/. / -'
/ ,, ,. , -
,.v;v: .;; ;-v;;r '
Young Golden Eagle, not quite fully fledged.
White down still showing on breast.
STUDIED AND PHOTOGRAPHED
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
PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY
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
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.
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
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
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
The nestlings began to fork out all over with tiny black
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
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
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 eating from the hand of his mistress . . .116
Pair of young Shrikes or Butcher-birds . . . .116
He often perched in the pear tree . . . . . . 116
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Western Chickadee (Parus atricapillus occidentalis): Almost identi-
cal with above. Lives on the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
The next day as I sat in the shade watching the two
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-
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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-
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
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-
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.
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
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
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
and fall, when he was young and growing strong, he went
out in the corn-field at will, but dusk always brought him
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
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-
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
I happened to find the nest in the hemlock when they
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
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-
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
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
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
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 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-
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
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-
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
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
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
almost turned a complete somersault before she regained
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
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
TWO STUDIES IN BLUE
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
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.
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
BASKET MAKERS, THE VIREO AND
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
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
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
I never saw birds more in love than the orioles were.
We watched them from the time they were first mated.
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
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
A PAIR OF COUSINS ROBIN AND
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
2oo American Birds
than frightened. She held her dignity and looked at me
with an air that said, "This is my home: you are
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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-
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
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.
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 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
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
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
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.
American Barn Owl 81-88
Anna Hummingbird 11-12
Audubon Warbler 1
Bald Eagle 247
Baltimore Oriole 185
Barn Owl 81-88
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
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
California Jay 171
Cassin Vireo 179, 185
Chestnut-sided Warbler 134
Chickadee 15-22, 109
" Western 22
Chicken-hawk 57, 60
Chipping Sparrow 160
Cooper Hawk 41
Cormorant 74, 225
Crow ..74, 205
" American 69-77
Eagle, Bald 274
" Golden 235-247
English Sparrow 81, 151, 156-160
' House 189
Flicker 21, 35, 142
Golden Eagle 235-247
Golden-winged Woodpecker 32
Great Blue Heron 221-231
Grosbeak 35, 139, 205
Rose-breasted 46, 52
Gull 74, 225
' Herring 217
" Western 211-217
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
House Finch ... 189
House Sparrow 159-160
1 Wren 101
Ruby-throated 10, 1 1
Rufous j-n 176
Blue 129, 163-165, 171, 242
Kingfisher, Belted '. 139-147
Lark, Meadow 35
Least Vireo 185
Linnet, Red-headed 190
Linnet (House Finch) 189-191, 195
Lutescent Warbler 135
Macgillivray Warbler 41
Maryland Yellow-throat 41
Meadow Lark 35
Mockingbird 118, 119
Mourning Warbler 41
Myrtle Warbler 135
Nashville Warbler I34
Northern Shrike 12?
Nuthatch, Red-breasted 93
Olive-backed Thrush 208
Oriole 204, 205
' Baltimore 185
' Bullock 179-185
" Barn... ...81-88
Parkman Wren 92, 101, 157
Parula Warbler 134
Pelican 74, 225
Brown 215, 216
Pewee, Wood 195
" Black 189-195
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
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
Screech Owl 64
Shrike, California 115-123
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
Squawk 226, 228, 231
Street Gamin 159, 160
Swallow 74, 165
Summer Yellow-bird 134
Tern 74, 225
" Hermit 200
" Olive-backed 208
Russet-backed 199-203, 208
" Veery 200, 208
" Wilson... .. 208
Thrush, Wood 200, 208
Titmouse, Black-capped 16
Tramp 159, 160
Veery (Thrush) 200, 208
Vigors Wren 91-101
Cassm 179, 185
" Least 185
" Red-eyed 185
Warbling 176-179, 184
" White-eyed 185
" Yellow-throated 185
Warbler 29, 205
" Black and White 134
" Black-poll 134
Black-throated Gray 127-135
" Black-throated Green 134
" Blue-winged 134
" Lutescent 135
" Mourning 41
" Myrtle 135
" Nashville 134
" Parula 134
" Yellow 47, 134, 202, 203
Warbling Vireo 176-179, 184
Western Bluebird 172
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
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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