"And then you can tell us another bookful about water and fish, and crabs and sky," said Dodo. "So we shall have a bird book, and a butterfly book, and Olive's flower book!"
"Yes, and a beast book, too!" said Nat, "about coons and bears, and squirrels and foxes, you know! Rap has seen foxes right on our Farm!"
"I wish I knew something about the stars—and the rocks too," said Rap very earnestly. "Was this earth ever young, Doctor?"
"Yes, my boy, everything that Heart of Nature guides had a beginning and was once young."
"What is that? An Eagle?" cried Dodo suddenly, pointing up to a very large bird, with a white breast and brown-barred tail, who flew over the bay and dived into the water.
"It's the Fisherman Bird," said Olaf. "Some call it the Fish Hawk and others the Osprey. They say it lives all over North America, but it goes far south in winter, and when it conies back in spring we know the fish are running again; for it lives on the fish it catches, and won't come until they are plenty."
"How does it catch fish?" asked Dodo.
"It hovers overhead until it sees, with its sharp eye, a fish ripple the water; then it pounces down like a flash, and grabs the fish with, its long claws, that are made like grappling-irons. If the fish is small the Osprey carries it home easily; but if it is a big one there may be a fight. Sometimes, if the Osprey's claws get caught in a fish too large to fly away with, the Fisherman Bird is dragged under water and drowned."
"Do they still nest on Round Island?" asked the Doctor. "There were a dozen pairs of them there when I was a boy."
"Yes, sir! But there is only one pair now. It's a great rack of sticks, half as big as a haystack; for they mend it every season, and so it keeps growing until now it is almost ready to fall out of the old tree that holds it. And, do you know, sir, that Purple Grackles have stuck their own nests into the sides of it, until it is as full of birds as a great summer hotel is of people."
"Oh, we must see it!" said Olive, who had finished putting her seaweeds to press; "for as yet I have only read about such a nest."
"What does the Osprey look like near to?" asked Rap.
"Like a large Hawk," answered the Doctor. "You would know him to be a Hawk by his hooked beak and claws. He walks in the procession of bird families along with the cannibal birds among whom he belongs, and who come after the Birds that only Croak and Call. But he is not a real cannibal, because he lives on fish, and never eats birds. So I will give you a description of him now."
Length about two feet.
Upper parts dark brown with some white on the head and neck.
Under parts white with some dark spots.
Feet very large and scaly, with long sharp claws, to hold the slippery fishes he catches.
A Citizen of North America.
A very industrious fisherman who minds his own business and does nobody any harm.
SOME SKY SWEEPERS
About four o'clock, after a long rest, the party started for home, because they wanted to have plenty of time to stop in the wood lane on the way.
The first bird that Nat spied after they left the meadows was perching on the topmost wire of a fence by the roadside. Every once in a while he darted into the air, snapped up an insect, and returned to the same perch on the wire whence he had started. He was a very smart-looking bird, with a flaming crest that he raised and lowered to suit himself; and every time he flew into the air he cried "Kyrie—kyrie!"
"That is a Kingbird," said the Doctor; "it is very kind of him to show himself, for he is the bird I most wished to see. We have finished with the true song birds now, and the next order is that of the Songless Perching Birds—birds that have call-notes, some of them quite musical, but no true song. So we will name them the Birds that only Croak and Call.
"The crowing of a Rooster, the screech of a Night Owl, the Hawk's harsh scream, the laughing and hammering of a Woodpecker, all answer the same good purpose as a song.
"The first family of Songless Perching Birds is that of the Tyrant Flycatchers, and the first of these birds with which we have to do is the one you have just seen. He belongs to the guild of Sky Sweepers.
"But do not try to write anything down while we are driving over this rough road; the surrey jolts too much. You need only listen now, and Olive will help you with your note-books to-morrow."
"How the winged insects must hate a Kingbird, who is a real tyrant over them, and must seem very cruel!" continued the Doctor. "He sits on a rail or wire, and suddenly—flip, snap! a fly is caught—flip, snap! a wasp dies. All day long he is waging war, and helping us in our never-ending battle with the bugs.
"If he happens to fancy a rose-bug or juicy ant, he dashes to the leaf or grass-blade on which the insect is crawling, hovers a moment in the air to take aim, and then snatches the bug off. So clever is he that when he eats bees, as he sometimes does, he seldom takes the honey-makers, but mainly the drones; perhaps he is afraid of being stung."
"What is a drone, Uncle Roy?" asked Dodo.
"A bee which does not work for its living and cannot sting."
"The Kingbird is proud of his nest, which he often confides to a maple on the edge of a garden, or to your pet pear tree. But let Hawks and Crows beware even of thinking about a Kingbird's nest! For he loves his home, and hates those who would injure it; and what is more, he is not one bit afraid of them. If they come in sight he attacks them bravely, and drives them far away, even if they are so big and fierce that he has to call his friends to help him; so that the robber Crow or cannibal bird is lucky if he does not lose an eye before he escapes.
"But the Kingbird is not quarrelsome—simply very lively; he is the very picture of dash and daring in defending his home, and when he is teaching his youngsters how to fly.
"Like other insect-eaters, he leaves the northerly States before cold weather and journeys beyond the United States for the winter. We always miss him when he has swooped along the fence rail for the last time and joined his brethren in the tree-tops, where the flocks form for their long flight."
Length eight inches—about the size of a Wood Thrush.
Upper parts slate-colored, with black head, wings, and tail; a white band at the end of the tail, and a flaming orange spot on the crown.
Under parts pure white, a little grayish on the breast.
A Summer Citizen of the United States and Canada, travelling to Central and South America for the winter.
One of the best neighbors, and a brave soldier. An officer of the guild of Sky Sweepers, also a Ground Gleaner and Tree Trapper, killing robber-flies, ants, beetles, and rose-bugs. A good friend to horses and cattle, because he kills the terrible gadflies. Eats a little fruit, but chiefly wild varieties, and only now and then a bee.
(THE WATER PEWEE)
"Smaller, but not a whit less active than the Kingbird is the Phoebe or Water Pewee—the small Flycatcher who is almost as familiar about the farm and roadside as the Robin himself. Look about the woodshed or cow-shed. Is there a beam or little nook of any sort that will hold a nest? If so, in early May you will see a pair of nervous brown birds, heaping up a mound of moss and mud. When they have made it large enough to suit them, they line it with soft grass and horsehairs; the nest is then ready for the white eggs, which once in a while are varied with a few brown spots.
"Sometimes Phoebes build under a bridge, or in a rocky pocket above a stream; for they love water and are great bathers. Then they make the outside of the nest to match the rock by covering it with lichens.
"The Phoebe, like all other Flycatchers, sits motionless upon a dead twig, fence rail, or often the clothesline, waiting for insects to come by. Then he darts out, seizes one, and returns to the same perch, flipping the tail, raising the little crest, and calling 'Phoebe—p-h-o-e-b-e,' in a very anxious voice.
"Phoebe is a hardy Flycatcher, who journeys north in March to tell us spring is coming, and it takes a hard frost to send him away again. Even then he does not hurry off toward the tropics like the ardent Kingbird, but lingers all winter in the Southern States."
Length seven inches. Wings hardly any longer than the tail.
Upper parts deep olive-brown, darkest on the head; bill and feet black.
Under parts dull white, with a grayish or yellowish tinge.
A Citizen of North America east of the plains and north to Canada, nesting from South Carolina northward, and wintering in the Southern States.
A useful and pleasant neighbor, who likes our society, often nesting in sheds and under porches.
A member of the guild of Sky Sweepers, who also works with the Tree Trappers.
THE WOOD PEWEE
"Among all the other Flycatchers, big, little, and least, I can only tell you of one more, and will choose the Wood Pewee as being the one most likely to interest you.
"This morning in the wood lane I saw a pair that were surely nest-building, and I wondered if they were not the great-great- grandchildren of those who lived there when I was a boy. The Pewee's nest is very pretty—almost as dainty as the Hummingbird's. I will try to find it for you as we go back this afternoon."
"Then the Wood Pewee builds late, like the Cedar Waxwing and Goldfinch?" said Rap. "Yes, rather late; about the first or second week in June. He is a lazy traveller; and then, perhaps, he thinks his nest is so frail that he needs to have the trees in full leaf to protect it. The Wood Pewee takes his name from his liking for the woods and his call-note; yet he is quite as fond of our Orchard and the lower side of the garden.
"When you have once met him face to face and heard his sad cry—'pewee—pewee—pee-eer—weer!'—you will probably find half a dozen pairs about home.
"It is usual to call the notes of this bird sad; but it only seems so from our point of view; for he is a happy, fussy little bird, and I dare say that when he calls he is only saying 'peek-a-boo!' to his mate on the other side of the tree."
"Wouldn't it be nice if we knew all that the animals and birds do, and could see what they see, besides being ourselves?" said Nat.
"I think we should be too wise and proud," said Rap. "No, my lads," said the Doctor, "we should probably be more humble than we are now, and realize how very little House People really know about the wonderful lives of those creatures we commonly call 'dumb animals.'"
"You haven't given us any table for the Wood Pewee," said Dodo, who always took great pleasure in writing in her little book. "I like to hear it, though I can't write it now."
The Wood Pewee
Length six and a half inches. Wings much longer than the tail, and feet very small.
Upper parts dark brown with an olive shade, and light bars on the wings; top of the head not darker than the back, and under side of the beak not black.
Under parts yellowish-white with a tinge of dark gray along the sides and across the breast.
Looks very much like the Phoebe, but you can tell them apart if you attend carefully to the tables.
A Citizen of North America from Florida to Canada and west to the plains. Travels beyond the United States for the winter.
A good Citizen and shy neighbor. A member of the guild of Sky Sweepers.
HUMMERS AND CHIMNEY SWEEPS
THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD
"It won't be dark for a long time yet," said Dodo, after they had driven silently for a couple of miles, watching the clouds against the tree-tops and the Swallows that were out in full force, sky-sweeping for their evening meal.
"Are you growing sleepy?" asked Olive.
"No, only terribly hungry" whispered Dodo, as if rather ashamed of the fact; "and do you know, Olive, after dinner to-day I told Olaf I never should be hungry again, because I ate so much chowder. After we had driven awhile I thought to myself, 'I shan't want supper to-night anyway.' Then pretty soon I thought, 'I shall want supper,' and now I want it right away!" The Doctor laughed and looked at the cows that were pasturing in the roadside fields, for they were passing a farming village.
"I don't see any Cowbirds this afternoon," said Nat, thinking the Doctor was looking for them.
"This time I am looking at the cows themselves! Those over there are beautiful creatures, and there is a clear spring of water in the corner of the pasture. When we come to the farmhouse where they belong, we will stop to buy some milk, and Miss Dodo shall have supper; for even Mammy's buns, when they have been travelling about all day in a basket, would, be rather dry without milk."
"But wouldn't the milk be good if the cows were not pretty, and there was no spring in the pasture?" asked Nat, who must have a reason for everything.
"It is not a question of pretty cows; it is whether they are clean and healthy or not, that makes the milk good or bad. And good pure water to drink, from a spring that is not near any barnyard or outbuilding, is one of the best things for keeping cows in good health."
Meanwhile they had driven up to a farmhouse, almost as large as their own, and the mistress, who was arranging her pans for the evening milking, said they might have cold milk then, or fresh warm milk if they would wait a little while until the cows came home.
Under the back porch was a cage with a little Owl in it, and the woman said it belonged to her boy. Joe, for that was his name, was about Rap's age, and soon made friends with them. They told him where they had been spending the day, and about their uncle's wonder room, and the birds at Orchard Farm. "Have you got a Hummingbird's nest on your farm, and a Swallow chimney?" Joe asked anxiously.
"No, not exactly," said Nat, hesitating. "There are some birds in Uncle Roy's chimney, but we haven't found a Hummingbird's nest yet, though there are lots of the birds about the garden."
"Well, there's a Hummingbird's nest in our crab-apple tree, and we own the biggest Swallow chimney there is in the county! Pa says so, and he knows," said Joe proudly. "If you'll come with me and not grab the nest, I'll show it to you. It's a widow Hummingbird, too. I've never seen her mate since she began to set, but before that he was always flyin' round the honeysuckles and laylocks, so I'm sure he is dead."
"May I come too?" asked the Doctor.
"Pleased to have you, sir," said Joe, making a stiff little bow. "I'd have asked you, only most men folks don't set much store by birds 'nless they are the kind they go gunnin' for. Only pa does. He likes any kind o' bird, whether it sings or not, and he's powerful fond of the Swallows in our chimney. He says they eat the flies and things that tease the cows down in the pasture, and since those Swallows came to our chimney we haven't had to put fly-sheets on the oxen when they are in the pasture—not once."
"Now, children, you see what good the Sky Sweepers do," said the Doctor.
"Sky Sweepers! We don't call 'em that! We call 'em Chimney Swallows!"
Then the children told Joe about the Bird Brotherhoods.
"Stand on this box," said Joe to Dodo, "and look hard at that small slantways branch, with the little bunch on it!"
"The little round bunch that looks like soft green moss?"
"Yes. Well, that's the Hummer's nest!"
"Oh! oh!" cried Dodo, forgetting to whisper, "I see a mite of a tail and a sharp needle beak sticking over the edge!"
This was too much for Mrs. Hummer, who flew off with a whirr like an angry little spinning-wheel—if such a proper Puritan thing is ever angry; and there in the nest were two tiny eggs, like white beans.
"Come back by the fence and watch," said Joe. "She doesn't like to leave the nest much when it is toward night."
"It's a pity her mate is dead. How lonely she must be!" said Dodo, who had a tender little heart.
"I do not think her mate is dead," said the Doctor; "he is merely staying away, after a custom of his family. The bird whose nest we see there is called the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, because he has a patch of glittering ruby-red feathers under his chin, at the top of his buttoned-up vest that hardly shows any while shirt-front. He wears a beautiful golden-green dress-coat, with its dark purplish tails deeply forked. His wife looks very much like him, only she has no ruby jewels to wear.
"Bold as this bird is in darting about and chasing larger ones, he is less than four inches long—only about the size of one of the hawk-moths that come out to feed, just as this valiant pygmy lancer leaves the flowers for the night.
"These Hummingbirds live on honey and very small insects, and dread the cold so that they spend the winter southward from Florida. But as soon as real spring warmth comes, they spread over the United States, east of the plains, and north even to the Fur Countries. They are the only kind found in the eastern half of North America, though there are more than a dozen other species in the West, most of them near the Mexican borders of the United States.
"When the Hummers arrive here, early in May, we see the brilliant males darting about—sometimes, I am sorry to say, quarrelling with their rivals and giving shrill cries like the squeaking of young mice. The last of May the dainty nest is made of plant-down and lichen scales. Then the male goes off by himself and sulks. You may see him feeding, but he keeps away from the nest—selfish bird that he is—until the little ones are ready to fly.
"Meanwhile the mother takes all the care and trouble herself, feeding her little Hummers in a peculiar way. She swallows tiny insects, and when they have remained a little while in her crop she opens her beak, into which the young bird puts its own and sucks the softened food, as a baby does milk from its bottle."
"I was wondering this very morning," said Joe, "how the old bird was going to feed her young ones when those two eggs hatched, without any mate to help her. I'm real glad you came along to explain it, sir. Somehow the reasons lots of folk give for things aren't reasonable at all."
"Now, children," said the Doctor, "write the Hummingbird table before the twilight comes on."
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Length less than four inches.
Male: shining golden-green above, with dark purplish wings and tail, the latter forked; glittering ruby-red throat; other under parts grayish, with some white on the breast and greenish on the sides.
Female: lacks the ruby throat, and has the tail not forked, but some of its feathers white-tipped.
A Summer Citizen of the eastern United States from Florida to Canada.
Though songless, a jewel of a bird, belonging to the guild of Tree Trappers. Nest a tiny round cup of moss and plant-down stuccoed with lichens; eggs only two, white.
THE CHIMNEY SWIFT
"Now, wouldn't you like to see the big chimney?" asked Joe. "The birds go in and out a good deal this time o' day. It's across the road there, where the old house used to be. The house is all gone, but the chimney is as strong as ever—I can climb up top and look down at the nests inside. See! there it is now!" Looking over the fence, they saw a tall stack of worn gray stones, that looked more like a tower than a chimney. Small blackish birds kept streaming from the top, circling high in the air and darting down again, all twittering as they dropped one after another out of sight, inside the weather-beaten pile.
"Look, children!" said the Doctor. "These are Chimney Swifts, usually called Chimney Swallows: and their color is like soot, to match the places they live in."
"Aren't they any relations of Swallows?" asked Rap.
"No, my boy; they look like Swallows, but as I think Olive told you once, the Swifts are a family all by themselves. This one lives in the eastern half of the country in summer, and goes far south for the winter. When he lives in a wild region, he chooses a hollow tree for his nesting place, as his ancestors always did before there were any houses or chimneys.
"The flight of the Swift is so rapid that at times it is almost impossible for the quickest eye to follow him; his wings are very strong, and almost as long as all the rest of his body. Short and blunt as his tail looks when he flies, each feather ends in a hard sharp point which sticks out beyond the soft part. They feed on insects which they catch as they dash through the air, and can also break off dry twigs for nest-building without stopping—sometimes seizing the little sticks in their bills and sometimes in their claws, which are much stronger than those of Swallows."
"How do they make the sticks stay in the chimney? What do they set them on, and how do they perch while they are building?" asked Nat, all in one breath.
"Do you remember how the little Brown Creeper propped himself against the tree when he looked for insects?"
"Yes," said Rap; "he stuck his sharp tail-feathers into the bark and made a bracket of himself."
"The Swift does this also when he fastens twigs together for a nest. They are glued together into a little openwork basket, and gummed to the wall of the chimney, with a sticky fluid which comes from his own mouth."
"I've got a lot of old nests that fell down the chimney after a storm last winter that wet the glue and made them come unstuck," said Joe; "and I'll give you each one. If you look up the hole where the kitchen fireplace was, you can see the new nests quite plain; for the birds don't build them very near the top."
"Be careful of loose stones!" called the Doctor; but in a flash four young heads had disappeared in the ruins of the great fireplace, where three pairs of trousers and a short brown linen skirt alone were visible.
In a little while they had some milk and strawberries; and before they drove on Joe's father promised to take him up to Orchard Farm to see the birds in the Doctor's wonder room, as soon as haying should be over. To the children's astonishment they found it was half-past six o'clock; they had been at the farm an hour and a half, and could not stop again until they reached the wood lane where their uncle had promised to look for the Pewee's nest.
"Stay here, little people, and ask all the questions you like of Olive," said the Doctor, when they had reached the lane; "for I shall be able to find the nest more easily if you do not frighten the birds by talking."
"Pewee, pewee, pe-e-er!" cried a little voice.
"There he is, crying 'peek-a-boo' again," said Dodo. "Please, Olive, won't you tell us the table for the Chimney Swift now?"
"Certainly; and there is plenty of light yet if you wish to write it down."
The Chimney Swift
Length five and a half inches.
Sooty brown. Sharply pointed tail-feathers.
A Summer Citizen of eastern North America from Florida to the Fur Countries.
An excellent neighbor—a friend of the farmer and his cattle. An officer in the guild of Sky Sweepers, who shoots through the air in the shape of a bow and arrow.
"Come softly," said the Doctor, returning to the roadside; "I have found the Pewee's nest; it is quite new, and has no eggs in it as yet. This way—up along this ledge of rocks, and you can almost look into it." They moved quietly over the rocks until they reached a pepperidge tree, when the Doctor motioned them to stop and pointed to one of its branches which stretched over the rock. There was a flat nest with an evenly rounded edge, all covered with lichen scales outside.
"It is just like a Hummingbird's nest," whispered Nat.
"Only flatter, more like a saucer than a cup," said Rap. "Is it made of plant-down, too?"
"No—of fine grasses, rootlets, and bits of bark," said the Doctor; "and in a few days it will hold three or four creamy-white eggs, prettily wreathed around one end with dark-brown spots."
"Pewee, pewee, pe-e-er!" cried the nest owner very sadly.
"We are going home, so you needn't worry, dear," said Dodo. "Good-night."
TWO WINGED MYSTERIES
The sun was quite low when the party drove out of the lane; the birds were singing their very best, and Olive stopped the horses on top of the next hill, that they might all look at the beautiful twilight picture around them.
"How quickly the sun slides when it once begins to go!" said Nat. "It looks as if it were going into a cage with the striped clouds for bars."
"Shirk—shirk—boom!" A large bird that had been sailing about overhead dropped through the air till it was almost over the surrey, then turned suddenly and darted upward again.
"What is that?" cried Nat and Dodo.
"That's a Nighthawk—don't you remember the bird we heard early one morning in the river woods? He's looking for small birds to eat," answered Rap.
"He is called the Nighthawk, but never eats anything except beetles, flies, and other insects," said the Doctor, "for he is not a real Hawk. He takes his name from the fact that he dashes about at twilight and in cloudy weather like a Hawk; but his broad, shallow mouth is only suitable for insect-eating, like his cousin's, the Chimney Swift's, and the beak is equally small and feeble, not at all like the strong hooked one of a cannibal bird. Look overhead!"
"There are two light spots like holes through his wings," said Rap. "Ah yes! now I remember about him—we can always tell him from a real Hawk."
"How does he make that queer noise?" asked Nat. "It sounds like when I hit the telegraph wires with stones, or blow in the bunghole of a barrel."
"Watch him when he drops," said the Doctor; "do you not see that he does so with open wings? The air rushes between the long wing-quills and makes the vibrating noise. Now he is up and away again, but you see he keeps circling in the sky."
"Does he build in chimneys?" asked Dodo.
"The Nighthawk does not build any nest; the eggs are laid on bare ground or rock in an open field—occasionally on a house-top. Strange as this seems, the parent birds are so near the color of earth and rock that it is very difficult to find them when they are sitting, the young when hatched are equally invisible, and the eggs themselves look like two little stones—for there are never more than two. I will show you a Nighthawk in my cabinet, and you will see for yourselves how nicely the colors match ground and rocks."
"He looks like a pretty big bird," said Dodo. "How long is he? Is there only one in his family?"
"He has a brother called the Whip-poor-will, that we should meet very soon."
Length ten inches.
Mottled black and rusty above. Barred on the under parts with black and white or buff. A white collar on the throat, a white spot going entirely through the wing, and a white band across the tail.
A Summer Citizen of eastern North America, from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, travelling far south for the winter.
A shy neighbor but a valuable Citizen, belonging to the Ground Gleaners as well as Sky Sweepers.
"This mysterious bird is also a dweller in lonely places, feeding at night in the woods, having no nest, and laying the eggs in a hollow in the ground or on a stump or log. He is so nearly of the color of wood, earth, and rock, that you may pass near him a hundred times and never see him. Then too, when he perches in the day-time, he does not sit across a branch like other birds, but lengthwise, so that House People and cats cannot see him from below or cannibal birds from above. He is an insect-eater and so goes southward before hard frosts."
"Does this bird make any noise, and why is he called the Whip-poor-will?" asked Nat; "that is such a funny name."
Rap was about to answer when the Doctor signed to him and he stopped.
"Whip-poor-wills call their own name after dark, and I think you will hear them when we pass the miller's woods in a few minutes; for some reason they seldom come about the Farm."
"I believe I—am—growing—sleepy," murmured Dodo, trying to be polite and swallow a little yawn, but not wholly succeeding.
"I am very sure that I am," said Olive. "I don't think any of us will sit up much later than the birds to-night!"
"I hear a Veery," said Rap, "and a Phoebe too."
"Whip-poor-will! Whip-poor-will! Church!" cried a loud voice close by, and something like a long-winged Owl almost struck Olive with its wing as it flitted past.
"Oh, my!" cried Dodo, waking suddenly, "that must be a Whip-poor-will, for he called his own name as plain as the Chickadee does; and listen! there are more of them all up the hill."
Soon they passed Rap's house and left him at the gate. When the good old white horses trotted in the gate at Orchard Farm, Quick ran out, barking joyfully to tell them all that had happened during the day, and how he had guarded everything safely; but Dodo was fast asleep with her head on her uncle's arm.
"De death lamb," said Mammy Bun, who came out to help them unload; "don' you go to wake her up, Massa Nat—ole amyl tote her up to bed. Dese am powerful healthy days for you chillness! And Massa Doctor and Miss Olive—if they ain' mare's half gone, too! 'Scorpions am terrible sleepy things—least when dere all over!"
Length nearly ten inches.
A very large mouth, fringed with long bristles, useful as an insect trap.
Plumage all mottled with gray, buff, and black, but the end half of three outside tail-feathers white, and a white breast-band.
A Summer Citizen of the United States and Canada east of the plains; in winter from Florida southward.
A member of the guilds of Sky Sweepers and Ground Gleaners.
A LAUGHING FAMILY
When the children had their uncle with them, and could listen to his stories, it seemed very easy to name the birds. But when they were alone it was quite a different matter. The birds had a way of moving on, at exactly the wrong moment. Of course they made some very funny mistakes, and at times grew quite discouraged.
"I thought we could learn a hundred birds in no time," said Nat to Olive, one morning; "but I'm only pop sure of ten when they fly in a hurry, and about ten more when they sit still and let me take a good look at them."
"I think that is doing very well, indeed, for watching live birds is not a bit like learning rules and figures by heart. Though your tables give you some facts about birds' colors and habits, every bird has some little ways and tricks of his very own that are always a surprise; and then, you see, a bird in the hand looks very different from a bird in the bush!"
"I suppose that is why uncle wants us to go out to see for ourselves, instead of telling us stories every day. This morning, when I was over in the miller's woods, where we heard the Whip-poor-will, I saw the queerest bird, running up a tree; he let me come close to, without being frightened.
"At first I thought he was a Black-and-white Creeper, for he was all black and white. Then I saw he was much bigger, and the beak was square at the end, as if it was cut off instead of being sharp-pointed. He had the strangest feet, two toes behind and two in front, and when he came down near where I stood, I saw a bright-red spot on the head. When I went a step nearer, he didn't like it, and then laughed out loud at me—'Quip! Cher, cher, cher, cher! Ha! ha! ha! ha!' I thought he might be some kind of a Woodpecker, but those in uncle's room are a great deal bigger."
"A very good description of the Downy Woodpecker," said the Doctor, coming up under the porch where they were sitting. "This bird belongs not only to a different family from any you have heard about, but to a different order also.
"You have seen that Perching Birds all have three toes in front, and one behind on the same level, so that they may easily grasp a perch and keep their balance. But Woodpeckers do not perch in the true sense—they rest either against a tree-trunk or on a limb, and even sleep in these positions. They almost all have four toes, two in front and two behind, and the strong pair of hind toes prop them up when they climb the trunks of trees, or when they stop to bore for their food. They also have stiff, pointed tail-feathers that they press against the upright trunks of trees to keep themselves in place, the same as Swifts do inside chimneys, or Brown Creepers scrambling about trees. So they make brackets of themselves, as Rap says. Their bills are strong and straight, like chisels, so that they may cut and gouge hard wood without breaking them. Besides all this, they have curious long fleshy tongues, with horny barbed tips, which they can thrust far out of their mouths, to spear their insect food from holes and crannies."
"Can any of them sing?" asked Nat.
"They belong to an entirely songless group, but have several ways of calling and signalling to each other. One of these is to beat rapidly on a tree with the beak, which makes a rolling noise, each different species doing his drumming in his own way. Besides this, they all have jolly laughing notes, in spite of the fact that most of them are rather shy birds. Hence they are often called the Laughing Family!"
"Are there many kinds of Woodpeckers in North America?"
"More than twenty, but you are likely to notice only a few of them. I am sure, however, that you will be good friends with, four kinds before snowfall—the Downy Woodpecker that you saw this morning; the beautiful golden-winged Flicker; the gay Red-headed Woodpecker, so glossy blue-black and white; and the mischievous spotted Sapsucker who visits us in autumn. You will find them very different in looks and habits, in spite of their being cousins." "Uncle! Uncle Roy!" cried Dodo, running through the Orchard in a great state of excitement. "There is a very handsome, rare, wonderful kind of a Meadowlark walking on the lawn by the front steps. It's brown speckled with black and has a black patch on the breast and red on the head and when he flies you can see a white spot over the tail. Do you think he has come out of a cage?"
"No, missy, that is not a Meadowlark, is not rare or wonderful, and has not been in a cage; that is an every-day sort of a Woodpecker, having many names. Some think he is called the Flicker because he has a way of flicking his wings, and the Yellow Hammer because he hammers on trees with the beak and has fine golden wing-linings. The nest of the one you saw is in a hole, high up in the old sassafras by the side fence, and some say that this is why another of his names is High-hole. But it received all three of those names for other reasons you need not bother your head about just now.
"There are young birds in the nest now, and if you tap on the trunk with a stick you will hear them making a noise. This seems to be Woodpecker day, for Nat has seen the little Downy in the woods, you have seen the Flicker on the lawn, and I was telling him about two others; so you are just in time not to be too late. Now write the table for Nat's Downy, first, and then we will have the rest of the Woodpeckers."
The Downy Woodpecker
The smallest North American Woodpecker—hardly seven inches long.
Upper parts black, with a long white patch on middle of back; wings spotted with black and white. Some black and white bars on the outside tail-feathers. Red band on back of head of the male, but not of the female.
Under parts all white.
A Citizen of the eastern half of North America, where he stays all the year round.
A good and useful neighbor—one of the best. Does not bore holes in trees to injure them or eat the sap, but to get at the hurtful grubs which live under the bark, and the sharp, barbed tongue is especially fitted to pick thorn out of the holes which are dug with the stout chisel-like beak.
Eats a little fruit, chiefly-wild berries, and is a hard-working member of the guilds of Tree Trappers and Ground Gleaners, as he eats not only grubs, but ants, beetles, bugs, caterpillars, and spiders. He is also a Seed Sower, though in being so he and his brothers, without intentional mischief, scatter the seeds from the watery white berries of the poison ivy. He always digs for himself a nest in some partly decayed tree, and never takes long journeys, but moves about only in search of food.
THE RED-HEADED WOODPECKER
"There, that will do for the Downy," continued the Doctor, as the children finished the table; "only I ought to tell you that I have a friend who calls him the Flying Checker-board, because he looks when he flies as if he were checkered all over in squares of two colors—black and white. The Red-head is a much gayer bird, with three colors—ha! there goes one now! This is Woodpecker day indeed, and we are in luck."
A very handsome bird, glittering in the sun, had come looping swiftly past, and swung himself up to the broken-off top of a tall tree, where he rattled a loud rataplan, as much as to say, "Am I not a fine fellow?"
"Yes, I know him," said Rap eagerly; "there's a pair that have a nest in our orchard, the same I guess that were there last year, when they raised a brood, only when the young ones came out they had gray heads instead of red ones, and their wings were not clear white like this one's, nor their backs so shiny black—is that right, Doctor?"
"Yes, my boy, and it shows you know how to use your eyes, for young Red-heads look very different from their parents till they get a new suit. You remember that we called the Bluebird the Flag Bird, on account of his three colors. But this Woodpecker has the red of the head much brighter than a Bluebird's breast, and shows purer white as he flies, in large spaces on his back and wings; though his blue is not so bright—it is what we call blue-black, very dark and glossy, like polished steel."
"Do they stay around all the year?" asked Nat.
"Some of them do, but not many. They are very common in summer, but not as hardy as the Downies, and most of them go off south for the winter. They are very merry, frolicsome birds, with all sorts of tricks and manners—even Dodo's Flickers are no jollier members of the Laughing Family."
"Do they work when they are through playing?" asked Nat; "and do any good?"
"Yes, indeed," answered the Doctor; "all kinds of Woodpeckers are industrious workers, and all of them except the Sapsuckers are very useful to us in destroying hurtful insects."
"What kind of eggs do they lay?" asked Dodo; "it must be hard to get a look at them in such deep holes so high up."
"Very pretty ones indeed," replied the Doctor. "They are not very easy to reach, though you can readily see the rounded hole that leads into the nest, for it is almost always bored in a bare, dead part of the tree. I can show you some Woodpecker's eggs in my cabinet. They are all alike, except in size—more round than most birds' eggs are, very smooth and glossy, like porcelain, and pure white. But now write your table while that Red-head is still in sight. It is a very easy one; his colors are plain, and you can guess pretty nearly how long he is."
The Red-headed Woodpecker
Length about nine inches.
Head and neck crimson-red all around; back and most of wings and tail glossy blue-black; all the rest snow-white, except a little red tinge on the belly.
Young ones gray whore the old ones are red, and not so pure black and white in other places.
A Citizen of the eastern half of the United States and some parts of Canada, but mostly going to the Southern States for the winter.
A good neighbor and useful member of the guilds of Tree Trappers and Ground Gleaners; he takes some of our fruits now and then, but is welcome to them for the good he does in destroying insects which would injure and perhaps kill our fruit trees if he did not eat his full share of them; and he has to work very hard to dig them out of the places where they lurk under the bark.
"The Flicker's beak is more slender and curving than those of his brethren, and he has an extremely long, barbed tongue, which, he uses to probe ant-hills. The sticky substance in the bird's mouth covers the little barbs on its tongue, and thus he is able to catch a great many ants at a time. He is one of our best ant-eaters."
"Are ants very bad things if they don't get into the sugar?" asked Dodo.
"There are a great many kinds of ants; though all may not be harmful, some of them do great damage by destroying timber or ripe fruit, and helping to spread lice about the roots of all sorts of plants.
"The Flicker has a jolly laughing call that sounds like 'Wick-wick-wick-wick!' repeated very quickly, and he also hammers away on a tree in fine style when he wishes to call his mate or let her know his whereabouts. Like other Woodpeckers, he hollows out a soft spot in a tree until he has made quite a deep hole, which, with a few chips in the bottom for bedding, serves as his nest. Most little Woodpeckers climb up to the hole-edge to be fed; but young Flickers are fed in the same way as little Hummingbirds, the parent swallowing food and when it is softened bringing it back from the crop by pressing on it with the beak."
"What is the crop?" asked Dodo.
"It is an elastic pouch in the gullet of a bird, where food that has been swallowed is kept for a while before it goes further down into the stomach. You have seen this crop in the necks of Chickens and Pigeons." "Oh, yes, a round swelled-up place; but what is the good of it?" persisted Dodo.
"It is a resting-place for food, where it may swell, soften, and be partly ground up. All birds are fond of eating sand and gravel."
"Oh, yes! My Canary picks up lots of little bits every time I put fresh sand in his cage."
"This gravel mixes with the food and helps to grind it up. You ran understand how necessary this is when you remember that some birds, like Pigeons, swallow hard grains of corn entirely whole."
"Yes, and I saw Mammy Bun clean a Chicken yesterday," said Nat; "there was a lot of sand and corn in a lump in its throat—and so that's called a crop?"
"To return to the Flickers: they live in flocks in autumn, and when a number are feeding on the ground at a little distance they might be taken for Meadowlarks—so you see that you did not make such a dreadful mistake after all, little girl."
"Won't you come over to the miller's woods with us, uncle, and perhaps we can find the Downy's nest hole," said Nat.
"Yes, I will come and tell you about the fourth Woodpecker on the way—the one called the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Though very handsome, this is not a bird that you would care to have come in great numbers to your garden or orchard. For this bird makes holes in the tree bark and eats the sap that leaks out, from this habit gaining the name of Sapsucker. Of course you see that this is a very bad thing for the trees; for when a great many holes have been bored near together the bark loosens and peels off, so that the tree is likely to die. The Sap-sucker also does harm by eating the soft inner bark which is between the rough outside bark and the hard heart-wood of the tree; for this soft bark is where the sap flows to nourish the tree.
"When the bird bores the holes and the sap oozes out, a great many insects gather to feed on it—hornets, wasps, spiders, beetles, flies, and other kinds. These the Sapsucker also eats, sweeping them up in the sap with his tongue, which is not barbed like that of other Woodpeckers, but has a little brush on the end of it, shaped something like those we use for cleaning lamp chimneys. In this way he can easily lick up great quantities of both sap and insects. You will not probably see him before autumn, for he nests northward from Massachusetts; but you can write down his table now, and then be on the watch for him."
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Length about eight and a half inches.
Upper parts mixed black, while, and dull yellowish; wings and tail black, with much white on both; crown scarlet in the male.
Under parts light yellow on the belly, scarlet on the throat, black on the breast, and with black marks on the sides.
A Citizen of eastern North America, roving further north than most Woodpeckers and wintering as far south as Central America. A useful bird in wild places, but unwelcome in gardens and orchards, and not a good neighbor.
A member only of the guild of Tree Trappers.
"I wonder if I shall see the little Downy," said Dodo, as she skipped down the road to the woods between her uncle and Nat.
"Don't hop so," said Nat; "it doesn't do at all when you are bird-hunting. Rap says you must go quietly, and not swing your arms either, for it frightens birds more than even a scarecrow."
"It is very hard to keep still when you are bursting with hurry to get somewhere," answered Dodo very meekly, but not wholly able to resist an occasional jump.
"I'll show you the way," said Nat. "The little Downy's tree was beside the footpath on top of the river bank. But the bird has gone!"
Length twelve inches.
Upper parts brown barred with black; the rump snow-white; the head gray with a scarlet band on the back of it.
Under parts crowded with round black spots; a large black patch on the breast; throat lilac; the male with a pair of black moustaches, which, of course, the female does not have.
Under side of wings and tail almost all golden-yellow, even the shafts of the feathers being of this rich color.
A Citizen of eastern North America, west sometimes to the Pacific Ocean. Spends the winter in the southern half of his range.
This Woodpecker is not only a beautiful, but a useful, Citizen, doing almost as much work in the guild of Ground Gleaners as the Meadowlark, besides being a Tree Trapper and Seed Sower.
TWO ODD FELLOWS
"KUK—kuk—kuk! Crcok—c-r-o-c-k—c-r-o-c-k!" cried a harsh voice from the wood edge.
"Tr-r-r-at-tat-tat!" rattled another bird from over the river bank.
"Those must both be Woodpeckers," said the children; "for both noises are like hammering."
"Yes," continued Nat, "and I see the one who made the rattle. It is a Woodpecker with a very big head and bob tail, and sort of gray with black straps in front. See, uncle! He is on a branch of that dead tree, right over the river—there, he has fallen off into the water!"
The Doctor smiled as he said: "Here is another case of mistaken identity—very much like Dodo with her rare Meadowlark! This bird is a Kingfisher, who did not fall into the water, but dived in after the fish for which he sat watching."
"So some wood birds eat fish, as well as the Osprey that we saw at the beach; but how do they chew them, Uncle Roy?"
"They do not chew them. If the fish is not too large, they swallow it whole, and very funny faces they make sometimes in doing so. If it is too large, they beat it against a branch and tear it before eating. As they live on fish, they make their home near water, and only travel south when the rivers freeze."
"Do they build nests in trees?" asked Dodo.
"No; they burrow tunnels in the earth of river banks, and put their nests at the end of them, just as the Bank Swallow does; only the Kingfisher's tunnel is much larger, and his nest is not nicely lined with feathers—the young often have no softer bed than a few fish-bones."
The Belted Kingfisher
Length about thirteen inches.
A long, bristling crest; bill longer than head, stout, straight, and sharp.
Leaden-blue above, with many white bands and spots on the short, square tail and long, pointed wings.
Below white, with a blue belt across the breast, and the female with a brown belt also.
A Citizen of North America.
Belonging to no useful guild, but a rather startling, amusing neighbor, who always minds Ins own business and is an industrious fisherman.
"What was the other bird, who cried, 'kuk kuk!' on the outside of the woods? There, it is calling again! I'm sure that it is a Woodpecker!"
"Wrong again—it is a Cuckoo; the Yellow-billed one, I think, for the voice is louder and harsher than that of his Black-billed brother."
"What! a little blue and white bird like the one that bobs out of mother's carved clock at home? Oh, do let us try to find it! But this bird didn't say 'cuckoo'; it only cackled something like a Hen when she is tired of sitting."
"The clock Cuckoo is an imitation of the merry, heedless English bird, who lays her eggs in the wrong nests, as our Cowbird does. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is quite different, being long, slender, and graceful, and a very patient parent—even though the nest she builds is rather a poor thing, made of a few twigs piled so loosely in a bush that the pale-green eggs sometimes drop out.
"Let us go over to the brush hedge where the bird seemed to be. Hush! there he sits upon the limb of a maple. No—look a little higher up. He is perfectly still, and acts as if he was half asleep. See what a powerful bill he has! With that he tears away the ugly webs of tent-caterpillars from the fruit trees, and sometimes eats more than forty caterpillars without stopping—he is so fond of them. Look at him through the glass, and see if the following description fits him."
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Length about twelve inches.
Upper parts olive-gray or Quaker color all over, smooth and shiny; wings tinged with bright cinnamon, and most of the tail-feathers black, with large white spots at the ends.
Under parts pure white. Under half of bill yellow.
A Summer Citizen of temperate North America west to the plains. Travels south for the winter to the West Indies and South America.
A very valuable neighbor, and an officer of high rank in the guild of Tree Trappers.
His brother—the Black-billed Cuckoo—is very much like him, except that the tail is not black, its spots are smaller, and he has no yellow on the bill, but a red ring round the eye.
"Kuk-kuk-kuk—couk—co-uk—co-uk!" cried the bird, as he spread his wings and sailed off, giving the children a fine chance to see his long, rounded, black tail with the white spots. "Are there any Owls in these woods, Uncle Roy?" asked Nat. "You know we haven't seen an Owl yet, though we hear one almost every night."
"Doubtless there are; but the best place to find Owls is in the old wood, far up by the lake, where the lumbermen have their camp. The Great Horned Owl nests there, and many Hawks besides. I will take you all there some day, and, if you do not find the birds themselves, you can see the wild places where they like to nest."
"Couldn't we go very soon, uncle? Next week, perhaps?" urged Dodo.
"Fourth of July comes next week," said Nat, "and uncle said we could go down to the shore again, and take our fire-crackers! It will be such fun to stick them in rows in the sand and make them sizzle—more fun even than Owls! Don't you think so, Dodo?" he asked anxiously.
"Oh, yes; and then it wouldn't be polite either not to have fire-crackers on the Fourth of July. I think the American Eagle or the President or somebody expects children to have fire-crackers. Mammy Bun says the first American Eagle was hatched on the Fourth of July, you know," said Dodo earnestly. "Do you think he was, uncle?"
"No; it was the United States that were hatched on the Fourth of July, seventeen—seventy—six," said Nat, hesitating a little over the date.
"You are both right in a way," laughed the Doctor; "but you need not give up the Owls in order to celebrate the Eagle's birthday. We will have an Eagle's birthday party at the beach on the Fourth; and on the eighth—which is Dodo's birthday, if I am not mistaken—we will have an Owl party up at the lake!"
"Oh! oh, how lovely!" cried Dodo, giving her uncle such a sudden hug and kiss that his hat flew off. "And the lake is a long way off, so first we go in the cars, and then in a big hay wagon with straw in the bottom—at least, that is the way Olive said she went the last time!"
CANNIBALS IN COURT
Dodo's birthday and a disappointment came together on the eighth, and the disappointment took the shape of a rainy day. Not an early morning shower, with promise of warmth and clear weather; for it was one of the cold, northeasterly storms that are very trying at any time of the year, but doubly so when they come in July, and seem, for the time, to turn summer into autumn.
Dodo, Nat, Rap, and Olive stood under the shelter of the porch, the children vainly hoping that it might clear up before nine o'clock—the hour the train left—and Olive racking her brain for something that would soothe their feelings. "We might ask mammy to let us go into the kitchen and make candy," she said. "The weather is too damp and sticky for molasses candy, but butter-scotch will harden if we put it in the dairy." Even this did not seem to be very tempting to little people who had expected to go to the real Owl woods, and Quick barked and yelped as if he, too, felt cheated out of an expected excursion.
Presently the Doctor came out and saw the forlorn group, which, being quite heedless of the sharp slant of the rain, was rather wet and limp.
"Poor little bird-hunters!" he said—rather too cheerfully, they thought—"you look as unhappy as the party of astronomers who went all the way to Africa to photograph an eclipse of the sun, and when the time came were so excited that they forgot to open the camera, and so took no pictures. Come into the hall and I will tell you about a plan I have. Catching cold isn't a nice game for a birthday party.
"You expected to hear something about the cannibal birds to-day, and see the woods where a great many of them live and make their nests, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Dodo; "we wanted to know why they are cannibals, and see where the wicked things live that eat little Chickens and song birds."
"Very well. Now do you know that though all Hawks and Owls sometimes eat other birds and help themselves to poultry from the barnyards, yet at the same time most of them are the farmer's best friends?"
"No," said Rap; "I thought they were all bad, evil birds, and that the Government often gave money to people for killing them; besides, I am sure that a Hawk took eleven of our little Chickens this very spring!"
"The Wise Men have been looking up the records of these cannibals—or Birds of Prey, as they are usually called—and find that very few of them—only two or three kinds, perhaps—should be condemned to death. The others belong to the secret guild of the Wise Watchers who, sitting silently in the shadows of the woods, or perching in the trees around the edges of fields, wait for rats, mice, moles, rabbits, gophers, beetles, cutworms, and many other creatures which destroy vegetable life. The Wise Watchers kill these hurtful creatures, and so become the guardians of the fields."
"Oh, do tell us which ones do this and which took Rap's Chickens," said Dodo, forgetting her disappointment for the time.
"I am going to make a play for you. Some of the Owls and Hawks shall speak for themselves, and tell you about their own habits and customs. In fact, the most familiar of these cannibals shall have a hearing this morning in the wonder room. The American Eagle is to be the judge, and I think that, as you cannot go to the woods, you will like to come into my room to hear what they have to say."
"Birds talking about themselves in the wonder room!" said Dodo in a puzzled way.
"What is a hearing?" asked Nat.
"I know what a hearing is," said Rap. "It is where people are accused of doing something wrong and they go down to the courthouse, and the judge hears what they have to say about it; and, if he thinks they have done the things, he binds them over for trial. They often have hearings down in the town hall in the East Village."
"You are quite right, my boy; and at this hearing of ours, as the birds are stuffed and cannot speak, I shall speak for them. Even if they could talk, we could not understand them, unless we borrowed Tommy-Anne's magic spectacles. Now, if you will come into the study, you will find them all ready."
The children did not wait to be asked twice; Nat and Dodo rushed along the hall, followed by Rap.
In the study two tables were put together, making a sort of platform at the end of the room. On this platform a dozen stuffed birds sat in solemn silence. The Owls were on one side, with a row of Hawks facing them on the other. A big Golden Eagle was at the foot, and a White-headed American Eagle held the place of honor at the head, on a pile of books. Each bird was mounted on a wooden perch; and, as they were all set up in very natural positions, the effect was quite startling to the children.
"Where did all these big birds come from?" asked Nat. "They were not in the glass cases."
"No, they were in the attic. You must excuse them if their feathers look a little shabby, for it is a long time since they flew about in the woods, and took a bath or plumed themselves."
"The judge ought to wear spectacles! May I cut him a pair out of paper?" asked Dodo. "See how wise he looks," she said, as she put the make-believe glasses on the Eagle's nose.
"Order!" called the Doctor, rapping on the table with his knuckles. "The American Eagle makes the first speech, which I will translate to you."
The Eagle looked very fierce as he sat there. His head, neck, and tail were white, but the rest of his body was dark brown. The upper part of his great yellow beak was hooked; his yellow feet were bare and scaly; and his four sharp claws, or talons as they are often called, were black. He was nearly three feet tall, and if he had spread his powerful wings he would have measured seven feet from tip to tip.
The Golden Eagle, who sat at the foot of the table, was about the same size and an equally handsome bird. He held his golden-brown head proudly erect, and his black wings folded tightly. He too had some white feathers in the tail, though none on the head; his hooked beak was black, and he wore dark leggings almost down to his powerful claws.
These two Eagles, though not exactly friends, are not enemies; for the Bald-headed one ranges over all of North America, especially in open places near the water, while his Golden brother keeps more to the western parts, and loves the loneliness of cold northern mountains.
"We Birds of Prey," said the Eagle, "who bow to no one and even sleep sitting erect—we, whose females are larger than the males for the better protection of our nests, are accused of eating not only our smaller brethren, but also four-footed animals which are of service to man. I deny that we do this as a tribe, except when we are pressed for food, and Heart of Nature says to us all, 'Take what ye need to eat!'
"Now, you are all in honor bound to speak the truth at this hearing, and you shall be heard first, Brothers of the Darkness—you, with strange voices and feathered eye-circles—you, who have three eyelids and whose eggs are whiter even than moonlight.
"Brother Screech Owl, whose day is my night, tell us about yourself—how and where you live."
There were two Screech Owls perched side by side on one stump. They were not ten inches long, and had feathery ear-tufts standing up like horns an inch long. One Owl was mottled gray and black; the other was rusty-red; and the toes of both peeped out of holes in their thin stockings. The gray one gave a little quavering wail and said:
"I am everywhere a well-known Owl; though I say it myself, I am a good, hard-working Citizen, and in this the Wise Men agree.
"My family are also distinguished by two other odd habits. Having two sets of eyelids, an inner and an outer, we can close one or both at will. The inner one is a thin skin that we blink with, and draw across our eyes in the day-time when the light annoys us, just as House People pull down a curtain to shut out the sun. The outer lids we close only in sleep, when we put up the shutters after a night's work, and at last in death—for birds alone among all animals are able to close their own eyes when they die. The other habit is the trick of turning our heads entirely round from front to back, without wringing our necks or choking to death. This we do to enable us to see in every direction, as we cannot roll our eyes about as freely as most birds do.
"Come to think of it, I am very fond of eating one bird that, so the Wise Men say, is as bad as a mouse for mischief. I eat English Sparrows!
"One thing I wish the Wise Men would tell me. Why am I, without season or reason, sometimes rusty-red and sometimes mottled gray? It confuses my brain so that I hardly know my own face in the pond."
"Acquitted!" said Judge Eagle. "Long-eared Owl, what have you to say?"
The Long-eared Owl was about fifteen inches high. He had, as his name implied, long ear-tufts that stood up very straight over his yellow eyes, and thick tawny stockings on his feet and legs. He was finely mottled above with brown, black, and dark orange, had long brown streaks on his buff breast, and dark-brown bands on his wings and tail. He gave a hoot and spoke very quickly.
"I'm a good Citizen, too. I do not eat many birds, and those I do eat are not the useful ones who kill insects; moles, mice, rats, and beetles are my daily food. But House People do not know this, and limit me until I am almost discouraged; for though I am a Night Owl I do not live in such wild places as some of my brethren, and so I am more easily caught. I live and nest anywhere I like, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I rear my young equally well in an old Crow's nest in a high, tree, or one I build for myself in a bush. I mean well and am a Wise Watcher. I know my voice frightens House People, but let them pity me and point their guns at something else."
"Short and to the point! Acquitted!" said the Eagle. "Snowy Owl, it is your turn." This beautiful white Owl, marked here and there with black bars and spots, had a smooth round head like a snowball, great yellow eyes, and thickly feathered feet; his bill and claws were black, but you could hardly see them for the thickness of the feathers in which they were muffled up. He winked with each eye, clicked Iris bill once or twice, and thus began:
"I'm a very good-looking bird, as you see—fatally beautiful, in fact; for House People shoot me, not on account of my sins, but because I can be stuffed and sold for an ornament. I do not stay long enough in the parts of the country where they live, to do much harm, even were I a wicked Owl. My home is in Arctic regions, where my feather-lined nest rests on the ground, and even in winter I come into the United States only when driven by snowstorms from the North.
"At home I live chiefly on lemmings, which are a sort of clumsy, short-tailed field-mice, not good for anything but to be eaten. When I go visiting I may take a little feathered game, but oftener I live on my favorite mice, or go a-fishing in creeks that are not frozen; for I am a day Owl, and can see quite well in the sunlight. You never see me except in winter, for I am a thing of cold and snow, whose acquaintance you can seldom cultivate; but if you knew me well you would find me gentle, kind, and willing to be friends with you—if you do not believe me, ask the Wise Men."
"Acquitted! You see we are proving our innocence," said the Eagle proudly. But he hesitated a moment before calling upon the Great Horned Owl, as if he himself doubted the honesty of this savage bird.
He was large, nearly two feet high, with very long ear-tufts and great staring yellow eyes in the middle of his large flat face. He was mottled on the back and wings with buff and black, had on a white cravat, and his vest was barred with black, white, and buff; his sharp black talons were almost hidden by feathers, but not so much so as the Snowy Owl's.
"None of you like me because you are afraid of me, and so you would rather condemn me than not," began the Horned Owl fiercely. "But I am not afraid of anything or anybody. I am a liberal parent and heap my nest up with food, like all the Owl and Hawk Brotherhood. If I wish a Hen or a Goose or a Turkey I take it, though I may only care to eat the head; for I am very dainty, and any one is welcome to what I leave. I also like wild game—Ruffed Grouse particularly; but I eat rabbits and rats enough too, I warrant you. I could give you a long list of the evil-minded rodents I kill in every one of the States where I live; but I won't, for you might think I wished to prove myself no cannibal. I don't care what you think of me; for I am able to take care of myself, and quite independent.
"I do not even have to build my own nest. In February, when I need a home, there is always an old Crow's or Hawk's nest ready for me; and as for my young, they are hardy and need no pampering! Whooo-ooo-hooo—ooo! Hands off, Bird and House People! The Great Horned Owl knows how to use both beak and claws!"
"Bound over for trial," said the Eagle, "and you are lucky not to be committed for contempt of court."
"He is a very cross bird to talk so, even if he does some good," whispered Dodo to Rap; for the Doctor had given the Owl's hoot so cleverly it all seemed real to the children. Then Judge Eagle spoke again:
"Now for my brothers whose keen eyes can look at the sun himself—you who strike with the claws and rend with the beak in open daylight—it is your turn to speak. Marsh Hawk, where and how do you live?"
The Marsh Hawk was nineteen inches in length, with a long tail, pointed wings, and Owl-like face. At first glance he seemed to be a bluish-gray bird, but on close inspection one could see that his under parts were white, mottled with brown, and there was also a large white patch on his rump. He spoke very clearly and said:
"I roam all over North America, wherever there is open country and free flying, and make my nest on the ground wherever I find tufted grass or reeds to hide it. Marsh lands please me best, and so I am called the Marsh Hawk. The voices of the Hawk Brotherhood are like the voices of the winds, far-reaching, but not to be put in words. Mine is one of the softest of the cries of the Wise Watchers. Some brothers take their pastime in the skies, but I keep near the ground, in search of the things I harry—mice and other small gnawing animals, insects, lizards, and frogs. Sometimes I take a stray Chicken or some other bird, but very few compared to the countless rodents I destroy. House People do not realize that those gnawers are the greatest enemies that the Wise Watchers keep in check. Day and night these vermin gnaw at the grain, the roots of things, the fruits, the tree bark, even the eggs and young of useful birds. I am their chief Harrier; by chance only, not choice, am I a cannibal."
"A very honest statement," said the Eagle. "Acquitted! Sharp-shinned Hawk, it is your turn."
This little Hawk, only a foot long, was bluish-gray above and had a black tail barred with ashy; his white breast was banded with reddish-brown, and he had a keen, fierce eye.
"I have very little to say for myself," he began. "Everywhere in North America I am a cannibal. I know I am small, but I can kill a bird bigger than myself, and I have a big brother who is a regular Chicken and Hen Hawk. I hide my nest in the lengths of thick evergreens, or on a rocky ledge, and all the year round I take my own wherever I find it. I prefer to prey on birds—Dove or Sparrow, Robin or Thrush, song bird or Croaker—all are alike to me. I consider myself a true sportsman, and I do not like such tame game as mice or frogs. I pounce or dart according to my pleasure; I can fly faster than any one of you, and few small birds escape my clutches. Sometimes in winter I make my home near a colony of English Sparrows and eat them all for a change, just to see how it feels to be of some use to House People; but in spite of this I am a bold, bad bird, and as every one knows it I may as well say that I take pride in my reputation, and do not intend to reform!"
"Guilty!" said the Eagle solemnly. "Red-shouldered Hawk next."
The Red-shouldered Hawk held up his head proudly and returned the Eagle's gaze without flinching. He was a fine muscular bird, standing a little under two feet high, with deep rusty-red shoulders and reddish-brown back, while his head, neck, and under parts were spotted and cross-barred with rusty and white. He had a black tail crossed by half a dozen white bars.
"I am a Hawk of eastern North America, living from the great plains to the Atlantic coast, going northward to the British lands and southward to the warm-watered Gulf of Mexico. I am often called Hen Hawk by those who speak without thinking, but in truth I am not much of a bird-thief, for a good reason. I am a thoughtful bird, with the deliberate flight of a Night Owl, rather than the dash of my daylight brethren. I clear the fields of mice and other gnawers, besides spiders, grasshoppers, and snails; while as a frog-lover, I am a veritable Frenchman.
"I am a faithful Hawk besides, and when I am protected will nest for a lifetime in the same woodland, if there is a marsh or spring near by to furnish my daily frogs. I am faithful also to my mate through life. I help her build the nest and rear our young. If House People are kind to me, I can be a gentle friend to them, even in the trials of captivity; but if I suspect a stranger, he must look at me only at long range, heavy though my flight appears.
"So I say boldly that I am a useful bird and a good Citizen. If you think a Hawk has stolen a pet Hen, look well before you shoot; and if he has rusty-red shoulders count yourself mistaken—and let him go."
"A true account," said the Eagle; "you stand acquitted. Sparrow Hawk, your turn."
This charming little Hawk, about the size of a Shrike, had all the beauty of shape and color of a song bird, combined with Hawk-like dash. His wings were narrow and pointed. His back was reddish-brown with a few black bars, and there was a broad one on the end of his tail; his wings were partly bluish. Underneath he was white, shading to cream color and spotted with black. His head was bluish with black markings on the sides and a red spot on the top. He was not at all embarrassed at being in such grand company, for he was used to the best society, having come of noble ancestry in the Hawk line.
"You all know me," he said in a clear voice. "Since Sparrow-killing is ordered by the Wise Men, you should think well of me—especially you House People, who love song birds. I will tell you a secret—I am thinking of eating no birds but English Sparrows in future!"
"So you have been eating other birds?" said Dodo.
"Y-e-s, I have, but not many more than the Shrike takes, and mostly seed-eaters—hardly ever an insect-eating song bird. Do you know how many bad insects I eat?" The little Hawk rattled off a long list, beginning with grasshoppers and ending with beetles; but he spoke so fast that the children could not remember half the names he mentioned.
"Where do I live? All over North America, though I leave the colder parts in winter, for I like to be comfortable. I make my nest in some snug hole that a Woodpecker has kindly left. Sometimes, for a joke, I kill Sparrows and take their nest! Or make myself a home in a dove-cote—only I never seem to stay there long, for the Doves tell tales about me. I can sing a little, too; I have a high soprano voice and I——"
"That will do," interrupted the Eagle. "For a small bird you are a great talker. But you are acquitted! Who comes next? Brother Osprey?"
The children recognized the Fish Hawk they had seen the first day they went to the sea-shore.
"The Osprey is a fisherman like myself, so we need not question him about his habits," continued the Eagle, who had his own private reasons for not caring to hear all the Osprey might say, remembering that he had sometimes stolen fish the Osprey had caught; "but I should like to tell the House Children that he is one of the long-lived birds who mate for life after the manner of true Eagles, many of whom have lived a hundred years, and also very industrious. Golden Eagle, what is your bill of fare?"
"The food of a wild bird of the mountains, far from the homes of men. I seize Wild Ducks and other game birds, hares, rabbits, fawns—yes, and young calves also, if House People make their dwellings near me and bring cattle into my fortress; but if they keep away from me, I never molest them."
"Humph!" said the Bald Eagle; "you and I are somewhat alike, for though I chiefly fish for a living I also kill the young of large animals, and even eat carrion when game is scarce. But as it is unusual for a judge to condemn himself, I think I must go free; and as there are not very many of either of us, it really doesn't matter much."
"How many did you condemn as really bad cannibals?" asked Nat, speaking to the Eagle. "The Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Great Horned Owl are held over for further trial!" answered Judge Eagle. "These two are the only ones who have been brought before this court, though accusations have been made against that big brother of his whom the Sharpshin spoke of, and also against a still bigger relative he did not mention. The names of these two offenders are Cooper's Hawk and the Goshawk, who will both be brought to the bar of justice at our next session. This court is now adjourned!"
After the children had spent some time in looking at the Hawks and Owls, Nat asked, "What are the 'game birds,' uncle, that those cannibals sometimes eat?"
"That is not an easy question to answer, my boy; but as we are coming to these birds next, you will learn about them separately. Game birds as a whole are those chiefly useful as food, and the hunting of them is the occupation of sportsmen. These birds may belong to the working guilds, and all have habits interesting to bird-lovers; but as regards their value to the world, it is mostly in the shape of food for House People."
"Then it isn't wrong for people to kill these birds for food?"
"No, not if it is done fairly, in a true sportsmanlike spirit, and not with traps or snares, or in the nesting season, when no bird should be molested. The true sportsman never shoots a bird out of season, or a song bird at any time, and it is owing to his care that laws are made to stop the pot-hunters."
"Are the game birds tree birds, or what?" asked Dodo.
"There are many kinds," said the Doctor. "Some of them have cooing notes and build their nests in trees; these belong to the Pigeon family. Some scratch about and feed on the ground, where they also nest, like our barnyard poultry. Others run along the banks of rivers or on the sea-beaches, where they wade in shallow water to pick up their food, like Snipes and Plovers; while others swim with their webbed, feet and take their food from deep water, like Geese and Ducks. There are a few game birds in this glass case—some Pigeons and Grouse; suppose we finish the morning in their company?
"We will call Pigeons the Birds that Coo; and Grouse are some of the Birds that Scratch, so called because they all have much the same habit as our domestic fowls of scratching the ground for food and to raise a dust in which they take a sort of bath. See, this Cooer is called the Passenger Pigeon."
A COOING PAIR
THE PASSENGER PIGEON AND THE MOURNING DOVE
"You all know the Pigeons that are kept about stables and barnyards. You have often seen them walking with dainty steps to pick up their food, and have heard the soft crooning 'coo-oo' they give when talking to each other. They all belong to the Birds that Coo. Their food is taken into the crop, which can be plainly seen when it is quite full. These birds feed their young in the same way Hummingbirds and Flickers do; for they give the little ones softened food from the crop, mixed with a sort of milky fluid that also comes from the crop. One habit that Pigeons and Doves have, all their own, is that in drinking they do not raise the head to swallow like other birds, but keep the beak in the water until they are through.
"Our domestic Pigeons have beautiful and varied plumage, but to my mind many wild species surpass them. The two best-known wild species are the Passenger Pigeon of the Northwest, and the Mourning Dove, which may be found nesting everywhere in temperate North America.
"Here are the two birds"—and the Doctor set them upon the table. "At first glance you may think them much alike, and if you should see them on the wing you would surely be confused.
"Rap, you may describe the Passenger Pigeon, and Nat shall take the Dove; let me see if you can do it clearly enough for your written tables."
Rap looked at the Pigeon for some time. "It isn't an easy bird to describe—all the colors run together so. It has bluish-gray upper parts, and underneath it is a sort of pinky brown with white under the tail. The sides of the neck are shiny with soap-bubble colors. The outside tail-feathers are bluish and fade off white at the tips, but the middle ones are all dark; the beak is black, and the feet are red. But see here," he added, as he looked sharply at the bird's tail again, "there are some chestnut and black spots at the roots of the side feathers."
"Very good, my boy. How long do you think it is?"
Rap measured with his finger and said he thought about fourteen inches.
"You are almost right, though these Pigeons vary in length, because some have longer tails than others. I think this one measured about sixteen inches when it was stretched out straight; but it looks shorter now, because it is set up in a natural position.
"The life history of this beautiful Pigeon should teach every one the necessity of protecting birds by law. Up to fifty years ago the Passenger Pigeon was extremely plentiful everywhere east of the great plains—there were many millions in a single flock sometimes. It was a most valuable bird, its flesh being particularly well-flavored and tender. It nested in large colonies that often stretched unbroken for many miles in the woods, and was both hardy and prolific. If it had been protected in the breeding season and hunted fairly as an article of food at other times, we should still be enjoying Pigeon pie as freely as we did in my boyhood. But as the population of the country increased, these great flocks were cruelly slaughtered, for the mere greed of killing them; thousands were often left to decay upon the ground, and now I do not believe that any one of you has ever seen a wild Pigeon before to-day."
"We have Pigeon pie at home in the winter," said Dodo.
"Yes, tame Pigeon pie," said the Doctor.
"It might have been tame pie and it was very good! But, Uncle Roy, why did people want to kill these good, food birds when they didn't care to eat them?"
"It is difficult to say exactly, little girl. People living in what we call a state of nature, like African savages, or as our American Indians once did, seem to follow Heart of Nature's law; 'Kill only what ye need for food.' But many people that are called civilized never think of natural law at all, and having a coarse streak in their natures desire to kill wild things merely for the sake of killing. It is against such people that laws must be made by those who have more intelligence.
"Now for your Dove, Nat—called the Mourning Dove from his mournful 'coo-o-coo-o!''
"At first," said Nat, "when I saw it in the glass case it looked sort of bluish-brown. But near by it is greenish-brown and gray on top, and its head and neck have bright colors, like what you see on silver that has not been cleaned for some time or the spoon with which you have been eating boiled eggs."
"We call those colors metallic tints," interrupted the Doctor, to help Nat out.
"Thank you; that is what I was trying to say. It is just like what Rap called soap-bubble colors on the Pigeon's neck, but this Dove has got black specks like velvet on the neck too, and a black band on the tail with white tips to the feathers; underneath it is dull purple and sort of buff, and its feet are red, and it's about a foot long."
"That is a fairly good description of a bird whose colors it is almost impossible to put into words. Do you know anything about this Dove, Rap?"
"I only know it builds such a poor nest that you would think the eggs would drop through the bottom, only they don't seem to. There was a nest in the miller's woods last year, with two white eggs like tame Pigeons', only smaller, and when they hatched I took one of the squabs home for a pet. It became very tame, but I had to let it fly because it grew too big and dirty,—it was like keeping a Chicken in the house.
"The miller said they were mischievous birds, and ate so many oats that he had to sow his field twice over. Is that true, Doctor, or do they belong to some good guild?"
"They do not eat insects, though they may do a little work as Weed Warriors, and as they are fond of grain they may have helped themselves to some of the miller's oats; but usually when they feed on the ground they are Gleaners, and they never disturb grain in the ear. They have many pretty ways, and even though their love-song is sad they are cheerful and happy. Their 'coo-oo' sounds very gentle in the morning chorus, and though the Dove often nests in open woods and gardens, it seems most at home in a quiet place near water; for it is very fond of drinking and bathing."
THREE FAMOUS GAME BIRDS
"If any one should ask you which are the most famous American game birds, you may answer without hesitation, 'Bob White, Ruffed Grouse, and Woodcock'—the whistler, the drummer, and the sky dancer—all three good Citizens and handsome, interesting birds.
"Bob White is the most familiar, because in spring, when he feels quite sure that the law will protect his pretty head, he comes out of the thick bushes to the rail fence by the roadside and calls his own name—'Bob—white, bob—white!'—so that the shy mate he desires shall know where to find him. Then if she is hard-hearted and a long time coming he will say—'Bob-white, poor bob-white!' as if craving for pity.
"The last of May the nesting begins, and from then until autumn Bob White tells his name and whereabouts to no one; for it is a very busy season with him. The nest of leaves on the ground may yield during the summer twenty or thirty little Bobs, whom he must help supply with food and teach to walk about and care for themselves.
"In autumn each one of these Quail families—for Mr. Bob White is a kind of Quail—is called a 'covey.' They take to thick brush for winter food and shelter, being very clever at hiding from the sportsman, and only flying from shelter when nosed out by his dog.
"The Ruffed Grouse is also a bird of woods and brushy places, but at all seasons is more fond of trees than Bob White. It is much larger than Bob, and if seen among the underbrush looks like a small, brown, speckled Hen. Watch one in the spring-time, when he is roaming the woods in search of a mate, and you will see that he is every inch a game bird—a king of game birds too. In early May this Grouse mounts a fallen tree, or the rail of an old fence, and swells his breast proudly till the long feathers on each side of his neck rise into a beautiful shining black ruffle or tippet, such as you can see in some old-fashioned portraits of the times when Elizabeth was queen of England. He droops his wings and spreads his tail to a brown and gray banded fan, which he holds straight up as a Turkey does his when he is strutting and gobbling. Next he raises his wings and begins to beat the air—slowly at first, and then faster and faster. 'Boom—boom—boom'—the hollow sound comes rolling with a noise like beating a bass drum.
"Thus does the Ruffed Grouse drum up his mate, as the Woodpecker hammers or the Thrush sings. You remember the booming sound made by the wings of the Nighthawk, when the air whizzed through them? When Bob White and his Grouse brother fly, their wings make a whirring noise that is equally startling."
"And does his mate understand that the drumming is meant to call her?"
"Yes, surely; and soon there is a nest of dry leaves somewhere about the roots of a tree, or under a fallen log. Father Grouse then becomes selfish and takes himself off with some men friends, leaving mamma alone to hatch the eggs and feed the babies. But this is not so dreadful as it seems, because the young ones are fully covered with down like Chickens when they first leave the egg, and able to follow their mother; besides, they are the most obedient little things imaginable.
"If she but gives one cluck of alarm, they vanish, under the leaves or twigs, and do not stir again until they hear her say the danger is over. And that patient watchful Mother Grouse has as many ways of leading an enemy away from her nest as any House Mother could devise if her children were in danger.
"This Grouse is a Ground Gleaner, a Seed Sower, and a Weed Warrior also in autumn. When snow covers all other food, he nips buds from low plants.
"Sometimes he burrows in deep snow for shelter from the cold, and then is liable to be caught by a sleet storm and frozen in his hiding-place. So you see his life is not altogether an easy one.
"The young Grouse stay with their parents until they are old enough to choose mates for themselves; but the flocks are never as large as the covey Bob White musters about him.
"The American Woodcock, the last of the trio, and the most wary of all, belongs to a family of shore birds who patter about the water's edge; but he does not often go in wading, and prefers seclusion in the woods that border swamps. He is a worm and grub eater who, by the aid of his long straight bill, which has a sensitive tip like your finger, can feel his food when it is out of sight, and is able to probe the soft mud for things to eat that other birds cannot find. The strangest thing about his bill is, that the upper half of it can be bent at the end, almost as much as you can crook the last joint of your fingers. Such a bill is of the greatest assistance to him, as his eyes are set so far in the back of his head that he cannot see what he eats."
"How queer!" said Nat; "what is the reason for that? I suppose there must be a reason!"
"This is it. By being placed far back in his head his eyes become like two watch-towers, from which he can scan the country behind as well as in front, and be on the alert for enemies. Woodcocks are very cautious birds, keeping well hidden by day and feeding only during the twilight hours or at night.
"They do not pass the winter in the colder parts of the country, and so escape the suffering that often overtakes Bob White and the Ruffed Grouse. They must be able to brave snowstorms, however, at the latter end of the cold season; for sometimes, when they begin to lay in early April, winter changes its mind and comes back to give them a snow blanket."
"You said that they are dancing birds," said Dodo. "When do they dance?"
"They dance in the sky in spring and summer!" cried Rap, unable to keep still any longer. "I saw a pair of them doing it this year, when I was out with the miller, looking for his colt that had strayed into the big woods beyond the pond. He said he knew there must be a Woodcock about, because he saw the little round holes in the mud, where they had been boring for earthworms, and that is the way he knows where to find them in the fall when he wants to go hunting."
"Yes, but how did they dance?" persisted Dodo.
"Oh! like crazy things with wings! First one ran around a little and whistled; then one jumped right off into the air, making a whirring with his wings until he was way up out of sight, and then after a little while he came pitching down zig-zag, like a kite that has lost its tail, whistling something like the way a Swallow twitters, and making a queer twanging noise. The other one stayed on the ground and jigged about all the time. I would have liked to watch longer, but we had to find the colt, you know."
"Now write your tables," said the Doctor, "for it is nearly dinner-time."
Length ten inches.
Upper parts mixed reddish-brown, buff, gray, and black, with a white line over the eye and a row of buff streaks on the inside wing-feathers.
Under parts white, black, and chestnut, the breast quite black and the throat pure white in the male, but buff in the female, and other markings much mixed up.
A Citizen of the greater part of temperate North America, and a very valuable one, the prince of the game birds of its family. The bill is stout for crushing seeds, the head has a slight crest, and the feet have no feathers on the scaly part that goes from the drumstick down to the roots of the toes.
The Ruffed Grouse
Length about seventeen inches.
Upper parts mottled with reddish-brown, black, gray, buff, and whitish, in different blended patterns; on each side of the neck a tuft of long glossy greenish-black feathers in the male, much shorter and not so dark in the female; the tail in both sexes gray or brownish with black bars or mottling, especially one broad bar near the end, and gray tip of the feathers.
Lower parts light buff or whitish with many dark-brown or blackish bars, best marked on the sides.
A Citizen of eastern North America, and a valuable game bird. It lives on the ground and looks like a small Hen, but has a longer and handsomer tail that spreads round like a fan. The bill is stout and the head crested, like the Bob White's; but the feet have little feathers part way down from the drumstick to the toes.
The Ruffed Grouse, like the Bob White, belongs to the Birds that Scratch.
The American Woodcock
Length ten to twelve inches—female larger than male.
Upper parts variegated with brown, tawny, and black.
Under parts plain warm brown.
A Summer Citizen of eastern North America, wintering in southern parts of its range, and a famous game bird. A ground bird of marshy woods and near-by fields, though he belongs to the same family as the Snipe, and is therefore classed among the Birds that Wade. He has a plump body, with short, legs, neck, tail, and wings, a big head with the eyes set in its back upper corners, a very long bill which is soft, sensitive, and can be bent a little; and the three outside feathers in each wing are very much narrower than the rest.
The dinner bell rang as the children wrote the last words.
"You see," said the Doctor, "that though it is still raining and blowing, the morning has gone in a twinkling, and I now suspect the birthday cake is waiting to be cut."
"Yes," said Dodo, "I've been smelling the flowers and candles that go with a birthday cake for ever so long! And after dinner we can accept Olive's invitation and make candy—can't we, Uncle Roy?"
"I suppose so; and as nothing is too good for a rainy birthday, I will add something more to the feast. I will tell you a birthday secret—or, rather, what has been a secret until now.
"Next mouth we are all going to the sea-shore to spend a few weeks in Olaf's little cabin, to bathe in the salt water, and sail in his sharpie. Then you can ask all the questions you please about the marsh and water birds. You will learn how the tides ebb and flow, and see the moon come up out of the water.
"There! Don't all talk at once! Yes, Rap is coming with us—and his mother also, to help take care of you children, for Mammy Bun must stay here. She does not like to camp out—says she is afraid of getting break-bone fever.
"Come, dinner first, and then talking, or the candles will burn out all alone!"
ON THE SHORE
By the first of August, bird housekeeping was over at Orchard Farm. The Barn Swallow had guided her last brood through the hayloft window, without having it closed upon her as she had feared. The friendly Robins had left the Orchard and lawn, to moult in the quiet of the woods. The Thrashers, and Catbirds too, were quite silent and invisible; of all the voices that had made the last three months so musical, the Red-eyed Vireo and the Song Sparrow alone persisted in singing, aided by a few Wood Thrushes.
"Rap says that August is a poor month for birds about here," said Nat to his uncle; "do you think there will be more of them down at the shore?"
"That we cannot tell until we go there, but we are likely to meet some of the Wading and Swimming Birds who have nested in the far North, and are on their southward journey. If the weather is pleasant, they often pass by far out at sea; but if it is foggy or stormy, they may stop awhile to rest and feed."
"Do many of these birds nest near our beach?"
"A few, but the greater number breed further north. Olaf will show us Herons in the island woods, and where the Rails nest in the reeds, near the Marsh Wrens, a mile or two up the river. Some day when it is calm, we will sail over to Great Gull Island, where many water birds lay their eggs on the bare sand. There will be enough for you to see and do, I promise you."
The next day they all went to the shore. Mr. Wolf looked after them very sadly from the door of his kennel, where he was chained, and barked a gruff goodbye; but Quick informed them that he intended going also, took matters into his own hands, and started to run down the road ahead of the wagon.
After much arranging, talking, and laughing, two wagon-loads of people, rubber boots, fishing tackle, and other things, started toward the shore, a farm hand going with each team to drive the horses back.
"Miss Olive, honey!" called Mammy Bun as they were starting, "don' you let de chillen eat too many o' dem clams what has de long necks; dey is powerful full o' cramps." And Olive promised that she would be very careful.
When they reached the shore, they found everything ready for them. Olaf's little home, which contained four tiny rooms, was as clean and compact as a ship's cabin. There was a kitchen, one room for Olive and Dodo, one for the Doctor, and another for Rap's mother; while Olaf, Nat, and Rap were to sleep close by in a tent made of poles, canvas, and pine boughs. Several boats were drawn up on the beach, by a creel of nets and some lobster pots, while Olaf's sharpie was anchored in deep water a little way offshore.
It was late when the horses turned homeward after leaving their loads; it had been a beautiful afternoon, neither too warm nor too cool. "Oh!" exclaimed Dodo, "now that the horses have gone, the good time will begin; for we can't go back even if we want to."
The children amused themselves for some time in looking at their new quarters, and then in watching Olaf row out to light the beacon lamps. When it grew dusk they had supper, wondering at the strange stillness of the evening; for, though it was usually very quiet at the Farm, they had never before known the silence that falls with the twilight on a shore where the water does not rush and beat as on the ocean beaches, but simply laps lazily to and fro, like the swinging of a hammock.
Presently the stars began to give good-evening winks at the beacons—first one, then another and another, until the whole sky twinkled; while one evening star, the brightest of them all, hurried along the west as if it were trying to overtake the sun, and knew that it was fully half an hour behind the jolly god of day.
"See how the tide is coming in," said Rap, when they returned to the beach. "When Olaf went out, he had to push his boat ever so far, and now the water is almost up to the line of seaweeds and shells."
"I wonder what makes the water go in and out?" questioned Dodo, half to herself.
"I don't exactly know," said Rap; "but I think it is because the earth goes round every day, making the water tip from one side to the other and then back again."
"Then why doesn't it all tip off into the sky?" persisted Dodo.
"I guess—because—that is, I don't know," stammered Rap. "I must ask Uncle Roy to tell us, and why the earth down here on the shore stays sharp and gritty when it is wet; for when the earth up at the Farm is wet, it makes sticky mud," said Dodo.
"Yes," said Nat, "and why the stars are of such different sizes, and seem to stay quite still, except some that go along like that big bright one over there."
"Quok! Quok!" cried a strange voice from the marshes back of the beach. "Quok, quok, quok, quok!" answered other voices.
"What can that be?" said Nat; "it isn't a Whip-poor-will, or a Nighthawk—it must be one of the cannibal birds. Uncle Roy, what kind of birds are those calling away over in the marshes?" But the Doctor was not within hearing, and it was some time before they found him, sitting by the cabin door smoking his pet outdoor pipe, which was made of a corn-cob.
"Did you hear the Night Herons calling as you came up?" he asked.
"We heard a very queer squawky sound, and came to ask you what it was, for we couldn't guess," said Nat. "What is a Night Heron—a cousin of the Nighthawk, who lives near the water?"
"I don't think it's a water bird," said Rap, "because I have heard that same squawking up by the mill."