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Full text of "What I have done with birds; character studies of native American birds which, through friendly advances, I induced to pose for me, or succeeded in photographing by good fortune, with the story of my experiences in obtaining their pictures"




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PUBLIC LIBRARY 




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1 



3 1148 00396 6561 



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i 8 '49 

JAN 17 1978 




25BW 







WHAT I HAVE DONE 
WITH BIRDS 



CHARACTER STUDIES OF NATIVE AMERICAN BIRDS WHICH, 

THROUGH FRIENDLY ADVANCES, I INDUCED TO POSE 

FOR ME, OR SUCCEEDED IN PHOTOGRAPHING 

BY GOOD FORTUNE, WITH THE STORY OF 

MY EXPERIENCES IN OBTAINING 

THEIR PICTURES 



By 

GENE STRATTON-PORTER 

Author of 
The Song of the Cardinal, Freckles, etc. 



INDIANAPOLIS 

THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY 

PUBLISHERS 



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COPYRIGHT 1907 
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY 



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WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 



"The kernels of nuts and the resins of trees, 
The nectar distilled by the wild honey-bees, 
Should be thrown in together, to flavor my words 
With the zest of the woods and the joy of the birds !" 

Thompson. 




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

Brooding Cuckoo Frontispiece 

Male Cardinal Doing Sentinel Duty xxii 

Owl 1 

Dusky Falcon 3 

Chicken-hawk 7 

Black Vulture 11 

Sheilpoke 15 

Cardinal Grosbeaks Courting 19 

Baby Grosbeak 22 

Kingfisher 23 

Young Tanager 25 

Hen's Nest Containing Egg of Chicken-hawk 25 

Hen Brooding on Egg of Chicken-hawk 26 

Brooding King Rail 30 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Continued 

PAGE 

Rail Hiding Egg 31 

Nest of King Rail 35 

Eggs of King Rail 39 

Pair of Young Bell-birds 42 

Nest of Wood Robin With Snake Skin 43 

Nest of Wood Thrush 45 

Young Bell-bird Hiding Under Leaf 50 

Barn Owl 52 

Owl Head 53 

Barn Owl Leaving Its Home 55 

The Face a Perfect Heart Shape 61 

Young Killdeer 64 

The Killdeer Nest 65 

Baby Killdeer Just From Shell 72 

The Black Vulture's Nest With Egg and Young 74 

The Black Vulture's Front Door 75 

"Little Chicken" 77 

Young Vulture Three-fourths Grown 81 

Full-grown Vulture 85 

Vulture Taking Flight 88 

Young Loggerhead Shrikes 90 

Pair of Young Shrikes 91 

Nest and Eggs of Shrike 94 

Pair Half -grown Shrikes 95 

Young Shrikes 99 

Purple Martin 102 

A Martin Double House 103 

Martin Standing Sentinel 108 

Cat-bird Nest and Eggs 110 

Young Cat-bird Ill 

Pair of Young Cat-birds 113 

Cat-birds ..119 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Continued 



PAGE 



Kingfishers on Favorite Fishing Log 122 

Waiting For Lunch 123 

Father Kingfisher 129 

Young Kingfishers at Entrance to Nest 135 

Kingfisher Flats 139 

Cuckoo Eggs in Abandoned Nest of Larger Bird 142 

Brooding Cuckoo 143 

Typical Cuckoo Nest 146 

Evolution of Cuckoos, Pair in Nest 150 

Pair Leaving Nest 150 

Pair One Day From Nest 151 

Mother Cuckoo Brooding While I Worked Behind Her 156 

Ready for the Mercies of the World 159 

Great Blue Heron 162 

Heron Swallowing Frog 163 

Indian River Plover 168 

Pair of Young Doves 170 

Nest of Doves on Fence 171 

Pair of Young Doves in Nest 176 

Black -masked Warbler and Cow-birds 178 

Cow-birds Clustering About Cattle 179 

Nest of Indigo Finch Containing Egg of Cow -bird ;183 

Nest of Red-eyed Vireo With Cow-bird Egg 187 

Pair of Young Vireos 190 

Nest of Song Sparrow With Walled-in Egg of Cow-bird. . .191 

Pair of Young Cow-birds 194 

Male Cardinal Grosbeak Taking Sun-bath 196 

Young Cardinals 197 

Nest and Eggs of Cardinals 199 

Male Cardinal Singing 203 

Male Cardinal 207 

Nest and Eggs of Robin 210 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Continued 

PAGE 

Robin on Bench 211 

Nest and Young Robins 215 

Robin on Limb 223 

Blue Jay Calling 226 

Jay on Stump 227 

Nest and Eggs of Jay 228 

Mother Jay and Nestling 230 

Mother Jay and Nestling With Open Bill 231 

Male and Female Jays Feeding Young 233 

Young Jays Ready to Fly . .237 

Young Jay 240 

Humming-bird on Rose 242 

A Chilly Humming-bird 243 

Nest of Humming-bird 248 

Grown Quail . 250 

Quail Nest 251 

Nest of Shells., .257 





TO 
BOB BURDETTE BLACK 

WHO HAD A HAND IN IT 



THANKS ARE DUE TO OUTING, THE METROPOLITAN 
AND THE LADIES' HOME JOURNAL FOR THE PRIVILEGE 
OF REPRODUCING PICTURES COPYRIGHTED BY THEM 





CONTENTS 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I What I Have Done With Birds 1 

II The "Queen" Rail In a Swamp 31 

III The Wood Thrush In the Valley of the Wood 

Robin 43 

IV The Barn Owl In Deep Forest 53 

V The Killdeer On the Ground 65 

VI The Black Vulture In the Limberlost. 75 

VII The Loggerhead Shrike In Field Trees 91 

VIII The Purple Martin In the Air 103 

IX The Cat-bird In Thickets Ill 

X The Belted Kingfisher In Embankments 123 

XI The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo In Small Thickly 

Leaved Trees 143 

XII The Blue Heron In the Great Lake Regions 163 

XIII The Mourning Dove In Deep Wood 171 

XIV The Cow-bird In the Pastures 179 

XV The Cardinal Grosbeak In Small Trees and 

Bushes 197 

XVI Robin In the Dooryard. 211 

XVII The Blue Jay In the Orchard 227 

XVIII The Humming-bird At the Cabin 243 

XIX The Quail On the Ground 251 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




Cried Falco Sparverius: "I chased a mouse up this log." 
Hooted Scops Asio : "I chased it down a little red lane." 



"The bubbling brook doth leap when I come by, 

Because my feet find measure with its call ; 
The birds know when the friend they love is nigh, 

For I am known to them, both great and small. 
The flower that on the lonely hillside grows 

Expects me there when spring its bloom has given ; 
And many a tree and bush my wanderings knows, 

And e'en the clouds and silent stars of heaven." 



Very. 




CHAPTER I 




WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

The greatest thing possible to do 
with a bird is to win its confidence. In 
a few days' work about most nests the 
birds can be taught so to trust me, that 
such studies can be made as are here 
presented of young and old, male and 
female. 

I am not superstitious, but I am 
afraid to mistreat a bird, and luck is 
with me in the indulgence of this fear. 

In all my years of field work not one study of a nest, or of any 
bird, has been lost by dealing fairly with my subjects. If a nest 
is located where access is impossible without moving it, an ex- 
posure is not attempted, and so surely as the sun rises on another 
morning, another nest of the same species is found within a few 
days, where a reproduction of it can be made. 

Recently, in summing up the hardships incident to securing 
one study of a brooding swamp-bird, a prominent nature lover 
and editor said to me most emphatically, "That is not a woman's 
work." 

"I do not agree with you," I answered. "In its hardships, in 
wading, swimming, climbing, in hidden dangers suddenly to be 
confronted, in abrupt changes from heat to cold, and from light to 
dark, field photography is not a woman's work; but in the matter 
of finesse in approaching the birds, in limitless patience in await- 
ing the exact moment for .the best exposure, in the tedious and 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

delicate processes of the dark room, in the art of winning bird 
babies and parents, 'it is not a man's work. No man ever has had 
the patience to remain with a bird until he secured a real character 
study of it. A human mother is best fitted to understand and deal 
with a bird mother." 

This is the basis of all my field work, a mute contract be- 
tween woman and bird. In spirit I say to the birds, "Trust me and 
I will do by you as I would be done by. Your nest and young 
shall be touched as I would wish some giant, surpassing my size 
and strength as I surpass yours, to touch my cradle and baby. I 
shall not tear down your home and break your eggs or take your 
naked little ones from the nest before they are ready to go, and 
leave them to die miserably. I shall come in colors to which you 
are accustomed, and move slowly and softly about, not approach- 
ing you too near until your confidence in me is established. I 
shall be most careful to feed your young what you feed them; 
drive away snakes and squirrels, and protect you in every way 
possible to me. Trust me, and go on with your daily life. For 
what small disturbance is unavoidable among you, forgive me, 
and through it I shall try to win thousands to love and shield 
you." 

That I frequently have been able to teach a bird to trust me 
completely, these studies prove; but it is possible to go even fur- 
ther. After a week's work in a location abounding in every bird 
native to my state, the confidence of the whole feathered popula- 
tion has been won so that I could slip softly in my green dress 
from nest to nest, with not the amount of disturbance caused by 
the flight of a Crow or the drumming of a Woodpecker. This 
was proved to me when one day I was wanted at home, and a 
member of my family came quietly and unostentatiously, as she 
thought, through the wood to tell me. Every Wren began scold- 
ing. Every Cat-bird followed her with imperative questions. 




WISDOM DUSKY FALCON 

'A Dusky Falcon is beautiful and most intelligent'* 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

Every Jay was on a high perch sounding danger signals. With 
a throb of great joy came the realization that I was at home and 
accepted of my birds ; this other was a stranger, and her presence 
was feared and rejected. 

So upon this basis I have gone among the birds, seeking not 
only to secure pictures of them by which family and species can 
be told, but also to take them perching in characteristic locations 
as they naturally alight in different circumstances; but best and 
above all else, to make each picture prove without text the disposi- 
tion of the bird. A picture of a Dove that does not make that bird 
appear tender and loving, is a false reproduction. If a study of 
a Jay does not prove the fact that it is quarrelsome and obtrusive 
it is useless, no matter how fine the pose or portrayal of markings. 
One might write pages on the wisdom and cunning of the Crow, 
but one study of the bird that proved it would obviate the neces- 
sity of the text. A Dusky Falcon is beautiful and most intelli- 
gent, but who is going to believe it if you illustrate the statement 
with a sullen, sleepy bird, which serves only to furnish markings 
for natural -history identification? If you describe how bright 
and alert a Cardinal is, then see to it that you get a study of a 
Cardinal which emphasizes your statements. 

A merry war has waged in the past few years over what the 
birds know ; and it is all so futile. I do not know what the birds 
know, neither do you, neither does any one else, for that matter. 
There is no possible way to judge of the intelligence of birds, save 
by our personal experience with them, and each student of bird 
life will bring from the woods exactly what he went to seek, be- 
cause he will interpret the actions of the birds according to his 
temperament and purpose. 

If a man seeking material for a volume on natural history, 
trying to crowd the ornithology of a continent into the working 
lifetime of one person, goes with a gun, shooting specimens to 

5 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

articulate and mount from which to draw illustrations, he will no 
doubt testify that the birds are the wildest, shyest things alive, 
because that has been his experience with them. 

If he goes with a note-book, a handful of wheat and the soul 
of a poet, he will write down the birds as almost human, because 
his own great heart humanizes their every action. 

I go with a camera for the purpose of bringing from the fields 
and forests characteristic pictorial studies of birds, and this book 
is to tell and prove to you what my experiences have been with 
them. I slip among them in their parental hour, obtain their like- 
nesses, and tell the story of how the work was accomplished. I 
was born in the country and grew up among the birds in a place 
where they were protected and fearless. A deep love for, and a 
comprehension of, wild things runs through the thread of my dis- 
position, peculiarly equipping me to do these things. 

In one season, when under ten years of age, I located sixty 
nests, and I dropped food into the open beaks in every one of 
them. Soon the old birds became so accustomed to me, and so con- 
vinced of my good intentions, that they would alight on my head 
and shoulders in a last hop to reach their nests with the food they 
had brought. Playing with the birds was my idea of fun. Pets 
were my sort of dolls. It did not occur to me that I was learning 
anything that would be of use in after years; now comes the 
realization that knowledge acquired for myself in those days is 
drawn upon every time I approach the home of a bird. 

When I decided that the camera was the only method by which 
to illustrate my observations of bird life, all that was necessary to 
do was to get together my outfit, learn how to use it, to compound 
my chemicals, to develop and fix my plates, and tone and wash 
my prints. How to approach the birds I knew better than any- 
thing else. 

This work is to tell of and to picture my feathered friends of 

6 




ANGER CHICKEN-HAWK 



I once snapped a Chicken-hawk with a perfect expression of anger on 

his face" 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the woods in their homes. When birds are bound to their nests and 
young by the brooding fever, especially after the eggs have quick- 
ened to life, it is possible to cultivate, by the use of unlimited pa- 
tience and bird sense, the closest intimacy with them and to get 
almost any pose or expression you can imagine. 

In living out their lives, birds know anger, greed, jealousy, 
fear and love, and they have their playtimes. In my field ex- 
periences I once snapped a Chicken-hawk with a perfect expres- 
sion of anger on his face, because a movement of mine disturbed 
him at a feast set to lure him within range of my camera. No 
miser ever presented a more perfect picture of greed than I fre- 
quently caught on the face of a young Black Vulture to which it 
was my daily custom to carry food. Every day in field work one 
can see a male bird attack another male, who comes fooling around 
his nest and mate, and make the feathers fly. Did humanity ever 
present a specimen scared more than this Sheilpoke when he dis- 
covered himself between a high embankment and the camera, and 
just for a second hesitated in which direction to fly? Sometimes 
by holding food at unexpected angles young birds can be coaxed 
into the most astonishing attitudes and expressions. 

I use four cameras suited to every branch of field work, and 
a small wagon-load of long hose, ladders, waders and other field 
paraphernalia. 

Backgrounds never should be employed, as the use of them 
ruins a field study in two ways. At one stroke they destroy at- 
mosphere and depth of focus. 

Nature's background, for any nest or bird, is one of ever 
shifting light and shade, and this forms the atmosphere without 
which no picture is a success. Nature's background is one of deep 
shadow, formed by dark interstices among the leaves, dense thick- 
ets and the earth peeping through; and high lights formed by 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

glossy leaves, flowers and the nest and eggs, if they are of light 
color. 

Nature revels in strong contrasts of light and shade, sweet 
and sour, color and form. The whole value of a natural-history 
picture lies in reproducing atmosphere, which tells the story of 
out-door work, together with the soft high lights and velvet shad- 
ows which repaint the woods as we are accustomed to seeing them. 
It is not a question of timing; on nests and surroundings all the 
time wanted can be had; on young and grown birds, snap shots 
must be resorted to in motion, but frequently, with them, more 
time than is required can be given. It is a question of whether 
you are going to reproduce nature and take a natural-history pic- 
ture, or whether you are going to insert a background and take a 
sort of flat Japanese, two-tone, wash effect, fit only for decora- 
tion, never to reproduce the woods. 

Also in working about nests when the mother bird is brooding, 
the idea is, or should be, to make your study and get away speed- 
ily ; and this is a most excellent reason from the bird's side of the 
case as to why a background never should be introduced. In the 
first place, if you work about a nest until the eggs become chilled 
the bird deserts them, and a brood is destroyed. On fully half 
the nests you will wish to reproduce, a background could not be 
inserted without so cutting and tearing out foliage as to drive the 
bird to desert; to let in light and sunshine, causing her to suffer 
from heat, and so to advertise her location that she becomes a prey 
to every thoughtless passer. The birds have a right to be left 
exactly as you find them. 

It is a good idea when working on nests of young birds, where 
you have hidden cameras in the hope of securing pictures of the 
old, and must wait some time for them to come, to remember that 
nestlings are accustomed to being fed every ten or fifteen min- 
utes, and even oftener. If you keep the old ones away long, you 

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73 

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WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

subject the young to great suffering and even death; so go to the 
woods prepared, if such case arise, to give them a few bites your- 
self. In no possible way can it hurt a young bird for you to drop 
into its maw a berry or worm of the kind its parents feed it, since 
all the old bird does, in the majority of cases, is to pick a worm or 
berry from the bushes and drop it into the mouth of the young. 

In case you do not know what to feed a nestling, an egg put 
on in cold water, brought to a boil and boiled twenty minutes, 
then the yolk moistened with saliva, is always safe for any bird. 
While you are working so hard for what you want yourself, just 
think of the birds and what they want occasionally. 

The greatest brutality ever practised on brooding birds con- 
sists in cutting down, tearing out and placing nests of helpless 
young for your own convenience. Any picture so taken has no 
earthly value, as it does not reproduce a bird's location or charac- 
teristics. In such a case the rocking of the branches, which is 
cooling to the birds, is exchanged for a solid location, and the 
leaves of severed limbs quickly wither and drop, exposing both 
old and young to the heat, so that your pictures represent, not the 
free wild life of thicket and wood, but tormented creatures lolling 
and bristling in tortures of heat, and trying to save their lives 
under stress of forced and unnatural conditions. If you can not 
reproduce a bird's nest in its location and environment, your pic- 
ture has not a shred of historical value. My state imposes heavy 
fines for work of this sort and soon all others will do the same. 

The eggs of almost all birds are pointed and smaller at one 
end than the other, and mother birds always place these points 
together in the center of the nest. If you wish to make a study 
of a nest for artistic purposes, bend the limb but slightly, so that 
the merest peep of the eggs shows, and take it exactly as the 
mother leaves it. If you desire it for historical purposes, repro- 
duce it so that students can identify a like nest from it. Bend 

13 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the limb lower so that the lining will show, as well as outside 
material, and with a little wooden paddle turn^ at least one egg 
so that the shape and markings are distinct. This can not possi- 
bly hurt the egg and when the bird returns to brood she will 
replace it to suit herself. 

If you find statements in the writings of a natural-history 
photographer that you can not corroborate in the writings of your 
favorite ornithologist, be reasonable. Who is most likely to 
know? The one who tries to cover the habits and dispositions of 
the birds of a continent in the lifetime of one person, or the one 
who, in the hope of picturing one bird, lies hidden by the day 
watching a nest? Sometimes a series of one bird covers many 
days, sometimes weeks, as the Kingfisher; sometimes months, as 
the Vulture; and sometimes years, as did the Cardinals of this 
book. Does it not stand to reason that, in such intimacy with a 
few species, much can be learned of them that is new? 

All that my best authority on our native birds can say of the 
eggs of a Quail is that they are "roundish." He hesitates over the 
assertion that Cardinals eat insects, and states for a fact that they 
brood but once a season. No bird is so completely a seed- or in- 
sect-eater that it does not change its diet. Surely the Canaries of 
your cages are seed-eaters, yet every Canary -lover knows that if 
the bird's diet is not varied with lettuce, apple, egg and a bit of 
raw beefsteak occasionally, it will pull out its feathers and nibble 
the ends of them for a taste of meat. Chickens will do the same 
thing. 

Certainly Cardinals eat insects, quite freely. The one lure 
effective above all others in coaxing a Cardinal before a lens was 
fresh, bright red, scraped beefsteak. Nine times out of ten this 
bird went where I wanted him when a dead limb set with raw 
meat was introduced into his surroundings. He would ven- 

* 14 



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WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

ture for that treat what he would not for his nestlings. And how 
his sharp beak did shear into it ! 

Ornithologists tell us that the diet of a Black Vulture is car- 
rion. To reasonable people that should be construed as a general 
principle, and not taken to mean that if a Vulture eats a morsel of 
anything else it can not be a Vulture. Once during a Vulture 
series in the Limberlost a bird of this family in close quarters 
presented me with his dinner. In his regurgitations there were 
dark streaks I did not understand, and so I investigated. They 
were grass! Later I saw him down in a fence-corner, snipping 
grass like a Goose, and the week following his mate ate a quan- 
tity of catnip with evident relish. Then some red raspberries 
were placed in the door of their log and both of them ate the 
fruit. 

In the regurgitations of a Kingfisher there can be found the 
striped legs of grasshoppers and the seeds of several different 
kinds of berries. All grain- and seed-eaters snap up a bug or 
worm here and there. All insect-eaters vary their diet with bugs 
and berries and all meat- and carrion-eaters crave some vegetable 
diet. 

Through repeated experience with the same pairs I know that 
Cardinals of my locality nest twice in a season, and I believe there 
are cases where they do three times, as I have photographed young 
in a nest as late as the twenty-ninth of August. Had it not been 
that a pair were courting for a second mating about a nest still 
containing their young, almost ready to go, such a picture as this 
pair of Courting Cardinals never would have been possible to me. 
But after one brooding they became so accustomed to me that 
they flitted about their home, making love as well as feeding the 
nestlings. Repeatedly in my work I have followed a pair of 
cardinals from one nest to a new location a few rods away where 
they continued operations about a second brooding. 

17 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

Neither does an authority who tells you certain kinds of birds 
are the same size, male and female, mean anything except that 
they are the same on an average. All accepted authorities state 
that Black Vultures are the same size. My male of the Limber- 
lost was a tough old bird, of what age no one could guess, his eyes 
dim, his face wrinkled and leathery, his feet incrusted with scale, 
and he was almost as large as his cousin, Turkey Buzzard. His 
mate was a trim little hen of the previous year, much smaller and 
in every way fresh compared with him, but they were mated and 
raising their family. No ornithologist can do more than lay 
down the general rules, and trust to your good sense to recognize 
the exceptions. 

There are pairs of birds in which the male is a fine big speci- 
men, the female small and insignificant. There are pairs where 
the female is the larger and finer, and where they are the same 
size. Sometimes they conform in color and characteristics to the 
rules of the books and again they do not. Twice in my work I 
have found a white English Sparrow, also a Robin, wearing a 
large white patch on his coat. I once came within a breath of 
snapping an old Robin of several seasons with a tail an inch long. 
It did not appeal to me that he was a short-tailed species of Robin, 
there is a way to explain all these things. The bird had been in 
close quarters and relaxed his muscles, letting his tail go to save 
his body. 

A large volume could be filled with queer experiences among 
birds. Once I found a baby Robin that had been fed something 
poisonous and its throat was filled with clear, white blisters, until 
its beak stood wide open and it was gasping for breath. I punc- 
tured the blisters with a needle and gave it some oil, but it died. 
Another time I rescued a Robin that had hung five inches below 
its nest by one leg securely caught in a noose of horsehair, until 

18 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the whole leg was swollen, discolored, the skin cut and bleeding, 
and the bird almost dead. Release was all it needed. 

Again I came across a Scarlet Tanager a few days before 
leaving the nest, and both its eyes were securely closed and hidden 
by a thick plastering of feathers and filth. I took it home, soaked 
and washed it perfectly clean in warm milk. Its eyes were a light 
pink and seemed sightless. It was placed in the dark, fed care- 
fully, gradually brought to the light and in three days it could see 
perfectly and was returned to its nest, sound as the other inmates. 

Once I found a female Finch helpless on the ground, and dis- 
covered her trouble to be an egg so large she could not possibly de- 
posit it, and she had left the nest and was struggling in agony. 
I broke the egg with a hatpin and she soon flew away, seemingly 
all right. With the help of a man who climbed a big tree and 
secured the egg of a Chicken-hawk, after the Hawk had been 
shot by a neighboring farmer, we played the mean trick on a Hen 
of having her brood on the egg of her enemy. 

Another time some boys came to me with a stringy baby Sheil- 
poke, scarce old enough to fly, that had landed aimlessly in a ditch 
filled with crude oil, and the poor bird was miserable past de- 
scription. Warm water, soft soap and the scrub brush ended his 
troubles and he was returned to the river clean, full fed and 
happy, I hope. Walking through the woods one Sabbath morn- 
ing this spring, after a night of high wind and driving rain, I 
was attracted by the sharp alarm cries of a pair of Rose-breasted 
Grosbeaks. I followed them until almost mired in the swamp, 
and there, on a little tuft of grass, between pools of water and 
among trampling cattle, within two feet of each other, I found a 
male baby Grosbeak and a Scarlet Tanager, neither over five days 
from the shell. The Tanager nest I could not discover. The 
Grosbeak was in a slender oak sapling in a thicket of grape-vines. 
The tree was too light to bear my weight and I was not prepared 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




BABY GROSBEAK 



for field work. To leave them meant for them to be drowned or 
trampled by the cattle. I carried them both home in my hands. 
That night I read that a young Hawk taken from his coarse nest 
of sticks and placed in a soft nest would die miserably, so the 
next morning I took a ladder and went back to the swamp. There 
had been some woodland tragedy other than the storm. The 
nest contained one baby, dead and badly abused, so I carefully 
cut the surrounding vines and brought the cradle home to my 
bird. For the next ten days, in the midst of my busiest time on 
this book, a stop every fifteen minutes was made to feed those 
youngsters a mixture of boiled potato and egg, varying with a 
little mashed fruit and bread and milk. 

They grew beautifully. When they were large enough to fly 
well they were given the freedom of the conservatory, then the 
door was left open, and finally they were placed in an apple-tree 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




YOUNG TANAGER 



with food and water beneath. As I write 
they are six weeks old. Bath water is still 
furnished them, but they have not been 
fed for ten days. Both of them are fly- 
ing about the orchard, clean, bright, 
beautiful birds. I was most anxious to 
keep them, the Grosbeak especially. It 
would have made a precious pet, but the 
laws of my state prohibit the caging of 
a song-bird, so I gradually had to ac- 
custom them to become self-supporting, 
take their pictures, and let them go. 

While working among and about birds in the nesting season I 
have secured these intimate studies and experiences. At any other 
time, when they are the wild, shy, free creatures of all outdoors, a 
preconceived study of them is the merest chance, and a stray snap 
shot, luck pure and simple. This, of course, refers to songsters. 
With coast and tropical birds that live in flocks it is different. 

But don't let any one imagine that because he knows his nat- 
tural history well, he knows anything about the camera. That is 
a separate and distinct study. You might as well ask a great 
surgeon to do X-ray work without knowing how, as to ask a 

scientist to judge of a 
natural-history photog- 
rapher's work. It is 
possible to locate a f a- 
forite stump and pho- 
tograph one or a pair 
of Kingfishers in the 
act of diving for food. 
It is possible by his 

HEN'S NEST CONTAINING EGG OF CHICKEN-HAWK drOppingS tO locate Si 

25 




WHAT I HAVE t^NE WITH BIRDS 




"We played the mean trick on a Hen of having her brood on the egg of her 

worst enemy" 

Pheasant's drumming log, hide a camera and take him drumming, 
fighting another cock, or mating. It is possible to locate a 
Heron's fishing grounds and take him frogging at any time in 
the season. These are the things which seldom happen, and 
which are rare luck, hut they are perfectly possible to one who 
has mastered the art of setting and hiding a camera and making 
the most of a poor plate. 

I have done some of these things ; but for the most part these 
are simple little stories of what occurs every day in field work. 
What I Have Done with Birds will tell how they were ap- 
proached, to what extent their confidence was gained, and how 

26 



WHAT I HAVE LiONE WITH BIRDS 

much time was required ; it will show the studies and will explain 
what of courage, strength and patience they cost. 

My closet contains hundreds of negatives of nests, young 
birds, fully feathered on the day of leaving the nest and mostly 
in pairs, several series from nests to grown birds, some extending 
over three months ; and grown birds in the act of diving, bathing, 
flying, singing, in anger, greed, fear, taking a sun bath, and court- 
ing. I have two studies of birds when the pair were forming 
their partnership, one of a male bird standing sentinel beside his 
brooding mate, and one of a pair of Kingfishers on a stump in 
their favorite fishing shoal. Some of these studies were made 
from blinds, some with hidden covered cameras and long hose, 
and some with the camera in plain sight and the lens not ten feet 
from the subject. 

In cases where nestlings are similar in form and coloring to 
their elders and will answer every historical purpose as well, I 
have preferred to use the young in pairs in these illustrations, be- 
cause my heart is peculiarly tender over these plump, dainty, 
bright-eyed little creatures, and I fancy others will feel the same. 

Every picture reproduced is of a living bird, perching as it 
alighted in a characteristic environment. I have no gallery save 
God's big workshop of field and forest, and my birds are bound 
by no tie save the chord of sympathy between us. 




'Spirit that moves the sap in spring, 
When lusty male birds fight and sing, 
Inform my words and make my lines 
As sweet as flowers, as strong as vines." 

Thompson. 



CHAPTER II 

The " Queen" Rail: Eallus Elegans 

IN A SWAMP 

There are particularly fine 
specimens among birds and ani- 
mals as well as among men; and 
for this reason one bird no more 
represents the whole of its species 
than one man represents the 
whole of his race. The greatest 
thing ever done with a bird was 
to win its confidence. I have 
done this in the case of many 
brooding birds, but never to a de- 
gree surpassing this instance. 
One evening one of the Faithful brought me word that seven 
miles east of the cabin, in a little swamp in one corner of Eli Mc- 
Collum's corn-field, "a large bird brooded on a nestful of big 
eggs." A message like that means everything delightful to a 
natural-history photographer, and I could scarcely await the com- 
ing morning to be on my way. That night I dreamed of a great 
bird that carried me on its back across a waving green swamp 
and kindly poised in air above its nest while a study of its eggs 
was made. 

Early the next morning I donned my swamp outfit, packed 
four cameras and started. The road wound off to the northeast 

31 




HIDING AN EGG FROM SIGHT 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

through entirely new country; there were hills and hollows to 
which I was not accustomed, and all May was in each intoxicating 
breath of spring air, in the Lark's note o'erhead, and in every 
whitening corner of the old snake fences outlining my way. 

A passing farmer directed me to McCollum's, and, standing 
in my carriage, I could see a corn-field with a small swamp in one 
corner. r I turned from the broad highway and drove up a narrow 
country road such as one reads of, but seldom finds. Crisp, thick 
grass grew to the wheel-tracks, big oaks and maples locked 
branches overhead, while every fence-corner was a blanket of 
bloom above and a carpet of bloom below. 

The corn-field, mellow with alternate freezing and thawing, 
outlined in symmetrical rows by the brown stubble of last year's 
crop, green splotched with rank upspringing mullein, thistle, dog- 
fennel and smartweed, drowsed in the warm sunshine. It was 
inclosed by a snake fence, so old that it had become a thing of 
great beauty and most interesting. There must have been a time 
when that fence shone with the straw colors of newly-split timber 
and gave off sappy odors. Now, it was blacker than the bark 
of great trees that had grown from the acorns and beechnuts the 
squirrels had dropped in its corners ; and it was hoary with the lint 
that wasps and Orioles love to gather in nest-building, and gay 
with every endless shade of gray and green that ever harmonized 
in the crimpled face of a lichen. There were places where the old 
fence stoutly bore up its load of bitter-sweet and woodbine, wild 
grape and blackberry; again it slid down dejectedly, as if the 
years were heavy upon it, and the wood, soggy with earth's damp- 
ness, grew tiny ferns, mosses and brilliant fungus. 

I almost forgot the bird of which I had dreamed, in my de- 
light over the fence. Every rail of it was a tenement. Some 
housed woodworms, ants and beetles ; hollow ends and knot-holes 
sheltered brooding Linnets and Pewees; small mud-plastered 

32 



THE "QUEEN" RAIL 

spots marked the walled-in families of boring wasps. Garter 
snakes, moles and field mice homed in and under the rotting bot- 
tom rails, bright green lizards liked to laze on the sunny sides of 
the middle ones, and sleek squirrels, with black-striped backs, 
flashed along the top. 

In the corners on either side grew rank orchard-grass, thickly 
sprinkled with sweet-williams, and laughing-faced blue-eyed 
marys coquetted with them through the cracks. Graceful maiden- 
hair ferns tossed their tresses from wiry stems. Bleached 
mandrake umbrellas, that would later unfurl shades of green to 
shelter cups of wax and gold, pushed stoutly through the sod. 
Half the corners were filled with the whiteness of wild plum and 
hawthorn, and the others were budding the coming snow of alder 
and the blush of wild roses. Papaw sheaths were bursting with 
the pressure of coming leaf and wine-colored bloom, and rich red 
and yellow buckeye buds were pursy with swelling flower and 
foliage. 

"Mu-m-m-m-m-m-m !" came the low rumble of a swamp bird. 
"Gyck! Gyck!" came the answer, and the fence was forgotten. 
The camera I selected to use weighed forty pounds, the field was 
mellow and the swamp at its farthest corner. Sharp study was 
required to locate the nest, but at last, by just a few grass blades 
persistently arching against the wind, I found it. Then putting 
on my waders and carefully probing with a long tripod for each 
step, I entered the swamp and started toward the nest. 

The birds fear noise far more than objects, so I made a long 
wait between steps and shifted my feet side wise a little so as not 
to sink so deep in the muck that I could not get out. It was hard 
work to take a step, and I sank deeper and deeper on nearing 
the nest. Coming close I made longer pauses between steps. 
When I was quite close to the nest, from the heart of the swamp 
broke a sharp "Gyck! Gyck!" the same cry that I had heard on 

33 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the road, and then I knew that it came from a King Rail and that 
this was the palace of his Queen. 

She had chosen her location on a little hummock, far out in 
a deep pool, and so few inches above the water that when brood- 
ing she could take a drink without rising. The erection of her 
palace evidently had been simplicity itself. She had snipped this 
year's green grass from her location, sat down in the old dead, 
dry blades, and repeatedly turned around. Then she had gath- 
ered the dry blades she had broken off, dropped them under her 
and worked them down with her feet. This gave her a large, 
flat, bowl-shaped nest of beautiful shades of tan, yellow and 
brown dried-grass blades. The finishing touch was to catch the 
long rank-growing blades above her head, draw them together 
and weave them into an arch of living green. 

Through its sides the brooding Rail could be seen. She was a 
large, splendid specimen of her species, her plumage a bright 
beautiful brown, with little V-shaped markings of white over her 
back and touches of black about the wings, in the shape of black 
feathers twice banded with white. The top of her head was a 
smooth even brown with ash-colored streaks above the eyes. Her 
throat was a paler ash. Later I saw that her legs were slender, 
smooth, a pale greenish yellow, and her feet graceful, with slim 
toes and sharp black nails. Her beak was elegant in its sym- 
metrical curve, with hints of red and yellow at the base, daintily 
cut nostrils and rich ivory tip. But the loveliest things of all were 
her big, wise, wonderful eyes, as she sat motionless, steadily re- 
garding me. 

As I returned her fearless gaze the thought came to me that, 
if the King Rail earned his royalty by personally conducting the 
migratory voyages of the Quail, as he was accredited with having 
done at the time of his coronation in early France, his mate un- 
doubtedly was worthy of equal honors; for she was graceful, 

34 



THE "QUEEN" RAIL 

lovely, and her heart was unafraid, as royal hearts ever should be. 
Straightway I named her the "Queen," and our acquaintance be- 
gan. 

After staying quietly about her until convinced that she 
was not frightened, I worked my way to the bank and car- 
ried my camera into the swamp, setting it up about fifteen feet 
from the nest, by the use of a long water tripod, and covering it 
with rushes. Then with the bulb of a long hose in one hand I 
slowly waded toward the nest, stooping to reach under water and 
to cut the intervening grasses from the foreground of my pic- 
ture. On nearing the nest I worked very slowly, studying every 
movement to make it noiseless and simple. It was not so easy, 
for the water was quite cold, the muck deep and sticky, and 
constant watching was required to avoid sinking above my wad- 
ers in a net-work of muskrat burrows. In my absorption I 
forgot how nearly I was approaching the nest, and suddenly 
there came between the grasses a flash of ivory, and a red stain 
spread on my bared arm. 

I almost cried aloud for pure joy. Every second I had looked 
for my "Queen" to flatten her feathers and dart into a well-de- 
fined little runway, that could be detected leading off from one 
side of the nest into the swamp. But this was pure glory. She 
was a fighter. She would stay. Talk about excitement! My hair 
pricked my head and my heart muffled up in my throat as I stooped 
low, and slowly and carefully parted and bent back the grasses 
of the nest, while the "Queen" peppered me without mercy. My 
hands and arms were seeping blood in twenty-three places when 
the nest was opened to my satisfaction, and the "Queen" had not 
budged to leave it when I finished the exposure and closed it 
again. 

Every day for seven days I slipped into the swamp, set up 
my camera, closer and closer each time, and opened that nest. 

37 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

Each day the "Queen" paid less and less heed to me. On the day 
that I traveled those fourteen miles for the seventh time, my 
camera was set with no covering at all, exactly where it was 
wanted, and the grasses parted widely, without the slightest pro- 
test from the bird; she did not move or open her beak, and she 
neither looked nor felt afraid or annoyed. Then with a slow plate 
and time exposure, the frontispiece of this chapter was made; a 
study of a bird that any hunter will tell you is one of our wildest, 
shyest creatures. 

After changing the plate, I desired a reproduction of the nest 
and eggs to complete the series, and as the "Queen" would not 
leave I gently picked her up, being extremely careful to lift her 
straight above the nest, so as not to break an egg. Holding her on 
my breast, with her head slipped inside my blouse, that she might 
not be alarmed by seeing me touch her eggs, I made an exposure 
on her nest. 

Her eggs were twelve in number, four and one-half inches 
around the long way and three and three-quarters at the larger 
end, by the best measurements I could secure and manage the 
"Queen" at the same time. They were of a pale ash-color, sparsely 
sprinkled with splotches of reddish brown and faint lavender 
markings that looked as if seen through a thin, oily veil. In the 
golden bowl with the green arch above they were exquisite. 

Then I set the "Queen" back on the edge of her nest and 
kissed the top of her shining head in parting, for I knew what was 
on those plates. The grasses of her arch were closed just as nearly 
as she had them as was possible for me to arrange them. Every- 
thing was replaced as I found it and I hurried away, unspeakably 
grateful to the bird that would allow such fellowship on the part 
of a mortal. 

Our unf amiliarity with the King Rail arises, not from the fact 
that it is so uncommon, the swamps are filled with them; but 
because they are extremely wild and almost never take wing, 

38 



THE "QUEEN" RAIL 

trusting to escape pursuit by flattening the feathers against the 
slender bodies and darting between the reeds and rushes, where 
dogs can not penetrate or hunters get a shot ; hence the expression, 
"slim as a rail." 

Possibly I have many rarer studies of rarer birds, but into 
many of them there enters an element of pure luck, over which 
no control can be exercised, and they were only obtained because I 
happened to be on the spot at the right moment, and so acquainted 
with the birds that I was able to snap, not for what they were do- 
ing, but for what experience had taught me they would do next. 
This picture was deliberate. I worked and planned for it. The 
bird was superb and I did not spare myself in my efforts to gain 
her confidence. I drove those ninety-eight miles, and dragged my 
muck-laden feet by the hour through the chilly swamp-water, in 
the hope that I should get something nearly as good. I confess I 
never expected to do quite so well. This study of the "Queen" 
Rail to me represents the high-water mark of what I have done 
with birds, in the way of winning their confidence. 




EGGS OF KING RAIL 

39 



'His palace is in the brake 
Where the rushes shine and shake ; 
His music is the murmur of the stream 
And that leaf rustle where lilies dream." 

Thompson. 



CHAPTER III 



The Wood Thrush: Hylocichla Mustelina 

IN THE VALLEY OF THE WOOD ROBIN 

I am always happy to learn 
the location of a pair of birds by 
any method, but it is pure delight 
to find a nest myself. For a week, 
on coming from field work in the 
evening, when crossing the levee 
that bridges the valley lying be- 
tween the Wabash and the outlet 
of the Limberlost, I heard a 
Wood Thrush or Bell Bird sing- 
ing the ecstatic passion song of 
mating time. 

The embankment was fifteen 
feet high and on either side of 
it lay patches of swamp which grew giant forest trees and almost 
impenetrable thickets of underbrush. There were masses of dog- 
wood, hawthorn, wild plum, ironwood and wild rose bushes grow- 
ing beneath the big trees ; grape-vines, trumpet creeper and wild 
ivy clambered everywhere and the ground was covered with vio- 
lets, anemones, spring beauties, cowslips, and many varieties of 
mosses and ferns. The place was so damp, dark and cool that the 
cowslips were paler than is their wont and the violets grew stems 
a foot in length. A little creek wound a devious course through 

43 




NEST OF WOOD ROBIN, SHOWING 
USE OF CAST SNAKE SKIN 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the valley and there were many pools that lay filled throughout 
the summer. 

In all the surrounding country, here was the one spot exactly 
filling the requirements of an ideal location for Wood Thrushes ; 
and when those notes of bell-toned sweetness sounded, evening 
after evening, from the same tree, it was evident that somewhere 
in the shrubs beneath that divine singer there brooded a bright- 
eyed brown-coated mate to whom he was pouring out his heart in 
notes of tenderness and cheer. 

The next morning, traveling east an hour earlier than usual 
and hitching my little black horse to a telephone pole on the levee, 
I climbed down the embankment. My way in the thicket could 
be made only by stooping beneath the branches and creeping be- 
tween bushes, and sometimes using my hatchet to get through at 
all. My feet sank deep into the damp muck beneath the thick 
layer of dead leaves; there were many small pools to skirt and 
once my course changed entirely, because a great flood of a few 
months previous had filled the whole valley with one broad raging 
torrent that overwashed the levee. Lodged in underbrush were a 
drowned cow and some pigs. 

When the tree from which my bird had sung was located I 
began searching about it, in an ever-widening circle, for the nest. 
The first thing I found was a big carp, firmly impaled at the 
height of my head on a thorn tree and dry as any herring an- 
other result of the flood. My next find was the nest of a pair of 
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, which defied the rules of naturalists, be- 
cause they didn't build in a wild grape-vine, where grape-vines 
were plentiful, and they didn't build of last year's dried grape- 
feelers, but of sticks and twigs. Then I found the largest ce- 
cropia cocoon of my experience; in a few weeks there would 
emerge from it a beautiful moth; but that was so high above 
my head it could not be secured that morning. I got it a week 




NEST OF WOOD THRUSH 



'With untold patience and labor this pair had digged from the ground the root* 
of red raspberries and nettles and woven them into a deep cup while wet" 



THE WOOD THRUSH 

later and in my conservatory early in June hatched from it a moth 
with a wing-spread of six and three-quarter inches the widest 
of the species of which I ever have heard. A Woodcock was 
flushed and an hour spent in searching for her nest, when I re- 
membered that my quest was for Bell Birds, and returned to my 
original pursuit. 

I had hunted until despairing when there was a brown flash 
above my head, and a Bell Bird flew over with a sharp warning 
chirp ; then I realized I was close to his home and standing still I 
used my eyes to such good advantage that presently I was look- 
ing squarely into the big, liquid, startled ones of Mother Bell 
Bird, as she peered down from an elm thicket a little above me. 

Oh, but she was a beauty! Even in her plain colors, which 
after all were not so plain, for her back was a rich reddish brown 
and her breast snowy white, with long irregular markings of 
black. My plan had been to locate her that morning and go my 
way for a day's work elsewhere ; but a nest on a dry plate is worth 
ten in a bush, for the birds have hosts of enemies, and you never 
know with any certainty when you leave a nest one day that you 
will find it safe the next. It could be seen at a glance that there 
was something most unusual about this nest, for it was bright as 
the back of the bird that brooded on it; so I hurried to the car- 
riage for my step-ladder to use as a tripod, and a camera, and I de- 
cided that I would bring a big one. 

I felt that this was a rare find, and so it proved. The nest 
was the most surprisingly individual piece of bird architecture 
imaginable. Disdaining corn -husk, straw, and other material al- 
most invariably chosen by their species, this pair of birds, with 
untold patience and labor, had digged from the ground the roots 
of red raspberries and nettles and woven them into a deep cup 
while wet. There was not a particle of lining and very little other 
foundation: nothing at all in the body of the nest except these 

47 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

two kinds of roots. They had dried firmly as spun glass and 
turned to a bright terra cotta color. The long soaking the flood 
had given the valley made it possible for the birds to dig these 
roots ; but how they ever broke them off the size they were is still 
an unsolved problem. The eggs were a Robin's delicate blue, and 
in their bright cradle, with the tender green of the elm thicket all 
about, they made a picture that has to be seen to be appreciated 
fully. 

After making a record of the nest that was to my satisfaction, 
I began courting the confidence of the mother bird truly a de- 
lightful task ! Every morning and almost every evening I visited 
the nest, each time going a little closer, making longer waits, 
moving with extreme caution, lest she become frightened, and al- 
ways going through the operation of setting up the ladder and a 
small camera in front of the nest, just to accustom her to the pro- 
cess ; in the hope that I soon could approach near enough to make 
a study of her as she brooded. 

Sometimes I crept into the thicket in the early morning when 
the bushes were heavy with dew, when the breath of night lin- 
gered in the valley and when the Bell Bird and the Grosbeak were 
singing chants to the rising sun. Sometimes I lingered near the 
nest until late evening and the woods grew very still for a time, 
lacking the chirp and chatter of a hundred little heads now tucked 
in sleep. Then night's sounds would begin to rise in a steady vol- 
ume all about me. A 'coon that lived in a hollow tree near me 
could be heard getting ready for his nightly raid, tree-toads would 
sing intermittently, Whippoorwills set me shivering, and once in 
June a great golden Eccles Imperialis brushed my cheek and I 
had to let it go for fear pursuit would startle my bird and undo 
all my hours of watching with her, yet I would have given much 
to have captured that beautiful moth. Once while waiting near 
Mother Bell, climbing the ladder occasionally and softly talking 

48 



THE WOOD THRUSH 

to her, I sat on a log to rest. Something touched my foot and I 
looked down to see a big black water-snake passing from pool to 
pool. It would not strike, save in self-defense ; but I wonder if 
I shall ever learn my woodcraft sufficiently to see near me a snake, 
no matter how harmless, without a feeling of horror. 

From the hour the mother bird felt the quickening to life of 
four little shell-incased bodies against her breast, she became a 
fanatic and my work was easy. She allowed me to make studies 
of her on her nest and even to stroke her wing as she brooded. I 
never tried to pick her up. I thought of it and wondered if it 
could be done, but I was afraid she might grip with her feet and 
carry an egg from the nest, a thing not to be risked when there 
was no greater result to be accomplished than merely to prove 
that she could be handled. 

After the nestlings hatched, they soon grew so accustomed 
to me that they cared not a particle whether their mother or I 
dropped the worms and berries into their mouths. Many inter- 
esting studies were secured of them, but not one nearly equaling 
a pair of the young on the day they left the nest. These babies 
were bright, alert and sweet, beautifully colored and very easy to 
coax into poses. Surely the male made as exquisite a singer as his 
father, and the female another brave tender-eyed mother bird. 

The taking of these pictures was comparatively easy. Fight- 
ing my way through the thicket, carrying heavy cameras, 
dragging about a twenty- foot step-ladder for a tripod, avoiding 
poisonous vines, snakes and miring in muck, being stung by 
insects and scratched by briers was not so easy, but all that is in 
any real field-worker's daily life. 

Here is a study of this rare and beautiful bird-home and of 
the pair of handsome youngsters hatched from it ; but what would 
I not give if every one could hear the Bell Bird's exquisite notes, 
rolling down the valley, as he courted, comforted and guarded his 

49 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

mate. All of my life I shall hear him as he would come hopping 
from branch to branch toward his choir-loft, tenderly questioning, 
"Uoli? Uoli?" Then in a burst of impassioned rapture, clear as 
the finest golden toned flute, "A-e-o-l-e! A-e-o-l-e! Aeolee, lee, 
lee!" 




YOUNG BELL BIRD HIDING 
UNDER LEAF 



50 




HEAD OF BARN 
OWL 



CHAPTER IV 

The Barn Owl: Stria? Pratincola 

IN DEEP FOREST 

Did you ever traverse the Inland Route, be- 
fore fire annihilated and lumbermen despoiled its 
great beauty? There was a charm in every foot 
of that dark, marshy old northern forest, in the 
little river flowing swiftly over its bed of golden 
sand, in the rushy, moss -covered swamps which 
bordered it and in the clear, cool air, perfumed 
with dank odors and the resin of pines. 

Forests of spruce, cedar and birch locked 
branches across the river, among them monster trees had died and 
lodged at every conceivable angle in falling, the swamp on either 
hand was scarlet with foxfire, while curious ferns, mosses and 
lilies lined each bank. All about were traces where deer had been 
to browse and drink, clumsy bears to eat berries, fish in shallow 
pools and play havoc with the housekeeping of muskrat and 
beaver. Fancy peopled these spots with dusky-painted faces, and 
one could almost hear the water-dripping paddle-blades and the 
twang of the bow-string. 

We were unusually early that year, and extremely fortunate 
in securing a guide who was an ardent sportsman and a lover of 
all wild life. Of course I was more interested than he in secur- 
ing subjects for my camera, but a casual observer scarcely would 
have guessed it. My window on the second floor of our stopping- 

53 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

place overlooked the tree-tops and gave ine a view of a wide 
stretch of the lake, the river creeping away in the distance, the 
gleaming trunks of birch and the spiral tops of cedars lifting 
above an impenetrable tangle of interlocking trees and bushes. 

Every morning a great Eagle with a golden head, either fish- 
ing or preying on water birds, hung above the lake, and how my 
guide and I did hunt for the nest of that bird ! We never found 
it, but in our search we located, in a great hollow tree back of our 
stopping-place, a family that repaid our disappointment. If you 
never saw Strix pratincola in her chosen location, busy keeping 
.house, then you have missed one of the rarest sights of bird-land. 
We named her "Monkey- face," buffoon that she was,) the minute 
we caught sight of her, blinkingly peering from her front door 
to learn if it were too early to go hunting and sadly shaking her 
low-hung head, as if all the woes of bird-land rested heavily on 
her shoulders. (Her face was heart-shaped, sharply outlined by 
several rows of crisp up-standing brown feathers and covered 
with white feathers lightly tinged with the pale ash and lavender 
which proved her a last year's bird. Her eyes were small, for an 
Owl, and slightly oblong. Her beak and mouth were almost hid- 
den by long silky down. Her breast was paler than her face and 
touched here and there with tiny black feathers. On the top of 
her head began a beautiful light tan-color that took on strength 
as it spread over her back, wings and tail. A-top her head and 
across her shoulders she was thickly sprinkled with tiny black 
feathers tipped with white. Her primaries and secondaries were 
lightly barred with brown, but her tertiary and shoulder feathers 
were solid tan, and each seemed to end with this peculiar tipping 
of black and white. She had four strong toes, and her legs were 
bare to the first joint. Later we saw her mate, and he closely re- 
sembled her. All the difference we could note was that his face 
and breast were snowy white, with the same markings, and his 

54 




BARN OWL 



'Blinkingly peering from her front door to learn if it were too early to 

go hunting" 



THE BARN OWL 

shade of tan seemed a degree lighter. Crouching where we were 
we watched and waited, and soon with the soft, uncanny flight of 
an Owl she swept over us and away into the deep dark forest. 

Investigation proved that the tree contained Owl babies, how 
many could not be told, but ornithologists allot to this species 
from three to five. They also place this bird's northern limit on 
a line with Rhode Island and its habitat in the south and on the 
coast ; yet here was a true Stria? pratincola in northern Michigan, 
almost a full degree above this Owl's northern limit and certainly 
central. 

It would be the easiest thing in the world to measure the depth 
of that opening and remove a section from the back of the tree 
that would allow pictures of the young to be taken, but how was 
one ever to secure a camera-shot at the old ones? That was our 
problem and we decided to try to solve it before touching the tree 
to work on the babies. 

The next evening we were at the tree early and again saw the 
Mother Owl leave it in search of food. The opening was large. 
We had been as noiseless as possible and concealed ourselves so 
well that she stood, to accustom her eyes to the light, for a length 
of time that would have given a fine exposure, had there been a 
camera at her level. 

Fortunately the opening faced the east. Trees and branches 
could soon be cut away to get direct light, and there was another 
tree close, to the trunk of which a camera could be attached di- 
rectly opposite the entrance. That was a day of hard work. 
Cleats were sawed and nailed to this tree so that we could walk 
up and down it like a ladder, and opposite the Owl's door a small 
platform was fastened on which we placed the camera and focused 
it on the opening. It was useless to talk of snap shots in that light, 
so the shutter was set at a half second on a medium plate, the long 
hose attached and the camera covered with bark. It so closely re- 

57 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

sembled a huge knot on a tree that no bird, even with the keenest 
eyes, would have paid the least attention to it. 

Then we waited until black night and no birds either came to 
or left the tree. We attributed this fact to the noise and disturb- 
ance we had made, although work was done as swiftly and quietly 
as possible ; but there was much to do, and several trees in our way 
could not be felled without the inevitable crash. We decided to 
risk leaving the camera as it was and did not go near it again un- 
til five o'clock the next evening. About six, Mother Owl stood in 
her doorway, blinked her eyes, yawned, hung her head and slowly 
and sadly shook it back and forth as if life had no attraction for 
her. 

Kneeling up in my anxiety, to see better through the under- 
brush, I snapped a twig. Mother Owl peered in my direction, 
listening intently, every muscle on the alert. Oh, but I was thank- 
ful for a well-oiled shutter! It might have been set at a second, 
for fully that length ,of time elapsed before she dropped her 
head again and shook it more depressedly than before. Then 
her body seemed to lift suddenly and she was gone. 

"Oh, why didn't I set that shutter for a second?" I groaned. 
"She never moved in that length of time." 

"To-morrow night we will," said my guide encouragingly. 

Then we went to develop the plate. We really had Mother 
Owl so that the plate could be intensified into a printable one, 
but it greatly lacked my idea of what could be done with this sub- 
ject. The next night we tried it again. We set the shutter at a 
second and Mother Owl flew in the middle of the exposure, which 
taught me that I should have used the bulb, as the impulse to 
flight was detected in time to have closed the shutter if it could 
have been done. That plate was spoiled. 

The next day I had a brilliant idea. Why not close Mother 
Owl's door after she left at night, and keep her out until the light 

58 



THE BARN OWL 

was sufficiently strong to take her picture in the morning? She 
was feeding her young, and they would be very hungry, but not 
particularly hurt by a little longer fast than usual, and no doubt 
they would cry for food and keep her near. When she found she 
could not reach them she would perch close, and then, if they 
would cry, there was every probability that she would fly to them, 
even in a fairly strong light. 

That day my lenses were polished like diamonds, a fresh me- 
dium plate placed in the camera, the shutter set at a bulb exposure 
and everything tested to see that it worked smoothly. When 
Mother Owl left that night, we discussed giving her until mid- 
night to bring several rounds of food to the babies, but dared not 
risk it. If the Owlets were not very hungry they would not cry, 
and if they did not, it was almost sure their mother would not try 
to fly by day. 

A board was nailed securely over the opening. Mother Owl 
returned and attacked it beak and claw. Soon her mate came, 
and how the two of them worked! It was almost too bad. I 
fancied I could see Mother Owl shaking her head when she really 
had some reason to shake it. My heart failed me. This was not 
living up to my pact. It was not treating that mother as I would 
be treated. I whispered to the guide to go and take away the 
board. It is a good thing that he was made of a little sterner 
stuff, for he pointed out that the young were well grown, that 
there was nothing happening to injure them permanently, that 
they were birds of prey, and that if they didn't want their pic- 
tures taken they had no business to carry about such faces to 
tempt us. 

At times they would leave. Then they would return, some- 
times together, sometimes singly, and work to get the board away. 
The night was clear and cool and filled with sounds. The guide 
repeatedly assured me that there were no snakes, and I had seen 

59 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

none. Often we heard the crashing of deer, and at times the 
heavier passing of bear, but the guide said they were only little 
black fellows and should we meet they would be worse scared 
than we. Anyway, the guide had a rifle and both of us good 
revolvers. 

With the dawn both birds gave up the struggle and flew 
away, but from their calls to each other we knew that they were 
very close. About six o'clock, when the good old red sun fell 
fairly on the opening, I nodded to the guide. Quietly as possible 
he slipped to the tree, climbed it and removed the board. Then 
he dropped inside the opening a piece of string, weighted with 
fresh beefsteak and a stone. As soon as he returned and every- 
thing had been still for a time, he lowered the meat and the 
young Owls set up a perfect clamor. I was kneeling, watching 
and listening with all my soul. The night had been cold, but I 
was wet with perspiration. The flight of Mother Owl was noise- 
less, but I felt her coming and signaled the guide to jerk away 
the meat. The string broke and the meat fell inside. She 
alighted with a slow sweep and as she struck, behind her I did my 
level best at an imitation of her babies' cry that I had been softly 
practising over in my throat all the night. 

Instantly she paused, turned to my direction, surely for a 
full second, opened her eyes unusually wide to intensify her 
vision, then she was gone. Save for a feather she had slightly 
disarranged on one wing in working at the board, she seemed 
to me absolutely perfect. 

"What makes you so white?" asked the guide, as I stared at 
him wildly. 

"I forgot to squeeze the bulb," I sobbed, breaking down 
entirely, after the long strain. 

"You squeezed it until your finger-nails were white," he said. 
"I was watching you." 

60 



THE BARN OWL 

"I am sure that I didn't," I urged, in the hope that he would 
say something in contradiction that would help me to remember. 

"But you did," he said positively. "Having to tell me when 
to pull, trying to imitate the babies and work the bulb all at once 
made so much you can't remember. Can't you tell from the 
camera if you did?" 

"Why, of course!" I cried joyously. "Get it down at once; 
and, dear boy, were you ever careful?" 

I vow his eyes were wet as he answered, "Several times lately. 
You look the other way. It shall come down like a box of eggs," 
and it did, with the shutter closed. 

My hands shook as I pushed the slide into the plate-holder, 
and, withdrawing the holder, wrapped it in a sheet of rubber. 
Before eating or sleeping I carried that plate to my boarding- 
house and developed it, with the guide peering over my shoulder. 
It was breathless work. 

"Are you sure that stuff is all right?" he asked as the chemi- 
cals were measured in the beginning. A little later, "Can you sec 
anything yet?" Then, "Would it hurt just to take a little peep 
now? She ought to be out enough that you can see if she really is 
coming/' When I first held the dripping plate to the ruby lamp 
he shouted, "Hello, old monkey faced-mooneye ! I knew we had 
you! Stopped to look back, didn't you? And just see what we 
got! Ginger! Ain't she a bird? Yessir! That's the way she 
looked, just exact!" 




THE FACE A PERFECT HEART-SHAPE 

61 



'Mourn not for the Owl, nor his gloomy plight ! 

The Owl hath his share of good : 
If a prisoner he be in the broad daylight, 
He is lord in the dark greenwood ! 
We know not alway, 
Who are kings by day, 
But the king of the night is the bold brown Owl." 

Barry Cornwall. 




THE KILLDEER NEST 



CHAPTER V 
The Killdeer: Oocyechus Vociferus 

ON THE GROUND 

"John has a nest for you," said a sweet- faced country woman, 
as she poured my second glass of buttermilk. 

So many wonderful things come to me in just that simple 
way and my heart always gives the same old thump of delightful 
anticipation. 

"Did he say what kind?" I questioned eagerly. 

"He thinks it's one of these killdeer-crying birds. It flew up 
right under the horses' noses and he had to pull back hard on them 
to save the nest. It's in the east corn-field, where he is working. 
He plowed around it and drove a stake to mark the place for you. 
There's four eggs and she's gone back to them." 

I thought intently for a moment. "One of these killdeer- 
crying birds." I could not remember having seen a study of the 

65 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

nest of a Killdeer published, not even in a recent work devoted 
exclusively to bird architecture, or a reproduction of the young. 
I promptly hugged Mrs. Stukey, because I love these great- 
souled country people who save me nests, lay down their fences, 
offer food and a cooling drink, and try in every way to help me 
in work they do not always understand, merely because they like 
to be kind and helpful. Then I hurried to the east corn-field. 

The gate from the road into the field was nailed shut, so I 
hitched my horse, whose original name was Ben, but, regardless 
of sex, since has been changed to Patience, for obvious reasons ; 
climbed the gate and started for what looked like a stake far 
across the field. Part of my course lay between the weather- 
beaten dry weeds and the stubble of last year's crop, and the rest 
over freshly-plowed ground. 

The open sunny field was almost a solid green in perspective, 
with the tender upspringing wild lettuce, silvery catnip, golden 
green dandelion and pale whitish burdock. The light green felt 
of the mullein and the rank dark green of the thistle spread 
everywhere in great plants which had slept securely beneath the 
snows and renewed their vigorous growth before the last drifts of 
March had passed. It occurred to me to wonder if we had learned 
everything about thistles and mullein it was intended we should. 
These plants must have been made so vigorous and so hardy for 
some special reason and I scarcely think we have found it. 

On nearing the plowed ground a great clamor broke on my 
ears and I stopped, enthralled by one of the most beautiful sights 
conceivable. Down the field came John, the lines hanging over a 
plow-handle, guiding his powerful gray Percherons by his voice, 
a black line of swamp loam rolling up as he passed, and myriads 
of big birds swarming over him or fighting for place on the 
freshly-turned earth at his heels. 

66 



THE KILLDEER 

"T'check! T'check! T'chee!" cried a whole flock of Black- 
birds, the sun flashing on their iridescent satin wings and sleek 
heads, as they circled about or stepped gracefully along the fur- 
row, searching for grubs. Somber-coated Crows cawed in full- 
fed satisfaction, and plump-breasted Robins cried "Kip, kip! Cut 
cut, cut!" in exultation over each juicy morsel. There was the 
azure flash of the Bluebird's wing as he occasionally stopped 
searching for nest locations along the old snake fence and in 
the high stumps and darted down for some small insect. There 
was the plaintive cry of the Killdeers, and the silver gleam of their 
snowy underwings and breasts as they hung over a pool, fed by 
wells drilled to produce oil and contrarily producing water; and 
Meadow Larks left their nests in the adjoining wheat-field, and 
from high stumps and fence riders made excursions to secure 
their share of the feast, returning again to proclaim the season 
with notes of piercing melody. 

Twenty fields had been passed in the process of spring plow- 
ing that day, and a few scared birds hanging about the fences 
or scattering before the crack of a shot-gun were all that could be 
seen. There was only one John above whom they swarmed in 
absolute confidence ; there was only one John who paused a second 
now and then to kick open big pieces of muck, or stooped to break 
it with his hands and fling the grubs to the birds. And was he not 
wise ? Was not their trust in him, the company they were to him, 
and the music they made for him a soul-feast for any man? Was 
not every grub and worm eaten then one less to prey on his young 
crop later? 

Long before I reached the stake set to guide me a clear, 
musical "Te-dit! Te-dit!" rang from a sentinel above the swamp, 
and straight toward me on slender stilt-legs a female Killdeer 
came running. Then she uttered a sharp cry and turned to the 

67 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

south, directly away from the stake, limping, hopping and drag- 
ging a wing to attract my attention. That trick had been familiar 
to me ever since I could remember, so I went on toward the stake, 
and, by the small spot which John had plowed around, easily 
located the nest, or rather the eggs. 

There was very little nest to describe. On bare earth, sur- 
rounded by a few bits of bark, corn-stalk and chips, all picked 
up in the immediate vicinity, lay four tan-colored eggs thickly 
sprinkled with dark brown and black, their sharp points nosing 
together so that a stiff wind could not roll them away, a wise 
provision of nature in case these improvident mothers neglect to 
surround them by any barriers at all, as so often occurs. When a 
few days of sunshine had dried the black earth about the nest 
to the exact color of the eggs it would be impossible to distinguish 
it from the surroundings. I hunted a stone and drove deeper the 
stake which John had set up for guidance. Then arranging my 
camera, practically on the ground, I made a study of the eggs at 
once. I wanted it so much I was afraid of delay. There are 
times when in summing up the dangers which menace the birds 
from snakes, squirrels, Hawks, Crows, Jays, small animals, hunt- 
ers, untaught children and the trampling and tearing of stock 
which are browsing, it is really a marvel that a season produces the 
number of young that it does. 

The next thing was to make friends with Mother Killdeer. 
In the light of early experiences, with one brooding Killdeer in 
particular, I had dreamed dreams and seen visions on my way 
to that nest. I dreamed of becoming so well acquainted with 
that mother bird that she would take a cricket from my fingers 
and allow me to stroke her wing as she brooded, for I once had 
done that with a bird of her kind. I saw a vision of pictures of 
the brooding bird, and possibly one as she left her nest with her 

68 



THE KILLDEER 

young about her, for I once was so familiar with a Killdeer she 
would have allowed me even greater familiarity than would be 
required for that. 

There are birds which make me feel that the title of this book 
should be, "What I Have Not Done With Birds." This Killdeer 
was one of my rank failures. She was a last year's bird and this 
was her first brooding. She was nervous and foolish. She would 
suffer the horses to come quite close, but the first glimpse of John 
would send her a gray streak across the field. I tried to accustom 
her to a tripod, and she bore that, but when a small camera covered 
with twigs was placed on it she left her eggs and would not re- 
turn. 

She was accustomed to the open field and deserted her nest 
at every device I could think of, and circled above, crying so 
plaintively my heart failed me and I removed the camera. She 
would not submit to a camera covered with a green cloth, grasses 
or a false stump. My experience with her did much to confirm 
me in my belief that it is almost impossible to work with a young 
bird in her first brooding. After a season or two and several 
nestings she matures and grows in confidence. She learns to dis- 
tinguish friends from enemies and unfamiliar objects from dan- 
gers, so that work about her can be carried on with some degree 
of assurance, especially after her eggs have quickened. 

While lying awake nights trying to concoct some scheme 
whereby to outwit Mother Killdeer, I was compelled to miss one 
day's visit to her and on going the next found only a little bare 
spot of earth surrounded by a few clods and chips. While I was 
closely investigating to see if any signs of tragedy could be 
found my ear caught the sweetest, faintest little silver thread of 
a cry conceivable from the throat of a bird baby. I glanced 
toward the pool and across its bare bank moved the brown and 

69 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

white body of the mother, her slender legs invisible in the rapidity 
of motion, and behind her, almost keeping pace, a tiny ball of 
down also invisibly propelled. 

Pursuit began. The old bird at once took wing and with eyes 
fast on the baby I darted here and there and ran and ran. 

"Want help?" inquired my daughter from the carriage on the 
road. 

' 'Deed I do !" I panted, running on. 

Molly-cotton joined the chase. After repeated failures, we 
caught him. We were breathless and disheveled and he was not 
even "winded." He certainly was the most exquisite bird baby 
I ever handled. His entire covering was of the softest, silkiest 
down. On his head was a little tan cap, sprinkled with pepper- 
and-salt and having a black band and chin strap, and a white vizor. 
Around his throat was a broad snowy collar and a narrow black 
tie. His coat and the upper half of his sleeves was of the same 
tan with the pepper-and-salt effect, as his cap. The lower sleeve 
was white, separated from the upper by a black band. His vest 
began snowy white at the collar and shaded by delicate gradations 
to an exquisite salmon pink. He had a neat little long bill, long 
bare legs and the big prominent eyes of the nocturnal feeder, 
for Killdeer both feed and fly at night when they choose. 

We expended what breath we had left in going into raptures 
over his suit, and the sweetness of his baby voice. Then Molly- 
cotton held the bird while a camera was set up. She placed him 
on the bank and I focused sharply on his head and her hands. 
Then I put in a quick plate, set the shutter at the one hundredth 
of a second and told her to let him go. He went. He had cov- 
ered a rod before I had sufficiently recovered from my surprise 
to see that no exposure had been made and then only to realize 

70 



THE KILLDEER 

that a plate had been saved, for there would have been nothing on 
it. 

No record was kept of the trials we gave him or the different 
methods we used. We worked two and one-half hours over him. 
We were bathed in perspiration, crimson in our faces, breathless, 
our hats lost, our clothing torn on the bushes, our hands and faces 
scratched, our feet bruised and twisted with the stones, and just 
before us that little dandy, in his elaborate suit, moved like a tiny 
airship, fresh as at the start. He traveled as easily as a puff of 
thistledown rolling before the wind. 

"We can keep this up for ever " I began. 

"No, we can't," interrupted Molly-cotton. "The sun is so hot 
I am getting so dizzy I can't see. Ill step on him next." 

She was right. We were so tired we were in danger of stum- 
bling and hurting the bird, while he was a born runner and could 
keep on all day. 

He had crossed one big stone repeatedly. I usually twisted 
my foot in going over it. I left Molly-cotton to watch the baby 
and focused sharply on that stone, heaping sand against it with 
my hands, so that he could run up on it easily. There were 
bushes back of it, and stones and rotten wood were piled among 
them until a thick wall was formed. Then a focusing cloth was 
staked before the camera, so that he would not run toward that, 
the shutter moved up to the one five-hundredth of a second and 
Molly-cotton asked to turn him slowly and carefully that way 
once again. The first time he crossed was a failure. 

I manqeuvered him back, and Molly-cotton turned him toward 
the stone again. Twice he darted past. That was stopped by 
blocking the path he took with pieces of wood. The fourth time 
Molly-cotton headed him my way, I moved closer to the stone than 

71 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

before, and as the tiny legs flashed up it, I loomed so large on the 
other side that for just one smallest fraction of a second he hesi- 
tated. Then he went free, for in that instant I had secured his 
likeness. 

This spring a little friend found a nest from which all the 
brood had gone save one, and it was so recently from the shell its 
down was scarcely dry ; so I obtained a likeness of it before it was 
strong enough to stand. 




BABY KILLDEER JUST FROM SHELL 

Notice how the three distinct colors on him fit into the surrounding landscape 



CHAPTER VI 

Black Vulture: Catharista Uruba 

IN THE LIMBERLOST 

I am indebted to Otty Bolds, 
who owns that portion of the 
Limberlost selected as their hap- 
py home by the Black Vultures, 
for word of their location. Mr. 
Bolds sent a messenger to tell me 
that in a great hollow elm tree, of 
last year's felling, was a nest con- 
taining a bird baby as big as a 
Gosling, but white as snow, and 
beside it a pale blue egg heavily 
speckled with brown and shaped 
like a Hen's, but large as a Tur- 
key's. 

This was bewildering. I knew where for three years Turkey 
Buzzards had nested in a hollow tree on the Wabash River, on 
Dan Hawbaker's farm, but their eggs were cream-colored. The 
blue eggs sent me to sea. We had no native bird that laid the egg 
described. If the description were at all correct, it could only 
mean some stray, and strays in ornithology are extremely inter- 
esting. 

On hearing of a bird that is new to me I think of Pliny's clas- 

75 




THE BLACK VULTURE S FRONT 
DOOR 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

sification of species; "those that have hooked tallons, as Hawkes; 
or long round claws, as Hennes; or else they be broad, flat and 
whole- footed, as Geese," and wonder in which class the bird can 
be placed. I was all eagerness to see these birds, but hesitated, 
not because of doubts that I would go and make studies of them 
eventually, but because it required thinking as to how it could be 
accomplished. The Limberlost was my one spot of forbidden 
territory. A rash promise had been made never to go there, but 
this sounded too alluring. I immediately sought the Deacon. 

"I want to take back my promise not to go to the Limberlost,'* 
I said. 

"Can't release you, girlie," answered the Deacon. 

We do not live long with people in this world until we discover 
their weak spot. One of the Deacon's is relics, specimens and 
curios, first cousin to natural history. 

"What a pity!" I murmured meditatively. "This is the only 
opportunity I ever have had to take a white baby as large as a 
Gosling, with a big speckled blue egg beside it, and of course I'll 
never have another." 

"What's that!" cried the Deacon. 

"How do you expect me to tell what it is, if I must not go and 
see?" I countered. 

"When did you want to go?" questioned the Deacon. 

I thought of the old adage about striking the hot iron and 
answered promptly, "This minute!" 

"But I can't go now," said the Deacon. 

"Then the blue egg will hatch and I won't get a picture of it 
beside the white baby. I am reliably informed that it has large 
dark speckles on it, the egg, not the baby. Mr. Bolds sent a 
man to tell me." 

76 




LITTLE CHICKEN 



"From Little Chicken, just before he stood to walk, I secured 
the study here given, which covers every possible natural 
history point, even the tongue " 



THE BLACK VULTURE 

"Umph!" muttered the Deacon and started for the stable. 

My soul sang for joy as I went to pack my paraphernalia. 

This was the beginning of a series of swamp-studies that is, 
in all probability, without an equal in natural history or photogra- 
phy. The Limberlost at that time was no joke. It had not been 
shorn, branded and tamed. There were most excellent reasons 
why I should not go there. Most of it was impenetrable. There 
had been one or two roads cut by expert lumbermen, who had lo- 
cated valuable trees, and a very little timber had been taken out. 
No one knew when tree-hunters were there, and always it had been 
a rendezvous for outlaws and cutthroats in hiding. The swamp 
was named for a man who became lost in its fastnesses and wan- 
dered about, failing to find the way out until he died of starvation. 
In its physical aspect it was steaming, fetid, treacherous swamp 
and quagmire, filled with every danger common to the central 
states. 

A few oil-wells had been drilled near the head of the swamp, 
and it was over a road, cut to one of these, that we were to travel 
as far as a certain well. After that the way led north a quarter 
of a mile, and then straight east, until we came to the prostrate 
trunk of a giant elm, with a hollow five feet in diameter. That 
sounds easy but it was not. In the beginning I had to pay a lessee 
a dollar for the privilege of driving over the road the oil and 
lumbermen used. A rod inside the swamp the carriage wheels on 
one side mired to the hub. Another rod, I took the camera in- 
tended for use in my lap and shielded it with my arms. Every 
few yards I expected the light carriage we drove to be twisted 
to pieces. We left it at the oil-well and started on foot with an 
ax, hatchet and two revolvers, to find the tree. 

The Deacon wore high, heavy leather boots and I wore waist - 

79 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

high rubber waders. We had to cut our way before us, as the 
felled tree had been hollow and not worth taking out, so no road 
had been made to it. For two hours we searched for that log. 
The time was late June ; there was not a breath of air stirring in- 
side the swamp; there were steaming, fetid pools everywhere, 
swarms of flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and poisonous insects, masses 
of poisonous vines and at every step not only the ground, but the 
bushes about, had to be watched for rattlesnakes. The muck 
was so spongy we sank ankle-deep, bushes scratched and tore at 
us and logs we thought were solid let us down knee-deep. 

An observer readily could have seen that the Deacon got his 
cognomen by contraries. His face was crimson, his wet clothing 
plastered to his shoulders and he lit one cigar after another to 
drive the cloud of insects from his head and neck. The portion 
of my body covered by rubber was in a Turkish bath and the rest 
was bitten until I was lumpy as a beaded pincushion, but every 
breath was a prayer that the Deacon would not lose his patience 
and give up. And he did not! Of course we had to find it after 
a while, when we searched like that. 

I was glad that it was the Deacon who first sighted the loca- 
tion. He would be more interested in it if he did. When we 
reached the tree, a big black bird was brooding. We held a coun- 
cil. I must have the baby while it was a tiny baby and the blue 
egg if possible. A camera was set up and focused on the mouth 
of the log. The Deacon plunged into the swamp and started 
back along the trunk, tapping it gently to drive out the bird. 
She was to be snapped as she emerged. 

The light was bad, but the experiment was worth a plate. We 
did not dare risk frightening the bird by doing any clearing while 
she was brooding. These matters must be handled delicately and 

80 




THREE-FOURTHS GROWN 

"No actor could surpass him in poses' 



THE BLACK VULTURE 

with common sense. To cut down a tree with her watching us, 
in all probability meant to frighten her into creeping to the far- 
thermost recesses of the log, where she might refuse to come out 
for hours. Then for the Deacon to go in and get the baby while 
she was there would mean to give her a fright from which she 
never would recover, and might result in her deserting the nest. 
She must be coaxed out, before any clearing to throw light on 
the opening was done. My eyes were fast on the log, my shak- 
ing fingers grasping the bulb. I had figured on her walking to 
the opening and flying from there. She came out on wing and 
with a rush. My shutter was set too slow for flight. There was 
only an indistinct swipe on my plate. 

Then the Deacon entered the log, crept its length and car- 
ried out the baby and the egg in his hat, which we previously had 
lined with leaves. The odor was so unbearable we could work 
about the log only by dipping our handkerchiefs in disinfectant 
and binding them over our mouths and nostrils. The Deacon 
said there was not a trace of nest. The baby and the egg were in 
a little hollow in the decayed, yellow elm fiber. 

The baby was cunning as possible, white and soft as a powder- 
puff. He had a little, quaint, leathery, black old face and the 
unhatched egg was a beauty, but far too light weight to contain 
a young bird ready to pip the shell. We at once named the baby 
Little Chicken after Pharaoh's Chickens of old. The Deacon 
placed him in the mouth of the log, exactly as he found him, while 
I cut away vines and fought out a footing. Then we cut down 
several trees and bushes to get a good light on the mouth of the 
log. A study was made of the location, two of Little Chicken 
and the egg, and one of the baby alone. 

Then the Deacon crept back into the log and replaced the 

83 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

T3aby and the egg, although we knew it would not hatch. The 
next morning the mother broke it and ate the contents. 

The birds were Black Vultures, the pioneers of their kind in 
this part of the country. The female was a brilliant young bird, 
with fresh face and feet. The male was much larger than his 
mate, duller of coloring, with a wrinkled old face, and his feet 
and legs were incrusted with a lime-colored growth at which he 
bit and worked. 

When we left the swamp we were so overheated that we 
chilled until we were compelled to wrap ourselves in the side cur- 
tains and lap-robe of the carriage, lower the top so that we sat 
in the sun of a hot June day, and drive at a slow walk. The 
Deacon turned on me with the first word he had uttered, save to 
ask what I next wanted done, and inquired, "Do you think that 
paid?" 

Never in all my life was I so uncomfortable, so unspeakably 
miserable. I was chilling until I shook under my leather cover- 
ing and so pretended not to hear him. The next morning I pro- 
duced my bunch of proofs. 

"Do you think it paid?" I asked. 

The Deacon went through the proofs several times, finally 
selecting the best one of Little Chicken and the egg. 

"That more than pays," he said succinctly. "When are we 
going again?" 

"I want to go every day and feed Little Chicken some liver 
or sweetbreads and get acquainted with his parents. I want to 
make a study of him every three days and all I can of the old 
ones," I answered. 

"All right!" said the Deacon. 

"But you can't spare all that time," I cried in astonishment. 

84 




BLACK VULTURE 

"When he was almost full-grown and only a trace of down showed about his 
ears,, he would follow me across the swamp" 



THE BLACK VULTURE 

"I must," said the Deacon. "No one less careful of you than 
I am ever shall take you to the Limberlost." 

So for weeks, until October, in fact, we watched over that 
baby and courted his parents. We found a dead calf in our 
own woods, and, putting it into a sack, we carried it into the 
swamp and placed it conveniently for the old ones and for me to 
take pictures of them. When Little Chicken was a few weeks 
old, without our knowledge lumbermen removed the log for a 
watering-trough, but sent me word where they had placed the 
baby. His parents were very indifferent about feeding him and 
I had to see to him daily. Once when I was called from town for 
several days he was brought to the cabin, in the back of the car- 
riage, and a woman hired to feed him until my return, when he 
was taken back to the swamp. There is no way of adequately de- 
scribing what we went through for that series of pictures. 

The birds were friendly, the male especially, and responded 
beautifully to our advances. From Little Chicken just before 
he stood to walk, I secured the study here given, which covers 
every possible natural history point, even the tongue. The baby 
was a perfect dear to pose and in two weeks answered to his name 
and took food from my hand as readily as from his mother. When 
he was almost full-grown and only a trace of down showed about 
his ears, he would follow me across the swamp with his queer rock- 
ing walk, humping his shoulders and ducking his head; looking 
so uncanny in that dark weird place I had to set my muscles hard 
to keep from giving a scream and running as if for life. 

The last time I saw him was late in October. He followed 
me to the edge of the Limberlost, and I turned and made this 
picture, used as a tailpiece, when his wings were raised for a 
sweep that carried him up to his parents. That season the Lim- 

87 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

berlost yielded me the only complete series of Vulture studies ever 
made, dozens of studies of other birds, material for a novel, more 
natural history stuff than could be put into several big volumes, 
many rare specimens and much priceless experience in swamp 
work, for all of which I acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. 
Bolds, to Little Chicken and to the Deacon. 




HIS WINGS WERE RAISED FOR THE 

FLIGHT THAT FIRST CARRIED 

HIM UP TO HIS PARENTS 



88 



CHAPTER VII 

The Loggerhead Shrike: Lanius Ludovicianus 

IN FIELD TREES 

The Shrikes choose open fields 
and sunlit distances. They settled 
east of the cabin, on the Stanley 
farm, in a scrub apple-tree be- 
neath which four fields cornered. 
v Mr. Bob Burdette Black told me 
of them, and as he appears so fre- 
quently in my bird-chronicles, a 
few words concerning him are ap- 
propriate. 

Bob has played with birds, 
raised them by hand and befriend- 
ed them ever since childhood. He 

has studied them in a half-dozen different states and he knows 
them well. He is the manager of a large oil-lease lying on the 
Wabash River where it has a strip of thicket on one side and a 
heavy forest on the other. He holds this position because of his 
love of the woods, and from Pennsylvania to Colorado he is 
familiar with all outdoors. When the machinery of his leases 
runs smoothly, Bob goes out and searches the fields, river-banks 
arid woods for bird-nests. He locates them in large numbers and 
then escorts me to them, often carrying heavy cameras and lad- 
ders. More than this, when I am crowded with field work he 

91 




WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

trains a pair of birds by setting up three sticks for a tripod, using 
a soap box for a camera and an old coat for a focusing cloth, 
until by the time I reach them they are neither man-shy nor 
camera-shy. His leases are covered with Martin and Bluebird 
boxes, shy forest birds build close to his power-houses and in the 
very trees under which his hammock swings. 

Bob passed the Shrike corner on the way between two wells, 
and he told me of the enterprise in the apple-tree. There was no 
other tree near it. Four lines of old snake fences, bearing their 
usual load of treasures, crept to a meeting under its friendly 
boughs. Above it was a clear broad sweep of summer sky, across 
which birds from the woods constantly trailed in a broken line of 
flight to bathe and hunt food at the river. Beneath it Stanley's 
sleek herd, with the beringed ears denoting beasts of high degree, 
chewed their cuds, switched flies and welcomed the ministrations 
of a large flock of Cow-birds. 

Subjects were located in each of those four fields. In one, 
under an arch of growing wheat, I had made a study of a Lark's 
beautiful nest and was waiting for the young to hatch. Through 
the adjoining clover-field Bob and I hunted ceaselessly for the 
nest of a Bobolink, which strutted the rod-line, playing the clown 
and pouring out a lilting melody that at times seemed especially 
improvised to mock our unavailing efforts to find his home. 

At any rate the search was a delight, for the perfume of 
clover was heavy on the air, the drowsy hum of big bumblebees, 
staggering on wing with loads of gold, was a lulling sound ; sing- 
ing grasshoppers, beautifully colored and striped, feasted here; 
satin-winged butterflies wavered over the field and the Bobolink 
swung on the rod-line and strained his throat to produce notes 
sufficiently sweet to tell it all to the brooding mate we were seek- 
ing. 

Once this search for the Bobolink became a terror. Early in 

92 



THE LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE 

the morning 1 in passing the field he flew across the road in front 
of me with a worm in his beak and alighted in the clover. Im- 
mediately I was over the fence, my eyes fast on the spot where 
the bird had disappeared. On reaching it I began circling around, 
searching for the nest. The clover had been blown down when at 
a height of eighteen inches and the tops had lifted and made a 
second equal growth. I was catching handfuls of clover and 
lifting it straight from the roots to see if the nest were hidden 
beneath the parts which lay on the ground. 

In doing this I uncovered, not the Bobolink's nest, but the 
largest snake I ever have seen in freedom. Its body was thick 
as my upper arm and it coiled round and round in a great heap, 
its head on top. When the light and air struck it, the skin seemed 
to gather in rolls on its body, its eyes blinkingly opened and closed 
in a dazed fashion and an undulating movement ran the length 
of it. 

My horror of snakes is complete. One instant I stood as if 
paralyzed, gazing at it ; the next I started for the cabin and never 
stopped until it was reached. Later in the day I recovered my 
senses and led a guide to the spot, only to find a hollow of earth 
fifteen inches across, worn smooth and hard and scattered with 
patches of snake-skin. The snake had been in the act of shed- 
ding and by my foolishness I had missed an opportunity to take 
one of the greatest natural-history pictures imaginable. 

One of the fields was an open meadow of short grass. A pair 
of cotton-tails had a burrow there which contained two normal 
babies and one dwarf, a mite no larger than my thumb and two 
weeks old. Here, attended by the Cow-birds, the cattle grazed, 
and occasionally, when temptation became irresistible, pushed 
down the fence and invaded the clover. Then how the Bobolink 
danced and scolded ! And how I danced and scolded when the heat 
;ruffled the temper of the leader of the herd, and, lowering his 

93 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




NEST AND EGGS OF SHRIKE 



great head, with a rumble like distant thunder, he came my way 
threateningly, and I had to gather my paraphernalia and beat a 
hasty retreat. In the fourth field under a protecting leaf of a 
thistle growing near the oats, a Chewink fed four babies, not a 
stone's throw from the rabbits' burrow in the adjoining field. 

At the central corner of these four fields grew the little scrub 
apple-tree in which the Shrikes located, probably because of the 
myriads of grasshoppers and insects within one sweep of flight, 

94 



THE LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE 

and it was only a short distance to wire fences decorated with 
wool, and the Stanley chicken yard, which furnished the lining 
and trimming of the nest. It was a larger structure than a 
Robin's. 

Mother Shrike laid five grayish eggs, sprinkled with brown- 
ish ash. Father Shrike fed her as she brooded. When she went 
to bathe he stood sentinel and no sneaking Cow-bird imposed on 
his family and no thieving Crow ate of his eggs or young. Occa- 
sionally, to prove that he was more closely related to the Vireo 
and the Robin than to the Hawk family, Father Shrike perched on 
a fence-post and repeated a few notes that made the Crow laugh, 
drove away the Cow-birds and sent the Bobolink dancing down 
the rod-line with every feather awry. 

The old Shrikes were very friendly and soon paid little heed 
to my work about them. But there is no place for pictures of 
them unless reproductions of their family run short. The young 
were marked exactly like their parents and very like them in 
color effect, and they were darlings. The grown birds differed 
in having the gray parts of the feathering a solid color, a more 
prominent hook on the beak, and their length of wing and tail 
destroyed in them the plump appearance of the babies. At a 
little distance no difference could be noticed except in shape. 

The youngsters filled their cradle to overflowing. They were 
impartial and allowed Bob and me to feed them. The parts of 
their food they could not assimilate they regurgitated in little ob- 
long pellets. There was no such thing as calculating the number 
of insects consumed in that nest in a day. The old birds kept up 
a steady flight and Bob and I wore ourselves out, yet the five 
squalling beaks were always wide open. If any baby failed to 
receive a morsel, it caught one of its nest -mates by the bill or 
wing and tried to swallow it. To watch the performance made 
one doubt if a baby with two sound eyes could leave the nest. 

97 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

Father Shrike might have warbled all day, but he could not have 
effaced the Hawk-like tendencies of his brood. 

Yet it is a fact that the wildest and worst dispositioned Hawk 
can be tamed into the most docile and obedient of pets. Young 
Hawks taken from a nest and raised by hand are so easily domesti- 
cated that after a few weeks of feeding they may be released and 
will live on the roof of a house and among the trees, coming at 
call. 

While in the nest the baby Shrikes squalled and fought ; a few 
days after leaving it, when foraging for themselves, they perched 
about the trees and fences of those fields, in attitudes of such re- 
markable poise and dignity as would be hard to equal in young 
birds. 

Then what beauties they were ! They had plump cunningly- 
shaped bodies and in the nest were the only birds I ever have seen 
that could lay claim to the term "dimpled." Their feathering 
was extremely fine and close. Next their bodies these tiny silken 
feathers were white, the tips shaded to palest gray very faintly 
touched with black. The whole effect was of a delicate whitish 
gray, almost invisibly mizzled with black. They had jet-black 
dashes running from the corners of the mouth across the eye to 
back of the ear, and the tail- and wing-feathers were white, 
touched with black exactly like their elders. They were amaz- 
ingly friendly little creatures and did such cunning things. They 
delighted to be fed and petted and responded to friendly advances 
in surprising fashion. 

Any one would have liked them. I was afield for character 
studies. Here were birds of complex character and most peculiar 
disposition. My task was to reproduce their varying moods. 
Their pictures shall prove if I succeeded in portraying in them 
the traits described. I pictured them over and over,, in groups, 
singly and in pairs. Head-pieces, tail-pieces and initials were 

98 



THE LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE 

made with them. All it required was kindness, patience and 
grasshoppers, to coax them into any position; but they always 
manifested their character. You could catch them looking very 
dignified, but never Dove-like. 

On the whole I doubt if bird-land contains more interesting 
and beautiful babies. Work about them was one long picnic, with 
the exception of the snake and the leader of the Stanley Jierd. It 
would be delightful if all birds had the Shrikes' trusting disposi- 
tion and chose their beautiful and accessible locations. They fur- 
nished subjects for some of my most characteristic work with 
birds, and I can still smell the clover and hear the Bobolink. 




'All it required was patience and grasshoppers to coax them into any position' 



99 



"I like 

The shrike, 

Because, with a thorn for a guillotine, 
He does his work so well and clean, 
A critic keen 
A practical bird, 
Whose common sense 
Must be immense, 
For, tell me, who has ever heard 
Of such a thing 
As a loggerhead shrike that tried to sing?" 

Thompson. 



100 



CHAPTER VIII 

The Purple Martin: Progne Subis 

IN THE AIR 

For these I need make no per- 
sonal search, nor tax the kindness of 
friends. The Purple Martins come 
to us. Every year at migration time 
they sweep up from the South and 
claim their preempted location on the 
windmill, and in a small bird-house 
east of the cabin, on the stump of a 
dead wild cherry. Sometimes our 
Wrens fail us. Sometimes our Song 
Sparrow crosses the line and builds 
in our neighbor's pear-tree. The Ori- 
oles may locate with us and they 
may not. The English Sparrows 
drive away the Flycatchers, which 
nest so high in the big elm we can 
not protect them. But three stand- 
bys never fail us; always we have 
Martins, Bluebirds and Robins. 

Martin headquarters are on the 
windmill, in a big box arranged for 
eight families and placed on the 
north side of the mill just under the 
shelter of a small platform, above 
which swings the wheel. This makes 
A MARTIN DOUBLE HOUSE a splendid location for the birds, 

103 




WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

sheltered from sun and wind. But it is almost impossible to se- 
cure pictures of it, as the camera must always face the strong 
light of the east, south and west, and the mill is so high that I 
have as yet devised no way to get on a level with the Martin box. 
So every day through summer the most wonderful groupings of 
Martins, circling the mill or perching over the wheel and fan, 
tempt me but can not be obtained. 

At the house on the wild cherry stump I have better luck. It 
is not over twenty feet high, and a wire brace running from one 
telephone pole to another passes very close. From the top of a 
twenty-foot step-ladder a camera is level with the nest and wire, 
the birds soon become accustomed to it, and it can be worked with 
a long hose from the cabin window opposite. 

Last year, 1905, the weather moderated a little for a few days 
in the latter part of February and I was amazed to see one Purple 
Martin fluttering about the windmill and perching to rest on the 
grape arbor, looking weather-beaten and as if it were exhausted 
from long flight. It was scarcely to be believed, but that night the 
gardener said he had seen it from the stable. A few days later 
a tenant on the farm told me there was a Martin about his boxes 
on the same day. This year sharp watch shall be kept and if he 
comes again, I shall be convinced that the Martins send out scouts 
to see if their quarters are all right. My belief in this is so strong 
that last fall I refused to allow their box to be taken down and 
stored in the stable until spring, for fear a prospector should be 
sent to see if it were safe, find it missing, and so become discour- 
aged and take up quarters elsewhere. 

The flock arrives from the first to the fifteenth of May. The 
gardener empties their boxes on the first sign of their coming. 
They swarm all over and about the windmill and immediately the 
fight with the dispossessed Sparrows begins. Last year we 
boarded up the openings so that the Sparrows could not have the 

104 



THE PURPLE MARTIN 

boxes lousy and infested when the Martins arrived. That seemed 
to delight the Martins, but it in no way discouraged the Sparrows. 

From a back porch where a rack was placed containing print- 
ing frames with which I was doing the printing of these illus- 
trations I watched a war which I was powerless to prevent. All 
day long it went on. The Martins took possession of the boxes, 
slept there the first night and began building in a few days. 
When the gardener cleaned the boxes this fall he said there was 
scarcely anything that could be called nests, a few dried grass- 
blades, pieces of strings, rags and dry leaves. There was little 
time for elaborate nest-building in the strenuous work of holding 
the fort. 

Every time a Martin left a door, in rushed a Sparrow and car- 
ried away a piece of straw or string, or threw out an egg. Every 
time the whole Martin flock left to bathe or go food-hunting, they 
found a Sparrow head protruding from each door on their return. 
Then there was a battle royal. Seven times in one day the Mar- 
tins sent a messenger to a flock occupying a larger house than 
mine on the premises of Colonel James Hardison four blocks 
away, air line. Each time the bird returned with reinforcements 
to the number of twenty and the Sparrows were ousted. 

But if I could do nothing for our pets of the windmill, a 
mite of help could be given to those of the bird-house on the wild 
cherry stump. Day after day I mounted the step-ladder and 
with a bent wire tore out Sparrow nests, until finally the Sparrows 
gave up the house and located in a large ash tree on a line with 
the Martin house, facing it, and only three rods away. The Mar- 
tins fought valiantly for their nests, but, with one exception, they 
never went to the Sparrows' location and attacked them. On the 
other hand, the brooding Sparrow would leave her nest, if her 
mate was not about to harass the Martins, and enter their box to 
be on hand for a fight with them every time they returned home. 

105 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

The male Martin never brooded, but his other attentions to his 
mate seemed delicate, constant and tender. When the Sparrows 
became too aggressive, he spent every minute, when not bathing 
or food-hunting, doing sentinel duty on the telephone wire only a 
few feet from his front door. When one considers the tireless 
flight of the Martin, which seems for ever winging the air, one 
can not help feeling that those long stretches of watching, cling- 
ing to the hot wire, were punishment indeed. 

But like the brave soldier he was, the Martin stood sentinel 
on the wire and I secured many good pictures of him there : pic- 
tures in which the force and strength of his character show plainly. 
Once I caught him when he was watching with forceful determi- 
nation to guard that nest or die ; and once when he was gathered 
for a dart and even as the shutter sprang he shot like a catapult 
at his enemy. 

One day he proved himself a soldier indeed, by an act of 
strategy that human warriors have employed since time began. 
While he was away from home, from some pressure the female 
felt she must leave the nest. She came to the door and looked all 
about for him and called several times, but he probably was at the 
river, as he returned in high flight from that direction. Failing 
to call him to guard, after some hesitation the female left, also 
flying toward the river. 

She was not out of sight before the Sparrow in the ash left 
her nest and entered the Martin house, turned around and filled 
the door with her head and shoulders. It was only a few seconds 
until Father Martin struck the wire, and from my hammock on 
the veranda a few feet away, screened by the wistaria, I could 
see the rage that shook him. He evidently thought it unwise to 
attack the Sparrow in his nest, so he darted to the ash, perched on 
the edge of the Sparrow's nest, ripped a big beakful of straw 
from it, and with a quick jerk of his head scattered it on the wind. 

106 



THE PURPLE MARTIN 

The second beakful brought the Sparrow home in a hurry. The 
Martin flew back to his place on the wire and executed a little tri- 
umphal demonstration. He plumed his feathers with an exag- 
gerated swagger, that looked exactly as if he were saying: 

"Oh, didn't I fix you that time !" He sprang straight up from 
the wire and rapidly settled again ; he chattered angrily, though I 
never before heard him make a sound when on sentinel duty. He 
taught that Sparrow a lesson, for that was the last time for weeks 
that she entered the Martin box. She would dash at the Martins 
and threaten them outside, but she seemed to have learned that 
there was such a thing as the besieged retreating and attacking 
the stronghold of the enemy. 

Last year six pairs of Martins raised two broods on our wind- 
mill. They averaged four, creamy-white, oblong oval eggs to the 
nest. After the first brood had become full grown and self-sup- 
porting, still they all forced into that box for night. When the 
second brood was hatched, and joined the family on wing, they 
could not all crowd into the box, so the elders slept on top of it 
in a narrow space beneath the platform of the mill. By October, 
then, our twelve Martins of spring, allowing four eggs to the 
nest and two broods to the season, had multiplied to more than 
forty. The Sparrows must have destroyed a good many, for I 
never was able to count more than thirty at one time during the 
fall. 

However many there were, one thing was sure : they all stayed 
in or upon that box at night. By sundown they gathered from 
the forests and the river and began the preliminaries of settling. 
For a full hour they chattered, jabbered and circled in wide 
sweeps of flight around the mill. At first they would fly in a 
great circle almost out of sight. Then narrowing by almost im- 
perceptible degrees after an hour, and sometimes longer on wing, 
they would circle closely about the box and at last one would en- 

107 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

ter. After that one or two deserted the circle for the box at each 
round until the last bird disappeared. 

I am glad to own the pictures I have of them. The coming 
summer, however, a box must be arranged with a hinged roof so 
the young ones and eggs can be reproduced. One box might be 
placed on the west side of the mill so that a focus could be had on 
it from the barn roof. 

So far I have not been able to do just what is possible with 
Martins. I never shall unless some way is invented to extermi- 
nate English Sparrows. But I have succeeded in enticing them 
to build on our premises, and afforded them sufficient protection 
to bring out large broods. With all that flock to clean pests from 
our fruit trees and sift insect plagues from the air with their 
queer little sieve-like throats, we were almost free from mos- 
quitoes, and what a fruit crop we had! Summer life at the cabin 
would riot be complete without them. I like to hear their morn- 
ing chatter and watch their evening flight, and the twitter with 
which they perform the business of living is all-day company 
for me. 



( He spent every minute, when not bathing or food-hunting,, doing 
sentinel duty on the telephone wire" 



108 



CHAPTER IX 



The Cat-bird: Galeoscoptes Caroliniensis 



IN THICKETS 



"Guess what I have for you," 
commanded Bob. 

"Nest of a Ha-ha bird," I ven- 
tured. 

"Ha, ha! Nests of forty other 
birds," he retorted. 

I stood and stared. Several days 
before I had confided to Bob that I 
was in trouble. I had accepted a posi- 
tion on the staff of an outing maga- 
zine and had contracted to furnish, 
during the ensuing year, at least nine 
natural-history articles, each illus- 
trated with from four to ten studies of birds. At the time of 
making that contract I had just four pictures fit for use. So 
I appealed to him just to notice a little closer than usual as he 
passed from well to well and along the river, and mark every nest 
he saw for me. And this was the answer, the answer big as 
the great heart of Bob. My spirits bounded sky-high. Forty 

111 




YOUNG CAT-BIRD 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

nests! Why, right there material could be secured to last me 
three years. 

"Bob ! What kinds ?" I cried. 

"Oh, Robins, Cat-birds, Cuckoos, Larks, Doves, Redbirds, 
Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds and a lot of little fine stuff of 
which I don't know the names." 

"A lot of little fine stuff!" That meant Warblers, Finches, 
Vireos and Linnets. 

"And the prettiest thing in the lot," said Bob, "the one you 
must get first, is the nest of just a common old Cat-bird. I never 
saw anything to beat it in the nest line." 

That same day I started a series of drives to Bob's lease that 
continued every fair day throughout the season. The trip was 
a delight. The way lay across the levee east of the village, where 
every attraction of wood life was to be found growing in a tangle, 
and a babel of bird-song swelled early and late, led always by the 
Bell Bird I had pictured a few days before and now claimed as 
my especial property. After crossing the bridge, the green line 
of the river, decorated by the white bloom of hawthorn and wild 
plum, lay always in sight. At Bob's lease a sudden curve brought 
the water up to the road, and then swept it away again, leaving a 
pressing invitation to all and sundry to follow and learn from 
the Wabash itself just why people wrote poems and sang songs 
about it. 

The lease lay on both sides of the road. On the right as you 
approached was the Aspy farm, where the Bobolink strutted the 
rod-line; adjoining it on the same side was Stanley's, where the 
Shrikes homed in the oak, Kingbirds in the orchard and Larks in 
the meadow. 

On the left lay a strip of high, grassy, wooded pasture, cut into 

112 




YOUNG CAT-BIRDS 

"Cat-bird nestlings are so gentle as to seem almost Dove-like" 



THE CAT-BIRD 

curves by the river, on the near bank of which was the power 
house. Below the house and oil-tanks was a grassy old orchard 
running down to the water. Across the river was a deep wood, 
with great pools frequented by Bittern and Heron; tangles of 
underbrush, and forest trees of the height and size selected by 
Hawks and Crows. Where could be found another such Paradise 
for birds? 

Bob did have forty nests located, and he had not worked very 
hard to do it. That day was spent in taking an inventory of 
them, going into ecstasies over their beauty, and trying to decide, 
by the condition of the nest and the bushes about, on which to 
work first, until we reached the nest of the Cat -bird and there 
I stopped, lost in admiration. Without a word Bob leaped the 
old snake fence, crossed the orchard and started for a camera. 

The nest was in a red haw thicket in a corner of the fence 
separating the orchard from the meadow. It was low enough 
to take from a tripod, there was no obstruction to prevent my 
setting it just where it should be placed and the light was fine. 
Photographic conditions could scarcely have been bettered in 
field work, and it was imperative to record the nest at once be- 
cause browsing cattle, angered by flies, might run into the bushes 
and destroy it any hour. 

The fence was a lichen-covered, linty, picturesque old affair; 
the bushes were young and newly leaved in rare shades of golden 
green; beautiful vines clambered everywhere, and moss, ferns 
and wild flowers grew beneath. The nest was built of fine twigs 
such as were thick underfoot in the fence corners ; but somewhere 
in the fields about the Cat-birds had found a finely-shredded corn- 
husk, or one so old that they could shred it themselves, for the 
nest was lined with this material, bleached almost white. There 

115 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

was a little dry grass also and the eggs were that exquisite deep 
blue-green of this species. That was the picture. No wonder 
Bob hurried for the camera! Of all the forty nests into which 
we had gazed with reverent wonder that morning, not pendent 
purse of Oriole, cobweb decorated cup of Vireo, living green arch 
of Lark or flat bowl of Quail was so beautiful as this. 

Of course it couldn't wait, so I made two exposures to be 
sure. Then overtures to the Cat -birds began by sprinkling cracker 
crumbs, of which they are very fond, along the top rail of the 
fence. The mother bird proved how she got her name by keeping 
up a feline concert in the thicket. "Me-aw, me-aw, me-aw!" 
"Me-ow, me-ow, me-ow! 'Arry, 'arry," then insistently, ff Har-Yy, 
Har-Tyl" 

Making friends with her was a task. The Rubicon was a cir- 
cle about three yards from her in any direction, and when you 
crossed it, no matter with what adroitness you made your ap- 
proach, she was gone. I never got a study of her brooding. It 
was impossible to take it without separating the bushes and not 
even after her eggs had quickened could you touch her fence- 
corner but she would take flight. 

While making these efforts my appreciation of Cat-bird mu- 
sic doubled and all I ever had of Cat -bird character was lost; so 
that in these days, the memory of those hours of watching, filled 
with the exquisite morning and evening song of the Cat-bird fa- 
ther as he perched in a topmost bough of the old apple-tree, is all 
that keeps me from destroying every nest I find. 

\He liked a big Rambo closest his location, and from a high 
twig the mimic copied the notes of every bird of the lease. He 
could do the Robin's rain-song beautifully. He reproduced the 
Bobolink of the rod-line, across the road, until he fooled me if he 

116 



THE CAT-BIRD 

opened his matins with that strain. He piped the lay of the Song 
Sparrow, and warbled like the Linnet. He could not whistle, but 
he could catch the "Co'cheer, co'cheer!" notes of the Cardinals 
across the river. In fact, traces could be detected of the notes of 
every bird of the orchard, meadow and forest except the Lark and 
the Quail. 

And he mixed them all up, and worked them over, and poured 
them out in a continuous and ever-changing stream of melody 
so fast you had to do mental gymnastics to place each note. Then 
at times he became inspired with his own performance, his beady 
eyes shot gleams of light, his throat swelled its fullest and he 
rocked the twig he perched on and improvised a melody of his 
own that was a reminder of all fine wood music and a repetition of 
none. For this thing I forgive him much. 

There was much to forgive, for among Bob's forty nests 
there were Blackbirds, Song Sparrows and Doves on that same 
stretch of fence, before it ended at the river. There were King- 
birds, Robins, Vireos, Bluebirds and Orioles in the orchard ; along 
the river, Cardinals, Cuckoos, Warblers, Indigo Finches, Sand- 
pipers, Grebe and Sheilpoke ; and in the meadow were the Bobo- 
link and Lark, Quail and Ground Robin. Into the home affairs of 
every bird of them at some point in my work came that Cat-bird 
with his sharp little beak and sharper black eyes. Much that I for- 
merly had laid to the credit of my ancient enemy the Crow in 
reality proved to be the work of the Cat-bird. 

He stole eggs from Vireo and Linnet when only two and 
three in a nest proved them fresh. It was so easy, while a little 
mother the size of a Canary was bathing or exercising, to slip to 
her nest, pick out a tiny, thin-shelled egg, crush it and suck up the 
contents. Also he was responsible for the disappearance of many 

117 



WHiT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

newly hatched Warblers and other birds of their size, because one 
day, right in the face of my lens, he darted to the nest of a Sum- 
mer Yellow Bird and snatched and swallowed a baby just 
emerged as if it were a juicy grub. 

That day I vowed I would ask Bob to shoot him. The next 
morning, while making studies of a pair of his own nestlings, he 
paid me the tribute of singing to me, as I worked, his mixed 
chorus of orchard, meadow and forest, almost broke my heart by 
the most beautiful improvisation I yet had heard from him, and 
ended my captivation quite by continuing his song while two of 
his young perched on my hand, instead of coming down and 
frightening them into a panic with his cat-calls. 

So now I am a traitor to other dainty little folk I should 
protect, for while beyond all doubt he is responsible for much 
damage, every time the chance comes to tell on him and urge his 
partial extermination, at least, I find myself hiding his sins, and 
excusing his shortcomings, all because of his exquisite song. 

There is small enough cause to love him. He follows me 
through the woods for a mile and arouses suspicion and fear in 
the hearts of more trusting birds by his questionings. Many 
weary waits with a set camera have been just at the point of 
fruition when a Cat -bird came mewling about, made my subject 
nervous by his intrusion and spoiled my picture. That should 
be enough to condemn him in my eyes, and it is almost. 

He is more pervasive and inquisitive than the Blue Jay, ad- 
mittedly the guardian and danger-signaler of the woods. He is 
different from the Jay. Convince a Jay that you are a part of 
woodland life, that you are not shooting or making a noise or dis- 
turbance, and he will go away and let you alone, and soon you can 
enter his preserves with no comment from him. But a Cat -bird is 

118 



THE CAT-BIRD 

always questioning and never seems to find a satisfactory answer. 
He never becomes accustomed to your presence about other nests, 
and this seems pure perversity, for he will accept you near his 
own when he feels assured that you are doing no damage. If 
hunger-pangs or family cares did not call him strongly, he would 
follow me all day, watching, questioning and interfering with 
what was happening to other birds. 



YOUNG CAT-BIRDS 



"The deadnin' and the thicket's jest a-bilin' full of June, 
From the rattle o' the cricket, to the yallar-hammer's tune ; 
And the catbird in the bottom, and the sapsuck on the snag, 
Seems ef they can't od-rot 'em! jest do nothin' else but brag! " 

James Whitcomb Hlley. 



CHAPTER X 



The Belted Kingfisher: Ceryle Alcyon 

IN EMBANKMENTS 

As the cashier pushed the 
amount of my check under the 
wicket, Mr. William Hale, the 
bookkeeper, turned from his desk 
and, touching the tips of his 
thumbs and first fingers in an 
oval, asked: 

"What does a hole shaped so, 
and running six feet back into a 
solid embankment, mean?" 

"Is the bottom of it like this?" 
I questioned, picking up a pencil 
and drawing a line. 

"Yes, it is," he answered. 

"Then," I said, "it means 
Kingfishers. The middle curve is 
formed by their breasts and the 
side tracks by their funny little 
crippled feet. Where did you 
find a hole like that?" 

"Found it on my farm while 
taking Helen and Mary for a 
walk yesterday. It is in the back 

wall of the old pit from which the Grand Rapids people took the 
gravel for the railway." 

123 




WAITING FOR LUNCH 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

"You need a half-hour's outing," I suggested, for the gravel 
pit was only a mile away and my horse was at the door. The 
cashier happened to be the head of my family, so the matter was 
easily arranged and Mr. Hale and I at once drove to his farm. 

The spot was beautiful, just the place for birds of all kinds. 
Gravel for two railroads had been taken from one little hill, the 
presence of which in this stretch of low country was hard to ex- 
plain, for on the east lay the river, south the Limberlost, west 
the great ditch draining it, and north more swampy lowland. A 
great basin had been shoveled out from the main bed of gravel, 
and then veins running through it in different directions had been 
followed up as long as pay dirt was found. Heavy rains and 
drainings from the swamp had transformed these into a small 
lake and canals. As it all happened twenty years ago, the high 
parts were covered now with tall poplars and maples, the low with 
a beautiful fringy -leaved variety of willow, the canal and lake 
surrounded by cattails, bullrushes and tall swamp-grasses, and 
everywhere there grew luxuriant vines, and almost impenetrable 
thickets of wild rose, button -bush and all kinds of swamp under- 
brush. The river was only a quarter of a mile away and solid 
swamp covered the intervening space. 

The back wall of the old pit was twenty feet high and 
faced east; about a foot and a half from the surface was the 
opening which had attracted Mr. Hale and his little daughters 
during their Sabbath walk. We cut a willow and measured the 
tunnel, finding it to be six feet deep. We threw light into it 
with a pocket mirror, but could see nothing. Mr. Hale was cer- 
tain that the opening had not been there a week before, as he had 
been about the pit much of late, ostensibly entertaining the 
children, in reality, from the number of locations to which he led 
me, hunting bird-nests for me. I was sure that the work was 
fresh, for a little heap of sand and gravel that had been pushed 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

from the excavation lay directly beneath, not yet spread by wind 
and rain. 

That a bird could have drilled such a tunnel seemed abso- 
lutely impossible, for the bank was hard clay, thickly intermin- 
gled with gravel and sand, and baked by the glare of the sun from 
earliest morning until night. Above the opening meadow-grass 
waved, beside it alders and willows grew, and beneath, where the 
last of the gravel had been taken out, flourished a large and pros- 
perous frog-pond. One had to creep about the edges of this 
pond and cling to the willows, in reality, as well as dig in with 
his toes, to climb up to the location. We tried repeatedly, by a 
clear shaft of light we could throw into the far end of the tunnel, 
and failed to see anything except that there was a turn and a still 
larger opening made to the north. So we gave it up, but Mr. 
Hale consoled me quite by pointing out the nests of a Cuckoo and 
of a Summer Yellow Bird, and I found the locations of a Robin, 
two Cat -birds and a Purple Finch. 

Work on these nests took me back to the pit daily. For three 
mornings I climbed to the opening and with a hand-mirror ex- 
plored its interior, but to no avail. It was May; every day I 
found new nests here ; Bob added to his forty a mile farther east ; 
I was working on the series of Black Vultures over in the Limber- 
lost, calling on them every day and taking their likenesses every 
third day, and visiting daily a half-dozen widely scattered 
Cardinal nests for the illustration of a book. Every day pho- 
tographically possible, I was in the woods early and late, stopping 
at absolutely nothing that stood in the way of my work ; and you 
well may believe with such richness of material on hand, there 
was little time for anything that looked unpromising. 

But one day, two weeks later, when passing the embankment a 
Swallow came to the opening and flew away. Immediately I 
climbed up, and throwing in a strong ray of light with a good- 

125 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

sized hand-mirror, searched the back of the tunnel. Just as I 
was despairing, there was thrust suddenly into the light a great 
scarred beak, the biggest eyes I ever had seen in the head of a 
bird of that size, and a flaring crest. The whole thing looked so 
uncanny as it flashed sharply on my vision that I jumped until 
I dropped the mirror and slid down into the frog-pond. But I 
didn't mind that. I had a brooding Kingfisher, the bird of an- 
cient mystery, and an object of tradition in all time; whether 
eluding naturalists of Greece, controlling the weather of Italy or 
driving away evil luck and devils in Germany. I confess the 
brooding bird looked like a devil to me back there in the dark, 
and as she rushed from the nest and headed for the river, the 
rattle she rolled was as uncanny a sound as I ever heard from the 
throat of any bird, save only the loon. 

What to do was the question. Go after a man and have him 
dig in to the back of the nest? That would give a picture of the 
eggs, and no doubt destroy the nest and drive aw'ay the birds. 
Wait until the young hatched and try for a picture of them? That 
seemed the most likely to yield best results, for surely when the 
old were feeding they would not desert the young, even if the 
nest were opened at the back. Then the babies could be pictured 
while the old ones were away, and carefully replaced, and then, 
too, there was every chance that, with set cameras, shots at the old 
birds could be taken as they entered and left the nest. So I de- 
cided to wait. That day the bushes were carefully straightened 
and my tracks covered when I left. Also arrangements were 
made with Mr. H ale's farmer, plowing in the adjoining field, to 
keep an eye on the pit, and drive away small boys. 

After that I haunted that location. I was there every day 
and, by a morning of the second week of June, with my mirror I 
caught two little Kingfishers peering into the light. Then I went 
after help. The earth was so hard that when a big strong man 

126 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

set a shovel on the spot we had measured and came down on it with 
his foot, it curled up as if made of lead. We had to get another 
and use a hatchet for most of the work. We cut an opening into 
the tunnel, six inches from the turn to the nest, fitted a shingle 
to cover it, and a piece of sod to fill the hole so that it could not 
be noticed from the top, and I had free access to the birds. The 
old birds never knew it. On their return they entered the tunnel 
without the slightest hesitation. 

I always waited until their morning feeding was done. As 
they have long, tedious waits on stumps and dead limbs above the 
water to catch the crabs and minnows which form the greater part 
of their diet, and always utter their rattle on returning from the 
river to the nest, there was plenty of time to work between their 
visits, and time to drop the young into the nest and cover the 
opening before the old ones arrived. The re gurgitations proved 
fish, clams and crabs to be the staple of diet, though there were a 
few berry-seeds and occasionally the striped legs of a grass- 
hopper. 

The first time I took those babies into my lap I was wild with 
joy. They were the quaintest little birds I ever had handled, and 
the first of their kind. No wonder the snowy white eggs of the 
Kingfisher are so very oblong. They have to be to allow the 
growth of that enormous bill, for enormous it was, even on the 
babies. The little fellows had eyes as large in proportion as their 
elders, crests of blue coming, a tiny white dot before either eye, 
broad collars of white, steel-blue wings and backs, tail and pri- 
mary wing- feathers banded with white, and white breasts touched 
with blue below the crop. 

The old birds were exactly like them, save that the breast of 
the female was touched with russet where that of the male was 
blue. Perhaps these birds seemed just a little different to me 
from any others I have worked with before or since, because they 

127 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

did so exactly what I hoped they would do. Still I never have 
seen any living or pictured Kingfishers with quite such heavy big 
beaks, such big eyes, and such flaring crests. They seemed to me 
larger and finer in every way; it may be imagination, but yet I 
am sure they were. You can compare their pictures with others 
you have seen, and decide for yourself. 

At the first picturing of the babies, I tried twice and secured 
good likenesses of them. The second time, some days later and 
near the time when they would be going, I was assisted by Ray- 
mond Miller, a friend of mine who was born for a naturalist. 
While focusing on these birds I explained to Raymond that two 
were a small brood; frequently there were seven and eight in a 
family. I said to him: 

"Wouldn't it be splendid if we had seven to go into this pic- 
ture?" 

"I don't know," answered Raymond dubiously; "if there were 
seven, people would get so mixed looking at all of them, they 
never would see how cunning just two are." 

I knew that if I was ever to get snap-shots at the old birds, 
in all probability it would have to be while they were engrossed 
with family cares. I never worked harder than I did over those 
birds. Up one river-bank, and down the other, across the swamp 
and along the Limberlost ditch I followed them, until I had lo- 
cated fifty spots on stumps and dead branches, from which they 
fished every day. Then to figure on lighting, where to set a 
camera, where to conceal myself, whether I had the bird in range 
or would waste my plate if I made an exposure, these were the 
next considerations. 

Never was luck so surely with me. And never were pictures 
more due to luck, pure and simple. Of all the stumps and dead 
branches on which I had seen them perch, who could say on which 
they would alight at their next coming? It was by the merest 

128 




THE HEAD OF THE KINGFISHER FAMILY 

"His great beak was scarred from tip to base by contact with stone and 

gravel in tunneling" 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

chance that I guessed it, and focused on points they visited. 
There was a little extra grace granted me because I did not dis- 
turb the birds while brooding, for as sure as fate I do have best 
luck when I work in ways that can not possibly injure the birds. 
Once I got a splendid small picture of the male fishing from a 
favorite spot on a dead branch along the river. He was near 
enough and the focus sharp enough to give the detail of every 
feather and to show distinctly the hard work he had done in ex- 
cavating his tunnel, for his great beak was scarred from tip to 
base by contact with stone and gravel. He was a noble bird, as 
he struck that limb in front of my camera. If you want to realize, 
as you never did before, just how funny the bird caricatures of 
artists of brush and pencil are, compare some of their attempts at 
drawing Kingfishers with these living free birds. 

I could not make a better picture than one of the female, also 
fishing. But it was on a stump in mid-river that I capped the 
climax. I pictured the female there, fishing alone, and was so de- 
lighted with the plate that I set the camera a second day to learn 
if by any chance I could improve it. By one of my special dispen- 
sations I took the pair; the female dripping as she came up from a 
plunge, the male with flaring crest, just an instant before he flat- 
tened it and dived. 

In the thick of the series came a rare June freshet. The Lim- 
berlost rose up to meet the river, and the water crept up and up un- 
til the ditch and river were raging torrents, and all low country 
was under water, and I had not finished with the babies. For three 
days I worried, the fourth the rain stopped, the sun shone and I 
started with Molly-cotton to drive to the pit. We followed a 
short cut by way of a lane across Mr. Hale's farm, but we found 
the water a few inches deep over the road before we reached the 
Limberlost bridge. Molly-cotton was dubious, but I was deter- 
mined and drove on to the bridge. Beyond it was a sight. 

131 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

The water of the big ditch was running like a mill-race, and 
the flood covered all the fields and swamp save a few of the 
highest places. It was above the fences, thick with floating logs 
and debris. The bridge to the private ditch crossing Mr. Hale's 
land was anchored out in the swamp against some tree-trunks. 
We could not go on, and we could not turn around. We unhitched 
the horse, tied him to the bridge, backed the carriage off into the 
road, and when we thought we were far enough to miss the em- 
bankment, tried to turn it. We had not gone so far as we 
thought, and ran it down a steep place until the water filled half 
the bed and reached my best camera. 

With all our might we pulled and pulled and could not budge 
it. Then we corralled some floating rails, laid them out to the run- 
ning gear, and Molly-cotton walked them and set the camera 
arid my waders upon the seat. Then we brought down the horse, 
tied the lines to the tugs and to the carriage, held up the shafts, 
and with Patience's help got the carriage into the road, where we 
harnessed and drove back. 

On the road leading east from town we held a council of war 
and decided to drive over to the levee and prospect from there. 
We turned south at the first crossing, but when we came to the 
gate we expected to enter the water was a foot deep. That portion 
of the meadow lying along the ditch was all under water, but 
there was no current. I was doubtful about it, but Molly-cotton 
proposed to put on my waders and prospect. It was meadow that 
cattle had grazed over, I had driven over it all the spring, and she 
could feel her way before her, so I consented. She put on the 
waders, pinned up her skirts, took a water tripod and started. 
She wore a flaming red waist, and in the midst of that pool I 
saw she was attracting the attention of a cow of the Hale herd. 
I didn't know whether the cow would enter the water or not, 
but I did know Molly-cotton couldn't hurry on that soggy 

132 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

ground, with those heavy waders. So I called to her to come to 
me just as quick as she could, that "I saw something" I wanted 
up the road. Whenever I "see something" all of my family fly. 
I knew that would bring her with all haste and still not frighten 
her. On came the cow. 

"Hurry all you can, Molly-cotton, I am afraid it will get 
away! Do come faster!" I urged. She made it with mighty 
little margin and only saw the cow when she left the water. 
She said I was wise, for she couldn't have helped trying to run 
if she had seen it, and as the water was within three inches of the 
boot tops, she surely would have fallen. 

Next we decided to drive through, and started. It was a 
treacherous journey, for the way was covered with stumps and 
logs beside the floating stuff. We unreined the horse and it was 
well we did, for half the way across the carriage was floating, 
we were up on the seat holding the camera, and Patience swam 
several rods. We struck high ground safely and drove over the 
ridge, confident we were on the way to the nest. When we were 
almost there we came to a ditch ten feet wide and six feet deep, 
that we had forgotten. I had hoped to reach the nest, get a pic- 
ture and cross the corn-field to the road, paying for any damage 
we might do to the young corn. Here was another dead stop. 
It seemed to me I couldn't make that trip back again. I proposed 
to drive to the south of the ditch, try to swim the horse across 
and thus reach the bed of the road from which we had turned 
back at the bridge. This time Molly-cotton was dubious. I 
drove the horse down to the water, where he showed his good sense 
by balking for the first time in his life. 

He simply wouldn't enter that water. I suppose the stiff 
current and the floating logs dismayed him. We had to back out 
and face the flood and the cow again. It was rather sickening 
business, and I was glad when it was safely over. After the 

133 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

flood subsided I went and measured the place I had tried to drive 
into. It was an abrupt embankment and where I would have 
driven the water had been nine feet deep and the current stiff, 
so undoubtedly the horse saved our lives by refusing to enter. 

After we left the meadow the last resort was to drive south on 
the road until we reached the corn-field, cross that and thus ap- 
proach the quarry on its west side. We stopped to take a picture 
of the Kingfisher, fishing from an old fence-post; with a small 
camera and long distance it was, but a beautiful thing. Then we 
drove south. The road lay straight before us and at no place 
was the water over two feet deep, so we were safe there. We got 
into the field, then into the quarry, and were overjoyed to find 
our birds. 

During our absence they had grown, it seemed, fully a fourth 
larger, the pinfeathers about the base of the beak had opened, 
making their faces much handsomer, the whole plumage had 
grown and taken on color, and the size of their eyes, beaks and 
crests was comical. We sat on the ground and played with them 
while we rested from our rough experiences. 

We used special care with those studies of them, as we ex- 
pected they would be the last, and in one of them we felt repaid 
for all our effort. But in field work one never can tell, for this 
was not the end. That came unexpectedly two days later. Pass- 
ing the quarry with Raymond, I suggested to him that we see if 
the birds were gone. As we approached, there were the youngsters 
in the doorway, evidently meditating their first flight. They 
would crowd up beside each other, half lift their wings, peep 
down over the edge, duck back and then threaten to try again. 

"Oh, Raymond!" I gasped. "That is my picture! There is the 
real natural-history picture of those birds. Fifty of them made 
when taken from their nest and set up somewhere are not worth 
that one! Oh, I must have that!" 

134 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

"Can't you take it?" asked Raymond. 

"I must," I answered, but I did not know what I was attempt- 
ing, for that picture cost me the highest price I ever paid for 
any study, with the exception of .one landscape. 

"Cover the hole with your hat until something can be found 
to stop it," I said. Raymond in his eagerness splashed through the 
frog-pond and did as he was told. A piece of sod securely stopped 
the opening. Then I figured on the light and where my camera 
must stand. Of course the location fell in the frog-pond. There 
was no way to place the camera, so we began carrying stumps 
and rotten logs to build a foundation. When we had a fairly 
solid basis we carried rails from the fence near-by and laid them 
lengthwise and then across until we had a solid platform above the 
water. Then I set up my tallest step-ladder, placed an eight-by- 
ten camera on top and focused on the opening. The camera 
was just right, so I put in a plate, attached the sixty- foot hose, 
and tossed the bulb up on the embankment. 

Then I went around in front, set the shutter at a snap, and 
climbed up to remove the sod. Raymond crowded close behind me 
to help and we broke into a colony of digger wasps. They 
swarmed all over us. Raymond got one on his ankle and one on his 
arm. I had one on my arm and one down the back of my neck in- 
side my linen collar. I do not remember that anything ever hurt 
me worse. It was the middle of June, our time of most intense 
heat; I had worked carrying rails and logs until my blood was 
boiling, and the sting was directly over my spine and near the base 
of the brain. The thing so paralyzed me that it was some time be- 
fore I could move to doctor Raymond with wet clay. 

I sent him into the willows in front of the nest, gave him 
some lunch and water, and told him to sleep or do anything save 
make a movement. If he happened to see the young coming he 
was to signal me. Then I went up on that embankment, lay 

137 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

down, hung my chin over the edge and fixed my eyes on the tun- 
nel. Fifty times the youngsters came close enough so that I could 
catch the gleam of their bills, but seeing the camera they craw- 
fished. Fifty times it seemed I should have to give up because I 
was not equal to it. Like a mustard plaster that sun poured down 
on my shoulders and arms. I felt as if I were being blistered, and 
I was. Each upper arm and the top of my shoulders above my 
heavier clothing was burned into patches of water blisters as 
large as my hand. I can't tell how those wasp-stings throbbed 
and ached. 

It was two and a half hours by my watch, and I was almost 
insensible, when a faint whistle from Raymond recalled me. I 
looked down and snapped on the instant, and here is what I got. 
This in connection with the two fishing pictures of the grown birds 
are the only real, natural Kingfisher pictures I have ever seen. I 
could scarcely pack my camera and get my stuff to the cabin. I 
was red as red flannel, long ago perspiration had dried up, and my 
flesh burned as with fire. I got into the bath-tub, turned on hot 
water and took a Turkish bath until perspiration started again 
and I sweated the heat out of me. Then I dressed my blisters 
and went to bed for the rest of that day. But never again have 
I been able to bear that degree of heat for that length of time. 

Whatever it cost, it was worth while. The picture is one of 
my finest, and I got some mental impressions on that day, of the 
swamp in the quarry and across the road, and of the line of the 
river, which I now could reproduce to the least detail. I could 
catch every breath of movement among the willows and poplars. 
There were water rats riffling the pool, and snakes weaving 
among the grasses. All birds of spring were busy everywhere. 
The Red-winged Blackbirds, there were myriads of them, seemed 
especially to delight in swaying on the rushes and splashing in 
the water. It appeared to me, up on that embankment, in the 

138 



THE BELTED KINGFISHER 

merciless heat, throbbing with wasp-stings, burning with thirst, 
blistering with sunburn, that those pesky birds took great joy in 
bathing with exaggerated slop and splash. Just for one insane 
moment, after the shutter closed, I had an idea of throwing my- 
self into that pool and splashing also. And then it came to me 
that in my condition to enter cold water meant death, so I waited 
and took the further punishment of the hot bath, or I would not 
to-day tell the story of what I did with the Kingfishers. 




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KINGFISHER FLATS 



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139 



"He laughs by the summer stream 
Where the lilies nod and dream, 
As through the sheen of water cool and clear 
He sees the chub and sunfish cutting sheer. 

His are resplendent eyes ; 

His mien is kingliwise; 

And down the May wind rides he like a king, 
With more than royal purple on his wing." 

Thompson. 




CHAPTER XI 

The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo: Coccyzus Americanus 

IN SMALL THICKLY LEAVED TREES 

I love the Cuckoo. In this 
taste there is much good com- 
pany, for I could quote, to the 
length of a chapter, poems and 
songs by lovers of the bird. 
Jraditions concerning it are al- 
most as old and as mixed in fable 
and legend as those of the King- 
fisher. It is an individual bird 
and its characteristics are sharply 

outlined. It is a bird that has been slandered by writers learned 
in the lore of books, but wholly lacking in knowledge of the 
woods and the actual habits of birds. 

There are charges against it of depositing its eggs in other 
birds' nests, as do its European relatives. Surely in the length of 
my life I have looked into as many birds' nests as any other one 
person, but I never saw a Cuckoo egg that had been deposited 
with any other species. It is charged with destroying the nests 
and young of other birds; I never have seen a suspicion of this 
characteristic in it, and I have yet to meet a real natural-history 
worker, of the woods, who has. It is accused, by writers who 
should know better, of having a filthy, repulsive nest and badly 

143 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

soiled surroundings. This would be to advertise its location 
widely, and one of the most prominent characteristics of the bird 
is its power of concealment, its secretive habits. 

Two of my most beautiful Cuckoo nests were on the Hale 
farm, one of them being pointed out to me by Mr. Will Hale 
the same day he led me to the Kingfisher's location. This nest was 
in the crotch of a scrub elm, about twelve feet from the ground, 
in a thicket on the bank of the little lake opposite the Kingfishers. 
I do not know what bird originally built that nest, but I do know 
the Cuckoos never did. The structure began in the sharp parting 
of the branches, and was one and a half feet in height. Some of 
the sticks used in its construction toward the top were the thick- 
ness of a lead pencil and three feet long. Mr. Hale told me the 
nest had been there several years. The Cuckoos spread a handful 
of their fine twig nest material in the bottom and pulled a few dry 
pussy-tails from the willows and they were ready for nesting. 
I photographed the nest when it had three big pale greenish-blue 
lusterless eggs in it, and it made an interesting picture. 

Possibly from making use of abandoned nests, as in this case, 
the Cuckoo gets some of its bad reputation. On Mr. Black's 
lease, in the last five years, I have seen perhaps a dozen different 
Cuckoo nests and photographed many of them. In a little red 
haw-bush, not three feet from the ground, Mr. Black found the 
lowest of these nests and the most characteristic. It was a mere 
handful of twigs, loosely laid flat on seemingly the slightest 
foundation, and dropped into the numerous interstices were 
maple blossoms for lining. 

In all some half-dozen of the most beautiful nests were re- 
corded because they contained an unusual number of eggs or for 
some reason which seemed to me good. I worked for days about 
a half-dozen more containing young birds up to the day of de- 
parture. And in all that time I never saw a hint of droppings on 

144 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

or around the nests, and on all of the dozen negatives, which in- 
clude liberal portions of surroundings, not a soiled leaf can be 
seen. 

I stated in the introduction that in cases where the young were 
similar to their elders and I had secured studies of them when 
well grown, they would be used in preference to the grown birds, 
because as a rule ten people out of every dozen who care for birds 
prefer these unusual pictures of the young. Cuckoos are in this 
list, but they should be taken out. In this instance I don't use the 
pictures of the young for that reason. I should be most proud 
to publish a reproduction of the grown Cuckoo, as I never have 
seen one and should regard the picture an achievement. I have 
tried and tried, times without number, but so far I always have 
failed. The very nature of the bird makes failure in his case 
almost certain. 

In the first place, their location makes a snap shot impossible, 
and in the second their nature makes a time exposure equally so. 
They always choose a secluded location where experience teaches 
them that most likely they will be solitary. They select the 
thickest place they can find, where leaves grow in masses, for 
their nest. They are not so unfriendly. One can approach quite 
close, but in the dense shade and surrounded by leaves as they are, 
a picture is not possible unless time could be given, and it could 
not, for the instant one pauses, the bird is gone with exactly the 
same motion with which a big black water-snake glides from bush 
to bush in dense underbrush. 

Jacob Studer says the Cuckoo is a "slipper," and the term fits 
him to the life. He is indeed a slipper. The word seems coined to 
describe this subject. The Brown Thrush can not equal him in 
the graceful art of vanishing in deep shrubbery. So I never have 
secured his likeness. 

The Cuckoo always is associated in my mind with deep, 

145 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




TYPICAL CUCKOO NEST 



"A mere handful of twigs, loosely laid flat on seemingly the slightest founda- 
tion, with maple blossom lining" 



thickly leaved, cool places, where moss and wild flowers cover the 
damp earth, where silence reigns and solitude is unbroken. It is 
from such places that the weather prophet booms his never- failing 
predictions of rain, which for this reason sound so startling. I 
think of him as very near to the heart of nature, slipping grace- 
fully through his green haunts, and colored like the young tree- 
and bush-stems, and the half-faded and withered leaves about 
him. Never a feather out of place, and what delicate shades of 
color make up his suit ! 

There is a hint of leaves in the greenish satiny reflections on 

146 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

his gray back. There is a touch of cinnamon brown on his wings. 
His tail is a work of art, the two gray middle feathers being 
twice the length of the outer ones, which are black, tipped with 
white, and taper down gradually to the pointed middle. Under- 
neath he is snowy white, with bluish silver reflections on his throat. 
His bill is long and graceful, curved at the tip and broad at the 
base, the upper mandible grayish brown and the lower yellow. 
His hazel eyes are quick and beady-bright, he drops his yellow lids 
in a roguish way, and his feet, slaty-blue with two toes front and 
two back, are as trim, clean and graceful as the rest of him. 
At the knee he has the long Hawk-like feathers of his species. 
His head and body are slender and beautifully proportioned. 
When on rare occasions he comes to the light and the sun strikes 
his greenish back, reddish wings and the delicate pale blue of his 
throat, as an example of exquisite coloring, I should not know 
where to turn to choose a bird that can surpass him. 

This is a treat one rarely gets, for he keeps to the underbrush. 
Where that fails him, he interrupts his flight at every small tree. 
On the ground he seems at a loss to use his feet with ease and 
trails his wings and erects his tail in a comical manner. He is 
always eating; a spider here, a larva there, and caterpillars all the 
time. He is provided with a flexible gizzard, lined with hair, 
which makes possible the eating of this worm which is rapidly 
destroying our fruit ; so a Cuckoo is worth many times his weight 
in gold in any orchard. 

Of all the young birds I ever have pictured, baby Cuckoos are 
my favorite. I can not tell how exquisite the coloring of the fine 
silken throat-feathers and the shades of the back are. The big 
hazel eyes, the graceful beak, the slender feet, the whole baby 
immaculate and trusting, tender and gentle of disposition to 
surpass any birds I know. They climb out of a nest on your 
fingers and all over you, coo and peer as if fear or distrust never 

147 



WHAT I HAVE DOXE WITH BIRDS 

existed. All you have to do to make a study of them any way you 
can think of is to hold out your hand, they will climb on, and 
place them on a branch face or back to the camera. They will 
sit any way, and look perfect pictures of trust and confidence 
while they do it. I always carry food about with me, and if I am 
working long with young birds, and they grow hungry, as they 
do with amazing rapidity, with a little paddle I feed them a few 
bites. I give baby Cuckoos the yolk of hard-boiled egg. When 
feeding them I moisten the egg with saliva. They are crazy for it 
and will pose indefinitely if they get a bite once in a while. 

With Cuckoos the whole process of family affairs is individual. 
They can confide four and five nestlings to a piece of architecture 
more rickety than a Dove's nest. The mother is erratic about her 
laying, but begins incubation with the first egg. As a result the 
brood strings along, and before the last of the first clutch is out of 
the nest, eggs of the second are deposited. In any event, the 
babies leave one a day, and the difference in their size and feather- 
ing is surprising. I have seen nests containing a brood with one 
ready to fly, one half-feathered, one covered with sheathed 
feathers, and a freshly laid egg. 

Up to the day of leaving the nest Cuckoo babies are the fun- 
niest little fellows imaginable. Their bodies are covered with a 
tough leathery black skin, and each coming feather is incased in a 
black-pointed shield. This gives them the appearance of little 
porcupines. If you touch the nest at that stage they crawfish, 
erect those spines and cry, a reedy little whine of a cry that is 
distressing. They know they have no business being touched in 
that condition. When the hour to leave the nest begins to ap- 
proach, all in a twinkling these shields burst and the leathery little 
Mack bird becomes a thing of delicately-shaded silken attire and 
assured tone of voice. 

Once this sudden emerging of the Cuckoo baby struck me 

148 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

as so comical that I made a series from a pair of nestlings to illus- 
trate it. The birds hatched in a thorn thicket on the river-bank 
on Mr. Black's lease. Two had left the nest and we knew that the 
other two would go the next day. I arrived at the lease at nine 
o'clock on the morning of the first of August, 1901, and made my 
first study of the series representing the evolution of the Cuckoo. 
Not a shield had opened on the baby, but on the elder a few were 
breaking across the back of the head and breast. 

At three o'clock that afternoon only two or three shields 
around each eye were left on the elder, and the baby was almost 
feathered. Both of them were clambering around on the edge 
of the nest, but settled down into it that night and were sheltered 
by the mother. At nine o'clock on the morning of the second not a 
shield was to be seen on the elder, and just a few small ones about 
the eyes of the baby. 

At this point in their careers they climbed all over me and the 
thorn tree, ate the egg, and posed until I was out of plates. They 
were the softest of plumage and the sweetest of disposition of 
any young birds I ever had handled. They had no sense of fear 
and made no effort to fly. They did not even stand up, lift their 
wings and try them, as do so many young birds. Bob said, "Well, 
aren't they 'most too good to be true?" And they were. I can not 
guarantee that they would be so good for every one, but if any 
natural-history devotee wishes to try, here is the receipt. 

Use plain common sense. Approach the nest slowly, and when 
the young begin to cry, imitate them so that they will think 
you a kindred thing. Always carry suitable food, and the instant 
any baby opens his mouth, have ready your little paddle well 
loaded with egg, quite moist, and drop the food carefully into 
him. Then the others will follow suit. 

Feed them several times, with a half-hour's wait between, to 
get them accustomed to you. Take them first in the nest, then if 

149 




IN THE NEST AT NINE A. M., AUGUST FIRST, 1Q01 




ON LIMB BESIDE NEST AT THREE P. M., AUGUST FIRST, 1901 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

you want to scatter them a little, or to take a pair, hold the food 
out of their reach and coax them to it. If they won't come, leave 
them alone until the next day. When they are ready to desert the 
nest, they will follow egg, properly prepared. If you want to 
set them in some special place, never pick them up and pull them 
by main force. If they are in the nest they will grip with their 
feet and wreck it. If they are on a limb you will almost pull the 
tender little things in two. Slip your fingers into the nest and 
gently work them under their feet. The little toes will clasp 
firmly around the fingers and by moving slowly, avoiding noise 
and being gentle with them you can do what you choose. 

I have been told by nature workers and read in many books 
that it was impossible to take a young bird from the nest, put it 
back, and have it stay. I should not advise any one lacking bird 
sense and years of experience to try it; but I have done it all my 
life, and never in my life have I failed to put back a young bird 
taken from a nest, and it always stays. This may be due to the 
fact that I never try to lift a baby from a nest unless it knows 
me and will accept food from me, and I am sure I can manage it. 
I should not dream of walking up to a nest of young birds and 
attempting to touch them, without preliminary acquaintance. Of 
course they would jump, even if they were not ready to go for 
days. 

If any one having a prejudice against the Cuckoo will enter 
its dim, leafy haunts, make friends with it until he learns at first 
hand its habits and nature, cultivate the young to the handling 
point, and come away without being a Cuckoo enthusiast, he is a 
very queer person. 

In June of '06, after this book was in the hands of its pub- 
lishers, Mr. Black said to me, "There is a Cuckoo nest you should 
see on the Aspy place." 

153 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

"I have more Cuckoo nests now than I ever can use," I an- 
swered. 

"But this is different," insisted Bob. 

"Different in what way?" I questioned. 

"Two," replied Bob. "This pair has fixed over that Robin- 
nest that was in the thicket before the cabin last year. It is so close 
to the ground you can take it from a tripod, and one egg is fully 
one-fourth larger than any of the rest. Doesn't that tempt you?" 

"Yes," I said. "It tempts me to try just one time more to 
make a study of a brooding Cuckoo. I never before had a nest 
where I could work on it from the ground. That is half the bat- 
tle. Then the little plum-tree the Robin-nest was in is on the edge 
of the thicket next the cabin. The light is good in the morning. 
You have been going within a few yards of it for water three 
and four times a day and they must have become accustomed to 
you while they were repairing the nest and depositing the eggs. 
If you want to do something for the good of the cause, educate 
Mother Cuckoo until you can go where I would want to set a 
camera without once causing her to desert." 

"I'll do it!" said Bob. 

"You'll do it!" I jeered. "Yes, it will be so easy!" 

I had as nearly given up photographing a grown Cuckoo as I 
ever give up any bird of my territory. I was in the midst of 
the busiest and the most aggravating season of field work I ever 
had experienced on account of constant June rains, and I con- 
fess I forgot the Cuckoo and did not even go to see her. A few 
days later Bob came to me. 

"I can go within fifteen feet of that Cuckoo and go through 
with as many motions as you would to take a picture," he said, 
"and she sticks!" 

It would have been impolite to tell so old and trusted a friend 
to my work that I could not believe him, but I scarcely could. 

154 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

Taking a tripod I drove east to the Aspy farm at once. It was 
about seven o'clock in the evening. 

The old cabin around which a brood of rosy, happy children 
once romped now stood doorless, windowless, floorless and de- 
serted, just across the road from the orchard where so many 
highly-prized studies had been obtained, and beside the open, 
sunny clover field of the Bobolink. What once had been a front 
yard that was a gentle little woman's pride and care now answered 
no description save thicket. A big cottonwood in one corner had 
thrown up a thousand rank sprouts; so had cherry, peach and 
plum trees. Cabbage and bride roses had spread to masses; 
honeysuckle, creeper and grape-vines clambered everywhere, and 
striped grass and day lilies filled in the interstices. 

The path Bob traveled to water his horse was worn smooth 
and following it around the bushes to the well I could see a new 
trail leading through knee-deep grass between the thicket and the 
cabin. A few steps brought me in sight of the nest. The location 
was even lower than I remembered it, and while the plum-tree 
really belonged to the thicket it stood on the very edge next the 
clover field and the cabin. The clipping of three little twigs 
would be all that was necessary to get the best light there could be 
on the beautiful brooding bird. 

She was of the black bill variety and the instant she saw me 
I paused and waited a long time. Then slowly, and with greater 
caution than I ever before used, I advanced until I stood at the 
place where Bob's trail stopped. There the tripod was cautiously 
set up. Then slipping off a long gray cravenette, rolling it up and 
placing it as I would a camera I went through every motion neces- 
sary in making a study of her. She watched me steadily, but 
never moved. Had I brought a camera, had light, and the inter- 
vening twigs removed, she could have been photographed then. 
A little clipping was imperative, and thinking it over I decided 

155 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




PROVING THAT MOTHER CUCKOO WOULD BROOD WHILE I WORKED BEHIND HER 

that she would return to her nest in the evening sooner than in the 
morning, when she would have left once to bathe and drink; so 
I went back to the carriage, got my clippers and approached the 
nest again, just as cautiously as before. She left at about ten 
feet. With all possible speed, cutting not a twig that was not 
necessary, I cleared the foreground and hurried away. 

That night the nervous strain was so great I could not sleep 
and the next morning I was at the cabin as early as there was light 
and tried to approach the nest with tripod and camera. At fifteen 
feet Mother Cuckoo simply vanished. There I stood sick with 
disappointment. The previous evening had made me too sure. 
There was nothing left to do but vanish myself. Thinking it 

156 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

over I realized in bitterness that it was a large mistake to go early 
and try to approach her so soon after she had been from the nest 
for her morning exercise. Late that afternoon I went back again. 
The light was directly in the face of the lens in case I got a chance 
to set up a camera, but I wanted to accustom her to the process. 

It seemed to me I took an age to go from the well to a spot 
as close to the nest as possible. I never wanted to make a study of 
a bird worse, and so worked in greater trepidation, and with 
greater caution than I ever before used on any subject. That 
shy, slipping, deep wood thing if I only could get her! She let 
me set up the camera, and focus on her, so I shaded the lens, made 
a time exposure and left without causing her to desert. That 
night I made up lost sleep, for I felt that "I had the hang of it 
now and could do it again." 

Next morning, instead of going early, I waited until eleven 
o'clock, which was as late as I dared risk the light; then with the 
same deliberation and caution I approached her again and made 
three exposures, each time slipping the camera a little nearer. 
She sat, as brooding tree birds always do, on the point of her 
breast. Her tail was toward the lens and her head at the farthest 
side of the nest. That was not a position I would have chosen, 
but it was a very good omen that she would stay when she was 
headed toward the thicket. Had she brooded facing me, she 
would have been compelled to make an impulse in my direction 
in order to reach the deep shrubbery, and she would not have liked 
to do that. 

The next morning I went an hour earlier, moved up to ten 
feet, and exposed two more plates in the same attitude. The fol- 
lowing morning she was in a beautiful position, sidewise toward 
the lens, showing her outline from beak to tip in one elegant 
sweep, her black bill, her red-rimmed eye, and the exquisite shad- 
ings of her silvery throat and the bronze of her back and wings. 

157 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

She was all of twelve inches in length. I set my teeth hard to 
keep my heart from jumping out of my mouth and exposed a 
twenty-six plate the fiftieth of a second. Then I took it over at a 
twenty-fifth, for fear the first exposure might be short. And 
there she sat! 

At my feet lay a plate-holder that fits inside my camera. 
There were more time-plates in it. Should I ? With all delibera- 
tion I turned the camera front toward me, inserted an enlarging 
lens and turned it back. Then almost breathlessly, if any one 
wants excitement ! I began walking that tripod toward her. First 
I would reach through under the camera, and tilting it back a lit- 
tle, set the front leg forward six inches, then each of the side ones 
in turn. At last I was so close I had to use the extension front 
almost full-length to get her in focus and she never flinched as 
the shining big glass eye came sliding toward her. If she was 
frightened she gave none of the usual signs, for she crowded no 
lower in the nest, nor did she plaster her feathers any tighter to 
her body. She brooded lightly and easily and looked exactly as 
she did before the camera ever was placed near her. 

When the first exposure was made the sun 'was shining 
brightly. One little spot of light struck the top of her head and 
another her shoulder. I inserted a second plate, lengthened the 
exposure and waited as motionless as possible for over fifteen 
minutes, until a cloud I could see coming up obscured the sun 
just enough to wipe out those spots of light. Then came the ex- 
posure I had coveted for years, the picture used as the frontispiece 
to this book ; but my fingers are crowding on the keys of my type- 
writer in my haste to acknowledge that I owe it entirely, as I owe 
so many of my best studies, to the kindness of Bob. 

I knew of no way to better that last exposure, so I inserted a 
fresh plate, stepped up beside the camera and said to the Cuckoo 
"I want a study of your nest showing your big egg now. Won't 

158 



THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 

you leave, girlie?" She made no movement to go. One more 
step brought my face level with her. I lifted my hand and gently 
stroked her wing. Then she stood in the nest and looked down 
to see what was there, exactly like a brooding hen. I gave her the 
slightest little push and she hopped to the edge of the nest. That 
broke the spell of the brooding fever which had bound her and 
she was lost in the thicket. And I would have given much to recall 
her, for her first nestling was just struggling through the shell. 
That explained her conduct. I had approached her at precisely 
the psychological moment, when, knowing she had not been 
harmed previously, she would stay. There was no use for a study 
of a nest with so small a bird in it and I removed my camera with- 
out waiting to close it or take it down. Before driving away I 
took a last peep and she was back in the nest and just settling to 
brood again. 




READY FOR THE MERCIES OF A WORLD NONE TOO TENDER 

159 



"But soft ! mine ear upcaught a sound, from yonder wood it came ! 
The spirit of the dim green glade did breathe his own glad name ; 
Yes, it is he ! the hermit bird, that, apart from all his kind, 
Slow spells his beads monotonous to the soft western wind ; 
Cuckoo ! cuckoo ! he sings again, his notes are void of art ; 
But simplest strains do soonest sound the deep founts of the heart." 

Motherwell. 




A FROG IN HIS THROAT 

CHAPTER XII 

The Blue Heron: Ardea Herodias 

IN THE GREAT LAKE REGIONS 

I saw this Blue Heron for myself, hunted him to his favorite 
feeding-grounds alone, and secured these studies of him, which 
may be the reason I am so especially fond of them. I was located 
at a small boarding-house on the Inland Route, and with my boat 
had access to a half-dozen lakes and rivers which make up this 
chain. The little river nearest us opened shortly into a large lake. 
From my room Blue Herons could be seen sweeping the water 
morning after morning and settling in one spot, which seemed 
easy to locate. The Deacon probably had good reason to be ner- 
vous about my entering those swamps and forests alone. But 
one day he was away trout-fishing; Molly-cotton was trying, 
under the instruction of the landlady, to prepare a pair of deer 

163 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

horns for mounting, and I slipped away to search for the haunt 
of the Heron. 

The row up the river was delightful. For once the veil of 
nature was lifted everywhere. I could see as far as my eyes 
could penetrate, and even the water hid no mysteries. The air 
was clear and cool, touched with the odor of balsam, and sweep- 
ing in light breezes. The sky was a great arch of blue, with lazy 
floating clouds, and the sun not too ardent in his attentions. 
On either hand the marsh was teeming with life. There were 
tracks along the water edge where deer and bear came down to 
drink, small water-rats and beaver lived along the banks, and in 
the rushes were Duck, Teal, Plover, Heron, every kind of north- 
ern water-bird you could mention. This river was the first of my 
experience to give up its secrets. The bed was white sand, washed 
of every impurity by a swift current, and the water was pure and 
clear. At a depth of twenty and even thirty feet I could see 
every detail of the bed. 

I have not time to tell of its wonders and mysteries in mineral 
formation, and its dainty growing vines and mosses. But the 
water folk! If you never saw such a spot you can not dream how 
beautiful it is. The flowers along the bank and the birds and but- 
terflies of the air were not more gaily colored than the fish of that 
little river. Every shade of silver was striped and mottled with 
green, yellow, blue and red. Pike that looked half as long as the 
boat shot past or darted under it. Big black bass, the kind that 
wreck your tackle and keep it, swam lazily unless moved to a sud- 
den dart after small fry. There were a few rainbow trout, in- 
numerable speckled perch, shad, and the most beautiful big 
sunfish. Occasionally an eel, monster turtles, sometimes a musk- 
rat and a few water-puppies came slowly into sight and as slowly 
vanished. Oh, I could not row very fast on that river ! And it was 
no wonder Herons and Cranes stalked with slowly -lifted feet 

164 



THE BLUE HERON 

along those banks, no wonder Kingfishers poised above that water 
by day, or that 'coons flattened themselves and lay immovable 
while they fished for frogs by night, for all of them could see 
their prey plainly and know exactly how to capture it. 

I pulled into the lake, took my bearings and made for the 
point where the Herons seemed to congregate. On reaching it I 
found the remains of an old saw-mill. The shores of all these 
northern lakes and rivers were dotted with them a few years ago. 
There was an oozy landing-place on sawdust foundation, and the 
old mill was due to collapse in the first hard wind-storm. I pulled 
the boat up on the landing and entered the mill, which was just a 
shed, the floor half covered with water. Many boards were lack- 
ing, but enough were left to shelter me, and quietly creeping to 
the back end where the mill had been built over the water on pur- 
pose to float in logs, I saw a sight. 

The rushes had grown up through what formerly had been 
a bed of sawdust, until they almost reached the mill. In this rot- 
ten sawdust there seemed to be a big white worm, of which the 
Herons were fond, and how they did gobble frogs! Undoubtedly 
the old mill was the attraction for both frogs and birds. The 
story was told in nature's plainest writ. The sun shining on the 
water-soaked sawdust raised a sweetish sappy odor. This odor 
attracted flies and other insects in myriads. The insects in turn 
lured the frogs. The frogs made a feast which called up the 
Herons, and the Herons furnished subjects for my cameras. In- 
side the old mill, so close I could almost reach out and touch the 
actors, I interpreted these "signs." 

Surely I am qualified to tell how a Blue Heron catches frogs. 
There is no hunting; his prey comes to him. The great birds, 
some of them over three feet in height, came winging across the 
lake, selected the spot from which they wished to fish, and with as 
little noise as possible alighted. After looking carefully about 

165 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

him, each bird would move several yards, stepping high and with 
great care, flattening his body and slipping between grasses often 
taller than he was. When he had selected a good location he stood 
perfectly still, mostly on one foot, and his long slender leg looked 
so like the cattails and rushes as to be unnoticed ; folded his wings 
tight; drew in his neck; pointed his bill at an angle of about 
twenty-three degrees before him, and went to sleep, apparently. 

This was queer hunting. I wondered if it could be possible 
that those Herons left their nests in the tall timber across the lake, 
came over there behind that old mill and stood up in the water 
among those rushes to sleep. The first pounce that was made 
straight in front of me startled me so that I almost cried out. 
After a lifetime of field work I can not suppress a sort of breath- 
less snap of an "Ow," when I am surprised, and it is a cry to 
which a bird rises every time. I just saved myself. The thing 1 
was so unexpected. There stood the Heron, a big fine fellow, the 
light striking to brilliancy the white of his throat, wet with dew 
from the rushes, and the deep steel-blue of his back, and bringing 
out sharply the black on the flattened crest and the narrow line 
down the front of his throat. 

I had not seen a frog climb to the sawdust in front of the bird, 
so intent was my watch on him, and so tremblingly was I setting 
up my camera and focusing, in an effort to get everything just 
right and avoid his seeing me slide the camera before the opening 
beside me. I was wondering if he possibly could hear the shutter, 
or if the plate could be changed before he did something more 
interesting than sleep, when snap! just like a machine, out shot 
the Heron's neck, clip went his great shear-like beak, then it 
pointed skyward, crest flat, the frog was tossed around and 
caught head-first, one snap, two, it was half-way down the 
gullet of the bird, whose beak was drawn in, crest flared and chin 
raised, before I recovered from my surprise enough to remember 

166 



THE BLUE HERON 

that I held the bulb in my hand and must squeeze it to secure the 
picture. 

In a flash I shot in the slide, whirled over the holder, set the 
shutter and drew the slide. The bird had turned and moved sev- 
eral feet toward me, and more in the open. I set the focus by 
scale and snapped again. That time in my eagerness I moved 
out too far, he saw me and away he swept, several of his fellows 
nearest following. I put away the plates and focused on the spot 
where he had been. It seemed sufficiently sharp for a good pic- 
ture. Developing the plate proved that it was almost as nice a 
piece of work as I could have done if blest with plenty of time. 

Then I glanced over my background. For a Heron picture 
it scarcely could be improved. The mill stood in a little bay. 
Behind it the rushes grew in a tangled mass, the body of the lake 
swept up close to them, out in the water a couple of runaway logs 
were bobbing in the sunlight, and away in the distance a far shore 
showed faintly. There was only one thing to keep me from 
having fine natural-history pictures. The bird was dripping with 
the heavy dew of the swamp. But if I had his head sidewise, 
with its bill and one eye, and the frog going down, surely that 
would not hurt my picture. In fact, thinking it over, it seemed 
to add to the naturalness of it and help portray the damp, swampy 
atmosphere. 

Then I heard voices and splashing of water and remembered 
that I was a runaway. I caught up my tripod and carrying case, 
tumbled them into my boat, pushed off and jumped in, not a min- 
ute too soon. I pulled well out into the lake just in time to clear 
a crew of a half-dozen coming around the shore driving a log 
float and gathering up stray timber. When well away from the 
float I put away my paraphernalia, set a small hand-camera in 
reach on the seat before me and started back down the river. 

The day had grown a little warmer, but that was made up for 

167 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

by rowing with the current, and after entering the river I need 
not pull ; but by steering could travel quite as fast as I wanted to 
go. On that return trip my first muscalonge showed himself. 
Really, in the water it looked as long as my boat. The fish must 
have weighed fifty pounds. It was only a little way in the river 
mouth, bewildered, no doubt, by the clear water, and it turned 
almost beneath my boat and went back. A magnificent big fish it 
was. My attention was called to it by the commotion caused 
among small fish darting in all directions to escape it. 

On my way back I had a shot with a small hand-camera at a 
Heron on wing, but it was so far away that developing the plate 
disclosed only a little speck on the sky. I tried some Plover and 
a Duck with better results, but that is another story. This one is 
of the Blue Heron, and is one of my best pieces of work, quite by 
myself. 




INDIAN RIVER PLOVER 



168 




NEST OF DOVES ON THE FENCE OF ASPY ORCHARD 



CHAPTER XIII 

The Mourning Dove: Zenaidura Macroura 
IN DEEP WOOD 

This was one of Mr. Black's original forty nests. It was the 
most beautiful Dove-nest of all my experience. Five rods south 
of the Cat-birds, on the same fence, the Doves had located. They 
had laid a foundation unusually sure on the flat surface of a top 
rail, where the rails cross at a corner. Almost every day in field 
work I wish that color photography had come into actual, prac- 
tical, every-day use. This structure and its surroundings made 
me wish for color more fervently than usual. 

The fence was very old, in fact, such a deep steel-gray as to 
be almost black, veiled in a delicate mist of lint and well covered 
with crimply lichens running the whole color scheme of gray and 
green. The nest, as you will observe, is not a typical Dove's nest. 
These birds are famous for their careless architecture, a handful 

171 






WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

of coarse twigs artlessly laid in any thick shrubbery or evergreen 
being the rule. Frequently I have been able to tell whether a 
Dove's nest contained eggs or young birds by standing under it 
and looking up through the bottom. 

This nest was built of fine material, and, no doubt to make it 
inconspicuous, everything used in its construction harmonized 
with the shades of color in the rails, until at a distance the nest, 
seen on a level with the rail, looked like a knot in the wood. There 
were two delicate, opalescent white eggs in it, as is the rule, and 
all around it and overhanging it was a thicket of maple sprouts. 

I have made studies of Doves' nests in March, when there was 
a skiff of snow on the ground, all the way through the spring 
and until July, and in every location, and of every construction 
imaginable, but this was the most perfect picture and the most 
individual piece of architecture I yet had seen. I always have 
had a good opinion of Doves. They compel that by their charm- 
ing characteristics and absolute harmlessness. These Doves gave 
me a deeper respect for the whole species by proving their sense 
in constructing this nest. 

Had they piled on this rail a rough little heap of their ordi- 
nary construction, I should have said, "Doves' usual work! It's 
to be hoped the eggs won't roll out!" Before that nest I held 
my breath. 

"Oh, Bob," I cried. "Oh, Bob! Do you see what they have 
done ? Do you see how they have kept to the coloring of the fence 
and built to look like a knot-hole, just as surely as ever Flycatcher 
did?" 

"By Jove!" exclaimed Bob. "That's a fact! I didn't know 
they had that much sense." 

Neither did I. But now that it is proven, my estimation of the 

172 



THE MOURNING DOVE 

whole species rises. It is things like these, just little things, which 
set nature-students wondering. Had these Doves built their usual 
structure, ornithologists would say it was instinctive. When they 
leave all traces of the building of their species, and fashion a com- 
pact nest of unaccustomed material, resembling in color the fence 
on which they build it, what shall it be called ? 

I watched these birds to see if in any other way they differed 
from the rest of their family, but could detect no trait unusual 
to every Dove I ever had known. From a grassy couch under a 
big winesap closest their corner I studied every feature of their 
daily life and found them just common Doves. They were no 
bigger than the average Dove, their plumage was the same, they 
ate seeds to gluttony, their wings whistled when they flew, they 
were closer the river than the road, yet they preferred to bathe in 
the dust. The male verified every specification relating to him as 
to constancy and tenderness. He stuff ed his brooding mate until 
she was compelled to refuse more food, and loved her until he 
almost pushed her off her eggs. 

He always preceded the feeding process by locking bills in 
a caress, then stroking her wing, then a bite and another caress 
and locked bills at parting. When she would not take any more, 
close against her as he could crowd he perched on the rail until 
she frequently had to push him away to keep her carefully- 
built nest intact. I did love to watch and study them. I was 
waiting until brooding had progressed a week or so before be- 
ginning a series of pictures of them, when Bob met my carriage 
with a long face. 

"Our Doves are gone," he said. 

I could only repeat, "Our Doves are gone?" 

"Yes," said Bob. "Aspy turned the cattle into the orchard this 

173 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

morning and the very first thing they did was to get into that 
shrubbery and pull a limb across the nest and tear it up and break 
the eggs." 

To that sort of thing a field worker must become accustomed. 
But I did not realize just what I had hoped to do with those 
Doves, nor the extent to which I had counted upon them for some- 
thing fresh and characteristic, until the dainty little nest and the 
pearls of eggs lay trampled and broken at my feet. 

Here is another point for nature students. Having had bad 
luck in a low location and seen their nest torn down by browsing 
cattle, what did they do? Go somewhere else and build another 
nest as low, from instinct? They followed the line of the fence 
down to the river-bank, and, at the height of at least twenty-five 
feet, they built the highest nest I ever saw constructed by Doves. 
It was in the branches of quite a large hickory tree. 

So there was no "series" of these Doves and no pictures of the 
young. A week later, however, Bob told me that across the river, 
in the woods pasture, he had found a nest the preceding day with 
a pair of Doves in it certainly old enough to fly. We rowed across 
and found them still there. 

These Doves had homed in a brush heap so old that the limbs 
were rotten and covered with a tangle of wild rose and grape- 
vines. I remember that the grapes were in bloom. In fact, so 
vividly is every surrounding of each of the studies in this book 
photographed on my memory and sensibilities, that, though it is 
January and a white world as I write, I can scent the pungent 
grape-bloom and a rank succulent odor of green things crushed 
under foot, and hear the bumbling of bees and the lusty chal- 
lenges to combat of a pair of Brahma roosters separated by two 
miles of space, just as I did when working with these Doves. 

174 



THE MOURNING DOVE 

The young were not so near ready to fly as Bob had im- 
agined. That day we photographed them in their nest, which 
was typical, the merest little handful of twigs imaginable. They 
could scarcely cling to it and a heavy wind would have wrecked 
it quite. Two days later we found them sitting side by side and 
made a study of them. I very nearly said we induced them to 
look characteristic, but come to think of it, they would look that 
way in any event, and we neither could cause nor prevent it. In 
my experience a Dove is always a Dove. If I should see one in- 
volved in an affair of honor with any other bird or pulling feath- 
ers from his mate I should think he had eaten wild parsnip-seed 
and gone crazy. 

As we worked about these nestlings from away back in the 
deep cool forest came continuously the mournful "A'gh, coo, coo, 
coo," of the old Doves. No wonder early ornithologists thought 
fitting to name them Mourning Doves. The same idea has be- 
come so ingrained with us that it is a protection to them. Even 
careless children respect the supposed grief of Doves, as they 
would that of humans. 

As a matter of fact there are no happier birds. They emerge 
in pairs, grow up close as they can keep together all day and 
crowd tight against each other at night. With them there is no 
eager unrest and search for a mate. Excepting while the fe- 
male broods, a circle of three yards would include both of them 
three-fourths of the time, even in flight. Often on wing I have 
seen a male Dove forge ahead a little too far and turning cut a 
circle around his mate and come up closer to her. They are of 
such quiet disposition and inconspicuous coloring that they es- 
cape many of the dangers which brilliant, self-assertive birds call 
upon themselves. 

175 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

Always there is an abundance of the seed they love best to be 
had for the eating, their crops eternally are stuffed to gluttony ; 
always it is easy to find dust for bathing. Always they are to- 
gether, tender, loving, and in reality cooing in an ecstasy of su- 
preme content about it all. Mourning Doves, indeed ! One might 
well covet such mourning as theirs. 




"They emerge in pairs and grow up close as they can keep together" 



176 




COWS AND THEIR FEATHERED NAMESAKES 

CHAPTER XIV 

The Cow-Bird: Molothrus Ater 

IN THE PASTURES 

The sky was cloudless and the air was still. The dust lay 
thick on the country road. There were so many cicadas reveling 
in the drowsy heat and so many thirsty tree-toads calling for rain 
that it was as if one cicada and one tree -toad traveled with you, 
singing all the way. \To the north lay fields of velvet-green 
where young clover quickly sprang to cover the brown stems of 
the lately-mown crop ; dull tan where the timothy that now packed 
swelling barns had grown; gold stubble thickly dotted with the 
sheaves of garnered wheat ; waving blue-green seas of unripened 
oats and the jade-colored blades of growing corn.) 

Above the shorn fields the Larks flung down an interrogatory, 
"Spring o' the year?" as if they feared to state for fact a matter 
which might be open to question. For the season had been pe- 
culiar. Winter had lingered late. Then the spring rains set in, 
cold and prolonged so that the leaves had been unusually slow in 

179 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

opening and the birds had been forced to build low for shelter 
and later than ever before. Half these Larks had lost their be- 
lated broods in the garnering of the harvest and now they hung 
disconsolate above the shorn fields uttering querulous cries. Be- 
neath them restless Shrikes gathered grasshoppers for half- 
fledged broods. On the cross-rails the Song Sparrows piped 
bravely, and from fence-corner saplings the Goldfinches ques- 
tioned of every passer, "See me?" 

To the south a sinuous line of giant sycamore, tulip, ash, 
maple and elm trees and the lapping purl of water marked the 
river near at hand, while the rattle of my Kingfishers and the 
splash of wallowing carp told the story of affairs of importance 
going on there as well as in the fields. Though it was mid-after- 
noon the prickly heat held unabating. The patch of red backs 
under the oak at Stanley's line fence meant that the herd had 
been driven from grazing, and bunched together, were lazily 
chewing their cuds and fighting flies. A flock of Cow-birds cir- 
cled over and about them, snatching up insects their stamping 
feet drove from the grass or boldly foraging on their glossy 
backs. 

Patience picked his way slowly and each foot fell with a soft, 
rhythmic pat that raised a small cloud of dust. The lines swung 
loosely from my fingers as I sat on the edge of the seat and with 
roving eyes searched for "studies," from my Vultures from over 
in the Limberlost, hanging a mere speck in the sky, to the hare 
scudding across the stubble or the winnowing of grasses that told 
of a snake sliding down to the river. 

At Stanley's Bend, Patience neighed sharply, pricked up his 
ears and broke into a swinging trot. The beast found intelligence 
and voice to show its anxiety to reach Bob ; for Bob meant to him 

180 



THE COW-BIRD 

rest, shade, water, grass and Gypsy, with whom to make friends. 
And to me Bob meant the best person of all to whom to appeal 
for help, for "the birds know when the friend they love is nigh," 
and despite the deafening explosions of the gas-engine, the steady 
rumble of the balance-wheel, the creaking of the turning-table, 
the rattling rod-lines, the constant wash of the streams of crude 
oil that poured into the great black tanks, and the sharp metallic 
click of the valves as it gushed through the pipe-lines, the birds 
clustered about Bob until there were a half-dozen there to every 
one on any other lease along the river. 

Paradise on the Wabash meant Bob's lease to me. I always 
stopped when passing and almost every day there was some won- 
der in store for me. For the birds trusted Bob, just as men 
trusted him, were unafraid just as women were unafraid, and 
loved him as little children everywhere loved him. Patience left 
the road, crossed the grass to the tree he liked best and stood lip- 
ping the bark or watching down the path. I lay back on the seat 
and closed my aching eyes. The horse neighed sharply. There 
was a clear whistle and the bark of a dog in answer; a second 
later the pointer leaped the fence and came dashing down the 
path to touch noses with her friend. Then a man's head came to 
light among the bushes, his shoulders lifted above the bank ; with 
a spring to equal the dog's he cleared the fence and came hurry- 
ing to the carriage. 

As I watched him a warm wave of gratitude swept my heart. 
Bob always had understood, and there were so very few others 
who had. I had found such various people in my work. Of the 
land-owners about the country many had opened their gates, laid 
down their fences, and given me freedom to go wherever my sub- 
jects called me. Some had left the plow and harvesting to assist 

181 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

me. Some had merely tolerated me, letting me shift for myself, 
others had closed their premises against me and others had charged 
me an enormous price for driving down a lane they used every 
day themselves. 

But among the oil-men it always had been different. Whether 
I came in contact with a millionaire lease-owner or a ditcher in a 
trench, the mere fact that I was a woman and trying to do some- 
thing about which they could help had been sufficient. Some of 
them had understood my work and some had not, but in no single 
instance had one of them ever failed to do anything in his power 
or show me royal courtesy, and of them all Bob was king. 

Without a word of salutation or apparent notice he walked 
straight to the little black and began knotting the hitching strap 
around the tree. As his hands moved a big diamond gleamed in 
the light. I knew Bob, but you never could tell about an oil-man 
if you didn't. An elegantly dressed individual might be a pro- 
moter with capital so nearly atmospheric that he lacked the price 
of his dinner, and a begrimed creature in jumpers and sweater 
might be a capitalist whose automobile waited in the stubble of the 
next field while he inspected his holdings. 

"Is there something for me?" I asked. 

"There is," replied Bob. 

He lifted the camera, picked up the tripod, ordered Gypsy to 
remain with the rig and led the way down the path, through the 
boiler house, where the exhaust pipe uttered deafening shrieks 
and the ground trembled with the throbbing of the big black 
monster, past his brooding Quail and Wood Robin, past his Blue 
Finch and Song Sparrow down to the nest of his Black-masked 
Warbler. 

182 




NEST OF INDIGO FINCH CONTAINING EGG OF COW-BIRD 



THE COW-BIRD 

"But I thought we agreed not to disturb her until she had 
brooded at least a week," I objected. 

"Look!" said Bob, and kneeling, he bent back the wild plum 
bushes and brought to light the daintiest of little grassy, moss- 
covered cups. It contained only two of the beautiful Warbler 
eggs that had been in it the day before, and two big eggs with a 
white ground finely dotted with purple. 

"What does it mean?" questioned Bob in rank disgust. 

"Cow-birds," I answered. "When did you first notice this?" 

"Early this morning," replied Bob. "I heard the Warblers 
fretting and went to see if a snake or squirrel was bothering them. 
Two of their eggs were gone a"nd those two big speckled things in 
their place. Make your study quickly if you want one, for I am 
going to smash them." 

"Oh, no, you're not, Bob," I pleaded. "I wouldn't have you 
touch that nest for a farm. Those Warblers just have begun 
brooding and the Cow-birds have disturbed them all they will bear 
already. We will slip away quietly and you guard that nest as 
you never before guarded one. It is most uncommon for a Cow- 
bird to leave two eggs in a nest, and if they hatch, with those tiny 
Warblers, why then, we shall have a picture worth talking about." 

"But will the Warbler brood on them?" protested Bob. 

"Hasn't she been on them all day?" 

"All day," growled Bob, "and nothing but waiting for you 
ever kept me from pitching them out. I don't see how a bird 
almost as big as a Blackbird ever laid in that tiny nest, and what 
became of the Warbler eggs?" 

"The Cow-bird ate them," I answered. "She disposed of one 
each time she deposited one, though how she managed to drop an 
egg in that nest without breaking the Warbler's is a mystery." 

"I easily can break hers, right now," volunteered Bob, with 

185 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

that twinkle in his eye in response to which his discerning mother 
named him Bob Burdette. 

"But you never will, Bob," I coaxed. "What you will do is 
to stand guard and make sure they hatch, and, in the meantime, 
find me the rest of the Cow-bird's eggs. She will lay two more, 
possibly three." 

"What!" cried Bob. 

"I said you would find me the rest of her eggs and we never 
will touch these, to make their hatching doubly sure, but we will 
make our studies from the others." 

"Well, wouldn't that freeze you?" marveled Bob, mopping 
perspiration. "I'm going to do it!" 

"Good boy!" I applauded. "I know you don't very well like 
the job, but this is our chance for something really rare. The 
Cow-bird will come back to-morrow, at the same time she did this 
morning and select the nest of some deep builder, so if you are on 
the lookout you are almost sure of seeing her." 

Next morning Bob sent me word that the Cow-bird had im- 
posed an egg on his Vireo and to come quickly if I wanted a 
study of it. I knew exactly what that meant. Bob uncovered in 
front of his Vireo nest. The little mother Vireo was so dainty, 
so delicate, and so softly colored ! Her beak was elegantly shaped, 
her back pale gray, her breast white and her ruby eyes so wise 
and so trustful, and her confidence in Bob, who passed close by 
her many times every day, was implicit. 

Of all the dozens of nests Bob had located, there was not one 
so exquisite as this Vireo's, for at the branching of two elm twigs, 
no higher than my head, she had built a pendent cup lashed to 
the limbs by bits of string and hair, wound securely round and 
round and even carried to near-by limbs. When it was solidly 

186 



THE COW-BIRD 




NEST OF VIREO CONTAINING TWO EGGS OF THE BUILDER AND ONE OF 

THE COW-BIRD 



timbered, securely fastened and softly lined, to Bob and me, who 
had watched its progress, it seemed complete, but the little bird- 
mother, with exactly the same loving impulse that is in the breast 
of a human mother when she adds lace and ribbon to her baby's 
cradle, set about gathering heavy, rough, snow-white cobwebs 
and festooning them over the outside until the nest looked as if 
dipped in ocean foam. Then she stuck through these webs a 
number of fantastically-shaped little dried, brown, empty last 
year's seed-pods as a finishing touch, and Bob took off his hat. 

He said she was a lady and no gentleman would stand before 
her covered. He fairly worshiped the delicately colored, jewel- 
eyed little pair and their exquisite cradle. Concerning them he 

187 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

was squarely on the ground of Nuttall, who said that, "wantonly 
to destroy these delightful aids to sentimental happiness ought 
to be viewed not only as an act of barbarity, but almost as sacri- 
lege." Knowing what the destruction of a single Vireo egg 
meant to Bob, I went with all possible haste. 

He was angrier even than I had feared, for the Cow-bird had 
eaten one Vireo egg and, in depositing her own, cracked another. 
He had a little bowl-shaped paddle whittled out and ready, and 
on my advice scooped out the broken egg, lest it soil the contents 
of the nest in bending down the limb. We tied the branch se- 
curely and in a short time the two Vireo eggs and the big speckled 
one were on record. Scarcely had the shutter clicked when Bob 
scooped out the Cow-bird egg, dropped it on the ground and vin- 
dictively set his heel on it. I shuddered to think of the picture he 
was spoiling by not letting that egg hatch, but there was no use 
asking him to leave it. There are times when Bob can say no, 
and he had reached the limit when he left two Cow-bird eggs in 
the Warbler's nest. 

"I'm glad that's over," said Bob, drawing a long breath. "I'll 
not stand having this little gray soul pestered again. If that 
Cow-bird comes here to-morrow I'll take my shot-gun and blow 
her to atoms." 

In a few minutes the Vireo was on the edge of her nest, peep- 
ing inquiringly into it to see what had happened next, and it 
really looked as if she ruffled her feathers with satisfaction as she 
settled to brood on her two eggs. 

The next morning, Bob kept his word and stood guard. He 
did not see the Cow-bird ; but following his line of nests down the 
bank, when he thought all danger to the Vireo was over, found 
that this bird of brass had made a house-warming party all by 

188 



, 



THE COW-BIRD 

herself and laid the first egg in the newly completed nest of a 
Song Sparrow in a wild crab. While he awaited my arrival he no- 
ticed that the little father and mother Sparrow were working fe- 
verishly, and when we reached the nest a new floor was laid over 
the Cow-bird's egg, a Sparrow egg was deposited and the mother 
was brooding. That made four eggs for the Cow-bird, and we 
figured that it would be the last, but the next morning Bob saw 
her sneaking up the opposite river-bank with such elaborate cau- 
tion it made her conspicuous. v - 

She entered a thicket of wild rose and blackberry that con- 
tained no nest of which we knew, so he did not follow her. But 
wonder as to what she could have been doing there kept filling his 
mind, so he stepped into his boat and started across the river, just 
in time to see her leaving the thicket in what appeared to be a 
frenzy of excitement, and Bob decided that she had found a place 
to deposit her last egg and was rejoicing over the successful plac- 
ing of her family. 

He entered the bushes and located the nest of an Indigo Finch 
that he had not suspected was there. There were two of the deli- 
cate opalescent eggs of the Finch and the last egg of the Cow- 
bird, still warm to the touch. Again there was a hurry call and the 
study was a beauty. Bob unceremoniously dumped that egg also. 

He heroically stood guard at the Warbler's nest and every 
few days we speculated as to what would happen there. Suppose 
all four of the eggs hatched. Would those dainty little Warblers 
be able to supply food for the Cow-birds and their own babies 
also? Would they feed their own and starve the strangers? Or 
would the beaks that could open widest and lift highest get all the 
food and the Warbler babies be trampled under foot and die of 
hunger? 

189 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




THE PAIR OF YOUNG VIREOS 



These questions soon were settled. All four of the eggs 
hatched, and although the Warbler babies should have been out 
first, we were amazed to see the Cow-birds emerge the same day, 
thereby clearly proving that they required several days' shorter 
incubation than the young among which they were placed. The 
Cow-birds were three times the size of the Warblers in the begin- 
ning and filled the nest. They crowded from the first. Scarcely 
was their down dry until they lifted sturdy big heads, opened 
cavernous mouths and the clamor for food began. 

The tiny specks of bugs and worms that the Warblers were 
able to collect made little impression on their ravenous appetites. 
All day their heads were up and their mouths wide open. All day 
those little Warbler parents darted hither and thither, nervously 
searching for food to satisfy the greed of the foster children 
thrust so unceremoniously upon them, and if their own succeeded 
in securing a tiny morsel, really it was by accident, for they were 

190 



THE COW-BIRD 

s buried from sight and their feeble cries so drowned in the lusty 
clamor of the Cow-birds, that their end seemed apparent from 
the first. The smallest Warbler had no chance at all and in a few 
days Bob lifted him from the nest with my hat-pin, dead and 
trampled flat, and I am afraid he "said things" when he did it. 
The beak of the remaining Warbler did not reach the butts of the 
Cow -birds' wings when he raised his wobbly little head and joined 
his voice in the hunger-cry which went on all day, but some way he 
got just enough to keep him alive. 




INVERTED NEST OF SONG SPARROW, SHOWING 
WALLED-IN EGG OF COW-BIRD 

The old Warblers seemed to feel that the continual cries from 
their brood were an imputation on their housekeeping, and they 
raced about pitifully, taking time neither to bathe nor eat enough 
themselves. Soon they were mere shadows. But day by day the 
Cow-birds waxed fatter and fatter and their cries grew more 
vociferous. Day by day the Warblers grew thinner. The baby's 
crop hollowed until it was drawn from sight, his eyes sank deeper 
and he grew more patient. 

Bob's only relief was to watch his Vireos thrive. There being 

191 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

but two of them they were unusually well fed and grew to re- 
markable size and beauty. Every time he approached the nest 
the proud little father came turning somersaults through the air 
and inquiring with true pulpit oratory, "Do you see it? Do you 
hear me? Do you believe it?" and Bob with bared head and wor- 
shipful eyes said that he did. One day he found them on the edge 
of the nest and sent for me to hurry, for he not only wanted a 
picture of them, but when they went it was near time for the 
Warblers' queer brood to go also. 

I arrived just in time to secure a study of them, and soon they 
were gone. But it was not until three days later that Bob found 
one of the Cow-birds on a limb and the other on the edge of the 
nest, and both of them so stuffed that by no possibility could they 
point their beaks straight front over their swollen crops. The 
Warbler was fully feathered. There was not a trace of down on 
him, and by every right he should have been the first to leave the 
nest; but he crouched down as if enjoying his first comfortable 
breathing-space, and clung to the nest as if he could not move. 
His crop and eyes were sunken, his beak and feet pale, and his 
throat anything but the bright, healthy color it should have been. 
Starvation was written all over him. There seemed to be nothing 
of him but a little bunch of bones and abnormally developed 
feathers. His plumage almost curled. 

The largest Cow-bird climbed to the edge of the nest and 
stuck there and the other stayed on the limb. I tenderly lifted the 
Warbler and set him between them to contrast their size and 
plethoric condition with him. They never attempted to fly, but 
opened wide beaks and raised cries for more food, though where 
they were to put it one couldn't see. Bob said to them, "You 
little boogers! I know what you'd get if I were engineering 
this." I made several exposures and carefully put the Warbler 

192 



THE COW-BIRD 

back into the nest, where he remained all day, the Cow-birds stay- 
ing in the same bush. 

Then came the baby Warbler's picnic. All day the old ones 
alighted on the nest first when they came with food and if he was 
ready he got a good share before the vociferous cries of the Cow- 
birds called them away. The next day he had so improved that 
he could move about the nest and the Cow-birds, fat and sleepy- 
eyed, flew to a near-by walnut shrub, where I made a last picture 
of them. Next day I couldn't find them and when I remarked 
that they seemed young to join a flock of their kind, Bob looked 
so peculiar that I lost no time searching. 

"Where do these things belong?" he asked as we gathered up 
my paraphernalia from the last trip. "Are they protected?" 

"They belong to the Blackbird family and they are," I an- 
swered. "The law makes two classes, wild and game birds. The 
section referring to unprotected birds reads, 'House Sparrows, 
Crows, Hawks, and other birds of prey.' ' 

"Well, if Cow-birds are not birds of prey, I'd like to know 
what you'd call them," said Bob, "Have you figured it?" 

I had not, but here is Bob's summing up of the situation. 

"I do not know how many there are in the Stanley flock, but 
the other day I counted over two hundred at Shimps'. It's fair 
to presume that half of them are females. (jN"ow here is one fe- 
male that we know in one season has killed three Masked War- 
blers, two Vireos and one Blue Finch.) If each female of her 
flock has equaled her record that makes six hundred of our most 
harmless, inoffensive, dainty, beautiful little songsters wiped out 
and if all Cow-birds average four eggs apiece there are four 
hundred of them instead. And Cow-birds are ugly, their little 
rasping 'Cluck-see-ee!' is no song; instead of rustling for insects 
that need to be exterminated they sit on the back of a cow eating 

193 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

flies from a scratch ; why, sling-shots and the millinery trade are 
innocent compared with them! They should be exterminated!" 

"I think so myself," I said, "but I suppose it is like Blue Jays 
and Cat-birds, the lawmakers see no way to discriminate against 
them." 

"Well, just you watch me give the law a little valuable assist- 
ance," said Bob. "There won't be any Cow-birds in these parts 
next season." 

I have watched with interest. Since that summer not a Cow- 
bird flutters over Stanley's sleek herd. There are none at A spy's 
adjoining, nor down the river far below Shimps', and Bob's birds 
raise no foster nestlings. 




PAIR OF YOUNG COW-BIRDS 



CHAPTER XV 

The Cardinal Grosbeak: Cardinalis Cardinals 

IN SMALL TREES AND BUSHES 

Early in my field experience 
with a camera, coming in from the 
east one day I found the body of a 
Cardinal Grosbeak lying in the 
dust just at the entrance to the river 
bridge. I stopped and picked him 
up to keep passing horses from 
trampling his dead body, and as I 
drove home with him lying on the 
seat beside me my feelings were 

outraged. ^The brightest bird of our Indiana ornithology, an 
incomparable singer,) one frequently to be seen about our fields 
and forests throughout the winter^ a seed-eater that seldom spoils 
fruit, enough of an insect exterminator to make his presence 
valuable anywhere,] and he lay there limp, his bright head never 
to lift again, his brave song never to enrich summer music and 




YOUNG CARDINALS 



197 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

impoverish all other winter singers, and for what? Merely to 
prove that some fiend with a gun could drop a shining mark. 

Always I have been the devout worshiper, the true lover of 
this bird. By the time I reached the cabin, The Song of the Car- 
dinal had been sung in my heart. I immediately set about gather- 
ing notes and searching for nests from w r hich to make illustrations 
for the protest I had planned. Never having seen a photograph 
of a Cardinal, either male or female, and because of the disposi- 
tion of the bird, I realized I would have to attempt a thing which 
no one else had accomplished. As I scooped a grave deep in the 
orchard, laid the bird in and covered him with leaves before I 
packed in the earth, I vowed to make the name of any man who 
would kill a Cardinal repulsive to humanity. 

The first thing was to find nests. Bob, the man on our farm 
and several oil-men were enlisted in the cause. During the next 
three years studies were made of over a dozen Cardinal loca- 
tions. I wanted a perfect, typical nest with a full clutch of eggs, 
a series of the young ; and grown birds in every conceivable atti- 
tude which would display their beauty, their devotion to their 
mates, their fiery dispositions and their chosen environment. 

I am qualified to speak of the Cardinal as of no other bird, 
having had three times the experience with him I have had with 
any other. I did not despair of securing the studies needed to il- 
lustrate the book I was planning, because when I was a child a 
pair of Cardinals had built a nest near the ground, on a flat cedar 
limb, not six feet from my father's front door. The remembrance 
that it had taken me only a few days so to become acquainted with 
them that I sat by the hour on the stoop, watching with a child's 
broad sympathy every detail of their relations and home life, was 
my comfort now. If I could win a pair of Cardinals to trust me 

198 



THE CARDINAL GROSBEAK 

then, surely it could be done again and the camera introduced as 
well. 

In the third year of my work, when material was rapidly shap- 
ing for the book, a suitable nest-picture was lacking. In a search 
for moth cocoons in the valley of the Wood Robin a delighted cry 
from my invaluable assistant, Molly-cotton, brought me quickly. 
She had found for me the typical nest, exactly what I wanted for 
my series, and you should have seen her shining face when I told 
her so. 

The nest was four feet from the ground, not far from the 
Wood Robin's location, on a brush heap overgrown and covered in 
a thick mat with wild roses, grape-vines and blackberry bushes. 
The roses were in full bloom, and their delicate blossoms were 
close over and about the brooding mother. The nest was a little 
firmer than the usual Cardinal construction, typical of the best 
sort, the lining of dried grass quite thickly woven and cuppy, the 
four blue-white eggs mizzled and mottled all over with brownish 
and dark lavender specks, no two of them exactly the same color , 
and one egg, undoubtedly the first, quite perceptibly larger than 
the others. That told the story of a young bird in her first brood- 
ing, and, as a pullet sometimes does, she had surpassed herself 
with her first egg. With the securing of that nest my series was 
complete, for I had sufficient material for every other illustration 
needed. Studies of more or less value had been made about almost 
every one of the nests located by others or myself. 

I chose for the hero of my story a male Cardinal, undoubtedly 
a stray in Indiana, for he certainly was the big brilliant "redbird" 
of Kansas and Iowa. I could not carry him through the illustra- 
tion a half-dozen different Cardinals had to be worked in for 
that but I got him several times alone, so that he dominated 

201 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

the work and the others used did not look so unlike him as to at- 
tract the attention of any one reading for the story. 

As described in the book, this bird really was "the biggest, 
reddest Redbird" ever seen in these parts. His home, in a thicket 
of sumac, on the bank of the Wabash River, was on the Brown 
farm northeast of the village of Ceylon. Cultivated fields came 
close to the bank, inclosed by an old snake-fence; a few feet of 
grassy ground was covered by sumac, wild plum, red haw, thorn, 
spice brush, papaw and vines of every native variety; then the 
embankment sloped sharply down to the water which sparkled 
over clean pebbly shoals. For a mercy we were undisturbed. The 
location was farther both from my home village and from Ceylon 
than boys playing at the river cared to walk; the water here was 
very shallow, so that bathing and fishing were impossible, and I 
never left my carriage anywhere near the nest, but approached it 
always from the river, so that workers in the field would not see 
me and investigate. 

He was not only the biggest and reddest, but his beard 
was the blackest and the longest, witness the reproductions, 
his crest flared the highest, his song was the mellowest and he was 
the tamest of all my Cardinal birds. It would interest no one to 
know how many plates I spoiled on him; in three instances I 
caught him squarely, and at his level best, and that paid for all 
failure, time and expense. 

These pictures were secured by cutting off a living limb on 
which he was accustomed to alight in a pause before he reached his 
nest and substituting a dead branch in its place. He never seemed 
to know the difference and soon it became a favorite resort with 
him. He liked to sit there and be sprinkled during a light shower. 




MALE CARDINAL SINGING 



"I know of no other bird that, in the stress of mating-fever, rocks, trills, lifts 
his wings, turns his head and so displays his passion and his power" 



THE CARDINAL GROSBEAK 

It was the finest place in the world to fluff and dry after his morn- 
ing bath. No other spot was so to his liking for a sun-bath. 

The camera was concealed in the thick leaves of a papaw 
bush a few feet away, a green strip was bound about the shining 
brass of the lens, the camera was covered carefully with leaves and 
the exposures made with a big bulb and long hose. 

A detailed story of all the time spent about these Cardinal 
nests would fill a larger book than this, but a few incidents may 
be interesting. There was no way to photograph a Cardinal with- 
out a nest to lure him. How then was I to bring the big bird, 
from the big egg I had found to account for him, up to his first 
mating? I simply had to send him south, and as Cardinals 
migrate, especially the young in their first winter, that was all 
right. I thought seriously of going to Florida and trying my 
luck, but I was overwhelmingly busy. How I did crave a shot 
at that crimson bird on a waxy-green orange bough! There was 
a nest location from which I had made several good pictures, for 
the Cardinals had preempted the sumacs on this stretch of river- 
bank for years, and there was plenty of sumac setting. But how 
was a Cardinal ever to be found alone on something that would 
answer for a southern tree for the opening of my story? 

Watering plants in my conservatory one day I snagged my 
wrist on the thorn of a lemon tree. That solved my problem in a 
hurry. Before night the tub containing that tree was worked 
into the Cardinal's surroundings, covered with moss and grass, 
and the tree so arranged that a good-sized limb replaced the perch 
on which both male and female alighted on entering the nest. 
The birds are accustomed to having all paths, save their trackless 
one of air, changed with every passing wind-storm ; it was a limb 

205 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

and green like the other, and was used just the same. Four ex- 
posures were made on the male bird there before that device was 
removed. Three of them were fit to use, two were better than 
I hoped for, and one was unaccountably foreshortened so that it 
was a failure. After my success with the lemon tree, which I 
thought so like an orange as to answer, that perch was changed 
almost every day to give a thread of continuity to my illustration. 

A cardinal is a strenuous lover, his attachment to his mate be- 
ing unusually strong and his fighting capacity equal in force to 
his affections. He shows no mercy on a rival and spares no atten- 
tion to his mate. He is a splendid singer and vastly proud of his 
vocal ability. I know of no other bird that, in the stress of 
mating- fever rocks, trills, lifts his wings, turns his head, and so 
displays his passion and his power. As never before I found in 
him material for studies which were reproductions of character 
indeed. Yet do the best I could, my likenesses of this vivid bird 
always seem pale and small to me when I think of the pictures 
he made there in the sumac, living out his life of joy and freedom. 

All the studies one could wish of young could be secured about 
these nests as easily as those of any other birds, but Cardinal 
young are a special temptation. There is lure in their deep hazel 
eyes, flaring crests, important carriage and their red-tinted feath- 
ering. A pair of them makes a picture hard to surpass in attrac- 
tiveness. 

I have followed several pairs of birds throughout one season 
and made more or less complete series of them, but the Cardinal 
is the only bird I have followed season after season and through 
days and weeks of unceasing labor of the hardest sort, and I have 
done it in the hope that what I might write and tell would work 

206 



THE CARDINAL GROSBEAK 

for his protection. He is our brightest, bravest bird, and not 
only are field and stream enriched by his summer music, but our 
winter woods in the gray days and in the biting cold resound with 
his cheery whistle, and, oh, how we need every winter singer! 




"And, oh, how we need every winter singer!" 



207 



-"What cheer ! 

What cheer \ 

That is the Cardinal Grosbeak's way, 
With his sooty face and his coat so red. 
Cheer! cheer! 

What cheer! 

Oh, all the world shall be glad to hear ! 
And the nightingale 
Shall fail 

When I burst forth with my freedorn-song 
So rich and strong !" 

Thompson. 




Taken on February twenty-seventh,, with camera on library table, through 

heavy plate glass. Robin on the bench on veranda, snow six 

inches deep on the ground 



CHAPTER XVI 

Robin: Merula Migratoria 

IN THE DOCKYARD 

I learned to love the Robin when, as a child, I sat on my 
father's knee and he pointed out to me the russet-breasted bird, 
singing from the top of a cherry-tree during a spring shower, 
and taught me to mark the accent and catch the exquisite inflec- 
tion of tone as the happy bird sang, "Cheer up, dearie! Cheer up, 
dearie! Cheer up! Cheer!" 

He told me the story of the Robin that tried to minister to 
the dying Saviour on the cross and stained its breast with sacred 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

blood, of how Christ blessed it and commissioned it ever to be the 
friend of mankind, always to sing to him of good cheer. Of how 
its eggs are blue-green like the sky above the sea, and how to this 
day the Robin is man's best friend among the birds, because he 
would scarcely have fruit crops at all, were it not for the insects 
it destroys. During the story my eyes were fixed on the dark- 
gray bird with its bright breast, singing through the rain the 
words I could plainly distinguish, "Cheer up, dearie!" 

We were taught that a blessing came to any home with the 
Robins and every inducement was extended to them to build with 
us. The first year in a home of my own there were no Robins. By 
the second my overtures were accepted and every summer they 
are sure to build about the orchard, often in the vines on the 
veranda and several times where the logs cross at a corner under 
a porch they have set up housekeeping. 

Always we have extended to them every protection and as- 
sistance in our power to give to a bird. Last year we had a Robin 
in the wistaria vines on the veranda, and the birds in feeding 
perched on the logs within a yard of me and flew back and forth 
across me as I lay in a hammock within a few feet of them. \ An- 
other pair will find their last year's nest in the mulberry west of 
the cabin, only needing relining when spring comes again, and a 
third can return to the elm by the back porch.\ 

But it is of Robins of a few years ago 01 which I tell, as these 
pictures are of them. One summer nine years gone a pair of 
young Robins established themselves in a plum-tree close to the 
back door. They were birds that had been hatched the previous 
summer, shy and nervous as birds in their first brooding are 
likely to be. They attracted my attention by their timidity. I 
cautioned my household to be especially careful in no way to 



ROBIN 

alarm them. I noticed the male bird at the well one day drinking 
water from the boards. 

Soon after he left I set out a dark, shallow baking-pan, 
filled it with water and instructed every one going there to see 
that it was freshly filled. The table crumbs were scattered by it, 
and in a few days both birds drank and bathed there and came 
regularly for food. They did like bread and milk and hard- 
boiled egg.) It was while they were bathing and feeding about 
that I especially noticed the male. He was the biggest, bright- 
est, most alert and knowing-looking Robin I had ever seen, and I 
had been accustomed to them almost every summer of my life. 
Immediately apples and fruit were added to his diet, suet and 
scraped beefsteak, grubs spaded up in the garden and anything 
I thought him likely to eat that was not salty. It was amazing 
the way that bird grew, and he carried food to his mate until she 
was above the average Robin size. 

He not only developed in body, but he grew strong in every 
way, for no other Robin could come near his vocal powers. His 
song was the same old song of cheer, but there was a depth of 
volume, a mellowness of note, a perfection of accent that outdid 
all other performers of orchard and wood. And he seemed to 
know it. He would perch on a peach-tree near the plum and sing 
his opening strain. Then he would pause as if considering it. 
Then he would repeat it and raise a little louder, fall a shade 
deeper and cling to his notes until he came to the final, always 
abrupt. He would think it over again and begin anew and when 
he had repeated his strain five or six times he was in a frenzy of 
ecstasy with his own performance, stretching to full height, his 
throat swollen, his eyes gleaming, every muscle tense, and in all 
bird-land there was but a faint breath of harmony to surpass him. 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

And when the rain fell, as if he knew it a blessing and a thing for 
which to be thankful, with the drops dripping from his gray coat 
he lifted his golden throat and sang and sang incomparably. 

In just a little while he learned that when the pump was used 
the water would be fresh and cool, and so when any one started 
toward it he went along and perching on a bush close by awaited 
his treat. Then he learned that when the master of the house 
came soon after would appear his table scraps, and so he went to 
meet him and greeted his appearance with an alert, "Kip, kip, 
kip! Cut, cut, cut!" Neither was he long in discovering that 
when I walked about the orchard and pottered among the plants 
and flowers he always got a piece of ripe apple, fresh fruit, ber- 
ries or a grub or worm, and so he went with me and talked to me 
all the way and flew down for what I gathered for him. They 
raised two broods on the premises and when family cares were 
over and the rest of the Robins and Blue-birds betook themselves 
to the deep wood for vacation and moulting they went along, but 
with the difference that every day, and several times a day, they 
came winging in from the forest and ate and bathed at the well. 
It seemed to me that they were with us two weeks after all other 
Robins had migrated in the fall. 

During the winter we wondered about them and speculated 
on whether they would return, and if we should know them. We 
were uneasy, for we had laid the foundations of a new home and 
there would be workmen and noise all summer, and I sadly proph- 
esied that we should lose our birds and have to begin all over 
again. Late in March the Deacon called me, and, as I stepped to 
the back door, before he could speak I saw the Robin at the well, 
our big bright bird beyond all question. We hurried to put out 
his water-plan and food, and, while the foundations of our home 
were settling, he laid those of his in the plum-tree again. 




s * 

1 1 

** fee 

Q ^ 



03 

o 

4_> 

ns 

So 

d 

03 

a 



ROBIN 

But the noise of the carpenters within a few feet of him drove 
him away ; and he went down in the orchard, and set up housekeep- 
ing on an apple branch that did not seem to me much farther from 
the building. His music was even finer in quality, and his dispo- 
sition friendlier than the year before. All the workmen about the 
cabin were under special instructions concerning him and, just as 
I thought his brood would come off safely, a new man was put on 
the gang. I did not notice the man's arrival from the house in 
which we lived on the premises, but seeing that they were running 
a veranda on the new house close to the Robin's tree I hurried out 
for his protection only to meet him coming for me, screaming, 
frantically, "Kip, kip, kip!" and uttering sharp alarm cries. 

I ran, but it was too late. His branch had brushed across the 
face of the new workman as he set up a pillar, and, whirling, with 
one stroke of his hatchet he slashed through a limb as thick as his 
wrist and it fell to the ground, tore off the nest and broke the 
eggs. Any member of that gang is qualified to tell what I say 
and do when angry. Then I was sure we should lose our bird, 
but he went up to the front of the lot and located thirty feet 
high in a big elm and came to the well and for food as usual. 

That gang was broken to birds, however, for a few days later 
the foreman came to the door, grinning sheepishly, and told me 
that a pair of Pigeons had built a nest at the base of a big chim- 
ney, that turned and twisted its way to completion, carrying 
drafts for five fireplaces, and at a last turn, just as it cleared the 
attic rafters, the birds had built and laid their pair of beautiful 
eggs and were brooding and he didn't know what to do. 

"Let them alone," I said. "Don't allow a man to touch them." 

"But we are going to shingle," he said. 

"Then shingle!" I retorted. "You will be fifteen feet above 
the bird." 

217 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

"But the siding and shingling of the upper walls come next," 
he objected. "Shall we pen them in?" 

"No, go on with your work just as if they were not there. 
When the walls are inclosed there will be three windows left, and 
if you come to them before the birds are gone you can leave out a 
north one nearest the nest." 

A day or two later one of the men told me a pair of wrens 
was building over a dormer window up-stairs, and we also found 
a way to give them access to their nest after the building was in- 
closed ; so that two families occupied our new home before we did. 

The next season, on the twenty-eighth of February, I was 
amazed to hear my Robin calling me and looked out to see him on 
the grape-arbor peering into a back window. It was a moderate 
day, bright and sunny, but there would come a heavy freeze at any 
time. It was five weeks earlier than any other Robins would ar- 
rive and I did not know what to do. Food and water were hastily 
set out and he ate and drank as if quite hungry. By mid-after- 
noon the clouds gathered, a northern wind swept down and snow 
began to fall. Poor Robin did not know what to do and we did 
not know either. At last I saw him peering about an old summer 
kitchen left standing on the back of the lot, and that gave me an 
idea. 

I hurried down, opened a small door in the loft above the door 
below and shoved back on the rafters a warm box covered with an 
old coat and hay. I barely had it fixed when the storm broke in 
fury, and the bird went into the loft. His droppings proved next 
morning that he had perched in the box as I had hoped. Two 
days later his mate came and they took possession of the premises 
and lived in the shed loft at night. Long before the snow was 
off the ground they were pulling last year's dead dry grass- 

218 



ROBIN 

blades from underneath it, and on the sunny side of each little 
hummock working to pick off mud for plaster. 

They located where the logs crossed at a corner over a back 
door and built this nest. A finer piece of Robin architecture 
would be hard to find. There were no twigs to be used. They 
couldn't find any. All the material they had to draw on was a 
very little mud and dry grass-blades. The eggs were laid and 
Mother Robin was brooding and the rest of her kind had not yet 
arrived. I kept out a good supply of food, as there was none for 
them to find, and everything was going well. 

Robin sang his heart out from the old shed roof and sunny 
spots to the south, and his music never sounded so mellow and 
fine as when no other birds were singing. February might bluster 
and rave and March empty her watering-pot in icy showers over 
us, but first in the morning and last at night we were cheered by 
the voice of our loved Robin. 

One morning he came on the grape-arbor in a tumult of excite- 
ment and startled me by his alarm cries. I hurried out, but could 
see nothing to frighten him. I looked at the nest, and his mate 
was not there. For hours he kept up his flight and cries. Then 
I took a step-ladder and examined the nest. The eggs were cold, 
but there was no sign of an Owl or violence of any kind. 

Then I started for the shed, thinking some harm might have 
befallen her there, and ran across a little heap of bloody bones 
and gray feathers, and our neighbor's cat slinked away licking her 
chops. She had dined off a bird on our premises that money or 
time never could replace. I do not care for cats. 

For a week Robin mourned his mate, searched and called for 
her until we were almost distracted with him, then one day his 
song piped up again, for the south had sent his kind and he was; 

219 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

courting. He really looked apologetic when he flew down on the 
lawn with his second choice and introduced us. No wonder ! She 
was a young thing, she looked bedrabbled, and she was one of 
those foolish, jumpy, nervous birds that never will act with sense, 
because they have none. 

If ever a male tried to dominate the choice of a location it was 
our Robin. I gave up long before he did. He carried grass- 
blades to the old location. Oh, dear no, she never would enter a 
veranda. He tried the wistaria. Mercy, she would be killed if 
she went near it. He dilated on the plum-tree. Shocking! It 
was entirely too close to the cabin. Then he took every tree of the 
orchard and the big forest trees in turn, and carried grass-blades, 
and worked and worked. But no! She was a deep-wood bird, 
and she was not going to be fooled into any such location. 

Sadly he and I watched her select a big hickory across the 
street, and begin her nest. I honestly don't think she got much 
help with it, and it is the truth that Robin's song was a failure in 
comparison with his former efforts. The dear bird loved us. He 
knew his home, and it seemed to me, even after the new mate was 
brooding, that he bewailed his first love and his old location as he 
sang. He did his duty when it came to feeding, but he always 
came to me to search for food and to bathe and sing. 

The next year it was on the twenty-fifth of February, three 
weeks to the day before the other Robins arrived, that he an- 
nounced himself at the well. Again we hurried to meet and 
welcome him. No mate was with him and none arrived later. 
He was still growing and was an immense fellow. Shortly 
after his arrival he was attracted by a long-haired white spaniel, 
a new possession of Molly-cotton's, and he seemed unable to 
decide whether it was a dog or cat. 

220 



ROBIN 

Soon I noticed him perching on the back of an oaken bench 
that stood on the front veranda, its back directly across a big 
six-foot-square plate-glass window. I sat at my desk a few feet 
away and he sat there looking at me. He came more and more 
frequently and stayed longer each time, and at last a heavy snow 
fell, covering everything several inches deep. Then he adopted 
the bench back and for an hour at a time would perch there. 

Our movements did not worry him in the least and unless the 
little dog jumped to the deep seat of the window inside he seldom 
took flight except for food and water. One day he sat motionless 
so long, while I waited for an idea, that one other than that for 
which I waited struck me. Why not take his picture? 

There sat that blessed bird, now of four long years' acquaint- 
ance, through his love for and trust in us, our guest three weeks 
before any of his kind had come ; and the fence in front and the 
logs of the veranda railing were covered with three inches of 
snow, the ground with six. Surely that was a picture to material- 
ize as well as to live in the heart. 

I polished the glass to the last degree inside and out, set a 
camera oh the library table and focused on the bench back. The 
shutter was set at a bulb exposure, the long hose attached and the 
bulb laid on my desk, and time after time I made exposures on 
him. I had to work against strong light, for there was the snow 
outside, and his face and breast were in the shadow, but I did my 
best. I had thought he remained motionless much longer than he 
did, when it actually came to counting off time in seconds. I 
couldn't get just as long an exposure as I wanted, he would 
turn his head, ruffle his feathers a bit or draw a foot out of the 
cold. But I got several good pictures that were precious to all of 
us, for there was the window-seat cushion for a foreground, the 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

oak bench outside the glass for a perch and three inches of snow 
in the distance on railing and fence. 

And still he awaited the coming of spring and his kind, and 
no mate came. One night the Killdeers struck the Limberlost at 
two o'clock; the next the Larks, and a few days later came the 
Robins, and again our bird went courting. For two days we 
missed him, and were growing more anxious than any one who 
has not had a like experience could believe possible ; then he came 
home, and what a bird he brought with him! He was so proud he 
almost perched on my head as he swept the length of the veranda 
calling me. I turned to welcome him and there was his mate. 

She was almost his size, sprucely dressed and, thank heaven! 
open to conviction. I could see it in her big, wise eyes, the alert 
poise of her head and her willingness to follow his choice. Be- 
fore the day was over she was helping carry twigs to the wistaria,' 
and in an incredibly short time she was brooding, and Robin was 
back on the bench looking in the window. He seemed content 
and happy as a bird could be. I guarded faithfully with him, no 
accident befell the nest, and its brood got off safely. Then 
they changed to a hickory in a little grove by the back porch and 
nested again. That nest and its babies were so beautiful I had 
to make some pictures of it. Mother Robin seemed uneasy, but 
he paid no attention whatever while I worked. 

They stayed late that fall, and the next spring came early as 
usual and together. Again they built in the wistaria, using the 
old nest for a foundation, and again they brought out a full 
brood. For a second nesting they chose the top of the martin box 
on the windmill and I think they were sorry, for the sparrows tor- 
mented them constantly. That year Robin seemed a little slug- 
gish in his flight, he sang much less and with nothing like his first 
spirit and inflection. And no wonder! For five years the pre- 
cious bird had homed with us. All the care we could give him 



ROBIN 

was freely his for the love we bore him. I often wondered what 
I would have seen could I have followed him south ; but however 
kind every one would be forced to be to him, I always shall believe 
he loved us best on account of those early migrations, often made 
alone. 

The next year we had swarms of Martins on the windmill, 
Bluebirds in the bird houses, Song Sparrows in the honeysuckle, 
and Robins in three different trees, but tragedy or old age had 
done its work, for all the spring we listened in vain for the voice 
of our dear bird. 




Ready for first migration 



003 



'See yon robin on the spray ; 

Look ye how his tiny form 
Swells, as when his merry lay 

Gushes forth amid the storm. 

Thank him for his lesson's sake, 
Thank God's gentle minstrel there, 

Who, when storms make others quake 
Sings of days that brighter were." 



Weir. 



CHAPTER XVII 

The Blue Jay: Cyanocitta cristata 

IN THE ORCHARD 

A long-time friend of mine 
told me that "if I was interested 
in such a blamed nuisance as a 
Jay Bird there was a nest in a 
grape-vine covered scrub elm in a 
fence-corner on the west side of 
the orchard." So I turned in at 
the lane, drove past the machinery 
sheds, past the garden where 
squares of radishes, onions, let- 
tuce, poppies and phlox were sur- 
rounded by a hedge of goose- 
berry and currant bushes, past the 
milk yard, past the big red barn, 
and down the long lane which 
separated the orchard from a 
wheat-field and led on to the 
creek. This world has no more 
beautiful spot than that orchard. 
The great trees were at their 

prime, there was a thick carpet of waving grass beneath them, an 
arch of blue with lazy floating clouds above, and around it a 
lichen- and vine-covered old snake fence, most rails of which 
housed uncounted tenants. 

227 




WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




THE JAY NEST IN THE ELM 



Sky-larks from the wheat-fields hung over it and their notes 
of piercing sweetness rang constantly ; Song Sparrows were pip- 
ing from the fence, and bees droned over beds of calamus in one 
corner and paid shorter visits to blue-eyed marys and white violets 
sprinkled all along the west side, where they got the benefit of 
shade and moisture from the adjoining woods. The Jay could 
be heard long before he could be seen. He recognized the car- 
riage as something new and sounded an alarm, until he made 
every bird of the orchard nervous by the time his fence -corner was 
located. 

The Jays had set their nest on a limb of the elm which made a 



THE BLUE JAY 

substantial foundation, and studies of it could be made from a 
step-ladder. All the material used was the color of the bark of 
the tree and the nest was quite neat for Jays. It was shaded by 
masses of wild grape-vines and Mother Jay was serenely brood- 
ing when I found her. The first thing was to get the Jays accus- 
tomed to my presence in the orchard, and then try for studies of 
the gaudy brooding bird. 

So I sat down under a rambo just across the fence from the 
elm and studied Jay character. Before finishing with those birds 
I found that they had character in plenty, but of a kind scarcely 
compatible with the peace of other birds. Sooner than I expected, 
the racket Father Jay made at my intrusion ceased, no doubt be- 
cause he was too busy protecting his mate from the Hawks of the 
woods to bother with me ; so I moved closer. 

I had hard work to concentrate my attention on the Jays, de- 
spite all a series of such well-known and characteristic birds would 
mean to me, for to the Lark's call and the Sparrow's lay were 
added the notes of the Killdeer down at the creek, the scream of 
Ganders busy guarding their feeding flocks, the gobble of the 
Turkey-cock from the dooryard, the boasting of the big Brahma 
Rooster over by the barn every time a Hen came out and an- 
nounced that she had laid an egg, and June at her prime was 
oozing from all the earth, air and sky. 

The thing which caught and fastened my attention on the 
Jays was when the male suddenly screamed, "D'jay! D'jay! 
D'jay !" and then gave almost an exact imitation of a Hawk's cry. 
Looking up I saw one of those great birds sweep from the woods 
across the orchard. Right there the Jay paid the farmer his 
"keep," and in a measure atoned for his meanness to other birds; 
for at his warning every chick of the Yellow Dorking catching 
grasshoppers in the orchard took to cover with never a cheep; 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 




"A baby thrust its head through its mother's breast feathers, laid it on the rough 
edge of the nest and went to sleep" 

and where a babel of bird- voices had commingled before that cry, 
not a sound was heard afterward. Even the Lark hurriedly 
dropped to earth and was lost in the wheat. 

But Mother Jay stoutly stuck to her nest, and presently her 
mate came slipping through the trees and went to her to learn if 
she were all right. It did not seem possible that the strident rasp 
of that warning and the tender softly-modulated rejoicing in 
which he now indulged could come from the throat of the same 
bird. His every action proclaimed that he had come to tell her 
how he loved her and that she need never have a fear while he was 
on guard. Surely that was what he told her, though to me it 
sounded like, "Chinkle-choo, tinkle, tankle, tunkle! Binkle, ran- 
kle, runkle! Tee, chee, twee?" Then he flew to the top of the 
tallest tree of the orchard and stood guard again. 

Gradually I moved up until I stood where a tripod should be 
placed, and the brooding bird never flinched. Slowly and care- 

230 



THE BLUE JAY 

fully I made my way back to the carriage and with my assistant 
brought up and placed a twelve-foot step-ladder, and mounted it 
with great caution, making a long wait on each step. The bird 
sat so securely I decided her eggs had quickened and I climbed 
down, moved the ladder nearly under her branch, mounted again 
and cut away grape-vines and small twigs that would be out of 
focus. That blessed Jay Bird sat there and allowed me to use the 
clippers on a grape-leaf not four inches from her breast. Then 
I placed the ladder just right, but it was too low, so I added a 
mineral-water box and secured it with the hitching strap. Still 
it was too low, so I emptied my carrying case and set it on the box 
and then placed the camera on that. Then I focused and made 
several studies of her. Throughout the whole proceeding, which 
was not managed with my usual caution toward the last, when she 
proved so bold, Mother Jay sat, her beak pointed skyward and 




"The baby lifted its head, opened wide its yellow mouth and asked for food" 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

without giving any evidence of fear or indication of flight. Then, 
because in field work you are never sure of, your subject from one 
day to the next, I secured the nest with its v five beautiful eggs. 

Next day I went back early, but a nestling had arrived ahead 
of me, which explained why its mother brooded so constantly the 
previous day. For several days I called on them and secured some 
interesting study at each visit. Once while waiting with a set 
camera and long hose in the hope of securing Father Jay feeding 
his mate or nestlings, a bareheaded, yellow-mouthed baby thrust 
its head from under its mother's breast, and, using the hard rough 
edge of the nest for a pillow, went fast asleep. I gave the bulb 
one frantic grip and hastened up the ladder to turn the plate 
holder. I barely had it inserted when a wonderful thing hap- 
pened. The baby lifted its head and opened wide its yellow mouth 
against the breast of its mother. For an instant my fingers flew 
so fast I was scarcely sure I had caught it. The shutter proved 
I had and in my delight I called to my assistant, "Look here! 
Quick!" 

"Take it !" he shouted. "Take it !" 

"Well, do you suppose I stopped to call you to look before I 
did?" I questioned reproachfully. "I never have seen a picture 
like that made with a camera or drawn by an artist. I truly be- 
lieve I have something perfectly new." 

"Smart Alec! Smart Alec! Smart Alec!" cried Father Jay, 
as he came winging into the elm with a worm in his beak, which in 
no way seemed to impede his utterance. 

So to prove him a truthful bird I thrust another holder into 
the camera and photographed him as he fed one of his nestlings 
a worm while at the same time Mother Jay removed a cloaca. 

In the following days I studied those Jays closely. There 




I 
"I 



8) 



THE BLUE JAY 

was little new to tell. (They did eat the eggs of other small birds, 
and the newly hatched young as well, and even tore up tiny nest- 
lings and fed them to their babies. They did impose on smaller 
birds, tormented their equals and acted the coward with larger 
ones. There seemed no evenness of temperament in them. At one 
minute they came slipping through the trees, cowards in hiding, 
and the next gained a sudden access of courage and from the top 
bough of the tallest tree in the orchard screamed defiance to all 
creation, bird, beast and human. ) 
The male truly was, 

"Mr. Blue jay full o' sass, 
In them base-ball clothes o' his." 

But he flew to his home base instead of sliding, for he kept his 
suit immaculate. The orchard was so clean and the creek so near 
he had no excuse to be otherwise, and he asked none, for twice and 
three times a day he went down to the creek and bathed and 
dressed every feather on him carefully, always ending by polish- 
ing his beak. 

I did want to make a true character-study of him alone, one 
that would index him without a label; one that would show him 
as he screamed Hawk-like when on guard. But I could see no 
way to photograph him away from his nest, and he was not the 
same bird near his cradle, when he felt weighted with family cares. 

I never get anything by giving up, so I sat down under a 
winesap in line with the rambo and studied the situation closely. 
There I saw something. Blue Jay frequently went over in the 
wheat along the fence and caught small worms and grasshop- 
pers. Every time he came back from the west, he broke his long 

235 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

flight by perching an instant on a tall stump in another fence- 
corner surrounded by a growth of hickory and sycamore sprouts. 

I set up the camera, leaned two rails against the fence on 
each side of it, covered it with green leaves and attached the long 
hose. The scheme worked like a charm. I got three pictures of 
the full-grown Jay, a rare one with swollen throat as he screamed 
defiance, seemingly in answer to the cry of an old Gander down 
by the creek; one with closed beak; and one of the female, all 
sharp and strong enough to enlarge beautifully. 

These studies proved it quite true that most birds select a 
route by which to come to and leave a nest. If you watch them you 
can nearly always discover it. Sometimes the female and male 
approach from different sides, each coming and leaving by its 
own way. Both these Jays entered their tree by way of the 
stump, coming from the west ; and by way of one certain branch 
of the rambo when coming in from the orchard. Many other 
birds follow this custom. The Cardinals I knew best each had a 
route coming to and leaving the nest, and they never varied from 
it unless some sound startled them. A pair of Baltimore Ori- 
oles I knew well both used the same route in approach and 
leaving. 

On the morning the oldest Jay baby first investigated the 
apple-tree, I posed him, with his mates, on a maple limb and took 
their pictures. Some young birds are worse subjects, and some 
are better, but I seldom have made a finer baby picture. Their 
colors were similar to their elders, not quite so strong as they 
would be after a first moulting, and their feather-markings were 
the same. Their beaks always were wide open, and how Father 
Jay worked! Every few minutes he came slipping into the elm 
and fed a nestling, and then left in a great hurry to get another 

236 



THE BLUE JAY 

lunch ; but he always paused on a near-by tree and called back to 
Mother Jay, "Fill the kittle! Fill the kittle! Fill the tea-kittle!" 

My feelings concerning the Jay are varied. I admit all his 
bad traits, but there is in his favor the fact that he so perfectly 
imitates the cries of several birds of prey that he saves many 
of the woodland folk from Hawks; whether as many as he de- 
stroys, I have no way to judge, but I think so. ( He is for ever 
guarding the woods, and every bird of field and forest knows his 
signals and heeds them, to that I certainly can testify; for, lying 
in hiding, I repeatedly have seen birds take to cover at his warn- 
ing when it took me some time to discover what was coming ; but 
always he was a true prophet, for something came, either a hun- 
ter, Hawk, Owl, Crow, squirrel, snake, or, near houses, some- 
times a hungry caty 

These alarm cries are not pleasant, but that the wood-folk 
heed them proves that they appreciate and are grateful for them. 
He is a spot of brilliant color about our homes in winter when 
birds are scarce, and his "D'jay, D'jay!" cry is a cheery and wel- 
come sound, proving as it does that we are not altogether de- 
serted. In courting he carries on a long, low conversation well 
down in his throat and his tones are sweet and musical. Not only 
do they use this sweet throaty murmuring in pairs when courting, 
but throughout the season they congregate in small flocks and 
have a Jay party. 

There is one big maple on the banks of the Wabash, beneath 
which I have caught a few black bass, where the Jays for years 
have gathered at intervals for one of their tree parties. At least 
a half-dozen collect in the tree and perch near together. One be- 
gins to chatter, jabber, chuckle and murmur. Another joins him, 
then the whole company, then one continues alone, several more 

239 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

join in, and again the whole flock unite in a sweet, inquiring, 
throaty vocalizing that is music in which I delight. The Brown 
Thrush chants exquisitely from a thorn opposite ; the Oriole flings 
golden notes on wing ; and the clear, strong whistle of the Cardi- 
nal carries beautifully with the water; but the undertones of the 
Jays are a minor melody which fills in the pauses of these star 
performers with constant harmony. 




YOUNG JAY 



240 



CHAPTER XVIII 

The Humming-bird: Trochilus Colubris 

ABOUT THE CABIN 

When Mr. McCollum sent 
me word that one of his sons had 
located the nest of a Humming- 
bird, I traveled the same road I 
had gone over a little earlier in 
the season to the haunt of the 
Rail. The fact that all nature 
had advanced a few weeks nearer 
fruition made the trip none the 
less delightful. We found the 
location in deep forest in a small 
ironwood tree and the nest so lit- 
tle that only by a miracle had any 
one ever seen it at all. 

The tiny cradle was built of 
lichens lined with chestnut-col- 
ored down fine as silk, saddled on 
a limb about twice the thickness 
of a lead-pencil, and bound fast 

with cobwebs. A silver dollar laid on top would have sheltered it 
perfectly during a rainstorm. There were no eggs, and as it had 
been discovered ten days before and the tree bent to examine it 
while the birds had been building, I concluded they had abandoned 
it. I am sure it was completed outside, but I do not know that it 




'It soon revived until it could 
cling to a dead twig 
on the bush" 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

was finished within. Because it was the daintiest piece of bird ar- 
chitecture of my experience a picture was made of it even if it 
was empty. 

But I have had three real experiences with Humming-birds. 
The first, when one of them mistook the front window of the 
cabin for a pool of water, and in trying to fly across it struck 
the glass full force and fell stunned. I heard the blow, hastened 
to pick up the bird, and while trying to think what could be done 
for it I saw that it was reviving and soon it flew away. 

Whenever Molly-cotton enters the cabin alone, simultane- 
ously with the setting of a foot on the threshold she always sings 
out, "Mama!" One inflection she gives that call means, "Are 
you at home?" Another, "May I go to Bertha's?" and yet a third, 
which sends me flying at the first tone of it, means a heartbreak. 
This day came the trouble call, sharply defined as the alarm-cry 
of my Robin. Molly-cotton stood in the doorway with big ex- 
cited eyes shining from a background of flushed cheeks and flying 
hair. On her outstretched palm lay a ruby-throated Humming- 
bird, both wings wide spread, but making no attempt to fly. 

"Doctor it!" she demanded. 

Is there anything harder for a mother than falling short of 
what her child expects of her? I did not know a thing to do for 
a sick Humming-bird, those daintiest creatures of nectar and sun- 
shine, but as I looked into Molly-cotton's distressed and eager 
face, I knew I could not tell her so. Of course I realized there 
would come the inevitable hour when I would not be able to fur- 
nish "balm for every wound," but I could not fail her just then, 
so I temporized. 

"Where did you get it? Do you know what is the trouble 
with it?" 

"I gave a boy my soda dime for it and it's hurt with a sling- 
shot." 

244 



THE HUMMING-BIRD 

"Hurt with a sling-shot!" I cried. "He'd better be punished 
instead of paid for that trick." 

"But, mama," said Molly-cotton, "the boy that had it wasn't 
the boy that hurt it, that's why I bought it; and," she added 
with characteristic justice, "the boy that hurt it ran. He was 
awful sorry. He just shot. He didn't ever think he could hit it. 
Really, it was an accident!" 

"And that is the way almost every song-bird that is shot meets 
its fate," I retorted hotly. "Men always have to try if they can 
hit a thing, and when a bird as brilliant as a butterfly or a flower 
falls they are surprised and so sorry that it is dead. They only 
wanted to see if they could hit it. It is the old excuse." 

Molly-cotton advanced a step and held out the bird. "Well, 
mama!" she said. "Aren't you going to do something?" 

"Take it into the conservatory," I answered, striving to collect 
my wits. First aid to an injured Humming-bird ! What would it 
be? Of course its back was almost or quite broken, from those 
wide-spread motionless wings, the heavy breathing and the eyes 
protruding with pain. From a box of abandoned nests a large 
one was selected with some fine twigs in the bottom, and the bird 
with all care transferred to it. 

Wounded people are always thirsty, so I proposed to give it 
a drink of sweetened water. Molly-cotton ran for a teaspoon 
and the sugar, and we held a few drops of sweetened water to 
the bird's bill. At the touch of it the little creature drank and 
drank and ran its slender thread-like tongue over the bowl of the 
spoon, searching for particles of sugar. Every hour that after- 
noon it was given more. When Molly-cotton came from school 
she carried it honeysuckle and trumpet-creeper blooms, and when 
either honey from the flowers or sweetened water was put against 
its beak it ate and drank. 

I confidently expected that it would be dead by morning, but 

245 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

instead it had folded its wings and before the day was over was 
clinging to the twigs with its feet. Then I took courage and went 
to work in earnest. I put it in a cool shaded place and added 
hard-boiled egg thinned almost to liquid to its diet, and by the 
third morning it could walk and had climbed up on the edge of the 
nest. When I saw that, "It is going to get well, sure as fate!" I 
cried to Molly-cotton. 

"It's going to get well! It's going to get well!" exulted the 
Girlie, dancing for joy. 

Straightway she exacted a promise that she should be the one 
to open the door and give it freedom, which surely was her right. 
Then she thought of another world to conquer. 

The night before Bob had brought me a little reddish-brown 
mother bat, weighted with four babies clinging to her body, and 
I was to photograph them that day and put them back where they 
had been before night. Molly-cotton thought the bat should be 
fed also. She argued that if she had been free the night before 
her mate would have fed her and with those four babies to care 
for she must be almost famished. So I was called upon, in all 
confidence, to tell what bats ate. 

I told her we could not get for a bat, in daytime, what it 
found on wing at night, but I thought it could do no possible 
hurt, so I suggested fresh, warm milk. Molly-cotton fished a 
nickel from her purse and sped to a neighbor's for milk, and I 
whittled out a tiny wooden paddle. We dipped this into the milk 
and held it to the bat's nose. She instantly seized it between her 
sharp little teeth and sucked and gnawed at it. She would not let 
go, so we took the Humming-bird's spoon and dropped milk a 
drop at a time on the paddle. That little bat turned up her head 
and drank and drank like a famished creature. 

We had a splendid chance to study her face. It was shaped 
like a young pig's, only flatter. She had a small, round, flat nose 

246 



THE HUMMING-BIRD 

like a pig's, a face very similar, and ears round like a mouse's, 
instead of pointed. Her fur was silken fine and of beautiful 
color. Each of the four babies was a miniature of the mother. 
When she was quite satisfied she let go the paddle and went to 
sleep. But until her picture was taken and she was returned to 
freedom Molly-cotton fed her milk, which she took eagerly at 
every offering. 

Just when we were congratulating ourselves that the Hum- 
ming-bird was saved came disaster. I do not know why I was so 
thoughtless. That ability to climb to the edge of the nest should 
have warned me. The bird tried its first flight and fell from the 
shelf, on which the nest was placed, five feet to the cement floor 
and died in a few seconds. 

Our next Humming-bird experience was short. I met Mr. 
Hale on the way to the post-office. "Hold fast all I give you," 
he said, reaching out a hand. What I got was a Humming-bird 
lying on its back, its eyes closed, its feet drawn up among its 
feathers, to all appearances dead. 

"Found that among the sweet peas this morning," he said. 
"It forgot to migrate and took a chill." For it was October and 
the night had been heavy with frost. 

I cupped both hands about the bird and on reaching the cabin 
could see that it was alive. I gradually warmed it until it opened 
its eyes. Then I told Molly-cotton to bring me four grains 
(granules) of granulated sugar, with one drop of tincture of 
ginger and five of water added to them. We held this mixture 
to the bird's bill and it drank feebly. In a little while it began to 
ruffle its feathers and shiver. 

Then I sent Molly-cotton to carry my camera to the south 
side of the cabin, where she had a LaFrance rosebush in full 
bloom that we had covered during the night. I followed with the 
bird. It soon revived until it could cling to a dead twig on the 

2*7 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

bush, though its tail was tucked, its feathers ruffled and it looked 
chilly. We were running no risks, so we took its picture. I 
should have taken the first one while it lay on its back, to all ap- 
pearances a dead bird. 

I put in a new plate, and when all was ready Molly-cotton 
gave the bird another drink, a big generous one. The air was 
rapidly warming with the rising sun and the bird now revived 
to the point of feeling disheveled, for it ruffled its feathers, shook 
them and laid them so they looked quite sleek. The little thing 
felt very spruce indeed, considering a few moments before, so 
I made a second exposure. While I was hustling to get in a plate 
for a third the bird hopped to a twig above it, gave its tail and 
wings a flirt and with a whizz darted over the nearest trees and in 
a bee-line, as far as we could follow him, sailed for the south. 



THE NEST OF A HUMMING-BIRD 




w 




CHAPTER XIX 



The Quail: Colinus Virginianus 

ON THE GROUND 

With the combined meadows, 
wheat-fields and orchards of the 
Stanley and Aspy farms, as well 
as a mile-stretch of grassy river- 
bank from which to choose, Mrs. 
Bob White paid Mr. Bob Black 
the compliment of coming up 
within a rod of his engine-house, 
two yards from his foot-path and 
selecting her building site. When 
Bob pointed out the nest to me I 
was amazed. 

The churning of the great en- 
gine that furnished power to 
pump many wells, some of them 
a half-mile away, shook the earth 
under her location. The exhaust 
pipe shrieked until close to it the explosions were deafening. All 
day long the rod-lines rattled and steady streams of oil poured 
into the big tanks. Bob, with pointer always to heel, passed over 
the path many times a day. I traversed it daily, and there was a 
steady flow of children's feet rushing down to the river to play 
and back to Bob to borrow fish-lines, corks, hooks, knives, any- 
thing a boy could use along the water. 

251 




NEST OF QUAIL 

Containing seventeen eggs 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

There came the Quail to brood. I wonder why. Did she like 
company? Did she prefer to keep house where she could hear 
sounds and see people? Had she lingered about the place until 
she had lost all fear of it and hoped in the noise and proximity to 
people to find protection from her natural enemies, the snake, 
squirrel and Owl? 

Bob never knew the bird was there until Gypsy made a point 
at her, and then she was brooding on seventeen eggs. The nest 
was constructed on the ground. The builder had slipped through 
the long hair-like grasses until she found a slight depression 
sheltered by a small spray of wild grape-vine. There she sat 
down and turned around until she worked out a flat bowl-shaped 
place, from which she picked away the blades of green grass, 
using the dead ones for lining.- The taller grasses closed over her 
and the grape-vine screened her from the sight of the man, but 
not from the scent of the dog. 

Her nest was a beauty. I like to think she placed it there 
because she had put herself under Bob's protection. This idea of 
shy wood-things creeping up to him, because they knew he was 
their friend and champion, makes me proud that he is my friend 
also. Those seventeen eggs were freshly laid, bluish white and 
sharply pointed at one end. The picture they made was a novelty 
on account of their number. 

After we had secured a fair study of the nest we waited for 
the young. We knew our ornithology well enough to be aware 
that there was small hope of getting them, for a Quail lays all her 
eggs before she begins to brood, so that the young emerge at once 
and travel before their down is quite dry. While we waited for 
these nestlings I had rare luck in securing two good studies of 
grown Quail over in the Limberlost, so I did not bother these old 
ones. 



THE QUAIL 

We did not know just how many of the twenty-three days of 
incubation had passed before Gypsy found the nest, but when we 
thought the time for the brood to emerge was close I was on hand 
and ready. A three days' wait made me careless, and the follow- 
ing day I did not reach the lease until nine o'clock. The tailpiece 
of this chapter shows what I got for my pains. Not much, you 
think? 

That one little picture for ever settles two questions long in 
dispute concerning the Quail. Many writers will contend that 
young Quail remain in the nest some time after they emerge. 
They go before they are thoroughly dry and feed themselves 
from the start. The proud father, with head feathers flared to 
a crest and hackle bristling, leads the way, the young follow, 
the mother brings up the rear. When either old bird sights a 
morsel fit for the young to eat it calls the chicks about it and with 
its bill indicates what is to be eaten, often breaking it up so that 
as many as possible shall get a bite. The young had left this nest 
so soon after hatching that the shells were warm, and flies and 
ants were gathering over them, attracted by tiny bloodvessels in 
the lining. 

/Also these shells proved beyond question that the mother had 
gone over each egg at time for emergence and with her sharp, 
strong bill cut the shell and lining in halves, releasing the young. 
I had been contradicted so frequently on this statement that I 
had quit making it, until this nest of shells was found. They 
clearly show that the work is done from the outside, as a deep rim 
is bent in, the lining cut instead of torn, and each shell divided 
exactly in halves.) 

There was pleasure in proving this point long defended, but 
I bewailed those babies. So to comfort me Bob said we would 
search along the river and perhaps we could find them. Neither 

253 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

of us had much hope, but there were so many other things to find 
we were sure not to waste time, so we set out. And we did find 
things, for all nature was very busy that morning. We took a 
rare butterfly, located a Cuckoo nest, a Woodpecker tree, a Song 
Sparrow's bush, and found a fine specimen of cardinal flower, 
which is rare in this locality. 

On the way back to the carriage, from under our very feet 
Mother Quail rose with a whir, and there was a breath of faint 
peeps. We were in the thick of the seventeen youngsters. I 
dropped to my knees and began combing the grass with my fin- 
gers. The first sweep brought up a tiny ball of fluff with a black 
striped back and the second another. By that time Bob had one, 
then I had another; my hands were full of Quail now and no 
place to put them. Bob came up with a second chick and what to 
do with them was a serious problem, for their little legs flew. 

Just then Bob sighted another baby and in desperation 
stuffed the two he held into the front of his flannel shirt. I 
passed over mine and in they went also. Then we hunted Quail 
by hand. The sun was hot and it was warm work, but we had 
eight before we quit and that was all we felt we could manage 
at once. What to do with them became the next question. 

The grass was high and there was no chance where we were. 
I suggested taking them back to the nest. But that was in high 
grass also. Bob had a better plan. He knew where there had 
been a Quail-nest in an adjoining wheat-field, beside a big stone. 
We could have a better opportunity there, and one egg remained 
in the nest. Also it was close to the carriage and would save mov- 
ing the cameras far, so I welcomed the suggestion. 

I set up the camera, focused on the nest, bent back the wheat, 
left the unhatched egg as it lay and announced I was ready. 

254 



THE QUAIL 

Bob produced the Quail. I held them until he found all of them 
and then we placed them in the nest. Over the stone and into the 
wheat they darted like weasels. Two were lost completely before 
we knew it. Again and again we tried, and there wasn't the ghost 
of a chance to make an exposure, for our hands would have been 
the whole picture. At last we were worn out completely. We had 
just three of our birds left. We carefully put them down in the 
nest. Bob on one side, I on the other; he holding the babies, I 
ready to squeeze the bulb or stop one if it ran my way. 

"Now let me try," I said. 

Bob lifted his hands. Over the stone for the wheat raced the 
birds. All I knew was that all of them were on the stone when I 
snapped. Development of the plate proved that Bob had thrust 
out his hand to stop them and I had taken it, also, although the 
motion was so quick that neither of us knew it. We both were 
worn out and made no attempt to try again. I was accustomed to 
being warm, tired, wet and muddy, but a vague unusual dis- 
comfort was stealing over me as I slipped the slide in the holder 
and packed the camera. What ailed me? I actually was in dis- 
tress. I glanced at Bob. His face and arms were like red flannel. 
Was he suffering, too? He didn't look happy. I had a right to 
sacrifice myself for my work if I chose, but I had no right to 
punish Bob. I studied him closer. 

A million tiny red lice were swarming up his neck and over 
his face and arms. Only a quarter of a million fell to my share 
and drove me frantic. I climbed into the carriage and almost 
killed Patience racing for the cabin. Glancing back I saw Bob 
come from the power-house with a bundle and run to beat the 
pointer for the river. I stopped in passing that afternoon to see 
if he were alive and found him smoking his pipe in a hammock 

255 



WHAT I HAVE DONE WITH BIRDS 

on the river bank. He said in fifteen minutes after I left, the old 
Quail were about whistling and calling until they collected their 
entire brood. 

I was sorry to miss that. I think a Quail call, the Bob White 
whistle, beautiful. It is mellow, musical, inflected to a nicety, 
and it is always so cheerful and happy. I like Quail love-mak- 
ing, too; those soft, tender little wisps of sound, those creeps 
and peeps and gently-murmured things. In fact, the only note 
a Quail makes which I don't like is his alarm-cry, and I dislike to 
hear that from any bird. 

I am sorry our legislators do not put Quail among song birds. 
Their plumage is much handsomer than some of our choicest 
singers; they are graceful and elegant on foot, and their music 
every one knows and loves. Only a note shorter and only a degree 
less melodious than the Lark, which is of finer flavor as food ; yet 
the soul sickens at the thought of such sacrilege in the case of the 
Lark, why not the Quail also? 

I love these two birds and I always think of them together. 
They use the breast of earth in common in the business of living. 
The notes of their songs are syllabicated the clearest and enunci- 
ated the purest of any of our singers. But the Lark is the bird of 
Heaven, the Quail is of the very earth. Soaring above cloud, the 
Lark seems to catch the breath of divine inspiration in his notes 
that enthralls and uplifts the spirit. Keeping close to the dark 
earth, the Quail draws from it strength and courage, which so 
tinctures his tones as to renew hope and cheer in our tired hearts 
and set them singing with him. 

"Bob, Bob White! Bob, Bob White!" How beautifully it 
pipes up from meadow-grass and clover! How it softens and 
quivers with the passion of mating! How it swells and rings 

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THE QUAIL 

when flung as a challenge to a rival from stumps and fences! 
How it comes sweeping in certain, steady tones on the breast of 
the river! What would summer be to lovers of field and stream 
without it! How little children everywhere love and try to 
imitate it! Sip nectar of fruit and honey of flower that you 
may trill even sweeter, O ye favorites of protecting fortune, 
or soon this plucky little gamester of the fields will win enough 
hearts with his cheery whistle to place himself among you ! 

GENE STRATTON-PORTER. 
Limberlost Cabin, March 17, 1906. 




Proof that Mother Quail cuts the shells of her eggs in halves and releases all 

of her young at one time 



257