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Birds Every Child Should Know
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THE SPARROW TRIBE
THE SPARROW TRIBE
LIKE the poor, the sparrows are always with us. There is not a day in the year when you cannot find at least one member of the great tribe which comprises one-seventh of all our birds -- by far the largest North American family. What is the secret of their triumphant numbers?
Many members of the hardy, prolific clan, wearing dull brown and gray-streaked feathers, in perfect colour harmony with the grassy, bushy places or dusty roadsides where they live, are usually overlooked by enemies in search -of a dinner. Undoubtedly their protective colouring has much to do with their increase. They are small birds mostly, not one so large as a robin.
Sparrows being seed eaters chiefly, although none of the tribe refuses insect meat in season, and all give it to their nestlings, there is never a time when they cannot find food, even at the frozen North where some weedy stalks project above the snow. They are not fastidious. Fussy birds, like fussy people, have a hard time in this world; but the whole sparrow tribe, with few exceptions, make the best of things as they find them and readily adapt themselves to whatever conditions they meet. How wonderfully that saucy little gamin, the English sparrow, has adjusted himself to this new land!
Members of the more aristocratic finch and grosbeak branches of the family, however, who wear brighter clothes, pay the penalty by decreasing numbers as our boasted civilisation surrounds them. Gay feathers afford a shining mark. Naturally grosbeaks prefer to live among protective trees. They are delightful singers, and so, indeed, are some of their plain little sparrow cousins.
All the members of the family have strong, conical bills well suited to crush seeds, and gizzards, like a chicken's, to grind them fine. These little grist-mills within the birds' bodies extract all the nourishment there is from the seed. The sparrow tribe, you will notice, do immense service by destroying the seeds of weeds, which, but for them, would quickly overrun the farmer's fields and choke his crops. Because these hardy gleaners can pick up a living almost anywhere, they do not need to make very long journeys every spring and autumn. Their migrations are comparatively short when undertaken at all. As a rule their flight is laboured, slow, and rather heavy just the opposite from the wonderfully swift and graceful flight of the swallows.
THE SONG SPARROW
This is most children's favourite bird: is it yours? Although by no means the belle of the family, the song sparrow is beloved throughout its vast range if for no other reason than because it is irrepressibly cheerful. Good spirits are contagious: every one feels better for having a neighbour always in a good humour. Most birds mope when it rains, or when they shed their feathers, or when the weather is cold and dreary, or when something doesn't please them, and cultivate their voices only when they fall in love in the happy spring-time. But you may hear the hardy, healthful song sparrow's "merry cheer" almost every month in the year, in fair weather or in foul, in the middle of the night and in broad daylight, when a little mate is to be wooed with light-hearted vivacity, when two, three, or even four broods severely tax the singer's energy through the summer, when clothes must be changed in August and when the cold of approaching winter drives every other singer from the choir. The most familiar song-for this tuneful sparrow has at least six similar but slightly different melodies in his repertoire-begins with a full round note three times repeated, then dashes off into a sweet, short, lively, intricate strain that almost trips itself in its hasty utterance. Few people whistle well enough to imitate it. Few birds can rival the musical ecstasy.
Artlessly self-confident, not at all bashful, the song sparrow mounts to a conspicuous perch when he sings, rather than let his efforts be muffled by foliage. Don't mistake him for an English sparrow; notice his distinguishing marks: the fine dark streaks on his light breast tend to form a larger blotch in the centre. You see him singing on the extended branch of some low tree, on the topmost twig of a bush, on a fence, or a piazza railing from which he dives downward into the grass, or flies straight along into the bushes, his tail working like a pump handle as if to help his flight. Very rarely he flies upward. Diving into a bush is one of his specialties. He best likes to live in regions near water.
The song sparrows that come almost every day in the year among many other birds to my piazza roof for waste canary seed and such delicacies, show refreshing spirit in driving off the English sparrows who, let it be recorded, can get not a morsel until the song sparrows are abundantly satisfied. One of the latter is quite able to keep off half a dozen of his English cousins. How does he do it? Not by his superior size, for the measurements of both birds show that they are about the same length although the song sparrow's slightly longer and more graceful tail makes him appear a trifle larger. Certainly not by any rowdy, bold assaults, which are the English bird's specialty. But by simply assuming superiority and expressing it only by running in a threatening attitude toward each English sparrow who dares to alight on the roof, does he bluff him into flying away again! There is never a fight, not even an ill-mannered scolding, just quiet monopoly for a few minutes, then a joyous outburst of song. After that the English sparrows may take the songster's leavings.
Where rails thread their way among the rushes, and red-winged blackbirds, marsh wrens, and Maryland yellow-throats like to live, there listen for the tweet-tweet-tweet of the swamp sparrow. It is a sweet but rather monotonous little song that he repeats over and over again to the mate who is busy about her grassy nest in a tussock not far away, but well hidden among the rank swamp growth.
Some children say it is difficult to tell the plain gray-breasted swamp sparrow from the larger song sparrow with the streaked breast; but I am sure their eyes are not so sharp as yours.
While the neighbourly song sparrow and the swamp sparrow delight to be near water, the field sparrow chooses to live in dry uplands where stunted bushes and cedars cover the hills and overgrown old fields, and towhees and brown thrashers keep him company. He is not fond of human society, however, and usually flies away with wavering, uncertain flight from bush to bush rather than submit to a close scrutiny of his bright chestnut brown back and crown, flesh-coloured bill, gray eyebrow, grayish throat, buffy breast and light feet. Because his tail is a trifle longer than the chippy's he is slightly larger than the smallest of our sparrows. Unless you notice that his bill is not black and his head not marked with black and gray streaks like the chippy's, you might easily mistake him for his sociable, confiding little cousin who comes hopping to the door.
How differently he sings! Listen for him some evening after sunset when his simple vesper hymn, clear, plaintive, sweet, rings from the bush where he perches especially for the perform-ance. Scarcely any two field sparrows sing precisely alike. Most of them, however, begin with three clear, smooth, leisurely whistles -- cherwee, cher-wee, cher-wee -- then hurry through the other notes-- cheo, cheo-dee-dee-eee, e, e -- which run rapidly into a trill before they die away. Others reverse the time and diminish the measures toward the close. However sung, the song, which makes the uplands tuneful all day and every day from April to August, does not vary its quality, which is as fine as the vesper sparrow's.
Hatched in a bush, and almost never seen apart from one, this humble little bird might well be called the bush sparrow.
To name this little dingy sparrow that haunts the open fields and dusty roadsides, you must notice the white feather on each side of his tail as he spreads it and flies before you to alight upon a fence. Like the song sparrow, this cousin has some fine dark streaks on his throat and breast. If you get near enough you will notice that his wing coverts, which are a bright chestnut brown, make the rest of his sparrow plumage look particularly pale and dull. Some people call him the bay-winged bunting; others, the grass finch, because he nests, like the meadow-lark and many other foolish birds, on the ground where mice, snakes, mowing machines and cats often make sad havoc of his young family.
The field sparrow, as we have seen, prefers neglected old fields overgrown with bushes, but the vesper sparrow chooses more broad, open, breezy, grassy country. When busy picking up insects and seed on the ground, he takes no time for singing, but keeps steadily at work, unlike the vireos that sing between bites. With him music is a momentous matter to which he is quite willing to devote half an hour at a time. He usually mounts to a fence rail or a tree before beginning the repetitions of his lovely, serene vesper which is most likely to be heard about sunset, or at sunrise, if you are not a sleepy-head. Like the rose-breasted grosbeak, he has the delightful habit of singing through the early hours of the summer night.
Is there a boy or girl in America who does not already know this saucy, keen-witted little gamin who thrives where other birds would starve; who insists upon thrusting himself where he is not wanted, not only in bird's houses, but about the cornices, pillars, and shutters of our own, where his noise and dirt drive good housekeepers frantic; who, without any weapons but his boldness and impudence to fight with, fears neither man nor beast, and who multiplies as fast as the rabbit, so that he is rapidly inheriting the earth? Even children who have never been out of the slums know at least this one bird, this ever-present nuisance, for he chirps and chatters as cheerfully in the reeking gutters as in the prettiest gardens; he hops with equal calm about the horse's feet and trolley cars in crowded city thoroughfares, as he does about flowery fields and quiet country lanes; he will pick at the overflow from garbage pails on the sidewalk in front of teeming tenements and manure on the city pavements with quite as much relish as he will eat the fresh clean seed spilled by a canary, or cake-crumbs from my lady's hand. Intense cold he endures with cheerful fortitude and as intense mid-summer heat without losing his astonishing vitality. Is it any wonder that a bird so readily adaptable to all sorts of conditions should thrive like a weed and beat his way around the world?
Now that he has gained such headway in this country his extermination is practically impossible, since a single pair of sparrows might have 275,716,983,698 descendants in ten years! It is foolish to talk of ridding the land of these vermin of birddom. The conditions that kept them in check at home are lacking in this great land of freedom and so we Americans must pay the penalty for ignorantly tampering with nature.
Sparrows were first imported into Brooklyn in 1851 to rid the shade trees of inch worms. This feat they accomplished there and in New York with neatness and despatch. Every one fed, petted, and coddled them then. It was not until many years later that their true character came to be thoroughly understood. Then it was found by scientific men in Washington, after the fairest trial any culprits ever received, that not all the insects and weed seeds they destroy compensate for the damage they do in the farmer's grain fields, to say nothing of their harrassing and dispossessing other birds more desirable. But they kill no birds, so we may hope that, in the course of time, our native songsters may pluck up courage to claim their rights and hold their own, learning from the sparrows the important lesson of adaptability.
The most cheerful of bird neighbors: song sparrows
A baby chippy and its two big rose-breasted grosbeak cousins
A chipping sparrow family: one baby satisfied, the next nearly so, the third still hungry
Called also: Chippy; Door-step Sparrow; Hair Sparrow.
This summer a pair of the sociable, friendly little chippies -- the smallest members of their clan -- decided that they would build in a little boxwood tree on the verandah of our house next to the front door through which members of the family passed every hour of the day. While we sat within a few feet of the tree, both birds would carry into it fine twigs and grasses for the foundation of the nest and, later, long horse hairs which they coiled around and around to form a lining. Where did they get so many hairs? A few might have been switched out of the horses' tails in the stable yard or dropped on the road, but what amazingly bright eyes the birds must have to find them, and how curious that chippies alone, of all the feathered tribe, should always insist upon using them to line their cradles!
From the back of a settle, the round of a rocking chair, or the gnomon of the sun-dial near the verandah, the little chippy would trill his wiry tremulo, like the locust's hot weather warning, while his mate brooded over five tiny greenish-blue eggs in the boxwood tree. Before even the robin was awake, earlier than dawn, he would start the morning chorus with the simple little trill that answers for a song to express every emotion throughout the long day. Both he and his mate use a chap call note in talking to each other.
When she was tired brooding, of which she did far more than her share, he would relieve her while she went in search of food. Very often he would carry to the nest a cabbage worm for her or some other refreshing delicacy. The screen door might bang beside her while she sat close upon her treasures without causing her to do more than flutter an eye-lid. Every member of the family parted the twigs of boxwood that enclosed the nest to look upon her pretty little reddish-brown head with a gray stripe over the eye and a dark-brown line running apparently through it. All of us gently stroked her from time to time. She would occasionally leave the nest for only a minute or two to pick up the crumbs, chickweed, and canary seed scattered for her about the verandah floor, and showed not the slightest fear when we went on with our regular occupations. We were the breathlessly excited ones, while she hopped calmly about our feet. The chippy is wonderfully tame -- perhaps the tamest bird that we have.
You may be sure there was joy in the household when the nest in the boxwood contained baby chippies one morning -- not a trace of eggshells which had been carried away early. Insects were the only approved baby-food and we were greatly astonished to see what large ones were thrust down the tiny, gaping throats every few minutes. Instead of flying straight to the nest, both parents would frequently stop to rest or get proper direction on the back or the arm of a chair where some one was sitting. In eight days the babies began to explore the verandah. Then they left us suddenly without a "good-bye." No guests whom we ever had beneath our roof left a more aching void than that chipping sparrow family. How we hope they will find their way back to the boxwood tree from the Gulf States next April!
Called also: Winter Chippy
When the friendly little chippy leaves us in autumn, this similar but larger sparrow cousin comes into the United States from the North, and some people say they cannot tell the two birds apart or the field sparrow from either of them. The tree sparrow, which, unlike the chippy, has no black on his forehead, wears an indistinct black spot on the centre of his breast where the chippy is plain gray, and the field sparrow is buffy. The tree sparrow has a parti-coloured bill, the upper-half black, the lower yellow with a black tip, while the chippy has an entirely black bill, and the field sparrow a flesh-coloured or pale-red one. Only the tree sparrow, which is larger than either of the others, although only as large as a full grown English sparrow, spends the winter in the Northern United States, and by that time his confusing relatives are too far south for comparison. It is in spring and autumn that their ranges over-lap and there is any possibility of confusion.
When the slate-coloured juncos come from their nesting grounds far over the Canadian border, look also for flocks of tree sparrows in fields and door yards, where crab grass, amaranth and fox tail grass, among other pestiferous weeds, are most abundant. I do not know how Professor Beal of the Department of Agriculture, arrived at his conclusions, but he estimates that in a single state -- Iowa -- the tree sparrows alone destroy eight hundred and seventy-five tons of noxious weed seeds every winter. Then how incalculably great must be our debt to the entire sparrow tribe!
Tree sparrows welcome other winter birds to their friendly flocks that glean a comfortable living from the weed stalks protruding from the snow. Their cheerful, soft, jingling notes have been likened by Mr. Chapman to "sparkling frost crystals turned to music."
Called also: Peabody-bird; Canada Sparrow
"What's in a name?" Our English cousins over the border are quite sure they hear this sparrow sing the praises of Swee-e-et Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-da-ah, while the New Englanders think the bird distinctly says, I-I-Peabody, Pea-bod-y, Pea-bod-y-I, extolling the name of one of their first families. You may amuse yourself by fitting whatever words you like to the well-marked metre of the clear, high-pitched, plaintive, sweet song of twelve notes. Learn to imitate it and you will be able to whistle up any white-throat within reach of your voice in the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, or the deep, cool woods of Maine, throughout the summer, although the majority of these hardy sparrows nest on the northern side of the Canadian border. Our hot weather they cannot abide. When there is a keen breath of frost in the air and the hedgerows and thickets in the United States are taking on glorious autumnal tints, listen for the white-throated migrants conversing with sharp chink call-notes that sound like the ring of a marblecutter's chisel.
During the autumn and spring migrations, when these birds are likely to give us the semiannual pleasure of coming closer about our homes, with other members of their sociable tribe, you will see that the white-throat is a slightly larger and more distinguished bird than the English sparrow, and that he wears a white patch above his plain, gray breast. Except the white-crowned sparrow, who wears a black and white-striped soldier cap on his head, and who sometimes travels in migrating flocks with his cousins, the white-throated sparrow is the handsomest member of his plain tribe.
Do you imagine because he is called the fox sparrow that this bird has four legs, or that he wears a brush instead of feathers for a tail, or that he makes sly visits to the chicken yard after dark? When you. see his rusty, reddish-brown coat you guess that the foxy colour of it is alone responsible for his name. His light breast is heavily streaked and spotted with brown, somewhat like a thrush's, and as he is the largest and reddest of the sparrows, it is not at all difficult to identify him.
In the autumn, when the juncos come into the United States from Canada, small flocks of their fox sparrow cousins, that have spent the summer from the St. Lawrence region and Manitoba northward to Alaska, may also be expected. They are often seen in the junco's company among the damp thickets and weeds, along the roadsides and in stalky fields bounded by woodland. The fox sparrow loves to scratch among the dead leaves for insects trying to hide there, quite as well as if he were a chicken or a towhee or an oven-bird who kick up the leaves and earth rubbish after his vigorous manner.
From Virginia southward, the people know the fox sparrow only as a winter resident. Before he leaves them in the spring, he begins to practise the clear, rich, ringing song, which fairly startles one with pleasure the first time it is heard.
Called also: Slate-coloured Snow-bird
When the skies are leaden and the first flurries of snow warn us that winter is near, flocks of juncos, that reflect the leaden skies on their backs, and the grayish-white snow on their breasts, come from the North to spend the winter. A few enter New England as early as September, but by Thanksgiving increased numbers are foraging for their dinner among the roadside thickets, in the furrows of ploughed fields, on the ground near evergreens, about the barn-yard and even at the dog's plate beyond the kitchen door.
Notice how abruptly the slate gray colour of the junco's mantle ends in a straight line across his light breast, and how, when he flies away, the white feathers on either side of his tail serve as signals to his friends to follow. Such signals are especially useful when birds are migrating; without them, many stragglers from the flocks might get lost. Juncos, who are extremely sociable birds, except when nesting, need help in keeping together. A crisp, frosty call note signifies alarm and away flies the flock. They are quiet, unassuming visitors, modest in manner and in dress; but how we should miss them from the winter landscape!
In the northern United States and Canada, it is the snowflake or snow bunting, a sparrowy little bird with a great deal of white among its rusty brown feathers that is the familiar winter visitor. Instead of hopping, like most of its tribe, it walks over the frozen fields and rarely perches higher than a bush or fence rail, for it comes very near being a ground bird. Delighting in icy blasts and snow storms, flocks of these irrepressibly cheerful little foragers fatten on a seed diet picked up where other birds would starve.
Called also: Black-winged Yellow-bird; Thistle Bird; Lettuce Bird; Wild Canary
Have you a garden gay with marigolds, sunflowers, coreopsis, zinnias, cornflowers, and gaillardias? If so, every goldfinch in your neighbourhood knows it and hastens there to feed on the seeds of these plants as fast as they form, so that you need expect to save none for next spring's planting. Don't you prefer the birds when flower seeds cost only five cents a packet?
Clinging to the slender, swaying stems, the goldfinches themselves look so like yellow flowers that you do not suspect how many are feasting in the garden until they are startled into flight. Then away they go, bounding along through the air, now rising, now falling, in long aerial waves peculiar to them alone. You can always tell a goldfinch by its wavy course through the air. Often it accents the rise of each wave as it flies by a ripple of sweet, twittering notes. The yellow warbler is sometimes called a wild canary because he looks like a canary; the goldfinch has the same misleading name applied to him because he sings like one.
But goldfinches by no means depend upon our gardens for their daily fare. Wild lettuce, mullein, dandelion, ragweed and thistles are special favourites. Many weed stalks suddenly blossom forth into black and gold when a flock of finches alight for a feast in the summer fields, or, browned by winter frost, bend beneath the weight of the birds when they cling to them protruding through the snow.
Usually not until July, when the early thistles furnish plenty of fluff for nest lining, do pairs of goldfinches withdraw from flocks to begin the serious business of raising a family. A compact, cozy, cup-like structure of fine grass, vegetable fibre, and. moss, is placed in the crotch of a bush or tree, or sometimes in a tall, branching thistle plant. Except the cedar waxwings, the goldfinches are the latest nesters of all our birds. As their love-making is prolonged through the entire summer, so is the deliciously sweet, tender, canary-like song of the male. Dear, dear, dearie, you may hear him sing to his dearest all day long.
In summer, throughout his long courtship, he wears a bright, lemon-yellow wedding suit with black cap, wings, and tail, while his sweetheart is dressed in a duller green or olive yellow. After the August moult, he emerges a dingy olive-brown, sparrowy bird, in perfect colour harmony with the wintry fields.
Called also: Linnet
It would seem as if the people who named most of our birds and wild flowers must have been colour-blind. Old rose is more nearly the colour of this finch who looks like a brown sparrow that had been dipped into a bath of raspberry juice and left out in the sun to fade. But only the mature males wear this colour, which is deepest on their head, rump, and breast. Their sons are decidedly sparrowy until the second year and their wives look so much like the song sparrows that you must notice their heavy, rounded bills and forked tails to make sure they are not their cousins. A purple finch that had been caged two years gradually turned yellow, which none of his kin in the wild state has ever been known to do. Why? No ornithologist is wise enough to tell us, for the colour of birds is still imperfectly understood.
Like the goldfinches, these finches wander about in flocks. You see them in the hemlock and spruce trees feeding on the buds at the tips of the branches, in the orchard pecking at the blossoms on the fruit trees, in the wheat fields with the goldfinches destroying the larvae of the midge, or by the roadsides cracking the seeds of weeds that are too hard to open for birds less stout of bill. When it is time to nest, these finches prefer evergreen trees to all others, although orchards sometimes attract them.
A sudden outbreak of spirited, warbled song in March opens the purple finch's musical season, which is almost as long as the song sparrow's. Subdued nearly to a humming in October, it is still a delightful reminder of the finest voice possessed by any bird in the great sparrow tribe. But it is when the singer is in love that the song reaches its highest ecstasy. Then he springs into the air just as the yellow-breasted chat, the oven-bird, and woodcock do when they go a-wooing, and sings excitedly while mounting fifteen or twenty feet above his mate until he drops exhausted at her side.
Called also: Indigo-bird.
Every child knows the bluebird, possibly the kingfisher and the blue jay, too, but there is only one other bird with blue feathers, the little indigo bunting, who is no larger than your pet canary, that you are ever likely to meet unless you live in the Southwest where the blue grosbeak might be your neighbour. If, by chance, you should see a little lady indigo-bird you would probably say contemptuously: "Another tiresome sparrow," and go on your way, not noticing the faint glint of blue in her wings and tail. Otherwise her puzzling plumage is decidedly sparrowy, although unstreaked. So is that of her immature sons. But her husband will be instantly recognised because he is the only very small bird who wears a suit of deep, rich blue with verdigris-green reflections about the head -- bluer than the summer sky which pales where his little figure is outlined against it.
Mounting by erratic, short flights from the weedy places and bushy tangles he hunts among the branches of a convenient tree, singing as he goes higher and higher, he remains for a time on a conspicuous perch and rapidly and repeatedly sings. When almost every other bird is moulting and moping, he warbles with the same fervour and timbre. Possibly because he has the concert stage almost to himself in August, he gets the credit of being a better performer than he really is. Only the pewee and the red-eyed vireo, whom neither midday nor midsummer heat can silence, share the stage with him then.
Called also: Chewink; Ground Robin; Foree
From their hunting-ground in the blackberry tangle and bushes that border a neighbouring wood, a family of chewinks sally forth boldly to my piazza floor to pick up seed from the canary's cage, hemp, cracked corn, sunflower seed, split pease, and wheat scattered about for their especial benefit. One fellow grew bold enough to peck open a paper bag. It is a daily happening to see at least one of the family close to the door; or even on the window-sill. The song, the English, the chipping, the field, and the white-throated sparrows-any one or all of these cousins-usually hop about with the chewinks most amicably and with no greater ease of manner; but the larger chewink hops more energetically and precisely than any of them, like a mechanical toy.
Heretofore I had thought of this large, vigorous bunting as a rather shy or at least self-sufficient bird with no desire to be neighbourly. His readiness to be friends when sure of the genuiness of the invitation, was a delightful surprise. From late April until late October my softly-whistled towhee has rarely failed to bring a response from some pensioner, either in the woodland thicket or among the rhododendrons next the piazza where the seeds have been scattered by the wind. Chewink, or towhee comes the brisk call from wherever the busy bunting is foraging. The chickadee, whippoorwill, phoebe and pewee also tell you their names, but this bird announces himself by two names, so you need make no mistake.
Because he was hatched in a ground nest and loves to scratch about on the ground for insects, making the dead leaves and earth rubbish fly like any barnyard fowl, the towhee it often called the ground robin. He is a little smaller than robin-redbreast. Looked down upon from above he appears to be almost a black bird, for his upper parts, throat and breast are very dark where his mate is brownish; but underneath both are grayish white with patches of rusty red on their sides, the colour resembling a robin's breast when its red has somewhat faded toward the end of summer. The white feathers on the towhee's short, rounded wings and on the sides of his tail are conspicuous signals, as he flies jerkily to the nearest cover. You could not expect a bird with such small wings to be a graceful flyer.
Rarely does he leave the ground except to sing his love-song. Then, mounting no higher than a bush or low branch, he entrances his sweetheart, if not the human critic, with a song to which Ernest Thompson Seton supplies the well-fitted words: Chuck-burr, pill-a will-a-will-a.
Among birds, as among humans, it is the father who lends his name to the family, however difficult it may be to know the mother and children by it. Who that had not studied the books would recognise Mrs. Scarlet Tanager by her name? or Mrs. Purple Finch? or Mrs. Indigo Bunting? or Mrs. Rose-breasted Grosbeak? The latter lady has not a rose-coloured feather on her. She is a streaked, brown bird, resembling an overgrown sparrow, with a thick, exaggerated finch bill and a conspicuous, white eyebrow. When her husband wears his winter clothes in the tropics, his feathers are said to be similar to hers, so that even his name, then, does not fit. But when he returns to the United States in May he is, in very truth, a rose-breasted grosbeak. His back is as black as a chewink's ; underneath he is grayish white, and a patch of lovely, brilliant, rose colour on his breast, with wing linings of the same shade, make him a splendidly handsome fellow. Perhaps before you get a glimpse of the feathers that are his best means of introduction, you may hear a thin eek call-note from some tree-top, or better still, listen to the sweet, pure, mellow, joyously warbled song, now loud and clear, now softly tender, that puts him in the first rank of our songsters.
Few birds so conspicuously dressed risk the safety of their nests either by singing or by being seen near it, but this gentle cavalier not only carries food to his brooding mate but actually takes his turn at sitting upon the pale-greenish, blue-speckled eggs. As a lover, husband, and father he is irreproachable.
A friend who reared four orphan grosbeaks says that they left the nest when about eleven days old. They were very tame, even affectionate toward him, hopping over his shoulders, head, knees, and hands without the least fear, and eating from his fingers. When only ten weeks old the little boy grosbeaks began to warble. On being released to pick up their own living in the garden, these pets repaid their foster-father by eating quantities of potato-bugs, among other pests. Some people call this grosbeak the potato-bug bird.
Called also : Crested Redbird: Virginia Nightingale.
It was on a cold January day in Central Park, New York, that I first met a cardinal and was warmed by the sight. Then I supposed that he must have escaped from a cage, for he is uncommon north of Washington. With tail and crest erect, he was hopping about rather clumsily on the ground near the bear's cage, and picking up bits of broken peanuts that had missed their mark. Presently a dove-coloured bird, lightly washed with dull red, joined him and I guessed by her crest that she must be his mate. Therefore both birds were permanent residents in the park and not escaped pets. Although they look as if they belonged in the tropics, cardinals never migrate as the rose-breasted grosbeak and so many of our fair-weather feathered friends do. That is because they can live upon the weed seeds and the buds of trees and bushes in winter as comfortably as upon insects in summer. It pays not to be too particular.
In the Southern States every child knows the common cardinal and could tell you that he is a little smaller than a robin (not half so graceful), that he is red all over, except a small black area around his red bill, and that he wears his head-feathers crested like the blue jay and the titmouse. In a Bermuda garden, a shelf restaurant nailed up in a cedar tree attracted cardinals about it every hour of the day. If you can. think of a prettier sight than that dark evergreen, with the brilliant red birds hopping about in its branches and the sparkling sapphire sea dashing over gray coral rocks in the background, do ask some artist to paint it!
Few lady birds sing-an accomplishment usually given to their lover's only, to help woo them. But the female cardinal is a charming singer with a softer voice than her mate's most becoming to one of her sex -- and an individual song quite different from his loud, clear whistle.
That dusky rascal, the cowbird