"So about the last of September our Kingbirds, who live everywhere in the United States, gather in flocks, start to find a place where insects are still stirring about, and fly southward, following the sea-coast and the great rivers for paths. Those from the eastern part of the country stop in Central America or fly on to South America, and those from the western part often stop in Mexico."
"But how can they fly so far?" said Nat; "it's hundreds of miles; and how do they find the way?"
"The flight of a bird is a wonderful thing, my boy. He spreads those frail wings of his, and launches into the air, up, up, above trees and steeples, then on and on, being able to fly several hundred miles without resting. Some birds, when the wind aids them, cover more than a hundred miles in a single hour.
"As to the way, the eye of the bird is like a telescope. It magnifies and sees from very far off. Flying through the upper air the bird watches the line of coast and river, and the instinct that is placed in him says, 'Follow these.' So he follows them, remembering that by doing so he has found a place of safety in other seasons. All through the spring and all through the autumn birds take these mysterious flights—for so they always seem to House People, as flock after flock gathers and disappears. You can watch them sometimes passing by day so high in the sky that they seem like dust-motes—then perhaps you will only hear a faint call-note and see nothing. At night the sound of many voices falls from the clouds. Sometimes it will be the tinkling bell of Bobolinks, sometimes the feeble peep of Snipes, and sometimes the hoarse honk of Wild Geese."
"Why, Uncle Roy! Can you tell a bird's name without seeing it, only by one little cry?"
"Yes, my lad. When you have lived with birds as long as I have, you will know their different voices as you do those of your own family. When some one calls you in the garden, can't you tell whether it is Dodo or Olive?"
"Yes, but their voices are so very different."
"So are the voices of birds, when you know them well."
"But the young birds who have been hatched up here—how do they know about going the first time?" asked Rap.
"The young ones are led in their journeys with signals and cries by their parents; they in turn lead their own young, and so the knowledge is kept up endlessly."
"I can see why they go south," said Rap, after thinking a few moments, "but why do they come back again? Why don't they stay and build their nests down there?"
"That is a difficult question to answer," said the Doctor, "and one that we House People try to explain in different ways. I think that the love of the place where they were born is strong enough in birds to bring them back every season to build their nests. So you see that Citizen Bird is a patriot; for, though he may be in the midst of plenty in a tropical forest, when the time comes he travels hundreds of miles to his native land to make the young, that will fly from his nest, citizens like himself."
"But the birds that can eat seeds and other things do not travel so far, do they?" asked Rap.
"No, the birds who rove about the United States throughout the year are either Weed Warriors, or Seed Sowers, or those Tree Trappers who creep about tree-trunks picking the eggs and grubs of insects from the bark. Or else those great Cannibal Birds, the Wise Watchers, who eat the flesh of their smaller brothers, as well as of rats, mice, and all such vermin—the Hawks and Owls; or else they are Gulls, Terns, Fishing Ducks, and a great many other kinds of sea birds who feed on fish and pick up the scraps floating on the surface of sea, lake, and river."
"Do the Barn Swallows that are making nests in the hayloft go as far south as Kingbirds?" asked Nat.
"Yes, indeed! The Swallows' swift flight carries them far and wide, for not only do they make homes all through North America, but they are so sure of wing and confident of outstripping any cannibal birds who might try to chase them, that when they leave us they fly by day and often stop for a little visit in the West Indies on their way to South America."
"Suppose, Uncle Roy, when they are travelling, a storm comes up and it grows so foggy they can't see how to follow the rivers—don't they sometimes lose themselves?"
"Yes, very often they become confused and fly this way and that, but always toward the nearest place where they see a light, as if it meant escape for them. But this instinct is frequently their death, for they fly against the towers of great lighthouses, or the windows of tall buildings, or even electric wires, and thus break their necks or wings."
"That is why I have so often found dead birds along the turnpike under the telegraph wires," said Rap.
"Yes, Rap, the inventions of man are very wonderful, but some of them have been sad things for Bird People, and this is another reason why we should protect them whenever we can. These journeys that the birds make when they leave their nesting haunts for the winter season, and return again in spring, are called migrations. The word 'migrate' means to move from one country to another with the intention of remaining there for some time. The birds who only make little trips about the country, never staying long in one place, we call visitors.
"Birds may be divided according to their journeys into three groups, which will help you to place them:
"Those Bird People whose families stay in or near the same place the year round, roving about somewhat according to the food-supply and weather.
"2. Summer Citizens.
"The families that, though they are with us but six or eight months of the year, make their homes here, and pay their rent and taxes by working for the common good. As they are almost all insect-eaters, they are even more useful than the stay-at-home Citizens, who are chiefly seed-eaters or cannibals.
"3. Winter Visitors.
"The birds who come down from the North in severe weather, but do not stay in one place for any particular time, arriving one day and disappearing the next. They glean for their scanty board and return to the cold countries, of which they are Citizens, before nesting-time."
"Please tell me the names of some of the birds that live here all the time," said Nat. "Have I seen any yet?"
"I think the Bluebird, the Robin, and the Song Sparrow are Citizens," said Rap, "because last winter I used to see one of two almost every day, unless the snow and ice were very thick."
"Yes," said the Doctor, "the Bluebird is a Citizen in the Middle and Southern States, and the Robin also. But in the more northerly parts they are Summer Citizens, returning early and staying late. But the Song Sparrow is a Citizen almost everywhere, and is known about every bushy garden from the east coast to the west, and from the cotton plantation to the land of snow."
"Please tell me the names of some winter visitors," said Rap. "Isn't the Great White Owl one of these?"
"Yes, the Snowy Owl is one of them; so is the Snowflake, who comes to us on the wings of the storm; the tiny Winter Wren, the Great Northern Shrike, and many others, who arrive when snow-tide is upon us in the temperate part of the country, after our song birds have flown to the warmer south. You shall hear of all these, and learn where each one lives, in the bird stories I am going to write for you. But now let us go down by the river and see what some of these newly arrived birds are doing after their long journey.
"Hark! I hear the notes of a Thrasher in those bushes, and the Red-winged Blackbirds are calling all through the marsh meadow. When I was a boy the alder bushes were always full of nests."
"They have nests there now," said Rap eagerly; "a great many nests, and they are very pretty. Ah! There is the big brown bird that you call a Thrasher, with his striped breast and long tail that spreads like a fan. I see him—he is building in that barberry bush!"
"Then the nest comes pretty soon after the up-journey," said Nat.
"Yes," answered the Doctor, as he watched the antics of the Thrasher; "right after the journey the mate, and next the nest. Do not forget the mate, Nat, for it is Mrs. Bird who usually makes the nest and always lays the eggs, besides working in the guilds with her husband, whose greatest distinction is in being the family musician."
"When do the Summer Citizens begin to come back to their nesting places?" asked Nat. "And when do they go away again?"
"The great bird procession begins the first of March with Bluebirds, Robins, Redwings, and Meadowlarks, but it is the first of June before the latest comers, the little Marsh Wrens, are settled. Then in autumn, from September until the first snows of December fall, the procession flutters back south again, one by one or in great flocks, dropping away like falling leaves in the forest, and the birds that we see later are likely to be Citizens.
"The early Robin may have a second brood and the Hummingbird eggs in her nest, before the Marsh Wrens have even been seen.
"In the Southern States the birds arrive and build sooner than in the Northern. A cold spring may delay the on-coming migration, or a warm autumn retard the return movement. But as you study birds you will soon see that each one has his own place in the procession, and usually keeps it. Year by year this vast procession goes on in the air, back and forth, night and day, like the ceaseless ebb and flow of the tides at sea. Bird-waves flow on forever, in their appointed times, and none of Nature's aspects are more regular or more unfailing. It almost seems, boys, as if birds made the seasons—as if winter in the Middle and Northern States might be called the 'songless season.'"
THE BIRD'S NEST
"I wonder why some birds build their nests so very early, when it is cold, and there are no leaves on the trees, while others wait until it is almost summer," said Rap, as they walked down a narrow lane toward the river. There were bushes lining the path on each side, and from the singing you would think that every bush had a bird on each twig. In fact, there were so many birds in sight that Nat did not know which to ask about first, and so kept looking instead of talking.
"The birds who are Citizens are usually the first to build," answered the Doctor. "They merely roved about during the winter months, and had no long journey to make before they reached the home trees again, and then the hardy seed-eating birds can return from the South much earlier than their frailer kin."
"Last year," said Rap, "when the men were chopping trees in the great wood beyond the lake, the miller went up one day to hunt coons and took me with him. It was the beginning of March and terribly cold; there were long icicles hanging on the trees, and we were glad enough to go in by the fire in the lumbermen's camp. But what do you think?—if there wasn't an Owl's nest, up in a pine tree, with two eggs in it! It was in a very lonely place, and the miller said the Owl had borrowed an old Crow's nest and fixed it up a little."
"I should think the eggs would have frozen hard and been spoiled," said Nat.
"No, the old Owl sat on them ever so tight and would hardly budge to let the miller see them. We didn't stay long, for the Owl was a savage big thing, nearly two feet high, with yellow eyes and long feathers sticking up on its head like horns."
"A Great Horned Owl," said the Doctor. "I only wonder that it let the miller go near it at all; they are generally very wild and fierce."
"This one was sort of friends with the lumbermen," continued Rap, "for they used to hang lumps of raw meat on the bushes for it, and they said it kept the rats and mice away from the camp and was good company for them. It frightened me when I heard it first; it gave an awful scream, like a hurt person. After a while another one began to bark like a dog with a cold, just like this—'who-o-o-o—hoo—hoo—hoo.' And, Doctor, one of the lumbermen told me that with Owls and Hawks the female is mostly bigger than the male. Do you think that is so? Because with singing birds the male is the largest."
"Among cannibal birds the female is usually the largest," answered the Doctor, who was pleased to see that Rap so often had a "because" for his questions. "These birds do a great deal of fighting, both in catching their living prey and holding their own against enemies; and as the female stays most at home, being the chief protector of the nest, she needs more strength."
"Some singing birds are real plucky too," said Rap. "That same year I found a Robin's nest in April, when the water-pail by the well froze every night, and a Woodcock's nest in the brushwood. It's hard to see a Woodcock on the nest, they look so like dead leaves. It snowed a little that afternoon, and the poor bird's back was all white, but there she sat. It made me feel so sorry, and I was so afraid she might freeze, that I made a little roof over her of hemlock branches. And she liked that and didn't move at all; so then I wiped the snow off her back, and she seemed real comfortable. I used to go back every day after that to see her; we grew to be quite friends before the four eggs hatched, and I've seen them do queer little tricks; but I never told anybody where she lived, though, because lots of people don't seem to understand anything about birds but shooting or teasing them."
"Some day you shall tell us about what the Woodcock did, my lad. You must tell us a great many stories, for you know what you have seen yourself. That is the best knowledge of all, and it will encourage Nat to hear you," and Dr. Hunter put his arm affectionately around the shoulders of each boy.
"Hush! Wait a moment and listen to that Thrasher," said the Doctor, stopping behind some thick bushes; "he is wooing his mate!"
"What is wooing?" whispered Nat.
"Asking her to marry him and come and build a cosy home in one of these nice bushes. Listen! See! There he is, up on the very top of that young birch, with his head thrown back, singing as if his throat would split." As the children looked up they saw a fine bird with a curved beak, rusty-brown back, and light breast streaked with black, who was clinging to a slender spray, jerking his long tail while he sang.
"It seems as if I could almost hear the words he says," said Rap.
"Birds sing in many different tones," said the Doctor. "The Thrasher's song is like some one talking cheerfully; the Meadowlark's is flute-like; the Oriole's is more like clarion notes; the Bobolink bubbles over like a babbling brook; while the dear little brown striped Song Sparrow, who is with us in hedge and garden all the year, sings pleasant home-like ballads."
"There are some birds that Olive told me can't sing a bit," said Nat, "but only call and squeak. How do they ask their mates to marry them?"
"All birds have alarm cries, and a call-note that serves the same purpose as a song, although it may not seem at all musical to us. We are naturally more interested in that order of birds whose voices are the most perfectly developed. These not only sing when they are courting, but all the time their mates are sitting upon the eggs, and until the young are ready to fly."
"Why do birds always build nests in spring?" asked Nat.
"I think because there is more for them to feed the little ones with, than when it gets to be hot and dry," said Rap, "and it gives them time to grow big and strong before winter comes, when they must go away."
"Quite right, Rap, and it also gives the parents a chance to shed the old feathers that have been worn by rubbing on the nest, grow a new, thick, warm coat for winter, and rest themselves before they set out on their autumn journey. Do you remember what I told you that rainy day in my study about this moulting or changing of feathers?"
"Yes, I do," said Rap and Nat together. "Most birds have two coats a year, and the male's is the brighter," continued Nat eagerly, proud to show that he remembered. "The one that comes out in the spring is the gayest, so that his mate shall admire him and when this coat comes he sings his very best and—"
"Stop and take breath, my boy," laughed the Doctor; "there is plenty of time. Why do we think that the male has the gayest feathers—do you remember that also?"
"No, I've forgotten," said Nat.
"I remember," cried Rap; "it is to please the female and because she sits so much on the nest that if her feathers were as bright as the male's her enemies would see her quicker, and when the little birds hatch out they are mostly in plain colors too, like their mother."
"Oh, I remember that now," said Nat. "And after the young are hatched and the old birds need new coats, they keep rather still while they shed their feathers, because they feel weak and can't fly well."
"Then when the new feathers come they are sometimes quite different from the old ones, and seldom quite so bright—why is this, Nat?" asked the Doctor. But Nat could not think, and Rap answered: "Because in the autumn when they make the long journeys the leaves are falling from the trees, and if they were very bright the cannibal birds would see them too quickly." "Have I told you about the Bluebird, and how, though he only sheds his feathers once a year, yet his winter coat is rusty and not bright clear blue as it is in spring?"
"I think not," answered Nat.
"Well, the outside edges of its feathers are blue, but a little deeper in the feather is brownish. So when they have worn the same feathers many months, and rubbed in and out of their little houses and bathed a great deal and cleaned their feathers off every day in the dust, as birds always do, the blue ends wear off and the rusty parts show. It is quite worth while to tell little people things when they have the patience to listen and the interest to remember."
"Yes, uncle, but it's the way you tell us about birds that makes us remember. You talk as if they were real people."
"Oh, oh, Nat!" laughed the Doctor, "if you flatter me so I shall have to hide my head in a bush like an Ostrich. Birds are people, though of another race from ours, and I am happy if I can make you think so. Ah! we must be near a Redwing's nest—what a commotion the colony is making!"
"Colony? I thought a colony was a lot of people who went off into a strange wild land and made a new home," said Nat.
"That is one meaning of the word, but another one is when a number of people of the same race or trade live close to each other. A bird colony is a collection of the homes of many birds of the same family. After the nesting season almost all birds live in flocks of different sizes, each particular kind flocking by itself; but during the migrations great flocks are often made up of smaller flocks of various kinds of birds. During the nesting season it is quite different; the majority of birds prefer a quiet home life, each pair being independent of any others. Certain flocks, however, keep together, and all build their nests in a particular swamp or wood, and sometimes, it is said, male birds build nests to sleep in while the females are sitting. The Redwings nest in colonies; so do the Herons, who eat frogs and nest near water, and the little brown-cloaked Bank Swallows, who live in holes that they dig for themselves in high banks."
There were some twenty pairs of birds in this Redwing colony, who seemed to be much frightened by the approach of visitors.
"Here is a nest in this alder bush," said the Doctor; "step carefully on the grass hummocks, and look at it for a moment, Nat. See how neatly it is made of the dried leaves of flags and grasses, woven in and out between three upright stalks."
"Isn't it pretty?" said Nat; "so even and deep like a cup, and not at all ragged and mussy like a Robin's nest. There are a great many different kinds of nests, aren't there, uncle?"
"Yes, the nests of birds are almost as different as their songs and other habits, and the higher the order the brood belongs to the better built is the nest. The lower orders often only make a hollow in the ground or grass, but do not collect material and build in the true sense. None such can be called architects."
"What is an architect?" asked Nat, who thought it was a pretty big name for any sort of a bird. "An architect, my boy," said the Doctor, "is anybody who knows how to build anything as it ought to be built, to look the best and be the most useful, whether it is a house or a nest."
"I wonder why nests are so different," said Rap, looking down the lane toward the river where the sun was streaming in and so many little birds were flying to and fro that they seemed like last year's leaves being blown about.
"Because, as the habits of the birds cause them to live in different places, and feed in various ways, so their homes must be suitable to their surroundings, and be built in the best way to protect the young birds from harm—to keep them safe from House People, cannibal birds, and bad weather.
"The trim Thrushes and Sparrows, who are all brownish birds, and find their insect or seed food on or near the ground, build open nests low down in trees and bushes, or on the earth itself; but the gorgeous Baltimore Oriole, with his flaming feathers, makes a long pocket-shaped nest of string and strong plant fibres, which he swings high up in an elm tree, where it cannot be reached from below, and the leaves hide this cradle while the winds rock it. He knows that it would never do to trust his brilliant feathers down by the ground.
"The frail Hummingbird has no real strength to fight enemies bigger than its tiny self, but it has been given for protection the power of flying as quick as a whizzing bullet, and courage enough to attack even a Kingbird in defence of its nest, which is a tiny circle of down, covered with lichens, and is so fastened across a branch that it looks like a knot of the limb itself. The Woodcock you saw that snowy day, Rap, knows the protection of color and draws together for a nest a few leaves of the hue of her own feathers. This nest and the bird upon it are so blended together that few eyes could separate them."
"Some birds do not make any nests, but live in holes like squirrels and coons," said Rap. "Woodpeckers and all those."
"There again the home is suited to the occupation of the bird," said the Doctor; "for Woodpeckers are Tree Trappers, who find their food by creeping about trees and picking insects and grubs from the bark. What more natural than that they should have a house close at hand in some tree whose wood is soft enough to be hollowed out? You see they have a bill like a chisel for gouging out insects, and with this same tool they make their homes."
"Bluebirds and Wrens and Martins like to live in holes and boxes, though they can't make holes for themselves," said Rap.
"Yes, the habits of many birds have changed since the country has become civilized and House People are to be found in all parts of it. Many birds, who have always been favorites with man, and have been protected by him, have gradually grown less wild, or almost tame, and now prefer living near houses and barns to building in wilder places. The Bluebird, Martin, and Wren are three very popular birds. They appreciate cosy homes and are grateful for the boxes built for them, though we know that before they had such things they must have nested in tree holes." "I wonder where the Chimney Swifts lived before there were any chimneys," said Rap, looking across the fields to where an old stone chimney stood—the only thing left standing of an old farmhouse. Above this chimney, Swifts were circling in shifting curves, now diving inside it, now disappearing afar in the air.
"We think they must have lived in hollow trees as the Tree Swallows do now," said the Doctor; "but when House People began to clear the land they naturally cut down the dead trees first, and so the birds moved to the chimneys."
"I used to call those birds Chimney 'Swallows,' but Olive says they are made more like Hummingbirds and Nighthawks than real Swallows," continued Rap.
"Nighthawks?" said Nat. "I thought Olive said Hawks were cannibal birds. How are they relations of Swallows?"
"That is a mistake a great many people make," said the Doctor; "for the Nighthawk is not a real Hawk, but a shy bird, who has a rapid hawk-like flight, though it eats nothing but beetles, moths, and other insects. Hark! Do you hear that cry high in the air?"
"As if something was saying 'shirk-shirk'?" said Nat.
"Yes; that is a Nighthawk on its way home. Look! he is over us now, and you can see two large white spots like holes in his wings. By these you can tell it from any of the real Hawks."
"Does he build high up in a tree?" asked Rap. "I have never found his nest."
"There is a good reason for that," said the Doctor. "There is no nest. Two eggs are laid on the bare ground, that is about the same color as the bird itself; and the eggs look too much like streaky pebbles to be easily seen. When the young are hatched they keep still until they are able to fly, and are colored so exactly like the place upon which they rest that it is almost impossible to see them, even if you know where they are."
"How much there is to learn!" sighed Nat. "I'm afraid you will have to make us a big book instead of a little one, Uncle Roy, to teach us all these things. Olive and Rap have such a start of us. Dodo and I don't know much of anything, and even what I thought I knew about birds isn't very true."
"Don't be discouraged, my boy; you do not need a big book—a little one will do for the present. What you need is patience, a pair of keen eyes, and a good memory. With these and a little help from Olive, Rap, and your old uncle, you can learn to know a hundred kinds of every-day birds—those that can be found easily, and have either the sweetest songs, the gayest plumage, or the most interesting habits. Some we shall find here in the lane and swamp meadow, or by the river. Others have made their home in my orchard for years. And I am going to put in the book more than a hundred beautiful pictures for you and Dodo, drawn so naturally that you can tell every one of the birds by them, and that will make it easier for you to understand what you read.
"For some of the water birds we must go up to the lake or in the summer make a trip over to the seashore. How do you like that? Yes, you too, Rap. By and by, when you know these hundred birds by name and by sight, you will be so far along on the road into Birdland that you can choose your own way, and branch off right and left on whatever path seems most attractive to you; but then you will need big books, and have to learn long hard Latin names."
"What birds will you begin with, please, Doctor Roy," said Rap, "the singers or the cannibals?"
"The singers, because they will interest Dodo and Nat the most easily, as they do you. Then we will talk about the birds that only croak and call; then the cannibal birds; next those that coo, and those that scratch for a living. Then we must leave dry land and go close to the water to find the birds that wade; and finally, we must go to the lake or sea itself for the birds that swim and dive."
"Why, here's Quick!" cried Nat, as the little fox-terrier came leaping down the lane, tracking them, nose to the ground. "How did you get out of the barn, sir?"
"I suspect that Dodo has discovered that we are missing and is looking for us," said the Doctor. "There is the breakfast bell. Do you realize, my lads, that we have been out two hours?"
"I often come out early in the morning," said Rap, "so it doesn't seem strange to me."
"I'm starving, Uncle Roy," said Nat, "though I am only beginning to feel it."
"Think how much worse you would have felt if you had not eaten some bread and milk before you started."
"Yes, indeed," said Nat. "Do many sicknesses come from not eating enough?" "Not so many as come from eating too much!" laughed the Doctor. "Won't you come up to breakfast with us, Rap? There is always room at my table, you know, for children who love their Bird Brothers."
"I can't," said Rap regretfully; "you see it's Thursday and I have to mind clothes!"
There was a merry breakfast party that morning at Orchard Farm; Nat had so much to tell, and the Doctor said he felt twenty years younger after his walk with the boys. A letter had also arrived which made Nat and Dodo very happy; it was from their mother, who said: "We are delighted to hear that the Doctor is going to tell you bird stories this summer. Be sure to ask Olive to tell you all she knows about the flowers too. When we come home this autumn, perhaps your uncle will ask us to the Farm for a visit, and then we shall see your friend Rap."
"Uncle, uncle!" cried both the children, "will you ask mother and father to come here for a little? It will be lovely, and—and then we shan't have to go away so soon either."
"I have already asked them for a long visit, you little rogues," said the Doctor. "You seem to forget that your mother is my sister, whom I wish very much to see."
"And does Olive know all the flowers," chimed in Dodo, "and will you tell us about everything?"
"That would be a rash promise," said the Doctor, laughing; "but if you will stay long enough I will promise to teach you something about all the little wild beasts and bugs that live here, the flowers that bloom about us, the earth, moon, and perhaps even a star or two! Who knows? Is it a bargain?" "Oh, uncle!" was all they said. But Dodo gave him a kiss on the end of his nose and Nat hugged Olive, who sat next to him. Just then Mammy Bun brought in a plate of steaming hot flannel cakes, and the Doctor said: "Now let us eat to the health of Birdland and a happy season at Orchard Farm! Olive, my love, please pass the maple syrup!"
BEGINNING OF THE BIRD STORIES
When the day came for beginning the bird stories, warm spring showers were drenching the orchard, so that apple blossoms and raindrops fell to the ground together when the children gathered in the wonder room once more. This time there was no fire on the hearth; through the open window floated bits of bird-song and the fragrance of the lilacs—for there were lilac bushes all about Orchard Farm, close to the house, by the gate posts, and in a long hedge that ran down one side of the garden to the orchard itself. These tall bushes of purple and white lilacs were veritable music boxes, for almost every one held a Catbird's nest.
"What bird do you think Uncle Roy will tell us about first?" said Nat to Rap, as they walked about the room, looking at the birds in the cases, while the Doctor was reading letters which Olive had brought in.
"I wish he would begin with that lovely fat bird, with all the red and green and blue feathers," said Dodo, pointing to a Wood Duck. "I wonder if it sings."
"No, that's a Duck and they don't sing," said Rap; "they gabble and squawk and swim in the water, but they can fly as quick as Swallows, for all they look so heavy." "I wish he would begin with this little mite of a thing, that isn't much bigger than a bee," said Nat, showing Rap a Hummingbird.
"I don't care what bird he starts with," said Rap, "only I hope he will begin at the very beginning."
"That is a good idea, my boy," said the Doctor, who had finished his letters and was leaving his desk; "only what and where is the beginning?"
The children looked at each other in silence, and Olive said: "That is a very hard question for them to answer. No wonder they looked so puzzled, father."
Then the Doctor laughed and said: "The people who have studied the birds, bone by bone and feather by feather, have grouped these Citizens into orders and families to prevent confusion, so that we may easily tell the relationship between them. These lists sometimes begin with the lowest order, nearest to the crawling, reptile brethren,—the least interesting, far-away birds that have no song and cannot fly well, but swim and dive in the water,—and end with the beautiful singing birds that live in our gardens."
"Couldn't you begin with the dear singing birds and end with the far-away clumsy diving ones?" asked Rap earnestly; "it's so much easier learning about things near home."
"You are right, my boy. In learning anything, whether of bird, insect, or flower, begin at home, and let this be the centre from which you work your way onward and outward. Then you will be sure of what you learn; and ever afterward, though you may follow strange birds all over the known world, you will come home again, to find that there are none more charming and lovable than those few whose acquaintance you will make this summer.
"I do not wish you to be confused by long words, so I shall give you their plain English names and divide these birds of our stories into six classes. By and by, when you have heard a few facts about them, we will group them into families; and I will tell you so much that, if you use your eyes well, you will be able to name any one of these birds when you see it out in the open air. You must always remember, children, when you see birds flying about, that you will not notice many little markings and bits of color that would be quite plain to you if you held the bird in your hand, or looked at it in a case, as you look at these stuffed ones now. A bird, whose breast is spotted may look striped when seen at a distance.
"When you are in doubt about the name of a bird that you have seen, you can come here and look for it; but very few children can do so. At best they can only look at pictures, and I do not wish you to depend upon the specimens in this room."
"No," said Rap, "because if our bird stories are printed, and other children read them, they may not have an uncle with a 'wonder room'; and so they must learn the names without."
"That is another reason why we must have a great many pictures in our book, for these children," said the Doctor. "Now write the names of the six classes into which all our birds are to be gathered.
"I. The Birds that Sing.
"II. The Birds that Croak and Call.
"III. The Birds that are Cannibals.
"IV. The Birds that Coo and Scratch.
"V. The Birds that Wade and Paddle.
"VI. The Birds that Swim and Dive."
Squeak, squeak, went three pencils, two going fast and one toiling along as if it was lame and needed sharpening.
"Please, uncle, what birds are cannibals?" asked Dodo, as she finished writing this last word slowly, taking great pains. "I thought cannibals were people that ate each other."
"Well, my dear, so they are; and cannibal birds are those who sometimes eat each other."
"If you please, Doctor, which of the birds that sing will you begin with?" asked Rap. "I wonder if we can guess it."
"You may all try," said the Doctor. "It is a bird that every one loves—the home bird who is so fond of House People that whenever we see one, we know that there is a house not far away."
"Then it must be the Bluebird!" cried Rap.
"You are right," said the Doctor; "and if you will come here by the window you can watch a pair who are flying in and out of the bird house, on top of the woodshed. Do you hear? Bluebirds have a call-note and a sweet warbling song. As I have told you before, all birds have some note or sound that they use to attract attention or call their mates; but it is only those whose voices are so highly developed that they can make really continuous musical sounds, that are called song birds.
"The male is the only real singer in Birdland. Many females have pretty musical notes that they give when about the nest, and some scraps of song; one or two are quite good musicians, but the great chorus comes from the males.
"These have their seasons for singing, and are not in equal voice during the entire year. They sing most persistently from the time they put on their spring coat, until after the nesting season, when they take it off. In early autumn some species sing for a time, and in warm climates there is more or less music all winter; but the great morning and evening chorus belongs to spring and the nesting season. It is as rare to hear the perfect song of a bird in autumn, as it is to see its perfect plumage. The young birds of the season are then swelling their little throats in trying to warble a few notes; and as their feathers are a mixture of those worn by their father and mother, such birds and their songs will both, most likely, confuse you.
"When you find a strange bird, try to see quickly a few of the things most necessary to naming him. I will make a measure of your middle finger for you such as Olive used to wear. Then you must try to answer the following questions:
"How many inches long was he?
"What was his general color?
"Was his breast plain or speckled?
"What was he doing—feeding on the ground or in a tree?
"Did he walk with one foot after the other, or hop with both feet together?
"Did he sing or only call?
"At first you may only remember two or three of these questions, and they will probably be his size, color, and song, if he happens to be singing at the time.
"You may not think that a bird, who is hopping about in the grass or flitting among the branches of a tree, is doing anything in particular. But really he may be either collecting material for his nest, or searching for food of some particular kind, in a way which will tell you to what guild of the Bird Brotherhood he belongs.
"Everything in the daily life of a bird is interesting. You will find that every bird has its regular times for bathing, pluming, eating, sleeping, working, and playing, all in its own ways, just as you yourselves have. And everything he does is done cheerfully and promptly.
"I know that you think this a very long sermon, and that you would rather see a bird than be told how to see it. Only one word more. I am going to give you, as we go along, a few facts about the color and size of each bird, that you may write in your books; so that if you forget whether this bird or that one was striped or spotted you can look at your 'bird table' (not multiplication table) and see which it was. Now we will begin with our dear Bluebird."
A SILVER-TONGUED FAMILY
"It will be difficult for you to mistake this little blue-coal for any other bird. He is 'true blue,' which is as rare a color among birds its it is among flowers. He is the banner-bearer of Birdland also, and loyally floats the tricolor from our trees and telegraph wires; for, besides being blue, is he not also red and white?"
"To be sure, his breast is perhaps more brown than red, but when the spring sun shines on his new feathers, as he flits to and fro, it is quite bright enough to be called red. All sorts and conditions of people love and respect the Bluebird; all welcome him to their gardens and orchards. The Grossest old farmer, with his back bent double by rheumatism, contrives to bore some auger holes in an old box and fasten it on the side of the barn, or set it up on the pole of his hayrick; while the thrifty villager provides a beautiful home for his blue-backed pets—a real summer hotel, mounted on a tall post above a flower-bed, with gables and little windows under the eaves.
"Why does this bird receive so much attention? There are many others with gayer plumage and more brilliant songs. It is because the Bluebird is gentle, useful, brave, and faithful under adversity, while he and the Robin are the first two birds that children know by name. We must live in a very cold, windswept part of the country not to have some of these birds with us from March until Thanksgiving day, and then, when a week has passed and we have not seen a single one, we say winter has come in earnest. When weeks go by and our eyes grow tired of the glare of the snow, or our hearts discouraged at the sight of bare lifeless trees and stretches of brown meadow—suddenly, some morning, we hear a few liquid notes from an old tree in a sunny spot. All eagerness, we go out to see if our ears have deceived us. No, it is a Bluebird! He is peeping into an old Woodpecker's hole and acting as if he had serious thoughts of going to housekeeping there, and did not intend waiting to move in until May-day either. When you see him you may know that, though there is still ice on the water-trough and on the little streams, spring is only around the corner, waiting for her friend, the sun, to give her a little warmer invitation to join him in their old, old play of turning the sluggish sleeping brown earth into a wonderful green garden again.
"As a Citizen the Bluebird is in every way a model. He works with the Ground Gleaners in searching the grass and low bushes for grasshoppers and crickets; he searches the trees for caterpillars in company with the Tree Trappers; and in eating blueberries, cranberries, wild grapes, and other fruits he works with the Seed Sowers also.
"So who would not welcome this bird, who pays his rent and taxes in so cheerful a manner, and thanks you with a song into the bargain? A very few straws are all that he asks for his housekeeping, and every time he promises a meal for his household, scores of creeping, crawling, hopping garden enemies are gobbled up. Then he, modest little fellow that he is, comes to the roof of the shed and murmurs his thanks for your hospitality, as if you and not he had done the favor; he continues to whisper and warble about it all the way down the meadow until, having caught another grasshopper, his mouth is too full for singing."
As the Doctor was speaking the shower cloud passed over, and the sun burst out full upon the Bluebirds that were building by the woodshed.
"Oh, they are red, white, and blue!" cried Dodo in great glee, "though the red is a little dirty,—not so fresh and bright as the color in our new flag."
"It is more the red of the ragged old flag they keep down in the Town Hall—the one that has seen service," said Rap thoughtfully.
Some things to remember about the Bluebird
Length (from tip of beak over head to end of tail) seven inches.
Upper parts clear bright blue.
Throat and breast reddish earth color.
A Summer Citizen of the United States, and a Citizen of the milder parts, of our country.
A member of the guilds of Ground Gleaners, Tree Trappers, and Seed Sowers.
THE AMERICAN ROBIN
"Another home bird, first cousin to the Bluebird, coming with it in the spring, and often lingering through the winter in places that the Bluebird is obliged to leave—"
"The Robin a cousin of the Bluebird!" interrupted Nat; "why, they don't look one bit alike—how can it be, Uncle Roy?"
"I expected you to ask that question," said the Doctor. "The relationship of bird families, like that of other animals, is based upon a likeness in the formation of their bodies, and not upon mere size or color. That sort of likeness proves that their ancestors of long ago were the same, so that they are descended from one pair of very great-great-grandparents; and that always makes cousins, you know. It runs in the blood; thus, a cat and a tiger are blood relations; the little coon and the great black bear are nearly akin. A tall broad-shouldered man, with black hair and a full beard, may have a cousin who is short and thin, with yellow hair and no beard. You see nothing strange in this, because it is something to which you are accustomed. But with bird families it takes the trained eye of the student to see the likeness there really is between all birds who have had the same ancestors, though it may be hidden under many differences in their size, shape, color, voice, and habits.
"The Robin, like the Bluebird, is found in almost all parts of North America. In the far Southern States, like Florida, where they take refuge from winter storms, Robins begin to sing in chorus while the weather in the Middle and Northern States is still so cold that it would freeze the music before any one could hear it, even if the birds had courage to sing. But delightful as the climate is there, where it also provides a plentiful table of berries, these Robins break away from the land of plenty and begin their northern journey before the first shad dares venture up the rivers.
"On and on they go, this great army of Robins, flying in flocks of ten and hundreds. Here and there they meet with smaller flocks, which have been able to spend the winter in roving about not far from their nesting places, and then there is a great deal of talking; for the Robin has a great many ways of making remarks. Some of his numerous notes sound as if he were asking a long list of questions; others express discontent; then again he fumes and sputters with anger. It is easy to tell the plump, well-fed birds, just home from the South, from those who have been obliged to live on half rations during the northern winter.
"Before this flying army quite leaves the Southern States some of them halt for nest-building, and then the Robin sings the best of all his songs,—his happy, cheery melody,—all about the earth, the sky, the sun, the tree he and his mate have chosen to build in,—a song of the little brook where he means to get the water to wet the clay to plaster his nest,—a ballad of the blue eggs it will hold, and the greedy little Robins, all eyes and mouth, that will come out of them. But as he sings something frightens him; then he cries, 'quick! quick! quick!' and hurries away in a rather clumsy fashion. If any one could understand the meaning of all that the Robin says and put it into our words, we should be able to make a very good dictionary of the language of Birdland."
"I've noticed how different his songs are," said Rap eagerly, "and how some of his ways are like the Bluebird's, too. We had a Robin's nest last season in the grape vine over the back door, and I used to watch them all the time—" and then Rap hesitated in great confusion, for fear that he had been impolite in stopping the Doctor.
"Tell us about your Robins, my boy; we shall like to hear the story. Don't look so troubled, but say exactly what you saw them do."
Rap wriggled about a little, then settled himself comfortably with his chin resting on the top of his crutch, and began: "It was the year that my leg was hurt. The miller was chopping a tree and it fell the wrong way on me and squeezed my leg so that it couldn't be mended; so I was around home all the time. It was a terribly cold day when the Robins came back, along in the first part of March. If it hadn't been for the Robins, anybody would have thought it was January. But in January we don't have big Robin flocks about here, only just twos and threes that pick round the alder bushes and old honeysuckles for berries. It was such a cold day that the clothes froze to the line so that mother couldn't take them off, and we didn't know what to do. Well, we were looking at them, mother and I, when a big Robin flew out of the pine trees and hopped along the clothes-line as if he wanted to speak to us. 'Maybe he's hungry,' said mother. 'I guess he is,' said I; 'the ground is too hard for worms to come out, so he can't get any of them. Can't I give him some of the dried huckleberries?' We always dry a lot every summer, so as to have pies in winter. Mother said I might, so I scattered some on the snow under the pine trees, and we went in the house and peeped out of the kitchen window. At first the Robins chattered and talked for a while, looking squint-eyed at the berries, but then the bird that came on the clothes-line started down and began to eat."
"How did you know that Robin from all the others?" asked Dodo.
"He had lost the two longest quills out of his right wing, and so he flew sort of lop-sided," said Rap readily. "As soon as he began the others came down and just gobbled; in two minutes all the berries were gone, but the birds stayed round all the same, hinting for more. We hadn't many berries left, so mother said, 'Try if they will eat meal.' I mixed some meal in a pan with hot water and spread it in little puddles on the snow. The Robins acted real mad at first, because it wasn't berries, but after a while one pecked at it and told the others it was all right, and then thirty Robins all sat in a row and ate that meal up, the same as if they were chickens." Here Rap paused and laughed at the thought of the strange sight.
"Pretty soon after that the snow melted, and by April Robins were building around in our yard, in the maples by the road, and all through this orchard. One day I noticed some little twigs and a splash of mud on our back steps, and when I looked up I saw that something was building a nest in the crotch of the old grape vine. 'That's a queer place for a nest,' I said to myself, 'not a leaf on the vine and my window right on top. I wonder what silly bird is doing it.'
"Flap, and my Robin with the broken feathers came along with his mouth full of sticks; but when he saw me he dropped them and went over on the clothes-pole, and called and scolded like everything. Then I went up to my window and looked through the blind slats. Next day the nest was done. It wasn't a pretty nest—Robins' never are. They are heavy and lumpy, and often fall off the branches when a long rain wets them. This one seemed quite comfortable inside, and was lined with soft grass.
"Mrs. Robin looked like her husband, but I could tell the difference; for she didn't sit in the pines and sing, and her breast wasn't so red. When the nest was done, she laid a beautiful egg every day until there were four, and then one or the other of the birds sat on the eggs all the time. Robins' eggs are a queer color—not just blue or quite green, but something between, all of their own."
"Yes," said Olive, "it is their own color, and we give it a name; for it is called 'robin's-egg blue' in our books."
"The old birds had been sitting for ten days, and it was almost time for the little ones to come out, when one night there was a great wind and the grape vine, that was only fastened up with bits of leather and tacks, fell down in a heap. In the morning there was the nest all in a tangle of vine down on the ground. The vine must have swung down, for it hadn't tipped the nest over, and the mother bird was sitting on it still.
"'That will never do,' said my mother; 'the first cat that strays by will take the poor thing.' While I was looking at it mother went in the house and came back with a little tin pail. She picked some branches and tied them round it so that the tin didn't show. 'Now,' she said to the Robin, the same as if it understood our language, 'get up and let me see if I can't better you a bit.' Then the bird left the nest, making a great fuss, and crying 'quick! quick!' as if all the woods were afire.
"'Oh, mother!' I cried, 'the eggs will get cold. What are you taking the nest away for? It was better to chance the cats.'
"'Don't you fret, sonny,' said she; 'your mammy has some common sense if she don't trampoose all over creation watching birds.' And before I understood what she was doing she had put the nest in the top of the tin pail and hung it on a hook under the shed roof. 'Now,' she said, 'Mrs. Robin, try how you like that!'
"I watched and after a few minutes first one Robin flew under the shed and then the other, and the next thing one was sitting on the pail-nest as nice as you please!"
"Did the birds hatch?" asked Olive, Nat, and Dodo, almost in the same breath.
"Yes, they hatched all right; and then I noticed something funny. The backs and breasts of the little birds were almost naked when they were hatched, and their eyes closed tight; but when the feathers came they were spotted on their backs and breasts and not plain like their parents. Do you know," added Rap after a little pause, "that when Bluebirds are little, their backs and breasts are speckled too, though afterward they moult out plain? So there is something alike about Bluebirds and Robins that even a boy can see."
"You are quite right," said the Doctor; "the 'something alike, that even a boy can see,' is one of the things that shows these birds to be cousins, as I told you. Every one of the Silver-tongued Family is spotted when it gets its first feathers. It is strange," he added in an undertone, as if talking to himself, "how long it took some of us to find out what any bright boy can see."
The American Robin—Remember This
Length ten inches.
Upper parts slate color with a tinge of brown.
Head black on top and sides, with white spots around the eyes. Tail black with white spots on the tips of some feathers.
Under parts brick-red, except the black and white streaked throat and under the tail.
A Citizen of the United States and Canada.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
THE WOOD THRUSH
One pleasant evening after tea, but before sunset, the Doctor sent Nat to ask Rap to come up to the Farm, as they were all going for a walk through the orchard and the river woods.
"What birds will you tell us about to-night?" asked Dodo, as they stood in the porch waiting for the boys.
"Cousins of the Bluebird—more cousins—but really the heads of the Silver-tongued Family. They wear much plainer clothes than the Bluebirds and Robins, on their olive or russet-brown backs and light-tinted, dark-spotted breasts, but have the most beautiful voices in all Birdland. The names of these wonderful singers, who make a musical quartette, are Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Wilson's Thrush, and Olive-backed Thrush; but you will have to keep both your eyes and ears open to learn to tell them apart and name them rightly."
"There has been the beautifullest bird singing in the big elm on the lawn for more than an hour, but I don't know his name and I want to ever so much. Do you think he might be one of these Thrushes? He is singing now, Uncle Roy." And Dodo began tugging at the Doctor's hand, to lead him down the steps. They saw Nat and Rap coming along the road, and the Doctor motioned to them to walk quietly, so that Dodo's bird might continue his song.
"What is it? What are you waiting for?" whispered Nat. "A bird? Where?"
The bird answered Nat's question itself, telling him by its song in what part of the tree it was perching. "Hea-r-me, Hea-r-me," it called; and then followed a short song as if two musical instruments were playing together. The bird seemed well pleased with his performance, and perfectly unconscious of the group of House People who were listening to him; for he repeated the strain over and over again.
"It's almost as big as a Robin," said Dodo.
"But its breast is speckled in big spots," said Nat. "I wish I could see the top of it. There, it has flown to a lower branch, and its back is kind of rusty-brown. What is its name, Uncle Roy?"
"Rap knows, I'm sure," said the Doctor.
"It's a Wood Thrush," said Rap. "People call them Wood Robins, too, sometimes. I think that one, or his brother, has a nest in the spruce back of your house."
"Uoli-uoli, a-e-o-lee-lee!" sang the Thrush; and as the children became accustomed to the song they noticed that six or eight other Silver-tongues were singing the same tune in different parts of the orchard and garden. It sounded as if the evening breeze were stirring Aeolian harps.
"Why is he called the Wood Thrush?" asked Rap. "I've hardly ever seen him in the real woods—he loves to be in gardens and orchards. The trees round the miller's house are full of them."
"It is not easy to say why he was named so," said the Doctor, "unless it is because he builds his nest higher up in trees than most of his Thrush kin. I am very glad you have had a chance to hear and see him at the same time; for he is one of the home birds you must make a place for in your very inside heart, with the Bluebird and Robin, though he does not return from his winter outing until after these two have begun nesting."
"When he comes we are sure not only that it is Spring, but that Spring is in a pleasant, good-natured mood—that she is through with the tempers and crying fits she suffers from in March and April, and is kissing the buds of the early blossoms of May, coaxing them to open their eyes. When you see the first Wood Thrush hopping among last year's leaves, you may look for jack-in-the-pulpit's pointed nose and green and purple hood.
"As soon as this Thrush makes up his mind to settle in a certain place, he calls a mate to him with his thrilling song and begins house-building. From this time until he moults, late in July, every one in his vicinity may enjoy a free concert morning and evening, and at intervals during the day. Sometimes in cloudy weather he even sings at noon—a time when birds are most likely to be silent.
"In gratitude for what we owe him for his music and his work in the guilds, we must be patient with him when he secures the first ripe cherries from the top of the tree, before we House People know that they are even red. For every cherry and strawberry he bites, he pays ten times over by swallowing a hundred wicked hungry worms and bugs that eat everything and do no work in return. But House People are very blind about some things, and often act as if they had only one eye apiece, like the Cyclopes. We see one of these darling birds take a little fruit; we see more fruit with holes in it, and think that birds have done the damage, though a wasp or hornet may be the guilty party; and then we often say, 'What a nuisance those birds are!'
"But all the rest of the growing year, when these same birds toil from sunrise until sunset, to clear away insect pests and give us a better crop of fruit next year, we do not notice it. You children, however, will have no such excuse for keeping one eye shut when you know Citizen Bird as he really is."
"How late at night does the Wood Thrush sing?" asked Nat. "Does he never sleep?"
"Oh, yes, he goes to sleep when it is really dark, but at this nesting season the night in Birdland is very short; some of the feathered people are stirring at three o'clock, and by four all thrifty birds have dressed themselves to go out marketing for breakfast."
"The Veeries are singing down by the river," said Olive to her father; "perhaps we had better go there before it grows dark."
"Veeries? Is that what you call those birds?" asked Rap. "I never knew their name, so I called them 'sunset birds,' to myself."
"Veeries, yes, but called Wilson's Thrush, too," said the Doctor; "because this kind of Thrush was named after Alexander Wilson, who wrote a description of it, and published a colored plate of it, seventy-five years ago. But your name of 'sunset bird' is very good, my lad, for they sing best about twilight. We will go down to the river path and hear them, though you cannot see them very clearly now."
The Wood Thrush
The largest of our Thrushes except the Robin—length about eight inches.
Upper parts warm brown, like ground cinnamon; brightest on the head, but a little greenish on the tail.
Under parts plain white in the middle, but boldly spotted with black all over the breast and along the sides.
A Summer Citizen of the eastern United States, and a Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
Commonly called VEERY from the sound of one of its notes
"How still it is here!" said Dodo, as they walked along the footpath that wound in and out among the trees toward the edge of the river. Swallows were skimming close to the water, which sang a little song to itself as it ran along.
"What do you think those birds are doing, Rap," said Nat; "looking at themselves in the water or playing tag?"
"They are Barn Swallows, who catch flies and little gnats and things close down over the water. Hear them talking and laughing!" But the Swallows really seemed to be playing some sort of game as they circled about, every now and then turning sharply and giving little rippling cries.
The Doctor halted under a beech tree that spread its branches over a great mossy circle, seating himself on an old log that had been washed down the river and lay on the ground. For a minute the Veeries were silent; then from the tree over his head one sang a short tune—two sentences in a high key, then two a little lower and softer, like an echo.
"It is different from any other bird-song," said Olive, "and every spring when it comes it seems as lovely as the first time I heard it." "Is that Veery only visiting here, or will he build a nest?" asked Nat.
"He will build; and though he is so shy that we do not see him as often as the Wood Thrush, his song makes him one of the best-known of the family. He makes his home from the Middle States, east and west, all over the country, up to the far North; but as insects are his chief food he does not come as early or stay as late in his summer home as the Hermit Thrush, and always tries to reach the warmer countries before the trees are wholly bare and there is danger of snow."
"Do they live up in the trees where they sing?" asked Dodo, after they had listened to the Veeries, who were then singing on both sides of the river.
"No, on the contrary, he is one of the Ground Thrushes, who builds his nest close to the ground in such places as that bit of brushwood opposite; and as he spends most of his time about home we seldom see him, even in places like this where many pairs live. But we do not need to see a Veery to know of his presence if we once learn his song by heart, because we shall remember it as long as our hearts beat."
The children sat silent for a long time, looking up through the trees at the coming of the night. Then Dodo nestled close to Olive and whispered, "I think that Veery is singing his prayers."
Length seven and a half inches.
Upper parts warm brown all over, not so bright as the Wood Thrush is on the head, and not the least bit greenish on the tail.
Breast and throat deep cream color, finely specked with brown on the upper part. Belly white. No white ring around eye.
A Summer Citizen of the United States east of the plains.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
THE HERMIT THRUSH
"When we return to the house," said the Doctor, "I will show you the Veery and Hermit Thrush also; for whether or not you will hear the Hermit sing will depend very much upon what part of North America you live or travel in, and this bird's song is its chief claim to fame. Through all the southern and middle parts of the States he only pays visits during the fall, winter, and early spring. At these seasons he rarely sings, and spends his time in hopping about the underbrush, searching for insects. In spring and autumn you will see him about the magnolia trees in your yard or garden, or in the hedges along roads and the edges of light woods, where wild berries are plentiful. The name of Hermit would naturally make you expect to find a very shy bird, but he is not—only he likes his own company in secret places. When on his travels, unlike most birds, and like all good children in story books, he is oftener seen than heard. At this time you must look for him on or near the ground, for he is a famous Ground Gleaner.
"At first you may mistake him for a Wood Thrush. But look again—he is smaller; the spots on the breast are more joined together like stripes; the rump and tail are a very reddish-brown like ripe chestnuts, different from the greenish-brown on the back and head. You will be sure to notice this, for the Hermit jerks his tail about when he feeds on the ground, giving a little warning call that sounds like 'chek! chek!'"
"If you should happen to spend the summer among the mountains of New York, New England, or northern Michigan, and see the Hermit in his nesting home, you would find him quite another character, true to his name. There he is shy—or perhaps cautious would be a better word to describe the way in which he keeps the secrets of his precious nest. He loves the little moist valleys between the pine-clad mountains, where a bit of light woods is made an island by the soft bog-moss that surrounds it. There, feeling quite secure, he makes his nest upon the ground, of moss, leaves, pine-needles, and other such litter; and the eggs that it holds are very nearly the color of the Robin's, without any spots.
"He goes a little way from home, a bit up the mountain side, so that House People and squirrels, both of whom are sometimes cruel enough to steal eggs, may not know exactly where he lives; and then he begins to sing. His brother Thrushes have louder voices and know more brilliant songs; but when the Hermit reaches his high notes, that sound as clear as the music of a mountain brook, a strange feeling will suddenly come over you. You will forget that you belong to House People and that he is a bird; you will think he is telling you something in words that you understand—a message that makes you think about pure and holy things. The songs of some birds please the ear alone, but this little brown Hermit sings to your conscience. Some call him the Spirit of the Pines. If, however, you never hear his song you can remember that the Hermit is the brown bird with the rusty tail and speckled breast that hops among your bushes in spring and fall. You must be very kind to him, and tell your pet cat about him, warning her never to touch him."
The Hermit Thrush
Length about seven inches.
Upper parts an even olive-brown, except the tail, which is rich reddish-brown, different from the rest.
Throat and breast light buff, with black spots that run together in chains.
Belly white. A yellowish ring around the eye.
A Summer Citizen of the northern parts of eastern North America, spending the winter south of its summer home.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
THE OLIVE-BACKED THRUSH
"Children who live where the Hermit Thrush sings will also have a good chance to hear the Olive-back give his rapid bubbling music; for, like the Hermit, he prefers a cool summer climate, and thinks that the mountains agree with his health much better than the seashore. For this reason he makes his home all through the Northern States, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, following the mountains southward, and making long summer excursions to Labrador, Hudson Bay, and even Alaska."
"What stories of wild beasts he might tell us if he would! For he looks out of his nest of grass, moss, bark, and rootlets, to see moose browsing among the young trees, and hears black bears growling. His bird companions are Snowbirds, Horned Larks, Crossbills, and Pine Grosbeaks; and he trembles lest the Great Gray Owl shall find his nestlings.
"But much as he loves cool weather for nest-building, he tires of it when the first frost touches the valleys, and snow caps the tops of his favorite mountains; for then his insect food grows scarce. So he changes his summer habits; leaving the guild of Ground Gleaners, and becoming a Seed Sower, he follows the sun toward the tropics, where, likely enough, he tells the alligators long tales of northern lands and assures the water-moccasin that, big snake as he is, the mountain rattlesnake is quicker at biting.
"This Olive-backed Thrush you may hear more often than see—he is a will-o'-the-wisp for shyness, whether on his journeys or about home. But remember three things about him: his back is evenly olive (if you do not know what this dark-greenish color is, look at the olives you have on the table, or that stand in the tall glass jars in the grocer's window, for if you wish to study birds you must learn to distinguish this color from brown or the bright green); he has a cream-yellow ring round his eye; and lastly, his black-speckled throat and breast are dull yellowish."
"Won't you let us go up to the wonder room now and see all these Thrush cousins in a row?" asked Nat, when the Doctor had finished describing them.
"We will go up to the house and you may take a look at them, but I want you to be also able to name them from what I tell you; for when you see a bird out of doors you will seldom be able to have a stuffed one with which to compare it.
"Now we will make a procession of these cousins," said the Doctor, as they reached his study. He then opened a glass case, took out six birds, and stood them on the window-sill. "See, this is the way they go arm in arm when they walk in the great procession of Bird families:
"The Bluebird and the Robin;
"The Wood Thrush and the Veery;
"The Hermit and the Olive-back.
"Rap, my boy, look at each one and see if you can remember some of the differences between them. Now shut your eyes and think.
"What has the Bluebird?"
"A blue back and a red and white breast; it is the flag bird."
"A brick-red breast and dark back."
"The Wood Thrush?"
"A rusty-brown back, the brightest on the head, and a little greenish on the tail."
"An even light-brown back, the same from head to tail."
"A greenish-brown back, much redder on the rump and tail, like a chestnut."
"An even greenish-brown back, the color of olives all over."
"And the under parts of the last four—what general color are they?"
"From white to buff, with different sized and shaped dark markings. The spots on the Wood Thrush are the roundest and blackest; those on the Veery are the smallest, lightest, and most on the throat; on the Hermit they are longer and run together more like stripes; and those on the Olive-back are most like the Hermit's."
The Olive-backed Thrush
Length about seven inches—the same as the Hermit.
Upper parts an even olive color all over.
Under parts cream-yellowish, whiter on the belly, the throat and breast spotted with black.
A yellowish eye-ring, like the creamy color of the breast.
A Summer Citizen of the mountains of the northern United States.
A Tree Trapper and Ground Gleaner.
PEEPERS AND CREEPERS
THE GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET
"We have been looking at some of the larger song birds; now try the sharpness of your eyes by finding a tiny little fellow—a veritable midget, who belongs to the guild of Tree Trappers. He is usually intent upon his work, continually hopping and peeping among little branches and twigs, and thinks it would be time wasted if he stayed still long enough to give you a chance to look at him. He is so small that there are very few North American birds to compare with him in littleness. The Hummingbird, is smaller still, and the Winter Wren measures no more, only he is chunkier. But what of that? This Kinglet is as hardy and vigorous as the biggest Hawk or Owl. His body is padded with a thick feather overcoat that enables him to stay all winter, if he chooses, in all but the most northern States.
"Small as he is, however, every one knows him, for he disports himself at some time of the year in the North, South, East, and West. If you see a tiny bird, darting quick as a mouse in and out among the budded twigs of fruit trees in early spring, now and then showing a black stripe and a little gleam of red or yellow on its head, it is this Kinglet. If you see such a pygmy again in autumn, exploring the bare twigs, it is this Kinglet. When light snow is first powdering the spruces and bending the delicate hemlock branches, dusky shapes flit out of the green cover. Are they dry leaves blown about by the gust? No, leaves do not climb about in the face of the wind, or pry and peep into every cone crevice, crying 'twe-zee, twe-zee, twe-zee!' They are not leaves, but a flock of Kinglets forcing the bark crevices to yield them a breakfast of the insects which had put themselves comfortably to bed for the winter. Think of the work that these birds do, who not only fight the insect army in summer, but in sleet and snow are as busy as ever destroying the eggs that would turn in another season to worms and eat the orchards!
"Though the Golden-crowned Kinglets rove about in flocks a great part of the year, they are extremely private in the nesting season. They go to northern and high places to hide their homes, putting them as far out of reach as does the Baltimore Oriole. This nest is made of moss and seems very large when compared with the size of the builder. It is partly hung from the concealing bough of an evergreen, sometimes quite near the ground, sometimes swinging far up out of sight." "Does this Kinglet lay two little white eggs, like the Hummingbird?" asked Nat.
"No," said the Doctor, "this sturdy bird lays eight or ten white eggs with brown spots."
"Ten eggs!" cried Dodo. "How can it sit on them all at once and keep them warm enough to hatch?"
"Perhaps the birds stir the eggs up every day to give them all an even chance," said Rap.
"It is possible that they may," said the Doctor; "but that is one of many things about home life in Birdland that we do not know.
"There is one thing more that I must tell you here, lest you make a mistake about the Golden-crowned Kinglet. He has a twin brother, so much like himself that their own parents can hardly tell them apart without looking at the tops of their heads. The other twin's name is Ruby-crown, for he has a beautiful little crest of that color, half hidden in dark greenish; but not any of the black and yellow marks on the head that will always enable you to recognize the Golden-crown, if you can get a chance to see them while the little fellow is fidgeting about. It is a snug family that contains these two birdlets, for there is only one other member of it in all this part of the world, and you will not be likely to see him about Orchard Farm."
The Golden-crowned Kinglet
Length four inches.
Upper parts olive-green, browner on the wings and tail, which have some yellowish edgings.
A bright-red stripe on the crown, bordered by a yellow and then by a black line; but young birds and females have only the yellow and black stripes, without any red.
Under parts soiled white, without any marks.
A Citizen of the United States, and a Tree Trapper.
THE WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH
"'Yank! yank!' says the White-breasted Nuthatch, as he runs up tree-trunks and comes down again head foremost, quite as a matter of course.
"At first, or from a distance, you may mistake him for his cousin the Chickadee, who wears clothes of much the same color and is seen in the same places; or perhaps for the little Downy Woodpecker, who also hammers his insect food out of the tree bark.
"But at a second glance you will find the Nuthatch is very different. He keeps his body very close to the tree and uses his feet to creep about like a mouse or chipmunk; he also goes upside down, in a way that Woodpeckers never do, clings to the under side of a branch as easily as a fly to the ceiling, and often roosts or takes a nap head downward on the side of a tree-trunk—a position that would seem likely to give him a severe headache, if birds ever have such things."
"This is the bird I saw the first day I went to the orchard with Olive; but why is he called a Nuthatch?" asked Nat.
"Because, besides liking to eat insects and their grubs or their eggs, he is also very fond of some kinds of nuts, like beech and chestnuts," said the Doctor, "and he may be obliged to live entirely upon them in winter, when insects fail him. Having no teeth to gnaw and crack them open as squirrels do, he takes a nut in his claws and either holding it thus, or jamming it tight into a crack in the bark, then uses his bill for a hatchet to split or hack the nut open. I have seen the bird crack hard nuts in this way, that it would take very strong teeth to break. People used to call him 'Nuthack' or 'Nuthacker'; these words mean exactly the same thing, but we always say 'Nuthatch' now."
"Then there are Nuthatches up in the hickory woods," said Rap, "but I never knew their real name until now; for the miller calls them 'white-bellied creepers.' Last summer I found one of their nests, when I wasn't looking for it either."
"Do they build here?" asked Olive. "I thought they only visited us in winter. I don't remember ever hearing one sing, or seeing one in late spring or summer."
"They live and nest everywhere in the eastern part of the country," said the Doctor; "but they are very silent and shy except in the autumn and winter. In fact, this Nuthatch keeps his nest a secret from everybody but his wife and the Dryad of the tree in which he places it; he will not even trust the little branches with his precious home, but makes it in the wood of the tree itself. You say, Rap, that you found one of these nests—won't you tell us about it?"
"It was this way," said Rap. "I was up in a hickory tree trying to look over into a Woodpecker's hole that was in another tree, when I stepped on a stumpy branch that was rotten and partly broke off; and there, inside, was a soft nest made of feathers, with, four very little birds in it. I was afraid they would fall out, but there was enough of the branch left to hold them in. While I was wondering what sort of birds they were, the father and mother came running along a branch above, and gave me a terrible scolding, so pretty soon I slid down and left them. How they did squeak!" and Rap laughed at the remembrance of it.
"They have not very musical voices at best," said the Doctor; "even their spring song is a rather husky performance."
"Isn't that a Nuthatch now?" asked Nat. "There—hanging to the end tassel of the big spruce; and a lot more above—do come and look, Olive."
"No, Nattie, they are the Chickadees that father said, a moment ago, you might mistake for Nuthatches."
"Chickadee-dee-dee!" said a bird, looking at the children with one eye.
The White-breasted Nuthatch
Length about six inches.
Upper parts grayish-blue.
Top of head and back of neck black.
Some black and white marks on wings and tail.
Sides of face and whole breast white, turning rusty on belly.
Bill strong, straight, sharp-pointed, two-thirds of an inch long.
A Citizen of the eastern United States and Canada.
A Tree Trapper.
"I see them, I see them, lots of them!" almost screamed Dodo, growing so excited that Nat and Olive each grabbed one of her hands to keep her from clapping them, and so driving the Chickadees away.
"I never saw a strange new bird so near by," explained Dodo, "and if my eye was only a photograph machine I could take his picture."
"You can make a word-picture instead, by telling us how the bird appears to you," said the Doctor in a low voice, "but you need not whisper, for whispering is an unnatural use of the voice; it makes birds and other people suspicious, and is more likely to attract attention than a quiet low tone."
"That is what mother said when she was sick last winter and the neighbors came in to sit with her. If they talked softly she stayed asleep and didn't mind, but if they whispered she said she dreamed that the room was full of geese hissing and always waked up frightened," said Nat.
The Chickadees did not mind the conversation in the least, but kept on flitting in and out of the spruces, swinging from the little pink buds that would grow into cones by and by, doing a dozen pretty tricks, and all the time calling "chickadee-dee-dee" as if they were repeating a joke among themselves.
"They mean we shall know their name, anyway," said Nat. "Have they any other song?"
"Oh, yes, some nice little whistle-tunes like this—'whee-ewee, whee-ewee,'" said Rap, "and if you whistle back they'll answer. I've done it lots of times."
"Try now—do, Rap, and see if they will answer," begged Dodo.
"It's too open out here, but I will go back of the trees and perhaps they will answer. I heard one whistling in there a minute ago."
The children listened, and presently "whee-ewee, whee-ewee," came two high notes from among the trees. They were answered by two others, very musical, but a little bit sad. So the duet went on, boy and bird, until Dodo and Nat lost count and could not tell which was which. Then the music stopped and Rap returned laughing, saying that when the Chickadee found out it was not another bird that he was calling to, he was vexed and flew away.
"Some Chickadees lived around our house all last winter," continued Rap, "and used to eat out of the chickens' dish. I watched them every day but one that was terribly windy, and then they stayed under the miller's cow-shed. Even strong winter birds don't like the wind much—do they, Doctor?"
"No, my lad, wind is one of the greatest enemies that a bird has. A hardy bird who has plenty to eat can endure bitter cold, but when the food-supply is scanty, as it often is in winter, and the trees are covered with snow and ice, life is a battle with the Bird People. Then if a high wind is added to all this discomfort their strength gives way, and they often die in great numbers.
"If people who own gardens and farms, where there are no evergreen trees or hayricks for birds to hide in, would put up each fall little shelters of brush and branches, they would save a great many bird-lives, and their orchards would be freer from insects in the spring. But, Dodo, you are not painting the word-picture of the Chickadee. Haven't you watched them long enough to think it out?"
"Y-e-s, I believe I have," said Dodo slowly. "I see a dear little bird about as big as a Chippy Sparrow, only fatter, and he is nice soft gray on top, about the color of my chinchilla muff. He has a black cap on his head, that comes down behind where his ears ought to be, fastened with a wide black strap across his throat, and his face is a very clean white, and his breast, too. That is, it is white in the middle, but the sides and below are a warmer color—sort of rusty white. And that's all, except that he's as fidgety as ever he can be," ended Dodo, quite out of breath with her haste to tell all she could before the bird flew away.
"Do you think you will remember the Chickadee, while he is in the deep woods nesting this summer, so that you will know him again in the autumn?"
Dodo and Nat said they were quite sure they would, but Rap said: "I've known him ever so long, only the miller called him a 'black-capped titmouse.' Isn't he a relation of the Nuthatch, Doctor?"
"Yes, a second cousin, and Black-capped Titmouse is one of his right names. They used to belong to the very same family, but they had a little falling out, and are not now so intimate as they were before each went his own way, and acquired some different habits."
"I thought they were alike in a good many things," said Rap, "and their nests are something alike, too."
Length about five inches.
Upper parts ashy gray.
Head, back of neck, and throat, shining black.
Cheeks pure white.
Middle of breast white; sides and belly buffy.
A Citizen of the eastern United States.
A Tree Trapper.
THE BROWN CREEPER
"Another bird that, like the Nuthatch, spends his days peeping into the cracks of tree bark in search of food. He is not a relation of the Nuthatch, but a lonely bird and the only one of his family in this part of the world.
"He does not advertise his whereabouts as freely as do the Woodpeckers and other tree-trunk birds, so you will have to keep a sharp lookout to find him. In the first place he is nearly the same color as the brown and gray bark upon which he creeps, the white under parts being quite hidden, and his call, which is the only note that is commonly heard, is only a little sharp squeaky 'screek, screek,' given as he winds his way up and around a tree-trunk, in the same way as a person would go up a circular staircase.
"You may catch sight of a brown object moving as swiftly as a mouse, and before you have made up your mind what it is he will have gone round the other side of the tree. But the Creeper has one habit that will some day give you a good chance to look at him. When he wishes to remain still a moment, he spreads his tail with its stiff pointed feathers and props himself by it against the tree. This is your opportunity."
"Does the Creeper stay here all summer?" asked Nat. "And doesn't he sing a song like the other birds when he makes his nest?"
"He is not a Citizen hereabouts; he likes a cooler climate and makes his home near and across the northern border of the United States. We shall see him in the autumn, when he has become a wanderer through the country. If the trees are not coated with ice, a little flock may stay here all winter, while others drift further south."
"Then we shan't hear him sing or see his nest—have you ever seen it, Uncle Roy?"
"Yes, my boy, and it was the beauty of his little song that made me stop one day, in going through an old pine wood, and search for the singer. The song was very strange and wild, unlike any other I had ever heard. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, I saw that my old friend, the Brown Creeper, was the musician. At the same time he flew to one of the pine trees and seemed to disappear inside of it. I watched awhile until the bird flew out, and, climbing to the spot, saw that the nest was squeezed in a sort of pocket between the loose bark and the tree itself. You see, like the Chickadee and Nuthatch, he loves trees so well that he tries to creep as close to their hearts as he possibly can."
"Would you call this Creeper mostly a winter bird?" asked Dodo. "I'm going to remember the winter birds by themselves and write them in my book, because there will be fewer of them."
"Yes," said the Doctor, "at least a winter bird in places where we mostly see him; but you know that every bird must be a summer bird somewhere."
The Brown Creeper
Length five and a half inches.
Upper parts mixed brown, white, and buff.
A plain brown tail, and a light-buff band on the wings.
Under parts white, without any marks.
Bill very sharp and slender, curved like a surgeon's needle.
A Summer Citizen of northern North America.
A Tree Trapper.
MOCKERS AND SCOLDERS
THE SAGE THRASHER
"I thought that more tree-trunk birds, such as Woodpeckers, would come next," said Rap.
"We are still taking the Birds that Sing," said the Doctor. "Woodpeckers have no real song; they belong to the Birds that Croak and Call; but the Nuthatch, Chickadee, and Brown Creeper each has a little tune of its own, as you have heard."
"Of course—I don't see why I said that, for I know Woodpeckers only hammer and croak," said Rap.
"The family of Mockers, Thrashers, and Wrens is one of the most interesting that we shall meet in our Birdland excursions, for all its members are bright intelligent birds and great talkers. They have something to say for themselves and say it so cleverly that we do not care if their feathers are of sober grays and browns. This family should be very proud of itself, but it does not show any false pride or exclusiveness; its different members are as sociable and friendly as possible, building their nests in bushes not far from the ground, and taking every occasion to chat confidentially with House People. Some of these friendly birds are the Sage Thrasher, the Mockingbird, the Catbird, the Brown Thrasher, the Rock Wren, the House Wren, and the Long-billed Marsh Wren, the last being the only really shy bird among the seven I am going to tell you about."
"Do Wrens and Mockingbirds belong to the same family?" asked Nat. "One so little and one so big! Mother had a Mockingbird in a cage once, but it got out and flew away to live in the park, she thought."
"They are cousins and belong to the same large family, though to different households, like House People.
"The Sage Thrasher belongs only to the West, just as its relative the Brown Thrasher belongs to the eastern part of the country. When your Cousin Olive and I lived one summer here and there, from Colorado westward, it was this bird that made us feel at home by its sweet sociable music.
"Everywhere in that mountainous region the sagebrush, with its blue flower spikes, spreads over the ground, making a silvery greenness where other plants could not grow. In and out of the sage, nests and scratches and hops this Thrasher, taking its name from the plant. He also ventures up on the mountain sides, giving his inquisitive, questioning, mocking notes, and so earns a second name in those places, where he is called the Mountain Mockingbird.
"Though he is a good deal smaller than the true Mockingbird of the South, they have many points in common. They can both imitate almost any sound that strikes their fancy, such as the songs of other birds, whistle various tunes of their own, and almost mock the peculiarities of human speech. Not that they all do it—oh, no, many have only their own beautiful natural song; every Mockingbird has not the power of imitation, but certain members of the tribe acquire a knack of mockery of which they seem quite conscious.
"The Sage Thrasher, though gentle and sociable in its wild state, does not thrive in cages as well as the true Mocker. It seems to miss the broad expanse of plain and mountain to which it has been used, and seldom lives long in confinement.
"Read what you have written about the size and color of this Thrasher," said the Doctor to Rap.
The Sage Thrasher
Length eight inches.
Upper parts gray, tinged with brown.
Under parts white shaded to buff, and spotted thickly on the breast with very dark brown, almost black.
Two white bands on each wing, and white spots on the end of the tail.
A Summer Citizen of the western United States.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower. THE MOCKINGBIRD
"Mammy Bun knows about Mockingbirds," said Dodo. "She says the bushes were full of them down in Louisiana where she was born, and that sometimes they used to sit on the top of the cabins and sing so loud at night, when the moon shone, that the children couldn't go to sleep, and they had to throw sticks and things at them."
"Did the children throw sticks at the birds, or the birds pelt the children?" laughed the Doctor—for poor Dodo was famous for mixing up her sentences.
"No, no, Uncle Roy, neither; the children's mothers threw the sticks at the Mockers."
"What else did Mammy Bun tell you?"
"Lots and lots of things, and a song, too, that her people used to sing about the Mockers, only I can't tell it as she does because you know she has a sort of language all her own."
"Suppose we ask mammy to come and tell us about the Mockingbirds herself," said Olive, "May we, father?"
"Certainly, if you can coax her."
The children followed Olive to the house and soon returned leading mammy, who was chuckling and out of breath, but evidently very much pleased to be asked. She could not be persuaded to try the apple-tree perch, so they made her a sort of throne at the foot of the tree and sat respectfully in a row in front of her. Mammy wore a dark-blue print dress with white figures on it, but as she was one of the good old sort, she had a plaid handkerchief tied turban fashion round her head. As she talked she rolled her eyes and waved her hands a good deal, and her words had a soft comfortable sound like molasses pouring out of a big stone jug.
"Does I know de mockin'bird, I reck'n so—'bout de fust t'ing I did know, 'cept how ter suck sugar-cane. Sugar-cane am good eatin' long in de 'arly fall, but de Mocker ain't doin' much singin' dese yer times, least not 'less he's in a cage in a good sunshiny place. He am a kind ob a peart gray bird, darker in some places, lighter in oders, and clean as a parson. But come 'long spring and time for droppin' de cottin seed, de Mocker he know mighty well what's a-doin'. 'Long in March he comes inter de bushes and orange scrub round de field a-makin' a fuss and tellin' folks to git along to work, or dere won't be no cottin, and he keep it straight up all de day long till cottin's out o' bloom. All de day long kind o' chatterin' and hurryin' de niggers up when dere a-droppin' de seed in de line, and scoldin' and hurryin' all de day long, when dere a-hoein' down de weeds. Den when it come night, de she-bird keep close onter de nest, and de he-bird go in de scrub or de redwoods or de gin'gos, nigh de clarin', maybe right on de cabin roof, and he say to hisself—'Now dem niggers done dere work, I'll gib 'em a tune ter courage 'em like.' Den he jes' let hisself onter his singin'. Sometime he sing brave and bold, like he say big words like missis and de folks dat lib in de big house. Den he whisper soft an' low widout any words, jes' like a mammy was a-singin' to her baby. Den agin he sing kin' o' long and soft and wheedlesome, like Sambo when he come a-courtin' o' me. Sho, now! come to t'ink o' Sambo, he didn't nebber like Mockers, a'ter one time he 'spicioned a Mocker tole tales on him. Massa Branscome—he were a mighty fine man and your gran'dad, Miss Olive—he say he wouldn't have no puss'n to rob de nests o' Mockers, not anywheres on his 'states. Dey did eat a pile o' fruit, but dat was nuffin'. Fus' place he jes' loved ter hear 'em sing, an' den he 'lowed dat dey was powerful fond o' cottin worms, what was mighty bad some years.
"Now lots o' coon darkies dey uster steal de youn' Mockers jes' afore dey lef' de nest and sell 'em to white trash dat ud tote 'em down the ribber an' sell 'em agin in N'Orleans, to be fetched off in ships. And I'se hear tell dat dere ain't any sech birds in oder countries, and dat de kings and queens jes' gib dere gold crowns offen dere heads t' have a cage o' Mockers.
"Dem coons nebber got no gold crowns, howsumever. What dey got was mos'ly a quarter foh free he-birds. Now Sambo he was a-courtin' an' wanted a banjo powerful bad, an' he didn't want no common truck, so he 'lowed to get one up from N'Orleans. So he 'greed to pay for it in Mockers, an' he to'ht he know'd where he'd get 'em foh sure. Mockers don' nes' in de woods and wild places, dey allus keeps roun' de plantations near where folks libs.
"He know'd he war doin' wrong and he felt mighty uncomfoh'ble; but he done took de youn' Mockers on our plantation right under massa's nose. He war crafty like and on'y took one outen each nes' and at night de ole birds never miss 'em. When he got de banjo 'bout paid foh, dat time he took a whole nes'ful to onc't an' de birds what it b'longed to saw what he war a-doin' an' gib him a piece o' dere mind, an' folled him 'round all day an' sat on de roof ob his quarters an' talked all night, 'an tole him to bring back dem Mockers or dey'd tell; an' Sambo war skeered an' wanted to put de birds back an' den he didn't like to. Nex' day, he 'lowed de he-Mocker wen' to de big house, an' tole massa 'bout it, an' he an' Miss Jessamine—dat was your ma—dey come down to de quarters an' tole Sambo he done took Mockers an' ask him what had he done wid all on 'em. An' he mos' turn' white an' he say, 'I sol' 'em down de ribber'; an' massa say, 'I'se a great mind to sell you down de ribber, too'—but he nebber sol' nuffin'—gib us all our freedom. Now, no nigger want' to be sol' down de ribber, an' Sambo say, 'Oh, Miss Jessamine, dere's f'ree I didn' sell, an' I'll gib 'em back to dat he-bird, an' ax his pardin.' Massa he laff and say, 'If dat he-bird will 'scuse you, I will.' So Sambo put 'em back an' de he-bird act' s'if he know'd an' talk' a lot o' good advice to Sambo, but I'se shore 't war anoder nigger w'at tole on Sam.