Bird Neighbors by Neltje Blanchan

Bird Neighbors by Neltje Blanchan Etext prepared by Gerry Rising of Buffalo, NY. Notes are the American Ornithologists Union bird names as of 1998. BIRD NEIGHBORS. An Introductory Acquaintance With One Hundred and Fifty Birds Commonly Found in the Gardens, Meadows, and Woods About Our Homes By NELTJE BLANCHAN INTRODUCTION BY JOHN BURROUGHS 1897, 1904,
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Bird Neighbors

by Neltje Blanchan

Etext prepared by Gerry Rising of Buffalo, NY. Notes [in brackets] are the American Ornithologists Union bird names as of 1998.

BIRD NEIGHBORS. An Introductory Acquaintance With One Hundred and Fifty Birds Commonly Found in the Gardens, Meadows, and Woods About Our Homes


1897, 1904, 1922



I. BIRD FAMILIES: Their Characteristics and the Representatives of Each Family included in “Bird Neighbors”
Birds Conspicuously Black and White Dusky, Gray, and Slate-colored Birds Blue and Bluish Birds
Brown, Olive or Grayish Brown, and Brown and Gray Sparrowy Birds
Green, Greenish Gray, Olive, and Yellowish O1ive Birds Birds Conspicuously Yellow and Orange Birds Conspicuously Red of any Shade


I write these few introductory sentences to this volume only to second so worthy an attempt to quicken and enlarge the general interest in our birds. The book itself is merely an introduction, and is only designed to place a few clews in the reader’s hands which he himself or herself is to follow up. I can say that it is reliable and is written in a vivacious strain and by a real bird lover, and should prove a help and a stimulus to any one who seeks by the aid of its pages to become better acquainted with our songsters. The various grouping of the birds according to color, season, habitat, etc., ought to render the identification of the birds, with no other weapon than an opera glass, an easy matter.

When I began the study of the birds I had access to a copy of Audubon, which greatly stimulated my interest in the pursuit, but I did not have the opera glass, and I could not take Audubon with me on my walks, as the reader may this volume.

But you do not want to make out your bird the first time; the book or your friend must not make the problem too easy for you. You must go again and again, and see and hear your bird under varying conditions and get a good hold of several of its characteristic traits. Things easily learned are apt to be easily forgotten. Some ladies, beginning the study of birds, once wrote to me, asking if I would not please come and help them, and set them right about certain birds in dispute. I replied that that would be getting their knowledge too easily; that what I and any one else told them they would be very apt to forget, but that the things they found out themselves they would always remember. We must in a way earn what we have or keep. Only thus does it become ours, a real part of us.

Not very long afterward I had the pleasure of walking with one of the ladies, and I found her eye and ear quite as sharp as my own, and that she was in a fair way to conquer the bird kingdom without any outside help. She said that the groves and fields, through which she used to walk with only a languid interest, were now completely transformed to her and afforded her the keenest pleasure; a whole new world of interest had been disclosed to her; she felt as if she was constantly on the eve of some new discovery; the next turn in the path might reveal to her a new warbler or a new vireo. I remember the thrill she seemed to experience when I called her attention to a purple finch singing in the tree-tops in front of her house, a rare visitant she had not before heard. The thrill would of course have been greater had she identified the bird without my aid. One would rather bag one’s own game, whether it be with a bullet or an eyebeam.

The experience of this lady is the experience of all in whom is kindled this bird enthusiasm. A new interest is added to life; one more resource against ennui and stagnation. If you have only a city yard with a few sickly trees in it, you will find great delight in noting the numerous stragglers from the great army of spring and autumn migrants that find their way there. If you live in the country, it is as if new eyes and new ears were given you, with a correspondingly increased capacity for rural enjoyment.

The birds link themselves to your memory of seasons and places, so that A song, a call, a gleam of color, set going a sequence of delightful reminiscences in your mind. When a solitary great Carolina wren came one August day and took up its abode near me and sang and called and warbled as I had heard it long before on the Potomac, how it brought the old days, the old scenes back again, and made me for the moment younger by all those years!

A few seasons ago I feared the tribe of bluebirds were on the verge of extinction from the enormous number of them that perished from cold and hunger in the South in the winter of ’94. For two summers not a blue wing, not a blue warble. I seemed to miss something kindred and precious from my environment — the visible embodiment of the tender sky and the wistful soil. What a loss, I said, to the coming generations of dwellers in the country — no bluebird in the spring! What will the farm-boy date from? But the fear was groundless: the birds are regaining their lost ground; broods of young blue-coats are again seen drifting from stake to stake or from mullen-stalk to mullen-stalk about the fields in summer, and our April air will doubtless again be warmed and thrilled by this lovely harbinger of spring. — JOHN BURROUGHS, August 19, 1897


Not to have so much as a bowing acquaintance with the birds that nest in our gardens or under the very eaves of our houses; that haunt our wood-piles; keep our fruit-trees free from slugs; waken us with their songs, and enliven our walks along the roadside and through the woods, seems to be, at least, a breach of etiquette toward some of our most kindly disposed neighbors.

Birds of prey, game and water birds are not included in the book. The following pages are intended to be nothing more than a familiar introduction to the birds that live near us. Even in the principal park of a great city like New York, a bird-lover has found more than one hundred and thirty species; as many, probably, as could be discovered in the same sized territory anywhere.

The plan of the book is not a scientific one, if the term scientific is understood to mean technical and anatomical. The purpose of the writer is to give, in a popular and accessible form, knowledge which is accurate and reliable about the life of our common birds. This knowledge has not been collected from the stuffed carcasses of birds in museums, but gleaned afield. In a word, these short narrative descriptions treat of the bird’s characteristics of size, color, and flight; its peculiarities of instinct and temperament; its nest and home life; its choice of food; its songs; and of the season in which we may expect it to play its part in the great panorama Nature unfolds with faithful precision year after year. They are an attempt to make the bird so live before the reader that, when seen out of doors, its recognition shall be instant and cordial, like that given to a friend.

The coloring described in this book is sometimes more vivid than that found in the works of some learned authorities whose conflicting testimony is often sadly bewildering to the novice. In different parts of the country, and at different seasons of the year, the plumage of some birds undergoes many changes. The reader must remember, therefore, that the specimens examined and described were not, as before stated, the faded ones in our museums, but live birds in their fresh, spring plumage, studied afield.

The birds have been classed into color groups, in the belief that this method, more than any other will make identification most easy. The color of the bird is the first, and often the only, characteristic noticed. But they have also been classified according to the localities for which they show decided preferences and in which they are most likely to be found. Again, they have been grouped according to the season when they may be expected. In the brief paragraphs that deal with groups of birds separated into the various families represented in the book, the characteristics and traits of each clan are clearly emphasized. By these several aids it is believed the merest novice will be able to quickly identify any bird neighbor that is neither local nor rare.

To the uninitiated or uninterested observer, all small, dull-colored birds are “common sparrows.” The closer scrutiny of the trained eye quickly differentiates, and picks out not only the Song, the Canada, and the Fox Sparrows, but finds a dozen other familiar friends where one who “has eyes and sees not” does not even suspect their presence. Ruskin says: “The more I think of it, I find this conclusion more impressed upon me, that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to SEE something. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion — all in one.”

While the author is indebted to all the time-honored standard authorities, and to many ornithologists of the present day — too many for individual mention — it is to Mr. John Burroughs her deepest debt is due. To this clear-visioned prophet, who has opened the blind eyes of thousands to the delights that Nature holds within our easy reach, she would gratefully acknowledge many obligations; first of all, for the plan on which “Bird Neighbors” is arranged; next, for his patient kindness in reading and annotating the manuscript of the book; and, not least, for the inspiration of his perennially charming writings that are so largely responsible for the ready-made audience now awaiting writers on out-of-door topics.

The author takes this opportunity to express her appreciation of the work the National Association of Audubon Societies has done and is doing to prevent the slaughter of birds in all parts of the United States, to develop bird sanctuaries and inaugurate protective legislation. Indeed to it, more than to all other agencies combined, is due the credit of eliminating so much of the Prussianlike cruelty toward birds that once characterized American treatment of them, from the rising generation. — NELTJE BLANCHAN




Family Cuculidae: CUCKOOS

Long, pigeon-shaped birds, whose backs are grayish brown with a bronze lustre and whose under parts are whitish. Bill long and curved. Tail long; raised and drooped slowly while the bird is perching. Two toes point forward and two backward. Call-note loud and like a tree-toad’s rattle. Song lacking. Birds of low trees and undergrowth, where they also nest; partial to neighborhood of streams, or wherever the tent caterpillar is abundant. Habits rather solitary, silent, and eccentric. Migratory.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Black-billed Cuckoo.

Family Alcedinidae: KINGFISHERS

Large, top-heavy birds of streams and ponds. Usually seen perching over the water looking for fish. Head crested; upper parts slate-blue; underneath white, and belted with blue or rusty. Bill large and heavy. Middle and outer toes joined for half their length. Call-note loud and prolonged, like a policeman’s rattle. Solitary birds; little inclined to rove from a chosen locality. Migratory.
Belted Kingfisher.


Family Picidae: WOODPECKERS

Medium-sized and small birds, usually with plumage black and white, and always with some red feathers about the head. (The flicker is brownish and yellow instead of black and white.) Stocky, high-shouldered build; bill strong and long for drilling holes in bark of trees. Tail feathers pointed and stiffened to serve as a prop. Two toes before and two behind for clinging. Usually seen clinging erect on tree-trunks; rarely, if ever, head downward, like the nuthatches, titmice, etc. Woodpeckers feed as they creep around the trunks and branches. Habits rather phlegmatic. The flicker has better developed vocal powers than other birds of this class, whose rolling tattoo, beaten with their bills against the tree-trunks, must answer for their love-song. Nest in hollowed-out trees.
Red-headed Woodpecker.
Hairy Woodpecker.
Downy Woodpecker.
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker.



Medium-sized, mottled brownish, gray, black, and white birds of heavy build. Short, thick head; gaping, large mouth; very small bill, with bristles at base. Take insect food on the wing. Feet small and weak; wings long and powerful. These birds rest lengthwise on their perch while sleeping through the brightest daylight hours, or on the ground, where they nest. Nighthawk.

Family Micropolidae: SWIFTS

Sooty, dusky birds seen on the wing, never resting except in chimneys of houses, or hollow trees, where they nest. Tips of tail feathers with sharp spines, used as props. They show their kinship with the goatsuckers in their nocturnal as well as diurnal habits, their small bills and large mouths for catching insects on the wing, and their weak feet. Gregarious, especially at the nesting season.
Chimney Swift.

Family Trochilidae: HUMMING-BIRDS

Very small birds with green plumage (iridescent red or orange breast in males); long, needle-shaped bill for extracting insects and nectar from deep-cupped flowers, and exceedingly rapid, darting flight. Small feet. Ruby-throated Humming-bird.

Order Passeres: PERCHING BIRDS

Family Tyrannidae: FLYCATCHERS

Small and medium-sized dull, dark-olive, or gray birds, with big heads that are sometimes crested. Bills hooked at end, and with bristles at base. Harsh or plaintive voices. Wings longer than tail; both wings and tails usually drooped and vibrating when the birds are perching. Habits moody and silent when perching on a conspicuous limb, telegraph wire, dead tree, or fence rail and waiting for insects to fly within range. Sudden, nervous, spasmodic sallies in midair to seize insects on the wing. Usually they return to their identical perch or lookout. Pugnacious and fearless. Excellent nest builders and devoted mates.
Wood Pewee.
Acadian Flycatcher.
Great Crested Flycatcher.
Least Flycatcher.
Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
Say’s Flycatcher.

Family Alaudidae: LARKS

The only true larks to be found in this country are the two species given below. They are the kin of the European skylark, of which several unsuccessful attempts to introduce the bird have been made in this country. These two larks must not be confused with the meadow larks and titlarks, which belong to the blackbird and pipit families respectively. The horned larks are birds of the ground, and are seen in the United States only in the autumn and winter. In the nesting season at the North their voices are most musical. Plumage grayish and brown, in color harmony with their habitats. Usually found in flocks; the first species on or near the shore.
Horned Lark.
Prairie Horned Lark.

Family Corvidae: CROWS AND JAYS

The crows are large black birds, walkers, with stout feet adapted for the purpose. Fond of shifting their residence at different seasons rather than strictly migratory, for, except at the northern limit of range, they remain resident all the year. Gregarious. Sexes alike. Omnivorous feeders, being partly carnivorous, as are also the jays. Both crows and jays inhabit wooded country. Their voices are harsh and clamorous; and their habits are boisterous and bold, particularly the jays. Devoted mates; unpleasant neighbors. Common Crow.
Fish Crow.
Northern Raven.
Blue Jay.
Canada Jay.


Plumage black or a brilliant color combined with black. (The meadow lark a sole exception.) Sexes unlike. These birds form a connecting link between the crows and the finches. The blackbirds have strong feet for use upon the ground, where they generally feed, while the orioles are birds of the trees. They are both seed and insect eaters. The bills of the bobolink and cowbird are short and conical, for they are conspicuous seed eaters. Bills of the others long and conical, adapted for insectivorous diet. About half the family are gifted songsters.
Red-winged Blackbird.
Rusty Blackbird.
Purple Grackle.
Bronzed Grackle.
Meadow Lark.
Western Meadow Lark.
Orchard Oriole.
Baltimore Oriole.


Generally fine songsters. Bills conical, short, and stout for cracking seeds. Length from five to nine inches, usually under eight inches. This, the largest family of birds that we have (about one-seventh of all our birds belong to it), comprises birds of such varied plumage and habit that, while certain family resemblances may be traced throughout, it is almost impossible to characterize the family as such. The sparrows are comparatively small gray and brown birds with striped upper parts, lighter underneath. Birds of the ground, or not far from it, elevated perches being chosen for rest and song. Nest in low bushes or on the ground. (Chipping sparrow often selects tall trees.) Coloring adapted to grassy, dusty habitats. Males and females similar. Flight labored. About forty species of sparrows are found in the United States; of these, fourteen may be met with by a novice, and six, at least, surely will be.

The finches and their larger kin are chiefly bright-plumaged birds, the females either duller or distinct from males; bills heavy, dull, and conical, befitting seed eaters. Not so migratory as insectivorous birds nor so restless. Mostly phlegmatic in temperament. Fine songsters. Chipping Sparrow.
English Sparrow.
Field Sparrow.
Fox Sparrow.
Grasshopper Sparrow.
Savanna Sparrow.
Seaside Sparrow.
Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Song Sparrow.
Swamp Song Sparrow.
Tree Sparrow.
Vesper Sparrow.
White-crowned Sparrow.
White-throated Sparrow.
Lapland Longspur.
Smith’s Painted Longspur.
Pine Siskin (or Finch).
Purple Finch.
Greater Redpoll.
Red Crossbill.
White-winged Red Crossbill.
Cardinal Grosbeak.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Pine Grosbeak.
Evening Grosbeak.
Blue Grosbeak.
Indigo Bunting.

Family Tanagridae: TANAGERS

Distinctly an American family, remarkable for their brilliant plumage, which, however, undergoes great changes twice a year, Females different from males, being dull and inconspicuous. Birds of the tropics, two species only finding their way north, and the summer tanager rarely found north of Pennsylvania. Shy inhabitants of woods. Though they may nest low in trees, they choose high perches when singing or feeding upon flowers, fruits, and insects. As a family, the tanagers have weak, squeaky voices, but both our species are good songsters. Suffering the fate of most bright-plumaged birds, immense numbers have been shot annually.
Scarlet Tanager.
Summer Tanager.

Family Hirundinidae. SWALLOWS

Birds of the air, that take their insect food on the wing. Migratory. Flight strong, skimming, darting; exceedingly graceful. When not flying they choose slender, conspicuous perches like telegraph wires, gutters, and eaves of barns. Plumage of some species dull, of others iridescent blues and Greens above, whitish or ruddy below. Sexes similar. Bills small; mouths large. – Long and pointed wings, generally reaching the tip of the tail or beyond. Tail more or less forked. Feet small and weak from disuse. Song a twittering warble without power. Gregarious birds.
Barn Swallow.
Bank Swallow.
Cliff (or Eaves) Swallow.
Tree Swallow.
Rough-winged Swallow.
Purple Martin.

Family Ampelidae: WAXWINGS

Medium-sized Quaker-like birds, with plumage of soft browns and grays. Head crested; black band across forehead and through the eye. Bodies plump from indolence. Tail tipped with yellow; wings with red tips to coverts, resembling sealing-wax. Sexes similar. Silent, gentle, courteous, elegant birds. Usually seen in large flocks feeding upon berries in the trees or perching on the branches, except at the nesting season. Voices resemble a soft, lisping twitter.
Cedar Bird.
Bohemian Waxwing.

Family Laniidae: SHRIKES

Medium-sized grayish, black-and-white birds, with hooked and hawk-like bill for tearing the flesh of smaller birds,
field-mice, and large insects that they impale on thorns. Handsome, bold birds, the terror of all small, feathered neighbors, not excluding the English sparrow. They choose conspicuous perches when on the lookout for prey a projecting or dead limb of a tree, the cupola of a house, the ridge-pole or weather-vane of a barn, or a telegraph wire, from which to suddenly drop upon a victim. Eyesight remarkable. Call-notes harsh and unmusical. Habits solitary and wandering. The first-named species is resident during the colder months of the year; the latter is a summer resident only north of Maryland. Northern Shrike.
Loggerhead Shrike.

Family Vireonidae: VIREOS OR GREENLETS

Small greenish-gray or olive birds, whitish or yellowish underneath, their plumage resembling the foliage of the trees they hunt, nest, and live among. Sexes alike. More deliberate in habit than the restless, flitting warblers that are chiefly seen darting about the ends of twigs. Vireos are more painstaking gleaners; they carefully explore the bark, turn their heads upward to investigate the under side of leaves, and usually keep well hidden among the foliage. Bill hooked at tip for holding worms and insects. Gifted songsters, superior to the warblers. This family is peculiar to America. Red-eyed Vireo.
Solitary Vireo.
Warbling Vireo.
White-eyed Vireo.
Yellow-throated Vireo.

Family Mniotiltidae: WOOD WARBLERS

A large group of birds, for the most part smaller than the English sparrow; all, except the ground warblers, of beautiful plumage, in which yellow, olive, slate-blue, black, and white are predominant colors. Females generally duller than males. Exceedingly active, graceful, restless feeders among the terminal twigs of trees and shrubbery; haunters of tree-tops in the woods at nesting time. Abundant birds, especially during May and September, when the majority are migrating to and from regions north of the United States; but they are strangely unknown to all but devoted bird lovers, who seek them out during these months that particularly favor acquaintance. Several species are erratic in their migrations and choose a different course to return southward from the one they travelled over in spring. A few species are summer residents, and one, at least, of this tropical family, the myrtle warbler, winters at the north. The habits of the family are not identical in every representative; some are more deliberate and less nervous than others; a few, like the Canadian and Wilson’s warblers, are expert flycatchers, taking their food on the wing, but not usually returning to the same perch, like true flycatchers; and a few of the warblers, as, for example, the black-and-white, the pine, and the worm-eating species, have the nuthatches’ habit of creeping around the bark of trees. Quite a number feed upon the ground. All are insectivorous, though many vary their diet with blossom, fruit, or berries, and naturally their bills are slender and sharply pointed, rarely finch-like. The yellow-breasted chat has the greatest variety of vocal expressions. The ground warblers are compensated for their sober, thrush-like plumage by their exquisite voices, while the great majority of the family that are gaily dressed have notes that either resemble the trill of mid-summer insects or, by their limited range and feeble utterance, sadly belie the family name.
Bay-breasted Warbler.
Blackburnian Warbler.
Blackpoll Warbler.
Black-throated Blue Warbler.
Black-throated Green Warbler.
Black-and-white Creeping Warbler.
Blue-winged Warbler.
Canadian Warbler.
Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Golden-winged Warbler.
Hooded Warbler.
Kentucky Warbler.
Magnolia Warbler.
Mourning Warbler.
Myrtle Warbler.
Nashville Warbler.
Palm Warbler.
Parula Warbler.
Pine Warbler.
Prairie Warbler.
Wilson’s Warbler.
Worm-eating Warbler.
Yellow Warbler.
Yellow Palm Warbler.
Northern Water Thrush.
Louisiana Water Thrush.
Maryland Yellowthroat.
Yellow-breasted Chat.

Family Motacillidae: WAGTAILS AND PIPITS,

Only three birds of this family inhabit North America, and of these only one is common enough, east of the Mississippi, to be included in this book. Terrestrial birds of open tracts near the coast, stubble-fields, and country roadsides, with brownish plumage to harmonize with their surroundings. The American pipit, or titlark, has a peculiar wavering flight when, after being flushed, it reluctantly leaves the ground. Then its white tail feathers are conspicuous. Its habit of wagging its tail when perching is not an exclusive family trait, as the family name might imply.
American Pipit, or Titlark

Family Troglodytidae: THRASHERS, WRENS, ETC.


Apparently the birds that comprise this large general family are too unlike to be related, but the missing links or intermediate species may all be found far South. The first subfamily is comprised of distinctively American birds. Most numerous in the tropics. Their long tails serve a double purpose-in assisting their flight and acting as an outlet for their vivacity. Usually they inhabit scrubby undergrowth bordering woods. They rank among our finest songsters, with ventriloquial and imitative powers added to sweetness of tone. Brown Thrasher.

Subfamily Troglodytinae: WRENS

Small brown birds, more or less barred with darkest brown above, much lighter below. Usually carry their short tails erect. Wings are small, for short flight. Vivacious, busy, excitable, easily displeased, quick to take alarm. Most of the species have scolding notes in addition to their lyrical, gushing song, that seems much too powerful a performance for a diminutive bird. As a rule, wrens haunt thickets or marshes, but at least one species is thoroughly domesticated. All are insectivorous.
Carolina Wren.
House Wren.
Long-billed Marsh Wren.
Short-billed Marsh Wren.

Family Certhiidae: CREEPERS

Only one species of this Old World family is found in America. It is a brown, much mottled bird, that creeps spirally around and around the trunks of trees in fall and winter, pecking at the larvae in the bark with its long, sharp bill, and doing its work with faithful exactness but little spirit. It uses its tail as a prop in climbing, like the woodpeckers. Brown Creeper.


Two distinct subfamilies are included under this general head. The nuthatches (Sittinae) are small, slate-colored birds, seen chiefly in winter walking up and down the barks of trees, and sometimes running along the under side of branches upside down, like flies. Plumage compact and smooth. Their name is derived from their habit of wedging nuts (usually beechnuts) in the bark of trees, and then hatching them open with their strong straight bills. White-breasted Nuthatch.
Red-breasted Nuthatch.

The titmice or chickadees (Parinae) are fluffy little gray birds, the one crested. the other with a black cap. They are also expert climbers, though not such wonderful gymnasts as the nuthatches. These cousins are frequently seen together in winter woods or in the evergreens about houses. Chickadees are partial to tree-tops, especially to the highest pine cones, on which they hang fearlessly. Cheerful, constant residents, retreating to the deep woods only to nest.
Tufted Titmouse.


The kinglets (Regulinae) are very small greenish-gray birds, with highly colored crown patch, that are seen chiefly in autumn, winter, and spring south of Labrador. Habits active; diligent flitters among trees and shrubbery from limb to limb after minute insects. Beautiful nest builders. Song remarkable for so small a bird.
Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

The one representative of the distinctly American subfamily of gnatcatchers (Polioptilinae) that we have, is a small blue-gray bird, whitish below. It is rarely found outside moist, low tracts of woodland, where insects abound. These it takes on the wing with wonderful dexterity. It is exceedingly graceful and assumes many charming postures. A bird of trees, nesting in the high branches. A bird of strong character and an exquisitely finished though feeble songster.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.


This group includes our finest songsters. Birds of moderate size, stout build; as a rule, inhabitants of woodlands, but the robin and the bluebird are notable exceptions. Bills long and slender, suitable for worm diet. Only casual fruit-eaters. Slender, strong legs for running and hopping. True thrushes are grayish or olive-brown above; buff or whitish below, heavily streaked or spotted.
Alice’s Thrush.
Hermit Thrush.
Olive-backed Thrush.
Wilson’s Thrush (Veery).
Wood Thrush.


Family Columbidae: PIGEONS AND DOVES

The wild pigeon is now too rare to be included among our bird neighbors; but its beautiful relative, without the fatally gregarious habit, still nests and sings a-coo-oo-oo to its devoted mate in unfrequented corners of the farm or the borders of woodland. Delicately shaded fawn-colored and bluish plumage. Small heads, protruding breasts. Often seen on ground. Flight strong and rapid, owing to long wings.
Mourning or Carolina Dove.



Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Say’s Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Kingbird, Phoebe. Wood Pewee, Purple Martin, Chimney Swift, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Tree Swallow, Rough-winged Swallow, Canadian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, Ruby-throated Humming-bird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.


Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, nearly all the Warblers except the Ground Warblers; Cedar Bird, Bohemian Waxwing, the Vireos, Robin, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Purple Grackle, Bronzed Grackle, Redstart, Northern Shrike, Loggerhead Shrike, Crow, Fish Crow, Raven, Purple Finch, Tree and Chipping Sparrows, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Kingbird, the Crested and other Flycatchers.


Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the Sparrows, the Thrushes, the Grosbeaks, Goldfinch, Summer Yellowbird and other Warblers; the Wrens, Bluebird, Mocking-bird, Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Maryland Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat.


Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Woodpecker, Flicker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-and-white Creeping Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Whippoorwill, Nighthawk.


Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, the Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, the Kinglets, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Creeping Warbler and all the Warblers except the Ground Warblers; Pine Siskin, Cedar Bird and Bohemian Waxwing (in juniper and cedar trees), Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, the Grackles, Crow, Raven, Pine Finch.


The Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Solitary Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Yellow Warbler or Summer Yellowbird, nearly all the Warblers except the Pine and the Ground Warblers; the Flycatchers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.


Northern Shrike, Loggerhead Shrike, Kingbird, the Wood Pewee, the Phoebe and other Flycatchers, the Swallows, Kingfisher, Crows, Grackles, Blue Jay and Canada Jay; the Song, the White-throated, and the Fox Sparrows; the Grosbeaks, Cedar Bird, Goldfinch, Robin, Purple Finch, Cowbird, Brown Thrasher while in song.


Bluebird, Robin; the English, Song, White-throated, Vesper, White-crowned, Fox, Chipping, and Tree Sparrows; Phoebe, Wood Pewee, the Least Flycatcher, Crested Flycatcher, Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, Wood Thrush, Mocking-bird, Catbird, House Wren; nearly all the Warblers, especially at blossom time among the shrubbery and fruit trees; Cedar Bird, Purple Martin, Eaves Swallow, Barn Swallow, Purple Finch, Cowbird, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Purple Grackle, Bronzed Grackle, Blue Jay, Crow, Fish Crow, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the Woodpeckers, Flicker, the Nuthatches, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, the Cuckoos, Mourning Dove, Junco, Starling.


The Warblers almost without exception; the Thrushes, the Woodpeckers, the Flycatchers, the Winter and the Carolina Wrens, the Tanagers, the Nuthatches and Titmice, the Kinglets, the Water Thrushes, the Vireos, Whippoorwill, Nighthawk, Kingfisher, Cardinal, Ovenbird, Brown Creeper, Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Junco.


The Wrens, the Woodpeckers, the Flycatchers, the Warblers, Purple Finch, the Cuckoos, Brown Thrasher, Wood Thrush, Cowbird, Brown Creepers, the Nuthatches and Titmice, the Kinglets, Chewink; the White-crowned, White-throated, Tree, Fox, and Song Sparrows; Humming-bird, Bluebird, Junco, the Crossbills, the Grosbeaks, Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, Mourning Dove, Indigo Bird, Brown Thrasher.


Maryland Yellowthroat, Ovenbird (in woods); Myrtle Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and other Warblers during the migrations; the Shrikes; the White-throated, the Fox, the Song, and other Sparrows; Chickadee, Junco, Chewink, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Catbird, Mocking-bird, Wilson’s Thrush, Goldfinch, Redpolls, Maryland Yellowthroat, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler.


The Sparrows, Junco, Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Chewink, Robin, Ovenbird, Pipit or Titlark, Redpoll, Greater Redpoll, Snowflake, Lapland Longspur, Smith’s Painted Longspur, Rusty Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, the Crows, Cowbird, the Water Thrushes, Bobolink, Canada Jay, the Grackles, Mourning Dove; the Worm-eating, the Prairie, the Kentucky, and the Mourning Ground Warblers; Flicker.


The Field and Vesper Sparrows, Bobolink, Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Goldfinch, the Swallows, Pipit or Titlark, Cowbird, Redpoll, Greater Redpoll, Snowflake, Junco, Lapland Longspur, Smith’s Painted Longspur, Rusty Blackbird, Crow, Fish Crow, Nighthawk, Whippoorwill; the Yellow, the Palm, and the Prairie Warblers; the Grackles, Flicker, Bluebird, Indigo Bird.


The Sparrows, Kingbird, Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bird, Bluebird, Flicker, Goldfinch, Brown Thrasher, Catbird, Robin, the Woodpeckers, Yellow Palm Warbler, the Vireos.


Long-billed Marsh Wren, Short-billed Marsh Wren; the Swamp, the Savanna, the Sharp-tailed, and the Seaside Sparrows; Red-winged Blackbird.


Northern Water Thrush, Louisiana Water Thrush, Ovenbird, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Phoebe; Wood Pewee and the other Flycatchers; Wilson’s Thrush or Veery, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat; the Canadian, Wilson’s, Black-capped, the Maryland Yellowthroat, the Hooded, and the Yellow-throated Warblers.


Fish Crow, Common Crow, Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow, Savanna Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Horned Lark, Pipit or Titlark.


Kingfisher, the Swallows, Northern Water Thrush, Louisiana Water Thrush, Phoebe, Wood Pewee, the Flycatchers, Winter Wren, Wilson’s Black-capped Warbler, the Canadian and the Yellow Warblers.


Bobolink, Meadowlark, Indigo Bird, Purple Finch, Goldfinch, Ovenbird, Kingbird, Vesper Sparrow (rarely), Maryland Yellowthroat, Horned Lark, Kingfisher, the Swallows, Chimney Swift, Nighthawk, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Pipit or Titlark, Mocking-bird.


The latitude of New York is taken as an arbitrary division for which allowances must be made for other localities.



Hairy Woodpecker. Swamp Sparrow. Downy Woodpecker. Song Sparrow.
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. Cedar Bird. Red-headed Woodpecker. Cardinal.
Flicker. Carolina Wren. Meadowlark. White-breasted Nuthatch. Prairie Horned Lark. Tufted Titmouse. Blue Jay. Chickadee.
Crow. Robin.
Fish Crow. Bluebird.
English Sparrow. Goldfinch. Social Sparrow. Starling.



English Sparrow. Pine Grosbeak. Tree Sparrow. Redpoll.
White-throated Sparrow. Greater Redpoll. Swamp Sparrow. Cedar Bird.
Vesper Sparrow. Bohemian Waxwing. White-crowned Sparrow. Hairy Woodpecker. Fox Sparrow. Downy Woodpecker. Song Sparrow. Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. Snowflake. Flicker.
Junco. Myrtle Warbler. Horned Lark. Northern Shrike.
Meadowlark. White-breasted Nuthatch. Red-breasted Nuthatch. Goldfinch.
Tufted Titmouse. Pine Siskin. Chickadee. Lapland Longspur.
Robin. Smith’s Painted Longspur. Bluebird. Evening Grosbeak.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Cardinal. Golden-crowned Kinglet. Blue Jay.
Brown Creeper. Red Crossbill. Carolina Wren. White-winged Crossbill. Winter Wren. Crow.
Pipit. Fish Crow.
Purple Finch. Kingfisher.



Mourning Dove. Red-winged Blackbird. Black-billed Cuckoo. Rusty Blackbird. Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Orchard Oriole. Kingfisher. Baltimore Oriole.
Red-headed Woodpecker. Purple Grackle. Hairy Woodpecker. Bronzed Grackle. Downy Woodpecker. Crow.
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. Fish Crow. Flicker. Raven.
Whippoorwill. Blue Jay.
Nighthawk. Canada Jay.
Chimney Swift. Chipping Sparrow. Ruby-throated Humming-bird. English Sparrow. Kingbird. Field Sparrow.
Wood Pewee. Fox Sparrow.
Phoebe. Grasshopper Sparrow. Acadian Flycatcher. Savanna Sparrow. Crested Flycatcher. Seaside Sparrow. Least Flycatcher. Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Olive-sided Flycatcher. Swamp Song Sparrow. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Song Sparrow. Say’s Flycatcher. Vesper Sparrow. Bobolink. Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Cowbird. Blue Grosbeak.
Indigo Bird. Yellow-breasted Chat. Scarlet Tanager. Maryland Yellowthroat. Purple Martin. Mocking-bird.
Barn Swallow. Catbird.
Bank Swallow. Brown Thrasher. Cliff Swallow. House Wren.
Tree Swallow. Carolina Wren. Rough-winged Swallow. Long-billed Marsh Wren. Red-eyed Vireo. Short-billed Marsh Wren. White-eyed Vireo. Alice’s Thrush. Solitary Vireo. Hermit Thrush.
Warbling Vireo. Olive-backed Thrush. Yellow-throated Vireo. Wilson’s Thrush or Veery. Black-and-white Warbler. Wood Thrush. Black-throated Green Warbler. Meadowlark. Blue-winged Warbler. Western Meadowlark. Chestnut-sided Warbler. Prairie Horned Lark. Golden-winged Warbler. White-breasted Nuthatch. Hooded Warbler. Chickadee.
Pine Warbler. Tufted Titmouse. Prairie Warbler. Chewink.
Parula Warbler. Purple Finch. Worm-eating Warbler. Goldfinch.
Yellow Warbler. Cardinal.
Redstart. Robin.
Ovenbird. Bluebird.
Northern Water Thrush. Cedar-Bird. Louisiana Water Thrush. Loggerhead Shrike.


The following Warblers:
Bay-breasted. Nashville.
Blackburnian. Wilson’s Black-capped. Black-polled. Palm.
Black-throated Blue. Yellow Palm. Canadian.
Magnolia. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Mourning. Summer Tanager.



Bluebird, Robin, the Grackles, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Kingfisher, Flicker, Purple Finch.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Cowbird, Meadowlark, Phoebe; the Field, the Vesper, and the Swamp Sparrows.


The White-throated and the Chipping Sparrows, the Tree and the Barn Swallows, Rusty Blackbird, the Red-headed and the Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pipit; the Pine, the Myrtle, and the Yellow Palm Warblers; Goldfinch.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Brown Thrasher; Alice’s, the Olive-backed, and the Wood Thrushes; Chimney Swift, Whippoorwill, Chewink, the Purple Martin, and the Cliff and the Bank Swallows; Least Flycatcher; the Black-and-white Creeping, the Parula, and the Black-throated Green Warblers; Ovenbird, House Wren, Catbird.

MAY 1 TO 15

Increased numbers of foregoing group; Wilson’s Thrush or Veery; Nighthawk, Ruby-throated Humming-bird, the Cuckoos, Crested Flycatcher, Kingbird, Wood Pewee, the Marsh Wrens, Bank Swallow, the five Vireos, the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Bobolink, Indigo Bird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Maryland Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, the Water Thrushes; and the Magnolia, the Yellow, the Black-throated Blue, the Bay-breasted, the Chestnut-sided, and the Golden-winged Warblers.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Mocking-bird, Summer Tanager; and the Blackburnian, the Blackpoll, the Worm-eating, the Hooded, Wilson’s Blackcapped, and Canadian Warblers.


In June few species of birds are not nesting, in July they may rove about more or less with their increased families, searching for their favorite foods; August finds them moulting and moping in silence, but toward the end of the month, thoughts of returning southward set them astir again.


Bobolink, Cliff Swallow, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Purple Martin; the Blackburnian, the Worm-eating, the Bay-breasted, the Chestnut-sided, the Hooded, the Mourning, Wilson’s Black-capped, and the Canadian Warblers; Baltimore Oriole. Humming-bird.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Wilson’s Thrush, Wood Thrush, Kingbird, Wood Pewee, Crested Flycatcher; the Least, the Olive-sided, and the Acadian Flycatchers; the Marsh Wrens, the Cuckoos, Whippoorwill, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bird; the Warbling, the Solitary, and the Yellow-throated Vireos; the Black-and-white Creeping, the Golden-winged, the Yellow, and the Black-throated Blue Warblers; Maryland Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Redstart.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Hermit Thrush, Catbird, House Wren, Ovenbird, the Water Thrushes, the Red-eyed and the White-eyed Vireos, Wood Pewee, Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Cowbird, Horned Lark, Winter Wren, Junco; the Tree, the Vesper, the
White-throated, and the Grasshopper Sparrows; the Blackpoll, the Parula, the Pine, the Yellow Palm, and the Prairie Warblers; Chickadee; Tufted Titmouse.


Increased numbers of foregoing group; Wood Thrush, Wilson’s Thrush or Veery, Alice’s Thrush, Olive-backed Thrush, Robin, Chewink, Brown Thrasher, Phoebe, Shrike; the Fox, the Field, the Swamp, the Savanna, the White-crowned, the Chipping, and the Song Sparrows; the Red-winged and the Rusty Blackbirds; Meadowlark, the Grackles, Flicker, the Red-headed and the Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers; Purple Finch, the Kinglets. the Nuthatches, Pine Siskin.



Humming-bird. The Redpolls.
The Kinglets. Goldfinch.
The Wrens. Pine Siskin.
All the Warblers not Savanna Sparrow. mentioned elsewhere. Grasshopper Sparrow. Redstart. Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Ovenbird. Chipping Sparrow.
Chickadee. Field Sparrow. Tufted Titmouse. Swamp Song Sparrow. Red-breasted Nuthatch. Indigo-Bunting. White-breasted Nuthatch. Warbling Vireo. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Yellow-throated Vireo. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Red-eyed Vireo. Acadian Flycatcher. White-eyed Vireo. Least Flycatcher. Brown Creeper.


Purple Finch. Junco.
The Crossbills. Song Sparrow. The Longspurs. Solitary Vireo.
Vesper Sparrow. The Water-thrushes. Seaside Sparrow. Pipit or Titlark. Tree Sparrow. Downy Woodpecker.


Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. Kingbird. Chimney Swift (apparently). Crested Flycatcher. The Swallows (apparently). Phoebe.
Olive-sided Flycatcher, Snowflake. Wood Pewee. White-crowned Sparrow. Horned Lark White-throated Sparrow. Bobolink. Fox Sparrow
Cowbird. The Tanagers
Orchard Oriole. Cedar Bird. Baltimore Oriole. Bohemian Waxwing. The Grosbeaks: Evening, Blue, Yellow-breasted Chat. Pine, Rose-breasted, The Thrushes. and Cardinal. Bluebird.


Red-headed Woodpecker. Northern Shrike. Hairy Woodpecker. Mocking-bird.
Red-winged Blackbird. Catbird. Rusty Blackbird. Chewink.
Loggerhead Shrike. Purple Martin (apparently). Starling.


Mourning Dove. Blue Jay.
The Cuckoos. Canada Jay.
Kingfisher. Meadowlark.
Flicker. Whippoorwill (apparently). Raven. Nighthawk (apparently). Crow. The Grackles.
Fish Crow. Brown Thrasher.




Common Crow.
Fish Crow.
American Raven.
Purple Grackle.
Bronzed Grackle.
Rusty Blackbird.
Red-winged Blackbird.
Purple Martin.

See also several of the Swallows; the Kingbird, the Phoebe, the Wood Pewee and other Flycatchers; the Chimney Swift; and the Chewink.



(Corvus americanus) Crow family

Called also: CORN THIEF; [AMERICAN CROW, AOU 1998]

Length — 16 to 17.50 inches.
Male — Glossy black with violet reflections. Wings appear saw-toothed when spread, and almost equal the tail in length. Female — Like male, except that the black is less brilliant. Range — Throughout North America, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Migrations — March. October. Summer and winter resident.

If we have an eye for the picturesque, we place a certain value upon the broad, strong dash of color in the landscape, given by a flock of crows flapping their course above a corn-field, against an October sky; but the practical eye of the farmer looks only for his gun in such a case. To him the crow is an unmitigated nuisance, all the more maddening because it is clever enough to circumvent every means devised for its ruin. Nothing escapes its rapacity; fear is unknown to it. It migrates in broad daylight, chooses the most conspicuous perches, and yet its assurance is amply justified in its steadily increasing numbers.

In the very early spring, note well the friendly way in which the crow follows the plow, ingratiating itself by eating the larvae, field mice, and worms upturned in the furrows, for this is its one serviceable act throughout the year. When the first brood of chickens is hatched, its serious depredations begin. Not only the farmer’s young fledglings, ducks, turkeys, and chicks, are snatched up and devoured, but the nests of song birds are made desolate, eggs being crushed and eaten on the spot, when there are no birds to carry off to the rickety, coarse nest in the high tree top in the woods. The fish crow, however, is the much greater enemy of the birds. Like the common crows, this, their smaller cousin, likes to congregate in winter along the seacoast to feed upon shell-fish and other sea-food that the tide brings to its feet.

Samuels claims to have seen a pair of crows visit an orchard and destroy the young in two robins’ nests in half an hour. He calculates that two crows kill, in one day alone, young birds that in the course of the season would have eaten a hundred thousand insects. When, in addition to these atrocities, we remember the crow’s depredations in the corn-field, it is small wonder that among the first laws enacted in New York State was one offering a reward for its head. But the more scientific agriculturists now concede that the crow is the farmer’s true friend.

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus) Crow family

Length — 14 to 16 inches. About half as large again as the robin.
Male and Female — Glossy black, with purplish-blue reflections, generally greener underneath. Chin naked. Range — Along Atlantic coast and that of the Gult of Mexico, northward to southern New England. Rare stragglers or) the Pacific coast.
Migrations — March or April. September. Summer resident only at northern limit of range. Is found in Hudson River valley about half-way to Albany.

Compared with the common crow, with which it is often confounded, the fish crow is of much smaller, more slender build. Thus its flight is less labored and more like a gull’s, whose habit of catching fish that may be swimming near the surface of the water it sometimes adopts. Both Audubon and Wilson, who first made this species known, record its habit of snatching food as it flies over the southern waters — a rare practice at the north. Its plumage, too, differs slightly from the common crow’s in being a richer black everywhere, and particularly underneath, where the “corn thief” is dull. But it is the difference between the two crows’ call-note that we chiefly depend upon to distinguish these confusing cousins. To say that the fish crow says car-r-r instead of a loud, clear caw, means little until we have had an opportunity to compare its hoarse, cracked voice with the other bird’s familiar call.

From the farmer’s point of view, there is still another distinction: the fish crow lets his crops alone. It contents itself with picking up refuse on the shores of the sea or rivers not far inland; haunting the neighborhood of fishermen’s huts for the small fish discarded when the seines are drawn, and treading out with its toes the shell-fish hidden in the sand at low tide. When we see it in the fields it is usually intent upon catching field-mice, grubs, and worms, with which it often varies its fish diet. It is, however, the worst nest robber we have; it probably destroys ten times as many eggs and young birds as its larger cousin.

The fishermen have a tradition that this southern crow comes and goes with the shad and herring — a saw which science unkindly disapproves.


(Corvus corax principalis) Crow family


Length — 26 to 27 inches. Nearly three times as large as a robin.
Male and Female — Glossy black above, with purplish and greenish reflections. Duller underneath. Feathers of the throat and breast long and loose, like fringe.
Range — North America, from polar regions to Mexico. Rare along Atlantic coast and in the south. Common in the west, and very abundant in the northwest.
Migrations — An erratic wanderer, usually resident where it finds its way.

The weird, uncanny voice of this great bird that soars in wide circles above the evergreen trees of dark northern forests seems to come out of the skies like the malediction of an evil spirit. Without uttering the words of any language — Poe’s “Nevermore” was, of course, a poetic license — people of all nationalities appear to understand that some dire calamity, some wicked portent, is being announced every time the unbirdlike creature utters its rasping call. The superstitious folk crow with an “I told you so,” as they solemnly wag their heads when they hear, of some death in the village after “the bird of ill-omen” has made an unwelcome visit to the neighborhood–it receives the blame for every possible misfortune.

When seen in the air, the crow is the only other bird for which the raven could be mistaken; but the raven does more sailing and less flapping, and he delights in describing circles as he easily soars high above the trees. On the ground, he is seen to be a far larger bird than the largest crow. The curious beard or fringe of feathers on his breast at once distinguishes him.

These birds show the family instinct for living in flocks large and small, not of ravens only, but of any birds of their own genera. In the art of nest building they could instruct most of their relatives. High up in evergreen trees or on the top of cliffs, never very near the seashore, they make a compact, symmetrical nest of sticks, neatly lined with grasses and wool from the sheep pastures, adding soft, comfortable linings to the old nest from year to year for each new brood. When the young emerge from the eggs, which take many curious freaks of color and markings, they are pied black and white, suggesting the young of the western white-necked raven, a similarity which, so far as plumage is concerned, they quickly outgrow. They early acquire the fortunate habit of eating whatever their parents set before them — grubs, worms, grain, field-mice; anything, in fact, for the raven is a conspicuously omnivorous bird.

PURPLE GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula) Blackbird family


Length — 12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the robin.
Male — Iridescent black, in which metallic violet, blue, copper, and green tints predominate. The plumage of this grackle has iridescent bars. Iris of eye bright yellow and conspicuous. Tail longer than wings.
Female — Less brilliant black than male, and smaller. Range — Gulf of Mexico to 57th parallel north latitude. Migrations — Permanent resident in Southern States. Few are permanent throughout range. Migrates in immense flocks in March and September.

This “refined crow” (which is really no crow at all except in appearance) has scarcely more friends than a thief is entitled to; for, although in many sections of the country it has given up its old habit of stealing Indian corn and substituted ravages upon the grasshoppers instead, it still indulges a crow-like instinct for pillaging nests and eating young birds.

Travelling in immense flocks of its own kind, a gregarious bird of the first order, it nevertheless is not the social fellow that its cousin, the red-winged blackbird, is. It especially holds aloof from mankind, and mankind reciprocates its suspicion.

The tallest, densest evergreens are not too remote for it to build its home, according to Dr. Abbott, though in other States than New Jersey, where he observed them, an old orchard often contains dozens of nests. One peculiarity of the grackles is that their eggs vary so much in coloring and markings that different sets examined in the same groups of trees are often wholly unlike. The average groundwork, however, is soiled blue or greenish, waved, streaked, or clouded with brown. These are laid in a nest made of miscellaneous sticks and grasses, rather carefully constructed, and lined with mud. Another peculiarity is the bird’s method of steering itself by its tail when it wishes to turn its direction or alight.

Peering at you from the top of a dark pine tree with its staring yellow eye, the grackle is certainly uncanny. There, very early in the spring, you may hear its cracked and wheezy whistle, for, being aware that however much it may look like a crow it belongs to another family, it makes a ridiculous attempt to sing. When a number of grackles lift up their voices at once, some one has aptly likened the result to a “good wheel-barrow chorus!” The grackle’s mate alone appreciates his efforts as, standing on tiptoe, with half-spread wings and tail, he pours forth his craven soul to her through a disjointed larynx. With all their faults, and they are numerous, let it be recorded of both crows and grackles that they are as devoted lovers as turtle-doves. Lowell characterizes them in these four lines:

“Fust come the black birds, clatt’rin’ in tall trees, And settlin’ things in windy Congresses; Queer politicians, though, for I’ll be skinned If all on ’em don’t head against the wind.”

The Bronzed Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula aeneus) differs from the preceding chiefly in the more brownish bronze tint of its plumage and its lack of iridescent bars. Its range is more westerly, and in the southwest it is particularly common; but as a summer resident it finds its way to New England in large numbers. The call-note is louder and more metallic than the purple grackle’s. In nearly all respects the habits of these two birds are identical.

RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Scolecophagus carolinus) Blackbird family


Length — 9 to 9.55 inches. A trifle smaller than the robin. Male — In full plumage, glossy black with metallic reflections, intermixed with rusty brown that becomes more pronounced as the season advances. Pale straw-colored eyes. Female — Duller plumage and more rusty, inclining to gray. Light line over eye. Smaller than male.
Range — North America, from Newfoundland to Gulf of Mexico and westward to the Plains.
Migrations — April. November. A few winter north.

A more sociable bird than the grackle, though it travel in smaller flocks, the rusty blackbird condescends to mingle freely with other feathered friends in marshes and by brooksides. You can identify it by its rusty feathers and pale yellow eye, and easily distinguish the rusty-gray female from the female redwing that is conspicuously streaked.

In April flocks of these birds may frequently be seen along sluggish, secluded streams in the woods, feeding upon the seeds of various water or brookside plants, and probably upon insects also. At such times they often indulge in a curious spluttering, squeaking, musical concert that one listens to with pleasure. The breeding range is mostly north of the United States. But little seems to be known of the birds’ habits in their northern home.

Why it should ever have been called a thrush blackbird is one of those inscrutable mysteries peculiar to the naming of birds which are so frequently called precisely what they are not. In spite of the compliment implied in associating the name of one of our finest songsters with it, the rusty blackbird has a clucking call as unmusical as it is infrequent, and only very rarely in the spring does it pipe a note that even suggests the sweetness of the redwing’s.


(Agelaius Phamiceus) Blackbird family


Length — Exceptionally variable–7.50 to 9.80 inches. Usually about an inch smaller than the robin.
Male — Coal-black. Shoulders scarlet, edged with yellow. Female — Feathers finely and inconspicuously speckled with brown, rusty black, whitish, and orange. Upper wing-coverts black, tipped with white, or rufous and sometimes spotted with black and red.
Range — North America. Breeds from Texas to Columbia River, and throughout the United States. Commonly found from Mexico to 57th degree north latitude.
Migrations — March. October. Common summer resident.

In oozy pastures where a brook lazily finds its way through the farm is the ideal pleasure ground of this “bird of society.” His notes, “h’-wa-ker-ee” or “con-quer-ee” (on an ascending scale), are liquid in quality, suggesting the sweet, moist, cool retreats where he nests. Liking either heat or cold (he is fond of wintering in Florida, but often retreats to the north while the marshes are still frozen); enjoying not only the company of large flocks of his own kind with whom he travels, but any bird associates with whom he can scrape acquaintance; or to sit quietly on a tree-top in the secluded, inaccessible bog while his mate is nesting; satisfied with cut-worms, grubs, and insects, or with fruit and grain for his food — the blackbird is an impressive and helpful example of how to get the best out of life.

Yet, of all the birds, some farmers complain that the blackbird is the greatest nuisance. They dislike the noisy chatterings when a flock is simply indulging its social instincts. They complain, too, that the blackbirds eat their corn, forgetting that having devoured innumerable grubs from it during the summer, the birds feel justly entitled to a share of the profits. Though occasionally guilty of eating the farmer’s corn and oats and rice, yet it has been found that nearly seven-eighths of the redwing’s food is made up of weed-seeds or of insects injurious to agriculture. This bird builds its nest in low bushes on the margin of ponds or low in the bog grass of marshes. From three to five pale-blue eggs, curiously streaked, spotted, and scrawled with black or purple, constitute a brood. Nursery duties are soon finished, for in July the young birds are ready to gather in flocks with their elders.

“The blackbirds make the maples ring With social cheer and jubilee;
The red-wing flutes his ‘0-ka-lee!'” –Emerson.

PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis) Swallow family

Length — 7 to 8 inches. Two or three inches smaller than the robin.
Male — Rich glossy black with bluish and purple reflections; duller black on wings and tail. Wings rather longer than the tail, which is forked.
Female — More brownish and mottled; grayish below. Range — Peculiar to America. Penetrates from Arctic Circle to South America.
Migrations — Late April. Early September. Summer resident.

In old-fashioned gardens, set on a pole over which honeysuckle and roses climbed from a bed where China pinks, phlox, sweet Williams, and hollyhocks crowded each other below, martin boxes used always to be seen with a pair of these large, beautiful swallows circling overhead. Bur now, alas! the boxes, where set up at all, are quickly monopolized by the English sparrow, a bird that the martin, courageous as a kingbird in attacking crows and hawks, tolerates as a neighbor only when it must.

Bradford Torrey tells of seeing quantities of long-necked squashes dangling from poles about the negro cabins all through the South. One day he asked an old colored man what these squashes were for.

“Why, deh is martins’ boxes,” said Uncle Remus. “No danger of hawks carryin’ off de chickens so long as de martins am around.”

The Indians, too, have always had a special liking for this bird. They often lined a hollowed-out gourd with bits of bark and fastened it in the crotch of their tent poles to invite its friendship. The Mohegan Indians have called it “the bird that never rests”–a name better suited to the tireless barn swallow, Dr. Abbott thinks.

Wasps, beetles, and all manner of injurious garden insects constitute its diet — another reason for its universal popularity. It is simple enough to distinguish the martins from the other swallows by their larger size and iridescent dark coat, not to mention their song, which is very soft and sweet, like musical laughter, rippling up through the throat.

COWBIRD (Molothrus ater) Blackbird family


Length — 7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin. Male — Iridescent black, with head, neck, and breast glistening brown. Bill dark brown, feet brownish.
Female — Dull grayish-brown above, a shade lighter below, and streaked with paler shades of brown.
Range — United States, from coast to coast. North into British America, south into Mexico.
Migrations — March. November. Common summer resident.

The cowbird takes its name from its habit of walking about among the cattle in the pasture, picking up the small insects which the cattle disturb in their grazing. The bird may often be seen within a foot or two of the nose of a cow or heifer, walking briskly about like a miniature hen, intently watching for its insect prey.

Its marital and domestic character is thoroughly bad. Polygamous and utterly irresponsible for its offspring, this bird forms a striking contrast to other feathered neighbors, and indeed is almost an anomaly in the animal kingdom. In the breeding season an unnatural mother may be seen skulking about in the trees and shrubbery, seeking for nests in which to place a surreptitious egg, never imposing it upon a bird of its size, but selecting in a cowardly way a small nest, as that of the vireos or warblers or chipping sparrows, and there leaving the hatching and care of its young to the tender mercies of some already burdened little mother. It has been seen to remove an egg from the nest of the red-eyed vireo in order to place one of its own in its place. Not finding a convenient nest, it will even drop its eggs on the ground, trusting them to merciless fate, or, still worse, devouring them. The eggs are nearly an inch long, white speckled with brown or gray.

Cowbirds are gregarious. The ungrateful young birds, as soon as they are able to go roaming, leave their foster-parents and join the flock of their own kind. In keeping with its unclean habits and unholy life and character, the cowbird’s ordinary note is a gurgling, rasping whistle, followed by a few sharp notes.

STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

[Called also: EUROPEAN STARLING, AOU 1998]

Length — 8 to 9 inches. Weight about equals that of robin, but the starling, with its short, drooping tail, is chunkier in appearance.
Male — Iridescent black with glints of purple, green, and blue. On back the black feathers, with iridescence of green and bronze, are tipped with brown, as are some of the tail and wing feathers. In autumn and early winter feathers of sides of head, breast, flanks and underparts are tipped with white, giving a gray, mottled appearance. During the winter most of the white tips on breast and underparts wear off. Until the first moult in late summer the young birds are a dark olive-brown in color, with white or whitish throat. These differences in plumage at different seasons and different ages make starlings hard to identify. Red-winged blackbirds and grackles are often mistaken for them. From early spring till mid-June, starling’s rather long, sharp bill is yellow. Later in summer it darkens. No other black bird of ours has this yellow bill at any season. Female — Similar in appearance.
Range — Massachusetts to Maryland. Not common beyond 100 miles inland. (Native of northern Europe and Asia.) Migrations — Permanent resident, but flocks show some tendency to drift southward in winter.

This newcomer to our shores is by no means so black as he has been painted. Like many other European immigrants he landed at or near Castle Garden, New York City, and his descendants have not cared to wander very far from this vicinity, preferring regions with a pretty numerous human population. The starlings have increased so fast in this limited region since their first permanent settlement in Central Park about 1890 that farmers and suburban dwellers have feared that they might become as undesirable citizens as some other Europeans — the brown rat, the house mouse, and the English sparrow. But a very thorough investigation conducted by the United States Bureau of Biological Survey (Bulletin No. 868, 1921) is most reassuring in its results.

Let us first state the case for the prosecution: (1) the starling must plead guilty to a fondness for cultivated cherries; (2) he is often a persecutor of native birds, like the bluebird and flicker; (3) his roosts, where he sometimes congregates in thousands in the autumn, are apt to become public nuisances, offensive alike to the eye, the nose and the ear.

But these offences are not so very serious after all. He does not eat so many cherries as our old friend the robin, though his depredations are more conspicuous, for whereas the robins in ones and twos will pilfer steadily from many trees for many days without attracting notice, a crowd of starlings is occasionally observed to descend en masse upon a single tree and strip it in a few hours. Naturally such high-handed procedure is observed by many and deeply resented by the owner of the tree, who suffers the steady but less spectacular raids of the robins without serious disquiet,

Less can be said in defense of the starling’s scandalous treatment of some native birds. “Unrelenting perseverance dominates the starling’s activities when engaged in a controversy over a nesting site. More of its battles are won by dogged persistence in annoying its victim than by bold aggression, and its irritating tactics are sometimes carried to such a point that it seems almost as if the bird were actuated more by a morbid pleasure of annoying its neighbors than by any necessity arising from a scarcity of nesting sites…

“In contests with the flicker the starling frequently makes up in numbers what disadvantage it may have in size. Typical of such combats was the one observed on May 9, at Hartford, Conn., where a group of starlings and a flicker were in controversy over a newly excavated nest. The number of starlings varied, but as many as 6 were noted at one time. Attention was first attracted to the dispute by a number of starlings in close proximity to the hole and by the sounds of a tussle within. Presently a flicker came out dragging a starling after him. The starling continued the battle outside long enough to allow one of its comrades to slip into the nest. Of course the flicker had to repeat the entire performance. He did this for about half an hour, when he gave up, leaving the starlings in possession of the nest…

“Economically considered, the starling is the superior of either the flicker, the robin, or the English sparrow, three of the species with which it comes in contact in its breeding operations. The eggs and young of bluebirds and wrens may be protected by the use of nest boxes with circular openings 1 1/2 inches or less in diameter. This leaves the purple martin the only species readily subject to attack by the starling, whose economic worth may be considered greater than that of the latter, but in no case was the disturbance of a well-established colony of martins noted.”

As for the nuisance of a big established roost of starlings, it may be abated by nightly salvos of Roman candles or blank cartridges, continued for a week or at most ten days.

So much for the starling in his aspect as an undesirable citizen. Government investigators, by a long-continued study, have discovered that his good deeds far outnumber his misdemeanors. Primarily he feeds on noxious insects and useless wild fruits. Small truck gardens and individual cherry trees may be occasionally raided by large flocks with disastrous results in a small way. But on the whole he is a useful frequenter of our door-yards who ‘pays his way by destroying hosts of cut-worms and equally noxious’ insects. “A thorough consideration of the evidence at hand indicates that, based on food habits, the adult starling is the economic superior of the robin, catbird, flicker, red-winged blackbird, or grackle.” Need more be said for him?


Red-headed Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-poll Warbler
Black-and-white Creeping Warbler

See also the Swallows; the Shrikes; Nuthatches and Titmice, the Kingbird and other Flycatchers; the Nighthawk; the Redstart; and the following Warblers: the Myrtle; the Bay-breasted, the Blackburnian; and the Black-throated Blue Warbler.


RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) Woodpecker family

Called also: TRI-COLOR, RED-HEAD

Length — 8.50 to 9.75 inches. An inch or less smaller than the robin.
Male and Female — Head, neck, and throat crimson; breast and underneath white; back black and white; wings and tail blue black, with broad white band on wings conspicuous in flight. Range — United States, east of Rocky Mountains and north to Manitoba.
Migrations — Abundant but irregular migrant. Most commonly seen in Autumn, and rarely resident.

In thinly populated sections, where there are few guns about, this is still one of the commonest as it is perhaps the most conspicuous member of the woodpecker family, but its striking glossy black-and-white body and its still more striking crimson head, flattened out against the side of a tree like a target, where it is feeding, have made it all too tempting a mark for the rifles of the sportsmen and the sling-shots of small boys. As if sufficient attention were not attracted to it by its plumage, it must needs keep up a noisy, guttural rattle, ker-r-ruck,
ker-r-ruck, very like a tree-toad’s call, and flit about among the trees with the restlessness of a fly-catcher. Yet, in spite of these invitations for a shot to the passing gunner, it still multiplies in districts where nuts abound, being “more common than the robin” about Washington, says John Burroughs.

All the familiar woodpeckers have two characteristics most prominently exemplified in this red-headed member of their tribe. The hairy, the downy, the crested, the red-bellied, the sapsucker, and the flicker have each a red mark somewhere about their heads as if they had been wounded there and bled a little — some more, some less; and the figures of all of them, from much flattening against tree-trunks, have become high-shouldered and long-waisted.

The red-headed woodpecker selects, by preference, a partly decayed tree in which to excavate a hole for its nest, because the digging is easier, and the sawdust and chips make a softer lining than green wood. Both male and female take turns in this hollowing-out process. The one that is off duty is allowed twenty minutes for refreshments, “consisting of grubs, beetles, ripe apples or cherries, corn, or preferably beech-nuts. At a loving call from its mate in the hollow tree, it returns promptly to perform its share of the work, when the carefully observed time is up.” The heap of sawdust at the bottom of the hollow will eventually cradle from four to six glossy-white eggs.

This woodpecker has the thrifty habit of storing away nuts in the knot-holes of trees, between cracks in the bark, or in decayed fence rails–too often a convenient storehouse at which the squirrels may help themselves. But it is the black snake that enters the nest and eats the young family, and that is a more deadly foe than even the sportsman or the milliner.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus) Woodpecker family

Length–9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin. Male–Black and white above, white beneath. White stripe down the back, composed of long hair-like feathers. Brightred band on the nape of neck. Wings striped and dashed with black and white. Outer tail feathers white, without bars. White stripe about eyes and on sides of the head.
Female–Without the red band on head, and body more brownish than that of the male.
Range–Eastern parts of United States, from the Canadian border to the Carolinas.
Migrations–Resident throughout its range.

The bill of the woodpecker is a hammering tool, well fitted for its work. Its mission in life is to rid the trees of insects, which hide beneath the bark, and with this end in view, the bird is seen clinging to the trunks and branches of trees through fair and wintry weather, industriously scanning every inch for the well-known signs of the boring worm or destructive fly.

In the autumn the male begins to excavate his winter quarters, carrying or throwing out the chips, by which this good workman is known, with his beak, while the female may make herself cosey or not, as she chooses, in an abandoned hole. About her comfort he seems shamefully unconcerned. Intent only on his own, he drills a perfectly round hole, usually on the underside of a limb where neither snow nor wind can harm him, and digs out a horizontal tunnel in the dry, brittle wood in the very heart of the tree, before turning downward into the deep, pear-shaped chamber, where he lives in selfish solitude. But when the nesting season comes, how devoted he is temporarily to the mate he has neglected and even abused through the winter! Will she never learn that after her clear-white eggs are laid and her brood raised he will relapse into the savage and forget all his tender wiles?

The hairy woodpecker, like many another bird and beast, furnishes much doubtful weather lore for credulous and inexact observers. “When the woodpecker pecks low on the trees, expect warm weather” is a common saying, but when different individuals are seen pecking at the same time, one but a few feet from the ground, and another among the high branches, one may make the prophecy that pleases him best.

The hairy woodpeckers love the deep woods. They are drummers, not singers; but when walking in the desolate winter woods even the drumming and tapping of the busy feathered workmen on a resonant limb is a solace, giving a sense of life and cheerful activity which is invigorating.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens) Woodpecker family

Length — 6 to 7 inches. About the size of the English sparrow. Male — Black above, striped with white. Tail shaped like a wedge Outer tail feathers white, and barred with black. Middle tail feathers black. A black stripe on top of head, and distinct white band over and under the eyes. Red patch on upper side of neck. Wings, with six white bands crossing them transversely; white underneath.
Female — Similar, but without scarlet on the nape, which is white.
Range — Eastern North America, from Labrador to Florida. Migrations — Resident all the year throughout its range.

The downy woodpecker is similar to his big relative, the hairy woodpecker, in color and shape, though much smaller. His outer tail feathers are white, barred with black, but the hairy’s white outer tail feathers lack these distinguishing marks.

He is often called a sapsucker — though quite another bird alone merits that name — from the supposition that he bores into the trees for the purpose of sucking the sap; but his tongue is ill adapted for such use, being barbed at the end, and most ornithologists consider the charge libellous. It has been surmised that he bores the numerous little round holes close together, so often seen, with the idea of attracting insects to the luscious sap. The woodpeckers never drill for insects in live wood. The downy actually drills these little holes in apple and other trees to feed upon the inner milky bark of the tree — the cambium layer. The only harm to be laid to his account is that, in his zeal, he sometimes makes a ring of small holes so continuous as to inadvertently damage the tree by girdling it. The bird, like most others, does not debar himself entirely from fruit diet, but enjoys berries, especially poke-berries.

He is very social with birds and men alike. In winter he attaches himself to strolling bands of nuthatches and chickadees, and in summer is fond of making friendly visits among village folk, frequenting the shade trees of the streets and grapevines of back gardens. He has even been known to fearlessly peck at flies on window panes.

In contrast to his large brother woodpecker, who is seldom drawn from timber lands, the little downy member of the family brings the comfort of his cheery presence to country homes, beating his rolling tattoo in spring on some resonant limb under our windows in the garden with a strength worthy of a larger drummer.

This rolling tattoo, or drumming, answers several purposes: by it he determines whether the tree is green or hollow; it startles insects from their lurking places underneath the bark, and it also serves as a love song.

YELLOW-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Sphyrapicus varius) Woodpecker family


Length — 8 to 8.6 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male — Black, white, and yellowish white above, with bright-red crown, chin, and throat. Breast black, in form of crescent A yellowish-white line, beginning at bill and passing below eye, merges into the pale yellow of the bird underneath. Wings spotted with white, and coverts chiefly white. Tail black; white on middle of feathers.
Female — Paler, and with head and throat white. Range — Eastern North America, from Labrador to Central America. Migrations — April. October. Resident north of Massachusetts. Most common in autumn.

It is sad to record that this exquisitely marked woodpecker, the most jovial and boisterous of its family, is one of the very few bird visitors whose intimacy should be discouraged. For its useful appetite for slugs and insects which it can take on the wing with wonderful dexterity, it need not be wholly condemned. But as we look upon a favorite maple or fruit tree devitalized or perhaps wholly dead from its ravages, we cannot forget that this bird, while a most abstemious fruit-eater, has a pernicious and most intemperate thirst for sap. Indeed, it spends much of its time in the orchard, drilling holes into the freshest, most vigorous trees; then, when their sap begins to flow, it siphons it into an insatiable throat, stopping in its orgie only long enough to snap at the insects that have been attracted to the wounded tree by the streams of its heart-blood now trickling down its sides. Another favorite pastime is to strip the bark off a tree, then peck at the soft wood underneath — almost as fatal a habit. It drills holes in maples in early spring for sap only. If it drills holes in fruit trees it is for the cambium layer, a soft, pulpy, nutritious under-bark.

These woodpeckers have a variety of call-notes, but their rapid drumming against the limbs and trunks of trees is the sound we always associate with them and the sound that Mr. Bicknell says is the love-note of the family.

Unhappily, these birds, that many would be glad to have decrease in numbers, take extra precautions for the safety of their young by making very deep excavations for their nests, often as deep as eighteen or twenty inches.

THE CHEWINK (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) Finch family


Length — 8 to 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male — Upper parts black, sometimes margined with rufous. Breast white; chestnut color on sides and rump. Wings marked with white. Three outer feathers of tail striped with white, conspicuous in flight. Bill black and stout. Red eyes; feet brown.
Female — Brownish where the male is black. Abdomen shading from chestnut to white in the centre.
Range — From Labrador, on the north, to the Southern States; West to the Rocky Mountains.
Migrations — April. September and October. Summer resident. Very rarely a winter resident at the north.

The unobtrusive little chewink is not infrequently mistaken for a robin, because of the reddish chestnut on its under parts. Careful observation, however, shows important distinctions. It is rather smaller and darker in color; its carriage and form are not those of the robin, but of the finch. The female is smaller still, and has an olive tint in her brown back. Her eggs are inconspicuous in color, dirty white speckled with brown, and laid in a sunken nest on the ground. Dead leaves and twigs abound, and form, as the anxious mother fondly hopes, a safe hiding place for her brood. So careful concealment, however, brings peril to the fledglings, for the most cautious bird-lover may, and often does, inadvertently set his foot on the hidden nest.

The chewink derives its name from the fancied resemblance of its note to these syllables, while those naming it “towhee” hear the sound to-whick, to-whick, to-whee. Its song is rich, full, and pleasing, and given only when the bird has risen to the branches above its low foraging ground.

It frequents the border of swampy places and bushy fields. It is generally seen in the underbrush, picking about among the dead leaves for its steady diet of earthworms and larvae of insects, occasionally regaling itself with a few dropping berries and fruit.

When startled, the bird rises not more than ten or twelve feet from the earth, and utters its characteristic calls. On account of this habit of flying low and grubbing among the leaves, it is sometimes called the ground robin. In the South our modest and useful little food-gatherer is often called grasel, especially in Louisiana, where it is white-eyed, and is much esteemed, alas! by epicures.

SNOWFLAKE (Plectrophenax nivalis) Finch family


Length — 7 to 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin.
Male and Female — Head, neck, and beneath soiled white, with a few reddish-brown feathers on top of head, and suggesting an imperfect collar. Above, grayish brown obsoletely streaked with black, the markings being most conspicuous in a band between shoulders. Lower tail feathers black; others, white and all edged with white. Wings brown, white, and gray. Plumage unusually variable. In summer dress (in arctic regions) the bird is almost white.
Range — Circumpolar regions to Kentucky (in winter only). Migrations — Midwinter visitor; rarely, if ever, resident south of arctic regions.

These snowflakes (mentioned collectively, for it is impossible to think of the bird except in great flocks) are the “true spirits of the snowstorm,” says Thoreau. They are animated beings that ride upon it, and have their life in it. By comparison with the climate of the arctic regions, no doubt our hardiest winter weather seems luxuriously mild to them. We associate them only with those wonderful midwinter days when sky, fields, and woods alike are white, and a “hard, dull bitterness of cold” drives every other bird and beast to shelter. It is said they often pass the night buried beneath the snow. They have been seen to dive beneath it to escape a hawk.

Whirling about in the drifting snow to catch the seeds on the tallest stalks that the wind in the open meadows uncovers, the snowflakes suggest a lot of dead leaves being blown through the all-pervading whiteness. Beautiful soft brown, gray, and predominating black-and-white coloring distinguish these capricious visitors from the slaty junco, the “snowbird” more commonly known. They are, indeed, the only birds we have that are nearly white; and rarely, if ever, do they rise far above the ground their plumage so admirably imitates.

At the far north, travellers have mentioned their inspiriting song, but in the United States we hear only their cheerful twitter. Nansen tells of seeing an occasional snow bunting in that desolation of arctic ice where the Fram drifted so long.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Habia ludoviciana) Finch family

Length — 7.75 to 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male — Head and upper parts black. Breast has rose-carmine shield-shaped patch, often extending downward to the centre of the abdomen. Underneath, tail quills, and two spots on wings white. Conspicuous yellow, blunt beak.
Female — Brownish, with dark streakings, like a sparrow. No rose-color. Light sulphur yellow under wings. Dark brown, heavy beak.
Range — Eastern North America, from southern Canada to Panama. Migrations — Early May. September. Summer resident.

A certain ornithologist tells with complacent pride of having shot over fifty-eight rose-breasted grosbeaks in less than three weeks (during the breeding season) to learn what kind of food they had in their crops. This kind of devotion to science may have quite as much to do with the growing scarcity of this bird in some localities as the demands of the milliners, who, however, receive all of the blame for the slaughter of our beautiful songsters. The farmers in Pennsylvania, who, with more truth than poetry, call this the potato-bug bird, are taking active measures, however, to protect the neighbor that is more useful to their crop than all the insecticides known. It also eats flies, wasps, and grubs.

Seen upon the ground, the dark bird is scarcely attractive with his clumsy beak overbalancing a head that protrudes with stupid-looking awkwardness; but as he rises into the trees his lovely rose-colored breast and under-wing feathers are seen, and before he has had time to repeat his delicious, rich-voiced warble you are already in love with him. Vibrating his wings after the manner of the mocking-bird, he pours forth a marvellously sweet, clear, mellow song (with something of the quality of the oriole’s, robin’s, and thrush’s notes), making the day on which you first hear it memorable. This is one of the few birds that sing at night. A soft, sweet, rolling warble, heard when the moon is at its full on a midsummer night, is more than likely to come from the rose-breasted grosbeak.

It is not that his quiet little sparrow-like wife has advanced notions of feminine independence that he takes his turn at sitting upon the nest, but that he is one of the most unselfish and devoted of mates. With their combined efforts they construct only a coarse, unlovely cradle in a thorn-bush or low tree near an old, overgrown pasture lot. The father may be the poorest of architects, but as he patiently sits brooding over the green, speckled eggs, his beautiful rosy breast just showing above the grassy rim, he is a succulent adornment for any bird’s home.

BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) Blackbird family


Length — 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow. Male — In spring plumage: black, with light-yellow patch on upper neck, also on edges of wings and tail feathers. Rump and upper wings splashed with white. Middle of back streaked with pale buff. Tail feathers have pointed tips. In autumn plumage, resembles female.
Female — Dull yellow-brown, with light and dark dashes on back. wings, and tail. Two decided dark stripes on top of head. Range — North America, from eastern coast to western prairies. Migrates in early autumn to Southern States, and in winter to South America and West Indies.
Migrations — Early May. From August to October. Common summer resident.

Perhaps none of our birds have so fitted into song and story as the bobolink. Unlike a good child, who should “be seen and not heard,” he is heard more frequently than seen. Very shy, of peering eyes, he keeps well out of sight in the meadow grass before entrancing our listening ears. The bobolink never soars like the lark, as the poets would have us believe, but generally sings on the wing, flying with a peculiar self-conscious flight horizontally thirty or forty feet above the meadow grass. He also sings perched upon the fence or tuft of grass. He is one of the greatest poseurs among the birds.

In spring and early summer the bobolinks respond to every poet’s effort to imitate their notes. “Dignified ‘Robert of Lincoln’ is telling his name,” says one; “Spink, spank, spink,” another hears him say. But best of all are Wilson Flagg’s lines:

“. . .Now they rise and now they fly; They cross and turn, and in and out; and down the middle and wheel about,
With a ‘Phew, shew, Wadolincon; listen to me Bobolincon!”

After midsummer the cares of the family have so worn upon the jollity of our dashing, rollicking friend that his song is seldom heard. The colors of his coat fade into a dull yellowish brown like that of his faithful mate, who has borne the greater burden of the season, for he has two complete moults each year.

The bobolinks build their nest on the ground in high grass. The eggs are of a bluish white. Their food is largely insectivorous: grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, spiders, with seeds of grass especially for variety.

In August they begin their journey southward, flying mainly by night. Arriving in the Southern States, they become the sad-colored, low-voiced rice or reed bird, feeding on the rice fields, where they descend to the ignominious fate of being dressed for the plate of the epicure.

Could there be a more tragic ending to the glorious note of the gay songster of the north?

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Dendroica striata) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5.5 to 6 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Black cap; cheeks and beneath grayish white, forming a sort of collar, more or less distinct. Upper parts striped gray, black, and olive. Breast and under parts white, with black streaks. Tail olive-brown, with yellow-white spots. Female — Without cap. Greenish-olive above, faintly streaked with black. Paler than male. Bands on wings, yellowish. Range — North America, to Greenland and Alaska. In winter, to northern part of South America.
Migrations — Last of May. Late October.