Part 1 out of 7
Scenes from Bird-Life in Plain English for Beginners
MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT AND ELLIOTT COUES
With One Hundred and Eleven Illustrations by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
[Illustration: Long-eared owl.]
TO ALL BOYS AND GIRLS
WHO LOVE BIRDS
AND WISH TO PROTECT THEM
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
BY THE AUTHORS
THE ORCHARD FARM.
FROM SPRING TO AUTUMN.
DR. ROY HUNTER, a naturalist.
OLIVE, the Doctor's daughter.
NAT and DODO, the Doctor's nephew and niece.
RAP, a country boy.
MAMMY BUN, an old colored nurse.
OLAF, a fisherman.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
OVERTURE BY THE BIRDS
THE DOCTOR'S WONDER ROOM
A SPARROW SETTLES THE QUESTION
THE BUILDING OF A BIRD
THE BIRD AS A TRAVELLER
THE BIRD'S NEST
BEGINNING OF THE BIRD STORIES
A SILVER-TONGUED FAMILY
Bluebird--Robin--Wood Thrush--Wilson's Thrush--Hermit
PEEPERS AND CREEPERS
MOCKERS AND SCOLDERS
Thrasher--Rock Wren--House Wren--Long-billed Marsh Wren.
Black-and-white Warbler--Yellow Warbler--Yellow-rumped
AROUND THE OLD BARN
Red-eyed Vireo--Great Northern Shrike--Cedar Waxwing.
Purple Martin--Barn Swallow--Tree Swallow--Bank
A BRILLIANT PAIR
Scarlet Tanager--Louisiana Tanager.
A TRIBE OF WEED WARRIORS
Pine Grosbeak--American Crossbill--American
Sparrow--Chipping Sparrow--Slate-colored Junco--Song
A MIDSUMMER EXCURSION
CROWS AND THEIR COUSINS
American Crow--Blue Jay.
A FEATHERED FISHERMAN
SOME SKY SWEEPERS
HUMMERS AND CHIMNEY SWEEPS
Ruby-throated Hummingbird--Chimney Swift.
TWO WINGED MYSTERIES
A LAUGHING FAMILY
TWO ODD FELLOWS
CANNIBALS IN COURT
Bald Eagle--Golden Eagle--Screech Owl--Long-eared
Owl--Snowy Owl--Great Horned Owl--Marsh Hawk--Sharp-shinned
Hawk--Red-shouldered Hawk--Sparrow Hawk.
A COOING PAIR
Passenger Pigeon--Mourning Dove.
THREE FAMOUS GAME BIRDS
Bob White--Ruffled Grouse--Woodcock.
ON THE SHORE
A Long-necked Family: Black-crowned Night Heron--American
Bittern--A Bonnet Martyr and a Blue Giant--Snowy
Egret--Great Blue Heron.
UP THE RIVER
Turnstone--Golden Plover--Wilson's Snipe--Spotted
Sandpiper--Least Sandpiper--Virginia Rail.
DUCKS AND DRAKES
Wood Duck--Black Duck--Mallard--Pintail--Green-winged
Teal--Blue-winged Teal--Redhead--Old Squaw--Hooded Merganser.
GULLS AND TERNS AT HOME
Canada Goose--American Herring Gull--Common
CHORUS BY THE BIRDS
PROCESSION OF BIRD FAMILIES
OVERTURE BY THE BIRDS
"We would have you to wit, that on eggs though we sit,
And are spiked on the spit, and are baked in a pan;
Birds are older by far than your ancestors are,
And made love and made war, ere the making of man!"
A party of Swallows perched on the telegraph wires beside the highway
where it passed Orchard Farm. They were resting after a breakfast of
insects, which they had caught on the wing, after the custom of their
family. As it was only the first of May they had plenty of time before
nest-building, and so were having a little neighborly chat.
If you had glanced at these birds carelessly, you might have thought
they were all of one kind; but they were not. The smallest was the Bank
Swallow, a sober-hued little fellow, with a short, sharp-pointed tail,
his back feathers looking like a dusty brown cloak, fastened in front by
a neck-band between his light throat and breast.
Next to him perched the Barn Swallow, a bit larger, with a tail like an
open pair of glistening scissors and his face and throat a beautiful
ruddy buff. There were so many glints of color on his steel-blue back
and wings, as he spread them in the sun, that it seemed as if in some of
his nights he must have collided with a great soap-bubble, which left
its shifting hues upon him as it burst.
This Barn Swallow was very much worried about something, and talked so
fast to his friend the Tree Swallow, that his words sounded like
twitters and giggles; but you would know they were words, if you could
only understand them.
The Tree Swallow wore a greenish-black cloak and a spotless white vest.
He was trying to be polite and listen to the Barn Swallow as well as to
the Purple Martin (the biggest Swallow of all), who was a little further
along on the wire; but as they both spoke at once, he found it a
"We shall all be turned out, I know," complained the Barn Swallow, "and
after we have as good as owned Orchard Farm these three years, it is too
bad. Those meddlesome House People have put two new pieces of glass in
the hayloft window, and how shall I ever get in to build my nest?"
"They may leave the window open," said the Bank Swallow soothingly, for
he had a cheerful disposition; "I have noticed that hayloft windows are
usually left open in warm weather."
"Yes, they may leave it open, and then shut it some day after I have
gone in," snapped Barney, darting off the perch to catch a fly, and
grasping the wire so violently on his return, that the other birds
fluttered and almost lost their footing. "What is all this trouble
about?" asked the Martin in his soft rich voice. "I live ten miles
further up country, and only pass here twice a year, so that I do not
know the latest news. Why must you leave the farm? It seems to be a
charming place for Bird People. I see a little box under the barn eaves
that would make me a fine house."
"It _is_ a delightful place for us," replied the Barn Swallow; "but now
the House People who own the farm are coming back to live here
themselves, and everything is turned topsy-turvy. They should have asked
us if we were willing for them to come. Bird People are of a _much_
older race than House People anyway; it says so in their books, for I
heard Rap, the lame boy down by the mill, reading about it one day when
he was sitting by the river."
All the other birds laughed merrily at this, and the Martin said, "Don't
be greedy, Brother Barney; those people are quite welcome to their barns
and houses, if they will only let us build in their trees. Bird People
own the whole sky and some of our race dive in the sea and swim in the
rivers where no House People can follow us."
"You may say what you please," chattered poor unhappy Barney,
"everything is awry. The Wrens always built behind the window-blinds,
and now these blinds are flung wide open. The Song Sparrow nested in the
long grass under the lilac bushes, but now it is all cut short; and they
have trimmed away the nice mossy branches in the orchard where hundreds
of the brothers built. Besides this, the Bluebird made his nest in a
hole in the top of the old gate post, and what have those people done
but put up a new post with _no hole in it_!"
"Dear! dear! Think of it, _think_ of it!" sang the Bluebird softly,
taking his place on the wire with the others.
"What if these people should bring children with them," continued
Barney, who had not finished airing his grievances--"little BOYS and
CATS! Children who might climb up to our nests and steal our eggs, boys
with _guns_ perhaps, and striped cats which no one can see, with feet
that make no sound, and _such_ claws and teeth--it makes me shiver to
think of it." And all the birds shook so that the wire quivered and the
Bank Swallow fell off, or would have fallen, if he had not spread his
wings and saved himself.
The Martin had nothing to say to this, but the little Bank Swallow,
though somewhat shaken up, whispered, "There _may_ be children who do
not rob nests, and other boys like Rap, who would never shoot us. Cats
are always sad things for birds, but these House People may not keep
any!" And then he moved down a wire or two, frightened at having given
At that moment a Chimney Swift joined the group. This Swift, who nests
in chimneys, is the sooty-colored bird that flies and feeds on the wing
like a Swallow, and when he is in the air looks like a big spruce cone
with wings. He was followed by a Catbird, who had been in a honeysuckle,
by one of the farmhouse windows, and peeped inside out of curiosity.
Both were excited and evidently bubbling over with news, which half the
birds of the orchard were following them to hear. "I know all about
it," cried the Swift, settling himself for a long talk.
"I've _seen_ the House People!" screamed the Catbird.
"They wish well to the Bird People, and we shall be happier than
before!" squeaked the Swift, breathless and eager. "Listen!"--and the
birds all huddled together. "This morning when I flew down the chimney,
wondering if I should dare build my nest there again, I heard a noise on
the outside, so I dropped as far as I could and listened.
"A voice said, 'Mammy Bun, we will leave this chimney for the birds; do
not make a fire here until after they have nested!' I was so surprised
that I nearly fell into the grate."
"And I," interrupted the Catbird, "was looking in the window and saw the
man who spoke, and Mammy Bun too. She is a very big person, wide like a
wood-chuck, and has a dark face like the House People down in the warm
country where I spend the winter."
"There are children at the farm, _I've_ seen them too," cried the
Phoebe, who usually lived under the eaves of the cow-shed; "three of
them--one big girl, one little girl, and a BOY!"
"I told you so!" lisped the Barn Swallow; and a chorus of _ohs_ and
_ahs_ arose that sounded like a strange message buzzing along the wires.
"The BOY has a pocket full of pebbles and a _shooter_," gasped the
Phoebe, pausing as if nothing more shocking could be said.
"Yes, but the big girl coaxed the shooter away from him," said the
Chimney Swift, who was quite provoked because his story had been
interrupted; "she said, 'Cousin Nat, father won't let you shoot birds
here or do anything to frighten them away, for he loves them and has
spent half his life watching them and learning their ways, and they have
grown so fearless hereabouts that they are like friends.'
"But Nat said, 'Do let me shoot some, Cousin Olive. I don't see why
Uncle Roy likes them. What good are birds anyway? They only sit in the
street and say "chuck, chuck, chuck" all day long.'
"'You say that because you have always lived in the city and the only
birds you have watched are the English Sparrows, who are really as
disagreeable as birds can possibly be,' said the big girl; 'but here you
will see all the beautiful wild birds.'
"Then the little girl said, 'Why, brother, you always loved our Canary!'
"'Yes, but he is different; he is nice and yellow, and he knows something
and sings too like everything; he isn't like these common tree birds.'"
"Common tree birds indeed!" shrieked the Catbird.
"That is what the boy called us," said the Chimney Swift, who then went
on with his story about what he had heard the children say.
"'Why you silly dear!' cried, the big girl, laughing a sweet little
laugh like the Bobolink's song, 'that only proves how little you know
about wild birds. Plenty of them are more brightly colored than your
Canary, and some of those that wear the plainest feathers sing more
beautifully than all the Canaries and cage birds in the world. This
summer, when you have made friends with these wild birds, and they have
let you see their homes and learn their secrets, you will make up your
mind that there are no _common birds_; for every one of them has
something very uncommon about it,'
"Then our brother B. Oriole began to sing in the sugar maple over the
shed. The sun was shining on his gay coat; the little girl pointed to
him and whispered, 'Hush, Nat! you see Olive is right; please empty the
stones out of your pocket.'"
The Chimney Swift had hardly finished his story when there was another
"News, more news!" called the Bank Swallow joyfully. He had been taking
a skim over the meadows and orchard. "These House People do _not_ keep
"They may not have any now, but that doesn't prove they never will,"
said a Robin crossly. He had just flown against a window, not
understanding about the glass, and had a headache in consequence.
"They _never will keep cats_," insisted the little Swallow boldly.
"How do _you_ know?" asked the birds in one breath.
"Because they keep _dogs_!" said Bankey, twittering with glee; "two nice
dogs. One big and buff and bushy, with a much finer tail than the
proudest fox you ever saw; and the other small and white with some dark
spots, and as quick as a squirrel. This one has a short tail that sticks
up like a Wren's and a nose like a weasel; one ear stands up and the
other hangs down; and he has a _terrible_ wink in one eye. Even a poor
little Bank Swallow knows that where one of _these_ dogs lives the Bird
People need not fear either cats or rats!"
"I love dogs," said the black-and-white Downy Woodpecker, running up a
telegraph pole in search of grubs; "dogs have bones to eat and I like
to pick bones, especially in winter."
"Me too," chimed in the Nuthatch, who walks chiefly head down and wears
a fashionable white vest and black necktie with a gray coat; "and
sometimes they leave bits of fat about. Yes, dogs are very friendly
Then a joyful murmur ran all along the wires, and Farmer Griggs, who was
driving past, said to himself, "Powerful lot of 'lectricity on to-day;
should think them Swallers would get shock't and kil't." But it was only
the birds whispering together; agreeing to return to their old haunts at
Orchard Farm and give the House Children a chance to learn that there
are no such things as "common" birds.
THE DOCTOR'S WONDER ROOM
Nathaniel and Theodora, who were called Nat and Dodo for short, were
standing in the hallway outside Dr. Hunter's door, engaged in a very
"I say birds are animals," blustered Nat, pounding his fists together
after a fashion of his own.
"And I'm as sure as anything that they _can't_ be," persisted Dodo,
"because they have feathers, and nothing else has."
"That doesn't prove anything. Everything that lives and grows is either
an animal or a vegetable. Do you think that birds grow like potatoes and
are dug out of the ground, or come off trees like apples?" And Nat gave
himself an air of great wisdom, such as brothers are apt to wear when
they are in the fifth reader, and their sisters are only in the third.
"But isn't there anything besides animals and vegetables that they might
be? Perhaps they are minerals," said Dodo, brightening up as she thought
of the word.
"Oh! oh! what a stupid you are, Dodo! Minerals! Why those are rocks and
such things, that can't move and don't live." Nat laughed rather rudely,
and, putting his hands in his pockets, began to whistle.
"I think you might tell me _what_ kind of an animal a bird is, and why
it has feathers and can fly, instead of laughing," said Dodo in a shaky
voice; for her feelings were very tender and she remembered too late
what minerals are.
"Yes, tell her, Nat," said Olive, who came through the hall just then.
"Are you holding your knowledge tight in your pockets, or whistling to
keep from telling it?"
Nat scowled a minute and then said frankly, for every one was frank with
Olive, "I really don't know what sort of an animal a bird is, though I'm
sure it _is_ an animal. Don't you think Uncle Roy will tell us?"
"I'm sure he will be glad to, if he is not very busy, and he is seldom
too busy to talk of birds. He is writing a book now of all the things he
knows about them. Knock on the door, Dodo."
"I'm afraid to," said Dodo, clasping her hands behind her. "Mammy says
that room is _full_ of birds, and that we must never go in there.
Suppose when the door opens they should get out and fly away?"
"Mammy was right in telling you not to go in without asking, because
there are a great many books and papers there that father values, and
you might upset them. But the birds that are there are not alive. They
are dead birds that father has collected from all parts of
America--stuffed birds, such as you have seen in the glass cases in the
"But, Cousin Olive," said Nat in astonishment, "if Uncle Roy has shot
enough birds to fill a big room, why won't he let me pop at a few with
"You must ask him why yourself, Nat. Knock again, Dodo. Father, may we
come in? The children are here, with pockets full of questions;" and
Olive opened the door of the study, which Dodo named "the wonder room"
that very day.
It was a very long room on the southwest side of the house. The sun
streamed in through three wide windows, and at one end there was a deep
fireplace with brass andirons upon which some logs smouldered, for
though it was a mild May day the great room felt cool. Around the room
were deep cases with glass doors, from which peeped all kinds and sizes
of birds, while between the tops of the cases and the ceiling the spaces
were filled by colored bird pictures. The Doctor's desk stood in front
of one window, heaped with papers and books; down the middle of the room
were low book-cases standing back to back, and where these ended,
before the hearth, was a high-backed settle, almost as long as a bed.
The children stood still for a minute, speechless with surprise and
delight. Then Dodo made a rush for the Doctor's chair, and hugging him
round the neck, cried, "Dear Uncle Roy, will you please let us stay in
here a little while, so that we can learn what sort of animals birds
are, and all about them? And will you tell Nat why you let yourself
shoot birds when you won't let him?" Here Dodo stopped, both for lack of
breath and because she knew that her sentences were mixing themselves
"So you have been here two whole days without finding me out," said the
Doctor, seating Dodo comfortably on his knee. "Aren't you afraid of the
old ogre who keeps so many birds prisoners in his den, and bewitches
them so that they sit quite still and never even try to fly? You want
to know about birds, do you, Miss Dodo, and Nat feels grieved because I
won't let him pop at our feathered neighbors that live in the orchard?
Oh, yes, my boy, I know all about it, you see; Cousin Olive has been
telling tales. Come round here where I can see you. I can answer your
question more easily than I can Dodo's. Don't look ashamed, for it is
perfectly natural that you should like to pop at birds until you learn
to understand the reasons why you should not. It was because you two
youngsters have seen so little of Nature and the things that creep and
crawl and fly, that I begged you from your parents for a time.
"House People are apt to grow selfish and cruel, thinking they are the
only people upon the earth, unless they can sometimes visit the homes of
the Beast and Bird Brotherhood, and see that these can also love and
suffer and work like themselves.
"Now, my boy, before we begin to learn about the birds I will partly
answer your question, and you will be able to answer it yourself before
summer is over. Animal life should never be taken except for some good
purpose. Birds are killed by scientists that their structure and uses
may be studied--just as doctors must examine human bodies. But if you
kill a bird, of what use is its dead body to you?"
"I would like to see if I could hit it, and then--I--guess," hesitating,
"I could find out its name better if I had it in my hand."
"Ah, Nat, my lad, I thought so; _first_ to see if you can hit it, and
_perhaps_ because you want to know the bird's name. Did you ever think
of trying to cut off one of your fingers with your jack-knife, to see
if you could do it, or how it is made?"
"Why, no, uncle, it would hurt, and I couldn't put it on again, and it
wouldn't do me any good anyway, for I could find out about it by asking
a doctor, without hurting myself."
"Yes, that is right; and for the present you can learn enough about
birds without shooting them yourself, and if you learn your lesson well
you will never shoot a song-bird."
"May we see the book you are writing, Uncle Roy, and learn all about the
birds out of it?"
"It is written in words too long and difficult for you to understand.
Here is a page on the desk--see if you can read it."
Nat stood by the Doctor's chair, but the longer he looked at the page
the more puzzled he became, and at last he said, "I think, if you
please, I'd rather have a book with only the birds' plain American
names." Then he spelled out slowly, "C-y-a-n-o-c-i-t-t-a
c-r-i-s-t-a-t-a. Why, that's Latin, but it only means Blue Jay."
"Couldn't you write a _little_ book for us, uncle--just a common little
book, all in plain words?" pleaded Dodo. "There's plenty of paper here,
and of course the know-how is all in your head; because Olive says you
know about every bird that lives in our America--and then you need not
put them quite all in our book."
"Bless your innocent heart! How many different kinds of birds do you
think there are in 'our America,' my little Yankee?" "More than a
hundred, I guess," said Dodo after a long pause.
"Nearly a thousand, my lady!"
"A thousand! I think we couldn't remember so many. Does Olive know about
'nearly a thousand'?"
"No, nor about a quarter of them, Dodo. There are a great many birds
that are rare or curious, but are not very interesting to people like
you and me," said Olive.
"Suppose you make us a little book about some of the very nicest
American birds," put in Nat, who had been looking at the row of stuffed
birds in one of the cases, and began to feel a real interest in knowing
their names and something about them. "Oh, Uncle Roy! Here's a Robin.
See! Dodo, see! I knew it in a minute; it's like meeting a fellow you
know;" and Nat pranced about while the Doctor laughed as if he was well
"Now, children," said he, "I have an hour's more work this morning, and
then we will talk over this bird matter. Here is a little blank book,
and a pencil for each of you. Go down in the orchard, and when you find
a bird, write in the book how it looks to you. So--size, color of head,
throat, breast, back, tail, and wings--that will be enough for once; but
try to remember, also, how it sings. You had better help them a bit to
begin with, daughter," he continued, turning to Olive, who went as
gladly as if she were only ten years old like Nat, instead of being
seventeen, and nearly as tall as her father, with skirts that covered
her boot tops.
A SPARROW SETTLES THE QUESTION
The apple trees were not yet in bloom in the orchard, but the cherries
were tricked out in dazzling white, and the peaches were blushing as
prettily as possible. On either side of the walk that led down through
the garden, hyacinths, great mats of single white violets and bunches of
yellow daffies were in flower, and as far as the children could see the
fresh green orchard grass was gilded with dandelions.
"Isn't it lovely?" cried Dodo, "I want to pick everything." She began to
fill her hands with dandelions. "Only I wish that mother was here"--and
a little quaver shook the merry voice.
"She will come by and by, dear," said Olive. "You know your father had
to go away on business, and you wouldn't like him to go all alone."
"Why do people have business?"
"To earn money, to be sure, to buy your pretty frocks and shoes, and
give you plenty to eat."
"But House People are the only ones who must work for what they
have--everything else takes what it wants."
"There is where you are very much mistaken, Miss Dodo. Everything works
for its living in some way. Take, for example, the birds that you are
going to study. They have to build their own houses, and feed their
children, and travel about every year on their own particular business."
"Travel--do birds travel?" cried both children in the same breath. "Oh,
where do they go, and what for?"
"Father will tell you about that. Now you must do what he said--each
find a bird, and see if you can describe it. Suppose we sit on this
great root. It belongs to the oldest tree in the orchard, and
Grandmother Hunter used to play house up in the top of it when she was a
little girl. Father told me he had a perch up there when he was a boy,
so that he could watch the birds. Perhaps, if you are careful and really
want to keep quiet and see the birds, he will have one fixed for you."
"How jolly!" said Nat. "Sh-h! I see a bird now--such a queer little
thing--it's running round like a mouse. Oh! oh! it goes just as well
upside down as any other way." And Nat pulled out his pencil and book
and waited for the bird to come in sight again, which it was kind enough
to do very soon.
"Size"--wrote Nat, struggling with his pencil, which would squeak,
because he had foolishly put it in his mouth. "How big would you call
"Little," said Dodo promptly.
"Kind of little, but not so very. I've seen smaller in the Museum," said
Nat. "What would you call it, Olive?"
"I should call it rather a small bird, if I were not speaking exactly.
But if you wish to be more particular you must try to guess its length
in inches. When I was about your age father measured my right-hand
middle finger and told me it was three inches long. Then he made two
marks across it with violet ink, which takes a long time to wash off, so
that my finger made a three-inch measure. I soon grew accustomed to look
at a bird and then at my finger, from nail to knuckle, and then try to
tell how many times longer the bird was from the point of his beak down
over his back to the tip of his tail. Of course I made a great many
mistakes and could seldom tell exactly, but it was a great help."
"How long is my finger?" asked Nat eagerly, spreading out a rather large
hand for a boy of ten.
"About four inches."
"Then that bird is quite a little longer than that--five or six inches
anyway." And he wrote, "Length, five or six inches."
"Ah, he has gone," wailed Dodo. "Oh, no, he hasn't. He has come round
the tree again--he says _squank, squank, squank_, as if his voice was
rusty. Is that his song, Cousin Olive?"
"No, he is only talking now."
"Talking? It seems to me that birds can do ever so many more things than
I thought they possibly could."
"Black head," said Nat, as he continued writing; "sort of gray on top
and white in front; his tail is black and white and rusty looking
underneath, and--there, he has flown away! Do you think that will do,
and will uncle know his name? Oh, I forgot, he says _squank_, goes head
down, and picks things out of the tree bark." "Yes, that will do for a
beginning, but father will tell you some simple names for the different
parts of every bird, so that your descriptions need not confuse you. If
every one gave his own names, no two people would quite understand each
"Oh! I see a bird," whispered Dodo, pointing to the grass at a little
distance. "See! it's quite as big as a Pigeon and speckled all over
black and brown and has a red mark on the back of its neck. Please write
it down for me, Olive; it takes me so long to write, and I haven't seen
it in front yet. There, it's turning round--oh! it has a black mark in
front of its neck like a cravat and it's speckled underneath. It has
flown a little further off and is walking up a tree, and it's very white
on its back where its tail begins. Oh! do hear it laugh, Nat." And the
Flicker, the big Woodpecker with golden lining to its wings, for it was
he, gave out peal after peal of his jolly call-note.
"Can't we go in now to ask Uncle Roy the names of these birds, and see
if he won't begin our book this afternoon?"
"It isn't an hour yet since we came out. Come down through the orchard;
I hear some Bluebirds singing and perhaps you can see them. They are
very tame, and often make their nests in the knot holes in these old
"See, Olive," said Dodo, "what is that down in the grass by the fence?
It is something moving. Do you think it can be any sort of a wild
"No, it's a boy," said Nat. "I see his head. Perhaps he has come to
catch some birds. Let's drive him away." "Gently, gently, Nat," said
Olive; "it is a boy, but you are not sure that he is doing any harm, and
besides it was only yesterday that you were vexed with me because I
wouldn't let you pop at the birds yourself. We will ask him what he is
They went through the orchard, and found a boy, about twelve years old,
lying in the grass. He had dark hair and eyes, and a sun-burned face,
but was very thin, and a rude crutch was lying beside him.
"Well, little boy," said Olive pleasantly, "what is your name, and what
are you doing here?"
The child looked frightened at first and hid his face on his arm, but
finally looked up, and said timidly, "My name is Rap, and I was watching
the birds. Please, I didn't know anybody lived here, only cows, and I've
been coming in most times for two years."
Then they saw that he had a tattered piece of a book in one hand, which
he slipped inside his jacket as carefully as if it were a great
"Watching them to like them or to catch them?" asked Nat suspiciously,
then feeling ashamed the next moment when Rap answered:
"To like them. I'd never kill a bird! I've sometimes found dead ones
that have hit against the telegraph wires; and it makes you feel lumpy
in your throat to see how every little feather lies so soft and lovely,
though they never will fly any more."
By this time the three were seated in front of the strange boy, looking
at him with great interest.
"What is the book you were reading when we came up?" asked Olive. Rap
pulled it out and laid it on her lap, saying, "I don't know its
name--the beginning part that tells is gone--but it's all about birds.
Here's a picture of a Bluebird, only it isn't quite right, somehow. Oh,
I do wish I had all of the book."
Olive turned over the leaves that looked familiar to her and saw that it
began at page 443. "Why, it is part of the first volume of Nuttall's
'Manual of Birds.' My father has the whole of this book," she said.
"Where did you find this bit?"
"The rag pedler that comes by every fall lets me look in his bags,
'cause sometimes there are paper books in them, and he gave me this for
nothing, 'cause it was only a piece."
"Why don't you ask your father to buy you a whole book, instead of
grubbing in rag-bags?" said Nat thoughtlessly.
Rap looked from one to the other, as if in his interest he had forgotten
himself for a time, and then he said quietly, "I haven't any father."
"I haven't any mother," said Olive quickly, putting her hand gently on
the thin brown one. "We must be friends, Rap."
Her sympathy soothed him immediately, and his gentle nature instantly
tried to comfort her by saying, "But you said your father owned the
whole of my book. How glad you must be!"
Then they all laughed, and Nat and Dodo began telling about their
uncle's room and all the books and birds in it, and about the book he
had promised to write for them, until Rap looked so bewildered that
Olive was obliged to explain things a little more clearly to him. "Come
home with us," cried Nat and Dodo, each seizing him by a hand, "and
perhaps uncle will tell you all the names we must learn--head, throat,
wings, and what all the other parts are rightly called--and then we can
go around together and watch birds."
But as Rap turned over and scrambled up with the aid of his crutch, they
saw that he had only one leg, for the trouser of the left leg was tied
together just below the knee.
Acting as if they did not notice this, they led the way to the house,
going close to the fence that divided the orchard from the road, because
there was a little path worn there.
"What is the whole of your name?" asked Dodo, who could not keep from
"Stephen Hawley," he answered. "My mother is Ann Hawley, who lives by
the mill, and does all the beautiful fine white washing for everybody
hereabouts. Don't you know her? I suppose it's because you have just
come. I believe my mother could wash a cobweb if she tried, and not tear
it," and a glow of pride lit up his face.
"But you said a little while ago that your name was Rap."
"Everybody calls me Rap, because when I go along the road my crutch hits
the stones, and says 'rap--rap--rap.'"
"Here's a dead bird," said Nat, picking something from under the fence.
"It's a White-throated Sparrow," said Rap, "and it's flown against the
telegraph wire in the dark and been killed." "We will take it to uncle
and ask him to tell us all about it."
"Yes, yes," said Dodo, "we will all go"--and Rap hopped off after the
other children so quickly that Olive had hard work to keep up with him.
This time Nat and Dodo did not hesitate outside the study door, but gave
a pound or two and burst into the room.
"Uncle Roy, Uncle Roy, we have seen two birds and written down about
them, but we didn't quite know what to call the front part where the
neck ends and the stomach begins, or the beginning of the tail, and
Olive says there are right names for all these parts. And we found Rap
in the orchard and he only has half a book, and here's a White-throated
Sparrow, and we want to know how it's made and why birds can fly and
Here the Doctor laughingly stopped them and turned to Olive for a
clearer account of what had taken place in the orchard, while Rap stood
gazing about the room as if he thought that heaven had suddenly opened
"Now, children," said the Doctor, as soon as the youngsters had stopped
chattering, "I will first _tell_ you some stories about the birds; then
if you like them I will make them into a little book that other girls
and boys may read." And as the children began to dance about, he
continued: "But before I tell you the names and habits of some of our
home birds, you must learn a few things that are true of all birds--what
they are; where they belong among animals; how they are made; how they
do good and why we should protect them; and the wonderful journeys some
of them take. To-morrow I will begin by answering Dodo's questions
whether a bird is an animal, and why it has feathers."
"I think a bird is something like a boat," said Rap eagerly. "When it
flies its wings are like sails in the air, and when it swims its feet
row under the water, and the tail balances behind like a rudder and the
head sticks out in front like the bowsprit."
"You are right, my boy," said the Doctor, looking at him attentively;
"and would you also like to know how this beautiful boat is made? If a
ship-builder could plan a vessel that would go through wind and water as
birds do, he would be the wisest man in the world. But you see, Rap, a
man did _not_ plan any bird.
"I will go down and ask your mother to let you come and hear the stories
with the other children--how would you like that, Rap?"
"Will you? Will you really let me come? Oh, I am so glad! I know
mother'll let me any day but Monday and Thursday, because I have to
watch clothes on those days."
"Wash clothes?" said Dodo in surprise.
"No, watch them," replied Rap, laughing. "Those two days the miller lets
mother spread her things to whiten in his big meadow, and I have to
watch and see that they are not stolen or don't blow away."
"Isn't it very stupid to sit there so long?"
"Oh, no, it's lovely; for there are lots of birds and things about."
"To-morrow will be Wednesday," said the Doctor. "Come up to Orchard Farm
by nine o'clock, Rap, and we will begin our lessons with this little
White-throated Sparrow Nat has found."
"And uncle!" cried Dodo, "you must make inch measures on our middle
fingers with violet ink, the way you did to Olive's when she was
THE BUILDING OF A BIRD
It rained on Wednesday--a warm spring rain, swelling the rivers and
ponds, and watering the newly planted garden; but discouraging the birds
in their nest-building, and disappointing Nat and Dodo, who wished to
have their lesson in the orchard.
"Come in here, children," said the Doctor. "The wonder room, as Dodo
calls it, is a good place for a talk about feathers and bones, and the
rest of the things birds are built of. I have sent for Rap, too, so that
the trio may be complete."
"Feathers and bones for building birds?" said Nat. "What a queer idea
for a bird story."
"Not a bird story exactly," answered the Doctor. "But some things are
true of all birds, and you must know them if you wish to understand the
_reason why_ of any bird in particular."
In a few minutes the three children were seated on the wide settle, with
a cheery log fire, to make them forget the outside dampness. Quick, the
fidgety little fox-terrier, sat by the hearth, watching a possible mouse
hole; and Mr. Wolf, the tawny St. Bernard, chose the rug as a
comfortable place for finishing his morning toilet.
Olive presently joined the group. The Doctor took the dead
White-throated Sparrow from the table, and began to walk about the room,
stopping now in front of the fire and then by the window.
"Here is a Sparrow, different from every other kind of Sparrow,
different indeed from any other sort of bird in the world--else it would
not be the particular sort of a Sparrow called the White-throated. But
there are a good many things that it has in common with all other birds.
Can you tell me some of them?"
"I know!" said Dodo; "it has a good many feathers on it, and I guess all
kinds of birds wear feathers, except some when they are very little in
"Quite right, little girl," said the Doctor. "Every bird has feathers,
and no other animal has feathers. So we say, 'A bird is known by its
feathers.' But what do you suppose its feathers are for?"
"To make it look nice and pretty," said Dodo promptly.
"To make it lighter, so's it can fly," added Nat.
"To keep it warm, too, I guess," was Rap's answer.
"Well, you are all three partly, but not quite, right. Certainly the
beauty of a bird depends most on its feathers, being not even skin-deep,
as you may well believe, if you ever noticed a chicken Mammy Bun had
plucked. But, Nat, how can feathers make a bird lighter, when every one
of them weighs something, and a bird has to carry them all? They make a
bird a little heavier than it would be without them. Yet it is quite
true that no bird could fly if you clipped its wings. So some of its
feathers enable it to fly--the large ones, that grow on the wings. Then,
too, the large ones that make the tail help the bird to fly, by acting
like a rudder to steer with. Perhaps the small ones too, all over the
body, are of some help in flight, because they make a bird smooth, so
that it can cut through the air more easily--you know they all lie one
way, pointing backward from their roots to their tips. Then when Rap
said feathers keep a bird warm, he guessed right. Birds wear plumage as
you do clothes, and for the same purpose--to look nice and keep warm."
"But what is 'plumage,' Uncle Roy?" asked Dodo; "I thought you were
talking about feathers."
"So I was, missy. Feathers are the plumage, when you take them all
together. But see here," added the Doctor, as he spread the Sparrow's
wings out, and held them where the children could look closely; "are the
wings all plumage, or is there something else?"
"Of course there's something else to wings," said Dodo; "meat and bones,
because I've eaten chickens' wings."
"Why didn't you say, Dodo, because there has to be something for the
feathers to stick into?" said Nat decidedly.
"You both have very good reasons," said the Doctor. "The plumage of the
wings grows out from the skin, just as feathers grow from any other part
of the body, only the large ones are fastened to the bones, so that they
stay tight in their proper places. If they were loose, they would fly up
when the bird beats the air with its wings, and get out of order. See
how smoothly they lie one over another! When the bird closes its wings,
they come together snugly along its sides. But when the wing is spread,
they slide apart--yet not too far to form a broad, flat surface, quite
stiff, but light and elastic. By beating the air with the wings birds
fly along. It is something like rowing a boat. This surface pushes
against the air as the flat blade of an oar pushes against the water.
That is why these large stiff feathers are called the rowers. When the
Wise Men talk Latin among themselves, they say _remiges_, for 'remiges'
"But, Doctor," said Rap, who was looking sharply at the Sparrow's wing,
"all the feathers are not like that. Here are a lot of little ones, in
rows on top of the wing in front, and more like them underneath,
covering over the roots of the rowing feathers. Have they any name?"
"Oh, yes! Everything you can see about a bird has its own name. Those
small feathers are called _coverts_, because they cover over the roots
of the rowers. Those on top are the upper coverts; those underneath are
the under coverts, or lining of the wings. Now notice those two pretty
bands of color across the Sparrow's wing. You see one band is formed by
the tips of the longest coverts, and the other band by the tips of the
next longest coverts. Those two rows of feathers are the greater and
middle coverts, and all the smallest feathers, next to the front edge of
the wing, are called lesser coverts. Now look at the tail, Rap, and tell
me what you can find."
"Why, there is a bunch of long stiff feathers like rowers, that slide
over each other when you spread the tail, and a lot of short feathers
that hide the roots of the long ones. Are they rowers and coverts too?"
"A bird does not row with his tail--he steers with it, as if it were a
rudder; and the long feathers are therefore called rudder-feathers--or
_rectrices_, which is Latin for rudders. But the short ones are called
coverts, like those of the wings--upper tail-coverts, and under
"How funny!" said Dodo, "for a bird to have to row himself and steer
himself all at once. I know I should get mixed up if I tried it with a
boat. How do feathers grow, Uncle Roy?"
"Just like your hair, little girl," said the Doctor, patting her on the
head, "or your nails. Didn't you ever notice the dots all over the skin
of a chicken? Each dot is a little hole in the skin where a feather
sprouts. It grows in a sheath that pushes out of the hole, like a plant
coming up out of the ground from its root. For a while this sheath is
full of blood to nourish the growing feather; that is why new feathers
look dark and feel soft--pin-feathers they are called. The blood dries
up when the feather has unfolded to its full size, leaving it light and
dry, with a horny part at the root that sticks in the hole where it
grew, and a spray-like part that makes up most of the feather. The horny
part becomes hollow or contains only a little dry pith; when it is large
enough, as in the case of a rowing feather from a Goose's wing, it makes
a quill pen to write with. But the very tiniest feather on this Sparrow
is built up in the same way.
"See! here is one," continued the Doctor, as he twitched out a feather
from the Sparrow's back. "You see the quill part runs in the middle from
one end to the other; this is called the _shaft_. On each side of it
all along, except just at the root, the spray-like parts grow. They are
called the _webs_ or _vanes_. Now look through this magnifying glass at
The children looked in turn, and each, exclaimed in wonder at the sight.
"Yes, it is very wonderful. The web, that looks so smooth to the naked
eye, is made up of a great many small shafts, called _barbs_, that grow
out of the main shaft in rows. Every one of these small side-shafts has
its own rows of still smaller shafts; and these again have little
fringes along their edges, quite curly or like tiny hooks, that catch
hold of the next row and hold fast. So the whole feather keeps its
shape, though it seems so frail and delicate."
"Are all feathers like this one?" asked Rap.
"All are equally wonderful, and equally beautiful in construction; but
there is a good deal of difference in the way the webs hold together.
Almost all feathers that come to the surface are smooth and firm, and
there is not much difference except in size, or shape, or color. For
example, the largest wing-feather or tail-feather of this Sparrow is
quite like the one I pulled out of its back in texture, only the
back-feather is smaller and not so stiff. But near the roots of these
feathers you notice a fluffy part, where the webs do not hold together
firmly. Some feathers are as fluffy as that in their whole length. Such
are called down-feathers, because they are so downy. Birds that run
about as soon as they are hatched are always clothed in down, like
little chickens, before their other feathers sprout; and some birds,
like Ducks, wear a warm underclothing of down their whole lives. Then
again some feathers do not have any webs at all--only a slender shaft,
as fine as a hair."
"Do feathers keep on growing all the time, like my hair?" asked Dodo.
"No, my dear. They stop growing as soon as they are of the right size;
and you will find your hair will do the same, when it is long
enough--though that won't be for a good many years yet, little girl.
When the blood that has fed the growing feather is all dried up, the
feather ceases to grow. Then after a while longer, when it has become
ragged and worn, it gets loose in the skin and drops out--as I am sorry
to say some of my hair is doing already. That is what we call
"I know about that," interrupted Nat. "It's when hens shed their
feathers. But I didn't know that it was moulting when people grow bald."
"It is very much the same thing," said the Doctor, "only we don't call
it moulting when people lose their hair. But there is this difference.
Birds wear out their feathers much faster than we do our hair, and need
a new suit at least once a year, sometimes oftener. All young birds get
their first new clothes when the down is worn out. Old birds generally
moult as soon as they have reared their broods, which in this country is
late in summer or early in the fall. Many also moult again the following
spring, when they put on their wedding dress; and one of the curious
things about this change of plumage is, that the new feathers often come
out quite unlike those that were cast off. So a bird may differ much in
appearance at different seasons and ages--in fact, most birds do. The
male also differs in many cases from the female, being more handsomely
dressed than his mate."
"I don't think that's fair," said Dodo. "I shouldn't like Nat to have
nicer clothes than I wear."
"But it is best for Bird People," replied the Doctor, "that the mother
bird, who has to keep house and tend to the little ones, should not be
too conspicuous. She is best protected from enemies when her colors are
plain, and especially when they match the foliage in which she sits on
her nest. If her mate has only himself to look out for, it does not so
much matter how bright his plumage may be. The colors of some birds are
so exactly like their surroundings, that you might look long before you
could find the sober, quiet female, whose mate is flashing his gay
plumage and singing his finest song, perhaps for the very purpose of
attracting your attention away from his home. 'Protective coloration,'
is what the Wise Men call it."
"What makes all the different colors of birds, Doctor?" asked Rap.
"That is a hard question to answer. It is natural for birds to have
particular colors, just as some people have black eyes and hair, while
others have blue eyes and yellow hair. But I can tell you one thing
about that. Look at this Sparrow. All the colors it shows are _in_ the
feathers, whose various markings are due to certain substances called
'pigments,' which filter into the feathers, and there set in various
patterns. The feathers are painted inside by Nature, and the colors show
through. You see none of these colors are shiny like polished metal. But
I could show you some birds whose plumage glitters with all the hues of
the rainbow. That glittering is called 'iridescence.' It does not
depend upon any pigment in the substance of the feathers, but upon the
way the light strikes them. It is the same with the beautiful tints we
see on a soap-bubble. The film of water itself is colorless, but it
becomes iridescent. You might divide all the colors of birds into two
classes--those that depend upon pigments in the feathers, and those that
depend upon the play of light on the feathers."
"That's pretty hard to remember," said Nat; "but I know how a
soap-bubble looks, though I never saw any birds look that way. Please
show us one."
"I will show you two," answered the Doctor, who then went to his glass
case, and took out a Wild Pigeon and a Hummingbird. "Look at the shining
tints on the neck of this Pigeon, and see how the throat of this
Hummingbird glitters when I turn it to the light."
"That's the prettiest color I ever saw," said Nat, "and I can remember
about it now. But," he added, thinking of the way he had seen hens mope
when they were moulting, "does it hurt birds to lose their feathers,
"It is probably not as comfortable as being nicely dressed, and
sometimes they seem quite miserable, especially if they shed old
feathers faster than new ones can grow to replace the lost ones. Some
birds, like Ducks, lose their wing-feathers all at once, and cannot fly
for quite a while. But Heart of Nature is kind to his children, as a
rule. Most birds shed their rowing feathers one at a time in each wing,
so that they never lose their power of flight. Now this will do for
wings, tails, and feathers. Come! what is the next thing you notice
about this Sparrow? Is it entirely covered with feathers?"
"Of course it isn't," said Dodo; "it hasn't any feathers on its beak or
on its feet, else how could it eat and hop about?"
"That is right. These parts of a Sparrow are bare; they never have any
feathers; and the skin on them is hard and horny, as different from soft
thin skin as finger-nails. Now look at the beak, and think how many
things a Sparrow has to do with it. He has no hands or paws, and so he
must pick up everything he eats with his beak. He has no teeth, and so
he must bite his food with his beak. He feeds on seeds like a Canary
bird; so his beak comes to a sharp point, because seeds are small things
to pick up; and it is very strong and horny, because seeds are hard to
crack, to get at the kernel. Notice, too, children, that his beak is in
two halves, an upper half and a lower half; when these halves are held
apart his mouth is open, so that you can see the tongue inside; and when
the two halves are closed together the mouth is shut. These halves are
called the _upper mandible_ and the _lower mandible_."
"Why, it's just like people's mouths," said Nat, "only people have lips
"Certainly it is like our mouths. Birds are built like ourselves in a
great many things, and live as we do in a great many ways. Bird People
and House People are animals, and all animals must eat to live. A bird's
beak is its mouth, and the under mandible moves up and down, like our
chins when we eat or talk. Birds can talk as well as sing with their
beaks. This Sparrow can say 'Peabody,' and some kinds of Parrots can
repeat whole sentences so as to be understood. That is another thing in
which birds' beaks are like our mouths. Now look again--can you see
anything else about the Sparrow's beak?"
"I see a pair of little holes at the root of the upper mandible," said
"Well, those are the nostrils!" said the Doctor. "Birds must breathe,
like ourselves, and when the beak is shut they breathe through the
"So do I," said Dodo; and then she pursed up her pretty red lips
tightly, breathing quite hard through her nose. "I do think," she said,
when she had finished this performance, "birds have faces, with all the
things in them that we have--there are the eyes, too, on each side, like
people's eyes, only they look sideways and not in front. But I don't see
their ears. Have birds any ears, Uncle Roy?"
"I can show you this Sparrow's ears. See here," said the Doctor, who had
run the point of his penknife under a little package of feathers on one
side of the back of the Sparrow's head, and lifted them up; "what does
that look like?"
"It's a hole in the skin that runs into the head," said Nat. "Can birds
hear through that?"
"Of course they can. Ears of all animals are made to hear with. This
Sparrow can hear quite as well as you can, Nat. Now think, children, how
many things we have found about this Sparrow's head that are quite like
our own,--ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and tongue,--only there are no lips
or teeth, because the horny beak, with its hard edges and sharp point,
answers both for lips and teeth. I want you to learn from this how many
things are really alike in Bird People and House People, though they
look so different at first sight. When we come to the bird stories, you
will find that birds differ very much among themselves in all these
things. I will show you all sorts of beaks, of different sizes and
shapes. Here are pictures of several kinds of beaks--see how much they
differ in shape! But they are all beaks, and all beaks are mouths. They
all answer the same purposes in birds' lives, and the purposes are the
same as those of our mouths. But now, what do you notice about this
"They are not a bit like my feet," said Dodo; "they are so long and slim
and hard, and the toes stick out so all around. I think mine are nicer."
"But they would not be so useful as this Sparrow's if you had to live in
a bush and hop about on the twigs," said the Doctor. "The bird's feet
are fixed as nicely for that, as yours are for walking on the ground. I
can show you, too, little girl, that a Sparrow's feet are a great deal
more like yours than you think. Come, Rap! Tell me what you see about
this bird's feet."
"Why, they are the ends of its legs, and there is a long slim part
beyond the feathers, hard and horny like the beak, and at the end of
this are four toes, three in front and one behind, and they've all sharp
claws on their ends."
"Very well said, my boy! Now I will show you that such feet as the
Sparrow has are as much like Dodo's as a Sparrow's beak is like her
mouth. Begin with the claws--"
[Illustration: FIG. 1. Insect-eating bill of Robin; 2. Seed-crushing
bill of a Sparrow; 3. Snapping bill of Whip-poor-will; 4. Needle bill of
Hummingbird; 5. Chiselling bill of Woodpecker; 6. Climbing bill of
Paroquet; 7. Tearing bill of Falcon; 8. Grooved drinking bill of Dove;
9. Gleaning bill of Ruffed Grouse; 10. Wedge bill of Plover; 11.
Straight probing bill of Snipe.]
[Illustration: FIG 12: Curved probing bill of Curlew; 13. Spearing bill
of Green Heron; 14. Strainer bill of Duck; 15. Hooked bill of Gull; 16.
Ornamental bill of male Puffin in breeding season.]
"I know!" exclaimed Dodo, "toe-nails! Only I think they need cutting!"
"Of course they are toe-nails," said the Doctor. "Don't nails grow on
the ends of toes? All kinds of claws, on the ends of birds' and other
animals' toes, are the same as nails. Some are long, sharp, and curved,
like a cat's or a Sparrow's, and some are flat and blunt, like ours. I
could show you some birds with claws that look just like our
finger-nails. Toes, too, are pretty much the same; only this Sparrow,
like most other birds, has but four, with three of them in a line in
front, and the other one pointing backward. That is what makes its foot
as good as a hand to hold on with when it perches on slender twigs.
Almost all birds have their toes fixed that way. Some, that do not
perch, have no hind toe; and birds that swim have broad webs stretched
between their front toes, like Ducks. All the different kinds of feet
birds have are fitted for the ways they move about on the ground, or
water, or among the branches of trees and bushes, just as all their
shapes of beaks are fitted for the kind of food they eat and the way
they pick it up. Here are two pictures that will show you several
different kinds of feet. Now you must answer the next question, Nat;
what do toes grow on?"
"Feet!" said Nat promptly, then adding: "But this Sparrow hasn't any
feet except its toes; they grow on its legs, because the rest of the
horny part stands up--I've noticed that in Canaries."
"But all this horny part is the foot, not the leg," answered the Doctor,
"though it does stand up, as you say. How could toes grow from legs
without any feet between? They never do! There has to be a foot in
every animal between the toes and the legs. Now what do you call the end
of your foot which is opposite the end on which the toes grow?"
[Illustration: FIG. 1. Ordinary foot of perching birds; 2. Foot of
Nighthawk, with a comb on claw of middle toe; 3. Climbing foot of
Woodpecker, with two hind toes; 4. Grasping foot of Osprey, for holding
[Illustration: FIG. 5. Scratching foot of Ruffed Grouse; 6. Wading foot
of Golden Plover, with only three toes; 7. Wading foot of Snipe, with
short hind toe; 8. Wading foot of Green Heron, with long hind toe; 9.
Swimming foot of Coot, with lobed toes; 10. Swimming foot of Canada
Goose, with three toes webbed; 11. Swimming foot of Cormorant, with all
four toes webbed.]
"It's the heel in people, but I should think the hind toe of a bird was
its heel," said Nat doubtfully, and beginning to think he did not
"You might think so," said the Doctor; "but you would be wrong. All this
horny part that a bird stands up on is its foot. And the top of it,
nearest to the feathers, is the heel. Don't you see, when I bend the
foot _so_," continued the Doctor, as he bent the Sparrow's foot forward,
"that the top of the horny part makes a joint that stands out backward,
in the same position your heel always has? All this slender horny part
of the foot, above the roots of the toes, corresponds to the instep of
your foot, and of course the heel comes next. You must remember the name
of it--the Wise Men call it the _tarsus_."
"Then hasn't a bird got any legs, Uncle Roy, only just feet?" asked
"Oh! yes; legs too, with a knee-joint and a hip-joint, like ours. But
all these parts are up closer to the body, and hidden by the feathers,
so that you cannot see them."
As the Doctor said this there was a great commotion. Quick, who had been
watching the mouse hole all the while, gave a sharp bark and pounced on
something. There was a feeble squeak, and it was all over with a mouse
which had ventured too far from its hole.
"Poor little mousey!" said the Doctor, as he took the limp body from
the terrier's mouth. "It is quite dead. I am sorry, but it might have
nibbled some of my birds. Besides, this is exactly what I wanted to
teach you something about. Who can tell me the difference between a
mouse and a Sparrow?"
"I can!" said Dodo; "it's all difference; a mouse hasn't any feathers,
or any wings, and it has four feet, and a long tail and whiskers and
"That will do, little girl, for differences; do you see anything alike
between a Sparrow and a mouse, Rap?"
"I think the fur is something like feathers, Doctor," answered Rap; "and
you told us how a beak was like a mouth without any teeth or lips; then
a mouse has four feet and legs; but a bird has only two feet, and two
wings instead of four legs and feet like a mouse."
"That is just what I want you all to think about," said the Doctor. "Now
listen. If a Sparrow has a pair of feet that correspond to a mouse's
hind feet, what do you think a Sparrow's wings correspond to in a
"I should think they would be something like a mouse's fore feet,"
answered Rap, after thinking a moment.
"That is exactly right. Birds and beasts are alike in many respects.
They have heads, necks, and bodies; they have tails; and they have
limbs. Beasts have two pairs of limbs. We call them fore legs and hind
legs. People have two pairs also. We call them arms and legs. So you see
our arms correspond to the fore legs of beasts, though we never use them
for moving about, except when we go on our hands and knees, or climb
trees, or swim in the water. And as for birds--why, their fore limbs
are turned into wings, to fly with, so that they walk or hop on their
hind limbs only, just as we do. Animals that go on all fours are called
_quadrupeds_. Animals that go on their two hind limbs only, like Bird
People and House People, are called _bipeds_. A Sparrow's wings are just
as much like a mouse's fore legs, as a Sparrow's feathers are like a
"How funny!" said Dodo. "But how are a bird's wings like fore legs, when
they haven't got any paws or toes--or fingers--or claws--only just long
"They have fingers, and some birds' wings have claws; only you cannot
see them, because they are all wrapped up in the skin and covered over
with the feathers. Some day--not to-day, because you have had a long
lesson already--I will show you a bird's wing with only its bones. Then
you will see that it has finger-bones at the end, then hand-bones next,
then bones that run from the wrist to the elbow, and then one bone that
runs from the elbow to the shoulder--almost the same bones that people
have in their fingers, hands, wrists, and arms. So you see wings are the
same to a bird that fore legs are to a mouse or arms are to us.
"I could go through all the inside parts of birds, and show you
something like the same parts in people,--stomach and bowels, to take
care of the food they eat and turn it into blood to nourish them; lungs
to breathe with, and keep the blood pure; heart to beat and thus pump
the warm blood into all parts of the body; brain and nerves, which are
what birds think and feel with, just as we do with ours; and all their
bones, which together make what we call the _skeleton_, or framework of
the body, to keep the flesh in shape and support the other organs."
"Dear me!" sighed Dodo; "there must be ever so many more things inside
of birds that we can't see, than there are outside."
"Of course there are!" said the Doctor. "It won't be very hard for you
to remember the outside parts, and learn the names of them all. I have
told you most of them that you need to remember, to understand the
stories I am going to tell you about birds. See here! What do you think
[Illustration: Outside parts of a bird.]
So saying, the Doctor unrolled a large sheet of drawing-paper that hung
on the wall. "Here is a picture of the White-throated Sparrow, drawn so
big you can see it almost across the room, with all the outside parts of
which you must learn the names. You see the names are all on the
picture, too; I am going to make it smaller, and put it in the book I
will write for you, so you can look at it whenever you wish.
"It is almost dinner-time now, and you must be very hungry. But now I
must tell you one thing more. You know there are so many, many different
kinds of birds and other animals that nobody could remember them unless
they were classified. To classify is to put things that are most alike
closest together, then next nearest them things that are next most
alike, and to keep furthest apart those things that are least alike. Now
it is true that all beasts, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, and fishes
have some things alike, though each has some other things different from
all the rest. If they were not all alike in some things, we could not
call them all animals. One of the things in which all the animals I have
named are alike is, that they all have skeletons. One of the things in
which all their skeletons are alike is, that they have backbones.
Backbones are the chains of bones that run along the back from the head
to the tail. Backbones are called by the Wise Men _vertebrae_; animals
that have backbones are named _Vertebrates_; and animals that lack
backbones are named _Invertebrates_."
"Tell us the names of some Invertebrates, please, Doctor," said Rap.
"Well, all sorts of insects are Invertebrates, and so are lobsters and
crabs, oysters and clams, worms, starfishes, jelly-fishes, corals, and
even sponges. Then there are some too small to see without a microscope.
But never mind about Invertebrates now. I only want you to remember that
all beasts, birds, reptiles, and fishes are Vertebrates, and that there
are five principal classes of them. If I should tell you as much about
them as I have about the Building of a Bird, you would see that they are
all built on what we call the Vertebrate plan of structure. Here is a
chart of the Classes of Vertebrates--you can study it this afternoon,
till you learn it by heart."
_Animals with Backbones_
CLASS I. Mammals.--Warm-blooded animals which have fur or hair, bring
forth their young alive, and nurse them. House People are Mammals.
CLASS II. Birds.--Warm-blooded animals which have feathers and lay eggs.
CLASS III. Reptiles.--Cold-blooded animals which have scaly skins, like
lizards, snakes, and turtles.
CLASS IV. Batrachians.--Cold-blooded animals which have naked skins,
like frogs, toads, and newts.
All the foregoing classes, except a few of the Batrachians, breathe air
in lungs, and almost all, except snakes, have legs; none now living can
fly, except bats and birds; but bats are Mammals.
CLASS V. Fishes.--Cold-blooded animals which have either scaly or naked
skins, but no fur or feathers; which live in the water, breathe it with
their gills, and swim in it with fins.
The apple trees were in full bloom the day that the Doctor again found
time to be with the children. It was exactly the kind of a day that
birds like. The ground was soft enough to let the earthworms come up to
breathe, so that Robins could catch them easily, and the air was full of
all kinds of insects newly out from their long winter sleep in their
soft cocoon beds, much to the delight of the Swallows and Flycatchers.
It was also a beautiful day for House People to watch their bird
neighbors; for it was mild but not too bright, and every one knows how
it hurts the eyes to look at flying birds with the sun shining in them.
Olive, Dodo, and Nat went out first and found Rap waiting. The Doctor
followed, carrying something in his hand in a black leather case. When
they arrived at the old tree in the orchard, he told them to look up.
There was the perch arranged as it had been when he was a boy. Not a
perch for birds, but for House People--narrow board seats fitted in
between the largest branches and a bar fastened across some of the
highest ones, so that it was quite safe to climb up and look out of the
top of the tree. The branches had been trimmed away here and there, so
that a good view could be had of what was happening elsewhere in the
orchard. A scream of surprise and delight came from the group, in which
Olive joined. Quickly as the children scrambled into the tree, the
Doctor was up there first, laughing and saying that it was thirty years
since he had climbed that apple tree; for after he went away to college
the old seats had decayed and fallen down.
"Give me your hand and I'll help you up," called Nat to Rap, who had
dropped his crutch and was looking up at the others.
"No, you needn't," said Rap. "I can climb all right. Sometimes it isn't
so handy for me, but other times it's easier, for in tight places one
leg doesn't take up as much room as two;" and he swung and pushed until
he was up as high as the rest.
"Here's a nest with eggs in it," whispered Dodo, who had crept out on a
limb, where a rather large round nest, made of grass and little sticks
plastered together with mud, was saddled on the branch--in fact, a
"Four lovely smooth eggs, not quite blue and not quite green! Please,
can I have them? I saw them first."
"Think a minute, Dodo," said the Doctor. "A bird will come from each of
those eggs. Suppose you take the eggs away from the poor Robins, you
will be killing four young birds, besides hurting the feelings of their
parents and making them leave the orchard, very likely. You must not
take any eggs in the nesting season--not even one. I will tell you what
happened once in a field where there were some birds' nests in the
"The man who owned the field was fond of birds and wished to protect
them, but he was so good-natured that when his little boy came to him
and said, 'I wish so much to have some birds' eggs--all the boys collect
them--_please_ let me take a few, father--only on our own land,' he did
not wish to say 'No.' Sometimes, to be good-natured is as bad as to be
cruel. This man said, 'You may take one egg from each nest, but only
_one_, remember.' So the boy went out and took a few eggs, but then he
carried them to school, showed them to the other boys, and told them
where they came from. Then each boy said to himself, 'It will be all
right if I take only one egg from each nest.' But when four or five boys
had each taken one, all the nests were quite empty. So the poor birds
left that man's field, where the bugs and worms grew and throve, till
they ate up his hay and all the rest of his crops.
"When the nesting season is over eggs that have not hatched are often
left in the various nests, that you can take without doing any harm. Of
course I know it is not easy to keep your hands off such pretty things
as birds' eggs; but if by doing so you can be patriotic and useful, it
is an act of self-denial that you will be glad to do for the good of the
"What is in that black case, uncle?" asked Dodo. "Is it a pistol to
shoot birds? I think it looks too fat for that."
"Not the kind of a pistol that you mean, Dodo, but the only kind that
you youngsters need to bring down birds so that you can see them. It is
a double-barrelled gun, but you must use your eyes for bullets, instead
of leaden balls. See!"--and he took a fine pair of field-glasses from
the case, moved the screw a little, and held them before Dodo's
eyes--"what do you see down there in the grass?"
"Why, it's a Robin, but how big it looks! Every feather shows by itself,
and it has white rings round its eyes like spectacles. I never saw them
before, I'm sure."
Then, as the Doctor handed the glasses to Nat, Dodo looked in her lap,
expecting to find the bird there instead of a hundred feet away.
"This is jolly!" cried Nat, taking a peep and passing the glasses to
Rap, who put them to his eyes, gave a little "ah," and looked through
them until the Doctor said, "That will do now. Olive shall keep the
glasses, and whenever you children want them she will give them to you;
but you must be careful never to scratch them or rub your fingers over
the lenses at either end. With this magnifying instrument you will be
able to see the shape of beaks and wings, and many color markings you
would never notice otherwise. But what did I promise to tell you of
"Citizen Bird, you said," replied Nat, "though I don't think I quite
know what you mean."
"What does _citizen_ mean?" asked the Doctor, smiling.
"I think it is a person who lives in a city, but birds aren't people and
they don't live much in the city."
"You are right in one sense, my boy, but the word _citizen_ has also a
far wider meaning. Do you know what it is, Olive?" But Olive was not
sure, and the Doctor asked her to go to his study and look for the word
in the big dictionary.
In a few minutes she returned with a slip of paper from which her father
read: "Citizen--a member of a nation, especially of a republic; one who
owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it."
"Now, if you listen carefully I think I can prove to you that every bird
you can find is such a citizen of this country, and show you why we
should protect him.
"I told you the other day how the body of a bird was planned and built
to fill a place no other animal could take. Thus by his habits and
character every bird fills a place as a citizen of our Republic, keeping
the laws and doing work for the land that House People, with all their
wisdom, cannot do. Every such fellow-animal of ours, besides having eyes
to see with, and a brain which, if it does not tell him as many things
as our brains tell us, yet teaches him all that he need know to follow
the laws that Heart of Nature has set for him, has the same feelings and
affections as ourselves. Parent birds love each other and their little
ones, and often lose their lives in trying to protect them. They build
their homes with as much care and skill as House People use in making
theirs. Then they work hard, very hard indeed, to collect food to feed
their children, for bird children are, oh, so hungry! They grow very
quickly, and must eat constantly from morning until night.
"With them it is breakfast, luncheon, dinner, five-o'clock tea, and
supper, with a great many other meals between times that would not be
wholesome for House Children. So you can see for yourselves that we may
well call the bird a fellow-being."
"Yes," said Rap, his eyes beaming as if he had something to tell, "some
birds work as hard as mother does. I watched a pair of Robins all one
day last spring, when I was sick. They had a nest in a bush by our
kitchen window, where I could see it well, and all day long either the
mother or the father came about every two minutes with something for the
little ones to eat. I timed them by the clock until I was nearly dizzy,
and they seemed to do the same thing every day until the young ones flew
away. Then they went over to the grape vines, made a new nest, and
raised four more the same way"--and then Rap stopped suddenly, as if he
feared that he had been talking too much.
"That is all true," said the Doctor, looking very happy at finding that
one of his listeners not only saw for himself but remembered and thought
about what he had seen. "If you have used your eyes so well, my lad,
when we come to the bird stories I shall expect you to tell some of them
yourself." And the Doctor held out his hand to the child with a look
that sent him to bed to dream happy dreams for many a night.
The children gazed at Rap in surprise. It was a new idea that a poor
little fellow like him should know more than they, who had both parents
and nice clothes, and had been to school in a big city. That he should
be able to tell stories about birds seemed wonderful. But they were not
selfish, and instead of being jealous felt a great respect for Rap.
"Now," said the Doctor, "we will see what a good neighbor to House
People a bird is, and how in working for himself he helps them also."
"How can birds possibly work to help people?" asked Dodo and Nat
together; but Rap smiled to himself as if he knew something about the
matter, and said, "They eat the bugs and worms and things that kill the
gardens and fields."
"You are right again," said the Doctor heartily. "What is one thing that
man and every other animal must have to keep him alive?"
"_Food_!" shouted Nat, and then grew very red, as the others laughed,
because since he had been at Orchard Farm his appetite had grown so that
though he ate twice as much as Olive and Dodo he seemed always hungry.
"Yes, food. Bread, meat, vegetables, and fruits, but bread first of all.
What is bread made of?"
"Wheat, I think," said Nat.
"Rye, too--mother's rye-bread is drea'fly good," said Rap.
"Don't forget Mammy Bun's corn-bread," added Olive.
"All your answers are right, for many different kinds of bread are used
in various parts of the country; but whether it is made from
wheat-flour, or rye-flour, or corn-meal, it all grows from the ground,
does it not?
"Now the next sort of food--meat, the flesh of animals--oxen, sheep,
pigs, and poultry--what do they feed on?"
"Oxen eat grass and hay and meal," said Dodo, in great haste lest some
one else should speak first.
"Sheep eat grass and hay too. I've seen them over in the pasture on the
hill," said Nat.
"Pigs will eat any old sort of thing," said Rap. "Sour milk and snakes
and swill and rats."
"Ugh!" shivered Dodo. "Are all those nasty things in sausages?" "No,
Dodo," laughed the Doctor; "when pigs are shut up they eat a great many
dirty things, but naturally they prefer clean food like other cattle--
corn, acorns, apples, and so forth. Besides, those 'nasty things,' as
you call them, turn into pork before they are put in sausages, for pigs
know how to make pork. So you see that all the food of the animals whose
flesh we eat comes out of the ground; and that is what the Bible means
where it says, 'All flesh is grass.' But what other things are there
that grow up out of the earth, tall and strong, each one holding a
beautiful green screen to keep the sun from drawing all the moisture
from the ground and making it too dry; shading the rivers that their
waters may not waste away; some making cool bowers for House People to
sit under, others bearing delicious fruits for them to eat, and all in
good time yielding their bodies to make fires and give out heat to warm
"Trees! Yes, trees of course," cried the children eagerly; "all kinds of
trees, for trees grow apples and pears and plums and cherries and
chestnuts and firewood too."
"Now what is there that preys upon all this vegetable life--upon every
plant, from the grass to the tree, destroying them all equally?"
"Bugs and worms and all kinds of crawlers and flyers and hoppers," said
"Yes, every plant has an insect enemy which feeds upon its life juices.
So a set of animals has been developed by Heart of Nature to hold the
plant destroyers in check, and these animals are the birds.
"Man may do all he can to protect his gardens, his orchards, his fields
and forests, but if the birds did not help him the insects that work by
night and day--tapping at the root, boring inside the bark, piercing the
very heart of the plant, chewing off the under side of leaves, nipping
off the buds--would make the earth bare and brown instead of green and
blooming. Yet House People, both young and old, forget this. They shoot
and frighten away the birds, either because some few of their feathered
friends take grapes or other fruits and berries by way of pay, or merely
from thoughtlessness, to see how many they can hit."
"Do _all_ birds eat bugs and such things?" asked Nat. "Olive said she
used to put out grain and crumbs in winter for some kinds."
"Some birds eat animal food and some seed food, while others eat both;
but almost all birds feed their babies upon insects. The nesting season
is chiefly in spring, when all plants begin or renew their growth.
Spring is also the season when the eggs of many insects hatch out and
when others come from the cocoons in which they have slept all winter.
"Then the farmer begins his annual war upon them, and day after day he
fights the Battle of the Bugs. But if he stops to think, and remembers
that Heart of Nature has a use for everything, he will win this battle
against the creeping, crawling, squirming regiments more easily. For
above him in the trees of his forest, in the hedgerows and bushes of his
pasture and garden, on the rafters of his barn, even in the chimney of
his house, live the birds, willing and eager to help him. And all the
wages they ask is permission to work for a living and protection from
those of his fellowmen who covet the Oriole and Cardinal for their gay
feathers and the Robin and Meadowlark for pot-pie."
"Singing-bird pie is wicked. I would like to pound them all," said Dodo,
striking her fists together, as Nat did sometimes, not making it clear
whether it was pie or people she wanted to pound. "But uncle, it is
right to eat some birds--Ducks and Chickens and Geese and Turkeys."
"Yes, Dodo, they belong to another class of birds--a lower order that
seem made for food--not singing nor helping the farmers; but even these
should not be shot needlessly or in their nesting season. But the higher
order--the perching Song Birds--should never be shot, except the common
Sparrow of Europe that we call the English Sparrow. His habits are
wholly bad; he meddles with the nests of useful birds and is a nuisance
to his human as well as bird neighbors.
"To prevent confusion Heart of Nature has divided the habits and
appetites of Birdland, so that instead of a great many families all
building in one kind of tree, or eating the same sort of insects or
seeds, each has its own manners and customs. Thus they divide among
themselves the realms of the air, the water, the trees, and the ground.
Some birds, as the Swallows and Flycatchers, skim through the air to
catch winged insects. Others, like the Woodpeckers and Warblers, take
the scaly insects from the bark of trees. Others that walk on the
ground, like the Robin, the Thrush, Meadowlark, Crow, and Red-winged
Blackbird, eat ground things, such as the fat cutworms which mow with
sharp jaws the young plants of corn, cabbage, and onions."
"Please, Doctor Hunter," asked Rap, "I thought Crows and Blackbirds
were wicked birds that ate up grain and corn, for the miller always puts
up scarecrows to keep them away."
But before the Doctor could answer the children caught sight of Mammy
Bun coming down from the house carrying a tray. Upon this was a pitcher,
some glasses, and a plate full of cakes, which, when she came under the
tree, they saw were delicious-looking buns, as light and brown as good
yeast and careful baking could make them.
"Ah, mammy, mammy," cried Olive, Dodo, and Nat together, "how did you
know that we should be hungry now, and we are simply famishing?"
"Well, honeys, I jess guessed it, I reck'n. I know'd massa was
a-learnin' you'uns suffin', and it allers 'peared to me that learnin'
was mighty empty work. I know'd Massa Doctor was never a one to keep his
patients holler, and least his own folks!" Mammy gave a big comfortable
laugh as the Doctor took the tray from her hands and the children
thanked her heartily, while little Rap smiled hopefully on seeing that
there were six buns on the plate--that meant one for each and two for
the Doctor, he thought.
"No one can make such buns as mammy," said Olive, old as she was
breaking hers in half, to find the lump of sugar soaked with lemon juice
that she knew was inside. "She used to make them for me when I was a
little girl; that is why I named her Mammy Bun, and we've called her
that ever since."
"I thought it was a funny name," said Rap.
"One for each of us, and one for the dish," said Olive, passing the
plate around. "One for the dish? What do you mean?" said Dodo.
"Mammy says it is always nice to have more food on a dish, than people
are likely to eat, so that they shall see there is enough and the dish
shan't feel lonely. You see, that last bun belongs to the dish."
"This time the dish will have to feel lonely," said the Doctor, who had
noticed that Rap was looking at his bun, and not eating it; "for I think
that Rap would like to take that one home to his mother by and by."
From that day Rap always believed that the Doctor could look into his
head and see what he was thinking of.
"As we have been talking about the insect-killing that Citizen Bird does
in order to pay his rent and taxes, as a good citizen should, I will
tell you of the six guilds in Birdland, into which these citizens are
divided in order to do their work thoroughly."
"What is a guild?" asked Rap.
"A guild is a band of people who follow the same trade or occupation,
and birds are banded together according to the ways in which they work,
though some may belong to several guilds. We will name each of the six
"1. Ground Gleaners.
"The birds who feed largely upon the insects which live in, on, or near
"2. Tree Trappers.
"The birds who feed on insects which lurk about the trunks and branches
of trees and shrubs.
"3. Sky Sweepers.
"The birds who, while on the wing, catch flying insects.
"4. Wise Watchers.
"The large, silent birds, who sit in wait for their prey of field-mice
and other little gnawing mammals, as well as insects.
"5. Seed Sowers.
"The birds who eat wild fruits and berries, and after digesting the pulp
and juice, sow the seeds with their bodily wastage.
"6. Weed Warriors.
"The birds who crack seeds in their stout beaks, eat the kernels, and so
destroy millions of harmful weed-seeds.
"You must write the names and definitions of these six guilds down in
your books, because when you hear about each bird I will tell you to
which guild he belongs, and if you know where and upon what a bird feeds
it will be easier for you to find him. All the Land Birds belong to one
or more of these guilds; but perhaps we shall find before we are through
that some of the Water Birds have a guild of Sea Sweepers."
For a few minutes the children scribbled away in silence.
"My book will be very mussy," said Dodo, "for I can't write well when I
sit all humped up on a branch."
"Of course you cannot," said the Doctor; "but by and by you can copy it
out neatly in a clean book, and it will give you something to do on
rainy days, for there are some things that we always remember better if
we have once written them down." Presently Rap said, "It must be
because you never have let any birds be killed here that there are more
kinds than I ever see anywhere else--some of every guild, I think. I've
often wondered how it was."
"There are four Robins' nests in this one tree," said Olive, "and the
old birds have been flying to and fro while we talked, and never dreamed
of being afraid."
"Yes, children, Orchard Farm always has protected its Bird Citizens, and
it always will, in my time."
"And in mine, too," said Olive. "You see if each person would care for
the birds on his own land, the Battle of the Bugs would soon become less
Then the children laughed to think how funny a real battle would be,
with an army of little bugs drawn up on one side of a field and big
House People with guns and cannons on the other.
"But even against cannon," said Olive, "the bugs would have the best of
it, because they can fly or hop, and the worms can crawl into the
Then the Doctor finished this lesson by saying, quite seriously: "Every
time you children deny yourselves the pleasure of taking an egg from a
nest, or think to spread a little food for hungry birds, when cold and
snow almost force them to starve, you are adding to the food-supply of
your country. To be sure, it may be only a few grains of wheat here and
an ear of corn there, but it all means bread-food of some sort, and the
bread of a nation is its life. So we must learn to love and protect this
feathered neighbor of ours, who works for his own living as well as
ours, pays his rent and taxes, and gives, besides, free concerts to the
public, daily. He certainly deserves the name of Citizen Bird. His
patriotism, which is simply his love of the country where he was born,
leads him to return to it whenever he thinks of settling down in life
and making a nest-home, no matter how far he may have wandered away at
any other time; and this patriotism makes him one of the greatest
travellers on the face of the earth."
THE BIRD AS A TRAVELLER
Rap went up to Orchard Farm one morning very early to take Nat for a
walk through the fields, down to the river, to see some birds that had
arrived in the night.
It was only five o'clock, but Dr. Hunter was walking to and fro in the
garden, listening to the burst of bird-music as eagerly as if it were
for the first time in his life. That is one of the best parts of our
friendship with Bird People; they never weary us by talking too much,
and every spring after winter's silence their music is as new as ever.
"Please, Uncle Roy, can I go with Rap?" pleaded Nat. "I will wear my
"You may go if you eat something first. I wonder if Rap would invite me
also?" said the Doctor, leading the way to the big kitchen pantry.
"I know he would!" cried Nat joyfully. "He wished and wished you would
go with us, but we didn't think you'd care to, because you have been to
the river woods so many times before. But why must I eat something,
uncle? I'm in such a hurry to go."
"Because, my boy, the life in us is like a fire that must be supplied
with fuel to keep it burning, only instead of wood or coal we need food.
Very early in the morning this life flame of ours, that is called
vitality, is very low, like a fire that has burned down, and if we go
out in the damp air and breathe the mists that rise from the ground our
vitality has not strength to resist them. But if we put fresh fuel on
our inward fire by eating something before we go out, then that bad
little mischief-maker, which we call malaria, has harder work to creep
"How funny! May I call Rap to tell him? Rap! Rap! come in and have milk
and something to eat, to make your inside fire burn up chills and
Rap thought at first that Nat must be crazy, but very soon understood
what the Doctor meant, and was overjoyed at the prospect of having him
join the expedition.
"Dodo will cry when she wakes up and knows where we have gone," said
Nat, who had been much more kind and thoughtful of his sister since
coming to the Farm. But kindness is very catching, and at the Farm
everybody was kind, from the House People to the big gray horses in the
barn, which let the chickens pick up oats from between their powerful
hoofs, without ever frightening them by moving.
"It is too long a walk for little sister, but you must remember
everything that you see and hear, and tell her about it. Don't forget
the field-glass," said the Doctor, following the boys along the road
where telegraph wires made bird-perches between the high poles.
"You said a lot of birds came last night," said Nat to Rap; "but how do
you know that they came last night and where did they come from?"
"I know they came last night because they were not here yesterday,"
answered Rap; "but I don't know where they came from, except that it
must be from where it is warmer than it is here, because they went away
just before it grew cold last fall. See, Doctor, there are some of them
now on those fence rails and more up on the telegraph wires. The miller
calls them 'Bee Martins,' and says that they eat up all the honey-bees.
Have they any other name--because I have never seen them catch bees?"
Nat looked at them first with the field-glass, then without it as they
drew quite near the fence, and saw a fine bird, twice as long as his
middle finger. Its back and wings looked dark gray; it was white
underneath, with a touch of gray on the breast, and had a black tail,
with white at the end of it. As Nat looked the bird raised a little tuft
of feathers on top of its head, as if angry, flew into the air, giving a
shrill cry, seized an insect, and returned to its perch.
"That is the Kingbird," said the Doctor; "one of the most useful of the
insect-catchers. Instead of living on honey-bees, as many people think,
he eats very few of these, but kills instead thousands of the bad
robber-fly, which is the honey-bee's worst enemy. This bird is really
king of the air and of all fly-catching birds. See how graceful his
flight is, and how easily be moves!"
"Why did he go away last fall?" asked Nat. "Does he feel the cold
weather very much?
"He does not stay in the United States until the weather is cold enough
to dull him; but he has to move away for another reason. The same reason
that forces so many birds to leave us--he must follow his food. This
food consists of insects--different kinds of flies, ants, and
grasshoppers, which disappear or die as the air grows cold.
"Rap, have you ever noticed the difference between the sounds in a
spring night and a night in autumn? In spring the air is humming with
the calls of all sorts of insects, but in autumn it is silent, and even
the crickets have stopped chirping.
"So about the last of September our Kingbirds, who live everywhere in
the United States, gather in flocks, start to find a place where insects