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" 'Tis the summer prime, when the
In perfumed chalice lies;
And the bee goes by with a lazy hum,
Beneath the sleeping skies."
Mrs. E. Oakes Smith.
JULY and August are the noontide of the year's day, a long "still hour" when the activities of bird life are in a lull — that full-tide quietness that intervenes before the current ebbs. Their family cares are mostly over by the middle of July, their little ones are already more than on their own feet, they are on their own wings, and with that quick maturing that characterizes the lower orders of life, a few short weeks have brought their instincts well-nigh to the full development.
With other fortunate people the birds, after their short but arduous domestic felicities, are having a sort of vacation, albeit a rather quiet one, not full of song and merry-making as when on their May travels and in delightsome June, the queen of all the months; as if a touch of seriousness had come over their spirits, with the sense that even already, although the sun's rays are as forceful for heat as ever, they have lost their peculiar springtime potency — he has passed the meridian, the shadows are beginning to fall more slantingly, and the year's maturity and decline draw on apace. It is difficult to prove one's assertions or denials that birds think this or that, but it seems most reasonable to accept their actions as a valid interpreter of their thoughts.
In the quiet and desultory life they are leading in the coming weeks, although devoid of the characteristics displayed in migration and nidification, one may still study them with much interest, and with the assurance of finding their individualities becoming ever clearer to his mind. If further acquaintance sometimes reveals disagreeable qualities, we can only take things as they are, for better or for worse, the bitter with the sweet, remembering that though the thistle has its sting, it has its fragrance too, and that the better qualified any class of objects in nature is to be a type of man, the more we must expect to find the reproduction of his evil traits as well as of his good ones.
This paves the way for some rather damaging remarks concerning the catbird, against which no overt act of criminality has ever been proved, to my present knowledge, but nevertheless the victim of very general prejudice. He is a younger and less talented brother of the mocking-bird which flourishes in the Southern States, and rarely comes North except by constraint. Perhaps the catbird might be called his prodigal brother, for the evident neglect of his musical education would naturally be the result of youthful waywardness. At any rate his talents are dissipated, if his morals are not. But, not to heap unproved accusations upon him, he unquestionably has a spiteful and suspicious air, and in his garb of dark slate with the black head-piece it is no stretch of the imagination to say that he looks a bit villainous — "gallows-minded," in the terse phrase of an old poet — and aptly typifies a certain class of human beings, with chronic hang-dog air, against whom, while nothing vicious has ever actually been proved, you can readily believe any imputation that might be suggested. A dubious reputation is sometimes a person's misfortune rather than his fault, but as things are now, the burden of proof seems to rest on the side of the catbird, and innocence seldom fails to vindicate itself. But instead of trying to do so, he skulks most of the time in the thick undergrowth, and has a scared and hunted look when he comes out into the open. It is no extenuation of his manners to say that his voice is a very superior one, often showing that peculiar metallic quality conspicuous in the thrushes, of whom he is a distant relative; but his song is only a characterless medley, with an occasional fine strain among many inferior ones. Once in a great while he perches high and openly in a tree, where he sings so honestly and nobly that one cannot fail to admire the song, and to regret his evil thoughts concerning the singer. But as he chuckles away to himself deep in the bushes, in his wonted manner, the former distrust of him returns, and it is easy to imagine that he is at his old tricks of plotting some evil device. His repellent plumage, skulking manner, and disagreeable feline notes are quite sufficient to account for the popular estimate of this bird, even without more radical grounds for disapproval. The thrasher has the same stealthy demeanor, and perhaps escapes the same condemnation only by his more attractive plumage. (Since writing the foregoing, I have learned that the catbird does feloniously enter the nests of other species, and destroys their eggs. The circumstantial evidence already offered would almost have justified this accusation. I knew he did not wear that culprit-look for nothing. A wolf in sheep's clothing is a common occurrence, but a saint never wears a sinner's livery.)
There are few of our birds combining
so many of the gifts and graces of their kind as the Baltimore
oriole, in showy array of orange, black, and white, and an excellent
entertainer in song and manner. In allusion to its appearance it
is also called "golden robin," and "fire-bird,"
and from the peculiar pensile construction of its nest, it gets
the name of "hang-nest." Its more popular name of Baltimore
oriole is derived, not from the city of that name, but from the
Earl of Baltimore, who became the lord of Maryland in colonial days.
His followers noticed the correspondence of the yellow and black
on his heraldic livery with the coloring of the bird which was
abundant in his new estates, and it became known as the "Baltimore
bird." A vigorous manner commands admiration quite as quickly as
any other quality, and in this respect the oriole is in pleasing
contrast to the scarlet tanager. Possessed of a strong and excellent
voice, it sings freely, and has a delightful repertoire of short
songs, which from some conspicuous point of a tree it pours forth,
not in a spirit of vanity, but because it is too full of melody to be
restrained. One of its melodies has a distinctly martial accent. With the
exception of the thrushes, and perhaps of the purple finch,
it is probably the most enjoyable songster one can hear in this
latitude. It has an equally engaging manner, carrying no lofty airs
like the cardinal grosbeak, but coming down to the honest, democratic
basis of the robin. Neither timid nor bold, it has the demeanor of
modest frankness, and seems possessed of a good stock of that
indefinable quality which in the human race is called "common
sense," whose existence cannot be controverted by the fact that
it is generally difficult to designate the specific act that betrays
Baltimore Oriole and Nest
With perhaps no sins of omission charged against him, his only transgression is a somewhat pardonable fondness for fruit blossoms, although in the act of robbery he unquestionably forms a picture that is worth the price of the fruit, as in flaming plumage he sits on the bough of some tree that is white with bloom, and gracefully drawing blossom after blossom toward him, deftly holds it with his foot while he extracts the delectable morsel. This operation is an undoubted pleasure to him and to the spectator, and on a mercantile basis is to be considered a fair bargain in the equivalence of gratification and expense — the justice of the argument being impaired only by the fact that, while the gratification is mine, the blossoms belong to some one else.
I recall a very pretty but not unusual scene one day enacted by the oriole. It was perched on a limb overhanging a basin of water, and from its frequent glances in that direction I surmised it was going to take a bath. But it was very much afraid of being observed, and nervously turned its head and peered in all directions. Thinking the coast was clear, it at last jumped down to the brink of the water, gave another hasty glance all about, and then, shy as Venus, jumped in, dipped its golden plumage two or three times, stepped to the edge, and with one more timid look, darted out of sight.
Of the rich and variegated throng of warblers that enlivened every bush and tree in May, but few species remain, as they mostly prefer a cooler climate or more seclusion than can be had hereabouts. But there is one that is quite abundant in all our woods, and sure to attract attention by his brilliant black and scarlet colors, fearless and lively manner, and vigorous but simple song. Anyone familiar with the woods in summer will recognize in this the fiery little redstart — a name corrupted from redstert, meaning red tail, this portion of the plumage being doubly noticeable from the amount of reddish yellow upon it, and from the bird's habit of keeping it partly spread as it moves from limb to limb. 'The wings and sides of the breast also have a dash of flame color, intensified by the otherwise lustrous black of the male, whereas the female — well, she looks as anyone would be supposed to look, arrayed in goods warranted not to wash. If the male redstart is a fiery coal, the female is a trail of ashes in his wake. Its musical proficiency is summed up in a single but often reiterated note, strong and vibrant, not so sweet as that of the summer yellow bird, but more decisive. The tone is fitly embodied in the flaming plumage of the male, for it cuts the ear like fire. This bird has the unusual habit of often flying from trunk to trunk, and clinging to the bark, which I have seen no other warbler do except the pine-creeper. As it hops about from twig to twig, constantly spreading its tail, it has the appearance of being on excellent terms with itself, and of thinking that everyone else will be who sees it — a rather entertaining bit of egotism, as daintily hinted by the redstart as it is vulgarly paraded by the peacock, which is the most glittering and shallowpated instance of vanity that is to be found in the whole animal kingdom. A flock of these gorgeous creatures in the Ramble daily delight themselves no less than their observers, as,
Of rainbows and starry eyes,"
they flaunt their charms upon the ground, and sometimes give an exceedingly tropical tone to the landscape by perching in the higher branches of some large elm overhanging a rocky ravine. Having magnificently adorned the tail, nature promptly points a moral by giving the bird a voice with which, in the loudest and most convincing way, it advertises its need of vocal culture. If the peacock only knew that the rarest jewel in all the galaxy of virtues, graces, and accomplishments, is modesty! But eliminating the voice and the vanity, and estimating it at its feathers' worth, it is a superb creation, and illustrates almost as well as the swan, to which the couplet was originally applied —
And how majestic, ease."
Of all the warblers, the one everywhere most familiar and abundant is the summer yellow bird, not found in the deeper woods, but in groves, and orchards, and open land, and unsuspicious enough to haunt the neighborhood of houses. It is richly colored in deep yellow, darker on the wings and back, and finely streaked with brown upon the breast, and would doubtless be eagerly sought for, if it were not so easily found. Its range is very limited, as it is never on the ground, and rarely more than perhaps twelve feet above it, so that its average altitude brings it frequently into the line of vision. On its first arrival in spring the yellow seems purer than subsequently, which is perhaps partly due to its novelty. The voice is sweet, but the song quite simple and with a peculiarly characterless ending, like an insipid coda to the redstart's song. At the risk of seeming hypercritical, I must confess that this bird, which to others is very attractive, seems to me a trifle tiresome. There is an assertiveness about any pure color, still more about strongly contrasting colors, that is wanting in plumage so mildly shaded and streaked throughout as the yellow bird's. Its tone is mild, its plumage mild, its manner mild; it is worse than sweet, it is sweetish, and all in all, the little creature impresses one as being excessively amiable — a saintly quality that is quite exasperating always to live with. Occasional angles in one's nature are refreshing interruptions to unending curvilinear mildness.
A more admirable creature, with a vigorous dash in its character, is the Maryland "yellow throat," also called ground warbler, as it nests on the ground, and is always found on or near it. The bar of jet-black across the forehead and extending down on each side of the head, gives it what some may smile at my calling a "strong face" — forceful but not bold, and tempered by the rich yellow on the breast. With plump and shapely form and graceful motion, it has a certain air of both dignity and vivacity that makes it an ever welcome object. It prefers more open places than most of the warblers, and delights in bushland, and swampy ground, and the margin of streams. In refinement of manner and quiet elegance of plumage, it is not surpassed by any of the warblers.
With such varied combinations of brilliant tints as are to be found in the warbler family, it is doubtless impossible to give the palm of absolute preeminence to any one species. When I first saw the "black-throated greens" I was positive that here was the finest of the group. Twenty-four hours afterward I found a beautiful specimen of the prairie warbler, and then I was considerably shaken in my mind. The next day I discovered the exquisite "hooded warbler," and then how the "black-throated green" stock went down! To the bird-student how many a warbler has been the idol of an hour! And when the "Blackburnian" appears on the scene, how it consumes to ashes all its rivals, making one ashamed that his heart was ever taken captive by any other. What a satisfying little specimen, too, is the "magnolia," for whom one's ardor is less intense, but possibly more enduring, than for the Blackburnian; while there is a delicacy of form and hue in the Canada fly-catcher that is quite enchanting. And then, too, apart from the inherent excellence of any species, its degree of rarity has so much to do in forming our estimate. Perchance the "Maryland yellow-throat" would be the peer of any I have named, if it were only at rare intervals we could see it. In reality, each is bettered by the others, enhanced by the diverse charms of all the group, and certainly each is best enjoyed by foregoing all critical thoughts of comparison.
Maryland Yellow-Throats (Warblers)
Each living creature carries its own atmosphere — the interwoven influence of all its traits and aspects; and much as we have descanted upon the strong impression made by the rich coloration of plumage, yet this is not commonly the aspect of the creature that produces the most lasting effect; and thus, with all due admiration for their fine and immaculate array, the birds that one holds in the most affectionate remembrance are not the glittering "warblers."
An acquaintance to be commended to every observer is a very common bird, somewhat smaller than the robin, and with some resemblance in color, as a careless view of it might suggest, known as the towhee bunting, or chewink, also not inaptly called swamp or ground robin, from its habit of living in swampy places, and being generally found on or near the ground. Closely observed, its plumage is seen to be quite different from the robin's, as the male is pure black above and on the throat, white beneath and on the outermost tail-feathers, and the sides chestnut. In figure and bearing, too, it is a finch, not a thrush; but popular names are commonly founded on the most superficial resemblances, as in the case of the red-winged blackbird, which is also called swamp robin. The name "towhee" approximately represents the sound it frequently makes, as one finds it furtively hopping about in the undergrowth, picking over the dead leaves.
No ornithologist would like to be called upon to give a satisfactory reason for all his opinions, but he would say decidedly that there are very different ways of skulking among the bushes; the catbird's way is suspicious — a semi-confession that it is in mischief; the chewink's way is only unobtrusiveness and modesty. The name chewink is another attempt to imitate its sound, but vowels and consonants are rarely heard with much distinctness in a bird's notes, and considerable imagination must be exercised in giving them onomatopoetic names.
Possessed of a rich and rather strong voice, the chewinks have two or three melodious phrases which make them very pleasing, if not notable, songsters, and perched on some bush or the lower branch of a tree, concealed from view, their modest private rehearsals are well worth listening to. An unpretentious air pervades the entire conduct of this bird. Seeming to know that it does not occupy a large place in the world, it makes itself attractive by contentedly filling a small one.
A family that is very patience-trying to the beginner is that of the vireos, on account of the great resemblance of all the species. In song and nidification they are quite distinct, but they are not singing when they arrive in spring, and with no conspicuous markings it is almost impossible to identify them at a distance. Of the four vireos I found in the Ramble, two were migrant — the "solitary," which was perfectly silent during its short stay, and the "yellow-throated" (which, if not migrant, at least disappeared soon after its arrival). This latter is the handsomest of the family, with bright yellow throat and breast passing abruptly into white beneath. Although not in song, it uttered a very characteristic note, and quite aggravated the observer by chiefly frequenting the higher branches. It is said to be a pleasing singer, and one of the most accomplished architects in nest-building of all the birds.
The two other vireos, remaining in this latitude all summer, and found quite generally in woodland as well as in more open places, are the "red-eyed" and the warbling vireos. Notwithstanding its quiet coloring the red-eyed is a rather noticeable bird for its trim figure, graceful action, and dressy appearance. The easiest way to identify it, until it sings, is by the dark stripe through the eye, which is not found in the other vireos, while at short range and in good light the iris has a reddish tinge. It is a voluble singer, and the song can perhaps be best described by saying that it is half-way between the chirp of the English sparrow and the warble of the robin — having the strident quality and higher pitch of the former, and the modulation of the latter. Some are greatly pleased with its music, but to me there is more pleasure in watching its motions, as with dainty form it busily and dexterously climbs about among the branches, with much of the elegant ease that distinguishes the chickadee. In listening to it one is likely to think how near the English sparrow came to being a singer and just missed it. Far more delightful than the "red-eye's" warble is that of the solitary vireo — so pure and serene — the tone of a finer spirit.
In the more open places, where a single shrub or tree will afford a sheltered perch, or in a row of trees by the road-side, one is likely to hear the warbling vireo, which is in truth a warbler, and with more mellow tone than the "red-eye" possesses. One eminent writer says that not a single other bird "can rival the tenderness and softness of the liquid strains of this modest vocalist." This is high praise, and I have not been so fortunate as to find any warbling vireo that would justify the compliment. To my ear there is a pronounced petulance of tone in the "red-eye," and a touch of it in the warbling vireo, as if neither of them possessed the loveliest disposition in the world. The warbling vireo is noticeably smaller than the "red-eye," and of a more dull and uniform color. (Fearing that the foregoing language in regard to the "red-eye" depreciates it below my own real estimate, I am glad to confess that later in the season its song sounded richer and less irritable. Perhaps the ear is less critical in the silences of August than in full-toned June; or quite possibly, the "red-eye's" song sweetens with age.)
Nature's effects are produced with consummate skill, although we may be tempted now and then to think the lines are crude and clumsy; and when she created the Canada goose she was evidently fearful that our ears might be surfeited with superabundance of mellifluous delectability. The vocal organs of this bird are as complete a check to such satiety as one could imagine. A pair of these creatures (a part of the floating assets of the Park), with music undoubtedly in their hearts, although it gets excruciatingly snarled up in their throats, frequently have a "fine frenzy" come over them, when it becomes quite useless to listen for anything more delicate than a crow-symphony. One of them in particular, probably the male, accompanies the serenade with such remarkable writhings and jerkings of his long neck, as to make the beholder fear that there are junks of sound sticking in his windpipe, and he is in danger of choking; but finding that no evil results ensue, he finally attributes these convulsions to exuberance of feeling. It must be confessed that such vociferation, relieved by picturesque surroundings, and mellowed by distance, creates a novel and poetic impression — one of nature's harsh but vigorous and essential undertones. Each of nature's works must have its place, and it is man's fault or his great misfortune, if his view of it is not at such an angle as to reveal therein a consistent element of the whole.
A bird's range of speculation is necessarily limited, but about such matters as lie within its province it has very decided opinions. It would be interesting (possibly not flattering) to learn its estimate of mankind; for perhaps there is no other creature that recognizes more quickly and keenly the difference between a human being and any other animal, and in its constant discrimination there is ground for clear conviction.
Man is pleased to recognize among the evidences of his supremacy in the world an undoubted acknowledgment of it in the lower animals. Even a fierce wild beast may stand in awe of him, and occasionally it is reported that a savage monster has quietly walked away, rather than try to endure his steady and intrepid gaze. Some are so sanguine as to believe that every ferocious quadruped would similarly quail and retire, were it not that in almost every such collision of the races it is the man who feels inclined to retire first.
The gentler creatures are thought to pay their homage to man, in their sense of reliance upon, and even a sentiment of regard for, this superior being; and frequently the more useful animals certainly show a devotion to their masters that is a model for imitation.
Among the feathered race in its wild state the birds of prey seem invariably to cherish a spirit of cowardly animosity toward man; while in game and water birds it would be very difficult to prove any partiality for his society, as in general they avoid his neighborhood, or at best ignore him. But it is chiefly in what scientists regard as the highest order of birds — the passeres or perchers — which include all the song-birds — that a feeling of friendly regard for man is sometimes thought to be entertained, as in the robin, bluebird, sparrows, etc., although such friendly feeling has a very strong intermixture of suspicion. The argument commonly adduced to prove their amicable sentiment is the fact that they manifestly choose to live in his neighborhood, becoming abundant where he opens up the country, and saying in effect, in the language of one famous in the olden time, "Where thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge." It is true that they have followed closely in man's wake, as he has advanced through the wilderness, making it to blossom as the rose; but the poetry of the matter is quite upset by the fact that it is the rose that they are after, and not the man. We must recognize the fact that at heart birds are supremely practical creatures, and that the uppermost question with them always is, "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink?" That is to say, their movements are always in the direction of the greatest food-supply.
Man's advent into every habitable region of the globe has been the signal for a wonderful upspringing of all forms of life around him. Cultivation of soil multiplies the variety and abundance of vegetable growth; this luxuriance is the promoter of insect life, and in the vegetable and animal products are the nourishment of our song-birds. The depths of the forest afford meagre subsistence, at least as regards variety, compared with the groves, orchards, gardens, and waysides, teeming with countless forms of plant and animal life, introduced directly and indirectly by man.
The centre of abundance of birds is in the tropical regions, where their natural supplies are the greatest, and their dependence upon man the least, and it is altogether probable that the question whether human beings are to be found in any locality, has nothing to do in determining their migration thither, except as they have learned to associate his presence with supply and variety of food; just as the gulls will follow the steamship far out to sea, simply for the loaves and fishes.
If the population of any country town were utterly to disappear for a period of years, and by invisible agencies all the agricultural and horticultural conditions of the town were to be maintained, we may be sure that when the inhabitants returned, they would find not only as many birds of the usual species as before, but many other varieties which, from timidity, had hitherto resorted to more retired localities; and that one and all, if endowed with human speech, would declare that they had enjoyed an unusually quiet and peaceable life.
We are certainly crediting them with far more intelligence when we suppose them to regard man as a treacherous foe, to be avoided as far as is compatible with their own interests; when we remember that until recently relentless war has been waged upon them by anyone so minded; that even now the regulations for their protection are very inadequate and often violated; and that many species are in danger of extermination from the ruthless onslaught upon them and their eggs. In view of man's past and present record, it is not wise to add insult to injury by any patronizing assumptions.1 It is quite as much from the growing recognition of their utility, and the absolutely indispensable part they play in the economy of nature, as from motives of humanity, that mankind is at last coming to have a higher regard and to enact more stringent laws for their welfare.
The fact that in extremely rare instances, when in great fear, they have sought man's protection, proves only that of two dangers they have chosen the least — a rather dubious compliment. An instance of this sort is narrated by an eminent authority, who relates that on entering his room one day he was startled to see a quail sitting on his bed, having taken refuge there, as he supposed, in fleeing from a hawk. The argument loses its edge by the additional remark, that upon the writer's entering the room "the affrighted and bewildered bird instantly started for the window." A most unreasonable and ungrateful fowl!
The American goldfinch in his summer dress of brilliant yellow, with a black cap and black wings barred with white, is one of the most showy of the finches, and easily mistaken for a warbler. When singing he prefers the uppermost part of a tree, whence often streams down such a voluble, gushing, and incoherent melody that it seems the outpour of two or three throats instead of one. The song is sweet, but formless, like that of the thrasher, and with a delicious languishment that is sometimes rather cloying. A more fresh and breezy quality sweeps through the warble of the European species.
A most striking combination of colors was one day afforded in seeing a flock of goldfinches and indigo-birds running about over the grass. An artist would find difficulty in projecting indigo-blue on a congenial green background, but nature hesitates at nothing, and is never at fault as a colorist.
The handsomest all-the-year-round bird in this region is the cardinal grosbeak (one of the finches), and it has a peculiar and interesting, if not altogether commendable, individuality. With a refined, courtly, and self-conscious air in bearing and song, it seems to typify a sort of aristocracy that feels the weight of inherited consequence, revelling in the deep blessedness of a prolonged and illustrious ancestry. A person's relation to his ancestors is singular and extremely convenient. It enables him to appropriate their virtues and repudiate their vices, and in many instances a large proportion of their mental and moral assets are thus derived, as well as their chief claim to recognition in society. Ancestral greatness is capable of being a source of perennial and inextinguishable joy, almost as great as that of the lady who said that, in the consciousness of being well dressed, she found a satisfaction such as even the consolations of religion could not afford.
In the strong contrast of its plumage to the snow and the bare branches, the cardinal seems like a breath of warm air, as it floats hither and thither in the wintry landscape. Yet one soon learns to look upon it as an admirable rather than a lovable bird — ornamental, like a piece of bric-à-brac with which one comes into no vital touch — cold and unemotional as its December surroundings, and if not distinctly unfriendly to its humbler fellows, yet plainly showing its haughty instincts. It would seem a great condescension for it to step upon the ground; and as for running about on the grass, like the robin and sparrow, such a thing would be scandalously disreputable. There are many other birds that avoid the ground just as much as the cardinal. It is not the height at which a bird lives in the world that is the point in question, but its aristocratic or democratic instinct.
The cardinal's song is especially disappointing, for there are such possibilities in the full, rich tone that do not begin to be realized. Commencing with a clear and magnificent whistle, several times repeated, like a preliminary flourish, you are on the qui vive for a glorious performance — and there he stops! Either the mind or the heart (perhaps both) is lacking to say anything more. Summarized, the cardinal is brilliant, stately, unsocial, and apparently not anxious to make the most of his gifts. Can any one say that birds are not types of mankind?
The wood thrush as a singer is sui generis. A well-known writer once divided the human race into two parts — all the rest of the world, and the Beecher family. With much the same propriety we may divide all our song-birds into two groups — all the rest of the songsters, and the thrush family. The voice of the wood thrush (and the same is true of the veery and the hermit thrush) is so unique as quite to preclude all comparison. The oriole, the purple finch, the goldfinch, the rose-breasted grosbeak, have each its special excellence, but they are all measured in the terms of each other — they are all, so to speak, human; the wood thrush, to use a much-abused term, is divine. In listening to any one of the finches I have named, one is quite likely to think of the others, even if it be in the way of the most flattering contrast; but when he hears the wood or the hermit thrush or the veery, he simply forgets the others. There seems to be a soul speaking in it, and there is much the same difference, therefore, between this and all other birds, that one finds between the human voice and all instruments of human contrivance. Such a combination of apparently contrary qualities — so mellow and yet so metallic, so liquid and luscious, and yet so full and sonorous — is not remotely approached, is not even suggested, by any other of our birds. Such a voice was one of the happiest thoughts of the Creator, and we might say of it as someone remarked of the strawberry: "Doubtless the Lord might have made a better berry, but doubtless the Lord never did."
There is one thing in regard to the robin that seems worthy of mention, especially as I have never seen it alluded to, viz., its call-note, in the variety of its expression. I know of no other bird that is able to give so many shades of meaning to a single tone, running through the entire gamut of its possible feelings. From the soft and mellow quality, almost as coaxing as a dove's note, with which it encourages its young when just out of the nest, the tone with minute gradations becomes more vehement, and then harsh and with quickened reiteration, until it expresses the greatest intensity of a bird's emotions. Love, contentment, anxiety, exultation, rage — what other animal can throw such multifarious meaning into its tone? And herein the robin seems more nearly human than any of its kind.
In summer the robin is commonly in most vocal mood in his morning serenade, about four or five o'clock; the world not yet astir, the air cool, dewy, and fragrant, and nature receiving its earliest greeting of light and song. Morning and evening are the poetic edges of a day that is full enough of prose. The most delightful association of robin is with that scene, so familiar in every country home, when, after a summer's shower at close of day,
Extend his ev'ning beam, the fields revive,
The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds
Attest their joy, that hill and valley ring,"
while from the dripping maple one hears the cheerful carol of the robin, as if voicing Nature's thankfulness for the blessing of the rain and of the sunshine. No other sound blends so well with the spirit of the scene.
1 Before they have learned to be suspicious, their attitude toward man is often quite the reverse. Travellers in remote regions, where man is rarely seen, often report finding birds remarkably fearless, and even annoyingly familiar. Audubon tells of the Canada jay, which in northern forests will frequently eat out of the hands of the lumber cutters. I have elsewhere read of a traveller who, as he sat writing at his table, was irritated as well as amused by having a bird run about over the paper and pick at every object he saw, and only with difficulty was driven away.