"Dey uster have a song 'bout de Mockers roun' de cabins, an' a dance went wid it, 'cause it was a berry long song; but aftah dat Sambo done change it some when he uster sing it."
Mammy then chanted a verse, keeping time by beating her hands on her knees.
"De sugar-cane hits pushin' in de bottoms, De rice hits a-sproutin' now fo' shore! De cotton hits a-greenin' in de furrer, An' honey I'se a-waitin' at de door!
"Did I tole you dat I know'd whar dere's a possum? Did I tole you dat I know'd whar dere's a coon? Oh, mah lady, come out soon! Oh, mah honey, come out soon! While de Mocker, while de Mocker Am a-singin' to de moon!"
Suddenly mammy jumped up, and waving the children off, started for the house as fast as she could trot, muttering to herself.
"What is the matter?" called Olive; "has a bee stung you?"
"No, nope chile, but t'inkin' 'bout dem times I done forgit I lef' a big pan o' buns a-risin' foh yoh lunch. Like's not dey's rised till dey's bust an' popped over!" And mammy disappeared amid a chorus of laughter.
"What mammy has said about the Mockingbird in his summer home is true. As a visitor who sometimes stays and builds, he strays east and north as far as Massachusetts, and westward to Colorado and California. If he were not a hardy bird who sometimes raises three broods a year, I'm afraid the race would come to an end, because so many nestlings are taken each year and sold for cage birds."
Length about ten inches.
Upper parts gray, but dusky-brownish on the wings, which have a large white spot. Three white feathers on each side of the tail, which is blackish. The males, who sing, have more white on the wings and tail than the females, who are songless.
Under parts whitish.
Sings his own true song, a rapid, sweet melody, heard best after twilight; but has many comic songs of whatever nonsense comes into his head.
A Citizen of the southern United States, often straying northward to New England.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
When the Doctor said "Catbird" the children began to imitate the various calls this famous garden bird utters, for by this time they were familiar with all his tricks and manners. Some of the imitations were very good indeed, if not musical. "Miou! Zeay! Zeay!"
"That is all very well in its way," said the Doctor, "but which one of you can imitate his song?"
"I've often tried," said Rap, "but somehow he always gets ahead of me, and I lose the place."
"Listen! There is one singing now in the grape arbor, and he has a nest somewhere in the syringa bushes," said Olive.
The Catbird was not alarmed when he saw that five pairs of eyes were turned upon him. He seemed to know that the secret of his nest was in safe keeping, flew out to the pointed top of a clothes-pole, and continued his song, jerking his tail up and down and showing the rusty feathers beneath, as if this motion had something to do with the force of his music. "I can hear the words as plain as anything," said Nat; "if I only understood his language!"
"That is the difficulty," said the Doctor; "if some kind bird would write a dictionary for us we should soon learn a great many strange things."
"Roger, the gardener, says that Catbirds are bad things and if he had his way he would shoot them. He says they bite the strawberries and grapes and things, even when he is looking at them," said Dodo.
"There is some truth in what Roger says," replied the Doctor, "but on the other hand, the Catbird, besides being a merry garden neighbor and musician, which in itself is enough to pay his rent, belongs as a citizen to the Tree Trappers and Ground Gleaners, and is also a great sower of wild fruits. Though he does provoke us at times by taking a bite from the largest berries in the bed, yet he really prefers wild fruits if he can find them. So it is better for us to protect our grape arbors and strawberry beds with nets and bits of bright tin strung on twine to frighten him away from them, than to lose him as a friend and insect destroyer.
"Surely his song is worth a few handfuls of cherries. Then he is such a quick-witted, sympathetic bird, always willing to help his neighbors when they have trouble with Crows or squirrels. And when half a dozen pairs of Catbirds choose the garden for their home, you may be sure that they will furnish fun as well as music."
"Why does he jerk his tail so?" asked Dodo.
"It is a trick that all the family have," said the Doctor, "from which some of them are supposed to have taken the name of Thrasher, but that is doubtful. The Mockingbird thrashes about in his cage; the Brown Thrasher on the ground under the bushes; the House Wren does the same, and the tiny Winter Wren gives his tail a jerk instead, for it is not long enough to really thrash."
"There is a bright-brown bird beating with his tail, down under the quince bushes now," said Dodo. "Is that some kind of a cousin?"
"It's a Song Thrush," said Rap.
"Or rather what the Wise Men call a Brown Thrasher," said the Doctor; "the very bird of which I was speaking."
"Who are the Wise Men?" asked Rap.
"A society of House People who study American birds and decide by what name it is best to call each species, so that each may be known everywhere by the same name. This Brown Thrasher is sometimes called Song Thrush, Brown Thrush, Brown Mockingbird, and Mavis—though the first and the last of these four names belong only to a kind of European Thrush that is never found in this country. You see how confusing this is, and how much better it is for the Wise Men, who know him intimately, to give him one name you can be sure is right."
Length between eight and nine inches.
Upper parts slate color.
Crown, bill, feet, and tail black.
Under parts lighter grayish-slate color, except a chestnut-red patch under the tail.
A Summer Citizen of the United States.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Seed Sower.
THE BROWN THRASHER
"As I told you a moment ago, this handsome clean-built bird with keen eyes, curved bill, and long graceful tail that opens and shuts like a fan, has several names besides that of Brown Thrasher, which seems the most suitable for him."
"He looks redder than brown, for we called the Wood Thrush 'brown,'" said Nat.
"Yes, his back is a much brighter brown than that of any Thrush, and this will show you the need in studying birds of being able to distinguish between several shades of the same color. There are words to represent these different grades of color, such as 'rufous' for reddish-brown and 'fuscous' for dusky-brown; these you must learn later on, for some of them are pretty hard ones. Now it is better for you to use words whose meaning is perfectly familiar to you.
"The brown of this Thrasher, you see, is brighter than that of the Wood Thrush; it is a ruddy brown, with a faint brassy glint, something like a polished doorknob, particularly when the sun strikes his back."
"How he scratches round upon the ground," said Dodo; "just like a hen. Why doesn't he belong to the Birds that Scratch?"
"Because, for one reason, his feet have the three toes in front and the one behind, all on the same level; this makes him a perching bird."
"Don't all birds sit on a perch when they go to sleep?" asked Dodo.
"By no means. The perching birds grasp a twig firmly with their very limber toes and sharp claws, and put their head under their wing; but many others, like tame Geese and Ducks, sleep standing on the ground on one foot or sometimes floating on the water.
"The Thrasher is a Ground Gleaner, who spends most of his time in the underbrush, having a great appetite for the wicked May beetle; but he does not live near the ground only, mounting high in a tree when he wishes to sing, as if he needed the pure high air in order to breathe well, and he never sings from the heart of a thick bush, as the Catbird does so frequently.
"But I am wrong in saying that he only goes up into trees to sing, for there is no denying that he visits cherry trees to pick cherries, in spite of the fact that he is neither invited nor welcome. Yet we must remember that if he does like fruit for dessert he has also first eaten caterpillar-soup and beetle-stew, and so has certainly earned some cherries."
"Hush!" whispered Olive; "our Thrasher is singing now in the birch tree, where you can both see and hear him."
"That's a sure sign his nest is not very near," said Rap; "for they never sing close by their nests." This Thrasher was clinging to the end of a slender branch, one claw above the other, so that his head, which was thrown back, looked straight up to the sky. He seemed to be half talking and half singing, as if giving directions to some unseen performer, then following these by two or three clear notes.
"What is he saying?" said Dodo.
"He is telling you who he is, and what he sees from the tree-top," said the Doctor. "Olive, dear, I am going to repeat to the children the jingle you made about the Thrasher." Though Olive then blushed and said it was only nonsense, the children were delighted with it.
"My creamy breast is speckled (Perhaps you'd call it freckled) Black and brown.
"My pliant russet tail Beats like a frantic flail, Up and down.
"In the top branch of a tree You may chance to glance at me, When I sing.
"But I'm very, very shy, When I silently float by, On the wing.
"Whew there! Hi there! Such a clatter! What's the matter—what's the matter? Really, really?
"Digging, delving, raking, sowing, Corn is sprouting, corn is growing! Plant it, plant it! Gather it, gather it! Thresh it, thresh it! Hide it, hide it, do! (I see it—and you.) Oh!—I'm that famous scratcher, H-a-r-p-o-r-h-y-n-c-h-u-s r-u-f-u-s—Thrasher— Cloaked in brown."
The Brown Thrasher
Length eleven inches.
Above bright reddish-brown, with two light bands on each wing.
Beneath yellowish-white, spotted with very dark brown on the breast and the sides.
Very long tail—about five inches—fan-shaped.
A Summer Citizen of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
A famous Ground Gleaner and Seed Sower.
THE ROCK WREN
When the children had finished applauding Olive's poetry—or was it really the Thrasher's own performance?—the Doctor went on:
"We have seen that the West has one sort of a Thrasher in the sage-brush, and the East another, in our own gardens. I also told you that these birds were a kind of overgrown Wren; and before we call upon Mrs. Jenny Wren, I want to tell you about a bigger relative of hers that Olive and I knew when we were in the Rocky Mountains. He is called the Rock Wren—"
"Oh! I know—because he lives in the Rocky Mountains," said Dodo, clapping her hands at this discovery.
"Yes, that is partly the reason," resumed the Doctor, after this interruption, "but those mountains are very many, and varied in appearance, like most others: covered in most places with pine trees, but including in their recesses grassy meadows and silvery lakes. Some parts of those mountains are the home of the Rock Wren, but the little fellow is quite as well satisfied anywhere else in the western parts of the United States, if he can find heaps of stones to play hide-and-seek in with his mate, or great smooth boulders to skip up to the top of and sing. So you see the mountains and the Wrens are both named for the rocks.
"Do these Wrens look like our kind and act that way?" asked Nat. "Ours always make me think of mice."
"All kinds of Wrens are much alike," answered the Doctor. "They are small brownish birds with cocked up tails, not at all shy about showing themselves off, when they choose, but they must have some hiding-place to duck into the moment anything frightens them, and some odd, out-of-the-way nook or cranny for their big rubbishy nests. Some prefer to hide in marshes among the thickest reeds, some live in dry brush heaps, and some, like the Rock Wren, choose piles of stones. Their wings are not very strong, and they seldom venture far from their favorite retreats, except when they are migrating.
"When your cousin Olive and I were in Colorado we climbed a mountain one day above the timber-line"—
"Do all the trees out there grow in straight lines?" asked Dodo anxiously.
"No, my dear little girl, trees don't grow in straight lines anywhere," said the Doctor, laughing—"except when they are planted so. The 'timber-line' of a mountain is the edge of the woods, above which no trees grow, and we see nothing but bare rocks, and the few low plants that cling to the cracks among them. Well, we had hardly rested long enough to get our breath after such a climb, when we heard a rich ringing song, something like a House Wren's, but louder and stronger, and very quick, as if the bird were in a great hurry to get through. But he wasn't, for he kept saying the same thing over and over again. Presently we spied him, on the tiptop of a pile of stones, standing quite still, with his head thrown back and his bill pointing straight up. He looked gray, dusted over with pepper-and-salt dots on the back, and his bill was very straight and sharp—almost an inch long, it looked. This was a Rock Wren."
"He must have had a nest somewhere in those rocks," said Rap. "Wrens most always have nests near where they sing."
"No doubt he had, as it was the nesting season—June," answered the Doctor; "but it was growing late in the day, we had a long scramble down the mountain before us, and could not wait to hunt for it. Most likely, too, if we had found the very place where it was, we should not have been able to see it, for probably it was tucked away too far in a crooked passage under a shelving rock.
"When we were half-way down the mountain we passed a miner's cabin. He was at home, and we sat down on a bench by the door to rest. Thinking he might know about the nest of the Rock Wren,—for an old miner knows a great many things he never thinks of making a book about,—I asked him if there were any Wrens around there.
"'Wall, I should smile, stranger! Lots on 'em—more'n one kind, too—but mostly not the reg'lar kind they have where you tenderfoots live—bigger, and pickeder in front, and make more fuss. When they fust come, 'long about May, or nigh onter June, they act kinder shy like, but they get uster to yer, soon's they find nobody ain't goin' to bother with 'em, and stay around altogether, mostly in the rocks. Last y'ar there was two on 'em come nigh chinking up this shebang with trash they hauled in for a nest, afore they got it fixed to suit 'em, and had it chuck full o' speckled eggs. Then one of these yere blamed pack-rats tore it all up, and they had to start in to hauling more trash.'
"So you see, children, this miner knew a Rock Wren—do you know a Jenny Wren?"
The Rock Wren
Length nearly six inches.
Back gray, with fine black-and-white dots.
Under parts no particular color.
Some of the tail-feathers with black bars and cinnamon-brown tips.
A Citizen of the United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
A Ground Gleaner
THE HOUSE WREN
"We all know Jenny Wren!" cried the children. "The Farm is full of Jennies and Johnnies!"
"They build in bird-boxes," said Dodo.
"And in old tin cans, and water pots, and anything they find," said Rap.
"And Jenny does most of the work; if the can is very large she fills it full of sticks until there is only a cosy little corner left for the nest, for she is a very neat bird," said the Doctor, when he could be heard. "She keeps her house nice and clean, and is very industrious too, making a fresh nest for every new brood, which means a great deal of work, for Wrens often raise three families a season."
"But Johnny Wren works too, doesn't he?" asked Nat; "he is always taking home bugs and things, and he sings as if he would split."
"Wrens live in woodpiles in winter," said Rap.
The Doctor laughed heartily at the hurry with which the children told their knowledge.
"Everybody has a bowing acquaintance with the House Wren," he said, "for they are seen everywhere through the United States, those that are citizens of the West being a trifle paler in color and more sharply barred than their easterly brothers, but all having the same habits; even the Rock Wren is as jolly and sociable as his house-loving cousins.
"But the Wren that Rap says lives in the woodpile in the winter is not our House Wren, but another member of the same family—the smallest of all, called the Winter Wren.
"He is a citizen of the far North, whence he follows the mountains down to Carolina, and he is chiefly seen when he visits the Eastern States in the winter—hence his name. But few who see him then have heard his ripple-song—one of the sweetest bits of our bird music."
"Hear Johnny Wren singing on the trellis, and his wife scolding at him all the time, too. I wonder why she does it?" said Nat.
"She is only making believe scold," said the Doctor, "because she has a quick temper and wants to say something, and cannot exactly sing. Johnny and Jenny make a great fuss, but they are really very fond of each other and make the very best of citizens, eating no fruits and being officers in the guilds of Ground Gleaners and Tree Trappers."
"Look!" said Dodo, "Jenny is scolding and dancing about, and Johnny is singing away again. What is the matter with them, Uncle Roy?"
"Did you never hear the 'Wrens' duet'? That is what they are singing now. Listen, and I will tell you what they say in House Peoples language:
"Johnny (keeping time with his wings): I'm jolly Johnny Wren, The busiest of men; For I sing and I clean house, too. Though wife is such a bustler, 'Tis I that am the hustler, For I work when there's nothing to do!
"And I don't care to talk, And I daren't take a walk, For Jenny's such a jealous, j-e-a-l-o-u-s She!
"Jenny (keeping time with her head): I'm thrifty Jenny Wren. The foolish, lazy men Think they work if they sing all day. If husband is a martyr, I'm a great deal, great deal smarter, For I talk when I've nothing to say!
"And though I mind my work, I also prink and perk, For Johnny's such a f-a-s-cin-a-ting He!
"Both (beating time with all four wings): (She) Though you don't care to talk— (He) We might both take a walk— (Both) For we are such a captivating WE! Exeunt, dancing on tiptoe along the trellis."
The House Wren
Length five inches.
Upper parts dark brown finely barred with black.
Under parts gray, washed with brown and very faintly banded.
Tail rather long (for a Wren's), full of light and dark bars, mostly held cocked up.
A fidgety little bird with a very merry song.
A Summer Citizen east of Indiana, and a Citizen south from the middle districts.
A Ground Gleaner and Tree Trapper.
THE LONG-BILLED MARSH WREN
"You must always wear your rubber boots when you go to look for the Marsh Wren," said the Doctor; "and you must be careful where you step, for this Wren knows where to put his nest safely out of the way of both House People and cats. He chooses a bunch of reeds, or a bush that is surrounded either by water or the treacherous green grass of bogs, and there weaves an oblong or globular nest from coarse grass and leaves, with a little hole on one side for a door. This done, he goes to a short distance and appoints himself day watchman to his home. If a footstep touches the grass ever so lightly, he tells his mate of it and they flit off; and if any one thinks that by following the birds they will find the nest, they will be very much disappointed. Mr. and Mrs. Long-bill will lead them a will-o'-the-wisp dance; and when the House People are tired, bewildered, and very wet in the shoes, the clever birds will return home by a secret way, chuckling to themselves. You will know this little bird by his nervous Wren-like ways and jerking tail, even if you are not near enough to see his markings and long curving bill."
"But there are no marshy places near the Farm, so I'm afraid we shall never see him, except in the wonder room," said Nat.
"By and by when we go to the beach, where our river meets the sea, I will show you some nests. I speak of this Marsh Wren now so that you may remember it with the rest of this family of Mockers and Scolders."
The Long-billed Marsh Wren
Length about five inches.
Upper parts clear brown, with a long light line over the eye, and a patch of black-and-white streaks on the back; light and dark brown bars on tail and wings.
Under parts white, tinged with brown on the sides.
A long slender bill, with more of a curve than a House Wren's.
Song something like a House Wren's, but move bubbling and gurgling.
A Citizen of the eastern United States.
A Ground Gleaner.
"Now you may be introduced to a family of American birds, many of them brightly colored and none of them large, who have no cousins or relations in any other country. You must not expect them to come and peep in the window like the Catbird, or feed on the lawn like the Thrush and Robin; for they are birds of woodland and brushland. Yet the often come for a time in their journeys to gardens and orchards, for they are among the greatest travellers."
"Why do they travel so much, if they are only American birds?" asked Nat. "I shouldn't think they would have to go far if they always live in America."
"America is a very large country, my boy, and you must not forget it includes South as well as North America—the Western Hemisphere of the whole globe. Warblers are insect-eating Citizens and cannot live long on anything else. Now, as many of them nest far North, when the early frosts lock the country they must often make long journeys at short notice, until they find their insect food again."
"Why don't we see swarms and swarms of them flying by?" asked Dodo.
"You mean flocks," said Olive; "we only say 'swarms' when we mean bees or other insects." "They make their journeys mostly by night," continued the Doctor, "for darkness protects their bright colors from the cannibal birds and various other enemies. One day there will not be a single Warbler in the river woods, and the next the trees will be bright with them.
"Another reason that we do not commonly see these Warblers is, that the greatest number do not come from the South until the trees are in leaf, and they pass back again through the middle portions of the States before the trees are bare in autumn, so that they easily hide from us."
"Are there no bright-colored birds that live all winter where the trees are bare?" asked Rap.
"Yes, three—the Cardinal, the Crossbill, and the Pine Grosbeak. They are seed-eating birds, and all belong to the Sparrow family. Most of the very showy birds belong to tropical countries, where the trees are always in leaf and there are quantities of orchids and other conspicuous flowers to attract the eye from the birds themselves.
"This habit of travelling by night has caused a great many of these beautiful Warblers to lose their lives, for they often fly against telegraph wires, high steeples, and lighthouse towers, and are killed. Another danger also besets them—they may come from the South with a bit of early mild weather, and nearing the Great Lakes meet a storm from the North, and the food-supply being very scanty, the icy winds overcome their strength.
"A friend of mine who lives in Wisconsin," continued the Doctor, "has a garden that slopes down to Geneva Lake. Late one April there came a windstorm from the northwest, and the next morning the lawn was strewn with the bodies of hundreds of little Warblers who had become confused in the darkness and unable to reach shelter.
"You see how many troubles and risks Citizen Bird has to endure at best, so that we House People should do everything we can to protect him and make his life among us happy.
"You will have more use for your eyes than your ears, in naming the Warblers. Their plumage is almost always striking, but their voices are rather lisping than musical, though they sing pretty little snatches in the woods; but many of their call-notes sound more like the squeaks and buzzings of insects and tree-toads than like the voices of birds, and it will take time and practice before you can distinguish them apart. I have chosen only half a dozen species to tell you of, from the half-hundred that rove about the United States. The first, and one that you are the most likely to see, is the Black-and-white Warbler."
THE BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER
"There are exceptions to everything," said the Doctor, as he pointed to an old willow tree on the edge of the river woods, where he had taken the children to look for Warblers. "And the exception among the shy Warblers of these woods is that sociable little black-and-white fellow over there, who is creeping and swinging about the branches as if he was own brother to the Brown Creeper himself. This Black-and-white Warbler hides his nest in an overturned stump, or on the ground, and you may try for days in vain, to find one. But at the same time he spends his time running merrily through the orchard trees, even whispering his husky 'weachy-weachy-twee-twee, tweet' to the old queen apple by the study window."
"Is that bird a Warbler?" asked Nat. "I thought he was some kind of a Nuthatch or a Woodpecker—he was with a whole lot of them up by the house last week."
"I used to think so too," said Rap; "but now I see a difference. The body and bill of the Nuthatch is stouter, and not such a pretty shape, and his bill almost turns up. This Warbler is thinner, with a slender bill that curves a little down, like the Brown Creeper's. Then too, he has smaller and finer stripes than any Woodpecker."
"What guild does he belong to?" asked Dodo.
"To the Tree Trappers; most of the Warblers belong to this, while some have joined the Sky Sweepers, and a few the Ground Gleaners and Seed Sowers."
"Look!" said Nat. "He has spent a long time on one twig and he doesn't seem to have cleaned off all the insects yet; he must have pretty good eyes."
"Yes, and more than that," said the Doctor, "his eyes magnify much more than ours do, so that all objects appear far larger to a bird than they do to us, and they can see insects that we never notice."
"I wonder if that little Warbler thinks spiders are crabs and flies chickens," said Dodo, so soberly that all the others laughed heartily.
The Black-and-white Warbler
Length five inches.
Upper parts striped everywhere with black and white.
Under parts white in the middle, with many black stripes on the sides.
Has a weak and wheezy voice.
From its habit of scrambling about tree-trunks and branches, it may be mistaken for a real Creeper, or a Nuthatch, or even a little Woodpecker.
A Summer Citizen of the United States, east of the plains; in winter from Florida southward.
A Tree Trapper.
THE YELLOW WARBLER
(Or SUMMER YELLOWBIRD)
"I know this Warbler by sight already," said Dodo; "there is one in the low case in the wonder room—the pretty bird sitting on a fuzzy nest; it looks like a Canary."
"You may think that he looks like a Canary at a little distance, but not when you are near by," said the Doctor. "The Canary has a short, thick, cone-shaped bill suited to cracking seeds, while the Yellow Warbler has the slender bill necessary for prying into small cracks and crannies for insects. This Warbler also has light rusty streaks on his yellow breast. Do you remember having ever seen, a Canary with such markings?"
Nat and Dodo thought for a moment, and then said they never had.
"It really may not be like a Canary," said Rap, "and it hasn't much of a song, but it has so many cute little ways that it seems like one. I know a boy who always says it's a wild Canary, but it can't be that, I see. A pair of these Warblers have a nest in one of the elder bushes by our fence, and they wouldn't mind a bit if we went to look at them. Would it be too far for you to come, sir?" he inquired timidly of the Doctor, evidently proud of having something to show.
"We shall be glad to see the nest, my boy. How is it that you have so many birds about your house?"
"I think it's partly for the same reason that you have birds here—for we don't keep cats either—and it's partly because we have four big old mulberry trees."
"What have mulberry trees to do with birds?" asked Nat, without stopping to think.
"Everything," said the Doctor. "The mulberry is one of the most attractive fruits to our familiar birds, and at least twenty-five species feed upon it greedily.
"Whoever plants a mulberry tree in his garden sends a public invitation through Birdland for its people to come and live with him. The invitation is always accepted, and the birds appreciate the kindness so much that when they find mulberries they leave the cherries and strawberries in that garden in peace. This should teach us to plant wild fruits and berries for the birds, who prefer them to garden fruits."
As the children turned from the road into Rap's garden they saw that it held a great many birds. The bushes and trees were all untrimmed, and the old house with its shingled sides and coast-backed roof was covered with a trumpet-creeper and some grape vines.
"What a lovely place for Hummingbirds!" cried Olive.
"And Martins," added the Doctor, pointing to a bird-box with ten or twelve divisions in it, that was fastened under the eaves.
"The Warbler's nest is here," said Rap, leading the way to a back fence and feeling very proud at the admiration his home was receiving.
The children tiptoed up and each took a peep into the cup-shaped nest. The little gold and olive mother, trusting Rap from past experience, gave a quick flip of her wings, and perched on a wild blackberry bush near by. The outside of the nest looked as if it were made of silvery-gray linen floss. There were some horsehairs woven in the lining, and here and there something that looked like sponge peeped out between the strands which held the nest firmly in the crotch of the elder stem.
"What is that soft stuff?" whispered Dodo.
"It is wool scraped from the stalks of young ferns," said the Doctor; "the soft brown wool that is wrapped round the leaves to keep them warm in their winter sleep until they stretch out of the ground and feel the warmth of the sun. The little Warblers gather it in their beaks and mat it into a sort of felt."
"There is something else in the nest-lining that looks like feathers," said Nat.
"That is dandelion down."
"Don't you think, Doctor, that this nest is very thick underneath?" asked Rap. "It is twice as high as the one they built here last summer."
The Doctor felt of the bottom of the nest very gently with one finger and said, "I thought so! You have sharp eyes, Rap; it is very thick, and for a good reason—it is a two-storied nest!"
"A two-storied nest! Are there such things?" clamored the children together.
"The mother-bird is worrying; come over under the mulberry tree and I will tell you about this wonderful nest.
"There are some very ill-mannered shiftless Citizens in Birdland, called Cowbirds," began the Doctor; "you will learn about them when we come to the family to which they belong. They build no nests, but have the habit of laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, just as the equally bad-behaved Cuckoos do in Europe. Some birds do not seem to know the difference between these strange eggs and their own, and so let them remain until they are hatched. Others are wise enough to know their own eggs, and chief among such sharp-eyed ones is this little Yellow Warbler.
"Coming home some morning after taking exercise for the good of her health, Mrs. Warbler finds a great white egg spotted with brown, crowded in among her own small pale blue eggs, that have their brown spots mostly arranged like a wreath around the larger end.
"Being disgusted and very angry to find her house invaded, she and her mate have a talk about the matter. Why they do not simply push the strange egg out, we do not know, but instead of that they often fly off for milkweed fibres and silk to make a new nest right on top of the first one, shutting the hateful egg out of sight underneath. Then they begin housekeeping anew, in a two-storied nest like this one, living in the upper story, and keeping the Cowbird's egg locked up in the basement, where no warmth from their bodies can reach it; and so it never hatches. If a second Cowbird's egg is laid, in the new upper story of the nest, the Warblers generally abandon their home in despair, and choose a new nesting place; but sometimes they build a third story over the other two, and thus defeat the evil designs of both their enemies without giving up their home.
"This nest of Rap's is a two-storied one, and when I touched the bottom I could feel that there was an egg in the lower story. By and by, when the birds have flown, we will take the nest apart and you can see for yourselves how ingeniously it is made."
"To think of all the ways birds have," said Rap; "going to such a heap of trouble for something they could fix with one good push."
"What happens when the Cowbird's egg stays in the nest and hatches out? Aren't the other little birds squeezed and uncomfortable?" asked Dodo.
"Yes, they are very uncomfortable indeed, and often starve to death; but you must wait to hear about that until we come to the Cowbird himself."
"What family does he train with?" asked Nat.
"With the Blackbirds and Orioles," said the Doctor.
Then the male Yellow Warbler flew out along a branch above their heads, gave his lisping song, that sounded like "sweet, sweet, sweet, sweeter," seized an insect, and went across the garden toward his nest.
"I'm going to watch that nest," said Rap, "and if a Cowbird lays in it any more I'll take the wicked old egg away."
"Sweet, sweet, sweet," called the Warbler from the bushes.
"Maybe he understood you," said Dodo. "I'd believe most anything about birds."
The Yellow Warbler
(Or SUMMER YELLOWBIRD)
Length about five inches.
Upper parts rich olive-yellow, brightest on the rump and crown, but dark brown on wings and tail, with the inside half of each tail-feather yellow, and some yellow edgings on the wing-feathers.
Under parts bright yellow, in the male streaked with rich brownish-red.
A Summer Citizen of the greater part of North America, nesting in orchards and bushes, and going to the tropics in winter.
Belongs to the guilds of Tree Trappers and Sky Sweepers.
THE YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER
"This Warbler does not sing much of a song, even in nesting-time; but you will know him on the wing by the bright yellow spot on the rump, and if he perches near by perhaps you will also see the crown of gold on the head and a spot of yellow on each side of the breast. They say there was once a great king named Midas, whose touch turned everything to gold, he was such an avaricious old miser. If that be true he must have put his finger on the Myrtlebird in four different places. Unlike most of his family the Yellow-rump is fond of seeds and berries; and so he is able to live further north in winter than any of his brothers. Unless you are spending the summer near the Canadian border you will not see him in his own home. But when they are on their journeys in spring and autumn you will meet them almost everywhere, travelling in sociable flocks."
"It must be that dark-backed bird with a yellow spot on his tail, that gobbles all the bayberries—and eats the poison-ivy berries too," said Rap. "Yes, I see that you know him; 'that dark-backed bird with a yellow spot on his tail' is not a bad description of the Myrtle Warbler," said the Doctor; "at least, as you generally see it, in autumn or winter, when that particular spot is the only one of the four which shows off well."
"But why is he called Myrtle Warbler?" asked Nat. "Does he build his nest in myrtle? I thought myrtle was that shiny-leaved plant down on the ground, that doesn't have berries."
"No, my boy, the bird is not named from that sort of creeping flowering myrtle; his name comes from a Latin word for 'bayberry,' because the bird feeds upon its fruit, as Rap told you."
"And bayberry is that low sweet-smelling shrub that we gather in the rocky pasture, to fill the great jar in the fireplace," said Olive. "Some call it candle-berry, and others wax-myrtle."
"Yes," said Rap, "and these Warblers stay round that pasture in winter as long as there is a berry left."
The Yellow-rumped Warbler
Length about five and a half inches
Upper parts dark gray, streaked with black; two white bars on each wing; large white spots on some of the tail-feathers. A yellow patch on the rump and crown.
Under parts white, streaked with black on the breast and sides. A yellow patch on each side of the breast.
A Summer Citizen of the northern United States and northward. Much less common in the West than the East. Travels south, and spends the winter everywhere from southern New England to Panama.
A great Seed Sower and a Tree Trapper.
"I will show you a 'skin' of the Ovenbird, because it may be some time before you will see this Ground Warbler at home in the deep woods."
"'Skin!' What is that?" asked Rap, as the Doctor took from his pocket what looked merely like a dead bird.
"A 'bird-skin,' so called, is the bird preserved and prepared for stuffing, with all its feathers on, but without glass eyes and not mounted in a natural position. You see that it takes up much less room than the birds that are set up in my cases, and is more easily carried about."
"He looks like a little Thrush," said Olive, "except that he is too green on the back, and the stripe on his head is of a dingy gold color. That is why he is often called the 'Golden-crowned Thrush,' though he is not a Thrush at all, but one of the American Warblers, and the crown is more the color of copper, than like the gold on the Golden-crowned Kinglet's head. Perhaps the Kinglet is called after new, clean gold, and this 'Thrush' after old dusty gold."
All this time Rap had been looking intently at the Warbler without saying a word; then he said suddenly: "Why, it's the bird that builds the little house-nest on the ground in the river woods! The nest that is roofed all over and has a round hole in one side for a door! I'm so glad I know his name, for it isn't in my part of the Nuttall book and the miller doesn't know what he is called. Is he named Ovenbird because he has a door in one side of his nest like an oven?"
"Yes, Rap, the nest is shaped like the kind of oven that Indians used. Tell us about the one you found."
"I was sitting on the bank where it goes down a little to the river, and the ground there was humpy with bunches of grass. A little bird like this Warbler ran from between two of the grass humps and picked about on the ground for a minute and then ran back. I thought he had gone into a hole, but pretty soon he came out again and flew up through the bushes to a tall tree a little way off. He went out to the end of a long branch and began to call—soft at first and then very loud, as if his throat would split before he ended. It was a very big noise for such a little bird."
"Did he seem to say 'Teacher, TEACHER, TEACHER'?" asked the Doctor, who knew John Burroughs very well.
"Yes, he kept calling exactly that way. Then when he stopped, I looked for the hole in the ground where he came from. I felt round a little, and then I lay down on the bank and looked up hill at the place to try if I could find it that way. Then I saw a place where the grass and leaves were made into a sort of roof between the grass humps, and in the middle of this was a smooth round hole. I put my finger in and another bird, just like the first, flew out, and I saw that there were eggs there; so I drove a stick in the ground to mark the place, and went away.
"The miller said it must be a field-mouse's nest that some birds had stolen. But in the fall I took the nest home and I saw it was a real bird's nest, all woven round of strong grass with finer kinds for a lining; and there were dead leaves on the outside, so that the top looked like all the rest of the ground. I had often heard that loud singing before, but this was the first time I had a good look at the bird and his nest, and the miller won't believe now that it's a bird's nest either."
"What trade does the Ovenbird belong to?" asked Dodo. "He ought to be a baker if he lives in an oven."
"He is a Ground Gleaner and a Tree Trapper," said the Doctor, while the children laughed merrily at Dodo's idea of a baker bird.
Length about six inches.
Upper parts frog green, with a rusty-yellow streak between two black lines on the crown.
Lower parts white, with black streaks on the breast and sides.
A Summer Citizen as far west as Kansas and north to Alaska, wintering far south.
THE MARYLAND YELLOW-THROAT
"Now we come to three very jolly Warblers with bright feathers and perfectly distinct ways of their own. They are the Maryland Yellow-throat, the Yellow-breasted Chat, and the American Redstart. The Maryland Yellow-throat is the merry little bird who puts his head on one side to peep at you through his black mask, and then flits further along to a thicket or clump of bushes, calling persuasively—'Follow me-e, follow me-e, follow!' He is trying to coax you into a game of hide-and-seek; but if you play with him you will soon find that you must do all the seeking, for he intends to do the hiding himself.
"Does he wish to show you his deep narrow nest, made of grape-vine bark, old leaves, and grass? Not he; being crammed full of good spirits he simply wants you to share them and have a race. Sometimes he will stop a moment quite near and call—'I-spy-it, I-spy-it,' and then fly off and challenge you to a new chase. Or sometimes, if two or three call at once, you will stray away from your path without knowing it.
"They are very gentle, lovable little birds too, and sing all through the summer when many of the better singers have grown silent."
"The Yellow-throat must be what I've called the Black-faced Yellowbird," said Rap. "Please, Doctor, does he sometimes fly right up in the air to sing a little bit and then go back into the bushes as if he had changed his mind?"
"Yes, Rap, that is one of the Yellow-throat's habits in late summer, but one that very few people notice."
The Maryland Yellow-throat
Length about five and a half inches.
Upper parts olive-green, in the male with a black mask reaching along each side of the head, and behind this an ashy-white border; but the female wears no mask.
Under parts bright yellow, growing white on belly.
A Summer Citizen of the United States from Georgia to Canada.
When he lives west of the Mississippi River he is called the Western Yellow-throat.
A Tree Trapper and occasionally a Sky Sweeper; a beautiful and familiar bird of the brush and tangles.
THE YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
"The Chat, besides being a very handsome bird, is a ventriloquist and a great joker."
"Please, Uncle Roy, what is a ventroquist?" asked Dodo.
"I should have remembered not to use such a long word," laughed the Doctor. "A ven-tril-o-quist is a person who can not only imitate sounds, but makes it seem as if they came from his stomach, or even in a different direction from where he is himself. The Mockingbird can imitate many sounds, but all these come directly from the bird; while the Chat can perch on a twig above your head and give a whistle that seems to come from a bush across the road.
"This is what enables him to play tricks on birds, House People, and various other animals. He will whistle until he has set a dog tearing through the bushes to find his supposed master. Another time he will give such a soft strange series of notes that a bird-lover will immediately begin to search through a tangle of briers, after what he imagines to be a strange bird. Then he indulges in a fit of merriment at his own jokes—'chatter-chatter-chat-chat-chat-chat-chat' he says, calling his own name as he slips away to the security of a catbrier or barberry bush. Large and vigorous and strong of beak as he is, this practical joker is wise, and does not often show his conspicuous yellow breast in open places.
"Some day in the nesting season you may see the Chat fly up in the air and hear him sing his courting song, which is very sweet, different from all his jests and jeers. You will say, if you are near enough to take a long look—'Why, that Chat has forgotten to fold up his legs, they are hanging straight down.' He has not forgotten, however; it is merely one of his odd habits at this season to cut all sorts of capers in the air, with his legs and wings and tail let loose, while his mate is quietly house-keeping in some thick bush near by. The nest is something like a Catbird's, not very tidy outside, but snug inside, and easy to find if you look in the right place. If you find it at the right time you will see that it holds four or five well-rounded eggs of a crystal-white color, with plenty of bright reddish-brown spots all over them."
The Yellow-breasted Chat
Length seven and a half inches—much more than any other Warbler measures.
Upper parts bright olive-green, even all over.
Lower parts very bright yellow on the throat, breast, and wing-linings, but the belly pure white.
A strong dark-colored beak, with some dark and light marks between it and the eyes.
A Summer Citizen of the United States east of the plains and south of Ontario and Minnesota; travels far south in winter. When he is found west of the plains his tail is somewhat longer, and he is called the Long-tailed Chat.
Chiefly a Tree Trapper, but also a Seed Sower.
THE AMERICAN REDSTART
"The Redstart is the dancing Warbler, just as the Chat is the joker. He never flies along in a sober, earnest fashion, as if his business was of real importance. When on the ground he skips and hops, then takes a few short steps and a little dance backward. In the trees, where he also feeds and where in some crotch he lashes his pretty nest of leaf-stalks, moss, and horse-hair, he moves about as suddenly as can be imagined, and he has a way of flying up and backward at the same time that makes him a very confusing bird to watch. In flitting among the branches, or darting into the air for gnats, his colors make him look like a tiny Oriole."
"Oh, uncle! Uncle Roy!" cried Dodo, who had been looking along the path, "there are two of the dearest little birds down there, and one of them is red and black as you say the Redstart is, and the other is shaped like it but has brown and yellow feathers, and they move along as if the wind was blowing them!"
Before Dodo stopped speaking the whole party were looking where she pointed, Olive using the field-glass.
"Those are a pair of Redstarts," she said, "and they are picking up ants. I saw a number of little anthills there yesterday."
"A pair?" queried Nat. "They aren't the same color—one has yellow spots where the other is red."
"I guess the one with the brown and yellow feathers must be the female," said Rap; "you know the Doctor told us, way back, that when the male bird wore very bright feathers, the female was oftenest plain, so that House People and cannibal birds shouldn't see her so easily when she sat on the nest."
"You are right, my boy," said the Doctor, who always let the children answer each other's questions, if they could. "Madam Redstart, you see, wears an olive-brown cloak trimmed with yellow, and even her boys wear clothes like their mother's for a couple of seasons; for Heart of Nature does not allow them to come out in their red and black uniforms until they are three years old, and know the ways of the world."
"Learning to name birds is harder than I thought it would be," said Nat. "Some wear different feathers in spring and fall, a lot more pairs are different to begin with, and the young ones are mixed up at first. It's worse than arithmetic"—and poor Nat looked quite discouraged.
"You certainly have to remember the laws of Birdland, as well as their exceptions," answered the Doctor; "but when you have once recognized and named a bird you will carry its picture always in your mind, for the Redstarts that you will see when you are very old men and women, will be like the one that is dancing along the walk now."
"Why do they call this Warbler a 'Redstart'?" asked Dodo.
"Because it has a lot of red on it, and it's always starting up in a hurry," ventured Rap.
"That is not the real reason," said the Doctor. "The name comes from a German word that means 'red tail,' and rightly belongs to a bird of Europe that is never found in this country. Our bird has some red on the tail, but I really think that Rap's answer is the better one."
The American Redstart
Length about five and a half inches.
Upper parts shining black, marked on the wings and tail with rich salmon-red.
Under parts shining black on the neck and breast, bright salmon-red on the sides, and pinkish-white on the belly.
In the female all the parts which are black in her mate are light greenish-gray, and she is clear yellow where he is red.
A useful Summer Citizen of eastern North America, from Kansas to Labrador. Winters in the tropics.
A Ground Gleaner, Tree Trapper, and Sky Sweeper.
AROUND THE OLD BARN
This day the bird lovers from Orchard Farm were having a picnic in the hickory and oak woods back of the fields. It was a charming place for such a day's outing, for on the edge of the woods stood an old two-storied hay barn, which was empty in early June and a capital place in which to play "I spy" and "feet above water." On the other side of the wood was an old swampy meadow full of saplings and tangled bushes, such as birds love for nesting places.
The Doctor had set Rap, Nat, and Dodo roaming about to look for birds, and promised to tell them something of their habits when each child had written down the description of two birds.
The children divided their hunting ground, so that they might not interfere with each other. Dodo chose the woods, because she wanted to stay near Olive, who was making a sketch of some ferns; Rap took the old barn and a bit of bushy pasture near it, and Nat went down to the swampy meadow with its border of cedar trees. While they tramped about the Doctor sat with his back against the side of the barn, looking over the beautiful scene and thinking.
The children did not return until after Mammy Bun had spread out a delicious luncheon in the barn, and then they were divided between hunger and the wish to tell about their birds.
"I have two nice birds all written down," said Dodo, between mouthfuls. "One was rather little and sort of green on top and white underneath, and he kept going up and down all the branches of an oak tree as if he couldn't keep still a moment, and he talked all the while as if he was asking me why I watched him and then scolding me for doing it."
"That is the Red-eyed Vireo," said the Doctor.
"Maybe he did have red eyes," said Dodo, "but he moved so quick I couldn't see them. But my other bird was splendid! Very bright red all over, except his wings and tail—they were black, and I'm sure he has a nest high up on an oak branch."
"That is the Scarlet Tanager. What did you see, Nat?"
"I crept in among the cedar trees, and there was a whole lot of rather big gray birds sitting in a row on a branch; they had black around their beaks and their head feathers stuck up in front. They didn't seem to be building nests, but were only whispering to each other."
"Those were Cedar Waxwings."
"Then," continued Nat, "when I was coming back I saw a flock of the prettiest, jolliest little birds flying round the old grass, and hanging on to some stalks of weeds. They were mostly yellow with some black, and they sang something like Canaries, and when they flew they sort of jerked along."
"Those were American Goldfinches. And now for yours, Rap." "I was looking at the Barn Swallows most of the time," he answered, "and thinking there must be a good many different cousins in their family; then I went down to the pasture and saw a bird I never noticed before, who flew over from the potato field and went into a thorn bush. He was bigger than a Robin and had a thick head and beak. He was black and white on top, but when he went by I saw he had a beautiful spot on the breast like a shield—sort of pink red, the color of raspberries, you know."
"That was the Rose-breasted Grosbeak," said the Doctor. "Now, we have pockets full of material for bird stories,—enough to last a week. By the time you have heard about these six birds and some of their near relations, such as the Butcher Bird, you will have been introduced to the chief of the Birds that Sing and be on the way to those that only Croak and Call. We will begin with Dodo's 'Talking Bird.'"
THE RED-EYED VIREO
"This bird is the most popular member of his family—and he has twenty brothers, all living in North America."
"Isn't he a Warbler?" asked Rap. "I always thought he was one, for he fusses round the trees the same as they do, though of course he has much more of a song."
"He belongs to a family of his own, but yours was an easy mistake to make, for the difference is not readily seen except in the beak, and you have to look at that very closely to see it. The Warblers mostly have smooth slender beaks, but the Vireos have stouter ones, with a little hooked point that enables them to pick out and secure a great variety of insects. The Chat is our only Warbler with a very stout beak, even stouter than a Vireo's, but it has no hook at the end. The Redstart's has a hooked point, but the rest of the beak is very broad and flat, with a row of stiff bristles at each corner of the mouth, to keep insects from kicking free when they are caught."
"You say his eyes are red. But why is his name 'Vireo'—does that mean anything?"
"'Vireo' comes from the Latin word meaning 'green,' and because all of this family have greenish backs one of their common names is 'Greenlet.' Besides being very pretty to look at, this little red-eyed bird is a great worker and does whatever he undertakes in a most complete manner. When he starts his tree trapping in the morning he does not flit carelessly from one tree to another, but after selecting his feeding ground, goes all over one branch, never leaving it for another until he has searched every crack and leaf.
"Meanwhile he carries on a rapid sing-song conversation, sometimes for his own benefit and sometimes to cheer his mate on the nest, for this Vireo is one of the few birds who talk too freely about their homes. These homes of theirs are another proof of industry; they are beautifully woven of a dozen kinds of stuff—grass, bark-strips, seed-vessels, fine shavings, and sometimes bits of colored paper and worsted, and half hang from the crotch of a small branch with a nice little umbrella of leaves to cover Madam's head. There she sits peeping out, not a bit shy if she feels that your intentions toward her are kindly. I have often found these nests in the orchard, on branches only a few feet from the ground, and I have also found them high up in the maples by the attic window.
"The Vireo does not stop work at noon when the field hands lie under the apple trees, with their dinner pails beside them. No, he only works and talks faster, keeping one eye on the home branch, and this is what he says, stopping between every sentence: 'I know it—I made it—Would you think it?—Mustn't touch it—Shouldn't like it—If you do it—I'll know it—You'll rue it!'"
"He was talking exactly like that this morning," said Dodo. "Will the nests last after they are empty, Uncle Roy, so we can find some?"
"Yes, surely; these nests are very strong and firm, often lasting a whole year."
"I know it—I made it!—Would you think it?" called a musical voice from the wood.
"Why, he is at it yet," said Rap; "I think 'The Talker' would be a fine name for him." "So it would—and more polite than 'The Preacher,' as some call him who think he is a trifle too prosy in his remarks. One of his brothers, whose eyes are white instead of red, and who lives in the bushes instead of high woods, is called 'The Politician' from his fondness for newspapers—not that he can read them, of course, but he likes to paper his nest with clippings from them, which is his way of making a scrap-book."
The Red-eyed Vireo
Length about six inches.
Upper parts olive-green, with a white line over the eye, and gray cap with a black border.
Under parts white, shaded with greenish on the sides.
A Summer Citizen of North America east of the Pacific States, and a hard-working member of the guild of Tree Trappers.
THE GREAT NORTHERN SHRIKE
(Or BUTCHER BIRD)
"I thought you would tell about my beautiful red bird next," interrupted Dodo. "Why do we want to hear about this bird if he lives so far north?"
"Your bird will come later on, little girl. Nat and Rap must each have their turn before it comes to you again; besides, this Shrike is a sort of cousin to the Vireos by right of his hooked beak, and you know I am trying to place our birds somewhat in their regular family order."
Poor Dodo felt ashamed to have seemed selfish and interrupted unnecessarily.
"Some winter or early spring day, when the woods are bare and birds are very scarce, you will look into a small tree and wonder what that gray and black bird, who is sitting there so motionless, can be. He is too small for a Hawk, though there is something hawk-like about his head. He is altogether too large for a Chickadee; not the right shape for a Woodpecker; and after thus thinking over the most familiar winter birds, you will find that you only know what he is not.
"Suddenly he spreads his wings and swoops down, seizing something on or near the ground—a mouse perhaps, or a small bird—let us hope one of the detestable English Sparrows. Or else you may see this same bird, in the gray and black uniform, peep cautiously out of a bush and then skim along close above the ground, to secure the field-mouse he has been watching; for the guild of Wise Watchers catch their prey in both of these ways, and most of them are cannibal birds."
"What is a cannibal bird?" asked Dodo. "I forget. I know that real cannibals are people that eat other people. Do these birds eat people?"
"They eat birds and other small animals," said Rap. "Don't you remember?"
"Why, of course I do," said Dodo. "But if Shrikes eat birds, aren't they very bad Citizens?"
"I do not wonder that you think so, my lassie; and so they would be if they ate birds only; but the Shrike earns his right to be thought a good Citizen by devouring mice and many kinds of insects, like beetles, which injure orchards and gardens. The comparatively few birds that he destroys are mostly seed-eaters—not the most valuable kinds to the farmer.
"In fact, the Shrike is especially useful in helping us to drive out the greedy, quarrelsome English Sparrow. This disreputable tramp not only does no work for his taxes—he hates honest work, like all vagrants —but destroys the buds of trees and plants, devours our grain crops, and drives away the industrious native birds who are good Citizens; so the Wise Men, who have tried the Sparrow's case, say that he is a very bad bird, who ought to suffer the extreme penalty of the law.
"For this reason we must forgive the Shrike if he takes a few other birds when he is hungry and in a hurry. He has a strange habit which has earned for him the name of Butcher Bird. If at any time he secures more food than he needs for his immediate use, he puts it by to keep in 'cold storage' by hanging it on the frozen twigs of a tree or thorn bush. Heart of Nature has doubtless taught him this habit through hard experience. Where the Shrike spends his winters, the food-supply is variable; it may snow for days and days, when he can find nothing to eat; so he has learned to store up provisions when the hunting is good, and of course such a thrifty bird may sometimes save up more than he really needs.
"You may know this Shrike on sight without hearing him sing—and perhaps you do not expect a cannibal bird to be a singer. But in late March and early April, when he is about to take his homeward journey to the North, he often warbles beautifully, and even brings in some mocking notes, until you would think that a Catbird, Thrasher, or Mockingbird must have wandered from the South too soon; and if you ever happen to see a Shrike and a Mocker close together, you may mistake one for the other, they look so much alike at a little distance."
"I never knew that there were nice birds around in winter," said Nat. "I thought all the country was good for then, was for coasting and skating! I wish I could stay here a whole year, Uncle Roy."
"Stranger things have happened," said the Doctor, looking at Olive with a twinkle in his eye that the children did not see.
The Great Northern Shrike
Length about ten inches.
Upper parts bluish-gray, with a broad black stripe along the side of the head to behind the eye. Black wings with a large white spot on each. Black tail with white tips to the outside feathers.
Lower parts grayish-white, faintly barred with darker. A great strong beak, hooked like a Hawk's.
Only a Winter Visitor in the United States—a Summer Citizen of the far North.
Belongs both to the Ground Gleaners and the Wise Watchers.
THE CEDAR WAXWING
(THE POLITE BIRD)
"This is the bird, Nat, that you saw in the cedar tree, where you said it was 'sitting about doing nothing,'" continued the Doctor.
"The reason of this seeming idleness is, that he belongs to the small group of birds who do not nest until June, and hereabouts rarely begin their homes before the middle of that month. Waxwings are very gentle, affectionate birds; before the nesting season, and after their families are able to take care of themselves, they wander about in flocks of sometimes thirty or forty, keeping close together, both when they fly and when they take their seats. They spend most of the time in the trees where they feed, whispering to one another in their quiet way, and you will very seldom see them on the ground.
"Your best chance to watch them is either before the leaves are out or after they have fallen, when a flock will sometimes sit for half an hour in a bare tree, exchanging civilities, stroking each other's feathers, and passing food around. This trait has given them the reputation of being the most polite birds in all Birdland. One will find a dainty morsel and offer it to his next neighbor, who passes it on—hunt-the-slipper fashion—until some one makes up his mind to eat it, or returns it to its original owner. All the while such a pleasant lunch is going on, the amiable birds make complimentary remarks to one another about their dress—how very handsome is one's long pointed topknot, what a becoming yellow border another's tail has, and how particularly fine are the coral-red bangles on the wings of a third—which is much better than if they should pick each other to pieces and talk about 'frumps' under their breath.
"Some people have complained that the Cedar Waxwing eats cherries, and have given him the name of 'Cherry Bird'; but the Wise Men say that he really eats very few cherries or other garden fruits, more than half of his food being wild berries, such as those of the evergreen juniper we commonly call 'cedar.'
"He may be called one of the best of neighbors; for, besides feeding his young on many different kinds of destructive insects, he eats cutworms and the wicked beetles which destroy so many grand old elm trees. And you know it is always nice to have polite neighbors."
The Cedar Waxwing.
Length about seven inches.
Upper parts quiet Quaker brown, very smooth and satiny, with a fine long, pointed crest on the head.
Rich velvety black about the beak and in a line through the eye.
A yellow band across end of tail, and some little points like red sealing-wax on the inner wing-feathers, from which it takes the name "Waxwing."
A Citizen of North America from the Fur Countries southward, visiting all but the most southern of the United States.
Belonging both to the Tree Trappers and Fruit Sowers.
"'Rap has been watching the Barn Swallows," continued the Doctor, after the children had been over to the cedar belt to see if the flock of polite birds were there still. "He thinks there are a great many cousins in the Swallow family, but can't tell them apart.
"There are ten species of North American Swallows, four of which are very familiar birds in all parts of the United States. These are the Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Tree Swallow; and Bank Swallow.
"As a family it is easy to name the Swallows from their way of flying. All are officers who rank high in the guild of Sky Sweepers, being constantly in the air seizing their insect food on the wing; thus they kill all sorts of flies, flying ants, small winged beetles, midges, and mosquitoes. They have lithe and shapely bodies, strong, slender wings, wide mouths, and flat, broad bills coming to a sharp point, which makes it easy for them to secure whatever they meet in the air. So swift and sure is their flight that they can feed their newly flown nestlings in mid air; but their feet are small and weak, so that in perching they usually choose something small and easy to grasp, like a telegraph wire.
"Though they nest in all parts of the country, some species going to the Fur Countries, as far north as any trees grow, yet they all seek a very warm climate for their winter home, because it is only in such places that the insects of the air are found. The distance, therefore, between the summer and winter homes of the Swallow family is very great, and these brave little birds are wonderful travellers.
"They are so swift on the wing that they do not fear to fly in the day-time, and so escape a great many of the accidents that overtake birds who travel by night. They come to the middle parts of the United States during the month of April, and start on their southward journey during late September and early October.
"After mating they either choose separate nesting places, or keep together in colonies. In early autumn they gather in great flocks along the borders of rivers, ponds, and lakes, often also on sea beaches, where they fly to and fro, as if strengthening their wings for the long flight they intend to take. It has been recently discovered by the Wise Men that these birds, who had been supposed to eat nothing but insects, feed at this time upon the same bayberries of which the Yellow-rumped Warbler is so fond; and that is one reason why they stay by the sandy wastes where these bushes grow. But no doubt Rap could have told us that, if we had asked him about it. Another reason for lingering near water is, that winged insects fly about wet places later in the season than they do in dry ones."
"But you have left out the Chimney Swallow," said Nat; "and there are plenty of them all about everywhere." "I have not left him out. Have you forgotten that he does not belong to the Swallow family? Though he looks like a Swallow and flies like one, the Wise Men know that he is not a song bird, and have put him where he belongs—with the Birds that Croak and Call, next to the Hummingbird and Nighthawk. They call him the Chimney Swift, because he flies so fast, and you must always give him his right name.
"If you write very carefully in your little books the description of our four common Swallows, you will not find it difficult to name them when you see them. We will begin with the largest—the Purple Martin."
"Why is it called 'Martin'?" asked Rap. "Did somebody named Martin find it, as Mr. Wilson found the Thrush they named after him?"
"No, my boy, the name comes from a Latin word, meaning 'warlike' or 'martial,' because in the Old World certain Swallows there called Martins were considered good fighters, and very brave in driving away Hawks and other cannibal birds. Don't you remember that Mars was the God of War in classic mythology, and haven't you heard soldiers complimented on their fine martial appearance?"
The Purple Martin
Length seven and a half inches.
Upper parts shining blue-black, not quite so glossy on the wings and forked tail.
Under parts the same as the upper in the male, but grayish-white in the female and young ones.
Song rich and musical, of two or three flute-like notes. Nest made of a few leaves or straws, in a bird-box when it is provided—otherwise in a hollow tree. Eggs white, without any spots.
A good Summer Citizen and a favorite everywhere; but for many reasons it is growing scarcer every year. The English Sparrow is one of its greatest enemies, and not only drives it from its nesting-boxes, but attacks the young birds.
A member of the guild of Sky Sweepers.
The Barn Swallow
Length six to seven inches.
Upper parts shining steel-blue, but the face buff.
Under parts rich buff, brick-red on the throat, where there is also a steel-blue collar.
Tail very long and deeply forked, with the side-feathers narrow, and some white spots on them.
Song a musical laugh, heard when the birds fly low over meadows and ponds.
Nest a sort of bracket, made of little mud balls and straw stuck on a beam in a hayloft. Eggs white, with plenty of reddish-brown spots.
A Summer Citizen in most of the United States.
A Sky Sweeper of the very first rank.
"Barney is a charming neighbor, who should be welcome in every home—sociable, musical, and very useful in destroying the flies and gnats that worry horses and cattle. Though it builds its first nest in May, it often brings out its last brood in August; thus during its long nesting season consuming a very large share of insects, and proving itself a kind friend to the cows at a time when flies are most persistent."
The Tree Swallow.
(Or WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW)
Length six inches.
Upper parts sparkling green, with darker wings and tail, the latter but little forked.
Under parts snow-white.
A sweet, twittering song.
Nests in the hollows of dead trees, usually in old Woodpeckers' holes, but occasionally in bird-boxes. Eggs pure white.
A good Citizen of the United States, but more shy than the Martin and Barn Swallow; these two often return, year after year, to some favorite nesting place, but the Tree Swallow is not so reliable.
A Sky Sweeper.
The Bank Swallow
(Or SAND MARTIN)
The smallest Swallow, only five inches long.
Upper parts dusty brown, darker on the wings, and tail forked a little, like the Tree Swallow's. Under parts white, with a brown band across the breast.
Song a sort of giggle—like some little girl's we know.
Nests many together in holes in a clay or loamy bank, lined with feathers and straw. Eggs pure white.
A Citizen of most parts of the world—northerly in summer, southerly in winter.
A Sky Sweeper
"Bankey is a sociable, useful little bird, living usually in great colonies. I have seen a hundred of their holes in a single bank, all dug by these industrious little Swallows with no other tools than their feeble beaks and claws. When the young from these nests are learning to fly the old birds are darting to and fro all day long to teach them how to use their wings, and the bank seems like a bustling village; every bird has something to do and say, and they always try to do both at once. If any one asks you why House People should love and protect Swallows, even if you have forgotten the names of many of the insects they destroy, remember to answer—'Swallows eat mosquitoes!'"
A BRILLIANT PAIR
THE SCARLET TANAGER
"That is my beautiful red bird!" cried Dodo, clapping her hands. "I never shall forget the looks of his bright red coat with black sleeves and tails. I saw a sort of green bird in the same tree, but it was so different I never thought it could be his wife, till I came to think—for the green one stayed near the nest when I came nearer and looked up, but the red bird flew away and hid behind some leaves."
"You are quite lucky to have seen a Scarlet Tanager in his home woods," said the Doctor, "for he is a shy bird who does not often venture to show his tropical colors in open places. He knows enough not to make himself a target for cannibal birds or House People either. Except in his journeys to and from his winter home he lives in the shelter of the tallest forest trees, where it is very difficult to see him, showy as he is in his flashing colors, and even if you know by his song that he is there. He may say, as some people think he does, 'Pshaw! wait—wait—wait for me, wait!' but he does not wait a moment if he thinks he is seen.
"He is very fond of water, both for bathing and drinking, and seldom nests far from it. Whether he uses the quiet ponds and smooth streams also for a looking-glass to comb his hair and arrange his gay coat by, we cannot be sure, but he always looks as trig as if he had some such aid.
"The Tanager children are curious things. Sometimes they wear coats of many colors, like Joseph's."
"Why is that?" asked Nat.
"The reason is this. You remember I told you that young birds usually wear plain feathers like their mothers?"
"Oh, yes," said Rap; "so that it is hard to see them until they have sense enough to take care of themselves."
"Precisely! Now, Mother Tanager is greenish and yellow, and Father Tanager is scarlet and black. The young ones come from the nest looking like their mother, but as they shed their baby clothes and gain new feathers, bits of red and black appear here and there on the little boys, until they look as if they had on a crazy-quilt of red, yellow, green, and black. You need not wonder that little Tommy Tanager does not care to be seen in such patched clothes, but prefers to stay in the deep woods or travel away until his fine red spring jacket is complete. Father Tanager also changes his scarlet coat after the nesting. About the time he counts his children and starts on his southward trip, he puts on a greenish coat like his wife's gown; but he keeps his black tail and wings, so that the children need not mistake him for their mother. It is lucky for her that he and the boys have sense enough to put on their own clothes, or such a very dressy family would keep her busy looking after their toilets."
"These Tanagers aren't very plenty about here—are they, Doctor?" asked Rap.
"Not now, my boy; their scarlet feathers are very handsome, and thoughtless, greedy people have shot so many in the nesting season, to sell for bonnet trimmings, that the family is growing small. But I hope that, by making laws to protect birds and teaching children everywhere what good neighbors and Citizens they are, these beautifully plumed families may increase once more.
"The Scarlet Tanager is the brightest red bird that you will find in the eastern half of the United States, but even he is not as showy as his western cousin, the Louisiana Tanager."
The Scarlet Tanager
Length about seven inches.
Male: bright scarlet with black wings and tail.
Female: light olive-green above, dull yellow below, with dusky wings and tail.
A good Summer Citizen of North America east of the plains and north of Virginia.
Belonging to the guilds of Tree Trappers and Seed Sowers.
THE LOUISIANA TANAGER
"Isn't this the one I saw in your glass case, Doctor?" asked Rap with great eagerness; "I mean that one like a Scarlet Tanager, but not so red, more of a rose-pink all over, wings and tail too."
"No," said the Doctor pleasantly. "That is a Summer Tanager—the only one I ever saw in this neighbourhood It is so rare here that I shot it to make sure there was no mistake, and you probably never saw one alive, for the Summer Tanager is a tender bird, who seldom strays so far north as this. But see—what do you think of this—isn't it a beauty?"
So saying, the Doctor took out of his pocket a bird-skin he had provided for the occasion, and the children could not restrain their glee at the sight.
"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Dodo, clapping her hands as she always did when excited; "it's all gold and ruby and jet. Where did you get it, Uncle Roy?"
"A friend of mine sent it to me from Oregon," answered the Doctor; "he thought I would like to have it for my collection, because it came from the very region where this kind of Tanager was discovered almost a hundred years ago."
"I thought you said it was a Louisiana Tanager," said Rap and Nat, almost in the same breath.
"So it is, boys; but it does not live in the State of Louisiana you are thinking about, down by the mouth of the Mississippi River. I shall have to explain how it got its name by giving you a little lesson in the history and geography of our country. A great many years ago there was a King of France called Louis the Fourteenth, and during his reign all the western parts of America that the French had discovered or acquired any claim to were named Louisiana in his honor by one of the missionaries who came over to convert the Indians to Christianity. After a good many years more, about the beginning of this century, President Jefferson bought all this immense country from Napoleon Bonaparte, and that made it a part of the United States—every part of them that is now ours from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, except some that we afterward took from Mexico. President Jefferson was a very wise man, and as soon as he had bought all this land he wanted to know about it. So he sent an expedition to explore it, under two brave captains named Lewis and Clark. They were gone almost three years; and one day,—I remember now, it was the sixth of June, 1806,—when they were camping in what is now Idaho, near the border of Oregon, they found this lovely bird, and wrote a description of it in their note-books—just as you did with your Scarlet Tanager, Dodo, only theirs was the first one anybody ever wrote. They also saved the specimen and afterward gave it to Alexander Wilson, who painted the first picture of it, and named it the Louisiana Tanager in his book."
"Did you ever see one alive, Uncle Roy?" asked Nat; "what does it look like flying?"
"I can answer that question," said Olive; "don't you remember, father, when we were in Colorado, the same year we found the Sage Thrasher and Rock Wren, that I thought the first one we saw was a Scarlet Tanager in one of its patch-work plumages, till you told me about it—though it did seem to be too bright yellow, and the middle of the back was black. But it looked the same size, and flew just the same. How beautiful it looked, as it flashed its golden feathers through the dark-green pine trees!" added Olive, her face lighting up at the recollection.
"Yes, I remember," answered the Doctor. "All the Tanagers of our country have pretty much the same habits. Even if we had found the nest we might have mistaken it for a Scarlet Tanager's. Those I have seen in the Museum are quite similar, built of twigs and pliant stems, and lined with fine rootlets. The position of the nest, saddled as it is on the horizontal limb of a tree, is very similar, and you could hardly tell the eggs apart.
"But come, children, you must be tired by this time, and hungry too. Let us go to supper, and see what Mammy Bun has cooked for us this evening. You stay too, Rap."
The Louisiana Tanager.
Length about seven inches.
Adult male: rich yellow, with black wings, tail, and middle of the back; the wings with two white or yellow bars on each; the whole head crimson.
Female: not very different from the female Scarlet Tanager.
A handsome and useful Summer Citizen of nearly all that great part of the United States which was once called Louisiana.
A member of the same guilds as the Scarlet Tanager.
A TRIBE OF WEED WARRIORS
(Containing both Soldiers and Quakers)
"A new family? Soldiers and Quakers? What does that mean?" asked Nat. "I thought my jolly yellow bird with the black cap came next."
"His family does come next—the Finch family. You must hear a little about that first, and let your American Goldfinch take his turn with his brothers and cousins, for Rap's Rose-breasted Grosbeak belongs also in this family."
"You say my bird is called American Goldfinch. He is such a bright yellow that gold is a good name for him, but what does 'Finch' mean?"
"Finch, as I said, is the name of the great family to which he belongs. It is the very largest family in Birdland, and members of it live in almost all parts of the world. All kinds of Finches and Sparrows belong to it, and so do Grosbeaks and Buntings, as well as the Canaries that we keep for pets. There are about five hundred and fifty different kinds of them.
"The birds that you have been studying thus far, from the Bluebird, Robin, and Wood Thrush to the Tanagers, belong to several different families and are chiefly insect-eaters, taking various fruits and berries in season, it is true, but making insects their regular diet. Insects are not hard for any bird to eat, and so the bills of these birds do not have to be very stout or thick—some, indeed, are very thin and weak, like the Brown Creeper's.
"But the habits of the Finch family are quite different, and their beaks also. They are true seed-eating birds, and their beaks are short, stout, and thick—cone-shaped it is called, like that of the White-throated Sparrow you learned about one day. This enables them to crack the various seeds upon which they live at all times except in the nesting season, when few seeds are ripe. During this time they eat a variety of insects, and feed them to the young birds; for young birds must grow so rapidly, in order to be strong enough for the autumn journey, that they require more nourishing food than seeds.
"The Finch family being able to live so well upon seed food do not have to make such long autumn journeys; for even in very cold places there are plenty of seeds to be had all through the winter."
"Do you mean berries, please, uncle?" said Dodo; "because if it was very cold wouldn't berries freeze as hard as pebbles?"
"They eat berries, but only as Weed Warriors,—for the seeds that are in the berries,—not for the juicy, fruity part, as the Seed Sowers do.
"The Robin, Thrush, and Catbird eat fruits and berries for the juicy, pulpy part. They swallow this, and the seeds or pits pass out with the wastage of their bodies; this is what makes them Seed Sowers. But when one of the Finch family eats berries, it is for the seed or pit inside the pulp. His strong beak cracks the seed and his stomach digests its kernel. So these birds do not sow the seeds they eat, but destroy them. This is why I call them Weed Warriors. A warrior is any one who goes to war, and fights against enemies; we have enemies among plants, and these birds fight for us against them. There are hundreds of different kinds of plants, whose flowers have no beauty, and for which we have not as yet found any use; so we call them weeds. All such seeds would be blown about, take root, and sprout everywhere, thus filling the place of useful plants, if they were not held in check by these seed-eating birds."
"Isn't it wise the ways things are fixed?" said Rap. "Some birds to eat the insects and sow wild fruits and berries; some birds to eat weed seeds and prevent them from being sown. I think some people would do better if they didn't think themselves so smart and mix things all up!"
"You are right, my boy! We should not interfere with Heart of Nature by foolishly trying to aid him unless we are perfectly sure that he wishes and needs our help.
"There is one member of this Finch family, the European Sparrow, that we know by the name of English Sparrow. In his native country he eats both insects and seeds, and also does some good by eating certain tree-worms. A number of years ago the trees in our cities were being eaten by canker-worms, and some one said—'Let us bring over some of these Sparrows to live in the cities and eat the canker-worms.' This person meant well, but he did not know enough about what he was doing.
"The birds were brought, and for a while they ate the worms and stayed near cities. But soon the change in climate also changed their liking for insects, and they became almost wholly seed and vegetable eaters, devouring the young buds on vines and trees, grass-seed, oats, rye, wheat, and other grains.
"Worse than this, they increased very fast and spread everywhere, quarrelling with and driving out the good citizens, who belong to the regular Birdland guilds, taking their homes and making themselves nuisances. The Wise Men protested against bringing these Sparrows, but no one heeded their warning until it was too late. Now it is decided that these Sparrows are bad Citizens and criminals; so they are condemned by every one. All this trouble came because one man, as Rap says, 'thought he was so smart and mixed things up.'"
"It was those Sparrows in the city that made me think all wild birds must be ugly; but that was because I was too smart and didn't know anything about other birds," said Nat frankly.
"I think we are getting way off from Nat's yellow bird," said Dodo; "and now I see lots more of Rap's Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, over on the fence. I want to know what they are doing in the potato field. I hope they don't dig up the little potatoes."
"No, you need not worry about that," said the Doctor, "and you must wait a bit yet, for the Rose-breast does not come until nearly the end of his family."
"There must be a great many different-looking birds in this Finch family," said Rap, "if plain Sparrows and yellow Goldfinches both belong to it." "Indeed there are! Did I not say that there were both Quakers and soldiers in it?" said the Doctor. "For in addition to the Goldfinch there is a bright-blue cousin and a red one."
"What are their names, and shall we see them here?" cried Dodo.
"You will learn their names very soon. The blue one now has a nest across the meadow, and the red one makes us a visit every autumn; but you must stop asking questions if you want to hear about them to-day.
"The first of the Finch family is a bird you will only see in the winter, and not even then if you are living further south than the middle range of States. It is called the Pine Grosbeak."
THE PINE GROSBEAK
"This bird has a great heavy beak, that makes him look rather stupid; in fact, this beak gives him the name of Gros-beak, which means the same as Great-beak. He loves the pine woods of Canada and builds his nest among them, only a little way above the snow that still covers the ground at the early season when this bird begins housekeeping.
"When the northern winter is very severe, Pine Grosbeaks gather in flocks and scatter through the States. But you must not expect to see a whole flock of beautiful strawberry-red birds, for only the old males are red; the females are dull gray and yellowish, while the young males look like their mothers, and do not wear their gay coats until they are two years old. You will not be likely to hear these birds sing, though they sometimes do so on their winter trips. Their usual call-note is a whistle which they give when flying.
"Some day this winter when you are taking a walk you may see them on the ground under chestnut and beech trees, and in old pastures where the red sumach berries are the only bright things left above the snow. You will think it a very cheerful sight—red birds and red berries together. You will also have time to take a good look at them, for they move slowly, and be glad to know the names of your friends who are hardy enough to brave the cold.
"Though this Grosbeak seems rather dull and stupid out of doors, he is a charming cage pet, growing tame and singing a delightful warbling song. I picked up one with a broken wing when I was a boy, and kept him for many years; the hurt wing was soon healed, and the bird was always tame and happy after that, though he soon lost his bright feathers. But I would never advise any one to make a cage pet of a bird who has been born wild and once known liberty. No matter if he lives and thrives: he will sometimes remember the days when he was free, and be very sad." "My Canary is never sad," said Nat: "he is always singing."
"For very many years Canaries have been bred in cages, to be pets, and as these have never been wild they are used to cage life. They are the best birds for pets, because they are seed-eaters, and it is easy to supply the food they like.
"Some winter day, or even late in autumn, you may see on your walks, another red bird—a near relation of the Pine Grosbeak; in fact, the two often flock together. This bird is called the American Crossbill."
The Pine Grosbeak
Length about nine inches.
General color of adult male strawberry-red, the wings and tail dark, with some light-brown and white edgings; the tail forked a little.
The female and young male gray, tinged here and there with saffron-yellow.
A Summer Citizen as far north from the States as trees grow, roving in winter about the northerly and middle States.