Part 4 out of 4
Curiously enough, the nest of this bird, that is not at all rare, has been
discovered only six times. It would appear to be over large for the tiny bird,
until we remember that kinglets are wont to have a numerous progeny in their
pensile, globular home. It is made of light, flimsy material -- moss, strips
of bark, and plant fibre well knit together and closely lined with feathers,
which must be a grateful addition to the babies, where they are reared in
evergreens in cold, northern woods.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa) Kinglet family
Called also: GOLDEN-CROWNED GOLDCREST; FIERY CROWNED WREN.
Length -- 4 to 4.25 inches. About two inches smaller than the
Male -- Upper parts grayish olive-green; wings and tail dusky,
margined with olive-green. Underneath soiled whitish. Centre of
crown bright orange, bordered by yellow and en. closed by black
line. Cheeks gray; a whitish line over the eye.
Female -- Similar, but centre of crown lemon-yellow and more
Range -- North America generally. Breeds from northern United
States northward. Winters chiefly from North Carolina to
Central America, but many remain north all the year.
Migrations -- September. April. Chiefly a winter resident south
If this cheery little winter neighbor would keep quiet long enough, we might
have a glimpse of the golden crest that distinguishes him from his equally
lively cousin, the ruby-crowned; but he is so constantly flitting about the
ends of the twigs, peering at the bark for hidden insects, twinkling his wings
and fluttering among the evergreens with more nervous restlessness than a
vireo, that you may know him well before you have a glimpse of his tri-colored
When the autumn foliage is all aglow with yellow and flame this tiny sprite
comes out of the north where neither nesting nor moulting could rob him of his
cheerful spirits. Except the humming-bird and the winter wren, he is the
smallest bird we have. And yet, somewhere stored up in his diminutive body, is
warmth enough to withstand zero weather. With evident enjoyment of the cold,
he calls out a shrill, wiry zee, zee, zee, that rings merrily from the pines
and spruces when our fingers are too numb to hold the opera glasses in an
attempt to follow his restless fittings from branch to branch. Is it one of
the unwritten laws of birds that the smaller their bodies the greater their
When you see one kinglet about, you may be sure there are others not far away,
for, except in the nesting season, its habits are distinctly social, its
friendliness extending to the humdrum brown creeper, the chickadees, and the
nuthatches, in whose company it is often seen; indeed, it is likely to be in
almost any flock of the winter birds. They are a merry band as they go
exploring the trees together. The kinglet can hang upside down, too, like the
other acrobats, many of whose tricks he has learned; and it can pick off
insects from a tree with as business-like an air as the brown creeper, but
with none of that soulless bird's plodding precision.
In the early spring, just before this busy little sprite leaves us to nest in
Canada or Labrador -- for heat is the one thing that he can't cheerfully
endure -- a gushing, lyrical song bursts from his tiny throat -- a song whose
volume is so out of proportion to the bird's size that Nuttall's
classification of kinglets with wrens doesn't seem far wrong after all. Only
rarely is a nest found so far south as the White Mountains. It is said to be
extraordinarily large for so small a bird but that need not surprise us when
we learn that as many as ten
creamy-white eggs, blotched with brown and lavender, are no uncommon number
for the pensile cradle to hold. How do the tiny parents contrive to cover so
many eggs and to feed such a nestful of fledglings?
SOLITARY VIREO (Vireo solitarius) Vireo or Greenlet family
Called also: BLUE-HEADED VIREO [AOU 1998]
Length -- 5.5 to 7 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male -- Dusky olive above; head bluish gray, with a white line
around the eye, spreading behind the eye into a patch. Beneath
whitish, with yellow-green wash on the sides. Wings dusky
olive, with two distinct white bars. Tail dusky, some quills
edged with white.
Female -- Similar, but her head is dusky olive.
Range -- United States to plains, and the southern British
provinces. Winters in Florida and southward.
Migrations -- May. Early October. Common during migrations; more
rarely a summer resident south of Massachusetts.
By no means the recluse that its name would imply, the solitary vireo, while a
bird of the woods, shows a charming curiosity about the stranger with
opera-glasses in hand, who has penetrated to the deep, swampy tangles, where
it chooses to live. Peering at you through the green undergrowth with an eye
that seems especially conspicuous because of its encircling white rim, it is
at least as sociable and cheerful as any member of its family, and Mr.
Bradford Torrey credits it with "winning tameness." "Wood-bird as it is," he
says, "it will sometimes permit the greatest familiarities. Two birds I have
seen, which allowed themselves to be stroked in the freest manner, while
sitting on the eggs, and which ate from my hand as readily as any pet canary."
The solitary vireo also builds a pensile nest, swung from the crotch of a
branch, not so high from the ground as the yellow-throated vireos nor so
exquisitely finished, but still a beautiful little structure of pine-needles,
plant-fibre, dry leaves, and twigs, all lichen-lined and bound and rebound
with coarse spiders' webs.
The distinguishing quality of this vireo's celebrated song is its tenderness:
a pure, serene uplifting of its loving, trustful nature that seems inspired by
a fine spirituality.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus) Vireo or Greenlet family
Called also: THE PREACHER
Length -- 5.75 to 6.25 inches. A fraction smaller than the
Male and Female -- Upper parts light olive-green; well-defined
slaty-gray cap, with black marginal line, below which, and
forming an exaggerated eyebrow, is a line of white. A brownish
band runs from base of bill through the eye. The iris is
ruby-red. Underneath white, shaded with light greenish yellow
on sides and on under tail and wing coverts.
Range -- United States to Rockies and northward. Wnters in
Central and South America.
Migrations -- April. October. Common summer resident.
"You see it -- you know it -- do you hear me? Do you believe it?" is Wilson
Flagg's famous interpretation of the song of this commonest of all the vireos,
that you cannot mistake with such a key. He calls the bird the preacher from
its declamatory style; an up-and-down warble delivered with a rising
inflection at the close and followed by an impressive silence, as if the
little green orator were saying, "I pause for a reply."
Notwithstanding its quiet coloring, that so closely resembles the leaves it
hunts among, this vireo is rather more noticeable than its relatives because
of its slaty cap and the black-and-white lines over its ruby eye, that, in
addition to the song, are its marked characteristics.
Whether she is excessively stupid or excessively kind, the mother-vireo has
certainly won for herself no end of ridicule by allowing the cowbird to
deposit a stray egg in the exquisitely made, pensile nest, where her own tiny
white eggs are lying and though the young cowbird crowd and worry her little
fledglings and eat their dinner as fast as she can bring it in, no displeasure
or grudging is shown towards the dusky intruder that is sure to upset the
rightful heirs out of the nest before they are able to fly.
In the heat of a midsummer noon, when nearly every other bird's voice is
hushed, and only the locust seems to rejoice in the fierce sunshine, the
little red-eyed vireo goes persistently about its business of gathering
insects from the leaves, not flitting nervously about like a warbler, or
taking its food on the wing like a flycatcher, but patiently and industriously
dining where it can, and singing as it goes.
When a worm is caught it is first shaken against a branch to kill it before it
is swallowed. Vireos haunt shrubbery and trees with heavy foliage, all their
hunting, singing, resting, and home-building being done among the leaves --
never on the ground.
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo noveboracensis) Vireo or Greenlet family
Male -- 5 to 5.3 inches. An inch shorter than the English
Male and Female -- Upper parts bright olive-green, washed with
grayish. Throat and underneath white; the breast and sides
greenish yellow; wings have two distinct bars of yellowish
white. Yellow line from beak to and around the eye, which has a
white iris. Feathers of wings and tail brownish and edged with
Range -- United States to the Rockies, and to the Gulf regions
And beyond in winter.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
"Pertest of songsters," the white-eyed vireo makes whatever neighborhood it
enters lively at once. Taking up a residence in the tangled shrubbery or
thickety undergrowth, it immediately begins to scold like a crotchety old
wren. It becomes irritated over the merest trifles -- a passing bumblebee, a
visit from another bird to its tangle, an unsuccessful peck at a gnat
-- anything seems calculated to rouse its wrath and set every feather on its
little body a-trembling, while it sharply snaps out what might perhaps be
freely constructed into "cuss-words."
And yet the inscrutable mystery is that this virago meekly permits the lazy
cowbird to deposit an egg in its nest, and will patiently sit upon it, though
it is as large as three of her own tiny eggs; and when the little interloper
comes out from his shell the mother-bird will continue to give it the most
devoted care long after it has shoved her poor little starved babies out of
the nest to meet an untimely death in the smilax thicket below.
An unusual variety of expression distinguishes this bird's voice from the
songs of the other vireos, which are apt to be monotonous, as they are
incessant. If you are so fortunate to approach the white-eyed vireo before he
suspects your presence, you may hear him amusing himself by jumbling together
snatches of the songs of the other birds in a sort of potpourri; or perhaps he
will be scolding or arguing with an imaginary foe, then dropping his voice and
talking confidentially to himself. Suddenly he bursts into a charming, simple
little song, as if the introspection had given him reason for real joy. All
these vocal accomplishments suggest the chat at once; but the minute your
intrusion is discovered the sharp scolding, that is fairly screamed at you
from an enraged little throat, leaves no possible shadow of a doubt as to the
bird you have disturbed. It has the most emphatic call and song to be heard in
the woods; it snaps its words off very short. "Chick-a-rer chick" is its usual
call-note, jerked out with great spitefulness.
Wilson thus describes the jealously guarded nest: "This bird builds a very
neat little nest, often in the figure of an inverted cone; it is suspended by
the upper end of the two sides, on the circular bend of a prickly vine, a
species of smilax, that generally grows in low thickets. Outwardly it is
constructed of various light materials, bits of rotten wood, fibres of dry
stalks, of weeds, pieces of paper (commonly newspapers, an article almost
always found about its nest, so that some of my friends have given it the name
of the politician); all these materials are interwoven with the silk of the
caterpillars, and the inside is lined with fine, dry grass and hair."
WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus) Vireo or Greenlet family
Length -- 5.5 to 6 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Ashy olive-green above, with head and neck
ash-colored. Dusky line over the eye. Underneath whitish,
faintly washed with dull yellow, deepest on sides; no bars on
Range -- North America, from Hudson Bay to Mexico.
Migrations -- May. Late September or early October. Summer
This musical little bird shows a curious preference for rows of trees in the
village street or by the roadside, where he can be sure of an audience to
listen to his rich, continuous warble. There is a mellowness about his voice,
which rises loud, but not altogether cheerfully, above the bird chorus, as if
he were a gifted but slightly disgruntled contralto. Too inconspicuously
dressed, and usually too high in the tree-top to be identified without
opera-glasses, we may easily mistake him by his voice for one of the warbler
family, which is very closely allied to the vireos. Indeed, this warbling
vireo seems to be the connecting link between them.
Morning and afternoon, but almost never in the evening, we may hear him
rippling out song after song as he feeds on insects and berries about the
garden. But this familiarity lasts only until nesting time, for off he goes
with his little mate to some unfrequented lane near a wood until their family
is reared, when, with a perceptibly happier strain in his voice, he once more
haunts our garden and row of elms before taking the southern journey.
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapillus) Wood Warbler family
Called also: GOLDEN-CROWNED THRUSH; THE TEACHER; WOOD WAGTAIL;
GOLDEN-CROWNED WAGTAIL; GOLDEN-CROWNED ACCENTOR
Length -- 6 to 6.15 inches. Just a shade smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Upper parts olive, with an orange-brown crown,
bordered by black lines that converge toward the bill. Under
parts white; breast spotted and streaked on the sides. White
Range -- United States, to Pacific slope.
Migrations -- May. October. Common summer resident.
Early in May you may have the good fortune to see this little bird of the
woods strutting in and out of the garden shrubbery with a certain mock
dignity, like a child wearing its father's boots. Few birds can walk without
appearing more or less ridiculous, and however gracefully and prettily it
steps, this amusing little wagtail is no exception. When seen at all -- which
is not often, for it is shy -- it is usually on the ground, not far from the
shrubbery or a woodland thicket, under which it will quickly dodge out of
sight at the merest suspicion of a footstep. To most people the bird is only a
voice calling, "TEACHER TEACHER. TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER!" as Mr. Burroughs
has interpreted the notes that go off in pairs like a series of little
explosions, softly at first, then louder and louder and more shrill until the
bird that you at first thought far away seems to be shrieking his penetrating
crescendo into your very ears. But you may look until you are tired before you
find him in the high, dry wood, never near water.
In the driest parts of the wood, here the ground is thickly carpeted with dead
leaves, you may some day notice a little bunch of them, that look as if a
plant, in pushing its way up through the ground, had raised the leaves,
rootlets, and twigs a trifle.
Examine the spot more carefully, and on one side you find an opening, and
within the ball of earth, softly lined with grass, lie four or five
cream-white, speckled eggs. It is only by a happy accident that this nest of
the ovenbird is discovered. The concealment could not be better. It is this
peculiarity of nest construction -- in shape like a Dutch oven -- that has
given the bird what DeKay considers its "trivial name." Not far from the nest
the parent birds scratch about in the leaves like diminutive barnyard fowls,
for the grubs and insects hiding under them. But at the first suspicion of an
intruder their alarm becomes pitiful. Panic-stricken, they become fairly limp
with fear, and drooping her wings and tail, the mother-bird drags herself
hither and thither over the ground.
As utterly bewildered as his mate, the male darts, flies, and tumbles about
through the low branches, jerking and wagging his tail in nervous spasms until
you have beaten a double-quick retreat.
In nesting time, at evening, a very few have heard the "luxurious nuptial
song" of the ovenbird; but it is a song to haunt the memory forever afterward.
Burroughs appears to be the first writer to record this "rare bit of bird
melody." "Mounting by easy flight to the top of the tallest tree," says the
author of "Wake-Robin," "the ovenbird launches into the air with a sort of
suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the finches, and bursts into a
perfect ecstasy of song -- clear, ringing, copious, rivalling the goldfinch's
in vivacity and the linnet's in melody."
WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmintherus vermivorus) Wood Warbler family
Length -- 5.50 inches. Less than an inch shorter than the English
Male and Female -- Greenish olive above. Head yellowish brown,
With two black stripes through crown to the nape; also black
Lines from the eyes to neck. Under parts buffy and white.
Range -- Eastern parts of United States. Nests as far north as
southern Illinois and southern Connecticut. Winters in the Gulf
States and southward.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
In the Delaware Valley and along the same parallel, this inconspicuous warbler
is abundant, but north of New Jersey it is rare enough to give an excitement
to the day on which you discover it. No doubt it is commoner than we suppose,
for its coloring blends so admirably with its habitats that it is probably
very often overlooked. Its call-note, a common chirp, has nothing
distinguishing about it, and all ornithologists confess to having been often
misled by its song into thinking it came from the chipping sparrow. It closely
resembles that of the pine warbler also. If it were as nervously active as
most warblers, we should more often discover it, but it is quite as deliberate
as a vireo, and in the painstaking way in which it often circles around a tree
while searching for spiders and other insects that infest the trunks, it
reminds us of the brown creeper. Sunny slopes and hillsides covered with thick
undergrowth are its preferred foraging and nesting haunts. It is often seen
hopping directly on the dry ground, where it places its nest, and it never
mounts far above it. The well-drained, sunny situation for the home is chosen
with the wisdom of a sanitary expert.
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens) Flycatcher family
Called also: SMALL GREEN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER; SMALL PEWEE
Length -- 5.75 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male -- Dull olive above. Two conspicuous yellowish wing-bars.
Throat white, shading into pale yellow on breast. Light gray
or white underneath. Upper part of bill black; lower mandible
flesh-color. White eye-ring.
Female -- Greener above and more yellow below.
Range -- From Canada to Mexico, Central America, and West Indies.
Most common in south temperate latitudes. Winters in southerly
limit of range.
Migrations -- April. September. Summer resident.
When all our northern landscape takes on the exquisite, soft green, gray, and
yellow tints of early spring, this little flycatcher, in perfect color-harmony
with the woods it darts among, comes out of the south. It might be a leaf that
is being blown about, touched by the sunshine filtering through the trees, and
partly shaded by the young foliage casting its first shadows.
Woodlands, through which small streams meander lazily, inviting swarms of
insects to their boggy shores, make ideal hunting grounds for the Acadian
flycatcher. It chooses a low rather than a high, conspicuous perch, that other
members of its family invariably select; and from such a lookout it may be
seen launching into the air after the passing gnat -- darting downward, then
suddenly mounting upward in its aerial hunt, the vigorous clicks of the beak
as it closes over its tiny victims testifying to the bird's unerring aim and
its hearty appetite.
While perching, a constant tail-twitching is kept up; and a faint, fretful
"Tshee-kee, tshee-kee" escapes the bird when inactively waiting for a dinner
to heave in sight.
In the Middle Atlantic States its peeping sound and the clicking of its
particolored bill are infrequently heard in the village streets in the autumn,
when the shy and solitary birds are enticed from the deep woods by a prospect
of a more plentiful diet of insects, attracted by the fruit in orchards and
Never far from the ground, on two or more parallel branches, the shallow,
unsubstantial nest is laid. Some one has cleverly described it as "a tuft of
hay caught by the limb from a load driven under it," but this description
omits all mention of the quantities of blossoms that must be gathered to line
the cradle for the tiny, cream white eggs spotted with brown.
YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax flaviventris) Flycatcher
Length -- 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- Rather dark, but true olive-green above. Throat and
breast yellowish olive, shading into pale yellow underneath,
including wing linings and under tail coverts. Wings have
yellowish bars. Whitish ring around eye. Upper part of bill
black, under part whitish or flesh-colored.
Female -- Smaller, with brighter yellow under parts and more
decidedly yellow wing-bars.
Range -- North America, from Labrador to Panama, and westward
from the Atlantic to the plains. Winters in Central America.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident. More commonly a
This is the most yellow of the small flycatchers and the only Eastern species
with a yellow instead of a white throat. Without hearing its call-note,
"pse-ek-pse-ek," which it abruptly sneezes rather than utters, it is quite
impossible, as it darts among the trees, to tell it from the Acadian
flycatcher, with which even Audubon confounded it. Both these little birds
choose the same sort of retreats -- well-timbered woods near a stream that
attracts myriads of insects to its spongy shores -- and both are rather shy
and solitary. The yellow-bellied species has a far more northerly range,
however, than its Southern relative or even the small green-crested
flycatcher. It is rare in the Middle States, not common even in New England,
except in the migrations, but from the Canada border northward its soft,
plaintive whistle, which is its love-song, may be heard in every forest where
it nests. All the flycatchers seem to make a noise with so much struggle, such
convulsive jerkings of head and tail, and flutterings of the wings that,
considering the scanty success of their musical attempts, it is surprising
they try to lift their voices at all when the effort almost literally lifts
them off their feet.
While this little flycatcher is no less erratic than its Acadian cousin, its
nest is never slovenly. One couple had their home in a wild-grape bower in
Pennsylvania; a Virginia creeper in New Jersey supported another cradle that
was fully twenty feet above the ground; but in Labrador, where the bird has
its chosen breeding grounds, the bulky nest is said to be invariably placed
either in the moss by the brookside or in some old stump, should the locality
be too swampy.
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Dendroica virens) Wood Warbler
Length -- 5 inches. Over an inch smaller than the English
Male -- Back and crown of head bright yellowish olive-green.
Forehead, band over eye, cheeks, and sides of neck rich yellow.
Throat, upper breast, and stripe along sides black. Underneath
yellowish white. Wings and tail brownish olive, the former with
two white bars, the latter with much white in outer quills. In
autumn, plumage resembling the female's.
Female -- Similar; chin yellowish; throat and breast dusky, the
black being mixed with yellowish.
Range -- Eastern North America, from Hudson Bay to Central
America and Mexico. Nests north of Illinois and New York.
Winters in tropics.
Migrations -- May. October. Common summer resident north of New
There can be little difficulty in naming a bird so brilliantly and distinctly
marked as this green, gold, and black warbler, that lifts up a few pure,
sweet, tender notes, loud enough to attract attention when he visits the
garden. "See-see, see-saw," he sings, but there is a tone of anxiety betrayed
in the simple, sylvan strain that always seems as if the bird needed
reassuring, possibly due to the rising inflection, like an interrogative, of
the last notes.
However abundant about our homes during the migrations, this warbler, true to
the family instinct, retreats to the woods to nest -- not always so far away
as Canada, the nesting ground of most warblers, for in many Northern States
the bird is commonly found throughout the summer. Doubtless it prefers tall
evergreen trees for its mossy, grassy nest; but it is not always particular,
so that the tree be a tall one with a convenient fork in an upper branch.
Early in September increased numbers emerge from the woods, the plumage of the
male being less brilliant than when we saw it last, as if the family cares of
the summer had proved too taxing. For nearly a month longer they hunt
incessantly, with much flitting about the leaves and twigs at the ends of
branches in the shrubbery and evergreens, for the tiny insects that the
warblers must devour by the million during their all too brief visit.
BIRDS CONSPICUOUSLY YELLOW AND ORANGE
Wilson's Warbler or Blackcap Yellow Warbler or Summer
Yellow Redpoll Warbler
Look also among the Yellowish Olive Birds in the preceding group;
and among the Brown Birds for the Meadowlark and Flicker. See
also Parula Warbler (Slate) and Yellow-bellied Woodpecker (Black
BIRDS CONSPICUOUSLY YELLOW AND ORANGE
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) Vireo or Greenlet family
Length -- 5.5. to 6 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Lemon-yellow on throat, upper breast; line
around the eye and forehead. Yellow, shading into olive-green,
on head, back, and shoulders. Underneath white. Tail dark
brownish, edged with white. Wings a lighter shade, with two
white bands across, and some quills edged with white.
Range -- North America, from Newfoundland to Gulf of Mexico, and
westward to the Rockies. Winters in the tropics.
Migrations -- May. September. Spring and autumn migrant; more
This is undoubtedly the beauty of the vireo family -- a group of neat, active,
stoutly built, and vigorous little birds of yellow, greenish, and white
plumage; birds that love the trees, and whose feathers reflect the coloring of
the leaves they hide, hunt, and nest among. "We have no birds," says Bradford
Torrey, "so unsparing of their music: they sing from morning till night."
The yellow-throated vireo partakes of all the family characteristics, but, in
addition to these, it eclipses all its relatives in the brilliancy of its
coloring and in the art of nest-building, which it has brought to a state of
hopeless perfection. No envious bird need try to excel the exquisite finish of
its workmanship. Happily, it has wit enough to build its pensile nest high
above the reach of small boys, usually suspending it from a branch overhanging
running water that threatens too precipitous a bath to tempt the young
However common in the city parks and suburban gardens this bird may be during
the migrations, it delights in a secluded retreat overgrown with tall trees
and near a stream, such as is dear to the solitary vireo as well when the
nesting time approaches. High up in the trees we hear its rather sad,
persistent strain, that is more in harmony with the dim forest than with the
gay flower garden, where, if the truth must be told, its song is both
monotonous and depressing. Mr. Bicknell says it is the only vireo that sings
as it flies.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) Finch family
Called also: WILD CANARY; YELLOWBIRD; THISTLE BIRD
Length -- 5 to 5.2 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- In summer plumage: Bright yellow, except on crown of
head, frontlet, wings, and tail, which are black. Whitish
markings on wings give effect of bands. Tail with white on
inner webs. In winter plumage: Head yellow-olive; no frontlet;
black drab, with reddish tinge; shoulders and throat yellow;
soiled brownish white underneath.
Female -- Brownish olive above, yellowish white beneath.
Range -- North America, from the tropics to the Fur Countries and
westward to the Columbia River and California. Common
throughout its range.
Migrations -- May-October. Common summer resident, frequently
Seen throughout the winter as well.
An old field, overgrown with thistles and tall, stalky wild flowers, is the
paradise of the goldfinches, summer or winter. Here they congregate in happy
companies while the sunshine and goldenrod are as bright as their feathers,
and cling to the swaying slender stems that furnish an abundant harvest,
daintily. lunching upon the fluffy seeds of thistle blossoms, pecking at the
mullein-stalks, and swinging airily among the asters and Michaelmas daisies;
or, when snow covers the same field with a glistening crust, above which the
brown stalks offer only a meagre dinner, the same birds, now sombrely clad in
winter feathers, cling to the swaying stems with cheerful fortitude.
At your approach, the busy company rises on the wing, and with peculiar, wavy
flight rise and fall through the air, marking each undulation with a cluster
of notes, sweet and clear, that come floating downward from the blue ether,
where the birds seem to bound along exultant in their motion and song alike.
In the spring the plumage of the goldfinch, which has been drab and brown
through the winter months, is moulted or shed -- a change that transforms the
bird from a sombre Puritan into the gayest of cavaliers, and seems to
wonderfully exalt his spirits. He bursts into a wild, sweet, incoherent melody
that might be the outpouring from two or three throats at once instead of one,
expressing his rapture somewhat after the manner of the canary, although his
song lacks the variety and the finish of his caged namesake. What tone of
sadness in his music the man found who applied the adjective tristis to his
scientific name it is difficult to imagine when listening to the notes that
come bubbling up from the bird's happy heart.
With plumage so lovely and song so delicious and dreamy, it is small wonder
that numbers of our goldfinches are caught and caged, however inferior their
song may be to the European species recently introduced into this country.
Heard in Central Park, New York, where they were set at liberty, the European
goldfinches seemed to sing with more abandon, perhaps, but with no more
sweetness than their American cousins. The song remains at its best all
through the summer months, for the bird is a long wooer. It is nearly July
before he mates, and not until the tardy cedar birds are house-building in the
orchard do the happy pair begin to carry grass, moss, and plant-down to a
crotch of some tall tree convenient to a field of such wild flowers as will
furnish food to a growing family. Doubtless the birds wait for this food to be
in proper condition before they undertake parental duties at all
-- the most plausible excuse for their late nesting. The cares evolving from
four to six pale-blue eggs will suffice to quiet the father's song for the
winter by the first of September, and fade all the glory out of his shining
coat. As pretty a sight as any garden offers is when a family of goldfinches
alights on the top of a sunflower to feast upon the oily seeds -- a perfect
harmony of brown and gold.
EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus) Finch family
Length -- 8 inches. Two inches shorter than the robin.
Male -- Forehead, shoulders, and underneath clear yellow: dull
yellow on lower back; sides of the head, throat, and breast
olive-brown. Crown, tail, and wings black, the latter with
white secondary feathers. Bill heavy and blunt, and yellow.
Female -- Brownish gray, more less suffused with yellow. Wings
and tail blackish, with some white feathers.
Range -- Interior of North America. Resident from Manitoba
northward. Common winter visitor in northwestern United States
and Mississippi Valley; casual winter visitor in northern
In the winter of 1889-90 Eastern people had the rare treat of becoming
acquainted with this common bird of the Northwest, that, in one of its erratic
travels, chose to visit New England and the Atlantic States, as far south as
Delaware, in great numbers. Those who saw the evening grosbeaks then remember
how beautiful their yellow plumage -- a rare winter tint -- looked in the
snow-covered trees, where small companies of the gentle and ever tame visitors
enjoyed the buds and seeds of the maples, elders, and evergreens. Possibly
evening grosbeaks were in vogue for the next season's millinery, or perhaps
Eastern ornithologists had a sudden zeal to investigate their structural
anatomy. At any rate, these birds, whose very tameness, that showed slight
acquaintance with mankind, should have touched the coldest heart, received the
warmest kind of a reception from hot shot. The few birds that escaped to the
solitudes of Manitoba could not be expected to tempt other travellers eastward
by an account of their visit. The bird is quite likely to remain rare in the
But in the Mississippi Valley and throughout the northwest, companies of from
six to sixty may be regularly counted upon as winter neighbors on almost every
farm. Here the females keep up a busy chatting, like a company of cedar birds,
and the males punctuate their pauses with a single shrill note that gives
little indication of their vocal powers. But in the solitude of the northern
forests the love-song is said to resemble the robin's at the start. Unhappily,
after a most promising beginning, the bird suddenly stops, as if he were out
BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Helminthophila pinus) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLUE-WINGED YELLOW WARBLER
Length -- 4.75 inches. An inch and a half shorter than the
Male -- Crown of head and all under parts bright yellow. Back
olive-green. Wings and tail bluish slate, the former with white
bars, and three outer tail quills with large white patches on
their inner webs.
Female -- Paler and more olive.
Range -- Eastern United States, from southern New England and
Minnesota, the northern limit of its nesting range, to Mexico
And Central America, where it winters.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
In the naming of warblers, bluish slate is the shade intended when blue is
mentioned; so that if you see a dainty little olive and yellow bird with
slate-colored wings and tail hunting for spiders in the blossoming orchard or
during the early autumn you will have seen the beautiful blue-winged warbler.
It has a rather leisurely way of hunting, unlike the nervous, restless
flitting about from twig to twig that is characteristic of many of its many
cousins. The search is thorough -- bark, stems, blossoms, leaves are inspected
for larvae and spiders, with many pretty motions of head and body. Sometimes,
hanging with head downward, the bird suggests a yellow titmouse. After blossom
time a pair of these warblers, that have done serviceable work in the orchard
in their all too brief stay, hurry off to dense woods to nest. They are
usually to be seen in pairs at all seasons. Not to "high coniferous trees in
northern forests," -- the Mecca of innumerable warblers -- but to scrubby,
second growth of woodland borders, or lower trees in the heart of the woods,
do these dainty birds retreat. There they build the usual warbler nest of
twigs, bits of bark, leaves, and grasses, but with this peculiarity: the
numerous leaves with which the nest is wrapped all have their stems pointing
upward. Mr. Frank Chapman has admirably defined their song as consisting of
"two drawled, wheezy notes -- swee-chee, the first inhaled, the second
CANADIAN WARBLER (Sylvania canadensis) Wood Warbler family
Called also: CANADIAN FLYCATCHER; SPOTTED CANADIAN WARBLER;
[CANADA WARBLER, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch shorter than the English
Male -- Immaculate bluish ash above, without marks on wings or
tail; crown spotted with arrow-shaped black marks. Cheeks, line
from bill to eye, and underneath clear yellow. Black streaks
forming a necklace across the breast.
Female -- Paler, with necklace indistinct.
Range -- North America, from Manitoba and Labrador to tropics.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident; most abundant in
Since about one-third of all the song-birds met with in a year's rambles are
apt to be warblers, the novice cannot devote his first attention to a better
group, confusing though it is by reason of its size and the repetition of the
same colors in so many bewildering combinations. Monotony, however, is unknown
in the warbler family. Whoever can rightly name every warbler, male and
female, on sight is uniquely accomplished.
The jet necklace worn on this bird's breast is its best mark of
identification. Its form is particularly slender and graceful, as might be
expected in a bird so active, one to whom a hundred tiny insects barely afford
a dinner that must often be caught piecemeal as it flies past. To satisfy its
appetite, which cannot but be dainty in so thoroughly charming a bird, it
lives in low, boggy woods, in such retreats as Wilson's black-capped warbler
selects for a like reason. Neither of these two "flycatcher" warblers depends
altogether on catching insects on the wing; countless thousands are picked off
the under sides of leaves and about the stems of twigs in true warbler
The Canadian's song is particularly loud, sweet, and vivacious. It is
hazardous for any one without long field practice to try to name any warbler
by its song alone, but possibly this one's animated music is as characteristic
The nest is built on the ground on a mossy bank or elevated into the root
crannies of some large tree, where there is much water in the woods. Bits of
bark, dead wood, moss, and fine rootlets, all carefully wrapped with leaves,
go to make the pretty cradle. Unhappily, the little Canada warblers are often
cheated out of their natural rights, like so many other delightful songbirds,
by the greedy interloper that the cowbird deposits in their nest.
HOODED WARBLER (Sylvania mitrata) Wood Warbler family
Length -- 5 to 5.75 inches. About an inch shorter than the
Male -- Head, neck, chin, and throat black like a hood in mature
male specimens only. Hood restricted, or altogether wanting in
female and young. Upper parts rich olive. Forehead, cheeks, and
underneath yellow. Some conspicuous white on tail feathers.
Female -- Duller, and with restricted cowl.
Range -- United States east of Rockies, and from southern
Michigan and southern New England to West Indies and tropical
America, where it winters. Very local.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
This beautifully marked, sprightly little warbler might be mistaken in his
immaturity for the yellowthroat; and as it is said to take him nearly three
years to grow his hood, with the completed cowl and cape, there is surely
sufficient reason here for the despair that often seizes the novice in
attempting to distinguish the perplexing warblers. Like its Southern
counterpart, the hooded warbler prefers wet woods and low trees rather than
high ones, for much of its food consists of insects attracted by the dampness,
and many of them must be taken on the wing. Because of its tireless activity
the bird's figure is particularly slender and graceful -- a trait, too, to
which we owe all the glimpses of it we are likely to get throughout the
summer. It has a curious habit of spreading its tail, as if it wished you to
take special notice of the white spots that adorn it; not flirting it, as the
redstart does his more gorgeous one, but simply opening it like a fan as it
flies and darts about.
Its song, which is particularly sweet and graceful, and with more variation
than most warblers' music, has been translated "Che-we-eo-tsip, tsip,
che-we-eo," again interpreted by Mr. Chapman as "You must come to the woods,
or you won't see me."
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa) Wood Warbler family
Length -- 5.5 inches. Nearly an inch shorter than the English
Male -- Upper parts olive-green; under parts yellow; a yellow
line from the bill passes over and around the eye. Crown of
head, patch below the eye, and line defining throat, black.
Female -- Similar, but paler, and with grayish instead of black
Range -- United States eastward from the Rockies, and from Iowa
and Connecticut to Central, America, where it winters.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
No bird is common at the extreme limits of its range, and so this warbler has
a reputation for rarity among the New England ornithologists that would
surprise people in the middle South and Southwest. After all that may be said
in the books, a bird is either common or rare to the individual who may or may
not have happened to become acquainted with it in any part of its chosen
territory. Plenty of people in Kentucky, where we might judge from its name
this bird is supposed to be most numerous, have never seen or heard of it,
while a student on the Hudson River, within sight of New York, knows it
intimately. It also nests regularly in certain parts of the Connecticut
Valley. "Who is my neighbor?" is often a question difficult indeed to answer
where birds are concerned. In the chapter, "Spring at the Capital," which,
with every reading of "Wake Robin," inspires the bird-lover with fresh zeal,
Mr. Burroughs writes of the Kentucky warbler: "I meet with him in low, damp
places, in the woods, usually on the steep sides of some little run. I hear at
intervals a clear, strong, bell-like whistle or warble, and presently catch a
glimpse of the bird as he jumps up from the ground to take an insect or worm
from the under side of a leaf. This is his characteristic movement. He belongs
to the class of ground warblers, and his range is very low, indeed lower than
that of any other species with which I am acquainted."
Like the ovenbird and comparatively few others, for most birds hop over the
ground, the Kentucky warbler walks rapidly about, looking for insects under
the fallen leaves, and poking his inquisitive beak into every cranny where a
spider may be lurking. The bird has a pretty, conscious way of flying up to a
perch, a few feet above the ground, as a tenor might advance towards the
footlights of a stage, to pour forth his clear, penetrating whistle, that in
the nesting season especially is repeated over, and over again with tireless
MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Dendroica maculosa) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLACK-AND-YELLOW WARBLER; SPOTTED WARBLER;
BLUE-HEADED YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER
Length -- 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half smaller than
the English sparrow.
Male -- Crown of head slate-color, bordered on either side by a
white line; a black line, apparently running through the eye,
and a yellow line below it, merging into the yellow throat.
Lower back and under parts yellow. Back, wings, and tail
blackish olive. Large white patch on the wings, and the
middle of the tail-quills white. Throat and sides heavily
streaked with black.
Female -- Has greener back, is paler, and has less distinct
Range -- North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama. Summers from
northern Michigan and northern New England northward; winters
in Central America and Cuba.
Migrations -- May. October. Spring and summer migrant.
In spite of the bird's name, one need not look for it in the glossy magnolia
trees of the southern gardens more than in the shrubbery on New England lawns,
and during the migrations it is quite as likely to be found in one place as in
the other. Its true preference, however, is for the spruces and hemlocks of
its nesting ground in the northern forests. For these it deserts us after a
brief hunt about the tender, young spring foliage and blossoms, where the
early worm lies concealed, and before we have become so well acquainted with
its handsome clothes that we will instantly recognize it in the duller ones it
wears on its return trip in the autumn. The position of the white marks on the
tail feathers of this warbler, however, is the clue by which it may be
identified at any season or any stage of its growth. If the white bar runs
across the middle of the warbler's tail, you can be sure of the identity of
the bird. A nervous and restless hunter, it nevertheless seems less shy than
many of its kin. Another pleasing characteristic is that it brings back with
it in October the loud, clear, rapid whistle with which it has entertained its
nesting mate in the Canada woods through the summer.
MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia) Wood Warbler family
Called also: MOURNING GROUND WARBLER
Length -- 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch smaller than the English
Male -- Gray head and throat; the breast gray; the feathers with
black edges that make them look crinkled, like crape. The black
markings converge into a spot on upper breast. Upper parts,
except head, olive. Underneath rich yellow.
Female -- Similar, but duller; throat and breast buff and dusky
where the male is black. Back olive-green.
Range -- "Eastern North America; breeds from eastern Nebraska,
northern New York, and Nova Scotia northward, and south ward
along the Alleghanies to Pennsylvania. Winters in the tropics."
Migrations -- May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.
Since Audubon met with but one of these birds in his incessant trampings, and
Wilson secured only an immature, imperfectly marked specimen for his
collection, the novice may feel no disappointment if he fails to make the
acquaintance of this "gay and agreeable widow." And yet the shy and wary bird
is not unknown in Central Park, New York City. Even where its clear, whistled
song strikes the ear with a startling novelty that invites to instant pursuit
of the singer, you may look long and diligently through the undergrowth
without finding it. Dr. Merriam says the whistle resembles the syllables
"true, true, true, tru, too, the voice rising on the first three syllables and
falling on the last two." In the nesting season this song is repeated over and
over again with a persistency worthy of a Kentucky warbler. It is delivered
from a perch within a few feet of the ground, as high as the bird seems ever
inclined to ascend.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Helminthophila ruficapilla) Wood Warbler
Length -- 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half smaller than
the English sparrow.
Male -- Olive-green above; yellow underneath. Slate-gray head and
neck. Partially concealed chestnut patch on crown. Wings and
tail olive-brown and without markings.
Female -- Dull olive and paler, with brownish wash underneath.
Range -- North America, westward to the plains; north to the Fur
Countries, and south to Central America and Mexico. Nests north
of Illinois and northern New England; winters in tropics.
Migrations -- April. September or October.
It must not be thought that this beautiful warbler confines itself to
backyards in the city of Nashville simply because Wilson discovered it near
there and gave it a local name, for the bird's actual range reaches from the
fur trader's camp near Hudson Bay to the adobe villages of Mexico and Central
America, and over two thousand miles east and west in the United States. It
chooses open rather than dense woods and tree-bordered fields. It seems to
have a liking for hemlocks and pine trees, especially if near a stream that
attracts insects to its shores; and Dr. Warren notes that in Pennsylvania he
finds small flocks of these warblers in the autumn migration, feeding in the
willowy trees near little rivers and ponds. Only in the northern parts of the
United States is their nest ever found, for the northern British provinces are
their preferred nesting ground. One seen in the White Mountains was built on a
mossy, rocky edge, directly on the ground at the foot of a pine tree, and made
of rootlets, moss, needles from the trees overhead, and several layers of
leaves outside, with a lining of fine grasses that cradled four white,
Audubon likened the bird's feeble note to the breaking of twigs.
PINE WARBLER (Dendroica vigorsii) Wood Warbler family
Called also: PINE-CREEPING WARBLER
Length -- 5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English
Male -- Yellowish olive above; clear yellow below, shading to
grayish white, with obscure dark streaks on side of breast. Two
whitish wing-bars; two outer tail feathers partly white.
Female -- Duller; grayish white only faintly tinged with yellow
Range -- North America, east of the Rockies; north to Manitoba,
And south to Florida and the Bahamas. Winters from southern
Migrations -- March or April. October or later. Common summer
The pine warbler closely presses the myrtle warbler for the first place in the
ranks of the family migrants, but as the latter bird often stays north all
winter, it is usually given the palm. Here is a warbler, let it be recorded,
that is fittingly named, for it is a denizen of pine woods only; most common
in the long stretches of pine forests at the south and in New York and New
England, and correspondingly uncommon wherever the woodsman's axe has laid the
pine trees low throughout its range. Its "simple, sweet, and drowsy song,"
writes Mr. Parkhurst, is always associated "with the smell of pines on a
sultry day." It recalls that of the junco and the social sparrow or chippy.
Creeping over the bark of trees and peering into every crevice like a
nuthatch; running along the limbs, not often hopping nervously or flitting
like the warblers; darting into the air for a passing insect, or descending to
the ground to feed on seeds and berries, the pine warbler has, by a curious
combination, the movements that seem to characterize several different birds.
It is one of the largest and hardiest members of its family, but not
remarkable for its beauty. It is a sociable traveller, cheerfully escorting
other warblers northward, and welcoming to its band both the yellow redpolls
and the myrtle warblers. These birds are very often seen together in the pine
and other evergreen trees in our lawns and in the large city parks.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Dendroica discolor) Wood Warbler family
Length -- 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half shorter than
the English sparrow.
Male -- Olive-green above, shading to yellowish on the head, and
with brick-red spots on back between the shoulders. A yellow
line over the eye; wing-bars and all under parts bright yellow,
heavily streaked with black on the sides. Line through the eye
and crescent below it, black. Much white in outer tail
Female -- Paler; upper parts more grayish olive, and markings
Less distinct than male's.
Range -- Eastern half of the United States. Nests as far north as
New England and Michigan. Winters from Florida southward.
Migrations -- May. September. Summer resident.
Doubtless this diminutive bird was given its name because it prefers open
country rather than the woods -- the scrubby undergrowth of oaks, young
evergreens, and bushes that border clearings being as good a place as any to
look for it, and not the wind-swept, treeless tracts of the wild West. Its
range is southerly. The Southern and Middle States are where it is most
abundant. Here is a wood warbler that is not a bird of the woods -- less so,
in fact, than either the summer yellowbird (yellow warbler) or the palm
warbler, that are eminently neighborly and fond of pasture lands and roadside
thickets. But the prairie warblers are rather more retiring little sprites
than their cousins, and it is not often we get a close enough view of them to
note the brick-red spots on their backs, which are their distinguishing marks.
They have a most unkind preference for briery bushes, that discourage human
intimacy. In such forbidding retreats they build their nest of plant-fibre,
rootlets, and twigs, lined with plant-down and hair.
The song of an individual prairie warbler makes only a slight impression. It
consists "of a series of six or seven quickly repeated tees, the next to the
last one being the highest" (Chapman). But the united voices of a dozen or
more of these pretty little birds, that often sing together, afford something
approaching a musical treat.
WILSON'S WARBLER (Sylvania pusila) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLACKCAP; GREEN BLACK-CAPPED WARBLER; WILSON'S
Length -- 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half shorter than
the English sparrow.
Male -- Black cap; yellow forehead; all other upper parts
olive-green; rich yellow underneath.
Female -- Lacks the black cap.
Range -- North America, from Alaska and Nova Scotia to Panama.
Winters south of Gulf States. Nests chiefly north of the United
Migrations -- May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.
To see this strikingly marked little bird one must be on the sharp lookout for
it during the latter half of May, or at the season of apple bloom, and the
early part of September. It passes northward with an almost scornful rapidity.
Audubon mentions having seen it in Maine at the end of October, but this
specimen surely must have been an exceptional laggard.
In common with several others of its family, it is exceedingly expert in
catching insects on the wing; but it may be known as no true flycatcher from
the conspicuous rich yellow of its under parts, and also from its habit of
returning from a midair sally to a different perch from the one it left to
pursue its dinner. A true flycatcher usually returns to its old perch after
To indulge in this aerial chase with success, these warblers select for their
home and hunting ground some low woodland growth where a sluggish stream
attracts myriads of insects to the boggy neighborhood. Here they build their
nest in low bushes or upon the ground. Four or five grayish eggs, sprinkled
with cinnamon-colored spots in a circle around the larger end, are laid in the
grassy cradle in June. Mr. H. D. Minot found one of these nests on Pike's Peak
at an altitude of 11,000 feet, almost at the limit of vegetation. The same
authority compares the bird's song to that of the redstart and the yellow
YELLOW REDPOLL WARBLER (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea) Wood
Called also: YELLOW PALM WARBLER; [the two former palm warbler
species combined as PALM WARBLER, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5.5 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English
Male and Female -- Chestnut crown. Upper parts brownish olive;
greenest on lower back. Underneath uniform bright yellow,
streaked with chestnut on throat, breast, and sides. Yellow
line over and around the eye. Wings unmarked. Tail edged with
olive-green; a few white spots near tips of outer quills. More
brownish above in autumn, and with a grayish wash over the
yellow under parts.
Range -- Eastern parts of North America. Nests from Nova Scotia
northward. Winters in the Gulf States.
Migrations -- April. October. Spring and autumn migrant.
While the uniform yellow of this warbler's under parts in any plumage is its
distinguishing mark, it also has a flycatcher's trait of constantly flirting
its tail, that is at once an outlet for its superabundant vivacity and a
fairly reliable aid to identification. The tail is jerked, wagged, and flirted
like a baton in the hands of an inexperienced leader of an orchestra. One need
not go to the woods to look for the restless little sprite that comes
northward when the early April foliage is as yellow and green as its feathers.
It prefers the fields and roadsides, and before there are leaves enough on the
undergrowth to conceal it we may come to know it as well as it is possible to
know any bird whose home life is passed so far away. Usually it is the first
warbler one sees in the spring in New York and New England. With all the
alertness of a flycatcher, it will dart into the air after insects that fly
near the ground, keeping up a constant chip, chip, fine and shrill, at one end
of the small body, and the liveliest sort of tail motions at the other. The
pine warbler often bears it company.
With the first suspicion of warm weather, off goes this hardy little fellow
that apparently loves the cold almost well enough to stay north all the year
like its cousin, the myrtle warbler. It builds a particularly deep nest, of
the usual warbler construction, on the ground, but its eggs are rosy rather
than the bluish white of others.
In the Southern States the bird becomes particularly neighborly, and is said
to enter the streets and gardens of towns with a chippy's familiarity.
Palm Warbler or Redpoll Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) differs from the
preceding chiefly in its slightly smaller size, the more grayish-brown tint in
its olive upper parts, and the uneven shade of yellow underneath that varies
from clear yellow to soiled whitish. It is the Western counterpart of the
yellow redpoll, and is most common in the Mississippi Valley. Strangely
enough, however, it is this warbler, and not hypochrysea, that goes out of its
way to winter in Florida, where it is abundant all winter.
YELLOW WARBLER (Dendroica aestiva) Wood Warbler family
Called also: SUMMER YELLOWBIRD; GOLDEN WARBLER; YELLOW POLL
Length -- 4.75 to 5.2 inches. Over an inch shorter than the
Male -- Upper parts olive-yellow, brightest on the crown; under
parts bright yellow, streaked with reddish brown. Wings and
tail dusky olive-brown, edged with yellow.
Female -- Similar; but reddish-brown streakings less distinct.
Range -- North America, except Southwestern States, where the
prothonotary warbler reigns in its stead. Nests from Gulf
States to Fur Countries. Winters south of the Gulf States. As
far as northern parts of South America.
Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
This exquisite little creature of perpetual summer (though to find it it must
travel back and forth between two continents) comes out of the south with the
golden days of spring. From much living in the sunshine through countless
generations, its feathers have finally become the color of sunshine itself,
and in disposition, as well, it is nothing if not sunny and bright. Not the
least of its attractions is that it is exceedingly common everywhere: in the
shrubbery of our lawns, in gardens and orchards, by the road and brookside, in
the edges of woods -- everywhere we catch its glint of brightness through the
long summer days, and hear its simple, sweet, and happy song until the end of
Because both birds are so conspicuously yellow, no doubt this warbler is quite
generally confused with the goldfinch; but their distinctions are clear enough
to any but the most superficial glance. In the first place, the yellow warbler
is a smaller bird than the goldfinch; it has neither black crown, wings, nor
tail, and it does have reddish-brown streaks on its breast that are
sufficiently obsolete to make the coloring of that part look simply dull at a
little distance. The goldfinch's bill is heavy, in order that it may crack
seeds, whereas the yellow warbler's is slender, to enable it to pick minute
insects from the foliage. The goldfinch's wavy, curved flight is unique, and
that of his "double" differs not a whit from that of all nervous, flitting
warblers. Surely no one familiar with the rich, full, canary-like song of the
"wild canary," as the goldfinch is called, could confuse it with the mild
"Weechee, chee, cher-wee" of the summer yellowbird. Another distinction, not
always infallible, but nearly so, is that when seen feeding, the goldfinch is
generally below the line of vision, while the yellow warbler is either on it
or not far above it, as it rarely goes over twelve feet from the ground.
No doubt, the particularly mild, sweet amiability of the yellow warbler is
responsible for the persistent visitations of the cowbird, from which it is a
conspicuous sufferer. In the exquisite, neat little matted cradle of
glistening milk-weed flax, lined with down from the fronds of fern, the
skulking housebreaker deposits her surreptitious egg for the little yellow
mother-bird to hatch and tend. But amiability is not the only prominent trait
in the female yellow warbler's character. She is clever as well, and quickly
builds a new bottom on her nest, thus sealing up the cowbird's egg, and
depositing her own on the soft, spongy floor above it. This operation has been
known to be twice repeated, until the nest became three stories high, when a
persistent cowbird made such unusual architecture necessary.
The most common nesting place of the yellow warbler is in low willows along
the shores of streams.
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens) Wood Warbler family
Called also: POLYGLOT CHAT; YELLOW MOCKING BIRD
Length -- 7.5 inches. A trifle over an inch longer than the
Male and Female -- Uniform olive-green above. Throat, breast, and
under side of wings bright, clear yellow. Underneath white.
Sides grayish. White line over the eye, reaching to base of
bill and forming partial eye-ring. Also white line on sides of
throat. Bill and feet black.
Range -- North America, from Ontario to Central America and
westward to the plains. Most common in Middle Atlantic States.
Migrations -- Early May. Late August or September. Summer
This largest of the warblers might be mistaken for a dozen birds collectively
in as many minutes; but when it is known that the jumble of whistles, parts of
songs, chuckles, clucks, barks, quacks, whines, and wails proceed from a
single throat, the yellow-breasted chat becomes a marked specimen forthwith --
a conspicuous individual never to be confused with any other member of the
feathered tribe. It is indeed absolutely unique. The catbird and the
mocking-bird are rare mimics; but while the chat is not their equal in this
respect, it has a large repertoire of weird, uncanny cries all its own -- a
power of throwing its voice, like a human ventriloquist, into unexpected
corners of the thicket or meadow. In addition to its extraordinary vocal
feats, it can turn somersaults and do other clown-like stunts as well as any
variety actor on the Bowery stage.
Only by creeping cautiously towards the roadside tangle, where this
"rollicking polyglot" is entertaining himself and his mate, brooding over her
speckled eggs in a bulky nest set in a most inaccessible briery part of the
thicket, can you hope to hear him rattle through his variety performance. Walk
boldly or noisily past his retreat, and there is "silence there and nothing
more." But two very bright eyes peer out at you through the undergrowth, where
the trim, elegant-looking bird watches you with quizzical suspicion until you
quietly seat yourself assume silent indifference. "Whew, whew!" he begins, and
then immediately, with evident intent to amuse, he rattles off an
indescribable, eccentric medley until your ears are tired listening. With bill
uplifted, tail drooping, wings fluttering at his side, he cuts an absurd
figure enough, but not so comical as when he rises into the air, trailing his
legs behind him stork-fashion. This surely is the clown among birds. But any
though he is, he is as capable of devotion to his Columbine as Punchinello,
and remains faithfully mated year after year. However much of a tease and a
deceiver he may be to the passer-by along the roadside, in the privacy of the
domestic circle he shows truly lovable traits.
He has the habit of singing in his unmusical way on moonlight nights. Probably
his ventriloquial powers are cultivated not for popular entertainment, but to
lure intruders away from his nest.
MARYLAND YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLACK-MASKED GROUND WARBLER; [COMMON YELLOWTHROAT,
Length -- 5.33 inches. Just an inch shorter than the typical
Male -- Olive-gray on head, shading to olive-green on all the
other upper parts. Forehead, cheeks, and sides of head black,
like a mask, and bordered behind by a grayish line. Throat and
breast bright yellow, growing steadily paler underneath.
Female -- Either totally lacks black mask or its place is
Indicated by only a dusky tint. She is smaller and duller.
Range -- Eastern North America, west to the plains; most common
east of the Alleghanies. Nests from the Gulf States to Labrador
and Manitoba; winters south of Gulf States to Panama.
Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
"Given a piece of marshy ground with an abundance of skunk cabbage and a
fairly dense growth of saplings, and near by a tangle of green brier and
blackberry, and you will be pretty sure to have it tenanted by a pair of
yellowthroats," says Dr. Abbott, who found several of their nests in
skunk-cabbage plants, which he says are favorite cradles. No animal cares to
touch this plant if it can be avoided; but have the birds themselves no sense
Before and after the nesting season these active birds, plump of form, elegant
of attire, forceful, but not bold, enter the scrubby pastures near our houses
and the shrubbery of old- fashioned, overgrown gardens, and peer out at the
human wanderer therein with a charming curiosity. The bright eyes of the male
masquerader shine through his black mask, where he intently watches you from
the tangle of syringa and snowball bushes; and as he flies into the laburnum
with its golden chain of blossoms that pale before the yellow of his throat
and breast, you are so impressed with his grace and elegance that you follow
too audaciously, he thinks, and off he goes. And yet this is a bird that seems
to delight in being pursued. It never goes so far away that you are not
tempted to follow it, though it be through dense undergrowth and swampy
thickets, and it always gives you just glimpse enough of its beauties and
graces before it flies ahead, to invite the hope of a closer inspection next
time. When it dives into the deepest part of the tangle, where you can imagine
it hunting about among the roots and fallen leaves for the larvae,
caterpillars, spiders, and other insects on which it feeds, it sometimes
amuses itself with a simple little song between the hunts. But the bird's
indifference, you feel sure, arises from preoccupation rather than rudeness.
If, however, your visit to the undergrowth is unfortunately timed and there
happens to be a bulky nest in process of construction on the ground, a quickly
repeated, vigorous chit, pit, quit, impatiently inquires the reason for your
bold intrusion. Withdraw discreetly and listen to the love-song that is
presently poured out to reassure his plain little maskless mate. The music is
delivered with all the force and energy of his vigorous nature and penetrates
to a surprising distance. "Follow me, follow me, follow me," many people hear
him say; others write the syllables, "Wichity, wichity, wichity, wichity"; and
still others write them, "I beseech you, I beseech you, I beseech you," though
the tones of this self-assertive bird rather command than entreat. Mr. Frank
Chapman says of the yellowthroats: "They sing throughout the summer, and in
August add a flight-song to their repertoire. This is usually uttered toward
evening, when the bird springs several feet into the air, hovers for a second,
and then drops back to the bushes."
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Dendroica blackburnia) Wood Warbler family
Called also: HEMLOCK WARBLER; ORANGE-THROATED WARBLER; TORCH-BIRD
Length -- 4.5 to 5.5 inches. An inch and a half smaller than the
Male -- Head black, striped with orange-flame; throat and breast
orange, shading through yellow to white underneath; wings,
tail, and part of back black, with white markings.
Female -- Olive-brown above, shading into yellow on breast, and
paler under parts.
Range -- Eastern North America to plains. Winters in tropics.
Migrations -- May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.
"The orange-throated warbler would seem to be his right name, his
characteristic cognomen," says John Burroughs, in ever-delightful "Wake
Robin"; "but no, he is doomed to wear the name of some discoverer, perhaps the
first who robbed his nest or rifled him of his mate -- Blackburn; hence,
Blackburnian warbler. The burn seems appropriate enough, for in these dark
evergreens his throat and breast show like flame. He has a very fine warble,
suggesting that of the redstart, but not especially musical."
No foliage is dense enough to hide, and no autumnal tint too brilliant to
outshine this luminous little bird that in May, as it migrates northward to
its nesting ground, darts in and out of the leafy shadows like a tongue of
It is by far the most glorious of all the warblers -- a sort of diminutive
oriole. The quiet-colored little mate flits about after him, apparently lost
in admiration of his fine feathers and the ease with which his thin tenor
voice can end his lover's warble in a high Z.
Take a good look at this attractive couple, for in May they leave us to build
a nest of bark and moss in the evergreens of Canada -- that paradise for
warblers -- or of the Catskills and Adirondacks, and in autumn they hurry
south to escape the first frosts.
REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla) Wood Warbler family
Called also: YELLOW-TAILED WARBLER; [AMERICAN REDSTART, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5 to 5.5 inches.
Male -- In spring plumage: Head, neck, back, and middle breast
glossy black, with blue reflections. Breast and underneath
white, slightly flushed with salmon, increasing to bright
salmon-orange on the sides of the body and on the wing linings.
Occasional specimens show orange-red. Tail feathers partly
black, partly orange, with broad black band across the end.
Orange markings on wings. Bill and feet black. In autumn:
Fading into rusty black, olive, and yellow.
Female -- Olive-brown, and yellow where the male is orange. Young
browner than the females.
Range -- North America to upper Canada. West occasionally, as far
as the Pacific coast, but commonly found in summer in the
Atlantic and Middle States.
Migrations -- Early May. End of September. Summer resident.
Late some evening, early in May, when one by one the birds have withdrawn
their voices from the vesper chorus, listen for the lingering "'tsee, 'tsee,
'tseet" (usually twelve times repeated in a minute), that the redstart sweetly
but rather monotonously sings from the evergreens, where, as his tiny body
burns in the twilight, Mrs. Wright likens him to a "wind-blown firebrand, half
glowing, half charred."
But by daylight this brilliant little warbler is constantly on the alert. It
is true he has the habit, like the flycatchers (among which some learned
ornithologists still class him), of sitting pensively on a branch, with fluffy
feathers and drooping wings; but the very next instant he shows true warbler
blood by making a sudden dash upward, then downward through the air, tumbling
somersaults, as if blown by the wind, flitting from branch to branch, busily
snapping at the tiny insects hidden beneath the leaves, clinging to the
tree-trunk like a creeper, and singing between bites.
Possibly he will stop long enough in his mad chase to open and shut his tail,
fan-fashion, with a dainty egotism that, in the peacock, becomes rank vanity.
The Germans call this little bird roth Stert (red tail), but, like so many
popular names, this is a misnomer, as, strictly speaking, the redstart is
never red, though its salmon-orange markings often border on to orange-flame.
In a fork of some tall bush or tree, placed ten or fifteen feet from the
ground, a carefully constructed little nest is made of moss, horsehair, and
strippings from the bark, against which the nest is built, the better to
conceal its location. Four or five whitish eggs, thickly sprinkled with pale
brown and lilac, like the other warblers', are too jealously guarded by the
little mother-bird to be very often seen.
BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Iderus galbula) Oriole and Blackbird family
Called also: GOLDEN ORIOLE;FIREBIRD; GOLDEN ROBIN; HANG-NEST;
Length -- 7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male -- Head, throat, upper part of back glossy black. Wings
black, with white spots and edgings. Tail-quills black, with
yellow markings on the tips. Everywhere else orange, shading
Female -- Yellowish olive. Wings dark brown, and quills margined
with white. Tail yellowish brown, with obscure, dusky bars.
Range -- The whole United States. Most numerous in Eastern States
below 55 degrees north latitude.
Migrations -- Early May. Middle of September. Common summer
A flash of fire through the air; a rich, high, whistled song floating in the
wake of the feathered meteor: the Baltimore oriole cannot be mistaken. When
the orchards are in blossom he arrives in full plumage and song, and awaits
the coming of the female birds, that travel northward more leisurely in
flocks. He is decidedly in evidence. No foliage is dense enough to hide his
brilliancy; his temper, quite as fiery as his feathers, leads him into noisy
quarrels, and his insistent song with its martial, interrogative notes becomes
almost tiresome until he is happily mated and family cares check his
Among the best architects in the world is his plain but energetic mate.
Gracefully swung from a high branch of some tall tree, the nest is woven with
exquisite skill into a long, flexible pouch that rain cannot penetrate, nor
wind shake from its horsehair moorings. Bits of string, threads of silk, and
sometimes yarn of the gayest colors, if laid about the shrubbery in the
garden, will be quickly interwoven with the shreds of bark and milkweed stalks
that the bird has found afield. The shape of the nest often differs, because
in unsettled regions, where hawks abound, it is necessary to make it deeper
than seven inches (the customary depth when it is built near the homes of
men), and to partly close it at the top to conceal the sitting bird. From four
to six whitish eggs, scrawled over with black-brown, are hatched by the mother
oriole, and most jealously guarded by her now truly domesticated mate.
The number of grubs, worms, flies, caterpillars, and even cocoons, that go to
satisfy the hunger of a family of orioles in a day, might indicate, if it
could be computed, the great value these birds are about our homes, aside from
the good cheer they bring.
There is a popular tradition about the naming of this gorgeous bird: When
George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, worn out and discouraged by various
hardships in his Newfoundland colony, decided to visit Virginia in 1628, he
wrote that nothing in the Chesapeake country so impressed him as the myriads
of birds in its woods. But the song and color of the oriole particularly
cheered and delighted him, and orange and black became the heraldic colors of
the first lords proprietors of Maryland.
Hush! 'tis he! My Oriole, my glance of summer fire,
Is come at last; and ever on the watch,
Twitches the pack-thread I had lightly wound
About the bough to help his housekeeping.
Twitches and scouts by turns, blessing his luck,
Yet fearing me who laid it in his way.
Nor, more than wiser we in our affairs,
Divines the Providence that hides and helps.
Heave, ho! Heave, ho! he whistles as the twine
Slackens its hold; once more, now! and a flash
Lightens across the sunlight to the elm
Where his mate dangles at her cup of felt.
-- James Russell Lowell.
BIRDS CONSPICUOUSLY RED OF ANY SHADE
American Crossbill and the White-winged Crossbill
Redpoll and Greater Redpoll
See the Red-winged Blackbird (Black). See also the males of the
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Woodpeckers, the Chewink (Black and
White), the Red-breasted Nuthatch, the Bay-breasted and the
Chestnut-sided Warblers (Slate and Gray); the Bluebird and Barn
Swallow (Blue); the Flicker (Brown); the Humming-bird and the
Kinglets (Greenish Gray); and the Blackburnian and Redstart
Warblers, and the Baltimore Oriole (Orange).
BIRDS CONSPICUOUSLY RED OF ANY SHADE
CARDINAL GROSBEAK (Cardinalis cardinalis) Finch family
Called also: CRESTED REDBIRD; VIRGINIA REDBIRD; VIRGINIA
NIGHTINGALE; CARDINAL BIRD; [NORTHERN CARDINAL, AOU 1998]
Length -- 8 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin.
Male -- Brilliant cardinal; chin and band around bill black. Beak
stout and red. Crest conspicuous. In winter dress, wings washed
Female -- Brownish yellow above, shading to gray below. Tail
shorter than the male's. Crest, wings, and tail reddish. Breast
sometimes tinged with red.
Range -- Eastern United States. A Southern bird, becoming more
and more common during the summer in States north of Virginia,
especially in Ohio, south of which it is resident throughout
Migrations -- Resident rather than migrating birds, remaining
throughout the winter in localities where they have found their
way. Travel in flocks.
Among the numerous names by which this beautiful bird is known, it has become
immortalized under the title of Mr. James Lane Allen's exquisite book, "The
Kentucky Cardinal." Here, while we are given a most charmingly sympathetic,
delicate account of the bird "who has only to be seen or heard, and Death
adjusts an arrow," it is the cardinal's pathetic fate that impresses one most.
Seen through less poetical eyes, however, the bird appears to be a haughty
autocrat, a sort of "F. F. V." among the feathered tribes, as, indeed, his
title, "Virginia redbird," has been unkindly said to imply. Bearing himself
with a refined and courtly dignity, not stooping to soil his feet by walking
on the ground like the more democratic robin, or even condescending below the
level of the laurel bushes, the cardinal is literally a shining example of
self-conscious superiority -- a bird to call forth respect and admiration
rather than affection. But a group of cardinals in a cedar tree in a snowy
winter landscape makes us forgetful of everything but their supreme beauty.
As might be expected in one of the finch family, the cardinal is a songster --
the fact which, in connection with his lovely plumage, accounts for the number
of these birds shipped in cages to Europe, where they are known as Virginia
nightingales. Commencing with a strong, rich whistle, like the high notes of a
fife, "Cheo-cheo-cheo-cheo," repeated over and over as if to make perfect the
start of a song he is about to sing, suddenly he stops, and you learn that
there is to be no glorious performance after all, only a prelude to --
nothing. The song, such as it is, begins, with both male and female, in March,
and lasts, with a brief intermission, until September -- "the most melodious
sigh," as Mr. Allen calls it. Early in May the cardinals build a bulky and
loosely made nest, usually in the holly, laurel, or other evergreen shrubs
that they always love to frequent, especially if these are near fields of corn
or other grain. And often two broods in a year come forth from the pale-gray,
brown-marked eggs, beating what is literally for them the "fatal gift of
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) Tanager family
Called also: REDBIRD; SMOOTH-HEADED REDBIRD
Length -- 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin.
Male -- Uniform red. Wings and tail like the body.
Female -- Upper parts yellowish olive-green; underneath inclining
Range -- Tropical portions of two Americas and eastern United
States. Most common in Southern States. Rare north of
Pennsylvania. Winters in the tropics. Mirations -- In Southern
States: April. October. Irregular migrant north of the
Thirty years ago, it is recorded that so far north as New Jersey the summer
redbird was quite as common as any of the thrushes. In the South still there
is scarcely an orchard that does not contain this tropical-looking beauty --
the redbird par excellence, the sweetest singer of the family. Is there a more
beautiful sight in all nature than a grove of orange trees laden with fruit,
starred with their delicious blossoms, and with flocks of redbirds disporting
themselves among the dark, glossy leaves? Pine and oak woods are also favorite
resorts, especially at the north, where the bird nowadays forsakes the
orchards to hide his beauty, if he can, unharmed by the rifle that only rarely
is offered so shining a mark. He shows the scarlet tanager's preference for
tree-tops, where his musical voice, calling "Chicky-tucky-tuk," alone betrays
his presence in the woods. The Southern farmers declare that he is an
infallible weather prophet, his "wet, WET, WET," being the certain indication
of rain -- another absurd saw, for the call-note is by no means confined to
the rainy season.
The yellowish-olive mate, whose quiet colors betray no nest secrets, collects
twigs and grasses for the cradle to be saddled on the end of some horizontal
branch, though in this work the male sometimes cautiously takes an
insignificant part. After her three or four eggs are laid she sits upon them
for nearly two weeks, being only rarely and stealthily visited by her mate
with some choice grub, blossom, or berry in his beak. But how cheerfully his
fife-like whistle rings out during the temporary exile! Then his song is at
its best. Later in the summer he has an aggravating way of joining in the
chorus of other birds' songs, by which the pleasant individuality of his own
voice is lost.
A nest of these tanagers, observed not far from New York City, was commenced
the last week of May on the extreme edge of a hickory limb in an open wood;
four eggs were laid on the fourth of June, and twelve days later the tiny
fledglings, that all look like their mother in the early stages of their
existence, burst from the greenish-white, speckled shells. In less than a
month the young birds were able to fly quite well and collect their food.
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga erythromelas) Tanager family
Called also: BLACK-WINGED REDBIRD; FIREBIRD; CANADA TANAGER;
Length -- 7 to 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the
Male -- In spring plumage: Brilliant scarlet, with black wings
And tail. Under wing coverts grayish white. In autumn: Similar
Female -- Olive-green above; wings and tail dark, lightly
Margined with olive. Underneath greenish yellow.
Range -- North America to northern Canada boundaries, and
southwardin winter to South America.
Migrations -- May. October. Summer resident
The gorgeous coloring of the scarlet tanager has been its snare and
destruction. The densest evergreens could not altogether hide this blazing
target for the sportsman's gun, too often fired at the instigation of city
milliners. "Fine feathers make fine birds" -- and cruel, silly women, the
adage might be adapted for latter-day use. This rarely beautiful tanager,
thanks to them, is now only an infrequent flash of beauty in our country
Instinct leads it to be chary of its charms; and whereas it used to be one of
the commonest of bird neighbors, it is now shy and solitary. An ideal resort
for it is a grove of oak or swamp maple near a stream or pond where it can
bathe. Evergreen trees, too, are favorites, possibly because the bird knows
how exquisitely its bright scarlet coat is set off by their dark background.
High in the tree-tops he perches, all unsuspected by the visitor passing
through the woods below, until a burst of rich, sweet melody directs the
opera-glasses suddenly upward. There we detect him carolling loud and
cheerfully, like a robin. He is an apparition of beauty -- a veritable bird of
paradise, as, indeed, he is sometimes called. Because of their similar
coloring, the tanager and cardinal are sometimes confounded, but an instant's
comparison of the two birds shows nothing in common except red feathers, and
even those of quite different shades. The inconspicuous olive-green and yellow
of the female tanager's plumage is another striking instance of Nature's
unequal distribution of gifts; but if our bright-colored birds have become
shockingly few under existing conditions, would any at all remain were the
females prominent, like the males, as they brood upon the nest? Both tanagers
construct a rather disorderly-looking nest of fibres and sticks, through which
daylight can be seen where it rests securely upon the horizontal branch of
some oak or pine tree; but as soon as three or four bluish-green eggs have
been laid in the cradle, off goes the father, wearing his tell-tale coat, to a
distant tree. There he sings his sweetest carol to the patient, brooding mate,
returning to her side only long enough to feed her with the insects and
berries that form their food.
Happily for the young birds' fate, they are clothed at first in motley, dull
colors, with here and there only a bright touch of scarlet, yellow, and olive
to prove their claim to the parent whose gorgeous plumage must be their
admiration. But after the moulting season it would be a wise tanager that knew
its own father. His scarlet feathers are now replaced by an autumn coat of
olive and yellow not unlike his mate's.
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator) Finch family
Called also: PINE BULLFINCH
Length -- Variously recorded from 6.5 to 11 inches. Specimen
measured 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male -- General color strawberry-red, with some slate-gray
fleckings about head, under wings, and on legs. Tail brown;
wings brown, marked with black and white and slate. A band-
shaped series of markings between the shoulders. Underneath
paler red, merging into grayish green. Heavy, conspicuous bill.
Female -- Ash-brown. Head and hind neck yellowish brown, each
feather having central dusky streak. Cheeks and throat
yellowish. Beneath ash-gray, tinged with brownish yellow under
Range -- British American provinces and northern United States.
Migrations -- Irregular winter visitors; length of visits as
uncertain as their coming.
As inseparable as bees from flowers, so are these beautiful winter visitors
from the evergreen woods, where their red feathers, shining against the
dark-green background of the trees, give them charming prominence; but they
also feed freely upon the buds of various deciduous trees.
South of Canada we may not look for them except in the severest winter
weather. Even then their coming is not to be positively depended upon; but
when their caprice -- or was it an unusually fierce northern blast? -- sends
them over the Canada border, it is a simple matter to identify them when such
brilliant birds are rare. The brownish-yellow and grayish females and young
males, however, always seem to be in the majority with us, though our Canadian
friends assure us of the irreproachable morals of this gay bird.
Wherever there are clusters of pine or cedar trees, when there is a flock of
pine grosbeaks in the neighborhood, you may expect to find a pair of birds
diligently feeding upon the seeds and berries. No cheerful note escapes them
as they persistently gormandize, and, if the truth must be confessed, they
appear to be rather stupid and uninteresting, albeit they visit us at a time
when we are most inclined to rapture over our bird visitors. They are said to
have a deliciously sweet song in the nesting season. When, however, few except
the Canadian voyageurs hear it.
AMERICAN CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra minor) Finch family
Called also: RED CROSSBILL [AOU 1998]
Length -- 6 to 7 inches. About the size of the English sparrow.
Male -- General color Indian red, passing into brownish gray,
with red tinge beneath. Wings (without bands), also tail,
brown, Beak crossed at the tip.
Female -- General color greenish yellow, with brownish tints.
Dull-yellowish tints on head, throat, breast, and underneath.
Wings and tail pale brown. Beak crossed at tip.
Range -- Pennsylvania to northern British America. West of
Mississippi, range more southerly.
Migrations -- Irregular winter visitor. November. Sometimes
resident until April.
It is a rash statement to say that a bird is rare simply because you have
never seen it in your neighborhood, for while you are going out of the front
door your rara avis may be eating the crumbs about your kitchen. Even with our
eyes and ears constantly alert for some fresh bird excitement, our phlegmatic
neighbor over the way may be enjoying a visit from a whole flock of the very
bird we have been looking and listening for in vain all the year. The red
crossbills are capricious little visitors, it is true, but by no means
About the size of an English sparrow, of a brick or Indian red color, for the
most part, the peculiarity of its parrot-like beak is its certain mark of
Longfellow has rendered into verse the German legend of the crossbill, which
tells that as the Saviour hung upon the cross, a little bird tried to pull out
the nails that pierced His hands and feet, thus twisting its beak and staining
its feathers with the blood.
At first glance the birds would seem to be hampered by their crossed beaks in
getting at the seeds in the pine cones -- a superficial criticism when the
thoroughness and admirable dexterity of their work are better understood.
Various seeds of fruits, berries, and the buds of trees enlarge their bill of
fare. They are said to be inordinately fond of salt. Mr. Romeyn B. Hough tells
of a certain old ice-cream freezer that attracted flocks of crossbills one
winter, as a salt-lick attracts deer. Whether the traditional salt that may
have stuck to the bird's tail is responsible for its tameness is not related,
but it is certain the crossbills, like most bird visitors from the far north,
are remarkably gentle, friendly little birds. As they swing about the pine
trees, parrot-fashion, with the help of their bill, calling out kimp, kimp,
that sounds like the snapping of the pine cones on a sunny day, it often seems
easily possible to catch them with the hand.
There is another species of crossbill, called the White-winged (Loxia
leucoptera), that differs from the preceding chiefly in having two white bands
across its wings and in being more rare.
THE REDPOLL (Acanthis linaria) Finch family
Called also: REDPOLL LINNET; LITTLE SNOWBIRD; LESSER REDPOLL;
[COMMON REDPOLL, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5.25 to 5.5 inches. About an inch shorter than the
Male -- A rich crimson wash on head, neck, breast, and lower
back, that is sometimes only a pink when we see the bird in
midwinter. Grayish-brown, sparrowy feathers show underneath the
red wash. Dusky wings and tail, the feathers more or less edged
with whitish. Soiled white underneath; the sides with dusky
streaks. Bill sharply pointed.
Female -- More dingy than male, sides more heavily streaked, and
having crimson only on the crown.
Range -- An arctic bird that descends irregularly into the
Northern United States.
Migrations -- An irregular winter visitor.
"Ere long, amid the cold and powdery snow, as it were a fruit of the season,
will come twittering a flock of delicate crimson-tinged birds, lesser
redpolls, to sport and feed on the buds just ripe for them on the sunny side
of a wood, shaking down the powdery snow there in their cheerful feeding, as
if it were high midsummer to them." Thoreau's beautiful description of these
tiny winter visitors, which should be read entire, shows the man in one of his
most sympathetic, exalted moods, and it is the best brief characterization of
the redpoll that we have.
When the arctic cold becomes too cruel for even the snow-birds and crossbills
to withstand, flocks of the sociable little redpolls flying southward are the
merest specks in the sullen, gray sky, when they can be seen at all. So high
do they keep that often they must pass above our heads without our knowing it.
First we see a quantity of tiny dots, like a shake of pepper, in the cloud
above, then the specks grow larger and larger, and finally the birds seem to
drop from the sky upon some tall tree that they completely cover -- a
veritable cloudburst of birds. Without pausing to rest after the long journey,
down they flutter into the weedy pastures with much cheerful twittering, to
feed upon whatever seeds may be protruding through the snow. Every action of a
flock seems to be concerted, as if some rigid disciplinarian had drilled them,
and yet no leader can be distinguished in the merry company. When one flies,
all fly; where one feeds, all feed, and by some subtle telepathy all rise at
the identical instant from their feeding ground and cheerfully twitter in
concert where they all alight at once. They are more easily disturbed than the
goldfinches, that are often seen feeding with them in the lowlands;
nevertheless, they quite often venture into our gardens and orchards, even in
suburbs penetrated by the trolley-car.
Usually in winter we hear only their lisping call-note; but if the birds
linger late enough in the spring, when their "fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love," a gleeful, canary-like song comes from the naked branches, and we
may know by it that the flock will soon disappear for their nesting grounds in
the northern forests.
The Greater Redpoll (Acanthis linaria rostrata) may be distinguished from the
foregoing species by its slightly larger size, darker upper parts, and
shorter, stouter bill. But the notes, habits, and general appearance of both
redpolls are so nearly identical that the birds are usually mistaken for each
PURPLE FINCH (Carpodacus purpureus) Finch family
Called also: PURPLE LINNET
Length -- 6 to 6.25 inches. About the same size as the English
Male -- Until two years old, sparrow-like in appearance like the
female, but with olive-yellow on chin and lower back.
Afterwards entire body suffused with a bright raspberry-red,
deepest on head, lower back, and breast, and other parts only
faintly washed with this color. More brown on back; and wings
and tail, which are dusky, have some reddish brown feathers.
Underneath grayish white. Bill heavy. Tail forked.
Female -- Grayish olive brown above; whitish below; finely
Streaked everywhere with very dark brown, like a sparrow. Sides
of breast have arrow-shaped marks. Wings and tail darkest.
Range -- North America, from Columbia River eastward to Atlantic
and from Mexico northward to Manitoba. Most common in Middle
States and New England. Winters south of Pennsylvania.
Migrations -- March. November. Common summer resident. Rarely
individuals winter at the north.
In this "much be-sparrowed country" of ours familiarity is apt to breed
contempt for any bird that looks sparrowy, in which case one of the most
delicious songsters we have might easily be overlooked. It is not until the
purple finch reaches maturity in his second year that his plumage takes on the
raspberry-red tints that some ornithologists named purple. Oriental purple is
our magenta, it is true, but not a raspberry shade. Before maturity, but for
the yellow on his lower back and throat, he and his mate alike suggest a
song-sparrow; and it is important to note their particularly heavy, rounded
bills, with the tufts of feathers at the base, and their forked tails, to name
them correctly. But the identification of the purple finch, after all, depends
quite as much upon his song as his color. In March, when flocks of these birds
come north, he has begun to sing a little; by the beginning of May he is
desperately in love, and sudden, joyous peals of music from the elm or
evergreen trees on the lawn enliven the garden. How could his little brown
lady-love fail to be impressed with a suitor so gayly dressed, so tender and
solicitous, so deliciously sweet-voiced? With fuller, richer song than the
warbling vireo's, which Nuttall has said it resembles, a perfect ecstasy of
love, pours incessantly from his throat during the early summer days. There is
a suggestion of the robins love-song in his, but its copiousness, variety, and
rapidity give it a character all its own.
In some old, neglected hedge or low tree about the countryplace a flat, grassy
nest, lined with horsehair, contains four or five green eggs in June, and the
old birds are devotion itself to each other, and soon to their young, sparrowy
But when parental duties are over, the finches leave our lawns and gardens to
join flocks of their own kind in more remote orchards or woods, their favorite
haunts. Their subdued warble may be heard during October and later, as if the
birds were humming to themselves.
Much is said of their fondness for fruit blossoms and tree buds, but the truth
is that noxious insects and seeds of grain constitute their food in summer,
the berries of evergreens in winter. To a bird so gay of color, charming of
voice, social, and trustful of disposition, surely a few blossoms might be
spared without grudging.
THE AMERICAN ROBIN (Merula migratoria) Thrush family
Called also: RED-BREASTED OR MIGRATORY THRUSH; ROBIN-REDBREAST
Length -- 10 inches.
Male -- Dull brownish olive-gray above. Head black; tail brownish
black, with exterior feathers white at inner tip. Wings dark
brownish. Throat streaked with black and white. White eyelids.
Entire breast bright rusty red; whitish below the tail.
Female -- Duller and with paler breast, resembling the male in
Range -- North America, from Mexico to arctic regions.
Migrations -- March. October or November. Often resident
throughout the year.
It seems almost superfluous to write a line of description about a bird that
is as familiar as a chicken; yet how can this nearest of our bird neighbors be
passed without a reference? Probably he was the very first bird we learned to
call by name.
The early English colonists, who had doubtless been brought up, like the rest
of us, on "The Babes in the Wood," named the bird after the only heroes in
that melancholy tale; but in reality the American robin is a much larger bird
than the English
robin-redbreast and less brilliantly colored. John Burroughs calls him, of all
our birds, "the most native and democratic."
How the robin dominates birddom with his strong, aggressive personality! His
voice rings out strong and clear in the early morning chorus, and, more
tenderly subdued at twilight, it still rises above all the sleepy notes about
him. Whether lightly tripping over the lawn after the "early worm," or rising
with his sharp, quick cry of alarm, when startled, to his nest near by, every
motion is decided, alert, and free. No pensive hermit of the woods, like his
cousins, the thrushes, is this joyous vigorous "bird of the morning." Such a
presence is inspiriting.
Does any bird excel the robin in the great variety of his vocal expressions?
Mr. Parkhurst, in his charming "Birds' Calendar," says he knows of "no other
bird that is able to give so many shades of meaning to a single note, running
through the entire gamut of its possible feelings. From the soft and mellow
quality, almost as coaxing as a dove's note, with which it encourages its
young when just out of the nest, the tone, with minute gradations, becomes
more vehement, and then harsh and with quickened reiteration, until it
expresses the greatest intensity of a bird's emotions. Love, contentment,
anxiety, exultation, rage -- what other bird can throw such multifarious
meaning into its tone? And herein the robin seems more nearly human than any
of its kind."
There is no one thing that attracts more birds about the house that a
drinking-dish -- large enough for a bathtub as well; and certainly no bird
delights in sprinkling the water over his back more than a robin, often aided
in his ablutions by the spattering of the sparrows. But see to it that this
drinking-dish is well raised above the reach of lurking cats.
While the robin is a famous splasher, his neatness stops there. A robin's nest
is notoriously dirty within, and so carelessly constructed of weed-stalks,
grass, and mud, that a heavy summer shower brings more robins' nests to the
ground than we like to contemplate. The color of the eggs, as every one knows,
has given their name to the tint. Four is the number of eggs laid, and two
broods are often reared in the same nest.
Too much stress is laid on the mischief done by the robins in the cherry trees
and strawberry patches, and too little upon the quantity of worms and insects
they devour. Professor Treadwell, who experimented upon some young robins kept
in captivity, learned that they ate sixty-eight earthworms daily -- "that is,
each bird ate forty-one per cent more than its own weight in twelve hours! The
length of these worms, if laid end to end, would be about fourteen feet. Man,
at this rate, would eat about seventy pounds of flesh a day, and drink five or
six gallons of water."
ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius) Blackbird and Oriole family
Called also: ORCHARD STARLING; ORCHARD HANG-NEST
Length -- 7 to 7.3 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the
Male -- Head, throat, upper back, tail, and part of wings black.
Breast, rump, shoulders, under wing and tail coverts, and under
parts bright reddish brown. Whitish-yellow markings on a few
tail and wing feathers.
Female -- Head and upper parts olive, shading into brown;
brighter on head and near tail. Back and wings dusky brown,
with pale-buff shoulder-bars and edges of coverts. Throat
black. Under parts olive, shading into yellow.
Range -- Canada to Central America. Common in temperate latitudes
of the United States.
Migrations -- Early May. Middle of September. Common summer
With a more southerly range than the Baltimore oriole and less conspicuous
coloring, the orchard oriole is not so familiar a bird in many Northern
States, where, nevertheless, it is quite common enough to be classed among our
would-be intimates. The orchard is not always as close, to the house as this
bird cares to venture; he will pursue an insect even to the piazza vines.
His song, says John Burroughs, is like scarlet, "strong, intense, emphatic,"
but it is sweet and is more rapidly uttered than that of others of the family.
It is ended for the season early in July.
This oriole, too, builds a beautiful nest, not often pendent like the
Baltimore's, but securely placed in the fork of a sturdy fruit tree, at a
moderate height, and woven with skill and precision, like a basket. When the
dried grasses from one of these nests were stretched and measured, all were
found to be very nearly the same length, showing to what pains the little
weaver had gone to make the nest neat and pliable, yet strong. Four
cloudy-white eggs with dark-brown spots are usually found in the nest in June.