These April days we are sure to see flocks of myrtle, or yellow-rumped warblers, and yellow palm warblers in their olive-green coats and chestnut caps. The black-and-white creeper will always show himself true to his name—a creeping bundle of black and white streaks. When we hear of the parula warbler or of the Cape May warbler we get no idea of the appearance of the bird, but when we know that the black-throated green warblers begin to appear in April, the first good view of one of this species will proclaim him as such.
We have marked the fox sparrow as being a great scratcher among dead leaves. His habit is continued in the spring by the towhee, or chewink, who uses the same methods, throwing both feet backward simultaneously. The ordinary call note of this bird is a good example of how difficult it is to translate bird songs into human words. Listen to the quick, double note coming from the underbrush. Now he says "towhee'!" the next time "chewink'!" You may change about at will, and the notes will always correspond. Whatever is in our mind at the instant, that will seem to be what the bird says. This should warn us of the danger of reading our thoughts and theories too much into the minds and actions of birds. Their mental processes, in many ways, correspond to ours. When a bird expresses fear, hate, bravery, pain or pleasure, we can sympathise thoroughly with it, but in studying their more complex actions we should endeavour to exclude the thousand and one human attributes with which we are prone to colour the bird's mental environment.
John Burroughs has rendered the song of the black-throated green warbler in an inimitable way, as follows: "—— ——V——!" When we have once heard the bird we will instantly recognise the aptness of these symbolic lines. The least flycatcher, called minimus by the scientists, well deserves his name, for of all those members of his family which make their home with us, he is the smallest. These miniature flycatchers have a way of hunting which is all their own. They sit perched on some exposed twig or branch, motionless until some small insect flies in sight. Then they will launch out into the air, and, catching the insect with a snap of their beaks, fly back to the same perch. They are garbed in subdued grays, olives, and yellows. The least flycatcher has another name which at once distinguishes him—chebec'. As he sits on a limb, his whole body trembles when he jerks out these syllables, and his tail snaps as if it played some important part in the mechanism of his vocal effort.
When you are picking cowslips and hepaticas early in the month, keep a lookout for the first barn swallow. Nothing gives us such an impression of the independence and individuality of birds as when a solitary member of some species arrives days before others of his kind. One fork-tailed beauty of last year's nest above the haymow may hawk about for insects day after day alone, before he is joined by other swallows. Did he spend the winter by himself, or did the heimweh smite his heart more sorely and bring him irresistibly to the loved nest in the rafters? This love of home, which is so striking an attribute of birds, is a wonderfully beautiful thing. It brings the oriole back to the branch where still swings her exquisite purse-shaped home of last summer; it leads each pair of fishhawks to their particular cartload of sticks, to which a few more must be added each year; it hastens the wing beats of the sea-swallows northward to the beach which, ten months ago, was flecked with their eggs—the shifting grains of sand their only nest.
This love of home, of birthplace, bridges over a thousand physical differences between these feathered creatures and ourselves. We forget their expressionless masks of horn, their feathered fingers, their scaly toes, and looking deep into their clear, bright eyes, we know and feel a kinship, a sympathy of spirit, which binds us all together, and we are glad.
Yet these sweet sounds of the early season, And these fair sights of its sunny days, Are only sweet when we fondly listen, And only fair when we fondly gaze.
There is no glory in star or blossom Till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes Till breathed with joy as they wander by. William Cullen Bryant.
THE SIMPLE ART OF SAPSUCKING
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is, at this time of year, one of our most abundant woodpeckers, and in its life we have an excellent example of that individuality which is ever cropping out in Nature—the trial and acceptance of life under new conditions.
In the spring we tap the sugar maples, and gather great pailfuls of the sap as it rises from its winter resting-place in the roots, and the sapsucker likes to steal from our pails or to tap the trees for himself. But throughout part of the year he is satisfied with an insect diet and chooses the time when the sap begins to flow downward in the autumn for committing his most serious depredations upon the tree. It was formerly thought that this bird, like its near relatives, the downy and hairy woodpeckers, was forever boring for insects; but when we examine the regularity and symmetry of the arrangement of its holes, we realise that they are for a very different purpose than the exposing of an occasional grub.
Besides drinking the sap from the holes, this bird extracts a quantity of the tender inner bark of the tree, and when a tree has been encircled for several feet up and down its trunk by these numerous little sap wells, the effect becomes apparent in the lessened circulation of the liquid blood of the tree; and before long, death is certain to ensue. So the work of the sapsucker is injurious, while the grub-seeking woodpeckers confer only good upon the trees they frequent.
And how pitiful is the downfall of a doomed tree! Hardly has its vitality been lessened an appreciable amount, when somehow the word is passed to the insect hordes who hover about in waiting, as wolves hang upon the outskirts of a herd of buffalo. In the spring, when the topmost branches have received a little less than their wonted amount of wholesome sap and the leaves are less vigorous, the caterpillars and twig-girdlers attack at once. Ichneumen flies and boring beetles seem to know by signs invisible to us that here is opportunity. Then in the fall come again the sapsuckers to the tree, remorselessly driving hole after hole through the still untouched segments of its circle of life. When the last sap-channel is pierced and no more can pass to the roots, the tree stands helpless, waiting for the end. Swiftly come frost and rain, and when the April suns again quicken all the surrounding vegetation into vigorous life, the victim of the sapsuckers stands lifeless, its branches reaching hopelessly upward, a naked mockery amid the warm green foliage around. Insects and fungi and lightning now set to work unhindered, and the tree falls at last,—dust to dust—ashes to ashes.
A sapsucker has been seen in early morning to sink forty or fifty wells into the bark of a mountain ash tree, and then to spend the rest of the day in sidling from one to another, taking a sip here and a drink there, gradually becoming more and more lethargic and drowsy, as if the sap actually produced some narcotic or intoxicating effect. Strong indeed is the contrast between such a picture and the same bird in the early spring,—then full of life and vigour, drawing musical reverberations from some resonant hollow limb.
Like other idlers, the sapsucker in its deeds of gluttony and harm brings, if anything, more injury to others than to itself. The farmers well know its depredations and detest it accordingly, but unfortunately they are not ornithologists, and a peckerwood is a peckerwood to them; and so while the poor downy, the red-head, and the hairy woodpeckers are seen busily at work cutting the life threads of the injurious borer larvae, the farmer, thinking of his dying trees, slays them all without mercy or distinction. The sapsucker is never as confiding as the downy, and from a safe distance sees others murdered for sins which are his alone.
But we must give sapsucker his due and admit that he devours many hundreds of insects throughout the year, and though we mourn the death of an occasional tree, we cannot but admire his new venture in life,—his cunning in choosing only the dessert served at the woodpeckers' feasts,—the sweets which flow at the tap of a beak, leaving to his fellows the labour of searching and drilling deep for more substantial courses.
The ides of March see the woodcock back in its northern home, and in early April it prepares for nesting. The question of the nest itself is a very simple matter, being only a cavity, formed by the pressure of the mother's body, among the moss and dead leaves. The formalities of courtship are, however, quite another thing, and the execution of interesting aerial dances entails much effort and time.
It is in the dusk of evening that the male woodcock begins his song,—plaintive notes uttered at regular intervals, and sounding like peent! peent! Then without warning he launches himself on a sharply ascending spiral, his wings whistling through the gloom. Higher and higher he goes, balances a moment, and finally descends abruptly, with zigzag rushes, wings and voice both aiding each other in producing the sounds, to which, let us suppose, his prospective mate listens with ecstasy. It is a weird performance, repeated again and again during the same evening.
So pronounced and loud is the whistling of the wings that we wonder how it can be produced by ordinary feathers. The three outer primaries of the wing, which in most birds are usually like the others, in the woodcock are very stiff, and the vanes are so narrow that when the wing is spread there is a wide space between each one. When the wing beats the air rapidly, the wind rushes through these feather slits,—and we have the accompaniment of the love-song explained.
The feather-covered arms and hands of birds are full of interest; and after studying the wing of a chicken which has been plucked for the table, we shall realise how wonderful a transformation has taken place through the millions of years past. Only three stubby fingers are left and these are stiff and almost immovable, but the rest of the forearm is very like that of our own arm.
See how many facts we can accumulate about wings, by giving special attention to them, when watching birds fly across the sky. How easy it is to identify the steady beats of a crow, or the more rapid strokes of a duck; how distinctive is the frequent looping flight of a goldfinch, or the longer, more direct swings of a woodpecker!
Hardly any two birds have wings exactly similar in shape, every wing being exquisitely adapted to its owner's needs. The gull soars or flaps slowly on his long, narrow, tireless pinions, while the quail rises suddenly before us on short, rounded wings, which carry it like a rocket for a short distance, when it settles quickly to earth again. The gull would fare ill were it compelled to traverse the ocean with such brief spurts of speed, while, on the other hand, the last bob-white would shortly vanish, could it escape from fox or weasel only with the slow flight of a gull. How splendidly the sickle wings of a swift enable it to turn and twist, bat-like, in its pursuit of insects!
You may be able to identify any bird near your home, you may know its nest and eggs, its song and its young; but begin at the beginning again and watch their wings and their feet and their bills and you will find that there are new and wonderful truths at your very doorstep. Try bringing home from your walk a list of bill-uses or feet-functions. Remember that a familiar object, looked at from a new point of view, will take to itself unthought-of significance.
Whither midst falling dew, While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue Thy solitary way? William Cullen Bryant.
THE BIRDS IN THE MOON
The lover of birds who has spent the day in the field puts away his glasses at nightfall, looking forward to a walk after dark only as a chance to hear the call of nocturnal birds or to catch the whirr of a passing wing. But some bright moonlight night in early May, or again in mid September, unsheath your glasses and tie them, telescope-fashion, to a window-ledge or railing. Seat yourself in an easy position and focus on the moon. Shut out all earthly scenes from your mind and imagine yourself wandering amid those arid wastes. What a scene of cosmic desolation! What vast deserts, and gaping craters of barren rock! The cold, steel-white planet seems of all things most typical of death.
But those specks passing across its surface? At first you imagine they are motes clogging the delicate blood-vessels of the retina; then you wonder if a distant host of falling meteors could have passed. Soon a larger, nearer mote appears; the moon and its craters are forgotten and with a thrill of delight you realise that they are birds—living, flying birds—of all earthly things typical of the most vital life! Migration is at its height, the chirps and twitters which come from the surrounding darkness are tantalising hints telling of the passing legions. Thousands and thousands of birds are every night pouring northward in a swift, invisible, aerial stream.
As a projecting pebble in mid-stream blurs the transparent water with a myriad bubbles, so the narrow path of moon-rays, which our glass reveals, cute a swath of visibility straight through the host of birds to our eager eyes. How we hate to lose an instant's opportunity! Even a wink may allow a familiar form to pass unseen. If we can use a small telescope, the field of view is much enlarged. Now and then we recognise the flight of some particular species,—the swinging loop of a woodpecker or goldfinch, or the flutter of a sandpiper.
It has been computed that these birds sometimes fly as much as a mile or more above the surface of the earth, and when we think of the tiny, fluttering things at this terrible height, it takes our breath away. What a panorama of dark earth and glistening river and ocean must be spread out beneath them! How the big moon must glow in that rarefied air! How diminutive and puerile must seem the houses and cities of human fashioning!
The instinct of migration is one of the most wonderful in the world. A young bob-white and a bobolink are hatched in the same New England field. The former grows up and during the fall and winter forms one of the covey which is content to wander a mile or two, here and there, in search of good feeding grounds. Hardly has the bobolink donned his first full dress before an irresistible impulse seizes him. One night he rises up and up, ever higher on fluttering wings, sets his course southward, gives you a glimpse of him across the moon, and keeps on through Virginia to Florida, across seas, over tropical islands, far into South America, never content until he has put the great Amazon between him and his far distant birthplace.
He who, from zone to zone, Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, In the long way that I must tread alone, Will lead my steps aright. William Cullen Bryant.
THE HIGH TIDE OF BIRD LIFE
For abundance and for perfection of song and plumage, of the whole year, May is the month of birds. Insects appear slowly in the spring and are numerous all summer; squirrels and mice are more or less in evidence during all the twelve months; reptiles unearth themselves at the approach of the warm weather, and may be found living their slow, sluggish life until late in the fall. In eggs, cocoons, discarded bird's-nests, in earthen burrows, or in the mud at the bottom of pond or stream, all these creatures have spent the winter near where we find them in the spring. But birds are like creatures of another world; and, although in every summer's walk we may see turtles, birds, butterflies, and chipmunks, all interweaving their life paths across one another's haunts, yet the power of extended flight and the wonderful habit of continental migration set birds apart from all other living creatures. A bird during its lifetime has almost twice the conscious existence of, say, a snake or any hibernating mammal. And now in early May, when the creatures of the woods and fields have only recently opened their sleepy eyes and stretched their thin forms, there comes the great worldwide army of the birds, whose bright eyes peer at us from tree, thicket, and field, whose brilliant feathers and sweet songs bring summer with a leap—the height of the grand symphony, of which the vernal peeping of the frogs and the squirrels' chatter were only the first notes of the prelude.
Tantalus-like is the condition of the amateur bird-lover, who, book in hand, vainly endeavours to identify the countless beautiful forms which appear in such vast numbers, linger a few days and then disappear, passing on to the northward, but leaving behind a goodly assemblage which spends the summer and gives abundant opportunity for study during the succeeding months. In May it is the migrants which we should watch, and listen to, and "ogle" with our opera glasses. Like many other evanescent things, those birds which have made their winter home in Central America—land yet beyond our travels—and which use our groves merely as half-way houses on their journey to the land of their birth, the balsams of Quebec, or the unknown wastes of Labrador, seem most precious, most worthy at this time of our closest observation.
More confusing—albeit the more delightful—is a season when continued cold weather and chilly rains hold back all but the hardiest birds, until—like the dammed-up piles of logs trembling with the spring freshets—the tropic winds carry all before them, and all at once winter birds which have sojourned only a few miles south of us, summer residents which should have appeared weeks ago, together with the great host of Canadian and other nesters of the north, appear within a few days' time.
A backward season brings strangers into close company for a while. A white-throat sings his clear song of the North, and a moment later is answered by an oriole's melody, or the sweet tones of a rose-breasted grosbeak—the latter one of those rarely favoured birds, exquisite in both plumage and song.
The glories of our May bird life are the wood warblers, and innumerable they must seem to one who is just beginning his studies; indeed, there are over seventy species that find their way into the United States. Many are named from the distribution of colour upon their plumage—the blue-winged yellow, the black-throated blue, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, and black poll. Perhaps the two most beautiful—most reflective of bright tropical skies and flowers—are the magnolia and the blackburnian. The first fairly dazzles us with its bluish crown, white and black face, black and olive-green back, white marked wings and tail, yellow throat and rump, and strongly streaked breast. The blackburnian is an exquisite little fellow, marked with white and black, but with the crown, several patches on the face, the throat and breast of a rich warm orange that glows amid the green foliage like a living coal of fire. The black poll warbler is an easy bird to identify; but do not expect to recognise it when it returns from the North in the fall. Its black crown has disappeared, and in general it looks like a different bird.
At the present time when the dogwood blossoms are in their full perfection, and the branches and twigs of the trees are not yet hidden, but their outlines only softened by the light, feathery foliage, the tanagers and orioles have their day. Nesting cares have not yet made them fearful of showing their bright plumage, and scores of the scarlet and orange forms play among the branches.
The flycatchers and vireos now appear in force—little hunters of insects clad in leafy greens and browns, with now and then a touch of brightness—as in the yellow-throated vireo or in the crest of the kingbird.
The lesser sandpipers, both the spotted and the solitary, teeter along the brooks and ponds, and probe the shallows for tiny worms. Near the woody streams the so-called water thrushes spring up before us. Strange birds these, in appearance like thrushes, in their haunts and in their teetering motion like sandpipers, but in reality belonging to the same family as the tree-loving wood warblers. A problem not yet solved by ornithologists is: what was the mode of life of the ancestor of the many warblers? Did he cling to and creep along the bark, as the black-and-white warbler, or feed from the ground or the thicket as does the worm-eating? Did he snatch flies on the wing as the necklaced Canadian warbler, or glean from the brook's edge as our water thrush? The struggle for existence has not been absent from the lives of these light-hearted little fellows, and they have had to be jack-of-all-trades in their search for food.
The gnats and other flying insects have indeed to take many chances when they slip from their cocoons and dance up and down in the warm sunlight! Lucky for their race that there are millions instead of thousands of them; for now the swifts and great numbers of tree and barn swallows spend the livelong day in swooping after the unfortunate gauzy-winged motes, which have risen above the toad's maw upon land, and beyond the reach of the trout's leap over the water.
It would take an article as long as this simply to mention hardly more than the names of the birds that we may observe during a walk in May; and with bird book and glasses we must see for ourselves the bobolinks in the broad meadows, the cowbirds and rusty blackbirds, and, pushing through the lady-slipper marshes, we may surprise the solitary great blue and the little green herons at their silent fishing.
No matter how late the spring may be, the great migration host will reach its height from the tenth to the fifteenth of the month. From this until June first, migrants will be passing, but in fewer and fewer numbers, until the balance comes to rest again, and we may cease from the strenuous labours of the last few weeks, confident that those birds that remain will be the builders of the nests near our homes—nests that they know so well how to hide. Even before the last day of May passes, we see many young birds on their first weak-winged flights, such as bluebirds and robins; but June is the great month of bird homes, as to May belong the migrants.
Robins and mocking birds that all day long Athwart straight sunshine weave cross-threads of song. Sidney Lanier.
Warm spring days bring other changes than thawing snowbanks and the swelling buds and leaves, which seem to grow almost visibly. It is surprising how many of the wild folk meet the spring with changed appearance—beautiful, fantastic or ugly to us; all, perhaps, beautiful to them and to their mates.
As a rule we find the conditions which exist among ourselves reversed among the animals; the male "blossoms forth like the rose," while the female's sombre winter fur or feathers are reduplicated only by a thinner coat for summer. The "spring opening" of the great classes of birds and animals is none the less interesting because its styles are not set by Parisian modistes.
The most gorgeous display of all is to be found among the birds, the peacock leading in conspicuousness and self-consciousness. What a contrast to the dull earthy-hued little hen, for whose slightest favour he neglects food to raise his Argus-eyed fan, clattering his quill castanets and screaming challenges to his rivals! He will even fight bloody battles with invading suitors; and, after all, failure may be the result. Imagine the feelings of two superb birds fighting over a winsome browny, to see her—as I have done—walk off with a spurless, half-plumaged young cock!
The males of many birds, such as the scarlet tanager and the indigo bunting, assume during the winter the sombre green or brown hue of the female, changing in spring to a glorious scarlet and black, or to an exquisite indigo colour respectively. Not only do most of the females of the feathered world retain their dull coats throughout the year, but some deface even this to form feather beds for the precious eggs and nestlings, to protect which bright colours must be entirely foregone.
The spring is the time when decorations are seen at their best. The snowy egret trails his filmy cloud of plumes, putting to shame the stiff millinery bunches of similar feathers torn from his murdered brethren. Even the awkward and querulous night heron exhibits a long curling plume or two. And what a strange criterion of beauty a female white pelican must have! To be sure, the graceful crest which Sir Pelican erects is beautiful, but that huge, horny "keel" or "sight" on his bill! What use can it subserve, aesthetic or otherwise? One would think that such a structure growing so near his eyes, and day by day becoming taller, must occupy much of his attention.
The sheldrake ducks also have a fleshy growth on the bill. A turkey gobbler, when his vernal wedding dress is complete, is indeed a remarkable sight. The mass of wattles, usually so gray and shrunken, is now of most vivid hues—scarlet, blue, vermilion, green,—the fleshy tassels and swollen knobs making him a most extraordinary creature.
Birds are noted for taking exquisite care of their plumage, and if the feathers become at all dingy or unkempt, we know the bird is in bad health.
What a time the deer and the bears, the squirrels and the mice, have when changing their dress! Rags and tatters; tatters and rags! One can grasp a handful of hair on the flank of a caribou or elk in a zoological park, and the whole will come out like thistledown; while underneath is seen the sleek, short summer coat. A bear will sometimes carry a few locks of the long, brown winter fur for months after the clean black hairs of the summer's coat are grown. What a boon to human tailors such an opportunity would be—to ordain that Mr. X. must wear the faded collar or vest of his old suit until bills are paid!
It is a poor substance, indeed, which, when cast aside, is not available for some secondary use in Nature's realm; and the hairs that fall from animals are not all left to return unused to their original elements. The sharp eyes of birds spy them out, and thus the lining to many a nest is furnished. I knew of one feathered seeker of cast-off clothing which met disaster through trying to get a supply at first hand—a sparrow was found dead, tangled in the hairs of a pony's tail. The chickadee often lights on the backs of domestic cattle and plucks out hair with which to line some snug cavity near by for his nest. Before the cattle came his ancestors were undoubtedly in the habit of helping themselves from the deer's stock of "ole clo's," as they have been observed getting their building material from the deer in zoological parks.
Of course the hair of deer and similar animals falls out with the motions of the creatures, or is brushed out by bushes and twigs; but we must hope that the shedding place of a porcupine is at a distance from his customary haunts; it would be so uncomfortable to run across a shred of one's old clothes—if one were a porcupine!
The skin of birds and animals wears away in small flakes, but when a reptile changes to a new suit of clothes, the old is shed almost entire. A frog after shedding its skin will very often turn round and swallow it, establishing the frog maxim "every frog his own old clothes bag!"
Birds, which exhibit so many idiosyncrasies, appear again as utilizers of old clothes; although when a crested flycatcher weaves a long snake-skin into the fabric of its nest, it seems more from the standpoint of a curio collector—as some people delight in old worn brass and blue china! There is another if less artistic theory for this peculiarity of the crested flycatcher. The skin of a snake—a perfect ghost in its completeness—would make a splendid "bogie." We can see that it might, indeed, be useful in such a way, as in frightening marauding crows, who approach with cannibalistic intentions upon eggs or young. Thus the skin would correspond in function to the rows of dummy wooden guns, which make a weak fort appear all but invincible.
The ancient Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hindus, Japanese, and Greeks all shared the belief that the whole world was hatched from an egg made by the Creator. This idea of development is at least true in the case of every living thing upon the earth to-day; every plant springs from its seed, every animal from its egg. And still another sweeping, all-inclusive statement may be made,—every seed or egg at first consists of but one cell, and by the division of this into many cells, the lichen, violet, tree, worm, crab, butterfly, fish, frog, or other higher creature is formed. A little embryology will give a new impetus to our studies, whether we watch the unfolding leaves of a sunflower, a caterpillar emerging from its egg, or a chick breaking through its shell.
The very simplest and best way to begin this study is to go to the nearest pond, where the frogs have been croaking in the evenings. A search among the dead leaves and water-soaked sticks will reveal a long string of black beads. These are the eggs of the toad; if, however, the beads are not in strings, but in irregular masses, then they are frogs' eggs. In any case take home a tumblerful, place a few, together with the thick, transparent gelatine, in which they are encased, in a saucer, and examine them carefully under a good magnifying glass, or, better still, through a low-power microscope lens.
You will notice that the tiny spheres are not uniformly coloured but that half is whitish. If the eggs have been recently laid the surface will be smooth and unmarked, but have patience and watch them for as long a time as you can spare. Whenever I can get a batch of such eggs, I never grudge a whole day spent in observing them, for it is seldom that the mysterious processes of life are so readily watched and followed.
Keep your eye fixed on the little black and white ball of jelly and before long, gradually and yet with never a halt, a tiny furrow makes its way across the surface, dividing the egg into equal halves. When it completely encircles the sphere you may know that you have seen one of the greatest wonders of the world. The egg which consisted of but one cell is now divided into two exactly equal parts, of the deepest significance. Of the latter truth we may judge from the fact that if one of those cells should be injured, only one-half a polliwog would result,—either a head or a tail half.
Before long the unseen hand of life ploughs another furrow across the egg, and we have now four cells. These divide into eight, sixteen, and so on far beyond human powers of numeration, until the beginnings of all the organs of the tadpole are formed. While we cannot, of course, follow this development, we can look at our egg every day and at last see the little wiggle heads or polliwogs (from pol and wiggle) emerge.
In a few days they develop a fin around the tail, and from now on it is an easy matter to watch the daily growth. There is no greater miracle in the world than to see one of these aquatic, water-breathing, limbless creatures transform before your eyes into a terrestrial, four-legged frog or toad, breathing air like ourselves. The humble polliwog in its development is significant of far more marvellous facts than the caterpillar changing into the butterfly, embodying as it does the deepest poetry and romance of evolution.
Blue dusk, that brings the dewy hours, Brings thee, of graceless form in sooth. Edgar Fawcett.
INSECT PIRATES AND SUBMARINES
Far out on the ocean, when the vessel is laboriously making her way through the troughs and over the crests of the great waves, little birds, black save for a patch of white on the lower back, are a common sight, flying with quick irregular wing-beats, close to the surface of the troubled waters. When they spy some edible bit floating beneath them, down they drop until their tiny webbed feet just rest upon the water. Then, snatching up the titbit, half-flying, they patter along the surface of the water, just missing being engulfed by each oncoming wave. Thus they have come to be named petrels—little Peters—because they seem to walk upon the water. Without aid from the wings, however, they would soon be immersed, so the walking is only an illusion.
But in our smallest ponds and brooks we may see this miracle taking place almost daily, the feat being accomplished by a very interesting little assemblage of insects, commonly called water skaters or striders. Let us place our eyes as near as possible to the surface of the water and watch the little creatures darting here and there.
We see that they progress securely on the top of the water, resting upon it as if it were a sheet of ice. Their feet are so adapted that the water only dimples beneath their slight weight, the extent of the depression not being visible to the eye, but clearly outlined in the shadows upon the bottom. In an eddy of air a tiny fly is caught and whirled upon the water, where it struggles vigorously, striving to lift its wings clear of the surface. In an instant the water strider—pirate of the pond that he is—reaches forward his crooked fore legs, and here endeth the career of the unfortunate fly.
In the air, in the earth, and below the surface of the water are hundreds of living creatures, but the water striders and their near relatives are unique. No other group shares their power of actually walking, or rather pushing themselves, upon the surface of the water. They have a little piece of the world all to themselves. Yet, although three fifths of the earth's surface consists of water, this group of insects is a small one. A very few, however, are found out upon the ocean, where the tiny creatures row themselves cheerfully along. It is thought that they attach their eggs to the floating saragassum seaweed. If only we knew the whole life of one of these ocean water striders and all the strange sights it must see, a fairy story indeed would be unfolded to us.
However, all the Lilliputian craft of our brooks are not galleys; there are submarines, which, in excellence of action and control, put to shame all human efforts along the same line. These are the water boatmen, stout boat-shaped insects whose hind legs are long, projecting outward like the oars of a rowboat. They feather their oars, too, or rather the oars are feathered for them, a fringe of long hairs growing out on each side of the blade. Some of the boatmen swim upside down, and these have the back keeled instead of the breast. Like real submarine boats, these insects have to come up for air occasionally; and, again like similar craft of human handiwork, their principal mission in life seems to be warfare upon the weaker creatures about them.
Upon their bodies are many short hairs that have the power of enclosing and retaining a good-sized bubble of air. Thus the little boatman is well supplied for each submarine trip, and he does not have to return to the surface until all this storage air has been exhausted. In perfectly pure water, however, these boatmen can remain almost indefinitely below the surface, although it is not known how they obtain from the water the oxygen which they usually take from the air.
All of these skaters and boatmen thrive in small aquariums, and if given pieces of scraped meat will live in perfect health. Here is an alluring opportunity for anyone to add to our knowledge of insect life; for the most recent scientific books admit that we do not yet know the complete life history of even one of these little brothers of the pond.
Clear and cool, clear and cool, By laughing shallow, and dreaming pool; Cool and clear, cool and clear, By shining shingle, and foaming weir, Charles Kingsley.
THE VICTORY OF THE NIGHTHAWK
The time is not far distant when the bottom of the sea will be the only place where primeval wildness will not have been defiled or destroyed by man. He may sail his ships above, he may peer downward, even dare to descend a few feet in a suit of rubber or a submarine boat, or he may scratch a tiny furrow for a few yards with a dredge: but that is all.
When that time comes, the animals and birds which survive will be only those which have found a way to adapt themselves to man's encroaching, all-pervading civilisation. The time was when our far-distant ancestors had, year in and year out, to fight for very existence against the wild creatures about them. They then gained the upper hand, and from that time to the present the only question has been, how long the wild creatures of the earth could hold out.
The wolf, the bison, the beaver fought the battle out at once to all but the bitter end. The crow, the muskrat, the fox have more than held their own, by reason of cunning, hiding or quickness of sight; but they cannot hope for this to last. The English sparrow has won by sheer audacity; but most to be admired are those creatures which have so changed their habits that some product of man's invention serves them as well as did their former wilderness home. The eave swallow and barn swallow and the chimney swift all belie their names in the few wild haunts still uninvaded by man. The first two were originally cliff and bank haunters, and the latter's home was a lightning-hollowed tree.
But the nighthawks which soar and boom above our city streets, whence come they? Do they make daily pilgrimages from distant woods? The city furnishes no forest floor on which they may lay their eggs. Let us seek a wide expanse of flat roof, high above the noisy, crowded streets. Let it be one of those tar and pebble affairs, so unpleasant to walk upon, but so efficient in shedding water. If we are fortunate, as we walk slowly across the roof, a something, like a brownish bit of wind-blown rubbish, will roll and tumble ahead of us. It is a bird with a broken wing, we say. How did it ever get up here? We hasten forward to pick it up, when, with a last desperate flutter, it topples off the edge of the roof; but instead of falling helplessly to the street, the bird swings out above the house-tops, on the white-barred pinions of a nighthawk. Now mark the place where first we observed the bird, and approach it carefully, crawling on hands and knees. Otherwise we will very probably crush the two mottled bits of shell, so exactly like pebbles in external appearance, but sheltering two little warm, beating hearts. Soon the shells will crack, and the young nighthawks will emerge,—tiny fluffs,—in colour the very essence of the scattered pebbles.
In the autumn they will all pass southward to the far distant tropics, and when spring again awakens, the instinct of migration will lead them, not to some mottled carpet of moss and rocks deep in the woods, but to the tarred roof of a house in the very heart of a great city.
THE GALA DAYS OF BIRDS
Migration is over, and the great influx of birds which last month filled every tree and bush is now distributed over field and wood, from our dooryard and lintel vine to the furthermost limits of northern exploration; birds, perhaps, having discovered the pole long years ago. Now every feather and plume is at its brightest and full development; for must not the fastidious females be sought and won?
And now the great struggle of the year is at hand, the supreme moment for which thousands of throats have been vibrating with whispered rehearsals of trills and songs, and for which the dangers that threaten the acquisition of bright colours and long, inconvenient plumes and ornaments have been patiently undergone. Now, if all goes well and his song is clear, if his crest and gorgeous splashes of tints and shades are fresh and shining with the gloss of health, then the feathered lover may hope, indeed, that the little brown mate may look with favour upon dance, song, or antic—and the home is become a reality. In some instances this home is for only one short season, when the two part, probably forever; but in other cases the choice is for life.
But if his rival is stronger, handsomer, and—victorious, what then? Alas, the song dies in his throat, plumes hang crestfallen, and the disconsolate creature must creep about through tangles and brush, watching from a distance the nest-building, the delights of home life which fate has forbidden. But the poor bachelor need not by any means lose hope; for on all sides dangers threaten his happy rival—cats, snakes, jays, hawks, owls, and boys. Hundreds of birds must pay for their victory with their lives, and then the once discarded suitors are quickly summoned by the widows; and these step-fathers, no whit chagrined at playing second fiddle, fill up the ranks, and work for the young birds as if they were their own offspring.
There is an unsolved mystery about the tragedies and comedies that go on every spring. Usually every female bird has several suitors, of which one is accepted. When the death of this mate occurs, within a day or two another is found; and this may be repeated a dozen times in succession. Not only this, but when a female bird is killed, her mate is generally able at once somewhere, somehow, to find another to take her place. Why these unmated males and females remain single until they are needed is something that has never been explained.
The theme of the courtship of birds is marvellously varied and comparatively little understood. Who would think that when our bald eagle, of national fame, seeks to win his mate, his ardour takes the form of an undignified galloping dance, round and round her from branch to branch! Hardly less ridiculous—to our eyes—is the elaborate performance of our most common woodpecker, the flicker, or high-hole. Two or three male birds scrape and bow and pose and chatter about the demure female, outrageously undignified as compared with their usual behaviour. They do everything save twirl their black moustaches!
In the mating season some birds have beauties which are ordinarily concealed. Such is the male ruby-crowned kinglet, garbed in gray and green, the two sexes identical, except for the scarlet touch on the crown of the male, which, at courting time, he raises and expands. Even the iris of some birds changes and brightens in colour at the breeding season; while in others there appear about the base of the bill horny parts, which in a month or two fall off. The scarlet coat of the tanager is perhaps solely for attracting and holding the attention of the female, as before winter every feather is shed, the new plumage being of a dull green, like that of its mate and its young.
As mystery confronts us everywhere in nature, so we confess ourselves baffled when we attempt to explain the most wonderful of all the attributes of bird courtship—song. Birds have notes to call to one another, to warn of danger, to express anger and fear; but the highest development of their vocal efforts seems to be devoted to charming the females. If birds have a love of music, then there must be a marvellous diversity of taste among them, ranging all the way from the shrieking, strident screams of the parrots and macaws to the tender pathos of the wood pewee and the hermit thrush.
If birds have not some appreciation of sweet sounds, then we must consider the many different songs as mere by-products, excess of vitality which expresses itself in results, in many cases, strangely aesthetic and harmonious. A view midway is indefinable as regards the boundaries covered by each theory. How much of the peacock's train or of the thrush's song is appreciated by the female? How much is by-product merely?
In these directions a great field lies open to the student and lover of birds; but however we decide for ourselves in regard to the exact meaning and evolution of song, and what use it subserves among the birds, we all admit the effect and pleasure it produces in ourselves. A world without the song of birds is greatly lacking—such is a desert, where even the harsh croak of a raven is melody.
Perhaps the reason why the songs of birds give more lasting pleasure than many other things is that sound is so wonderfully potent to recall days and scenes of our past life. Like a sunset, the vision that a certain song brings is different to each one of us.
To me, the lament of the wood pewee brings to mind deep, moist places in the Pennsylvania backwoods; the crescendo of the oven bird awakens memories of the oaks of the Orange mountains; when a loon or an olive-sided flycatcher or a white-throat calls, the lakes and forests of Nova Scotia come vividly to mind; the cry of a sea-swallow makes real again the white beaches of Virginia; to me a cardinal has in its song the feathery lagoons of Florida's Indian River, while the shriek of a macaw and its antithesis, the silvery, interlacing melodies of the solitaire, spell the farthest barrancas of Mexico, with the vultures ever circling overhead, and the smoke clouds of the volcano in the distance.
So sweet, so sweet the calling of the thrushes, The calling, cooing, wooing, everywhere; So sweet the water's song through reeds and rushes, The plover's piping note, now here, now there. Nora Perry.
A turtle, waddling his solitary way along some watercourse, attracts little attention apart from that aroused by his clumsy, grotesque shape; yet few who look upon him are able to give offhand even a bare half-dozen facts about the humble creature. Could they give any information at all, it would probably be limited to two or three usages to which his body is put—such as soup, mandolin picks, and combs.
In the northeastern part of our own country we may look for no fewer than eight species of turtles which are semi-aquatic, living in or near ponds and streams, while another, the well-known box tortoise, confines its travels to the uplands and woods.
There are altogether about two hundred different kinds of turtles, and they live in all except the very cold countries of the world. Australia has the fewest and North and Central America the greatest number of species. Evolutionists can tell us little or nothing of the origin of these creatures, for as far back in geological ages as they are found fossil (a matter of a little over ten million years), all are true turtles, not half turtles and half something else. Crocodiles and alligators, with their hard leathery coats, come as near to them as do any living creatures, and when we see a huge snapping turtle come out of the water and walk about on land, we cannot fail to be reminded of the fellow with the armoured back.
Turtles are found on the sea and on land, the marine forms more properly deserving the name of turtles; tortoises being those living on land or in fresh water. We shall use the name turtle as significant of the whole group. The most natural method of classifying these creatures is by the way the head and neck are drawn back under the shell; whether the head is turned to one side, or drawn straight back, bending the neck into the letter S shape.
The skull of a turtle is massive, and some have thick, false roofs on top of the usual brain box.
The "house" or shell of a turtle is made up of separate pieces of bone, a central row along the back and others arranged around on both sides. These are really pieces of the skin of the back changed to bone. Our ribs are directly under the skin of the back, and if this skin should harden into a bone-like substance, the ribs would lie flat against it, and this is the case with the ribs of turtles. So when we marvel that the ribs of a turtle are on the outside of its body, a second thought will show us that this is just as true of us as it is of these reptiles.
This hardening of the skin has brought about some interesting changes in the body of the turtle. In all the higher animals, from fishes up to man, a backbone is of the greatest importance not only in carrying the nerves and blood-vessels, but in supporting the entire body. In turtles alone, the string of vertebrae is unnecessary, the shell giving all the support needed. So, as Nature seldom allows unused tissues or organs to remain, these bones along the back become, in many species, reduced to a mere thread.
The pieces of bone or horn which go to make up the shell, although so different in appearance from the skin, yet have the same life-processes. Occasionally the shell moults or peels, the outer part coming off in great flakes. Each piece grows by the addition of rings of horn at the joints, and (like the rings of a tree) the age of turtles, except of very old ones, can be estimated by the number of circles of horn on each piece. The rings are very distinct in species which live in temperate climates. Here they are compelled to hibernate during the winter, and this cessation of growth marks the intervals between each ring. In tropical turtles the rings are either absent or indistinct. It is to this mode of growth that the spreading of the initials which are cut into the shell is due, just as letters carved on the trunks of trees in time broaden and bulge outward.
The shell has the power of regeneration, and when a portion is crushed or torn away the injured parts are gradually cast off, and from the surrounding edges a new covering of horn grows out. One third of the entire shell has been known to be thus replaced.
Although so slow in their locomotion and actions, turtles have well-developed senses. They can see very distinctly, and the power of smell is especially acute, certain turtles being very discriminating in the matter of food. They are also very sensitive to touch, and will react to the least tap on their shells. Their hearing, however, is more imperfect, but as during the mating season they have tiny, piping voices, this sense must be of some use.
Water tortoises can remain beneath the surface for hours and even days at a time. In addition to the lungs there are two small sacs near the tail which allow the animal to use the oxygen in the water as an aid to breathing.
All turtles lay eggs, the shells of which are white and generally of a parchment-like character. They are deposited in the ground or in the sand, and hatch either by the warmth of the decaying vegetation or by the heat of the sun. In temperate countries the eggs remain through the winter, and the little turtles do not emerge until the spring. The eggs of turtles are very good to eat, and the oil contained in them is put to many uses. In all the countries which they inhabit, young turtles have a hard time of it; for thousands of them are devoured by storks, alligators, and fishes. Even old turtles have many enemies, not the least strange being jaguars, which watch for them, turn them on their backs with a flip of the paw, and eat them at leisure—on the half shell, as it were!
Leathery turtles—which live in the sea—have been reported weighing over a thousand pounds! This species is very rare, and a curious circumstance is that only very large adults and very small baby individuals have been seen, the turtles of all intermediate growths keeping in the deep ocean out of view.
Snapping turtles are among the fiercest creatures in the world. On leaving the egg their first instinct is to open their mouths and bite at something. They feed on almost anything, but when, in captivity they sometimes refuse to eat, and have been known to go a year without food, showing no apparent ill effects. One method which they employ in capturing their food is interesting. A snapping turtle will lie quietly at the bottom of a pond or lake, looking like an old water-soaked log with a branch—its head and neck—at one end. From the tip of the tongue the creature extrudes two small filaments of a pinkish colour which wriggle about, bearing a perfect resemblance to the small round worms of which fishes are so fond. Attracted by these, fishes swim up to grasp the squirming objects and are engulfed by the cruel mouth of the angler. Certain marine turtles have long-fringed appendages on the head and neck, which, waving about, serve a similar purpose.
The edible terrapin has, in many places, become very rare; so that thousands of them are kept and bred in enclosed areas, or "crawls," as they are called. This species is noted for its curious disposition, and it is often captured by being attracted by some unusual sound.
The tortoise-shell of commerce is obtained from the shell of the hawksbill turtle, the plates of which, being very thin, are heated and welded together until of the required thickness. The age to which turtles live has often been exaggerated, but they are certainly the longest lived of all living creatures. Individuals from the Galapagos Island are estimated to be over four hundred years old. When, in a zoological garden, we see one of these creatures and study his aged, aged look, as he slowly and deliberately munches the cabbage which composes his food, we can well believe that such a being saw the light of day before Columbus made his memorable voyage.
He's his own landlord, his own tenant; stay Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day. Himself he boards and lodges; both invites And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o'nights. He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure Chattels; himself is his own furniture, Knock when you will,—he's sure to be at home. Charles Lamb.
A HALF-HOUR IN A MARSH
There are little realms all around of which many of us know nothing. Take, for example, some marsh within a half-hour's trolley ride of any of our cities or towns. Select one where cat-tails and reeds abound. Mosquitoes and fear of malaria keep these places free from invasion by humankind; but if we select some windy day we may laugh them both to scorn, and we shall be well repaid for our trip. The birds frequenting these places are so seldom disturbed that they make only slight effort to conceal their nests, and we shall find plenty of the beautiful bird cradles rocking with every passing breeze.
A windy day will also reveal an interesting feature of the marsh. The soft, velvety grass, which abounds in such places, is so pliant and yielding that it responds to every breath, and each approaching wave of air is heralded by an advancing curl of the grass. At our feet these grass-waves intersect and recede, giving a weird sensation, as if the ground were moving, or as if we were walking on the water itself. Where the grass is longer, the record of some furious gale is permanently fixed—swaths and ripples seeming to roll onward, or to break into green foam. The simile of a "painted ocean" is perfectly carried out. There is no other substance, not even sand, which simulates more exactly the motions of water than this grass.
In the nearest clump of reeds we notice several red-winged blackbirds, chattering nervously. A magnificent male bird, black as night, and with scarlet epaulets burning on his shoulders, swoops at us, while his inconspicuous brownish consorts vibrate above the reeds, some with grubs, some empty mouthed. They are invariable indexes of what is below them. We may say with perfect assurance that in that patch of rushes are two nests, one with young; beyond are three others, all with eggs.
We find beautiful structures, firm and round, woven of coarse grasses inside and dried reeds without, hung between two or three supporting stalks, or, if it is a fresh-water marsh, sheltered by long, green fern fronds. The eggs are worthy of their cradles—pearly white in colour, with scrawls and blotches of dark purple at the larger end—hieroglyphics which only the blackbirds can translate.
In another nest we find newly hatched young, looking like large strawberries, their little naked bodies of a vivid orange colour, with scanty gray tufts of down here and there. Not far away is a nest, overflowing with five young birds ready to fly, which scramble out at our approach and start boldly off; but as their weak wings give out, they soon come to grief. We catch one and find that it has most delicate colours, resembling its mother in being striped brown and black, although its breast and under parts are of an unusually beautiful tint—a kind of salmon pink. I never saw this shade elsewhere in Nature.
Blackbirds are social creatures, and where we find one nest, four or five others may be looked for near by. The red-winged blackbird is a mormon in very fact, and often a solitary male bird may be seen guarding a colony of three or four nests, each with an attending female. A sentiment of altruism seems indeed not unknown, as I have seen a female give a grub to one of a hungry nestful, before passing on to brood her own eggs, yet unhatched.
While looking for the blackbirds' nests we shall come across numerous round, or oval, masses of dried weeds and grass—mice homes we may think them; and the small, winding entrance concealed on one side tends to confirm this opinion. Several will be empty, but when in one our fingers touch six or eight tiny eggs, our mistake will be apparent. Long-billed marsh wrens are the architects, and so fond are they of building that frequently three or four unused nests are constructed before the little chocolate jewels are deposited.
If we sit quietly for a few moments, one of the owners, overcome by wren curiosity, will appear, clinging to a reed stalk and twitching his pert, upturned tail, the badge of his family. Soon he springs up into the air and, bubbling a jumble of liquid notes, sinks back into the recesses of the cat-tails. Another and another repeat this until the marsh rings with their little melodies.
If we seat ourselves and watch quietly we may possibly behold an episode that is not unusual. The joyous songs of the little wrens suddenly give place to cries of fear and anger; and this hubbub increases until at last we see a sinister ripple flowing through the reeds, marking the advancing head of a water snake.
The evil eyes of the serpent are bent upon the nearest nest, and toward it he makes his way, followed and beset by all the wrens in the vicinity. Slowly the scaly creature pushes himself up on the reeds; and as they bend under his weight he makes his way the more easily along them to the nest. His head is pushed in at the entrance, but an instant later the snake twines downward to the water. The nest was empty. Again he seeks an adjoining nest, and again is disappointed; and now, a small fish attracting his attention, he goes off in swift pursuit, leaving untouched the third nest in sight, that containing the precious eggs. Thus the apparently useless industry of the tiny wrens has served an invaluable end, and the tremulous chorus is again timidly taken up—little hymns of thanksgiving we may imagine them now.
These and many others are sights which a half-hour's tramp, without even wetting our shoes, may show us. Before we leave, hints of more deeply hidden secrets of the marsh may perhaps come to us. A swamp sparrow may show by its actions that its nest is not far away; from the depths of a ditch jungle the clatter of some rail comes faintly to our ears, and the distant croak of a night heron reaches us from its feeding-grounds, guarded by the deeper waters.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high? The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky! A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and terminal sea? Somehow my soul seems suddenly free From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin. Sidney Lanier.
SECRETS OF THE OCEAN
We are often held spellbound by the majesty of mountains, and indeed a lofty peak forever capped with snow, or pouring forth smoke and ashes, is impressive beyond all terrestrial things. But the ocean yields to nothing in its grandeur, in its age, in its ceaseless movement, and the question remains forever unanswered, "Who shall sound the mysteries of the sea?" Before the most ancient of mountains rose from the heart of the earth, the waves of the sea rolled as now, and though the edges of the continents shrink and expand, bend into bays or stretch out into capes, always through all the ages the sea follows and laps with ripples or booms with breakers unceasingly upon the shore.
Whether considered from the standpoint of the scientist, the mere curiosity of the tourist, or the keen delight of the enthusiastic lover of Nature, the shore of the sea—its sands and waters, its ever-changing skies and moods—is one of the most interesting spots in the world. The very bottom of the deep bays near shore—dark and eternally silent, prisoned under the restless waste of waters—is thickly carpeted with strange and many-coloured forms of animal and vegetable life. But the beaches and tide-pools over which the moon-urged tides hold sway in their ceaseless rise and fall, teem with marvels of Nature's handiwork, and every day are restocked and replanted with new living objects, both arctic and tropical offerings of each heaving tidal pulse.
Here on the northeastern shores of our continent one may spend days of leisure or delightful study among the abundant and ever changing variety of wonderful living creatures. It is not unlikely that the enjoyment and absolute novelty of this new world may enable one to look on these as some of the most pleasant days of life. I write from the edge of the restless waters of Fundy, but any rock-strewn shore will duplicate the marvels.
At high tide the surface of the Bay is unbroken by rock or shoal, and stretches glittering in the sunlight from the beach at one's feet to where the New Brunswick shore is just visible, appearing like a low bluish cloud on the horizon. At times the opposite shore is apparently brought nearer and made more distinct by a mirage, which inverts it, together with any ships which are in sight. A brig may be seen sailing along keel upward, in the most matter-of-fact way. The surface may anon be torn by those fearful squalls for which Fundy is noted, or, calm as a mirror, reflect the blue sky with an added greenish tinge, troubled only by the gentle alighting of a gull, the splash of a kingfisher or occasional osprey, as these dive for their prey, or the ruffling which shows where a school of mackerel is passing. This latter sign always sends the little sailing dories hurrying out, where they beat back and forth, like shuttles travelling across a loom, and at each turn a silvery struggling form is dragged into the boat.
A little distance along the shore the sandy beach ends and is replaced by huge bare boulders, scattered and piled in the utmost confusion. Back of these are scraggly spruces, with branches which have been so long blown landwards that they have bent and grown altogether on that side,—permanent weather-vanes of Fundy's storms. The very soil in which they began life was blown away, and their gnarled weather-worn roots hug the rocks, clutching every crevice as a drowning man would grasp an oar. On the side away from the bay two or three long, thick roots stretch far from each tree to the nearest earth-filled gully, sucking what scanty nourishment they can, for strength to withstand the winter's gales yet another year or decade. Beach-pea and sweet marsh lavender tint the sand, and stunted fringed orchids gleam in the coarse grass farther inland. High up among the rocks, where there is scarcely a handful of soil, delicate harebells sway and defy the blasts, enduring because of their very pliancy and weakness.
If we watch awhile we will see a line of blackish seaweed and wet sand appearing along the edge of the water, showing that the tide has turned and begun to recede. In an hour it has ebbed a considerable distance, and if we clamber down over the great weather-worn rocks the hardy advance guard of that wonderful world of life under the water is seen. Barnacles whiten the top of every rock which is reached by the tide, although the water may cover them only a short time each day. But they flourish here in myriads, and the shorter the chance they have at the salt water the more frantically their little feathery feet clutch at the tiny food particles which float around them. These thousands of tiny turreted castles are built so closely together that many are pressed out of shape, paralleling in shape as in substance the inorganic crystals of the mineral kingdom. The valved doors are continually opening and partly closing, and if we listen quietly we can hear a perpetual shuss! shuss! Is it the creaking of the tiny hinges? As the last receding wave splashes them, they shut their folding doors over a drop or two and remain tightly closed, while perhaps ten hours of sunlight bake them, or they glisten in the moonlight for the same length of time, ready at the first touch of the returning water to open wide and welcome it.
The thought of their life history brings to mind how sadly they retrogress as they grow, hatching as minute free-swimming creatures like tiny lobsters, and gradually changing to this plant-like life, sans eyes, sans head, sans most everything except a stomach and a few pairs of feathery feet to kick food into it. A few pitiful traces of nerves are left them. What if there were enough ganglia to enable them to dream of their past higher life, in the long intervals of patient waiting!
A little lower down we come to the zone of mussels,—hanging in clusters like some strange sea-fruit. Each is attached by strands of thin silky cables, so tough that they often defy our utmost efforts to tear a specimen away. How secure these creatures seem, how safe from all harm, and yet they have enemies which make havoc among them. At high tide fishes come and crunch them, shells and all, and multitudes of carnivorous snails are waiting to set their file-like tongues at work, which mercilessly drill through the lime shells, bringing death in a more subtle but no less certain form. Storms may tear away the support of these poor mollusks, and the waves dash them far out of the reach of the tides, while at low water, crows and gulls use all their ingenuity to get at their toothsome flesh.
There are no ant-hills in the sea, but when we turn over a large stone and see scores upon scores of small black shrimps scurrying around, the resemblance to those insects is striking. These little creatures quickly hitch away on their sides, getting out of sight in a remarkably short time.
The tide is going down rapidly, and following it step by step novel sights meet the eye at every turn, and we begin to realise that in this narrow strip, claimed alternately by sea and land, which would be represented on a map by the finest of hair-lines, there exists a complete world of animated life, comparing in variety and numbers with the life in that thinner medium, air. We climb over enormous boulders, so different in appearance that they would never be thought to consist of the same material as those higher up on the shore. These are masses of wave-worn rock, twenty or thirty feet across, piled in every imaginable position, and completely covered with a thick padding of seaweed. Their drapery of algae hangs in festoons, and if we draw aside these submarine curtains, scenes from a veritable fairyland are disclosed. Deep pools of water, clear as crystal and icy cold, contain creatures both hideous and beautiful, sombre and iridescent, formless and of exquisite shape.
The sea-anemones first attract attention, showing as splashes of scarlet and salmon among the olive-green seaweed, or in hundreds covering the entire bottom of a pool with a delicately hued mist of waving tentacles. As the water leaves these exposed on the walls of the caves, they lose their plump appearance and, drawing in their wreath of tentacles, hang limp and shrivelled, resembling pieces of water-soaked meat as much as anything. Submerged in the icy water they are veritable animal-flowers. Their beauty is indeed well guarded, hidden by the overhanging seaweed in these caves twenty-five feet or more below high-water mark.
Here in these beautiful caverns we may make aquariums, and transplant as many animal-flowers as we wish. Wherever we place them their fleshy, snail-like foot spreads out, takes tight hold, and the creature lives content, patiently waiting for the Providence of the sea to send food to its many wide-spread fingers.
Carpeted with pink algae and dainty sponges, draped with sea-lettuce like green tissue paper, decorated with strange corallines, these natural aquariums far surpass any of artificial make. Although the tide drives us from them sooner or later, we may return with the sure prospect of finding them refreshed and perhaps replenished with many new forms. For often some of the deep-water creatures are held prisoners in the lower tide-pools, as the water settles, somewhat as when the glaciers receded northward after the Ice Age there were left on isolated mountain peaks traces of the boreal fauna and flora.
If we are interested enough to watch our anemones we will find much entertainment. Let us return to our shrimp colonies and bring a handful to our pool. Drop one in the centre of an anemone and see how quickly it contracts. The tentacles bend over it exactly as the sticky hairs of the sun-dew plant close over a fly. The shrimp struggles for a moment and is then drawn downward out of sight. The birth of an anemone is well worth patient watching, and this may take place in several different ways. We may see a large individual with a number of tiny bunches on the sides of the body, and if we keep this one in a tumbler, before long these protuberances will be seen to develop a few tentacles and at last break off as perfect miniature anemones. Or again, an anemone may draw in its tentacles without apparent cause, and after a few minutes expand more widely than ever. Suddenly a movement of the mouth is seen, and it opens, and one, two, or even a half-dozen tiny anemones shoot forth. They turn and roll in the little spurt of water and gradually settle to the rock alongside of the mother. In a short time they turn right side up, expand their absurd little heads, and begin life for themselves. These animal "buds" may be of all sizes; some minute ones will be much less developed and look very unlike the parent. These are able to swim about for a while, and myriads of them may be born in an hour. Others, as we have seen, have tentacles and settle down at once.
Fishes, little and big, are abundant in the pools, darting here and there among the leathery fronds of "devils' aprons," cavernous-mouthed angler fish, roly-poly young lump-suckers, lithe butterfish, and many others.
Moving slowly through the pools are many beautiful creatures, some so evanescent that they are only discoverable by the faint shadows which they cast on the bottom, others suggest animated spheres of prismatic sunlight. These latter are tiny jelly-fish, circular hyaline masses of jelly with eight longitudinal bands, composed of many comb-like plates, along which iridescent waves of light continually play. The graceful appearance of these exquisite creatures is increased by two long, fringed tentacles streaming behind, drifting at full length or contracting into numerous coils. The fringe on these streamers is a series of living hairs—an aquatic cobweb, each active with life, and doing its share in ensnaring minute atoms of food for its owner. When dozens of these ctenophores (or comb-bearers) as they are called, glide slowly to and fro through a pool, the sight is not soon forgotten. To try to photograph them is like attempting to portray the substance of a sunbeam, but patience works wonders, and even a slightly magnified image of a living jelly is secured, which shows very distinctly all the details of its wonderfully simple structure; the pouch, suspended in the centre of the sphere, which does duty as a stomach; the sheaths into which the long tentacles may be so magically packed, and the tiny organ at the top of this living ball of spun glass, serving, with its minute weights and springs, as compass, rudder, and pilot to this little creature, which does not fear to pit its muscles of jelly against the rush and might of breaking waves.
Even the individual comb-plates or rows of oars are plainly seen, although, owing to their rapid motion, they appear to the naked eye as a single band of scintillating light. This and other magnified photographs were obtained by fastening the lens of a discarded bicycle lantern in a cone of paper blackened on the inside with shoe-blacking. With this crude apparatus placed in front of the lens of the camera, the evanescent beauties of these most delicate creatures were preserved.
Other equally beautiful forms of jelly-fish are balloon-shaped. These are Beroe, fitly named after the daughter of the old god Oceanus. They, like others of their family, pulsate through the water, sweeping gracefully along, borne on currents of their own making.
Passing to other inhabitants of the pools, we find starfish and sea-urchins everywhere abundant. Hunched-up groups of the former show where they are dining in their unique way on unfortunate sea-snails or anemones, protruding their whole stomach and thus engulfing their victim. The urchins strain and stretch with their innumerable sucker-feet, feeling for something to grasp, and in this laborious way pull themselves along. The mouth, with the five so-called teeth, is a conspicuous feature, visible at the centre of the urchin and surrounded by the greenish spines. Some of the starfish are covered with long spines, others are nearly smooth. The colours are wonderfully varied,—red, purple, orange, yellow, etc.
The stages through which these prickly skinned animals pass, before they reach the adult state, are wonderfully curious, and only when they are seen under the microscope can they be fully appreciated. A bolting-cloth net drawn through some of the pools will yield thousands in many stages, and we can take eggs of the common starfish and watch their growth in tumblers of water. At first the egg seems nothing but a tiny round globule of jelly, but soon a dent or depression appears on one side, which becomes deeper and deeper until it extends to the centre of the egg-mass. It is as if we should take a round ball of putty and gradually press our finger into it. This pressed-in sac is a kind of primitive stomach and the entrance is used as a mouth. After this follows a marvellous succession of changes, form giving place to form, differing more in appearance and structure from the five-armed starfish than a caterpillar differs from a butterfly.
For example, when about eight days old, another mouth has formed and two series of delicate cilia or swimming hairs wind around the creature, by means of which it glides slowly through the water. The photographs of a starfish of this age show the stomach with its contents, a dark rounded mass near the lower portion of the organism. The vibrating bands which outline the tiny animal are also visible. The delicacy of structure and difficulty of preserving these young starfish alive make these pictures of particular value, especially as they were taken of the living forms swimming in their natural element. Each day and almost each hour adds to the complexity of the little animal, lung tentacles grow out and many other larval stages are passed through before the starfish shape is discernible within this curious "nurse" or living, changing egg. Then the entire mass, so elaborately evolved through so long a time, is absorbed and the little baby star sinks to the bottom to start on its new life, crawling around and over whatever happens in its path and feeding to repletion on succulent oysters. It can laugh at the rage of the oysterman, who angrily tears it in pieces, for "time heals all wounds" literally in the case of these creatures, and even if the five arms are torn apart, five starfish, small of arm but with healthy stomachs, will soon be foraging on the oyster bed.
But to return to our tide-pools. In the skimming net with the young starfish many other creatures are found, some so delicate and fragile that they disintegrate before microscope and camera can be placed in position. I lie at full length on a soft couch of seaweed with my face close to a tiny pool no larger than my hand. A few armadillo shells and limpets crawl on the bottom, but a frequent troubling of the water baffles me. I make sure my breath has nothing to do with it, but still it continues. At last a beam of sunshine lights up the pool, and as if a film had rolled from my eyes I see the cause of the disturbance. A sea-worm—or a ghost of one—is swimming about. Its large, brilliant eyes, long tentacles, and innumerable waving appendages are now as distinct as before they had been invisible. A trifling change in my position and all vanishes as if by magic. There seems not an organ, not a single part of the creature, which is not as transparent as the water itself. The fine streamers into which the paddles and gills are divided are too delicate to have existence in any but a water creature, and the least attempt to lift the animal from its element would only tear and dismember it, so I leave it in the pool to await the return of the tide.
Shrimps and prawns of many shapes and colours inhabit every pool. One small species, abundant on the algae, combines the colour changes of a chameleon with the form and manner of travel of a measuring-worm, looping along the fronds of seaweed or swimming with the same motion. Another variety of shrimp resembles the common wood-louse found under pieces of bark, but is most beautifully iridescent, glowing like an opal at the bottom of the pool. The curious little sea-spiders keep me guessing for a long time where their internal organs can be, as they consist of legs with merely enough body to connect these firmly together. The fact that the thread-like stomach and other organs send a branch into each of the eight legs explains the mystery and shows how far economy of space may go. Their skeleton-forms, having the appearance of eight straggling filaments of seaweed, are thus, doubtless, a great protection to these creatures from their many enemies. Other hobgoblin forms with huge probosces crawl slowly over the floors of the anemone caves, or crouch as the shadow of my hand or net falls upon them.
The larger gorgeously coloured and graceful sea-worms contribute not a small share to the beauty of Fundy tide-pools, swimming in iridescent waves through the water or waving their Medusa-head of crimson tentacles at the bottom among the sea-lettuce. These worms form tubes of mud for themselves, and the rows of hooks on each side of the body enable them to climb up and down in their dismal homes.
Much of the seaweed from deeper bottoms seems to be covered with a dense fur, which under a hand lens resolves into beautiful hydroids,—near relatives of the anemones and corals. Scientists have happily given these most euphonious names—Campanularia, Obelia, and Plumularia. Among the branches of certain of these, numbers of round discs or spheres are visible. These are young medusae or jelly-fish, which grow like bunches of currants, and later will break off and swim around at pleasure in the water. Occasionally one is fortunate enough to discover these small jellies in a pool where they can be photographed as they pulsate back and forth. When these attain their full size they lay eggs which sink to the bottom and grow up into the plant-like hydroids. So each generation of these interesting creatures is entirely unlike that which immediately precedes or follows it. In other words, a hydroid is exactly like its grandmother and granddaughter, but as different from its parents and children in appearance as a plant is from an animal. Even in a fairy-story book this would be wonderful, but here it is taking place under our very eyes, as are scores of other transformations and "miracles in miniature" in this marvellous underworld.
Now let us deliberately pass by all the attractions of the middle zone of tide-pools and on as far as the lowest level of the water will admit. We are far out from the shore and many feet below the level of the barnacle-covered boulders over which we first clambered. Now we may indeed be prepared for strange sights, for we are on the very borderland of the vast unknown. The abyss in front of us is like planetary space, unknown to the feet of man. While we know the latter by scant glimpses through our telescopes, the former has only been scratched by the hauls of the dredge, the mark of whose iron shoe is like the tiny track of a snail on the leaf mould of a vast forest.
The first plunge beneath the icy waters of Fundy is likely to remain long in one's memory, and one's first dive of short duration, but the glimpse which is had and the hastily snatched handfuls of specimens of the beauties which no tide ever uncovers is potent to make one forget his shivering and again and again seek to penetrate as far as a good-sized stone and a lungful of air will carry him. Strange sensations are experienced in these aquatic scrambles. It takes a long time to get used to pulling oneself downward, or propping your knees against the under crevices of rocks. To all intents and purposes, the law of gravitation is partly suspended, and when stone and wooden wedge accidentally slip from one's hand and disappear in opposite directions, it is confusing, to say the least.
When working in one spot for some time the fishes seem to become used to one, and approach quite closely. Slick-looking pollock, bloated lump-fish, and occasionally a sombre dog-fish rolls by, giving one a start, as the memory of pictures of battles between divers and sharks of tropical waters comes to mind. One's mental impressions made thus are somewhat disconnected. With the blood buzzing in the ears, it is only possible to snatch general glimpses and superficial details. Then at the surface, notes can be made, and specimens which have been overlooked, felt for during the next trip beneath the surface. Fronds of laminaria yards in length, like sheets of rubber, offer convenient holds, and at their roots many curious creatures make their home. Serpent starfish, agile as insects and very brittle, are abundant, and new forms of worms, like great slugs,—their backs covered with gills in the form of tufted branches.
In these outer, eternally submerged regions are starfish of still other shapes, some with a dozen or more arms. I took one with thirteen rays and placed it temporarily in a pool aquarium with some large anemones. On returning in an hour or two I found the starfish trying to make a meal of the largest anemone. Hundreds of dart-covered strings had been pushed out by the latter in defence, but they seemed to cause the starfish no inconvenience whatever.
In my submarine glimpses I saw spaces free from seaweed on which hundreds of tall polyps were growing, some singly, others in small tufts. The solitary individuals rise three or four inches by a nearly straight stalk, surmounted by a many-tentacled head. This droops gracefully to one side and the general effect is that of a bed of rose-coloured flowers. From the heads hang grape-like masses, which on examination in a tumbler are seen to be immature medusae. Each of these develop to the point where the four radiating canals are discernible and then their growth comes to a standstill, and they never attain the freedom for which their structure fits them.
When the wind blew inshore, I would often find the water fairly alive with large sun-jellies or Aurelia,—their Latin name. Their great milky-white bodies would come heaving along and bump against me, giving a very "crawly" sensation. The circle of short tentacles and the four horse-shoe-shaped ovaries distinguish this jelly-fish from all others. When I had gone down as far as I dared, I would sometimes catch glimpses of these strange beings far below me, passing and repassing in the silence and icy coldness of the watery depths. These large medusae are often very abundant after a favourable wind has blown for a few days, and I have rowed through masses of them so thick that it seemed like rowing through thick jelly, two or three feet deep. In an area the length of the boat and about a yard wide, I have counted over one hundred and fifty Aurelias on the surface alone.
When one of these "sunfish," as the fishermen call them, is lifted from the water, the clay-coloured eggs may be seen to stream from it in myriads. In many jellies, small bodies the size of a pea are visible in the interior of the mass, and when extracted they prove to be a species of small shrimp. These are well adapted for their quasi-parasitic life, in colour being throughout of the same milky semi-opaqueness as their host, but one very curious thing about them is, that when taken out and placed in some water in a vial or tumbler they begin to turn darker almost immediately, and in five minutes all will be of various shades, from red to a dark brown.
I had no fear of Aurelia, but when another free-swimming species of jelly-fish, Cyanea, or the blue-jelly, appeared, I swam ashore with all speed. This great jelly is usually more of a reddish liver-colour than a purple, and is much to be dreaded. Its tentacles are of enormous length. I have seen specimens which measured two feet across the disc, with streamers fully forty feet long, and one has been recorded seven feet across and no less than one hundred and twelve feet to the tip of the cruel tentacles! These trail behind in eight bunches and form a living, tangled labyrinth as deadly as the hair of the fabled Medusa—whose name indeed has been so appropriately applied to this division of animals. The touch of each tentacle to the skin is like a lash of nettle, and there would be little hope for a diver whose path crossed such a fiery tangle. The untold myriads of little darts which are shot out secrete a poison which is terribly irritating.
On the crevice bottoms a sight now and then meets my eyes which brings the "devil-fish" of Victor Hugo's romance vividly to mind,—a misshapen squid making its way snakily over the shells and seaweed. Its large eyes gaze fixedly around and the arms reach alternately forward, the sucking cups lined with their cruel teeth closing over the inequalities of the bottom. The creature may suddenly change its mode of progression and shoot like an arrow, backward and upward. If we watch one in its passage over areas of seaweed and sand, a wonderful adaptation becomes apparent. Its colour changes continually; when near sand it is of a sombre brown hue, then blushes of colour pass over it and the tint changes, corresponding to the seaweed or patches of pink sponge over which it swims. The way in which this is accomplished is very ingenious and loses nothing by examination. Beneath the skin are numerous cells filled with liquid pigment. When at rest these contract until they are almost invisible, appearing as very small specks or dots on the surface of the body. When the animal wishes to change its hue, certain muscles which radiate from these colour cells are shortened, drawing the cells out in all directions until they seem confluent. It is as if the freckles on a person's face should be all joined together, when an ordinary tan would result.
From bottoms ten to twenty fathoms below the surface, deeper than mortal eye can probably ever hope to reach, the dredge brings up all manner of curious things; basket starfish, with arms divided and subdivided into many tendrils, on the tips of which it walks, the remaining part converging upward like the trellis of a vine-covered summer house. Sponges of many hues must fairly carpet large areas of the deep water, as the dredge is often loaded with them. The small shore-loving ones which I photographed are in perfect health, but the camera cannot show the many tiny currents of water pouring in food and oxygen at the smaller openings, and returning in larger streams from the tall funnels on the surface of the sponge, which a pinch of carmine dust reveals so beautifully. From the deeper aquatic gardens come up great orange and yellow sponges, two and three feet in length, and around the bases of these the weird serpent stars are clinging, while crabs scurry away as the mass reaches the surface of the water.
Treasures from depths of forty and even fifty fathoms can be obtained when a trip is taken with the trawl-men. One can sit fascinated for hours, watching the hundreds of yards of line reel in, with some interesting creature on each of the thirty-seven hundred odd hooks. At times a glance down into the clear water will show a score of fish in sight at once, hake, haddock, cod, halibut, dog-fish, and perhaps an immense "barndoor" skate, a yard or more square. This latter hold back with frantic flaps of its great "wings," and tax all the strength of the sturdy Acadian fishermen to pull it to the gunwale.
Now and then a huge "meat-rock," the fishermen's apt name for an anemone, comes up, impaled on a hook, and still clinging to a stone of five to ten pounds weight. These gigantic scarlet ones from full fifty fathoms far surpass any near shore. Occasionally the head alone of a large fish will appear, with the entire body bitten clean off, a hint of the monsters which must haunt the lower depths. The pressure of the air must be excessive, for many of the fishes have their swimming bladders fairly forced out of their mouths by the lessening of atmospheric pressure as they are drawn to the surface. When a basket starfish finds one of the baits in that sunless void far beneath our boat, he hugs it so tenaciously that the upward jerks of the reel only make him hold the more tightly.
Once in a great while the fishermen find what they call a "knob-fish" on one of their hooks, and I never knew what they meant until one day a small colony of five was brought ashore. Boltenia, the scientists call them, tall, queer-shaped things; a stalk six to eight inches in length, with a knob or oblong bulb-like body at the summit, looking exactly like the flower of a lady-slipper orchid and as delicately coloured. This is a member of that curious family of Ascidians, which forever trembles in the balance between the higher backboned animals and the lower division, where are classified the humbler insects, crabs, and snails. The young of Boltenia promises everything in its tiny backbone or notochord, but it all ends in promise, for that shadow of a great ambition withers away, and the creature is doomed to a lowly and vegetative life. If we soften the hard scientific facts which tell us of these dumb, blind creatures, with the humane mellowing thought of the oneness of all life, we will find much that is pathetic and affecting in their humble biographies from our point of view. And yet these cases of degeneration are far from anything like actual misfortunes, or mishaps of nature, as Buffon was so fond of thinking. These creatures have found their adult mode of life more free from competition than any other, and hence their adoption of it. It is only another instance of exquisite adaptation to an unfilled niche in the life of the world.
Yet another phase of enjoying the life of these northern waters; the one which comes after all the work and play of collecting is over for the day, after the last specimen is given a fresh supply of water for the night, and the final note in our journal is written. Then, as dusk falls, we make our way to the beach, ship our rudder and oars and push slowly along shore, or drift quietly with the tide. The stars may come out in clear splendour and the visual symphony of the northern lights play over the dark vault above us, or all may be obscured in lowering, leaden clouds. But the lights of the sea are never obscured—they always shine with a splendour which keeps one entranced for hours.
At night the ripples and foam of the Fundy shores seem transformed to molten silver and gold, and after each receding wave the emerald seaweed is left dripping with millions of sparkling lights, shining with a living lustre which would pale the brightest gem. Each of these countless sparks is a tiny animal, as perfect in its substance and as well adapted to its cycle of life as the highest created being. The wonderful way in which this phosphorescence permeates everything—the jelly-fish seeming elfish fireworks as they throb through the water with rhythmic beats—the fish brilliantly lighted up and plainly visible as they dart about far beneath the surface—makes such a night on the Bay of Fundy an experience to be always remembered.
Like the tints on a crescent sea beach When the moon is new and thin, Into our hearts high yearnings Come welling and surging in— Come, from the mystic ocean, Whose rim no foot has trod— Some of us call it longing, And others call it God. W. H. Carruth.
BIRDS IN A CITY
We frequently hear people say that if only they lived in the country they would take up the study of birds with great interest, but that a city life prevented any nature study. To show how untrue this is, I once made a census of wild birds which were nesting in the New York Zoological Park, which is situated within the limits of New York City. Part of the Park is wooded, while much space is given up to the collections of birds and animals. Throughout the year thousands of people crowd the walks and penetrate to every portion of the grounds; yet in spite of this lack of seclusion no fewer than sixty-one species build their nests here and successfully rear their young. The list was made without shooting a single bird and in each instance the identification was absolute. This shows what a little protection will accomplish, while many places of equal area in the country which are harried by boys and cats are tenanted by a bare dozen species.
Let us see what a walk in late June, or especially in July, will show of these bold invaders of our very city. Wild wood ducks frequently decoy to the flocks of pinioned birds and sometimes mate with some of them. One year a wild bird chose as its mate a little brown female, a pinioned bird, and refused to desert her even when the brood of summer ducklings was being caught and pinioned. Such devotion is rare indeed.
In the top of one of the most inaccessible trees in the Park a great rough nest of sticks shows where a pair of black-crowned night herons have made their home for years, and from the pale green eggs hatch the most awkward of nestling herons, which squawk and grow to their prime, on a diet of small fish. When they are able to fly they pay frequent visits to their relations in the great flying cage, perching on the top and gazing with longing eyes at the abundant feasts of fish which are daily brought by the keepers to their charges. This duck and heron are the only ones of their orders thus to honour the Park by nesting, although a number of other species are not uncommon during the season of migration.
Of the waders which in the spring and fall teeter along the bank of the Bronx River, only a pair or two of spotted sandpipers remain throughout the nesting period, content to lay their eggs in some retired spot in the corner of a field, where there is the least danger to them and to the fluffy balls of long-legged down which later appear and scurry about. The great horned owl and the red-tailed hawk formerly nested in the park, but the frequent noise of blasting and the building operations have driven them to more isolated places, and of their relatives there remain only the little screech owls and the sparrow hawks. The latter feed chiefly upon English sparrows and hence are worthy of the most careful protection.
These birds should be encouraged to build near our homes, and if not killed or driven away sometimes choose the eaves of our houses as their domiciles and thus, by invading the very haunts of the sparrows, they would speedily lessen their numbers. A brood of five young hawks was recently taken from a nest under the eaves of a school-house in this city. I immediately took this as a text addressed to the pupils, and the principal was surprised to learn that these birds were so valuable. In the Park the sparrow hawks nest in a hollow tree, as do the screech owls.