Some time after the blue jay family had taken to roaming about the grounds, I had a pleasing little interview with one of them in the raspberry patch. This was a favorite resort of the neighboring birds, where I often betook myself to see who came to the feast. This morning I was sitting quietly under a spruce-tree, when three blue jays came flying toward me with noise and outcries, evidently in excitement over something. The one leading the party had in his beak a white object, like a piece of bread, and was uttering low, complaining cries as he flew; he passed on, and the second followed him; but the third seemed struck by my appearance, and probably felt it his duty to inquire into my business, for he alighted on a tree before me, not ten feet from where I sat. He began in the regular way, by greeting me with a squawk; for, like some of his bigger (and wiser?) fellow-creatures, he assumed that a stranger must be a suspicious personage, and an unusual position must mean mischief. I was very comfortable, and I thought I would see if I could not fool him into thinking me a scarecrow, companion to those adorning the "patch" at that moment. I sat motionless, not using my glass, but looking him squarely in the eyes. This seemed to impress him; he ceased squawking, and hopped a twig nearer, stopped, turned one calmly observant eye on me, then quickly changed to the other, as if to see if the first had not deceived him. Still I did not move, and he was plainly puzzled to make me out. He came nearer and nearer, and I moved only my eyes to keep them on his. All this time he did not utter a sound, but studied me as closely, and to all appearances as carefully, as ever I had studied him. Obviously he was in doubt what manner of creature it was, so like the human race, yet so unaccountably quiet. He tried to be unconcerned, while still not releasing me from strict surveillance; he dressed his feathers a little, uttering a soft whisper to himself, as if he said, "Well, I never!" then looked me over again more carefully than before. This pantomime went on for half an hour or more; and no one who had looked for that length of time into the eyes of a blue jay could doubt his intelligence, or that he had his thoughts and his well-defined opinions, that he had studied his observer very much as she had studied him, and that she had not fooled him in the least.
The little boy blue is one of the birds suffering under a bad name whom I have wished to know better, to see if perchance something might be done to clear up his reputation a bit. I am not able to say that he never steals the eggs of other birds, though during nearly a month of hard work, when, if ever, a few eggs would have been a welcome addition to his resources, and sparrows were sitting in scores on the place, I did not see or hear anything of the sort. I have heard of his destroying the nest, and presumably eating the eggs or young of the English sparrow, but the hundred or two who raised their broods and squawked from morning to night in the immediate vicinity of the pine-tree household never intimated that they were disturbed, and never showed hostility to their neighbors in blue. Moreover, there is undoubtedly something to be said on the jay's side. Even if he does indulge in these little eccentricities, what is he but a "collector"? And though he does not claim to be working "in the interest of science," which bigger collectors invariably do, he is working in the interest of life, and life is more than science. Even a blue jay's life is to him as precious as ours to us, and who shall say that it is not as useful as many of ours in the great plan?
The only indications of hostilities that I observed in four weeks' close study, at the most aggressive time of bird life, nesting-time, I shall relate exactly as I saw them, and the record will be found a very modest one. In this case, certainly, the jay was no more offensive than the meekest bird that has a nest to defend, and far less belligerent than robins and many others. On one occasion a strange blue jay flew up to the nest in the pine. I could not discover that he had any evil intention, except just to see what was going on, but one of the pair flew at him with loud cries, which I heard for some time after the two had disappeared in the distance, and when our bird returned, he perched on an evergreen, bowing and "jouncing" violently, his manner plainly defying the enemy to "try it again." At another time I observed a savage fight, or what looked like it, between two jays. I happened not to see the beginning, for I was particularly struck that morning with the behavior of a bouquet of nasturtiums which stood in a vase on my table. I never was fond of these flowers, and I noticed then for the first time how very self-willed and obstinate they were. No matter how nicely they were arranged, it would not be an hour before the whole bunch was in disorder, every blossom turning the way it preferred, and no two looking in the same direction. I thought, when I first observed this, that I must be mistaken, and I took them out and rearranged them as I considered best; but the result was always the same, and I began to feel that they knew altogether too much for their station in the vegetable world. I was trying to see if I could discover any method in their movements, when I was startled by a flashing vision of blue down under the locusts, and, on looking closely, saw two jays flying up like quarrelsome cocks,—only not together, but alternately, so that one was in the air all the time. They flew three feet high, at least, all their feathers on end, and looking more like shapeless masses of blue feathers than like birds. They did not pause or rest till one seemed to get the other down. I could not see from my window well enough to be positive, but both were in the grass together, and only one in sight, who stood perfectly quiet. He appeared to be holding the other down, for occasionally there would be a stir below, and renewed vigilance on the part of the one I could see. Several minutes passed. I became very uneasy. Was he killing him? I could stand it no longer, so I ran down. But my coming was a diversion, and both flew. When I reached the place, one had disappeared, and the other was hopping around the tree in great excitement, holding in his beak a fluffy white feather about the size of a jay's breast feather. I did not see the act, and I cannot absolutely declare it, but I have no doubt that he pulled that feather from the breast of his foe as he held him down; how many more with it I could not tell, for I did not think of looking until it was too late.
Again one day, somewhat later, when blue jay and catbird babies were rather numerous, I saw a blue jay dive into a lilac bush much frequented by catbirds, young and old together. Instantly there arose a great cry of distress, as though some one were hurt, and a rustling of leaves, proclaiming that a chase, if not a fight, was in progress. I hurried downstairs, and as I appeared the jay flew, with two catbirds after him, still crying in a way I had never heard before. I expected nothing less than to find a young catbird injured, but I found nothing. Whether the blue jay really had touched one, or it was a mere false alarm on the part of the very excitable catbirds, I could not tell. This is the only thing I have seen in the jay that might have been an interference with another bird's rights; and the catbirds made such a row when I came near their babies that I strongly suspect the only guilt of the jay was alighting in the lilac they had made their headquarters.
The little boy blue in the apple-tree, already spoken of, did not get his family off with so little adventure as his pine-tree neighbor. The youngling of this nest came to the ground and stayed there. The people of the house returned him to the tree several times, but every time he fell again. Three or four days he wandered about the neighborhood, the parents rousing the country with their uproar, and terrorizing the household cat to such a point of meekness that no sooner did a jay begin to squawk than he ran to the door and begged to come in. At last, out of mercy, the family took the little fellow into the house, when they saw that he was not quite right in some way. One side seemed to be nearly useless; one foot did not hold on; one wing was weak; and his breathing seemed to be one-sided. The family, seeing that he could not take care of himself, decided to adopt him. He took kindly to human care and human food, and before the end of a week had made himself very much at home. He knew his food provider, and the moment she entered the room he rose on his weak little legs, fluttered his wings violently, and presented a gaping mouth with the jay baby cry issuing therefrom. Nothing was ever more droll than this sight. He was an intelligent youngster, knew what he wanted, and when he had had enough. He would eat bread up to a certain point, but after that he demanded cake or a berry, and his favorite food was an egg. He was exceedingly curious about all his surroundings, examined everything with great care, and delighted to look out of the window. He selected his own sleeping-place,—the upper one of a set of bookshelves,—and refused to change; and he watched the movements of a wounded woodcock as he ran around the floor with as much interest as did the people. Under human care he grew rapidly stronger, learned to fly more readily and to use his weak side; and every day he was allowed to fly about in the trees for hours. Once or twice, when left out, he returned to the house for food and care; but at last came a day when he returned no more. No doubt he was taken in charge again by his parents, who, it was probable, had not left the neighborhood.
After July came in, and baby blue jays could hardly be distinguished from their parents, my studies took me away from the place nearly all day, and I lost sight of the family whose acquaintance had made my June so delightful.
THE GREAT CAROLINIAN.
All through June of that summer I studied the birds in the spacious inclosure around my "Inn of Rest." But as that month drew near its end,
"The happy birds that change their sky To build and brood, that live their lives From land to land,"
almost disappeared. Blue jay babies wandered far off, where I could hear them it is true, but where—owing to the despair into which my appearance threw the whole jay family—I rarely saw them; orchard and Baltimore orioles had learned to fly, and carried their ceaseless cries far beyond my hearing; catbirds and cardinals, doves and golden-wings, all had raised their broods and betaken themselves wherever their fancy or food drew them, certainly without the bounds of my daily walks. It was evident that I must seek fresh fields, or remove my quarters to a more northerly region, where the sun is less ardent and the birds less in haste with their nesting.
Accordingly I sought a companion who should also be a guide, and turned my steps to the only promising place in the vicinity, a deep ravine, through which ran a little stream that was called a river, and dignified with a river's name, yet rippled and babbled, and conducted itself precisely like a brook.
The Glen, as it was called, was a unique possession for a common work-a-day village in the midst of a good farming country. Long ago would its stately trees have been destroyed, its streamlet set to turning wheels, and Nature forced to express herself on those many acres, in corn and potatoes, instead of her own graceful and varied selection of greenery; or, mayhap, its underbrush cut out, its slopes sodded, its springs buried in pipes and put to use, and the whole "improved" into dull insipidity,—all this, but for the will of one man who held the title to the grounds, and rated it so highly, that, though willing to sell, no one could come up to his terms. Happy delusion! that blessed the whole neighborhood with an enchanting bit of nature untouched by art. Long may he live to keep the deeds in his possession, and the grounds in their own wild beauty.
The place was surrounded by bristling barbed fences, and trespassers were pointedly warned off, so when one had paid for the privilege, and entered the grounds, he was supposed to be safe from intrusion, except of others who had also bought the right. The part easily accessible to hotel and railroad station was the scene of constant picnics, for which the State is famous, but that portion which lay near my place of study was usually left to the lonely kingfisher—and the cows. There the shy wood dwellers set up their households, and many familiar upland birds came with their fledglings; that was the land of promise for bird-lovers, and there one of them decided to study.
We began with the most virtuous resolves. We would come at five o'clock in the morning; we would catch the birds at their breakfast. We did; it was a lovely morning after a heavy rain, on which we set out to explore the ravine for birds. The storm in passing had taken the breeze with it, and not a twig had stirred since. Every leaf and grass blade was loaded with rain-drops. Walking in the grass was like wading in a stream; to touch a bush was to evoke a shower. But though our shoes were wet through, and our garments well sprinkled, before we reached the barbed fence, over or under or through or around which we must pass to our goal, we would not be discouraged; we went on.
As to the fence, let me, in passing, give my fellow drapery-bearers a hint. Carry a light shawl, or even a yard of muslin, to lay across the wire you can step over (thus covering the mischievous barbs), while a good friend holds up with strong hand the next wire, and you slip through. Thus you may pass this cruel device of man without accident.
Having circumvented the fence, the next task was to descend the steep sides of the ravine. The difficulty was, not to get down, for that could be done almost anywhere, but to go right side up; to land on the feet and not on the head was the test of sure-footedness and climbing ability. We conquered that obstacle, cautiously creeping down rocky steps, and over slippery soil, steadying ourselves by bushes, clasping small tree-trunks, scrambling over big ones that lay prone upon the ground, and thus we safely reached the level of the stream. Then we passed along more easily, stooping under low trees, crossing the beds of tiny brooks, encircling clumps of shrubbery (and catching the night's cobwebs on our faces), till we reached a fallen tree-trunk that seemed made for resting. There we seated ourselves, to breathe, and to see who lived in the place.
One of the residents proclaimed himself at once,
"To left and right The cuckoo told his name to all the hills,"—
and in a moment we saw him, busy with his breakfast. His manner of hunting was interesting; he stood perfectly still on a branch, his beak pointed upward, but his head so turned that one eye looked downward. When something attracted him, he almost fell off his perch, seized the morsel as he passed, alighted on a lower branch, and at once began looking around again. There was no frivolity, no flitting about like a little bird; his conduct was grave and dignified, and he was absolutely silent, except when at rare intervals he mounted a branch and uttered his call, or song, if one might so call it. He managed his long tail with grace and expression, holding it a little spread as he moved about, thus showing the white tips and "corners."
While we were absorbed in cuckoo affairs the sun peeped over the trees, and the place was transfigured. Everything, as I said, was charged with water, and looking against the sun, some drops hanging from the tip of a leaf glowed red as rubies, others shone out blue as sapphires, while here and there one scintillated with many colors like a diamond, now flashing red, and now yellow or blue.
"The humblest weed Wore its own coronal, and gayly bold Waved jeweled sceptre."
In that spot we sat an hour, and saw many birds, with whom it was evidently a favorite hunting-ground. But no one seemed to live there; every one appeared to be passing through; and realizing as we did, that it was late in the season, our search for nests in use was rather half-hearted anyway. As our breakfast-time drew near we decided to go home, having found nothing we cared to study. Just as we were taking leave of the spot I heard, nearly at my back, a gentle scolding cry, and glancing around, my eyes fell upon two small birds running down the trunk of a walnut sapling. A few inches above the ground one of the pair disappeared, and the other, still scolding, flew away. I hastened to the spot—and there I found my great Carolinian.
The nest was made in a natural cavity in the side of a stump six or eight inches in diameter and a foot high. It seemed to be of moss, completely roofed over, and stooping nearer its level I saw the bird, looking flattened as if she had been crushed, but returning my gaze, bravely resolved to live or die with her brood. I noted her color, and the peculiar irregular line over her eye, and then I left her, though I did not know who she was. Nothing would have been easier than to put my hand over her door and catch her, but nothing would have induced me to do so—if I never knew her name. Time enough for formal introductions later in our acquaintance, I thought, and if it happened that we never met again, what did I care how she was named in the books?
I did not at first even suspect her identity, for who would expect to find the great Carolina wren a personage of less than six inches! even though he were somewhat familiar with the vagaries of name-givers, who call one bird after the cat, whom he in no way resembles, and another after the bull, to whom the likeness is, if possible, still less. What was certain was that the nest belonged to wrens, and was admirably placed for study; and what I instantly resolved was to improve my acquaintance with the owners thereof.
The little opening in the woods, which became the Wren's Court, when their rank was discovered, was a most attractive place, shaded enough to be pleasant, while yet leaving a goodly stretch of blue sky in sight, bounded on one side by immense forest trees—walnut, butternut, oak, and others—which looked as if they had stood there for generations; on the other side, the babbling stream, up and down which the kingfisher flew and clattered all day. One way out led to the thicket where a wood-thrush was sitting in a low tree, and the other, by the Path Difficult, up to the world above. The seat, across the court from the nest, had plainly been arranged by some kind fate on purpose for us. It was the trunk of a tree, which in falling failed to quite reach the ground, and so had bleached and dried, and it was shaded and screened from observation by vigorous saplings which had sprung up about it. The whole was indeed an ideal nook, well worthy to be named after its distinguished residents.
Thoreau was right in his assertion that one may see all the birds of a neighborhood by simply waiting patiently in one place, and into that charming spot came "sooner or later" every bird I had seen in my wanderings up and down the ravine. There sang the scarlet tanager every morning through July, gleaming among the leaves of the tallest trees, his olive-clad spouse nowhere to be seen, presumably occupied with domestic affairs. There the Acadian flycatcher pursued his calling, fluttering his wings and uttering a sweet little murmur when he alighted. Into that retired corner came the cries of flicker and blue jay from the high ground beyond. On the edge sang the indigo-bird and the wood-pewee, and cardinal and wood-thrush song formed the chorus to all the varied notes that we heard.
Upon our entrance the next morning, my first glance at the nest was one of dismay—the material seemed to be pulled out a little. Had it been robbed! had some vagabond squirrel thrust lawless paws into the little home! I looked closely; no, there sat, or rather there lay the little mother. But she did not relish this second call. She flew, fluttering and trailing on the ground, as if hurt, hoping, of course, to attract us away from her nest. Seeing that of no avail, however, which she quickly did, she retreated to a low branch, threw back her head, and uttered a soft "chur-r-r," again and again repeated, doubtless to her mate. But that personage did not make his appearance, and we examined the nest. There were five eggs, white, very thickly and evenly specked with fine dots of dark color. An end of one that stuck up was plain white, perhaps the others were the same; we did not inquire too closely, for what did we care for eggs, except as the cradles of the future birds?
Very soon we retired to our seat across the court and became quiet, to wait for what might come. Suddenly, with almost startling effect,
"A bird broke forth and sung And trilled and quavered and shook his throat."
It was a new voice to us, loud and clear, and the song, consisting of three clauses, sounded like "Whit-e-ar! Whit-e-ar! Whit-e-ar!" then a pause, and the same repeated, and so on indefinitely. It came nearer and still nearer, and in a moment we saw the bird, a tiny creature, red-brown on the back, light below—the image of the little sitter in the stump, as we remarked with delight; we hoped he was her mate. He did not seem inclined to go to the nest, but stayed on a twig of a dead branch which hung from a large tree near by.
While the stranger was pouring out his rhapsody, head thrown back, tail hanging straight down, and wings slightly drooped, I noticed a movement by the nest, and fixed my eyes upon that. The little dame had stolen out of her place, and now began the ascent of the sapling which started out one side of her small stump. Up the trunk she went with perfect ease, running a few steps, and then pausing a moment before she took the next half-dozen. She did not go bobbing up like a woodpecker, nor did she steady herself with her tail, like that frequenter of tree-trunks; she simply ran up that almost perpendicular stick as a fly runs up the wall. Meanwhile her mate, if that he were, kept up his ringing song, till she reached the top of the sapling, perhaps seven or eight feet high, and flew over near him. In an instant the song ceased, and the next moment two small birds flew over our heads, and we heard chatting and churring, and then silence.
Without this hint from the wren we should rarely have seen her leave the nest; we should naturally have watched for wings, and none might come or go, while she was using her feet instead. She returned in the same way; flying to the top, or part way up her sapling, she ran down to her nest as glibly as she had run up. The walnut-trunk was the ladder which led to the outside world. This pretty little scene was many times repeated, in the days that we spent before the castle of our Carolinians; the male announcing himself afar with songs, and approaching gradually, while his mate listened to the notes that had wooed her, and now again coaxed her away from her sitting, for a short outing with him. Sometimes, though rarely, she came out without this inducement, but during her sitting days she usually went only upon his invitation.
Before many days we had fully identified the pair. The song had puzzled me at first, for though extraordinary in volume for a bird of his size, and possessing that indefinable wren quality, that abandon and unexpectedness, as if it were that instant inspired, it had yet few notes, and I missed the exquisite tremolo that makes the song of the winter-wren so bewitching. But I "studied him up," and learned that his finest and most characteristic song is uttered in the spring only. After nesting has begun, he gives merely these musical calls, which, though delightful, do not compare—say the books—with his ante-nuptial performance. I was too late for that, but I was glad and thankful for these.
Moreover, the wren varied his songs as the days went on. There were from two to five notes in a clause, never more, and commonly but three. This clause he repeated again and again during the whole of one visit; but the next time he came he had a new one, which likewise he kept to while he stayed. Again, when, some days later, he took part in feeding, he frequently changed the song as he left the nest. Struck by the variety he gave to his few notes, after some days I began to take them down in syllables as they expressed themselves to my ear, for they were sharp and distinct. Of course, these syllables resemble his sound about as a dried flower resembles the living blossom, but they serve the same purpose, to reproduce them in memory. In that way I recorded in three days eighteen different arrangements of his notes. Doubtless there were many more; indeed, he seemed to delight in inventing new combinations, and his taste evidently agreed with mine, for when he succeeded in evolving a particularly charming one, he did not easily change it. One that specially pleased me I put down as "Shame-ber-ee!" and this was his favorite, too, for after the day he began it, he sang it oftener than any other. It had a peculiarly joyous ring, the second note being a third below the first, and the third fully an octave higher than the second. I believe he had just then struck upon it, his enjoyment of it was so plain to see.
The Wren's Court was a distracting spot to study one pair of small birds. So many others came about, and always, it seemed, in some crisis in wren affairs, when I dared not take my eyes from my glass, lest I lose the sequence of events. There appeared sometimes to be a thousand whispering, squealing, and smacking titmice in the trees over my head, and a whole regiment of great-crested flycatchers and others on one side. I was glad I was familiar with all the flicker noises, or I should have been driven wild at these moments, so many, so various, and so peculiar were their utterances; likewise thankful that I knew the row made by the jay on the bank above was not a sign of dire distress, but simply the tragic manner of the family.
Again, when the wind blew, it was impossible to see the little folk that chattered and whispered and "dee-dee'd" overhead, and though we were absolutely certain a party of tufted tits and chickadees and black and white creepers, who always seemed to travel in company, were frolicking about, we could not distinguish them from the dancing and fluttering leaves.
When the day was favorable, and the wren had gone his way, foraging in silence over the low ground at our back, and an old stump that stood there, and the sitter had settled herself in her nest for another half hour, we could look about at whoever happened to be there. Thus I made further acquaintance with the great-crested flycatcher. Hitherto I had known these birds only as they travel through a neighborhood not their own, appearing on the tops of trees, and crying out in martial tones for the inhabitants to bring on their fighters, a challenge to all whom it may concern. It was a revelation, then, to see them quietly at home like other birds, setting up claims to a tree, driving strangers away from it, and spending their time about its foot, seeking food near the ground, and indulging in frolics or fights, whichever they might be, with squealing cries and a rushing flight around their tree. In the latter part of our study, the great-crest babies were out, noisy little fellows, who insisted on being fed as peremptorily as their elders demand their rights and privileges.
To make the place still more maddening for study, the birds seemed to sweep through the woods in waves. For a long time not a peep would be heard, not a feather would stir; then all at once
"The air would throb with wings,"
and birds would pour in from all sides, half a dozen at a time, making us want to look six ways at once, and rendering it impossible to confine ourselves to one. Then, after half an hour of this superabundance, one by one would slip out, and by the time we began to realize it, we were alone again.
We had watched the wren for nine days when there came an interruption. It happened thus: A little farther up the glen we had another study, a wood-thrush nest in a low tree, and every day, either coming or going, we were accustomed to spend an hour watching that. Our place of observation was a hidden nook in a pile of rocks, where we were entirely concealed by thick trees, through which, by a judicious thinning out of twigs and leaves, we had made peepholes, for the thrush mamma would not tolerate us in her sight. To reach our seats and not alarm the suspicious little dame, we always entered from the back, slowly and cautiously climbed the rocks by a rude path which already existed, and slipped in under cover of our leafy screen.
On the morning of the tenth day we entered the ravine from the upper end, and made our first call upon the thrush. We had been seated in silence for ten or fifteen minutes, and I was beginning to get uneasy because no bird came to the nest, when a diversion occurred that drove thrush affairs out of our minds. We heard footsteps! It must be remembered that we were alone in this solitary place, far from a house, and naturally we listened eagerly. The steps drew nearer, and then we heard loud breathing. We exchanged glances of relief—it was a cow! But while we were congratulating ourselves began a crashing of branches, a fiercer breathing, a rush, and a low bellow!
This was no meek cow! we turned pale,—at any rate we felt pale,—but we tried to encourage each other by suggesting in hurried whispers that he surely would not see us. Alas! the next instant he broke through the bushes, and to our horror started at once up our path to the rocks; in a moment he would be upon us! We rose hastily, prepared to sell our lives dearly, when, as suddenly as he had come, he turned and rushed back. Whether the sight of us was too much for his philosophy, or whether he had gone for reinforcements, we did not inquire. We instantly lost our interest in birds and birds' nests; we gathered up our belongings and fled, not stopping to breathe till we had put the barbiest of barbed wire fences between us and the foe.
Once outside, however, we paused to consider: To give up our study was not to be thought of; to go every day in fear and dread was equally intolerable. I wrote to the authorities of whom I had purchased the right to enter the place. They promptly denied the existence of any such animal on the premises. I replied to the effect that "seeing is believing," but they reaffirmed their former statement, assuring me that there were none but harmless cows in the glen. I did not want to waste time in an unprofitable correspondence, and I did want to see the wrens, and at last a bright thought came,—I would hire an escort, a country boy used to cattle, and warranted not afraid of them. I inquired into the question of day's wages, I looked about among the college students who were working their way to an education, and I found an ideal protector,—an intelligent and very agreeable young man, brought up on a farm, and just graduated, who was studying up mathematics preparatory to school-teaching in the fall. The bargain was soon made, and the next morning we started again for the glen, our guardian armed with his geometry and a big club. Three days, however, had been occupied in perfecting this arrangement, and I approached the spot with anxiety; indeed, I am always concerned till I see the whole family I am watching, after only a night's interval, and know they have survived the many perils which constantly threaten bird-life, both night and day.
THE WRENLINGS APPEAR.
The moment we entered the court I saw there was news. My eyes being attracted by a little commotion on a dogwood-tree, I saw a saucy tufted titmouse chasing with cries one of the wrens who had food in its beak. With most birds this proclaims the arrival of the young family as plainly as if a banner had been hung on the castle walls. Whether the tit was after the food, or trying to drive the wren off his own ground, we could not tell, nor did we much care; the important fact was that babies were out in the walnut-tree cottage. The food bearer went to the nest, and in a moment came up the ladder, so joyous and full of song that he could not wait to get off his own tree, but burst into a triumphant ringing "Whit-e-ar!" that must have told his news to all the world—who had ears to hear.
The mother did not at once give up her brooding, nor did I wonder when I peeped into the nest while she was off with her spouse, and saw what appeared to be five big mouths with a small bag of skin attached to each. Nothing else could be seen. She sat an hour at a time, and then her mate would come and call her off for a rest and a change, while he skipped down the ladder and fed the bairns. His way in this matter, as in everything else, was characteristic. He never went to the nest till he had called her off by his song. It was not till several days later, when she had given up brooding, that I ever saw the pair meet at the nest, and then it seemed to be accidental, and one of them always left immediately.
During the first few days the young parents came and went as of old, by way of the ladder, and I learned to know them apart by their way of mounting that airy flight of steps. He was more pert in manner, held his head and tail more jauntily, though he rarely pointed his tail to the sky, as do some of the wren family. He went lightly up in a dancing style which she entirely lacked, sometimes jumping to a small shoot that grew up quite near the walnut, and running up that as easily as he did the tree. Her ascent was of a business character; she was on duty, head and tail level with her body, no airs whatever. He was so full of happiness in these early days that frequently he could not take time to go to the top, but, having reached a height of two or three feet, he flew, and at once burst into rapturous song, even sang while flying over to the next tree. From this time they almost abandoned the ladder they had been so fond of, and flew directly to the nest from the ground, where they got all their food. This change was not because they were hard worked; I never saw birds who took family cares more easily. At the expiration of three days the mother brooded no more, and indeed it would have troubled her to find a place for herself, the nest was so full.
Every morning on entering the court I called at the nest, and always found five yellow beaks turned to the front. On the third day the heads were covered with slate-colored down; on the fourth, wing-feathers began to show among the heads, but the body was still perfectly bare; on the fifth, the eyes opened on the green world about them,—they were then certainly five days old, and may have been seven; owing to our unfortunate absence at the critical time I cannot be sure. On the seventh day the red-brown of the back began to show, and the white of the breast made itself visible, while the heads began to look feathery instead of fuzzy. Even then, however, they took no notice when I put my finger on them.
Long before this time the manner of the parents had changed. In the first place, they were more busy; foraging industriously on the ground, coming within ten or fifteen feet of us, without appearing to see us at all. In fact they had, after the first day, paid no attention to us, for we never had disturbed them, never went to the nest till sure that both were away, and kept still and quiet in our somewhat distant seat.
About this time they began to show more anxiety in their manner. The first exhibition was on the fourth day since we knew the young were hatched (and let me say that I believe they were just out of the shell the morning that we found the father feeding). On this fourth day the singer perched near the nest-tree, three or four feet from the ground, and began a very loud wren "dear-r-r-r! dear-r-r-r! dear-r-r-r!" constantly repeated. He jerked himself about with great apparent excitement, looking always on the ground as if he saw an enemy there. We thought it might be a cat we had seen prowling about, but on examination no cat was there. Gradually his tone grew lower and lower, and he calmed down so far as a wren can calm, though he did not cease his cries. I did not know he could be still so long, but I learned more about wren possibilities in that line somewhat later.
During this performance his mate came with food in her beak, and evidently saw nothing alarming, for she went to the nest with it. Still he stood gazing on the ground. Sometimes he flew down and returned at once, then began moving off, a little at a time, still crying, exactly as though he were following some one who went slowly. The call, when low, was very sweet and tender; very mournful too, and we got much wrought up over it, wishing—as bird students so often do—that we could do something to help. He was roused at last by the intrusion of a bird into his domain, and his discomfiture of this foe seemed to dispel his unhappy state of mind, for he at once broke out in joyous song, to our great relief. That was not the last exhibition of the wren's idiosyncrasy; he repeated it day after day, and finally he went so far as to interpolate low "dear-r-r's" into his sweetest songs. Perhaps that was his conception of his duty as protector to the family; if so, he was certainly faithful in doing it. It was ludicrously like the attitude of some people under similar circumstances.
While the young father was manifesting his anxiety in this way, the mother showed hers in another; she took to watching, hardly leaving the place at all. When she had her babies well fed for the moment, she went up the trunk a little, in a loitering way that I had never seen her indulge in before,—and a loitering wren is a curiosity. It was plain that she simply wished to pass away the time. She stepped from the trunk upon a twig on one side, stayed a little while, then passed to one on the other side, lingered a few moments, and so she went on. When she arrived at the height of two feet she perched on a small dead twig, and remained a long time—certainly twenty minutes—absolutely motionless. It was hard to see her, and if I had not watched her progress from the first, I should not have suspected her presence. A leaf would hide her, even the crossing of two twigs was ample screen, and when she was still it was hopeless to look for her. The only way we were able to keep track of either of the pair was by their incessant motions.
The Great Carolinian had a peculiar custom which showed that his coming with song was a ceremony he would not dispense with. He would often start off singing, gradually withdraw till fifty or seventy-five feet away, singing at every pause, and then, if one watched him closely, he might see him stop, drop to the ground, and hunt about in silence. When he was ready to come again, he would fly quietly a little way off, and then begin his singing and approaching, as if he had been a mile away. He never sang when on the ground after food, but so soon as he finished eating, he flew to a perch at least two feet high, generally between six and ten, and sometimes as high as twenty feet, and sang.
After a day or two of the wren's singular uneasiness, we discovered at least one object of his concern. It was a chipmunk, whom we had often noticed perched on the highest point of the little ledge of rocks near the nest. He seemed to be attending strictly to his own affairs, but after a good deal of "dear-r-r"-ing, the wren flew furiously at him, almost, if not quite, hitting him, and doing it again and again. The little beast did not relish this treatment and ran off, the bird following and repeating the assault. This was undoubtedly the foe that he had been troubled about all the time.
On the tenth or eleventh day of their lives (as I believe) I examined the babies in the nest a little more closely than before. I even touched them with my finger on head and beak. They looked sleepily at me, but did not resent it. If the mother were somewhat bigger, I should suspect her of giving them "soothing syrup," for they had exactly the appearance of being drugged. They were not overfed; I never saw youngsters so much let alone. The parents had nothing like the work of the robin, oriole, or blue jay. They came two or three times, and then left for half an hour or more, yet the younglings were never impatient for food.
The morning that the young wrens had reached the age of twelve days (that we knew of) was the 22d of July, and the weather was intensely warm. On the 21st we had watched all day to see them go, sure that they were perfectly well able. Obviously it is the policy of this family to prepare for a life of extraordinary activity by an infancy of unusual stillness. Never were youngsters so perfectly indifferent to all the world. In storm or sunshine, in daylight or darkness, they lay there motionless, caring only for food, and even that showed itself only by the fact that all mouths were toward the front. The under one of the pile seemed entirely contented to be at the bottom, and the top ones not to exult in their position; in fact, so far as any show of interest in life was concerned, they might have been a nestful of wooden babies.
On this morning, as we dragged ourselves wearily over the hot road to the ravine, we resolved that no handful of wrenlings should force us over that road again. Go off this day they should, if—as my comrade remarked—"we had to raise them by hand." My first call was at the nest, indifferent whether parents were there or not, for I had become desperate. There they lay, lazily blinking at me, and filling the nest overfull. The singer came rushing down a branch, bristled up, blustering, and calling "Dear-r-r-r!" at me, and I hoped he would be induced to hurry up his very leisurely brood.
We took our usual seats and waited. Both parents remained near the homestead, and little singing was indulged in; this morning there was serious business on hand, as any one could see. We were desirous of seeing the first sign of movement, so we resolved to cut away the last few leaves that hid the entrance to the nest. We had not done it before, partly not to annoy the birds, and partly not to have them too easily discovered by prowlers.
Miss R—— went to the stump, and cut away half a dozen leaves and twigs directly before their door. The young ones looked at her, but did not move. Then, as I had asked her to do, she pointed a parasol directly at the spot, so that I, in my distant seat, might locate the nest exactly. This seemed to be the last straw that the birdlings could endure; two of them flew off. One went five or six feet away, the other to the ground close by. Then she came away, and we waited again. In a moment two more ventured out and alighted on twigs near the nest. Then the mother came home, and acted as surprised as though she had never expected to have them depart. She went from a twig beside the tree to the nest, and back, about a dozen times, as if she really could not believe her eyes.
Anxious to see everything that went on, we moved our seats nearer, but this so disconcerted the pair that we did not stay long. It was long enough to hear the wren baby-cry, a low insect-like noise, and to see something that surprised and no less disgusted me, namely, every one of those babies hurry back to the tree, climb the trunk, and scramble back into the nest!—the whole exit to be begun again! It could not be their dislike of the "cold, cold world," for a cold world would be a luxury that morning.
Of any one who would go back into that crowded nest, with the thermometer on the rampage as it was then, I had my opinion, and I began to think I didn't care much about wrens anyway; we stayed, however, as a matter of habit, and I suppose they all had a nap after their tremendous exertion. But they manifestly got an idea into their heads at last, a taste of life. After a proper amount of consideration, one of the nestlings took courage to move again, and went so far as a twig that grew beside the door, looked around on the world from that post for a while, then hopped to another, and so on till he encircled the home stump. But when he came again in sight of that delectable nest, he could not resist it, and again he added himself to the pile of birds within. This youth was apparently as well feathered as his parents, and, except in length of tail, looked exactly like them; many a bird baby starts bravely out in life not half so well prepared for it as this little wren.
After nearly three hours of waiting, we made up our minds that these young folk must be out some time during the day, unless they had decided to take up permanent quarters in that hole in the stump, and what was more to the point, that the weather was too warm to await their very deliberate movements. So we left them, to get off the best way they could without us, or to stay there all their lives, if they so desired.
The nest, which at first was exceedingly picturesque—and I had resolved to bring it away, with the stump that held it—was now so demolished that I no longer coveted it. The last and sweetest song of the wren, "Shame-ber-ee!" rang out joyously as we turned our faces to the north, and bade a long farewell to the Great Carolinians.
THE APPLE-TREE NEST.
All day long in the elm, on their swaying perches swinging, New-fledged orioles utter their restless, querulous notes.
HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD.
The little folk let out the secret, as little folk often do, and after they had called attention to it, I was surprised that I had not myself seen the pretty hammock swinging high up in the apple boughs.
It was, however, in a part of the grounds I did not often visit, partly because the trees close by, which formed a belt across the back of the place, grew so near together that not a breath of air could penetrate, and it was intolerable in the hot June days, and partly because my appearance there always created a panic. So seldom did a human being visit that neglected spot, that the birds did not look for guests, and a general stampede followed the approach of one.
On the eventful day of my happy discovery I was returning from my daily call upon a blue jay who had set up her home in an apple-tree in a neighbor's yard. The moment I entered the grounds I noticed a great outcry. It was loud; it was incessant; and it was of many voices. Following the sound, I started across the unmown field,
"Through the bending grasses, Tall and lushy green, All alive with tiny things, Stirring feet and whirring wings Just an instant seen,"
and soon came in sight of the nest near the topmost twig of an old apple-tree.
It was about noon of a bright, sunny day, and I could see only that the nest was straw-color, apparently run over with little ones, and both the parents were industriously feeding. The cries suggested the persistence of young orioles, but it was not a Baltimore's swinging cradle, and the old birds were so shy, coming from behind the leaves, every one of which turned itself into a reflector for the sunlight, that I could not identify them.
Later in the day I paid them another visit, and finding a better post of observation under the shade of a sweet-briar bush, I saw at once they were orchard orioles, and that the young ones were climbing to the edge of the nest; I had nearly been too late!
Four o'clock was the unearthly hour at which I rose next morning to pursue my acquaintance with the little family in the apple-tree, fearful lest they should get the start of me. The youngsters were calling vociferously, and both parents were very busy attending to their wants and trying to stop their mouths, when I planted my seat before their castle in the air, and proceeded to inquire into their manners and customs. My call was, as usual, not received with favor. The mother, after administering the mouthful she had brought, alighted on a twig beside the nest and gave me a "piece of her mind." I admitted my bad manners, but I could not tear myself away. The anxious papa, very gorgeous in his chestnut and black suit, scenting danger to the little brood in the presence of the bird-student with her glass, at once abandoned the business of feeding, and devoted himself to the protection of his family,—which indeed was his plain duty. His way of doing this was to take his position on the tallest tree in the vicinity, and fill the serene morning air with his cry of distress, a two-note utterance, with a pathetic inflection which could not fail to arouse the sympathy of all who heard it. It was not excited or angry, but it proclaimed that here was distress and danger, and it had the effect of making me ashamed of annoying him. But I hardened my heart, as I often have to do in my study, and kept my seat. Occasionally he returned to the lower part of his own tree, to see if the monster had been scared or shamed away, but finding me stationary, he returned to his post and resumed his mournful cry.
At length the happy thought came to me that I might select a position a little less conspicuous, yet still within sight, so I moved my seat farther off, away back under a low-branched apple-tree, where a redbird came around with sharp "tsip's" to ascertain my business, and a catbird behind the briar-bush entertained me with delicious song. The oriole accepted my retirement as a compromise, and returned to his domestic duties, coming, as was natural and easiest, on my side of the tree. His habit was to cling to the side of the nest, showing his black and red-gold against it, while his mate alighted on the edge, and was seen a little above it. After feeding, both perched on neighboring twigs and looked about for a moment before the next food-hunting trip. I thought the father of the family exhibited an air of resignation, as if he concluded that, since the babies made so much noise, there was no use in trying longer to preserve the secret.
As a matter of fact, both our orioles need a good stock of patience as well as of resignation, for the infants of both are unceasing in their cries, and fertile in inventing variations in manner and inflection, that would deceive those most familiar with them. Two or three times in the weeks that followed, I rushed out of the house to find some very distressed bird, who, I was sure, from the cries, must be impaled alive on a butcher-bird's meat-hook, or undergoing torture at the hands—or beak of somebody. It was rather dangerous going out at that time (just at dusk), for it was the chosen hour for young men and maidens, of whom there were several, to wander about under the trees. Often, before I gave up going out at that hour, my glass, turned to follow a flitting wing, would bring before my startled gaze a pair of sentimental young persons, who doubtless thought I was spying upon them. My only safety was in directing my glass into the trees, where nothing but wings could be sentimental, and if a bird flitted below the level of branches, to consider him lost. On following up the cry, I always found a young oriole and a hard-worked father feeding him. The voice did not even suggest an oriole to me, until I had been deceived two or three times and understood it.
The young ones of the orchard oriole's nest lived up to the traditions of the family by being inveterate cry-babies, and making so much noise they could be heard far around. Sometimes their mother addressed them in a similar tone to their own, but the father resigned himself to the inevitable, and fed with dogged perseverance.
The apple-tree nest looked in the morning sun of a bright flax color, and two of the young were mounted on the edge, dressing their yellow satin breasts, and gleaming in the sunshine like gold.
A Baltimore oriole, passing over, seemed to be attracted by a familiar quality of sound, for he came down, alighted about a foot from the nest, and looked with interest upon the charming family scene. The protector of the pretty brood was near, but he kept his seat, and made no objections to the friendly call. Indeed, he flew away while the guest was still there, and having satisfied his curiosity, the Baltimore also departed upon his own business.
When the sun appeared over the tree-tops, he came armed with all his terrors. The breeze dwindled and died; the very leaves hung lifeless on the trees, and though, knowing that
"Somewhere the wind is blowing, Though here where I gasp and sigh Not a breath of air is stirring, Not a cloud in the burning sky,"
the memory might comfort me, it did not in the slightest degree make me comfortable—I wilted, and retired before it. How the birds could endure it and carry on their work, I could not understand.
At noon I ventured out over the burning grass. The first youngster had left the nest, and was shouting from a tree perhaps twenty feet beyond the native apple. The others were fluttering on the edge, crying as usual. As is the customary domestic arrangement with many birds, the moment the first one flew, the father stopped coming to the nest, and devoted himself to the straggler, which was a little hard on the mother that hot day, for she had four to feed.
While I looked on, the second infant mustered up courage to start on the journey of life. A tall twig led from the nest straight up into the air, and this was the ladder he mounted. Step by step he climbed one leaf-stem after another, with several pauses to cry and to eat, and at last reached the topmost point, where he turned his face to the west, and took his first survey of the kingdoms of the earth. A brother nestling was close behind him, and the pretty pair, seeing no more steps above them, rested a while from their labors. In the mean time the first young oriole had gone farther into the trees, and papa with him.
The little dame worked without ceasing, though it must have been an anxious time, with nestlings all stirring abroad. I noticed that she fed oftenest the birdlings who were out, whether to strengthen them for further effort, or to offer an inducement to those in the nest to come up higher where food was to be had, she did not tell. I observed, also, that when she came home she did not, as before, alight on the level of the little ones, but above them. Perhaps this was to coax them upward; at any rate, it had that effect: they stretched up and mounted the next stem above, and so they kept on ascending. About three o'clock I was again obliged to surrender to the power of the sun, and retire for a season to a place he could not enter, the house.
Some hours passed before I made my next call, and I found that oriole matters had not rested, if I had; the two nestlings had taken flight to the tree the first one had chosen, and three were on the top twig above the nest, which latter swung empty and deserted. Mamma was feeding the three in her own tree, while papa attended as usual to the outsiders, and found leisure to drop in a song now and then.
While I watched, number three took his life in his hands (as it were) and launched out upon the air. He reached a tree not so far away as his brothers had chosen, and his mother sought him out and fed him there. But he did not seem to be satisfied with his achievement, or possibly he found the position rather lonely; at any rate, the next use of his wings was to return to his native apple, to the lower part. During this visit, the mother of the little brood, seeing, I suppose, her labors growing lighter, indulged herself and delighted me with a scrap of song, very sweet, as the song of the female oriole always is.
It was with forebodings that I approached the tree the next morning, foreboding speedily confirmed—the whole family was gone! Either I had not stayed late enough or I had not got up early enough to see the flitting; that song, then, meant something—it was my good-by.
Indeed it turned out to be my farewell, as I thought, for the whole tribe seemed to have vanished. Usually it is not difficult to hunt up a little bird family in its wanderings, during the month following its leaving the nest, but this one I could neither see nor hear, and I was very sure those oriole babies had not so soon outgrown their crying; they must have been struck dumb or left the place.
Nearly three weeks later I was wandering about in what was called the glen, half a mile or more from where the apple-tree babies had first seen the light. It was a wild spot, a ravine, through which ran a stream, where many wood-birds sang and nested. On approaching a linden-tree loaded with blossoms, and humming with swarms of bees, I was saluted with a burst of loud song, interspersed with scolding. No one but an orchard oriole could so mix things, and sure enough! there he was, scrambling over the flowers. Something he found to his taste, whether the blossoms or the insects, I could not decide. On waiting a little, I heard the young oriole cry, much subdued since nesting days, and the tender "ye-ep" of the parent. The whole family was evidently there together, and I was very glad to see them once more.
The nest, which I had brought down, was a beautiful structure, made, I think, of very fine excelsior of a bright straw-color. It was suspended in an upright fork of four twigs, and lashed securely to three of them, while a few lines were passed around the fourth. Though it was in a fork, it did not rest on it, but was suspended three inches above it, a genuine hanging nest. It was three inches deep and wide, but drawn in about the top to a width of not more than two inches, with a bit of cotton and two small feathers for bedding. How five babies could grow up in that little cup is a problem. The material was woven closely together, and in addition stitched through and through, up and down, to make a firm structure. Around and against it hung still six apples, defrauded of their manifest destiny, and remaining the size of hickory-nuts. Three twigs that ran up were cut off, but the fourth was left, the tallest, the one sustaining the burden of the nest, and upon which the young birds, one after another, had mounted to take their first flight.
This pretty hammock, in its setting of leaves and apples, still swinging from the apple boughs, I brought home as a souvenir of a charming bird study.
CEDAR-TREE LITTLE FOLK.
'T is there that the wild dove has her nest, And whenever the branches stir, She presses closer the eggs to her breast, And her mate looks down on her.
CLARE BEATRICE COFFEY.
One of the voices that helped to make my June musical, and one more constantly heard than any other, was that of the
"Mourning dove who grieves and grieves, And lost! lost! lost! still seems to say,"
as the poet has it.
Now, while I dearly love the poets, and always long to enrich my plain prose with gems from their verse, it is sometimes a little embarrassing, because one is obliged to disagree with them. If they would only look a little into the ways of birds, and not assert, in language so musical that one can hardly resist it, that
"The birds come back to last year's nests,"
when rarely was a self-respecting bird known to shirk the labor of building anew for every family; or sing, with Sill,
"He has lost his last year's love, I know,"
when he did not know any such thing; and add,
"A thrush forgets in a year,"
which I call a libel on one of our most intelligent birds; or cry, with another singer,
"O voiceless swallow,"
when not one of the whole tribe is defrauded of a voice, and at least one is an exquisite singer; or accuse the nightingale of the superfluous idiocy of holding his (though they always say her) breast to a thorn as he sings, as if he were so foolish as to imitate some forms of human self-torture,—if they would only be a little more sure of their facts, what a comfort it would be to those who love both poets and birds!
No bird in our country is more persistently misrepresented by our sweet singers than the Carolina or wood dove—mourning dove, as he is popularly called; and in this case they are not to be blamed, for prose writers, even natural history writers, are quite as bad.
"His song consists," says one, "of four notes: the first seems to be uttered with an inspiration of the breath, as if the afflicted creature were just recovering its voice from the last convulsive sob of distress, and followed by three long, deep, and mournful moanings, that no person of sensibility can listen to without sympathy." "The solemn voice of sorrow," another writer calls it. All this is mere sentimentality, pure imagination; and if the writers could sit, as I have, under the tree when the bird was singing, they would change their opinion, though they would thereby lose a pretty and attractive sentiment for their verse. I believe there is
"No beast or bird in earth or sky, Whose voice doth not with gladness thrill,"
though it may not so express itself to our senses. Certainly the coo of the dove is anything but sad when heard very near. It has a rich, far-off sound, expressing deep serenity, and a happiness beyond words.
First in the morning, and last at night, all through June, came to me the song of the dove. As early as four o'clock his notes began, and then, if I got up to look out on the lawn, where I had spread breakfast for him and other feathered friends, I would see him walking about with dainty steps on his pretty red toes, looking the pink of propriety in his Quaker garb, his satin vest smooth as if it had been ironed down, and quite worthy his reputed character for meekness and gentleness.
But I wanted to see the dove far from the "madding crowd" of blackbirds, blue jays, and red-heads, who, as well as himself, took corn for breakfast, and I set out to look him up. At first the whole family seemed to consist of the young, just flying about, sometimes accompanied by their mother. Apparently the fathers of the race were all off in the cooing business.
So early as the second of June I came upon my first pair of young doves, two charming little creatures, sitting placidly side by side. Grave, indeed, and very much grown-up looked these drab-coated little folk, silent and motionless, returning my gaze with an innocent openness that, it seemed to me, must disarm their most bitter enemy. When I came upon such a pair, as I frequently did, on the low branch of an apple-tree or a limb of their native cedar, I stopped instantly to look at them. Not an eyelid of the youngsters would move; if a head were turned as they heard me coming, it would remain at precisely that angle as long as I had patience to stay. They were invariably sitting down with the appearance of being prepared to stay all day, and almost always side by side, though looking in different directions, and one was always larger than the other. A lovely and picturesque group they never failed to make, and as for any show of hunger or impatience, one could hardly imagine they ever felt either. In every way they were a violent contrast to all their neighbors, the boisterous blue jays, lively catbirds, blustering robins, and vulgar-mannered blackbirds.
Sometimes I chanced upon a mother sitting by her youngling, and although when I found her alone she always flew, beside her little charge she was dignified and calm in bearing, and looked at me with fearless eyes, relying, as it appeared, upon absolute stillness, and the resemblance of her color to the branches, to escape observation; a ruse which must generally be successful.
The nest, the remains of which I often saw on the tree where I found an infant, was the merest apology, hardly more than a platform, just enough to hold the pair of eggs which they are said always to contain. Indeed, no baby but a serene dove, with the repose of thirty generations behind it, could stay in it till his wings grew. As it is, he must be forced to perch, whether ready or not, for the structure cannot hold together long. The wonder is that the eggs do not roll out before they are hatched.
Several things made the bird an interesting subject for study; his reputation for meekness, his alleged silence,—except at wooing time,—and the halo of melancholy with which the poets have invested him. I resolved to make acquaintance with my gentle neighbor, and I sought and found a favorite retreat of the silent family. This was a grove away down in the southeast corner of the grounds, little visited by people, and beloved by birds of several kinds. Till June was half over, the high grass, that I could not bear to trample, prevented exploration in that direction, but as soon as it was cut I made a trip to the little grove, and found it a sort of doves' headquarters, and there, in many hours of daily study, I learned to know him a little, and respect him a good deal.
It was a delightful spot the doves had chosen to live in, and so frequented by birds that whichever way I turned my face, in two minutes I wished I had turned it the other, or that I had eyes in the back of my head. With reason, too, for the residents skipped around behind me, and all the interesting things went on at my back. I could hear the flit of wings, low, mysterious sounds, whispering, gentle complaints and hushings, but if I turned—lo! the scene shifted, and the drama of life was still enacted out of my sight. Yet I managed, in spite of this difficulty, to learn several things I did not know before.
No one attends to his own business more strictly than the dove. On the ground, where he came for corn, he seemed to see no other bird, and paid not the slightest heed to me in my window, but went about his own affairs in the most matter-of-fact way. Yet I cannot agree with the common opinion, which has made his name a synonym for all that is meek and gentle. He has a will of his own, and a "mild but firm" way of securing it. Sometimes, when all were busy at the corn, one of my Quaker-clad guests would take a notion, for what reason I could not discover, that some other dove must not stay, and he would drive him (or her) off. He was not rude or blustering, like the robin, nor did he make offensive remarks, after the manner of a blackbird; he simply signified his intention of having his neighbor go, and go he did, nolens volens.
It was droll to see how this "meek and gentle" fellow met blackbird impudence. If one of the sable gentry came down too near a dove, the latter gave a little hop and rustled his feathers, but did not move one step away. For some occult reason the blackbird seemed to respect this mild protest, and did not interfere again.
Would one suspect so solemn a personage of joking? yet what else could this little scene mean? A blackbird was on the ground eating, when a dove flew down and hovered over him as though about to alight upon him. It evidently impressed the blackbird exactly as it did me, for he scrambled out from under, very hastily. But the dove had no intention of the sort; he came calmly down on one side.
The first dove baby who accompanied its parent to the ground to be fed was the model of propriety one would expect from the demure infant already mentioned. He stood crouching to the ground in silence, fluttering his wings a little, but making no sound, either of begging, or when fed. A blackbird came to investigate this youngster, so different from his importunate offspring, upon which both doves flew.
There is a unique quality claimed for the dove: that with the exception of the well-known coo in nesting time he is absolutely silent, and that the noise which accompanies his flight is the result of a peculiar formation of the wing that causes a whistle. Of this I had strong doubts. I could not believe that a bird who has so much to say for himself during wooing and nesting time could be utterly silent the rest of the year; nor, indeed, do I believe that any living creature, so highly organized as the feathered tribes, can be entirely without expression.
I thought I would experiment a little, and one day, observing that a young dove spent most of his time alone on a certain cedar-tree, where a badly used-up nest showed that he had probably been hatched, or feeding on the ground near it, I resolved to see if I could draw him out. I passed him six times a day, going and coming from my meals, and I always stopped to look at him—a scrutiny which he bore unmoved, in dove fashion. So one morning, when I stood three feet from him, I began a very low whistle to him. He was at once interested, and after about three calls he answered me, very low, it is true, but still unmistakably. Though he replied, however, it appeared to make him uneasy, for while he had been in the habit of submitting to my staring without being in any way disconcerted, he now began to fidget about. He stood up, changed his place, flew to a higher branch, and in a few moments to the next tree; all the time, however, answering my calls.
I was greatly interested in my new acquaintance, and the next day I renewed my advances. As before, he answered, looking bright and eager, as I had never seen one of his kind look, and after three or four replies he became uneasy, as on the previous day, and in a moment he flew. But I was surprised and startled by his starting straight for me. I thought he would certainly alight on me, and such, I firmly believe, was his inclination, but he apparently did not quite dare trust me, so he passed over by a very few inches, and perched on the tree I was under. Then—still replying to me—he flew to the ground not six feet from me, and step by step, slowly moved away perhaps fifteen feet, when he turned and flew back to his own tree beside me. I was pleased to notice that the voice of this talkative dovekin was of the same quality as the "whistling" said to be of the wings, when a dove flies.
The last interview I had with the dear baby, I found him sitting with his back toward me, but the instant I whistled he turned around to face me, and seated himself again. He replied to me, and fluttered his wings slightly, yet he soon became restless, as usual. He did not fly, however, and he answered louder than he had done previously, but I found that my call must be just right to elicit a response. I might whistle all day and he would pay no attention, till I uttered a two-note call, the second note a third above the first and the two slurred together. I was delighted to find that even a dove, and a baby at that, could "talk back." He was unique in other ways; for example, in being content to pass his days in, and around, his own tree. I do not believe he had ever been farther than a small group of cedars, ten feet from his own. I always found him there, though he could fly perfectly well. This interview was, I regret to say, the last; the next morning my little friend was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps mamma thought he was getting too friendly with one of a race capable of eating a baby dove.
After this episode in my dove acquaintance, I was more than ever interested in getting at the mode of expression in the family, and I listened on every occasion. One day two doves alighted over my head when I was sitting perfectly still, and I distinctly heard very low talk, like that of my lost baby; there was, in addition, a note or two like the coo, but exceedingly low. I could not have heard a sound ten feet from the tree, nor if I had been stirring myself. I observed also that a dove can fly in perfect silence; and, moreover, that the whistle of the wings sometimes continues after the bird has become still. I heard the regular coo—the whole four-note performance—both in a whisper and in the ordinary tone, and the latter, though right over my head, sounded a mile away. At the end of my month's study I was convinced that the dove is far from being a silent bird; on the contrary, he is quite a talker, with the "low, sweet voice" so much desired in other quarters. And further, that the whistling is not produced wholly (if at all) by the wings, and it is a gross injustice to assert that he is not capable of expressing himself at all times and seasons.
BESIDE THE GREAT SALT LAKE.
Up!—If thou knew'st who calls To twilight parks of beach and pine High o'er the river intervals, Above the plowman's highest line, Over the owner's farthest walls! Up! where the airy citadel O'erlooks the surging landscape's swell!
IN A PASTURE.
The word "pasture," as used on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, conveys no true idea to one whose associations with that word have been formed in States east of the Rocky Mountains. Imagine an extensive inclosure on the side of a mountain, with its barren-looking soil strewn with rocks of all sizes, from a pebble to a bowlder, cut across by an irrigating ditch or a mountain brook, dotted here and there by sage bushes, and patches of oak-brush, and wild roses, and one has a picture of a Salt Lake pasture. Closely examined, it has other peculiarities. There is no half way in its growths, no shading off, so to speak, as elsewhere; not an isolated shrub, not a solitary tree, flourishes in the strange soil, but trees and shrubs crowd together as if for protection, and the clump, of whatever size or shape, ends abruptly, with the desert coming up to its very edge. Yet the soil, though it seems to be the driest and most unpromising of baked gray mud, needs nothing more than a little water, to clothe itself luxuriantly; the course of a brook or even an irrigating ditch, if permanent, is marked by a thick and varied border of greenery. What the poor creatures who wandered over those dreary wastes could find to eat was a problem to be solved only by close observation of their ways.
"H. H." said some years ago that the magnificent yucca, the glory of the Colorado mesas, was being exterminated by wandering cows, who ate the buds as soon as they appeared. The cattle of Utah—or their owners—have a like crime to answer for; not only do they constantly feed upon rose-buds and leaves, notwithstanding the thorns, but they regale themselves upon nearly every flower-plant that shows its head; lupines were the chosen dainty of my friend's horse. The animals become expert at getting this unnatural food; it is curious to watch the deftness with which a cow will go through a currant or gooseberry bush, thrusting her head far down among the branches, and carefully picking off the tender leaves, while leaving the stems untouched, and the matter-of-course way in which she will bend over and pull down a tall sapling, to despoil it of its foliage.
In a pasture such as I have described, on the western slope of one of the Rocky Mountains, desolate and forbidding though it looked, many hours of last summer's May and June "went their way," if not
"As softly as sweet dreams go down the night,"
certainly with interest and pleasure to two bird-students whose ways I have sometimes chronicled.
Most conspicuous, as we toiled upward toward our breezy pasture, was a bird whose chosen station was a fence—a wire fence at that. He was a tanager; not our brilliant beauty in scarlet and black, but one far more gorgeous and eccentric in costume, having, with the black wings and tail of our bird, a breast of shining yellow and a cap of crimson. His occupation on the sweet May mornings that he lingered with us, on his way up the mountains for the summer, was the familiar one of getting his living, and to that he gave his mind without reserve. Not once did he turn curious eyes upon us as we sauntered by or rested awhile to watch him. Eagerly his pretty head turned this way and that, but not for us; it was for the winged creatures of the air he looked, and when one that pleased his fancy fluttered by he dashed out and secured it, returning to a post or the fence just as absorbed and just as eager for the next one. Every time he alighted it was a few feet farther down the fence, and thus he worked his way out of our sight, without seeming aware of our existence.
This was not stupidity on the part of the crimson-head, nor was it foolhardiness; it was simply trust in his guardian, for he had one,—one who watched every movement of ours with close attention, whose vigilance was never relaxed, and who appeared, when we saw her, to be above the need of food. A plain personage she was, clad in modest, dull yellow,—the female tanager. She was probably his mate; at any rate, she gradually followed him down the fence, keeping fifteen or twenty feet behind him, all the time with an eye on us, ready to give warning of the slightest aggressive movement on our part. It would be interesting to know how my lord behaves up in those sky-parlors where their summer homes are made. No doubt he is as tender and devoted as most of his race (all his race, I would say, if Mr. Torrey had not shaken our faith in the ruby-throat), and I have no doubt that the little red-heads in the nest will be well looked after and fed by their fly-catching papa.
Far different from the cool unconcern of the crimson-headed tanager were the manners of another red-headed dweller on the mountain. The green-tailed towhee he is called in the books, though the red of his head is much more conspicuous than the green of his tail. In this bird the high-bred repose of his neighbor was replaced by the most fussy restlessness. When we surprised him on the lowest wire of the fence, he was terribly disconcerted, not to say thrown into a panic. He usually stood a moment, holding his long tail up in the air, flirted his wings, turned his body this way and that in great excitement, then hopped to the nearest bowlder, slipped down behind it, and ran off through the sage bushes like a mouse. More than this we were never able to see, and where he lived and how his spouse looked we do not know to this day.
Most interesting of the birds that we saw on our daily way to the pasture were the gulls; great, beautiful, snowy creatures, who looked strangely out of place so far away from the seashore. Stranger, too, than their change of residence was their change of manners from the wild, unapproachable sea-birds, soaring and diving, and apparently spending their lives on wings such as the poet sings,—
"When I had wings, my brother, Such wings were mine as thine;"
and of whose lives he further says,—
"What place man may, we claim it, But thine,—whose thought may name it? Free birds live higher than freemen, And gladlier ye than we."
From this high place in our thoughts, from this realm of poetry and mystery, to come down almost to the tameness of the barnyard fowl is a marvelous transformation, and one is tempted to believe the solemn announcement of the Salt Lake prophet, that the Lord sent them to his chosen people.
The occasion of this alleged special favor to the Latter Day Saints was the advent, about twenty years ago, of clouds of grasshoppers, before which the crops of the Western States and Territories were destroyed as by fire. It was then, in their hour of greatest need, when the food upon which depended a whole people was threatened, that these beautiful winged messengers appeared. In large flocks they came, from no one knows where, and settled, like so many sparrows, all over the land, devouring almost without ceasing the hosts of the foe. The crops were saved, and all Deseret rejoiced. Was it any wonder that a people trained to regard the head of their church as the direct representative of the Highest should believe these to be really birds of God, and should accordingly cherish them? Well would it be for themselves if other Christian peoples were equally believing, and protected and cherished other winged messengers, sent just as truly to protect their crops.
The shrewd man who wielded the destinies of his people beside the Salt Lake secured the future usefulness of what they considered the miraculous visitation by fixing a penalty of five dollars upon the head of every gull in the Territory. And now, the birds having found congenial nesting-places on solitary islands in the lake, their descendants are so fearless and so tame that they habitually follow the plow like a flock of chickens, rising from almost under the feet of the indifferent horses and settling down at once in the furrow behind, seeking out and eating greedily all the worms and grubs and larvae and mice and moles that the plow has disturbed in its passage. The Mormon cultivator has sense enough to appreciate such service, and no man or boy dreams of lifting a finger against his best friend.
Extraordinary indeed was this sight to eyes accustomed to seeing every bird who attempts to render like service shot and snared and swept from the face of the earth. Our hearts warmed toward the "Sons of Zion," and our respect for their intelligence increased, as we hurried down to the field to see this latter-day wonder.
Whether the birds distinguished between "saints" and sinners, or whether their confidence extended only to plow-boys, they would not let us come near them. But our glasses brought them close, and we had a very good study of them, finding exceeding interest in their ways: their quaint faces as they flew toward us; their dignified walk; their expression of disapproval, lifting the wings high above the back till they met; their queer and constant cries in the tone of a child who whines; and, above all, their use of the wonderful wings,—"half wing, half wave," Mrs. Spofford calls them.
To rise from the earth upon these beautiful great arms, seemed to be not so easy as it looks. Some of the graceful birds lifted them, and ran a little before leaving the ground, and all of them left both legs hanging, and both feet jerking awkwardly at every wing-beat, for a few moments on starting, before they carefully drew each flesh-colored foot up into its feather pillow,
"And gray and silver up the dome Of gray and silver skies went sailing,"
in ever-widening circles, without moving a feather that we could perceive. It was charming to see how nicely they folded down their splendid wings on alighting, stretching each one out, and apparently straightening every feather before laying it into its place.
Several hours this interesting flock accompanied the horses and man around the field, taking possession of each furrow as it was laid open, and chattering and eating as fast as they could; and the question occurred to me, if a field that is thoroughly gleaned over every spring furnishes so great a supply of creatures hurtful to vegetation, what must be the state of grounds which are carefully protected from such gleaning, on which no bird is allowed to forage?
As noon approached, the hour when "birds their wise siesta take," although the plow did not cease its monotonous round, the birds retired in a body to the still untouched middle of the field, and settled themselves for their "nooning," dusting themselves—their snowy plumes!—like hens on an ash heap, sitting about in knots like parties of ducks, preening and shaking themselves out, or going at once to sleep, according to their several tastes. Half an hour's rest sufficed for the more active spirits, and then they treated us, their patient observers, to an aerial exhibition. A large number, perhaps three quarters of the flock, rose in a body and began a spiral flight. Higher and higher they went, in wider and wider circles, till, against the white clouds, they looked like a swarm of midges, and against the blue the eye could not distinguish them. Then from out of the sky dropped one after another, leaving the soaring flock looking wonderfully ethereal and gauzy in the clear air, with the sun above him, almost like a spirit bird gliding motionless through the ether till he alighted at last quietly beside his fellows on the ground. In another half hour they were all behind the plow again, hard at work.
When we had looked our fill, we straightway sought out and questioned some of the wise men among the "peculiar people." This is what we learned: that when plowing is over the birds retire to their home, an island in the lake, where, being eminently social birds, their nests are built in a community. Their beneficent service to mankind does not end with the plowing season, for when that is over they turn their attention to the fish that are brought into the lake by the fresh-water streams, at once strangled by its excess of salt, and their bodies washed up on the shore. What would become of the human residents if that animal deposit were left for the fierce sun to dispose of, may perhaps be imagined. The gull should, indeed, be a sacred bird in Utah.
What drew us first to the pasture—which we came to at last—was our search for a magpie's nest. The home of this knowing fellow is the Rocky Mountain region, and, naturally, he was the first bird we thought of looking for. There would be no difficulty in finding nests, we thought, for we came upon magpies everywhere in our walks. Now one alighted on a fence-post a few yards ahead of us, earnestly regarding our approach, tilting upward his long, expressive tail, the black of his plumage shining with brilliant blue reflections, and the white fairly dazzling the eyes. Again we caught glimpses of two or three of the beautiful birds walking about on the ground, holding their precious tails well up from the earth, and gleaning industriously the insect life of the horse pasture. At one moment we were saluted from the top of a tall tree, or shrieked at by one passing over our heads, looking like an immense dragonfly against the sky. Magpie voices were heard from morning till night; strange, loud calls of "mag! mag!" were ever in our ears. "Oh, yes," we had said, "we must surely go out some morning and find a nest."
First we inquired. Everybody knew where they built, in oak-brush or in apple-trees, but not a boy in that village knew where there was a nest. Oh, no, not one! A man confessed to the guilty secret, and, directed by him, we took a long walk through the village with its queer little houses, many of them having the two front doors which tell the tale of Mormondom within; up the long sidewalk, with a beautiful bounding mountain brook running down the gutter, as if it were a tame irrigating ditch, to a big gate in a "combination fence." What this latter might be we had wondered, but relied upon knowing it when we saw it,—and we did: it was a fence of laths held together by wires woven between them, and we recognized the fitness of the name instantly. Then on through the big gate, down a long lane where we ran the gauntlet of the family cows; over or under bars, where awaited us a tribe of colts with their anxious mammas; and at last to the tree and the nest. There our guide met us and climbed up to explore. Alas! the nest robber had anticipated us.
Slowly we took our way home, resolved to ask no more help, but to seek for ourselves, for the nest that is known is the nest that is robbed. So the next morning, armed with camp-chairs and alpenstocks, drinking-cups and notebooks, we started up the mountain, where we could at least find solitude, and the fresh air of the hills. We climbed till we were tired, and then, as was our custom, sat down to rest and breathe, and see who lived in that part of the world. Without thought of the height we had reached, we turned our backs to the mountain, rising bare and steep before us, and behold! the outlook struck us dumb.
There at our feet lay the village, smothered in orchards and shade-trees, the locusts, just then huge bouquets of graceful bloom and delicious odor, buzzing with hundreds of bees and humming-birds; beyond was a stretch of cultivated fields in various shades of green and brown; and then the lake,—beautiful and wonderful Salt Lake,—glowing with exquisite colors, now hyacinth blue, changing in places to tender green or golden brown, again sparkling like a vast bed of diamonds. In the foreground lay Antelope Island, in hues of purple and bronze, with its chain of hills and graceful sky-line; and resting on the horizon beyond were the peaks of the grand Oquirrhs, capped with snow. Well might we forget our quest while gazing on this impressive scene, trying to fix its various features in our memories, to be an eternal possession.
We were recalled to the business in hand by the sudden appearance on the top of a tree below us of one of the birds we sought. The branch bent and swayed as the heavy fellow settled upon it, and in a moment a comrade came, calling vigorously, and alighted on a neighboring branch. A few minutes they remained, with flirting tails, conversing in garrulous tones, then together they rose on broad wings, and passed away—away over the fields, almost out of sight, before they dropped into a patch of oak-brush. After them appeared others, and we sat there a long time, hoping to see at least one that had its home within our reach. But every bird that passed over turned its face to the mountains; some seemed to head for the dim Oquirrhs across the lake, while others disappeared over the top of the Wasatch behind us; not one paused in our neighborhood, excepting long enough to look at us, and express its opinion in loud and not very polite tones.
It was then and there that we noticed our pasture; the entrance was beside us. Shall we go in? was always the question before an inclosure. We looked over the wall. It was plainly the abode of horses, meek work-a-day beings, who certainly would not resent our intrusion. Oak-brush was there in plenty, and that is the chosen home of the magpie. We hesitated; we started for the gate. It was held in place by a rope elaborately and securely tied in many knots; but we had learned something about the gates of this "promised land,"—that between the posts and the stone wall may usually be found space enough to slip through without disturbing the fastenings.
In that country no one goes through a gate who can possibly go around it, and well is it indeed for the stranger and the wayfarer in "Zion" that such is the custom, for the idiosyncrasies of gates were endless; they agreed only in never fitting their place and never opening properly. If the gate was in one piece, it sagged so that it must be lifted; or it had lost one hinge, and fell over on the rash individual who loosened the fastenings; or it was about falling to pieces, and must be handled like a piece of choice bric-a-brac. If it had a latch, it was rusty or did not fit; and if it had not, it was fastened, either by a board slipped in to act as a bar and never known to be of proper size, or in some occult way which would require the skill of "the lady from Philadelphia" to undo. If it was of the fashion that opens in the middle, each individual gate had its particular "kink," which must be learned by the uninitiated before he—or, what is worse, she—could pass. Many were held together by a hoop or link of iron, dropped over the two end posts; but whether the gate must be pulled out or pushed in, and at exactly what angle it would consent to receive the link, was to be found out only by experience.
But not all gates were so simple even as this: the ingenuity with which a variety of fastenings,—all to avoid the natural and obvious one of a hook and staple,—had been evolved in the rural mind was fairly startling. The energy and thought that had been bestowed upon this little matter of avoiding a gate-hook would have built a bridge across Salt Lake, or tunneled the Uintas for an irrigating ditch.
Happily, we too had learned to "slip through," and we passed the gate with its rope puzzle, and the six or eight horses who pointed inquiring ears toward their unwonted visitors, and hastened to get under cover before the birds, if any lived there, should come home.
The oak-brush, which we then approached, is a curious and interesting form of vegetation. It is a mass of oak-trees, all of the same age, growing as close as they can stand, with branches down to the ground. It looks as if each patch had sprung from a great fall of acorns from one tree, or perhaps were shoots from the roots of a perished tree. The clumps are more or less irregularly round, set down in a barren piece of ground, or among the sage bushes. At a distance, on the side of a mountain, they resemble patches of moss of varying shape. When two or three feet high, one is a thick, solid mat; when it reaches an altitude of six to eight feet, it is an impenetrable thicket; except, that is, when it happens to be in a pasture. Horses and cattle find such scanty pickings in the fields, that they nibble every green thing, even oak leaves, and so they clear the brush as high as they can reach. When therefore it is fifteen feet high, there is a thick roof the animals are not able to reach, and one may look through a patch to the light beyond. The stems and lower branches, though kept bare of leaves, are so close together and so intertwined and tangled, that forcing one's way through it is an impossibility. But the horses have made and kept open paths in every direction, and this turns it into a delightful grove, a cool retreat, which others appreciate as well as the makers.
Selecting a favorable-looking clump of oak-brush, we attempted to get in without using the open horse paths, where we should be in plain sight. Melancholy was the result; hats pulled off, hair disheveled, garments torn, feet tripped, and wounds and scratches innumerable. Several minutes of hard work and stubborn endurance enabled us to penetrate not more than half a dozen feet, when we managed, in some sort of fashion, to sit down, on opposite sides of the grove. Then, relying upon our "protective coloring" (not evolved, but carefully selected in the shops), we subsided into silence, hoping not to be observed when the birds came home, for there was the nest before us.
A wise and canny builder is Madam Mag, for though her home must be large to accommodate her size, and conspicuous because of the shallowness of the foliage above her, it is, in a way, a fortress, to despoil which the marauder must encounter a weapon not to be despised,—a stout beak, animated and impelled by indignant motherhood. The structure was made of sticks, and enormous in size; a half-bushel measure would hardly hold it. It was covered, as if to protect her, and it had two openings under the cover, toward either of which she could turn her face. It looked like a big, coarsely woven basket resting in a crotch up under the leaves, with a nearly close cover supported by a small branch above. The sitting bird could draw herself down out of sight, or she could defend herself and her brood, at either entrance.
In my retreat, I had noted all these points before any sign of life appeared in the brush. Then there came a low cry of "mag! mag!" and the bird entered near the ground. She alighted on a dead branch, which swung back and forth, while she kept her balance with her beautiful tail. She did not appear to look around; apparently she had no suspicions and did not notice us, sitting motionless and breathless in our respective places. Her head was turned to the nest, and by easy stages and with many pauses, she made her way to it. I could not see that she had a companion, for I dared not stir so much as a finger; but while she moved about near the nest there came to the eager listeners on the ground low and tender utterances in the sweetest of voices,—whether one or two I know not,—and at last a song, a true melody, of a yearning, thrilling quality that few song-birds, if any, can excel. I was astounded! Who would suspect the harsh-voiced, screaming magpie of such notes! I am certain that the bird or birds had no suspicion of listeners to the home talk and song, for after we were discovered, we heard nothing of the sort.
This little episode ended, madam slipped into her nest, and all became silent, she in her place and I in mine. If this state of things could only remain; if she would only accept me as a tree-trunk or a misshapen bowlder, and pay no attention to me, what a beautiful study I should have! Half an hour, perhaps more, passed without a sound, and then the silence was broken by magpie calls from without. The sitting bird left the nest and flew out of the grove, quite near the ground; I heard much talk and chatter in low tones outside, and they flew. I slipped out as quickly as possible, wishing indeed that I had wings as she had, and went home, encouraged to think I should really be able to study the magpie.
But I did not know my bird. The next day, before I knew she was about, she discovered me, though it was plain that she hoped I had not discovered her. Instantly she became silent and wary, coming to her nest over the top of the trees, so quietly that I should not have known it except for her shadow on the leaves. No talk or song now fell upon my ear; calls outside were few and subdued. Everything was different from the natural unconsciousness of the previous day; the birds were on guard, and henceforth I should be under surveillance.
From this moment I lost my pleasure in the study, for I feel little interest in the actions of a bird under the constraint of an unwelcome presence, or in the shadow of constant fear and dread. What I care to see is the natural life, the free, unstudied ways of birds who do not notice or are not disturbed by spectators. Nor have I any pleasure in going about the country staring into every tree, and poking into every bush, thrusting irreverent hands into the mysteries of other lives, and rudely tearing away the veils that others have drawn around their private affairs. That they are only birds does not signify to me; for me they are fellow-creatures; they have rights, which I am bound to respect.
I prefer to make myself so little obvious, or so apparently harmless to a bird, that she will herself show me her nest, or at least the leafy screen behind which it is hidden. Then, if I take advantage of her absence to spy upon her treasures, it is as a friend only,—a friend who respects her desire for seclusion, who never lays profane hands upon them, and who shares the secret only with one equally reverent and loving. Naturally I do not find so many nests as do the vandals to whom nothing is sacred, but I enjoy what I do find, in a way it hath not entered into their hearts to conceive.
In spite of my disinclination, we made one more call upon the magpie family, and this time we had a reception. This bird is intelligent and by no means a slave to habit; because he has behaved in a certain way once, there is no law, avian or divine, that compels him to repeat that conduct on the next occasion. Nor is it safe to generalize about him, or any other bird for that matter. One cannot say, "The magpie does thus and so," because each individual magpie has his own way of doing, and circumstances alter cases, with birds as well as with people.