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Every Child Should Know 
by Neltje Blanelian 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2011 

Red-Eyed Vireo 




Author of **Bird Neighbours," ** Birds that Hunt and Are 

Hunted," "Nature's Garden," and ** How to 

Attract the Birds." 





Copyright, 1907, by 
Doubleday, Page & Company 

All rights reserved ^ 

including that of translation into foreign languages, 

including the Scandinavian 


If all his lessons were as joyful as learn- 
ing to know the birds in ;. the fields and woods, 
there would be no 

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

Long before his nine o'clock headache ap- 
pears, lessons have begun. Nature herself is 
the teacher who rouses him from his bed with 
an outburst of song under the window and sets 
his sleepy brain to wondering whether it was a 
robin's clear, ringing call that startled him from 
his dreams, or the chipping sparrow's wiry 
tremulo, or the gushing little wren's tripping 
cadenza. Interest in the birds trains the ear 
quite imconsciously. A keen, intelligent listener 
is rare, even among grown-ups, but a child who 
is becoming acquainted with the birds about 
him hears every sound and puzzles out its 
meaning with a cleverness that amazes those 
with ears who hear not. He responds to the 
first alarm note from the nesting blue birds in 
the orchard and dashes out of the house to 
chase away a prowling cat. He knows from 

vi Birds Every Child Should Know 

afar the distress caws of a company of crows 
and away he goes to be sure that their perse- 
cutor is a hawk. A faint tattoo in the woods 
sends him cHmbing up a tall straight tree with 
the confident expectation of finding a wood- 
pecker's nest within the hole in its side. 

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

When President Roosevelt was a boy he was 
far from strong, and his anxious father and 
mother naturally encouraged every interest 
that he showed in out-of-door pleasures. Among 
these, perhaps the keenest that he had was in 
birds. He knew the haunts of every species 
within a wide radius of his home and made a 
large collection of eggs and skins that he pre- 
sented to the Smithsonian Museum when he 
could no longer endure the evidences of his 
*' youthful indiscretion,'* as he termed the col- 
lector's mania. But those bird hunts that 
had kept him happily employed in the open air 
all day long, helped to make him the strong, 
manly man he is, whose wonderful physical 
endurance is not the least factor of his greatness. 
No one abhors the killing of birds and the rob- 

Preface vii 

bing of nests more than he ; few men, not spec- 
cialists, know so much about bird life. 

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

What does the study of birds do for the 

viii Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

for us. 

Neltje Blanchan. 
Mill Neck, 1906. 


I. Our Robin Goodfellow and His Rela- 
tions 3 

Robin, Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Wilson's 

II. Some Neighbourly Acrobats . .17 

Chickadee, Nuthatches, Titmouse, 

ni. A Group of Lively Singers . .31 

Mockingbird, Catbird, Brown Thrasher, 

' IV. The Warblers 51 

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

V. Another Strictly American Family . 62 
The Vireos. 

VI. Birds Not of a Feather . . .77 
Butcherbirds, Cedar Waxwing, Tanagers. 

Vn. The Swallows 91 

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

VIII. The Sparrow Tribe . . . .105 
Purple Finch, English Sparrow, GoldiSnch, 
Vesper Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, 
White-throated Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, 
Chippy, Field Sparrow, Junco, Song 


X Contents 


Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, 
Towhee, Cardinal, Rose-breasted Gros- 
beak, Indigo Bunting, Snowfiake. 

IX. The Ill-assorted Blackbird Family 135 
Bobolink, Cowbird, Red-wing, Meadow- 
lark, Orioles, Blackbirds. 

X. Rascals We Must Admire . . 151 

Crow, Blue Jay and Canada Jay. 

XI. The Flycatchers . . . .159 
Kingbird, Crested Flycatcher, Phoebe, 
Pewee, Least Flycatcher. § 

XII. Some Queer Relations . . .173 
Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, Chimney 
Swift, Hummingbird. 

Xin. Non-union Carpenters . . . 187 
Our Five Common Woodpeckers. 

XIV. Cuckoo and Kingfisher . . . 203 

XV. Day and Night Allies of the 

Farmer 211 

Buzzards, Hawks, and Owls. 

XVIo Whistler and Drummer . . 233 

Bob -white and Ruffed Grouse. 

XVII. Birds of the Shore and Marshes 245 
Snipe, Sandpiper, Plover, Rails and 
Coots, Bitterns and Herons. 

XVIII. The Fastest Flyers . . .265 

Gulls, Ducks, and Geese. 

Index 275 


Red-eyed Vireo . ""/ ^ . -^ Frontispiece 


It is Only When he is a Baby that you 

Cotdd Gruess our Robin is Really a Thrush. 

(A, R. Dugmore) 8 

Young Bluebirds Taking their First Walk. 

(A, R. Dugmore) ..... 9 
Baby Wood Thrushes — Notice the Family 

Resemblance Between them and the 

Baby Robins and Bluebirds. {A, R. 

Dugmore) . . . . . .12 

A Wood Thrush Startled by the Click of the 

Camera. (A, R, Dugmore) . . • ^3 
The Chickadee at her Front Door. (A. R. 

Dugmore) . . . . . .22 

Young Nuthatches Learning their First 

Lesson in Balancing on a Horizontal Bar. 

(W. E. Carlin) . . . . .23 

The Noisy Contents of a Soap Box: a Family 

of House Wrens. {A. R, Dugmore) . 30 

The Marsh Wren's Round Cradle Swung 

Among the Rushes. (A, R. Dugmore) . 31 

xii List of Illustrations 


Like '*Brer Rabbit" the Catbird is Usually 
"Bred en Bawn in a Brier Patch.'* 
{A. R. Dugmore) ..... 34 

Another Tragedy of the Nests: What Villain 
Ate the Catbird's Eggs? {Verne Morton) . 35 

'* Mamma!*' Young Mockingbird CalUng for 
Breakfast. (^4. R. Dugmore) ... 50 

All is Well with this Yellow Warbler's Nest. 

{G. C. Embody) . . . . .51 

Dinner for One: A Black-and-white Warbler 
Feeding her Baby. {A. R. Dugmore) . 51 

The Oven-bird who Calls ''Teacher, Teacher, 
(William P. Hopkins) .... 58 

Oven-bird in her Cleverly Hidden Nest — 
Some of the Leaves and Sticks Have Been 
Pulled Away From the Front to Secure 
her Picture. (.4. R. Dugmore) . . 59 

Young Oven-birds on Day of Leaving Nest. 

(A. R. Dugmore) . . . . -59 

A Red-eyed Vireo Baby in his Cradle. 

(A. R. Dugmore) ..... 76 

Out of It. {A. R. Dugmore) . . 76 

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

The Cedar Waxwing. (W. P. Hopkins) . 84 

List of Illustrations xiii 


The Gk)rgeous Scarlet Tanager, who Sang in 
this Tree, Was Killed by a Sling Shot. The 
Nest Was Deserted by his Terrified Mate. 
{A. R. Dugmore) ..... 85 

Young Barn Swallows Cradled Under the 
Rafters. {A. R. Dugmore) . . .96 

Baby Barn Swallows Learning to Walk a 
Plank. (A. R. Dugmore) ... 97 

The Most Cheerful of Bird Neighbours: Song 
Sparrows. (A. R. Dugmore) . . 116 

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

A Chipping Sparrow Family: One Baby Satis- 
fied, the Next Nearly So, the Third Still 
Hungry. (A. R. Dugmore) . . .117 

Cardinal. (C W. Beebe) . . . .134 

That Dusky Rascal the Cowbird. (C. W, 
Beebe) ....... 135 

The Gorgeous Baltimore Oriole. (A, R. 

Dugmore) . . . . . .146 

How do you Suppose these Young Baltimore 
Orioles Ever Packed themselves into this 
Nest? {A. R. Dugmxrre) , . . .147 

Young Orchard Orioles. {A. R, Dugmore) . 150 

*' There Were Three Crows Sat on a Tree." 
{A. R. Dugmore) . . . . -151 

Blue Jay on her Nest. {R, H. Beebe) . .158 

xiv List of Illustrations 


Five Little Teasers Get No Dinner from 

Mamma Blue Jay. {Craig S. Thomas) . 159 
Not Afraid of the Camera: Baby Blue Jays 

Out for their First Airing. {Craig S. 

Thomas) . . . . . .159 

The Dashing Great Crested Flycatcher. 

{A. R. Dugmore) . . . . .162 

Baby Kingbirds in an Apple Tree. {A. R. 

Dugmore) . . . . . .163 

Four Crested Flycatchers, who Need to Have 

their Hair Brushed. {A. R. Dugmore) . 164 
Time for these Young Phoebes to Leave the 

Nest. {A, R. Dugmore) . . .165 

Young Phoebes on a Bridge Trestle. {A. R. 

Dugmore) . . . . . .165 

Least Flycatchers in a Rose Bush. . .176 
Nighthawk Resting in the Sunlight. {John 

Boyd) . . . . . . -177 

A Chimney Swift at Rest. (C. W. Beebe) . 180 
Hummingbird Pumping Food into her Babies' 

Crops. {Julian Burroughs) • . .181 

Twin Ruby-throats. {Julian Burroughs) . 181 
Our Little Friend Downy. {A. R. Dugmore) 192 
The Red-headed Woodpecker. {G. W. Beebe) 193 
The Sapsucker. {G, G. Embody) . .198 

Baby Flickers Just Out of their Hole. {A. R. 

Dugmore) . . . • . -199 

List of Illustrations xv 


The Flicker. (C. W, Beehe) . . ' . 206 

Two Baby Cuckoos on the Rickety Bundle of 

Sticks that by Courtesy we Call a Nest. 

(Verne Morton) . . . . .207 

Waiting for Mamma and Fish. {A, W, 

Anthony), . . . . . .210 

Young Belted Kingfisher on his Favourite 

Snag. {A. W. Anthony) . . .210 

Kingfisher on the Look-out for a Dinner. 

(^4. W. Anthony) .... 211 

Turkey Buzzard: One of Nature's Best 

Housecleaners. (C. W, Beehe) . . 226 

The Beautiful Little Sparrow Hawk. (C. W. 

Beehe) ....... 227 

Father and Mother Barn Owls. {Silas A. 

Lottridge) , . . . . .232 

The Heavenly Twins: Young Barn Owls. 

(Silas A, Lottridge) . . . -233 

A Little Screech Owl in the Sunlight Where 

Only a Photographer Could Find him. 

(C. W, Beehe) . . . . .236 

Mrs. White on her Nest while Bob Whistles 

to her from the Wild Strawberry Patch. 

(A. R. Dugmore) .... 237 

A Little Girl's Rare Pet. (C. F. Hodge) . 242 
The Drummer Drtimming. (C. F. Hodge) . 243 
A Flock of Friendly Sandpipers and Turn- 
stones in Wading. {Herhert K. J oh) . 258 

xvi List of Illustrations 


One Little Sandpiper. (R. H. Beebe) , -259 

The Coot. (C. W, Beebe) . . ajg 

The Little Green Heron, the Smallest and 

Most Abundant Member of his Tribe. 

(W, P. Hopkins). . . . . a6o 

Half-grown Little Green Herons on Dress 

Parade. {John M. Schreck) . . .261 

Black-crowned Night Heron Rising from a 

Morass. (Alfred /. Might) . . . 268 

Canada Geese. (Geo. D. Bartlett) . . 269 

The Feather-lined Nest of a Wild Duck. . 272 

Sea Gulls in the Wake of a Garbage Scow 

Cleansing New York Harbour of Floating 

Refuse ••••••• 273 



American Robin 
Wood Thrush 
Wilson's Thrush 


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

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

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

When our American robin comes out of the 

6 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

**Down tumble babies and cradle and all." 

The American Robin y 

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

Suppose your appetite were so large that you 
were compelled to eat more than your weight 
of food every day, and suppose you had three 
or four brothers and sisters, just your own size, 
and just as ravenously hungry. These are the 
conditions in every normal robin family, so you 
can easily imagine how hard the father and 
mother birds must work to keep their fledglings' 
crops filled. No wonder robins like to live near 
our homes where the enriched land contains 
many fat grubs, and the smooth lawns, that 
they run across so lightly, make hunting for 
earth worms comparatively easy. It is esti- 
mated that about fourteen feet of worms (if 
placed end to end) are drawn out of the ground 
daily by a pair of robins with a nestful of babies 
to feed. When one of the parents alights near 
its home, every child must have seen the little 
heads, with wide-stretched, yellow bills, pop up 
suddenly like Jacks-in-the-box. How rudely 
the greedy babies push and jostle one another 
to get the most dinner, and how noisily they 
clamour for it! Earth worms are the staff of 

8 Birds Every Child Should Know 

life to them just as bread is to children, but 
robins destroy vast quantities of other worms 
and insects more injurious to the farmers' crops, 
so that the strawberries and cherries they take 
in June should not be grudged them. 

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

Toward the end of June, you may see robins 
flying in flocks after sun-down. Old males and 
young birds of the first brood scatter themselves 
over the country by day to pick up the best 

**It is only when he is a baby that you could guess cm 
robin is really a thrush" 





The Bluebird g 

living they can, but at night they collect in 
large numbers at some favourite roosting place. 
Oftentimes the weary mother birds are now 
raising second broods. We like to believe that 
the fathers return from the roosts at sun-up 
to help supply those insatiable babies with 
worms throughout the long day. 

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

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


Is there any sign of spring quite so welcome 
as the glint of the first bluebird unless it is his 

lo Birds Every Child Should Know 

softly whistled song? Before the farmer begins 
to plough the wet earth, often while the snow is 
still on the ground, this hardy little minstrel is 
making himself very much at home in our or- 
chards and gardens while waiting for a mate to 
arrive from the South. 

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

The Bluebird 1 1 

of bluebirds may be raised in a box each spring, 
and as insects are their most approved baby 
food, you see how much it is to our interest 
to set up nurseries for them near our homes. 

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

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

12 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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


Called also: Song Thrush; Wood Robin; Bell 

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

A wood thrush startled by the dick of the camera 

The Wood Thrush 13 

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

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

Pit-pit-pit you may hear sharply, excitedly 
jerked out of some bird's throat, and you wonder 
if a note so disagreeable can really come from the 
wonderful songster on the branch above your 
head. By sharply striking two small stones 

14 Birds Every Child Should Know 

together you can closely imitate this alarm call. 
Whom can he be scolding so severely? It is 
yourself, of course, for without knowing it you 
have come nearer to his low nest in the beech 
tree than he thinks quite safe. While sitting, 
the mother bird is, however, quite tame. A 
photographer I know placed his camera within 
four feet of a nest, changed the plates, and 
clicked the shutter three times for as many 
pictures without disturbing the gentle sitter who 
merely winked her eye at each chick. 

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


The veery, as the Wilson's thrush is called 
in New England, is far more common there than 

Wilson's Thrush 15 

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

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


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


Called also: Black-capped Titmouse 

"piTTERLY cold and dreary though the day 
-^^ may be, that *4ittle scrap of valour,*' the 
chickadee, keeps his spirits high until ours can- 
not but be cheered by the oft-repeated, clear, 
tinkling silvery notes that spell his name. 
Chicka-dee-dee: ckicka-dee-dee: he introduces 
himself. How easy it would be for every child 
to know the birds if all would but sing out 
their names so clearly! Oh, don't you wish they 

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

No bird, except the wren, is more cheerful than 
the chickadee, and his cheerfulness, fortunately, 
is just as ** catching'' as measels. None will 
respond more promptly to your whistle in imi- 
tation of his three very high, clear call notes, and 
coEQe nearer and nearer to make quite sure you 


20 Birds Every Child Should Know 

are only a harmless mimic. He is very inquis- 
itive. Although not a bird may be in sight 
when you first whistle his call, nine chances out 
of ten there will be a faint echo from some far 
distant throat before very long ; and by repeat- 
ing the notes at short intervals you will have, 
probably, not one but several echoes from as 
many different chickadees whose curiosity to 
see you soon gets the better of their appetites 
and brings them flying, by easy stages, to the 
tree above your head. Where there is one 
chickadee there are apt to be more in the neigh- 
bourhood; for these sociable, active, cheerful 
little black-capped fellows in gray like to hunt 
for their living in loose scattered flocks through- 
out the fall and winter. When they come near 
enough, notice the pale rusty wash on the sides 
of their under parts which are more truly dirty 
white than gray. Chickadees are wonderfully 
tame: except the chipping sparrow, perhaps 
the tamest birds that we have. Patient people, 
who know how to whistle up these friendly 
sprites, can sometimes draw them close enough 
to touch, and an elect few, who have the special 
gift of winning a wild bird's confidence, can in- 
duce the chickadee to alight upon their hands. 

Blessed with a thick coat of fat under his soft, 
fluffy gray feathers, a hardy constitution and a 
sunny disposition, what terrors has the winter 
for him? When the thermometer goes down, 

The Chickadee 21 

his spirits seem to go up the higher. DangUng 
like a circus acrobat on the cone of some tall 
pine tree; standing on an outstretched twig, 
then turning over and hanging with his black- 
capped head downward from the high trapeze ; 
carefully inspecting the rough bark on the twigs 
for a fat grub or a nest of insect eggs, he is con- 
stantly hunting for food and singing grace be- 
tween bites. His day, day, day, sung softly 
over and over again, seems to be his equivalent 
for *' Give us this day our daily bread." 

How delightfully he and his busy friends, who 
are always within call, punctuate the snow- 
muffled, mid-winter silence with their ringing 
calls of good cheer! The orchards where chicka- 
dees, titmice, nuthatches, and kinglets have 
dined all winter, will contain few worm-eaten 
apples next season. Here is a puzzle for your 
arithmetic class: If one chickadee eats four 
hundred and forty-four eggs of the apple tree 
moth on Monday, three htindred and thirty- 
three eggs of the canker worm on Tuesday, and 
seven hundred and seventy-seven miscellaneous 
grubs, larvae, and insect eggs on Wednesday and 
Thursday, how long will it take a flock of 
twenty-two chickadees to rid an orchard of 
every unspeakable pest? One very wise and 
thrifty fruit grower I know attracts to his trees 
all the winter birds from far and near, by keep- 
ing on several shelves nailed up in his orchard, 

22 Birds Every Child Should Know 

bits of suet, cheap raisins, raw peanuts chopped 
fine, cracked hickory nuts and rinds of pork. 
The free lunch counters are freely patronised. 
There is scarcely an hour in the day, no matter 
how cold, when some hungry feathered neigh- 
bour may not be seen helping himself to the 
heating, fattening food he needs to keep his 
blood warm. 

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

The chiekadee at her front door 





Tufted Titmouse 23 


Called fdso: Peto Bird; Crested Tomtit; Crested 

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

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

Few birds that we see about our homes wear 
a top knot on their heads. The big cardinal 
has a handsome red one, the larger blue jay's 
is bluish gray, the cedar waxwing's is a Quaker 

24 Birds Every Child Should Know 

drab ; but the little titmouse, who is the size of 
an English sparrow, may be named at once by 
the gray pointed crest that makes him look so 
pert and jaunty. When he hangs head down- 
ward from the trapeze on the oak tree, this 
little gray acrobat's peaked cap seems to be 
falling off; whereas the black sloiU cap on the 
smaller chickadee fits close to his head no 
matter how much he turns over the bar and 

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

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

White-breasted Nuthatch 25 

early autumn and whistle lustily about your 


Called also: Tree Mouse; Devil Downhead 

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

Why don't they fall off? If you ever have a 
chance, examine their claws. These, you will 
see, are very much curved and have sharp little 
hooks that catch in any crack or rough place in 
the bark and easily support the bird's weight. 
As a general rule the chickadee keeps to the 

26 Birds Every Child Should Know 

end of the twigs and the smaller branches ; the 
tufted titmouse rids the larger boughs of in- 
sects, eggs, and worms hidden in the scaly bark ; 
but the nuthatches can climb to more inac- 
cessible places. With the help of the hooks 
on their toes it does not matter to them whether 
they run upward, downward, or sidewise ; and 
they can stretch their bodies away from their 
feet at some very queer angles. Their long bills 
penetrate into deep holes in the thick bark of 
the tree trunks and older limbs and bring forth 
from their hiding places insects that would 
escape almost every other bird except the 
brown creeper and the woodpecker. Of course, 
when you see any feathered acrobat performing 
in the trees, you know he is working hard to 
pick up a dinner, not exercising merely for fun. 
The most familiar nuthatch, in the eastern 
United States, is the one with the white breast; 
but in the Northern States and Canada there is 
another common winter neighbour, a smaller 
compactly feathered, bluish gray gymnast with 
a pale rusty breast, a conspicuous black line 
running apparently through his eye from the 
base of his bill to the nape of his neck, and heavy 
white eyebrows. This is the hardy little red- 
breasted nuthatch. His voice is pitched rather 
high and his drawling notes seem to come from 
a lazy bird instead of one of the most vigorous 
and spry little creatures in the wood. The 

White-breasted Nuthatch 27 

nasal ank-.znk of his white-breasted cousin is 
uttered, too, without expression, as if the bird 
were compelled to make a sound once in a while 
against his will. Both of these cousins have 
similar habits. Both are a trifle smaller than 
the English sparrow. In summer they merely 
hide away in the woods to nest, for they are not 
migrants. It is only when nesting duties are 
over in the autumn that they become neigh- 

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

28 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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


Count that a red-letter day on your calendar 
when first you see either this tiny, dainty sprite, 
or his next of kin, the golden-crowned kinglet, 
fluttering, twinkling about the evergreens. In 
republican America we don't often have the 
chance to meet two crowned heads. Ener- 
getic as wrens, restless as warblers, and as per- 
petually looking for insect food, the kinglets flit 
with a sudden, jerking motion from twig to 
twig among the trees and bushes, now on the 
lawn, now in the orchard and presently in the 
hedgerow down the lane. They have a pretty 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 29 

trick of lifting and flitting their wings every 
little while. The bluebird and pine grosbeak 
have it too, but their much larger, trembling 
wings seem far less nervous. 

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

30 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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




The marsh wren's round cradle swung among the rushes 


House Wren 
Carolina Wren 
Marsh Wren 
Brown Thrasher 


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

Save the starch boxes, cover them with 
strips of bark, or give them two coats of paint 
to match the building they are to be nailed on. 
Cut a hole that you have marked on one end of 
each box by drawing a lead pencil around a 
silver quarter of a dollar. A larger hole would 
mean that English sparrows, who push them- 
selves everywhere where not invited, would 
probably take possession of each house as fast 
as you nailed it up. Of course the little one- 
roomed cottages should have a number of small 
holes bored on the sides near the top to give the 
wrens plenty of fresh air. Have the boxes in 
place not later than the first of April — then 
watch. Would it not be a pity for any would-be 
tenants to pass by your home because they could 


34 Birds Every Child Should Know 

not find a house to let? Wrens really prefer 
boxes to the holes in stiimps and trees they 
used to occupy before there were any white 
people with thoughtful children on this con- 
tinent. But the little tots have been known to 
build in tin cans, coat pockets, old shoes, mit- 
tens, hats, glass jars, and even inside a human 
skull that a medical student hung out in the 
sun to bleach! 

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

With characteristic energy, he frequently 

^' \. -^ 

IMfflKX ^^^M^ 

' .^m^^i^ 

\m m\ ^ 

^^5i • 

Cr pO '/ 

t^ v'-f'^'' 

u- 1^ J\ 

f y • 

i 1 

1 ' r>-f- 



M f 

■ d^^BK^BS 

in, ^, 


■ ■ /"i '^ 


1 M 


P«' '^ 

'1*' a 




r-^:'^-^L . tu 



f 7 y^ 


f V 1 

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§/■ \ 


w" ' A^' 

I V 

4* '"; \' 

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

The House Wren 35 

begins to carry twigs into the house before he 
finds a mate. The day little Jenny Wren 
appears on the scene, how he does sing! Dash- 
ing off for more twigs, but stopping to sing to 
her every other minute, he helps furnish the 
cottage quickly, but, of course, he overdoes — 
he carries in more twigs and hay and feathers 
than the little house can hold, then pulls half 
of them out again. Jenny gathers too, for she 
is a bustling housewife and arranges matters 
with neatness and despatch. Neither vermin 
nor dirt will she tolerate within her well-kept 
home. Everything she does to suit herself 
pleases her ardent little lover. He applauds 
her with song; he flies about after her with a 
nervous desire to protect ; he seems beside him- 
self with happiness. Let any one pass too near 
his best beloved, and he begins to chatter ex- 
citedly: '' ChiUchit-chit-chiV as much as to 
say, *'0h, do go away; go quickly! Can't you 
see how nervous and fidgety you make me? '' 

If you fancy that Jenny Wren, who is 
patiently sitting on the little pinkish chocolate 
spotted eggs in the centre of her feather bed, 
is a demure, angelic creature, you have never 
seen her attack the sparrow, nearly twice her 
size, that dares put his impudent head inside 
her door. Oh, how she flies at him! How she 
chatters and scolds! What a plucky little shrew 
she is, after all! Her piercing, chattering, scold- 

36 Birds Every Child Should Know 

ing notes are fairly hissed into his ears until h^ 
is thankful enough to escape. 


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

This little brown wren has the brightest of eyes 

And a foot of a very diminutive size. 

Her tail is as trig as the sail of a ship. 

She's demure, though she walks with a hop and a skip; 

And her voice — but a flute were more fit than a pen 

To tell of the voice of the little brown wren. 

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

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

If the bluebirds had her courage and hot, 
quick temper, they would never let the sparrows 
drive them away from their boxes. Unfor- 
tunately a hole large enough to admit a blue- 

♦From "Boy's Book of Rhyme," by Clinton Scollard 

The Carolina Wren 37 

bird will easily admit those grasping monop- 
olists ; but Jenny Wren is safe, if she did but 
know it, in her house with its tiny front door 
It is amusing to see a sparrow try to work his 
shoulders through the small hole of an empty 
wren house, pushing and kicking madly, but 
all in vain. 

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


The house wrens have a tiny cousin, a mite of 
a bird, called the winter wren, that is so shy 

38 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

Some people call him the mocking wren, 
but I think he never deliberately tries to imitate 
other birds. Why should he? It is true that 
his loud-ringing, three-syllabled whistle, *' Tea 
ket-tle, Tea-ket-tle, Tea-ket-tle/* suggests the 
crested titmouse's '' peto'' of two syllables, but 
in quality only ; and some have thought that his 
whistled notes are difficult to distinguish from 
the one-syllabled, but oft-repeated, long-drawn 
quoit of the cardinal. These three birds are 
frequently to be heard in the same neighbour- 
hood and you may easily compare their voices ; 
but if you listen carefully, I think you will not 
accuse the wren of trying to mock either of the 

The Marsh Wren 39 

others. In addition to his ringing, whistled 
notes, he can make other sounds pecuHarly his 
own: trills and quavers, scolding cacks, rat- 
tling kringggs, something like the tree toad's, be- 
sides the joyful, lyrical melody that has given 
him his reputation as a musician. Even these do 
not complete his repertoire. To deliver his fam- 
ous song, he chooses a conspicuous position in 
the top of some bush or low tree; then, with 
head uplifted and tail drooping — a favourite 
posture of all these lively singers — he makes 
us very glad indeed that we heard him. Hap- 
pily he sings almost as many months in the 
year as the most cheerful bird we have, the 
song sparrow. 


Hidden among the tall grasses and reeds along 
the creeks and rivers, lives the long-billed marsh 
wren, a nervous, active little creature that you 
know at a glance. With tail cocked up and 
even tilted forward toward her head in the ex- 
treme of wren fashion, or suddenly jerked 
downward to help keep her balance, she sways 
with the grass as it blows in the wind — a dainty 
little sprite. With no desire to make your 
acquaintance, she flies with a short, jerky motion 
(because of her short wings) a few rods away, 

40 Birds Every Child Should Know 

then drops into the grasses which engulf her as 
surely as if she had dropped into the sea. You 
may search in vain to find her now. Like the 
rails, she has her paths and runways among the 
tall sedges and cat-tails, where not even a boy 
in rubber boots may safely follow. 

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

Why are the birds so excited? This is their 
nesting season, May, and really they are too 

The Brown Thrasher 41 

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


Called also: Brown Thrush; Long Thrush; 
Ground Thrush; Red Thrush; French Mock- 
ing-bird; Mavis. 

People who are not very well acquainted 
with the birds about them usually mistake the 

42 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

Like his cousin, the catbird, the brown thrasher 
likes to live in bushy thickets overgrown with 
vines. Here, running over the ground among 
the fallen leaves, he picks up with his long slen- 
der bill, worms, May beetles and scores of other 
kinds of insects that, but for him, would soon 
find their way to the garden, orchard, and fields. 
Yet few farmers ever thank him. Because 
they don't often see him picking up the insects 
in their cultivated land, they wrongly conclude 
that he does them no benefit, only miscliief. 

The Brown Thrasher 43 

because, occasionally, he does eat a little fruit. 
It seems to be a dreadful sin for a fellow in 
feathers to help himself to a strawberry or a 
cherry or a little grain now and then, although, 
having eaten quantities of insects that, but 
for him, would have destroyed them, who has 
earned a better right to a share of the profits ? 

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

44 Birds Every Child Should Know 

other times he may keep himself concealed 
among the shrubbery, when about to sing, he 
chooses a conspicuous perch as if to attract 
attention to his truly brilliant performance. 

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


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

The Catbird 45 

tail tip too, wren fashion, he stands at attention 
on the rim of the dish, alert, listening, tense — 
the neatest, trimmest figure in birddom. 

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

He is very intelligent and friendly, like his 
cousin, the mockingbird. One catbird that 

4^ Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

The Mockingbird 47 

yard provides a very popular restaurant, not 
only for the song birds among the branches, 
but for the scratchers on the ground floor. 

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


What child is there who does not know the 
mockingbird, caged or free ? In the North you 
very rarely see one now-a-days behind prison 
bars, for, happily, several enlightened states 
have made laws to ptmish people who keep our 
wild birds in cages or offer them for sale,, dead or 

48 Birds Every Child Should Know 

alive. When all the states make and enforce 
similar laws, there will be an end to the barbaric 
slaughter of many birds for no more worthy- 
end than the trimming of hats for thought- 
less girls and women. Birds of bright plumage 
have suffered most, of course, but the mocking- 
birds' nests have been robbed for so many 
generations to furnish caged fledglings for both 
American and European bird dealers, that shot 
guns could have done no work more deadly. 
Where the people are too ignorant to understand 
what mockingbirds are doing for them every day 
in the year by eating insects in their gardens, 
fields, parks, and public squares, they are shot 
in great numbers for the sole offence of helping 
themselves to a small fraction of the very fruit 
they have helped to preserve. Even the birds 
ought to have a *' square deal'' in free America: 
don't you think so ? 

Although not afflicted with *'the fatal gift of 
beauty," at least not the gaudy kind, like the 
cardinal's and scarlet tanager's, the mocking- 
bird's wonderful voice has brought upon him 
an equal quantity of troubles. Keenly intelli- 
gent though he is, he does not know enough to 
mope and refuse to sing in a cage, but whiles 
away the tedious hours of his captivity by all 
manner of amusing and delightful sounds. In- 
deed it has been found that the household pet is 
apt to be a better mocker than the wild bird — 

The Mockingbird 49 

a most unfortunate discovery. Not only does 
he imitate the notes of birds about him, but he 
invents all manner of quips and vocal jugglery. 

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

Ever alert, on the qui vive, the mockingbird 
can no more suppress the music within him, 
night or day, than he can keep his nervous, 
high-strung body at rest. From his restlessness 
alone you might know he is the cousin of the 
catbird and brown thrasher and is closely re- 
lated to the wrens. Flitting from perch to 
perch (fluttering is one of his chief amusements 
even in a cage), taking short flights from tree to 
tree, and so displaying the white signals on his 
wings and tail, hopping lightly, swiftly, grace- 
fully over the ground, bounding into the air, 

50 Birds Every Child Should Know 

or the next minute shooting his ashy gray 
body far across the garden and leaving a wake 
of music behind as he flies, he seems to be per- 
petually in motion. If you live in the South 
you can encourage no more delightftd neighbour 
than this star performer in the group of lively 


Young mockingbird calling for breakfast 

All is -well -with this yellow warbler's nest 

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


Yellow Warbler 

Black and White Creeping Warbler 


Maryland Yellow-throat 

Yellow-breasted Chat 


Called &l3o: Summer Yellowbird; Wild Canetry. 

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


54 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

The great majority of these fascinating and 
exasperatmg relatives are nervous, restless little 
sprites, constantly flitting from branch to 

Yellow Warbler 55 

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

Who first misled us by calling these birds 
warblers? The truth is there is not one really 
fine singer, like a thrush, in the whole family. 
The yellow-breasted chat has remarkable vocal 
ability, but he is not a real musician like the 
mockingbird, who also likes to have fun with 
his voice. The warblers, as a rule, have weak, 
squeaky, or wiry songs and lisping tseep call 
notes, neither of which ought to be called a 
warble. The yellow warbler sings as acceptably 

5^ Birds Every Child Should Know 

as most of his kin. Seven times he rapidly 
repeats ** Sweet — sweet — sweet — sweet — sweet — 
sweeter-sweeter'' to his sweetheart, but this 
happy Uttle lovemaker's incessant song is apt 
to become almost tiresome to everybody except 
his mate. 

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

Scarcely is it finished before the skulking 
cowbird watches her chance to lay an egg 
in it that she may not be bothered with the 
care of her own baby. She knows that the 
yellow warbler is a gentle, amiable, devoted 
mother, who will probably work herself to death, 
if necessary, rather than let the big baby cow- 
bird star^'-e. But she sometimes makes a great 
mistake in her individual. Not all yellow 
warblers will permit the outrage. They prefer 
to weave a new bottom to their nest, over the 

Black and White Creeping Warbler 57 

cowbird's egg, although they may seal up their 
own speckled treasures with it. Suppose the 
wicked cowbird comes back and lays still an- 
other egg in the two-storied nest: what then? 
The little Spartan yellow bird has been known 
to weave still another layer of covering rather 
than hatch out an unwelcome, greedy inter- 
loper to crowd and starve her own precious 
babies. Two and even three-storied nests are 
to be found by bright-eyed boys and girls. 


You may possibly mistake this little warbler 
for a downy woodpecker when first you see him 
creeping rapidly over the bark of trees, or hang- 
ing from the under side of the branches. But 
when he flits restlessly from twig to twig and 
from tree to tree without taking time to exam- 
ine spots thoroughly ; especially when he calls 
a few thin wiry notes — zee-zee-zee-zee — you may 
know he is no woodpecker, but a warbler. 
Woodpeckers have tliick set, high shouldered 
bodies which they flatten against the tree trunks ; 
the males wear red in their caps, and all have 
larger, stouter bills than the warbler's. Moreover, 
no woodpecker is so small as this streaked and 
speckled little creature who is usually too intent 

58 Birds Every Child Should Know 

on feeding to utter a single zee. You could not 
possibly confuse him with the dilligent, placid 
brown creeper or with the slate-blue nuthatch 
which also creeps along the branches on the 
tinder or upper side. Some children I know 
call this black and white warbler the little zebra 
bird. Would that all warblers were so easily 


Called also: The Teacher ; Golden-crowned Thrush; 
The Accentor, 

" Teacher— r^ac/^^r— TEACHER— TEACHER- 
TEA Cf/£i? ! *' resounds a penetrating, accented 
voice from the woods. Who calls ? Not an im- 
patient scholar, as you might suppose, but a shy 
little thrush-like warbler who has no use whatever 
for any human being, especially at the nesting 
season in May and June, when he calls most 
loudly and frequently. Beginning quite softly, 
he gradually increases the intensity of each 
pair of notes in a crescendo that seems to come 
from a point much nearer than it really does. 
Once heard it is never forgotten, and you can 
always be sure of naming at least one bird by 
his voice alone. However, his really exquisite 
love song — a clear, ringing, vivacious melody, 
uttered while the singer is fluttering, hovering, 

Ovenbird in her cleverly hidden nest, 
and sticks have been pulled away 
secure her picture 

Some of the leaves 
from the front to 

Young ovenbirds on day of leaving nest 

Oven-bird 59 

high among the tree-tops — is rarely heard, or 
if heard is not recognised as the teacher's 
aerial serenade. He is a warbler, let it be re- 
corded, who really can sing, and beautifully, 
however rarely. 

Why is he called the oven-bird? A little 
girl I know was offered five dollars by her father 
if she could find the bird's nest in the high dry 
woods near her home. ''Teacher!'' was the 
commonest sound that came from them. It 
rang in her ears all day, so of course she thought 
it would be ' 'too easy' ' to earn the money. Every 
afternoon, when school was out, she tramped 
through the woods hour after hour, poking about 
among the dead leaves, the snapping twigs, 
the velvety moss, the fallen logs, the yoimg 
spring growth of the little plants and creepers, 
always keeping her eyes on the ground where 
she knew the nest would be found. Day after 
day she continued the search. Every time she 
saw a little hump of dead leaves or twigs and 
grasses her heart bounded with hope, but on 
closer examination she found no nest at all. 
Finally, one day when she was becoming dis- 
couraged, she spied in the path a little brownish 
olive bird, about the size of an English sparrow, 
but with a speckled, thrush-like breast and a 
dull orange V-shaped patch, bordered by black 
lines, on the top of his head. He was walking 
about on the ground, nodding his head a^ if 

6o Birds Every Child Should Know 

marking time, not hopping, sparrow-fashion; 
and he took very dainty, pretty steps that sug- 
gested a French dancing master. Occasionally 
he would scratch the path for insects, like a tiny 
chicken. Although she had never seen the 
teacher, and had expected that the loud voice 
came from a much larger bird, she felt sure that 
this must be he, so she sat down on a log and 
watched and waited. Presently she saw him tug 
at a fine black hair-like root that lay across the 
path, and, snapping it off, quickly fly away, 
away — oh, where did he go with it? She ran 
stumbling after him through the undergrowth 
to a little clearing. There another bird, just 
like him, whom she instantly guessed was his 
mate, flew straight toward her, dropped to the 
ground, ran about distractedly, dragging one 
wing as if it were broken, and uttering sharp, 
piteous notes of alarm. The little girl didn't 
like to distress the birds, of course, but how 
could she resist the temptation to find their 
nest? So on she tramped around and around in 
an ever widening circle, the excited birds still 
hovering near and sharply scolding her. You 
may be sure she was quite as excited as they. 

At last, a little dome-shaped mound of 
grasses, half hidden among the dry brown oak 
leaves and wild geranium, gladdened her eyes. 
Running around to the opposite side she knelt 
down on the grass, peeped under the arched roof 

Maryland Yellow-throat 6i 

and into the nest, which was shaped Hke an 
old-fashioned Dutch oven. Was ever a sight so 
welcome? She almost screamed with joy. 
Through the opening on one side, that was about 
three inches high, she could see the lining of 
fine black rootlets, just like the one she had 
watched the bird snap off and carry away. 
Then she flew home, as if she too had wings, 
and, calling breathlessly "Oh Father! Father! 
I've found it!'' burst into the house. A week 
before even one white speckled egg had been laid 
in the oven-bird's nest, there was a golden 
half eagle in a happy little girl's palm. A fort- 
night later a man with a camera took a picture 
of the patient mother-bird, whose pretty striped 
head you see peeping out from under the dome. 


Called also: Black-masked Ground Warbler 

This gay little warbler looks as if he were 
dressed for a masquerade ball with a gray-edged 
black mask over his face and the sides of his 
throat, a brownish green coat and a bright 
yellow vest. He is smaller than a sparrow. 
How sharply the inquisitive fellow peers at you 
through his mask whenever you pass the damp 
thicket, bordering the marshy land, where he 

&2 Birds Every Child Should Know 

likes best to live! And how quickly he hops from 
twig to twig and flies from one clump of bushes 
to another clump, in restless, warbler fashion, 
as he leads you a dance in pursuit! Not for 
a second does he stop watching you. 

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

The little bird who bewitches him, and to 
whom he sings the witch's song, wears no black 
mask, so it is not easy to nam.e her if her mate is 
not about. Her plumage is duller than his and 

The Yellow-breasted Chat 63 

the sides of her plump Httle body, which are 
yellowish brown, shade into grayish white 
underneath. Sometimes you may catch her 
carrying weeds, strips of bark, broad grasses, 
tendrils, reeds, and leaves for the outside of 
her deep cradle, and finer grasses for its lining, 
to a spot on the ground where plants and low 
bushes help conceal it. She does not build so 
beautiful a nest as the yellow warbler, but like 
her she, too, poor thing, sometimes suffers 
from the sneaking visits of the cowbird. Un- 
happily, she is not so clever as her cousin, 
for she meekly consents to hatch out the cow- 
bird's egg and let the big, greedy interloper 
crowd and worry and starve her own brood. 
Why does the cowardly cowbird always choose 
a victim smaller than herself? 


*'Now he barks like a puppy, then quacks 
like a duck, then rattles like a kingfisher, then 
squalls like a fox, then caws like a crow, then 
mews like a cat — C-r-r-r-r-r-whrr-that's it — 
Chee-quack, cluck, yit-yit-yit-now — hit it — 
tr-r-r-r-wheu-caw-caw-cut, cut-tea-hoy-who, who- 
mew, mew,'' writes John Burroughs of this 
rollicking polyglot, the chat; but not even 
that close student of nature could set down on 

64 Birds Every Child Should Know 

paper all the multitude of queer sounds with 
which the bird amuses himself. He might be 
mistaken for a dozen different birds and animals 
in as many minutes. 

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

The zany at the circus can go through no 
more clownish tricks than the chat. See him, 
a mere bunch of feathers, dance and balance in 
the air, now fluttering, now falling as if he had 
been shot, or turning aerial somersaults, now 
rising and trailing his legs behind him like a 
stork, now dropping out of sight in the thickest 
part of the thicket. The instant he spies you, 
ChuUchut, he scolds from the briars. Shy, 

The Redstart 65 

eccentric, absurd, but inspired with a ''fine 
frenzy,'' which is a passionate love for his mate 
and their nest, all his queer notes and equally- 
queer stunts centre about his home. On moon- 
light nights, Punchinello entertains himself and 
Columbine with a series of inimitable perfor- 
mances which have earned him the title of 
yellow mockingbird. He can throw his voice 
so that it seems to come from qmte a different 
direction, as you may sometime have heard a 
human ventriloquist do. 


When this exquisite little warbler flashes his 
brilliant salmon flame and black feathers among 
the trees, darting hither and thither, fluttering, 
spinning about in the air after insects caught 
chiefly on the wing, you will surely agree that 
he is the most beautiful as well as the most 
lively bird in the woods. The colour scheme 
of his clothes suggests the Baltimore oriole's, 
only the flaming feathers on the sides of his 
body, wings, and tail are a pinker shade of flame, 
and the black ones which cover his back, 
throat, and upper breast, are more glossy, with 
bluish reflections. Underneath he is white, 
tinged with salmon. But you could not pos- 
sibly mistake this lovely little sprite for the 
oriole, he is so much smaller — ^about an inch 

66 Birds Every Child Should Know 

shorter than the sparrow. His cousin, the 
Blackbumian warbler, a much rarer bird, 
with a colour scheme of black, white, and 
beautiful rich orange, not salmon flame, can be 
named instantly by the large amount of white 
in his tail feathers. There are so few brilliantly 
coloured birds that find their way to us from the 
tropics, that it should not take any boy or girl 
longer to learn them than it does to learn the 
first multiplication table. In Cuba the red- 
start is known as *'E1 Candelita'* — ^the little 
candle flame that flashes in the deep, dark, trop- 
ical forest. 

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




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


^T^OU know that if the birds should suddenly 
•*• perish, there wouldn't be a leaf, a blade of 
grass, or any green thing left upon the earth 
within a few years — it would be uninhabitable. 
When Dame Nature, the most thorough of 
housekeepers, gave to the birds the task of 
restraining insects within bounds so that man 
and beast could live, she gave the care of foliage 
to the vireos. It is true that most of the war- 
blers, and a few other birds too, hunt for their 
food among the leaves, but with nothing like 
the vireo's painstaking care and thoroughness. 
The nervous, restless warblers flit from twig 
to twig without half exploring the foliage; 
whereas the deUberate, methodical vireos search 
leisurely above and below it, cocking their little 
heads so as to look up at the under side of the 
leaf above them and to peck off the destroyers 
hidden there — ^bugs of many kinds and count- 
less little worms, caterpillars, weevils, inch- 
worms, May beetles, and leaf-eating beetles. 
Singing as they go, no birds more successfully 
combine work and play. 

Because they spend their lives among the 
foliage, the vireos are protectively coloured ; with 


70 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

The Red-eyed Vireo 71 


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

Like the rest of his kin, the red-eyed vireo is 
quite tame. A little girl I know actually stroked 
the pretty head of a mother bird as she sat 
brooding in her exquisite nest, and a week later 

72 Birds Every Child Should Know 

carried one of the young birds all around the 
garden on a rake handle. 

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


It is not often that you can get close enough 
to any bird to see the white of his eyes, but the 
brighter olive green of this vivacious little 
white-eyed vireo's upper parts, his white breast, 
faintly washed with yellow on the sides, and the 
two yellowish white bars on his wings help you 
to recognise him at a distance. Imagine my 
surprise to meet him in Bermuda, over six 
hundred miles out at sea from the Carolina 
coast, where he, too, was taking a winter va- 
cation! In those beautiful islands, where our 
familiar catbirds and cardinals also abound, 

The White-eyed Vireo 73 

^m^ white-eyed vireo is the most common bird 
^ be seen. His sweet, vigorous, irregular 
interrogation may be heard all day. But there 
he is known by quite a different name — '' Chick 
of the Village. ' ' It was a pleasant shock to hear, 
*' Now, who are you, ehf piquantly sung out at 
me, a stranger in the islands, by this old ac- 
quaintance in a hibiscus bush within a few steps 
of the pier where the steamer landed. 

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

His precious nest, so jealously guarded, is 
a deeper cup than that of his cousin with the 
red eye, deeper than that of any of the other 
vireos, and it usually contains three favourite 
materials in addition to those generally chosen 
by them: they are bits of wood usually stolen 
from some woodpecker's hole^ shreds of paper. 

74 Birds Every Child Should Know 

and yards and yards of fine caterpillar silk, 
by which the nest is hung from its slender fork 
in the thicket. It also contains, not infre 
quently, alas! a cowbird's most unwelcome egg. 


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

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


High up in the top of elms and maples that 
line village streets where the red-eyed vireo loves 

The Warbling Vireo 75 

to hunt, even among the trees of so busy a 
thoroughfare as Boston Common, an almost 
continuous warble in the early summer in- 
dicates that some unseen singer is hidden there ; 
but even if you get a glimpse of the warbling 
vireo you could not tell him from his red-eyed 
cousin at that height. Modestly dressed, with- 
out even a white eye-brow or wing-bars to re- 
lieve his plain dusty olive and whitish clothes, 
he is the least impressive member of his retiring, 
inconspicuous family. He asks you no ques- 
tions in jerky, colloquial triplets of song, so 
you may know by his voice at least that he is 
not the red-eyed vireo. Some self-conscious 
birds, like the song sparrow, mount to a con- 
spicuous perch before they begin to sing, as if 
they had to deliver a distinct number on a 
programme before a waiting audience. Not 
so with this industrious little gleaner to whom 
singing and dining seem to be a part of the 
same performance — one and inseparable. He 
sings as he goes, snatching a bit of insect food 
between warbles. 

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

A red -eyed vireo baby in his cradle 

Out of it 

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



Cedar Waxwing 
Scarlet Tanager 


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

In the Southern and Middle States, where the 
smaller loggerhead shrike is most common, 
some children say he looks like a mockingbird ; 
but the feathers on his back are surely quite a 
different gray, a light-bluish ash, and pearly on 
his under parts, with white in his black wings 
and tail which is conspicuous as he flies. His 
powerful head, which is large for his size, has a 
heavy black line running from the end of his 
mouth across his cheek, and his strong bill has a 
hook on the end which is useful in tearing the 


8g Birds Every Child Should Know 

flesh from his victim's bones. He really looks 
like nothing but just what he is — a butcher-bird. 
See him, quiet and preoccupied, perched on 
a telegraph pole on the lookout for a dinner! 
A kingbird, or other flycatcher which chooses 
similar perches, would sail off suddenly into 
the air if a winged insect hove in sight, snap it 
up, make an aerial loop in its flight and return 
to its old place. Not so the solitary, sanguinary 
shrike. When his wonderfully keen eyes de- 
tect a grasshopper, a cricket, a big beetle, a 
lizard, a little mouse, or a sparrow at a distance 
in a field, he drops like an eagle upon the victim, 
seizes it with his strong beak, and flies with 
steady flapping strokes of the wings, close along 
the ground, straight to the nearest honey locust 
or spiny thorn ; then rises with a sudden upward 
turn into the tree to impale his prey. Hawks, 
who use the same method of procuring food, 
have very strong feet ; their talons are of great 
help in holding and killing their victims; but 
the shrikes, which have rather weak, sparrows- 
like feet, for perching only, are really compelled 
in many cases to make use of stout thorns or 
sharp twigs to help them quiet the struggles 
of their victims. Weather-vanes, lightning 
rods, bare branches, or the outermost or top 
branches of tall trees, high poles, and telegraph 
wires, which afford a fine bird's eye-view of the 
surrounding hunting ground, are favourite points 

The Butcher-birds or Shrikes 8i 

of vantage for both shrikes. When it is time 
to husk the corn, every farmer's boy must have 
seen a shrike sitting on a fence-rail or hovering 
in the air ready to seize the httle meadow mice 
that escape from the shocks. 

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

The loggerhead's call-notes are harsh, creak- 
ing, and unpleasant, but at the approach of the 
nesting season he proves that he really can sing, 
although not half as well as his cousin, the 
northern shrike, who astonishes us with a fine 

82 Birds Every Child Should Know 

song some morning in early spring. Before we 
become familiar with it, however, the wander- 
ing minstrel is off to the far north to nest within 
the arctic circle. It is only in winter that the 
northern shrike visits the United States, travel- 
ling as far south as Virginia and Kansas between 
October and April. He is larger than the log- 
gerhead, being a little over ten inches long, a 
goodlooking winter visitor in a gray suit with 
black and white trimmings on his wings and tail 
and wavy bars on his breast. Bradford Torrey 
used to visit a vireo that would drink water 
from a teaspoon which he held out to her while 
she sat brooding on her nest. I know a lady 
who fed bits of raw meat to a wounded shrike 
from the tines of a fork, the best substitute 
for a thorn she could find, because he fotmd it 
awkward to eat from a dish. 


Called also: Cedarhird; Cherry-bird; Bonnet 
bird. Silk-tail. 

So few birds wear their head feathers crested 
that it is a simple matter to name them by 
their top-knots alone, even if you did not see 
the gray plumage of the little tufted titmouse, 
the dusky hue of the crested flycatcher, the blue 

The Cedar Waxwing 83 

of the jay and the kingfisher, the red of the 
cardinal, and the richly shaded grayish-brown of 
the cedar waxwing, which is, perhaps, the most 
familiar of them all. His neat and well-groomed 
plumage is fine and very silky, almost dove-like 
in colouring, and although there are no gaudy 
features about it, few of our birds are so ex- 
quisitely dressed. The pointed crest, which 
rises and falls to express every passing emotion, 
and the velvety black chin, forehead, and line 
running apparently through the eye, give dis- 
tinction to the head. The tail has a narrow 
yellow band across its end, and on the wings are 
the small red spots like sealing wax that are 
responsible for the bird's queer name. The 
waxwing is larger than a sparrow and smaller 
than a robin. 

But it is difficult to think of a single bird 
when one usually sees a fiock. Sociable to a 
degree, the waxwings rove about a neighbour- 
hood in scattered companies, large and small, 
to feed on the cedar or juniper berries, choke- 
cherries, dog-wood and woodbine berries, elder, 
haw, and other small wild fruits on which they 
feed very greedily ; then move on to some other 
place where their favourite fruit abotmds. 
Happily, they care very little about our culti- 
vated fruit and rarely touch it. A good way 
to invite many kinds of birds to visit one's 
neighbourhood is to plant plenty of berry- 

84 Birds Every Child Should Know 

bearing trees and shrubs. The birds themselves 
plant most of the wild ones, by dropping the 
imdigested berry seeds far and wide. How 
could the seeds of many species be distributed 
over thousands of miles of land without their 
help? If will surprise you to count the number 
of trees about your home that have been 
planted, quite unconsciously, by birds many 
years before you were born. Cedarbirds are 
responsible for no small part of the beauty of 
the lanes and hedgerows throughout their wide 
range from sea to sea and from Canada to 
Mexico and Central America. Nature, you see, 
makes her creatures work for her, whether 
they know they are helping her plans or not. 

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

When rising to take wing, the squad still 
keeps together, flying evenly and swiftly in 

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

The Cedar Waxwing 85 

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

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

86 Birds Every Child Should Know 

their family. Moreover, cedarbirds are very 
good to feathered orphans. 


Called also: Black-winged Redbird 

People who are now living can remember 
when scarlet tanagers were as common as robins. 
Where are they now? You see a redbird at 
the north so rarely that a thrill of excitement is 
felt when a flash of scarlet among the tree-tops 
makes the day a red-letter one on your bird 
calendar. Alas! He has, what has certainly 
proved to be, the fatal gift of beauty. A 
scarlet coat with black wings and tail, worn by 
a bird larger than a sparrow, makes a shining 
mark among the foliage for the shot gun and 
sling shot. Thousands of tanagers have been 
slaughtered to be worn on the unthinking heads 
of vain girls and women. Many are killed 
every year, during the spring and autumn 
migrations, by flying against the great light- 
houses along our coasts, the birds' highway 
of travel. Tanagers, who are only summer 
visitors from the tropics, are peculiarly suscepti- 
ble to cold; a sudden change in the weather, 
a drop in the thermometer some time in May 
just after they have come here from a warmer 

The Scarlet Tanager 87 

climate and are still especially sensitive, will 
kill off great numbers in the north woods and 
in Canada. They really should postpone their 
journey a little while until the weather becomes 
settled and there are fewer fogs on the coast. 

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

The exacting little lady bird, who demanc^ 
such fine feathers, is herself quietly clad in light 
olive green with a more yellowish tinge on hex 

88 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

The Scarlet Tanager 89 

limbs of the white oak. Not, many people are 
blessed with such beautiful, interesting neigh- 

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


Purple Martin 
Barn Swallow 
Cliff Swallow 
Bank Swallow 
Tree Swallo'XF 


IF YOU were a bird, could you think of 
any way of earning a living more delightful 
than sailing about in the air all day, playing 
cross-tag on the wing with your companions, 
skimming low across the meadows, ponds and 
marshes, or rising high above them and darting 
hither and thither wherever you pleased, with- 
out knowing what it means to feel tired ? Swal- 
lows are as much in their element when in the 
air as fish are in water; but don't imagine they 
are there simply for fun. Their long, blade- 
like wings, which cut the air with such easy, 
but powerful strokes, propel them enormous 
distances before they have collected enough 
mosquitoes, gnats and other little gauzy- 
winged insects to supply such great energy 
and satisfy their hunger. With mouth widely 
gaping, leaving an opening in the front of their 
broad heads that stretches from ear to ear, they 
get a tremendous draught down their little 
throats, but they gather in a dinner piece-meal 
just as the chimney swift, whip-poor-will and 
night-hawk do. Viscid saliva in the bird's 
mouth glues the little victims as fast as if they 
were caught on sticky fly-paper; then, when 

94 Birds Every Child Should Know 

enough have been trapped to make a pellet, the 
swallow swallows them in a ball, although 
one swallow does not make a dinner, any more 
than one swallow makes a summer. 

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

At sunrise, the birds scatter in small bands 
to pick up on the wing the long continued meal, 
which lasts till late in the afternoon. Those 
who have gone too far abroad and must travel 
back to the roost after sundown shoot across 
the sky with incredible swiftness lest darkness 
overtake them. Relying upon their speed of 
flight to carry them beyond the reach of en- 

The Purple Martin 95 

emies, they migrate boldly by daylight instead 
of at night as the timid little vireos and warblers 
do. During every day the swallows are with 
us they must consume billions and trillions of 
blood-sucking insects that would pester other 
animals beside ourselves. Think of the mos- 
quito bites alone that they prevent! Every 
one of us is greatly in their debt. 

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


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

96 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

Young barn swallows cradled under the rafters 

The Purple Martin 97 

cisely what they are not. Not even the Httle 
house wren has adapted itself so quickly to 
civilised men's homes, as the swift and purple 

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

98 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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


Do you know where there is an old-fashioned, 
weather-worn bam, with its hospitable doors 
standing open, where you could not find at 
least one pair of bam swallows at home beneath 
its roof? These birds, you will notice, prefer 
dilapidated old farm buildings, whose doors are 
ojff their hinges, and whose loose shingles or 
broken clapboards offer plenty of entrances 
and exits. If you like to play around a barn 
as well as every child I know, you must be 
already acquainted with the exquisite, dark 
steel-blue swallows with glistening reddish buflE 
breasts, and deeply forked tails, that dart and 
glide in and out of the openings, merrily twitter- 
ing as they fly. While you tumble about in the 

The Barn Swallow 99 

hay among the rafters the swallows go and 
come, so that, quite unconsciously, you will 
associate them with happy hours as long as you 

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

In a family famous for graceful, rapid flight, 
the barn swallow easily excels all his relations. 
The deep fork in his tail enables him to steer 

loo Birds Every Child Should Know 

himself with those marvellously quick, erratic 
turns, which make his course through the air 
resemble forked lightning. But with what 
exquisite grace he can also glide and skim across 
the water, fields and meadows without an 
apparent movement of the wing! His flight 
seems the very poetry of motion. The ease 
of it accounts for the very wide distribution 
of barn swallows from southern Brazil in win- 
ter to Greenland and Alaska in summer. What 
a journey to take twice a year! 


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

The Bank Swallow loi 

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

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


Called also: Sand Martin; Sand Swallow 

Perhaps you have seen a sand bank some- 
where, probably near a river or pond, where 
the side of the bank was filled with holes as if 
a small cannon had been trained against it as 
a target. In and out of the holes fly the 
smallest of the swallows, with ^ no lovely me- 
tallic blue or glistening buff in their dull plum- 

I02 Birds Every Child Should Know 

age, which is plain brownish gray above, white 
underneath, with a grayish band across the 
breast. Only their cousin, the rough-winged 
swallow, whose breast is brownish gray, is so 
plainly dressed. 

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

The Tree Swallow 103 


Called also: White-breasted Swallow 

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

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

K>4 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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


Song Sparrow 
Swamp Sparrow 
Field Sparrow 
Vesper Sparrow 
English Sparrow 
Chipping Sparrow 
Tree Sparrow 
White-throated Sparrow 
Fox Sparrow 




Purple Finch 

Indigo Bunting 


Rose-breasted Grosbeak 

Cardinal Grosbeak 


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

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

Sparrows being seed eaters chiefly, although 
none of the tribe refuses insect meat in season, 
and all give it to their nestlings, there is never 
a time when they cannot find food, even at the 
frozen North where some weedy stalks project 
above the snow. They are not fastidious. 
Fussy birds, like fussy people, have a hard time 
in this world ; but the whole sparrow tribe, with 
few exceptions, make the best of things as they 

io8 Birds Every Child Should Know 

find them and readily adapt themselves to 
whatever conditions they meet. How wonder- 
fully that saucy little gamin, the English spar- 
row, has adjusted himself to this new land! 

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

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

The Song Sparrow 109 


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

no Birds Every Child Should Know 

whistle well enough to imitate it Few birds 
can rival the musical ecstasy. 

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

The song sparrows that come almost every 
day in the year among many other birds to my 
piazza roof for waste canary seed and such 
delicacies, show refreshing spirit in driving 
off the English sparrows who, let it be recorded, 
can get not a morsel until the song sparrows are 
abundantly satisfied. One of the latter is quite 
able to keep off half a dozen of his English 
cousins. How does he do it? Not by his 
superior size, for the measurements of both 
birds show that they are about the same length 
although the song sparrow's slightly longer and 

Swamp Sparrow 1 1 1 

more graceful tail makes him appear a trifle 
larger. Certainly not by any rowdy, bold 
assaults, which are the English bird's specialty. 
But by simply assuming superiority and expres- 
sing it only by running in a threatening attitude 
toward each English sparrow who dares to 
alight on the roof, does he bluff him into flying 
away again! There is never a fight, not even 
an ill-mannered scolding, just quiet monopoly 
for a few minutes, then a joyous outburst of 
song. After that the English sparrows may 
take the songster's leavings. 


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

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

112 Birds Every Child Should Know 


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

How differently he sings! Listen for him 
some evening after sunset when his simple ves* 
per hymn, clear, plaintive, sweet, nngs from th^ 
bush where he perches especially for the perform^ 
ance. Scarcely any two field sparrows sing pre- 
cisely alike. Most of them, however, begin with 
three clear, smooth, leisurely whistles — cher^ 
wee, cher-wee, cher-wee — then hurry through 
the other notes — cheo^ cheo'dee-dee-eee, e, 

Vesper Sparrow 113 

which run rapidly into a trill before they die 
away. Others reverse the time and diminish 
the measures toward the close. However sung, 
the song, which makes the uplands tuneful all 
day and every day from April to August, does 
not vary its quality, which is as fine as the 
vesper sparrow's. 

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


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

114 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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


Is there a boy or girl in America who does not 
already know this saucy, keen-witted little gamin 
who thrives where other birds would starve; 
who insiScS upon thrusting himself where he 
is not wanted, not only in other bird's houses, 
but about the cornices, pillars, and shutters of 
our own, where his noise and dirt drive good 
housekeepers frantic ; who, without any weapons 
but his boldness and impudence to fight with, 
fears neither man nor beast, and who multi* 

English Sparrow iig 

plies as fast as the rabbit, so that he is rapidly 
inheriting the earth? Even children who have 
never been out of the slums know at least this 
one bird, this ever-present nuisance, for he 
chirps and chatters as cheerfully in the reeking 
gutters as in the prettiest gardens ; he hops with 
equal calm about the horse's feet and trolley 
cars in crowded city thoroughfares, as he does 
about flowery fields and quiet country lanes; 
he will pick at the overflow from garbage pails 
on the sidewalk in front of teeming tenements 
and manure on the city pavements with quite 
as much relish as he will eat the fresh clean seed 
spilled by a canary, or cake-crumbs from my 
lady's hand. Intense cold he endures with 
cheerful fortitude and as intense mid-summer 
heat without losing his astonishing vitality. 
Is it any wonder that a bird so readily adaptable 
to all sorts of conditions should thrive like a 
weed and beat his way around the world? 

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

ii6 Birds Every Child Should Know 

Sparrows were first imported into Brooklyn 
in 185 1 to rid the shade trees of inch worms. 
This feat they accompHshed there and in New 
York with neatness and despatch. Every one 
fed, petted, and coddled them then. It was 
not until many years later that their true char- 
acter came to be thoroughly understood. Then 
it was found by scientific men in Washington, 
after the fairest trial any culprits ever received, 
that not all the insects and weed seeds they 
destroy compensate for the damage they do 
in the farmer's grain fields, to say nothing of 
their harrassing and dispossessing other birds 
more desirable. But they kill no birds, so we 
may hope that, in the course of time, our native 
songsters may pluck up courage to claim their 
rights and hold their own, learning from the 
sparrows the important lesson of adaptability, 


Called also: Chippy; Door-step Sparrow; Hair 

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

The most cheerful of bird neighbors: song sparrows 

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




Chipping Sparrow 117 

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

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

When she was tired brooding, of which she 
did far more than her share, he would relieve 
her while she went in search of food. Very often 
he would carry to the nest a cabbage worm for 
her or some other refreshing delicacy. The 
screen door mio^ht banj^f beside her while she sat 

ii8 Birds Every Child Should Know 

close upon her treasures without causing her 
to do more than flutter an eye-Hd. Every 
member of the family parted the twigs of box- 
wood that enclosed the nest to look upon her 
pretty little reddish-brown head with a gray 
stripe over the eye and a dark-brown line run- 
ning apparently through it. All of us gently 
stroked her from time to time. She would 
occasionally leave the nest for only a minute or 
two to pick up the crumbs, chickweed, and 
canary seed scattered for her about the veran- 
dah floor, and showed not the slightest fear 
when we went on with our regular occupations. 
We were the breathlessly excited ones, while 
she hopped calmly about our feet. The chippy 
is wonderfully tame — perhaps the tamest bird 
that we have. 

You may be sure there was joy in the house- 
hold when the nest in the boxwood contained 
baby chippies one morning — not a trace of egg- 
shells which had been carried away early. 
Insects were the only approved baby-food and 
we were greatly astonished to see what large 
ones were thrust down the tiny, gaping throats 
every few minutes. Instead of flying straight 
to the nest, both parents would frequently stop 
to rest or get proper direction on the back or 
the arm of a chair where some one was sitting. 
In eight days the babies began to explore the 
verandah. Then they left us suddenly without 

Tree Sparrow 119 

a ** good-bye/' No guests whom we ever had 
beneath our roof left a more aching void than 
that chipping sparrow family. How we hope 
they will find their way back to the boxwood 
tree from the Gulf States next April! 


Called also: Winter Chippy 

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

I20 Birds Every Child Should Know 

ranges over-lap and there is any possibility of 

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

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


Called also: Peabody-hird; Canada Sparrow 

"What's in a name?'' Our English cousins 
over the border are quite sure they hear this 
sparrow sing the praises of Swee-e-et Can-a-da, 
Can-a-da, Can-a-da-ah, while the New En- 

White-throated Sparrow 121 

glanders think the bird distinctly says, I-I-Pea- 
body, Pea-bod-y, Pea-bod-y-I , extolling the 
name of one of their first families. You may 
amuse yourself by fitting whatever words you 
like to the well-marked metre of the clear, high- 
pitched, plaintive, sweet song of twelve notes. 
Learn to imitate it and you will be able to 
whistle up any white-throat within reach of 
your voice in the Adirondacks, the White 
Mountains, or the deep, cool woods of Maine, 
throughout the summer, although the majority 
of these hardy sparrows nest on the northern 
side of the Canadian border. Our hot weather 
they cannot abide. When there is a keen 
breath of frost in the air and the hedgerows and 
thickets in the United States are taking on 
glorious autumnal tints, listen for the white- 
throated migrants conversing with sharp chink 
call-notes that soimd like the ring of a marble- 
cutter's chisel. 

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

122 Birds Every Child Should Know 

and who sometimes travels in migrating flocks 
with his cousins, the white-throated sparrow is 
the handsomest member of his plain tribe. 


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

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

J unco 123 

leaves and earth rubbish after his vigorous 

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


Called also: Slate-coloured Snow-bird 

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

Notice how abruptly the slate gray colour of 
the junco's mantle ends in a straight line across 
his light breast, and how, when he flies away, 
the white feathers on either side of his tail serve 
as signals to his friends to follow. Such signals 

124 Birds Every Child Should Know 

are especially useful when birds are migrating; 
without them, many stragglers from the flocks 
might get lost. Juncos, who are extremely 
sociable birds, except when nesting, need help 
in keeping together. A crisp, frosty Hsip 
call note signifies alarm and away flies the 
flock. They are quiet, unassuming visitors, 
modest in manner and in dress; but how we 
should miss them from the winter landscape! 


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


Called also: Black-winged Yellow-bird; Thistle 
Bird; Lettuce Bird; Wild Canary 

Have you a garden gay with marigolds, sun- 
flowers, coreopsis, zinnias, cornflowers, and gail- 

American Goldfinch 125 

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

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

126 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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


Called also: Linnet 

It would seem as if the people who named 
most of our birds and wild flowers must have 
been colour-blind. Old rose is more nearly 
the colour of this finch who looks like a brown 

Purple Finch 127 

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

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

A sudden outbreak of spirited, warbled song 
in March opens the purple finch's musical sea- 
son, which is almost as long as the song spar- 
row's. Subdued nearly to a humming in 
October, it is still a delightful reminder of thi^ 

128 Birds Every Child Should Know 

finest voice possessed by any bird in the great 
sparrow tribe. But it is when the singer is in 
love that the song reaches its highest ecstasy. 
Then he springs into the air just as the yellow- 
breasted chat, the oven-bird, and woodcock do 
when they go a-wooing, and sings excitedly 
while mounting fifteen or twenty feet above 
his mate until he drops exhausted at her side. 


Called also: Indigo-bird. 

Every child knows the bluebird, possibly the 
kingfisher and the blue jay, too, but there is 
only one other bird with blue feathers, the little 
indigo bunting, who is no larger than your pet 
eanary, that you are ever likely to meet unless 
you live in the Southwest where the blue gros- 
beak might be your neighbour. If, by chance, 
you should see a little lady indigo-bird you 
would probably say contemptuously : " Another 
tiresome sparrow,'' and go on your way, not 
noticing the faint glint of blue in her wings and 
tail. Otherwise her puzzling plumage is de- 
cidedly sparrowy, although unstreaked. So is 
that of her immature sons. But her husband 
will be instantly recognised because he is the 
only very small bird who wears a suit of 
deep, rich blue with verdigris-^freen reflections 

lowhee 129 

about the head — ^bluer than the summer sky 
which pales where his Httle figure is outUned 
against it. 

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


Called also: Chewink; Ground Robin; Joree 

From their hunting-ground in the blackberry 
tangle and bushes that border a neighbouring 
wood, a family of chewinks sally forth boldly 
to my piazza floor to pick up seed from the 
canary's cage, hemp, cracked com, sunflower 
seed, split pease, and wheat scattered about for 
their especial benefit. One fellow grew bold 
enough to peck open a paper bag. It is a daily 
happening to see at least one of the family close 

130 Birds Every Child Should Know 

to the door; or even on the window-silL 
The song, the EngHsh, the chipping, the field^ 
and the white-throated sparrows — any one or 
all of these cousins — usually hop about with 
the chewinks most amicably and with no 
greater ease of manner ; but the larger chewink 
hops more energetically and precisely than any 
of them, like a mechanical toy. 

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

Because he was hatched in a ground nest and 
loves to scratch about on the ground for insects, 
making the dead leaves and earth rubbish fly 
like any barnyard fowl, the towhee it often 
called the ground robin. He is a little smaller 
than robin-redbreast. Looked down upon from 

Red-breasted Grosbeak 131 

above he appears to be almost a black bird, 
for his upper parts, throat and breast are very 
dark where his mate is brownish; but under- 
neath both are grayish white with patches of 
rusty red on their sides, the colour resembling 
a robin's breast when its red has somewhat 
faded toward the end of summer. The white 
feathers on the towhee's short, rounded wings 
and on the sides of his tail are conspicuous 
signals, as he flies jerkily to the nearest cover. 
You could not expect a bird with such small 
wings to be a graceful flyer. 

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


Among birds, as among humans, it is the 
father who lends his name to the family, how- 
ever difficult it may be to know the mother and 
children by it. Who that had not studied the 
books would recognise Mrs. Scarlet Tanager by 
her name? or Mrs. Purple Finch? or Mrs. 
Indigo Bunting? or Mrs. Rose-breasted Gros- 

132 Birds Every Child Should Know 

beak? The latter lady has not a rose-coloured 
feather on her. She is a streaked, brown bird, 
resembling an overgrown sparrow, with a 
thick, exaggerated finch bill and a conspicuous, 
white eyebrow. When her husband wears his 
winter clothes in the tropics, his feathers are 
said to be similar to hers, so that even his name, 
then, does not fit. But when he returns to the 
United States in May he is, in very truth, a rose- 
breasted grosbeak. His back is as black as a 
chewink's; underneath he is grayish white, 
and a patch of lovely, brilliant, rose colour on 
his breast, with wing linings of the same shade, 
make him a splendidly handsome fellow. Per- 
haps before you get a glimpse of the feathers 
that are his best means of introduction, you 
may hear a thin eek call -note from some tree-top, 
or better still, listen to the sweet, pure, mellow, 
joyously warbled song, now loud and clear, now 
softly tender, that puts him in the first rank of 
our songsters. 

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

A friend who reared four orphan grosbeaks 
says that they left the nest when about eleven 

Cardinal Grosbeak 133 

days old. They were very tame, even affection- 
ate toward him, hopping over his shoulders, head, 
knees, and hands without the least fear, and 
eating from his fingers. When only ten weeks 
old the little boy grosbeaks began to warble. 
On being released to pick up their own living 
in the garden, these pets repaid their foster- 
father by eating quantities of potato-bugs, 
among other pests. Some people call this 
grosbeak the potato-bug bird. 


Called also : Crested Redhird: Virginia NighU 

It was on a cold January day in Central Park, 
New York, that I first met a cardinal and was 
warmed by the sight. Then I supposed that he 
must have escaped from a cage, for he is un- 
common north of Washington. With tail and 
crest erect, he was hopping about rather clumsily 
on the ground near the bear's cage, and 
picking up bits of broken peanuts that had 
missed their mark. Presently a dove-coloured 
bird, lightly washed with dull red, joined him 
and I guessed by her crest that she must be 
his mate. Therefore both birds were per- 
manent residents in the park and not escaped 
pets. Although they look as if they belonged 

134 Birds Every Child Should Know 

in the tropics, cardinals never migrate as the 
rose-breasted grosbeak and so many of our 
fair-weather feathered friends do. That is 
because they can Hve upon the weed seeds and 
the buds of trees and bushes in winter as 
comfortably as upon insects in summer. It 
pays not to be too particular. 

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

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


That dusky rascal, the cowbird 





Red-winged Blackbird 

Rusty Blackbird 


Orchard Oriole 

Baltimore Oriole 

Purple and Bronzed Grackles 


Called also: Reedbird; Ricehird; Ortolan; Maybird 

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

If you were to see the mate of one of these 
merry minstrels apart from him, you might 
easily mistake her for another of those tiresome 


138 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sparrows. A brown, streaked bird, with some 
bufif and a few white feathers, she shades into 
the colours of the ground as well as they and 
covers her loose heap of twigs, leaves and grasses 
in the hay field so harmoniously that few 
people ever find it or the clever sitter. 

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

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

In this inconspicuous dress the reedbirds, or 
ricebirds, as bobolinks are usually called south 
of Mason and Dixon's line, descend in hordes 
upon the rice plantations when the grain is 
in the milk, and do several millions of dollars' 
worth of damage to the crop every year, sad, 
sad to tell. Of course, the birds are snared, 
shot, poisoned. In southern markets half 

Cowhird 139 

a dozen of them on a skewer may be bought, 
plucked and ready for the oven, for fifty cents 
or less. Isn't this a tragic fate to overtake 
our joyous songsters? Birds that have the mis- 
fortune to like anything planted by man, pay 
a terribly heavy penalty. 

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


This contemptible bird every child should 
know if for no better reason than to despise it. 
You will see it alone or in small flocks walking 
about the pastures after the cattle; or, in the 

I40 Birds Every Child Should Know 

West, boldly perching upon their backs to 
feed upon the insect parasites — a pleasant 
visitor for the cows. So far, so good. 

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

And nothing good can be said for the female 
cowbird. Shirking as she does every motherly 
duty, she sneaks about the woods and thickets, 
slyly watching her chance to lay an egg in the 
cradle of some other bird, since she never makes 
a nest of her own. Thus she scatters her prospec- 
tive family throughout the neighbourhood. The 
yellow warbler, who is a famous sufferer from 
her visits, sometimes outwits her, as we have 
seen ; but other warblers, less clever, the vireos, 
some sparrows, and, more rarely, woodpeckers, 
flycatchers, orioles, thrushes and wrens, seem 
to accept the unwelcome gift without a protest. 
If you were a bird so imposed upon, wouldn't 

Red-winged Blackbird 141 

you peck holes in that egg, or roll it out of 
your nest, or build another cradle rather than 
hatch a big, greedy interloper that would 
smother and starve your own babies? Prob> 
ably every cowbird you see has sacrificed the 
lives of at least part of a brood of valuable^ 
insectivorous songsters. Without the least 
spark of gratitude in its cold heart, a young 
cowbird grafter forsakes its over-kind foster 
parents as soon as it can pick up its living 
and remains henceforth among its own kin — 
of whom only cows could think well. 


Called also: Swamp Blackbird 

When you are looking for the first pussy 
willows in the frozen marshes, or listening to 
the peeping of young frogs some day in early 
spring, you will, no doubt, become acquainted 
with this handsome blackbird, with red and 
orange epaulettes on his shoulders, who has 
just returned from the South. ''Ke, kong- 
ker-ee,'' he flutes from the willows and alders 
about the reedy meadows where he and his 
bachelor friends flock together and make them 
ring ''with social cheer and jubilee/' A little 
later, flocks of dingy, brown, streaked birds, 

142 Birds Every Child Should Know 

travelling northward, pause to rest in the 
marshes. Wholesale courting takes place short- 
ly after and every red-wing in a black uniform 
chooses one of the plain, streaked, matter-of- 
fact birds for his mate. The remainder con- 
tinue their unmaidenly journey in search of 
husbands, whom they find waiting in cheerful 
readiness in almost any marsh. By the first 
of May all have settled down to home life. 

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

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

Meadowlark 143 


Called also: Thrush Blackbird 

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


Called also: Old-field Lark; Meadow Starling 

Every farmer's boy knows his father's friend, 
the meadowlark, the brownish, mottled bird, 
larger than a robin, with a lovely yellow breast 
and black crescent on it, that keeps well hidden 
in the grass of the meadows or grain fields. 
Of course he knows, too, that it is not really 
a lark, but a starling. When the shy bird 
takes wing, note the white feathers on the 

144 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sides of its tail to be sure it is not the big, 
brownish flicker, who wears a patch of white 
feathers on its lower back, conspicuous as it 
flies. The meadowlark has the impolite habit 
of turning its back upon one as if it thought 
its yellow breast too beautiful for human eyes 
to gaze at. It flaps and sails through the air 
much like bob-white. But flying is not its 
specialty. It is, however, a strong-legged, 
active walker, and rarely rises from the ground 
unless an intruder gets very near, when away 
it flies, with a nasal, sputtered alarm note, 
to alight upon a fence rail or other low perch. 

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

She keeps well concealed among the grasses 
where her grassy nest is almost impossible 
to find, especially if it be partly arched over 
at the top. No farmer who realises what an 
enormous number of grasshoppers, not to 
mention other destructive insects, meadow- 
larks destroy, is foolish enough to let his 

Orchard Oriole 145 

mowing-machine pass over their nests if he can 
but locate them. By the time the hay is ready 
for cutting in June, the active meadowlark 
babies are usually running about through grassy 
run-ways, but eggs of the second brood too 

frequently, alas! meet a tragic end. 



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

The mother oriole is so harmoniously dressed 

146 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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


Called also: Firebird; Golden Robin; Hang-nest; 
Golden Oriole 

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

The gorgeous Baltimore oriole 

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

Baltimore Oriole 147 

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

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

But, as you may imagine, those babies have 
a rather hard time when they try to climb out 
of it into the world. Many a one tumbles to 
the ground, unable to hold on to the tip of a 

148 Birds Every Child Should Know 

swaying twig, and not being strong enough to 
fly. Then what a tremendous fuss the parents 
make! They cannot carry the youngster up 
into the tree; they are in deadly fear of cats; 
they are too worried and excited to leave him 
alone ; but the plucky little fellow usually hops 
toward the tree and with the help of his sharp 
claws on the rough bark, flutters his way up 
to the first limb. People who have brought 
up broods of orphan orioles say that they are 
unusually lively, interesting pets. The little 
girl orioles will attempt, instinctively, to weave 
worsted, string, grass, or whatever is given 
them to play with, for of course they never took 
a lesson in weaving from their expert mother. 


Called also: Crow Blackbirds 

You probably know either one of our two 
crow blackbirds, similar in size and habits, one 
with purplish, iridescent plumage, the common- 
est grackle east of the AUeghanies and south of 
Massachusetts, and the bronzed grackle, with 
brassy tints in his black plumage, who over- 
runs the Western country and from Massa- 
chusetts northward. Both have uncanny, 

The Purple and the Bronzed Crackles 149 

yellow eyes that make you suspect they may 
be witches in disguise. Their mates are a trifle 
smaller and duller. 

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

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

Was ever a family so ill-assorted as the black- 
bird and oriole clan ? What traits are common 
to every member of it? Not one, that I know. 
Some of the family, as you have seen, are gor- 
geously clad, like the Baltimore oriole; some 
quite plainly, like the cowbird; and although 
black seems to be a prevalent colour in the 

150 Birds Every Child Should Know 

plumage, the meadowlark, for example, is a 
brown bird with only a black crescent on its 
breast. Most of the males are dressed quite 
differently from their mates, although the female 
grackles are merely duller. Some of these birds 
sing exquisitely ; others wheeze or croak a few 
unmusical notes. Some live in huge flocks ; some 
live in couples. Some, like the bobolinks, 
travel to the tropics and beyond every winter ; 
others, like the meadowlark, can endure the 
intense cold of the North. Part of the family 
feed upon the ground, but the oriole branch 
live in the trees. Devotion to mates and chil- 
dren characterise most of the family, but we 
cannot overlook the cowbird that neither mates 
nor takes the slightest care of its offspring. 
The cowbird builds no nest, while its cousin, 
the Baltimore oriole, is a famous weaver. The 
bobolink is a rollicking, jolly fellow ; the grackle 
is solemn, even morose. What a queer family! 

'There were three crows sat on a tree 



American Crow 
Blue Jay 
Canada Jay 


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

No bird is so well known to ''every child,*' 
so admired by artists, so hated by farmers, 
as the crow, who flaps his leisurely way above 
the cornfields with a caw for friend and foe 
alike, not caring the least for anyone's opinion 
of him, good or bad. Perhaps he knows his 
own true worth better than the average farmer, 
who has persecuted him with bounty laws, shot- 
gun, and poison for generations. The crow 
keeps no account of the immense numbers 
of grubs and larvae he picks up as he walks after 
the plough every spring, nor does the far- 
mer, who nevertheless counts the corn stolen 
as fast as it is planted, and as fast as it ripens, 

154 Birds Every Child Should Know 

you may be very sure, and puts a price on the 
robber's head. Yet he knows that com, dipped 
in tar before it is put in the ground, will be 
left alone to sprout. But who is clever enough 
to keep the crows out of the field in autumn? 

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

Toward the end of winter, you may see a 
pair of crows carrying sticks and trash to the 
top of some tall tree in the leafless woods^ 

American Crow 155 

and there, in this bulky cradle, almost as 
bulky as a squirrel's nest, they raise their fam- 
ily. Young crows may be easily tamed and they 
make interesting, but very mischievous pets. 
It is only when crows are nesting that they 
give up their social, flocking habit. 

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

156 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

He is certainly handsome. But is his beauty 
only skin deep? Does it cover, in reality, a 
multitude of sins? Shocking stories of murder 
in the song bird's nest have branded the blue 
jay with quite as bad a name as the crow's. The 
brains of fledgings, it has been said, are his 
favourite tid-bits. But happily scientists, who 
have turned the searchlight on his deeds, find 
that his sins have been very greatly exag- 
gerated. Remains of young birds were found 
in only two out of nearly three htmdred blue 
jays' stomachs analysed. Birds' eggs are more 
apt to be sucked by both jays and squirrels 
than are the nestlings to be eaten. Do you 
ever enjoy an egg for breakfast? Fruit, grain, 
thin-shelled nuts, and the larger seeds of trees 

Canada Jay 157 

and shrubs, gathered for the most part in Na- 
ture.'s open store-room, not in man's, are what 
the jay chiefly deUghts in ; and these he hides 
away, squirrel-fashion, to provide for the rainy 
day. More than half of all his food in summer 
consists of insects, so you see he is then quite 
as useful as his cousin, the crow. 

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


Called also: Whiskey Jack; Moose -bird; Meat-bird 

Anyone who has camped in the northern 
United States and over the Canadian border 
knows that the crow and blue jay have a rogue for 

1S8 Birds Every Child Should Know 

a cousin in this sleek, bold thief, the Canada jay. 
He is a fluffy, big, gray bird, without a crest, with 
a white throat and forehead and black patch 
at the back of his neck. This rascal will walk 
alone or with his gang into your tent, steal 
your candles, matches, venison, and collar- 
buttons before your eyes, or help himself to 
the fish bait while he perches on your canoe, 
or laugh at you with an impudent ca-ca-ca from 
the mountain ash tree where he and his friends 
are feasting on the berries; then glide to the 
ground to slyly pick a trap set for mink or 
marten. Fortunate the trapper who, on his 
return, does not find either bait gone, or g^me 

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

Five little teasers get no dinner from Mamma blue jay 

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




Crested Flycatcher 



Least Flycatchbr 


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

1 62 Eirds Every Child Should Know 

family wear similar clothes, fortunately for 
'* every child'* who tries to identify them. 

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

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

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

The dashing, great crested flycatcher 

Baby kingbirds in an apple tree 

Kingbird 163 


Called also: Bee Martin 

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

For years he has been called the bee martin 
and some scientific men in Washington deter- 
mined to learn if that name, also, is deserved. 
So they collected over two hundred kingbirds 
from different parts of the country, examined 
their stomachs and found bees — mostly drones 
— ^in only fourteen. The bird is too keen sighted 
and clever to snap up knowingly a bee with a 

164 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sting attached, you may be sure; but occa- 
sionally he makes a mistake when, don't you 
believe, he is more sorry for it than the bee- 
keeper? He destroys so many robber flies — a 
pest of the hives — that the intelligent apiarist, 
who keeps bees in his orchard to fertilise the 
blossoms, always likes to see a pair of kingbirds 
nesting in one of his fruit trees. The gardener 
welcomes the bird that eats rose chafers; the 
farmer approves of him because he catches 
the gadfly that torments his horses and cattle, 
as well as the grasshoppers, katydids and 
crickets that would destroy his field crops if 
left unchecked. 

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

He and his mate were certainly frantic with 

Four crested flycatchers who need to have their hair brushed 

Time for these young phoebes to leave the nest 

Young phoebes on a bridge trestle 

Crested Flycatcher 165 

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


Far more tyrannical than the kingbird is this 
'*wild Irishman,'' as John Burroughs calls the 
large flycatcher with the tousled head and 
harsh, uncanny voice, who prowls around the 
woods and orchards startling most feathered 
friends and foes with a loud, piercing ex- 
clamation that sounds like What! Unlike 
good children, he is more often heard than 

That the solitary, unpopular bird takes a 
mischievous delight in scaring its enemies, you 
may know when I tell you that it likes better 
than any other lining for its nest, a cast snake 
skin. Is it any wonder that the baby fly- 
catchers' hair stands on end? If the great- 
crest cannot find the skin of a snake to coil 

1 66 Birds Every Child Should Know 

around her eggs, or to hang out of the nest, she 
may use onion skins, or oiled paper, or even 
fish scales; for what was once a protective 
custom, sometimes becomes degraded into a 
cheap imitation of the imitation in the furnish- 
ing of her house. Into an abandoned wood- 
peckers' hole or a bluebirds' cavity after the 
babies of these early nesters have flown, or into 
some unappropriated hollow in a tree, this fly- 
catcher carries enough grasses, weeds and 
feathers to keep her nestlings cozy during those 
rare days of June beloved by Lowell, but which 
Dr. Holmes observed are often so rare they 
are raw. 


Called also: Bridge Pewee; Dusky Flycatcher; 
Water Pewee 

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

Phcebe 167 

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

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

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

1 68 Birds Every Child Should Know 

one of the best pieces of bird architecture you 
are likely to find. 

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

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

Shouldn't you think that baby phoebes, 
reared in nests under railroad bridges, would 

Wood Pewee 169 

be f earfiilly frightened whenever a train thtrn- 
dered overhead? 


When you have been wandering through 
the summer woods did you ever, Hke Trow- 
bridge, sit down 

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

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

But how suddenly its melancholy languor 

170 Birds Every Child Should Know 

departs the instant an insect flies within sight 1 
With a cheerful, sudden sally in mid-air, it 
snaps up the luscious bite, for it can be quite as 
active as any of the family. While not so 
ready to be neighbourly as the phoebe, the 
pewee condescends to visit our orchards and 
shade trees. 

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


Called also: Chebec 

It is not until he calls out his name, Chebec! 
Chebec! in clear and business-like tones from 
some tree-top that you could indentify this 
fluffy flycatcher, scarcely more than five inches 
long, whose dusky coat and light vest ofifer no 
helpful markings. Not a single gay feather 
relieves his sombre suit. Isn't this a queer, 
Quakerly taste for a bird that spends half his life 

Least Flycatcher 171 

in the tropics among gorgeously feathered 
friends? Even the plain vireos, as a family, 
wear finer clothes than the dusky flycatchers. 
You may know that the chebec is not one of those 
deliberate searchers of foliage by his sudden, 
murderous sallies in mid-air. 

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




Chimney Swift 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 


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

You might be very close indeed without 
seeing the pltmip bird, about the size of a robin, 
who has flattened himself lengthwise against 
a lichen-covered branch until you cannot tell 
bird from bark. Or he may be on a rock or an 
old, mossy log, where he rests serene in the 
knowledge that his mottled, dull dark-brown, 
gray, buff, black and white feathers blend 
perfectly with his resting place. He must 
choose a spot broad enough to support his 

176 Birds Every Child Should Know 

whole body, for, like his cousin, the nighthawk, 
and his more distant relatives, the humming- 
bird and the swift, his feet are too small and 
weak for much perching. You never see him 
standing erect on a twig with his toes clasped 
aroimd it, but always squatting when at rest. 

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

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

Nighthawk 177 

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

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


Called also: Bull-bat; Night-jar; Mosquito-hawk 

Did you ever hear a rushing, whirring, boom- 
ing sound as though wind were blowing 
across the btmg-hole of an empty barrel? The 
nighthawk, who makes it, is such a high flyer^ 
that in the dusk of the late afternoon or early 
evening, when he delights to sail abroad to get 
his dinner, you cannot always see him; but as 

178 Birds Every Child Should Know 

he coasts down from the sky — ^not on a sled, 
but on his half -closed wings — ^with tremendous 
speed, the rush of air through his stiff, long 
wing feathers makes an uncanny, aeoHan music 
that silly, superstitious people have declared 
is a bad omen. You might think he would 
dash out his brains in such a headlong dive 
through the air, but before he hits the earth, 
a sudden turn saves him and off he goes un- 
harmed, skimming above the grotmd and catch- 
ing insects after the whip-poor-will's manner. 
He lacks the helpful bristles at the ends of his 
fly-trap. Don't imagine, because of his name, 
that he flies about only at night. He is not 
so nocturnal in his habits as the whip-poor-will. 
Toward the end of summer, especially, he may 
be seen coursing over the open country at 
almost any hour of the day. Once in a while, 
as he hunts, he calls peent — a sharp cry that 
reminds you of the meadowlark's nasal call- 
note. Presently, mounting upward higher and 
higher, at the leisurely rate of a boy dragging 
his sled up hill, he seems to reach the very 
clouds, when down he coasts again, faster than 
a boy's flexible flyer. Listen for the booming 
noise of this coaster! Evidently he enjoys the 
sport as much as any boy or girl, for he repeats 
his sky-coasting very often without having to 
wait for a snow-storm. Indeed, when winter 
comes, he is enjoying another summer in South 

Nighthawk 179 

America. Life without insects would be im- 
possible for him. 

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

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

Both the nighthawk and the whip-poor-will 
belong to the goatsucker family. Did you ever 
hear a more ridiculous name? Eighty-five 
innocent birds of this tribe, found in most parts 
of the world, have to bear it because some care- 
less observer may have seen one of their number 
flying among a herd of goats in Europe to catch 

i8o Birds Every Child Should Know 

the insects on them, just as cowbirds follow 
our cattle; and he imagined the bird was 
actually drinking the goat's milk! 


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

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

A chimney swift at rest 

Hummingbird pumping food into her babies' crops 

Twin rubythroats 

Chimney Swift i8i 

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

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

i82 Birds Every Child Should Know 

small feet, weak from disuse, could scarcely 
hold them on a perch. 

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

With mouths agape from ear to ear, the 
swifts draw in an insect dinner piecemeal, as 
they course through the air, just as the whip- 
poor-will, nighthawk and swallows do. For- 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 183 

tunate the house where a colony elect to live, 
for they rid the air of myriads of gnats and 
mosquitoes, as they fly cibout overhead, sil- 
houetted against the sky. Early in the morning 
and late in the afternoon are their hours for 
exercise. You will think, perhaps, that they 
look more like bats than birds. Watch their 
rapid wing-beats very closely and see if you can 
settle the mooted question as to whether they 
use both wings at once, or first one wing and 
then the other in alternate strokes. After you 
have noticed their peculiar, throbbing flight, 
you will never again confuse them with the 
graceful, gliding swallows. Although the swift 
is actually shorter than a sparrow, its spread 
wings measure over a foot across from tip to 
tip. No wonder it can fly every waking mo- 
ment without feeling tired, and journey from 
Labrador to Central America for a winter 


What child does not know the hummingbird, 
the jewelled midget that flashes through the 
garden, poises before a flower as if suspended 
in the air by magic, thrusts a needle-like bill into 
one cup of nectar after another, then whirs 
off out of sight in a trice? It is the smallest 

184 Birds Every Child Should Know 

bird we have. Suppose a fairy wished to 
pluck one for her dinner, as we should pluck a 
chicken; how large, do you think, woiild be 
the actual body of a hummingbird, without 
its feathers? Not much, if any, larger than 
a big bumble-bee, I venture to guess. Yet 
this atom of animation travels from Panama 
to Quebec or beyond, and back again every 
year of its brief life, that it may live where 
flowers, and the minute insects that infest them, 
will furnish drink and meat the year aroimd. 
So small a speck of a traveller cannot be seen 
in the sky by an enemy with the sharpest of 
eyes. Space quickly swallows it. A second 
after it has left your garden it will be out of 
sight. This mite of a migrant has plenty 
of stay-at-home relatives in the tropics — ex- 
quisite creatures they are — ^but the ruby-throat 
is the only hummingbird bold enough to venture 
into the eastern United States and Canada. 

What tempts him so far north? You know 
that certain flowers depend upon certain insect 
friends to carry their pollen from blossom to 
blossom that they may set fertile seed ; but did 
you know that certain other flowers depend 
upon the hummingbird ? Only his tongue, 
that may be run oi\t beyond his long, slender 
bill and turned around curves, could reach the 
drops of nectar in the tips of the wild colum- 
bine's five inverted horns of plenty. The 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 185 

Monarda or bee-balm, too, hides a sweet sip 
in each of its red tubes for his special benefit. 
So does the coral honeysuckle. There are a 
few other flowers that cater to him, especially, 
by wearing his favourite colour, by hiding 
nectar so deep that only his long tongue can 
drain it, and by opening in orderly succession 
so that he shall fare well throughout the sum- 
mer, not have a feast one month and a famine 
the next. In addition to these flowers in 
Nature's garden that minister to his needs, 
many that have been brought from the ends of 
the earth to our garden plots please him no less. 
The canna, nasturtium, phlox, trumpet-flower, 
salvia, and a host of others, delight his eye and 
his palate. Don't you think it is worth while 
to plant his favourites in your garden if only 
for the joy of seeing him about? He is wonder- 
fully neighbourly, coming to the flower-beds 
or window-boxes with undaunted familiarity 
in the presence of the family. A hummingbird 
that lived in my garden sipped from a sprig of 
honeysuckle that I held in my hand. But the 
bird is not always so amiable by any means. A 
fierce duellist, he will lunge his rapier-like bill 
at another hummer with deadly thrusts. A 
battle of the midgets in mid-air is a sorry sight. 
You may know a male by the brilliant 
metallic-red feathers on his throat. His mate 
lacks these, but her brilliancy has another 

1 86 Birds Every Child Should Know 

outlet, for she is one of the most expert nest* 
builders in the world. An exquisitely dainty 
little cup of plant down, felted into a compact 
cradle and stuccoed with bits of lichen bound on 
by spider-web, can scarcely be told from a knot 
on the limb to which it is fastened. Two eggs, 
not larger than beans, in time give place to two 
downy hummers about the size of honey-bees. 
Perhaps you have seen pigeons pump food 
down the throats of their squabs? In this same 
way are baby hummingbirds fed. After about 
three weeks in the nest, the young are ready 
to fly; but they rest on perches the first month 
of their independence more than at any time 
afterward. No weak-footed relative of the 
swift could live long off the wing. It is good- 
bye to summer when the last hummingbird 
forsakes our frost-nipped, northern gardens for 
happier hunting grounds far away. 



Downy Woodpecker 
Hairy Woodpecker 
Yellow-bellied SAPSUCBatR 
Red-headed Woodpecker 


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

It is easy to tell a woodpecker at sight or 
even beyond it, when you see or hear him ham- 
mering for a dinner, or drumming a love song, 

190 Birds Every Child Should Know 

or chiselling out a home in some partly decayed 
tree. How cheerfully his vigorous taps resound ! 
Hammer, chisel, pick, drill, and drum — all these 
instruments in one stout bill — ^and a flexible 
barbed spear for a tongue that may be run out 
far beyond his bill, like the hummingbird*s, 
make the woodpecker the best-eqtdpped work- 
man in the woods. All the other birds that 
pick insect eggs, grubs, beetles and spiders from 
the bark could go all over a tree and feast, but 
the woodpecker might follow them and still 
find plenty left, borers especially, hidden so 
deep that only his sticky, barbed tongue could 
drag them out. 

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

Downy Woodpecker 191 


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

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

192 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

When the weather grows cold, hang a bone 
with a little meat on it, cooked or raw, or a 
lump of suet in some tree beyond the reach of 






1 , , ™^ 

■■'' *tf-'^¥-,-&;.;;^ ;:-^^^: 

Our little friend downy 

The red-headed woodpecker 

Hairy Woodpecker 193 

cats ; then watch for the downy woodpecker's 
and the chickadee's visits to your free-lunch 


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

After he and his mate have decided to go to 
housekeeping, they select a tree — a hollow- 
hearted or partly decayed one is preferred — ^and 
begin the hard work of cutting out a deep cavity. 
Try to draw freehand a circle by making a 
series of dots, as the woodpecker outlines his 
round front door, and see, if you please, whether 
you can make so perfect a ring. Downy's en- 
trance need be only an inch and a half across ; 
the hairy's must be a little larger, and the 
flicker requires a hole about four inches in 
diameter to admit his big body. Both mates 
work in turn at the nest hole. How the chips 
fly! Braced in position by stiff tail feathers and 

194 Birds Every Child Should Know 

clinging by his stout toes, the woodpecker keeps 
hammering and chiselling at his home more 
hours every day than a labour imion would 
allow. Two inches of digging with his strong 
combination tool means a hard day's work. 
The hole usually runs straight in for a few inches, 
then ctirves downward into a pear-shaped 
chamber large enough for a comfortable nursery. 
A week or ten days may be spent by a couple in 
making it. The chips by which this good work- 
man is known are left on the nursery floor, for 
woodpeckers do not pamper their babies with 
fine grasses, feathers or fur cradle linings, as 
the chickadee and some other birds do. A 
well-regulated woodpecker's nest contains five 
glossy-white eggs. 

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


This woodpecker I am sorry to introduce to 
you as the black sheep of his family, with 
scarcely a friend to speak a good word for him. 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 195 

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

Mrs. Eckstorm, who has made a careful study 
of the woodpeckers in a charming little book 
that every child should read, tells of a certain 
sapsucker that came silently and early in the 
autumn mornings to feed on a favourite moun- 
tain ash tree near her dining-room window. In 
time this rascal killed the tree. *' Early in the 
day he showed considerable activity,'' writes 
Mrs. Eckstorm, ''flitting from limb to limb and 
sinking a few holes, three or four in a row, usual- 
ly above the previous upper girdle of the limbs 
he selected to work upon. After he had tapped 
several limbs, he would sit patiently waiting 
for the sap to flow, lapping it up quickly when 
the drop was large enough. At first he would 
be nervous, taking alarm at noises and wheeling 
away on his broad wings till his fright was 
over, when he would steal quietly back to his 

196 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sapholes. When not alarmed, his only movement 
was from one row of holes to another, and he 
tended them with considerable regularity. As 
the day wore on he became less excitable, and 
clung cloddishly to his tree trunk with ever in- 
creasing torpidity, until finally he hung motion- 
less as if intoxicated, tippling in sap, a 
dishevelled, smutty, silent bird, stupefied with 
drink, with none of that brilliancy of plumage 
and light-hearted gaiety which made him the 
noisiest and most conspicuous bird of our 
April woods/* 

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

You may know this erring one by the pale, 
sulphur-yellow tinge on his white under parts, 
the white patch above the tail on his mottled 
black and white back, his spotted wings with 
conspicuous white coverts, the broad black patch 
on his breast extending to the comers of his 
mouth in a chin strap, and the lines of crimson 

Red-headed Woodpecker 197 

on forehead, crown, chin and throat. He is 
smaller than a robin by two inches, yet larger 
than the English sparrow, who shares with him 
a vast amount of public condemnation. 


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

All the woodpeckers have musical tastes. A 
flicker comes to my verandah to tap a galvan- 
ised rain gutter, for no other reason than the 
excellent one that he enjoys the soimd. Tin 

iqS Birds Every Child Should Know 

roofs everywhere are popular tapping places. 
Certain dry, dead, seasoned limbs of hardwood 
trees resound better than others and a wood- 
pecker in love is sure to find out the best one in 
the spring when he beats a rolling tattoo in the 
hope of charming his best beloved. He has no 
need to sing, which is why he doesn't. 

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

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

The sapsucker 

Baby flickers just out of their hole 

Flicker 199 

plus than to travel to a land of plenty when 
winter comes. Heretofore this red-headed 
cousin has been reckoned a migratory member 
of the home-loving woodpecker clan, but only 
where he could not find plenty of beechnuts to 
keep him through the winter. 


Called also: High-hole; Clape; Golden-winged 
Woodpecker; Yellow-hammer; Yucker 

Why should the flicker discard family tradi- 
tions and wear clothes so different from those 
of his relations? His upper parts are dusty 
brown, narrowly barred with black, and the 
large white patch on his lower back, so con- 
spicuous as he flies from you, is one of the best 
marks of identification on his big handsome 
body. His head is gray with a black streak 
below the eye, and a scarlet band across the 
nape of the neck, while the upper side of the 
wing feathers is black relieved by golden shafts. 
Underneath, the wings are a lovely golden yel- 
low, seen only when the bird flies toward you. 
His breast, which is a pale, pinkish brown, is 
divided from the throat by a black crescent, 
smaller than the meadowlark's, and below this 
half-moon of jet there are many black spots. 

200 Birds Every Child Should Know 

He is qiiite a little larger than a robin, the larg- 
est and the commonest of our five non-union 

See him feeding on the ground instead of on 
the striped and mottled tree trunks, where his 
black and white striped relatives are usually 
fotmd, and you will realise that he wears brown 
clothes, finely barred, because they harmonise 
so perfectly with the brown earth. What does 
he find on the ground that keeps him there so 
much of the time? Look at the spot he has 
just flown from and you will doubtless find ants. 
These are chiefly his diet. Three thousand 
of them, for a single meal, he has been known 
to lick out of a hill with his long, round, 
extensile, sticky tongue. Evidently this lusty 
fellow needs no tonic. His tail, which is 
less rounded than his cousins', proves that 
he has little need to prop himself against tree 
trunks to pick out a dinner; and his curved 
bill, which is more of a pickaxe than a hammer, 
drill, or chisel, is little used as a carpenter's tool 
except when a nest is to be dug out of soft, 
decayed wood. Although he can beat a rolling 
tattoo in the spring, he has a variety of call 
notes for use the year through. Did you ever 
see the funny fellow spread his tail and dance 
when he goes courting? Flickers condescend 
to use old holes deserted by their relatives who 
possess better tools. You must have noticed 

Flicker 201 

all through these bird bibgraphies that the 
structure and colouring of every bird are 
adapted to its kind of life, each member of the 
same family varying according to its habits. 
The kind of food a bird eats and its method of 
getting it, of course, bring about most, if not 
all, of the variations from the family type. 
Each is fitted for its own life, *'even as 
you and I/' 

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


Yellow-billed Cuckoo 
Black-billed Cuckoo 
Belted Kingfisher 


Called also: Rain Crow 

ir\0 YOU own a cuckoo clock with a little bird 
•*-^ inside that flies out of a door every hour 
and tells you the time ? Except when it is time to 
go to school or to bed you are doubtless amused 
to hear him hiccough cuckoo, cuckoo, the me- 
chanical notes that tell his name. Cuckoo 
clocks were first made in Europe where the 
common species of cuckoo calls in this way, 
but don't imagine its American cousins do. 
Our yellow-billed cuckoo's unmusical, guttural 
notes sound something like a tree toad's 
rattle, kuk-kuk, kuk-kuk, kuk-kuk, kr-r-r-uck, kr- 
r-T'tick, kr-r-r-uck, kr-r-rtick, cow, cow, cow, 
cow! This is his complete *'song," but usually 
one hears only a portion of it. The black- 
billed cuckoo's voice is softer, and its cow notes 
run together, otherwise their ''songs" are alike. 
Both of our common cuckoos are slim, grace- 
ful birds about twelve inches long — ^longer than 
a robin. They are solitary creatures and glide 
silently among the foliage of trees and shrub- 
bery, rarely giving you a good look at their 
satiny, grayish-brown backs and dull-white 


2o6 Birds Every Child Should Know 

breasts. You may know the yellow-billed 
cuckoo by the yellow lower-half of his long, 
curved bill, his cinnamon-brown wings and the 
conspicuous white thumb-nail spots on his 
dark tail feathers. If you were to dip your 
thumb in white paint, then pinch these outer 
quills, you would leave similar marks. 

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

The flicker 

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

Yellow-billed Cuckoo 207 

destructive gypsy moth is another favourite 

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

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

2o8 Birds Every Child Should Know 

Called also: The Halcyon 

This Izaak Walton of birddom, whom you 
may see perched as erect as a fish hawk on a 
snag in the lake, creek or river, or on a dead 
limb projecting over the water, on the lookout 
for minnows, chub, red fins, samlets or any 
other small fry that swims past, is as expert as 
any fisherman you are ever likely to know. 
Sharp eyes are necessary to see a little fish 
where sunbeams dance on the ripples and the 
refracted light plays queer tricks with one's 
vision. Once a victim is sighted, how swiftly 
the lone fisherman dives through the air and 
water after it, and how accurately he strikes 
its death-blow behind the gills! If the fish be 
large and lusty it may be necessary to carry it 
to the snag and give it a few sharp knocks with 
his long powerful bill to end its struggles. 
These are soon over, but the kingfisher's have 
only begun. See him gag and writhe as he 
swallows his dinner, head first, and then, re- 
gretting his haste, brings it up again to try a 
wider avenue down his throat! Somebody 
shot a kingfisher which had tried to swallow so 
large a fish that the tail was sticking out of his 
mouth, while its head was safely stored below 
in the bird's stomach. After the meat digests, 

Belted Kingfisher 209 

the indigestible skin, bones, and scales of the 
fish are thrown up without the least nausea. 

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

No doubt you have heard that all birds are 
descended from reptile ancestors ; that feathers 
are but modified scales, and that a bird's song 
is but the glorified hiss of the serpent. Then 

2IO Birds Every Child Should Know 

the kingfisher and the bank swallow retain at 
least one ancient custom of their ancestors, for 
they still place their eggs in the ground. The 
lone fisherman chooses a mate early in the spring 
and, with her help, he tunnels a hole in a bank 
next a good fishing ground. A minnow pool 
furnishes the most-approved baby food. Per- 
haps the mates will work two or three weeks 
before they have tunnelled far enough to suit 
them and made a spacious nursery at the end 
of the long hall. Usually from five to eight 
white eggs are laid about six feet from the en- 
trance on a bundle of grass, or perhaps on a 
heap of ejected fish bones and refuse. While 
his queen broods, the devoted kingfisher brings 
her the best of his catch. At first their babies 
are as bare and skinny as their cuckoo relatives. 
When the father or mother bird flies up stream 
with a fish for them, giving a rattling call in- 
stead of ringing a dinner bell, all the hungry 
youngsters rush forward to the mouth of the 
tunnel ; but only one can be satisfied each trip. 
Then all run backward through the inclined 
tunnel, like reversible steam engines, and keep 
tightly huddled together until the next exciting 
rattle is heard. Both parents are always on 
guard to drive off mink, rats and water snakes 
that are the terrors of their nursery. 

Waiting for mamma and fish 

Young belted kingfisher on his favourite snag 


Kingfisher on the look-out for a dinner 



Turkey Vulture 
Red-shouldered Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk 
Cooper's Hawk 
Bald Eagle 

American Sparrow Hawk 
American Osprey 
American Barn Owl 
Short-eared Owl 
Long-eared Owl 
Barred Owl 
Screech Owl 


Called also: Turkey Buzzard 

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


214 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

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

Red-shouldered Hawk 215 

no one cares to make a close study of their 


Called also: Hen Hawk; Chicken Hawk; Win- 
ter Hawk 

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

In the court of last appeal to which all our 

2i6 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

Toward the end of summer, especially in 
September, when nursery duties have ended 
for the year and the hawks are care free, you 
may see them sailing in wide spirals, delighting 
in the cooler stratum of air high overhead. 
Balancing on wide, outstretched wings, floating 
serenely with no apparent effort, they enjoy 

Red-shouldered Hawk 217 

the slow merry-go-round at a height that would 
make any child dizzy. Sometimes they rise out 
of sight. Kee you, kee you, they scream as they 
sail. Does the teasing blue jay imitate the call 
for the fun of frightening little birds? 

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

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

2i8 Birds Every Child Should Know 


Called also: Hen Hawk; Chicken Hawk; Red 

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

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

Cooper s Hawk 219 


Called also: Chicken Hawk; Big Blue Darter 

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

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

220 Bird^ Every Child Should Know 

and the rest of their under parts are much 
barred with buff and white. 

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


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

Truth to tell, this majestic emblem of our 
republic (borrowed from imperial Rome) that 
spreads itself gloriously over our coins, flag 
poles, public buildings and government docu- 
ments, is, in real life, not the bravest of the 
brave, nor the most intelligent, nor the noblest, 

Bald Eagle 221 

nor the most enterprising of birds, as one fain 
would believe. On the contrary, it often uses 
its wonderful eyesight to detect a bird more 
skilful than itself in the act of catching a fish, 
and then puts forth its superb strength to rob 
the successful fisher of his prey. The osprey 
is a frequent sufferer, although some of the 
water fowl, that patiently course over the waves 
hour after hour, in search of a dinner, may be 
robbed of it by the overpowering pirate. Dead 
fish cast up on the beach are not rejected. 
When fish fail, coots, ducks, geese and gulls — 
the fastest of flyers — are likely to be snatched 
up, plucked clean of their feathers, and torn 
apart by the great bird that drops suddenly 
upon them from the clouds like Jove's thunder- 
bolt. Rarely small animals are seized, but 
there is probably no well-authenticated case of 
an eagle carrying off a child. 

It is in their family life that hawks and 
eagles, however cruel at other times, show some 
truly lovable traits. Once mated, they know 
neither divorce nor family quarrels all their lives. 
Home is the dearest spot on earth to them. 
They become passionately attached to the 
great btmdle of trash that is at once their nest 
and their abode. A tall pine tree, near water, 
or the rocky ledge of some steep cliff, is the 
favourite site for an eagle eyrie. Here the de- 
voted mates will carry an immense quantity of 

222 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sticks, sod, cornstalks, pine twigs, weeds, bones, 
and other coarse rubbish, until, after annual 
repairs for several seasons, the broad, fiat nest 
may grow to be almost as high as it is wide and 
look something like a New York sky-scraper. 
Both parents sit on the eggs in turn and devote 
themselves with zeal to feeding the eaglets. 
These spoiled children remain in the nest 
several months without attempting to fly, 
expecting to be waited upon even after they are 
actually larger than the old birds. The cast- 
ings of skins, bones, hair, scales, etc., in the 
vicinity of a hawk's or eagle's nest, will indicate, 
almost as well as Dr. Fisher's analysis, what 
food the babies had in their stomachs to make 
them grow so big. Immature birds are almost 
black all over. Not until they are three years 
old do the feathers on their heads and necks 
turn white, giving them the effect of being bald. 
Any eagle seen in the eastern United States is 
sure to be of this species. 

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

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

American Sparrow Hawk 223 


Called also: Killy Hawk; Rusty-crowned Falcon; 
Mouse Hawk 

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

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

224 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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


Called also: Fish Hawk 

A pair of these beautiful big hawks, that had 
nested year after year in the top of a tall pine 
tree on the Manasquan River, New Jersey, were 
great pets in that region. An old fisherman 
of Bamegat Bay told me that when he was 
hauling in his seine one day, he saw the male 
osprey strike the water with a splash, struggle 
an instant with a great fish that had been fol- 
lowing his net, and disappear below the waves, 
never to rise again. The bird more than met his 
match that time. The fish was far larger than 
he expected, so powerful that it easily dragged 
him under, once his talons were imbedded in 
the fish/s flesh. For the rest of the summer the 
widowed osprey always stayed about when the 
fisherman hauled his net on the beach, and bore 
away to her nest the worthless fish he left in it 
for her special benefit. But after rearing her 
family — a prolonged process for all the hawks, 
eagles, and owls — she never returned to the 

Owls 225 

neighbourhood. Perhaps old associations were 
too painful; perhaps she was shot on her way- 
South that winter ; or perhaps she took another 
mate with more sense and less greed, who pre- 
ferred to reside elsewhere. 

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


Like many children I know, owls begin to be 
especially lively toward night, only they make 
no noise as they fly about. Very soft, fluffy 
plumage muffles their flight so that they can 
drop upon a meadow mouse creeping through 
the grass in the stilly night before this wee, 

2 26 Birds Every Child Should Know 

timorous beastie suspects there is a foe abroad. 
As owls live upon mice, mostly, it is important 
they should be helped to catch them with some 
device that beats our traps. If mice should 
change their nocturnal habits, the owl's whole 
scheme of existence would be upset, and the 
hawks would get the quarry that they now 
enjoy: mice, rats, moles, bats, frogs and the 
larger insects. You see the farmer has in- 
valuable day and night allies in these birds of 
prey which take turns in protecting his fields 
from rodents, one patrol working while the 
other sleeps. On the whole, ow^ls are the more 
valuable to him. They usually continue their 
good work all through the winter after the 
hawks have gone South. Can you think of any 
other birds that work for him at night? 

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

Turkey buzzard : one ol Nature's house cleaners 




The beautiful little sparrow hawk 

Barn Owl 227 

of eating. Bolting entire all the food they 
catch, head first, they digest only the nutritious 
portions of it. Then, bowing their heads and 
shaking them very hard, they eject the bones, 
claws, skin, hair and fur in matted pellets, with- 
out the least distress. Some children I know, 
who swallow their food in a hurry — cherry 
stones, grape skins, apple cores and all — need 
a similar, merciful digestive apparatus. 

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


Called also: Monkey-faced Owl 

This is the shy, odd-looking, gray and white 
mottled owl with the triangular face and slim 

228 Birds Every Child Should Know 

body, about a foot and a half long, that comes 
out of its hole at evening with a wild scream, 
startling timid and superstitious people into the 
belief that it is uncanny. The American coun- 
terpart of "wise Minerva's only fowl/' its large 
eye-discs and solemn blink certainly make it 
look like a fit companion for the goddess of 

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

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

Short-eared Owl 229 


Called also: Marsh Owl; Meadow Owl 

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

230 birds Every Child Should Know 


Called also: Hoot Owl 

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

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

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


A boy I know had a pair of little screech owla 
invite themselves to live in a box he had nailed 

Screech Owls 231 

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

232 Birds Every Child Should Know 

returned to the bird house and raised a family 
of funny, fluffy, plump little owlets. 

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

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

Father and mothei" barn owls 



Mourning Dove 
Ruffed Grouse 


Called also: Carolina Dove 

Y\0 NOT waste any sympathy on this Ih- 
■*^ cessant love-maker that slowly sings 
coo-O'O, ah-coo-o-O'OoO'O-o-ooo-O'Oy in a sweetly 
sad voice. Really he is no more melan- 
choly than the plaintive pewee but, on the 
contrary, is so happy in his love that his de- 
votion has passed into a proverb. Neverthe- 
less, the song he sings to his ''turtle dove'' 
sounds more like a dirge than a rapture. While 
she lives, there is no more contented bird in the 

Dove lovers are quite self-sufficient. Their 
larger cousins, the wild pigeons, that once were 
so abundant, depended on friends for much of 
their happiness and lived in enormous flocks. 
Now only a few pairs survive in this land of 
liberty to refute the adage ''In union there is 
strength.'' Because millions of pigeons slept 
in favourite roosts many miles in extent, they 
were all too easily netted, and it did not take 
greedy men long to turn the last flock into cash. 
Happily, doves preserved their race by scat- 
tering in couples over a wide area — from 

236 Birds Every Child Should Know 

Panama, in winter, as far north as Ontario in 
warm weather. Not until nursery duties, 
which begin early in the spring, are over, late 
in summer, do they give up their shy, imsocial 
habits to enjoy the company of a few friends. 
When they rise on whistling wings from tree- 
bordered fields, where they have been feeding 
on seeds and grain, not a gun is fired: no one 
cares to eat them. 

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

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

A little screech owl in the sunlight where only a photog- 
rapher could find him 

Bob'White 237 

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


Called Also: '' Quail-on-Toast'' ; Partridge 

What a cheerful contrast is Bob White's 
clear, staccato whistle to the drawling coo of 
the amorous dove! Character is often ex- 
pressed in a bird's voice as well as in ours. 
From their voices alone you might guess that 
the dove and the quail are no relation. They 
do not belong even to the same order, bob- 
white being a scratching bird and having the 
ruffed grouse and barnyard chicken for his kin. 
Pheasants and turkeys are distantly related. 
In the South people call him a partridge; in 

238 Birds Every Child Should Know 

New England it is the ruffed grouse that is 
known by that name; therefore, to save con- 
fusion, why not always give bob-white the 
name by which he calls himself? The chickadee, 
phcebe, peewee, towhee, whip-poor-will and 
bobolink, who tell their names less plainly than 
he, save every child who tries to know them 
much trouble. Don't you wish every bird 
would introduce himself? 
The boy who 

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

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

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

Boh'White 239 

Hest which the outraged owners would at once 
desert ? 

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

240 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sentinel. At the sign of danger the bunch of 
birds will rise with loud whirring of the wings, 
as suddenly as a bomb might burst. 

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


X^ ailed also: Partridge 

Bob-white and ruffed grouse are the fife and 
drum corps of the woods. That some birds 
are wonderful musicians everybody knows. 

Ruffed Grouse 241 

No other orchestra contains a member who can 
drum without a drum. Ex^en that famous 
drummer, the woodpecker, needs a dead, dry, 
resonant, hardwood limb to tap on before he 
can produce his best effects. How does the 
grouse beat his deep, muffled, thump, thump, 
thtmiping, rolHng tattoo .^^ Some scientists have 
staked their reputation on the claim that they 
have seen him drum by rapidly striking his 
wings against the sides of his body; but other 
later-day scientists, who contend that he beats 
only the air when his wings vibrate so fast that 
the sight cannot quite follow them, are tm- 
doubtedly right. 

On a fallen log, a stump, a rail fence or a wall, 
that may have been used as a drumming stand 
for many years, the male grouse will strut with 
a jerking, dandified gait, puff out his feathers, 
ruff his neck frills, raise and spread his fan- 
shaped tail like a turkey cock, blow out his 
cheeks and neck, then suddenly halt and begin 
to beat his wings. After a few slow, measured 
thumps, the stiff, strong wings whir faster 
and faster, until there is only a blur where they 
vibrate. This is the grouse's love song that 
summons a mate to their trysting place. It 
serves also as a challenge to a rival. Blood and 
feathers may soon be strewn around the ground, 
for in the spring grouse will fight as fiercely as 
game-cocks. Sportsmen in the autumn woods 

242 Birds Every Child Should Know 

often hear grouse drumming at the old stand, 
merely from excess of vigour and not because 
they take the slightest interest then in a mate. 
After the mating season is over, they have less 
chivalry than barnyard roosters. 

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

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

Like the meadowlark, flicker, sparrows and 
other birds that spend much time on the ground, 
the bob-white and ruffed grouse wear brown 
feathers, streaked and barred, to harmonise 
perfectly with their surroundings. ''To find 
a hen grouse with young is a memorable 
experience, " says Frank M. Chapman. " While 
the parent is giving us a lesson in mother love 


The drummer drumming 

Ruffed Grouse 243 

and bird intelligence,her downy chicks are teach- 
ing us facts in protective colouration and hered- 
ity. How the old one limps and flutters ! She 
can barely drag herself along the ground. But 
while we are watching her, what has become of 
the ten or a dozen little yellow balls we had 
almost stepped on? Not a feather do we see, 
until, poking about in the leaves, we find one 
little chap hiding here and another squatting 
there, all perfectly still, and so like the leaves 
in coiour as to be nearly invisible.'' 




Semipalmated or Ring-necked Plover 

Least Sandpiper 

Spotted Sandpiper 


Clapper Rail 

SoRA Rail 

Great Blue Heron 

Little Green Heron 

Black-crowned Night Heron 

American Bittern 


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

248 Birds Every Child Should Know 

along their long route. You can usually tell 
a flock of plovers in flight by the crescent shape 
of the rapidly moving mass. 

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


The killdeer, which is our commonest plover, 
has a little cousin scarcely larger than an English 
sparrow that is a miniature of himself, except 
that the semipalmated (half -webbed) or ring- 
necked plover has only one dark band across 
the upper part of his white breast, while the 
killdeer wears two black rings. This dainty 
little beach bird has brownish-gray upper parts 
so like the colour of wet sand, that, as he runs 
along over it, just in advance of the frothing 
ripples, he is in perfect harmony with his sur- 
rotmdings. Relying upon that fact for pro- 

Least Sandpiper 249 

tection, he will vSquat behind a tuft of beach 
grass if you pass too near rather than risk 

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

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


Across the narrow beach we flit, 

One little sandpiper and I ; 
And fast I gather, bit by bit, 

The scattered driftwood bleached and dry. 
The wild waves reach their hands for it, 

The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, 
As up and down the beach we flit, — 

One little sandpiper and I. 

2SO Birds Every Child Should Know 

Above our heads the sullen clouds 

Scud black and swift across the sky; 
Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds 

Stand out the white light-houses high. 
Almost as far as eye can reach 

I see the close-reefed vessels fly, 
As fast we flit along the beach,-'— 

One little sandpiper and I. 

I watch him as he skims along 

Uttering his sweet and mournful cry; 
He starts not at my fitful song, 

Or flash of fluttering drapery. 
He has no thought of any wrong; 

He scans me with a fearless eye. 
Stanch friends are we, well-tried and strong, 

The little sandpiper and I. 

Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night 

When the loosed storm breaks furiously? 
My driftwood fire will burn so bright! 

To what warm shelter canst thou fly? 
I do not fear for thee, though wroth 

The tempest rushes through the sky: 
For are we not God's children both, 

Thou, little sandpiper, and I ? 

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

spotted Sandpiper 251 

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

These busy, cheerftd, sprightly little peepers 
are always ready to welcome to their flocks 
other birds — ring-necked plovers, tumstones, 
snipe and phalaropes. If by no other sign, 
you may distinguish sandpipers by their con- 
stant call, peep-peep, 


Do you know the spotted sandpiper, teeter, 
tilt-up, teeter-tail, teeter-snipe, or tip-up, which- 

252 Birds Every Child Should Know 

ever you may ch<x)se to call ^t? As if it had 
not yet decided whether to be a beach bird or 
a woodland dweller, a wader or a perching 
songster, it is eqtially at home along the sea- 
shore or on wooded uplands, wherever ditches, 
pools, streams, creeks, swamps, and wet mea- 
dows furnish its favourite foods. It stays 
with us through the long summer. Did you 
ever see it go through any of the queer motions 
that have earned for it so many names? Jerk- 
ing up first its head, then its tail, it walks with 
a funny, bobbing, tipping, see-saw gait, as if 
it were self-conscious and conceited. Still 
another popular name was given from its sharp 
call peet-weet, peet-weet, rapidly repeated, and 
usually uttered as the bird flies in graceful 
curves over the water or inland fields. 


Called also: Blind, Wall-eyed, Mud, Bigheaded, 
Wood, and Whistling Snipe; Bog-sucker; Bog- 
bird; Timber Doodle 

Whenever you see little groups of clean-cut 
holes dotted over the earth in low, wet grotmd, 
you may know that either the woodcock or 
Wilson's snipe has been there probing for worms. 
Not even the woodpecker's combination tool 

Woodcock 253 

is more wonderfully adapted to its work than 
the bill of these snipe, which is a long, straight 
boring instrument, its upper half fitted with a 
flexible tip for hooking the worm out of its hole 
as you would lift a string out of a jar on your 
hooked finger. Down goes the bill into the 
mud, sunk to the nostrils; then the upper tip 
feels around for its slippery victim. You need 
scarcely hope to see the probing performance 
because earth-worms, like mice, come out of their 
holes after dark, which is why snipe are most 
active then. 

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

After the ground freezes hard in the north- 
ern United States and Canada, the woodcock 
is compelled to go south to Virginia. But by 
the time the skunk cabbage and bright-green, 
fluted leaves of hellebore are pushing through 
the bogs and wet woodlands in earliest spring, 
back he comes again. An odd-looking, thick- 
necked, chunky fellow he is, less than a foot in 
length, his long, straight, stout bill sticking far 
out from his triangular head; his eyes placed 
to far back in the upper corners that he must 

254 Birds Every Child Should Know 

be able to see behind him quite as well as he 
can look ahead; the streaks and bars of his 
mottled russet-brown, gray and buff and black 
upper parts being so laid on that he is in per- 
fect harmony with the russet leaves, earth and 
underbrush of his woodland home. When his 
mate is sitting on her nest, the mimicry of her 
surroundings is so perfect it is well-nigh im- 
possible to find her. 

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


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

All rails prefer to escape from an intruder 
through the sedges in well-worn runways rather 
than trust their short, rounded wings to bear 
them beyond danger ; and for forcing their way 
throtigh grassy jungles, their narrow-breasted. 

Rails 25s 

wedge-shaped bodies are perfectly adapted. 
Compressed almost to a point in front, but 
broad and blimt behind where their queer 
little short-pointed tails stand up, the rails* 
small figures thread their way in and out of the 
mazes over the oozy ground with wonderful 

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

2 $6 Birds Every Child Should Know 

interesting shy creatures that dwell in what 
Thoreau called *' Nature's sanctuary.*' 

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


Standing motionless as the sphinx, with his 
neck drawn in until his crested head rests 
between his angular shoulders, the big, long- 
legged, bluish-gray heron depends upon his 
stillness and protective colouring to escape the 
notice of his prey, and of his human foes (for 
he has no others) . In spite of his size — and he 
stands four feet high without stockings — it takes 
the sharpest eyes to detect him as he waits in 

Great Blue Heron 257 

some shallow pool among the sedges along the 
creek or river side, silently, solemnly, hour after 
hour, for a little fish, frog, lizard, snake, or 
some large insect to come within striking dis- 
tance. With a sudden stroke of his long, strong, 
sharp bill, he either snaps up his victim, or runs 
it through. A fish will be tossed in the air 
before being swallowed, head downward, that 
the fins may not scratch his very long, slender 
throat. When you are eating ice cream, don't 
you wish your throat were as long as this 

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

\The evil that birds do surely lives after them ; 
the good they do for us is far too little ap- 
preciated. Almost the last snowy heron and 

258 Birds Every Child Should Know 

the last egret of Southern swamps have yielded 
their bodies to the knife of the plume hunter, 
who cuts out the exquisite decorations these 
birds wear during the nesting season. Inas- 
much as all the heron babies depend upon 
their parents through an unusually long, help- 
less infancy, the little orphans are left to die by 
starvation. For what end is the slaughter of 
the innocents? Merely that the imthinking 
heads of vain women may be decked out with 
aigrettes! Don't blame the poor hunters too 
much when the plimies are worth their weight 
in gold. 


Called also: Poke; Chuckle-head 

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



One rfttle sandpiper 


.. >.%;s.^^i.a^KSSSMi^ 

Xlie coot 

Little Green Heron 259 

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

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

Unlike many of their kind a pair of these 
herons prefer to build their rickety nests apart 
by themselves rather in one of tliose laige, 
sociable, noisy and noisome colonies which we 

26o Birds Every Child Should Know 

associate with the heron tribe. Flocking is 
sometimes a fatal habit. 


Called also: Quawk; Qua Bird 

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

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

^E» «fc*J!-« ^ ■ ' 

















<i^ CD 





American Bittern 261 

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

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


Called also: Stake-driver; Poke; Freckled 
Heron; Booming Bittern; Indian Hen 

Even if you have never seen this shy hermit of 
large swamps and marshy meadows you must 
know him by his remarkable "barbaric yawp." 
Not a muscle does this brown and blackish and 

262 Birds Every Child Should Know 

buff freckled fellow move as he stands waiting 
for prey to come within striking distance of 
what appears to be a dead stump. Sometimes 
he stands with his head drawn in until it rests 
on his back ; or, he may hold his head erect and 
pointed upward when he looks like a sharp 
snag. While he meditates pleasantly on the 
flavour of a coming dinner, he suddenly snaps 
and gulps, filling his lungs with air, then loudly 
bellows forth the most unmusical bird cry you 
are ever likely to hear. You may recognise it 
across the marsh half a mile away or more. A 
nauseated child would go through no more con- 
vulsive gestures than this happy hermit makes 
every time he lifts up his voice to call, pump^ 
er4unk, pump-er4unk, pump-er-lunk. Still 
another noise has earned him one of his many 
popular names because it sounds like a stake 
being driven into the mud. 

A booming bittern I know sits hour after 
hour, almost every day in stmimer, year after 
year, on a dark, decaying pile of an old dock 
in the creek. Our canoe glides over the water 
so silently it rarely disturbs him. The timid 
bird relies on his protective colouring to con- 
ceal him in so exposed a place and profits by 
his fearlessness in broad daylight next to an 
excellent feeding ground. At low tide he walks 
about sedately on the muddy fiats treading out 
a dinner. Kingfishers rattle up and down the 

American Bittern 263 

creek, cackling rails hide in the sedges behind 
it, red-winged blackbirds flute above the 
phalanxes of rushes on its banks : but the bit- 
tern makes more noise, especially toward even- 
ing, than all the other inhabitants of the swampy- 
meadows except the frogs, whose voices he 
forever silences when he can. Frogs, legs and 
all, are his favourite delicacy. 



Canada Goose 
Wild Ducks 
Herring Gull 


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

Geese spend much more time on land than 
ducks do. If you will study the habits of the 
common barnyard goose you will learn many 
of the ways of its wild relations that nest too 
far north to be watched by "every child." 
Canada geese that have been woimded by 

268 Birds Every Child Should Know 

sportsmen in the fall, can be kept on a farm 
perfectly contented all winter; but when the 
honking flocks return from the south in March 
or April, they rarely resist *' the call of the wild,*' 
and away they go toward their kin and freedom. 


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

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

Black-crowned night heron rising from a morass 

Wild Ducks 269 

ately their broad, flat bills have strainers on the 
sides, and merely by shutting them tight, the 
mud and water are forced out of the gutters. 
After nightfall they seem especially active and 

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

The large group of sea and bay ducks, con- 
tains the canvas-back, red-head and other 
vegetarian ducks, dear to the sportsman and 
epicure. These birds may, perhaps, be familiar 

270 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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

With the exception of the wood duck, all 
ducks nest on the ground. Twigs, leaves and 
grasses form the rude cradle for the eggs, and, 
as a final touch of devotion, the mother bird 
plucks feathers from her own soft breast for the 
eggs to lie in. When there is any work to be 
done the selfish, dandified drakes go off by 
themselves, leaving the entire care of raising the 
family to their mates. Then they moult and 
sometimes lose so many feathers they are un- 
able to fly. But by the time the ducklings are 

Herring Gull 271 

well grown and strong of wing, the drake joins 
the family, one flock joins another, and the 
ducks begin their long journey southward. 
But very few children, even in Canada, can ever 
hope to know them in their inaccessible swampy 


Called also: Winter Gull 

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

Not many years ago gulls became alarmingly 
scarce. Why? Because silly girls and women, 
to follow fashion, trimmed their hats with gull's 
wings until hundreds of thousands of these 

272 Birds Every Child Should Know 

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



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Herring Gull 273 

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

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



Accenter, 58. 

Bellbird, 12. 
Bittern, 40, 263. 
American, 261. 
Booming, 261, 262. 
Blackbird, 149. 
Crow, 148. 

Red- winged, 40, iii, 
141, 142, 1^3, 166, 
Rusty, 143- 
Swamp, 141. 
Thrush, i43- 
Bluebird, iii, vi, 9, 10, 11, 
12, 29, 36, 97, 104, 
128, 145, 166, 191, 
Blue Jay, 23, 24, 79» S3, 84, 
128, 134, 153, 156, 
157. 163, 198, 217, 
227, 232. 
Bobolink, 137, 138, 139, 140, 

150, 190, 238, 256. 
Bob-white, 144, 218, 237, 

238, 239, 240, 242. 
Bog-bird, 252. 
Bog-sucker, 252. 
Bonnet-bird, 82. 
Bull-bat, 177- 
Bunting, 130. 

Bay- winged, 113. 
Indigo, 128, 131, 169. 
Snow, 124. 
Butcherbird, 79, 80. 
Buzzard, 214. 

Turkey, 213, 272. 

Canary, 115, 128. 

Wild, 53, 124, 125. 

Canvas-back, 270. 
Cardinal, 23, 38, 48, 72, 83, 

87, 133, 134. 
Catbird, 15, 42, 44, 45. 4^, 

47, 49, 72, 163. 
Cedarbird, 82, 84, 85, 86. 
Chat, Yellow-breasted, 47, 

55. 63, 64, 74, 128. 
Chebec, 161, 170, 171. 
Cherry-bird, 82. 
Chewink, 129, 130, 132. 
Chickadee, 19, 20, 21, 22, 

23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 

130, 189, 191, 193, 

Chminey swift, x8o. 
Chippy, 116, 117, 118. 

Winter, 119. 
Chuckle-head, 258. 
Chuck- will 's- widow, 177. 
Clape, 199. 
Coot, 221. 

Black, 270. 
Cowbird, 56, 57, 63, 74, i39» 

140, 141, 149, 150, 

177, 180, 207. 
Creeper, Brown, 26, 58. 
Crow, iv, 24, 63, 149. 

American, 153, 154, 

155, 156. 157. 163, 

Carrion, 214. 
Rain, 205. 
Cuckoo, 207, 210, 236, 260. 
Black-billed, 205. 
Yellow-billed, v, 43, 

205, 206. 


Darter, Big Blue, 219. 
Little Blue, 2x9. 



Devil Downhead, 25. 
Dove, 236, 237, 260. 

Carolina, 235. 

Motirning, 235, 
Duck, V, 63, 221, 271, 273. 

Black, 269. 

Canvas-back, 269. 

Chinese mandarin, 269. 

Red-headed, 269. 

Wild, 268. 

Wood, 269, 270. 

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

Falcon, Rusty-crowned, 223. 
Finch, 108. 

Grass, 113. 
Purple, 126, 127, 131. 
Firebird, 146, 193, 
Flicker, 144, 189, 193, 198, 

199, 200, 201, 242. 
Flycatcher, 46, 66, 80, 140, 
161, 162, 196, 198. 
Crested, 82, 161, 165, 

166, 169, 191. 
Dusky, 166, 170. 
Least, 161, 170, 171. 

Goatsucker, 179. 
Goldfinch, v, 53, 85. 

American , 1 24, 125, 
126, 127, 139. 
Goose, 221. 

Canada, 267. 
Goshawk, 215, 220. 
Grackle, 143, 150, 166. 

Bronzed, 148. 

Purple, 148. 
Grosbeak, 108. 

Blue, 128. 

Cardinal, 133* 

Pine, 29. 

Red-breasted, 131. 

Rose-breasted, 114, 13I1 
132, 133, 134. 
Grouse, 192, 238, 241, 242. 

Grouse, Ruffed, 237, 238, 

240, 242. 
Gull, 221, 225, 272, 273. 

Herring, 271. 

Winter, 271. 

Halcyon, 208. 
Hang-nest, 146. 
Hawk, iv, 24, 80, 162, 163, 
221, 222, 224, 226, 
227, 230, 239. 
American Sparrow, 191, 

Chicken, 215, 218, 219. 
Cooper's, 215, 219. 
Fish, 208, 224, 225. 
Hen, 215, 216, 218. 
Killy, 223. 
Marsh, 229. 
Mosquito, 177. 
Mouse, 223. 
Partridge, 220. 
Red, 218. 
Red-shouldered, 215, 

216, 217, 218, 220. 
Red-tailed, 218, 220. 
Sharp-shinned, 215, 

Winter, 215. 
Hen-hawk, Blue, 220. 
Hen, Indian, 261. 
Marsh, 255. 
Heron, 257, 258, 2^9, 261. 
Black-crowned Night, 

260, 261. 
Freckled, 261. 
Great Blue, 256. 
Little Green, 258, 259. 
High-hole, 199. 
Hummingbird, vi, 29, 170, 
176, 190, 201, 236. 
Ruby-throated, 183, 
184, 185, 186. 

Indigo-bird, 128. 

Jay, Canada, i57» isS* 
Jenny Wren, 236. 



Joree, 129* 

Jiinco, 120, 122, 123, 124. 

Kingbird, v, 80, 145, 161, 

163, 164, 165, 223. 
Kingfisher, 40, 63, 83, 102, 
128, 210, 262. 
Belted, 208. 
Kinglet, 21, 29, 189. 

Golden-crowned , 28. 
Ruby-crowned, 28, 29. 

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

Mallard, 269. 
Martin, 104. 

Bee, 163. 

Purple, 95, 9<5, 97> 9^- 

Sand, loi. 
Mavis, 41* 
Maybird, I37' 
Meadowlark, 113, 143, 144, 

145. iSo» 17S, 199. 

Meatbird, 157- 
Merganser, 270. 
Mockingbird, 45, 46, 47, 48, 

_ 49. 55, 79. 
French, 41. 
Yellow, 65. 
Moose-bird, 157. 

Nighthawk, 93, 176, 177, 

179, 182. 
Nightingale, 49. 

Virginia, 133. 
Nightjar, 177. 

Nuthatch, 21, 26, 28, 29, 58, 
189, 191. 
Red-breasted, 26, 28. 
White-breasted, 25, 27. 

Oriole, vi, 88, 140, 148, 206. 
Baltimore, 65, 72, 145, 

146, 147, 149. ISO- 

Oriole, Golden, X46. 

Orchard, i45f 146, 147. 
Ortolan, i37« 
Osprey, 221, 224, 225. 
Oven-bird, 42, 54, 58, 59, 
61, 66, 122, 128, 177. 
Owl, 191, 215, 224, 225, 226, 
227, 231. 

Bam, 227, 228. 

Barred, 230. 

Hoot, 230. 

Long-eared, 229. 

Marsh, 229. 

Meadow, 229. 

Monkey- faced, 227. 

Screech, 230, 232. 

Short-eared, 229. 
Ox-eye, 251. 

Partridge, 237, 240. 

Peabody-bird, 120. 

Peep, 251. 

Peto-bird, 23. 

Petrel, 272. 

Pewee, 129, 130, 235, 238. 

Bridge, 166. 

Water, 166. 

Wood, 161,169,170,171. 
Phalarope, 251. 
Pheasant, 237. 
Phoebe, 130, 161, 166, 167, 

168, 170, 236, 238. 
Pigeon, 201, 236. 

Wild, 235. 
Pintail, 269. 
Plover, 251. 

Black-breasted, 247. 

Golden, 247. 

Killdeer, 247, 248. 

Piping, 247. 

Ring-necked, 248, 249, 

Semipalmated, 248. 
Wilson's, 247. 
Poke, 258, 261. 

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



Rail, 40. iii» 254. 255, 262. 

Carolina, 256. 
Red-bird, Black-winged, 86. 

Crested, i33- 
Redstart, 65, 66, 147. 
Reedbird, i37» 138. 
Ricebird, i37» 138. 
Robin, iii, vi, 5» 6, 7, 8, 9, 
II, 12, 13, IS, 46, 79, 
83, 86, 87, 107, 117, 

131, 134, 143, 145, 
175, 197, 200, 205, 
223, 232, 247, 255. 

Golden, 146. 
Ground, 129, 130. 
Redbreast, 5, 130. 
Wood, 12. 

Sandpiper, 249, 250. 

Least, 249, 251. 

Semipalmated, 251. 

Spotted, 251. 
Sapsucker, 195, 196, 198. 

Yellow-bellied, 194. 
Scoter, Surf, 270. 
Sea-swallow, 272. 
Sheldrake, 270. 
Shrike, 80, 81, 198, 223. 

Northern, 79» 81, 82. 
Silk-tail, 82. 
Skylark, 137. 
Snipe, 251, 253. 

Big-headed, 252. 

Blind, 252. 

Mud, 252. 

Wall-eyed, 252. 

Whistling, 252. 

Wilson's, 252, 254. 

Wood, 252. 
Snow-bird, Slate-coloured, 

Snowflake, 124. 
Sora, 256. 

Sparrow, 5, 10, 35,- 36, 42, 
61,66, 70, 80, 83,86, 
104, 107, 127, 128, 

132, 138, 140, 183, 
242, 251. 

Sparrow, Canada, 120. 

Chipping, iii, 20, 112, 

116, 117, 119, 130. 
Door-step, 116. 
English, 24, 27, 33, 53, 

59, 64, 81, 97, 108, 

no, III, 114, 115, 

116, 119, 121, 130, 

161, 163, 192, 197, 

Field, 112, 114, 119, 

Fox, 122, 123. 
Hair, 116. 
Song, 39, log, no, in, 

112, 113, 127, 130. 
Swamp, III, 112. 
Tree, iig, 120. 
Vesper, 113* 114. 
White-crowned, 121. 
White-throated, 120, 

121, 122, 130. 
Stake-driver, 261. 
Starling, Meadow, 143. 
Stint, 251. 
Swallow, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 

108, 176, 182, 183. 
Bank, loi, 102, 210. 
Barn, 98, 99, 100, loi. 
Chimney, 180. 
Eave or Cliff, 100, loi, 

Rough- winged, 102. 
Sand, Id, 

Tree, 103, 104, 191. 
White-breasted, 103. 
Swift, 97, 176, 180, 181, 182, 

Chimney, 93, 96, 190. 

Tanager, Scarlet, 48, 86, 87, 
88, 89, 131, 139. 

Summer, 89. 
Teacher, 58, 59, 60. 
Teal, Blue- winged, 269. 

Green- winged, 269. 
Teeter, 251. 
Teeter-snipe, 251. 



Teeter-tail, 251. 

Tern, 272. 

Thistlebird, 124. 

Thrasher, Brown, 15, 4i> 42, 

43, 44, 45, 49, 112. 
Thrush, 42, 43» 55» ^22, 140, 

Brown, 41- 

Golden-crowned, 58. 

Ground, 4i> 44- 

Hermit, 12. 

Long, 41- 

Migratory, 5. 

Red, 41. 

Red-breasted, 5. 

Song, 12. 

Wilson's, 12, 14. 

Wood, 12, 13, 14, 15. 
Tilt-up, 251. 
Timber Doodle, 252. 
Tip-up, 251. 

Titmouse, 21, 24, 25, 134, 
189, 191. 

Black-capped, 19. 

Crested, 23, 38. 

Tufted, 23, 26, 82. 
Tomtit, Crested, 23. 
Towhee, 112, 122, 129, 130, 

131, 238. 
Tree Mouse, 25. 
Turkey, 214. 
Turnstone, 251. 

Veery, 14, 15. 
Vireo, 69, 70, 82, 95, 114, 
140, 145, 162, 171. 
Red-eyed, V, 71,72, 74, 

75,129, 169. 
Warblmg, 74, 75- 
White-eyed, v, 72, 73, 

Yellow-throated, 74. 
Vulture, 214. 
Black, 214. 
Turkey, 2x3, 

Warbler, 22>, 54, 55, 59» <54, 
65,66,69,70,95, 162. 

Black and W hite Creep- 
ing, 57, 58, 189. 

Blackburnian, 66. 


Yellow, V, 53, 54, S5> 56. 
57. 62, 63, 125, 140. 
Waxwing, 2^. 

Cedar, 82, 83, 85, 126, 

Whip-poor-will, 93, 175, 176, 

Whiskey Jack, 157. 
Widgeon, 269. 
WVen, iii, 19, 28, 29, 30, 34, 

35.36,37. 42, 43.45. 

49, 104, 167, 191. 
Carolina, 37, 38. 
House, 33, 97- 
Marsh, 39, 40, 41, iii. 
Winter, 37. 
Woodcock, 128, 252,253,254. 
Woodpecker, iv, 22, 24, 26, 

28, 57, 73. 140, 166, 

181, 189, 190, 192, 

194, 195, 198, 224, 

227, 230, 232, 241, 

Downy, 57, 189, 191, 

192, 193, 198. 
Golden- winged, 199. 
Hairy, 191, 192, 193, 

Red-headed, 197, 198, 


Yellow-bird, Black- winged, 

Sumraer, 53. 
Yellowhammer, i99' 
Yellow- throat, Maryland^ 

54, 61, III. 
Yucker, 199.