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  • 1897
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A faint “screep, screep,” like “the noise made by striking two pebbles together,” Audubon says, is often the only indication of the blackpoll’s presence; but surely that tireless bird-student had heard its more characteristic notes, which, rapidly uttered, increasing in the middle of the strain and diminishing toward the end, suggest the shrill, wiry burn of some midsummer insect. After the opera-glass has searched him out we find him by no means an inconspicuous bird. A dainty little fellow, with a glossy black cap pulled over his eyes, he is almost hidden by the dense foliage on the trees by the time he returns to us at the very end of spring. Giraud says that he is the very last of his tribe to come north, though the bay-breasted warbler has usually been thought the bird to wind up the spring procession.

The blackpoll has a certain characteristic motion that distinguishes him from the black-and-white creeper, for which a hasty glance might mistake him, and from the jolly little chickadee with his black cap. Apparently he runs about the tree-trunk, but in reality he so flits his wings that his feet do not touch the bark at all; yet so rapidly does he go that the flipping wing-motion is not observed. He is most often seen in May in the apple trees, peeping into the opening blossoms for insects, uttering now and then his slender, lisping, brief song.

Vivacious, a busy hunter, often catching insects on the wing like the flycatchers, he is a cheerful, useful neighbor the short time he spends with us before travelling to the far north, where he mates and nests. A nest has been found on Slide Mountain, in the Catskills, but the hardy evergreens of Canada, and sometimes those of northern New England, are the chosen home of this little bird that builds a nest of bits of root, lichens, and sedges, amply large for a family twice the size of his.

BLACK-AND-WHITE CREEPING WARBLER (Mniotilta varia) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5 to inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts white, varied with black. A white stripe along the summit of the head and back of the neck, edged with black. White line above and below the eye. Black cheeks and throat, grayish in females and young. Breast white in middle, with black stripes on sides. Wings and tail rusty black, with two white cross-bars on former, and soiled white markings on tail quills.
Female — Paler and less distinct markings throughout. Range — Peculiar to America. Eastern United States and westward to the plains. North as far as the fur countries. Winters in tropics south of Florida.
Migrations — April. Late September. Summer resident.

Nine times out of ten this active little warbler is mistaken for the downy woodpecker, not because of his coloring alone, but also on account of their common habit of running up and down the trunks of trees and on the under side of branches, looking for insects, on which all the warblers subsist. But presently the true warbler characteristic of restless flitting about shows itself. A woodpecker would go over a tree with painstaking, systematic care, while the black-and-white warbler, no less intent upon securing its food, hurries off from tree to tree, wherever the most promising menu is offered.

Clinging to the mottled bark of the tree-trunk, which he so closely resembles, it would be difficult to find him were it not for these sudden fittings and the feeble song, “Weachy, weachy, weachy, ‘twee, ‘twee, ‘tweet,” he half lisps, half sings between his dashes after slugs. Very rarely indeed can his nest be found in an old stump or mossy bank, where bark, leaves. and hair make the downy cradle for his four or five tiny babies.


Chimney Swift
Wood Pewee
Phoebe and Say’s Phoebe
Crested Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Tufted Titmouse
Canada Jay
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike
Bohemian Waxwing
Bay-breasted Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Myrtle Warbler
Parula Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler

See also the Grayish Green and the Grayish Brown Birds, particularly the Cedar Bird, several Swallows, the Acadian and the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers; Alice’s and the Olive-backed Thrushes; the Louisiana Water Thrush; the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; and the Seaside Sparrow. See also the females of the following birds: Pine Grosbeak; White-winged Red Crossbill; Purple Martin; and the Nashville, the Pine, and the Magnolia Warblers.


CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica) Swift family


Length — to 5.45 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow. Long wings make its length appear greater. Male and Female — Deep sooty gray; throat of a trifle lighter gray. Wings extend an inch and a half beyond the even tail, which has sharply pointed and very elastic quills, that serve as props. Feet are muscular, and have exceedingly sharp claws. Range — Peculiar to North America east of the Rockies, and from Labrador to Panama.
Migrations — April. September or October. Common summer resident.

The chimney swift is, properly speaking, not a swallow at all, though chimney swallow is its more popular name. Rowing towards the roof of your house, as if it used first one wing, then the other, its flight, while swift and powerful, is stiff and mechanical, unlike the swallow’s, and its entire aspect suggests a bat. The nighthawk and whippoorwill are its relatives, and it resembles them not a little, especially in its nocturnal habits.

So much fault has been found with the misleading names of many birds, it is pleasant to record the fact that the name of the chimney swift is everything it ought to be. No other birds can surpass and few can equal it in its powerful flight, sometimes covering a thousand miles in twenty-four hours, it is said, and never resting except in its roosting places (hollow trees or chimneys of dwellings), where it does not perch, but rather clings to the sides with its sharp claws, partly supported by its sharper tail. Audubon tells of a certain plane tree in Kentucky where he counted over nine thousand of these swifts clinging to the hollow trunk.

Their nest, which is a loosely woven twig lattice, made of twigs of trees, which the birds snap off with their beaks and carry in their beaks, is glued with the bird’s saliva or tree-gum into a solid structure, and firmly attached to the inside of chimneys, or hollow trees where there are no houses about. Two broods in a season usually emerge from the pure white, elongated eggs.

What a twittering there is in the chimney that the swifts appropriate after the winter fires have died out! Instead of the hospitable column of smoke curling from the top, a cloud of sooty birds wheels and floats above it. A sound as of distant thunder fills the chimney as a host of these birds, startled, perhaps, by some indoor noise, whirl their way upward. Woe betide the happy colony if a sudden cold snap in early summer necessitates the starting of a fire on the hearth by the unsuspecting householder! The glue being melted by the fire, “down comes the cradle, babies and all” into the glowing embers. A prolonged, heavy rain also causes their nests to loosen their hold and fall with the soot to the bottom.

Thrifty New England housekeepers claim that bedbugs, commonly found on bats, infest the bodies of swifts also, which is one reason why wire netting is stretched across the chimney tops before the birds arrive from the South.

KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) Flycatcher family


Length — 8 inches. About two inches shorter than the robin. Male — Ashy black above; white, shaded with ash-color, beneath A concealed crest of orange-red on crown. Tail black, Terminating with a white band conspicuous in flight. Wing feathers edged with white. Feet and bill black. Female — Similar to the male, but lacking the crown. Range — United States to the Rocky Mountains. British provinces To Central and South America.
Migrations — May. September. Common summer resident.

If the pugnacious propensity of the kingbird is the occasion of its royal name, he cannot be said to deserve it from any fine or noble qualities he possesses. He is a born fighter from the very love of it, without provocation, rhyme, or reason. One can but watch with a degree of admiration his bold sallies on the big, black crow or the marauding hawk, but when he bullies the small inoffensive birds in wanton attacks for sheer amusement, the charge is less entertaining. Occasionally, when the little victim shows pluck and faces his assailant, the kingbird will literally turn tail and show the white feather. His method of attack is always when a bird is in flight; then he swoops down from the telegraph pole or high point of vantage, and strikes on the head or back of the neck, darting back like a flash to the exact spot from which he started. By these tactics he avoids a return blow and retreats from danger. He never makes a fair hand-to-hand fight, or whatever is equivalent in bird warfare. It is a satisfaction to record that he does not attempt to give battle to the catbird, but whenever in view makes a grand detour to give him a wide berth.

The kingbird feeds on beetles, canker-worms, and winged insects, with an occasional dessert of berries. He is popularly supposed to prefer the honeybee as his favorite tidbit, but the weight of opinion is adverse to the charge of his depopulating the beehive, even though he owes his appellation bee martin to this tradition. One or two ornithologists declare that he selects only the drones fur his diet, which would give him credit for marvellous sight in his rapid motion through the air. The kingbird is preeminently a bird of the garden and orchard. The nest is open, though deep, and not carefully concealed. Eggs are nearly round, bluish white spotted with brown and lilac. With truly royal exclusiveness, the tyrant favors no community of interest, but sits in regal state on a conspicuous throne, and takes his grand flights alone or with his queen, but never with a flock of his kind.

WOOD PEWEE (Contopus virens) Flycatcher family

Length — 6.50 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow. Male — Dusky brownish olive above, darkest on head; paler on throat, lighter still underneath, and with a yellowish tinge on the dusky gray under parts. Dusky wings and tail, the wing coverts tipped with soiled white, forming two indistinct bars. Whitish eye-ring. Wings longer than tail. Female — Similar, but slightly more buff underneath. Range — Eastern North America, from Florida to northern British provinces. Winters in Central America.
Migrations — May. October. Common summer resident

The wood pewee, like the olive-sided flycatcher, has wings decidedly longer than its tail, and it is by no means a simple matter for the novice to tell these birds apart or separate them distinctly in the mind from the other members of a family whose coloring and habits are most confusingly similar. This dusky haunter of tall shady trees has not yet learned to be sociable like the phoebe; but while it may not be so much in evidence close to our homes, it is doubtless just as common. The orchard is as near the house as it often cares to come. An old orchard, where modern insecticides are unknown and neglect allows insects to riot among the decayed bark and fallen fruit, is a happy hunting ground enough; but the bird’s real preferences are decidedly for high tree-tops in the woods, where no sunshine touches the feathers on his dusky coat. It is one of the few shade-loving birds. In deep solitudes, where it surely retreats by nesting time, however neighborly it may be during the migrations, its pensive, pathetic notes, long drawn out, seem like the expression of some hidden sorrow. Pe-a-wee, pe-a-wee, pewee-ah-peer is the burden of its plaintive song, a sound as depressing as it is familiar in every walk through the woods, and the bird’s most prominent characteristic.

To see the bird dashing about in his aerial chase for insects, no one would accuse him of melancholia. He keeps an eye on the “main chance,” whatever his preying grief may be, and never allows it to affect his appetite. Returning to his perch after a successful sally in pursuit of the passing fly, he repeats his “sweetly solemn thought” over and over again all day long and every day throughout the summer.

The wood pewees show that devotion to each other and to their home, characteristic of their family. Both lovers work on the construction of the flat nest that is saddled on some mossy or lichen-covered limb, and so cleverly do they cover the rounded edge with bits of bark and lichen that sharp eyes only can detect where the cradle lies. Creamy-white eggs, whose larger end is wreathed with brown and lilac spots, are guarded with fierce solicitude.

Trowbridge has celebrated this bird in a beautiful poem.

PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe) Flycatcher family


Length — 7 inches. About an inch longer than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Dusky olive — brown above darkest on head, Which is slightly crested. Wings and tail dusky, the outer edges of some tail feathers whitish. Dingy yellowish white underneath. Bill and feet black.
Range — North America, from Newfoundland to the South Atlantic States, and westward to the Rockies. Winters south of the Carolinas, into Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Migrations — March. October. Common summer resident.

The earliest representative of the flycatcher family to come out of the tropics where insect life fairly swarms and teems, what does the friendly little phoebe find to attract him to the north in March while his prospective dinners must all be still in embryo? He looks dejected, it is true, as he sits solitary and silent on some projecting bare limb in the garden, awaiting the coming of his tardy mate; nevertheless, the date of his return will not vary by more than a few days in a given locality year after year. Why birds that are mated for life, as these are said to be, and such devoted lovers, should not travel together on their journey north, is another of the many mysteries of bird-life awaiting solution.

The reunited, happy couple go about the garden and outbuildings like domesticated wrens, investigating the crannies on piazzas, where people may be coming and going, and boldly entering barn-lofts to find a suitable site for the nest that it must take much of both time and skill to build.

Pewit, phoebe, phoebe; pewit, phoebe, they contentedly but rather monotonously sing as they investigate all the sites in the neighborhood. Presently a location is chosen under a beam or rafter, and the work of collecting moss and mud for the foundation and hair and feathers or wool to line the exquisite little home begins. But the labor is done cheerfully, with many a sally in midair either to let off superfluous high spirits or to catch a morsel on the wing, and with many a vivacious outburst of what by courtesy only we may name a song.

When not domesticated, as these birds are rapidly becoming, the phoebes dearly love a cool, wet woodland retreat. Here they hunt and bathe; here they also build in a rocky bank or ledge of rocks or underneath a bridge, but always with clever adaptation of their nest to its surroundings, out of which it seems a natural growth. It is one of the most finished, beautiful nests ever found.

A pair of phoebes become attached to a spot where they have once nested; they never stray far from it, and return to it regularly, though they may not again occupy the old nest. This is because it soon becomes infested with lice from the hen’s feathers used in lining it, for which reason too close relationship with this friendly bird-neighbor is discouraged by thrifty housekeepers. When the baby birds have come out from the four or six little white eggs, their helpless bodies are mercilessly attacked by parasites, and are often so enfeebled that half the brood die. The next season another nest will be built near the first, the following summer still another, until it would appear that a colony of birds had made their homes in the place.

Throughout the long summer — for as the phoebe is the first flycatcher to come, so it is the last to go — the bird is a tireless hunter of insects, which it catches on the wing with a sharp click of its beak like the other members of its dexterous family.

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) is the Western representative of the Eastern species, which it resembles in coloring and many of its habits. It is the bird of the open plains, a tireless hunter in midair sallies from an isolated perch, and has the same vibrating motion of the tail that the Eastern phoebe indulges in when excited. This bird differs chiefly in its lighter coloring, but not in habits, from the black pewee of the Pacific slope.

GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus) Flycatcher family


Length — 8.50 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin. Male and female — Feathers of the head pointed and erect. Upper parts dark grayish-olive, inclining to rusty brown on wings and tail. Wing coverts crossed with two irregular bars of yellowish white. Throat gray, shading into sulphur-yellow underneath, that also extends under the wings. Inner vane of several tail quills rusty red. Bristles at base of bill. Range — From Mexico, Central America, and West Indies northward to southern Canada and westward to the plains. Most common in Mississippi basin; common also in eastern United States, south of New England.
Migrations — May. September. Common summer resident.

The most dignified and handsomely dressed member of his family, the crested flycatcher has, nevertheless, an air of pensive melancholy about him when in repose that can be accounted for only by the pain he must feel every time he hears himself screech. His harsh, shrill call, louder and more disagreeable than the kingbird’s, cannot but rasp his ears as it does ours. And yet it is chiefly by this piercing note, given with a rising inflection, that we know the bird is in our neighborhood; for he is somewhat of a recluse, and we must often follow the disagreeable noise to its source in the tree-tops before we can catch a glimpse of the screecher. Perched on a high lookout, he appears morose and sluggish, in spite of his aristocratic-looking crest, trim figure, and feathers that must seem rather gay to one of his dusky tribe. A low soliloquy, apparently born of discontent, can be overheard from the foot of his tree. But another second, and he has dashed off in hot pursuit of an insect flying beyond our sight, and with extremely quick, dexterous evolutions in midair, he finishes the hunt with a sharp click of his bill as it closes over the unhappy victim, and then he returns to his perch. On the wing he is exceedingly active and joyous; in the tree he appears just the reverse. That he is a domineering fellow, quite as much of a tyrant as the notorious kingbird, that bears the greater burden of opprobrium, is shown in the fierce way he promptly dashes at a feathered stranger that may have alighted too near his perch, and pursues it beyond the bounds of justice, all the while screaming his rasping cry into the intruder’s ears, that must pierce as deep as the thrusts from his relentless beak. He has even been known to drive off woodpeckers and bluebirds from the hollows in the trees that he, like them, chooses for a nest, and appropriate the results of their labor for his scarcely less belligerent mate. With a slight but important and indispensable addition, the stolen nest is ready to receive her four cream-colored eggs, that look as if a pen dipped in purple ink had been scratched over them.

The fact that gives the great-crested flycatcher a unique interest among all North American birds is that it invariably lines its nest with snake-skins if one can be had. Science would scarcely be worth the studying if it did not set our imaginations to work delving for plausible reasons for Nature’s strange doings. Most of us will doubtless agree with Wilson (who made a special study of these interesting nests and never found a single one without cast snake-skins in it, even in districts where snakes were so rare they were supposed not to exist at all), that the lining was chosen to terrorize all intruders. The scientific mind that is unwilling to dismiss any detail of Nature’s work as merely arbitrary and haphazard, is greatly exercised over the reason for the existence of crests on birds. But, surely, may not the sight of snake-skins that first greet the eyes of the fledgling flycatchers as they emerge from the shell be a good and sufficient reason why the feathers on their little heads should stand on end? “In the absence of a snake-skin, I have found an onion skin and shad scales in the nest,” says John Burroughs, who calls this bird “the wild Irishman of the flycatchers.”

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contotus borealis) Flycatcher family

Length — 7 to inches. About an inch longer than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Dusky olive or grayish brown above; head darkest. Wings and tail blackish brown, the former sometimes, but not always, margined and tipped with dusky white. Throat yellowish white; other under parts slightly lighter shade than above. Olive-gray on sides. A tuft of yellowish-white, downy feathers on flanks. Bristles at base of bill. Range — From Labrador to Panama. Winters in the tropics. Nests usually north of United States, but it also breeds in the Catskills.
Migrations — May. September Resident only in northern part of Its range.

Only in the migrations may people south of Massachusetts hope to see this flycatcher, which can be distinguished from the rest of its kin by the darker under parts, and by the fluffy,
yellowish-white tufts of feathers on its flanks. Its habits have the family characteristics: it takes its food on the wing, suddenly sallying forth from its perch, darting about midair to seize its prey, then as suddenly returning to its identical point of vantage, usually in some distended, dead limb in the tree-top; it is pugnacious, bold, and tyrannical; mopish and inert when not on the hunt, but wonderfully alert and swift when in pursuit of insect or feathered foe. The short necks of the flycatchers make their heads appear large for their bodies, a peculiarity slightly emphasized in this member of the family. High up in some evergreen tree, well out on a branch, over which the shapeless mass of twigs and moss that serves as a nest is saddled, four or five buff-speckled eggs are laid, and by some special dispensation rarely fall out of their insecure cradle.

A sharp, loud whistle, wheu–o-wheu-o-wheu-o, rings out from the throat of this olive-sided tyrant, warning all intruders off the premises; but however harshly he may treat the rest of the feathered world, he has only gentle devotion to offer his brooding mate.

LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus) Flycatcher family

Called also: CHEBEC

Length — 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Gray or olive-gray above, paler on wings and lower part of back, and a more distinct olive-green on head. Underneath grayish white, sometimes faintly suffused with pale yellow. wings have whitish bars. White eye-ring. Lower half of bill horn color.
Female is slightly more yellowish underneath. Range — Eastern North America, from tropics northward to Quebec, Migrations — May. September. Common summer resident.

This, the smallest member of its family, takes the place of the more southerly Acadian flycatcher, throughout New England and the region of the Great Lakes. But, unlike his Southern relative, he prefers orchards and gardens close to our homes for his hunting grounds rather than the wet recesses of the forests. Che-bec, che-bec, the diminutive olive-pated gray sprite calls out from the orchard between his aerial sallies after the passing insects that have been attracted by the decaying fruit, and chebec is the name by which many New Englanders know him.

While giving this characteristic call-note, with drooping jerking tail, trembling wings, and uplifted parti-colored bill, he looks unnerved and limp by the effort it has cost him. But in the next instant a gnat flies past. How quickly the bird recovers itself, and charges full-tilt at his passing dinner! The sharp click of his little bill proves that he has not missed his aim; and after careering about in the air another minute or two, looking for more game to snap up on the wing, he will return to the same perch and take up his familiar refrain. Without hearing this call-note one might often mistake the bird for either the wood pewee or the phoebe, for all the three are similarly clothed and have many traits in common. The slightly large size of the phoebe and pewee is not always apparent when they are seen perching on the trees. Unlike the “tuft of hay” to which the Acadian flycatcher’s nest has been likened, the least flycatcher’s home is a neat, substantial cup-shaped cradle softly lined with down or horsehair, and placed generally in an upright crotch of a tree, well above the ground.

THE CHICKADEE (Parus atricapillus) Titmouse family


Length — 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Not crested. Crown and nape and throat black. Above gray, slightly tinged with brown. A white space, beginning at base of bill, extends backwards, widening over cheeks and upper part of breast, forming a sort of collar that almost surrounds neck. Underneath dirty white. with pale rusty brown wash on sides. Wings and tail gray. with white edgings. Plumage downy.
Range — Eastern North America. North of the Carolinas to Labrador. Does not migrate in the North. Migrations — Late September. May. Winter resident; permanent resident in northern parts of the United States.

No “fair weather friend” is the jolly little chickadee. In the depth of the autumn equinoctial storm it returns to the tops of the trees close by the house, where, through the sunshine, snow, and tempest of the entire winter, you may hear its cheery, irrepressible chickadee-dee-dee-dee or day-day-day as it swings Around the dangling cones of the evergreens. It fairly overflows with good spirits, and is never more contagiously gay than in a snowstorm. So active, so friendly and cheering, what would the long northern winters be like without this lovable little neighbor?

It serves a more utilitarian purpose, however, than bracing faint-hearted spirits. “There is no bird that compares with it in destroying the female canker-worm moths and their eggs,” writes a well-known entomologist. He calculates that as a chickadee destroys about 5,500 eggs in one day, it will eat 138,750 eggs in the twenty-five days it takes the canker-worm moth to crawl up the trees. The moral that it pays to attract chickadees about your home by feeding them in winter is obvious. Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright, in her delightful and helpful book “Birdcraft,” tells us how she makes a sort of a bird-hash of finely minced raw meat, waste canary-seed, buckwheat, and cracked oats, which she scatters in a sheltered spot for all the winter birds. The way this is consumed leaves no doubt of its popularity. A raw bone, hung from an evergreen limb, is equally appreciated.

Friendly as the chickadee is and Dr. Abbott declares it the tamest bird we have it prefers well-timbered districts, especially where there are red-bud trees, when it is time to nest. It is very often clever enough to leave the labor of hollowing out a nest in the tree-trunk to the woodpecker or nuthatch, whose old homes it readily appropriates; or, when these birds object, a knot-hole or a hollow fence-rail answers every purpose. Here, in the summer woods, when family cares beset it, a plaintive, minor whistle replaces the chickadee-dee-dee that Thoreau likens to “silver tinkling” as he heard it on a frosty morning.

“Piped a tiny voice near by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry
Chick-chickadeedee! saucy note
Out of sound heart and merry throat, As if it said, ‘Good-day, good Sir!
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places Where January brings few faces.'”
— Emerson.

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Parus bicolor) Titmouse family


Length — 6 to 6. inches. About the size of the English sparrow. Male and Female — Crest high and pointed. Leaden or ash-gray above; darkest on wings and tail. Frontlet, bill, and shoulders black; space between eyes gray. Sides of head dull white. Under parts light gray; sides yellowish, tinged with red. Range — United States east of plains, and only rarely seen so far north as New England.
Migrations — October. April. Winter resident, but also found throughout the year in many States.

“A noisy titmouse is Jack Frost’s trumpeter” may be one of those few weather-wise proverbs with a grain of truth in them. As the chickadee comes from the woods with the frost, so it may be noticed his cousin, the crested titmouse, is in more noisy evidence throughout the winter.

One might sometimes think his whistle, like a tugboat’s, worked by steam. But how effectually nesting cares alone can silence it in April!

Titmice always see to it you are not lonely as you walk through the woods. This lordly tomtit, with his jaunty crest, keeps up a persistent whistle at you as he flits from tree to tree, leading you deeper into the forest, calling out “Here-here-here!’, and looking like a pert and jaunty little blue jay, minus his gay clothes. Mr. Nehrling translates one of the calls “Heedle-deedle-deedle-dee!” and another “Peto-peto-peto-daytee-daytee!” But it is at the former, sharply whistled as the crested titmouse gives it, that every dog pricks up his ears.

Comparatively little has been written about this bird, because it is not often found in New England, where most of the bird litterateurs have lived. South of New York State, however, it is a common resident, and much respected for the good work it does in destroying injurious insects, though it is more fond of varying its diet with nuts, berries, and seeds than that all-round benefactor, the chickadee.

CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis) Crow and Jay family


Length — 11 to 12 inches. About two inches larger than the robin.
Male and Female — Upper p arts gray; darkest on wings and tail; back of the head and nape of the neck sooty, almost black. Forehead, throat, and neck white, and a few white tips on wings and tail. Underneath lighter gray. Tail long. Plumage fluffy. Range — Northern parts of the United States and British Provinces of North America.
Migrations — Resident where found.

The Canada jay looks like an exaggerated chickadee, and both birds are equally fond of bitter cold weather, but here the similarity stops short. Where the chickadee is friendly the jay is impudent and bold; hardly less of a villain than his blue relative when it comes to marauding other birds’ nests and destroying their young. With all his vices, however, intemperance cannot be attributed to him, in spite of the name given him by the Adirondack lumbermen and guides. “Whisky John” is a purely innocent corruption of “Wis-ka-tjon,” as the Indians call this bird that haunts their camps and familiarly enters their wigwams. The numerous popular names by which the Canada jays are known are admirably accounted for by Mr. Hardy in a bulletin issued by the Smithsonian Institution.

“They will enter the tents, and often alight on the bow of a canoe, where the paddle at every stroke comes within eighteen inches of them. I know nothing which can be eaten that they will not take, and I had one steal all my candles, pulling them out endwise, one by one, from a piece of birch bark in which they were rolled, and another peck a large hole in a keg of castile soap. A duck which I had picked and laid down for a few minutes, had the entire breast eaten out by one or more of these birds. I have seen one alight in the middle of my canoe and peck away at the carcass of a beaver I had skinned. They often spoil deer saddles by pecking into them near the kidneys. They do great damage to the trappers by stealing the bait from traps set for martens and minks and by eating trapped game. They will sit quietly and see you build a log trap and bait it, and then, almost before your back is turned, you hear their hateful ca-ca-ca! as they glide down and peer into it. They will work steadily, carrying off meat and hiding it. I have thrown out pieces, and watched one to see how much he would carry off. He flew across a wide stream, and in a short time looked as bloody as a butcher from carrying large pieces; but his patience held out longer than mine. I think one would work as long as Mark Twain’s California jay did trying to fill a miner’s cabin with acorns through a knot-hole in the root. They are fond of the berries of the mountain ash, and, in fact, few things come amiss; I believe they do not possess a single good quality except industry.”

One virtue not mentioned by Mr. Hardy is their prudent saving from the summer surplus to keep the winter storeroom well supplied like a squirrel’s. Such thrift is the more necessary when a clamorous, hungry family of young jays must be reared while the thermometer is often as low as thirty degrees below zero at the end of March. How eggs are ever hatched at all in a temperature calculated to freeze any sitting bird stiff, is one of the mysteries of the woods. And yet four or five fluffy little jays, that look as if they were dressed in gray fur, emerge from the eggs before the spring sunshine has unbound the icy rivers or melted the snowdrifts piled high around the evergreens.

CATBIRD (Galcoscoptes carolinensis ) Mocking-bird family


Length — 9 inches. An inch shorter than the robin. Male and Female — Dark slate above; below somewhat paler; top of head black. Distinct chestnut patch under the tail, which is black; feet and bill black also. Wings short, more than two inches shorter than the tail.
Range — British provinces to Mexico; west to Rocky Mountains, to Pacific coast. Winters in Southern States, Central America, and Cuba.
Migrations — May. November. Common summer resident,

Our familiar catbird, of all the feathered tribe, presents the most contrary characteristics, and is therefore held in varied estimation — loved, admired, ridiculed, abused. He is the veriest “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” of birds. Exquisitely proportioned, with finely poised black head and satin-gray coat, which he bathes most carefully and prunes and prinks by the hour, he appears from his toilet a Beau Brummell, an aristocratic-looking, even dandified neighbor. Suddenly, as if shot, he drops head and tail and assumes the most hang-dog air, without the least sign of self-respect; then crouches and lengthens into a roll, head forward and tail straightened, till he looks like a little, short gray snake, lank and limp. Anon, with a jerk and a sprint, every muscle tense, tail erect, eyes snapping, he darts into the air intent upon some well-planned mischief. It is impossible to describe his various attitudes or moods. In song and call he presents the same opposite characteristics. How such a bird, exquisite in style, can demean himself to utter such harsh, altogether hateful catcalls and squawks as have given the bird his common name, is a wonder when in the next moment his throat swells and beginning phut-phut-coquillicot, he gives forth a long glorious song, only second to that of the wood thrush in melody. He is a jester, a caricaturist, a mocking-bird.

The catbird’s nest is like a veritable scrap-basket, loosely woven of coarse twigs, bits of newspaper, scraps, and rags, till this rough exterior is softly lined and made fit to receive the four to six pretty dark green-blue eggs to be laid therein.

As a fruit thief harsh epithets are showered upon the friendly, confiding little creature at our doors; but surely his depredations may be pardoned, for he is industrious at all times and unusually adroit in catching insects, especially in the moth stage.

THE MOCKING-BIRD (Mimus polyglottus) Mocking-bird family


Length — 9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin. Male and Female — Gray above; wings and wedge-shaped; tail brownish; upper wing feathers tipped with white; outer tail quills white, conspicuous in flight; chin white; underneath light gray, shading to whitish.
Range — Peculiar to torrid and temperate zones of two Americas. Migrations — No fixed migrations: usually resident where seen.

North of Delaware this commonest of Southern birds is all too rarely seen outside of cages, yet even in midwinter it is not unknown in Central Park, New York. This is the angel that it is said the catbird was before he fell from grace. Slim, neat, graceful, imitative, amusing, with a rich, tender song that only the thrush can hope to rival, and with an instinctive preference for the society of man, it is little wonder he is a favorite, caged or free. He is a most devoted parent, too, when the four or six speckled green eggs have produced as many mouths to be supplied with insects and berries.

In the Connecticut Valley, where many mocking-birds’ nests have been found, year after year, they are all seen near the ground, and without exception are loosely, poorly constructed affairs of leaves, feathers, grass, and even rags.

With all his virtues, it must be added, however, that this charming bird is a sad tease. ‘There is no sound, whether made by bird or beast about him, that he cannot imitate so clearly as to deceive every one but himself. Very rarely can you find a mocking-bird without intelligence and mischief enough to appreciate his ventriloquism. In Sidney Lanier’s college note-book was found written this reflection: “A poet is the mocking-bird of the spiritual universe. In him are collected all the individual songs of all individual natures.” Later in life, with the same thought in mind, he referred to the bird as “yon slim Shakespeare on the tree.” His exquisite stanzas, “To Our Mocking-bird,” exalt the singer with the immortals:

“Trillets of humor, — shrewdest whistle — wit — Contralto cadences of grave desire,
Such as from off the passionate Indian pyre Drift down through sandal-odored flames that split About the slim young widow, who doth sit And sing above, — midnights of tone entire, — Tissues of moonlight, shot with songs of fire; — Bright drops of tune, from oceans infinite Of melody, sipped off the thin-edged wave And trickling down the beak, — discourses brave Of serious matter that no man may guess, — Good-fellow greetings, cries of light distress — All these but now within the house we heard: O Death, wast thou too deaf to hear the bird? . . . . .
“Nay, Bird; my grief gainsays the Lord’s best right. The Lord was fain, at some late festal time, That Keats should set all heaven’s woods in rhyme, And Thou in bird-notes. Lo, this tearful night Methinks I see thee, fresh from Death’s despite, Perched in a palm-grove, wild with pantomime O’er blissful companies couched in shady thyme. Methinks I hear thy silver whistlings bright Meet with the mighty discourse of the wise, — ‘Till broad Beethoven, deaf no more, and Keats, ‘Midst of much talk, uplift their smiling eyes And mark the music of thy wood-conceits, And half-way pause on some large courteous word, And call thee ‘Brother,’ O thou heavenly Bird!”

JUNCO (Junco hyemalis) Finch family


Length — 5.5 to 6.5 inches. About the size of the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts slate-colored; darkest on head and neck, which are sometimes almost black and marked like a cowl. Gray on breast, like a vest. Underneath white. Several outer tall feathers white, conspicuous in flight.
Female — Lighter gray, inclining to brown. Range — North America. Not common in warm latitudes. Breeds in the Catskills and northern New England. Migrations — September. April. Winter resident.

“Leaden skies above; snow below,” is Mr. Parkhurst’s suggestive description of this rather timid little neighbor, that is only starved into familiarity. When the snow has buried seed and berries, a flock of juncos, mingling sociably with the sparrows and chickadees about the kitchen door, will pick up scraps of food with an intimacy quite touching in a bird naturally rather shy. Here we can readily distinguish these “little gray-robed monks and nuns,” as Miss Florence Merriam calls them.

They are trim, sprightly, sleek, and even natty; their dispositions are genial and vivacious, not quarrelsome, like their sparrow cousins, and what is perhaps best about them, they are birds we may surely depend upon seeing in the winter months. A few come forth in September, migrating at night from the deep woods of the north, where they have nested and moulted during the summer; but not until frost has sharpened the air are large numbers of them seen. Rejoicing in winter, they nevertheless do not revel in the deep and fierce arctic blasts, as the snowflakes do, but take good care to avoid the open pastures before the hard storms overtake them.

Early in the spring their song is sometimes heard before they leave us to woo and to nest in the north. Mr. Bicknell describes it as “a crisp call-note, a simple trill, and a faint, whispered warble, usually much broken, but not without sweetness.”

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis) Nuthatch family


Length — 5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Upper parts slate-color. Top of head and nape black. Wings dark slate, edged with black, that fades to brown. Tail feathers brownish black, with white bars. Sides of head and underneath white, shading to pale reddish under the tail. (Female’s head leaden.) Body flat and compact. Bill longer than head.
Range — British provinces to Mexico. Eastern United States. Migrations — October. April. Common resident. Most prominent in winter.

“Shrewd little haunter of woods all gray, Whom I meet on my walk of a winter day — You’re busy inspecting each cranny and hole In the ragged bark of yon hickory bole; You intent on your task, and I on the law Of your wonderful head and gymnastic claw!

The woodpecker well may despair of this feat — Only the fly with you can compete!
So much is clear; but I fain would know How you can so reckless and fearless go, Head upward, head downward, all one to you, Zenith and nadir the same in your view?” — Edith M. Thomas.

Could a dozen lines well contain a fuller description or more apt characterization of a bird than these “To a Nuthatch”?

With more artless inquisitiveness than fear, this lively little acrobat stops his hammering or hatcheting at your approach, and stretching himself out from the tree until it would seem he must fall off, he peers down at you, head downward, straight into your upturned opera-glasses. If there is too much snow on the upper side of a branch, watch how he runs along underneath it like a fly, busily tapping the bark, or adroitly breaking the decayed bits with his bill, as he searches for the spider’s eggs, larvae, etc., hidden there; yet somehow, between mouthfuls, managing to call out his cheery quank! quank! hank! hank!

Titmice and nuthatches, which have many similar characteristics, are often seen in the most friendly hunting parties on the same tree. A pine woods is their dearest delight. There, as the mercury goes down, their spirits only seem to go up higher. In the spring they have been thought by many to migrate in flocks, whereas they are only retreating with their relations away from the haunts of men to the deep, cool woods, where they nest. With infinite patience the nuthatch excavates a hole in a tree, lining it with feathers and moss, and often depositing as many as ten white eggs speckled with red and lilac) for a single brood.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis) Nuthatch family


Length — 4 to 4.75 inches. One-third smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Lead-colored above; brownish on wings and tail. Head, neck, and stripe passing through eye to shoulder, black. Frontlet, chin, and shoulders white; also a white stripe over eye, meeting on brow. Under parts light, rusty red. Tail feathers barred with white near end, and tipped with pale brown.
Female — Has crown of brownish black, and is lighter beneath than male.
Range — Northern parts of North America. Not often seen south of the most northerly States.
Migrations — November. April. Winter resident.

The brighter coloring of this tiny, hardy bird distinguishes from the other and larger nuthatch, with whom it is usually seen, for the winter birds have a delightfully social manner, so that a colony of these Free masons is apt to contain not only both kinds of nuthatches and chickadees, but kinglets and brown creepers as well. It shares the family habit of walking about the trees, head downward, and running along the under side of limbs like a fly. By Thanksgiving Day the quank! quank! of the white-breasted species is answered by the tai-tai-tait! of the red-breasted cousin in the orchard, where the family party is celebrating with an elaborate menu of slugs, insects’ eggs, and oily seeds from the evergreen trees.

For many years this nuthatch, a more northern species than the white-breasted bird, was thought to be only a spring and autumn visitor, but latterly it is credited with habits like its congener’s in nearly every particular.

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) Shrike family

Length — 8.5 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin. Male and Female — Upper parts gray; narrow black line across forehead, connecting small black patches on sides of head at base of bill. Wings and tail black, plentifully marked with white, the outer tail feathers often being entirely white and conspicuous in flight. Underneath white or very light gray. Bill hooked and hawk-like.
Range — Eastern United States to the plains. Migrations — May. October. Summer resident.

It is not easy, even at a slight distance, to distinguish the loggerhead from the Northern shrike. Both have the pernicious habit of killing insects and smaller birds and impaling them on thorns; both have the peculiarity of flying, with strong, vigorous flight and much wing-flapping, close along the ground, then suddenly rising to a tree, on the lookout for prey. Their harsh, unmusical call-notes are similar too, and their hawk-like method of dropping suddenly upon a victim on the ground below is identical. Indeed, the same description very nearly answers for both birds. But there is one very important difference. While the Northern shrike is a winter visitor, the loggerhead, being his Southern counterpart, does not arrive until after the frost is out of the ground, and he can be sure of a truly warm welcome. A lesser distiction between the only two representatives of the shrike family that frequent our neighborhood — and they are two too many — is in the smaller size of the loggerhead and its lighter-gray plumage. But as both these birds select some high commanding position, like a distended branch near the tree-top, a cupola, house-peak, lightning-rod, telegraph wire, or weather-vane, the better to detect a passing dinner, it would be quite impossible at such a distance to know which shrike was sitting up there silently plotting villainies, without remembering the season when each may be expected.

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis) Shrike family


Length — 9.5 to 10.5 inches. About the size of the robin. Male — Upper parts slate-gray; wing quills and tail black, edged and tipped with white, conspicuous in flight; a white spot on centre of outer wing feathers. A black band runs from bill, through eye to side of throat. Light gray below, tinged with brownish, and faintly marked with waving lines of darker gray. Bill hooked and hawk-like. Female — With eye-band more obscure than male’s, and with More distinct brownish cast on her plumage. Range — Northern North America. South in winter to middle Portion of United States.
Migrations — November, April. A roving winter resident.

“Matching the bravest of the brave among birds of prey in deeds of daring, and no less relentless than reckless, the shrike compels that sort of deference, not unmixed with indignation, we are accustomed to accord to creatures of seeming insignificance whose exploits demand much strength, great spirit, and insatiate love for carnage. We cannot be indifferent to the marauder who takes his own wherever he finds it — a feudal baron who holds his own with undisputed sway — and an ogre whose victims are so many more than he can eat, that he actually keeps a private graveyard for the balance.” Who is honestly able to give the shrikes a better character than Dr. Coues, just quoted? A few offer them questionable defence by recording the large numbers of English sparrows they kill in a season, as if wanton carnage were ever justifiable.

Not even a hawk itself can produce the consternation among a flock of sparrows that the harsh, rasping voice of the butcherbird creates, for escape they well know to be difficult before the small ogre swoops down upon his victim, and carries it off to impale it on a thorn or frozen twig, there to devour it later piecemeal. Every shrike thus either impales or else hangs up, as a butcher does his meat, more little birds of many kinds, field-mice, grasshoppers, and other large insects than it can hope to devour in a week of bloody orgies. Field-mice are perhaps its favorite diet, but even snakes are not disdained.

More contemptible than the actual slaughter of its victims, if possible, is the method by which the shrike often lures and sneaks upon his prey. Hiding in a clump of bushes in the meadow or garden, he imitates with fiendish cleverness the call-notes of little birds that come in cheerful response, hopping and flitting within easy range of him. His bloody work is finished in a trice. Usually, however, it must be owned, the shrike’s hunting habits are the reverse of sneaking. Perched on a point of vantage on some tree-top or weather-vane, his hawk-like eye can detect a grasshopper going through the grass fifty yards away.

What is our surprise when, some fine warm day in March, just before our butcher, ogre, sneak, and fiend leaves us for colder regions, to hear him break out into song! Love has warmed even his cold heart, and with sweet, warbled notes on the tip of a beak that but yesterday was reeking with his victim’s blood, he starts for Canada, leaving behind him the only good impression he has made during a long winter’s visit.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Ampelis garrulus) Waxwing family


Length — 8 to 9.5 inches. A little smaller than the robin. Male and Female — General color drab, with faint brownish wash above, shading into lighter gray below. Crest conspicuous. being nearly an inch and a half in length; rufous at the base, shading into light gray above, velvety-black forehead, chin, and line through the eye. Wings grayish brown, with very dark quills, which have two white bars; the bar at the edge of the upper wing coverts being tipped with red sealing-wax-like points, that give the bird its name. A few wing feathers tipped with yellow on outer edge. Tail quills dark brown, with yellow band across the end, and faint red streaks on upper and inner sides.
Range — Northern United States and British America. Most common in Canada and northern Mississippi region. Migrations — Very irregular winter visitor.

When Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, who was the first to count this common waxwing of Europe and Asia among the birds of North America, published an account of it in his “Synopsis,” it was considered a very rare bird indeed. It may be these waxwings have greatly increased, but however uncommon they may still be considered, certainly no one who had ever seen a flock containing more than a thousand of them, resting on the trees of a lawn within sight of New York City, as the writer has done, could be expected to consider the birds “very rare.”

The Bohemian waxwing, like the only other member of the family that ever visits us, the cedar-bird, is a roving gipsy. In Germany they say seven years must elapse between its visitations, which the superstitious old cronies are wont to associate with woful stories of pestilence — just such tales as are resurrected from the depths of morbid memories here when a comet reappears or the seven-year locust ascends from the ground.

The goings and comings of these birds are certainly most erratic and infrequent; nevertheless, when hunger drives them from the far north to feast upon the juniper and other winter berries of our Northern States, they come in enormous flocks, making up in quantity what they lack in regularity of visits and evenness of distribution.

Surely no bird has less right to be associated with evil than this mild waxwing. It seems the very incarnation of peace and harmony. Part of a flock that has lodged in a tree will sit almost motionless for hours and whisper in softly hissed twitterings, very much as a company of Quaker ladies, similarly dressed, might sit at yearly meeting. Exquisitely clothed in silky-gray feathers that no berry juice is ever permitted to stain, they are dainty, gentle, aristocratic-looking birds, a trifle heavy and indolent, perhaps, when walking on the ground or perching; but as they fly in compact squads just above the tree-tops their flight is exceedingly swift and graceful.

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Dendroica castanea) Wood Warbler family

Length. — 5.25 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Crown, chin, throat, upper breast, and sides dull chestnut. Forehead, sides of head, and cheeks black. Above olive-gray, streaked with black. Underneath buffy. Two white wing-bars. Outer tail quills with white patches on tips. Cream white patch on either side of neck.
Female — Has more greenish-olive above. Range — Eastern North America, from Hudson’s Bay to Central America. Nests north of the United States. Winters in tropical limit of range.
Migrations — May. September. Rare migrant

The chestnut breast of this capricious little visitor makes him look like a diminutive robin. In spring, when these warblers are said to take a more easterly route than the one they choose in autumn to return by to Central America, they may be so suddenly abundant that the fresh green trees and shrubbery of the garden will contain a dozen of the busy little hunters. Another season they may pass northward either by another route or leave your garden unvisited; and perhaps the people in the very next town may be counting your rare bird common, while it is simply perverse.

Whether common or rare, before your acquaintance has had time to ripen into friendship, away go the freaky little creatures to nest in the tree-tops of the Canadian coniferous forests.

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Dendroica pennsylvanica) Wood Warbler family


Length — About 5 inches. More than an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Top of head and streaks in wings yellow. A black line running through the eye and round back of crown, and a black spot in front of eye, extending to cheeks. Ear coverts, chin, and underneath white. Back greenish gray and slate, streaked with black. Sides of bird chestnut. Wings, which are streaked with black and yellow, have yellowish-white bars. Very dark tail with white patches on inner vanes of the outer quills. Female — Similar, but duller. Chestnut sides are often scarcely apparent.
Range — Eastern North America, from Manitoba and Labrador to the tropics, where it winters.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident, most common in migrations.

In the Alleghanies, and from New Jersey and Illinois northward, this restless little warbler nests in the bushy borders of woodlands and the undergrowth of the woods, for which he forsakes our gardens and orchards after a very short visit in May. While hopping over the ground catching ants, of which he seems to be inordinately fond, or flitting actively about the shrubbery after grubs and insects, we may note his coat of many colors — patchwork in which nearly all the warbler colors are curiously combined. With drooped wings that often conceal the bird’s chestnut sides, which are his chief distinguishing mark, and with tail erected like a redstart’s, he hunts incessantly. Here in the garden he is as refreshingly indifferent to your interest in him as later in his breeding haunts he is shy and distrustful. His song is bright and animated, like that of the yellow warbler.

GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Helminthophila chrysoptera) Wood Warbler family

Length — About 5 inches. More than an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Yellow crown and yellow patches on the wings. Upper parts bluish gray, sometimes tinged with greenish. Stripe through the eye and throat black. Sides of head chin, and line over the eye white. Underneath white, grayish on sides. A few white markings on outer tail feathers.
Female — Crown duller; gray where male is black, with olive Upper parts and grayer underneath.
Range — From Canadian border to Central America, where it winters.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

After one has seen a golden-winged warbler fluttering hither and thither about the shrubbery of a park within sight and sound of a great city’s distractions and with blissful unconcern of them all, partaking of a hearty lunch of insects that infest the leaves before one’s eyes, one counts the bird less rare and shy than one has been taught to consider it. Whoever looks for a warbler with gaudy yellow wings will not find the golden-winged variety. His wings have golden patches only, and while these are distinguishing marks, they are scarcely prominent enough features to have given the bird the rather misleading name he bears. But, then, most warblers’ names are misleading. They serve their best purpose in cultivating patience and other gentle virtues in the novice.

Such habits and choice of haunts as characterize the blue-winged warbler are also the golden-winged’s. But their voices are quite different, the former’s being sharp and metallic, while the latter’s zee, zee, zee comes more lazily and without accent.

MYRTLE WARBLER (Dendroica coronata) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — In summer plumage: A yellow patch on top of head, lower back, and either side of the breast. Upper parts bluish slate, streaked with black. Upper breast black; throat white; all other under parts whitish, streaked with black. Two white wing bars, and tail quills have white spots near the tip. In winter: Upper parts olive-brown, streaked with black; the yellow spot on lower back the only yellow mark remaining. Wing-bars grayish.
Female — Resembles male in winter plumage. Range — Eastern North America. Occasional on Pacific slope. Summers from Minnesota and northern New England northward to Fur Countries. Winters from Middle States south ward into Central America; a few often remaining at the northern United States all the winter.
Migrations — April. October. November. Also, but more rarely, a winter resident.

The first of the warblers to arrive in the spring and the last to leave us in the autumn, some even remaining throughout the northern winter, the myrtle warbler, next to the summer yellowbird, is the most familiar of its multitudinous kin. Though we become acquainted with it chiefly in the migrations, it impresses us by its numbers rather than by any gorgeousness of attire. The four yellow spots on crown, lower back, and sides are its distinguishing marks; and in the autumn these marks have dwindled to only one, that on the lower back or rump. The great difficulty experienced in identifying any warbler is in its restless habit of flitting about.

For a few days in early May we are forcibly reminded of the Florida peninsula, which fairly teems with these birds; they become almost superabundant, a distraction during the precious days when the rarer species are quietly slipping by, not to return again for a year, perhaps longer, for some warblers are notoriously irregular in their routes north and south, and never return by the way they travelled in the spring.

But if we look sharply into every group of myrtle warblers, we are quite likely to discover some of their dainty, fragile cousins that gladly seek the escort of birds so fearless as they. By the last of May all the warblers are gone from the neighborhood except the constant little summer yellowbird and redstart.

In autumn, when the myrtle warblers return after a busy enough summer passed in Canadian nurseries, they chiefly haunt those regions where juniper and bay-berries abound. These latter (Myrica cerifera), or the myrtle wax-berries, as they are sometimes called, and which are the bird’s favorite food, have given it their name. Wherever the supply of these berries is sufficient to last through the winter, there it may be found foraging in the scrubby bushes. Sometimes driven by cold and hunger from the fields, this hardiest member of a family that properly belongs to the tropics, seeks shelter and food close to the outbuildings on the farm.

PARULA WARBLER (Compsothlypis americana) Wood Warbler family

Length — 4.5 to 4.75 inches. About an inch and a half shorter than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Slate-colored above, with a greenish-yellow or bronze patch in the middle of the back. Chin, throat, and breast yellow. A black, bluish, or rufous band across the breast, usually lacking in female. Underneath white, sometimes marked with rufous on sides, but these markings are variable. Wings have two white patches; outer tail feathers have white patch near the end.
Range — Eastern North America. Winters from Florida southward. Migrations — April. October. Summer resident.

Through an open window of an apartment in the very heart of New York City, a parula warbler flew this spring of 1897, surely the daintiest, most exquisitely beautiful bird visitor that ever voluntarily lodged between two brick walls.

A number of such airy, tiny beauties flitting about among the blossoms of the shrubbery on a bright May morning and swaying on the slenderest branches with their inimitable grace, is a sight that the memory should retain into old age. They seem the very embodiment of life, joy, beauty, grace; of everything lovely that birds by any possibility could be. Apparently they are wafted about the garden; they fly with no more effort than a dainty lifting of the wings, as if to catch the breeze, that seems to lift them as it might a bunch of thistledown. They go through a great variety of charming posturings as they hunt for their food upon the blossoms and tender fresh twigs, now creeping like a nuthatch along the bark and peering into the crevices, now gracefully swaying and balancing like a goldfinch upon a slender, pendent stem. One little sprite pauses in its hunt for the insects to raise its pretty head and trill a short and wiry song.

But the parula warbler does not remain long about the gardens and orchards, though it will not forsake us altogether for the Canadian forests, where most of its relatives pass the summer. It retreats only to the woods near the water, if may be, or to just as close a counterpart of a swampy southern woods, where the Spanish or Usnea “moss” drapes itself over the cypresses, as it can find here at the north. Its rarely [found,] beautiful nest, that hangs suspended from a slender branch very much like the Baltimore oriole’s, is so woven and festooned with this moss that its concealment is perfect.

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Dendroica caerulescens) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5.30 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Slate-color, not blue above; lightest on forehead and darkest on lower back. Wings and tail edged with bluish. Cheeks, chin, throat, upper breast, and sides black. Breast and underneath white. White spots on wings, and a little white on tail.
Female — Olive-green above; underneath soiled yellow. Wing-spots inconspicuous. Tail generally has a faint bluish tinge. Range — Eastern North America, from Labrador to tropics, where It winters.
Migrations — May. September. Usually a migrant only in the United States.

Whoever looks for this beautifully marked warbler among the bluebirds, will wish that the man who named him had possessed a truer eye for color. But if the name so illy fits the bright slate-colored male, how grieved must be his little
olive-and-yellow mate to answer to the name of black-throated blue warbler when she has neither a black throat nor a blue feather! It is not easy to distinguish her as she flits about the twigs and leaves of the garden in May or early autumn, except as she is seen in company with her husband, whose name she has taken with him for better or for worse. The white spot on the wings should always be looked for to positively identify this bird.

Before flying up to a twig to peck off the insects, the birds have a pretty vireo trick of cocking their heads on one side to investigate the quantity hidden underneath the leaves. They seem less nervous and more deliberate than many of their restless family.

Most warblers go over the Canada border to nest, but there are many records of the nests of this species in the Alleghanies as far south as Georgia, in the Catskills, in Connecticut, northern Minnesota and Michigan. Laurel thickets and moist undergrowth of woods in the United States, and more commonly pine woods in Canada, are the favorite nesting haunts. A sharp zip, zip, like some midsummer insect’s noise, is the bird’s call-note, but its love-song, zee, zee, zee, or twee, twea, twea-e-e, as one authority writes it, is only rarely heard in the migrations. It is a languid, drawling little strain, with an upward slide that is easily drowned in the full bird chorus of May.


Indigo Bunting
Belted Kingfisher
Blue Jay
Blue Grosbeak
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Mourning Dove
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Look also among Slate-colored Birds in preceding group, particularly among the Warblers there, or in the group of Birds conspicuously Yellow and Orange.


THE BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) Thrush family


Length — 7 inches. About an inch longer than the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts, wings, and tail bright blue, with rusty wash in autumn. Throat, breast, and sides cinnamon-red. Underneath white.
Female — Has duller blue feathers, washed with gray, and a paler breast than male.
Range — North America, from Nova Scotia. and Manitoba to Gulf of Mexico. Southward in winter from Middle States to Bermuda and West Indies.
Migrations — March. November. Summer resident. A few sometimes remain throughout the winter.

With the first soft, plaintive warble of the bluebirds early in March, the sugar camps, waiting for their signal, take on a bustling activity; the farmer looks to his plough; orders are hurried off to the seedsmen; a fever to be out of doors seizes one: spring is here. Snowstorms may yet whiten fields and gardens, high winds may howl about the trees and chimneys, but the little blue heralds persistently proclaim from the orchard and garden that the spring procession has begun to move.Tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly, they sweetly assert to our incredulous ears.

The bluebird is not always a migrant, except in the more northern portions of the country. Some representatives there are always with us, but the great majority winter south and drop out of the spring procession on its way northward, the males a little ahead of their mates, which show housewifely instincts immediately after their arrival. A pair of these rather undemonstrative
matter-of-fact lovers go about looking for some deserted woodpecker’s hole in the orchard, peering into cavities in the fence-rails, or into the bird-houses that, once set up in the
old-fashioned gardens for their special benefit, are now appropriated too often by the ubiquitous sparrow. Wrens they can readily dispossess of an attractive tenement, and do. With a temper as heavenly as the color of their feathers, the bluebird’s sense of justice is not always so adorable. But sparrows unnerve them into cowardice. The comparatively infrequent nesting of the bluebirds about our homes at the present time is one of the most deplorable results of unrestricted sparrow immigration. Formerly they were the commonest of bird neighbors.

Nest-building is not a favorite occupation with the bluebirds, that are conspicuously domestic none the less. Two, and even three, broods in a season fully occupy their time. As in most cases, the mother-bird does more than her share of the work. The male looks with wondering admiration at the housewifely activity, applauds her with song, feeds her as she sits brooding over the nestful of pale greenish-blue eggs, but his adoration of her virtues does not lead him into emulation.

“Shifting his light load of song, From post to post along the cheerless fence,”

Lowell observed that he carried his duties quite as lightly.

When the young birds first emerge from the shell they are almost black; they come into their splendid heritage of color by degrees, lest their young heads might be turned. It is only as they spread their tiny wings for their first flight from the nest that we can see a few blue feathers.

With the first cool days of autumn the bluebirds collect in flocks, often associating with orioles and kingbirds in sheltered, sunny places where insects are still plentiful. Their steady, undulating flight now becomes erratic as they take food on the wing — a habit that they may have learned by association with the kingbirds, for they have also adopted the habit of perching upon some conspicuous lookout and then suddenly launching out into the air for a passing fly and returning to their perch. Long after their associates have gone southward, they linger like the last leaves on the tree. It is indeed “good-bye to summer” when the bluebirds withdraw their touch of brightness from the dreary November landscape.

The bluebirds from Canada and the northern portions of New England and New York migrate into Virginia and the Carolinas, the birds from the Middle States move down into the Gulf States to pass the winter. It was there that countless numbers were cut off by the severe winter of 1894-95, which was so severe in that section.

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea) Finch family

Called also: INDIGO BIRD

Length — 5 to 6 inches. Smaller than the English sparrow, or the size of a canary.
Male — In certain lights rich blue, deepest on head. In another light the blue feathers show verdigris tints. Wings, tail, and lower back with brownish wash, most prominent in autumn plumage. Quills of wings and tail deep blue, margined with light.
Female — Plain sienna-brown above. Yellowish on breast and shading to white underneath, and indistinctly streaked. Wings and tail darkest, sometimes with slight tinge of blue in outer webs and on shoulders.
Range — North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama. Most common in eastern part of United States. Winters in Central America and Mexico.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

The “glowing indigo” of this tropical-looking visitor that so delighted Thoreau in the Walden woods, often seems only the more intense by comparison with the blue sky, against which it stands out in relief as the bird perches singing in a tree-top. What has this gaily dressed, dapper little cavalier in common with his dingy sparrow cousins that haunt the ground and delight in dust-baths, leaving their feathers no whit more dingy than they were before, and in temper, as in plumage, suggesting more of earth than of heaven? Apparently he has nothing, and yet the small brown bird in the roadside thicket, which you have misnamed a sparrow, not noticing the glint of blue in her shoulders and tail, is his mate. Besides the structural resemblances, which are, of course, the only ones considered by ornithologists in classifying birds, the indigo buntings have several sparrowlike traits. They feed upon the ground, mainly upon seeds of grasses and herbs, with a few insects interspersed to give relish to the grain; they build grassy nests in low bushes or tall, rank grass; and their flight is short and labored. Borders of woods, roadside thickets, and even garden shrubbery, with open pasture lots for foraging grounds near by, are favorite haunts of these birds, that return again and again to some preferred spot. But however close to our homes they build theirs, our presence never ceases to be regarded by them with anything but suspicion, not to say alarm. Their metallic cheep, cheep, warns you to keep away from the little blue-white eggs, hidden away securely in the bushes; and the nervous tail twitchings and jerkings are pathetic to see. Happily for the safety of their nest, the brooding mother has no tell-tale feathers to attract the eye. Dense foliage no more conceals the male bird’s brilliant coat than it can the tanager’s or oriole’s.

With no attempt at concealment, which he doubtless understands would be quite impossible, he chooses some high, conspicuous perch to which he mounts by easy stages, singing as he goes; and there begins a loud and rapid strain that promises much, but growing weaker and weaker, ends as if the bird were either out of breath or too, weak to finish. Then suddenly he begins the same song over again, and keeps up this continuous performance for nearly half an hour. The noonday heat of an August day that silences nearly every other voice, seems to give to the indigo bird’s only fresh animation and timbre.

THE BELTED KINGFISHER (Ceryle alcyon) Kingfisher family

Called also: THE HALCYON

Length — 12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the robin.
Male — Upper part grayish blue, with prominent crest on head reaching to the nape. A white spot in front of the eye. Bill longer than the head, which is large and heavy. Wings and the short tail minutely speckled and marked with broken bands of white. Chin, band around throat, and underneath white. Two bluish bands across the breast and a bluish wash on sides. Female — Female and immature specimens have rufous bands where The adult male’s are blue. Plumage of both birds oily. Range — North America, except where the Texan kingfisher replaces it in a limited area in the Southwest. Common from Labrador to Florida, east and west. Winters chiefly from Virginia southward to South America.
Migrations — March. December. Common summer resident. Usually a winter resident also.

If the kingfisher is not so neighborly as we could wish, or as he used to be, it is not because he has grown less friendly, but because the streams near our homes are fished out. Fish he must and will have, and to get them nowadays it is too often necessary to follow the stream back through secluded woods to the quiet waters of its source: a clear, cool pond or lake whose scaly inmates have not yet learned wisdom at the point of the sportsman’s fly.

In such quiet haunts the kingfisher is easily the most conspicuous object in sight, where he perches on some dead or projecting branch over the water, intently watching for a dinner that is all unsuspectingly swimming below. Suddenly the bird drops — dives; there is a splash, a struggle, and then the “lone fisherman” returns triumphant to his perch, holding a shining fish in his beak. If the fish is small it is swallowed at once, but if it is large and bony it must first be killed against the branch. A few sharp knocks, and the struggles of the fish are over, but the kingfisher’s have only begun. How he gags and writhes, swallows his dinner, and then, regretting his haste, brings it up again to try another wider avenue down his throat I The many abortive efforts he makes to land his dinner safely below in his stomach, his grim contortions as the fishbones scratch his throat-lining on their way down and up again, force a smile in spite of the bird’s evident distress. It is small wonder he supplements his fish diet with various kinds of the larger insects, shrimps, and fresh-water mollusks.

Flying well over the tree-tops or along the waterways. the kingfisher makes the woodland echo with his noisy rattle, that breaks the stillness like a watchman’s at midnight. It is, perhaps, the most familiar sound heard along the banks of the inland rivers. No love or cradle song does he know. Instead of softening and growing sweet, as the voices of most birds do in the nesting season, the endearments uttered by a pair of mated kingfishers are the most strident, rattly shrieks ever heard by lovers it sounds as if they were perpetually quarrelling, yet they are really particularly devoted.

The nest of these birds, like the bank swallow’s, is excavated in the face of a high bank, preferably one that rises from a stream; and at about six feet from the entrance of the tunnel six or eight clear, shining white eggs are placed on a curious nest. All the fish bones and scales that, being indigestible, are disgorged in pellets by the parents, are carefully carried to the end of the tunnel to form a prickly cradle for the unhappy fledglings. Very rarely a nest is made in the hollow trunk of a tree; but wherever the home is, the kingfishers become strongly attached to it, returning again and again to the spot that has cost them so much labor to excavate. Some observers have accused them of appropriating the holes of the water-rats.

In ancient times of myths and fables, kingfishers or halcyons were said to build a floating nest on the sea, and to possess some mysterious power that calmed the troubled waves while the eggs were hatching and the young birds were being reared, hence the term “halcyon days,” meaning days of fair weather.

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata) Crow and Jay family

Length — 11 to 12 inches. A little larger than the robin.

Male and Female — Blue above. Black band around the neck, joining some black feathers on the back. Under parts dusky white. Wing coverts and tail bright blue, striped transversely with black. Tail much rounded. Many feathers edged and tipped with white. Head finely crested; bill, tongue, and legs black. Range — Eastern coast of North America to the plains, and from northern Canada to Florida and eastern Texas. Migrations — Permanent resident. Although seen in flocks moving southward or northward, they are merely seeking happier hunting grounds, not migrating.

No bird of finer color or presence sojourns with us the year round than the blue jay. In a peculiar sense his is a case o. “beauty covering a multitude of sins.” Among close students of bird traits, we find none so poor as to do him reverence. Dishonest, cruel, inquisitive, murderous, voracious, villainous, are some of the epithets applied to this bird of exquisite plumage. Emerson, however, has said in his defence he does “more good than harm,” alluding, no doubt, to his habit of burying nuts and hard seeds in the ground, so that many a waste place is clothed with trees and shrubs, thanks to his propensity and industry.

He is mischievous as a small boy, destructive as a monkey, deft at hiding as a squirrel. He is unsociable and unamiable, disliking the society of other birds. His harsh screams, shrieks, and most aggressive and unmusical calls seem often intended maliciously to drown the songs of the sweet-voiced singers.

From April to September, the breeding and moulting season, the blue jays are almost silent, only sallying forth from the woods to pillage and devour the young and eggs of their more peaceful neighbors. In a bulky nest, usually placed in a tree-crotch high above our heads, from four to six eggs, olive-gray with brown spots, are laid and most carefully tended.

Notwithstanding the unlovely characteristics of the blue jay, we could ill spare the flash of color, like a bit of blue sky dropped from above, which is so rare a tint even in our land, that we number not more than three or four true blue birds, and in England, it is said, there is none.

BLUE GROSBEAK (Guiraca carulea) Finch family

Length — 7 inches. About an inch larger than the English sparrow.
Male — Deep blue, dark, and almost black on the back; wings and tail black, slightly edged with blue, and the former marked with bright chestnut. Cheeks and chin black. Bill heavy and bluish.
Female — Grayish brown above, sometimes with bluish tinge on head, lower back, and shoulders. Wings dark olive-brown, with faint buff markings; tail same shade as wings, but witb bluish gray markings. Underneath brownish cream-color, the breast feathers often blue at the base.
Range — United States, from southern New England westward to the Rocky Mountains and southward into Mexico and beyon d.M ost common in the Southwest. Rare along the Atlantic seaboard. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

This beautiful but rather shy and solitary bird occasionally wanders eastward to rival the bluebird and the indigo bunting in their rare and lovely coloring, and eclipse them both in song. Audubon, we remember, found the nest in New Jersey. Pennsylvania is still favored with one now and then, but it is in the Southwest only that the blue grosbeak is as common as the evening grosbeak is in the Northwest. Since rice is its favorite food, it naturally abounds where that cereal grows. Seeds and kernels of the hardest kinds, that its heavy, strong beak is well adapted to crack, constitute its diet when it strays beyond the rice-fields.

Possibly the heavy bills of all the grosbeaks make them look stupid whether they are or not — a characteristic that the blue grosbeak’s habit of sitting motionless with a vacant stare many minutes at a time unfortunately emphasizes.

When seen in the roadside thickets or tall weeds, such as the field sparrow chooses to frequent, it shows little fear of man unless actually approached and threatened, but whether this fearlessness comes from actual confidence or stupidity is by no means certain. Whatever the motive of its inactivity, it accomplishes an end to be desired by the cleverest bird; its presence is almost never suspected by the passer-by, and its grassy nest on a tree-branch, containing three or four pale bluish-white eggs, is never betrayed by look or sign to the marauding small boy.

BARN SWALLOW (Chelidon erythrogaster) Swallow family

Length — 6.5 to 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow. Apparently considerably larger, because of its wide wingspread.
Male — Glistening steel-blue shading to black above. Chin, breast, and underneath bright chestnut-brown and brilliant buff that glistens in the sunlight. A partial collar of steel-blue. Tail very deeply forked and slender.
Female — Smaller and paler, with shorter outer tail feathers, making the fork less prominent.
Range — Throughout North America. Winters in tropics of both Americas.
Migrations — April. September. Summer resident.

Any one who attempts to describe the coloring of a bird’s plumage knows how inadequate words are to convey a just idea of the delicacy, richness, and brilliancy of the living tints. But, happily, the beautiful barn swallow is too familiar to need description. Wheeling about our barns and houses, skimming over the fields, its bright sides flashing in the sunlight, playing “cross tag” with its friends at evening, when the insects, too, are on the wing, gyrating, darting, and gliding through the air, it is no more possible to adequately describe the exquisite grace of a swallow’s flight than the glistening buff of its breast.

This is a typical bird of the air, as an oriole is of the trees and a sparrow of the ground. Though the swallow may often be seen perching on a telegraph wire, suddenly it darts off as if it had received a shock of electricity, and we see the bird in its true element.

While this swallow is peculiarly American, it is often confounded with its European cousin Hirundo rustica in noted ornithologies.

Up in the rafters of the barn, or in the arch of an old bridge that spans a stream, these swallows build their bracket-like nests of clay or mud pellets intermixed with straw. Here the noisy little broods pick their way out of the white eggs curiously spotted with brown and lilac that were all too familiar in the marauding days of our childhood.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon lunifrons) Swallow family


Length — 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow. Apparently considerably larger because of its wide wingspread. Male and Female — Steel-blue above, shading to blue-black on crown of head and on wings and tail. A brownish-gray ring around the neck. Beneath dusty white, with rufous tint. Crescent-like frontlet. Chin, throat, sides of head, and tail coverts rufous.
Range — North and South America. Winters in the tropics. Migrations — Early April. Late September. Summer resident.

Not quite so brilliantly colored as the barn swallow, nor with tail so deeply forked, and consequently without so much grace in flying, and with a squeak rather than the really musical twitter of the gayer bird, the cliff swallow may be positively identified by the rufous feathers of its tail coverts, but more definitely by its crescent-shaped frontlet shining like a new moon; hence its specific Latin name from luna = moon, and frons = front.

Such great numbers of these swallows have been seen in the far West that the name of Rocky Mountain swallows is sometimes given to them; though however rare they may have been in 1824, when DeWitt Clinton thought he “discovered” them near Lake Champlain, they are now common enough in all parts of the United States.

In the West this swallow is wholly a cliff-dweller, but it has learned to modify its home in different localities. As usually seen, it is gourd-shaped, opened at the top, built entirely of mud pellets (“bricks without straw”), softly lined with feathers and wisps of grass, and attached by the larger part to a projecting cliff or eave.

Like all the swallows, this bird lives in colonies, and the clay-colored nests beneath the eaves of barns are often so close together that a group of them resembles nothing so much as a gigantic wasp’s nest. It is said that when swallows pair they are mated for life; but, then, more is said about swallows than the most tireless bird-lover could substantiate. The tradition that swallows fly low when it is going to rain may be easily credited, because the air before a storm is usually too heavy with moisture for the winged insects, upon which the swallows feed, to fly high.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaidura macroura) Pigeon family


Length — 12 to 13 inches. About one-half as large again as the robin.
Male — Grayish brown or fawn-color above, varying to bluish gray. Crown and upper part of head greenish blue, with green and golden metallic reflections on sides of neck. A black spot under each ear. Forehead and breast reddish buff; lighter underneath. (General impression of color, bluish fawn.) Bill black, with tumid, fleshy covering; feet red; two middle tail feathers longest; all others banded with black and tipped with ashy white. Wing coverts sparsely spotted with black. Flanks and underneath the wings bluish.
Female — Duller and without iridescent reflections on neck. Range — North America, from Quebec to Panama, and westward to Arizona. Most common in temperate climate, east of Rocky Mountains.
Migrations — March. November. Common summer resident not Migratory south of Virginia.

The beautiful, soft-colored plumage of this incessant and rather melancholy love-maker is not on public exhibition. To see it we must trace the a-coo-o, coo-o, coo-oo, coo-o to its source in the thick foliage in some tree in an out-of-the-way corner of the farm, or to an evergreen near the edge of the woods. The slow, plaintive notes, more like a dirge than a love-song, penetrate to a surprising distance. They may not always be the same lovers we hear from April to the end of summer, but surely the sound seems to indicate that they are. The dove is a shy bird, attached to its gentle and refined mate with a devotion that has passed into a proverb, but caring little or nothing for the society of other feathered friends, and very little for its own kind, unless after the nesting season has passed. In this respect it differs widely from its cousins, the wild pigeons, flocks of which, numbering many millions, are recorded by Wilson and other early writers before the days when netting these birds became so fatally profitable.

What the dove finds to adore so ardently in the “shiftless housewife,” as Mrs. Wright calls his lady-love, must pass the comprehension of the phoebe, that constructs such an exquisite home, or of a bustling, energetic Jenny wren, that “looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.” She is a flabby, spineless bundle of flesh and pretty feathers, gentle and refined in manners, but slack and incompetent in all she does. Her nest consists of few loose sticks. without rim or lining; and when her two babies emerge from the white eggs, that somehow do not fall through or roll out of the rickety lattice, their tender little naked bodies must suffer from many bruises. We are almost inclined to blame the inconsiderate mother for allowing her offspring to enter the world unclothed — obviously not her fault, though she is capable of just such negligence. Fortunate are the baby doves when their lazy mother scatters her makeshift nest on top of one that a robin has deserted, as she frequently does. It is almost excusable to take her young birds and rear them in captivity, where they invariably thrive, mate, and live happily, unless death comes to one, when the other often refuses food and grieves its life away.

In the wild state, when the nesting season approaches, both birds make curious acrobatic flights above the tree-tops; then, after a short sail in midair, they return to their perch. This appears to be their only giddiness and frivolity, unless a dust-bath in the country road might be considered a dissipation.

In the autumn a few pairs of doves show slight gregarious tendencies, feeding amiably together in the grain fields and retiring to the same roost at sundown.

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila coerulea) Gnatcatcher family


Length — 4.5 inches. About two inches smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Grayish blue above, dull grayish white below. Grayish tips on wings. Tail with white outer quills changing gradually through black and white to all black on centre quills. Narrow black band over the forehead and eyes. Resembles in manner and form a miniature catbird.
Female — More grayish and less blue, and without the black on head.
Range — United States to Canadian border on the north, the Rockies on the west, and the Atlantic States, from Maine to Florida most common in the Middle States. A rare bird north of New Jersey. Winters in Mexico and beyond. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

In thick woodlands, where a stream that lazily creeps through the mossy, oozy ground attracts myriads of insects to its humid neighborhood, this tiny hunter loves to hide in the denser foliage of the upper branches. He has the habit of nervously flitting about from twig to twig of his relatives, the kinglets, but unhappily he lacks their social, friendly instincts, and therefore is rarely seen. Formerly classed among the warblers, then among the flycatchers, while still as much a lover of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes as ever, his vocal powers have now won for him recognition among the singing birds. Some one has likened his voice to the squeak of a mouse, and Nuttall says it is “scarcely louder,” which is all too true, for at a little distance it is quite inaudible. But in addition to the mouse-like call-note, the tiny bird has a rather feeble but exquisitely finished song, so faint it seems almost as it the bird were singing in its sleep.

If by accident you enter the neighborhood of its nest, you soon find out that this timid, soft-voiced little creature can be roused to rashness and make its presence disagreeable to ears and eyes alike as it angrily darts about your unoffending head, pecking at your face and uttering its shrill squeak close to your very ear-drums. All this excitement is in defence of a dainty, lichen-covered nest, whose presence you may not have even suspected before, and of four or five bluish-white, speckled eggs well beyond reach in the tree-tops.

During the migrations the bird seems not unwilling to show its delicate, trim little body, that has often been likened to a diminutive mocking-bird’s, very near the homes of men. Its graceful postures, its song and constant motion, are sure to attract attention. In Central Park, New York City, the bird is not unknown.


House Wren Yellow-billed Cuckoo Carolina Wren Bank Swallow and
Winter Wren Rough-winged Swallow Long-billed Marsh Wren Cedar Bird
Short-billed Marsh Wren Brown Creeper Brown Thrasher Pine Siskin
Wilson’s Thrush or Veery Smith’s Painted Longspur Wood Thrush Lapland Longspur
Hermit Thrush Chipping Sparrow Alice’s Thrush English Sparrow
Olive-backed Thrush Field Sparrow Louisiana Water Thrush Fox Sparrow
Northern Water Thrush Grasshopper Sparrow Flicker Savannah Sparrow
Meadowlark and Western Seaside Sparrow Meadowlark Sharp-tailed Sparrow Horned Lark and Prairie Song Sparrow
Horned Lark Swamp Song Sparrow Pipit or Titlark Tree Sparrow
Whippoorwill Vesper Sparrow Nighthawk White-crowned Sparrow Black-billed Cuckoo White-throated Sparrow

See also winter plumage of the Bobolink, Goldfinch, and Myrtle Warbler. See females of Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, the Grackles, Bobolink, Cowbird, the Redpolls, Purple Finch, Chewink, Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, Cardinal, and of the Evening, the Blue, and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. See also Purple Finch, the Redpolls, Mourning Dove, Mocking-bird, Robin.


HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) Wren family

Length — 4.5 to 5 inches. Actually about one-fourth smaller than the English sparrow; apparently only half as large because of its erect tail.
Male and Female — Upper parts cinnamon-brown. Deepest shade on head and neck; lightest above tail, which is more rufous. Back has obscure, dusky bars; wings and tail are finely barred. Underneath whitish, with grayish-brown wash and faint bands Most prominent on sides.
Range — North America, from Manitoba to the Gulf. Most common in the United States, from the Mississippi eastward. Winters south of the Carolinas.
Migrations — April October. Common summer resident.

Early some morning in April there will go off under your window that most delightful of all alarm-clocks — the tiny, friendly house wren, just returned from a long visit south. Like some little mountain spring that, having been imprisoned by winter ice, now bubbles up in the spring sunshine, and goes rippling along over the pebbles, tumbling over itself in merry cascades, so this little wren’s song bubbles, ripples, cascades in a miniature torrent of ecstasy.

Year after year these birds return to the same nesting places: a box set up against the house, a crevice in the barn, a niche under the eaves; but once home, always home to them. The nest is kept scrupulously clean; the house-cleaning, like the house-building and renovating, being accompanied by the cheeriest of songs, that makes the bird fairly tremble by its intensity. But however angelic the voice of the house wren, its temper can put to flight even the English sparrow. Need description go further.

Six to eight minutely speckled, flesh-colored eggs suffice to keep the nervous, irritable parents in a state bordering on frenzy whenever another bird comes near their habitation. With tail erect and head alert, the father mounts on guard, singing a perfect ecstasy of love to his silent little mate, that sits upon the nest if no danger threatens; but both rush with passionate malice upon the first intruder, for it must be admitted that Jenny wren is a sad shrew.

While the little family is being reared, or, indeed, at any time, no one is wise enough to estimate the millions of tiny insects from the garden that find their way into the tireless bills of these wrens.

It is often said that the house wren remains at the north all the year, which, though not a fact, is easily accounted for by the coming of the winter wrens just as the others migrate in the autumn, and by their return to Canada when Jenny wren makes up her feather-bed under the eaves in the spring.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus) Wren family

Called also: MOCKING WREN

Length — 6 inches. Just a trifle smaller than the English sparrow
Male and Female — Chestnut-brown above. A whitish streak, beginning at base of bill, passes through the eye to the nape of the neck. Throat whitish. Under parts light buff-brown Wings and tail finely barred with dark.
Range — United States, from Gulf to northern Illinois and Southern New England.
Migrations — A common resident except at northern boundary of range, where it is a summer visitor.

This largest of the wrens appears to be the embodiment of the entire family characteristics: it is exceedingly active, nervous, and easily excited, quick-tempered, full of curiosity, peeping into every hole and corner it passes, short of flight as it is of wing, inseparable from its mate till parted by death, and a gushing lyrical songster that only death itself can silence. It also has the wren-like preference for a nest that is roofed over, but not too near the homes of men.

Undergrowths near water, brush heaps, rocky bits of woodland, are favorite resorts. The Carolina wren decidedly objects to being stared at, and likes to dart out of sight in the midst of the underbrush in a twinkling while the opera-glasses are being focussed. To let off some of his superfluous vivacity, Nature has provided him with two safety-valves: one is his voice, another is his tail. With the latter he gesticulates in a manner so expressive that it seems to be a certain index to what is passing in his busy little brain — drooping it, after the habit of the catbird, when he becomes limp with the emotion of his love-song, or holding it erect as, alert and inquisitive, he peers at the impudent intruder in the thicket below his perch.

But it is his joyous, melodious, bubbling song that is his chief fascination. He has so great a variety of strains that many people have thought that he learned them from other birds, and so have called him what many ornithologists declare that he is not — a mocking wren. And he is one of the few birds that sing at night — not in his sleep or only by moonlight, but even in the total darkness, just before dawn, he gives us the same wide-awake song that entrances us by day.

WINTER WREN (Troglodytes biemalis) Wren family

Length — 4 to 4.5 inches. About one-third smaller than the English sparrow. Apparently only half the size. Male and Female — Cinnamon-brown above, with numerous short, dusky bars. Head and neck without markings. Underneath rusty, dimly and finely barred with dark brown. Tail short. Range — United States, east and west, and from North Carolina to the Fur Countries
Migrations — October, April. Summer resident. Commonly a winter resident in the South and Middle States only.

It all too rarely happens that we see this tiny mouse-like wren in summer, unless we come upon him suddenly and overtake him unawares as he creeps shyly over the mossy logs or runs literally “like a flash” under the fern and through the tangled underbrush of the deep, cool woods. His presence there is far more likely to be detected by the ear than the eye.

Throughout the nesting season music fairly pours from his tiny throat; it bubbles up like champagne; it gushes forth in a lyrical torrent and overflows into every nook of the forest, that seems entirely pervaded by his song. While music is everywhere, it apparently comes from no particular point, and, search as you may, the tiny singer still eludes, exasperates, and yet entrances.

If by accident you discover him balancing on a swaying twig, never far from the ground, with his comical little tail erect, or more likely pointing towards his head, what a pert, saucy minstrel he is! You are lost in amazement that so much music could come from a throat so tiny.

Comparatively few of his admirers, however, hear the exquisite notes of this little brown wood-sprite, for after the nesting season is over he finds little to call them forth during the bleak, snowy winter months, when in the Middle and Southern States he may properly be called a neighbor. Sharp hunger, rather than natural boldness, drives him near the homes of men, where he appears just as the house wren departs for the South. With a forced confidence in man that is almost pathetic in a bird that loves the forest as he does, he picks up whatever lies about the house or barn in the shape of food-crumbs from the kitchen door, a morsel from the dog’s plate, a little seed in the barn-yard, happily rewarded if he can find a spider lurking in some sheltered place to give a flavor to the unrelished grain. Now he becomes almost tame, but we feel it is only because he must be.

The spot that decided preference leads him to, either winter or summer, is beside a bubbling spring. In the moss that grows near it the nest is placed in early summer, nearly always roofed over and entered from the side, in true wren-fashion; and as the young fledglings emerge from the creamy-white eggs, almost the first lesson they receive from their devoted little parents is in the fine art of bathing. Even in winter weather, when the wren has to stand on a rim of ice, he will duck and splash his diminutive body. It is recorded of a certain little individual that he was wont to dive through the icy water on a December day. Evidently the wrens, as a family, are not far removed in the evolutionary scale from true water-birds.

LONG-BILLED MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) Wren family

[Called also: MARSH WREN, AOU 1998]

Length — 4.5 to 5.2 inches. Actually a little smaller than the English sparrow. Apparently half the size. Male and Female — Brown above, with white line over the eye, and the back irregularly and faintly streaked with white. Wings and tail barred with darker cinnamon-brown. Underneath white. Sides dusky. Tail long and often carried erect. Bill extra long and slender.
Range — United States and southern British America. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

Sometimes when you are gathering cat-tails in the river marshes an alert, nervous little brown bird rises startled from the rushes and tries to elude you as with short, jerky flight it goes deeper and deeper into the marsh, where even the rubber boot may not follow. It closely resembles two other birds found in such a place, the swamp sparrow and the short-billed marsh wren; but you may know by its long, slender bill that it is not the latter, and by the absence of a bright bay crown that it is not the shyest of the sparrows.

These marsh wrens appear to be especially partial to running water; their homes are not very far from brooks and rivers, preferably those that are affected in their rise and flow by the tides. They build in colonies, and might be called inveterate singers, for no single bird is often permitted to finish his bubbling song without half the colony joining in a chorus.

Still another characteristic of this particularly interesting bird is its unique architectural effects produced with coarse grasses woven into globular form and suspended in the reeds. Sometimes adapting its nest to the building material at hand, it weaves it of grasses and twigs, and suspends it from the limb of a bush or tree overhanging the water, where it swings like an oriole’s. The entrance to the nest is invariably on the side.

More devoted homebodies than these little wrens are not among the feathered tribe. Once let the hand of man desecrate their nest, even before the tiny speckled eggs are deposited in it, and off go the birds to a more inaccessible place, where they can enjoy their home unmolested. Thus three or four nests may be made in a summer.

SHORT-BILLED MARSH WREN (Cistothorus stellaris) Wren family