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  • 1897
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[Called also: SEDGE WREN, AOU 1998]

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

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

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

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

BROWN THRASHER (Harporhynchus rufus) Thrasher and Mocking-bird family


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

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

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

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

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

WILSON’S THRUSH (Turdus fuscescens) Thrush family

Called also: VEERY {AOU 1998]; TAWNY THRUSH

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

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

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

Whittier mentions the veery in “The Playmate”:

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

WOOD THRUSH (Turdus mustelinus) Thrush family


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

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

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

HERMIT THRUSH (Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii) Thrush family


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

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

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

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

ALICE’S THRUSH (Turdus alicia) Thrush family

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

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

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

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

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

OLIVE-BACKED THRUSH (Turdus ustulatus swainsonii) Thrush family

Called also: SWAINSON’S THRUSH [AOU 1998]

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

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

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

LOUISIANA WATER THRUSH (Seiurus motacilla) Wood Warbler family

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

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

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

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

NORTHERN WATER THRUSH (Seiurus noveboracensis) Wood Warbler family


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

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

FLICKER (Colaptes auratus) Woodpecker family


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

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

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

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

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

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

MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) Blackbird family


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

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

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

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

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

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

HORNED LARK (Otocoris alpestris) Lark family

Called also: SHORE LARK

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

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

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

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

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus pensilvanicus) Wagtail family


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

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

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

WHIPPOORWILL (Antrostomus vociferus) Goatsucker family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles virginianus) Goatsucker family


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

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

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

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

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

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

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythrophthalmus) Cuckoo family

Called also: RAIN CROW

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

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

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

“Runneth meade and springeth blede,”

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

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

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

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus) Cuckoo family

Called also: RAIN CROW

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

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

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

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

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

BANK SWALLOW (Clivicola riparia) Swallow family


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

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

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

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

CEDAR BIRD (Ampelis cedrorum) Waxwing family


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia familiaris americana) Creeper family

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

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

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

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

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

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus) Finch family


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

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

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

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

SMITH’S PAINTED LONGSPUR (Calcarius pictus) Finch family

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

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

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

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

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus) Finch family


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

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

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

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella socialis) Finch family


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

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

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

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

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

ENGLISH SPARROW (Passer domesticus) Finch family

Called also: HOUSE SPARROW [AOU 1998]

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

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

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

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

FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla) Finch family


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

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

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

FOX SPARROW (Passerella ilica) Finch family


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

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

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

GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum passerinus) Finch family


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

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

SAVANNA SPARROW (Ammodramus sandwichensis savanna) Finch family


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

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

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

SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus) Finch family


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

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

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

SHARP-TAILED SPARROW (Ammodramus caudacutus) Finch family

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

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

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

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

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza fasciata) Finch family

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

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

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

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

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

SWAMP SONG SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana) Finch family


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

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

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

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

TREE SPARROW (Spizella monticola) Finch family


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

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

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

VESPER SPARROW (Poocaetes gramineus) Finch family


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

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

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

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

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys) Finch family

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

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

WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis) Finch family


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor) Swallow family


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula) Kinglet family


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

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

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