Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Bird Neighbors by Neltje Blanchan

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

[Called also: SEDGE WREN, AOU 1998]

Length -- 4 to 5 inches. Actually about one-third smaller than
the English sparrow, but apparently only half its size.
Male and Female -- Brown above, faintly streaked with white,
black, and buff. Wings and tail barred with same. Underneath
white, with buff and rusty tinges on throat and breast. Short
Range -- North America, from Manitoba southward in winter to Gulf
of Mexico. Most common in north temperate latitudes.
Migrations -- Early May. Late September.

Where red-winged blackbirds like to congregate in oozy pastures or near boggy
woods, the little short-billed wren may more often be heard than seen, for he
is more shy, if possible, than his long-billed cousin, and will dive down into
the sedges at your approach, very much as a duck disappears under water. But
if you see him at all, it is usually while swaying to and fro as he clings to
some tall stalk of grass, keeping his balance by the nervous, jerky tail
motions characteristic of all the wrens, and singing with all his might.
Oftentimes his tail reaches backward almost to his head in a most exaggerated

Samuels explains the peculiar habit both the long-billed and the short-billed
marsh wrens have of building several nests in one season, by the theory that
they are made to protect the sitting female, for it is noticed that the male
bird always lures a visitor to an empty nest, and if this does not satisfy his
curiosity, to another one, to prove conclusively that he has no family in

Wild rice is an ideal nesting place for a colony of these little marsh wrens.
The home is made of sedge grasses, softly lined with the softer meadow grass
or plant-down, and placed in a tussock of tall grass, or even upon the ground.
The entrance is on the side. But while fond of moist places, both for a home
and feeding ground, it will be noticed that these wrens have no special
fondness for running water, so dear to their long-billed relatives. Another
distinction is that the eggs of this species, instead of being so densely
speckled as to look brown, are pure white.

BROWN THRASHER (Harporhynchus rufus) Thrasher and Mocking-bird


Length -- 11 to 11.5 inches. Fully an inch longer than the robin.
Male -- Rusty red-brown or rufous above; darkest on wings, which
have two short whitish bands. Underneath white, heavily
streaked (except on throat) with dark-brown, arrow-shaped
spots. Tail very long. Yellow eyes. Bill long and curved at
Female -- Paler than male.
Range -- United States to Rockies. Nests from Gulf States to
Manitoba and Montreal. Winters south of Virginia.
Migrations -- Late April. October. Common summer resident

"There's a merry brown thrush sitting up in a tree;
He is singing to me! He is singing to me!
And what does he say, little girl, little boy?
'Oh, the world's running over with joy!'"

The hackneyed poem beginning with this stanza that delighted our nursery days,
has left in our minds a fairly correct impression of the bird. He still proves
to be one of the perennially joyous singers, like a true cousin of the wrens,
and when we study him afield, he appears to give his whole attention to his
song with a self-consciousness that is rather amusing than the reverse. "What
musician wouldn't be conscious of his own powers," he seems to challenge us,
"if he possessed such a gift?" Seated on a conspicuous perch, as if inviting
attention to his performance, with uplifted head and drooping tail he repeats
the one exultant, dashing air to which his repertoire is limited, without
waiting for an encore. Much practice has given the notes a brilliancy of
execution to be compared only with the mockingbird's; but in spite of the name
"ferruginous mocking-bird" that Audubon gave him, he does not seem to have the
faculty of imitating other birds' songs. Thoreau says the Massachusetts
farmers, when planting their seed, always think they hear the thrasher say,
"Drop it, drop it -- cover it up, cover it up -- pull it up, pull it up, pull
it up."

One of the shatterings of childish impressions that age too often brings is
when we learn by the books that our "merry brown thrush" is no thrush at all,
but a thrasher -- first cousin to the wrens, in spite of his speckled breast,
large size, and certain thrush-like instincts, such as never singing near the
nest and shunning mankind in the nesting season, to mention only two.
Certainly his bold, swinging flight and habit of hopping and running over the
ground would seem to indicate that he is not very far removed from the true
thrushes. But he has one undeniable wren-like trait, that of twitching,
wagging, and thrashing his long tail about to help express his emotions. It
swings like a pendulum as he rests on a branch, and thrashes about in a most
ludicrous way as he is feeding on the ground upon the worms, insects, and
fruit that constitute his diet.

Before the fatal multiplication of cats, and in unfrequented, sandy locations
still, the thrasher builds her nest upon the ground, thus earning the name
"ground thrush" that is often given her; but with dearly paid-for wisdom she
now most frequently selecting a low shrub or tree to cradle the two broods
that all too early in the summer effectually silence the father's delightful

WILSON'S THRUSH (Turdus fuscescens) Thrush family

Called also: VEERY {AOU 1998]; TAWNY THRUSH

Length -- 7 to 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the
Male and Female -- Uniform olive-brown, with a tawny cast above.
Centre of the throat white, with cream-buff on sides of throat
and upper part of breast, which is lightly spotted with
wedge-shaped, brown points. Underneath white, or with a faint
grayish tinge.
Range -- United States, westward to plains.
Migrations -- May. October. Summer resident.

To many of us the veery, as they call the Wilson's thrush in New England, is
merely a voice, a sylvan mystery, reflecting the sweetness and wildness of the
forest, a vocal "will-o'-the-wisp" that, after enticing us deeper and deeper
into the woods, where we sink into the spongy moss of its damp retreats and
become entangled in the wild grape-vines twined about the saplings and
underbrush, still sings to us from unapproachable tangles. Plainly, if we want
to see the bird, we must let it seek us out on the fallen log where we have
sunk exhausted in the chase.

Presently a brown bird scuds through the fern. It is a thrush, you guess in a
minute, from its slender, graceful body. At first you notice no speckles on
its breast, but as it comes nearer, obscure arrow-heads are visible -- not
heavy, heart-shaped spots such as plentifully speckle the larger wood thrush
or the smaller hermit. It is the smallest of the three commoner thrushes, and
it lacks the ring about the eye that both the others have. Shy and elusive, it
slips away again in a most unfriendly fashion, and is lost in the wet tangle
before you have become acquainted. You determine, however, before you leave
the log, to cultivate the acquaintance of this bird the next spring, when,
before it mates and retreats to the forest, it comes boldly into the gardens
and scratches about in the dry leaves on the ground for the lurking insects
beneath. Miss Florence Merriam tells of having drawn a number of veeries about
her by imitating their call-note, which is a whistled wheew, whoit, very easy
to counterfeit when once heard. "Taweel-ah, taweel-ah, twil-ah, twil-ah!"
Professor Ridgeway interprets their song, that descends in a succession of
trills without break or pause; but no words can possibly convey an idea of the
quality of the music. The veery, that never claims an audience, sings at night
also, and its weird, sweet strains floating through the woods at dusk, thrill
one like the mysterious voice of a disembodied spirit.

Whittier mentions the veery in "The Playmate":

"And here in spring the veeries sing
The song of long ago."

WOOD THRUSH (Turdus mustelinus) Thrush family


Length -- 8 to 8.3 inches. About two inches shorter than the
Male and Female -- Brown above, reddish on head and shoulders,
shading into olive-brown on tail. Throat, breast, and
underneath white, plain in the middle, but heavily marked on
sides and breast with heart-shaped spots of very dark brown.
Whitish eye-ring.
Migrations -- Late April or early May. October. Summer resident.

When Nuttall wrote of "this solitary and retiring songster," before the
country was as thickly settled as it is to-day, it possibly had not developed
the confidence in men that now distinguishes the wood thrush from its shy
congeners that are distinctly wood birds, which it can no longer strictly be
said to be. In city parks and country places, where plenty of trees shade the
village streets and lawns, it comes near you, half hopping, half running, with
dignified unconsciousness and even familiarity, all the more delightful in a
bird whose family instincts should take it into secluded woodlands with their
shady dells. Perhaps, in its heart of hearts, it still prefers such retreats.
Many conservative wood thrushes keep to their wild haunts, and it must be
owned not a few liberals, that discard family traditions at other times, seek
the forest at nesting time. But social as the wood thrush is and abundant,
too, it is also eminently high-bred; and when contrasted with its tawny
cousin, the veery, that skulks away to hide in the nearest bushes as you
approach, or with the hermit thrush, that pours out its heavenly song in the
solitude of the forest, how gracious and full of gentle confidence it seems!
Every gesture is graceful and elegant; even a wriggling beetle is eaten as
daintily as caviare at the king's table. It is only when its confidence in you
is abused, and you pass too near the nest, that might easily be mistaken for a
robin's, just above your head in a sapling, that the wood thrush so far
forgets itself as to become excited. Pit, pit, pit, sharply reiterated, is
called out at you with a strident quality in the tone that is painful evidence
of the fearful anxiety your presence gives this gentle bird.

Too many guardians of nests, whether out of excessive happiness or excessive
stupidity, have a dangerous habit of singing very near them. Not so the wood
thrush. "Come to me," as the opening notes of its flute-like song have been
freely translated, invites the intruder far away from where the blue eggs lie
cradled in ambush. is as good a rendering into syllables of the luscious song
as could very well be made. Pure, liquid, rich, and luscious, it rings out
from the trees on the summer air and penetrates our home like
"Uoli-a-e-o-li-noli-nol-aeolee-lee! strait of music from a stringed quartette.

HERMIT THRUSH (Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii) Thrush family


Length -- 7.25 to 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the
Male and Female -- Upper parts olive-brown, reddening near the
tail, which is pale rufous, quite distinct from the color of
the back. Throat, sides of neck, and breast pale buff. Feathers
of throat and neck finished with dark arrow-points at tip;
feathers of the breast have larger rounded spots. Sides
brownish gray. Underneath white. A yellow ring around the eye.
Smallest of the thrushes.
Range -- Eastern parts of North America. Most common in the
United States to the plains. Winters from southern Illinois and
New Jersey to Gulf.
Migrations -- April. November. Summer resident.

The first thrush to come and the last to go, nevertheless the hermit is little
seen throughout its long visit north. It may loiter awhile in the shrubby
roadsides, in the garden or the parks in the spring before it begins the
serious business of life in a nest of moss, coarse grass, and pine-needles
placed on the ground in the depths of the forest, but by the middle of May its
presence in the neighborhood of our homes becomes only a memory. Although one
never hears it at its best during the migrations, how one loves to recall the
serene, ethereal evening hymn! "The finest sound in Nature," John Burroughs
calls it. "It is not a proud, gorgeous strain like the tanager's or the
grosbeak's," he says; "it suggests no passion or emotion -- nothing personal,
but seems to be the voice of that calm, sweet solemnity one attains to in his
best moments. It realizes a peace and a deep, solemn joy that only the finest
souls may know."

Beyond the question of even the hypercritical, the hermit thrush has a more
exquisitely beautiful voice than any other American bird, and only the
nightingale's of Europe can be compared with it. It is the one theme that
exhausts all the ornithologists' musical adjectives in a vain attempt to
convey in words any idea of it to one who has never heard it, for the quality
of the song is as elusive as the bird itself. But why should the poets be so
silent? Why has it not called forth such verse as the English poets have
lavished upon the nightingale? Undoubtedly because it lifts up its heavenly
voice in the solitude of the forest. whereas the nightingales, singing in loud
choruses in the moonlight under the poet's very window, cannot but impress his
waking thoughts and even his dreams with their melody.

Since the severe storm and cold in the Gulf States a few winters ago, where
vast numbers of hermit thrushes died from cold and starvation, this bird has
been very rare in haunts where it used to be abundant. The other thrushes
escaped because they spend the winter farther south.

ALICE'S THRUSH (Turdus alicia) Thrush family

Called also: GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH; [now separated into two
species: the more mid-western GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH and the New
England and Adirondack BICKNELL'S THRUSH, AOU 1998]

Length -- 7.5 to 8 inches. About the size of the bluebird.
Male and Female -- Upper parts uniform olive-brown. Eye-ring
whitish. Cheeks gray; sides dull grayish white. Sides of the
throat and breast pale cream-buff, speckled with arrow-shaped
points on throat and with half-round dark-brown marks below.
Range -- North America, from Labrador and Alaska to Central
Migrations -- Late April or May. October. Chiefly seen in
migrations, except at northern parts of its range.

One looks for a prettier bird than this least attractive of all the thrushes
in one that bears such a suggestive name. Like the olive-backed thrush, from
which it is almost impossible to tell it when both are alive and hopping about
the shrubbery, its plumage above is a dull olive-brown that is more protective
than pleasing.

Just as Wilson hopelessly confused the olive-backed thrush with the hermit, so
has Alice's thrush been confounded by later writers with the olive-backed,
from which it differs chiefly in being a trifle larger, in having gray cheeks
instead of buff, and in possessing a few faint streaks on the throat. Where it
goes to make a home for its greenish-blue speckled eggs in some low bush at
the northern end of its range, it bursts into song, but except in the nesting
grounds its voice is never heard. Mr. Bradford Torrey, who heard it singing in
the White Mountains, describes the song as like the thrush's in quality, but
differently accented: "Wee-o-wee-o-tit-ti-wee-o!"

In New England and New York this thrush is most often seen during its autumn
migrations. As it starts up and perches upon a low branch before you, it
appears to have longer legs and a broader, squarer tail than its congeners.

OLIVE-BACKED THRUSH (Turdus ustulatus swainsonii) Thrush family

Called also: SWAINSON'S THRUSH [AOU 1998]

Length -- 7 to 7.50 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the
Male and Female -- Upper parts olive-brown. Whole throat and
breast yellow-buff, shading to ashy on sides and to white
underneath. Buff ring around eye. Dark streaks on sides of
throat (none on centre), and larger, more spot-like marks on
Range -- North America to Rockies; a few stragglers on Pacific
slope. Northward to arctic countries.
Migrations -- April. October. Summer resident in Canada. Chiefly
a migrant in United States.

Mr. Parkhurst tells of finding this "the commonest bird in the Park (Central
Park, New York), not even excepting the robin," during the last week of May on
a certain year; but usually, it must be owned, we have to be on the lookout to
find it, or it will pass unnoticed in the great companies of more conspicuous
birds travelling at the same time. White-throated sparrows often keep it
company on the long journeys northward, and they may frequently be seen
together, hopping sociably about the garden, the thrush calling out a rather
harsh note -- puk! puk! -- quite different from the liquid, mellow calls of
the other thrushes, to resent either the sparrows' bad manners or the
inquisitiveness of a human disturber of its peace. But this gregarious habit
and neighborly visit end even before acquaintance fairly begins, and the
thrushes are off for their nesting grounds in the pine woods of New England or
Labrador if they are travelling up the east coast, or to Alaska, British
Columbia, or Manitoba if west of the Mississippi. There they stay all summer,
often travelling southward with the sparrows in the autumn, as in the spring.

Why they should prefer coniferous trees, unless to utilize the needles for a
nest, is not understood. Low trees and bushes are favorite building sites with
them as with others of the family, though these thrushes disdain a mud lining
to their nests. Those who have heard the olive-backed thrush singing an
even-song to its brooding mate compare it with the veery's, but it has a break
in it and is less simple and pleasing than the latter's.

LOUISIANA WATER THRUSH (Seiurus motacilla) Wood Warbler family

Length -- 6 to 6.28 inches. Just a trifle smaller than the
English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Grayish olive-brown upper parts, with
conspicuous white line over the eye and reaching almost to the
nape. Underneath white, tinged with pale buff. Throat and line
through the middle, plain. Other parts streaked with very dark
brown, rather faintly on the breast, giving them the speckled
breast of the thrushes. Heavy, dark bill.
Range -- United States, westward to the plains; northward to
southern New England. Winters in the tropics.
Migrations -- Late April. October. Summer resident.

This bird, that so delighted Audubon with its high-trilled song as he tramped
with indefatigable zeal through the hammocks of the Gulf States, seems to be
almost the counterpart of the Northern water thrush, just as the loggerhead is
the Southern counterpart of the Northern shrike. Very many Eastern birds have
their duplicates in Western species, as we all know, and it is most
interesting to trace the slight external variations that different climates
and diet have produced on the same bird, and thus differentiated the species.
In winter the Northern water thrush visits the cradle of its kind, the swamps
of Louisiana and Florida, and, no doubt, by daily contact with its congeners
there, keeps close to their cherished traditions, from which it never deviates
farther than Nature compels, though it penetrate to the arctic regions during
its summer journeys.

With a more southerly range, the Louisiana water thrush does not venture
beyond the White Mountains and to the shores of the Great Lakes in summer, but
even at the North the same woods often contain both birds, and there is
opportunity to note just how much they differ. The Southern bird is slightly
the larger, possibly an inch; it is more gray, and it lacks a few of the
streaks, notably on the throat, that plentifully speckle its Northern
counterpart; but the habits of both of these birds appear to be identical.
Only for a few days in the spring or autumn migrations do they pass near
enough to our homes for us to study them, and then we must ever be on the
alert to steal a glance at them through the opera-glasses, for birds more shy
than they do not visit the garden shrubbery at any season. Only let them
suspect they are being stared at, and they are under cover in a twinkling.

Where mountain streams dash through tracts of mossy, spongy ground that is
carpeted with fern and moss, and overgrown with impenetrable thickets of
underbrush and tangles of creepers -- such a place is the favorite resort of
both the water thrushes. With a rubber boot missing, clothes torn, and temper
by no means unruffled, you finally stand over the Louisiana thrush's nest in
the roots of an upturned tree immediately over the water, or else in a mossy
root-belaced bank above a purling stream. A liquid-trilled warble, wild and
sweet, breaks the stillness, and, like Audubon, you feel amply rewarded for
your pains though you may not be prepared to agree with him in thinking the
song the equal of the European nightingale's.

NORTHERN WATER THRUSH (Seiurus noveboracensis) Wood Warbler


Length -- 5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Uniform olive or grayish brown above. Pale
buff line over the eye. Underneath, white tinged with sulphur
yellow, and streaked like a thrush with very dark brown arrow
headed or oblong spots that are also seen underneath wings.
Range -- United States, westward to Rockies and northward through
British provinces. Winters from Gulf States southward.
Migrations -- Late April. October. Summer resident.

According to the books we have before us, a warbler; but who, to look at his
speckled throat and breast, would ever take him for anything but a diminutive
thrush; or, studying him from some distance through the opera-glasses as he
runs in and out of the little waves along the brook or river shore, would not
name him a baby sandpiper? The rather unsteady motion of his legs, balancing
of the tail, and sudden jerking of the head suggest an aquatic bird rather
than a bird of the woods. But to really know either man or beast, you must
follow him to his home, and if you have pluck enough to brave the swamp and
the almost impenetrable tangle of undergrowth where the water thrush chooses
to nest, there "In the swamp in secluded recesses, a shy and hidden bird is
warbling a song;" and this warbled song that Walt Whitman so adored gives you
your first clue to the proper classification of the bird. It has nothing in
common with the serene, hymn-like voices of the true thrushes; the bird has no
flute-like notes, but an emphatic smacking or chucking kind of warble. For a
few days only is this song heard about the gardens and roadsides of our
country places. Like the Louisiana water thrush, this bird never ventures near
the homes of men after the spring and autumn migrations, but, on the contrary,
goes as far away from them as possible, preferably to some mountain region,
beside a cool and dashing brook, where a party of adventurous young climbers
from a summer hotel or the lonely trout fisherman may startle it from its
mossy nest on the ground.

FLICKER (Colaptes auratus) Woodpecker family


Length -- 12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the
Male and Female -- Head and neck bluish gray, with a red crescent
across back of neck and a black crescent on breast. Male has
black cheek-patches, that are wanting in female. Golden brown
shading into brownish-gray, and barred with black above.
Underneath whitish, tinged with light chocolate and thickly
spotted with black. Wing linings, shafts of wing, and tail
quills bright yellow. Above tail white, conspicuous when the
bird flies.
Range -- United States, east of Rockies; Alaska and British
America, south of Hudson Bay. Occasional on Pacific slope.
Migrations -- Most commonly seen from April to October. Usually

If we were to follow the list of thirty-six aliases by which this largest and
commonest of our woodpeckers is known throughout its wide range, we should
find all its peculiarities of color, flight, noises, and habits indicated in
its popular names. It cannot but attract attention wherever seen, with its
beautiful plumage, conspicuously yellow if its outstretched wings are looked
at from below, conspicuously brown and white if seen upon the ground. At a
distance it suggests the meadowlark. Both birds wear black, crescent breast
decorations, and the flicker also has the habit of feeding upon the ground,
especially in autumn, a characteristic not shared by its relations.

Early in the spring this bird of many names and many voices makes itself known
by a long, strong, sonorous call, a sort of proclamation that differs from its
song proper, which Audubon. calls "a prolonged jovial laugh" (described by
Mrs. Wright as "Wick, wick, wick, wick!") and differs also from its rapidly
repeated, mellow, and most musical cub, cub, cub, cub, cub, uttered during the
nesting season.

Its nasal kee-yer, vigorously called out in the autumn, is less
characteristic, however, than the sound it makes while associating with its
fellows on the feeding ground -- a sound that Mr. Frank M. Chapman says can be
closely imitated by the swishing of a willow wand.

A very ardent and ridiculous-looking lover is this bird, as, with tail stiffly
spread, he sidles up to his desired mate and bows and bobs before her, then
retreats and advances, bowing and bobbing again, very often with a rival lover
beside him (whom he generously tolerates) trying to outdo him in grace and
general attractiveness. Not the least of the bird's qualities that must
commend themselves to the bride is his unfailing good nature, genial alike in
the home and in the field.

The "high-holders" have the peculiar and silly habit of boring out a number of
superfluous holes for nests high up in the trees, in buildings, or hollow
wooden columns, only one of which they intend to use. Six white eggs is the
proper number for a household, but Dr. Coues says the female that has been
robbed keeps on laying three or even four sets of eggs without interruption.

MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) Blackbird family


Length -- 10 to 11 inches. A trifle larger than the robin.
Male -- Upper parts brown, varied with chestnut, deep brown, and
black. Crown streaked with brown and black, and with a
cream-colored streak through the centre. Dark-brown line
apparently running through the eye; another line over eye,
yellow. Throat and chin yellow; a large conspicuous black
crescent on breast. Underneath yellow, shading into buffy
brown, spotted or streaked with very dark brown, Outer tail
feathers chiefly white, conspicuous in flight. Long, strong
legs and claws, adapted for walking. Less black in winter
plumage, which is more grayish brown.
Female -- Paler than male.
Range -- North America, from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico,
and westward to the plains, where the Western meadowlark takes
its place. Winters from Massachusetts and Illinois southward.
Migrations -- April. Late October. Usually a resident, a few
remaining through the winter.

In the same meadows with the red-winged blackbirds, birds of another feather,
but of the same family, nevertheless, may be found flocking together, hunting
for worms and larvae, building their nests, and rearing their young very near
each other with the truly social instinct of all their kin.

The meadowlarks, which are really not larks at all, but the blackbirds' and
orioles' cousins, are so protected by the coloring of the feathers on their
backs, like that of the grass and stubble they live among, that ten blackbirds
are noticed for every meadowlark although the latter is very common. Not until
you flush a flock of them as you walk along the roadside or through the
meadows and you note the white tail feathers and the black crescents on the
yellow breasts of the large brown birds that rise towards the tree-tops with
whirring sound and a flight suggesting the quail's, do you suspect there are
any birds among the tall grasses.

Their clear and piercing whistle, "Spring o' the y-e-a-r, Spring o' the year!"
rings out from the trees with varying intonation and accent, but always sweet
and inspiriting. To the bird's high vantage ground you may not follow, for no
longer having the protection of the high grass, it has become wary and flies
away as you approach, calling out peent-peent and nervously flitting its tail
(again showing the white feather), when it rests a moment on the pasture

It is like looking for a needle in a haystack to try to find a meadowlark's
nest, an unpretentious structure of dried grasses partly arched over and
hidden in a clump of high timothy, flat upon the ground. But what havoc snakes
and field-mice play with the white-speckled eggs and helpless fledglings! The
care of rearing two or three broods in a season and the change of plumage to
duller winter tints seem to exhaust the high spirits of the sweet whistler.
For a time he is silent, but partly regains his vocal powers in the autumn,
when, with large flocks of his own kind, he resorts to marshy feeding grounds.
In the winter he chooses for companions the horned larks, that walk along the
shore, or the snow buntings and sparrows of the inland pastures, and will even
include the denizens of the barn-yard when hunger drives him close to the
haunts of men.

The Western Meadowlark or Prairie Lark (Sturnella magna neglecta), which many
ornithologists consider a different species from the foregoing [as does AOU
1998], is distinguished chiefly by its lighter, more grayish-brown plumage, by
its yellow cheeks, and more especially by its richer, fuller song. In his
"Birds of Manitoba" Mr. Ernest E. Thompson says of this meadowlark: "In
richness of voice and modulation it equals or excels both wood thrush and
nightingale, and in the beauty of its articulation it has no superior in the
whole world of feathered choristers with which I am acquainted."

HORNED LARK (Otocoris alpestris) Lark family

Called also: SHORE LARK

Length -- 7.5 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the
Male -- Upper parts dull brown, streaked with lighter on edges
and tinged with pink or vinaceous; darkest on back of head
neck, shoulders, and nearest the tail. A few erectile feathers
on either side of the head form slight tufts or horns that are
wanting in female. A black mark from the base of the bill
passes below the eye and ends in a horn-shaped curve on cheeks,
which are yellow. Throat clear yellow. Breast has crescent
shaped black patch. Underneath soiled white, with dusky spots
on lower breast. Tail black, the outer feathers margined with
white, noticed in flight.
Female -- Has yellow eye-stripe; less prominent markings,
especially on head, and is a trifle smaller.
Range -- Northeastern parts of North America, and in winter from
Ohio and eastern United States as far south as North Carolina.
Migrations -- October and November. March. Winter resident

Far away to the north in Greenland and Labrador this true lark, the most
beautiful of its genus, makes its summer home. There it is a conspicuously
handsome bird with its pinkish-gray and chocolate feathers, that have greatly
faded into dull browns when we see them in the late autumn. In the far north
only does it sing, and, according to Audubon, the charming song is flung to
the breeze while the bird soars like a skylark. In the United States we hear
only its call-note.

Great flocks come down the Atlantic coast in October and November, and
separate into smaller bands that take up their residence in sandy stretches
and open tracts near the sea or wherever the food supply looks promising, and
there the larks stay until all the seeds, buds of bushes, berries, larvae, and
insects in their chosen territory are exhausted. They are ever conspicuously
ground birds, walkers, and when disturbed at their dinner, prefer to squat on
the earth rather than expose themselves by flight. Sometimes they run nimbly
over the frozen ground to escape an intruder, but flying they reserve as a
last resort. When the visitor has passed they quickly return to their dinner.
If they were content to eat less ravenously and remain slender, fewer victims
might be slaughtered annually to tickle the palates of the epicure. It is a
mystery what they find to fatten upon when snow covers the frozen ground. Even
in the severe midwinter storms they will not seek the protection of the woods,
but always prefer sandy dunes with their scrubby undergrowth or open meadow
lands. Occasionally a small flock wanders toward the farms to pick up seeds
that are blown from the hayricks or scattered about the barn-yard by overfed
domestic fowls.

The Prairie Horned Lark (Otocoris alpestris praticola) is similar to the
preceding, but a trifle smaller and paler, with a white instead of a yellow
streak above the eye, the throat yellowish or entirely white instead of
sulphur-yellow, and other minor differences. It has a far more southerly
range, confined to northern portions of the United States from the Mississippi
eastward. Once a distinctly prairie bird, it now roams wherever large
stretches of open country that suit its purposes are cleared in the East, and
remains resident. This species also sings in midair on the wing, but its song
is a crude, half-inarticulate affair, barely audible from a height of two
hundred feet.

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus pensilvanicus) Wagtail family


Length -- 6.38 to 7 inches. About the size of a sparrow.
Male and Female -- Upper parts brown; wings and tail dark
olive-brown; the wing coverts tipped with buff or whitish, and
ends of outer tail feathers white, conspicuous in flight. White
or yellowish eye-ring, and line above the eye. Underneath light
buff brown, with spots on breast and sides, the under parts
being washed with brown of various shades. Feet brown. Hind
toe-nail as long as or longer than the toe.
Range -- North America at large. Winters south of Virginia to
Mexico and beyond.
Migrations -- April. October or November. Common in the United
States, chiefly during the migrations.

The color of this bird varies slightly with age and sex, the under parts
ranging from white through pale rosy brown to a reddish tinge; but at any
season, and under all circumstances, the pipit is a distinctly brown bird,
resembling the water thrushes not in plumage only, but in the comical tail
waggings and jerkings that alone are sufficient to identify it. However the
books may tell us the bird is a wagtail, it certainly possesses two strong
characteristics of true larks: it is a walker, delighting in walking or
running, never hopping over the ground, and it has the angelic habit of
singing as it flies.

During the migrations the pipits are abundant in salt marshes or open
stretches of country inland, that, with lark-like preference, they choose for
feeding grounds. When flushed, all the flock rise together with uncertain
flight, hovering and wheeling about the place, calling down dee-dee, dee-dee
above your head until you have passed on your way, then promptly returning to
the spot from whence they were disturbed. Along the roadsides and pastures,
where two or three birds are frequently seen together, they are too often
mistaken for the vesper sparrows because of their similar size and coloring,
but their easy, graceful walk should distinguish them at once from the hopping
sparrow. They often run to get ahead of some one in the lane, but rarely fly
if they can help it, and then scarcely higher than a fence-rail. Early in
summer they are off for the mountains in the north. Labrador is their chosen
nesting ground, and they are said to place their grassy nest, lined with
lichens or moss, flat upon the ground -- still another lark trait. Their eggs
are chocolate-brown scratched with black.

WHIPPOORWILL (Antrostomus vociferus) Goatsucker family

[Called also: WHIP-POOR-WILL, AOU 1998]

Length -- 9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin. Apparently
much larger, because of its long wings and wide wingspread.
Male -- A long-winged bird, mottled all over with reddish brown,
grayish black, and dusky white; numerous bristles fringing the
large mouth. A narrow white band across the upper breast. Tail
quills on the end and under side white.
Female -- Similar to male, except that the tail is dusky in color
where that of the male is white. Band on breast buff instead of
Range -- United States, to the plains. Not common near the sea.
Migrations -- Late April to middle of September. Summer resident.

The whippoorwill, because of its nocturnal habits and plaintive note, is
invested with a reputation for occult power which inspires a chilling awe
among superstitious people, and leads them insanely to attribute to it an evil
influence; but it is a harmless, useful night prowler, flying low and catching
enormous numbers of hurtful insects, always the winged varieties, in its
peculiar fly-trap mouth.

It loves the rocky, solitary woods, where it sleeps all day; but it is seldom
seen, even after painstaking search, because of its dull, mottled markings
conforming so nearly to rocks and dry leaves, and because of its unusual habit
of stretching itself length-wise on a tree branch or ledge, where it is easily
confounded with a patch of lichen, and thus overlooked. If by accident one
happens upon a sleeping bird, it suddenly rouses and flies away, making no
more sound than a passing butterfly -- a curious and uncanny silence that is
quite remarkable. When the sun goes down and as the gloaming deepens, the
bird's activity increases, and it begins its nightly duties, emitting from
time to time, like a sentry on his post or a watchman of the night, the
doleful call which has given the bird its common name. It

"Mourns unseen, and ceaseless sings
Ever a note of wail and woe,"

that our Dutch ancestors interpreted as "Quote-kerr-kee," and so called it.
They had a tradition that no frost ever appeared after the bird had been heard
calling in the spring, and that it wisely left for warmer skies before frost
came in the autumn. Prudent bird, never caught napping!

It is erratic in its choice of habitations, even when rock and solitude seem
suited to its taste. Very rarely is this odd bird found close to the seashore,
and in the Hudson River valley it keeps a half mile or more back from the

The eggs, generally two in number, are creamy white, dashed with dark and
olive spots, and laid on the ground on dry leaves, or in a little hollow in
rock or stump -- never in a nest built with loving care. But in extenuation of
such carelessness it may be said that, if disturbed or threatened, the mother
shows no lack of maternal instinct, and removes her young, carrying them in
her beak as a cat conveys her kittens to secure shelter.

NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles virginianus) Goatsucker family


Length -- 9 to 10 inches. About the same length as the robin, but
apparently much longer because of its very wide wing-spread.
Male and Female -- Mottled blackish brown and rufous above, with
a multitude of cream-yellow spots and dashes. Lighter below,
with waving bars of brown on breast and underneath. White mark
on throat, like an imperfect horseshoe; also a band of white
across tail of male bird. These latter markings are wanting in
female. Heavy wings, which are partly mottled, are brown on
shoulders and tips, and longer than tail. They have large white
spots, conspicuous in flight, one of their distinguishing marks
from the whippoorwill. Head large and depressed, with large
eyes and ear-openings. Very small bill.
Range -- From Mexico to arctic islands.
Migrations -- May. October. Common summer resident.

The nighthawk's misleading name could not well imply more that the bird is
not: it is not nocturnal in its habits, neither is it a hawk, for if it were,
no account of it would be given in this book, which distinctly excludes birds
of prey. Stories of its chicken-stealing prove to be ignorant rather than
malicious slanders. Any one disliking the name, however, surely cannot
complain of a limited choice of other names by which, in different sections of
the country, it is quite as commonly known.

Too often it is mistaken for the whippoorwill. The night hawk does not have
the weird and woful cry of that more dismal bird, but gives instead a harsh,
whistling note while on the wing, followed by a vibrating, booming, whirring
sound that Nuttall likens to "the rapid turning of a spinning wheel, or a
strong blowing into the bung-hole of an empty hogshead." This peculiar sound
is responsible for the name nightjar, frequently given to this curious bird.
It is said to be made as the bird drops suddenly through the air, creating a
sort of stringed instrument of its outstretched wings and tail. When these
wings are spread, their large white spots running through the feathers to the
under side should be noted to further distinguish the nighthawk from the
whippoorwill, which has none, but which it otherwise closely resembles. This
booming sound, coming from such a height that the bird itself is often unseen,
was said by the Indians to be made by the shad spirits to warn the scholes of
shad about to ascend the rivers to spawn in the spring, of their impending

The flight of the nighthawk is free and graceful in the extreme. Soaring
through space without any apparent motion of its wings, suddenly it darts with
amazing swiftness like an erratic bat after the fly, mosquito, beetle, or moth
that falls within the range of its truly hawk-like eye.

Usually the nighthawks hunt in little companies in the most sociable fashion.
Late in the summer they seem to be almost gregarious. They fly in the early
morning or late afternoon with beak wide open, hawking for insects, but except
when the moon is full they are not known to go a-hunting after sunset. During
the heat of the day and at night they rest on limbs of trees, fence-rails,
stone walls, lichen-covered rocks or old logs -- wherever Nature has provided
suitable mimicry of their plumage to help conceal them.

With this object in mind, they quite as often choose a hollow surface of rock
in some waste pasture or the open ground on which to deposit the two
speckled-gray eggs that sixteen days later will give birth to their family.
But in August, when family cares have ended for the season, it is curious to
find this bird of the thickly wooded country readily adapting itself to city
life, resting on Mansard roofs, darting into the streets from the housetops,
and wheeling about the electric lights, making a hearty supper of the little,
winged insects they attract.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythrophthalmus) Cuckoo family

Called also: RAIN CROW

Length -- 11 to 12 inches. About one-fifth larger than the robin.
Male -- Grayish brown above, with bronze tint in feathers.
Underneath grayish white; bill, which is long as head and
black, arched and acute. Skin about the eye bright red. Tail
long, and with spots on tips of quills that are small and
Female -- Has obscure dusky bars on the tail.
Range -- Labrador to Panama; westward to Rocky Mountains.
Migration -- May. September. Summer resident.

"O cuckoo! shalt I call thee bird?
Or but a wandering voice?"

From the tangled shrubbery on the hillside back of Dove Cottage, Keswick,
where Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy listened for the coming of this
"darling of the spring"; in the willows overhanging Shakespeare's Avon; from
the favorite haunts of Chaucer and Spenser, where

"Runneth meade and springeth blede,"

we hear the cuckoo calling; but how many on this side of the Atlantic are
familiar with its American counterpart? Here, too, the cuckoo delights in
running water and damp, cloudy weather like that of an English spring; it
haunts the willows by our river-sides, where as yet no "immortal bard" arises
to give it fame. It "loud sings" in our shrubbery, too. Indeed, if we cannot
study our bird afield, the next best place to become acquainted with it is in
the pages of the English poets. But due allowance must be made for differences
of temperament. Our cuckoo is scarcely a "merry harbinger"; his talents, such
as they are, certainly are not musical. However, the guttural cluck is not
discordant, and the black-billed species, at least, has a soft, mellow voice
that seems to indicate an embryonic songster.

"K-k-k-k, kow-kow-ow-kow-ow!" is a familiar sound in many localities, but the
large. slim,, pigeon-shaped, brownish-olive bird that makes it, securely
hidden in the low trees and shrubs that are its haunts, is not often
personally known. Catching a glimpse only of the grayish-white under parts
from where we stand looking up into the tree at it, it is quite impossible to
tell the bird from the yellow-billed species. When, as it flies about, we are
able to note the red circles about its eyes, its black bill, and the absence
of black tail feathers, with their white "thumb-nail" spots, and see no bright
cinnamon feathers on the wings (the yellow-billed specie's distinguishing
marks), we can at last claim acquaintance with the black-billed cuckoo. Our
two common cuckoos are so nearly alike that they are constantly confused in
the popular mind and very often in the writings of ornithologists. At first
glance the birds look alike. Their haunts are almost identical; their habits
are the same; and, as they usually keep well out of sight, it is not
surprising if confusion arise.

Neither cuckoo knows how to build a proper home; a bunch of sticks dropped
carelessly into the bush, where the hapless babies that emerge from the
greenish eggs will not have far to fall when they tumble out of bed, as they
must inevitably do, may by courtesy only be called a nest. The cuckoo is said
to suck the eggs of other birds; but, surely, such vice is only the rarest
dissipation. Insects of many kinds and "tent caterpillars" chiefly are their
chosen food.

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus) Cuckoo family

Called also: RAIN CROW

Length -- 11 to 12 inches. About one-fifth longer than the robin.
Male and Female -- Grayish brown above, with bronze tint in
feathers. Underneath grayish white. Bill, which is as tong as
head, arched, acute, and more robust than the black-billed
species, and with lower mandible yellow. Wings washed with
bright cinnamon-brown. Tail has outer quills black,
conspicuously marked with white thumb-nail spots.
Female larger.
Range -- North America, from Mexico to Labrador. Most common in
temperate climates. Rare on Pacific slope.
Migrations -- Late April. September. Summer resident.

"Kak, k-kuh, k-kuk, k-kuk!" like an exaggerated tree-toad's rattle, is a sound
that, when first heard, makes you rush out of doors instantly to "name" the
bird. Look for him in the depths of the tall shrubbery or low trees, near
running water, if there is any in the neighborhood, and if you are more
fortunate than most people, you will presently become acquainted with the
yellow-billed cuckoo. When seen perching at a little distance, his large, slim
body, grayish brown, with olive tints above and whitish below, can scarcely be
distinguished from that of the black-billed species. It is not until you get
close enough to note the yellow bill, reddish-brown wings, and black tail
feathers with their white "thumb-nail" marks, that you know which cuckoo you
are watching. In repose the bird looks dazed or stupid, but as it darts about
among the trees after insects, noiselessly slipping to another one that
promises better results, and hopping along the limbs after performing a series
of beautiful evolutions among the branches as it hunts for its favorite "tent
caterpillars," it appears what it really is: an unusually active, graceful,
intelligent bird.

A solitary wanderer, nevertheless one cuckoo in an apple orchard is worth a
hundred robins in ridding it of caterpillars and inch-worms, for it delights
in killing many more of these than it can possibly eat. In the autumn it
varies its diet with minute fresh-water shellfish from the swamp and lake.
Mulberries, that look so like caterpillars the bird possibly likes them on
that account, it devours wholesale.

Family cares rest lightly on the cuckoos. The nest of both species is a
ramshackle affair -- a mere bundle of twigs and sticks without a rim to keep
the eggs from rolling from the bush, where they rest, to the ground. Unlike
their European relative, they have the decency to rear their own young and not
impose this heavy task on others; but the cuckoos on both sides of the
Atlantic are most erratic and irregular in their nesting habits. The
overworked mother-bird often lays an egg while brooding over its nearly
hatched companion, and the two or three half-grown fledglings already in the
nest may roll the large greenish eggs out upon the ground, while both parents
are off searching for food to quiet their noisy clamorings. Such distracting
mismanagement in the nursery is enough to make a homeless wanderer of any
father. It is the mother-bird that tumbles to the ground at your approach from
sheer fright; feigns lameness, trails her wings as she tries to entice you
away from the nest. The male bird shows far less concern; a no more devoted
father, we fear, than he is a lover. It is said he changes his mate every

Altogether, the cuckoo is a very different sort of bird from what our fancy
pictured. The little Swiss creatures of wood that fly out of the doors of
clocks and call out the bed-hour to sleepy children, are chiefly responsible
for the false impressions of our mature years. The American bird does not
repeat its name, and its harsh, grating "kuk, kuk," does not remotely suggest
the sweet voice of its European relative.

BANK SWALLOW (Clivicola riparia) Swallow family


Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch shorter than the English
sparrow, but apparently much larger because of its wide
Male and Female -- Grayish brown or clay-colored above. Upper
wings and tail darkest. Below, white, with brownish band
across chest. Tail, which is rounded and more nearly square
than the other swallows, is obscurely edged with white.
Range -- Throughout North America south of Hudson Bay.
Migrations -- April. October. Summer resident.

Where a brook cuts its way through a sand bank to reach the sea is an ideal
nesting ground for a colony of sand martins. The face of the high bank shows a
number of clean, round holes indiscriminately bored into the sand, as if the
place had just received a cannonading; but instead of war an atmosphere of
peace pervades the place in midsummer, when you are most likely to visit it.
Now that the young ones have flown from their nests that your arm can barely
reach through the tunnelled sand or clay, there can be little harm in
examining the feathers dropped from gulls, ducks, and other water-birds with
which the grassy home is lined.

The bank swallow's nest, like the kingfisher's, which it resembles, is his
home as well. There he rests when tired of flying about in pursuit of insect
food. Perhaps a bird that has been resting in one of the tunnels, startled by
your innocent housebreaking, will fly out across your face, near enough for
you to see how unlike the other swallows he is: smaller, plainer, and with
none of their glinting steel-blues and buffs about him. With strong, swift
flight he rejoins his fellows, wheeling, skimming, darting through the air
above you, and uttering his characteristic "giggling twitter," that is one of
the cheeriest noises heard along the beach. In early October vast numbers of
these swallows may be seen in loose flocks along the Jersey coast, slowly
making their way South. Clouds of them miles in extent are recorded.

Closely associated with the sand martin is the Rough-winged Swallow
(Stelgidopteryx serripennis), not to be distinguished from its companion on
the wing, but easily recognized by its dull-gray throat and the absence of the
brown breast-band when seen at close range.

CEDAR BIRD (Ampelis cedrorum) Waxwing family


Length -- 7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male -- Upper parts rich grayish brown, with plum-colored tints
showing through the brown on crest, throat, breast, wings, and
tail. A velvety-black line on forehead runs through the eye and
back of crest. Chin black; crest conspicuous; breast lighter
than the back, and shading into yellow underneath. Wings have
quill-shafts of secondaries elongated, and with brilliant
vermilion tips like drops of sealing-wax, rarely seen on tail
quills, which have yellow bands across the end.
Female -- With duller plumage, smaller crest, and narrower
Range -- North America, from northern British provinces to
Central America in winter.
Migrations -- A roving resident, without fixed seasons for

As the cedar birds travel about in great flocks that quickly exhaust their
special food in a neighborhood, they necessarily lead a nomadic life -- here
to-day, gone to-morrow -- and, like the Arabs, they "silently steal away." It
is surprising how very little noise so great a company of these birds make at
any time. That is because they are singularly gentle and refined; soft of
voice, as they are of color, their plumage suggesting a fine Japanese
water-color painting on silk, with its beautiful sheen and exquisitely blended

One listens in vain for a song; only a lisping "Twee-twee-ze," or "a dreary
whisper," as Minot calls their low-toned communications with each other,
reaches our ears from their high perches in the cedar trees, where they sit,
almost motionless hours at a time, digesting the enormous quantities of
juniper and whortleberries, wild cherries, worms, and insects upon which they
have gormandized.

Nuttall gives the cedar birds credit for excessive politeness to each other.
He says he has often seen them passing a worm from one to another down a whole
row of beaks and back again before it was finally eaten.

When nesting time arrives -- that is to say, towards the end of the summer --
they give up their gregarious habits and live in pairs, billing and kissing
like turtle-doves in the orchard or wild crabtrees, where a flat, bulky nest
is rather carelessly built of twigs, grasses, feathers, strings -- any odds
and ends that may be lying about. The eggs are usually four, white tinged with
purple and spotted with black.

Apparently they have no moulting season; their plumage is always the same,
beautifully neat and full-feathered. Nothing ever hurries or flusters them,
their greatest concern apparently being, when they alight, to settle
themselves comfortably between their over-polite friends, who are never guilty
of jolting or crowding. Few birds care to take life so easily, not to say

Among the French Canadians they are called Recollet, from the color of their
crest resembling the hood of the religious order of that name. Every region
the birds pass through, local names appear to be applied to them, a few of the
most common of which are given above.

Of the three waxwings known to scientists, two are found in America, and the
third in Japan,

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia familiaris americana) Creeper family

Length -- 5 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Brown above, varied with ashy-gray stripes and
small, lozenge-shaped gray mottles. Color lightest on head,
increasing in shade to reddish brown near tail. Tail paler
brown and long; wings brown and barred with whitish. Beneath
grayish white. Slender, curving bill.
Range -- United States and Canada, east of Rocky Mountains.
Migrations -- April. September. Winter resident

This little brown wood sprite, the very embodiment of virtuous diligence, is
never found far from the nuthatches, titmice, and kinglets, though not
strictly in their company, for he is a rather solitary bird. Possibly he
repels them by being too exasperatingly conscientious.

Beginning at the bottom of a rough-barked tree (for a smooth bark conceals no
larvae, the creeper silently climbs upward in a sort of spiral, now lost to
sight on the opposite side of the tree, then reappearing just where he is
expected to, flitting back a foot or two, perhaps, lest he overlooked a single
spider egg, but never by any chance leaving a tree until conscience approves
of his thoroughness. And yet with all this painstaking workman's care, it
takes him just about fifty seconds to finish a tree. Then off he flits to the
base of another, to repeat the spiral process. Only rarely does he adopt the
woodpecker process of partly flitting, partly rocking his way with the help of
his tail straight up one side of the tree.

Yet this little bird is not altogether the soulless drudge he appears. In the
midst of his work, uncheered by summer sunshine, and clinging with numb toes
to the tree-trunk some bitter cold day, he still finds some tender emotion
within him to voice in a "wild, sweet song" that is positively enchanting at
such a time. But it is not often this song is heard south of his nesting

The brown creeper's plumage is one of Nature's most successful feats of
mimicry -- an exact counterfeit in feathers of the brown-gray bark on which
the bird lives. And the protective coloring is carried out in the nest
carefully tucked under a piece of loosened bark in the very heart of the tree.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus) Finch family


Length -- 4.75 to 5 inches. Over an inch smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Olive-brown and gray above, much streaked and
striped with very dark brown everywhere. Darkest on head and
back. Lower back, base of tail, and wing feathers pale
sulphur-yellow. Under parts very light buff brown, heavily
Range -- North America generally. Most common in north latitudes.
Winters south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Migrations -- Erratic winter visitor from October to April.
Uncommon in summer.

A small grayish-brown brindle bird, relieved with touches of yellow on its
back, wings, and tail, may be seen some winter morning roving on the lawn from
one evergreen tree to another, clinging to the pine cones and peering
attentively between the scales before extracting the kernels. It utters a
call-note so like the English sparrow's that you are surprised when you look
up into the tree to find it comes from a stranger. The pine siskin is an
erratic visitor, and there is always the charm of the unexpected about its
coming near our houses that heightens our enjoyment of its brief stay.

As it flies downward from the top of the spruce tree to feed upon the brown
seeds still clinging to the pigweed and goldenrod stalks sticking out above
the snow by the roadside, it dips and floats through the air like its charming
little cousin, the goldfinch. They have several characteristics in common
besides their flight and their fondness for thistles. Far at the north, where
the pine siskin nests in the top of the evergreens, his sweet-warbled
love-song is said to be like that of our "wild canary's," only with a
suggestion of fretfulness in the tone.

Occasionally some one living in an Adirondack or other mountain camp reports
finding the nest and hearing the siskin sing even in midsummer; but it is,
nevertheless, considered a northern species, however its erratic habits may
sometimes break through the ornithologist's traditions.

SMITH'S PAINTED LONGSPUR (Calcarius pictus) Finch family

[Called also: SMITH'S LONGSPUR, AOU 1998]

Length -- 6.5 inches. About the size of a large English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Upper parts marked with black, brown, and
white, like a sparrow; brown predominant. Male bird with more
black about head, shoulders, and tail feathers, and a whitish
patch, edged with black, under the eye. Underneath pale brown,
shading to buff. Hind claw or spur conspicuous.
Range -- Interior of North America, from the arctic coast to
Illinois and and Texas; Migrations -- Winter visitor. Without
fixed season.

Confined to a narrower range than the Lapland longspur, this bird, quite
commonly found on the open prairie districts of the middle West in winter, is,
nevertheless, so very like its cousin that the same description of their
habits might very well answer for both. Indeed, both these birds are often
seen in the same flock. Larks and the ubiquitous sparrows, too, intermingle
with them with the familiarity that only the starvation rations of midwinter,
and not true sociability, can effect; and, looking out upon such a
heterogeneous flock of brown birds as they are feeding together on the frozen
ground, only the trained field ornithologist would find it easy to point out
the painted longspurs.

Certain peculiarities are noticeable, however. Longspurs squat while resting;
then, when flushed, they run quickly and lightly, and "rise with a sharp
click, repeated several times in quick succession, and move with an easy,
undulating motion for a short distance, when they alight very suddenly,
seeming to fall perpendicularly several feet to the ground." Another
peculiarity of their flight is their habit of flying about in circles, to and
fro, keeping up a constant chirping or call. It is only in the mating season,
when we rarely hear them, that the longspurs have the angelic manner of
singing as they fly, like the skylark. The colors of the males, among the
several longspurs, may differ widely, but the indistinctly marked females are
so like each other that only their mates, perhaps, could tell them apart.

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus) Finch family


Length -- 6.5 to 7 inches. trifle larger than the English sparrow.
Male -- Color varies with season. Winter plumage: Top of head
black, with rusty markings, all feathers being tipped with
white. Behind and below the eye rusty black. Breast and
underneath grayish white faintly streaked with black. Above
reddish brown with black markings. Feet, which are black, have
conspicuous, long hind claws or spur.
Female -- Rusty gray above, less conspicuously marked. Whitish
Range -- Circumpolar regions; northern United States; occasional
in Middle States; abundant in winter as far as Kansas and the
Rocky Mountains.
Migrations -- Winter visitors, rarely resident, and without a
Fixed season.

This arctic bird, although considered somewhat rare with us, when seen at all
in midwinter is in such large flocks that, before its visit in the
neighborhood is ended, and because there are so few other birds about, it
becomes delightfully familiar as it nimbly runs over the frozen ground,
picking up grain that has blown about from the barn, when the seeds of the
field are buried under snow. This lack of fear through sharp hunger, that
often drives the shyest of the birds to our very doors in winter, is as
pathetic as it is charming. Possibly it is not so rare a bird as we think, for
it is often mistaken for some of the sparrows, the shore larks, and the snow
buntings, that it not only resembles, but whose company it frequently keeps,
or for one of the other longspurs.

At all seasons of the year a ground bird, you may readily identify the Lapland
longspur by its tracks through the snow, showing the mark of the long hind
claw or spur. In summer we know little or nothing about it, for, with the
coming of the flowers, it is off to the far north, where, we are told, it
depresses its nest in a bed of moss upon the ground, and lines it with fur
shed from the coat of the arctic fox.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella socialis) Finch family


Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches. An inch shorter than the English
Male -- Under the eye, on the back of the neck, underneath, and
on the lower back ash-gray. Gray stripe over the eye, and a
blackish brown one apparently through it. Dark red-brown crown.
Back brown, slightly rufous, and feathers streaked with black.
Wings and tail dusty brown. Wing-bars not conspicuous. Bill
Female -- Lacks the chestnut color on the crown, which is
Streaked with black. In winter the frontlet is black. Bill
Range -- North America, from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico
And westward to the Rockies. Winters in Gulf States and Mexico.
Most common in eastern United States.
Migrations -- April. October. Common summer resident, many birds
remaining all the year from southern New England southward.

Who does not know this humblest, most unassuming little neighbor that comes
hopping to our very doors; this mite of a bird with "one talent" that it so
persistently uses all the day and every day throughout the summer? Its high,
wiry trill, like the buzzing of the locust, heard in the dawn before the sky
grows even gray, or in the middle of the night, starts the morning chorus; and
after all other voices are hushed in the evening, its tremolo is the last
bed-song to come from the trees. But however monotonous such cheerfulness
sometimes becomes when we are surfeited with real songs from dozens of other
throats, there are long periods of midsummer silence that it punctuates most

Its call-note, chip! chip! from which several of its popular names are
derived, is altogether different from the trill which must do duty as a song
to express love, contentment, everything that so amiable a little nature might
feel impelled to voice.

But with all its virtues, the chippy shows lamentable weakness of character in
allowing its grown children to impose upon it, as it certainly does. In every
group of these birds throughout the summer we can see young ones (which we may
know by the black line-stripes on their breasts) hopping around after their
parents, that are often no larger or more able-bodied than they, and teasing
to be fed; drooping their wings to excite pity for a helplessness that they do
not possess when the weary little mother hops away from them, and still
persistently chirping for food until she weakly relents, returns to them,
picks a seed from the ground and thrusts it down the bill of the sauciest
teaser in the group. With two such broods in a season the chestnut feathers on
the father's jaunty head might well turn gray.

Unlike most of the sparrows, the little chippy frequents high trees, where its
nest is built quite as often as in the low bushes of the garden. The
horse-hair, which always lines the grass" up that holds its greenish-blue,
speckled eggs, is alone responsible for the name hair-bird, and not the
chippy's hair-like trill, as some suppose.

ENGLISH SPARROW (Passer domesticus) Finch family

Called also: HOUSE SPARROW [AOU 1998]

Length -- 6.33 inches.
Male -- Ashy above, with black and chestnut stripes on back and
shoulders. Wings have chestnut and white bar, bordered by faint
black line. Gray crown, bordered from the eye backward and on
the nape by chestnut. Middle of throat and breast black.
Underneath grayish white.
Female -- Paler; wing-bars indistinct, and without the black
marking on throat and breast.
Range -- Around the world. Introduced and naturalized in America,
Australia, New Zealand.
Migrations -- Constant resident.

"Of course, no self-respecting ornithologist will condescend to enlarge his
list by counting in the English sparrow -- too pestiferous to mention," writes
Mr. H. E. Parkhurst, and yet of all bird neighbors is any one more within the
scope of this book than the audacious little gamin that delights in the
companion ship of humans even in their most noisy city thoroughfares?

In a bulletin issued by the Department of Agriculture it is shown that the
progeny of a single pair of these sparrows might amount to 275,716,983,698 in
ten years! Inasmuch as many pairs were liberated in the streets of Brooklyn,
New York, in 1851, when the first importation was made, the day is evidently
not far off when these birds, by no means meek, "shall inherit the earth."

In Australia Scotch thistles, English sparrows, and rabbits, three most
unfortunate importations, have multiplied with equal rapidity until serious
alarm fills the minds of the colonists. But in England a special committee
appointed by the House of Commons to investigate the character of the alleged
pest has yet to learn whether the sparrow's services as an insect-destroyer do
not outweigh the injury it does to fruit and grain.

FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla) Finch family


Length -- 5.5 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male -- Chestnut crown. Upper back bright chestnut, finely
streaked with black and ashy brown. Lower back more grayish.
Whitish wing-bars. Cheeks, line over the eye, throat, pale
brownish drab. Tail long. Underneath grayish white, tinged with
palest buff on breast and sides. Bill reddish.
Female -- Paler; the crown edged with grayish.
Range -- North America, from British provinces to the Gulf, and
westward to the plains. Winters from Illinois and Virginia
southward. Migrations -- April. November. Common summer

Simply because both birds have chestnut crowns, the field sparrow is often
mistaken for the dapper, sociable chippy; and, no doubt because it loves such
heathery, grassy pastures as are dear to the vesper sparrow, and has bay wings
and a sweet song, these two cousins also are often confused. The field sparrow
has a more reddish-brown upper back than any of its small relatives; the
absence of streaks on its breast and of the white tail quills so conspicuous
in the vesper sparrow's flight, sufficiently differentiate the two birds,
while the red bill of the field sparrow is a positive mark of identification.

This bird of humble nature, that makes the scrubby pastures and uplands
tuneful from early morning until after sunset, flies away with exasperating
shyness as you approach. Alighting on a convenient branch, he lures you on
with his clear, sweet song. Follow him, and he only hops about from bush to
bush, farther and farther away, singing as he goes a variety of strains, which
is one of the bird's peculiarities. The song not only varies in individuals,
but in different localities, which may be one reason why no two ornithologists
record it alike. Doubtless the chief reason for the amusing differences in the
syllables into which the songs of birds are often translated in the books, is
that the same Notes actually sound differently to different individuals. Thus,
to people in Massachusetts the white-throated sparrow seems to say,
"Pea-bod-y, Pea-bod-y, Pea-bod-y!" while good British subjects beyond the New
England border hear him sing quite distinctly, "Sweet Can-a-da, Can-a-da,
Can-a-da!" But however the opinions as to the syllables of the field sparrow's
song may differ, all are agreed as to its exquisite quality, that resembles
the vesper sparrow's tender, sweet melody. The song begins with three soft,
wild whistles, and ends with a series of trills and quavers that gradually
melt away into silence: a serene and restful strain as soothing as a hymn.
Like the vesper sparrows, these birds sometimes build a plain, grassy nest,
unprotected by over hanging bush, flat upon the ground. Possibly from a
prudent tear of field-mice and snakes, the little mother most frequently lays
her bluish-white, rufous -- marked eggs in a nest placed in a bush of a bushy
field. Hence John Burroughs has called the bird the ''bush sparrow."

FOX SPARROW (Passerella ilica) Finch family


Length -- 6.5 to 7.25 inches. Nearly an inch longer than the
English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Upper parts reddish brown, varied with ash
gray, brightest on lower back, wings, and tail. Bluish slate
about the head. Underneath whitish; the throat, breast, and
sides heavily marked with arrow-heads and oblong dashes of
reddish brown and blackish.
Range -- Alaska and Manitoba to southern United States. Winters
chiefly south of Illinois and Virginia. Occasional stragglers
remain north most of the winter.
Migrations -- March. November. Most common in the migrations.

There will be little difficulty in naming this largest, most plump and reddish
of all the sparrows, whose fox-colored feathers, rather than any malicious
cunning of its disposition, are responsible for the name it bears. The male
bird is incomparably the finest singer of its gifted family. His faint tseep
call-note gives no indication of his vocal powers that some bleak morning in
early March suddenly send a thrill of pleasure through you. It is the most
welcome "glad surprise" of all the spring. Without a preliminary twitter or
throat-clearing of any sort, the full, rich, luscious tones, with just a tinge
of plaintiveness in them, are poured forth with spontaneous abandon. Such a
song at such a time is enough to summon anybody with a musical ear out of
doors under the leaden skies to where the delicious notes issue from the
leafless shrubbery by the roadside. Watch the singer until the song ends, when
he will quite likely descend among the dead leaves on the ground and scratch
among them like any barn-yard fowl, but somehow contriving to use both feet at
once in the operation, as no chicken ever could. He seems to take special
delight in damp thickets, where the insects with which he varies his seed diet
are plentiful.

Usually the fox sparrows keep in small, loose flocks, apart by themselves, for
they are not truly gregarious; but they may sometimes be seen travelling in
company with their white-throated cousins. They are among the last birds to
leave us in the late autumn or winter. Mr. Bicknell says that they seem
indisposed to sing unless present in numbers. Indeed, they are little inclined
to absolute solitude at any time, for even in the nesting season quite a
colony of grassy nurseries may be found in the same meadow, and small
companies haunt the roadside shrubbery during the migrations.

GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum passerinus) Finch


Length -- 5 to 5.4 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male and Female -- A cream-yellow line over the eye; centre of
crown, shoulders, and lesser wing coverts yellowish. Head
blackish; rust-colored feathers, with small black spots on back
of the neck; an orange mark before the eye. All other upper
parts varied red, brown, cream, and black, with a drab wash.
Underneath brownish drab on breast, shading to soiled white,
and without streaks. Dusky, even, pointed tail feathers have
grayish-white outer margins.
Range -- Eastern North America, from British provinces to Cuba.
Winters south of the Carolinas.
Migrations -- April. October. Common summer resident.

It is safe to say that no other common bird is so frequently overlooked as
this little sparrow, that keeps persistently to the grass and low bushes, and
only faintly lifts up a weak, wiry voice that is usually attributed to some
insect. At the bend of the wings only are the feathers really yellow, and even
this bright shade often goes unnoticed as the bird runs shyly through an old
dairy field or grassy pasture. You may all but step upon it before it takes
wing and exhibits itself on the fence-rail, which is usually as far from the
ground as it cares to go. If you are near enough to this perch you may
overhear the zee-e-e-e-e-e-e-e that has earned it the name of grasshopper
sparrow. If you persistently follow it too closely, away it flies, then
suddenly drops to the ground where a scrubby bush affords protection. A
curious fact about this bird is that after you have once become acquainted
with it, you find that instead of being a rare discovery, as you had supposed,
it is apt to be a common resident of almost every field you walk through.

SAVANNA SPARROW (Ammodramus sandwichensis savanna) Finch family


Length -- 5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Cheeks, space over the eye, and on the bend of
the wings pale yellow. General effect of the upper parts
brownish drab, streaked with black. Wings and tail dusky, the
outer webs of the feathers margined with buff. Under parts
white, heavily streaked with blackish and rufous, the marks on
breast feathers being wedge-shaped. In the autumn the plumage
is often suffused with a yellow tinge.
Range -- Eastern North America, from Hudson Bay to Mexico.
Winters south of Illinois and Virginia.
Migrations -- April. October. A few remain in sheltered marshes
at the north all winter.

Look for the savanna sparrow in salt marshes, marshy or upland pastures, never
far inland, and if you see a sparrowy bird, unusually white and heavily
streaked beneath, and with pale yellow markings about the eye and on the bend
of the wing; you may still make several guesses at its identity before the
weak, little insect-like trill finally establishes it. Whoever can correctly
name every sparrow and warbler on sight is a person to be envied, if, indeed,
he exists at all.

In the lowlands of Nova Scotia and, in fact, of all the maritime provinces,
this sparrow is the one that is perhaps most commonly seen. Every fence-rail
has one perched upon it, singing "Ptsip, ptsip, ptsip, ze-e-e-e-e" close to
the ear of the passer-by, who otherwise might not hear the low
grasshopper-like song. At the north the bird somehow loses the shyness that
makes it comparatively little known farther south. Depending upon the scrub
and grass to conceal it, you may almost tread upon it before it startles you
by its sudden rising with a whirring noise, only to drop to the ground again
just a few yards farther away, where it scuds among the underbrush and is lost
to sight Tall weeds and fence-rails are as high and exposed situations as it
is likely to select while singing. It is most distinctively a ground bird, and
flat upon the pasture or in a slightly hollowed cup it has the merest apology
for a nest. Only a few wisps of grass are laid in the cavity to receive the
pale-green eggs, that are covered most curiously with blotches of brown of
many shapes and tints.

SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus) Finch family


Length -- 6 inches. A shade smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female -- Upper parts dusky grayish or olivaceous brown,
inclining to gray on shoulders and on edges of some feathers.
Wings and tail darkest. Throat yellowish white, shading to gray
on breast, which is indistinctly mottled and streaked. A yellow
spot before the eye and on bend of the wing, the bird's
characteristic marks. Blunt tail.
Range -- Atlantic seaboard, from Georgia northward. Usually
Winters south of Virginia.
Migrations -- April. November. A few remain in sheltered marshes
all winter.

The savanna, the swamp, the sharp-tailed, and the song sparrows may all
sometimes be found in the haunts of the seaside sparrow, but you may be
certain of finding the latter nowhere else than in the salt marshes within
sight or sound of the sea. It is a dingy little bird, with the least definite
coloring of all the sparrows that have maritime inclinations, with no rufous
tint in its feathers, and less distinct streakings on the breast than any of
them. It has no black markings on the back.

Good-sized flocks of seaside sparrows live together in the marshes; but they
spend so much of their time on the ground, running about among the reeds and
grasses, whose seeds and insect parasites they feed upon, that not until some
unusual disturbance in the quiet place flushes them does the intruder suspect
their presence, Hunters after beach-birds, longshoremen, seaside cottagers,
and whoever follows the windings of a creek through the salt meadows to catch
crabs and eels in midsummer, are well acquainted with the "meadow chippies,"
as the fishermen call them. They keep up a good deal of chirping,
sparrow-fashion, and have four or five notes resembling a song that is usually
delivered from a tall reed stalk, where the bird sways and balances until his
husky performance has ended, when down he drops upon the ground out of sight.
Sometimes, too, these notes are uttered while the bird flutters in the air
above the tops of the sedges.

SHARP-TAILED SPARROW (Ammodramus caudacutus) Finch family

Length -- 5.25 to 5.85 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Upper parts brownish or grayish olive, the
back with black streaks, and gray edges to some feathers. A
gray line through centre of crown, which has maroon stripes;
gray ears enclosed by buff lines, one of which passes through
the eye and one on side of throat; brownish orange, or buff, on
sides of head. Bend of the wing yellow. Breast and sides pale
buff, distinctly streaked with black. Underneath whitish. Each
narrow quill of tail is sharply pointed. the outer ones
Range -- Atlantic coast. Winters south of Virginia.
Migrations -- April. November. Summer resident.

This bird delights in the company of the dull-colored seaside sparrow, whose
haunts in the salt marshes it frequents, especially the drier parts; but its
pointed tail-quills and more distinct markings are sufficient to prevent
confusion. Mr. J. Dwight, Jr., who has made a special study of maritime birds,
says of it: "It runs about among the reeds and grasses with the celerity of a
mouse, and it is not apt to take wing unless closely pressed." (Wilson
credited it with the nimbleness of a sandpiper.) "It builds its nest in the
tussocks on the bank of a ditch, or in the drift left by the tide, rather than
in the grassier sites chosen by its neighbors, the seaside sparrows."

Only rarely does one get a glimpse of this shy little bird, that darts out of
sight like a flash at the first approach. Balancing on a cat-tail stalk or
perched upon a bit of driftwood, it makes a feeble, husky attempt to sing a
few notes; and during the brief performance the opera-glasses may search it
out successfully. While it feeds upon the bits of sea-food washed ashore to
the edge of the marshes, it gives us perhaps the best chance we ever get,
outside of a museum, to study the bird's characteristics of plumage.

"Both the sharp-tailed and the seaside finches are crepuscular," says Dr.
Abbott, in "The Birds About Us." They run up and down the reeds and on the
water's edge long after most birds have gone to sleep.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza fasciata) Finch family

Length -- 6 to 6.5 inches. About the same size as the English
Male and Female -- Brown head, with three longitudinal gray bands
Brown stripe on sides of throat. Brownish-gray back streaked
With rufous. Underneath gray, shading to white, heavily
streaked with darkest brown. A black spot on breast. Wings
without bars. Tail plain grayish brown.
Range -- North America, from Fur Countries to the Gulf States.
Winters from southern Illinois and Massachusetts to the Gulf.
Migrations -- March. November. A few birds remain at the north
All the year.

Here is a veritable bird neighbor, if ever there was one; at home in our
gardens and hedges, not often farther away than the roadside, abundant
everywhere during nearly every month in the year, and yet was there ever one
too many? There is scarcely an hour in the day, too, when its delicious,
ecstatic song may not be heard; in the darkness of midnight, just before dawn,
when its voice is almost the first to respond to the chipping sparrow's wiry
trill and the robin's warble; in the cool of the morning, the heat of noon,
the hush of evening -- ever the simple, homely, sweet melody that every good
American has learned to love in childhood. What the bird lacks in beauty it
abundantly makes up in good cheer. Not at all retiring, though never bold, it
chooses some conspicuous perch on a bush or tree to deliver its outburst of
song, and sings away with serene unconsciousness. Its artlessness is charming.
Thoreau writes in his "Summer" that the country girls in Massachusetts hear
the bird say: "Maids, maids, maids, hang on your teakettle,
teakettle-ettle-ettle." The call-note, a metallic chip, is equally
characteristic of the bird's irrepressible vivacity. It has still another
musical expression, however, a song more prolonged and varied than its usual
performance, that it seems to sing only on the wing.

Of course, the song sparrow must sometimes fly upward, but whoever sees it fly
anywhere but downward into the thicket that it depends upon to conceal it from
too close inspection? By pumping its tail as it flies, it seems to acquire
more than the ordinary sparrow's velocity.

Its nest, which is likely to be laid flat on the ground, except where
field-mice are plentiful (in which case it is elevated into the crotch of a
bush), is made of grass, strips of bark, and leaves, and lined with finer
grasses and hair. Sometimes three broods may be reared in a season, but even
the cares of providing insects and seeds enough for so many hungry babies
cannot altogether suppress the cheerful singer. The eggs are grayish white,
speckled and clouded with lavender and various shades of brown.

In sparsely settled regions the song sparrows seem to show a fondness for
moist woodland thickets, possibly because their tastes are insectivorous. But
it is difficult to imagine the friendly little musician anything but a

SWAMP SONG SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana) Finch family


Length -- 5 to 5.8 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male -- Forehead black; crown, which in winter has black stripes,
is always bright bay; line over the eye, sides of the neck
gray. Back brown, striped with various shades. Wing. edges and
tail reddish brown. Mottled gray underneath inclining to white
on the chin.
Female -- Without black forehead and stripes on head.
Range -- North America, from Texas to Labrador.
Migrations -- April. October. A few winter at the north.

In just such impenetrable retreats as the marsh wrens choose, another wee
brown bird may sometimes be seen springing up from among the sedges, singing a
few sweet notes as it flies and floats above them, and then suddenly
disappearing into the grassy tangle. It is too small, and its breast is not
streaked enough to be a song sparrow, neither are their songs alike; it has
not the wren's peculiarities of bill and tail, Its bright-bay crown and
sparrowy markings finally identify it. A suggestion of the bird's watery home
shows itself in the liquid quality of its simple, sweet note, stronger and
sweeter than the chippy's, and repeated many times almost like a trill that
seems to trickle from the marsh in a little rivulet of song. The sweetness is
apt to become monotonous to all but the bird itself, that takes evident
delight in its performance. In the spring, when flocks of swamp sparrows come
north, how they enliven the marshes and waste places. And yet the song, simple
as it is, is evidently not uttered altogether without effort, if the
tail-spreading and teetering of the body after the manner of the ovenbird, are
any indications of exertion.

Nuttall says of these birds: "They thread their devious way with the same
alacrity as the rail, with whom, indeed, they are often associated in
neighborhood. In consequence of this perpetual brushing through sedge and
bushes, their feathers are frequently so worn that their tails appear almost
like those of rats."

But the swamp sparrows frequently belie their name, and, especially in the
South, live in dry fields, worn-out pasture lands with scrubby, weedy patches
in them. They live upon seeds of grasses and berries, but Dr. Abbott has
detected their special fondness for fish -- not fresh fish particularly, but
rather such as have lain in the sun for a few days and become dry as a chip.
Their nest is placed on the ground, sometimes in a tussock of grass or roots
of an upturned tree quite surrounded by water. Four or five soiled white eggs
with reddish-brown spots are laid usually twice in 2 season.

TREE SPARROW (Spizella monticola) Finch family


Length -- 6 to 6.35 inches. About the same size as the English
Male -- Crown of head bright chestnut. Line over the eye, cheeks,
throat, and breast gray, the breast with an indistinct black
spot on centre. Brown back, the feathers edged with black and
buff. Lower back pale grayish brown. Two whitish bars across
dusky wings; tail feathers bordered with grayish white.
Underneath whitish.
Female -- Smaller and less distinctly marked.
Range -- North America, from Hudson Bay to the Carolinas, and
westward to the plains.
Migrations -- October. April. Winter resident.

A revised and enlarged edition of the friendly little chipping sparrow, that
hops to our very doors for crumbs throughout the mild weather, comes out of
British America at the beginning of winter to dissipate much of the winter's
dreariness by his cheerful twitterings. Why he should have been called a tree
sparrow is a mystery, unless because he does not frequent trees
-- a reason with sufficient plausibility to commend the name to several of
the early ornithologists, who not infrequently called a bird precisely what it
was not. The tree sparrow actually does not show half the preference for trees
that its familiar little counterpart does, but rather keeps to low bushes when
not on the ground, where we usually find it. It does not crouch upon the
ground like the chippy, but with a lordly carriage holds itself erect as it
nimbly runs over the frozen crust. Sheltered from the high, wintry winds in
the furrows and dry ditches of ploughed fields, a loose flock of these active
birds keep up a merry hunt for fallen seeds and berries, with a belated beetle
to give the grain a relish. As you approach the feeding ground, one bird gives
a shrill alarm-cry, and instantly five times as many birds as you suspected
were in the field take wing and settle down in the scrubby undergrowth at the
edge of the woods or by the wayside. No still cold seems too keen for them to
go a-foraging; but when cutting winds blow through the leafless thickets the
scattered remnants of a flock seek the shelter of stone walls, hedges, barns,
and cozy nooks about the house and garden. It is in mid-winter that these
birds grow most neighborly, although even then they are distinctly less
sociable than their small chippy cousins.

By the first of March, when the fox sparrow and the bluebird attract the
lion's share of attention by their superior voices, we not infrequently are
deaf to the modest, sweet little strain that answers for the tree sparrow's
love-song. Soon after the bird is in full voice, away it goes with its flock
to their nesting ground in Labrador or the Hudson Bay region. It builds,
either on the ground or not far from it, a nest of grasses, rootlets, and
hair, without which no true chippy counts its home complete.

VESPER SPARROW (Poocaetes gramineus) Finch family


Length -- 5.75 to 6.25 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Brown above, streaked and varied with gray.
Lesser wing coverts bright rufous. Throat and breast whitish,
striped with dark brown. Underneath plain soiled white. Outer
tail-quills, which are its special mark of identification, are
partly white, but apparently wholly white a.s the bird flies.
Range -- North America, especially common in eastern parts from
Hudson Bay to Gulf of Mexico. Winters south of Virginia.
Migrations -- April. October. Common summer resident.

Among the least conspicuous birds, sparrows are the easiest to classify for
that very reason, and certain prominent features of the half dozen commonest
of the tribe make their identification simple even to the merest novice. The
distinguishing marks of this sparrow that haunts open, breezy pasture lands
and country waysides are its bright, reddish-brown wing coverts, prominent
among its dingy, pale brownish-gray feathers, and its white tail-quills, shown
as the bird flies along the road ahead of you to light upon the fence-rail. It
rarely flies higher, even to sing its serene, pastoral strain, restful as the
twilight, of which, indeed, it seems to be the vocal expression. How different
from the ecstatic outburst of the song sparrow! Pensive, but not sad, its
long-drawn silvery notes continue in quavers that float off unended like a
trail of mist. The song is suggestive of the thoughts that must come at
evening to some New England saint of humble station after a well-spent,
soul-uplifting day.

But while the vesper sparrow sings oftenest and most sweetly in the late
afternoon and continues singing until only he and the rose-breasted grosbeak
break the silence of the early night, his is one of the first voices to join
the morning chorus. No "early worm," however, tempts him from his grassy nest,
for the seeds in the pasture lands and certain tiny insects that live among
the grass furnish meals at all hours. He simply delights in the cool, still
morning and evening hours and in giving voice to his enjoyment of them.

The vesper sparrow is preeminently a grass-bird. It first opens its eyes on
the world in a nest neatly woven of grasses, laid on the ground among the
grass that shelters it and furnishes it with food and its protective coloring.
Only the grazing cattle know how many nests and birds are hidden in their
pastures. Like the meadowlarks, their presence is not even suspected until a
flock is flushed from its feeding ground, only to return to the spot when you
have passed on your way. Like the meadowlark again, the vesper sparrow
occasionally sings as it soars upward from its grassy home.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys) Finch family

Length -- 7 inches. A little larger than the English sparrow.
Male -- White head, with four longitudinal black lines marking
off a crown, the black-and-white stripes being of about equal
width. Cheeks, nape, and throat gray. Light gray underneath,
with some buff tints. Back dark grayish brown. some feathers
margined with gray. Two interrupted white bars across wings.
Plain, dusky tail; total effect, a clear ashen gray.
Female -- With rusty head inclining to gray on crown. Paler
throughout than the male.
Range -- From high mountain ranges of western United States (more
rarely on Pacific slope) to Atlantic Ocean, and from Labrador
to Mexico. Chiefly south of Pennsylvania.
Migrations -- October. April. Irregular migrant in Northern
States. A winter resident elsewhere.

The large size and handsome markings of this aristocratic-looking Northern
sparrow would serve to distinguish him at once, did he not often consort with
his equally fine-looking white-throated cousins while migrating, and so too
often get overlooked. Sparrows are such gregarious birds that it is well to
scrutinize every flock with especial care in the spring and autumn, when the
rarer migrants are passing. This bird is more common in the high altitudes of
the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains than elsewhere in the United States.
There in the lonely forest it nests in low bushes or on the ground, and sings
its full love song, as it does in the northern British provinces, along the
Atlantic coast; but during the migrations it favors us only with selections
from its repertoire. Mr. Ernest Thompson says, "Its usual song is like the
latter half of the white-throat's familiar refrain, repeated a number of times
with a peculiar, sad cadence and in a clear, soft whistle that is
characteristic of the group." "The song is the loudest and most plaintive of
all the sparrow songs," says John Burroughs. "It begins with the words fe-u,
fe-u, fe-u, and runs off into trills and quavers like the song sparrow's, only
much more touching." Colorado miners tell that this sparrow, like its
white-throated relative, sings on the darkest nights. Often a score or more
birds are heard singing at once after the habit of the European nightingales,
which, however, choose to sing only in the moonlight.

WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis) Finch family


Length -- 6.75 to 7 inches. Larger than the English sparrow.
Male and Female -- A black crown divided by narrow white line.
Yellow spot before the eye, and a white line, apparently
running through it, passes backward to the nape. Conspicuous
white throat. Chestnut back, varied with black and whitish.
Breast gray, growing lighter underneath. Wings edged with
rufous and with two white cross-bars.
Range -- Eastern North America. Nests from Michigan and
Massachusetts northward to Labrador. Winters from southern New
England to Florida.
Migrations -- April. October. Abundant during migrations, and in
many States a winter resident.

"I-I, Pea-body, Pea-body, Pea-body," are the syllables of the white-throat's
song heard by the good New Englanders, who have a tradition that you must
either be a Peabody or a nobody there; while just over the British border the
bird is distinctly understood to say, "Swee-e-e-t Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a
da." "All day, whit-tle-ing, whit-tle-ing, whit-tle-ing," the Maine people
declare he sings; and Hamilton Gibson told of a perplexed farmer, Peverly by
name, who, as he stood in the field undecided as to what crop to plant,
clearly heard the bird advise, "Sow wheat, Pev-er-ly, Pev-er-ly, Pev-er-ly."
Such divergence of opinion, which is really slight compared with the verbal
record of many birds' songs, only goes to show how little the sweetness of
birds' music, like the perfume of a rose, depends upon a name.

In a family not distinguished for good looks, the white-throated sparrow is
conspicuously handsome, especially after the spring moult. In midwinter the
feathers grow dingy and the markings indistinct; but as the season advances,
his colors are sure to brighten perceptibly, and before he takes the northward
journey in April, any little lady sparrow might feel proud of the attentions
of so fine-looking and sweet-voiced a lover. The black, white, and yellow
markings on his head are now clear and beautiful. His figure is plump and

These sparrows are particularly sociable travellers, and cordially welcome
many stragglers to their flocks -- not during the migrations only, but even
when winter's snow affords only the barest gleanings above it. Then they
boldly peck about the dog's plate by the kitchen door and enter the barn-yard,
calling their feathered friends with a sharp tseep to follow them. Seeds and
insects are their chosen food, and were they not well wrapped in an adipose
coat under their feathers, there must be many a winter night when they would
go shivering, supperless, to their perch.

In the dark of midnight one may sometimes hear the white-throat softly singing
in its dreams.


Tree Swallow
Ruby-throated Humming-bird
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Solitary Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Worm-eating Warbler
Acadian Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Black-throated Green Warbler

Look also among the Olive-brown Birds, especially for the
Cuckoos, Alice's and the Olive-backed Thrushes; and look in the
yellow group, many of whose birds are olive also. See also
females of the Red Crossbill, Orchard Oriole, Scarlet Tanager,
Summer Tanager.


TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor) Swallow family


Length -- 5 to 6 inches. A little shorter than the English
sparrow, but apparently much larger because of its wide wing
Male -- Lustrous dark steel-green above; darker and shading into
black on wings and tail, which is forked. Under parts soft
Female -- Duller than male.
Range -- North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama.
Migrations -- End of March. September or later. Summer resident.

"The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times: and the
turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their
coming." -- Jeremiah, viii. 7.

The earliest of the family to appear in the spring, the tree swallow comes
skimming over the freshly ploughed fields with a wide sweep of the wings, in
what appears to be a perfect ecstasy of flight. More shy of the haunts of man,
and less gregarious than its cousins, it is usually to be seen during
migration flying low over the marshes, ponds, and streams with a few chosen
friends, keeping up an incessant warbling twitter while performing their
bewildering and tireless evolutions as they catch their food on the wing.
Their white breasts flash in the sunlight, and it is only when they dart near
you, and skim close along the surface of the water, that you discover their
backs to be not black, but rich, dark green, glossy to iridescence.

It is probable that these birds keep near the waterways because their favorite
insects and wax-berries are more plentiful in such places: but this
peculiarity has led many people to the absurd belief that the tree swallow
buries itself under the mud of ponds in winter in a state of hibernation. No
bird's breathing apparatus is made to operate under mud.

In unsettled districts these swallows nest in hollow trees, hence their name;
but with that laziness that forms a part of the degeneracy of civilization,
they now gladly accept the boxes about men's homes set up for the martins.
Thousands of these beautiful birds have been shot on the Long Island marshes
and sold to New York epicures for snipe.

RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD (Trochilus colubris) Humming-bird


Length -- 3.5 to 3.75 inches. A trifle over half as long as the
English sparrow. The smallest bird we have.
Male -- Bright metallic green above; wings and tail darkest, with
ruddy-purplish reflections and dusky-white tips on outer
tail quills. Throat and breast brilliant metallic -- red in one
light, orange flame in another, and dusky orange in another,
according as the light strikes the plumage. Sides greenish;
underneath lightest gray, with whitish border outlining the
brilliant breast. Bill long and needle-like.
Female -- Without the brilliant feathers on throat; darker gray
beneath. Outer tail-quills are banded with black and tipped
with white.
Range -- Eastern North America, from northern Canada to the Gulf
Of Mexico in summer. Winters in Central America.
Migrations -- May. October. Common summer resident.

This smallest, most exquisite and unabashed of our bird neighbors cannot be
mistaken, for it is the only one of its kin found east of the plains and north
of Florida, although about four hundred species, native only to the New World,
have been named by scientists. How does it happen that this little tropical
jewel alone flashes about our Northern gardens? Does it never stir the spirit
of adventure and emulation in the glistening breasts of its stay-at-home
cousins in the tropics by tales of luxuriant tangles of honeysuckle and
clematis on our cottage porches; of deep-cupped trumpet-flowers climbing over
the walls of old-fashioned gardens, where larkspur, narcissus, roses, and
phlox, that crowd the box-edged beds, are more gay and honey-laden than their
little brains can picture? Apparently it takes only the wish to be in a place
to transport one of these little fairies either from the honeysuckle trellis
to the canna bed or from Yucatan to the Hudson. It is easy to see how to will
and to fly are allied in the minds of the humming-birds, as they are in the
Latin tongue. One minute poised in midair, apparently motionless before a
flower while draining the nectar from its deep cup -- though the humming of
its wings tells that it is suspended there by no magic -- the next instant it
has flashed out of sight as if a fairy's wand had made it suddenly invisible.
Without seeing the hummer, it might be, and often is, mistaken for a bee
improving the "shining hour."

At evening one often hears of a "humming-bird" going the rounds of the garden,
but at this hour it is usually the sphinx-moth hovering above the flower-beds
-- the one other creature besides the bee for which the bird is ever mistaken.
The postures and preferences of this beautiful large moth make the mistake a
very natural one.

The ruby-throat is strangely fearless and unabashed. It will dart among the
vines on the veranda while the entire household are assembled there, and add
its hum to that of the conversation in a most delightfully neighborly way.
Once a glistening little sprite, quite undaunted by the size of an audience
that sat almost breathless enjoying his beauty, thrust his bill into one calyx
after another on a long sprig of honeysuckle held in the hand.

And yet, with all its friendliness -- or is it simply fearlessness? -- the
bird is a desperate duellist, and will lunge his deadly blade into the
jewelled breast of an enemy at the slightest provocation and quicker than
thought. All the heat of his glowing throat seems to be transferred to his
head while the fight continues, sometimes even to the death -- a cruel, but
marvellously beautiful sight as the glistening birds dart and tumble about
beyond the range of peace-makers.

High up in a tree, preferably one whose knots and lichen-covered excrescences
are calculated to help conceal the nest that so cleverly imitates them, the
mother humming-bird saddles her exquisite cradle to a horizontal limb. She
lines it with plant down, fluffy bits from cat-tails, and the fronds of fern,
felting the material into a circle that an elm-leaf amply roofs over. Outside,
lichens or bits of bark blend the nest so harmoniously with its surroundings
that one may look long and thoroughly before discovering it. Two
infinitesimal, white eggs tax the nest accommodation to its utmost.

In the mating season the female may be seen perching -- a posture one rarely
catches her gay lover in -- preening her dainty but sombre feathers with
ladylike nicety. The young birds do a great deal of perching before they gain
the marvellously rapid wing-motions of maturity, but they are ready to fly
within three weeks after they are hatched. By the time the trumpet-vine is in
bloom they dart and sip and utter a shrill little squeak among the flowers, in
company with the old birds.

During the nest-building and incubation the male bird keeps so aggressively on
the defensive that he often betrays to a hitherto unsuspecting intruder the
location of his home. After the young birds have to be fed he is most diligent
in collecting food, that consists not alone of the sweet juices of flowers, as
is popularly supposed, but also of aphides and plant-lice that his
proboscis-like tongue licks off the garden foliage literally like a streak of

Both parents feed the young by regurgitation -- a process disgusting to the
human observer, whose stomach involuntarily revolts at the sight so welcome to
the tiny, squeaking, hungry birds.

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula) Kinglet family


Length -- 4.25 to 4.5 inches. About two inches smaller than the
English sparrow.
Male -- Upper parts grayish olive-green, brighter nearer the
tail; wings and tail dusky, edged with yellowish olive. Two
whitish wing-bars. Breast and underneath light yellowish gray.
In the adult male a vermilion spot on crown of his ash-gray
Female -- Similar, but without the vermilion crest.
Range -- North America. Breeds from northern United States
northward. Winters from southern limits of its breeding range
to Central America and Mexico.
Migrations -- October. April. Rarely a winter resident at the
North. Most common during its migrations.

A trifle larger than the golden-crowned kinglet, with a vermilion crest
instead of a yellow and flame one, and with a decided preference for a warmer
winter climate, and the ruby-crown's chief distinguishing characteristics are
told. These rather confusing relatives would be less puzzling if it were the
habit of either to keep quiet long enough to focus the opera-glasses on their
crowns, which it only rarely is while some particularly promising haunt of
insects that lurk beneath the rough bark of the evergreens has to be
thoroughly explored. At all other times both kinglets keep up an incessant
fluttering and twinkling among the twigs and leaves at the ends of the
branches, jerking their tiny bodies from twig to twig in the shrubbery,
hanging head downward, like a nuthatch, and most industriously feeding every
second upon the tiny insects and larvae hidden beneath the bark and leaves.
They seem to be the feathered expression of perpetual motion. And how dainty
and charming these tiny sprites are! They are not at all shy; you may approach
them quite close if you will, for the birds are simply too intent on their
business to be concerned with yours.

If a sharp lookout be kept for these ruby-crowned migrants, that too often
slip away to the south before we know they have come, we notice that they
appear about a fortnight ahead of the golden-crested species, since the mild,
soft air of our Indian summer is exactly to their liking. At this season there
is nothing in the bird's "thin, metallic call-note, like a vibrating wire," to
indicate that he is one of our finest songsters. But listen for him during the
spring migration, when a love-song is already ripening in his tiny throat.
What a volume of rich, lyrical melody pours from the Norway spruce, where the
little musician is simply practising to perfect the richer, fuller song that
he sings to his nesting mate in the far north! The volume is really
tremendous, coming from so tiny a throat. Those who have heard it in northern
Canada describe it as a flute-like and mellow warble full of intricate phrases
past the imitating. Dr. Coues says of it: "The kinglet's exquisite
vocalization defies description."

Book of the day: