Part 2 out of 4
A faint "screep, screep," like "the noise made by striking two pebbles
together," Audubon says, is often the only indication of the blackpoll's
presence; but surely that tireless bird-student had heard its more
characteristic notes, which, rapidly uttered, increasing in the middle of the
strain and diminishing toward the end, suggest the shrill, wiry burn of some
midsummer insect. After the opera-glass has searched him out we find him by no
means an inconspicuous bird. A dainty little fellow, with a glossy black cap
pulled over his eyes, he is almost hidden by the dense foliage on the trees by
the time he returns to us at the very end of spring. Giraud says that he is
the very last of his tribe to come north, though the bay-breasted warbler has
usually been thought the bird to wind up the spring procession.
The blackpoll has a certain characteristic motion that distinguishes him from
the black-and-white creeper, for which a hasty glance might mistake him, and
from the jolly little chickadee with his black cap. Apparently he runs about
the tree-trunk, but in reality he so flits his wings that his feet do not
touch the bark at all; yet so rapidly does he go that the flipping wing-motion
is not observed. He is most often seen in May in the apple trees, peeping into
the opening blossoms for insects, uttering now and then his slender, lisping,
Vivacious, a busy hunter, often catching insects on the wing like the
flycatchers, he is a cheerful, useful neighbor the short time he spends with
us before travelling to the far north, where he mates and nests. A nest has
been found on Slide Mountain, in the Catskills, but the hardy evergreens of
Canada, and sometimes those of northern New England, are the chosen home of
this little bird that builds a nest of bits of root, lichens, and sedges,
amply large for a family twice the size of his.
BLACK-AND-WHITE CREEPING WARBLER (Mniotilta varia) Wood Warbler
Called also: VARIED CREEPING WARBLER; BLACK-AND WHITE CREEPER;
WHITEPOLL WARBLER; [BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5 to inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- Upper parts white, varied with black. A white stripe
along the summit of the head and back of the neck, edged
with black. White line above and below the eye. Black cheeks
and throat, grayish in females and young. Breast white in
middle, with black stripes on sides. Wings and tail rusty
black, with two white cross-bars on former, and soiled white
markings on tail quills.
Female -- Paler and less distinct markings throughout.
Range -- Peculiar to America. Eastern United States and westward
to the plains. North as far as the fur countries. Winters in
tropics south of Florida.
Migrations -- April. Late September. Summer resident.
Nine times out of ten this active little warbler is mistaken for the downy
woodpecker, not because of his coloring alone, but also on account of their
common habit of running up and down the trunks of trees and on the under side
of branches, looking for insects, on which all the warblers subsist. But
presently the true warbler characteristic of restless flitting about shows
itself. A woodpecker would go over a tree with painstaking, systematic care,
while the black-and-white warbler, no less intent upon securing its food,
hurries off from tree to tree, wherever the most promising menu is offered.
Clinging to the mottled bark of the tree-trunk, which he so closely resembles,
it would be difficult to find him were it not for these sudden fittings and
the feeble song, "Weachy, weachy, weachy, 'twee, 'twee, 'tweet," he half
lisps, half sings between his dashes after slugs. Very rarely indeed can his
nest be found in an old stump or mossy bank, where bark, leaves. and hair make
the downy cradle for his four or five tiny babies.
DUSKY AND GRAY AND SLATE-COLORED BIRDS
Phoebe and Say's Phoebe
Black-throated Blue Warbler
See also the Grayish Green and the Grayish Brown Birds, particularly the Cedar
Bird, several Swallows, the Acadian and the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers;
Alice's and the Olive-backed Thrushes; the Louisiana Water Thrush; the
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; and the Seaside Sparrow. See also the females of the
following birds: Pine Grosbeak; White-winged Red Crossbill; Purple Martin; and
the Nashville, the Pine, and the Magnolia Warblers.
DUSKY, GRAY, AND SLATE-COLORED BIRDS
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica) Swift family
Called also: CHIMNEY SWALLOW; AMERICAN SWIFT
Length -- to 5.45 inches. About an inch shorter than the English
sparrow. Long wings make its length appear greater.
Male and Female -- Deep sooty gray; throat of a trifle lighter
gray. Wings extend an inch and a half beyond the even tail,
which has sharply pointed and very elastic quills, that serve
as props. Feet are muscular, and have exceedingly sharp claws.
Range -- Peculiar to North America east of the Rockies, and from
Labrador to Panama.
Migrations -- April. September or October. Common summer
The chimney swift is, properly speaking, not a swallow at all, though chimney
swallow is its more popular name. Rowing towards the roof of your house, as if
it used first one wing, then the other, its flight, while swift and powerful,
is stiff and mechanical, unlike the swallow's, and its entire aspect suggests
a bat. The nighthawk and whippoorwill are its relatives, and it resembles them
not a little, especially in its nocturnal habits.
So much fault has been found with the misleading names of many birds, it is
pleasant to record the fact that the name of the chimney swift is everything
it ought to be. No other birds can surpass and few can equal it in its
powerful flight, sometimes covering a thousand miles in twenty-four hours, it
is said, and never resting except in its roosting places (hollow trees or
chimneys of dwellings), where it does not perch, but rather clings to the
sides with its sharp claws, partly supported by its sharper tail. Audubon
tells of a certain plane tree in Kentucky where he counted over nine thousand
of these swifts clinging to the hollow trunk.
Their nest, which is a loosely woven twig lattice, made of twigs of trees,
which the birds snap off with their beaks and carry in their beaks, is glued
with the bird's saliva or tree-gum into a solid structure, and firmly attached
to the inside of chimneys, or hollow trees where there are no houses about.
Two broods in a season usually emerge from the pure white, elongated eggs.
What a twittering there is in the chimney that the swifts appropriate after
the winter fires have died out! Instead of the hospitable column of smoke
curling from the top, a cloud of sooty birds wheels and floats above it. A
sound as of distant thunder fills the chimney as a host of these birds,
startled, perhaps, by some indoor noise, whirl their way upward. Woe betide
the happy colony if a sudden cold snap in early summer necessitates the
starting of a fire on the hearth by the unsuspecting householder! The glue
being melted by the fire, "down comes the cradle, babies and all" into the
glowing embers. A prolonged, heavy rain also causes their nests to loosen
their hold and fall with the soot to the bottom.
Thrifty New England housekeepers claim that bedbugs, commonly found on bats,
infest the bodies of swifts also, which is one reason why wire netting is
stretched across the chimney tops before the birds arrive from the South.
KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) Flycatcher family
Called also: TYRANT FLYCATCHER; BEE MARTIN; [EASTERN KINGBIRD,
Length -- 8 inches. About two inches shorter than the robin.
Male -- Ashy black above; white, shaded with ash-color, beneath
A concealed crest of orange-red on crown. Tail black,
Terminating with a white band conspicuous in flight. Wing
feathers edged with white. Feet and bill black.
Female -- Similar to the male, but lacking the crown.
Range -- United States to the Rocky Mountains. British provinces
To Central and South America.
Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
If the pugnacious propensity of the kingbird is the occasion of its royal
name, he cannot be said to deserve it from any fine or noble qualities he
possesses. He is a born fighter from the very love of it, without provocation,
rhyme, or reason. One can but watch with a degree of admiration his bold
sallies on the big, black crow or the marauding hawk, but when he bullies the
small inoffensive birds in wanton attacks for sheer amusement, the charge is
less entertaining. Occasionally, when the little victim shows pluck and faces
his assailant, the kingbird will literally turn tail and show the white
feather. His method of attack is always when a bird is in flight; then he
swoops down from the telegraph pole or high point of vantage, and strikes on
the head or back of the neck, darting back like a flash to the exact spot from
which he started. By these tactics he avoids a return blow and retreats from
danger. He never makes a fair hand-to-hand fight, or whatever is equivalent in
bird warfare. It is a satisfaction to record that he does not attempt to give
battle to the catbird, but whenever in view makes a grand detour to give him a
The kingbird feeds on beetles, canker-worms, and winged insects, with an
occasional dessert of berries. He is popularly supposed to prefer the honeybee
as his favorite tidbit, but the weight of opinion is adverse to the charge of
his depopulating the beehive, even though he owes his appellation bee martin
to this tradition. One or two ornithologists declare that he selects only the
drones fur his diet, which would give him credit for marvellous sight in his
rapid motion through the air. The kingbird is preeminently a bird of the
garden and orchard. The nest is open, though deep, and not carefully
concealed. Eggs are nearly round, bluish white spotted with brown and lilac.
With truly royal exclusiveness, the tyrant favors no community of interest,
but sits in regal state on a conspicuous throne, and takes his grand flights
alone or with his queen, but never with a flock of his kind.
WOOD PEWEE (Contopus virens) Flycatcher family
Length -- 6.50 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow.
Male -- Dusky brownish olive above, darkest on head; paler on
throat, lighter still underneath, and with a yellowish tinge on
the dusky gray under parts. Dusky wings and tail, the wing
coverts tipped with soiled white, forming two indistinct bars.
Whitish eye-ring. Wings longer than tail.
Female -- Similar, but slightly more buff underneath.
Range -- Eastern North America, from Florida to northern British
provinces. Winters in Central America.
Migrations -- May. October. Common summer resident
The wood pewee, like the olive-sided flycatcher, has wings decidedly longer
than its tail, and it is by no means a simple matter for the novice to tell
these birds apart or separate them distinctly in the mind from the other
members of a family whose coloring and habits are most confusingly similar.
This dusky haunter of tall shady trees has not yet learned to be sociable like
the phoebe; but while it may not be so much in evidence close to our homes, it
is doubtless just as common. The orchard is as near the house as it often
cares to come. An old orchard, where modern insecticides are unknown and
neglect allows insects to riot among the decayed bark and fallen fruit, is a
happy hunting ground enough; but the bird's real preferences are decidedly for
high tree-tops in the woods, where no sunshine touches the feathers on his
dusky coat. It is one of the few shade-loving birds. In deep solitudes, where
it surely retreats by nesting time, however neighborly it may be during the
migrations, its pensive, pathetic notes, long drawn out, seem like the
expression of some hidden sorrow. Pe-a-wee, pe-a-wee, pewee-ah-peer is the
burden of its plaintive song, a sound as depressing as it is familiar in every
walk through the woods, and the bird's most prominent characteristic.
To see the bird dashing about in his aerial chase for insects, no one would
accuse him of melancholia. He keeps an eye on the "main chance," whatever his
preying grief may be, and never allows it to affect his appetite. Returning to
his perch after a successful sally in pursuit of the passing fly, he repeats
his "sweetly solemn thought" over and over again all day long and every day
throughout the summer.
The wood pewees show that devotion to each other and to their home,
characteristic of their family. Both lovers work on the construction of the
flat nest that is saddled on some mossy or lichen-covered limb, and so
cleverly do they cover the rounded edge with bits of bark and lichen that
sharp eyes only can detect where the cradle lies. Creamy-white eggs, whose
larger end is wreathed with brown and lilac spots, are guarded with fierce
Trowbridge has celebrated this bird in a beautiful poem.
PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe) Flycatcher family
Called also: DUSKY FLYCATCHER; BRIDGE PEWEE; WATER PEWEE;
[EASTERN PHOEBE, AOU 1998]
Length -- 7 inches. About an inch longer than the English
Male and Female -- Dusky olive -- brown above darkest on head,
Which is slightly crested. Wings and tail dusky, the outer
edges of some tail feathers whitish. Dingy yellowish white
underneath. Bill and feet black.
Range -- North America, from Newfoundland to the South Atlantic
States, and westward to the Rockies. Winters south of the
Carolinas, into Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies.
Migrations -- March. October. Common summer resident.
The earliest representative of the flycatcher family to come out of the
tropics where insect life fairly swarms and teems, what does the friendly
little phoebe find to attract him to the north in March while his prospective
dinners must all be still in embryo? He looks dejected, it is true, as he sits
solitary and silent on some projecting bare limb in the garden, awaiting the
coming of his tardy mate; nevertheless, the date of his return will not vary
by more than a few days in a given locality year after year. Why birds that
are mated for life, as these are said to be, and such devoted lovers, should
not travel together on their journey north, is another of the many mysteries
of bird-life awaiting solution.
The reunited, happy couple go about the garden and outbuildings like
domesticated wrens, investigating the crannies on piazzas, where people may be
coming and going, and boldly entering barn-lofts to find a suitable site for
the nest that it must take much of both time and skill to build.
Pewit, phoebe, phoebe; pewit, phoebe, they contentedly but rather monotonously
sing as they investigate all the sites in the neighborhood. Presently a
location is chosen under a beam or rafter, and the work of collecting moss and
mud for the foundation and hair and feathers or wool to line the exquisite
little home begins. But the labor is done cheerfully, with many a sally in
midair either to let off superfluous high spirits or to catch a morsel on the
wing, and with many a vivacious outburst of what by courtesy only we may name
When not domesticated, as these birds are rapidly becoming, the phoebes dearly
love a cool, wet woodland retreat. Here they hunt and bathe; here they also
build in a rocky bank or ledge of rocks or underneath a bridge, but always
with clever adaptation of their nest to its surroundings, out of which it
seems a natural growth. It is one of the most finished, beautiful nests ever
A pair of phoebes become attached to a spot where they have once nested; they
never stray far from it, and return to it regularly, though they may not again
occupy the old nest. This is because it soon becomes infested with lice from
the hen's feathers used in lining it, for which reason too close relationship
with this friendly bird-neighbor is discouraged by thrifty housekeepers. When
the baby birds have come out from the four or six little white eggs, their
helpless bodies are mercilessly attacked by parasites, and are often so
enfeebled that half the brood die. The next season another nest will be built
near the first, the following summer still another, until it would appear that
a colony of birds had made their homes in the place.
Throughout the long summer -- for as the phoebe is the first flycatcher to
come, so it is the last to go -- the bird is a tireless hunter of insects,
which it catches on the wing with a sharp click of its beak like the other
members of its dexterous family.
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya) is the Western representative of the Eastern
species, which it resembles in coloring and many of its habits. It is the bird
of the open plains, a tireless hunter in midair sallies from an isolated
perch, and has the same vibrating motion of the tail that the Eastern phoebe
indulges in when excited. This bird differs chiefly in its lighter coloring,
but not in habits, from the black pewee of the Pacific slope.
GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus) Flycatcher family
Called also: CRESTED FLYCATCHER; [GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, AOU
Length -- 8.50 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin.
Male and female -- Feathers of the head pointed and erect. Upper
parts dark grayish-olive, inclining to rusty brown on wings and
tail. Wing coverts crossed with two irregular bars of yellowish
white. Throat gray, shading into sulphur-yellow underneath,
that also extends under the wings. Inner vane of several tail
quills rusty red. Bristles at base of bill.
Range -- From Mexico, Central America, and West Indies northward
to southern Canada and westward to the plains. Most common in
Mississippi basin; common also in eastern United States, south
of New England.
Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
The most dignified and handsomely dressed member of his family, the crested
flycatcher has, nevertheless, an air of pensive melancholy about him when in
repose that can be accounted for only by the pain he must feel every time he
hears himself screech. His harsh, shrill call, louder and more disagreeable
than the kingbird's, cannot but rasp his ears as it does ours. And yet it is
chiefly by this piercing note, given with a rising inflection, that we know
the bird is in our neighborhood; for he is somewhat of a recluse, and we must
often follow the disagreeable noise to its source in the tree-tops before we
can catch a glimpse of the screecher. Perched on a high lookout, he appears
morose and sluggish, in spite of his aristocratic-looking crest, trim figure,
and feathers that must seem rather gay to one of his dusky tribe. A low
soliloquy, apparently born of discontent, can be overheard from the foot of
his tree. But another second, and he has dashed off in hot pursuit of an
insect flying beyond our sight, and with extremely quick, dexterous evolutions
in midair, he finishes the hunt with a sharp click of his bill as it closes
over the unhappy victim, and then he returns to his perch. On the wing he is
exceedingly active and joyous; in the tree he appears just the reverse. That
he is a domineering fellow, quite as much of a tyrant as the notorious
kingbird, that bears the greater burden of opprobrium, is shown in the fierce
way he promptly dashes at a feathered stranger that may have alighted too near
his perch, and pursues it beyond the bounds of justice, all the while
screaming his rasping cry into the intruder's ears, that must pierce as deep
as the thrusts from his relentless beak. He has even been known to drive off
woodpeckers and bluebirds from the hollows in the trees that he, like them,
chooses for a nest, and appropriate the results of their labor for his
scarcely less belligerent mate. With a slight but important and indispensable
addition, the stolen nest is ready to receive her four cream-colored eggs,
that look as if a pen dipped in purple ink had been scratched over them.
The fact that gives the great-crested flycatcher a unique interest among all
North American birds is that it invariably lines its nest with snake-skins if
one can be had. Science would scarcely be worth the studying if it did not set
our imaginations to work delving for plausible reasons for Nature's strange
doings. Most of us will doubtless agree with Wilson (who made a special study
of these interesting nests and never found a single one without cast
snake-skins in it, even in districts where snakes were so rare they were
supposed not to exist at all), that the lining was chosen to terrorize all
intruders. The scientific mind that is unwilling to dismiss any detail of
Nature's work as merely arbitrary and haphazard, is greatly exercised over the
reason for the existence of crests on birds. But, surely, may not the sight of
snake-skins that first greet the eyes of the fledgling flycatchers as they
emerge from the shell be a good and sufficient reason why the feathers on
their little heads should stand on end? "In the absence of a snake-skin, I
have found an onion skin and shad scales in the nest," says John Burroughs,
who calls this bird "the wild Irishman of the flycatchers."
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contotus borealis) Flycatcher family
Length -- 7 to inches. About an inch longer than the English
Male and Female -- Dusky olive or grayish brown above; head
darkest. Wings and tail blackish brown, the former sometimes,
but not always, margined and tipped with dusky white. Throat
yellowish white; other under parts slightly lighter shade than
above. Olive-gray on sides. A tuft of yellowish-white, downy
feathers on flanks. Bristles at base of bill.
Range -- From Labrador to Panama. Winters in the tropics. Nests
usually north of United States, but it also breeds in the
Migrations -- May. September Resident only in northern part of
Only in the migrations may people south of Massachusetts hope to see this
flycatcher, which can be distinguished from the rest of its kin by the darker
under parts, and by the fluffy,
yellowish-white tufts of feathers on its flanks. Its habits have the family
characteristics: it takes its food on the wing, suddenly sallying forth from
its perch, darting about midair to seize its prey, then as suddenly returning
to its identical point of vantage, usually in some distended, dead limb in the
tree-top; it is pugnacious, bold, and tyrannical; mopish and inert when not on
the hunt, but wonderfully alert and swift when in pursuit of insect or
feathered foe. The short necks of the flycatchers make their heads appear
large for their bodies, a peculiarity slightly emphasized in this member of
the family. High up in some evergreen tree, well out on a branch, over which
the shapeless mass of twigs and moss that serves as a nest is saddled, four or
five buff-speckled eggs are laid, and by some special dispensation rarely fall
out of their insecure cradle.
A sharp, loud whistle, wheu--o-wheu-o-wheu-o, rings out from the throat of
this olive-sided tyrant, warning all intruders off the premises; but however
harshly he may treat the rest of the feathered world, he has only gentle
devotion to offer his brooding mate.
LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus) Flycatcher family
Called also: CHEBEC
Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- Gray or olive-gray above, paler on wings and lower part
of back, and a more distinct olive-green on head. Underneath
grayish white, sometimes faintly suffused with pale yellow.
wings have whitish bars. White eye-ring. Lower half of bill
Female is slightly more yellowish underneath.
Range -- Eastern North America, from tropics northward to Quebec,
Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
This, the smallest member of its family, takes the place of the more southerly
Acadian flycatcher, throughout New England and the region of the Great Lakes.
But, unlike his Southern relative, he prefers orchards and gardens close to
our homes for his hunting grounds rather than the wet recesses of the forests.
Che-bec, che-bec, the diminutive olive-pated gray sprite calls out from the
orchard between his aerial sallies after the passing insects that have been
attracted by the decaying fruit, and chebec is the name by which many New
Englanders know him.
While giving this characteristic call-note, with drooping jerking tail,
trembling wings, and uplifted parti-colored bill, he looks unnerved and limp
by the effort it has cost him. But in the next instant a gnat flies past. How
quickly the bird recovers itself, and charges full-tilt at his passing dinner!
The sharp click of his little bill proves that he has not missed his aim; and
after careering about in the air another minute or two, looking for more game
to snap up on the wing, he will return to the same perch and take up his
familiar refrain. Without hearing this call-note one might often mistake the
bird for either the wood pewee or the phoebe, for all the three are similarly
clothed and have many traits in common. The slightly large size of the phoebe
and pewee is not always apparent when they are seen perching on the trees.
Unlike the "tuft of hay" to which the Acadian flycatcher's nest has been
likened, the least flycatcher's home is a neat, substantial cup-shaped cradle
softly lined with down or horsehair, and placed generally in an upright crotch
of a tree, well above the ground.
THE CHICKADEE (Parus atricapillus) Titmouse family
Called also: BLACK-CAPPED TITMOUSE; BLACK-CAP TIT; [BLACK-CAPPED
CHICKADEE, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Not crested. Crown and nape and throat black.
Above gray, slightly tinged with brown. A white space,
beginning at base of bill, extends backwards, widening over
cheeks and upper part of breast, forming a sort of collar that
almost surrounds neck. Underneath dirty white. with pale rusty
brown wash on sides. Wings and tail gray. with white edgings.
Range -- Eastern North America. North of the Carolinas to
Labrador. Does not migrate in the North.
Migrations -- Late September. May. Winter resident; permanent
resident in northern parts of the United States.
No "fair weather friend" is the jolly little chickadee. In the depth of the
autumn equinoctial storm it returns to the tops of the trees close by the
house, where, through the sunshine, snow, and tempest of the entire winter,
you may hear its cheery, irrepressible chickadee-dee-dee-dee or day-day-day as
it swings Around the dangling cones of the evergreens. It fairly overflows
with good spirits, and is never more contagiously gay than in a snowstorm. So
active, so friendly and cheering, what would the long northern winters be like
without this lovable little neighbor?
It serves a more utilitarian purpose, however, than bracing faint-hearted
spirits. "There is no bird that compares with it in destroying the female
canker-worm moths and their eggs," writes a well-known entomologist. He
calculates that as a chickadee destroys about 5,500 eggs in one day, it will
eat 138,750 eggs in the twenty-five days it takes the canker-worm moth to
crawl up the trees. The moral that it pays to attract chickadees about your
home by feeding them in winter is obvious. Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright, in her
delightful and helpful book "Birdcraft," tells us how she makes a sort of a
bird-hash of finely minced raw meat, waste canary-seed, buckwheat, and cracked
oats, which she scatters in a sheltered spot for all the winter birds. The way
this is consumed leaves no doubt of its popularity. A raw bone, hung from an
evergreen limb, is equally appreciated.
Friendly as the chickadee is and Dr. Abbott declares it the tamest bird we
have it prefers well-timbered districts, especially where there are red-bud
trees, when it is time to nest. It is very often clever enough to leave the
labor of hollowing out a nest in the tree-trunk to the woodpecker or nuthatch,
whose old homes it readily appropriates; or, when these birds object, a
knot-hole or a hollow fence-rail answers every purpose. Here, in the summer
woods, when family cares beset it, a plaintive, minor whistle replaces the
chickadee-dee-dee that Thoreau likens to "silver tinkling" as he heard it on a
"Piped a tiny voice near by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry
Chick-chickadeedee! saucy note
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, 'Good-day, good Sir!
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places
Where January brings few faces.'"
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Parus bicolor) Titmouse family
Called also: CRESTED TITMOUSE; CRESTED TOMTIT
Length -- 6 to 6. inches. About the size of the English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Crest high and pointed. Leaden or ash-gray
above; darkest on wings and tail. Frontlet, bill, and shoulders
black; space between eyes gray. Sides of head dull white. Under
parts light gray; sides yellowish, tinged with red.
Range -- United States east of plains, and only rarely seen so
far north as New England.
Migrations -- October. April. Winter resident, but also found
throughout the year in many States.
"A noisy titmouse is Jack Frost's trumpeter" may be one of those few
weather-wise proverbs with a grain of truth in them. As the chickadee comes
from the woods with the frost, so it may be noticed his cousin, the crested
titmouse, is in more noisy evidence throughout the winter.
One might sometimes think his whistle, like a tugboat's, worked by steam. But
how effectually nesting cares alone can silence it in April!
Titmice always see to it you are not lonely as you walk through the woods.
This lordly tomtit, with his jaunty crest, keeps up a persistent whistle at
you as he flits from tree to tree, leading you deeper into the forest, calling
out "Here-here-here!', and looking like a pert and jaunty little blue jay,
minus his gay clothes. Mr. Nehrling translates one of the calls
"Heedle-deedle-deedle-dee!" and another "Peto-peto-peto-daytee-daytee!" But it
is at the former, sharply whistled as the crested titmouse gives it, that
every dog pricks up his ears.
Comparatively little has been written about this bird, because it is not often
found in New England, where most of the bird litterateurs have lived. South of
New York State, however, it is a common resident, and much respected for the
good work it does in destroying injurious insects, though it is more fond of
varying its diet with nuts, berries, and seeds than that all-round benefactor,
CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis) Crow and Jay family
Called also: WHISKY JACK OR JOHN; MOOSE-BIRD; MEAT BIRD; VENISON
HERON; GREASE-BIRD; CANADIAN CARRION-BIRD; CAMP ROBBER; [GRAY
JAY, AOU 1998]
Length -- 11 to 12 inches. About two inches larger than the
Male and Female -- Upper p arts gray; darkest on wings and tail;
back of the head and nape of the neck sooty, almost black.
Forehead, throat, and neck white, and a few white tips on wings
and tail. Underneath lighter gray. Tail long. Plumage fluffy.
Range -- Northern parts of the United States and British
Provinces of North America.
Migrations -- Resident where found.
The Canada jay looks like an exaggerated chickadee, and both birds are equally
fond of bitter cold weather, but here the similarity stops short. Where the
chickadee is friendly the jay is impudent and bold; hardly less of a villain
than his blue relative when it comes to marauding other birds' nests and
destroying their young. With all his vices, however, intemperance cannot be
attributed to him, in spite of the name given him by the Adirondack lumbermen
and guides. "Whisky John" is a purely innocent corruption of
"Wis-ka-tjon," as the Indians call this bird that haunts their camps and
familiarly enters their wigwams. The numerous popular names by which the
Canada jays are known are admirably accounted for by Mr. Hardy in a bulletin
issued by the Smithsonian Institution.
"They will enter the tents, and often alight on the bow of a canoe, where the
paddle at every stroke comes within eighteen inches of them. I know nothing
which can be eaten that they will not take, and I had one steal all my
candles, pulling them out endwise, one by one, from a piece of birch bark in
which they were rolled, and another peck a large hole in a keg of castile
soap. A duck which I had picked and laid down for a few minutes, had the
entire breast eaten out by one or more of these birds. I have seen one alight
in the middle of my canoe and peck away at the carcass of a beaver I had
skinned. They often spoil deer saddles by pecking into them near the kidneys.
They do great damage to the trappers by stealing the bait from traps set for
martens and minks and by eating trapped game. They will sit quietly and see
you build a log trap and bait it, and then, almost before your back is turned,
you hear their hateful ca-ca-ca! as they glide down and peer into it. They
will work steadily, carrying off meat and hiding it. I have thrown out pieces,
and watched one to see how much he would carry off. He flew across a wide
stream, and in a short time looked as bloody as a butcher from carrying large
pieces; but his patience held out longer than mine. I think one would work as
long as Mark Twain's California jay did trying to fill a miner's cabin with
acorns through a knot-hole in the root. They are fond of the berries of the
mountain ash, and, in fact, few things come amiss; I believe they do not
possess a single good quality except industry."
One virtue not mentioned by Mr. Hardy is their prudent saving from the summer
surplus to keep the winter storeroom well supplied like a squirrel's. Such
thrift is the more necessary when a clamorous, hungry family of young jays
must be reared while the thermometer is often as low as thirty degrees below
zero at the end of March. How eggs are ever hatched at all in a temperature
calculated to freeze any sitting bird stiff, is one of the mysteries of the
woods. And yet four or five fluffy little jays, that look as if they were
dressed in gray fur, emerge from the eggs before the spring sunshine has
unbound the icy rivers or melted the snowdrifts piled high around the
CATBIRD (Galcoscoptes carolinensis ) Mocking-bird family
Called also: BLACK-CAPPED THRUSH; [GRAY CATBIRD, AOU 1998]
Length -- 9 inches. An inch shorter than the robin.
Male and Female -- Dark slate above; below somewhat paler; top of
head black. Distinct chestnut patch under the tail, which is
black; feet and bill black also. Wings short, more than two
inches shorter than the tail.
Range -- British provinces to Mexico; west to Rocky Mountains,
to Pacific coast. Winters in Southern States, Central
America, and Cuba.
Migrations -- May. November. Common summer resident,
Our familiar catbird, of all the feathered tribe, presents the most contrary
characteristics, and is therefore held in varied estimation -- loved, admired,
ridiculed, abused. He is the veriest "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" of birds.
Exquisitely proportioned, with finely poised black head and satin-gray coat,
which he bathes most carefully and prunes and prinks by the hour, he appears
from his toilet a Beau Brummell, an aristocratic-looking, even dandified
neighbor. Suddenly, as if shot, he drops head and tail and assumes the most
hang-dog air, without the least sign of self-respect; then crouches and
lengthens into a roll, head forward and tail straightened, till he looks like
a little, short gray snake, lank and limp. Anon, with a jerk and a sprint,
every muscle tense, tail erect, eyes snapping, he darts into the air intent
upon some well-planned mischief. It is impossible to describe his various
attitudes or moods. In song and call he presents the same opposite
characteristics. How such a bird, exquisite in style, can demean himself to
utter such harsh, altogether hateful catcalls and squawks as have given the
bird his common name, is a wonder when in the next moment his throat swells
and beginning phut-phut-coquillicot, he gives forth a long glorious song, only
second to that of the wood thrush in melody. He is a jester, a caricaturist, a
The catbird's nest is like a veritable scrap-basket, loosely woven of coarse
twigs, bits of newspaper, scraps, and rags, till this rough exterior is softly
lined and made fit to receive the four to six pretty dark green-blue eggs to
be laid therein.
As a fruit thief harsh epithets are showered upon the friendly, confiding
little creature at our doors; but surely his depredations may be pardoned, for
he is industrious at all times and unusually adroit in catching insects,
especially in the moth stage.
THE MOCKING-BIRD (Mimus polyglottus) Mocking-bird family
[Called also: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, AOU 1998]
Length -- 9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin.
Male and Female -- Gray above; wings and wedge-shaped; tail
brownish; upper wing feathers tipped with white; outer tail
quills white, conspicuous in flight; chin white; underneath
light gray, shading to whitish.
Range -- Peculiar to torrid and temperate zones of two Americas.
Migrations -- No fixed migrations: usually resident where seen.
North of Delaware this commonest of Southern birds is all too rarely seen
outside of cages, yet even in midwinter it is not unknown in Central Park, New
York. This is the angel that it is said the catbird was before he fell from
grace. Slim, neat, graceful, imitative, amusing, with a rich, tender song that
only the thrush can hope to rival, and with an instinctive preference for the
society of man, it is little wonder he is a favorite, caged or free. He is a
most devoted parent, too, when the four or six speckled green eggs have
produced as many mouths to be supplied with insects and berries.
In the Connecticut Valley, where many mocking-birds' nests have been found,
year after year, they are all seen near the ground, and without exception are
loosely, poorly constructed affairs of leaves, feathers, grass, and even rags.
With all his virtues, it must be added, however, that this charming bird is a
sad tease. 'There is no sound, whether made by bird or beast about him, that
he cannot imitate so clearly as to deceive every one but himself. Very rarely
can you find a mocking-bird without intelligence and mischief enough to
appreciate his ventriloquism. In Sidney Lanier's college note-book was found
written this reflection: "A poet is the mocking-bird of the spiritual
universe. In him are collected all the individual songs of all individual
natures." Later in life, with the same thought in mind, he referred to the
bird as "yon slim Shakespeare on the tree." His exquisite stanzas, "To Our
Mocking-bird," exalt the singer with the immortals:
"Trillets of humor, -- shrewdest whistle -- wit --
Contralto cadences of grave desire,
Such as from off the passionate Indian pyre
Drift down through sandal-odored flames that split
About the slim young widow, who doth sit
And sing above, -- midnights of tone entire, --
Tissues of moonlight, shot with songs of fire; --
Bright drops of tune, from oceans infinite
Of melody, sipped off the thin-edged wave
And trickling down the beak, -- discourses brave
Of serious matter that no man may guess, --
Good-fellow greetings, cries of light distress --
All these but now within the house we heard:
O Death, wast thou too deaf to hear the bird?
. . . . .
"Nay, Bird; my grief gainsays the Lord's best right.
The Lord was fain, at some late festal time,
That Keats should set all heaven's woods in rhyme,
And Thou in bird-notes. Lo, this tearful night
Methinks I see thee, fresh from Death's despite,
Perched in a palm-grove, wild with pantomime
O'er blissful companies couched in shady thyme.
Methinks I hear thy silver whistlings bright
Meet with the mighty discourse of the wise, --
'Till broad Beethoven, deaf no more, and Keats,
'Midst of much talk, uplift their smiling eyes
And mark the music of thy wood-conceits,
And half-way pause on some large courteous word,
And call thee 'Brother,' O thou heavenly Bird!"
JUNCO (Junco hyemalis) Finch family
Called also: SNOWBIRD; SLATE-COLORED SNOWBIRD; [DARK-EYED JUNCO,
Length -- 5.5 to 6.5 inches. About the size of the English
Male -- Upper parts slate-colored; darkest on head and neck,
which are sometimes almost black and marked like a cowl. Gray
on breast, like a vest. Underneath white. Several outer tall
feathers white, conspicuous in flight.
Female -- Lighter gray, inclining to brown.
Range -- North America. Not common in warm latitudes. Breeds in
the Catskills and northern New England.
Migrations -- September. April. Winter resident.
"Leaden skies above; snow below," is Mr. Parkhurst's suggestive description of
this rather timid little neighbor, that is only starved into familiarity. When
the snow has buried seed and berries, a flock of juncos, mingling sociably
with the sparrows and chickadees about the kitchen door, will pick up scraps
of food with an intimacy quite touching in a bird naturally rather shy. Here
we can readily distinguish these "little gray-robed monks and nuns," as Miss
Florence Merriam calls them.
They are trim, sprightly, sleek, and even natty; their dispositions are genial
and vivacious, not quarrelsome, like their sparrow cousins, and what is
perhaps best about them, they are birds we may surely depend upon seeing in
the winter months. A few come forth in September, migrating at night from the
deep woods of the north, where they have nested and moulted during the summer;
but not until frost has sharpened the air are large numbers of them seen.
Rejoicing in winter, they nevertheless do not revel in the deep and fierce
arctic blasts, as the snowflakes do, but take good care to avoid the open
pastures before the hard storms overtake them.
Early in the spring their song is sometimes heard before they leave us to woo
and to nest in the north. Mr. Bicknell describes it as "a crisp call-note, a
simple trill, and a faint, whispered warble, usually much broken, but not
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis) Nuthatch family
Called also: TREE-MOUSE; DEVIL DOWNHEAD
Length -- 5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Upper parts slate-color. Top of head and nape
black. Wings dark slate, edged with black, that fades to brown.
Tail feathers brownish black, with white bars. Sides of head
and underneath white, shading to pale reddish under the tail.
(Female's head leaden.) Body flat and compact. Bill longer than
Range -- British provinces to Mexico. Eastern United States.
Migrations -- October. April. Common resident. Most prominent in
"Shrewd little haunter of woods all gray,
Whom I meet on my walk of a winter day --
You're busy inspecting each cranny and hole
In the ragged bark of yon hickory bole;
You intent on your task, and I on the law
Of your wonderful head and gymnastic claw!
The woodpecker well may despair of this feat --
Only the fly with you can compete!
So much is clear; but I fain would know
How you can so reckless and fearless go,
Head upward, head downward, all one to you,
Zenith and nadir the same in your view?"
-- Edith M. Thomas.
Could a dozen lines well contain a fuller description or more apt
characterization of a bird than these "To a Nuthatch"?
With more artless inquisitiveness than fear, this lively little acrobat stops
his hammering or hatcheting at your approach, and stretching himself out from
the tree until it would seem he must fall off, he peers down at you, head
downward, straight into your upturned opera-glasses. If there is too much snow
on the upper side of a branch, watch how he runs along underneath it like a
fly, busily tapping the bark, or adroitly breaking the decayed bits with his
bill, as he searches for the spider's eggs, larvae, etc., hidden there; yet
somehow, between mouthfuls, managing to call out his cheery quank! quank!
Titmice and nuthatches, which have many similar characteristics, are often
seen in the most friendly hunting parties on the same tree. A pine woods is
their dearest delight. There, as the mercury goes down, their spirits only
seem to go up higher. In the spring they have been thought by many to migrate
in flocks, whereas they are only retreating with their relations away from the
haunts of men to the deep, cool woods, where they nest. With infinite patience
the nuthatch excavates a hole in a tree, lining it with feathers and moss, and
often depositing as many as ten white eggs speckled with red and lilac) for a
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis) Nuthatch family
Called also: CANADA NUTHATCH
Length -- 4 to 4.75 inches. One-third smaller than the English
Male -- Lead-colored above; brownish on wings and tail. Head,
neck, and stripe passing through eye to shoulder, black.
Frontlet, chin, and shoulders white; also a white stripe over
eye, meeting on brow. Under parts light, rusty red. Tail
feathers barred with white near end, and tipped with pale
Female -- Has crown of brownish black, and is lighter beneath
Range -- Northern parts of North America. Not often seen south of
the most northerly States.
Migrations -- November. April. Winter resident.
The brighter coloring of this tiny, hardy bird distinguishes from the other
and larger nuthatch, with whom it is usually seen, for the winter birds have a
delightfully social manner, so that a colony of these Free masons is apt to
contain not only both kinds of nuthatches and chickadees, but kinglets and
brown creepers as well. It shares the family habit of walking about the trees,
head downward, and running along the under side of limbs like a fly. By
Thanksgiving Day the quank! quank! of the white-breasted species is answered
by the tai-tai-tait! of the red-breasted cousin in the orchard, where the
family party is celebrating with an elaborate menu of slugs, insects' eggs,
and oily seeds from the evergreen trees.
For many years this nuthatch, a more northern species than the white-breasted
bird, was thought to be only a spring and autumn visitor, but latterly it is
credited with habits like its congener's in nearly every particular.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) Shrike family
Length -- 8.5 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin.
Male and Female -- Upper parts gray; narrow black line across
forehead, connecting small black patches on sides of head at
base of bill. Wings and tail black, plentifully marked with
white, the outer tail feathers often being entirely white and
conspicuous in flight. Underneath white or very light gray.
Bill hooked and hawk-like.
Range -- Eastern United States to the plains.
Migrations -- May. October. Summer resident.
It is not easy, even at a slight distance, to distinguish the loggerhead from
the Northern shrike. Both have the pernicious habit of killing insects and
smaller birds and impaling them on thorns; both have the peculiarity of
flying, with strong, vigorous flight and much wing-flapping, close along the
ground, then suddenly rising to a tree, on the lookout for prey. Their harsh,
unmusical call-notes are similar too, and their hawk-like method of dropping
suddenly upon a victim on the ground below is identical. Indeed, the same
description very nearly answers for both birds. But there is one very
important difference. While the Northern shrike is a winter visitor, the
loggerhead, being his Southern counterpart, does not arrive until after the
frost is out of the ground, and he can be sure of a truly warm welcome. A
lesser distiction between the only two representatives of the shrike family
that frequent our neighborhood -- and they are two too many -- is in the
smaller size of the loggerhead and its lighter-gray plumage. But as both these
birds select some high commanding position, like a distended branch near the
tree-top, a cupola, house-peak, lightning-rod, telegraph wire, or
weather-vane, the better to detect a passing dinner, it would be quite
impossible at such a distance to know which shrike was sitting up there
silently plotting villainies, without remembering the season when each may be
NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis) Shrike family
Called also: BUTCHER-BIRD; NINE-KILLER
Length -- 9.5 to 10.5 inches. About the size of the robin.
Male -- Upper parts slate-gray; wing quills and tail black,
edged and tipped with white, conspicuous in flight; a white
spot on centre of outer wing feathers. A black band runs
from bill, through eye to side of throat. Light gray below,
tinged with brownish, and faintly marked with waving lines
of darker gray. Bill hooked and hawk-like.
Female -- With eye-band more obscure than male's, and with
More distinct brownish cast on her plumage.
Range -- Northern North America. South in winter to middle
Portion of United States.
Migrations -- November, April. A roving winter resident.
"Matching the bravest of the brave among birds of prey in deeds of daring, and
no less relentless than reckless, the shrike compels that sort of deference,
not unmixed with indignation, we are accustomed to accord to creatures of
seeming insignificance whose exploits demand much strength, great spirit, and
insatiate love for carnage. We cannot be indifferent to the marauder who takes
his own wherever he finds it -- a feudal baron who holds his own with
undisputed sway -- and an ogre whose victims are so many more than he can eat,
that he actually keeps a private graveyard for the balance." Who is honestly
able to give the shrikes a better character than Dr. Coues, just quoted? A few
offer them questionable defence by recording the large numbers of English
sparrows they kill in a season, as if wanton carnage were ever justifiable.
Not even a hawk itself can produce the consternation among a flock of sparrows
that the harsh, rasping voice of the butcherbird creates, for escape they well
know to be difficult before the small ogre swoops down upon his victim, and
carries it off to impale it on a thorn or frozen twig, there to devour it
later piecemeal. Every shrike thus either impales or else hangs up, as a
butcher does his meat, more little birds of many kinds, field-mice,
grasshoppers, and other large insects than it can hope to devour in a week of
bloody orgies. Field-mice are perhaps its favorite diet, but even snakes are
More contemptible than the actual slaughter of its victims, if possible, is
the method by which the shrike often lures and sneaks upon his prey. Hiding in
a clump of bushes in the meadow or garden, he imitates with fiendish
cleverness the call-notes of little birds that come in cheerful response,
hopping and flitting within easy range of him. His bloody work is finished in
a trice. Usually, however, it must be owned, the shrike's hunting habits are
the reverse of sneaking. Perched on a point of vantage on some tree-top or
weather-vane, his hawk-like eye can detect a grasshopper going through the
grass fifty yards away.
What is our surprise when, some fine warm day in March, just before our
butcher, ogre, sneak, and fiend leaves us for colder regions, to hear him
break out into song! Love has warmed even his cold heart, and with sweet,
warbled notes on the tip of a beak that but yesterday was reeking with his
victim's blood, he starts for Canada, leaving behind him the only good
impression he has made during a long winter's visit.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Ampelis garrulus) Waxwing family
Called also: BLACK-THROATED WAX WING; LAPLAND WAX WING; SILKTAIL
Length -- 8 to 9.5 inches. A little smaller than the robin.
Male and Female -- General color drab, with faint brownish wash
above, shading into lighter gray below. Crest conspicuous.
being nearly an inch and a half in length; rufous at the base,
shading into light gray above, velvety-black forehead, chin,
and line through the eye. Wings grayish brown, with very dark
quills, which have two white bars; the bar at the edge of the
upper wing coverts being tipped with red sealing-wax-like
points, that give the bird its name. A few wing feathers tipped
with yellow on outer edge. Tail quills dark brown, with yellow
band across the end, and faint red streaks on upper and inner
Range -- Northern United States and British America. Most common
in Canada and northern Mississippi region.
Migrations -- Very irregular winter visitor.
When Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, who was the first to count this
common waxwing of Europe and Asia among the birds of North America, published
an account of it in his "Synopsis," it was considered a very rare bird indeed.
It may be these waxwings have greatly increased, but however uncommon they may
still be considered, certainly no one who had ever seen a flock containing
more than a thousand of them, resting on the trees of a lawn within sight of
New York City, as the writer has done, could be expected to consider the birds
The Bohemian waxwing, like the only other member of the family that ever
visits us, the cedar-bird, is a roving gipsy. In Germany they say seven years
must elapse between its visitations, which the superstitious old cronies are
wont to associate with woful stories of pestilence -- just such tales as are
resurrected from the depths of morbid memories here when a comet reappears or
the seven-year locust ascends from the ground.
The goings and comings of these birds are certainly most erratic and
infrequent; nevertheless, when hunger drives them from the far north to feast
upon the juniper and other winter berries of our Northern States, they come in
enormous flocks, making up in quantity what they lack in regularity of visits
and evenness of distribution.
Surely no bird has less right to be associated with evil than this mild
waxwing. It seems the very incarnation of peace and harmony. Part of a flock
that has lodged in a tree will sit almost motionless for hours and whisper in
softly hissed twitterings, very much as a company of Quaker ladies, similarly
dressed, might sit at yearly meeting. Exquisitely clothed in silky-gray
feathers that no berry juice is ever permitted to stain, they are dainty,
gentle, aristocratic-looking birds, a trifle heavy and indolent, perhaps, when
walking on the ground or perching; but as they fly in compact squads just
above the tree-tops their flight is exceedingly swift and graceful.
BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Dendroica castanea) Wood Warbler family
Length. -- 5.25 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male -- Crown, chin, throat, upper breast, and sides dull
chestnut. Forehead, sides of head, and cheeks black. Above
olive-gray, streaked with black. Underneath buffy. Two white
wing-bars. Outer tail quills with white patches on tips. Cream
white patch on either side of neck.
Female -- Has more greenish-olive above.
Range -- Eastern North America, from Hudson's Bay to Central
America. Nests north of the United States. Winters in tropical
limit of range.
Migrations -- May. September. Rare migrant
The chestnut breast of this capricious little visitor makes him look like a
diminutive robin. In spring, when these warblers are said to take a more
easterly route than the one they choose in autumn to return by to Central
America, they may be so suddenly abundant that the fresh green trees and
shrubbery of the garden will contain a dozen of the busy little hunters.
Another season they may pass northward either by another route or leave your
garden unvisited; and perhaps the people in the very next town may be counting
your rare bird common, while it is simply perverse.
Whether common or rare, before your acquaintance has had time to ripen into
friendship, away go the freaky little creatures to nest in the tree-tops of
the Canadian coniferous forests.
CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Dendroica pennsylvanica) Wood Warbler
Called also: BLOODY-SIDED WARBLER
Length -- About 5 inches. More than an inch shorter than the
Male -- Top of head and streaks in wings yellow. A black line
running through the eye and round back of crown, and a black
spot in front of eye, extending to cheeks. Ear coverts, chin,
and underneath white. Back greenish gray and slate, streaked
with black. Sides of bird chestnut. Wings, which are streaked
with black and yellow, have yellowish-white bars. Very dark
tail with white patches on inner vanes of the outer quills.
Female -- Similar, but duller. Chestnut sides are often scarcely
Range -- Eastern North America, from Manitoba and Labrador to the
tropics, where it winters.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident, most common in
In the Alleghanies, and from New Jersey and Illinois northward, this restless
little warbler nests in the bushy borders of woodlands and the undergrowth of
the woods, for which he forsakes our gardens and orchards after a very short
visit in May. While hopping over the ground catching ants, of which he seems
to be inordinately fond, or flitting actively about the shrubbery after grubs
and insects, we may note his coat of many colors
-- patchwork in which nearly all the warbler colors are curiously combined.
With drooped wings that often conceal the bird's chestnut sides, which are his
chief distinguishing mark, and with tail erected like a redstart's, he hunts
incessantly. Here in the garden he is as refreshingly indifferent to your
interest in him as later in his breeding haunts he is shy and distrustful. His
song is bright and animated, like that of the yellow warbler.
GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Helminthophila chrysoptera) Wood Warbler
Length -- About 5 inches. More than an inch shorter than the
Male -- Yellow crown and yellow patches on the wings. Upper parts
bluish gray, sometimes tinged with greenish. Stripe through the
eye and throat black. Sides of head chin, and line over the eye
white. Underneath white, grayish on sides. A few white markings
on outer tail feathers.
Female -- Crown duller; gray where male is black, with olive
Upper parts and grayer underneath.
Range -- From Canadian border to Central America, where it
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
After one has seen a golden-winged warbler fluttering hither and thither about
the shrubbery of a park within sight and sound of a great city's distractions
and with blissful unconcern of them all, partaking of a hearty lunch of
insects that infest the leaves before one's eyes, one counts the bird less
rare and shy than one has been taught to consider it. Whoever looks for a
warbler with gaudy yellow wings will not find the golden-winged variety. His
wings have golden patches only, and while these are distinguishing marks, they
are scarcely prominent enough features to have given the bird the rather
misleading name he bears. But, then, most warblers' names are misleading. They
serve their best purpose in cultivating patience and other gentle virtues in
Such habits and choice of haunts as characterize the blue-winged warbler are
also the golden-winged's. But their voices are quite different, the former's
being sharp and metallic, while the latter's zee, zee, zee comes more lazily
and without accent.
MYRTLE WARBLER (Dendroica coronata) Wood Warbler family
Called also: YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER [AOU 1998]; MYRTLE BIRD;
Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- In summer plumage: A yellow patch on top of head, lower
back, and either side of the breast. Upper parts bluish slate,
streaked with black. Upper breast black; throat white; all
other under parts whitish, streaked with black. Two white wing
bars, and tail quills have white spots near the tip. In winter:
Upper parts olive-brown, streaked with black; the yellow spot
on lower back the only yellow mark remaining. Wing-bars
Female -- Resembles male in winter plumage.
Range -- Eastern North America. Occasional on Pacific slope.
Summers from Minnesota and northern New England northward to
Fur Countries. Winters from Middle States south ward into
Central America; a few often remaining at the northern United
States all the winter.
Migrations -- April. October. November. Also, but more rarely, a
The first of the warblers to arrive in the spring and the last to leave us in
the autumn, some even remaining throughout the northern winter, the myrtle
warbler, next to the summer yellowbird, is the most familiar of its
multitudinous kin. Though we become acquainted with it chiefly in the
migrations, it impresses us by its numbers rather than by any gorgeousness of
attire. The four yellow spots on crown, lower back, and sides are its
distinguishing marks; and in the autumn these marks have dwindled to only one,
that on the lower back or rump. The great difficulty experienced in
identifying any warbler is in its restless habit of flitting about.
For a few days in early May we are forcibly reminded of the Florida peninsula,
which fairly teems with these birds; they become almost superabundant, a
distraction during the precious days when the rarer species are quietly
slipping by, not to return again for a year, perhaps longer, for some warblers
are notoriously irregular in their routes north and south, and never return by
the way they travelled in the spring.
But if we look sharply into every group of myrtle warblers, we are quite
likely to discover some of their dainty, fragile cousins that gladly seek the
escort of birds so fearless as they. By the last of May all the warblers are
gone from the neighborhood except the constant little summer yellowbird and
In autumn, when the myrtle warblers return after a busy enough summer passed
in Canadian nurseries, they chiefly haunt those regions where juniper and
bay-berries abound. These latter (Myrica cerifera), or the myrtle wax-berries,
as they are sometimes called, and which are the bird's favorite food, have
given it their name. Wherever the supply of these berries is sufficient to
last through the winter, there it may be found foraging in the scrubby bushes.
Sometimes driven by cold and hunger from the fields, this hardiest member of a
family that properly belongs to the tropics, seeks shelter and food close to
the outbuildings on the farm.
PARULA WARBLER (Compsothlypis americana) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLUE YELLOW-BACKED WARBLER; [NORTHERN PARULA, AOU
Length -- 4.5 to 4.75 inches. About an inch and a half shorter
than the English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Slate-colored above, with a greenish-yellow or
bronze patch in the middle of the back. Chin, throat, and
breast yellow. A black, bluish, or rufous band across the
breast, usually lacking in female. Underneath white, sometimes
marked with rufous on sides, but these markings are variable.
Wings have two white patches; outer tail feathers have white
patch near the end.
Range -- Eastern North America. Winters from Florida southward.
Migrations -- April. October. Summer resident.
Through an open window of an apartment in the very heart of New York City, a
parula warbler flew this spring of 1897, surely the daintiest, most
exquisitely beautiful bird visitor that ever voluntarily lodged between two
A number of such airy, tiny beauties flitting about among the blossoms of the
shrubbery on a bright May morning and swaying on the slenderest branches with
their inimitable grace, is a sight that the memory should retain into old age.
They seem the very embodiment of life, joy, beauty, grace; of everything
lovely that birds by any possibility could be. Apparently they are wafted
about the garden; they fly with no more effort than a dainty lifting of the
wings, as if to catch the breeze, that seems to lift them as it might a bunch
of thistledown. They go through a great variety of charming posturings as they
hunt for their food upon the blossoms and tender fresh twigs, now creeping
like a nuthatch along the bark and peering into the crevices, now gracefully
swaying and balancing like a goldfinch upon a slender, pendent stem. One
little sprite pauses in its hunt for the insects to raise its pretty head and
trill a short and wiry song.
But the parula warbler does not remain long about the gardens and orchards,
though it will not forsake us altogether for the Canadian forests, where most
of its relatives pass the summer. It retreats only to the woods near the
water, if may be, or to just as close a counterpart of a swampy southern
woods, where the Spanish or Usnea "moss" drapes itself over the cypresses, as
it can find here at the north. Its rarely [found,] beautiful nest, that hangs
suspended from a slender branch very much like the Baltimore oriole's, is so
woven and festooned with this moss that its concealment is perfect.
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Dendroica caerulescens) Wood Warbler
Length -- 5.30 inches. About an inch shorter than the English
Male -- Slate-color, not blue above; lightest on forehead and
darkest on lower back. Wings and tail edged with bluish.
Cheeks, chin, throat, upper breast, and sides black. Breast and
underneath white. White spots on wings, and a little white on
Female -- Olive-green above; underneath soiled yellow. Wing-spots
inconspicuous. Tail generally has a faint bluish tinge.
Range -- Eastern North America, from Labrador to tropics, where
Migrations -- May. September. Usually a migrant only in the
Whoever looks for this beautifully marked warbler among the bluebirds, will
wish that the man who named him had possessed a truer eye for color. But if
the name so illy fits the bright slate-colored male, how grieved must be his
olive-and-yellow mate to answer to the name of black-throated blue warbler
when she has neither a black throat nor a blue feather! It is not easy to
distinguish her as she flits about the twigs and leaves of the garden in May
or early autumn, except as she is seen in company with her husband, whose name
she has taken with him for better or for worse. The white spot on the wings
should always be looked for to positively identify this bird.
Before flying up to a twig to peck off the insects, the birds have a pretty
vireo trick of cocking their heads on one side to investigate the quantity
hidden underneath the leaves. They seem less nervous and more deliberate than
many of their restless family.
Most warblers go over the Canada border to nest, but there are many records of
the nests of this species in the Alleghanies as far south as Georgia, in the
Catskills, in Connecticut, northern Minnesota and Michigan. Laurel thickets
and moist undergrowth of woods in the United States, and more commonly pine
woods in Canada, are the favorite nesting haunts. A sharp zip, zip, like some
midsummer insect's noise, is the bird's call-note, but its love-song, zee,
zee, zee, or twee, twea, twea-e-e, as one authority writes it, is only rarely
heard in the migrations. It is a languid, drawling little strain, with an
upward slide that is easily drowned in the full bird chorus of May.
BLUE AND BLUISH BIRDS
Look also among Slate-colored Birds in preceding group, particularly among the
Warblers there, or in the group of Birds conspicuously Yellow and Orange.
BLUE AND BLUISH BIRDS
THE BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) Thrush family
Called also: BLUE ROBIN; [EASTERN BLUEBIRD, AOU 1998]
Length -- 7 inches. About an inch longer than the English
Male -- Upper parts, wings, and tail bright blue, with rusty wash
in autumn. Throat, breast, and sides cinnamon-red. Underneath
Female -- Has duller blue feathers, washed with gray, and a paler
breast than male.
Range -- North America, from Nova Scotia. and Manitoba to Gulf of
Mexico. Southward in winter from Middle States to Bermuda and
Migrations -- March. November. Summer resident. A few sometimes
remain throughout the winter.
With the first soft, plaintive warble of the bluebirds early in March, the
sugar camps, waiting for their signal, take on a bustling activity; the farmer
looks to his plough; orders are hurried off to the seedsmen; a fever to be out
of doors seizes one: spring is here. Snowstorms may yet whiten fields and
gardens, high winds may howl about the trees and chimneys, but the little blue
heralds persistently proclaim from the orchard and garden that the spring
procession has begun to move.Tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly, they sweetly assert to our
The bluebird is not always a migrant, except in the more northern portions of
the country. Some representatives there are always with us, but the great
majority winter south and drop out of the spring procession on its way
northward, the males a little ahead of their mates, which show housewifely
instincts immediately after their arrival. A pair of these rather
matter-of-fact lovers go about looking for some deserted woodpecker's hole in
the orchard, peering into cavities in the fence-rails, or into the bird-houses
that, once set up in the
old-fashioned gardens for their special benefit, are now appropriated too
often by the ubiquitous sparrow. Wrens they can readily dispossess of an
attractive tenement, and do. With a temper as heavenly as the color of their
feathers, the bluebird's sense of justice is not always so adorable. But
sparrows unnerve them into cowardice. The comparatively infrequent nesting of
the bluebirds about our homes at the present time is one of the most
deplorable results of unrestricted sparrow immigration. Formerly they were the
commonest of bird neighbors.
Nest-building is not a favorite occupation with the bluebirds, that are
conspicuously domestic none the less. Two, and even three, broods in a season
fully occupy their time. As in most cases, the mother-bird does more than her
share of the work. The male looks with wondering admiration at the housewifely
activity, applauds her with song, feeds her as she sits brooding over the
nestful of pale greenish-blue eggs, but his adoration of her virtues does not
lead him into emulation.
"Shifting his light load of song,
From post to post along the cheerless fence,"
Lowell observed that he carried his duties quite as lightly.
When the young birds first emerge from the shell they are almost black; they
come into their splendid heritage of color by degrees, lest their young heads
might be turned. It is only as they spread their tiny wings for their first
flight from the nest that we can see a few blue feathers.
With the first cool days of autumn the bluebirds collect in flocks, often
associating with orioles and kingbirds in sheltered, sunny places where
insects are still plentiful. Their steady, undulating flight now becomes
erratic as they take food on the wing -- a habit that they may have learned by
association with the kingbirds, for they have also adopted the habit of
perching upon some conspicuous lookout and then suddenly launching out into
the air for a passing fly and returning to their perch. Long after their
associates have gone southward, they linger like the last leaves on the tree.
It is indeed "good-bye to summer" when the bluebirds withdraw their touch of
brightness from the dreary November landscape.
The bluebirds from Canada and the northern portions of New England and New
York migrate into Virginia and the Carolinas, the birds from the Middle States
move down into the Gulf States to pass the winter. It was there that countless
numbers were cut off by the severe winter of 1894-95, which was so severe in
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea) Finch family
Called also: INDIGO BIRD
Length -- 5 to 6 inches. Smaller than the English sparrow, or the
size of a canary.
Male -- In certain lights rich blue, deepest on head. In another
light the blue feathers show verdigris tints. Wings, tail, and
lower back with brownish wash, most prominent in autumn
plumage. Quills of wings and tail deep blue, margined with
Female -- Plain sienna-brown above. Yellowish on breast and
shading to white underneath, and indistinctly streaked. Wings
and tail darkest, sometimes with slight tinge of blue in outer
webs and on shoulders.
Range -- North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama. Most common in
eastern part of United States. Winters in Central America and
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
The "glowing indigo" of this tropical-looking visitor that so delighted
Thoreau in the Walden woods, often seems only the more intense by comparison
with the blue sky, against which it stands out in relief as the bird perches
singing in a tree-top. What has this gaily dressed, dapper little cavalier in
common with his dingy sparrow cousins that haunt the ground and delight in
dust-baths, leaving their feathers no whit more dingy than they were before,
and in temper, as in plumage, suggesting more of earth than of heaven?
Apparently he has nothing, and yet the small brown bird in the roadside
thicket, which you have misnamed a sparrow, not noticing the glint of blue in
her shoulders and tail, is his mate. Besides the structural resemblances,
which are, of course, the only ones considered by ornithologists in
classifying birds, the indigo buntings have several sparrowlike traits. They
feed upon the ground, mainly upon seeds of grasses and herbs, with a few
insects interspersed to give relish to the grain; they build grassy nests in
low bushes or tall, rank grass; and their flight is short and labored. Borders
of woods, roadside thickets, and even garden shrubbery, with open pasture lots
for foraging grounds near by, are favorite haunts of these birds, that return
again and again to some preferred spot. But however close to our homes they
build theirs, our presence never ceases to be regarded by them with anything
but suspicion, not to say alarm. Their metallic cheep, cheep, warns you to
keep away from the little blue-white eggs, hidden away securely in the bushes;
and the nervous tail twitchings and jerkings are pathetic to see. Happily for
the safety of their nest, the brooding mother has no tell-tale feathers to
attract the eye. Dense foliage no more conceals the male bird's brilliant coat
than it can the tanager's or oriole's.
With no attempt at concealment, which he doubtless understands would be quite
impossible, he chooses some high, conspicuous perch to which he mounts by easy
stages, singing as he goes; and there begins a loud and rapid strain that
promises much, but growing weaker and weaker, ends as if the bird were either
out of breath or too, weak to finish. Then suddenly he begins the same song
over again, and keeps up this continuous performance for nearly half an hour.
The noonday heat of an August day that silences nearly every other voice,
seems to give to the indigo bird's only fresh animation and timbre.
THE BELTED KINGFISHER (Ceryle alcyon) Kingfisher family
Called also: THE HALCYON
Length -- 12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the
Male -- Upper part grayish blue, with prominent crest on head
reaching to the nape. A white spot in front of the eye. Bill
longer than the head, which is large and heavy. Wings and the
short tail minutely speckled and marked with broken bands of
white. Chin, band around throat, and underneath white. Two
bluish bands across the breast and a bluish wash on sides.
Female -- Female and immature specimens have rufous bands where
The adult male's are blue. Plumage of both birds oily.
Range -- North America, except where the Texan kingfisher
replaces it in a limited area in the Southwest. Common from
Labrador to Florida, east and west. Winters chiefly from
Virginia southward to South America.
Migrations -- March. December. Common summer resident. Usually a
winter resident also.
If the kingfisher is not so neighborly as we could wish, or as he used to be,
it is not because he has grown less friendly, but because the streams near our
homes are fished out. Fish he must and will have, and to get them nowadays it
is too often necessary to follow the stream back through secluded woods to the
quiet waters of its source: a clear, cool pond or lake whose scaly inmates
have not yet learned wisdom at the point of the sportsman's fly.
In such quiet haunts the kingfisher is easily the most conspicuous object in
sight, where he perches on some dead or projecting branch over the water,
intently watching for a dinner that is all unsuspectingly swimming below.
Suddenly the bird drops -- dives; there is a splash, a struggle, and then the
"lone fisherman" returns triumphant to his perch, holding a shining fish in
his beak. If the fish is small it is swallowed at once, but if it is large and
bony it must first be killed against the branch. A few sharp knocks, and the
struggles of the fish are over, but the kingfisher's have only begun. How he
gags and writhes, swallows his dinner, and then, regretting his haste, brings
it up again to try another wider avenue down his throat I The many abortive
efforts he makes to land his dinner safely below in his stomach, his grim
contortions as the fishbones scratch his throat-lining on their way down and
up again, force a smile in spite of the bird's evident distress. It is small
wonder he supplements his fish diet with various kinds of the larger insects,
shrimps, and fresh-water mollusks.
Flying well over the tree-tops or along the waterways. the kingfisher makes
the woodland echo with his noisy rattle, that breaks the stillness like a
watchman's at midnight. It is, perhaps, the most familiar sound heard along
the banks of the inland rivers. No love or cradle song does he know. Instead
of softening and growing sweet, as the voices of most birds do in the nesting
season, the endearments uttered by a pair of mated kingfishers are the most
strident, rattly shrieks ever heard by lovers it sounds as if they were
perpetually quarrelling, yet they are really particularly devoted.
The nest of these birds, like the bank swallow's, is excavated in the face of
a high bank, preferably one that rises from a stream; and at about six feet
from the entrance of the tunnel six or eight clear, shining white eggs are
placed on a curious nest. All the fish bones and scales that, being
indigestible, are disgorged in pellets by the parents, are carefully carried
to the end of the tunnel to form a prickly cradle for the unhappy fledglings.
Very rarely a nest is made in the hollow trunk of a tree; but wherever the
home is, the kingfishers become strongly attached to it, returning again and
again to the spot that has cost them so much labor to excavate. Some observers
have accused them of appropriating the holes of the water-rats.
In ancient times of myths and fables, kingfishers or halcyons were said to
build a floating nest on the sea, and to possess some mysterious power that
calmed the troubled waves while the eggs were hatching and the young birds
were being reared, hence the term "halcyon days," meaning days of fair
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata) Crow and Jay family
Length -- 11 to 12 inches. A little larger than the robin.
Male and Female -- Blue above. Black band around the neck,
joining some black feathers on the back. Under parts dusky
white. Wing coverts and tail bright blue, striped transversely
with black. Tail much rounded. Many feathers edged and tipped
with white. Head finely crested; bill, tongue, and legs black.
Range -- Eastern coast of North America to the plains, and from
northern Canada to Florida and eastern Texas.
Migrations -- Permanent resident. Although seen in flocks moving
southward or northward, they are merely seeking happier hunting
grounds, not migrating.
No bird of finer color or presence sojourns with us the year round than the
blue jay. In a peculiar sense his is a case o. "beauty covering a multitude of
sins." Among close students of bird traits, we find none so poor as to do him
reverence. Dishonest, cruel, inquisitive, murderous, voracious, villainous,
are some of the epithets applied to this bird of exquisite plumage. Emerson,
however, has said in his defence he does "more good than harm," alluding, no
doubt, to his habit of burying nuts and hard seeds in the ground, so that many
a waste place is clothed with trees and shrubs, thanks to his propensity and
He is mischievous as a small boy, destructive as a monkey, deft at hiding as a
squirrel. He is unsociable and unamiable, disliking the society of other
birds. His harsh screams, shrieks, and most aggressive and unmusical calls
seem often intended maliciously to drown the songs of the sweet-voiced
From April to September, the breeding and moulting season, the blue jays are
almost silent, only sallying forth from the woods to pillage and devour the
young and eggs of their more peaceful neighbors. In a bulky nest, usually
placed in a tree-crotch high above our heads, from four to six eggs,
olive-gray with brown spots, are laid and most carefully tended.
Notwithstanding the unlovely characteristics of the blue jay, we could ill
spare the flash of color, like a bit of blue sky dropped from above, which is
so rare a tint even in our land, that we number not more than three or four
true blue birds, and in England, it is said, there is none.
BLUE GROSBEAK (Guiraca carulea) Finch family
Length -- 7 inches. About an inch larger than the English
Male -- Deep blue, dark, and almost black on the back; wings and
tail black, slightly edged with blue, and the former marked
with bright chestnut. Cheeks and chin black. Bill heavy and
Female -- Grayish brown above, sometimes with bluish tinge on
head, lower back, and shoulders. Wings dark olive-brown, with
faint buff markings; tail same shade as wings, but witb bluish
gray markings. Underneath brownish cream-color, the breast
feathers often blue at the base.
Range -- United States, from southern New England westward to the
Rocky Mountains and southward into Mexico and beyon d.M ost
common in the Southwest. Rare along the Atlantic seaboard.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
This beautiful but rather shy and solitary bird occasionally wanders eastward
to rival the bluebird and the indigo bunting in their rare and lovely
coloring, and eclipse them both in song. Audubon, we remember, found the nest
in New Jersey. Pennsylvania is still favored with one now and then, but it is
in the Southwest only that the blue grosbeak is as common as the evening
grosbeak is in the Northwest. Since rice is its favorite food, it naturally
abounds where that cereal grows. Seeds and kernels of the hardest kinds, that
its heavy, strong beak is well adapted to crack, constitute its diet when it
strays beyond the rice-fields.
Possibly the heavy bills of all the grosbeaks make them look stupid whether
they are or not -- a characteristic that the blue grosbeak's habit of sitting
motionless with a vacant stare many minutes at a time unfortunately
When seen in the roadside thickets or tall weeds, such as the field sparrow
chooses to frequent, it shows little fear of man unless actually approached
and threatened, but whether this fearlessness comes from actual confidence or
stupidity is by no means certain. Whatever the motive of its inactivity, it
accomplishes an end to be desired by the cleverest bird; its presence is
almost never suspected by the passer-by, and its grassy nest on a tree-branch,
containing three or four pale bluish-white eggs, is never betrayed by look or
sign to the marauding small boy.
BARN SWALLOW (Chelidon erythrogaster) Swallow family
Length -- 6.5 to 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English
sparrow. Apparently considerably larger, because of its wide
Male -- Glistening steel-blue shading to black above. Chin,
breast, and underneath bright chestnut-brown and brilliant buff
that glistens in the sunlight. A partial collar of steel-blue.
Tail very deeply forked and slender.
Female -- Smaller and paler, with shorter outer tail feathers,
making the fork less prominent.
Range -- Throughout North America. Winters in tropics of both
Migrations -- April. September. Summer resident.
Any one who attempts to describe the coloring of a bird's plumage knows how
inadequate words are to convey a just idea of the delicacy, richness, and
brilliancy of the living tints. But, happily, the beautiful barn swallow is
too familiar to need description. Wheeling about our barns and houses,
skimming over the fields, its bright sides flashing in the sunlight, playing
"cross tag" with its friends at evening, when the insects, too, are on the
wing, gyrating, darting, and gliding through the air, it is no more possible
to adequately describe the exquisite grace of a swallow's flight than the
glistening buff of its breast.
This is a typical bird of the air, as an oriole is of the trees and a sparrow
of the ground. Though the swallow may often be seen perching on a telegraph
wire, suddenly it darts off as if it had received a shock of electricity, and
we see the bird in its true element.
While this swallow is peculiarly American, it is often confounded with its
European cousin Hirundo rustica in noted ornithologies.
Up in the rafters of the barn, or in the arch of an old bridge that spans a
stream, these swallows build their bracket-like nests of clay or mud pellets
intermixed with straw. Here the noisy little broods pick their way out of the
white eggs curiously spotted with brown and lilac that were all too familiar
in the marauding days of our childhood.
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon lunifrons) Swallow family
Called also: EAVE SWALLOW; CRESCENT SWALLOW; ROCKY MOUNTAIN
Length -- 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow.
Apparently considerably larger because of its wide wingspread.
Male and Female -- Steel-blue above, shading to blue-black on
crown of head and on wings and tail. A brownish-gray ring
around the neck. Beneath dusty white, with rufous tint.
Crescent-like frontlet. Chin, throat, sides of head, and tail
Range -- North and South America. Winters in the tropics.
Migrations -- Early April. Late September. Summer resident.
Not quite so brilliantly colored as the barn swallow, nor with tail so deeply
forked, and consequently without so much grace in flying, and with a squeak
rather than the really musical twitter of the gayer bird, the cliff swallow
may be positively identified by the rufous feathers of its tail coverts, but
more definitely by its crescent-shaped frontlet shining like a new moon; hence
its specific Latin name from luna = moon, and frons = front.
Such great numbers of these swallows have been seen in the far West that the
name of Rocky Mountain swallows is sometimes given to them; though however
rare they may have been in 1824, when DeWitt Clinton thought he "discovered"
them near Lake Champlain, they are now common enough in all parts of the
In the West this swallow is wholly a cliff-dweller, but it has learned to
modify its home in different localities. As usually seen, it is gourd-shaped,
opened at the top, built entirely of mud pellets ("bricks without straw"),
softly lined with feathers and wisps of grass, and attached by the larger part
to a projecting cliff or eave.
Like all the swallows, this bird lives in colonies, and the clay-colored nests
beneath the eaves of barns are often so close together that a group of them
resembles nothing so much as a gigantic wasp's nest. It is said that when
swallows pair they are mated for life; but, then, more is said about swallows
than the most tireless bird-lover could substantiate. The tradition that
swallows fly low when it is going to rain may be easily credited, because the
air before a storm is usually too heavy with moisture for the winged insects,
upon which the swallows feed, to fly high.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaidura macroura) Pigeon family
Called also: CAROLINA DOVE; TURTLE DOVE
Length -- 12 to 13 inches. About one-half as large again as the
Male -- Grayish brown or fawn-color above, varying to bluish
gray. Crown and upper part of head greenish blue, with green
and golden metallic reflections on sides of neck. A black spot
under each ear. Forehead and breast reddish buff; lighter
underneath. (General impression of color, bluish fawn.) Bill
black, with tumid, fleshy covering; feet red; two middle tail
feathers longest; all others banded with black and tipped with
ashy white. Wing coverts sparsely spotted with black. Flanks
and underneath the wings bluish.
Female -- Duller and without iridescent reflections on neck.
Range -- North America, from Quebec to Panama, and westward to
Arizona. Most common in temperate climate, east of Rocky
Migrations -- March. November. Common summer resident not
Migratory south of Virginia.
The beautiful, soft-colored plumage of this incessant and rather melancholy
love-maker is not on public exhibition. To see it we must trace the a-coo-o,
coo-o, coo-oo, coo-o to its source in the thick foliage in some tree in an
out-of-the-way corner of the farm, or to an evergreen near the edge of the
woods. The slow, plaintive notes, more like a dirge than a love-song,
penetrate to a surprising distance. They may not always be the same lovers we
hear from April to the end of summer, but surely the sound seems to indicate
that they are. The dove is a shy bird, attached to its gentle and refined mate
with a devotion that has passed into a proverb, but caring little or nothing
for the society of other feathered friends, and very little for its own kind,
unless after the nesting season has passed. In this respect it differs widely
from its cousins, the wild pigeons, flocks of which, numbering many millions,
are recorded by Wilson and other early writers before the days when netting
these birds became so fatally profitable.
What the dove finds to adore so ardently in the "shiftless housewife," as Mrs.
Wright calls his lady-love, must pass the comprehension of the phoebe, that
constructs such an exquisite home, or of a bustling, energetic Jenny wren,
that "looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of
idleness." She is a flabby, spineless bundle of flesh and pretty feathers,
gentle and refined in manners, but slack and incompetent in all she does. Her
nest consists of few loose sticks. without rim or lining; and when her two
babies emerge from the white eggs, that somehow do not fall through or roll
out of the rickety lattice, their tender little naked bodies must suffer from
many bruises. We are almost inclined to blame the inconsiderate mother for
allowing her offspring to enter the world unclothed -- obviously not her
fault, though she is capable of just such negligence. Fortunate are the baby
doves when their lazy mother scatters her makeshift nest on top of one that a
robin has deserted, as she frequently does. It is almost excusable to take her
young birds and rear them in captivity, where they invariably thrive, mate,
and live happily, unless death comes to one, when the other often refuses food
and grieves its life away.
In the wild state, when the nesting season approaches, both birds make curious
acrobatic flights above the tree-tops; then, after a short sail in midair,
they return to their perch. This appears to be their only giddiness and
frivolity, unless a dust-bath in the country road might be considered a
In the autumn a few pairs of doves show slight gregarious tendencies, feeding
amiably together in the grain fields and retiring to the same roost at
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila coerulea) Gnatcatcher family
Called also: SYLVAN FLYCATCHER
Length -- 4.5 inches. About two inches smaller than the English
Male -- Grayish blue above, dull grayish white below. Grayish
tips on wings. Tail with white outer quills changing gradually
through black and white to all black on centre quills. Narrow
black band over the forehead and eyes. Resembles in manner and
form a miniature catbird.
Female -- More grayish and less blue, and without the black on
Range -- United States to Canadian border on the north, the
Rockies on the west, and the Atlantic States, from Maine to
Florida most common in the Middle States. A rare bird north of
New Jersey. Winters in Mexico and beyond.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
In thick woodlands, where a stream that lazily creeps through the mossy, oozy
ground attracts myriads of insects to its humid neighborhood, this tiny hunter
loves to hide in the denser foliage of the upper branches. He has the habit of
nervously flitting about from twig to twig of his relatives, the kinglets, but
unhappily he lacks their social, friendly instincts, and therefore is rarely
seen. Formerly classed among the warblers, then among the flycatchers, while
still as much a lover of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes as ever, his vocal
powers have now won for him recognition among the singing birds. Some one has
likened his voice to the squeak of a mouse, and Nuttall says it is "scarcely
louder," which is all too true, for at a little distance it is quite
inaudible. But in addition to the mouse-like call-note, the tiny bird has a
rather feeble but exquisitely finished song, so faint it seems almost as it
the bird were singing in its sleep.
If by accident you enter the neighborhood of its nest, you soon find out that
this timid, soft-voiced little creature can be roused to rashness and make its
presence disagreeable to ears and eyes alike as it angrily darts about your
unoffending head, pecking at your face and uttering its shrill squeak close to
your very ear-drums. All this excitement is in defence of a dainty,
lichen-covered nest, whose presence you may not have even suspected before,
and of four or five bluish-white, speckled eggs well beyond reach in the
During the migrations the bird seems not unwilling to show its delicate, trim
little body, that has often been likened to a diminutive mocking-bird's, very
near the homes of men. Its graceful postures, its song and constant motion,
are sure to attract attention. In Central Park, New York City, the bird is not
BROWN, OLIVE OR GRAYISH BROWN, AND BROWN AND GRAY SPARROWY BIRDS
House Wren Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Carolina Wren Bank Swallow and
Winter Wren Rough-winged Swallow
Long-billed Marsh Wren Cedar Bird
Short-billed Marsh Wren Brown Creeper
Brown Thrasher Pine Siskin
Wilson's Thrush or Veery Smith's Painted Longspur
Wood Thrush Lapland Longspur
Hermit Thrush Chipping Sparrow
Alice's Thrush English Sparrow
Olive-backed Thrush Field Sparrow
Louisiana Water Thrush Fox Sparrow
Northern Water Thrush Grasshopper Sparrow
Flicker Savannah Sparrow
Meadowlark and Western Seaside Sparrow
Meadowlark Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Horned Lark and Prairie Song Sparrow
Horned Lark Swamp Song Sparrow
Pipit or Titlark Tree Sparrow
Whippoorwill Vesper Sparrow
Nighthawk White-crowned Sparrow
Black-billed Cuckoo White-throated Sparrow
See also winter plumage of the Bobolink, Goldfinch, and Myrtle Warbler. See
females of Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, the Grackles, Bobolink,
Cowbird, the Redpolls, Purple Finch, Chewink, Bluebird, Indigo Bunting,
Baltimore Oriole, Cardinal, and of the Evening, the Blue, and the
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. See also Purple Finch, the Redpolls, Mourning Dove,
BROWN, OLIVE OR GRAYISH BROWN, AND BROWN AND GRAY SPARROWY BIRDS
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) Wren family
Length -- 4.5 to 5 inches. Actually about one-fourth smaller than
the English sparrow; apparently only half as large because of
its erect tail.
Male and Female -- Upper parts cinnamon-brown. Deepest shade on
head and neck; lightest above tail, which is more rufous. Back
has obscure, dusky bars; wings and tail are finely barred.
Underneath whitish, with grayish-brown wash and faint bands
Most prominent on sides.
Range -- North America, from Manitoba to the Gulf. Most common in
the United States, from the Mississippi eastward. Winters south
of the Carolinas.
Migrations -- April October. Common summer resident.
Early some morning in April there will go off under your window that most
delightful of all alarm-clocks -- the tiny, friendly house wren, just returned
from a long visit south. Like some little mountain spring that, having been
imprisoned by winter ice, now bubbles up in the spring sunshine, and goes
rippling along over the pebbles, tumbling over itself in merry cascades, so
this little wren's song bubbles, ripples, cascades in a miniature torrent of
Year after year these birds return to the same nesting places: a box set up
against the house, a crevice in the barn, a niche under the eaves; but once
home, always home to them. The nest is kept scrupulously clean; the
house-cleaning, like the house-building and renovating, being accompanied by
the cheeriest of songs, that makes the bird fairly tremble by its intensity.
But however angelic the voice of the house wren, its temper can put to flight
even the English sparrow. Need description go further.
Six to eight minutely speckled, flesh-colored eggs suffice to keep the
nervous, irritable parents in a state bordering on frenzy whenever another
bird comes near their habitation. With tail erect and head alert, the father
mounts on guard, singing a perfect ecstasy of love to his silent little mate,
that sits upon the nest if no danger threatens; but both rush with passionate
malice upon the first intruder, for it must be admitted that Jenny wren is a
While the little family is being reared, or, indeed, at any time, no one is
wise enough to estimate the millions of tiny insects from the garden that find
their way into the tireless bills of these wrens.
It is often said that the house wren remains at the north all the year, which,
though not a fact, is easily accounted for by the coming of the winter wrens
just as the others migrate in the autumn, and by their return to Canada when
Jenny wren makes up her feather-bed under the eaves in the spring.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus) Wren family
Called also: MOCKING WREN
Length -- 6 inches. Just a trifle smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Chestnut-brown above. A whitish streak,
beginning at base of bill, passes through the eye to the nape
of the neck. Throat whitish. Under parts light buff-brown Wings
and tail finely barred with dark.
Range -- United States, from Gulf to northern Illinois and
Southern New England.
Migrations -- A common resident except at northern boundary of
range, where it is a summer visitor.
This largest of the wrens appears to be the embodiment of the entire family
characteristics: it is exceedingly active, nervous, and easily excited,
quick-tempered, full of curiosity, peeping into every hole and corner it
passes, short of flight as it is of wing, inseparable from its mate till
parted by death, and a gushing lyrical songster that only death itself can
silence. It also has the wren-like preference for a nest that is roofed over,
but not too near the homes of men.
Undergrowths near water, brush heaps, rocky bits of woodland, are favorite
resorts. The Carolina wren decidedly objects to being stared at, and likes to
dart out of sight in the midst of the underbrush in a twinkling while the
opera-glasses are being focussed. To let off some of his superfluous
vivacity, Nature has provided him with two safety-valves: one is his voice,
another is his tail. With the latter he gesticulates in a manner so expressive
that it seems to be a certain index to what is passing in his busy little
brain -- drooping it, after the habit of the catbird, when he becomes limp
with the emotion of his love-song, or holding it erect as, alert and
inquisitive, he peers at the impudent intruder in the thicket below his perch.
But it is his joyous, melodious, bubbling song that is his chief fascination.
He has so great a variety of strains that many people have thought that he
learned them from other birds, and so have called him what many ornithologists
declare that he is not -- a mocking wren. And he is one of the few birds that
sing at night -- not in his sleep or only by moonlight, but even in the total
darkness, just before dawn, he gives us the same wide-awake song that
entrances us by day.
WINTER WREN (Troglodytes biemalis) Wren family
Length -- 4 to 4.5 inches. About one-third smaller than the
English sparrow. Apparently only half the size.
Male and Female -- Cinnamon-brown above, with numerous short,
dusky bars. Head and neck without markings. Underneath rusty,
dimly and finely barred with dark brown. Tail short.
Range -- United States, east and west, and from North Carolina to
the Fur Countries
Migrations -- October, April. Summer resident. Commonly a winter
resident in the South and Middle States only.
It all too rarely happens that we see this tiny mouse-like wren in summer,
unless we come upon him suddenly and overtake him unawares as he creeps shyly
over the mossy logs or runs literally "like a flash" under the fern and
through the tangled underbrush of the deep, cool woods. His presence there is
far more likely to be detected by the ear than the eye.
Throughout the nesting season music fairly pours from his tiny throat; it
bubbles up like champagne; it gushes forth in a lyrical torrent and overflows
into every nook of the forest, that seems entirely pervaded by his song. While
music is everywhere, it apparently comes from no particular point, and, search
as you may, the tiny singer still eludes, exasperates, and yet entrances.
If by accident you discover him balancing on a swaying twig, never far from
the ground, with his comical little tail erect, or more likely pointing
towards his head, what a pert, saucy minstrel he is! You are lost in amazement
that so much music could come from a throat so tiny.
Comparatively few of his admirers, however, hear the exquisite notes of this
little brown wood-sprite, for after the nesting season is over he finds little
to call them forth during the bleak, snowy winter months, when in the Middle
and Southern States he may properly be called a neighbor. Sharp hunger, rather
than natural boldness, drives him near the homes of men, where he appears just
as the house wren departs for the South. With a forced confidence in man that
is almost pathetic in a bird that loves the forest as he does, he picks up
whatever lies about the house or barn in the shape of food-crumbs from the
kitchen door, a morsel from the dog's plate, a little seed in the barn-yard,
happily rewarded if he can find a spider lurking in some sheltered place to
give a flavor to the unrelished grain. Now he becomes almost tame, but we feel
it is only because he must be.
The spot that decided preference leads him to, either winter or summer, is
beside a bubbling spring. In the moss that grows near it the nest is placed in
early summer, nearly always roofed over and entered from the side, in true
wren-fashion; and as the young fledglings emerge from the creamy-white eggs,
almost the first lesson they receive from their devoted little parents is in
the fine art of bathing. Even in winter weather, when the wren has to stand on
a rim of ice, he will duck and splash his diminutive body. It is recorded of a
certain little individual that he was wont to dive through the icy water on a
December day. Evidently the wrens, as a family, are not far removed in the
evolutionary scale from true water-birds.
LONG-BILLED MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) Wren family
[Called also: MARSH WREN, AOU 1998]
Length -- 4.5 to 5.2 inches. Actually a little smaller than the
English sparrow. Apparently half the size.
Male and Female -- Brown above, with white line over the eye, and
the back irregularly and faintly streaked with white. Wings and
tail barred with darker cinnamon-brown. Underneath white. Sides
dusky. Tail long and often carried erect. Bill extra long and
Range -- United States and southern British America.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
Sometimes when you are gathering cat-tails in the river marshes an alert,
nervous little brown bird rises startled from the rushes and tries to elude
you as with short, jerky flight it goes deeper and deeper into the marsh,
where even the rubber boot may not follow. It closely resembles two other
birds found in such a place, the swamp sparrow and the short-billed marsh
wren; but you may know by its long, slender bill that it is not the latter,
and by the absence of a bright bay crown that it is not the shyest of the
These marsh wrens appear to be especially partial to running water; their
homes are not very far from brooks and rivers, preferably those that are
affected in their rise and flow by the tides. They build in colonies, and
might be called inveterate singers, for no single bird is often permitted to
finish his bubbling song without half the colony joining in a chorus.
Still another characteristic of this particularly interesting bird is its
unique architectural effects produced with coarse grasses woven into globular
form and suspended in the reeds. Sometimes adapting its nest to the building
material at hand, it weaves it of grasses and twigs, and suspends it from the
limb of a bush or tree overhanging the water, where it swings like an
oriole's. The entrance to the nest is invariably on the side.
More devoted homebodies than these little wrens are not among the feathered
tribe. Once let the hand of man desecrate their nest, even before the tiny
speckled eggs are deposited in it, and off go the birds to a more inaccessible
place, where they can enjoy their home unmolested. Thus three or four nests
may be made in a summer.
SHORT-BILLED MARSH WREN (Cistothorus stellaris) Wren family