Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Log of the Sun
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo



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 schoolhouse 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.

Other most valuable birds which nest in the Park are the black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos, whose depredations among the hairy and spiny caterpillars should arouse our gratitude. For these insects are refused by almost all other birds, and were it not for these slim, graceful creatures they would increase to prodigious numbers. Their two or three light blue eggs are always laid on the frailest of frail platforms made of a few sticks. The belted kingfisher bores into the bank of the river and rears his family of six or eight in the dark, ill-odoured chamber at the end. Young cuckoos and kingfishers are the quaintest of young birds. Their plumage does not come out a little at a time, as in other nestlings, but the sheaths which surround the growing feathers remain until they are an inch or more in length; then one day, in the space of only an hour or so, the overlapping armour of bluish tiles bursts and the plumage assumes a normal appearance.

The little black-and-white downy and the flicker are the two woodpeckers which make the Park their home. Both nest in hollows bored out by their strong beaks, but although full of splinters and sawdust, such a habitation is far superior to the sooty chimneys in which the young chimney swifts break from their snow-white eggs and twitter for food. How impatiently they must look up at the blue sky, and one would think that they must long for the time when they can spread their sickle-shaped wings and dash . about from dawn to dark! Is it not wonderful that one of them should live to grow up when we think of the fragile little cup which is their home? — a mosaics of delicate twigs held together only by the sticky saliva of the parent birds.

A relation of theirs — though we should never guess it is sitting upon her tiny air castle high up in an apple tree not far away, — a ruby-throated hummingbird. If we take a peep into the nest when the young hummingbirds are only partly grown, we shall see that their bills are broad and stubby, like those of the swifts. Their home, however, is indeed a different affair, — a pinch of plant-down tied together with cobwebs and stuccoed with lichens, like those which are growing all about upon the tree. If we do not watch the female when she settles to her young or eggs we may search in vain for this tiniest of homes, so closely does it resemble an ordinary knot on a branch.

The flycatchers are well represented in the Park, there being no fewer than five species; the least flycatcher, wood pewee, phoebe, crested flycatcher, and kingbird. The first two prefer the woods, the phoebe generally selects a mossy rock or a bridge beam, the fourth nests in a hollow tree and often decorates its home with a snake-skin. The kingbird builds an untidy nest in an apple tree. Our American crow is, of course, a member of this little community of birds, and that in spite of persecution, for in the spring one or two are apt to contract a taste for young ducklings and hence have to be put out of the way. The fish crow, a smaller cousin of the big black fellow, also nests here, easily known by his shriller, higher caw. A single pair of blue jays nest in the Park, but the English starling occupies' every box which is put up and bids fair to be as great or a greater nuisance than the sparrow. It is a handsome bird and a fine whistler, but when we remember how this foreigner is slowly but surely elbowing our native birds out of their rightful haunts, we find ourselves losing sight of its beauties. The cowbird, of course, imposes her eggs upon many of the smaller species of birds, while our beautiful purple grackle, meadow lark, red-winged blackbird, and the Baltimore and orchard orioles rear their young in safety. The cardinal, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, and rose-breasted grosbeak form a quartet of which even a tropical land might well be proud, and the two latter species have, in addition to brilliant plumage, very pleasing songs. Such wealth of esthetic characteristics are unusual in any one species, the wide-spread law of compensation decreeing otherwise. More sombre hued seed-eaters which live their lives in the Park are towhees, swamp, song, field, and chipping sparrows. The bank and barn swallows skim over field and pond all through the summer, gleaning their insect harvest from the air, and building their nests in the places from which they have taken their names. The rare rough-winged swallow deigns to linger and nest in the Park as well as do his more common brethren.

The dainty penile nests which become visible when the leaves fall in the autumn are swung by four species of vireos, the white-eyed, red-eyed, warbling, and yellow-throated. Of the interesting and typically North American family of wood warblers I have numbered no fewer than eight which nest in the Park; these are the redstart, the yellow-breasted chat, northern yellow-throat, oven-bird, the yellow warbler, blue-winged, black-and-white creeping warblers, and one other to be mentioned later.

Injurious insects find their doom when the young house and Carolina wrens are on the wing. Catbirds and robins are among the most abundant breeders, while chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches are less often seen. The bluebird haunts the hollow apple trees, and of the thrushes proper the veery or Wilson's and the splendid wood thrush sing to their mates on the nests among the saplings.

The rarest of all the birds which I have found nesting in the Park is a little yellow and green warbler, with a black throat and sides of the face, known as the Lawrence warbler. Only a few of his kind have ever been seen, and strange to say his mate was none other than a demure blue-winged warbler. His nest was on the ground and from it six young birds flew to safety. and not to museum drawers.


TO many, a swamp or marsh brings only the very practical thought of whether it can be readily drained. Let us rejoice, however, that many marshes cannot be thus easily wiped out of existence, and hence they remain as isolated bits of primeval wilderness, hedged about by farms and furrows. The water is the life-blood of the marsh, — drain it, and reed and rush, bird and batrachian, perish or disappear. The marsh, to him who enters it in a receptive mood, holds, besides mosquitoes and stagnation, — melody, the mystery of unknown waters, and the sweetness of Nature undisturbed by man.

The ideal marsh is as far as one can go from civilisation. The depths of a wood holds its undiscovered secrets; the mysterious call of the veery lends a wildness that even to-day has not ceased to pervade the old wood. There are spots overgrown with fern and carpeted with velvety wet moss; here also the skunk cabbage and cowslip grow rank among the alders. Surely man cannot live near this place — but the tinkle of a cowbell comes faintly on the gentle stirring breeze — and our illusion is dispelled, the charm is broken.

But even to-day, when we push the punt through the reeds from the clear river into the narrow, tortuous channel of the marsh, we have left civilisation behind us. The great ranks of the cattails shut out all view of the outside world; the distant sounds of civilisation serve only to accentuate the isolation. It is the land of the Indian, as it was before the strange white man, brought from afar in great white-sailed ships, came to usurp the land of the wondering natives. At any moment we fancy that we may see an Indian canoe silently round a bend in the channel.

The marsh has remained unchanged since the days when the Mohican Indians speared fish there. We are living in a bygone time. A little green heron flies across the water. How wild he is; nothing has tamed him. He also is the same now as always. He does not nest in orchard or meadow, but holds himself aloof, making no concessions to man and the ever increasing spread of his civilisation. He does not come to his doors for food. He can find food for himself and in abundance; he asks only to be let alone. Nor does he intrude himself. Occasionally we meet him along our little meadow stream, but he makes no advances. As we come suddenly upon him, how indignant he seems at being disturbed in his hunting. Like the Indian, he is jealous of his ancient domain and resents intrusion. He retires, however, throwing back to us a cry of disdain. Here in the marsh is the last stand of primitive nature in the settled country; here is the last stronghold of the untamed. The bulrushes rise in ranks, like the spears of a great army, surrounding and guarding the colony of the marsh.

There seems to be a kinship between the voices of the marsh dwellers. Most of them seem to have a muddy, aquatic note. The boom of the frog sounds like some great stone dropped into the water; the little marsh wren's song is the "babble and tinkle of water running out of a silver flask."

The blackbird seems to be the one connecting link between the highlands and the lowlands. Seldom does one see other citizens of the marsh in the upland. How glorious is the flight of a great blue heron from one feeding-ground to another! He does not tarry over the foreign territory, nor does he hurry. With neck and head furled close and legs straight out behind, he pursues his course, swerving neither to the right nor the left.

"Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As darkly painted on the crimson sky
Thy figure floats along."

The blackbirds, however, are more neighbourly. They even forage in the foreign territory, returning at night to sleep.

In nesting time the red-wing is indeed a citizen of the lowland. His voice is as distinctive of the marsh as is the croak of the frog, and from a distance it is one of the first sounds to greet the ear. How beautiful is his clear whistle with its liquid break! Indeed one may say that he is the most conspicuous singer of the marshlands. His is not a sustained song, but the exuberant expression of a happy heart.

According to many writers the little marsh wren is without song. No song! As well say that the farmer boy's whistling as he follows the plough, or the sailor's song as he hoists the sail, is not music! All are the songs of the lowly, the melody of those glad to be alive and out in the free air.

When man goes into the marsh, the marsh retires within itself, as a turtle retreats within his shell. With the exception of a few blackbirds and marsh wrens, babbling away the nest secret, and an occasional frog's croak, all the inhabitants have stealthily retired. The spotted turtle has slid from the decayed log as the boat pushed through the reeds. At our approach the heron has flown and the little Virginia rail has scuttled away among the reeds.

Remain perfectly quiet, however, and give the marsh time to regain its composure. One by one the tenants of the swamp will take up the trend of their business where it was interrupted.

All about, the frogs rest on the green carpet of the lily pads, basking in the sun. The little rail again runs among the reeds, searching for food in the form of small snails. The blackbirds and wrens, most domestic in character, go busily about their home business; the turtles again come up to their positions, and a muskrat swims across the channel. One hopes that the little colony of marsh wren homes on stilts above the water, like the ancient lake dwellers of Tenochtitlan, may have no enemies. But the habit of building dummy nests is suggestive that the wee birds are pitting their wits against the cunning of some enemy, — and suspicion rests upon the serpent.

As evening approaches and the shadows from the bordering wood point long fingers across the marsh, the blackbirds straggle back from their feeding-grounds and settle, clattering, among the reeds. Their clamour dies gradually away and night settles down upon the marsh.

All sounds have ceased save the booming of the frogs, which but emphasises the loneliness of it all. A distant whistle of a locomotive dispels the idea that all the world is wilderness. The firefly lamps glow along the margin of the rushes. The frogs are now in full chorus, the great bulls beating their tom-toms and the small fry filling in the chinks with shriller cries. How remote the scene and how melancholy the chorus!

To one mind there is a quality in the frogs' serenade that strikes the chord of sadness, to another the chord of contentment, to still another it is the chant of the savage, just as the hoot of an owl or the bark of a fox brings vividly to mind the wilderness.

Out of the night comes softly the croon of a little screech owl — that cry almost as ancient as the hills. It belongs with the soil beneath our towns. It is the spirit of the past crying to us. So the dirge of the frog is the cry of the spirit of river and marshland.

Our robins and bluebirds are of the orchard and the home of man, but who can claim neighbourship to the bittern or the bullfrog? There is nothing of civilisation in the hoarse croak of the great blue heron. These are all barbarians and their songs are of the untamed wilderness.

The moon rises over the hills. The mosquitoes have become savage. The marsh has tolerated us as long as it cares to, and we beat our retreat. The night hawks swoop down and boom as they pass overhead. One feels thankful that the mosquitoes are of some good in furnishing food to so graceful a bird.

A water snake glides across the channel, leaving a silver wake in the moonlight. The frogs plunk into the water as we push past. A night heron rises from the margin of the river and slowly flops away. The bittern booms again as we row down the peaceful river, and we leave the marshland to its ancient and rightful owners.

And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
In the rose and silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun!
The creeks overflow; a thousand rivulets run
'Twist the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh grass stir;
Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr.
                                                                 SIDNEY LANIER.


IF we betake ourselves to the heart of the deep- est forests which are still left upon our northern hills, and compare the bird life which we find there with that in the woods and fields near . our homes, we shall at once notice a great difference. Although the coming of mankind with his axe and plough has driven many birds and animals far away or actually exterminated them, there are many others which have so thrived under the new conditions that they are far more numerous than when the tepees of the red men alone broke the monotony of the forest.

We might walk all day in the primitive woods and never see or hear a robin, while in an hour's stroll about a village we can count scores. Let us observe how some of these quick-witted feathered beings have taken advantage of the way in which man is altering the whole face of the land.

A pioneer comes to a spot in the virgin forest which pleases him and proceeds at once to cut down the trees in order to make a clearing. The hermit thrush soothes his labour with its wonderful song; the pileated woodpecker pounds its disapproval upon a near-by hollow tree; the deer and wolf take a last look out through the trees and flee from the spot forever. A house and barn arise; fields become covered with waving grass and grain; a neglected patch of burnt forest becomes a tangle of blackberry and raspberry; an orchard is set out.

When the migrating birds return, they are attracted to this new scene. The decaying wood of fallen trees is a paradise for ants, flies, and beetles; offering to swallows, creepers, and flycatchers feasts of abundance never dreamed of in the primitive forests. Straightway, what must have been a cave swallow becomes a barn swallow; the haunter of rock ledges changes to an eave swallow; the nest in the niche of the cliff is deserted and phoebe becomes a bridge-bird; cedarbirds are renamed cherry-birds, and catbirds and other low-nesting species find the blackberry patch safer than the sweetbrier vine in the deep woods. The swift leaves the lightning-struck hollow tree where owl may harry or snake intrude, for the chimney flue — sooty but impregnable.

When the great herds of ruminants disappear from the western prairies, the buffalo birds without hesitation become cowbirds, and when the plough turns up the never-ending store of grubs and worms the birds lose all fear and follow at the very heels of the plough-boy: grackles, vesper sparrows, and larks in the east, and flocks of gulls farther to the westward.

The crow surpasses all in the keen wit which it pits against human invasion and enmity. The farmer declares war (all unjustly) against these sable natives, but they jeer at his gun and traps and scarecrows, and thrive on, killing the noxious insects, devouring the diseased corn-sprouts, — doing great good to the farmer in spite of himself.

The story of these sudden adaptations to conditions which the birds could never have foreseen is a story of great interest and it has been but half told. Climb the nearest hill or mountain or even a tall tree and look out upon the face of the country. Keep in mind you are a bird and not a human, — you neither know nor understand anything of the reason for these strange sights, — these bipeds who cover the earth with great square structures, who scratch the ground for miles, who later gnaw the vegetation with great shining teeth, and who are only too often on the look out to bring sudden death if one but show a feather. What would you do?


WHAT a great difference there is in brilliancy of colouring between birds and the furry creatures. How the plumage of a cardinal, or indigo bunting, or hummingbird glows in the sunlight, and reflects to our eyes the most intense vermilion or indigo or an iridescence of the whole gamut of colour. On the other hand, how sombrely clad are the deer, the rabbits, and the mice; gray and brown and white being the usual hue of their fur.

This difference is by no means accidental, but has for its cause a deep significance, — all-important to the life of the bird or mammal. Scientists have long known of it, and if we unlock it from its hard sheathing of technical terms, we shall find it as simple and as easy to understand as it is interesting. When we once hold the key, it will seem as if scales had fallen from our eyes, and when we take our walks abroad through the fields and woods, when we visit a zoological park, or even see the animals in a circus, we shall feel as though a new world were opened to us.

No post offices, or even addresses, exist for birds and mammals; when the children of the desert or the jungle are lost, no detective or policeman hastens to find them, no telephone or telegraph aids in the search. Yet, without any of these accessories, the wild creatures have marvellous systems of communication. The five senses (and perhaps a mysterious sixth, at which we can only guess) are the telephones and the police, the automatic sentinels and alarms of our wild kindred. Most inferior are our own abilities in using eyes, nose, and ears, when compared with the same functions in birds and animals.

Eyes and noses are important keys to the bright colours of birds and comparative sombreness of hairy-coated creatures. Take a dog and an oriole as good examples of the two extremes. When a dog has lost his master, he first looks about; then he strains his eyes with the intense look of a nearsighted person, and after a few moments of this he usually yelps with disappointment, drops his nose to the ground, and with unfailing accuracy follows the track of his master. When the freshness of the trail tells him that he is near its end he again resorts to his eyes, and is soon near enough to recognise the face he seeks. A fox when running before a hound may double back, and make a close reconnaissance near his trail, sometimes passing in full view without the hound's seeing him or stopping in following out the full curve of the trail, so completely does the wonderful power of smell absorb the entire attention of the dog.

Let us now turn to the oriole. As we might infer, the nostrils incased in horn render the sense of smell of but slight account. It is hard to tell how much a bird can distinguish in this way — probably only the odour of food near at hand. However, when we examine the eye of our bird, we see a sense organ of a very high order. Bright, intelligent, full-circled, of great size compared to the bulk of the skull, protected by three complete eyelids; we realise that this must play an important part in the life of the bird. There are, of course, many exceptions to such a generalisation as this. For instance, many species of sparrows are dull-coloured. We must remember that the voice — the calls and songs of birds — is developed to a high degree, and in many instances renders bright colouring needless in attracting a mate or in locating a young bird.

As we have seen, the sense of smell is very highly developed among four footed animals, but to make this efficient there must be something for it to act upon; and in this connection we find some interesting facts of which, outside of scientific books, little has been written. On the entire body, birds have only one gland — the oil gland above the base of the tail, which supplies an unctuous dressing for the feathers. Birds, therefore, have not the power of perspiring, but compensate for this by very rapid breathing. On the contrary, four-footed animals have glands on many portions of the body. Nature is seldom contented with the one primary function which an organ or tissue performs, but adjusts and adapts it to others in many ingenious ways. Hence, when an animal perspires, the pores of the skin allow the contained moisture to escape and moisten the surface of the body; but in addition to this, in many animals, collections of these pores in the shape of large glands secrete various odours which serve important uses. In the skunk such a gland is a practically perfect protection against attacks from his enemies. He never hurries and seems not to know what fear is — a single wave of his conspicuous danger signal is sufficient to clear his path.

In certain species of the rhinoceros there are large glands in the foot. These animals live among grass and herbage which they brush against as they walk, and thus "blaze" a plain trail for the mate or young to follow. There are few if any animals which care to face a rhinoceros, so the scent is incidentally useful to other creatures as a warning.

It is believed that the hard callosities on the legs of horses are the remains of glands which were once upon a time useful to their owners; and it is said that if a paring from one of these hard, horny structures be held to the nose of a horse, he will follow it about, hinting, perhaps, that in former days the scent from the gland was an instinctive guide which kept members of the herd together.

"Civet," which is obtained from the civet cat, and "musk," from the queer little hornless musk deer, are secretions of glands. It has been suggested that the defenceless musk deer escapes many of its enemies by the similarity of its secretion to the musky odour of crocodiles. In many animals which live together in herds, such as the antelope and deer, and which have neither bright colours nor far-reaching calls to aid straying members to regain the flock, there are large and active scent glands. The next time you see a live antelope in a zoological park, or even a stuffed specimen, look closely at the head, and between the eye and the nostril a large opening will be seen on each side, which, in the living animal, closes now and then, a flap of skin shutting it tight.

Among pigs the fierce peccary is a very social animal, going in large packs; and on the back of each of these creatures is found a large gland from which a clear watery fluid is secreted. Dogs and wolves also have their odour-secreting glands on the back, and the "wolf-pack" is proverbial.

The gland of the elephant is on the temple, and secretes only when the animal is in a dangerous mood, a hint, therefore, of opposite significance to that of the herding animals, as this says, "Let me alone! stay away!" Certain low species of monkeys, the lemurs, have a remarkable bare patch on the forearm, which covers a gland serving some use.

If we marvel at the keenness of scent among animals, how incredible seems the similar sense in insects — similar in function, however different the medium of structure may be. Think of the scent from a female moth, so delicate that we cannot distinguish it, attracting a male of the same species from a distance of a mile or more. Entomologists sometimes confine a live female moth or other insect in a small wire cage and hang it outdoors in the evening, and in a short time reap a harvest of gay-winged suitors which often come in scores, instinctively following up the trail of the delicate, diffused odour. It is surely true that the greatest wonders are not always associated with mere bulk.


AMONG insects, sounds are produced in many ways, and for various reasons. A species of ant which makes its nest on the under side of leaves produces a noise by striking the leaf with its head in a series of spasmodic taps, and another ant is also very interesting as regards its sound-producing habit. "Individuals of this species are sometimes spread over a surface of two square yards, many out of sight of the others; yet the tapping is set up at the same moment, continued exactly the same space of time, and stopped at the same instant. After the lapse of a few seconds, all recommence simultaneously. The interval is always approximately of the same duration, and each ant does not beat synchronously with every other ant, but only like those in the same group, so the independent tappings play a sort of tune, each group alike in time, but the tapping of the whole mass beginning and ending at the same instant. This is doubtless a means of communication."

The organ of hearing in insects is still to be discovered in many forms, but in katydids it is situated on the middle of the fore-legs; in butterflies on the sides of the thorax, while the tip of the horns or antennζ of many insects is considered to be the seat of this function. In all it is little more than a cavity, over which a skin is stretched like a drum-head, which thus reacts to the vibration. This seems to be very often "tuned," as it were, to the sounds made by the particular species in which it is found. A cricket will at times be unaffected by any sound, however loud, while at the slightest "screek" or chirp of its own species, no matter how faint, it will start its own little tune in all excitement.

The songs of the cicadas are noted all over the world. Darwin heard them while anchored half a mile off the South American coast, and a giant species of that country is said to produce a noise as loud as the whistle of a locomotive. Only the maces sing, the females being dumb, thus giving rise to the well-known Grecian couplet:

"Happy the cicadas' lives,
For they all have voiceless wives."

Anyone who has entered a wood where thousands of the seventeen-year cicadas were hatching has never forgotten it. A threshing machine, or a gigantic frog chorus, is a fair comparison, and when a branch loaded with these insects is shaken, the sound rises to a shrill screech or scream. This noise is supposed in fact is definitely known — to attract the female insect, and although there may be in it some tender notes which we fail to distinguish, yet let us hope that the absence of any highly organised auditory organ may result in reducing the effect of a steam-engine whistle to an agreeable whisper! It is thought that the vibrations are felt rather than heard, in the sense that we use the word "hear"; if one has ever had a cicada zizz in one's hand, the electrical shocks which seem to go up the arm help the belief in this idea. To many of us the song of the cicada — softened by distance — will ever be pleasant on account of its associations. When one attempts to picture a hot August day in a hay-field or along a dusty road, the drowsy zee-ing of this insect, growing louder and more accelerated and then as gradually dying away, is a focus for the mind's eye, around which the other details instantly group themselves.

The apparatus for producing this sound is one of the most complex in all the animal kingdom. In brief, it consists of two external doors, capable of being partly opened, and three internal membranes, to one of which is attached a vibrating muscle, which, put in motion, sets all the others vibrating in unison.

We attach a great deal of importance to the fact of being educated to the appreciation of the highest class of music. We applaud our Paderewski, and year after year are awed and delighted with wonderful operatic music, yet seldom is the limitation of human perception of musical sounds considered.

If we wish to appreciate the limits within which the human ear is capable of distinguishing sounds, we should sit down in a meadow, some hot midsummer day, and listen to the subdued running murmur of the myriads of insects. Many are very distinct to our ears and we have little trouble in tracing them to their source. Such are crickets and grasshoppers, which fiddle and rasp their roughened hind legs against their wings. Some butterflies have the power of making a sharp crackling sound by means of hooks on the wings. The katydid, so annoying to some in its persistent ditty, so full of reminiscences to others of us, is a large, green, fiddling grasshopper.

Another sound which is typical of summer is the hum of insects' wings, sometimes, as near a beehive, rising to a subdued roar. The higher, thinner song of the mosquito's wings is unfortunately familiar to us, and we must remember that the varying tone of the hum of each species may be of the greatest importance to it as a means of recognition. Many beetles have a projecting horn on the under aide of the body which they can snap against another projection, and by this means call their lady-loves, literally "playing the bones" in their minstrel serenade.

Although we can readily distinguish the sounds which these insects produce, yet there are hundreds of small creatures, and even large ones, which are provided with organs of hearing, but whose language is too fine for our coarse perceptions. The vibrations — chirps, hums, and clicks — can be recorded on delicate instruments, but, just as there are shades and colours at both ends of the spectrum which our eyes cannot perceive, so there are tones running we know not how far beyond the scale limits which affect our ears. Some creatures utter noises so shrill/ so sharp, that it pains our ears to listen to them, and these are probably on the borderland of our sound-world.

Pipe, little minstrels of the waning year,
In gentle concert pipe!
Pipe the warm noons; the mellow harvest near;
The apples dropping ripe;
The sweet sad hush on Nature's gladness laid;
The sounds through silence heard!
Pipe tenderly the passing of the year.
                                HARRIET McEWEN KIMBALL.

I love to hear thine earnest voice,
Wherever thou art hid,
Thou testy little dogmatist,
Thou pretty Katydid!
Thou mintiest me of gentlefolks, —
Old gentlefolks are they,
Thou say'st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way.
                                 OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.