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Full text of "Bird life stories, comp. from the writings of Audubon, Bendire, Nuttall, and Wilson"

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Cornell University Library 
QL 676.W385 

Bird life stories, comp. from the writin 

3 1924 000 051 890 

Cornell University 

The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



Compiled from the ■writings of 




Professor of Zoology and Entomology in New Hampshire 

College of Agricultiire and Mechanic A rts. Designer 

of "The Nature Calendar Series" 

BOOK I ' - 


Chicago New York London 



Copyright, iqo4 

@, Xi-->0 3. 



THE four writers from whom the chapters in these Bird Life 
Stories have been drawn are especially notable for the absorb- 
ing interest with which they pursued the study of birds. They were 
all original investigators, exploring the trackless wilderness in their 
search for knowledge. Especially was this true of Audubon and 
Wilson, who laid the foundations of the science of ornithology in 
America, but it was also true to a less extent of Nuttall and Bendire. 
This interest which our authors brought to their work has of 
course been communicated to their writings, so that their accounts of 
our birds are on the whole the most interesting that have ever been 
published. In the books of thjs series I have tried to select for each of 
the chosen birds that account which seemed the best. I have modified 
the language and punctuation only so far as was necessary to shorten 
some sentences, and to render clear the meaning of others. Occasion- 
ally I have omitted parts which had no special modern interest or 
which our later knowledge has shown to be incorrect. In this work of 
revision, as well as in the preparation of the additional notes, I have 
had the assistance of Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, lecturer on ornithology for 
the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Dr. Ned Dearborn of the 
Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, both expert ornithologists who are 
thoroughly conversant with the most recent developments of the 
science. , The specimens shown in the colored plates were collected and 
mounted by Doctor Dearborn expressly for this work, and the colored 
plates themselves have been made under his supervision. To both of 
these gentlemen I am glad to express my hearty thanks, as well 
as to the officers of the Smithsonian Institution, for permission to use 
such of the writings of the late Major Bendire as I desired. 

C. M. W. 
Durham, New Hampshire, September, igoj. 




























The Preface . 

The Illustrations 

The Bluebird 

The Robin 

The Chickadee 

The House-wren 

The Catbird . 

The Maryland Yellow-throat 

The White-eyed Vireo 

The Oven-bird 

The Barn-swallow 

The Cardinal 

The Chewink or Towhee Bunting 

The Chipping Sparrow . 

The Red-winged Blackbird . 

The Baltimore Oriole 

The Pewee or Phcebe . 

The Chimney Swift 

The Downy Woodpecker 

The Hairy Woodpecker 

The American Sparrow-hawk 

The Screech or Mottled Owl 

The Mourning-dove 

The Bob-white or Quail 

The Spotted Sandpiper or 

The Great Blue Heron 


Alexander Wilson 

John James Audubon 

Thomas Nuttall 

Alexander Wilson 

Thomas Nuttall 

Thomas Nuttall 

John James Audubon 

Thomas Nuttall 

Alexander Wilsmi 

Thomas Nuttall 

Alexander Wilson 

John James Audubon 

John James Audubon 

Charles Bendire 

Thom,as Nuttall 

Thomas Nuttall 

Alexander Wilson 

Charles Bendire 

Charles Be?idire 

John James Audubon 

Thomas Nuttall 

John James Audubon 







Thomas Nuttall 80 
John James Audubon 83 



Bluebird ^^^«^ 9 



Chickadee .... 


House-wren .... 




Maryland Yellow-throat . 


White-eyed Vireo 


Oven-bird .... 





" 38 

Chewink or Towhee Bunting 


Chipping Sparrow 

" 45 

" 48 

Baltimore Oriole 

" 50 

Pewee or Phcebe 

" 55 

Chimney Swift 

" 58 

Downy Woodpecker . 


Hairy Woodpecker 

'■ 64 


Screech-owl or Mottled Owl 




Bob-white or Quail 

" 76 

Spotted Sandpiper or "Peet-weet" 


Great Blue Heron 

" 83 

Sialia sialis 




THE pleasing manners and the sociable disposition of this 
little bird entitle him to particular notice. As one of 
the first messengers of spring, bringing the charming tidings 
to our very doors, he bears his own recommendation always 
along with him, and meets with a hearty welcome from 

Though generally accounted a bird of passage, yet in 
Pennsylvania so early as the middle of February, if the 
weather be open, he usually makes his appearance about his 
own haunts, — the barn, orchard and fenceposts. Storms and 
deep snows sometimes succeeding, he disappears for a time, 
but about the middle of March is again seen accompanied by 
his mate, visiting the box in the garden or the hole in the old 
apple-tree, the cradle of some generations of his ancestors. 

The preliminaries being settled and the spot fixed upon, 
the Bluebirds begin to clean out from the old nest the 
rubbish of the former year, and to prepare for the reception 
of their future offspring. 


10 Bird Life Stories 

The female lays five, and sometimes six, eggs of a pale 
blue color, and raises two and sometimes three broods in a 
season, the male taking the youngest under his particular 
care while the female is again sitting. Their principal food 
consists of insects, particularly large beetles and others that 
lurk among old dead and decaying trees, as well as upon the 
ground. Spiders are also a favorite repast with them. In the 
fall they occasionally regale themselves on the berries of the 
sour gum and, as winter approaches, on those of the red 
cedar, and on the fruit of a rough and hairy vine that runs up 
and cleaves fast to the trunks of trees. Ripe persimmons are 
another of their favorite dishes, and among other fruits and 
seeds these are found in their stomachs during the autumn 

The usual spring and summer song of the Bluebird is a 
soft, agreeable, and oft-repeated warble, uttered with open 
quivering wings, and is extremely pleasing. In his motions 
and general character he has great resemblance to the Robin 
Redbreast of Great Britain. Like the latter bird he is known 
to almost every child, and shows as much confidence in man 
by associating with him in summer as the Redbreast by his 
familiarity in winter. He is also of a mild and peaceful dispo- 
sition, seldom fighting or quarreling with other birds. His 
society is courted by the inhabitants of the country, and few 
farmers neglect to provide for him, in some suitable place, a 
snug little summer-house, ready fitted and rent free. For this 
he more than repays them by the cheerfulness of his song, and 
the multitude of injurious insects he daily destroys. 

Toward fall, that is, in the month of October, his song 
changes to a single plaintive note, as he passes over the 
yellow, many-colored woods, and its melancholy air recalls to 
our minds the approaching decay of the face of nature. Even 

The Bluebird 


after the trees are stripped of their leaves he still lingers over 
his native fields, as if loth to leave them. About the middle 
or end of November few if any Bluebirds are seen; but with 
every return of mild and open weather we hear their plaintive 
note amidst the fields, or in the air, seeming to deplore the 
devastations of winter. Indeed the Bluebird appears scarcely 
ever totally to forsake us, but to follow fair weather through 
all its journeyings till the return of spring. 

Geographical Distribution 

During the summer the Bluebird is found throughout the eastern 
United States and as far west as the Rocky Mountains; it ranges as 
far north as Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba. In winter it 
migrates in flocks from the northern regions, flying to Cuba and the 
southern States, where it may be found all winter. As far north as 
the latitude of New York a few are generally present throughout the 



DURING the winter in the southern States the Robins 
feed on the berries and fruits of our woods, fields 
gardens and even of the ornamental trees of our cities and 
villages. The holly, the sweet gum, the gall-berry, and the 
poke are those which they first attack; but as these fail, which 
is usually the case in January, they come nearer the towns and 
farmhouses and feed voraciously on the caperia berry, the 
wild orange berry, and the berries of the pride-of-India. 
During summer and spring they devour snails and worms, and 
at the Labrador coast I saw some feeding on small shells, 
which they probed or broke with ease. 

Toward the approach of spring they visit the newly 
ploughed grounds, the gardens and the interior of woods, the 
undergrowth of which has been cleared of grass by fire, to 
pick up ground worms, grubs and other insects, on which, 
when perched, they descend in a pouncing manner, swallowing 
their prey in a moment, jerking their tails, beating their wings 
and returning to their stations. 

Whenever the sun shines warmly over the earth, the old 
males tune their pipe and enliven the neighborhood with their 
song. The young also begin to sing, and before they depart 
for the east they have all become musical. By the tenth of 
April the Robins have reached the middle district; the 
blossoms of the dogwood are then peeping forth in every 
part of the budding woods; the fragrant sassafras, the red 



Morula migratoria 

The Robin 13 

flowers of the maple, and hundreds of other plants have 
already banished the dismal appearance of winter. The 
snows are all melting away, and nature again, in all the beauty 
of spring, promises happiness and abundance to the whole 
animal creation. 

Then it is that the Robin, perched on a fence stake or the 
top of some detached tree of the field, gives vent to the 
warmth of his passion. His lays are modest, lively, and 
ofttimes of considerable power; and although his song cannot 
be compared with that of the Thrasher, its vivacity and sim- 
plicity never fail to fill the breast of the listener with pleasing 

The nest of the Robin is frequently placed on the horizon- 
tal branch of an apple-tree, and sometimes in the same situa- 
tion on a forest tree. Now and then it Is found close to the 
house, and it is stated by Nuttall that one was placed in the 
stern timbers of an unfinished vessel at Portsmouth, New 
Hampshire, in which the carpenters were constantly at work. 
Another, adds this amiable writer, has been known to build 
his nest within a few yards of a blacksmith's anvil. I dis- 
covered one near Great Egg Harbor, in the State of New 
Jersey, affixed to the cribbing timbers of an unfinished well, 
seven or eight feet below the surface of the ground. 

Wherever it may happen to be placed the nest is large and 
well secured. It is composed of dry leaves, grass, and moss, 
which are connected internally with a thick layer of mud and 
roots, lined with pieces of straw and fine grass, and occasionally 
a few feathers. The eggs are from four to six, of a beautiful 
bluish green, without spots. Two broods are usually raised in 
a season. 

The young are fed with anxious care by their tender 
parents, who, should one intrude upon them, boldly remon- 

/^ Bird Life Stories 

strate, pass and repass by rapid divings, or if moving along the 
branches, jerk their wings and tails violently and emit a 
peculiar shrill note, evincing their anxiety and displeasure. 
The young, before they are fully fledged, often leave their nest 
to meet their parents, when coming home with a supply of 

Many of these birds show a marked partiality to the places 
they have chosen to breed in. I have no doubt that many who 
escape death in the winter return to those loved spots each 
succeeding spring. 

The flight of the Robin is swift, at times greatly elevated 
and capable of being long sustained. During the periods of 
its migrations, which are irregular, depending upon the want 
of food or the severity of the weather, it moves in loose flocks 
over a space of several hundred miles at once, and at a consid- 
erable height. From time to time a few shrill notes are heard 
from different individuals in the flock. Should the weather 
be calm their movements are continued during the night, and 
at such periods the whistling noise of their wings, is often 
heard. During heavy falls of snow and severe gales they 
pitch toward the earth, or throw themselves into the woods, 
where they remain until the weather becomes more favor- 

They not infrequently disappear for several days from a 
place where they have been in thousands, and again they visit 
it. In eastern Massachusetts flocks often spend the winter in 
the neighborhood of warm springs and spongy low grounds, 
sheltered from the north winds. 

Geographical Distribution 

Our American Robin has a wide range. It is found throughout 
eastern North America and extends as far west as the Rocky Moun- 

The Robin is 

tains. It also occurs in Alaska. Nests are built by it from near the 
coast of the Gulf of Mexico as far north as the Arctic Circle. It 
passes the winter mostly in the southern States and beyond, where at 
this time it is found in large flocks, but some Robins are to be found 
in winter in southern Canada and in the northern States. It has 
recently been learned that large numbers of the males and the young 
Robins assemble nightly in certain low woods which are known as 
"Robin roosts." 



THIS familiar, hardy and restless little bird chiefly inhabits 
the northern and .middle States, as well as Canada. In 
the latter country it is found even in winter around Hudson's 

During autumn and winter families of these birds are seen 
chattering and roving through the woods, busily engaged in 
gleaning food. Along with the Creepers and Nuthatches 
they form a busy, active and noisy group, whose manners, 
habits and food bring them together in a common pursuit. 
Their diet varies with the season; for besides insects and 
their eggs, of which they are particularly fond, in September 
they leave the woods and assemble familiarly in our orchards 
and gardens. Sometimes they even enter cities in quest of 
food. Large seeds of many kinds, particularly those which 
are oily, are now sought after. Fat of various kinds is also 
greedily eaten, and the Chickadees regularly watch the retreat 
of the hog-killers in the country to glean up the fragments of 
meat which adhere to the places where the carcasses have 
been suspended. At times they feed upon the wax of the 
candleberry myrtle. They likewise pick up crumbs near the 
houses, and search the weather-boards, and even the window- 
sills for insect prey. They are particularly fond of spiders 
and the eggs of destructive moths, especially those of the 
canker worm, which they greedily devour in all stages of its 


Parus atricapillus 

The Chickadee /7 

In winter, when hunger is satisfied, they will descend to the 
snow and quench their thirst by swallowing small bits. In 
this way their various and frugal meal is always easily 
supplied; and hardy and warmly clad in light and very downy 
feathers, they suffer little inconvenience from the inclemency 
of the seasons. Their roost is in the hollows of decayed 
trees, where they also breed, making a soft nest of moss, hair 
and feathers, and laying from six to twelve eggs, which are 
white, with specks of brown-red. They begin to lay about the 
middle or close of April, and though they commonly make use 
of natural or deserted holes of the woodpecker, yet they fre- 
quently excavate a cavity for themselves with much labor. 
The first brood takes wing about the 7th or loth of June, and 
there is sometimes a second brood toward the end of July. 
The young, as soon as fledged, have all the external marks of 
the adult, the head is equally black, and they chatter and skip 
about with all the agility and self-possession of their parents, 
who appear nevertheless very solicitous for their safety. 

From this time on the whole family continue to associate 
together through the autumn and winter. They seem to move 
in concert from tree to tree, keeping up a continued Hshe-de- 
de-de-de and ' tshe-de-de-de-dait, preceded by a shrill whistle, all 
the while busily engaged picking around the buds and 
branches, hanging from their extremities and proceeding 
often in reversed posture, head downward, like so many 
tumblers, prying into every crevice of the bark and searching 
round the roots and in every possible retreat of their insect 
prey or its larvee. If the object chance to fall, they industri- 
ously descend to the ground and glean it up with the utmost 

Almost the only note of this bird which may be called a 
song, is one which is frequently heard at intervals in the depth 

i8 Bird Life Stories 

of the forest, or from the orchard trees. Although more fre- 
quently uttered in spring, it is now and then whistled on warm 
days even in winter; it may be heard, in fact, in every month 
of the year. It consists of two, or, less frequently, three clearly- 
whistled and rather melancholy notes, like the syllables phee- 
bee, not drawled like the song of the wood Pewee, and sweeter 
and more even than the cry of the Phoebe. 

The Chickadee is found in summer in dry, shady and 
secluded woods, but when the weather becomes cold, and as 
early as October, roving families, pressed by necessity and 
failure of their ordinary insect fare, now begin to frequent 
orchards and gardens, appearing extremely familiar, hungry, 
indigent, but industrious, prying with restless anxiety into 
every cranny of the bark or holes in decayed trees after 
dormant insects, spiders and larvae. The Chickadee adds by 
its presence, indomitable action and chatter, an air of cheer- 
fulness to the silent and dreary winters of the coldest parts of 
North America. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Chickadee is very generally distributed throughout the northern 
parts of eastern North America. Its nest is built as far south as 
Illinois and Pennsylvania, and as far north as Labrador. High up in 
the Alleghany Mountains it nests still farther south. In the South 
and West occur closely- related forms with similar habits. 

Troglodytes ai'doh 



THIS well-known and familiar bird arrives in Pennsylvania 
about the middle of April. About the 8th or loth of 
May it begins to build its nest, sometimes in the wooden 
cornice under the eaves or in a hollow cherry-tree, but most 
commonly in small boxes fixed on the top of a pole in or near 
the garden. It is partial to such situations because of the 
great numbers of caterpillars and other larvae which may be 
found in the vicinity. 

If all these nesting conveniences are wanting, the wren will 
even put up with an old hat, nailed on the weather-boards, 
with a small hole for entrance. If even this be denied him he 
will find some hole, corner or crevice about the house, barn, or 
stable rather than abandon the dwellings of man. 

The twigs with which the outward parts of the nest are 
constructed are short and crooked that they may the better 
hook in with one another. The hole or entrance is so much 
shut up to prevent the intrusion of snakes or cats that it 
appears almost impossible that the body of the bird could get in. 
On the inside there is a layer of fine dried stalks of grass, and 
lastly of feathers. There are six or seven, and sometimes 
nine eggs, of a red- purplish flesh color, innumerable fine grains 
of that tint being thickly sprinkled over the whole surface. 
Two broods are generally raised each season, the first leaving 
the nest about the ist of June, the second in July. 

The little bird has a strong antipathy to cats; for having 


20 Bird Life Stories 

frequent occasion to glean among the currant bushes and 
other shrubbery in the garden, those lurking enemies of the 
feathered race often prove fatal to him. 

The immense number of insects which this sociable little 
bird removes from the garden and fruit trees ought to endear 
him to every cultivator, even if he had nothing else to recom- 
mend him. But his notes, loud, sprightly, tremulous and 
repeated every few seconds with great animation, are extremely 
agreeable In the heat of summer, families in the country 
often dine on the piazza under green canopies of vines and 
creepers, while overhead the trilling vivacity of the Wren, 
mingled with the warbling mimicry of the Mockingbird and 
the distant softened sounds of numerous other songsters, form 
a soul-soothing music, breathing peace, innocence and repose. 
In strength of tone and execution the song of this species is 
tar superior to that of the European Wren. 

The food of the House-wren consists of insects and cater- 
pillars. While supplying the wants of its young, it destroys, on 
a moderate calculation, many hundreds of these pests a day, 
thus greatly reducing their ravages. It is a bold and insolent 
bird against those of the Titmouse or Woodpecker kind that 
venture to build within its jurisdiction, attacking them with- 
out hesitation, though they be twice as large, and generally forc- 
ing them to decamp. Even the Bluebird, who claims an equal 
and, as it were, hereditary right to the box in the garden, when 
attacked by this little impertinent, sometimes relinquishes the 
contest, the mild placidity of his disposition not being a match 
for the fiery impetuosity of his little antagonist. With those 
of his own species, who settle and build near him, he has 
frequent squabbles. 

In summer the House-wren is found throughout the east- 
ern United States, west to Michigan and Indiana, and north 

The House-wren 21 

to southern Ontario and Maine. It migrates southward in 
autumn, and is found throughout the year in southern States 
east of Louisiana. 


Other observers do not credit the Bluebird with the placid dispo- 
sition which Wilson says induces it to yield to the House-wren. It is 
undoubtedly an amiable bird, and its society is much frequented by 
many smaller birds after the breeding season is over, but it generally 
defends its chosen home with pertinacity. 



THESE quaint and familiar songsters pass the winter in 
the southern extremities of the United States and along 
the coast of Mexico, from whence, as early as February, they 
arrive in Georgia. About the middle of April they are first 
seen in Pennsylvania, and at length leisurely approach New 
England by the close of the first or the beginning of the 
second week in May. 

The Catbirds continue their migration to Canada, where 
they proceed into the fur countries as far as the forty-fifth 
parallel, arriving on the banks of the Saskatchewan about the 
close of May. Throughout this extent and west to the Missis- 
sippi they likewise pass the period of incubation and rearing 
their young. They remain in New England until about the 
middle of October, at which time the young feed principally 
upon various kinds of berries. 

The Catbird often tunes his cheerful song before the break 
of day, hopping from bush to bush with great agility after his 
insect food, while yet scarcely distinguishable amidst the 
dusky shadows of the dawn. The notes of the different indi- 
viduals vary considerably, so that sometimes his song in sweet- 
ness and compass is scarcely at all inferior to that of the 
Brown Thrasher. A quaintness, however, prevails in all his 
efforts and his song is frequently made up of short and blended 
imitations of other birds, given with great emphasis, melody 
and variety of tone, and like the Nightingale disturbing the 


Galeoscoptes carolineitsis- 

The Catbird 23 

hours of repose. In the late twilight of a summer evening, 
when scarce another note is heard but the hum of the drowsy 
beetle, the music of the Catbird attains its full effect, and often 
rises and falls with all the swell and studied cadence of finished 
harmony. During the heat of the day or late in the morning 
the variety of his song declines, or he pursues his employment 
in silence and retirement. 

About the 25th of May one of these familiar birds came 
into the Botanic Garden at Cambridge and took up his sum- 
mer abode with us. Soon after his arrival he called up in low 
whisperings the notes of the Whippoorwill and Redbird, \}n.&peto 
peto of the Tufted Titmouse, and other imitations of southern 
birds which he had collected on his leisurely route from the 
south. He also soon mocked the ' tshe-yah, Hshe-yah, 'tshe-yah 
of the little Flycatcher with which the neighborhood now 
abounded. He frequently answered to my whistle in the 
garden, was very silent during the period of incubation, and 
expressed great anxiety and complaint on my approaching the 
young after their leaving the nest. 

One of the most remarkable propensities of the Catbird, 
and the one to which it owes its name, is the unpleasant, loud 
and grating cat-like mew {pay, 'pay, 'pay), which it often utters 
on being approached or offended. As the irritation increases 
this note becomes more hoarse, reiterated and vehement, and 
so sometimes this petulance and anger are carried so far as to 
persecute every intruder who approaches the premises. 

This temper often prevails after the young are fledged, and 
though originating, no doubt, in parental anxiety, it sometimes 
appears to outlive that season, and occasionally becomes such 
an annoyance that a revengeful and fatal blow from a stick or 
stone is but too often, with the thoughtless and prejudiced, 
the reward of this harmless and capricious provocation. At 

24 Bird Life Stories 

such times, with little apparent cause, the agitation of the bird 
is excessive; she hurries backward and forward with hanging 
wings and open mouth, mewing and screaming in a paroxysm 
of scolding anger, and alighting almost to peck the very hand 
that offers the insult. To touch a twig or branch in any part 
of the garden or wood is often amply sufficient to call down 
the amusing termagant. 

The flight of the Catbird is laborious, and usually continued 
only from bush to bush; his progress, however, is very wily, 
and his attitudes and jerks amusingly capricious. He appears 
to have very little fear of enemies, often descends to the 
ground in quest of insects, and though almost familiar is very 
quick in his retreat from real danger. 

This common and abundant species begins to construct its 
nest some time in the month of May. The situation in which 
he delights to dwell is commonly a dark thicket in the woods, 
or a close brush in some secluded part of the garden, at the 
distance of five or ten feet from the ground. The materials 
are coarse but substantial; the external part is commonly 
made of small interlaced twigs, old grass and dry leaves; to 
these succeed thin strips of bark, often of the red cedar, 
somewhat agglutinated. The inside is lined and bedded with 
black root fibers of ferns. The eggs are four or five, of a 
bright and deep emerald green, and without spots. 

The food of the Catbird is similar to that of the Brown 
Thrasher, being insects and worms, particularly beetles, and 
various garden fruits. The young are often fed on cherries 
and various kinds of berries late in the season. Sometimes 
these Catbirds have been observed to attack snakes when they 
approach the vicinity of the nest, and they commonly succeed 
in driving off the enemy. 

The Catbird 25 

Geographical Distribution 

In summer the Catbird is found throughout the United States east 
of the Rocky Mountains. In autumn it migrates, passing the winter 
from Florida southward. 



THIS common and familiar species extends its summer 
migrations from Florida to Nova Scotia, arriving in 
Pennsylvania toward the middle of April and in Massachusetts 
about the first week in May. They return to the south in 
September; a few stragglers of the young, however, may be 
seen to the first week of October. Though some remain and 
winter in the southern States, many of them retire at this 
season into the interior of tropical America, as they were seen 
late in autumn around Vera Cruz by the naturalist and trav- 
eler, Mr. Bullock. Early in the month of March, however, 
I heard this species singing in the forests of west Florida. 

The Maryland Yellow-throat, with cheerful devotedness to 
the great object of his summer migration, the attachments 
and care of his species, passes his time near some shady rill 
of water, amidst briars, brambles, alders and such other 
shrubbery as grows in low and watery situations. Unambitious 
to be seen, he seldom ascends to the top of the underwood 
where he dwells busily employed in collecting the insects on 
which he feeds. After these, like the Wren, he darts into the 
deepest thicket and threads his devious way through every 
opening; he searches around the stems, examines beneath the 
leaves, and, raising himself on his peculiarly pale and slender 
legs, peeps into each crevice in order to seize by surprise his 
tiny lurking prey. 

While thus engaged his affection to his neighboring mate 


Geothlypis trichas 

The Maryland Yellow-throat 27 

is not forgotten, and, with a simplicity agreeable and charac- 
teristic, he twitters forth at short intervals his 'whititeiee, 
'whitiietee, 'whiiiteiee, but his more common song is 'whittitshee, 
\vhittitshee, or 'wetitshee, ' wetitsheewee ; sometimes I have heard 
his notes like 'wetitshee wetit shee, 'witeyu we. On this last 
syllable a plaintive sinking of the voice renders the lively, 
earnest ditty of the active minstrel peculiarly agreeable. The 
whole is likewise often varied and lowered into a slender 
whisper or tender, reverie of vocal instinct. 

He appears by no means shy or suspicious as long as his 
nest is unapproached, but for the safety of that precious 
treasure he scolds, laments and entreats with great anxiety. 
These birds generally nest in secluded thickets of the forest, 
or the low bushy meadow, but sometimes they take up their 
abode in the garden, or the field contiguous to the house, and 
if undisturbed they show a predilection for the place which has 
shown them security for themselves and their young. They 
commence their labor of building about the middle of May, 
fixing the nest on or near the ground among dry leaves, 
withered grass or brush, and often choose for security the 
most intricate thicket of briars, so that the nest is often 
sheltered and concealed by projecting weeds and grass. 
Sometimes a mere tussock of grass or accidental pile of brush 
is chosen. It is made of dry sedge grass and a few leaves 
loosely wound together and supported by the weeds or twigs 
where it rests; the lining consists entirely of fine bent grass. 

The eggs, about five in number, are white, inclined to flesh 
color with touches of specks and small spreading blotches, and 
sometimes with a few lines of two or three shades of reddish 
brown, chiefly disposed toward the greater end. The young 
leave the nest about the middle of June, and a second 
brood is sometimes raised in the course of the season. The 

28 Bird Life Stories 

parents and young now rove about in restless prying troops 
and take to the most secluded marshes where they pass their 
time in comparative security till the arrival of that period of 
scarcity which warns them to depart. As early as the close of 
July the lively song of the male ceases to be heard, and the 
whole party now forage in silence. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Maryland Yellow-throat is widely distributed throughout the 
eastern United States, ranging in summer north to Labrador. In 
winter it is found in the South Atlantic and Gulf States, as well as in 
the West Indies, Central America and eastern Mexico. Nuttall has 
not described the flight song of the Maryland Yellow-throat. The 
bird often takes a short upward flight and while in the air utters a 
hurried medley of notes and calls. This performance is sometimes 
given in spring, but is more commonly heard in July and early in 

Vireo noveboracensis 



THIS interesting little bird enters the State of Louisiana 
often as early as the ist of March. Indeed, some indi- 
viduals may now and then be seen a week or ten days sooner 
provided the weather be mild. It throws itself into the 
thickest part of the briars, sumachs and small evergreen 
bushes, which form detached groves in abandoned fields, 
where its presence is at once known by the smartness of its 
song. This song is composed of many different notes emitted 
with great spirit and a certain degree of pomposity, which 
makes it differ materially from that of all other Vireos. It is 
frequently repeated during the day. 

These birds become at once so abundant that it would be 
more difficult not to meet one than to observe a dozen or 
more during a morning walk. Their motions are as animated 
as their music. They pass from twig to twig, upward or 
downward, examining every opening bud and leaf, and 
securing an adult insect or a larva at every leap. Their 
flight is short, light and easy. 

Their migrations are performed during the day, and by 
passing from one low bush to another. Like all our other 
visitors they move eastward as the season opens, and do not 
reach the middle States before the end of April or the begin- 
ning of May. Notwithstanding this apparently slow progress, 
they reach and disperse over a vast expanse of country. I 


30 Bird Life Stories 

have met with some in every part of the United States which 
I have visited. 

Many remain in Louisiana, where they rear two broods, 
perhaps sometimes three, in a season. Of this, however, I am 
not quite certain. I never saw them alight on the ground, 
unless for the purpose of drinking or of procuring fibrous 
roots for their nests. They are fond of sipping the dewdrops 
that hang at the extremities of leaves. Their sorties after 
insects seldom extend beyond the bushes. 

About the ist of April the White-eyed Vireo forms a nest 
of dry slender twigs, broken pieces of grasses and portions of 
old hornets' nests, which have so great a resemblance to paper 
that the nest appears as if studded with bits of that substance. 
It is lined with fine fibrous roots and the dried filaments of the 
Spanish moss. The nest is cup-shaped and pensile, and is 
fastened to two or three twigs, or to a loop of a vine. The 
eggs are from four to five, of a pure white, with a few dark 
spots near the larger end. In those districts where the Cow- 
bird is found it frequently drops one of its eggs among them. 

I have seen the first brood from the nest about the middle 
of May. Unless disturbed while upon its nest, this bird is 
extremely sociable, and may be approached within a few feet, 
but when startled from the nest it displays the anxiety com- 
mon to all birds on such occasions. The difference of color 
in the sexes is scarcely perceptible. 

Geographical Distribution 

The White-eyed Vireo is found through a large part of the United 
States, ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean in 
one direction and from southern New England and Minnesota to the 
Gulf of Mexico in the other. In winter it extends beyond out 
southern borders into Guatemala and Honduras. 

Sciurus aitrocapilhis 



DURING the summer this rather common bird is found 
throughout the forests of the United States and Canada 
even as far west as Oregon. It arrives in the middle and 
northern States about the middle or close of May, and departs 
for tropical America, Mexico and the larger West India Islands 
early in September. 

The Oven-bird, or Golden-crowned Thrush, is shy and 
retiring, and is never seen out of the shade of the woods; it 
sits and runs along the ground often, like the lark; it also 
frequents the branches of trees and sometimes moves its tail 
in the manner of the Wag-tails. It has few pretensions to 
song, and, while perched in the deep and shady part of the 
forest, it utters at intervals a simple long reiterated note of 
'tsKe tshe tshe tshe tshe, rising from low to high and shrill, so as 
to give but little idea of the distance or place from whence the 
sound proceeds, and often appearing from the loudness of the 
cadence to be much nearer than it really is. As soon as 
discovered, like the Wood-thrush, it darts at once timidly into 
the depths of its sylvan retreat. 

During the period of incubation, the deliberate lay of the 
male, from some horizontal branch of a forest tree, where it 
often sits, is a 'tshe te tshe te tshe te tshee, gradually rising and 
growing louder. Toward dusk in the evening, however, it 
now and then utters a sudden burst of notes with a short 


32 Bird Life Stories 

agreeable warble, which terminates commonly in the usual 
'tshe te tske. 

Its curious oven-shaped nest is known to all sportsmen who 
traverse the solitary wilds which it inhabits. This ingenious 
fabric is sunk a little into the ground, and is generally situated 
on sorne dry and mossy bank contiguous to bushes, or on an 
uncleared surface. It is formed with great neatness of dry 
blades of grass, and lined with the same; it is then surmounted 
by a thick inclined roof of similar materials, the surface 
scattered with leaves and twigs, so as to match the rest of the 
ground, and an entrance is left at the side. The eggs, four or 
five in number, are white, irregularly spotted near the greater 
end with reddish-brown. When surprised the bird escapes or 
runs from the nest with the silence and celerity of a mouse. If 
an attempt be made to discover the nest from which she is 
flushed, she stops, flutters and pretends lameness, and, watching 
the success of the maneuver, at length when the decoy seems 
complete she takes to wing and disappears. 

The Oven-bird is another of the foster-parents sometimes 
chosen by the Cowbird; she rears the foundling with her 
accustomed care and affection, and keeps up an incessant tship 
when her unfledged brood are even distantly approached. 
These birds have often two broods in a season in the middle 
States. Their food is wholly insects and their larvae, particu- 
larly small ants and beetles, chiefly collected on the ground. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Oven-bird has a wide range, being found throughout eastern 
North America. It nests as far south as Virginia and Kansas, and as 
far north as Labrador and Manitoba. It goes to Florida and more 
southern regions to pass the winter. 

s ^ 

pq ■- 




IN THE United States there are but few persons who are 
not acquainted with this gay, innocent and active little 
bird. Indeed the whole tribe are so distinguished from the 
rest of small birds by their sweeping rapidity of flight, their 
peculiar aerial evolutions of wing over our fields . and rivers 
and through our very streets from morning to night, that the 
light of Heaven itself, the sky, the trees, or any other common 
objects of nature are not better known than the Swallows. We 
welcome their first appearance with delight, as the faithful 
harbingers and companions of flowery spring and ruddy 
summer; and when after a long, frost-bound and boisterous 
winter, we hear it announced that "the swallows are come," 
what a train of ideas are associated with the simple tidings! 

The wonderful activity displayed by these birds forms a 
striking contrast to the slow habits of most other animals. It 
may fairly be questioned whether among the whole feathered 
tribes which Heaven has formed to adorn this part of creation, 
there be any that, in the same space of time, pass over an 
equal extent of surface with the Swallow. Let a person take 
his stand on a fine summer evening by a new-mown field, 
meadow or river shore for a short time, and, among the 
numerous individuals of this tribe that flit before him, fix his 
eye on a particular one, and follow for a while all its circuitous 
labyrinths, its extensive sweeps, its sudden rapidly-reiterated 
zigzag excursions, little inferior to the lightning itself, and 



S4 Bird Life Stories 

then attempt by the powers of mathematics to calculate the 
length of the various lines it describes. Alas! even his omnipo- 
tent fluxions would avail him little here, and he would soon 
abandon the task in despair. 

Yet, that some definite conception may be formed of this 
extent, let us suppose that this little bird flies in his usual way 
at the rate of one mile in a minute, which, from the many 
experiments I have made, I believe to be within the truth, and 
that he is so engaged for ten hours in every day, and further 
that this active life is extended to ten years (many of our 
small birds being known to live much longer even in a state of 
domestication). The amount of all these, allowing three hun- 
dred and sixty-five days to a year, would give us two million, 
one hundred and ninety thousand miles, upward of eighty-seven 
times the circumference of the globe. 

The Barn-swallow arrives in parts of Pennsylvania from 
the south on the last week in March or the first week in April, 
and passes on to the north as far at least as the river St. 
Lawrence. On the east side of the great range of the Alle- 
ghany, they are dispersed very generally over the country, 
wherever there are habitations, even to the summit of high 
mountains, but on account of the greater coldness of such situ- 
ations they are usually a week or two later in making their 
appearance there. On the i6th of May, being on a shooting 
expedition on the top of Pocono Mountain, Northampton^ 
where the ice on that and on several successive mornings was 
more than a quarter of an inch thick, I observed with surprise 
a pair of these Swallows which had taken up their abode on a 
miserable cabin there. It was then about sunrise, the ground 
white with hoar frost, and the male was twittering on the roof 
by the side of his mate with great sprightliness. The man of 
the house told me that a single pair came regularly there 

The Barn- swallow 35 

every season and built their nest on a projecting beam under 
the eaves, about six or seven feet from the ground. 

At the bottom of the mountain, in a large barn belonging 
to the tavern there, I counted upward of twenty nests, all 
seemingly occupied. In the woods they are never met with; 
as you approach a farm they soon catch the eye, cutting their 
gambols in the air. Scarcely a barn to which these birds can 
find access is without them, and as the public feeling is 
universally in their favor they are seldom or never disturbed. 
The proprietor of the barn just mentioned, a German, assured 
me that if a man permitted the Swallows to be shot, his cows 
would give bloody milk, and also that no barn where Swallows 
frequented would ever be struck by lightning, and I nodded 
assent. When the turrets of superstition "lean to the side of 
humanity" one can readily respect them. 

Early in May they begin to build. From the size and 
structure of the nest it is nearly a week before it is completely 
finished. One of these nests, taken on the 21st of June from 
the rafter to which it was attached, is now lying before me. It 
is in the form of an inverted cone with a perpendicular section 
cut off on that side by which it adhered to the wood. At the 
top it has an extension of the edge, or offset, for the male or 
female to sit on occasionally; the upper diameter is about six 
inches by five, the height externally seven inches. This shell 
is formed of mud, mixed with fine hay as plasterers do their 
mortar with hair to make it adhere the better; the mud seems 
to have been placed in regular strata, or layers, from side to 
side; the hollow of this cone (the shell of which is about an 
inch in thickness) is filled with fine hay, well stuffed in; above 
that is laid a handful of very large downy goose feathers. The 
eggs are five, white, speckled and spotted all over with reddish- 
brown. Owing to the semi-transparency of the shell the eggs 

36 Bird Life Stories 

have a slight tinge of flesh color. The whole weighs about 
two pounds. 

There are generally two broods in the season. The first 
makes its appearance about the second week in June, and the 
last brood leaves the nest about the loth of August. Though 
it is not uncommon for twenty or even thirty pairs to build in 
the same barn, yet everything seems to be conducted with 
great order and affection; all seems harmonious among them, 
as if the interest of each was that of all. Several nests are 
often within a few inches of each other, yet no appearance of 
discord or quarreling takes place in this peaceful and affec- 
tionate community. 

When the young are fit to leave the nest the old ones 
entice them out by fluttering back-wjard and forward, twitter- 
ing and calling to them every time they pass, and the young 
exercise themselves for several days in short essays of this 
kind within doors before they first venture abroad. As soon 
as they leave the barn they are conducted by their parents to 
the trees, or bushes, by the pond, creek or river shore, oi 
other suitable situation, where their proper food is most 
abundant, and where they can be fed with the greatest con- 
venience to both parties. Now and then they take a short 
excursion themselves, and are also frequently fed while on 
wing by an almost instantaneous motion of both parties rising 
perpendicularly in air and meeting each other. 

About the middle of August they seem to begin to prepare 
for their departure. They assemble on the roof in great 
numbers, dressing and airranging their plumage and making 
occasional essays, twittering with great cheerfulness. Their 
song is a kind of sprightly warble, sometimes continued for a 
considerable time. From this period to the 8th of September 
they are seen near the Schuylkill and Delaware every after- 

The Barn - swallow 3 7 

noon for two or three hours before sunset, passing along to 
the south in great numbers, feeding as they skim along. I have 
counted several hundreds pass within sight in less than a 
quarter of an hour, all directing their course toward the 
south. The reeds are now their roosting places, and about 
the middle of September there is scarcely an individual of 
them to be seen. 

How far south they continue their route is uncertain; none 
of them remain in the United States. Mr. Bartram informs 
me that during his residence in Florida he often saw vast 
flocks of this and our other Swallows passing from the pen- 
insula toward the south in September and October, and also 
on their return to the north about the middle of March. It is 
highly probable that, were the countries to the south of the 
Gulf of Mexico visited and explored by a competent naturalist, 
these regions would be found to be the winter rendezvous of 
the very birds now before us, and most of our other migra- 
tory tribes. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Barn-swallow is found throughout North America. It passes 
the winter in Central and South America. 



THIS splendid and not uncommon songster is found chiefly 
in the warmer and more temperate parts of the United 
States from New York to Florida, and a few stragglers even 
proceed as far to the north as Salem, in Massachusetts. They 
also inhabit the Mexican provinces, and are met with south as 
far as Carthagena; adventurously crossing the intervening 
ocean they are likewise numerous in the little temperate Ber- 
muda Islands, but do not apparently exist in any of the West 
Indies. As might be supposed from the range already stated, 
the Redbird is not uncommon throughout Louisiana, Missouri 
and Arkansas. 

Most of those which pass the summer in the cooler and 
middle States retire to the south at the commencement of 
winter, though a few linger in the sheltered swamps of Penn- 
sylvania and near the shores of the Delaware almost through 
the winter. They also, at this season, probably assemble toward 
the sea-coast from the west in some of the southern States, 
where roving and skulking timid families are now seen flitting 
silently through thickets and swampy woods eager alone to 
glean a scanty subsistence, and defend themselves from prowl- 
ing enemies. 

At all times, however, they appear to have a predilection 
for watery groves and shaded running streams, abounding 
with evergreens and fragrant magnolias, in which they are so 
frequent as to be almost concomitant with the scene. But 


Cardinalis Cardinalis 

The Cardinal 39 

though they usually live in families or pairs, and at all times 
disperse into these selective groups, yet in severe weather at 
sunset in South Carolina I observed a flock passing to a roost 
in a neighboring swamp, and bushy lagoon, which continued in 
lengthened file to fly over my head at a considerable height 
for more than twenty minutes together. The beautiful pro- 
cession illumined by the last rays of the setting sun was 
incomparably splendid as the shifting shadowy light at quick 
intervals flashed upon their brilliant livery. They had been 
observed to pass in this manner to their roost for a consider- 
able time, and at daybreak they were seen again to proceed 
and disperse for subsistence. How long this timid and gre- 
garious habit continues, I cannot pretend to say, but by the 
first week in February the song of the Redbird was almost 
daily heard. 

As the season advances roving pairs, living as it were only 
with and for each other, flit from place to place, and following 
also their favorite insect or vegetable fare, many proceed back 
to the same cool region in which they were bred, and from 
which they were reluctantly driven, while others impelled by 
interest, caprice and adventure seek to establish new families 
in the most remote limits of their migration. Some of these 
more restless wanderers occasionally, though rarely, favor this 
part of New England with a visit. 

After listening with so much delight to the lively fife of the 
splendid Cardinal as I traveled alone through the deep and 
wild solitudes which prevail over the southern States, and bid, 
as I thought, perhaps an eternal adieu to the sweet voice of 
my charming companions, what was my surprise and pleasure 
on the 7th of May to hear for the first time in this State and 
in the Botanic Garden, above an hour together, the lively and 
loud song of this exquisite vocalist, whose voice rose above 

40 Bird Life Stories 

every rival of the feathered race, and rung almost in echoes 
through the blossoming grove in which he had chosen his 
retreat. In the southern States where the Cardinals every- 
where breed, they become familiarly attached to gardens, which, 
as well as cornfields, afford them a ready means of subsistence; 
they are also fond of the seeds of most of the orchard fruits, 
and are said occasionally to prey upon bees. 

The lay of the Cardinal is a loud, mellow and pleasingly 
varied whistle, delivered with ease and energy for a consider- 
able time together. To give it full effect he chooses the sum- 
mit of some lofty branch and elevating his melodious voice in 
powerful as well as soothing and touching tones, he listens, 
delighted, as it were, with the powers of his own music, at 
intervals answered and encouraged by the tender responses of 
his mate. It is thus the gilded hours of his existence pass 
away in primeval delight until care and necessity break in 
upon his contemplative reveries, and urge him again to pursue 
the sober walks of active life. 

The song of the Redbird, like that of many others, often 
consists in part of favorite borrowed and slightly altered 
phrases. It would be a difficult and fruitless task to enu- 
merate all the native notes delivered by this interesting 
songster. All the tones of the Cardinal are whistled much in 
the manner of the human voice. 

Latham admits that the notes of our Cardinal "are almost 
equal to those of the Nightingale, the sweetest feathered 
minstrel of Europe." The style of their performance is, how- 
ever, wholly different. The bold, martial strains of the Red- 
bird, though relieved by tender and exquisite touches, possess 
not the enchanting pathos, the elevated and varied expression 
of the far-famed Philomel, nor yet those contrasted tones, 
which, in the solemn stillness of the growing night, fall at 

The Cardinal 41 

times into a soothing whisper or rise slowly and quicken into 
a loud and cheering warble. A strain of almost sentimental 
tenderness and sadness pervades by turns the song of the 
Nightingale; it flows like a torrent, or dies away like an echo; 
his varied ecstasies poured to the pale moonbeams, now meet 
with no response but the sighing zephyr or the ever-murmur- 
ing brook. 

The notes of our Cardinal are as full of hilarity as of 
tender expression; his whistling call is uttered in the broad 
glare of day, and is heard predominant over most of the 
feathered choir by which he is surrounded. His responding 
mate is the perpetual companion of all his joys and cares; 
simple and content in his attachment, he is a stranger to 
capricious romance of feeling, and the shades of melancholy, 
however feeble and transient, find no harbor in his preoccu- 
pied affections. 

On their arrival in the middle States in spring, violent 
contests sometimes ensue between the unmated and jealous 
males. When this dispute is for the present closed the pair, 
probably for greater security and dreading a recurring quarrel 
of doubtful issue, wander off to a remote distance from their 
usual abode, and in this way, no doubt, occasionally visit coun- 
tries but little frequented by the rest of their species. Early 
in May, it seems, in Pennsylvania, according to Wilson, they 
begin to prepare their nests, which are often placed in an 
evergreen bush, cedar, laurel or holly. The external mate- 
rials are small twigs, dry weeds and slips of vine bark, the 
lining being formed of fine stalks of dry grass. The eggs, 
four or five, are of a dull white, thickly spotted all over 
with brownish-olive. They usually raise two broods in the 

42 Bird Life Stories 

Geographical Distribution 

The Cardinal is found west to the plains region over the eastern 
United States as far north as the lower part of the Hudson Valley and 
Iowa. Straggling specimens occasionally wander farther. In winter 
'the Cardinals are found in the southern States. 



THIS is a very common but humble and inoffensive species, 
frequenting close sheltered thickets, where it spends 
most of its time in scratching up the leaves for worms and for 
the larvae and eggs of insects. It is far from being shy, fre- 
quently suffering a person to walk round the bush or thicket 
where it is at work without betraying any marks of alarm, and 
when disturbed uttering the notes towhd repeatedly. At 
times the male mounts to the top of a small tree and chants 
his few simple notes for an hour at a time. These are loud, 
not unmusical, somewhat resembling those of the Yellow- 
hammer of Great Britain, but more mellow and more varied. 
The Chewink is fond of thickets with a southern exposure, 
near streams of water, and where there are plenty of dry 
leaves, and is found generally over the whole of the eastern 
United States. He is not gregarious, and you seldom see 
more than two together. These birds arrive In Pennsylvania 
about the middle or 20th of April, and begin building about 
the first week in May. The nest is fixed on the ground among 
the dry leaves near and sometimes under a thicket of briars, 
and is large and substantial. The outside is formed of leaves 
and pieces of grape-vine bark, and the inside of fine stalks of 
dry grass, the cavity completely sunk beneath the surface of 
the ground and sometimes half covered above with dry grass 
or hay. The eggs are usually five, of a pale flesh color, 
thickly marked with specks of rufous, most numerous near the 


44 Bird Life Stories 

great end. The young are produced about the beginning of 
June, and a second brood commonly succeeds in the same 

This bird rarely winters north of the State of Maryland, 
retiring from Pennsylvania to the south about the 12th of 
October. Yet in the middle districts of Virginia and thence 
south to Florida, I found it abundant during the months of 
January, February and March. Its usual food is obtained by 
scratching up the leaves; it also feeds, like the rest of its tribe, 
on various hard seeds and gravel, but rarely commits any 
depredation on the harvest of the husbandman, generally pre- 
ferring the woods and traversing the bottom of fences sheltered 
with briars. In Virginia it is called the Bulfinch, in many 
places the Towhe-bird, in Pennsylvania the Chewink, and by 
others the Swamp Robin. He contributes a little to the 
harmony of our woods in spring and summer, and is remark- 
able for the cunning with which he conceals his nest. He 
shows great affection for his young, and the deepest distress 
on the .appearance of their mortal enemy, the black snake. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Towhee, or Chewink, is found throughout the United States 
from the Atlantic seaboard to the region of the Great Plains. It 
extends northward into the southern part of Canada. It winters from 
Virginia southward. 

Spizella sociahs 



FEW birds are more common throughout the United States 
than this gentle and harmless little finch. It inhabits 
the towns, villages, orchards, gardens, borders of fields and 
prairie grounds. Abundant in the whole of the middle States 
during spring, summer and autumn, it removes to the southern 
parts to spend the winter, and there you may meet with it in 
flocks almost anywhere, even in the open woods. 

So social is it in its character that you see it at that season 
in company with the Song Sparrow, the White-throated, the 
Savannah and the Field Sparrows, and almost every other 
species of the genus. The sandy roads exposed to the sun's 
rays are daily visited by it. There, or among the tall grasses 
of our old fields, it searches for food, seeking seeds, small 
berries and insects of various kinds. Should the weather be 
cold it enters the barnyard, and even presents itself in the 
piazza. It reaches Louisiana, the Carolinas and other southern 
districts in November, and returns about the middle of March 
to the middle and eastern States where it breeds. 

Early in May the Chipping Sparrow has already formed its 
nest which it has placed indifferently in the apple or peach 
tree of the orchard or garden, in any evergreen bush or cedar, 
high or low, as it may best suit, but never on the ground. It 
is small and comparatively slender, being formed of a scanty 
collection of fine dried grass and lined with horse or cow hair. 

The eggs are four or five, of a bright greenish-blue color, 


^6 Bird Life Stories 

slightly marked with dark and light brown spots, chiefly dis- 
tributed toward the larger end. They are more pointed at 
the small end than is common in this genus. Although 
timorous these birds express great anxiety when their nest is 
disturbed, especially the female. They generally raise two 
broods in the season south of Pennsylvania and not unfre- 
quently in Virginia and Maryland. 

The song of this species, if song it can with propriety be 
called, is heard at all hours of the day, the bird seeming deter- 
mined to make up by quantity for defect in the quality of its 
notes. Mounted on the topmost branch of any low tree or 
bush, or on the end of a fence-stake, it emits with rapidity six 
or seven notes resembling the sound produced by smartly 
striking two pebbles together, each succeeding note rising in 
strength, although the song altogether is scarcely louder than 
the chirping of a cricket. It is often heard during the calm of 
a fine night or in the warmer days of winter. 

These gentle birds migrate by day, and no sooner has 
October returned and mellowed the tints of the sylvan foliage 
than flitting before you on the road you see family after faniily 
moving southward, chasing each other as if in play, sweeping 
across the path or flocking suddenly to a tree if surprised, but 
almost instantly returning to the ground and resuming their 
line of march. At the approach of night they throw them- 
selves into thickets of brambles, where, in company with 
several other species, they keep up a murmuring conversation 
until long after dark. Their flight is short, rather irregular, 
and seldom more elevated than the height of moderate-sized 


With the exception of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Marsh 
Hawk and the black snake, these birds have few enemies, 
children being generally fond of protecting them. Little or 

The Chi:pping Sparrow 4^ 

no bifference is perceptible between the sexes, and the young 
acquire the full plumage of their parents at the earliest 
approach of spring. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Chipping Sparrow is found throughout eastern North America 
east of the Rocky Mountains and north as far as Newfoundland. It 
winters in the southern States and Mexico. 



THE Red-winged or Marsh Blackbird is so well-known as 
being a bird of the most nefarious propensities that in 
the United States one can hardly mention its name without 
hearing such an account of its pilferings as might induce the 
young student of nature to conceive that it had been created 
for the purpose of annoying the farmer. That it destroys an 
enormous quantity of corn, rice and other kinds of grain 
cannot be denied, but that before it commences its ravages it 
has proved highly serviceable to the crops is equally certain. 

As soon as spring makes its appearance almost all the Red- 
wings leave the southern States in small detached and 
straggling flocks, the males leading the way in full song. 
Prodigious numbers make their appearance in the eastern dis- 
tricts as winter recedes, and are often seen while piles of 
drifted snow remain along the roads under shelter of the 
fences. They frequently alight on trees of moderate size, 
spread their tails, swell out their plumage and utter their clear 
and not unmusical notes, particularly in the early morning 
before their departure from the neighborhood of the places in 
which they have roosted, for their migrations are performed 
entirely during the day. 

Their food at this season is almost exclusively composed 
of grubs, worms, caterpillars and different sorts of beetles, 
which they procure in the meadows, the orchards or the 
newly-ploughed fields, walking with a graceful step, but much 





The Red-winged Blackbird 4g 

quicker than either of their relatives, the Purple Grakle or 
the Boat -tail of the southern States. The millions of insects 
which the Red-wings destroy at this early season are, in my 
opinion, a full equivalent for the corn they eat at another 
period, and for this reason the farmers do not destroy them in 
the spring when they resort to the fields in immense numbers. 
They then follow the ploughman in company with the Crow 
Blackbird, and as if aware of the benefit which they are con- 
ferring do not seem to regard him with apprehension. 

When the nesting period begins the birds seek along the 
margin of some sequestered pond or damp meadow for a 
place in which to form the nest. An alder bush or a thick tuft 
of rank weeds answers equally well. In such a place a quantity 
of coarse dried weeds is deposited by them to form the 
exterior of the fabric which is to receive their eggs. The nest 
is lined with fine grasses, and in some instances with horse- 
hair. The eggs are from four to six in number of a regular 
oval form, light blue, sparsely spotted with dusky brown. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Red-winged Blackbird breeds from the Gulf of Mexico to 
southern Canada. It winters from the middle States southward. 



THE Baltimore Oriole is a common and well-known bird 
throughout our eastern, middle and northern States. 
In the upper Mississippi Valley it has greatly increased in 
numbers within the last thirty years, since the country has 
been settled, and it appears to be holding its own in the east, 
where many other species are slowly decreasing. This is 
undoubtedly due to its great popularity in our rural districts, 
where its beneficial qualities are generally understood. 

Aside from its showy plumage, its sprightly and pleasing 
ways, its familiarity with man, and the immense amount of 
good it does by the destruction of many noxious insects and 
their larvee, including hairless caterpillars, spiders' cocoons, 
etc., it naturally and deservedly endears itself to every true 
lover of the beautiful in nature. Only a short-sighted churl 
or an ignorant fool would begrudge one of these birds the few 
green peas and berries it may help itself to while in season. 
It fully earns all it takes, and more, too, and especially 
deserves the fullest protection of every agriculturist. 

The Baltimore Oriole usually arrives in the southern New 
England States, in central New York, and Minnesota, with 
a most invariable regularity about May loth, rarely varying a 
week from this date. It arrives correspondingly earlier or 
later farther south or north. About this time the trees have 
commenced to leaf, and many of the orchards are in bloom, 
so that their arrival coincides with the loveliest time of the 


Icterus p-albula 

The Balthnore Oriole 5/ 

year. The males usually precede the females by two or three 
days to their breeding grounds, and the same site is frequently 
occupied for several seasons. It is very much attached to a 
locality when once chosen for a home and is loath to leave it. 

Few birds are more devoted to each other than these 
Orioles, and I am of the opinion that they remain mated through 
life. Their favorite haunts in our eastern States are found in 
'rather open country, along the roads bordered with shade 
|i trees, creek bottoms, orchards and the borders of small 
[timbered tracts. It is equally at home in villages or cities of 
considerable size as long as they furnish suitaljle trees for 
nesting sites. It shuns swampy and marshy tracts and exten- 
sive forests; 

A very peculiar note, a long-drawn-out chattering, chae, 
chae, chae, is apt to draw one's attention to it on its first 
arrival; and this is more or less frequently uttered throughout 
the season. 

This note is difficult to reproduce exactly, and I find its 
songs still more so. One sounds somewhat like hioh, hioh, 
tweet, tweet; another, something like whee-he-he, whee-he-he, oh 
whee-he-he-woy-woy . This last is much more softly uttered 
than the first. Mr. T. Nuttall describes one of their songs 
as tshippe-tshayia-too-too-tshippe-tshtppa-too-too, and there are 
Others impossible to render. The young after leaving the 
nest utter a note like he-he-hae, and another like heek-heek-he, 
varied occasionally by a low twittering. Shortly after their 
arrival they sing almost incessantly when not eating, but later 
in the season when they have their always hungry family to 
provide for they are more silent. Their flight is strong, swift 
and graceful and they are far more at home on the wing than 
on the ground, where they are seldom seen except when 
picking up some insect or in search of nesting material. 

52 Bird Life Stories 

In the vicinity of Washington, District of Columbia, nidifi- 
cation commences about the middle of May, and full sets of 
eggs may be looked for the last week in this month, while in 
central New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, southern Minne- 
sota, etc., they usually nest from eight to fourteen days later. 

Few of our native birds build a more ingeniously con- 
structed nest than the Baltimore Oriole, and it must always be 
considered a most interesting example of bird architecture, 
taking time, intelligence and good judgment to construct. 
From five to eight days are usually required for its completion. 

Some nests show a great superiority over others in general 
make-up and workmanship; these are perhaps the product of 
old and experienced birds, while the younger ones, from lack 
of judgment, often select poor sites, or else secure their nests 
carelessly to the supporting twigs, so that many are destroyed 
before the young reach maturity. 

Ordinarily the nest of the Baltimore Oriole is pensile, and 
is usually suspended by the rim from the extremities of 
several slender branches to which it Is attached. 

Others, besides being fastened by the rim, which Is always 
neat and smoothly finished, are attached to some perpendicu- 
lar fork or limb by one of the sides, thus steadying the nest 
and preventing it from swinging too much during the heavy 
winds. In a truly pensile nest some of the eggs are occa- 
sionally cracked by the violent swaying of the slender twigs to 
which It is attached, while if fastened at the side this occurs 
very rarely, unless the entire limb is torn off. Both sexes 
assist in nest building. 

The materials used for the framework consist principally 
of decayed fibers, such as those of the Indian hemp, the silk 
of the milkweed {Asclepias), nettles {Uriicd), and when located 
near human habitations, of horsehair, bits of twine, yarn, strips 

The Balthnore Oriole s3 

of grapevine bark, etc. With such materials a strong purse 
or pouch-shaped nest is woven and firmly attached to one or 
more forked twigs by the slightly-contracted rim, and it is 
usually placed in such a position that' the entrance is well 
shaded by leafy twigs above. 

All sorts of materials are used in lining the bottom and sides 
of the nest — cotton, wool, tow, rags, cattle hair, fur, fine strips 
of bark, green moss, fine grass and plant down. They readily 
avail themselves of any suitable materials, such as yarn, which 
may be thrown out to them, but prefer plain to gaudy colored 

The color of some of the nests varies considerably accord- 
ing to the materials used; some look almost white, others a 
pale straw color, and the majority smoke-gray. In the south 
the Baltimore Oriole builds occasionally in bunches of the 
gray moss. 

The nests are usually suspended from long, slender droop- 
ing branches of elm, maple, birch, weeping-willow, button- 
wood, sycamore, oak, aspen, poplar, Norway spruce, apple, 
pear and wild cherry trees; but in some localities they are 
frequently built in the very top and center of a tree, where it 
is almost impossible to see them. They are placed at various 
heights from the ground, from eight to fifty feet and more, 
and frequently in utterly inaccessible positions. The Balti- 
more Oriole is tolerant and amiably disposed toward its 
smaller neighbors, and such are often allowed to nest in the 
same tree and occasionally within a few feet of its own nest. 

Incubation lasts about fourteen days, and I think the female 
attends to this duty almost exclusively. Both sexes are 
extremely devoted to each other, as well as-to their eggs and 
young, defending these bravely against all intruders. From 
four to six eggs are laid to a set, most frequently four, though 

54 Bird Life Stories 

sets of five are not uncommon, while sets of six are rather rare. 
One is deposited daily, and only one brood is raised in a 
season. The young are able to leave the nest when about two 
weeks old, and may be seen sitting on some of the branches 
close by and clamoring for food. They are fed entirely on 
insects, etc., and are faithfully cared for by the parents until 
able to provide for themselves. The migration from the 
northern sections of their breeding range to their winter 
homes in Central America begins usually in August, but occa- 
sionally some birds linger until September. 

Sayornis phczbc 



THESE faithful messengers of spring return to Pennsyl- 
vania as early as the first week in March, remain until 
October, and sometimes to nearly the middle of November. 
In Massachusetts they arrive about the beginning of April, 
and at first chiefly frequent the woods. 

Their favorite resort is near streams, ponds or stagnant 
waters, about bridges, caves and barns, where they choose to 
breed, and, in short, wherever there is a good prospect for 
obtaining their insect food. Near such places our little hunter 
sits on the roof of some out-building, on a stake of the fence, 
or a projecting branch, calling out at short intervals and in a 
rapid manner phebe, phebe. This quaint and querulous note, 
occasionally approaching to a warble, sometimes also sounds 
like pewait, pewait, and then pe-ivai-ee, also phebe, phe-bee-ee, 
twice alternated; the latter phrase somewhat soft and twit- 

In the spring this not unpleasing guttural warble is kept up 
for hours together until late in the morning, and though not loud 
may be heard at a considerable distance. From a roof I have 
heard these notes full half a mile across the waters of a small 
lake, and this cheerful though monotonous ditty is only inter- 
rupted for a few seconds as the performer darts and sweeps 
after his retreating prey of flies, frequently flirting and quiver- 
ing his tail and elevating his feathery cap while sharply 
watching the motions of his fickle game. 


5(> Bird Life Stories 

In the middle States he begins to construct his nest about 
the latter end of March; in Massachusetts not before the first 
week in April. The nest is situated under a bridge, in a cave, 
the side of a well five or six feet down, under a shed, or in the 
shelter of the low eaves of a cottage, and even in an empty 
kitchen. Sometimes it rests on a beam, though it is frequently 
attached to the side of a piece of roofing timber in the manner 
of the Swallow. The outside is generally made of a mixture 
of moss and clay, and formed with considerable solidity; 
inside it is lined with flaxy fibers, films of bark, wool, horse- 
hair, or only with dry grass. The nest is also sometimes made 
merely of mud, root fibers and withered grass. The eggs are 
about five, pure white without any spots. 

According to the touching relation of Wilson this humble 
and inoffensive bird forms conjugal attachments, which 
probably continue through life; for, like the faithful Bluebirds, 
a pair continued for several years to frequent and build in a 
romantic cave in the forest which made part of the estate of 
the venerable naturalist, William Bartram. Here our unfortu- 
nate birds had again taken up their welcome lease for the 
summer, again chanted forth their simple lay of affection and 
cheered my aged friend with the certain news of spring, when 
unexpectedly a party of idle boys one fatal Saturday destroyed 
with the gun the parents of this old and peaceful settlement, 
and from that time forward no other pair was ever seen 
around this once happy though now desolate spot. 

Their attachment to particular places is indeed remarkable. 
About the middle of April, 1831, at the Fresh Pond Hotel in 
this vicinity three different nests were begun in the public 
boat-house, which may be here considered almost as a 
thoroughfare. Only one nest, however, was completed, and' 
we could not help admiring the courage and devotedness 

The Pewee or Phcebe si 

with which the parents fed their young, and took their alter- 
nate station by the side of the nest, undaunted in our presence, 
only now and then uttering a 'tship when observed too 
narrowly. Some ruffian at length tore down the nest and 
carried off the brood, but our Pewee immediately commenced 
a new fabric, laid five additional eggs in the same place with 
the first and in haste to finish the habitation, lined it with the 
silvery shreds of a manila rope discovered in the loft over the 

For several previous seasons the parents have taken up 
their abode in this vicinity and seemed unwilling to remove 
from the neighborhood they had once chosen, in spite of the 
most untoward circumstances. 

Toward the time of their departure for the south, which 
is about the middle of October, they are silent, and previously 
utter their notes more seldom, as if mourning the decay of 
nature and anticipating the approaching famine which now 
urges their migration. In the middle States they raise two 
broods in the season. 

The young, dispersed through the woods in small numbers, 
may now and then be heard to the close of September exer- 
cising their feeble voices in a guttural phebe, but the old birds 
are almost wholly silent as they flit timidly through the woods 
when once released from the cares of rearing their infant 
brood, so that here the Phcebe's note is almost a concomitant 
of spring and the mildest opening of summer; it is indeed 
much more vigorous in April and May than at any succeeding 

Geographical Distribution 
The Phoebe is found throughout eastern North America. It 
breeds from South Carolina to Newfoundland, and winters from North 
Carolina southward, 



THIS singular bird, while passing the winter in tropical 
America, arrives in the middle and northern States late 
in April or early in May. Its migrations extend at least to 
the sources of the Mississippi where it has been observed by 

More social than the foreign species, which frequent rocks 
and ruins, our Swift takes advantage of unoccupied and lofty 
chimneys, the original roosting and nesting situation having 
been tall, gigantic hollow trees, such as the elm and the 
buttonwood or sycamore. The nest is formed of slender twigs 
neatly interlaced, somewhat like a basket, and connected suffi- 
ciently together by a copious quantity of adhesive gum or 
mucilage secreted by the glands beneath the tongue of the 
curious architect. This rude cradle of the young is small and 
shallow, and attached at the sides to the wall of some chimney, 
or the inner surface of a hollow tree. It is wholly destitute of 

So assiduous are the parents that they feed the young 
through the greater part of the night; their habits, however, 
are nearly nocturnal, as they fly abroad most at and before 
sunrise and in the twilight of evening. The noise which they 
make while passing up and down the chimney resembles 
almost the rumbling of distant thunder. 

When the nest gets loosened by rains so as to fall down, 
the young, though blind, find means of escape, by creeping up 



The Chimney Swift sg 

and clinging to the sides of the chimney walls. In this situa- 
tion they continue to be fed for a week or more. Soon tired 
of their hard cradle, they generally leave it long before they 
are capable of flying. 

On their first arrival, and for a considerable time after- 
ward, the males particularly associate to roost in a general 
resort. This situation, in the remote and unsettled parts of 
the country, is usually a large hollow tree open at the top. 
These well-known "Swallow trees" are ignorantly supposed to 
be the winter quarters of the species, where in heaps they are 
believed to doze away the cold season in a state of torpidity, 
but no proof of the fact has ever been adduced. 

The length of time such trees have been resorted to by par- 
ticular flocks may be conceived perhaps by the account of a 
hollow tree of this kind described by the Rev. Dr. Harris in 
his journal. The sycamore alluded to grew in Waterford, 
Ohio, two miles from the Muskingum River. Its hollow 
trunk, now fallen, of the diameter of five and a half feet, for 
nearly fifteen feet upward, contained a solid mass of decayed 
Swallow feathers, mixed with brownish dust and the exuvise 
of insects. 

In inland towns these birds have been known to make their 
general roost in the chimney of the court-house. 

Before descending they fly in large flocks, making many 
ample and circuitous sweeps in the air, and as the point of the 
vortex falls individuals drop into the chimneys by degrees, 
until the whole have descended, which generally takes place 
in the dusk of the evening. They all, however, disappear 
about the first week in August. 

Like the Swallow, the Chimney Swift flies very quick, and 
with but slight vibrations of its wings, appearing as it were to 
swim in the air in widening circles, shooting backward and 

6o Bird Life Stories 

forward through the ambient space at great elevations, and 
yet scarcely moving its wings. Now and then it is heard to 
utter, in a hurried manner, a sound Hke tsip-tsip-tsip-tsee-tsee. 
It is never seen to alight but in hollow trees or chimneys, and 
appears always most gay and active in wet and gloomy 

Geographical Distribution 

The Chimney Swift is found in summer as far north as Labrador 
and the fur countries; west as far as the region of the plains. In 
autumn it migrates southward and passes the winter in Central 

Dryohates pubescens 



THIS is the smallest of our Woodpeckers and closely 
resembles the .Hairy Woodpecker in its tint and 
markings, and in almost everything except its diminutive size. 
It remains with us the whole year. 

About the middle of May the male and female look out for 
a suitable place for the reception of their eggs and young. 
An apple, pear or cherry tree, often in the near neighborhood 
of the farmhouse, is generally selected for this purpose. The 
tree is minutely reconnoitered for several days previous to the 
operation, and the work is first begun by the male, who cuts 
out a hole in the solid wood, as circular as if described with a 
pair of compasses. He is occasionally relieved by the female, 
both working with great diligence. 

The direction of the hole, if made in the body of the tree, 
is generally downward, at an angle of thirty or forty degrees, 
for the distance of six or eight inches, and then straight down 
for ten or twelve more. Within it is- roomy, capacious and as 
smooth as if polished by the cabinet-maker, but the entrance 
is judiciously left just so large as to admit the body of the 
owner. During this labor the birds regularly carry out the 
chips, often strewing them at a distance to prevent suspicion. 
This occupation sometimes continues for nearly a week. 

Before she begins to lay, the female often visits the place, 
passes in and out, examines every part, both of the exterior 


62 Bird Life Stories 

and interior, with great attention, as every prudent tenant of 
a new house ought to do, and at length takes complete 
possession. The eggs are generally six, pure white, and laid 
on the smooth bottom of the cavity. The male occasionally 
supplies the female with food while she is sitting. About the 
last week in June the young are perceived making their way 
up the tree, climbing with considerable dexterity. 

All this goes on with great regularity where no interruption 
is met with, but the House-wren, which also builds in the hollow 
of a tree, but which is furnished with neither the necessary tools 
nor strength for excavating such an apartment for himself, 
sometimes allows the Woodpeckers to go on until he thinks it 
will answer his purpose. Then he attacks them with violence 
and generally succeeds in driving them off. I saw some weeks 
ago a striking example of this, where the Woodpeckers, after 
commencing in a cherry-tree within a few yards of the house, 
and having made considerable progress, were turned out by 
the Wren. The Woodpeckers began again in a pear-tree, 
fifteen or twenty yards off, where, after digging out a most 
complete apartment, and one egg being laid, they were 
once more assaulted by the same impertinent intruder and 
finally forced to abandon the place. 

The principal characteristics of the Downy Woodpecker 
are diligence, familiarity, perseverance, and a strength and 
energy in the head and muscles of the neck that are truly 
astonishing. Mounted on the infested branch of an old apple- 
tree, where insects have lodged their corroding and destruc- 
tive brood in the crevices between the bark and wood, he 
labors until he has succeeded in reaching them. At these 
times you may walk up pretty close to the tree, and even 
stand immediately below it, within five or six feet of the bird, 
without embarrassing him in the least. The strokes of his bill 

The Downy Woodpecker 63 

are heard several feet off, and I have known him to be at 
work two hours together on the same tree. 

These Woodpeckers also dig out holes in dead trees as 
homes for themselves at other times than the nesting season. 
In winter these snug houses must be especially useful to them. 
"A new nesting site is usually selected each season, in the 
vicinity of the old one, but occasionally this is cleaned out, 
deepened a little, and used for several seasons in succession. 
After the nesting hole is finished, the male frequently digs out 
a somewhat shallower one for himself in the same tree or 
another close by. Each pair of birds lay claim to a certain 
range and intruders are driven away." 

Geographical Distribution 

The Downy Woodpecker is found from the southern borders of the 
United States northward to Labrador, occurring as far west as the 
Great Plains and British Columbia. 



THE Hairy Woodpecker is fairly common through the 
wooded regions of our northern and middle States, and 
in winter is occasionally found in some of the southern States 
— Louisiana, for instance. It is a resident in the mountainous 
regions of North Carolina, while in the lowlands it is replaced 
by a smaller southern race. It is a hardy bird, and intense 
cold does not appear to affect it much. 

As a rule the Hairy Woodpecker is rather unsocial, and 
unless followed by their young more than a pair are rarely 
seen together. It does not live in harmony with smaller 
species of its own kind, and drives them away when they 
encroach on its feeding grounds, being exceedingly greedy in 
disposition and always hungry. It is partial to timbered river 
bottoms, the outskirts of forests and occasionally it makes its 
home in old orchards and in rather open, cultivated country, 
interspersed here and there with isolated clumps of trees. It 
is also found in the midst of extended forest regions. 

The Hairy Woodpecker, like most of its relatives, is an 
exceedingly beneficial and useful bird, which rids our orchards 
and forests of innumerable injurious larvae, like those of the 
boring beetles, which burrow in the wood and between the 
bark and trunk of trees. It never attacks a sound tree. 
Although commonly known as Sapsucker, this name is very 
inappropriate. It is not in search of sap, but of such grubs as 
are found only in decaying wood. Nevertheless it is exceed- 


C 1 


^^^^^^^H '' "^B 

if"! 1 


\: j 



Dryobates villosus 

The Hairy JVood^pecker 65 

ingly difficult to make the average farmer believe this, and in 
winter when these birds are more often seen about the vicinity 
of dwellings and the neighboring orchards than at any other 
season of the year, many are shot under the erroneous belief 
that they injure the very trees they are doing their best to 

The food of this bird, besides larvae, consists of various 
species of small beetles, spiders, flies, ants, and in winter when 
such food is scarce to some extent of seeds and grain, and less 
often of nuts and acorns. I have seen it cling to fresh hides 
hung up to dry, picking off small particles of fat and meat, 
and in summer it occasionally eats a few berries of different 
kinds. In the fall of the year it can often be seen inspecting 
old fence-posts and telegraph-poles, probably on the lookout 
for cocoons, spider eggs, etc. 

Like all the Woodpeckers, it is an expert climber, and 
moves rapidly up and around trees in short hops. It is equally 
easy for it to go backward or sidewise, and it is astonishing 
how rapidly it can move in any direction. The strong feet 
and sharp claws enable it to hold firmly to the bark, and the 
stiff spiny tail feathers also come in play while it is at work, 
acting as a support for the body, which is well thrown back 
when a blow is delivered with its powerful chisel-like bill. 

Although usually rather shy, when busy in search of food 
one will occasionally allow itself to be very closely approached. 
I have seen one alight on the trunk of a crab-apple tree 
within three feet of me and deliberately commence search- 
ing for larvae, apparently perfectly unconcerned about my 
presence, and when I moved up a little closer he simply 
hopped around on the opposite side of the tree and continued 
his search. Every once in a while, however, his head would 
appear from behind the tree to see if I were still watching him. 


66 Bird Life Stories 

He remained fully thirty minutes on the same tree, where he 
evidently found an abundance of food, and then flew off 
uttering several loud notes like huip, Jntip. His ordinary call 
sounds like triii, triii, a shrill rattling note. 

The tongue of the majority of our Woodpeckers is 
especially adapted for extracting larvae, etc., from the wood 
in which they live. The tongue proper is rather small, flat, 
and terminates in a sharp, horny point, which is armed at the 
sides with a series of bristle-like barbed hooks. The worm- 
like neck, or the hyoid process to which it is attached, is gener- 
ally rather long and curves around the back of the skull in a 
sheath, and this can readily be thrown forward for two or 
three inches. A sticky saliva is also secreted, with which the 
tongue is covered to facilitate the extraction of the food of 
which they are in search. 

Their sense of hearing must be exceedingly acute, as they 
appear to detect readily the slightest movement of any insect 
under the bark or in the solid wood, and they make no 
mistakes in properly locating it. Their flight is rapid, undu- 
lating, usually not very protracted, and they rarely descend to 
the ground in search of food, where their movements are 
rather awkward and clumsy. 

Nidification usually begins early in April, and it requires 
about a week to prepare the nesting site. Both sexes take 
part in this labor, and it is really wonderful how neat and 
smooth an excavation these birds can make with their chisel- 
shaped bills in a comparatively short time. The entrance 
hole is as round as if made with an auger, about two inches in 
diameter, and just large enough to admit the body of the 
bird; the edges are nicely beveled, the inside is equally 
smooth, and the cavity is gradually enlarged toward the 
bottom. The entrance hole, which is not unfrequently placed 

The Hairy Woodpecker 6-] 

under a limb for protection from the weather, generally runs 
in straight through the solid wood for about three inches and 
then downward from ten to eighteen inches, and some of the 
finer chips are allowed to remain in the bottom of the cavity 
in which the eggs are deposited. 

After this is completed the male frequently excavates 
another hole, or even several in the same tree, or in another 
close by, in which to pass the night or to seek shelter, and to 
be close to the nest while the female is incubating. These 
holes are not as deep as the others. A fresh nesting site is 
generally selected each season, but where suitable trees are 
scarce the same one may be used for several years in succes- 
sion. In such a case it is usually thoroughly cleaned out, and 
the old chips in the bottom replaced by new ones. Beach, 
ash, poplar, birch, oak, sycamore, haw and apple trees are 
mostly used for nesting sites. The number of eggs laid to a 
set varies from three to five, usually four. They are pure 
white and unspotted. 

The duties of incubation are divided between the sexes 
and last about two weeks. The young when first hatched are 
repulsive looking creatures, blind and naked, with enormously 
large heads and ugly protuberances at the base of the bill, 
resembling a reptile more than a bird. They are fed by the 
parents by regurgitation of their food, which is the usual way 
in which the young of most Woodpeckers are fed when first 
hatched. The young remain in the nest about three weeks. 
Even after leaving the nest they are assiduously cared for by 
both parents for several weeks until able to provide for 



NEXT to the Cuban Sparrow-hawk, this handsome little 
falcon is the smallest of our diurnal birds of prey. It is 
pretty generally distributed over nearly the entire North 
American continent, excepting the extreme arctic portions 
thereof. In the eastern United States it is not nearly so 
abundant as throughout the west, where I have found it a 
common summer resident almost everywhere, if suitable 
timber for nesting sites was available. It winters from about 
latitude 38° N. and southward in the eastern United States, as 
well as in the Rocky Mountain region; on the Pacific Coast 
from about latitude 41° N., though stragglers remain in shel- 
tered and favorable localities at still higher latitudes through- 
out the country. 

They usually arrive on their old nesting grounds in the cen- 
tral portions of their range about the middle of March, some 
seasons not before the beginning of April, and at later dates 
farther to the northward. In Florida nidification begins about 
the middle of March, sometimes in the last half of February; 
in southern Arizona, southern Texas and southern California 
about the first week in April; in the middle States from April 
15th to May loth, and in the more northern States from May 
ist to June ist. 

The most common nesting place of the Sparrow-hawk is 
in holes of trees, either natural cavities or the abandoned exca- 
vations of our larger Woodpeckers. In regions where such 


Falco Sparvcrius 

The American Sparrow-hawk 6g 

sites are not readily obtainable, it resorts to holes in sandstone 
cliffs and clay banks. Occasionally a pair will nest in some 
dark corner in a barn, and even dovecots have been known to 
be appropriated. Several observers report their nesting in 
Magpies' nests in the west, but this is by no means a constant 
habit with this species. 

There seems to be a great difference in the manner of 
lining their nests. Strictly speaking the Sparrow-hawk ordi- 
narily makes no nest, depositing its eggs on whatever rubbish 
may be found at the bottom of the cavity u§ed. Occasionally 
the eggs are laid on a few leaves or grasses, scarcely deserving 
the name of a nest. In some localities, however, they are 
credited with bringing in a considerable amount of dry grass 
and leaves to form the nest. 

The number of eggs laid by this species seems to vary 
from three to seven; the latter number is rare, however, five 
and four being the number most commonly found. They are 
deposited at intervals of a day. Their shape varies greatly, 
the majority ranging from a rounded ovate to an oval, and a 
few may be called elliptical ovate. The ground color of the 
eggs ranges from a pure clear white in a few instances to pale 
buft or cream color in the majority, and to a bright cinnamon 
rufous in a few others. They are spotted, blotched, marbled 
and sprinkled with different shades of walnut brown, chestnut, 
cinnamon rufous and ochraceous in various patterns. Fre- 
quently these markings are confluent, predominating in some 
specimens on either end; in others they are heaviest in the 
center, forming a wreath. Mixed among the various tints, a 
few eggs show handsome lavender-colored shell markings. 

Incubation lasts about three weeks. The young when first 
hatched are covered with fine white down, and their heads, as 
is the case with most young birds of prey, are nearly as large 

yo Bird Life Stories 

as the remaining parts of the body. Both parents assist in 
incubation, and are very soHcitous in the care of their family. 
No other birds are allowed to come in the vicinity of their 
nest at such times without subjecting themselves to a vicious 
attack, and it makes no difference if the intruder has greatly 
the advantage in size, for they will attack a Swainson's or a 
Red-tailed Hawk as readily as any other bird. 

While in search of food these handsome little falcons fre- 
quently arrest their swift flight instantly, hovering suspended 
over the spot whefe their prey is supposed to be found. Their 
food consists principally of small rodents, grasshoppers and 
other insects, and larvse of various kinds; lizards and small 
snakes are also eaten by them, and occasionally, when other 
provender is scarce, especially in winter, small birds have to 
suffer. Grasshoppers, when attainable, form the bulk of 
their fare, and it is amusing to watch them catch and dispose 
of the latter, handling them as expertly as a squirrel does 
a nut. And no sooner has one been caught and swallowed 
than they are after another. They seize them with their 
talons, both while on the wing and on the ground. After 
gorging themselves, they return to some favorite perch on a 
dead limb of a tree standing on the edge of a prairie or 
meadow, or to the top or the crossbars of a telegraph-pole, 
and sometimes to the wire itself. In the west, where these 
little Hawks are abundant, every such pole in sight stretching 
across a prairie may sometimes be seen occupied by this or 
some larger species. These poles appear to be very attractive 
to all the Raptores, affording them an unobstructed view of 
the surroundings. The common call of the Sparrow-hawk 
is a shrill kee-hee, kee-hee, repeated several times. 

Mcgascops asio 



THE notes of this Owl are uttered in a tremulous doleful 
manner and somewhat resemble the chattering of the 
teeth of a person under the influence of extreme cold, 
although much louder. They are heard at a distance of 
several hundred yards, and by some people are thought to be 
of ominous import. 

The little fellow is generally found about farmhouses, 
orchards and gardens. It alights on the roof, the fence or the 
garden gate, and utters its mournful ditty at intervals for 
hours at a time, as if it were in a state of great suffering, 
although this is far from being the case, the song of all birds 
being an indication of content and happiness. They are 
chiefly heard during the latter part of winter, just before the 
nesting season. 

The nest is placed in the bottom of the hollow -trunk 
of a tree, often not at a greater height than six or seven 
feet from the ground, at other times as high as from thirty to 
forty feet. It is composed of a few grasses or feathers. The 
eggs are four or five, of a nearly globular form, and a pure 
white color. If not disturbed, this species lays only one set of 
eggs in a season. 

The young remain in the nest until they are able to fly. 
At first they are covered with a downy substance of a dull 
yellowish white. By the middle of August they are fully 
feathered, although considerable difference in color is found 


7 2 Bird Life Stories 

in different individuals, as I have seen some of a deep choco- 
late color and others nearly black. The feathers change their 
colors as the season advances, and in the first spring the bird 
is in its perfect dress. 

The Mottled Owl rests or spends the day either in a hole 
of some decayed tree, or in the thickest part of the evergreens 
which are found so abundantly in the country to which it 
usually resorts during the nesting season, as well as in the 
depth of winter. 

The flight of the Mottled Owl is smooth, rapid, protracted 
and noiseless. It rises at times above the top branches of the 
highest of our forest trees whilst in pursuit of large beetles, 
and at other times sails low and swiftly over the fields or 
through the woods in search of small birds, field mice, moles 
or wood rats from which it chiefly derives its subsistence. On 
alighting, which it does plumply, the Owl immediately bends 
its body, turns its head to look behind it, performs a curious 
nod, utters its notes, then shakes and plumes itself and 
resumes its flight in search of prey. 

Geographical Distribution 

The common form of the Screech-owl is found in the eastern 
portions of the United States and Canada, south as far as Georgia and 
west as far as the Great Plains. In other parts of North America 
there are closely related varieties. This Owl, like the rest of its 
family, swallows its food whole, and ejects afterward the indigestible 
portions in the shape of pellets formed of the bones wrapped in fur 
or feathers. 

Zenaidura macroura 



THIS almost familiar pigeon in the course of the spring 
leisurely migrates through the interior as far as Canada, 
though in the eastern States it is rarely met with to the north 
of Connecticut. Many appear sedentary in the warmer States, 
where they breed as far south as Louisiana. They are also 
said to inhabit the Antilles, and we saw them not uncommon 
in the territory of Oregon. In the warmer parts of the Union 
they commence laying early in April, and in South Carolina I 
heard their plaintive coo on the 29th of January; but at the 
extremity of their range they scarcely begin to breed before 
the middle of May. They lay usually two eggs, of a pure 
white, and make their nest in the horizontal branches of a 
tree. It is made up of a mere platform of twigs so loosely and 
slovenly put together as to appear scarcely sufficient to 
prevent the young from falling out. 

By the first fine days of the early southern spring we hear 
from the budding trees of the forest, or the already blooming 
thicket, the mournful call of this Cafolina Turtle-dove, com- 
mencing, as it were, with a low and plaintive sigh, a gh coo coo 
coo, repeated at impressive intervals of half a minute, and 
heard distinctly to a considerable distance through the still 
and balmy air of the reviving season. This sad but pleasing 
note is also more distinguished at this time, as it seeks the 
noon-day warmth in which to utter its complaint, and where it 
is then heard without a rival. 


T4 Bird Life Stories 

The flight of this species is rapid and protracted, and, as 
usual in the genus, accompanied by a very audible whistling 
noise. The birds fly out often in wide circles, but seldom rise 
above the trees, and keep out near the skirts of the forest or 
around the fences and fields, which they visit with consider- 
able familiarity, gleaning after the crop has been removed, 
and seldom molesting the farmer except by now and then 
picking up a few grains in sowing time, which may happen to 
be exposed too temptingly to view. 

The usual food of this species is various kinds of grains 
and small acorns, as well as the fruit of the holly, dogwood, 
poke, whortle and partridge berries, with other kinds according 
to the season. In the nuptial period the wide circling flight 
of the male is often repeated around his mate, toward whom 
he glides with tail and wings expanded, and gracefully alights 
on the same or some adjoining tree, where she fosters her 
eggs and infant brood, v On alighting they spread out their 
flowing trains in a graceful attitude, accompanying the motion 
by a clucking and balancing of the neck and head evincing the 
lively emotion and mutual affection they cherish. When the 
female confines herself to her eggs her constant mate is seen 
feeding her with a delicate and assiduous attention. 

The roosting places preferred by this Carolina Turtle- 
dove are among the long and unshorn grass of neglected 
fields, in the slight shelter of corn-stalks, or the borders of 
meadows. They also occasionally seek harbor among the 
rustling and falling leaves, and amidst the thick branches of 
various evergreens. But in every situation, even though in 
darkness, they are so vigilant as to fly at the instant of 
approach. They do not huddle together, but take up their 
nest in solitude, though a whole flock may be in the same 
field. They also frequently resort to the same roosting places. 

The Mourning- dove 75 

if not materially molested. It is a hardy species, enduring 
considerable cold, and individuals remain even in the middle, 
as well as the southern States, throughout the year. 

These Doves are far less gregarious and migratory than is 
the common Wild Pigeon. When their food becomes scanty 
in the fields in the course of the winter, they approach the 
farm, feeding among the poultry with the Blackbirds, Spar- 
rows and other guests of the same accidental bounty, and if 
allowed without reprisal appear as gentle as domestic Doves. 
Raised from the nest they are easily tamed, and instances are 
known of their breeding in confinement. 

Geographical Distribution 

The northern limit of the distribution of the Mourning-dove is 
along a line drawn from southern Maine to southern Canada and 
British Columbia. In winter it occurs from southern Illinois and New 
York to the West Indies and Panama. Its nest is built wherever it 
occurs over this wide range. 



THE common name given to this bird in the eastern and 
middle districts of our Union is that of the Quail, but in 
the western and southern States it is called the Partridge. It 
is abundantly met with in all parts of the United States, but 
more especially toward the interior. In the States of Ohio 
and Kentucky, where these birds are very abundant, they are 
to be seen in the markets both dead and alive in large 

This species performs occasional migrations from the 
northwest to the southeast, usually in the beginning of Octo- 
ber, and somewhat in the manner of the Wild Turkey. For a 
few weeks at this season the northwestern shores of the Ohio 
River are covered with flocks of Quails. They ramble 
through the woods along the margin of the stream and gener- 
ally fly across toward evening. Like the Turkeys, many of 
the Partridges fall into the water while thus attempting to 
cross, and generally perish, for although they swim sur- 
prisingly they have not muscular power sufficient to keep up 
a protracted struggle, although when they have fallen within 
a few yards of the shore they easily escape being drowned. I 
have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadel- 
phia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the 
Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance when it had acci- 
dentally fallen into the water. But almost every species of land 
bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may 


Colinus virginianus 

The Bob-white or Quail T] 

easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by 
throwing a Turkey, a common fowl, or any other bird into the 
water. As soon as the Quails have crossed the principal 
streams in their way, they disperse in flocks over the country 
and return to their ordinary mode of life. 

The flight of these birds is generally performed at a short 
distance from the ground. It is rapid and is continued by 
numerous quick flaps of the wings for a certain distance, after 
which the bird sails until about to alight when again it flaps 
its wings - to break its descent. . When chased by dogs or 
startled by any other enemy they fly to the middle branches 
of trees of ordinary size, where they remain until danger is 
over. They walk with ease on the branches. If they perceive 
that they are observed, they raise the feathers of their head, 
emit a low note and fly off either to some higher branch of 
the same tree or to another tree at a distance. When these 
birds rise on wing of their own accord the whole flock takes 
the same course, but when "put up" (in the sportsman's 
phrase) they disperse; after alighting, call to each other, and 
soon after unite, each running or flying toward the well- 
known cry of the patriarch of the covey. During deep and 
continued snows they often remain on the branches of trees 
for hours at a time. 

The usual cry of this species is a clear whistle, composed 
of three notes; the first and last nearly equal in length, the 
latter less loud than the first, but more so than the interme- 
diate one. When an enemy is perceived they immediately 
utter a lisping note, frequently repeated, and run off with their 
tails spread, their crests erected and their wings drooping, 
toward the shelter of some thicket or the top of a fallen tree. 
At other times, when one of the flock has accidentally strayed 
to a distance from its companions it utters two notes louder 

7<y Bird Life Stories 

than any of those mentioned above, the first shorter and lower 
than the second, when an answer is immediately returned by 
one of the pack. This species has moreover a love call, which 
is louder and clearer than its other notes and can be heard at 
a distance of several hundred yards. It consists of three 
distinct notes, the last two being loudest, and is peculiar to 
the male bird. A fancied similarity to the words "bob white" 
render this call familiar to the sportsman and farmer, but 
these notes are always preceded by another easily heard at a 
distance of thirty or forty yards. The three together resemble 
the words ah-bob-white. The first note is a kind of aspiration, 
and the last is very loud and clear. This whistle is seldom 
heard after the breeding season, during which an imitation of 
the peculiar note of the female will make the male fly toward 
the sportsman. 

In the middle districts the love call of the male is heard 
about the middle of April, and in Louisiana much earlier. 
The male is seen perching on a fence-stake or on the low 
branch of a tree, standing nearly in the same position for 
hours together and calling ah-bob-white at every interval of a 
few minutes. Should he hear the note of a female he sails 
directly toward the spot whence it proceeded. Several males 
may be heard from different parts of a field challenging each 
other, and should they meet on the ground they fight with 
great courage and obstinacy until the conqueror drives off his 
antagonist to another field. 

The female prepares a nest composed of grasses, arranged 
in a circular form, leaving an entrance not unlike that of a 
common oven. It is placed at the foot of a tuft of rank grass 
or some close stalks of corn, and is partly sunk in the ground. 
The eggs are from ten to eighteen, rather sharp at the smaller 
end, and of a pure white. The male at times assists in hatch- 

The Bob-white or Quail 79 

ing them. This species raises only one brood in the year, 
unless the eggs or the young when yet small have been 
destroyed. When this happens the female immediately 
prepares another nest, and should it also be ravaged, some- 
times even a third. The young run about the moment they 
make their appearance, and follow their parents until spring, 
when, having acquired their full beauty, they make nests for 

The Quail rests at night on the ground, either amongst the 
grass or under a bent log. The individuals which compose 
the flock form a ring, and moving backward approach each 
other until their bodies are nearly in contact. This arrange- 
ment enables the whole covey to take wing when suddenly 
alarmed, each flying off in a direct course, so as not to inter- 
fere with the rest. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Bob-white is a widely distributed species. In the eastern 
region it is found from Maine and Ontario to the Atlantic and Gulf 
States, and it is found west as far as South Dakota and eastern Texas. 
"Of late years it has gradually extended its range westward along 
lines of railroad and settlements, and has also been introduced at 
various points in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, California, 
Oregon, and Washington." 



THE Peet-weet is one of the most familiar and common 
of all the New England marsh birds, arriving along our 
river shores and low meadows about the beginning of May. 
As soon as it arrives on the coast small roving flocks are seen 
at various times of the day, coursing rapidly along the borders 
of our tide-water streams. Flying swiftly and rather low, in cir- 
cular sweeps along the meanders of the rock and river, and 
occasionally crossing from side to side, they now present a 
more sportive and cheerful mien than they assume at the close 
of autumn when foraging becomes less certain. While flying 
out in these wild circuits, agitated by feelings superior to those 
of hunger and necessity, we hear the shores reecho the shrill 
and rapid whistle of ^weet, 'weet, 'weet, 'weet, the note usually 
closing with something like a warble as they approach their 
companions on the strand. The cry then varies to peet, 'weet, 
'weet, 'weet, beginning high and gradually declining into a some- 
what plaintive tone. As the season advances our lively little 
marine wanderers often trace the streams some distance into 
the interior, resting usually in fresh meadows along the grass, 
sometimes even near the house; and I have seen their eggs 
laid in a strawberry bed where the young and old, pleased with 
the protection afforded them, familiarly fed and probed the 
margin of the adjoining duck-pond for their usual fare of worms 
and insects. 

These birds have the very frequent habit of balancing or 
wagging the tail, in which, even the young join as soon as 


Act it is macular ia 

The S^potted Sandpiper or "Peet-weet" 8i 

they are fledged. From the middle to the close of May the 
pairs, receding from their companions, seek out a place for 
the nest, which is always in a dry, open field of grass or grain, 
sometimes in the seclusion and shade of a field of corn, but 
most commonly in a dry pasture contiguous to the seashore. 
In some of the solitary and small sea islands several pairs 
sometimes make their nests near each other, in the immediate 
vicinity of the noisy nurseries of the quailing Terns. 

On being flushed from her eggs the female goes off with- 
out uttering any complaint, but when surprised with her young 
she practices all sorts of dissimulation common to many other 
birds, fluttering in the path as if badly wounded, and generally 
proceeds in this way so far as to deceive a dog and cause it to 
overlook her brood for whose protection these instinctive arts 
are practiced. Nor are the young without their artful 
instinct, for on hearing the reiterated cries of their parents 
they scatter about and squatting still in the withered grass 
almost exactly their color, it is with careful search very 
difficult to discover them, so that in nine times out of ten they 
would be overlooked. 

At a later period the shores and marshes resound with the 
quick, clear and oft-repeated note of peet-weet, peet-weet, 
followed up by a plaintive call of the young of peet, peet, 
peet, peet. If this is not answered by the scattered brood a 
reiterated 'weet, 'weet, \veet, 'wait, 'wait, 'wait is heard, the 
voice dropping on the final syllables. The whole marsh and 
shore at t.mes echoes to this loud, lively and sometimes solici- 
tous call of the affectionate parents for their brood. The cry, 
of course, is most frequent toward evening, when the little 
family, separated by the necessity of scattering themselyes 
over the ground in quest, of food, are desirous of again 
reassembling to roost. 

82 Bird Life Stories 

The young, as soon as hatched, run about the grass and 
utter from the first a weak, plaintive peep, at length more 
frequent and audible, and an imitation of the whistle of peet- 
weet is almost sure to be met with an answer from the sympa- 
thizing broods, which now throng our marshes. When the 
notes appear to be answered the parents hurry and repeat 
their call with great quickness. Young and old previous to 
their departure frequent the seashores, but never associate 
with other kinds, nor become gregarious, living always in 
families till the time of their departure, which usually occurs 
about the middle of October. 

Geographical Distribution 

This little bird has an extraordinary geographical range, being 
found from Alaska in North America to Brazil in South America, and 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coasts. It is as common on the 
inland ponds and streams as on the seashore, although Nuttall speaks 
of it as a "marine wanderer." 

Ardea herodius 



FEW of our waders are more interesting than the birds of 
the Heron family. Their contours and movements are 
always graceful, if not elegant. Look on the one that stands 
near the margin of the pure stream! See his reflection 
dipping as it were into the smooth water, the bottom of which 
it might reach had it not to contend with the numerous 
boughs of these magnificent trees! How calm, how silent, 
how grand is the scene! The tread of the tall bird himself no 
one hears, so carefully does he place his foot on the moist 
ground, cautiously suspending it for a while at each step of his 
progress. Now his golden eye glances over the surrounding 
objects, in surveying which he takes advantage of the full 
stretch of his graceful neck. Satisfied that no danger is near 
he lays his head on his shoulder, allows the feathers of his 
breast to droop and patiently waits the approach of his finny 
prey. You might imagine what you see to be the statue of a 
bird, so motionless it is. But now he moves; he has taken a 
silent step and with great care he advances; slowly does he 
raise his head from his shoulders, and now what a sudden 
start! His formidable bill has transfixed a perch, which he 
beats to death on the ground. See with what difficulty he 
gulps it down his capacious throat, and then opens his broad 
wings and slowly flies away to another station. 

The Great Blue Heron is met with in every part of the 
Union. Although more abundant in the low lands of our 


84 Bird Life Stories 

Atlantic Coast it is not uncommon in the country west of the 
Alleghany Mountains. , I have found it in every State in which 
I have traveled, as well as in all our territories. It is well 
known from Louisiana to Maine, but seldom occurs farther 
east than Prince Edward Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 
and not a Heron of any kind did I see or hear of in New- 
foundland or Labrador. Westward I believe it reaches to the 
very base of the Rocky Mountains. 

It is a hardy bird and bears the extremes of temperature 
surprisingly, being in its tribe what the Passenger Pigeon is in 
the family of Doves. It is not rare in the middle States, 
though more plentiful to the west and south of Pennsylvania. 

Extremely suspicious and shy, this bird is ever on the 
lookout. Its sight is as acute as that of any Falcon, and it 
can hear at a considerable distance, so that it is enabled to 
mark with precision different objects it sees, and to judge with 
accuracy of the sounds which it hears. Unless under very 
favorable circumstances it . is almost hopeless to attempt to 
approach it. I have seen many so wary that on seeing a man 
at the distance of half a mile they would take to wing, and 
the report of a gun forces one off his grounds from a distance 
at which you would think he could not be alarmed. 

The Blue Heron feeds at all hours of the day, as well as in 
the dusk and dawn and even at night when the weather is 
clear, his appetite alone determining his actions in this 
respect; but I am certain that when disturbed during dark 
nights it feels bewildered and alights as soon as possible. 
When passing from one part of the country to another at a 
distance the case is different, and on such occasions they fly at 
night high above the trees, continuing their movements in 
a regular manner. 

The commencement of the nesting season of the Great 

The Great Blue Heron 8^ 

Blue Heron varies according to the latitude, from the begin- 
ning of March to the middle of June. In Florida It takes 
place about the first of these periods, in the middle States 
about the 15th of May, and In Maine a month later. 

It is at the approach of this period only that these birds 
associate in pairs, they being generally quite solitary at all 
other times. Except during the nesting season each individual 
seems to secure for Itself a certain district as a feeding ground, 
giving chase to every intruder of its own species. At such 
times they also repose singly, for the most part roosting on 
trees, although sometimes taking their station on the ground 
in the midst of a wide marsh, so that they may be secure from 
the approach of man. This unsocial temper probably arises 
from the desire of securing a certain abundance of food, of 
which each bird requires a large quantity. 

The nest of the Blue Heron is large and flat, externally 
composed of dry sticks and matted with' weeds and mosses to 
a considerable thickness. When the trees are large and con- 
venient you may see several nests on the same tree. Three 
eggs are laid in the nest. They are very small compared with 
the size of the bird, measuring only two and a half by one and 
a half inches. They are of a dull bluish white color, without 
spots, and of a regular oval form. 

The male and female sit alternately, receiving food from 
each other, their mutual affection being as great as It is 
toward their young, which are provided for so abundantly 
that It Is not uncommon to find the nest containing a surplus 
of fish and other food. 

As the young grow older they are less frequently fed, 
although still as copiously supplied whenever opportunity 
offers. But now and then I have observed them, when the 
nests were low, calling for food in vain. The quantity which 

S6 Bird Life Stories 

they now require is so great that all the exertions of the old 
birds appear at times to be insufficient to satisfy their voracious 
appetites. They do not provide for themselves until fully able 
to fly, when their parents chase them off and force thern to 
shift as they can. 

This species takes three years in attaining maturity, and 
even after that period it still increases in size and weight. 
When just hatched the young birds have a very uncouth 
appearance, the legs and neck being very long as well as the 
bill. By the end of a week the head and neck are sparingly 
covered with long tufts of silky down, of a dark gray color, 
and the body shows young feathers, the quills large with soft 
blue sheaths. At the end of four weeks the body and wings 
are well covered with feathery of a dark slate color, broadly 
margined with brownish-red; the bill has grown wonderfully, 
the legs are quite strong and the birds are able to stand erect 
on the nest or on the objects near it. 

They are now seldom fed oftener than once a day, as if 
their parents were intent on teaching them that abstinence- 
without which it would often be difficult for them to subsist in 
after life. At the age of six or seven weeks they fly off, and 
at once go in search of food, each by itself. These birds feed 
on fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, shrews, meadow mice and 
other animals. 

Geographical Distribution 

The Great Blue Heron occurs throughout North America south of 
the Arctic regions. It extends through the West Indies and the 
northern part of South America. It winters from the middle States 


Bird Life Stories 

Compiled from the writings of : : • .• ,■ .• • / ; .■ .• .• 

; : :. : : : . : : : and other well-known naturalists 


Professor of Zoology and Entomology in the New Hmnpshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic 
Arts. Designer of ^^ The Nature Calendar Series." Author of ^'' The Flower Beautiful" etc. 


Illustrated with 24 colored plates. Square, 12 mo, 86 pages. Cloth, $0.00. (Ready) 


Square, 12 mo, 00 pages. Cloth, $0.00. (Ready about February, 1904) 


Square, 12 mo, 00 pages. Cloth, $0.00. (Ready about April, 1904) 

THESE stories are especially notable for the revelation of the authors' absorb- 
ing interest in the study of birds. All the authors quoted were original inves- 
tigators, exploring the trackless wilderness in their search for knowledge ; and 
their accounts of our birds are, on the whole, the most interesting that have ever been 
published. In the books of this series the language and punctuation of the various 
authors have been modified to meet the needs of the audience and the purposes of the 
book, while notes on " Geographical Distribution" have been added by the editor. 
Special attention is called to the bird plates reproduced in colors. The specimens 
were collected and mounted by Dr. Ned Dearborn, of the Field Columbian Museum, 
Chicago, III., and were photographed under his supervision. 



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