
but those round dark eyes gleamed out from the gloom. 
Nor did she have any idea of deserting her post for all the 
knocking without. 

When I visited the little wooden home the first week 
in July there was a decided turn in the tide of wren affairs. 
The news was heralded from the tree-tops. The energy 
that had been used in keeping the secret of the little home 
a week previous was doubled in the eagerness to spread 
it among feathered neighbors far and wide. For two long 
weeks the mother and father had covered and caressed 
their five eggs of speckled white until they suddenly 
teemed with inward life, and five tiny bodies burst forth 
from the prison walls. 

The father wren it is often the case was rather 
timid while we were around. He had a particular fear 
and dislike for the great three-legged, one-eyed creature 
my camera that was hidden dragonlike so near his 
home. Birds have many enemies, and a nest is seldom left 
without its guard. We soon discovered that this was the 
father's duty. His harsh, scolding note, sounded from 
the surrounding boughs, always reminded us that we were 
trespassing. 



Rearing a Wren Family 95 

It was the mother's duty to forage. Returning from 
the hunt with food she whisked about with a " what-are- 
you - doing - here " look of inquiry. Although flustered 
somewhat at first by our presence, she soon came to regard 
us with an air of indifference. A moment's pause on her 
threshold, and into the round opening she would pop; 
then, as if amazed at the increasing appetites she had to 
appease, she would dart out and away for a new supply. 

About the hillside and down along the little stream 
the mother searched continually the entire day for grubs. 
Each time returning, she would pause on the top of 
one of the trees nearby and pipe her merry trill. This 
note of home-coming the father never failed to hear, and 
it was he that always gave the response of " all's well." 
I was amused to hear how readily the wrenlets learned 
to recognize the voice of their mother. Her song of ar- 
rival came to be answered by such a chorus of tiny cries 
from the round door that she could not resist hurrying 
headlong to the nest. Several times from my " rabbit's 
hole " in the bushes I saw a song sparrow stop on sway- 
ing limb and sing a song somewhat resembling that of the 
wren, but the children in the wooden home knew not the 
song, and, true to their parents' teachings, remained quiet 
while the doughty father darted out and drove the in- 
truder from the premises. 

On July 23d I wrote in my note-book: " This morning 
I was surprised to see two little brown heads as I gazed 
through my field-glass at the round nest hole." But how 
could I ever get pictures of the wren nestlings if they were 
to remain continually within those protected wooden 
walls? 



g6 American Birds 

For some reason the father stormed and scolded more 
than usual at my next visit. He seemed out of sorts about 
everything. The rating I got was not very much more 
severe than the little wretch gave his wife when she re- 
turned each time with morsels of food. Something was 
very far wrong. It could not be that his mate did not 
search hard enough for food or bring enough back. With 
all his faultfinding, he never once offered to relieve his 
faithful wife. 

Hidden in the grass, I tried to solve the secret of the 
father's pettish actions. Each time the patient mother re- 
turned he grew more restless and violent in his language. 
Soon I saw his wife whirl joyously by with an unusually 
large white grub surely a prize for any bird. But, alas I 
For all her prowess her spouse darted at her as if in 
madness, while she, trembling in terror, retreated down the 
limb and through the bushes. For a few moments it 
seemed as if the wren household was to be wrecked. I 
was tempted to take the mother's part against such cruel 
treatment, as she quivered through the fern on fluttering 
wing toward me, but at that moment, as if thoroughly sub- 
dued, she yielded up the bug to the father. This was the 
bone of contention. A domestic battle had been fought, 
and he had won. The scolding ceased. Both seemed sat- 
isfied. Mounting to the tree-top, the little mother poured 
forth such a flood of sweet song as rarely strikes human 
ear. From that moment she seemed a different wren, re- 
leased from all care and worry. Her entire time was spent 
in search for bugs. Each return was heralded by the high- 
sounding trill from the tree-top, and her husband whirled 
out of the tangled vines to take the morsel she carried. 




Mother Wren at the nest hole 




Feeding young Wi 



Rearing a Wren Family 97 

But what of his actions? He had either gone crazy 
or he was a most selfish little tyrant, for he flew about the 
alder stump, calling now in a softer tone to his children 
within, and finally swallowed the grub himself. Two or 
three times he did this, until I was so disgusted I could 
hardly endure him. If he were hungry, why could he not 
skirmish for his own bugs ? 

While I was chiding him for his infamous action, the 
mother appeared with a large moth, which he readily took. 
Among the alder limbs he flew, and finally up to the nest 
hole, out of which was coming such a series of hungry 
screams as no parent with the least bit of devotion could 
resist. Hardly could I believe my eyes, for the little knave 
just went to the door, where each hungry nestling could 
get a good view of the morsel, then, as if scolding the little 
ones for being so noisy and hungry, he hopped back down 
the tree into the bushes. 

This was, indeed, cause for a family revolt. The 
brown nestling nearest the door grew so bold with hunger 
that he forgot his fear and plunged headlong down, catch- 
ing in the branches below where the father perched. And 
the precocious youngster got the large moth as a reward 
for his bravery. 

Not till then did it dawn upon me that there was a 
reason for the father's queer actions. The wrenlets were 
old enough to leave the nest. Outside in the warm sun- 
shine they could be fed more easily and would grow more 
rapidly, and they could be taught the ways of woodcraft. 
In half an hour, one after another, the little wrens had 
been persuaded, even compelled, to leave the narrow con- 
fines of the nest and launch out into the big world. 



9 8 American Birds 

What a task the father had brought upon himself! 
Surely the old woman in a shoe never had a more trying 
time. The fretful father darted away to punish one of 
the wrenlets for not remaining quiet; he scurried here to 
scold another for wandering too far, or whirled away to 
whip a third for not keeping low in the underbrush, away 
from the hawk's watchful eyes. 

My attention was directed in particular to one little 
feathered subject who, each time the brown father came 
back, insisted vociferously that his turn was next. Once 
in particular, when the camera did not fail to record, papa 
wren was approaching with a large grub. The wrenlet 
was all in ecstasy. He was calling, " Papa, papa, the 
bug is mine ! The bug is mine ! " fluttering his wings in 
delight as he hopped to the next limb near the hesitating 
parent. But the youngster's emphatic appeal failed to 
persuade the father, for the next instant he deposited the 
morsel in the mouth of the less boisterous child. What 
a change in my enthusiastic little friend, who at one mo- 
ment fairly tasted the dainty bit and the next saw it dis- 
appear down the throat of a less noisy brother. He stood 
looking in amazement as his feathers ruffled up in anger 
and an astonished peep of disgust escaped his throat. 

Another day in the warm sunshine and the wrenlets 
began to act more like their parents, and to gain rapidly 
in worldly knowledge. The third morning all was quiet, 
and I thought the family had departed for other hunting- 
grounds. Soon, however, the father appeared, and then 
the mother, scolding as usual. I crawled down under the 
tall ferns to wait. The parents had taught their children 
the act of keeping still very well, for not a peep was heard. 



Rearing a Wren Family 99 

But those ever-growing appetites soon mastered caution, 
and, regardless of continual warnings, there was a soft 
little "Wink! Wink! " in the direction of the vine-cov- 
ered stump. 'Twas hardly an exclamation of delight, but 
just a gentle reminder lest the busy parents forget. Grad- 
ually these little notes increased in number and volume till 
the full chorus of five impatient voices arose from among 
the tangle of vines and ferns. 

My continued visits had made fast friends of the little 
fellows. Two of them took their position on the top 
of the stub where the father was accustomed to light. 
Here they sat in sleepy attitude, each awaiting his turn 
to be fed. Not in the least accommodating were they from 
the photographer's point of view, for generally when the 
camera was focused for the picture they would nod lower 
and lower, as children do at bedtime, till both were sound 
asleep in the warm sunshine. It was remarkable, how- 
ever, to witness the effect of the mother's trill as she her- 
alded the approach of something edible. In a flash both 
wrenlets on the wooden watch-tower were wide awake and 
on the tiptoe of expectancy. 

Often do I remember trying to play foster-parent to 
young birds, and yet, with all my care and patience, I 
seldom succeeded. A week before, when I had held a large 
spider temptingly near the nestlings, they had crouched 
back in terror; but by this time they had certainly gained 
in worldly wisdom. I also had not been watching the 
wrens for the past two weeks without learning. I had 
seen the mother hop up and down an old stump, like a 
dog after a squirrel, till she would haul out a big grub. 
Digging into this bird storehouse with my knife, in a trice 



ioo American Birds 

I collected half a dozen fine fat worms a stock of provi- 
sions that would take the mother two hours to gather. 
Why are young birds so particular, anyhow? What dif- 
ference does it make whether their dinner comes from the 
mother's mouth or from some kindly disposed neighbor? 

" I'll just test the little wrens once more," I said to 
myself, as I impaled two of the choicest grubs on a sharp- 
ened stick. It was impossible for me to announce the 
approach of this dinner with the soft little " Wink ! 
Wink!" of the mother, but I patted both the sleepy 
birdies on the back and, rather hesitatingly, held up 
my offering. There was hardly room to doubt its ac- 
ceptance. Mercy ! Such a reaching and stretching ! I 
could not divide up fast enough. Nor was one grub apiece 
sufficient. Quiet was not restored till each wrenlet had 
stored away two of the largest and fattest. 

For the first time the parent wrens seemed to realize 
that I was actually of some use. The trying task of sat- 
isfying five growing appetites was lessened to some de- 
gree, and the busy parents took household affairs some- 
what more easily the rest of the day. 

The next time I saw the wren family all the young 
were scampering about in the bushes, following their pa- 
rents hither and thither, earning their own livelihood, and 
rapidly learning for themselves the arts of woodcraft. 

THE WREN FAMILY 

The Wrens are all dull brown or gray birds and fine singers. They 
have long, slender bills and are generally found in low bushes and shrub- 
bery where they hunt for worms and insects. In size they are from 
four to six inches in length. They are fidgety and inquisitive and may 
often be recognized by a tail that is tilted over the back. 



Rearing a Wren Family 101 

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon): Male and female, dark brown 
above, barred with a darker shade especially on wings and tail; under 
parts grayish-brown. Lives through eastern United States, where it may 
be found from the middle of April to October. Nest, a loose heap of 
sticks with a soft lining, in a bird-house or hollow tree. Eggs, six to ten, 
cream color, covered with red-brown spots. 

The House Wren on the Pacific Coast is identical, but is called 
Parkman Wren. Vigors Wren is also similar but larger in size, and 
may be recognized by a whitish stripe over the eye. The Winter Wren 
is common in the East and West and is smaller in size, only four inches 
in length. Like the other wrens, it may be known by its plain brown 
clothes, fidgety movements and bright and lively song. 



THE WEAVER OF THE WEST 




The parents lit wherever they found the childr 



Bush-tit feeding young on top of cap. 




Awaiting their turns rather impatiently. 



THE WEAVER OF THE WEST 

I LAY on my back under the hemlock and marvelled 
at the little mansion hanging in the glint of the warm 
June sun. Yes, a real bird mansion. Not open-roofed, for 
impudent passers-by to spy out family secrets; not set in 
a crotch, so that it could be tipped over or blown out, but 
carefully tied, cradlelike, to the drooping branches, where 
it could be rocked by the playing breezes. 

It's not a small matter to get a site suited for a Bush- 
tit's (Psaltriparus minimus) mansion. There should be 
one or two firm, upright twigs about which to weave the 
walls, a cross branch or two for rafters, and, if the house 
is to be modern, a little support for a porch or promenade. 
Contrary to our first rule for success, these little builders 
begin at the top and build down, first weaving the roof, 
leaving a round door, and then the hallway down to the 
main living-room. Each is the architect of his own home, 
and each is a born master builder. 

Once I found a bush-tit's nest twenty inches long. The 
little weavers had started their home on a limb, and appar- 
ently it was not low enough to suit them, for they wove 
a fibrous strap ten inches long, and then swung their 
gourd-shaped nest to that, so it hung in a tussock of willow 
leaves. 

I happened to find the nest in the hemlock when they 
105 



1 06 American Birds 

were putting in the first spider-web cross-beams and sup- 
ports for the roof, and only six feet from the ground, 
where I could see the whole process. In two days they had 
all the framework up and started with the furnishings. 
Each midget would return every few minutes with some- 
thing new. Down into the bag he would dive, and it 
would shake and bulge for a moment, and then away he 
would dart for some more material. It took days to 
furnish the home. What downy draperies ! What moss- 
covered walls, lichen-tinted in greens and browns! And 
most important of all, there was a thick bed of feathers, 
the resting-place of seven eggs of delicate whiteness. 

You should have seen the way they put me in the same 
category with small boys, owls, and sparrow hawks. At 
first they didn't dare go near the nest for fear I'd see it. 
But, mercy ! a titmouse might make twenty resolutions not 
to trust you, and the very next minute he'd throw him- 
self and all his hopes right into your arms. There wasn't 
a fibre of suspicion in his little body, but his race had suf- 
fered so long that a good bit of caution had been embedded 
in his tiny brain. He tried to keep the family secret, but 
the minute he trusted me he told all he knew. 

I stood almost within reach of the nest. The little 
lover looked me over from all sides. Then, as a final 
test, he popped right into the round door. He knew I 
would make a grab at him, nest and all. He was out in a 
twinkle. He looked amazed, for I didn't move. That 
was his test of friendship, and from that time on he gave 
me his confidence. 

What implicit trust they placed in me ! Why, I don't 
know. Had they forgotten the thousand wrongs the man- 



The Weaver of the West 107 

tribe had inflicted upon their kin? They had known me 
scarcely a week. I really believe the fluffy, gray bodies 
only remembered the kindnesses of our race, not the evils. 
Then, maybe, they had not forgotten the feathers I hung 
about on the limbs. But their happiness was my happi- 
ness. I rejoiced when the naked mites broke from the 
fragile shells. I had a private door all my own; a slit 
cut in the back wall where I could occasionally peek into 
the innermost depths, and then pin it carefully together 
again. 

Anybody would fall in love with a bush-tit, even if 
he were not the chickadee's cousin. If it were not for his 
tail, the fluffy midget would be no larger than your thumb. 
He does not possess the aerial grace of a swallow, or even 
the nimbleness of a warbler. He bustles along in such a 
jerky way he often looks as if he would topple heels over 
head and go whirling to the ground like a tailless kite. 
But he is a skilled hunter. He skirmishes every tree and 
bush. He is not so successful a wing-shot as the fly- 
catcher, but he has an eye that few birds can equal in stalk- 
ing. He is no mean assistant of the gardener. He is not 
the kind that hoes a whole garden in a day, cutting off half 
the new tender shoots, but he's at work early and late, 
and he's constantly at it. 

I kept run of bush-tit affairs for several days after the 
young had hatched. The father fed the nestlings as often 
as the mother. He generally paused a moment on the fern 
tops just below the nest, and by focusing our camera at 
this point we got his picture. Sometimes he would stop 
at the doorway with a look of inquiry that said, " What 
do you think of that for a dinner?" Occasionally I've 



io8 American Birds 

seen him swallow the morsel himself. He then justified 
his conscience by appearing too timid to enter the door. 

The real drama of life began when the youngsters 
were fluttering, full-grown, vigorous, impatient to get one 
glimpse at the great outside from where the mother and 
father came so often with morsels. 

One morning I saw a pair of bright eyes pushed right 
through the fibrous wall at my own observation door. An 
ambitious youngster had seen the wall open and close too 
often not to know there was a way. He had worked it 
open, and it was just where he could sit and look long- 
ingly out. 

The time had come ; we had watched and waited two 
weeks for this day. The minute one nestling took the 
idea into his head .to get out into the sunshine, it spread 
like contagion among the whole household. They came 
not in singles, but in battalions! If we'd had a dozen 
eyes we couldn't have kept track of them. We put sev- 
eral back on a twig beside the nest, where they sat fluffing 
in the warm sunshine, enjoying their first outing, and 
awaiting their turns to be fed rather impatiently. 

Each titmouse had a tiny tinkle for a voice that was 
almost as hard to hear as the whisper of the flowers. I 
had to strain my ears to catch it more than a few feet 
away. One nestling flew over into the deep ferns, but I 
might have searched till doomsday for him. But the 
mother knew where he was the instant she returned. 
Another flew down into our camera box, and I shut the 
lid to see if the mother would find him. She lit right on 
the box with a billsome morsel, and looked so uneasy that 
I had to let her in. It looked to me like wireless telegra- 




Hush-tit at door of long hanging ne 




Young Bush-tits beside long pendent nest. Male Bush-tit with green cutworm for 



The Weaver of the West 109 

phy. Maybe the birds had a system of long-distance com- 
munication even before man called through a trumpet, 
and ages before he ever shipped his thoughts by wire. 

We were fairly overrun with titmice. They climbed 
into our camera and clung to our clothes as easily as a 
fly walks up a wall. They perched on our fingers and our 
heads, and the parents lit wherever they found the chil- 
dren. Some fairy always told the mother where to go, 
as she came again and again with green cutworms that 
seemed as large as the head of one of her babies. 

Birds differ only in size and dress to some people, but 
to one who has studied long and carefully at the homes 
of the different species each feathered creature has a real 
character of its own. What does a cut-and-dried cata- 
logued description mean? "Name, Psaltriparus mini- 
mus (Bush-tit). Nest in hemlock tree six feet from the 
ground. Identity, positive. Eggs, seven, pure white." 
This is all right for a city directory, and is almost as inter- 
esting. Think of labelling your friends in this way! You 
don't know a bush-tit any more when you have found him 
with a field-glass and identified him in your bird manual 
than you do a man when you are introduced to him and 
shove his card in your pocket. Each bird has a real indi- 
viduality. Each is different in character and disposition 
from all others. I knew the bush-tit and chickadee were 
cousins before I ever heard of the Parada family. They 
may not look much alike in dress, but aren't they identical 
in disposition? They are merry because they can't look 
on the dark side of things. Let to-morrow take care of 
itself; they live for to-day. 

I've watched the young birds of many species where 



1 1 o American Birds 

the parents care for them a week or so after they leave 
the nest till they are able to hunt a living for themselves ; 
then the family scatters and loses identity in the great 
world of feathers. Not so with the bush-tits: they hunt, 
feed, and sleep together, winter as well as summer. Such 
little talkers ! They titter as much as they hunt and eat, 
and that is all day long. When you meet them in the 
woodland it sounds like a fairy's wedding march. 

I found the little family in the hemlock tree even more 
interesting after they all learned to fly. Several times I 
saw them about the patch of woods. One day I stood 
watching the flock of midgets in an alder copse. Each 
youngster had learned to keep up a constant " Tsre-e ! 
Tsre-e! Tsit! Tsre-e! " as if always saying something, 
but I do not think this gossip was as much for the sake 
of the conversation as merely to keep the whole flock 
constantly together. While I was watching, three or four 
of the little fellows were within a few feet of me. One 
of the parents in the next tree began a shrill, quavering 
whistle, and instantly it was taken up by every one of the 
band. The two tiny birds near me, as well as every one 
of the others, froze to their perches. Had I not known, 
I couldn't have told just where the whistle was coming 
from, it sounded so scattering, like the elusive, grating 
call of the cicada. Then I saw a hawk sweeping slowly 
overhead, and the confusing chorus lasted as long as the 
hawk was in sight; nor did one of the little bush-tits seem 
to move a feather, but just sit and trill in perfect unison. 
It served as a unique method of protection; the whole 
flock had learned to act as a unit. It would have been 
hard for an enemy to tell where a single bird was, the 



The Weaver of the West 1 1 1 

alarm note was so deceiving. They were so motionless 
and their clothing harmonized so perfectly with the shad- 
ows of the foliage. 

Millions of destructive insects lay their eggs, live and 
multiply in the buds and bark of trees, and it seems the 
bush-tit's life-work to keep this horde in check. After the 
little family left their home I never found them quiet for 
a minute. When they took possession of a tree they took 
it by storm. It looked as if it had suddenly grown wings 
and every limb was alive. They turned every leaf, looked 
into every cranny, and scratched up the moss and lichens. 
They hung by their toes to peek into every bud; they 
swung around the branches to pry into every crack; then, 
in a few moments, they tilted off to the next tree to con- 
tinue the hunt. 

THE BUSH-TIT FAMILY 

The Bush-tits are the dwarfs of the chickadee family. They are 
four inches in length and half of this is tail. They have very short bills 
and tiny gray bodies. The bush-tits are exclusively western, and are 
remarkable nest builders. They live on insect eggs, scale, plant-lice, 
caterpillars, and other injurious insects. 

Bush-tit (Psaltriparus minimus): Male and female, uniform gray in 
color, darker above and lighter below; scarcely larger than a humming- 
bird in size, but with a tail as long as body. Found on the Pacific Coast. 
Nests in April and May. Nest, hanging and gourd-shaped, with small 
hole near the top. Eggs, five to nine, and pure white. 



JIMMY THE BUTCHER-BIRD 



XI 
JIMMY THE BUTCHER-BIRD 

THE first time I saw Jimmy he was doubled up in a 
fluffy ball with his head under his wing. For a bed 
he had taken a eucalyptus limb that hung on the back 
porch. He had been brought in with another nestling by a 
small boy, who said that the mother had " died of a cat." 
Thieve was a question at the time as to whether this was 
the real cause of her taking-off, but the fact remained that 
the bantlings were in danger of starvation. With two 
orphans on her hands, there was nothing left for our 
neighbor to do but to adopt them. A little fresh meat 
seemed to revive the two bobtailed youngsters, but the 
smaller of the two was not long for this world, and in a 
few days one young Butcher-bird (Lanius ludiovlcianus 
gambeli) was left. 

Yes, a butcher-bird for a pet. Might as well adopt 
a cannibal or become a foreign missionary, one of our 
friends thought. But helplessness always arouses pity, and 
some of us like a bird merely because he is a bird. 

Some one has said that man's interest in birds lies in 
the fact that we were birds ourselves before we reached 
the human stage. An angel is a child with wings. How 
much bird actions are like human actions! They frolic 
and they toil. What other animal approaches nearer to 
man as a home builder and housekeeper than the bird? 

And, after all, this young orphan butcher-bird could 
"5 



1 1 6 American Birds 

hardly be blamed for the sins of his ancestors, even though 
his own parents had likely murdered a caged canary that 
had lived not far away. He was the son of a murderer, 
but by adoption into a respectable family who could tell 
but that this fledgling might develop into a bird of good 
qualities? We were of the opinion that a shrike had no 
good qualities, that he was a butcher pure and simple, and 
killed his own kind for the pure taste of blood and brains. 
In fact, the first impression I ever got of a shrike or 
butcher-bird was when I was called out to the back porch 
and saw our tame canary lying headless in the bottom of 
the cage. 

But even though the shrike is the enemy of the small 
birds, they do not seem to realize that he is dangerous. I 
have often seen birds pay no more attention to a shrike 
than to a robin. Perhaps he does not attack the birds in 
the open, where they can fly and dodge and get away. I 
think the shrike likes caged birds best, those he can scare 
and catch through the bars and tear to pieces as the victim 
is held by the wires. 

The shrike is called the butcher-bird from its habit of 
hanging its meat on a hook or in a crotch. He is much the 
same size and form as the blue jay. He has a grayish 
coat. I generally see him flying about the fields and occa- 
sionally lighting in the stubble, where he picks up crickets, 
grasshoppers, and mice. The habit of the shrike in impal- 
ing its food on thorns or fastening it in crotches comes as 
a necessity to the bird in tearing its food. It has a hooked 
bill, but is not equipped like the hawks and owls with 
talons to hold its food. Although this bird undoubtedly 
kills some small songsters, we wanted to find out whether 





Jimmy. 



Jimmy eating from the hand of his mistress. 




Pair of young Shrikes or Butcher-birds. 



He often perched in the pear tr 



Jimmy the Butcher-bfrd 1 1 7 

under different circumstances he would change his bar- 
barous traits. 

Can a wild bird be civilized? Can he retain his 
freedom and yet put off his bad habits? When he begins 
to hunt his own food, will he know that it is right to hunt 
beetles, grasshoppers, and mice, but against the law to kill 
goldfinches ? 

Jimmy was given the freedom of the back porch. 
This was a large apartment, and was well screened. Some 
branches were hung up to make the place look as woodsy 
as possible, and a special table was built for the new 
arrival. In two or three weeks he was able to fly quite 
well, and it was decided to give him the freedom of the 
back yard. It was the real nature of the bird that we 
wanted to study, the wild bird under civilized circum- 
stances, but not in a cage. 

It did not take Jimmy long to make friends and to 
know his mistress. He was awake and squealing at day- 
light. He fluttered at the window, and the minute the 
door opened he was in the kitchen and perched on the 
shoulder or arm of his mistress, begging to be fed. There 
was no doubt as to his preference ; he wanted fresh meat. 
When the door of the back porch was opened and Jimmy 
was invited to go out into the yard and learn to find his 
own breakfast, he accepted the invitation with eagerness. 
He poked around through the rose-bushes and along the 
fence more from curiosity than with the idea of getting 
something to eat. He often perched in the pear tree. 
Then, when he was hungry, he hopped back to the porch, 
for he knew the table was always set there. 

Jimmy was lazy when it came to hunting his own 



1 1 8 American Birds 

living. The fact that he had a free lunch-counter at his 
back porch home he did not forget. That seemed to be 
the binding link. He would go about the yard and up 
into the trees, and he got to wandering farther and far- 
ther; but he would always come back several times during 
the day for food. He knew his name as well as a person 
does, and would come immediately if he were within call- 
ing distance. 

As Jimmy grew older he developed into a fine-looking 
bird. His coat was a slate-gray above and a dull whitish 
color below. "He soon developed remarkable likes and dis- 
likes. I would hardly have believed that a bird could have 
shown so much knowledge had I not seen it myself. We 
are too apt to think there is little real intelligence in 
the bird brain. I have often wished I could fathom 
the thoughts that Jimmy had as he sat in his master's 
room for hours at a time and looked out of the window 
when it was raining, or when he hopped about the kitchen, 
picking up and prying into things, or when he stopped to 
look his mistress in the eye and chuckle with a side turn 
of his head. He had the range of the house and the range 
of the outdoors, yet he often preferred to stay indoors 
when he took human company to bird company. He knew 
his home as well as the dog did. But Jimmy didn't like 
dogs or cats. 

When he had the freedom of the house he liked to 
tease, and his teasing turned to a pet mockingbird that 
was kept in a cage. At first Jimmy would sit on the table 
and watch. Then he took to flying on the top of the cage, 
and this worried the mocker, who didn't want any one on 
the cage above his head. But it pleased Jimmy, and he 



Jimmy the Butcher-bird 1 1 9 

would hop back and forth in a threatening way. This 
happened several times, till one day the mocker had his 
chance ; I think he had been waiting for it. Jimmy was 
on the side of the cage with his feet hooked in the wires, 
when the mocker suddenly grabbed him by the toe and 
gave it such a sharp pull that Jimmy squealed in pain. It 
was a pure case of revenge, and the mocker enjoyed it. 
It gave a good insight as to how quick Jimmy could learn, 
for he kept off the cage after that, and did not tease the 
mockingbird. 

Gradually Jimmy's freedom of the house was taken 
from him. He couldn't be trusted to leave anything in 
order. He knocked things off the bureau, broke a painted 
china cup, and he always wanted to taste out of every dish 
on the table. He stuck his feet in a dish of jam, and then 
tracked it across the table. And how he liked butter ! He 
dipped right in the instant he saw butter, and that was his 
first thought when the pantry door was open. 

One day when the kitchen was closed Jimmy found 
the window of the east room upstairs open and in he went, 
and soon appeared in the dining-room, helping himself. 
After that the window was kept shut, but Jimmy would 
go anyway and peck on the glass till he was let in. His 
master often sat there, and that became Jimmy's favorite 
room. All during the winter on rainy days he liked to 
stay in that room. The window looked directly out to the 
east over a waste of weeds and sage-brush. This was 
Jimmy's hunting-ground; he always went out that way 
when he wanted to hunt, for that was the only unculti- 
vated tract about the house. That was the place he hunted 
grasshoppers and crickets. His favorite perch was the 



1 20 American Birds 

back of a chair near the window, where he could look out 
over the slope, and here he would sit for an hour at a time, 
as if thinking. And how do we know but that he was 
going over many of his hunts and hairbreadth escapes and 
thinking of the springtime that was coming and the new 
experiences it would bring? 

Out in front of the house was a concrete basin where 
the water-lilies grew. The lily-pads were large enough to 
support a bird, and the linnets and goldfinches used them 
for bath-tubs. I think the birds came for a mile around to 
get water here, for there was hardly a time during the hot 
days when some visitors did not come either to wash or to 
drink. Jimmy often watched the performance and seemed 
interested, but he knew better than to prey upon birds. 
His home training had gone deep enough for that, and 
he had been civilized to that extent. 

Jimmy didn't bathe very often himself, but when he 
did he simply soaked himself till he couldn't fly. For 
some reason he preferred the irrigating ditch; there he 
had plenty of running water. Perhaps he thought the 
basin where every tramp bird bathed was not clean enough. 
He selected a shallow place and waded in to his middle; 
then he began bobbing and throwing water, and he kept 
it up till he was so tired and heavy he could hardly crawl 
out. 

When it came to dealing with other people, Jimmy had 
many interesting experiences. He was bold and fearless, 
no matter whether he knew the person or not. One day 
when Jimmy had been gone several hours he was brought 
home by one of the neighbors. A carpenter was at work 
on the top of his house, when Jimmy, apparently in fun, 



Jimmy the Butcher-bird 121 

had swooped down and lit on his shoulder and began 
screeching in his ear. The workman was so astonished 
that he almost fell from his position when he felt this 
strange bird fluttering about his head; he dodged as if 
he were trying to get rid of a swarm of bees. He didn't 
know whether to fight or not. But he was soon assured 
that the bird was only playing. 

For some reason Jimmy did not like the gardener. His 
mistress thought it was because the man wore such ragged 
clothes. She said he always took to people who were 
dressed up, and was friendly in every way, but the minute 
a .workingman came about Jimmy would squall and peck 
and show his anger. When the gardener was hoeing, 
Jimmy would fly down at his feet and get in the way, or 
he would hop along in front of the wheelbarrow or ride 
on the front, squealing his disapproval. Twice he lit on 
the shoulder of the gardener and bit him in the neck till 
the blood came. This was carrying his opinions to such 
an extent that his mistress caught him and clipped the little 
hook on his bill. This served as a sort of a muzzle, so he 
could not bite so hard. 

The instinct was strong in Jimmy to hang his food on 
a nail or in a crack so he could tear it to pieces. He often 
brought in insects from the field, and would always fly 
direct to the hand of his mistress, because she so often 
held his meat in her hand for him to eat. He would light 
on her shoulder with a screech and a side turn of his head 
that said, " Hold this for me, quick, till I eat it ! " And 
if she didn't, he showed great impatience. But this habit 
of Jimmy's was distasteful at times, for he brought in 
a variety of things from dead mice to crickets, worms, and 



122 American Birds 

beetles. One day when a fashionably-dressed lady was 
being entertained on the front porch Jimmy suddenly ap- 
peared and lit on her shoulder with a very large beetle. 
The reception he got surprised him, for a bird thrusting 
a big, ugly beetle in her face was too much for the lady, 
and she threw up her hands in horror and fled, while 
Jimmy sat looking in amazement. 

The wicker-backed rocking-chair on the front porch 
was a favorite of Jimmy's, for he could fasten his food in 
the cracks of it. One day his mistress found a mouse that 
he had left there, very likely with the intention of call- 
ing for it when he got hungry. By watching the various 
kinds of food that Jimmy brought in, we readily estimated 
that his hunts were of much more good than harm. Even 
the wild shrike that kills a small bird occasionally kills 
more than enough harmful insects to make up for its de- 
struction. 

As the winter passed and spring wore on, Jimmy ex- 
tended his visits. He must have looked and hunted far- 
ther away, for often he would be gone for half a day at 
a time. But he always returned to the eucalyptus bough 
on the back porch, and the door was always open for him 
and closed when he was in bed. Then one day in March 
he did not return. But he got back next morning about 
ten o'clock, and came pecking and crying at the window. 
He seemed overjoyed to get back, but, after staying about 
for a while, he got restless. It was evident that there was 
an influence somewhere out beyond the sage-brush that 
was stronger than his home life. Something else was call- 
ing him. It was only a matter of time till he would cease 
to sleep on the porch. 



Jimmy the Butcher-bird 123 

About two weeks later Jimmy was seen for the last 
time. There were two shrikes out in the low oaks beyond 
the irrigating ditch. One came sweeping across from the 
hill, flapping his short wings and screeching his greet- 
ings in butcher-bird tongue. He paused just long enough 
on the fence to see that his companion had disappeared. 
With a loud squawk Jimmy turned back to find her, for 
that was his new mistress. 

THE SHRIKE OR BUTCHER-BIRD FAMILY 

The Shrikes may be recognized by the powerful head and neck 
and the hooked bill. Length, about nine inches. Bluish-gray in color. 
They are bold and fearless and feed on insects, mice, and small birds, 
which they impale on thorns and sharp twigs. 

White-rumped Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides), Butcher- 
bird: Male and female, upper parts pale ashy-gray; narrow black stripe 
across forehead through eye; under parts and rump, white; wings and 
tail, black with white markings. Found in middle and eastern North 
America, where it nests in hedges and thorn-trees. Eggs, four to six, 
grayish, covered with brown spots. 

The Northern Shrike is very similar but is seen only from November 
to April as a roving winter resident. 

California Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus gatnbeli): Pacific Coast form, 
identical with White-rumped Shrike. 



THE WARBLER AND HIS WAYS 



XII 
THE WARBLER AND HIS WAYS 

DURING the warm days of June, I often frequent a 
woody retreat above the old mill-dam on Fulton 
Creek. The water gurgles among the gray rocks and 
glides past a clump of firs and maples. Star-flowers gleam 
from the darker places of shade, white anemones are scat- 
tered in the green of the grass blades and ferns, and Lin- 
naean bells overhang the moss-covered logs. 

As one sits here in the midst of the woods, the chords 
of every sense are stretched. The nostrils sniff the scent 
of the fir boughs tipped with their new growth of lighter 
green. The eye catches the cautious movements of furry 
and feathered creatures. The heart beats in tune with the 
forest pulse. 

One day as I lay idling in this favorite haunt a 
shadow, caught in the net of sunbeams, spread under the 
maple. A Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica 
nigrescent) fidgeted on the limb above with a straw in her 
bill. This was pleasing. I had searched the locality for 
years, trying to find the home of this shy bird, and here 
was a piece of evidence thrust squarely in my face. 

The site of the nest was twelve feet from the ground 
in the top of a sapling. A week and a half later I parted 
the branches and found a cup of grasses, feather-lined, 
nestled in the fork of the fir. There lay four eggs of a 
pinkish tinge, touched with dots of brown. 
127 



128 American Birds 

The chief source of satisfaction in a camera study of 
bird life comes not in the odd-time chances of observa- 
tion, but in a continued period of leisure when one may 
spend his entire time about bird homes just as he takes a 
week's vacation at the sea-shore. One cannot take a cam- 
era, no matter how expensive it is, and snap off good bird 
pictures during the spare moments of a busy day. He 
might, however, fill half a dozen note-books with valuable 
odd-time observations. To be sure, the joy of nature 
comes to the amateur, not to the professional, but to be a 
successful amateur bird-photographer one has fairly to 
make a business of lying in wait for his subjects hour after 
hour, day by day, and maybe week after week. The re- 
ward of real success comes not in mere acquaintanceship 
v/ith some feathered bit of flying life, but in real friend- 
ship ; there cannot be the formality of a society call, but one 
should, by frequent visits, be well enough acquainted to 
drop in at any time with his camera without interfering 
with the daily affairs of family life. 

The real value of photography is that it records the 
truth. The person who photographs birds successfully 
has to study his subjects long and carefully. He is likely, 
therefore, to get a good set of notes, and not to be 
compelled to complete his observations when he is seated 
in the comfortable chair of his study. Of course, in the 
study of art, we may try to improve on nature, but in 
nature study truth is the chief thing. We must under- 
stand that a beast or bird is interesting for its own wild 
sake. 

Of course it showed a pure lack of discretion to try to 
picture the home of such a shy warbler during the days of 




Nest and eggs of Black-throated Gray Warbler. 




Disputing while mother is away. 



The Warbler and His Ways 129 

incubation, but I half believe the feathered owners would 
have overlooked this had it not been for the pair of blue 
jays that buccaneered that patch of fir. While we were 
getting a picture I saw them eyeing us curiously, but they 
slunk away among the dark firs squawking jay-talk about 
something I didn't understand. Two days later we skirted 
the clump to see if the warblers had been too severely 
shocked by the camera. In an instant I translated every 
syllable of what that pair of blue pirates had squawked. 
The scattered remnants of the nest and the broken bits 
of shell told all. 

These gray warblers, however much they were upset 
by the camera-fiend and blue jay raid, were not to be 
undone. They actually went to housekeeping again within 
forty yards of the old home site. The new nest was 
placed in a fir sapling very like the first, but better hidden 
from marauding blue jays. It was far better suited to the 
photographer. Just at the side of the new site was the 
sawed-off stump of an old fir upon which we climbed 
and aimed the camera straight into the nest. There, 
instead of four, were only two small nestlings. They 
stretched their skinny necks and opened wide their yellow- 
lined mouths in unmistakable hunger. 

The moment the mother returned and found us so 
dangerously near her brood she was scared almost out 
of her senses. She fell from the top of the tree in a flutter- 
ing fit. She caught quivering on the limb a foot from 
my hand. Involuntarily I reached to help her. Poor 
thing! She couldn't hold on, but slipped through the 
branches and clutched my shoe. I never saw such an ex- 
aggerated case of the chills, or heard such a pitiful high- 



1 30 American Birds 

pitched note of pain. I stooped to see what ailed her. 
What, both wings broken and unable to hold with her 
claws! She wavered like an autumn leaf to the ground. 
I leaped down, but she had limped under a bush and sud- 
denly got well. Of course, I knew she was tricking me. 

The next day my heart was hardened against all her 
alluring ways and her crocodile tears. She played her best, 
but the minute she failed to win I got a furious berating. 
It was no begging note now. She perched over my head 
and called me every name in the warbler vocabulary. 
Then she saw that we were actually shoving that cyclopian 
monster right at her children. " Fly ! Fly for your lives ! " 
she screamed in desperation. Both the scanty-feathered, 
bobtailed youngsters jumped blindly out of the nest into 
the bushes below. The mother outdid all previous per- 
formances. She simply doubled and twisted in agonized 
death spasms. But, not to be fooled, I kept an eye on 
one nestling and soon replaced him in the nest where he 
belonged. Nature always hides such creatures by the sim- 
ple wave of her wand. I've seen a flock of half a dozen 
grouse flutter up into a fir and disappear to my eyes as 
mysteriously as fog in the sunshine. 

This fidgety bit of featherhood is called the black- 
throated gray warbler, but it's only the male that has a 
black throat. He is not the whole species. His wife 
wears a white cravat and she, to my thinking, is a deal 
more important in warbler affairs. Mr. Warbler seemed 
to be kept away from home the greater part of the day 
when the children were crying for food. 

The first day I really met the gentleman face to face 
we were trying to get a photograph of the mother as 



The Warbler and His Ways 131 

she came home to feed. She had got quite used to the 
camera. We had it levelled point-blank at the nest, only 
a yard distant. A gray figure came flitting over the tree- 
top and planted himself on the limb right beside his home. 
He carried a green cutworm in his mouth. No sooner 
had he squatted on his accustomed perch than he caught 
sight of the camera. With an astonished chirp he dropped 
his worm, turned a back somersault, and all I saw was a 
streak of gray curving up over the pointed firs. I doubt 
if he lit or felt any degree of safety till he reached the 
opposite bank of the river. 

We met his lordship again the following day. The 
mother was doing her best to lure us from the nest by her 
cunning tricks. Every visit we had made she kept prac- 
tising the same old game. Just as she was putting on a 
few extra touches of agony I saw a glint of gray. The 
father darted at the deceiving mother. I never saw such a 
case of wife-beating. Maybe she deserved it. I don't know 
whether he blamed her for my presence and interference, 
or whether he wanted all her time and attention devoted 
to the care of the children. She didn't practise deceit 
any more. 

I could not tell one nestling from the other. As I 
sat watching the mother the questions often arose in my 
mind: Does she recognize one child from the other? 
Does she feed them in turn, or does she poke the food 
down the first open mouth she sees ? Here is a good chance 
to experiment I thought. So with a good supply of 5 x 7 
plates we watched and photographed from early in the 
morning till late in the afternoon for three days. At the 
end of that time we had eight pictures, or rather four 



I 3 2 



American Birds 



pairs, each of which was taken in the same order as the 
mother fed her young. 

The warblers foraged the firs for insects of all sizes 
and colors. The mother often brought in green cutworms, 
which she rolled through her bill as a housewife runs 
washing through a wringer, either to kill the creature or 
to be sure it was soft and billsome. This looked like a 
waste of time to me. The digestive organs of those bob- 
tailed bantlings seemed equal to almost any insect I had 
ever seen. 

In the days I spent about the nest I never saw the 
time when both the bairns were not in a starving mood, 
regardless of the amount of dinner they had just swal- 
lowed. The flutter of wings seemed to touch the button 
that opened their mouths. At the slightest sound I've 
often seen disputes arise while the mother was away. " I'll 
take the next," said one. " I guess you'll not! " screamed 
the other. The mother paid no more attention to their 
quarrels and entreaties than to the ceaseless gurgle of 
the water. How could she? I don't believe she ever 
caught sight of her children when their mouths were not 
open. The fact that the mother fed them impartially 
appealed in no way to their sense of justice. The one 
that got the meal quivered his wings in ecstasy, while the 
other always protested at the top of his voice. 

The first pair of pictures in the series was taken while 
the young were still in the nest. The mother fed the 
nearest nestling. Changing the plate and adjusting the 
camera again I had to wait only three minutes. The bairn 
at the edge of the nest surely had the advantage of posi- 
tion, but what was position? For all his begging the 




The muther often brought in green cutworms. 




The gray mother rewarded him with a mouthful. 




She did not forget the hungry, more timid fledgling in the nest. 



The Warbler and His Ways 133 

nearest got a knock on the ear that sent him bawling, 
while his brother gulped down a fat spider. 

Soon after one of the bantlings hopped out on the 
limb, and the gray mother rewarded him with a mouth- 
ful that fairly made his eyes bulge. On her return she 
did not forget the hungry, more timid fledgling in the nest. 

Again I tried the experiment of having the mother 
light between her clamoring children. First the right 
one received a toothsome morsel, notwithstanding the im- 
patient exclamations of the chick on the left. Soon after 
the hungry bairn on the left got a juicy bite, in spite 
of the loud appeals from the right. 

" This way I'll fool the mother," I thought, as I 
perched both bantlings on a small limb where they could 
be fed only from the right. This looked good to the 
first little chick, for he seemed to reason that when he 
opened his mouth his mother could not resist his plead- 
ings. He reasoned rightly the first time. On the second 
appearance of his mother position did not count for much ; 
it was his brother's turn. 

Later in the day I watched the gray warbler coax 
her two children from the fir into the thick protecting 
bushes below. With the keen sense of bird motherhood 
she led them on, and they followed out into the world 
of bird experience. 



THE WOOD WARBLER FAMILY 

This is one of the largest families of North American birds. The 
Warblers are five inches or less in length. They are all migratory; they 
live almost entirely on insects. The bill is narrow and, like the feet, 



134 American Birds 

delicately formed. The bird is often beautifully colored, quick and 
active, flitting incessantly among the leaves. 

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica eestiva), Summer Yellow-bird: Male, 
above, rich yellow, brightening on rump; breast and under parts golden 
yellow; breast streaked with brown. Female, less brightly colored. 
Our commonest warbler living throughout North America at large, 
arriving from the South in May and remaining till September. Nest, 
a small, well-rounded cup in the fork of a bush or tree. Eggs, four or 
five, grayish-white, spotted with lilac or red-brown. 

Some of the other common warblers that may be found living 
throughout the eastern states are the Black and White Warbler, striped 
above with the colors for which it is named, and having a white breast. 
Blue-winged Warbler, with slatish-blue wings and white bars, forehead 
and under parts yellow, with dark stripe through eye. Nashville War- 
bler, yellow below, above, olive-green, brightening on rump and shoul- 
ders, slate-gray head and neck. Parula Warbler, above slate-blue, chin 
and throat yellow, wings brownish with two white bars, white belly with 
red-brown band across breast. Myrtle Warbler, slate color, striped and 
streaked with black; crown, sides of breast and rump yellow, white 
throat, upper breast black and whitish below, white bars on wings and 
white spots on tail. Chestnut-sided Warbler, throat and breast white 
with chestnut stripe extending down sides, top of head yellow, black stripe 
running through eye and black spot in front. Black-poll Warbler, black 
cap, upper parts striped with black, olive, and gray, breast white with 
black streaks, white spots on outer tail feathers. Blackburnian Warbler, 
crown black with orange patch, black wings and tail with white mark- 
ings, throat brilliant yellow, rest of under parts pale yellowish. Black- 
throated Green Warbler, crown and back olive-yellow, sides of head 
clear yellow, throat and upper breast black and black stripe down sides, 
lower parts yellowish-white, wings and tail brownish with white wing- 
bars. American Redstart, upper parts blue-black, white belly, sides of 
body and lining of wings orange, tail feathers half orange and half 
black. 

On the Pacific Coast the Black-throated Gray Warbler has the 
head, throat, and chest black except for white streaks on side of head 
and along throat; yellow dot in front of eye; breast and belly pure white; 



The Warbler and His Ways 135 

back gray streaked with black; wings with two white bars. Audubon 
Warbler is the western representative of the Myrtle Warbler and is 
marked similarly, except that the throat is yellow. Lutescent Warbler, 
upper parts dull olive-green, brighter on rump ; under parts bright 
greenish yellow ; crown with dull orange patch concealed by olive tips 
of feathers. 



KINGFISHERS 



XIII 
KINGFISHERS 

I'LL clothe and equip each of my creatures for a 
special work, and give him some particular thing 
to do," says Nature. " I'll give the hummingbird a long 
bill to suck honey from the flower-cups. I'll give the night- 
hawk a big mouth to catch flies. I'll give the grosbeak 
a large, powerful bill to crack seeds. I'll give the snipe 
long legs to wade in the mud and water and find his food. 
I'll give the woodpecker a chisel-shaped bill to bore holes 
in the trees. I'll give the owl eyes that see at night-time, 
and strong claws and a hooked beak to catch mice and 
other harmful beasts. Every creature will have its special 
part to play in the world." 

Until we have studied this plan of Nature, and have 
seen how specially he is adapted for his life's work, we 
can't appreciate the beauty of the Kingfisher (Ceryle 
alcyon). You might not notice how closely the color of 
his coat matches the water until you look at him from 
above with the blue water behind him. 

A kingfisher cannot be high above his reptile ances- 
tors. Young kingfishers are raised in such a dark, damp 
place you might think, at first sight, that all of them would 
die of consumption. They never get even a glint of sun- 
shine till they are old enough to climb out of the cave 
and take flight. Think of living in a deep well till you 



140 American Birds 

arc grown ! But maybe Nature set the kingfisher to live 
in a dark hole in order to adapt him better for his work. 

A young kingfisher seems to grow like a potato in a 
cellar, all the growth going to the end nearer the light. 
He sits looking out toward the door and, of course, his 
face naturally all goes to nose. Everything is forfeited 
to furnish him with a big head, a spear-pointed bill, and 
a pair of strong wings to give this arrow-shaped bird a 
good start when he dives for fish. Of course, he seems top- 
heavy in appearance. His tiny feet are deformed and 
hardly large enough to support him. I am sure a king- 
fisher would not pretend to walk, but he is built for a pro- 
fessional fisher and is a success at the business. 

If a kingfisher can find a bank he always has some 
advantage over other birds, because he can burrow in 
far enough to get out of reach. For several years we 
have watched a pair of these birds that nested along the 
river bank within the city limits. One day we paddled 
across to the east side above the mill. The bank ran 
abruptly up and was well wooded. Beyond this was a 
short, sandy beach where we used to swim, and where a 
cool spring of water gushed out of the rocks just above 
the river. Above was a small clay bank where the king- 
fishers lived. I saw one enter the hole and I climbed up 
just below the entrance. I pounded with a stick to get 
him out so as to snap his picture as he left the nest. But 
he was like a baron in his castle. He knew I couldn't 
drive him out. Then I sat down for fifteen minutes until 
his mate returned. When she arrived with a loud clat- 
tering cry, out he came and lit on a stump while she 
entered. 



Kingfishers 141 

Not long after that a railroad company bought the 
franchise along the water front, started a big digging ma- 
chine, set scrapers to work, slashed the scenery right and 
left and dropped it into the river. It spoiled the whole 
place for me, but do you think the railway syndicate drove 
out the kingfisher? Not much. No sooner had the big 
digger moved on than he plugged another hole in the new 
bank. The old roots and the dead tree where he used 
to sit were gone, but he put on civilization and set himself 
on a wire where thousands of volts of invisible power 
were passing beneath his clutched feet. He perched on 
the trolley pole, and rattled his call as if it were put there 
for his convenience. Indeed it seemed so, for it was 
squarely over the water's edge where he could watch the 
swimming minnows beneath. 

I have often watched the kingfisher along the river. 
At times he would occupy an old willow on the bank, 
and he would sit there for half an hour at a time, occasion- 
ally turning his head and watching the water carefully. 
I seldom saw him catch anything from that place ; I think 
he used it more as a lounging tree. He would often come 
flying down the river about noontime, with his head high 
in the air, and, like the boat coming in at the wharf, he 
always sounded his rattle before landing. 

This old " king " had several favorite perches for a 
mile along the river. He was watchful and shy, and I think 
rather quarrelsome. Never but once did I see another 
kingfisher about, and that was one day when I heard a 
loud rattling, and looking down the river I saw two king- 
fishers light in the dead alder, both very much excited. 
They kept up a clattering fuss for a few moments, as one 



142 American Birds 

person will argue with another, then one darted at the 
other, and away they went dodging and turning as far 
as I could see. I think it was a fight as to the ownership 
of the property along the river, for the riparian rights 
seemed to belong to this one bird and all others were ex- 
cluded. 

It is always exciting to me to watch these birds catch 
fish. I enjoy it as much as pulling them out myself. 
I was sitting on the bank one day when my old king 
came rattling down the river in swift, straight flight, 
and swerving up, caught himself in mid-air and came to 
a stop about fifteen feet above the water. What an eye 
he must have to see a fish under the surface when going 
at such a pace ! He fluttered for a moment as a sparrow 
hawk does above his prey, and dropped arrowlike, com- 
pletely disappearing beneath the surface. The next instant 
he was in the air again with a crawfish. He wasn't wet 
a bit, for his clothes were water-tight; the water ran 
off his satiny plumage as if his coat were thoroughly 
oiled. 

While the kingfisher catches many minnows he does 
not live on these alone. He often lives on different kinds 
of insects and shell-fish. Along some streams he lives 
mostly on frogs, lizards, and beetles. In the southern 
states, where the streams are few and run dry in summer, 
this bird takes to a fare of grasshoppers and mice. Think 
of a kingfisher catching mice ! A kingfisher adapts him- 
self to circumstances just as a flicker will dig a home in 
a clay bank, a telegraph pole, or a church steeple when the 
trees are all cut down. 

Where I live, the food of the kingfisher consists largely 



Kingfishers 143 

of crawfish that are common along the streams. He pulls 
the fish apart and swallows shell and all; then the indi- 
gestible parts are vomited up later, and, strange to say, 
these cast-off bones, scales, and shells are used for the 
lining of the nest. I do not know just why a kingfisher 
likes to carpet his house with such a rough floor, unless 
he wants to adorn his home with the trophies of his many 
hunts. He may be too lazy to carry in anything else. 

Some people advocate shooting the kingfisher at every 
opportunity, and, in some places, men have made laws to 
exterminate him, claiming that he destroys too many young 
trout. But the kingfisher eats very few trout compar- 
atively. He lives largely on the kinds of fish that are of 
little or no value to man. What if he does catch an occa- 
sional trout to eat? Is man the proper defender of the 
trout? Man who never destroys! The kingfisher was 
here long before man came ; he must have some rights, at 
least the right to live a secluded life along the waterways 
where there are no trout. 

The kingfisher is not a social bird like the chippy and 
chickadee, and I have never found but one pair about a cer- 
tain place. He is a solitary fisher and an outcast in bird 
society. He seems to think that a companion would talk 
and scare the fish, or else he is too much of a hermit to 
enjoy the friendship of others. But it would be a poor 
world if all the birds were alike. I wouldn't want a field 
without a meadow lark, even if it did raise a good crop 
of hay. It would be a desolate patch of winter woods 
with no chickadee. It would be a barren orchard without 
a robin or chippy, even if it did bear apples. I should 
lose much of my interest and pleasure in the river if 



144 American Birds 

the kingfisher were not there, for, to my mind, he helps 
to make the place what it is. 

The kingfisher is a fellow of ways and means. I used 
to think he always took a site along the river for a home, 
but this is not so. Perhaps a good nesting site at the river 
side is not always to be had. Three years ago I found a 
kingfisher living in a bank on the heights back of the city. 
This was a good mile from his place of business, a kind 
of suburban home where he could enjoy the fly after fish- 
ing along the river. I often saw him go back and forth, 
and heard his rattle high above the housetops of the 
crowded city. It seemed to me the difficult problem of 
living so far from the river would have to be settled when 
the youngsters were full-grown. How could the parents 
get them clear across the city to the river hunting-grounds ? 
By watching, I found that young kingfishers do not leave 
their nests until they are fully fledged and can fly quite a 
long distance. As near as I could judge the tousled-headed 
youngsters sailed almost the entire distance, from the high 
position on the heights to the river, in one try. 

I was acquainted with another pair of kings that used 
to keep watch for fish about Ladd's pond. They had an 
outlook on a dead limb over the water that was usually 
held by one of the birds. The first year I found this pair 
I was especially interested. The male bird caught my 
attention because I could see that something was the matter 
with his bill. I saw him dive, and at first I thought he 
caught a fish, for his mouth was open, but I watched him 
again and each time he seemed to miss, but his mouth was 
always open. 

This pair of kingfishers dug a nest in the bank of 




Six of the frowzy-headed Fishers in a pose. 





The door to the Kingfisher's home showing 
small hole to the left where nest was first started; 
the two little tracks at the bottom made by the 
feet of the bird. 



They perched on the projecting snags over 
the water. 



Kingfishers 145 

an old railroad cut about half a mile away. I found it 
by watching them take the overland route from the pond 
after fishing hours. Near the entrance I saw two other 
places where they had begun to dig, but it seemed they 
had struck hard spots and had tried again till they got 
a place that was soft and sandy. They chiselled the dirt 
out with their bills, and pushed it along with their tiny 
feet. As near as I could estimate, it took them a week 
and a half to finish the burrow. The hallway sloped 
slightly up and ran back four feet, where it ended in a 
little dome-shaped room. From the door into the nest 
were two little tracks, worn by the feet of the birds as 
they went in and out. The female generally does most 
of the setting, while the male returns occasionally and 
supplies her with food. But in this family I think the 
duties were somewhat reversed, for the male seemed unable 
to do his part of the food gathering. 

I have often watched kingfishers plunge into the pools 
and shallows for fish, and have wondered if they sometimes 
did not miscalculate in their hasty, headlong dives. The 
more I saw of the old king about the pond the more I 
thought this was true. So one day we went over to the 
nest, which was only about two feet below the top of the 
bank, and measured back to where we thought the home 
was and dug straight down to the nest. Both birds were 
at home. We found the male bird had an injured bill, as 
we had thought. The upper mandible of the bill had 
apparently been broken some time before and was par- 
tially healed, but was shorter than the lower one. From 
the injured place the outer end of the beak bent up some- 
what so the bird could not close its mouth except at the 



146 American Birds 

base. He could hardly hold a fish if he caught one, and 
instead of fishing for a living I think he was doing the 
woman's work at home and his wife was catching fish. 
There were six pure white eggs, and after taking a picture 
of the injured bird we carefully closed the nest again. 

We were afraid the birds would desert the nest, but 
they didn't. The male continued the incubating, and it 
was sixteen or seventeen days from the time the eggs were 
laid till they were hatched. The young were blind, naked, 
and helpless. I knew just as well when the young kings 
were born as if I had crawled back through the under- 
ground passage for four feet and struck a match to look. 
Both birds took to fishing, and they kept the air-line trail 
hot between the pond and the bank. 

It took almost four weeks of feeding and nourishing 
before the young kingfishers were able to leave the hole 
in the bank. We watched the nest pretty closely and 
were present when they came out. Not one of the young- 
sters was strong on the wing, and we had our cameras 
ready. That hole in the bank surely held one of the 
wildest-eyed feathery tribes I ever saw. We tried for a 
whole day and finally got six of the frowzy-headed fishers 
in a pose. 

In due time all the family of young kings made their 
way to the pond, where they perched on the projecting 
snags over the water. They were not experts on the wing, 
nor could they spear a fish, but they were not too old to 
learn. It can't be an easy thing for a bird to hit a fish 
when it is swimming under water, not at least when the 
water is rough, or when the fisher does not know, by 
a long diving experience, how the light is reflected. 



Kingfishers 1 47 

The parents fed the young for a time till they knew 
how to care for themselves. As soon as they developed 
strength and experience the old birds led them to the river 
about a mile distant, where they broke a way for them- 
selves in the great world of bird life. 

I never knew just what became of the father with 
the broken bill. He may have starved to death the fol- 
lowing winter, or the injured part of his bill may have 
been gradually replaced by a new growth. The next year 
I saw two kingfishers about the same locality, but neither 
had a broken bill. 



THE KINGFISHER FAMILY 

The Kingfisher is a bird easily recognized because it is common 
everywhere along streams. It is about a foot in length, has a big crested 
head and a long beak. It lives on fish, plunging headlong in the water 
to catch its meal. 

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyori): Male, crest and upper parts, 
bluish-gray; bill, long and sharp; under parts and collar, white, with 
blue-gray belt across breast. Female, like male, but breast-band and 
sides of belly tinged with red-brown. Common throughout the United 
States, arriving from the South in March. Nest in a hole in a bank. 
Eggs, six to eight, pure white. 



SPARROW ROW 



XIV 
SPARROW ROW 

THE trail that led over to Cornell Canyon started 
right up a small ravine from the city street. The 
street ended at the abrupt slope that cut steeply up the 
gulch. Below was the paved sidewalk, above a jungle of 
rosebrier, blackberry, and young firs. Through and above 
this I climbed to the abandoned wood road that wound 
up the hillside. In the street below the English Spar- 
rows (Passer domes ticus) live, above, on the slope, the 
Song (Melospiza melodia morphna) and White-crowned 
Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys nuttalli) nest. The 
Englishers dwell at the lower end of the row in what I 
call the tenement quarter; the songs and white-crowns live 
above in a more restricted district. I can be in the city 
with the noise and the city manners of the street sparrows, 
or in a few seconds I can be in the deep woods with the 
song sparrow. 

What a contrast, the song sparrow and the Englisher ! 
The song sparrow is a bird of character, the other is a 
street gamin. Our native songster is not quarrelsome. He 
has gentle dignity, while this imported son of England is 
bold and brawling. The full, rich notes that ring from the 
hillside are drowned in the discordant chirps about the 
sidewalk and street. 

The song sparrow is one of the most constant sing- 



152 American Birds 

ers throughout our land. Wherever birds live, there we 
may find him, whether in the mountains or along the riv- 
ers, whether along the sea-shore or on the dry, chaparral- 
covered deserts. He is a bird with a name that fits, and 
he lives in every state of the Union. But he has many 
different variations in name, owing to some little differ- 
ence in the color of his coat, due perhaps to the place where 
he lives. 

Early in the season I watched a pair of song sparrows 
at work. They dug out a hollow in the centre of a thick 
tussock of grass. They lined it with a bed of dry leaves 
and twined the grass stems around and around, the mother 
weaving them in and shaping the cup with her breast. 

The male sparrow wore a plain brown-colored coat, 
and had a black spot hung right in the centre of his breast 
as a mark of identity. But clothes do not make the bird. 
He had a repertoire of song rolled up in his tiny brain 
that would win the affection of any audience. 

The song sparrow is an artist, and he loves his art. 
He sings for the sake of the music. The hillside is his 
permanent home, for I have seen him there winter as 
well as summer. He stays and sings when the snows cover 
the hills. After a night of drenching March rain he 
hops out from under a brush heap and sets the woods 
atune for the coming of spring. Then a little later he 
breaks into an ecstasy, and almost loses himself in the end- 
less changes of his song. While house building, and after 
the mother has cradled her four spotted eggs, the male 
always shows the quality of his music. After the family 
cares of the summer and when the sun makes him moult, 
he chirps more than he sings, but when the October frosts 




Song Sparrows about to break home ties. 



Sparrow Row 153 

nip the leaves and the wind sends them scurrying ground- 
ward, and his coat changes, the song sparrow sits in the 
leafless tops and still sings of the beauties that haunt his 
memory. 

The white-crowned sparrow has not the variation in 
his singing that the song sparrow has. He has one theme, 
and that he has sung till perfection has been reached. I 
never tire of the song, because it always seems to have 
some new association or suggestion. I remember it in 
my boyhood days, when the white-crowns used to come 
trooping in with anxious chirps to roost in the thick growth 
of the eucalyptus in front of the house. Before dark they 
would swing on the higher branches and sing of the 
Quaker poet, "Oh! De-e-ar! Whit-ti-er! Whit-ti-er!" 
And then in the darkening moments a little later would 
come the sad refrain, " Oh! De-e-ar! De-e-ar! " And 
as I lay by the open window sometimes in the dreamy 
hours of the night I heard the song repeated. 

The white-crowns liked the hillside because they could 
drop down the slope to the back yard of a friend that 
kept a bath basin of running water and a free lunch of 
crumbs and seeds. They came and ate all they wanted in 
the early spring, then later on, instead of eating the food, 
they began to carry it away. This looked suspicious, so 
I followed them up the hill and found four little spar- 
rows in a grass nest on the sloping bank under a small 
dogwood. 

In order to get some pictures of the sparrows, we had 
focused our camera on the ground where the crumbs were 
placed and snapped the birds as they came to feed. Early 
in the springtime the sparrows were not wild, and we got 



1 54 American Birds 

a number of good photographs, but later, when the young 
were hatched and we tried to get pictures at the nest, the 
birds resented such interference. We tried for several days 
with the camera at the nest, but the birds would not go 
near it when we were there. Then we focused on the 
top of the dogwood where the sparrows were accustomed 
to light, and covering the camera with limbs and leaves 
we got some pictures. 

Once or twice I saw a dangerous-looking cat in the 
next yard from the sparrows' lunch-table. We have tried 
every lawful way of getting rid of stray cats, for they are 
the most persistent enemies the birds have. Some one has 
estimated that on an average a stray cat will kill fifty 
songsters a year. Of course, certain cats will kill many 
more than this. Most states have laws that prevent man 
from killing the birds. A man may be fined for killing 
a bird, but he may keep a cat that kills a hundred. Why 
can't the owners of cats see that they are well supplied 
with food, so that they do not have to hunt birds for a 
living? Why can't people who own cats keep them- at 
home or make some effort to teach them to let birds alone ? 

The next day when we scattered crumbs for the spar- 
rows we found several feathers that looked as if they 
were from the tail or wing of one of our birds, and when 
neither of the white-crowns appeared the indications 
looked bad. If the old cat had killed the mother, the 
young might be starving. 

I hurried up the hill to look after the orphans. There 
was not a sparrow in sight. When I climbed up to the 
dogwood I pushed the ferns aside, and four gaping 
mouths were stretched up to me. It looked as if I were 



Sparrow Row 155 

a long lost relative arriving in the nick of time to save 
a hungry family from starvation. Mercy ! What could 
I do with such a family on my hands? A big, bungling 
man with such tiny nestlings to feed ! I sat down to think 
it over, but before I had been there a minute here came 
the father white-crown, hopping from limb to limb, and 
chirping excitedly. To my astonishment, he was followed 
by the mother. Not much, the cat had not eaten her! 
She was well and happy, but absolutely tailless. " He 
didn't catch me. Here I am," she seemed to say, as she 
perched in the top of the dogwood over my head. She 
chirped, and at every chirp she jerked to throw up her 
tail in emphasis, but she couldn't emphasize in her old 
way. Whereas yesterday she was graceful and could talk 
with an air of dignity, now she had lost balance, and was 
ridiculous because she could hardly poise on a limb. 

But now the tailless bird had more interest for us than 
she had before. We wanted to watch her and picture 
her, so we focused the camera on the tree-top and hid 
until we could get the sparrows into position. 

If one thinks the tail of a bird is not an important 
factor in flight, he should have seen that mother sparrow 
try to catch a fly on the wing. Several times I saw her 
dart out from the tree in pursuit of an insect that flew 
past. Almost every time she missed at the first strike, and 
then I could see that she sorely felt the loss of her long, 
guiding feathers. She scrambled about in mid-air in her 
efforts to turn abruptly and start off in a new direction. 
She was always successful in the end, although at one 
time I saw her make five tries before she landed a moth. 
At another time she darted with such vigor that she 



American Birds 

almost turned a complete somersault before she regained 
her equilibrium. 

The invasion of the Englisher in the bird world is a 
tremendous problem for our native songsters. It is no 
negro problem of the South for them, for education is out 
of the question, and exportation is impossible. This for- 
eign sparrow may be all right in a narrow-streeted city 
where other birds do not live, but he has no place in a 
city with tree-lined streets and gardens and parks, for our 
native songsters are superior in every way to the imported 
street gamin. 

The Englisher is the greatest bird colonizer I know. 
In the year of 1887 there was not a single one about the 
city where I live. But in the spring of 1889 I found the 
first pair had taken up a residence about an old ivy-covered 
house. They had likely come in during the winter over 
the usual freight-car route. It is well known that the 
spread of these birds is often due to the railroads, for this 
medium will populate any community. In cities where 
these pests thrive they are generally found about depots 
and warehouses, and in winter the sparrow asks for no 
better home than an empty freight-car, especially if the 
floor is covered with loose grain. When the doors of the 
freight-cars are locked, the sparrows are shut in and car- 
ried off, tramplike, to other places. By this civilized 
mode of travel this bird has been carried from point to 
point, and it is readily at home wherever it lands. 

I have watched the population of our city grow, until 
now there is hardly a street that isn't overcrowded from 
the river to the hills. The sparrows have long since spread 
into the surrounding towns, and some day I suppose they 



Sparrow Row 157 

will be in dominant possession of the country as well as 
the city. Some people advocate a wholesale slaughter, 
but others always object, for they still fall back to the fact 
that he is a bird. 

For several years I had a bird-house that was rented 
each summer by the bluebirds. Then one spring, when 
they returned from the South, they found a pair of spar- 
rows in possession. After that I was never able to get the 
bluebird tenants to return, although I pitched the spar- 
rows into the street and cleaned the house thoroughly. 
For every sparrow I choked and ejected another occupant 
came to take possession, till at last I used the box for 
kindling. I had the same difficulty with some swallow 
tenants. The bluebird, the white-breasted swallow, and 
Parkman wren are all common residents about our city, 
and each of these birds likes to take up a homestead in a 
good, sheltered bird-box. From my own standpoint, my 
property increases in value whenever one of these song- 
sters takes up a residence with me. On the other hand, 
my real estate drops every time an English sparrow moves 
in, because no self-respecting feathered native can dwell 
in the same neighborhood. 

No one can dispute the sparrow's success as a family 
man. He works overtime to people the earth. The stork 
of the sparrow species is a busy individual for almost half 
of every year. Then, in addition, the English sparrow 
has the advantage over the songsters that nest in the woods 
and fields, for they have so many natural enemies, such 
as hawks, owls, animals, and snakes. The Englisher lives 
about the crowded city, where he has little to fear, because 
men are unobserving and rarely interfere. 



158 American Birds 

When it comes to housekeeping, I give the Englisher 
credit for wanting something new and up-to-date. He 
loves the crosspiece in the protected top of an electric arc 
lamp. There he gets free light and heat. For second 
choice, he takes a bird-box or protected nook about a 
building. If necessary, he takes to a tree, but he does not 
like this, for nest building in a tree is more difficult. If 
hard pushed, he will even take a rain spout or a gutter 
along the eaves of the house. You can't " stump " a spar- 
row for a nesting site. 

Down near the lower end of sparrow row some hor- 
nets built a nest up under the projecting eaves of the front 
porch of a cottage, just beside the bracket. I can under- 
stand how a pair of sparrows will fight for a bird-box and 
drive other birds away, but I never dreamed they would 
be envious of the hornets. But a sparrow must have a 
place to nest. Whether the hornets left voluntarily or 
with the aid of the sparrows I do not know, but the next 
time I passed I found the birds in possession actually 
making a home in a hornet's nest. They had gone in 
through the bracket and pulled out a large part of the 
comb, and were replacing it with grass and feathers. 

Think of raising a family of birds in a hornet's nest 
not one, but several families! When the young spar- 
rows grew older, I looked to see the bottom fall out and 
drop the nestful of little brats to the porch, but it didn't. 
The hornet's nest remained as strong as if it had been 
made for sparrows. And the sparrows liked it immense- 
ly; it was a novelty, and not another pair around had a 
home like theirs. 

The cock-sparrow was proud of his home. He helped 



Sparrow Row 159 

feed the children, but not because he liked it. I could see 
it was not in a cock-sparrow to nurse children. He liked 
fighting better, and between meals, even if he only had a 
moment to spare, he would spend it in fighting with the 
neighbors. He would drop down suddenly in the street 
in the midst of a crowd of sparrows and pitch into the 
nearest by jerking at a tail or wing feather. For a mo- 
ment the dust and feathers would fly, and the victor would 
sputter around with his wings drooping and his tail up. 
Then away he would go, fluttering off, foraging for fruit 
and bugs. He returned, dusty and dirty, every few min- 
utes with morsels of food. 

It is always a wonder to me that more of these street 
sparrows are not killed as they hop and flutter about the 
hoofs of the horses and in front of the cars. Half the 
time they seem to see how close they can miss getting 
hit, and off they flutter in sidelong flight, as if hardly able 
to rise. But the sparrow knows the ways of the city like 
a newsboy, and he is safer down amid the clatter of the 
wheels than his cousins are in the woods and fields. 

THE SPARROW AND FINCH FAMILY 

The Fringillidae, or Finch and Sparrow family is our largest family 
of birds. As a rule, they are plainly dressed in dull colors, and sing 
well. The average length is six or seven inches. This class of birds is 
known as seed-eaters and can be recognized by their stout conical bills, 
but they also live largely on cutworms, caterpillars, and other insects. 
The sexes are generally alike. With the English sparrow in mind as 
a type, other members of the family should be readily recognized. 

English Sparrow (Passer domesticus\ House Sparrow, Street Gamin, 
Tramp: Male, upper parts ashy-gray, streaked with black and brown; 
black patch about eyes and on throat, rest of under parts grayish; red- 



160 American Birds 

brown patch behind eye; wing with brown patch and white wing-bars. 
Female, grayish-brown above and gray beneath. This bird was brought 
to this country from England. It has spread all over the United States 
where it is a persistent resident of towns and cities. 

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia): A familiar and favorite bird 
throughout North America. Its dress has been modified slightly by cli- 
matic influences in different parts of the country. In the Northwest, 
where rain is plentiful and vegetation is dense, his coat is sable-brown; 
on the deserts, his dress is a pale, sandy color to match the ground. 
But whatever the shade of his dress, he is always the same in every state 
in the Union. Male and female, streaked above and below; the upper 
parts are brown-gray and olive; gray stripe over the eye; breast is white, 
streaked with dark brown and a larger spot on the chest. Sometimes 
the song sparrow stays all winter; others return from the South in April 
and stay till November. Nest on the ground or in a low bush. Eggs, 
four, grayish-white, spotted and clouded with brown and lavender. 

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella socialis), Chippy, Hair-bird: Male and 
female, cap red-brown; brown stripe through the eye and gray stripe 
above; back streaked brown and gray; breast light gray. 

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotricbia leucophrys): Male and female, 
white crown set between two black stripes with white stripe running 
back from eye; cheeks, throat and back of neck gray; back, general ashy 
color, streaked with brown; below, light gray. 

White-throated Sparrow, similar to above, but with yellow spot in 
front of eye, and white throat. Both are handsome birds and good 
singers. 



TWO STUDIES IN BLUE 



XV 
TWO STUDIES IN BLUE 

BLUE is not a common color among our birds. There 
are many more clad in neutral tints of brown and 
gray than in bright blue. But a list of birds that every 
one should know could not be complete without our two 
commonest studies in blue, the Bluebird (Sialia sialis) and 
the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). In all our woods, 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, one may find these two, 
one gentle and friendly, the other bold, boisterous, and 
untrustful. 

A small flock of jays are a noisy pack in the autumn. 
They squawk through the woods as if they want every- 
body to know just where they are, but in the spring, 
after they have paired and are nesting, they suddenly go 
speechless, as if they can't trust themselves to talk out 
loud. And, indeed, they can't when anywhere about the 
nest. They talk in whispers, and flit as silently as shad- 
ows through the trees. 

In the early spring I heard the jays squawking about 
the maples on the hill, but I knew they would not nest 
there ; that was only a playground. A quarter of a mile 
below this was a thick clump of fir saplings. They would 
take this thicket for a home. The last week in May I 
searched through this and found the nest eight feet from 
the ground among the close limbs. 
163 



164 American Birds 

Early in the season these same birds were blustering, 
bragging, and full of noise. When I found the nest one 
of the birds was at home. She didn't move till I shook 
the tree ; then she slid off silently and went for her mate. 
In another minute they were both there, not threatening 
and swearing, as I had expected. It was pitiful to see 
how meek and confiding they had become. There was 
not a single harsh word. They had lost even the blue jay 
tongue, and talked like two chippies in love. They had 
a peculiar little note like the mewing of a pussy-cat. I 
felt ashamed to touch the home of such a gentle pair. 

If this was not a twofold bird character, I never ex- 
pect to see one. They go sneaking through the woods, 
stealing eggs and wrecking homes of others, and squeal- 
ing in delight at every chance to pillage but this is legiti- 
mate in the blue jay code of morals. I have often won- 
dered whether jays plunder other jays, or whether there 
is honor among bird thieves. There are robber barons 
among birds as among men. But doves could not be more 
gentle and loving about the home, for the jays were de- 
voted parents. 

If this pair of jays carried on their nest robbing, they 
did it on the quiet away from home, for in the thicket, and 
only a few yards away, I found a robin's nest with eggs, 
and the nest of a thrush with young birds. Perhaps the 
jays wanted to stand well with their neighbors and live 
in peace. I am sure if the robins had thought the jays 
were up to mischief, they would have hustled them out 
of the thicket. I think we give both the crow and the jay 
more blame for nest robbing than they deserve, for inves- 
tigation shows that they eat many insects, and in some 



Two Studies in Blue 165 

cases I have known the jays to live largely on wheat and 
other grains. 

Throughout the East the bluebird is known as the 
forerunner of spring. The bluebirds are the first to re- 
turn, and they bring the spring with them. But in the 
West, where the winters are not so cold, a few always 
stay the year around. They are together in small flocks 
during the day and sleep together at night. One evening 
I saw four huddled together in one of my bird-boxes. 
During the hard days of rain and snow they were con- 
tinually together, and returned at night to stay in the box. 
I think they were partly drawn to return each day by 
the food I put out. When I first saw them in the back 
yard I tossed a worm out of the window, and it had 
hardly struck the ground when it was snapped up. They 
were all hungry, for they ate half a cupful of worms. 

The bluebird, the wren, and the swallow have taken 
remarkably to civilization. They formerly built in holes 
in old trees in the midst of the woods, but now they prefer 
a house in the back yard. In one locality near my home 
we used to find the bluebirds nesting every year in some 
old stumps. Now several residences have been built near, 
and in three of the yards there are bird-boxes, and the 
bluebirds have abandoned the stumps and taken to mod- 
ern homes. A bluebird has better protection in a back 
yard, and he knows it. Then if the owners like him, he 
grows fond enough of them to perch on the hand, and he 
pays rent in the quality of his song and by ridding the 
fruit trees of harmful worms. 

Although the bluebird often lives about the city, I 
associate him with country life. I imagine he likes a farm 



1 66 American Birds 

home better than a city flat. I have a friend in the coun- 
try who has bird-boxes up in various places about his farm. 
Most of them find occupants every year. An old square 
box that is set in the crotch of an apple tree is ahead in 
the record. This box was put up in the spring of 1897, 
and was taken by a pair of bluebirds. It is only four feet 
from the ground and has a removable top, so that the 
owner may readily make friends of the tenants. When I 
opened the box and looked in, the mother sat quietly on 
her eggs, and was tame enough to allow us to stroke her 
feathers. 

This box is now covered with moss and lichens, but it 
is famous in bluebird history. It has been occupied every 
year since it was put up, and not a single year has there 
been less than two broods reared, and several times three. 
The record year was in 1904, when the bluebirds had 
two families of seven and one of five birds, and succeeded 
in raising them all. Seven is a large family for bluebirds, 
and it is more remarkable that there should have been 
seven in the second brood and then a third brood. In the 
eight years there have been over one hundred and ten 
young bluebirds hatched in this box in the apple tree. One 
would think the bird world would soon be overcrowded 
with bluebirds, but it isn't. There seem to be no more 
bluebirds about the farm than eight years ago, although 
there are generally two or three broods raised in other 
boxes near by. It all goes to show how the bird popu- 
lation decreases in numbers. The new birds of each 
year take the place of the numbers that die during the 
winter. Birds have many enemies that we know not of. 
Many die of disease, many starve or die of cold, and 



Two Studies in Blue 167 

many are killed by birds of prey and animals that hunt 
small birds. 

It would be interesting to know whether the same pair 
returns each year to the box in the tree, or how many 
different pairs have lived there. Sometimes the same pair 
has returned, but it is improbable that they have lived 
longer than three or four years. If one of the birds died, 
the other may have taken another mate and returned to 
the same home. 

I find it an easy matter to make friends with the birds. 
If one has a yard with some trees and bushes, he may 
have a real bird retreat. Fortunate is the boy or girl 
who has a big yard with a tangle of bushes or an old 
fence some thick trees and a wild corner where the weeds 
run riot. Under such conditions he ought to go right 
into the bird business. Arrange a shallow dish or basin, 
where fresh water may be kept every day for the birds 
to bathe and drink. This makes a most attractive bird 
resort for the summer. Then build some bird-houses, and 
put them about in the trees or on some posts, and you 
are sure to have tenants all summer. For the fall and 
winter start a bird lunch-counter by all means. Nail up 
a box or board just outside your window where you can 
watch it and where you can set the table without the least 
trouble. Then keep it supplied with a few cracked nuts, 
seeds, and crumbs. Suet chopped in fine bits may be put 
out, or a large piece may be nailed down, so it can be 
pecked, but not dislodged. The news will spread, and 
you will have boarders every day. If you are regular, 
your boarders will be regular. The guests will assemble 
even before the meals are served. In this way one may 



168 American Birds 

establish the closest relations with his feathered visitors. 
Accustom them to your presence gradually, and do not 
make sudden movements, and the birds will learn not to 
be afraid. Later you may even have the birds come at 
call or take a bit from your hand. Such a bird friend- 
ship is worth working for, and such familiarity with 
the wild birds cannot help but make a boy or girl's life 
better. 

In the side of our tank house we bored two holes 
about four feet apart and nailed up boxes on the inside. 
One of these was soon taken by a bluebird. The female 
went in and looked the box through, and in a moment 
came out and perched on the wire while the male took a 
look. The next day the female began carrying straws. 
She had a devoted husband, but he was merely an attend- 
ant when it came to work. He watched and applauded, 
but he didn't help build. I don't know but that he was 
too lazy; or maybe he didn't know how, or the wife didn't 
want him bothering while she was building to suit herself. 
It looked to me as if he were ornamental without being 
useful. But after watching awhile, it seemed that it was 
her duty to build and his to watch and encourage. When 
she carried in the material and fixed it, she popped out 
of the hole and waited while he went in to look, and then 
out he would come with words of praise, and away they 
would fly together. 

I had a splendid arrangement to watch the builders at 
close quarters. I could go in the tank house and close 
the door, and then in the darkness I could look through 
a crack in the box, and with my eye less than a foot away 
could watch every movement the birds made. While the 




Young Blue Jay just leaving nest. 



Two Studies in Blue 169 

mother was setting on the eggs she became very tame, and 
we often reached in and stroked her feathers. 

When the young birds came I watched the mother 
come to feed and brood her young. The father was the 
ever-watchful admirer, but the mother was all business, 
and paid no attention to him except to knock him out of 
the way when he was too devoted. The mother always 
brought in the food, and the father kept staying away 
more and more, until the young birds were grown. 

One day while I was watching, the mother was feed- 
ing the youngsters on maggots almost entirely. She was 
gone quite a while, but each time returned with a large 
mouthful, which she fed to the young. Occasionally one 
of the young failed to get all of them, and if one dropped 
the mother picked it up and ate it herself. 

One of the eggs was addled and did not hatch, but 
the mother was very fond of it. She would look at it 
almost every time she returned, and would turn it over, 
and then cover it a few moments, as if she were sure it 
contained a baby bird. 

The nest was lined with horsehair, and once when the 
mother fed one of the chicks, the food caught and the 
little bird swallowed the hair too, but both ends stuck 
out of his mouth. He kept shaking his head, but could 
not get rid of it. I waited to see if the mother would 
assist him, but she didn't seem to notice his trouble, so 
I had to reach in and dislodge the hair. Otherwise I am 
afraid it would have fared badly with the chick. 

These bluebirds had five young in their first brood. 
When the first youngster left the nest the father became 
more attentive, and helped care for the little ones that 



170 American Birds 

were just starting out into the world. They all stayed 
about the yard till the young knew how to hunt for them- 
selves. Finally three of them disappeared. I suppose 
they went off with other bluebirds, but two of the young 
still stayed with us. The parents themselves seemed to 
disappear for a few days, and I thought they had left for 
good. Then one morning I saw the mother enter the 
house again, and the father was there, too, perched on the 
wire. He was more attentive than formerly. The next 
day I found a fresh egg in the nest. The parents had 
returned to raise a new family. 

There were only three eggs in the second setting, and 
all hatched. The two young birds of the first brood fol- 
lowed the father about while the mother was setting. 
Then when the mother began feeding her second family 
I made some interesting observations. Her older chil- 
dren began following her about to hunt food, and to my 
surprise I saw one of them bring some worms, and after 
the mother fed, the young bluebird went into the box 
and fed her small brothers and sisters. After that I 
watched closely, and often saw the birds of the first brood 
feed the little ones of the second brood. Perhaps the 
two birds of the first brood were girls and took readily to 
housework. They may have been learning for the next 
season, when they themselves expected to have a home. 

One of the young birds was very enthusiastic in help- 
ing her mother. For a while she fed as often as the 
mother. Several times when the latter brought food, the 
young bird flew at her and tried to take the morsel she 
had in her mouth, as if saying, " Let me feed the chil- 
dren," and twice I saw the mother yield and let her older 



Two Studies in Blue 171 

child feed the younger ones. It was a very pretty bit 
of bird life to watch these bluebirds. We were anxious 
to get a photograph of the mother and the young bird 
helping her. We tried by getting on top of the house and 
focusing the camera on a wire where the birds often 
alighted. We finally got one view of the two as the young 
bird was just in the act of jumping for the worm the 
mother held. 



THE BLUE JAY FAMILY 

The Jays are one branch of the Corvidas or Crow family, but in con- 
trast to the crows, the jays are birds of bright and varied colors, gener- 
ally blue, and often the head is crested. The jay is a well-known char- 
acter everywhere, but has a bad reputation. He is about twelve inches 
long and lives on grain, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and often eats the 
eggs of other birds. 

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata): Male and female, crest and back, 
light purplish blue; wings and tail, blue barred with black; throat, gray, 
fading to white on belly; a black collar across lower throat and up sides 
of head behind crest. Lives throughout eastern United States, where 
it nests in May and June, making a bulky nest generally hidden in a 
thick tree. Eggs, four to six, varying from greenish to buff, thickly 
marked with brown and purplish spots. 

California Jay (Apbelocoma californica): Male and female, upper 
parts, blue; sides of head, grayish-black, with light stripe over eye; under 
parts, white, washed with light blue on sides of chest. Nesting habits 
same as above. Lives on Pacific Coast from Columbia River south. 



THE BLUEBIRD FAMILY 

This family of songsters may be recognized by the rich blue dress. 
The Bluebird is about seven inches in length. It frequents the woods 
and waysides and likes to nest in bird-boxes about the dooryard. It is 
a quiet, gentle-mannered bird and readily becomes semi-domesticated. 



172 American Birds 

It lives largely on caterpillars, grasshoppers, and wild berries. It is 
called the forerunner of spring because it often comes before the first 
spring days begin. 

Bluebird (Siala sialis): Male, azure blue above; wings, blue with 
dark edgings; breast, brick-red and lower parts, white. Female, duller 
blue; breast, paler and more brownish. Young birds have speckled 
breast. Lives throughout eastern United States, one of the first birds to 
arrive from the South, coming generally in March. Nests in an aban- 
doned woodpecker hole or in a bird-house. From four to six pale blue 
eggs. 

Western Bluebird (Siala mexicana occidentalis): Resembles the 
above closely, with more reddish-brown on the back. Inhabits the 
Pacific Coast region. 








The young Bluebird was just in the act of jumping for 
the worm the mother held. 



The male Bluebird with food for young. 




A mother Bluebird poising an instant after feeding her young. 



BASKET MAKERS, THE VIREO AND 
ORIOLE 



XVI 

BASKET MAKERS, THE VIREO AND 
ORIOLE 

DOES the bird build its nest by instinct or does it exert 
a reasoning power? Why doesn't the vireo build 
a nest like the robin ? The vireos build basket nests ; why 
is it that all vireo nests are similar? A young vireo that 
has never built a nest will make one as his parents before 
him. He undoubtedly has the instinct to make a basket 
nest, and does not know how to make any other. But 
we often see nests that are poorly built, and this shows 
that young birds are not as skillful as older ones. 

Are birds influenced by the sense of the beautiful in 
making their nests? Do the vireos adorn their nests with 
lichens to make them attractive, or to make them invisible 
among the leaves and limbs, or just because they find the 
lichens handy to build with? Many people have argued 
that the birds are influenced principally by one of these 
factors, but I see no reason why all these different things 
do not influence the bird as it would influence us if we 
were to build under similar circumstances. 

Imitation is perhaps the strongest factor in the life 
of the chick from the time it leaves the shell till it is a 
full-grown bird. Nest building, like singing, may be 
largely by imitation, and the lasting impressions in a bird's 
life must be during the first few weeks of its existence. 



1 76 American Birds 

Experiment shows that a baby linnet brought up by a tit- 
lark took all the notes from that bird, and even though 
placed in the company of other linnets later, he did not sing 
as they sang. This law among birds that makes the earli- 
est impressions the habits of after life would make a 
strange bird world if revoked. If the nestlings did not 
learn the songs from their parents, what a grand medley 
we should have; robins singing like wrens and larks like 
sparrows, till we could no longer tell birds by their songs. 

It is largely this habit of imitation in the bird that 
prompts him to adorn his nest with lichens and to build 
a home that blends so closely with the surrounding 
branches. Some people would have us believe that the bird 
has reasoned it out, and builds in this way to protect his 
nest from enemies. The rufous hummingbird is accus- 
tomed to see the lichen-covered limbs of the trees, and 
when it builds it collects these lichens and shingles its home 
with them. Out of fifty nests of the rufous hummer all 
were built after the same manner. But the black-chinned 
hummer of southern California generally builds in the 
sycamores and oaks. The leaves of the sycamores are 
light-colored, and have a fine yellow down on one side. 
The bird selects this down and builds its home entirely 
of it, so it is light yellow and can hardly be seen among 
the leaves surrounding it. The two nests are very dif- 
ferent in appearance, but the fact that both nests are pro- 
tectively colored is from the use of handy material rather 
than the result of the birds seeking certain things for the 
purpose of protection. 

The last week in April, before the trees were well leaved, 
I heard the call of the Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) . 




Mother Oriole feeding young. 



Young Cassin Vireos on branch over basket nest 




Basket Makers, the Vireo and Oriole 177 

" See here! See me! " and a moment later, " See here! 
See here ! See me ! " he said from the hillside, and I went 
up to look at him. He sang for me within a few feet. 
He had just arrived from the South and he was hungry 
no time to bother with people. He jumped from limb 
to limb looking, always looking for food. The singing 
was spontaneous, thrown in for every worm he found. 
There was no mate about; she had likely not arrived 
yet. He intended to keep on singing till she did come. 
I had been watching and waiting for the vireo because 
I wanted to study his method of nest building and get his 
picture, so I watched him closely during the weeks that 
followed. 

It is very likely that both this vireo and his mate 
had built nests before, for they built such a pretty one. 
It was not a haphazard site they selected. They searched 
for positions and studied different places. Then at last 
they decided upon a hazel bush. Both began work, 
and they worked independently, each hunting moss and 
fibres and weaving them in to his own satisfaction. Al- 
though they worked according to their own ideas each was 
satisfied with what the other did. When it came to dec- 
orating, I think it was the wife who shingled the outside 
of the home. She, perhaps, had more taste than her 
husband. 

The vireos built their nest in a good position for it 
was entirely shielded by leaves. You couldn't see the nest 
from the front; it was roofed over with a big hazel leaf, 
and in hot or rainy weather the mother had this canopy 
over her head. It was even more useful when the young 
were hatched, for both mother and father were away at 



178 American Birds 

times hunting food, and then the nestlings were protected 
by the leaves. Each time the mother had to reach under 
and raise the roof to feed her bantlings. 

In order to get some pictures we tied a string to the 
branch that held the basket nest and anchored it two feet 
nearer the ground. When the mother returned with a 
worm, and dropped from the upper branch, where she 
always lighted, to the limb where the nest was hung, she 
fluttered in the air trying to light on her accustomed perch. 
She looked puzzled and went back to try it again, but 
when she put her feet down to light there was no perch. 
Then the father came and he did the same thing. There 
was no alarm. They looked at each other a few minutes 
and talked, and then the mother dropped to the nest and 
fed her children. She saw me lying in the grass and 
scolded mildly for my impudence. But she straightway 
forgot the nest had been lowered, for when she came back 
she missed the limb again and tried to light where the nest 
had formerly been. Then, to be sure she was not dream- 
ing, she lit near the foot of the branch and hopped along 
till she came to the nest. 

Once the mother came with a triangular piece of food 
in her bill, that looked as if it might be from the back of 
a beetle. She thrust it into one open mouth, but the chick 
could not swallow it. She watched him a moment and 
then took it and thrust it into another mouth. This chick 
had the same trouble, but she flew away leaving it there. 
And all the time the young bird sat there with the food 
bulging out of his mouth. Several times he tried to swal- 
low it, but it was no use; it was too big and unyield- 
ing. When the mother came again and saw the food 



Basket Makers, the Vireo and Oriole 179 

still in his mouth she tried another chick with it, but he 
could not get it down. She had to try several times before 
she seemed to realize that the bite was too big, and then 
she dropped it over the nest edge. 

Just across the ravine from our vireo's nest a pair 
of Cassin vireos had a home, and all but one of the young 
birds had left the nest. This last chick kept calling for 
food, so we put him on the hazel limb beside our nest. 
Then we waited developments, half expecting the mother 
to knock him headlong when she returned. The minute 
the new bantling heard her coming, open popped his 
mouth, and as he stood between her and the nest the 
mother couldn't resist but gave him the mouthful. But 
the next time she came she stepped right over him as if 
he were nothing more than a leaf, and she did the same 
every time after, paying no attention whatever to him, so 
we had to return him to his own home where he was cared 
for by his own parents. 

While the vireos were in the midst of household 
affairs we found an Oriole (Icterus bullocki) building its 
basket nest in a weeping willow that stood in the chicken 
yard. Last year the nest was swung in the very top 
branches, but this year they built among the leaves beside 
the chicken house, twelve feet up. We tied a rope up 
near the base of the limb and drew it tight from the fence, 
so when the mother returned with food for her young she 
found her house had sunk four feet nearer the ground. 
Then we set up a step-ladder so we could look into the 
basket. 

I never saw birds more in love than the orioles were. 
We watched them from the time they were first mated. 



I So 



American Birds 



They were always together in the trees about the orchard. 
Beyond the chicken yard was an old deserted cabin. A 
part of the window had been broken out, and the pair 
often sat there on the sash. Sometimes they hopped in 
and sat on the table inside. I didn't know at the time, 
but I think they were attracted by the reflections in the 
glass. The female would flutter before the glass and 
then light in the broken pane and look about with the 
most mysterious expression. 

Just at the side of the house were three large cherry 
trees with wide-spreading branches reaching almost to the 
windows. When the dark shades were drawn the win- 
dows made a very good mirror. One day when the pair 
of orioles were playing about the cherry trees I saw the 
female light on a low branch in front of the window. 
Then in a few moments she flew down and lit on the sash. 
The next day I saw both the orioles at the window. The 
male sat near on the branches and the female on the sill. 
As I watched she fluttered up against the window, trying 
her best to hang on, till she slipped down to the bottom. 
Then she turned her head and watched in the glass. The 
more she looked the more excited she seemed to get, and 
she fluttered against the glass till out of breath. Then 
the mate flew down beside her. Time after time the birds 
were seen at the window. Had the lady, like Narcissus, 
fallen in love with herself, or was curiosity leading her 
on? I never saw a pair of birds with such a mania for 
windows. I thought the male would hurl himself at the re- 
flection he saw in the window, but, contrary to my expecta- 
tions, he took the picture as a matter of course. He sat 
on the sill or perched near by on the branches while his 




Cassin Vireo beside nest. 




Warbling Vireo feeding young. 




Warbling Vireo at nest after feeding. 



Basket Makers, the Vireo and Oriole 181 

wife, so intent with the bird in the glass, flew against the 
window, but never accomplished anything except to slide 
to the bottom. 

I fear she would have gone insane flying against the 
window had the nest building and family cares not taken 
her away. But I don't believe there was a day, unless 
it was after the mother began setting, that the pair did 
not appear at the window. The bird in the glass house 
had a great fascination, and the window itself was 
streaked and spotted by the feet and bills of the orioles. 

One day I saw a streak of orange and black flash 
into the cherry tree beside the willow. It was a male ori- 
ole, but not the guardian of the nest, for he was a more 
deeply marked bird, an older oriole, for the plumage of 
the males grows deeper in color and more striking as they 
advance in years. But the new arrival had hardly lit 
when there was a flash of color, and the father of the 
nestlings darted at the intruder like a little fury. Through 
the branches, under trees, over the barn, and across the 
orchard the righteous pursuer and the invidious pursued 
darted. A father bird has the right to the trees about 
his home. This tradition is sacred in bird life, and no 
matter how large and strong the meddler he cannot long 
stand the attack of an enraged father. 

We set one camera on the top of the ladder pointing 
at the nest, and draped it with willow branches. The 
mother would peek in from the back door, and then edge 
slowly down the long braids of the willow limbs to thrust 
a morsel in the mouth of a clamoring baby. The father 
fed occasionally. He often paused on a dead limb over 
the chicken house. We placed another camera here on the 



1 82 American Birds 

top of the old house and hid it under a green cloth and 
branches, and in this way got some snaps of him. While 
we were waiting during the afternoon for chance shots at 
the birds, I heard the challenging call of the male oriole 
down at the other end of the orchard. 

During the next day we watched about the oriole's 
nest; both the birds were feeding the young, and the male 
was not any wilder than the female. As the day wore 
on the male seemed to be doing most of the feeding, 
for the visits of the mother were less frequent. The nest 
was made almost entirely of horsehair and the orioles 
knew just how to use the material, for it was woven so 
that the sides bulged out with the constituency of a hollow 
rubber ball. But horsehair is often dangerous to birds. 
I saw the father almost get caught in one of the hairs. 
When he went to feed the young he put his head through 
a loop in one of the hairs, and when he started to leave 
he twisted the noose about his neck. He jerked back 
several times to no avail, and then fortunately turned back 
the same way, and the noose slipped over his head, ruffling 
his feathers, and he was free. Had he not made the right 
turn he would surely have hung himself. I know of sev- 
eral cases where birds have been hung in this way. Horse- 
hairs and strings are comparatively new things in bird 
architecture and often cause trouble, just as in rapid flight 
a bird in the city often strikes a telephone wire and is 
killed by the force of the blow. 

The following day I again saw the flash of the in- 
truding black and orange and the accustomed hot chase 
through the orchard. In the afternoon I noticed that the 
young orioles were fed entirely from the bill of the father. 



Basket Makers, the Vireo and Oriole 183 

The mother came only once, but she did not bring food. 
She sat about in the cherry tree for a while and flew to 
the branch over the nest, but did not go near her children. 
It seemed to me this was rather negligent of the lady of 
the house, but the father was doing well. He returned 
every few minutes with food, so the children had their 
meals. 

Next morning the mother did not appear once about 
the home, and I became suspicious. We watched dur- 
ing the whole afternoon, just because our curiosity was 
aroused, but she did not return. The father was alone. 
That night a heavy rain blew up. The three young birds 
were partly feathered, and we feared the father would 
not hover them. When we went out with a lantern our 
expectations were realized, and we tried to tie a roof over 
the nest. In the morning the young birds were dead, for 
the water had run down the branches and chilled them 
to death. The father was there with food, but to no avail. 
And the mother, where she was I do not know. 

During the nesting period a heavy rain creates havoc 
among bird homes. I've seen half a dozen different fam- 
ilies of young birds killed by a heavy shower. And how 
many more there must be that we do not see. If the 
nest contains eggs or very young birds, the mother will 
hover them and protect her babies from the water. But 
when the birds are half feathered out she in many cases 
no longer hovers them, for they are able to keep them- 
selves warm. 

I have never known just what to think of this pair 
of orioles, but I know from experience that birds are often 
fickle. I know of an instance where a newly mated pair 



184 American Birds 

of orioles were living about a grove of trees, and the male 
bird was in such fine plumage that a collector shot him 
for his cabinet. The next day the female appeared with 
a new husband, who was as bright and fine looking as 
the bird she lost the day before. At the first chance this 
male was also shot, partly, it was said, because he was 
such a fine bird and partly to see if the female would find 
another as readily. Two days later she appeared with 
a third husband, who went the way of the two former 
ones. The female then disappeared for a few days, but 
returned again with a fourth suitor. These two began 
building in a eucalyptus tree and soon had a family of 
young birds. This may be a remarkable case of wooing 
and winning, for I can't see where this supply of male 
birds came from unless the widow oriole was breaking up 
other families. 



THE VIREO FAMILY 

These birds are often called Greenlets; the name comes from the 
Latin vireo, meaning I am green. They are small birds about five or 
six inches in length, and dressed in soft tones of olive-green without 
any brilliant markings. The bill is slender but stouter than a war- 
bler's, and has a slight hook at the end. They have sweet, warbling 
songs, and are very active in their search for insects among the trees. 

Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus): Male and female, above, pale olive- 
green; grayish on head and more olive on rump; white streak through the 
eye; no wing bars; below, dull yellowish, whiter on throat and belly. 
Lives throughout North America in general, arriving from the South in 
May and remaining till September or early October. Nest, cup-shaped, 
hanging in the fork of a branch. Eggs, three to five, white with brown 
dots more numerous on larger end. 

There are several other species of vireos through the United States, 



Basket Makers, the Vireo and Oriole 185 

but all bear a close resemblance in size and color and nest similarly. 
The Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos are found in the 
East, while Cassin and Least Vireos are common on the Pacific Coast. 



THE ORIOLE FAMILY 

The Oriole may be recognized by the brilliant colors of his dress, 
and his pleasing, rollicking song. His length is about eight inches. He 
lives on insects, larvae, plant-lice, and sometimes eats fruit. He is known 
as an architect because of the well-woven, hanging nest he builds gener- 
ally in the trees that border the sidewalks. 

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), Hang-nest: Male, head, throat, 
and upper part of back, black; wings, black with white spots on edges; 
under parts and rump, orange or orange-red, the intensity of color vary- 
ing with age and season. Female, paler and back tinged with olive; 
below, dull orange. Lives in eastern United States to Rocky Mountains. 
Migrates the last of April and reaches the northern states about the 
second week in May. Builds a hanging basket suspended at the end of 
a swaying branch. Eggs, four to six, whitish, scrawled with black and 
brown lines. 

Bullock Oriole (Icterus bullocki): Replaces the Baltimore from the 
Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. Slightly larger than above. In the 
male, the orange extends to the side of the head, neck, and forehead, 
leaving only a narrow black space on the throat and a black line 
through the eye. Habits identical. 



PHOEBE 



XVII 
PHCEBE 

THERE were plenty of other birds building new 
spring homes about me, but Phoebe (Sayornis 
nigricans} occupied more of my attention than all the 
others. Perhaps it was because he was so retiring and 
had such a quiet personality. There is as much differ- 
ence in birds as in people. When a new neighbor moves 
into a community all eyes are upon him. Shall he be 
taken into fellowship? Will his friendship be desirable? 
Certainly I would expect a phoebe to be received cordially 
if gentility counted. But it didn't count in this case for 
the neighborhood had already been settled by linnets. 

Just over the fence was a vine that covered our neigh- 
bor's trellis. It had overrun its quarters and crawled 
along the telephone wire up under the eaves. One morn- 
ing I saw a phoebe sitting on a rose stake. In a moment 
he flitted up under the eaves, and sat on the wire scanning 
one of the brackets. His tail was tilting in quiet excite- 
ment. He seemed to be looking for a home site, and the 
bracket under the eaves was the best kind of a place. But 
I have often been disappointed in finding the nest site 
I should select does not exactly suit the bird. However, I 
had great hopes that the phoebes would build opposite 
just to offset the noisy linnets or house finches. 

In a few days there were two phoebes flitting back and 
189 



190 American Birds 

forth from the rose stakes to the fence. Occasionally they 
flew up under the eaves and sat on the wire. Then I felt 
sure they would make their home just above the vine on 
the bracket. But they made no beginning of nest building, 
although they roosted on the wire at night. They flew 
about uttering plaintive " De-ars " as if they couldn't 
really decide. 

Phoebes do not seem to look on the bright side of 
things. They have a pathetic, complaining note which 
would catch your ear any time among the general chorus 
of bird notes. It doesn't seem to be a complaint, how- 
ever, but just their serious way of taking life. They 
never seem really joyous ; they are alert and light in move- 
ment, but they lack the brightness of other birds per- 
haps life is too full of business. 

Day after day for more than a week the pair of 
phoebes inspected my neighbor's eaves; then one morning 
I saw a pair of linnets nosing about in the vine just below 
the wire where the phoebes roosted. The phoebes saw 
them, too, and straightway decided to build a nest on the 
bracket, for they commenced carrying mud and straws. 
But they had waited too long. The linnets needed but 
one look, for the thick vine was just suited to their needs. 
Then when I saw the female linnet come with a string I 
knew there was trouble in the air. But to my surprise 
things did not come to a crisis till three days later. 

The phoebes were just beginning the walls of their 
home. One of the birds was at the bracket when the red- 
headed linnet and his mate arrived. Without a second's 
pause there was a dash of red and gray and a whirl of 
black and white. I heard angry shrieks and frightened 



Phoebe 191 

cries as a couple of feathers wavered down to the grass. 
Of course the phoebes would stand no show with the lin- 
nets. The phoebes were peaceable while the linnets were 
bold and impetuous, noisy in joy as well as in anger. 

The linnets continued with their house as rapidly as 
possible, while the phoebes sat around and watched most 
of the time. For several days they didn't add any to their 
home, yet they couldn't give up the idea of abandoning 
their site on the bracket. Late in the afternoon, after the 
linnets ceased working and had gone to bed, the phoebes 
were always there flitting about the rose stakes and the 
fence. Then in the dusk they would flutter up to the wire 
under the eaves and go to sleep close to the usurpers' nest. 
I looked for the tyrants to come out and forbid the phoebes 
sleeping so close to them, but they didn't. It was perhaps 
too much trouble for them to stir out after their early 
bedtime. 

Before long I knew the phoebes had taken up another 
home site, for they stayed away most of the day and only 
returned in the evening to roost. Then later only one of 
them, the father I took it to be, came to roost on the wire. 
I watched every evening, but he always slept alone. 

I became curious as to where the mother phoebe had 
her nest, and I watched for several days but could not see 
where the father went or where he came from. But one 
day, while crossing through a small clump of trees, I saw 
one of the phoebes snap up a butterfly and fly over toward 
a deserted cabin. No one had occupied the cabin for sev- 
eral years I thought, yet when I got there I found it in- 
habited by two families. At the back, just under the 
shelter of the overhanging shingles, the phoebes had plas- 



192 American Birds 

tered a mud nest, and now it was heaped up full and over- 
running with a family of five children. Around to the 
front of the cabin I heard a wren singing, and I rounded 
the corner just in time to see him pop under the shanty 
which was built on the side hill; the front part of the 
foundation was three feet above the ground. Getting 
down on my hands and knees I crawled under and looked 
about the beams. On a cross-board in the corner were the 
nest and five eggs of the wren. With the phoebes in the 
rear, and the wrens lodged in the front of the cabin, there 
wasn't the least interference, and the place was much 
more interesting to me than before the original owners 
moved out. 

The back of the cabin sloped down to a height of seven 
feet from the ground, and it was pushed close up against 
the side hill; we could stand on the slope and look right 
into the phoebes' nest. The mud nest was plastered on 
the side of the wall as an eaves swallow builds his nest. 
With the mud the phoebes had woven in straws, rootlets, 
and horsehair to keep the structure from crumbling. 
Then the cup was lined with soft grasses. 

I was amused to see how the phoebes had built. There 
were five different places where they had started to build 
and had plastered a few wads of mud on the wall. It 
seems they had selected one spot when they first started, 
and as all the boards looked very much alike the birds 
got mixed in the location when they returned each time; 
but they had not wasted much material, for after a few 
trials they had the spot fixed in mind and both deposited 
the mud on the same board. It looked to me as if they 
had stood off and thrown little balls of clay against the 



Phoebe 1 9 3 

wall, for the boards were covered about the nest with 
small spatters of mud. But this likely came from the 
birds shaking their bills and flipping the mud off while 
building. 

Both the mother and father fed the nestlings. They 
often brought in large butterflies which were fed, 
wings and all, to the children. The father phoebe seemed 
the tamer of the two. A nearby fence post was his favor- 
ite perch. He would jump into the air and glide closely 
to the ground, a sharp click, a turn, and a graceful curve 
back to the post. " Pee-we-e! Pee-we-e! " he would say, 
as he teetered his loosely jointed tail. He seemed to talk 
as much with his tail as with his mouth, for it was always 
wagging. I often wondered that it did not get tired and 
fall off, he bobbed it so much. 

I loved to watch phoebe for he had such an air of grace 
and ease, he was so light and quick on the wing. The 
highest accomplishment of a bird is its power of flight. 
In this it differs from the other creatures except the insects 
and the bat. The wing of the bird is built with the min- 
imum of weight for the maximum of strength. The bones 
and the quills are hollow, and the feathers are composed 
of the lightest filaments joined together by minute hooks. 

The problem of flight seemed the simplest thing in the 
world to phoebe, yet it has taxed the brains of the wisest 
men to explain. The solution, as some one has given it, 
is that the bend in the wing feathers forms a hollow under 
the wing when it is spread. The downward motion of 
the wing forces the bird up. But this alone would not 
enable the bird to move forward. The muscles and the 
bones of the front end of the wing are strong and rigid. 



194 American Birds 

The back end of the wing, or the ends of the feathers, are 
soft and flexible. The air, catching under the inverted cup 
of the wing, escapes readily from the back end. This 
tends to lift the ends of the feathers, or push them forward 
out of the way, and the movement, repeated with rapidity, 
causes flight. 

This seems the best explanation of the flight of birds. 
Yet each family has a distinctive flight of its own. A good 
ornithologist can tell a bird by its flight, just as a person 
may tell his neighbor by his gait. The crow always flaps 
along in a slow lumbering way. The flicker opens and 
closes his wings in long sweeps, similar to the wavy flight 
of the goldfinch, which often twitters when flying. The 
swallows skim along with exceeding grace and ease, while 
the swifts fly like bats, short and jerky in movement. A 
quail or pheasant flushes with rapid beating of wings, 
making a loud whir. The hawks, eagles, and buzzards 
generally soar high in the air, gliding around in wide 
circles. I have never seen phoebe fly high or far at a 
time. His business is to stay about near his home, and 
he is continually watching and snapping up flies. 

One evening, a few days after I found phoebe's nest 
in the deserted cabin, I was sitting at the window when I 
heard the father calling excitedly in the back yard. I went 
out and there he had two of the young phoebes, one on 
the clothes-line and one on the woodshed. He was trying 
his best to tell them just what to do and how to do it. 
Soon he flew up to the wire under the eaves and then 
back again, telling his children that this was the best place 
to sleep for it was where he always spent the night. The 
father had persevered to the end and won his place under 



Phoebe 195 

the eaves, for now the linnets were gone ; the young had 
left the nest in the vine and set out for themselves. It 
took such an amount of coaxing and scolding for the 
father phoebe to get his babies up to the roost, but the 
three were finally cuddled together on the wire. This 
was the father's first choice for a home, and I imagine 
either he or some of his family will return early next 
spring and take up a home on the bracket under the trees 
before the linnets arrive. 



THE FLYCATCHER FAMILY 

A little observation will enable one to recognize the birds of this 
family from their habit of perching on a fence or dead twig with wings and 
tail moving up and down, ready for instant action; suddenly the bird 
dashes into the air, catching an insect with a quick turn and a click of its 
bill and returns to its perch. The birds of this family have no elaborate 
song, only a harsh chirp or a varying twitter or whistle. The bill is 
broad and flattened, with bristles at the base. The Kingbird or Bee- 
martin is about eight inches long while the Wood Pewee is six and the 
Phoebe about seven inches. 

Phoebe (Sayornis phcebe): Male and female, upper parts, olive- 
gray, darker on head; under parts, whitish, tinged with pale yellow. 
Lives throughout eastern North America, where it is common from 
April to October. Nest made of mud and moss, bracketed on the side 
of a rock or under a bridge. Eggs, from three to six, pure white, some- 
times spotted with brown about larger ends. 

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans): Male and female, entire plumage 
black except belly, which is white. Webs of outer tail feathers, whitish. 
Habits same as above, but resides on Pacific Coast. 



A PAIR OF COUSINS ROBIN AND 
THRUSH 



XVIII 

A PAIR OF COUSINS ROBIN AND 
THRUSH 

I KNOW of no other two birds so near akin that are 
so opposite in character and disposition as the Robin 
(Merula migratoria propinqua) and the Thrush (Hylo- 
clchla ustulata). As scientists distinguish birds there is 
not much difference because both are thrushes, except that 
the robin is attired with much more show, while the thrush 
has a modest brown dress. But this is the smallest differ- 
ence. In other ways they are distinctive types. For spunk 
and audacity the robin has it over most birds. The 
thrush has none of this boldness. He flits around in the 
shade trees and on the ground as if he were trying to keep 
hidden. He sings from a thick clump, the robin from a 
tree-top. The life of the thrush is pitched in a low key. 
His best song is a vesper hymn with a strain of sadness 
through it all. The robin has a gayer disposition; he is 
at his best in the rollicking song of the morning. 

Both birds nest about my home, the robin in the or- 
chard, the thrush in the fir thicket beyond. When I 
looked into the nest of the robin it made the owners 
beside themselves with anger. They dashed at me. 
" Help! Murder! Get out of here or we'll knock your 
head off ! " they yelled. When I crawled into the thicket 
where the thrush had her home she was more offended 
199 



2oo American Birds 

than frightened. She held her dignity and looked at me 
with an air that said, "This is my home: you are 
intruding." 

Of the eight hundred species of North American 
birds, the robin is the most widely known. No matter 
how limited a boy or girl's knowledge is about birds, 
he knows the robin when it arrives in the spring and begins 
to hunt worms on the lawn. 

Perhaps no bird is so closely associated with our every- 
day life as the robin. He takes his chances with the cats 
about the dooryard. He is a rural life bird, but he doesn't 
like the primitive forest. He can get better nest building 
material and better food wherever man is, and he stays 
near by some house. He likes a lawn in the springtime, 
for it always holds a good supply of worms. Give a 
robin plenty of lawn in the spring and a good cherry 
orchard in the summer and he asks for nothing else, and 
you can't get rid of him. And he makes a picture in 
the field. How his ruddy breast shows against the green ! 
He hops along for a few steps, and suddenly stands erect 
and still, as if thinking. Then his head turns to one side 
in a pert way as he examines the ground and listens. 
Down into the earth goes his bill, and he sits back and 
jerks a long worm from its hole. 

As the robin is widely known because of his distinctive 
size, dress, and habits, so the thrush is known for his sing- 
ing. " If we take the quality of melody as the test," says 
John Burroughs, " the wood thrush, the hermit thrush, 
and the veery thrush stand at the head of our list of 
songsters." Every bird lover has his favorite songster, 
and it is often difficult to say whether the song of one 







The Thrush's nest among the fe 



The Thrush mother at the nest edge. 




The Thrush on her nest. 



Young Thrush on a wild raspberry 



A Pair of Cousins Robin and Thrush 201 

bird surpasses that of another, because bird songs are 
largely matters of association and suggestion. At specific 
times and places, or under certain mental feelings or emo- 
tions, I have felt bird music sink into my memory to re- 
main a lasting pleasure. I can never forget the song of 
a winter wren I heard in the very heart of the forest. 
I had tramped the whole day along the lonely trail, and 
the heavy woods seemed so deserted of birds that I had 
heard the call notes of only two or three rare species. I 
dropped down to rest a few moments and was greeted 
by a sprightly but plaintive little song, that seemed almost 
lost in the primeval solitude of the woods. It was the 
winter wren. 

Few songs have thrilled me more than the carolling 
of the robin at sunrise on a crisp spring morning as I 
have set out for a walk in the woods. Yet this is not 
my favorite song. The thrush has a richer, fuller mel- 
ody. His song is one that ranges the whole scale of pure 
emotion. And it comes best about dusk from the shaded 
canons or the dark, tree-covered lawns. 

The nest in the fir thicket beyond the orchard was a 
typical thrush home. When I crawled in under the thick, 
low-hanging branches of the fir saplings I almost put my 
hand in the nest. The mother did not flush till I shook 
the limb, and then she slipped through the branches and 
gave a low whistle that brought her mate. The nest was 
made of moss and lined with leaves. I have never found 
a thrush's nest that was not built largely of moss. Moss 
is as essential to the russet-backed thrush as mud to the 
robin and lichens to the hummingbird. 

Whenever I visited the thrush's nest I met both the 



202 American Birds 

father and the mother. They flitted about the trees, watch- 
ing me in silence. They were always shy, and to me the 
shyness was the truest indication of the fine natures they 
possessed. They did not relieve their feelings by a great 
show and fuss as the robins did. The robins were always 
unnecessarily fussy and noisy. They are of plebeian stock; 
the thrushes are real patricians. Each time the thrush 
mother came with food for her young I saw her linger at 
the nest edge. Many bird mothers are away as soon as 
they have fed their young, but the thrush never failed 
to examine her nestlings, and I often saw her sit for sev- 
eral minutes at a time looking at her babies and caressing 
them with a real mother's love. 

There are many tragedies in bird and animal life, but 
we rarely come upon them. How often do we see a bird 
sick or dying? The end is generally tragic and not from 
natural causes. The weak fall as prey to the strong, the 
sick bird dies from a cat or some other animal. One day 
I was watching a pair of yellow warblers in the orchard 
that were flitting about the vine-covered fence. I think 
they were building a nest or just about to build in the vicin- 
ity. The first thing I noticed, the male paused on the fence, 
fluttering his wings. His mate flew down beside him. He 
tried to fly to a limb of a tree near by, but fell short and 
wavered to the ground. The wife was right beside him 
and chirping all the time. I went nearer for a closer view. 
He lay flat on his back, writhing in pain. I stooped to 
pick him up, for he was dying. His wife was on the fence, 
scarcely a yard from my hand, fidgeting and calling to 
him. He died in my hand. I laid him back on the 
ground; his mate was by his side in an instant, and now 



A Pair of Cousins Robin and Thrush 203 

as speechless as I. She didn't cry; they say birds can't 
cry, but it was sadder for all that. It was dumb grief. 
She stayed about all day, waiting for her mate. I buried 
him by the fence where he fell, stricken by I know not 
what. 

Birds sometimes meet with accidental death. I once 
saw a swallow fly against a telephone wire with such force 
that the bird was killed instantly. Later in the season, 
after the thrushes were grown, I found the body of a 
thrush hanging to the barb of a wire fence down below the 
orchard. The wire ran straight across the top of a zigzag 
fence, and the bird, in full flight, had just skimmed the 
top of the rail to go full force into the wire before it was 
seen. The barb had caught in the neck, and the force had 
swung the bird's body over the wire from below, locking 
it in a death-grip. 

Last summer when I went out through the orchard 
to examine the trees and see how many bird homes I could 
find, I found many of the same tenants back, but for 
some reason not as many robin families as usual. I found 
only seven robin nests, while these cherry trees generally 
feed about a dozen broods as well as furnishing a stamp- 
ing-ground for all the neighboring robins half a mile 
around. 

Two years ago an old robin built in an apple tree two 
rows over from the cherries. This year he planted his 
nest in the main crotch of the best Royal Ann cherry tree. 
The minute I swung up into the branches to get some 
fruit I was pounced upon by two angry robins. In two 
minutes they raised such a cry of " Thief! Thief! " that 
all the birds in the orchard were scolding me. It looked 



204 American Birds 

as if I were about to lose my head for taking my own 
cherries. 

In a plum tree a short distance away I found a nest 
that had been vacated a few days before by a brood of 
four young robins. Out of this I picked twenty-seven 
seeds. On the ground below the nest were a whole hand- 
ful of pits. But no one can begrudge a few cherries in 
payment for the horde of insects and worms destroyed by 
the birds. 

I was standing in the back yard watching a robin that 
came for string to build her nest. I had wrapped a piece 
several times about a limb to see whether the bird would 
use any intelligence in unwinding it. I have always been 
skeptical of some of the stories that have been told of birds 
reasoning. For example, one writer tells of an oriole that 
took a piece of cloth and hung it on a thorn so the thread 
could be pulled out. When the cloth came loose, he said 
the bird refastened it. Again, he has the bird tying knots 
in the string to keep the ends from fraying in the wind 
or tying the sticks together to make support for the nest. 
But these are not bird actions : they were evolved out of 
the fertile brain of the writer. 

As soon as the robin spied the string I had placed in 
the tree she thought it good for her nest. She lit on the 
branch and took it in her bill, and, finding it caught, she 
gave it a hard tug. Twice she started to fly away with it, 
but she pulled up with a sharp jerk. She could see and 
reason no further than the end of the twine. Had she 
unfolded one or two wraps about the limb, the whole 
would have come loose. Again and again she took a try 
at that string with the same success, until she got it tangled 



A Pair of Cousins Robin and Thrush 205 

about some of the leaves. Then I loosened it and she 
carried it away. Birds do not know how to use string, 
for it is new to them. They sometimes get tangled and 
hang themselves. 

Robins often show very great difference in the matter 
of selecting a site for a nest. I saw one nest built on an 
old rail fence a foot from the ground, another in the side 
of an old stump, another under a porch, while the great 
majority of robins will select a tree near a house and place 
the nest in a strong crotch. The nest is generally built 
with coarse sticks and strings on the outside and a good 
cup of mud with an inner lining of finer grasses. Yet I 
have sometimes found robin nests with hardly a bit of 
mud. 

Each species of bird has a peculiar way of building 
a nest that differs from that of every other species. 
Among many of the common birds one can generally tell 
what bird built the nest by a glance at the exterior and the 
position in which it is placed. The vireos and the orioles 
build a hanging nest, robins and jays and crows a bulky 
nest, the warblers build a neat deeply-cupped structure, 
the grosbeak has a thin framework that you can see 
through, and the cuckoo and the dove make only a rough 
platform for a home. 

Birds have a good deal of intelligence when it comes 
to knowing their friends and enemies. One of our neigh- 
bors had a robin nesting in the orchard, and it became 
very fearless. Whenever the cat went near the nest the 
robin darted at it and clipped it on the back of the head 
and ears. And the animal would beat a hasty retreat, for 
it had been taught not to catch birds. 



206 American Birds 

In another yard where the blackbirds nested in the 
cypress trees they grew so bold as to be almost vicious, 
for they had nested there so long that they thought they 
owned the place and could exclude all intruders. If a 
strange person went near the nests while they contained 
young, the old blackbirds began to scold and swoop from 
the upper limbs, giving the intruder a sharp rap on the 
head. It furnished us lots of fun to see a strange dog 
begin to nose around. In an instant he got a clip on 
the ear and then another. The birds struck, and were 
away before he could retaliate. He would retreat, 
and the minute he turned his back the birds were after 
him, nipping his ears. The faster he ran, the better the 
chance for them to strike, till they bustled him out of the 
yard and down the street in a hurry. 

In the spring and fall the robins often assemble in a 
large grove every evening and roost together. I discov- 
ered one of these robin roosts at Berkeley, California. 
The robins assembled each evening in a large eucalyptus 
grove and spread out over the country to forage during 
the day. This was the last of February and the first of 
March. Then the birds began to go north. Later in the 
spring I have seen them do the same thing when they 
reach their breeding grounds in Oregon. They like a 
community life. 

One evening I went down to the eucalyptus grove to 
count the robins. I went at five-thirty, but was not early 
enough, for the grove was then well populated with rob- 
ins. They were coming in singly and in small flocks. 
In ten minutes I counted over three hundred coming from 
the west. Then I counted from the south, and over six 



A Pair of Cousins Robin and Thrush 207 

hundred arrived in ten minutes. They kept coming con- 
tinually from all directions until a quarter after six, when 
most of the birds were back. The grove was alive with 
them just before six o'clock. They kept up a continual 
clatter, flying from tree to tree, as if talking with their 
neighbors over the events of the day. In the centre of 
the grove, the chirping and fluttering were so loud as 
to shut off all sounds from the outside. 

Many of the robins came from a long distance, for 
they flew high. Sometimes as I watched I saw them 
drop out of the sky. They were often directly above the 
grove before they seemed to see it. I saw the tiniest 
speck in the blue, and it would grow rapidly larger until 
the robin dropped into the grove. Sometimes I saw the 
birds fly clear past the grove before they seemed to recog- 
nize the place; then they would turn, fold their wings, 
and drop headlong. One day, when it was very windy, 
they flew low, just over the housetops. Many would 
come in, beating their wings and going very slowly against 
the wind, as if all tired out. 

For several evenings I tried to count the number of 
robins that came into the grove. I estimated over six 
thousand were sleeping there every night. 

I thought there would be a grand chorus in the morn- 
ing when all these birds awoke, so I went over before 
daybreak one morning. The robins awoke at the first 
indication of dawn, and they began leaving the trees im- 
mediately. There were no songs, only a few robin calls 
as the birds departed in singles and in small flocks, as they 
had come the evening before. And by five-thirty the grove 
was vacant again. 



208 American Birds 

THE THRUSH FAMILY 

This family contains the best of our American song-birds. The 
colors are generally brown, the breast speckled, especially in young 
plumage. The thrushes have moderately sharp and slender bills. They 
live on insects, berries, and fruit. Common throughout the woodland 
parts of our country. The robin is about ten inches in length, while the 
wood thrush is two inches shorter. 

American Robin (Merula mi gr atari a): Male, above, olive-gray; head, 
wings, and tail, blackish; throat, black, streaked with white; breast, brick- 
red; white eyelids. Female, paler throughout. Common through east- 
ern United States, where some stay all year; migrating flocks come in 
March and leave in October and November. Nest in crotch of tree 
generally, made of sticks and plastered with mud. Eggs, four in num- 
ber, greenish-blue, unspotted. 

Western Robin (Merula migratoria propinqua): Name applied to 
species on Pacific Coast, but bird is not distinguishable from above. 

Wood Thrush (Hylocicbla mustelina): Male and female, head and 
back of neck, rusty or golden-brown, fading to olive on the rump and 
tail; under parts, white, sprinkled with dark brown spots. Lives in the 
states north of Virginia, Kentucky, and Kansas, where it stays from 
early May to October. Nests in low trees and bushes. Eggs, four in 
number and like the robin but smaller. 

Wilson's Thrush (Veery) and Olive-backed Thrush, somewhat like 
the above in looks and habits; may be found throughout eastern United 
States. 

Russet-backed Thrush (Hylocichla ustulata): Male and female, 
above, olive brown; breast, light colored with dark spots like the above 
species. Lives on the Pacific Coast. 




Young Robins at home. 




A Robin in the cherry tree. 



GULL HABITS 



XIX 
GULL HABITS 

EVERY fall when the waves begin to beat heavily 
along the sea-shore, a white-winged fleet sails into 
the rivers and bays to winter. When most of the other 
flocks have gone to the southland, this feathered fleet 
skims about the wharf-lined water front. These are the 
Gulls, and they add life to the landscape as they float and 
sail about, just as the white-sailed boats of the summer 
skim about the waters of the inland harbors. 

The gull comes not for pleasure alone, he comes be- 
cause it is easier to find a living about the city than on the 
open sea. He pays for his existence in the amount of 
garbage he picks up. He skirmishes the river for dead 
fish, putrid flesh, and waste stuff of every kind. If his 
food supply runs low on the river, he hunts overland. If 
the gulls are fed along the water front, they become very 
tame, and return regularly every day for their dinner. 

The gulls are quick to learn that they are protected 
about the harbors, and they become quite fearless in their 
search for food. They will often come almost within 
arm's reach, yet these same birds are likely to be very wild 
when they are not in the harbor limits, where the strict 
regulations protect them. Only a few years ago the gulls 
were allowed to be killed without limit, but now they 
are protected under the different state game laws. When- 

211 



212 American Birds 

ever a gull is shot and falls to the water the other gulls 
crowd about either through curiosity or sympathy, and 
for several moments they will hover over a fallen comrade. 
Hunters took advantage of this trait, and often large num- 
bers of gulls were slaughtered wantonly or for their 
plumage, which was used for millinery purposes. 

One summer we visited the native haunts of the gulls 
and climbed about their homes on some of the rock islands 
off the Pacific coast. We found them even more pictur- 
esque here, as they flashed their white wings against the 
rough brown rock, than they are about the bays and rivers. 
We climbed the rocky slopes to the crevices where these 
birds had carried a few handfuls of grass for nests. We 
saw them building on almost every suitable table ledge. 
But the largest number of nests were scattered about the 
green slopes on the top of the rock. Here each gull 
scratched out a little hollow and lined it with dry grasses. 
Two or three eggs of greenish hue, blotched with brown, 
in each nest, were so closely matched with the green and 
dry grasses that we had to watch at every step to keep 
from trea'ding on them. 

Later we found the top of the rock fairly alive with 
mottled-gray sea-gull chicks. A pair of these chaps are 
about as interesting as anything I've seen in the bird 
line. They show little fear, but there is generally a look 
of surprise in their eyes when you stoop to pick them up. 
These young gulls retain their mottled dress until after the 
first year. The snow-white breast and pearl-gray coat are 
only worn by the more mature birds. The brownish-look- 
ing fellows perched along the docks of the city are not a 
different species; they are immature gulls. 



Gull Habits 213 

About the rock where the gulls lived we had a splen- 
did opportunity to study the home life of these birds. 
We soon discovered that the greatest anxiety of the pa- 
rents seemed to be to keep their children crouching low in 
the nest, where they thought they would escape observa- 
tion, and would not run away and get lost among so many 
neighbors. I saw one young gull start to run off through 
the grass, but he hadn't gone two yards before the mother 
dove at him with a blow that sent him rolling. He got 
up dazed and started off in a new direction, but she rapped 
him again on the head till he was glad to crouch down 
and lie hidden. It seemed also to be the duty of the 
parents to beat their neighbors' children if they didn't stay 
at home, for each mother recognized her own chicks 
largely by location. 

He who would study the art of aerial navigation, 
would do well to watch the gull's flight. I have often 
looked at these birds as they hang in the air, or move 
straight up in the teeth of the wind in the rear of one of 
the ocean steamboats. They poise, resting apparently mo- 
tionless on outstretched wing. It is a difficult feat. A 
small bird cannot do it. A sparrow hawk can do it only 
by the rapid beating of his wings. The gull seems to hang 
perfectly still, yet there is never an instant when the wings 
and tail are not constantly adjusted to meet the different 
air currents, just as in shooting the rapids in a canoe the 
paddle must be adjusted every moment to meet the differ- 
ent eddies, currents, and whirlpools, which are never the 
same at two different instants. These gulls are complete 
masters of the air. A sail-boat can only tack against 
the wind. A gull, by the perfect adjustment of his body, 



214 American Birds 

without a single flap of the wings, makes rapid headway 
straight against the wind. I've seen one retain perfect 
poise and at the same time reach forward with his foot and 
scratch an ear. 

The gulls are more common along the Pacific Coast 
than along the Atlantic. All through the West the gull 
is a versatile bird, for although he is born for the water, 
he seems to be as much at home hunting about the fields- 
as on the ocean. In Utah the gulls that nest about the 
Great Salt Lake fly all through the surrounding coun- 
try and visit the beet fields, where they catch crickets, 
grasshoppers, and cutworms. Mice are very plentiful 
in the alfalfa fields, and when the land is irrigated and 
the water drives these pests from their holes the gulls 
are always on hand and snap them up as soon as they 
appear. The gulls are sacred in Utah; they are of so 
much value to the farmers that they are protected in 
every way. 

In southern California and Oregon I have watched 
flocks of gulls leave the ocean and rivers at daybreak 
every morning and sail inland for miles, where they skir- 
mish about the country and hunt a living for themselves. 
I have watched a flock of them follow the plough all day 
long, just as the blackbirds do, fighting at the farmer's 
heels for angleworms. Others rummage daily about the 
pig-pens and gorge on the offal that is thrown out from 
the slaughter-houses. But I have never seen the gulls 
spend the night about these places. Toward evening they 
begin to collect in bands and sail back to the ocean, where 
they can bathe and sleep. If any bird is useful to man, 
the gull is certainly of great economic importance as a 





A pair of Gulls on the wharf. 



Gull just catching a bite that is thrown to it. 




Tame Gulls about the beach. 



Gull Habits 



215 



scavenger; three of them are equal to a buzzard, and ten 
equal to a pig. 

In another way the gull shows his quickness to take 
advantage of opportunity. In southern California, where 
the gulls and pelicans feed together in the bays, the gull 
is a parasite, living on the labor of the pelican. Although 
heavy and clumsy in shape, the pelican is as expert as the 
kingfisher at diving. From a height of thirty or forty 
feet, he drops like a plummet into a school of small fish 
and rises to the surface with pouch filled with fish and 
water. As the diver stretches his neck and draws his bill 
straight up, the water runs out and the fish are left. The 
head is thrown back, and the whole catch is swallowed at 
one gulp. But the pelican does not fish for himself alone, 
for he is always followed by one or more thieving gulls. 

One day, while standing on a wharf, I saw a brown 
pelican flapping along with a pair of gulls a few feet 
behind. A moment later the big bird spied a fish, for with 
a back stroke of his wing he turned to dive. He gath- 
ered speed as he went, and with wings partly closed and 
rigid he hit the water with a resounding splash. The 
lower mandible of his bill contracted and opened his pouch 
that held as much water as the weight of his body. He 
came to the surface and was in a helpless condition till the 
water ran out, and at this moment he was pounced upon 
by the swift-moving gulls, who snatched the fish and were 
away before the slow pelican could retaliate. 

At another time I saw a band of a dozen pelicans fol- 
lowing a school of fish. They rose from the surface, 
swung around till about twenty feet above, and two or 
three of them dropped into the water at a time. A bevy 



2 1 6 American Birds 

of twenty gulls were fluttering around to pounce upon 
every pelican that dove. The instant one disappeared and 
came up with fish he was surrounded by a bunch of gulls, 
each screaming to get a nose in the pelican's big fish bag. 

We were interested one winter in studying the great 
flocks of gulls that live about San Francisco Bay. Every 
morning at eight o'clock the garbage is emptied at the 
long dock of the navy training station. The gulls about 
the neighborhood know this as an ordinary laborer knows 
the lunch hour. They flock around by the thousands. It 
looks as if some one had poked a stick into a hive of big 
feathered bees as the birds flutter about and fight for par- 
ticles of food. 

Protection has made these birds very tame. " Old 
Whitey " used to be known to every sailor on the Pensa- 
cola training-ship, and he showed up for meals as regularly 
as the bugle blew. He had his own perch on the bowsprit, 
and took bread or meat from the hand like any pet. There 
were always several others riding the anchor chain, wait- 
ing for scraps from the table. Many of the birds were 
very expert at catching morsels in the air, as they were 
often fed by the sailors. I have often seen them take a 
crust of bread in mid-air, rarely missing a catch. 

The minute a new food supply is found anywhere 
about the bay, the news spreads in the gull world by wire- 
less telegraph. A flock of half a dozen gulls will increase 
to as many hundred in an hour or so. You can't see just 
where they come from, but they come. When the steam- 
dredger started to open the channel of the Oakland es- 
tuary a whole flock of gulls sailed in and settled at the 
mouth of the long pipe, which was belching forth a mix- 



Gull Habits 



217 



ture of mud, water, rocks, and clams. It was as bad as 
a crowd of a thousand noisy newsboys. Such a shoving, 
clambering, flapping, grabbing ! Every clam was gobbled 
up the minute it struck ground. 

I have often seen the western herring gull act in 
ways that speak well for his sagacity. On several occa- 
sions I watched him open clams and mussels. His bill is 
unfitted for crushing the hard shell. I saw one gull grasp 
a clam in his bill, rise to a height of thirty feet, and drop 
it to the hard sand and gravel below. He followed it up 
closely, but it didn't break. He repeated the same per- 
formance over fifteen times before he was successful. 

THE GULL FAMILY 

The Gull belongs to the family of long-winged swimmers. They 
are experts on the wing and they swim lightly on the water. The gulls 
are common and easily recognized along the sea-coasts. They live on 
fish and refuse matter picked up about the harbors. 

Herring Gull (Larus argentatui): Male and female, alike; back, deli- 
cate pearl-gray; head, neck, under parts and tail are pure white. In win- 
ter, the head and neck are streaked with gray; bill, yellow with red spot 
near end of lower mandible. Length, about twenty-five inches. Found 
throughout North America; winters about the harbors and retires to 
the rocks off the coast and to inland lakes to breed. Nest is a hollow 
on the ground, lined with grass. Eggs, two or three, from olive-green 
to brown, irregularly streaked and dotted with dark brown and blackish. 

Western Gull (Larus occidentalis): Same as above, except the coat 
is slightly darker in color. Found on the Pacific Coast. 



IN A HERON VILLAGE 



XX 
IN A HERON VILLAGE 

OF all the sights and feelings of a bird lover, the most 
lasting, perhaps, is when he first steps from the 
quieter wood scenes and suddenly emerges into the very 
heart of a busy bird town. The eyes pop as wide and the 
pulse beats as fast as that of a backwoods boy when he 
first walks into the very midst of a modern three-ringed 
circus in full swing. 

Fifteen miles below my home in the heart of the fir 
forest is a village of two hundred houses. It has an area 
of about three acres. Every home is a sky-scraper. Not 
a single house is less than a hundred and thirty feet up, and 
some are a hundred and sixty feet high. The inhabitants 
are feathered fishers. They hunt the waterways of the 
Columbia and the Willamette for miles. Each owns his 
own claim, and there's never a dispute as to possession. 

It takes the biggest reserve of nerve and muscle to 
reach this village, but one may sit on the wooded hillside 
far below and watch life there in full swing. From two 
to five brush-heap houses, the size of a wash-tub, are care- 
fully balanced and securely fastened in the top limbs of 
each tree. Gaunt, long-legged citizens stand about the 
airy doorways and gossip in hoarse croaks. Residents are 
continually coming and going, some flapping in from the 
feeding-ground with craws full of fish and frogs, others 



222 American Birds 

sweeping down the avenues between the pointed firs with 
a departing guttural squawk. 

One of the most risky and perilous pieces of work 
ever done in the tree-top was accomplished here in the 
tall firs in getting the nest and eggs of the Great Blue 
Heron (Ardea herodias} . The photographer had se- 
lected the most " climbable-looking " stronghold in the 
heronry, where the nearest nest was a hundred and thirty 
feet up. But after the long, arduous ascent, he found that 
both nests contained newly hatched birds. Just fifteen 
feet away in the branches of an adjoining tree was a nest 
containing four eggs. To get this, the photographer 
strapped himself carefully in the branches and wrapped 
his legs about the trunk. With a rope he lassoed the 
broken end of a limb on the adjoining tree, and, by slip- 
ping the cord back and forth, worked the rope up to the 
trunk. A slow, steady pull and the tops of the trees 
bent closer together. The tension became stronger and 
stronger between the two trees, until at four feet it 
looked like a huge catapult that might suddenly be 
sprung and shoot the climber backward into space. In 
another instant an aerial bridge was formed in the tree- 
top while the photographer secured his prize. 

The heronries in the Oregon forests are pretty well 
protected from the raids of a bird-photographer by rea- 
son of their great height from the ground. For several 
years we hunted for a colony of these birds, where a good 
series of photographs could be taken. We never found 
one in Oregon, but we did discover one in California last 
summer. 

Down in the swamp regions at the lower end of San 



In a Heron Village 223 

Francisco Bay is a narrow wooded belt reaching out about 
a mile, and it is about two hundred yards in width. When 
we approached this thicket we saw the trees were well 
loaded with nests. We skirted the edge of the belt, look- 
ing for an entrance, but to our surprise each place we tried 
was barred with a perfect mass of tangled bushes and 
trees. We crawled through in one place for a few feet, 
but over and through all was a network of poison oak and 
blackberry that we could not penetrate. There was not 
the sign of a path. After two hours we went to the point 
opposite the largest tree and decided to push and cut 
our way through. The first few yards we crawled on 
our hands and knees, pushing our cameras or dragging 
them behind. Unable to crawl further we had to clear 
a way and climb a ten-foot brush-heap. For a few yards 
we ducked under and wiggled along in the bed of a ditch 
in the mire to our knees. I never saw such a tangled mass 
of brush. Fallen limbs and trees of alder, swamp-maple 
and willow were interlaced with blackberry brier, poison 
oak, and the rankest growth of nettles. All the while 
we were assailed by an increasing mob of starving mos- 
quitoes that went raving mad at the taste of blood. We 
pushed on, straining, sweating, crawling, and climbing 
for a hundred yards that seemed more like a mile. 

We forgot it all the minute we stood under the largest 
sycamore. It was seven feet thick at the base and difficult 
to climb. But this was the centre of business activity in 
the heron village. The monster was a hundred and twenty 
feet high, and had a spread of limbs equal to its height. 
In this single tree we counted forty-one blue heron nests 
and twenty-eight Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax 



224 American Birds 



nests; sixty-nine nests in one tree. In another 
tree were seventeen of the larger nests and twenty-eight 
of the smaller. 

The great blue heron or " crane " is one of the 
picturesque sights of every fish-pond and along the bank 
of every river and lake in the country. I look for him 
along the shallow sand-bars and sloping banks, as I look 
for the background of green trees. He is always the 
solitary fisher. He is the bit of life that draws the whole 
to a focus. Watch him, and he stands as motionless as a 
stick. He is patient. A minnow or frog swims past, and 
there is a lightning flash of that pointed bill as he pins 
him a foot below the surface. Disturb him and he de- 
liberately spreads a pair of wings that fan six feet of air 
and dangles his long legs to the next stand just out of 
range. 

Nature has built the heron in an extremely practical 
way. She dressed him in colors of sky and water. She 
did not plant his eyes in the top of his head as she did 
the woodcock, because he is not likely to be injured by 
enemies from above; but she put them right on the lower 
sloping side of his head so he could look straight down 
at his feet without the slightest side turn. She let his legs 
grow too long for perching conveniently on a tree just 
so he could wade in deep enough to fish. She gave him 
a dagger-shaped bill at the end of a neck that was both 
long enough to reach bottom as well as to keep his eyes 
high above water, so he could see and aim correctly at 
the creature below the surface. 

It is said that occasionally a pair of great blue herons 
will build an isolated nest, but I never found one. The 



In a Heron Village 225 

heron likes a remote fishing preserve of his own, but he 
loves to live in a small village community, to which he can 
return each evening and enjoy the social life among his 
neighbors and dwell in mutual protection. 

He is a remarkable bird in adapting himself to cir- 
cumstances. In a bird of such long legs and of such pro- 
portions, one would naturally think his nesting place would 
be on the ground. In the lake region of southern Oregon 
we did find the great blue heron nesting on the ground, 
surrounded on all sides by gulls, cormorants, pelicans, and 
terns. But in other portions of our country a colony of 
these same birds will select the tallest firs, deep back in 
the forest, or the sycamores, willows, and maples in the 
midst of a swamp. 

We made the first trip to the heronry on April 2 ist, and 
found that most of the nests contained eggs. There were 
about seven hundred nests in the whole colony, of which 
the larger number were black-crowned night herons'. 
The great blues and the night herons occupied the same 
trees, nesting side by side. The larger nests were built 
almost entirely in the tops of the sycamores, while the 
night herons set their platform nests at the very upturned 
tips of the sycamore limbs and in the lower surrounding 
willows and alders. 

When I first climbed in among the nests of a smaller 
tree with my camera, it sounded as if I were in the midst 
of a gigantic hen-house. Some of the birds were clucking 
over their eggs that were soon to be hatched; others were 
cackling over newly laid eggs and squawking at being dis- 
turbed; others were wrangling and squabbling, so that 
there was a continual clattering fuss above which one had 



226 American Birds 

to yell his loudest to be heard. I sat astraddle a limb 
with my note-book in hand. About me, seemingly almost 
within reach, I counted thirty-six sets of blue eggs. I was 
high above the tops of the alders and willows. Set all 
about below in the background of green were the plat- 
forms, each holding several eggs of blue. The trees were 
dotted in every direction. I counted over four hundred 
eggs in sight. 

The black-crowned night heron is a very different 
looking bird from the great blue. It has a shiny black 
patch on the top of the head, and a gray body with a black 
back. The short but thick neck and short legs are just the 
opposite of the blue heron. The night heron, as the 
name signifies, is not seen or heard much during the day 
unless you visit one of their colonies, which is placed gen- 
erally in some almost inaccessible swamp. As long as 
these birds can find some protected place to nest they 
are sure to remain in spite of our civilization, for a colony 
of several hundred of them still nest in the maples of a 
dense swamp only a few miles from New York City. 

Great blue herons perched lazily in the tops of the 
trees. Looking in one direction I counted over a hundred 
of them. They were sailing in continually and departing. 
The night herons fluttered about in a jerky, labored 
flight, lighting in the willows and hovering over their 
nests. 

A night heron's or, as often called, a " squawk's " nest 
looks to me like a mere botch. Some of them are not hol- 
lowed in the least, but just rough platforms. In a wind 
the eggs would roll off if the mother did not sit to hold 
them on. There is not much trouble after the eggs are 



In a Heron Village 227 

hatched, for the youngsters seem to kick themselves loose 
from the shell with one foot, while they wrap the long 
angular toes of the other about the nearest twig. 

On our first trip to the heronry, when the nests con- 
tained eggs, we selected one or two of the best and most 
available to get a good series of pictures showing the 
growth of the young. Most all the night heron nests 
contained four eggs. The eggs seemed to hatch in regular 
order about two days apart. When we photographed the 
same nest later we found it held three frowzy-headed 
youngsters and one egg. On our third trip, the growth, 
both in size and ugliness, was quite apparent. On our 
next trip we found the nest deserted. 

The next time I sat in the tree-top the place sounded 
more like a big duck ranch. Above all the squawks of 
the parents there was a steady quacking clatter of the hun- 
dreds of young herons, that never ceased. The sound grew 
more intense in spots, as here and there a mother swept 
in from the feeding-ground and fed her children. As I 
sat watching, an old blue heron sailed in and lit on a 
branch above her nest in the adjoining tree. The three 
youngsters twisted themselves into joyful shapes as the 
mother stepped awkwardly along the limb. Each reached 
up in full height to grasp her long bill. She sat on the 
nest, calmly looking about. The young continued to catch 
her long beak and pull it part way down, trying to make 
her feed them. When she got ready she disgorged a mess 
of partially digested fish down the throat of each nestling 
and left as leisurely as she came. In another case where 
the young were older, I saw the mother bird disgorge into 
the nest. The mass of undigested fish in her craw seemed 



228 American Birds 

to form into small portions and come up as the cud of a 
cow does, and each youngster pitched into the meal with 
a vigor and energy that would have amazed a litter of 
young pigs. 

When you climb anywhere near a nest after the young 
birds have had a good meal, they will begin to " unswal- 
low " as fast as they have gobbled it down. On account 
of this habit, especially common among night herons, we 
found it always safe to keep out of the way as much as 
possible, or at least not approach a nest full of young 
birds from below. 

In order to study the life of the herons and get some 
pictures early in the morning before the wind sprung up 
so strong that we could hardly hold ourselves in the tree- 
top, which it had a habit of doing at that season of the 
year, we camped at the heronry all one night. At the 
south end of the heron jungle is a hay-field, where we took 
up our quarters. We had no trouble in keeping awake 
most of the night to study heron habits. The blue herons 
as well as the squawks, or night herons, seemed to keep 
busy most of the night. As some one has said, it sounded 
as if several hundred Indians were trying to throttle each 
other. Then the mosquitoes and frogs were more active 
after dark. We crawled into a haycock and covered our- 
selves up, as much to get rid of bloodthirsty insects as 
to keep warm. At daylight we felt as much comfort in 
crawling out to get rid of burrs and stickers as we had the 
night before in crawling in to get away from mosquitoes. 

A young night heron is well adapted to climbing from 
limb to limb by reason of his long angling toes and the 
ability to hook his neck or bill over a limb and draw him- 




Full-grown young Night Her 



In a Heron Village 229 

self up as a parrot does. Not so with the young blue 
herons; they are as awkward about the limbs of the trees 
as their parents are stately in moving through the air. 
When overbalanced on a limb they often fall to the 
ground. 

The young birds of both species seem instinctively to 
know that falling from the trees to the ground below 
means death. Not because they are hurt in the least by 
the fall, but because the old birds never descend to the 
ground below the nest tree. The ground under the trees 
was strewn with the dead bodies of young birds. The 
young are fed only in the tree-top, and those below starve 
in the very sight of their parents. 

Several times we saw young night herons hanging 
dead in the branches of the trees. In one tree we found 
two of these youngsters hanging side by side only a foot 
apart. In walking about the limbs, the larger of the two 
birds had caught its foot in a crotch and hung itself head 
downward. That, in itself, was not unusual, but the second 
bird hung by the neck only a few inches away. It seems 
that this smaller heron had hung himself dead rather than 
fall to the ground; he had fallen or overbalanced on the 
small limb and, as is the custom, had hooked his chin 
over the branch to keep from falling to the ground. His 
clutched right foot showed that the death struggle had 
been a reaching and stretching to gain the limb. The 
head was not caught between the branches as was the 
other bird's foot, but was simply hooked over the bend in 
the twig. Had he thrown his head back a little he would 
have dropped to the ground. We demonstrated this by 
turning the bill to an angle of forty-five degrees, and the 



230 American Birds 

body dropped to the bushes twenty feet below. How the 
bird could have held the rigid position of the neck through- 
out its death struggle I could not understand, unless it 
was a case where the force of instinct was strong even to 
death. 

The last trip we made to the heronry we found the 
limbs of the sycamores as well loaded with young herons 
as a good apple tree is loaded with fruit. The moment 
we started to climb the tree with our cameras was the sig- 
nal for the breaking loose of a squawking bedlam. Young 
squawks jabbered all sorts of epithets from the nest edge 
and retreated along the limbs as we drew nearer. The 
young blue herons savagely disputed every foot of the way. 
They aimed a fusillade of stabs at us from all sides, and 
we took great care not to get within reach of their 
weapons. When we did get into the tree-top it took 
some little time to oust a pair of enraged youngsters so 
that we could sit in their nest and aim the camera at the 
birds about. 

It was considerable trouble for us to get a series of 
heron pictures. We suffered and scratched for weeks with 
a miserable rash from the poison oak, but we made five 
long trips to the heron village. The last trips through the 
jungle were not as difficult as the first; we had the begin- 
ning of a path and we took poison oak preventives: 
gloved our hands and veiled our faces. But it was worth 
it all just to get a clear idea of what life is in a big heronry. 
It was a sight for the soul just to watch the great blue 
herons; the long, slow wing-beats as they flapped in from 
the feeding-grounds; then the picture of quiet restfulness 
as they lounged about their nests after the day's work. 



In a Heron Village 231 

THE HERON FAMILY 

The herons are wading birds that may be found along the banks 
of rivers, ponds, and through the marshes. The Great Blue Heron is a 
bird of great size, about four feet in length, with long neck and legs. 
With long, spearlike bill, the bird wades stealthily watching for fish. 
It has a heavy flight, moving along with big, slowly flapping wings. 
The Night Herons are much smaller, only half the size of a blue heron, 
and may be recognized by the stout bill and short, thick neck. 

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias}: Male and female, upper parts, 
bluish-gray; top of head white with long, black crest; feathers about neck, 
long and loose; shoulders, black striped with gray; under parts, streaked 
with black and white; thighs and edge of wings, cinnamon-brown. 
Ranges through North America at large and can be recognized by its 
large size and long legs. Nests in colonies, generally in tall trees. Three 
or four large eggs of bluish-green. 

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax ncevius}, 
Squawk: Male and female, crown and back, black; wings and tails 
ashy-gray; forehead and throat, white, shading into light gray on side, 
and under parts. Common summer resident on Pacific and Atlantic 
Coast, arriving in April and staying till October. Nest, a mere platform 
of sticks in the tree-top. Eggs, three or four, pale sea-green. 



THE EAGLE OF MISSION RIDGE 



XXI 
THE EAGLE OF MISSION RIDGE 

MANY years ago a pair of Golden Eagles (Aquila 
chrysaetus] came to live on the southern rim of 
Mission Ridge. The good people of the lower slopes 
said the birds were there before they came. The nest 
was first found by an egg collector in the early nine- 
ties, and for several years the big birds were robbed. 
Then the eagles would have no more of this and left their 
aerie. But each year they were seen about their old hunt- 
ing-ground. The new aerie was still somewhere about the 
ridge, and this was the object of our quest. We wanted 
to study and photograph this royal pair of birds. 

It was the morning of the twenty-fifth of March when 
we boarded the south bound train at Oakland and landed 
in a fertile, hilly district. With our cameras strapped 
to our backs we wheeled rapidly over the first few miles 
of road, but had to pile our bicycles in the brush about 
sun-up. 

The spring rains had not yet ceased. The grass- 
covered fields were soft and springy under foot. A rich, 
earthy odor breathed gently up, and the nostrils failed not 
to take eager note of it. The air seemed to vibrate at 
every sound or motion. A band of red-wings held a song 
service just down the hill where the lush grasses grew. 
Meadow larks piped and whistled, blue jays squawked, 
235 



236 American Birds 

and hummingbirds flashed about newly opened flowers. 
As we ascended out of the cultivated district the hills were 
splashed and streaked with yellows and blues and purples 
of the wild flowers golden poppies, yellow mustard, and 
buttercups and purple lupines. Further up the road ceased 
and we had to follow a cow trail. After we reached the 
highest shoulder of the range we found the surface rocky 
and broken. There was scarcely any vegetation on the 
ridge except a scraggly growth of poison oak and chapar- 
ral. We stood long and gazed at the wide stretch of the 
whole valley. Far below and reaching inland from the 
lower end of San Francisco Bay the ribbonlike sloughs 
wound in and out, reaching far back like the tentacles of 
a huge octopus. 

At the very top of the range the mountain breaks 
abruptly off into the head of the big canon. This is the 
native haunt of the golden eagle. A large sycamore tree 
is rooted in the bed of the little stream. Four good-sized 
trunks rise from the giant roots. To the branch bending 
toward the valley, above the steep rocky slope, the eagles 
had carried a small cart-load of sticks and worked them 
into the forks where they branched, horizontal to the 
ground. It was a platform five feet across, not care- 
lessly put together, but each stick woven in to add 
strength to the whole structure, as the stones are built 
into a castle. 

Climbing one of the other trees the photographer put 
up a tiny platform in the topmost branches, where the 
camera was fastened and aimed downward at the aerie 
twenty feet away. Nor was it an easy matter to photo- 
graph in the top limbs of that sycamore, where a wrong 




I 

l 



- 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 237 

move might land camera and all in the bed of the canon. 
But for six different trips, extending over a period of two 
months and a half, we took pictures from this position 
and from the limbs near it. 

" Did the old eagle show fight? " is the first question 
put by the usual listener. I always see a trace of disap- 
pointment sweep over his face when he hears the answer. 
The moment you speak of climbing to an eagle's aerie the 
average man gets an idea of the photographer hanging to 
the edge of a cliff or the top of a tree, with the old eagles 
clawing out pound chunks at every swoop. Few eagles 
possess the mad ferocity pictured and magnified by sen- 
sational story tellers. When we first scrambled over 
the bowlders of the canon up toward the nest, I saw 
the old eagle slip quietly from her eggs and skim out 
over the mountain top. When I strapped on the climb- 
ers to ascend the tree, I had one eye open for trouble. 
But each time we visited the spot the parents silently dis- 
appeared, and stayed away as long as we cared to remain. 
They kept a watchful eye, however, from the blue distance 
overhead. For a noble bird like the eagle this forsaking 
of the nest and young seemed cowardly at first. But 
perhaps the long years of persecution have taught him 
something. The first rule of safety of this pair seemed to 
be to keep half a mile distant from man, the animal that 
fights with neither beak nor claw. 

Our work at the eagles' nest shows well the necessity 
of a good series of lenses when one is photographing in 
the tree-tops. The camera was fastened in a crotch in an 
adjoining tree, twenty feet from the nest, where it could 
not be moved forward or back. By adjusting the wide- 



238 American Birds 

angle lens we could get a view of the nest and surrounding 
limbs, and at the same time have a depth of focus that 
showed the outline of the valley lying miles below. By 
the use of the regular lens the nest was brought nearer 
the camera, and still the sweep of the rocky side of the 
canon was retained. The single rear lens gave a differ- 
ent picture, narrowed down to the outer end of the large 
limb containing the nest. Our telephoto lens had the 
power of bringing the nest as close as we cared to photo- 
graph it, covering the full size of a 5 x 7 plate and giving 
a clear definition of the lining of the nest. 

One cannot help feeling the dangers of climbing about 
the limbs of a tall tree, but it always doubles his caution 
when he has to maneuver in the topmost boughs, carrying 
a camera that has cost him over two hundred dollars. One 
day we narrowly escaped an expensive accident. We were 
hoisting our cameras and half way up one of the lines 
broke. Fortunately I was below, ready for such a mis- 
chance, and as the camera shot downward I spread my 
hands in the nick of time to stop the fall. It knocked me 
backward, and the camera would have bounded over the 
edge of the bank and been smashed on the rocks fourteen 
feet below had my fingers not closed on the piece of rope 
as it slipped through my hand. 

The golden eagles are mated for life. During the 
month of February the aerie was recarpeted with small 
twigs and dry leaves, for the eagles of the summer before 
had worn it down to a rough platform of sticks. A hol- 
low of this soft material was made in the middle for the 
eggs, and a branch of green laurel was added. Later on 
when I removed this branch of evergreen it was promptly 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 239 

replaced by another piece that had been wrenched from 
the living tree by the eagle. When this second piece had 
dried still another branch was added. This badge of 
green seems to be as necessary in the eagle's home as the 
sacred Lares at the Roman fireside. 

At this time the pair of great eagles were inseparable, 
and they generally hunted together. For days before the 
mother cradled her eggs they sat for hours at a time close 
together on a great limb near the aerie. They had several 
such favorite perches where they sat and watched the 
rugged mountain sides for food. They were far up the 
slope where they could look off over the whole sweep of 
the ridge. 

The fog was hanging heavy and wet as we climbed 
slowly up the mountain the second time, and the tall grass 
and bushes drenched us at every step. We had started 
under a clear sky with the stars shining, before the first 
streak of dawn appeared in the east. At daybreak the cool 
breath of the sea air began to sweep in through the 
Golden Gate and up the valley, carrying and lifting the 
fog as it came. And as the last mist clouds were swept 
along with their fingers trailing in the scraggly bushes, the 
great eagle with his crown of burnished gold floated out 
from the head of the canon. It was his duty to forage. 
The mate of sombre black stayed on the nest. She had not 
left since yesterday noon. For over four weeks she had 
warmed the two eggs, and now she had twin eaglets at her 
breast. Instead of leaving her young when we were half 
a mile down the canon, as she did when the nest contained 
eggs, the mother crouched flat down while we climbed the 
mountain side above the tree and looked at her through 



240 American Birds 

the field-glass. But she slid off soon after and sailed away 
when we started to climb the tree. 

Sixteen days later we were in the big sycamore again. 
By that time the eaglets had grown from the size of an 
egg to that of an ordinary chicken, but they had not begun 
to change from the color of snowy white. They lay 
crouched in the nest, clumsy in body, and watched us 
angrily with their wild dark eyes. They resented my com- 
pany when I climbed into the nest and planted the camera 
right beside them. At that time they were not strong 
enough to offer much resistance ; they could not help being 
imposed upon. They endured silently, laying up wrath 
for the days of strength when they could strike a blow 
that would bring the blood. 

The growth of the young eagles was very slow but 
steady. Fifteen days after our last visit we found that 
the stiff, black feathers were beginning to push their way 
through the thick coat of white down, and the eaglets 
took on a mottled appearance. 

When we again started up the mountain to visit the 
aerie we struck a heavy wind-storm driving down over 
the hills. We could hardly climb in the teeth of the gale. 
I can never forget the sensation as we crossed through the 
last fields of standing grain. The wind cracked and lashed 
the tall stalks till it seemed we were in the midst of rag- 
ing waters. From the ridge we sat and watched the 
enormous silvery serpents that wriggled up and down 
through the standing grain, as gust after gust swept along 
the slope. Where the grain had been cut and shocked 
the gale created havoc by scattering it broadcast down 
the mountain side. But the most difficult task was to 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 241 

climb the eagles' tree and get pictures in the swaying 
branches. 

We found the golden eagle a valuable inhabitant of 
any cattle-range or farming community. His food con- 
sists almost entirely of the ground squirrels that are so 
abundant through the California hills and cause such dam- 
age in the grain-fields. Once when we looked into the nest 
we found the remains of the bodies of four squirrels lying 
on its rim. At each visit we examined the food remains 
about the nest, and I am sure that a very large amount 
of the eagle's food, if not all, consisted of squirrels. The 
hills in many places were full of their burrows, and the 
eagles seemed to have regular watch-towers on the high 
rocks about, from which they swooped down on their prey. 
If it were not for the birds of prey about these hilly dis- 
tricts, some of the places would surely be overrun with 
harmful creatures of the ground. 

I am satisfied that this family of eagles ate six ground 
squirrels a day during the period of nesting, and very- 
likely more than that. Those young growing eagles 
surely needed a fair amount of food each day for about 
three months, and they were well supplied, to say nothing 
of what the old birds ate. But even this low estimate 
would mean the destruction of five hundred and forty 
squirrels along the hillsides in about three months' time. 
What would be the total if we estimated the killing for 
the entire year? This is the permanent home of the 
eagles and of all the families of hawks and owls along 
the hills and canons. 

Near the end of our visits to the eagles' nest the coun- 
try had changed its appearance. The hillsides had lost 



242 American Birds 

the color of green. The sun had baked the pasture-land 
into granite hardness. Every blade of grass was burned 
dry and crisp, making the steep slopes almost too slippery 
for foothold. The heat of the sun's rays had licked up 
every drop of water in the long series of side canons 
through which we had to pass. With our heavy cameras 
on our backs we struggled slowly up the rugged slopes, 
slipping and perspiring, our tongues parched with thirst. 
At dark we ate our supper and gladly stretched ourselves 
under a tree for the night, a mile down the canon from 
the eagles. 

When the first gray light of the morning crept down 
the western slope of Mission Ridge the king and his wide- 
winged mate soared out over the shadow of the sleep- 
ing world. The nestlings were almost full-grown. They 
stirred about and kept a hungry lookout from the nest 
edge and the great limb-perch of the parents. At the first 
sight of food they lifted their wings in strange and savage 
ecstasy. They were no longer fed, nor did they share the 
headless body of the squirrel that was dropped in the aerie. 
One rended it in bloody strips and swallowed it in gulps, 
while the other held -sullenly aloof, awaiting the return 
of the mate with its breakfast. 

I cannot imagine even a touch of humor in the life 
of the eagle. A pair of blue jays nested near the eagles, 
and I imagine they came sneaking around at times when 
the parents were not at home, just to see what was 
going on. One day I was sitting on the edge of the 
nest with my feet dangling over, when one of the curious 
jays came up from behind. He didn't notice me till 
he alighted, squawking, close by. His squawking-valve 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 243 

closed short off with a squeak of surprise; he threw up 
his wings in horror and fell backward. The blue jay 
himself would have chuckled in enjoyment at the sight, 
if the joke had not been on him. I enjoyed it hugely, but 
it was all Greek to the eagles. Everything to them is 
serious. Life is a cruel, harsh reality; it is blood from 
birth to death. 

The golden eagle appeals to me as a real baron of 
the middle ages, with his castle and his hunting preserve. 
The sycamore is his permanent home, the heavens above 
the ridge and the low-lying fields are his with no ques- 
tioning, summer and winter. He is more than a match 
for any animal of his size. Not a beast of the field nor 
a fowl of the air can drive him out; he stands firm before 
every earthly power, except the hand of man. He is shy 
and wary at all times, clean and handsome, swift in flight, 
and strong in body. An experience gained in the fiercest 
of schools makes the eagle as formidable as any creature 
of the wild outdoor. 

The eagles revolted at the sight of a human being. 
They opened their mouths in defiance when we first looked 
over the nest edge, nor were they one whit less savage for 
all our visits. From the first they would have rent to 
shreds the hand that dared touch them. They submitted 
to us as a caged lion endures his keeper. Meekness and 
mercy are no part of the life of the eagle. Theirs was a 
savage spirit that could no more be tamed by the human 
hand than could the hooked beak and claws be changed. 
Deep-set under each shaggy brow was an eye of piercing 
glare, that seemed always searching the far-away blue of 
the distance. It was the eye of an eagle, and nothing else 



244 American Birds 

can describe it. After three months of human acquaint- 
ance, it was the real king of birds that left the birthplace, 
never again to be touched alive by the hand of man. 

The golden eagle was formerly found east of the Mis- 
sissippi as well as west, but it does not now frequent the 
more settled portions. A single pair may still live in the 
wildest regions of New England or northern New York, 
or a few may still have their homes in the mountains of 
the two Virginias, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, or the 
Carolinas. The bird is not common anywhere, yet it is 
still found in the mountainous regions of the West, es- 
pecially in portions of California. In the Rocky Moun- 
tains the golden eagle often builds its nest on the high 
cliffs, but in California and Oregon its favorite nesting 
sites are the pines, oaks, or sycamores of the deep canons 
or the rugged slopes. 

Although still found in the wilder regions of Califor- 
nia these birds have suffered a great deal from collectors 
during the last decade. Their habit of occupying the same 
aerie year after year enables the collector, after once lo- 
cating the nest, to make his yearly raid to advantage, as 
the eggs are rare enough to have a good market value. 
One nest was robbed for three successive years and the 
female killed, but the male secured another mate and kept 
the same nest the following season. But where the eagles 
are robbed continually for several years they are sure to 
be driven away. They have entirely disappeared from 
certain places where they were once regular residents. 

In several cases I have known the golden eagle to 
show as marked an individuality as a person. In one aerie 
that was used a pair of birds showed a peculiar liking for 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 245 

a bulbous plant, commonly known as the Spanish soap- 
root, and every year they adorned the nest with the large 
hairlike top of this plant. Another case is on record 
where the eagle had a peculiar liking for grain sacks, which 
were used in the lining of the nest. The first time this nest 
was discovered it contained a large grain sack, but the 
storms of the following winter dislodged the nest. The 
new nest that was built the following year was again lined 
with a grain sack. 

It is often the case that a pair of eagles will inhabit 
the same locality for several years and make no attempt 
at rearing a brood. Perhaps these are young eagles ; many 
birds do not breed till after the second or third year. In 
other instances, a pair will repair an old nest and stay 
about all the nesting season, and yet not go to housekeep- 
ing. In a few rare instances the golden eagle has been 
known to lay three eggs, but two is the usual number. 

What does such a series of pictures represent ? Three 
months of patient waiting, varied by six long mountain 
trips of two days each ; backaching tramps up trails to the 
summit of a rock-strewn ridge, with a heavy camera equip- 
ment; and the snapping of over a hundred 5x7 plates, ex- 
posed at every available view of the stronghold from terra 
firma to tree-top. 

We made a careful study of the nesting habits of a 
finch to serve as a comparison between the small seed- 
eating birds and the largest birds of prey. I found the 
finch building its nest and watched it closely. The home 
was lined and completed June 24th. It contained three 
eggs on the twenty-seventh. On July 6th the eggs 
hatched, and the young were able to leave the nest July 



246 American Birds 

1 6th. In other words, it took nineteen days for the finches 
to hatch the eggs and rear the family, or about four weeks 
to build a nest and send the young birds forth into the 
world. 

How does the eagle compare with the finch? The 
same aerie was used year after year. Two dull white 
eggs, shell-marked with brown, were laid the first week of 
March, just as the sycamore was beginning to bud out. 
The period of incubation lasted about a month, for the 
eggs were not hatched till the third of April. The eaglets 
were covered with soft, white down soon after hatching. 
White is not the color for a hunter, but these snowy gar- 
ments lasted for a full month, during which the youngsters 
grew from the egg to the size and weight of a large hen. 
The first week in May black pin-feathers began to push 
up through the down, first appearing on the wings and 
back. Week after week the stiff feathers grew, but they 
came slowly, covering the back, wings, head, and neck, 
until by the first week of June the eaglets were fairly well 
clothed in a bristling suit of dark brown and black, except 
for a small white shirt front. The wings and feet were 
still weak. It required over three weeks longer for the 
wing feathers to gain strength and the feet to grow pow- 
erful enough for the birds to handle their heavy bodies. 
So, where the finch required four weeks to rear a family, 
it took the eagle a good four months. 

THE EAGLE FAMILY 

The largest bird of prey, known as king among birds. A bird of 
great size and powerful on the wing. It is a rare occasion when one gets 
a near view of one of these wild birds; they are often seen high in the 



The Eagle of Mission Ridge 247 

air, where they soar in great circles. Length, about three feet; extent, 
about seven feet. Female larger than male. 

Bald Eagle (Hahaetus leucocepbalus), Bird of Washington, selected 
as our national emblem: Male and female, head, neck, and tail, snowy- 
white, rest of plumage blackish or dark brownish. The young birds 
during the first year are wholly black. Lives largely on fish, diving 
for them, stealing them from the fish hawk, or finding dead fish cast up 
by the waves. Lives throughout the United States. 

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetus): Male and female, entire plumage 
dark brown; back of neck and feathers on legs lighter brown; legs feath- 
ered to toes. Lives in the wilder parts of North America, where it 
builds a big platform nest in trees or on the ledge of a cliff. Eggs, gen- 
erally two, whitish, marked with blotches of brown and gray. Lives 
largely on mammals and birds, including squirrels, prairie-dogs, rabbits, 
grouse, and water-fowl. 



INDEX 



A 

PAGE 

American Barn Owl 81-88 

Crow 69-77 

Redstart 134 

Robin 208 

Anna Hummingbird 11-12 

Audubon Warbler 1 



B 

Bald Eagle 247 

Baltimore Oriole 185 

Barn Owl 81-88 

Bee-martin 195 

Belted Kingfisher 139-147 

Bird of Washington 247 

Black and White Warbler 134 

Blackbird 74, 206 

Blackburnian Warbler 134 

Black-capped Titmouse 16 

Black-chinned Hummingbird 176 

Black-crowned Night Heron 221-231 

Black-headed Grosbeak 45~53 

Black Phoebe 195 

Black-poll Warbler *34 

Black-throated Gray Warbler 127-135 

Black-throated Green Warbler '34 

Bluebird 15?. l6 3> 165-172 

249 



250 Index 



PAG! 



Bluebird, Western 172 

Blue Jay 129, 163-165 

Blue-winged Warbler 134 

Brown Pelican 215, 216 

Bullock Oriole 179-185 

Bush-tit 105-1 1 1 

Butcher-bird 1 15-123 



C 

California Jay 171 

Shrike 115-123 

Cardinal 45 

Cassin Vireo 179, 185 

Chestnut-sided Warbler 134 

Chickadee 15-22, 109 

" Western 22 

Chicken-hawk 57, 60 

Chippie 160 

Chipping Sparrow 160 

Cooper Hawk 41 

Cormorant 74, 225 

Crane 224 

Crow ..74, 205 

" American 69-77 

Cuckoo 205 



D 
Dove 205 

E 

Eagle, Bald 274 

" Golden 235-247 

English Sparrow 81, 151, 156-160 



Index 251 

F 

PAGE 

Finch 245-246 

' House 189 

Flicker 21, 35, 142 

Red-shafted 25-32 

Flycatcher 47 



G 

Golden Eagle 235-247 

Golden-winged Woodpecker 32 

Great Blue Heron 221-231 

Grosbeak 35, 139, 205 

Black-headed 45~53 

Rose-breasted 46, 52 

Gull 74, 225 

' Herring 217 

" Western 211-217 



H 

Hair-bird 160 

Hang-nest 185 

Hawk, Cooper 41 

" Red 65 

Red-tailed 57, 65 

" Sparrow 213 

" Western Red-tailed 57^5 

Hen Hawk 65 

Hermit Thrush 200 

Heron, Black-crowned Night 221-231 

Great Blue 221-231 

Herring Gull 217 

High-hole 25-32 

House Finch ... 189 



252 Index 

PAGE 

House Sparrow 159-160 

1 Wren 101 

Hummingbird 139 

Anna 11-12 

Black-chinned 176 

Ruby-throated 10, 1 1 

Rufous j-n 176 



J 

205 

Blue 129, 163-165, 171, 242 

California 171 



K 

Kingbird 195 

Kingfisher, Belted '. 139-147 

L 

Lark, Meadow 35 

Least Vireo 185 

Linnet, Red-headed 190 

Linnet (House Finch) 189-191, 195 

Lutescent Warbler 135 



M 

Macgillivray Warbler 41 

Maryland Yellow-throat 41 

Meadow Lark 35 

Mockingbird 118, 119 

Mourning Warbler 41 

Myrtle Warbler 135 



Index 253 

N 

PAGE 

Nashville Warbler I34 

Nighthawk ^Q 

Northern Shrike 12? 

Nuthatch, Red-breasted 93 



o 

Olive-backed Thrush 208 

Oriole 204, 205 

' Baltimore 185 

' Bullock 179-185 

Osprey 62 

Owl 47 

" Barn... ...81-88 



P 

Parkman Wren 92, 101, 157 

Parula Warbler 134 

Pelican 74, 225 

Brown 215, 216 

Pewee, Wood 195 

Phoebe 195 

" Black 189-195 



R 

Red-bird 45 

Red-breasted Nuthatch 93 

Red-eyed Vireo 185 

Red-hammer 25, 27, 28 

Red Hawk 65 

Red-headed Linnet 190 

Red-shafted Flicker 25-32 

Redstart, American 134 

Red-tailed Hawk 57> 6 5 



254 Index 



PAGE 

Robin, American 208 

" Western 47, 48, 199-208 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 46, 52 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 10, 1 1 

Rufous Hummingbird 3 -II > J ?6 

Russet-backed Thrush 199-203, 208 

S 

Screech Owl 64 

Shrike, California 115-123 

Northern 123 

White-rumped 123 

Snipe 139 

Song Sparrow 95, 151-153, 160 

Sparrow, Chipping 160 

English 81, 151, 156-160 

" Hawk 213 

House 159, 160 

Song 95, 151-153, 160 

White-crowned 151, 153-156, 160 

White-throated 160 

Squawk 226, 228, 231 

Street Gamin 159, 160 

Swallow 74, 165 

Summer Yellow-bird 134 

T 

Tern 74, 225 

Thrush 48 

" Hermit 200 

" Olive-backed 208 

Russet-backed 199-203, 208 

" Veery 200, 208 

" Wilson... .. 208 



Index 



2 55 



Thrush, Wood 200, 208 

Titmouse, Black-capped 16 

Tramp 159, 160 



V 

Veery (Thrush) 200, 208 

Vigors Wren 91-101 

Vireo 205 

Cassm 179, 185 

" Least 185 

" Red-eyed 185 

Warbling 176-179, 184 

" White-eyed 185 

" Yellow-throated 185 

w 

Warbler 29, 205 

Audubon 135 

" Black and White 134 

Blackburnian 134 

" Black-poll 134 

Black-throated Gray 127-135 

" Black-throated Green 134 

" Blue-winged 134 

Chestnut-sided 134 

" Lutescent 135 

Macgillivray 41 

" Mourning 41 

" Myrtle 135 

" Nashville 134 

" Parula 134 

" Yellow 47, 134, 202, 203 

Warbling Vireo 176-179, 184 

Western Bluebird 172 



256 Index 



PAGE 



Western Chickadee ........................................... 22 

Gull ............ ............................... 

Herring Gull .................................. . 

Red-tailed Hawk ................................... 57~^5 

Robin .................................... 47, 48, 199-208 

Yellow-throat ....................................... 35~4! 

White-breasted Swallow ....................................... 157 

White-crowned Sparrow ........................... 151, 153-156, 160 

White-eyed Vireo ............................................ 185 

White-rumped Shrike ......................................... 123 

White-throated Sparrow ....................................... 160 

Wilson Thrush ............................................... 208 

Winter Wren ............................................. 101, 201 

Woodpecker ................................................. 139 

Golden-winged .................................... 32 

Wood Pewee ................................................ 195 

Wood Thrush ............................................ 200, 208 

Wren ................................................ 81, 165, 192 

House .................................................. 101 

" Parkman ......................................... 92, 101, 157 

" Vigors ............................................... 91-101 

Winter .............................................. 101, 201 



Y 

Yellow-bird, Summer ......................................... 134 

Yellow-hammer ............................................ 25, 32 

Yellow-throat ................................................ 45 

Maryland ........................................ 41 

Western ....................................... 35~4 I 

Yellow-throated Vireo ........................................ 185 

Yellow Warbler ................................... 47, 134, 202, 203 



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