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  • 1897
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Curiously enough, the nest of this bird, that is not at all rare, has been discovered only six times. It would appear to be over large for the tiny bird, until we remember that kinglets are wont to have a numerous progeny in their pensile, globular home. It is made of light, flimsy material — moss, strips of bark, and plant fibre well knit together and closely lined with feathers, which must be a grateful addition to the babies, where they are reared in evergreens in cold, northern woods.

GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa) Kinglet family


Length — 4 to 4.25 inches. About two inches smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts grayish olive-green; wings and tail dusky, margined with olive-green. Underneath soiled whitish. Centre of crown bright orange, bordered by yellow and en. closed by black line. Cheeks gray; a whitish line over the eye. Female — Similar, but centre of crown lemon-yellow and more grayish underneath.
Range — North America generally. Breeds from northern United States northward. Winters chiefly from North Carolina to Central America, but many remain north all the year. Migrations — September. April. Chiefly a winter resident south Of Canada.

If this cheery little winter neighbor would keep quiet long enough, we might have a glimpse of the golden crest that distinguishes him from his equally lively cousin, the ruby-crowned; but he is so constantly flitting about the ends of the twigs, peering at the bark for hidden insects, twinkling his wings and fluttering among the evergreens with more nervous restlessness than a vireo, that you may know him well before you have a glimpse of his tri-colored crown.

When the autumn foliage is all aglow with yellow and flame this tiny sprite comes out of the north where neither nesting nor moulting could rob him of his cheerful spirits. Except the humming-bird and the winter wren, he is the smallest bird we have. And yet, somewhere stored up in his diminutive body, is warmth enough to withstand zero weather. With evident enjoyment of the cold, he calls out a shrill, wiry zee, zee, zee, that rings merrily from the pines and spruces when our fingers are too numb to hold the opera glasses in an attempt to follow his restless fittings from branch to branch. Is it one of the unwritten laws of birds that the smaller their bodies the greater their activity?

When you see one kinglet about, you may be sure there are others not far away, for, except in the nesting season, its habits are distinctly social, its friendliness extending to the humdrum brown creeper, the chickadees, and the nuthatches, in whose company it is often seen; indeed, it is likely to be in almost any flock of the winter birds. They are a merry band as they go exploring the trees together. The kinglet can hang upside down, too, like the other acrobats, many of whose tricks he has learned; and it can pick off insects from a tree with as business-like an air as the brown creeper, but with none of that soulless bird’s plodding precision.

In the early spring, just before this busy little sprite leaves us to nest in Canada or Labrador — for heat is the one thing that he can’t cheerfully endure — a gushing, lyrical song bursts from his tiny throat — a song whose volume is so out of proportion to the bird’s size that Nuttall’s classification of kinglets with wrens doesn’t seem far wrong after all. Only rarely is a nest found so far south as the White Mountains. It is said to be extraordinarily large for so small a bird but that need not surprise us when we learn that as many as ten
creamy-white eggs, blotched with brown and lavender, are no uncommon number for the pensile cradle to hold. How do the tiny parents contrive to cover so many eggs and to feed such a nestful of fledglings?

SOLITARY VIREO (Vireo solitarius) Vireo or Greenlet family

Called also: BLUE-HEADED VIREO [AOU 1998]

Length — 5.5 to 7 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Dusky olive above; head bluish gray, with a white line around the eye, spreading behind the eye into a patch. Beneath whitish, with yellow-green wash on the sides. Wings dusky olive, with two distinct white bars. Tail dusky, some quills edged with white.
Female — Similar, but her head is dusky olive. Range — United States to plains, and the southern British provinces. Winters in Florida and southward. Migrations — May. Early October. Common during migrations; more rarely a summer resident south of Massachusetts.

By no means the recluse that its name would imply, the solitary vireo, while a bird of the woods, shows a charming curiosity about the stranger with opera-glasses in hand, who has penetrated to the deep, swampy tangles, where it chooses to live. Peering at you through the green undergrowth with an eye that seems especially conspicuous because of its encircling white rim, it is at least as sociable and cheerful as any member of its family, and Mr. Bradford Torrey credits it with “winning tameness.” “Wood-bird as it is,” he says, “it will sometimes permit the greatest familiarities. Two birds I have seen, which allowed themselves to be stroked in the freest manner, while sitting on the eggs, and which ate from my hand as readily as any pet canary.”

The solitary vireo also builds a pensile nest, swung from the crotch of a branch, not so high from the ground as the yellow-throated vireos nor so exquisitely finished, but still a beautiful little structure of pine-needles, plant-fibre, dry leaves, and twigs, all lichen-lined and bound and rebound with coarse spiders’ webs.

The distinguishing quality of this vireo’s celebrated song is its tenderness: a pure, serene uplifting of its loving, trustful nature that seems inspired by a fine spirituality.

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus) Vireo or Greenlet family

Called also: THE PREACHER

Length — 5.75 to 6.25 inches. A fraction smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Upper parts light olive-green; well-defined slaty-gray cap, with black marginal line, below which, and forming an exaggerated eyebrow, is a line of white. A brownish band runs from base of bill through the eye. The iris is ruby-red. Underneath white, shaded with light greenish yellow on sides and on under tail and wing coverts. Range — United States to Rockies and northward. Wnters in Central and South America.
Migrations — April. October. Common summer resident.

“You see it — you know it — do you hear me? Do you believe it?” is Wilson Flagg’s famous interpretation of the song of this commonest of all the vireos, that you cannot mistake with such a key. He calls the bird the preacher from its declamatory style; an up-and-down warble delivered with a rising inflection at the close and followed by an impressive silence, as if the little green orator were saying, “I pause for a reply.”

Notwithstanding its quiet coloring, that so closely resembles the leaves it hunts among, this vireo is rather more noticeable than its relatives because of its slaty cap and the black-and-white lines over its ruby eye, that, in addition to the song, are its marked characteristics.

Whether she is excessively stupid or excessively kind, the mother-vireo has certainly won for herself no end of ridicule by allowing the cowbird to deposit a stray egg in the exquisitely made, pensile nest, where her own tiny white eggs are lying and though the young cowbird crowd and worry her little fledglings and eat their dinner as fast as she can bring it in, no displeasure or grudging is shown towards the dusky intruder that is sure to upset the rightful heirs out of the nest before they are able to fly.

In the heat of a midsummer noon, when nearly every other bird’s voice is hushed, and only the locust seems to rejoice in the fierce sunshine, the little red-eyed vireo goes persistently about its business of gathering insects from the leaves, not flitting nervously about like a warbler, or taking its food on the wing like a flycatcher, but patiently and industriously dining where it can, and singing as it goes.

When a worm is caught it is first shaken against a branch to kill it before it is swallowed. Vireos haunt shrubbery and trees with heavy foliage, all their hunting, singing, resting, and home-building being done among the leaves — never on the ground.

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo noveboracensis) Vireo or Greenlet family

Male — 5 to 5.3 inches. An inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Upper parts bright olive-green, washed with grayish. Throat and underneath white; the breast and sides greenish yellow; wings have two distinct bars of yellowish white. Yellow line from beak to and around the eye, which has a white iris. Feathers of wings and tail brownish and edged with yellow.
Range — United States to the Rockies, and to the Gulf regions And beyond in winter.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

“Pertest of songsters,” the white-eyed vireo makes whatever neighborhood it enters lively at once. Taking up a residence in the tangled shrubbery or thickety undergrowth, it immediately begins to scold like a crotchety old wren. It becomes irritated over the merest trifles — a passing bumblebee, a visit from another bird to its tangle, an unsuccessful peck at a gnat — anything seems calculated to rouse its wrath and set every feather on its little body a-trembling, while it sharply snaps out what might perhaps be freely constructed into “cuss-words.”

And yet the inscrutable mystery is that this virago meekly permits the lazy cowbird to deposit an egg in its nest, and will patiently sit upon it, though it is as large as three of her own tiny eggs; and when the little interloper comes out from his shell the mother-bird will continue to give it the most devoted care long after it has shoved her poor little starved babies out of the nest to meet an untimely death in the smilax thicket below.

An unusual variety of expression distinguishes this bird’s voice from the songs of the other vireos, which are apt to be monotonous, as they are incessant. If you are so fortunate to approach the white-eyed vireo before he suspects your presence, you may hear him amusing himself by jumbling together snatches of the songs of the other birds in a sort of potpourri; or perhaps he will be scolding or arguing with an imaginary foe, then dropping his voice and talking confidentially to himself. Suddenly he bursts into a charming, simple little song, as if the introspection had given him reason for real joy. All these vocal accomplishments suggest the chat at once; but the minute your intrusion is discovered the sharp scolding, that is fairly screamed at you from an enraged little throat, leaves no possible shadow of a doubt as to the bird you have disturbed. It has the most emphatic call and song to be heard in the woods; it snaps its words off very short. “Chick-a-rer chick” is its usual call-note, jerked out with great spitefulness.

Wilson thus describes the jealously guarded nest: “This bird builds a very neat little nest, often in the figure of an inverted cone; it is suspended by the upper end of the two sides, on the circular bend of a prickly vine, a species of smilax, that generally grows in low thickets. Outwardly it is constructed of various light materials, bits of rotten wood, fibres of dry stalks, of weeds, pieces of paper (commonly newspapers, an article almost always found about its nest, so that some of my friends have given it the name of the politician); all these materials are interwoven with the silk of the caterpillars, and the inside is lined with fine, dry grass and hair.”

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus) Vireo or Greenlet family

Length — 5.5 to 6 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Ashy olive-green above, with head and neck ash-colored. Dusky line over the eye. Underneath whitish, faintly washed with dull yellow, deepest on sides; no bars on wings.
Range — North America, from Hudson Bay to Mexico. Migrations — May. Late September or early October. Summer resident.

This musical little bird shows a curious preference for rows of trees in the village street or by the roadside, where he can be sure of an audience to listen to his rich, continuous warble. There is a mellowness about his voice, which rises loud, but not altogether cheerfully, above the bird chorus, as if he were a gifted but slightly disgruntled contralto. Too inconspicuously dressed, and usually too high in the tree-top to be identified without opera-glasses, we may easily mistake him by his voice for one of the warbler family, which is very closely allied to the vireos. Indeed, this warbling vireo seems to be the connecting link between them.

Morning and afternoon, but almost never in the evening, we may hear him rippling out song after song as he feeds on insects and berries about the garden. But this familiarity lasts only until nesting time, for off he goes with his little mate to some unfrequented lane near a wood until their family is reared, when, with a perceptibly happier strain in his voice, he once more haunts our garden and row of elms before taking the southern journey.

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapillus) Wood Warbler family


Length — 6 to 6.15 inches. Just a shade smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Upper parts olive, with an orange-brown crown, bordered by black lines that converge toward the bill. Under parts white; breast spotted and streaked on the sides. White eye-ring.
Range — United States, to Pacific slope. Migrations — May. October. Common summer resident.

Early in May you may have the good fortune to see this little bird of the woods strutting in and out of the garden shrubbery with a certain mock dignity, like a child wearing its father’s boots. Few birds can walk without appearing more or less ridiculous, and however gracefully and prettily it steps, this amusing little wagtail is no exception. When seen at all — which is not often, for it is shy — it is usually on the ground, not far from the shrubbery or a woodland thicket, under which it will quickly dodge out of sight at the merest suspicion of a footstep. To most people the bird is only a voice calling, “TEACHER TEACHER. TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER!” as Mr. Burroughs has interpreted the notes that go off in pairs like a series of little explosions, softly at first, then louder and louder and more shrill until the bird that you at first thought far away seems to be shrieking his penetrating crescendo into your very ears. But you may look until you are tired before you find him in the high, dry wood, never near water.

In the driest parts of the wood, here the ground is thickly carpeted with dead leaves, you may some day notice a little bunch of them, that look as if a plant, in pushing its way up through the ground, had raised the leaves, rootlets, and twigs a trifle.

Examine the spot more carefully, and on one side you find an opening, and within the ball of earth, softly lined with grass, lie four or five cream-white, speckled eggs. It is only by a happy accident that this nest of the ovenbird is discovered. The concealment could not be better. It is this peculiarity of nest construction — in shape like a Dutch oven — that has given the bird what DeKay considers its “trivial name.” Not far from the nest the parent birds scratch about in the leaves like diminutive barnyard fowls, for the grubs and insects hiding under them. But at the first suspicion of an intruder their alarm becomes pitiful. Panic-stricken, they become fairly limp with fear, and drooping her wings and tail, the mother-bird drags herself hither and thither over the ground.

As utterly bewildered as his mate, the male darts, flies, and tumbles about through the low branches, jerking and wagging his tail in nervous spasms until you have beaten a double-quick retreat.

In nesting time, at evening, a very few have heard the “luxurious nuptial song” of the ovenbird; but it is a song to haunt the memory forever afterward. Burroughs appears to be the first writer to record this “rare bit of bird melody.” “Mounting by easy flight to the top of the tallest tree,” says the author of “Wake-Robin,” “the ovenbird launches into the air with a sort of suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the finches, and bursts into a perfect ecstasy of song — clear, ringing, copious, rivalling the goldfinch’s in vivacity and the linnet’s in melody.”

WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmintherus vermivorus) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5.50 inches. Less than an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Greenish olive above. Head yellowish brown, With two black stripes through crown to the nape; also black Lines from the eyes to neck. Under parts buffy and white. Range — Eastern parts of United States. Nests as far north as southern Illinois and southern Connecticut. Winters in the Gulf States and southward.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

In the Delaware Valley and along the same parallel, this inconspicuous warbler is abundant, but north of New Jersey it is rare enough to give an excitement to the day on which you discover it. No doubt it is commoner than we suppose, for its coloring blends so admirably with its habitats that it is probably very often overlooked. Its call-note, a common chirp, has nothing distinguishing about it, and all ornithologists confess to having been often misled by its song into thinking it came from the chipping sparrow. It closely resembles that of the pine warbler also. If it were as nervously active as most warblers, we should more often discover it, but it is quite as deliberate as a vireo, and in the painstaking way in which it often circles around a tree while searching for spiders and other insects that infest the trunks, it reminds us of the brown creeper. Sunny slopes and hillsides covered with thick undergrowth are its preferred foraging and nesting haunts. It is often seen hopping directly on the dry ground, where it places its nest, and it never mounts far above it. The well-drained, sunny situation for the home is chosen with the wisdom of a sanitary expert.

ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens) Flycatcher family


Length — 5.75 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Dull olive above. Two conspicuous yellowish wing-bars. Throat white, shading into pale yellow on breast. Light gray or white underneath. Upper part of bill black; lower mandible flesh-color. White eye-ring.
Female — Greener above and more yellow below. Range — From Canada to Mexico, Central America, and West Indies. Most common in south temperate latitudes. Winters in southerly limit of range.
Migrations — April. September. Summer resident.

When all our northern landscape takes on the exquisite, soft green, gray, and yellow tints of early spring, this little flycatcher, in perfect color-harmony with the woods it darts among, comes out of the south. It might be a leaf that is being blown about, touched by the sunshine filtering through the trees, and partly shaded by the young foliage casting its first shadows.

Woodlands, through which small streams meander lazily, inviting swarms of insects to their boggy shores, make ideal hunting grounds for the Acadian flycatcher. It chooses a low rather than a high, conspicuous perch, that other members of its family invariably select; and from such a lookout it may be seen launching into the air after the passing gnat — darting downward, then suddenly mounting upward in its aerial hunt, the vigorous clicks of the beak as it closes over its tiny victims testifying to the bird’s unerring aim and its hearty appetite.

While perching, a constant tail-twitching is kept up; and a faint, fretful “Tshee-kee, tshee-kee” escapes the bird when inactively waiting for a dinner to heave in sight.

In the Middle Atlantic States its peeping sound and the clicking of its particolored bill are infrequently heard in the village streets in the autumn, when the shy and solitary birds are enticed from the deep woods by a prospect of a more plentiful diet of insects, attracted by the fruit in orchards and gardens.

Never far from the ground, on two or more parallel branches, the shallow, unsubstantial nest is laid. Some one has cleverly described it as “a tuft of hay caught by the limb from a load driven under it,” but this description omits all mention of the quantities of blossoms that must be gathered to line the cradle for the tiny, cream white eggs spotted with brown.

YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax flaviventris) Flycatcher family

Length — 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Rather dark, but true olive-green above. Throat and breast yellowish olive, shading into pale yellow underneath, including wing linings and under tail coverts. Wings have yellowish bars. Whitish ring around eye. Upper part of bill black, under part whitish or flesh-colored. Female — Smaller, with brighter yellow under parts and more decidedly yellow wing-bars.
Range — North America, from Labrador to Panama, and westward from the Atlantic to the plains. Winters in Central America. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident. More commonly a migrant only.

This is the most yellow of the small flycatchers and the only Eastern species with a yellow instead of a white throat. Without hearing its call-note, “pse-ek-pse-ek,” which it abruptly sneezes rather than utters, it is quite impossible, as it darts among the trees, to tell it from the Acadian flycatcher, with which even Audubon confounded it. Both these little birds choose the same sort of retreats — well-timbered woods near a stream that attracts myriads of insects to its spongy shores — and both are rather shy and solitary. The yellow-bellied species has a far more northerly range, however, than its Southern relative or even the small green-crested flycatcher. It is rare in the Middle States, not common even in New England, except in the migrations, but from the Canada border northward its soft, plaintive whistle, which is its love-song, may be heard in every forest where it nests. All the flycatchers seem to make a noise with so much struggle, such convulsive jerkings of head and tail, and flutterings of the wings that, considering the scanty success of their musical attempts, it is surprising they try to lift their voices at all when the effort almost literally lifts them off their feet.

While this little flycatcher is no less erratic than its Acadian cousin, its nest is never slovenly. One couple had their home in a wild-grape bower in Pennsylvania; a Virginia creeper in New Jersey supported another cradle that was fully twenty feet above the ground; but in Labrador, where the bird has its chosen breeding grounds, the bulky nest is said to be invariably placed either in the moss by the brookside or in some old stump, should the locality be too swampy.

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Dendroica virens) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5 inches. Over an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Back and crown of head bright yellowish olive-green. Forehead, band over eye, cheeks, and sides of neck rich yellow. Throat, upper breast, and stripe along sides black. Underneath yellowish white. Wings and tail brownish olive, the former with two white bars, the latter with much white in outer quills. In autumn, plumage resembling the female’s. Female — Similar; chin yellowish; throat and breast dusky, the black being mixed with yellowish.
Range — Eastern North America, from Hudson Bay to Central America and Mexico. Nests north of Illinois and New York. Winters in tropics.
Migrations — May. October. Common summer resident north of New Jersey.

There can be little difficulty in naming a bird so brilliantly and distinctly marked as this green, gold, and black warbler, that lifts up a few pure, sweet, tender notes, loud enough to attract attention when he visits the garden. “See-see, see-saw,” he sings, but there is a tone of anxiety betrayed in the simple, sylvan strain that always seems as if the bird needed reassuring, possibly due to the rising inflection, like an interrogative, of the last notes.

However abundant about our homes during the migrations, this warbler, true to the family instinct, retreats to the woods to nest — not always so far away as Canada, the nesting ground of most warblers, for in many Northern States the bird is commonly found throughout the summer. Doubtless it prefers tall evergreen trees for its mossy, grassy nest; but it is not always particular, so that the tree be a tall one with a convenient fork in an upper branch.

Early in September increased numbers emerge from the woods, the plumage of the male being less brilliant than when we saw it last, as if the family cares of the summer had proved too taxing. For nearly a month longer they hunt incessantly, with much flitting about the leaves and twigs at the ends of branches in the shrubbery and evergreens, for the tiny insects that the warblers must devour by the million during their all too brief visit.


Yellow-throated Vireo
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
Blue-winged Warbler
Canadian Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler or Blackcap Yellow Warbler or Summer Yellowbird
Yellow Redpoll Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Maryland Yellowthroat
Blackburnian Warbler
Baltimore Oriole

Look also among the Yellowish Olive Birds in the preceding group; and among the Brown Birds for the Meadowlark and Flicker. See also Parula Warbler (Slate) and Yellow-bellied Woodpecker (Black and White).


YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) Vireo or Greenlet family

Length — 5.5. to 6 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Lemon-yellow on throat, upper breast; line around the eye and forehead. Yellow, shading into olive-green, on head, back, and shoulders. Underneath white. Tail dark brownish, edged with white. Wings a lighter shade, with two white bands across, and some quills edged with white. Range — North America, from Newfoundland to Gulf of Mexico, and westward to the Rockies. Winters in the tropics. Migrations — May. September. Spring and autumn migrant; more rarely resident.

This is undoubtedly the beauty of the vireo family — a group of neat, active, stoutly built, and vigorous little birds of yellow, greenish, and white plumage; birds that love the trees, and whose feathers reflect the coloring of the leaves they hide, hunt, and nest among. “We have no birds,” says Bradford Torrey, “so unsparing of their music: they sing from morning till night.”

The yellow-throated vireo partakes of all the family characteristics, but, in addition to these, it eclipses all its relatives in the brilliancy of its coloring and in the art of nest-building, which it has brought to a state of hopeless perfection. No envious bird need try to excel the exquisite finish of its workmanship. Happily, it has wit enough to build its pensile nest high above the reach of small boys, usually suspending it from a branch overhanging running water that threatens too precipitous a bath to tempt the young climbers.

However common in the city parks and suburban gardens this bird may be during the migrations, it delights in a secluded retreat overgrown with tall trees and near a stream, such as is dear to the solitary vireo as well when the nesting time approaches. High up in the trees we hear its rather sad, persistent strain, that is more in harmony with the dim forest than with the gay flower garden, where, if the truth must be told, its song is both monotonous and depressing. Mr. Bicknell says it is the only vireo that sings as it flies.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) Finch family


Length — 5 to 5.2 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — In summer plumage: Bright yellow, except on crown of head, frontlet, wings, and tail, which are black. Whitish markings on wings give effect of bands. Tail with white on inner webs. In winter plumage: Head yellow-olive; no frontlet; black drab, with reddish tinge; shoulders and throat yellow; soiled brownish white underneath.
Female — Brownish olive above, yellowish white beneath. Range — North America, from the tropics to the Fur Countries and westward to the Columbia River and California. Common throughout its range.
Migrations — May-October. Common summer resident, frequently Seen throughout the winter as well.

An old field, overgrown with thistles and tall, stalky wild flowers, is the paradise of the goldfinches, summer or winter. Here they congregate in happy companies while the sunshine and goldenrod are as bright as their feathers, and cling to the swaying slender stems that furnish an abundant harvest, daintily. lunching upon the fluffy seeds of thistle blossoms, pecking at the mullein-stalks, and swinging airily among the asters and Michaelmas daisies; or, when snow covers the same field with a glistening crust, above which the brown stalks offer only a meagre dinner, the same birds, now sombrely clad in winter feathers, cling to the swaying stems with cheerful fortitude.

At your approach, the busy company rises on the wing, and with peculiar, wavy flight rise and fall through the air, marking each undulation with a cluster of notes, sweet and clear, that come floating downward from the blue ether, where the birds seem to bound along exultant in their motion and song alike.

In the spring the plumage of the goldfinch, which has been drab and brown through the winter months, is moulted or shed — a change that transforms the bird from a sombre Puritan into the gayest of cavaliers, and seems to wonderfully exalt his spirits. He bursts into a wild, sweet, incoherent melody that might be the outpouring from two or three throats at once instead of one, expressing his rapture somewhat after the manner of the canary, although his song lacks the variety and the finish of his caged namesake. What tone of sadness in his music the man found who applied the adjective tristis to his scientific name it is difficult to imagine when listening to the notes that come bubbling up from the bird’s happy heart.

With plumage so lovely and song so delicious and dreamy, it is small wonder that numbers of our goldfinches are caught and caged, however inferior their song may be to the European species recently introduced into this country. Heard in Central Park, New York, where they were set at liberty, the European goldfinches seemed to sing with more abandon, perhaps, but with no more sweetness than their American cousins. The song remains at its best all through the summer months, for the bird is a long wooer. It is nearly July before he mates, and not until the tardy cedar birds are house-building in the orchard do the happy pair begin to carry grass, moss, and plant-down to a crotch of some tall tree convenient to a field of such wild flowers as will furnish food to a growing family. Doubtless the birds wait for this food to be in proper condition before they undertake parental duties at all — the most plausible excuse for their late nesting. The cares evolving from four to six pale-blue eggs will suffice to quiet the father’s song for the winter by the first of September, and fade all the glory out of his shining coat. As pretty a sight as any garden offers is when a family of goldfinches alights on the top of a sunflower to feast upon the oily seeds — a perfect harmony of brown and gold.

EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus) Finch family

Length — 8 inches. Two inches shorter than the robin. Male — Forehead, shoulders, and underneath clear yellow: dull yellow on lower back; sides of the head, throat, and breast olive-brown. Crown, tail, and wings black, the latter with white secondary feathers. Bill heavy and blunt, and yellow. Female — Brownish gray, more less suffused with yellow. Wings and tail blackish, with some white feathers. Range — Interior of North America. Resident from Manitoba northward. Common winter visitor in northwestern United States and Mississippi Valley; casual winter visitor in northern Atlantic States.

In the winter of 1889-90 Eastern people had the rare treat of becoming acquainted with this common bird of the Northwest, that, in one of its erratic travels, chose to visit New England and the Atlantic States, as far south as Delaware, in great numbers. Those who saw the evening grosbeaks then remember how beautiful their yellow plumage — a rare winter tint — looked in the snow-covered trees, where small companies of the gentle and ever tame visitors enjoyed the buds and seeds of the maples, elders, and evergreens. Possibly evening grosbeaks were in vogue for the next season’s millinery, or perhaps Eastern ornithologists had a sudden zeal to investigate their structural anatomy. At any rate, these birds, whose very tameness, that showed slight acquaintance with mankind, should have touched the coldest heart, received the warmest kind of a reception from hot shot. The few birds that escaped to the solitudes of Manitoba could not be expected to tempt other travellers eastward by an account of their visit. The bird is quite likely to remain rare in the East.

But in the Mississippi Valley and throughout the northwest, companies of from six to sixty may be regularly counted upon as winter neighbors on almost every farm. Here the females keep up a busy chatting, like a company of cedar birds, and the males punctuate their pauses with a single shrill note that gives little indication of their vocal powers. But in the solitude of the northern forests the love-song is said to resemble the robin’s at the start. Unhappily, after a most promising beginning, the bird suddenly stops, as if he were out of breath.

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Helminthophila pinus) Wood Warbler family


Length — 4.75 inches. An inch and a half shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Crown of head and all under parts bright yellow. Back olive-green. Wings and tail bluish slate, the former with white bars, and three outer tail quills with large white patches on their inner webs.
Female — Paler and more olive.
Range — Eastern United States, from southern New England and Minnesota, the northern limit of its nesting range, to Mexico And Central America, where it winters.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

In the naming of warblers, bluish slate is the shade intended when blue is mentioned; so that if you see a dainty little olive and yellow bird with slate-colored wings and tail hunting for spiders in the blossoming orchard or during the early autumn you will have seen the beautiful blue-winged warbler. It has a rather leisurely way of hunting, unlike the nervous, restless flitting about from twig to twig that is characteristic of many of its many cousins. The search is thorough — bark, stems, blossoms, leaves are inspected for larvae and spiders, with many pretty motions of head and body. Sometimes, hanging with head downward, the bird suggests a yellow titmouse. After blossom time a pair of these warblers, that have done serviceable work in the orchard in their all too brief stay, hurry off to dense woods to nest. They are usually to be seen in pairs at all seasons. Not to “high coniferous trees in northern forests,” — the Mecca of innumerable warblers — but to scrubby, second growth of woodland borders, or lower trees in the heart of the woods, do these dainty birds retreat. There they build the usual warbler nest of twigs, bits of bark, leaves, and grasses, but with this peculiarity: the numerous leaves with which the nest is wrapped all have their stems pointing upward. Mr. Frank Chapman has admirably defined their song as consisting of “two drawled, wheezy notes — swee-chee, the first inhaled, the second exhaled.”

CANADIAN WARBLER (Sylvania canadensis) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Immaculate bluish ash above, without marks on wings or tail; crown spotted with arrow-shaped black marks. Cheeks, line from bill to eye, and underneath clear yellow. Black streaks forming a necklace across the breast.
Female — Paler, with necklace indistinct. Range — North America, from Manitoba and Labrador to tropics. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident; most abundant in migrations.

Since about one-third of all the song-birds met with in a year’s rambles are apt to be warblers, the novice cannot devote his first attention to a better group, confusing though it is by reason of its size and the repetition of the same colors in so many bewildering combinations. Monotony, however, is unknown in the warbler family. Whoever can rightly name every warbler, male and female, on sight is uniquely accomplished.

The jet necklace worn on this bird’s breast is its best mark of identification. Its form is particularly slender and graceful, as might be expected in a bird so active, one to whom a hundred tiny insects barely afford a dinner that must often be caught piecemeal as it flies past. To satisfy its appetite, which cannot but be dainty in so thoroughly charming a bird, it lives in low, boggy woods, in such retreats as Wilson’s black-capped warbler selects for a like reason. Neither of these two “flycatcher” warblers depends altogether on catching insects on the wing; countless thousands are picked off the under sides of leaves and about the stems of twigs in true warbler fashion.

The Canadian’s song is particularly loud, sweet, and vivacious. It is hazardous for any one without long field practice to try to name any warbler by its song alone, but possibly this one’s animated music is as characteristic as any.

The nest is built on the ground on a mossy bank or elevated into the root crannies of some large tree, where there is much water in the woods. Bits of bark, dead wood, moss, and fine rootlets, all carefully wrapped with leaves, go to make the pretty cradle. Unhappily, the little Canada warblers are often cheated out of their natural rights, like so many other delightful songbirds, by the greedy interloper that the cowbird deposits in their nest.

HOODED WARBLER (Sylvania mitrata) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5 to 5.75 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Head, neck, chin, and throat black like a hood in mature male specimens only. Hood restricted, or altogether wanting in female and young. Upper parts rich olive. Forehead, cheeks, and underneath yellow. Some conspicuous white on tail feathers. Female — Duller, and with restricted cowl. Range — United States east of Rockies, and from southern Michigan and southern New England to West Indies and tropical America, where it winters. Very local.
Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

This beautifully marked, sprightly little warbler might be mistaken in his immaturity for the yellowthroat; and as it is said to take him nearly three years to grow his hood, with the completed cowl and cape, there is surely sufficient reason here for the despair that often seizes the novice in attempting to distinguish the perplexing warblers. Like its Southern counterpart, the hooded warbler prefers wet woods and low trees rather than high ones, for much of its food consists of insects attracted by the dampness, and many of them must be taken on the wing. Because of its tireless activity the bird’s figure is particularly slender and graceful — a trait, too, to which we owe all the glimpses of it we are likely to get throughout the summer. It has a curious habit of spreading its tail, as if it wished you to take special notice of the white spots that adorn it; not flirting it, as the redstart does his more gorgeous one, but simply opening it like a fan as it flies and darts about.

Its song, which is particularly sweet and graceful, and with more variation than most warblers’ music, has been translated “Che-we-eo-tsip, tsip, che-we-eo,” again interpreted by Mr. Chapman as “You must come to the woods, or you won’t see me.”

KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa) Wood Warbler family

Length — 5.5 inches. Nearly an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts olive-green; under parts yellow; a yellow line from the bill passes over and around the eye. Crown of head, patch below the eye, and line defining throat, black. Female — Similar, but paler, and with grayish instead of black markings.
Range — United States eastward from the Rockies, and from Iowa and Connecticut to Central, America, where it winters. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

No bird is common at the extreme limits of its range, and so this warbler has a reputation for rarity among the New England ornithologists that would surprise people in the middle South and Southwest. After all that may be said in the books, a bird is either common or rare to the individual who may or may not have happened to become acquainted with it in any part of its chosen territory. Plenty of people in Kentucky, where we might judge from its name this bird is supposed to be most numerous, have never seen or heard of it, while a student on the Hudson River, within sight of New York, knows it intimately. It also nests regularly in certain parts of the Connecticut Valley. “Who is my neighbor?” is often a question difficult indeed to answer where birds are concerned. In the chapter, “Spring at the Capital,” which, with every reading of “Wake Robin,” inspires the bird-lover with fresh zeal, Mr. Burroughs writes of the Kentucky warbler: “I meet with him in low, damp places, in the woods, usually on the steep sides of some little run. I hear at intervals a clear, strong, bell-like whistle or warble, and presently catch a glimpse of the bird as he jumps up from the ground to take an insect or worm from the under side of a leaf. This is his characteristic movement. He belongs to the class of ground warblers, and his range is very low, indeed lower than that of any other species with which I am acquainted.”

Like the ovenbird and comparatively few others, for most birds hop over the ground, the Kentucky warbler walks rapidly about, looking for insects under the fallen leaves, and poking his inquisitive beak into every cranny where a spider may be lurking. The bird has a pretty, conscious way of flying up to a perch, a few feet above the ground, as a tenor might advance towards the footlights of a stage, to pour forth his clear, penetrating whistle, that in the nesting season especially is repeated over, and over again with tireless persistency.

MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Dendroica maculosa) Wood Warbler family


Length — 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Crown of head slate-color, bordered on either side by a white line; a black line, apparently running through the eye, and a yellow line below it, merging into the yellow throat. Lower back and under parts yellow. Back, wings, and tail blackish olive. Large white patch on the wings, and the middle of the tail-quills white. Throat and sides heavily streaked with black.
Female — Has greener back, is paler, and has less distinct markings.
Range — North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama. Summers from northern Michigan and northern New England northward; winters in Central America and Cuba.
Migrations — May. October. Spring and summer migrant.

In spite of the bird’s name, one need not look for it in the glossy magnolia trees of the southern gardens more than in the shrubbery on New England lawns, and during the migrations it is quite as likely to be found in one place as in the other. Its true preference, however, is for the spruces and hemlocks of its nesting ground in the northern forests. For these it deserts us after a brief hunt about the tender, young spring foliage and blossoms, where the early worm lies concealed, and before we have become so well acquainted with its handsome clothes that we will instantly recognize it in the duller ones it wears on its return trip in the autumn. The position of the white marks on the tail feathers of this warbler, however, is the clue by which it may be identified at any season or any stage of its growth. If the white bar runs across the middle of the warbler’s tail, you can be sure of the identity of the bird. A nervous and restless hunter, it nevertheless seems less shy than many of its kin. Another pleasing characteristic is that it brings back with it in October the loud, clear, rapid whistle with which it has entertained its nesting mate in the Canada woods through the summer.

MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5 to 5.6 inches. About an inch smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Gray head and throat; the breast gray; the feathers with black edges that make them look crinkled, like crape. The black markings converge into a spot on upper breast. Upper parts, except head, olive. Underneath rich yellow. Female — Similar, but duller; throat and breast buff and dusky where the male is black. Back olive-green. Range — “Eastern North America; breeds from eastern Nebraska, northern New York, and Nova Scotia northward, and south ward along the Alleghanies to Pennsylvania. Winters in the tropics.” — Chapman.
Migrations — May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.

Since Audubon met with but one of these birds in his incessant trampings, and Wilson secured only an immature, imperfectly marked specimen for his collection, the novice may feel no disappointment if he fails to make the acquaintance of this “gay and agreeable widow.” And yet the shy and wary bird is not unknown in Central Park, New York City. Even where its clear, whistled song strikes the ear with a startling novelty that invites to instant pursuit of the singer, you may look long and diligently through the undergrowth without finding it. Dr. Merriam says the whistle resembles the syllables “true, true, true, tru, too, the voice rising on the first three syllables and falling on the last two.” In the nesting season this song is repeated over and over again with a persistency worthy of a Kentucky warbler. It is delivered from a perch within a few feet of the ground, as high as the bird seems ever inclined to ascend.

NASHVILLE WARBLER (Helminthophila ruficapilla) Wood Warbler family

Length — 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Olive-green above; yellow underneath. Slate-gray head and neck. Partially concealed chestnut patch on crown. Wings and tail olive-brown and without markings.
Female — Dull olive and paler, with brownish wash underneath. Range — North America, westward to the plains; north to the Fur Countries, and south to Central America and Mexico. Nests north of Illinois and northern New England; winters in tropics. Migrations — April. September or October.

It must not be thought that this beautiful warbler confines itself to backyards in the city of Nashville simply because Wilson discovered it near there and gave it a local name, for the bird’s actual range reaches from the fur trader’s camp near Hudson Bay to the adobe villages of Mexico and Central America, and over two thousand miles east and west in the United States. It chooses open rather than dense woods and tree-bordered fields. It seems to have a liking for hemlocks and pine trees, especially if near a stream that attracts insects to its shores; and Dr. Warren notes that in Pennsylvania he finds small flocks of these warblers in the autumn migration, feeding in the willowy trees near little rivers and ponds. Only in the northern parts of the United States is their nest ever found, for the northern British provinces are their preferred nesting ground. One seen in the White Mountains was built on a mossy, rocky edge, directly on the ground at the foot of a pine tree, and made of rootlets, moss, needles from the trees overhead, and several layers of leaves outside, with a lining of fine grasses that cradled four white, speckled eggs.

Audubon likened the bird’s feeble note to the breaking of twigs.

PINE WARBLER (Dendroica vigorsii) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Yellowish olive above; clear yellow below, shading to grayish white, with obscure dark streaks on side of breast. Two whitish wing-bars; two outer tail feathers partly white. Female — Duller; grayish white only faintly tinged with yellow underneath.
Range — North America, east of the Rockies; north to Manitoba, And south to Florida and the Bahamas. Winters from southern Illinois southward.
Migrations — March or April. October or later. Common summer resident.

The pine warbler closely presses the myrtle warbler for the first place in the ranks of the family migrants, but as the latter bird often stays north all winter, it is usually given the palm. Here is a warbler, let it be recorded, that is fittingly named, for it is a denizen of pine woods only; most common in the long stretches of pine forests at the south and in New York and New England, and correspondingly uncommon wherever the woodsman’s axe has laid the pine trees low throughout its range. Its “simple, sweet, and drowsy song,” writes Mr. Parkhurst, is always associated “with the smell of pines on a sultry day.” It recalls that of the junco and the social sparrow or chippy.

Creeping over the bark of trees and peering into every crevice like a nuthatch; running along the limbs, not often hopping nervously or flitting like the warblers; darting into the air for a passing insect, or descending to the ground to feed on seeds and berries, the pine warbler has, by a curious combination, the movements that seem to characterize several different birds.

It is one of the largest and hardiest members of its family, but not remarkable for its beauty. It is a sociable traveller, cheerfully escorting other warblers northward, and welcoming to its band both the yellow redpolls and the myrtle warblers. These birds are very often seen together in the pine and other evergreen trees in our lawns and in the large city parks.

PRAIRIE WARBLER (Dendroica discolor) Wood Warbler family

Length — 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Olive-green above, shading to yellowish on the head, and with brick-red spots on back between the shoulders. A yellow line over the eye; wing-bars and all under parts bright yellow, heavily streaked with black on the sides. Line through the eye and crescent below it, black. Much white in outer tail feathers.
Female — Paler; upper parts more grayish olive, and markings Less distinct than male’s.
Range — Eastern half of the United States. Nests as far north as New England and Michigan. Winters from Florida southward. Migrations — May. September. Summer resident.

Doubtless this diminutive bird was given its name because it prefers open country rather than the woods — the scrubby undergrowth of oaks, young evergreens, and bushes that border clearings being as good a place as any to look for it, and not the wind-swept, treeless tracts of the wild West. Its range is southerly. The Southern and Middle States are where it is most abundant. Here is a wood warbler that is not a bird of the woods — less so, in fact, than either the summer yellowbird (yellow warbler) or the palm warbler, that are eminently neighborly and fond of pasture lands and roadside thickets. But the prairie warblers are rather more retiring little sprites than their cousins, and it is not often we get a close enough view of them to note the brick-red spots on their backs, which are their distinguishing marks. They have a most unkind preference for briery bushes, that discourage human intimacy. In such forbidding retreats they build their nest of plant-fibre, rootlets, and twigs, lined with plant-down and hair.

The song of an individual prairie warbler makes only a slight impression. It consists “of a series of six or seven quickly repeated tees, the next to the last one being the highest” (Chapman). But the united voices of a dozen or more of these pretty little birds, that often sing together, afford something approaching a musical treat.

WILSON’S WARBLER (Sylvania pusila) Wood Warbler family


Length — 4.75 to 5 inches. About an inch and a half shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Black cap; yellow forehead; all other upper parts olive-green; rich yellow underneath.
Female — Lacks the black cap.
Range — North America, from Alaska and Nova Scotia to Panama. Winters south of Gulf States. Nests chiefly north of the United States.
Migrations — May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.

To see this strikingly marked little bird one must be on the sharp lookout for it during the latter half of May, or at the season of apple bloom, and the early part of September. It passes northward with an almost scornful rapidity. Audubon mentions having seen it in Maine at the end of October, but this specimen surely must have been an exceptional laggard.

In common with several others of its family, it is exceedingly expert in catching insects on the wing; but it may be known as no true flycatcher from the conspicuous rich yellow of its under parts, and also from its habit of returning from a midair sally to a different perch from the one it left to pursue its dinner. A true flycatcher usually returns to its old perch after each hunt.

To indulge in this aerial chase with success, these warblers select for their home and hunting ground some low woodland growth where a sluggish stream attracts myriads of insects to the boggy neighborhood. Here they build their nest in low bushes or upon the ground. Four or five grayish eggs, sprinkled with cinnamon-colored spots in a circle around the larger end, are laid in the grassy cradle in June. Mr. H. D. Minot found one of these nests on Pike’s Peak at an altitude of 11,000 feet, almost at the limit of vegetation. The same authority compares the bird’s song to that of the redstart and the yellow warbler.

YELLOW REDPOLL WARBLER (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea) Wood Warbler family

Called also: YELLOW PALM WARBLER; [the two former palm warbler species combined as PALM WARBLER, AOU 1998]

Length — 5.5 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Chestnut crown. Upper parts brownish olive; greenest on lower back. Underneath uniform bright yellow, streaked with chestnut on throat, breast, and sides. Yellow line over and around the eye. Wings unmarked. Tail edged with olive-green; a few white spots near tips of outer quills. More brownish above in autumn, and with a grayish wash over the yellow under parts.
Range — Eastern parts of North America. Nests from Nova Scotia northward. Winters in the Gulf States.
Migrations — April. October. Spring and autumn migrant.

While the uniform yellow of this warbler’s under parts in any plumage is its distinguishing mark, it also has a flycatcher’s trait of constantly flirting its tail, that is at once an outlet for its superabundant vivacity and a fairly reliable aid to identification. The tail is jerked, wagged, and flirted like a baton in the hands of an inexperienced leader of an orchestra. One need not go to the woods to look for the restless little sprite that comes northward when the early April foliage is as yellow and green as its feathers. It prefers the fields and roadsides, and before there are leaves enough on the undergrowth to conceal it we may come to know it as well as it is possible to know any bird whose home life is passed so far away. Usually it is the first warbler one sees in the spring in New York and New England. With all the alertness of a flycatcher, it will dart into the air after insects that fly near the ground, keeping up a constant chip, chip, fine and shrill, at one end of the small body, and the liveliest sort of tail motions at the other. The pine warbler often bears it company.

With the first suspicion of warm weather, off goes this hardy little fellow that apparently loves the cold almost well enough to stay north all the year like its cousin, the myrtle warbler. It builds a particularly deep nest, of the usual warbler construction, on the ground, but its eggs are rosy rather than the bluish white of others.

In the Southern States the bird becomes particularly neighborly, and is said to enter the streets and gardens of towns with a chippy’s familiarity.

Palm Warbler or Redpoll Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) differs from the preceding chiefly in its slightly smaller size, the more grayish-brown tint in its olive upper parts, and the uneven shade of yellow underneath that varies from clear yellow to soiled whitish. It is the Western counterpart of the yellow redpoll, and is most common in the Mississippi Valley. Strangely enough, however, it is this warbler, and not hypochrysea, that goes out of its way to winter in Florida, where it is abundant all winter.

YELLOW WARBLER (Dendroica aestiva) Wood Warbler family


Length — 4.75 to 5.2 inches. Over an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — Upper parts olive-yellow, brightest on the crown; under parts bright yellow, streaked with reddish brown. Wings and tail dusky olive-brown, edged with yellow. Female — Similar; but reddish-brown streakings less distinct. Range — North America, except Southwestern States, where the prothonotary warbler reigns in its stead. Nests from Gulf States to Fur Countries. Winters south of the Gulf States. As far as northern parts of South America. Migrations — May. September. Common summer resident.

This exquisite little creature of perpetual summer (though to find it it must travel back and forth between two continents) comes out of the south with the golden days of spring. From much living in the sunshine through countless generations, its feathers have finally become the color of sunshine itself, and in disposition, as well, it is nothing if not sunny and bright. Not the least of its attractions is that it is exceedingly common everywhere: in the shrubbery of our lawns, in gardens and orchards, by the road and brookside, in the edges of woods — everywhere we catch its glint of brightness through the long summer days, and hear its simple, sweet, and happy song until the end of July.

Because both birds are so conspicuously yellow, no doubt this warbler is quite generally confused with the goldfinch; but their distinctions are clear enough to any but the most superficial glance. In the first place, the yellow warbler is a smaller bird than the goldfinch; it has neither black crown, wings, nor tail, and it does have reddish-brown streaks on its breast that are sufficiently obsolete to make the coloring of that part look simply dull at a little distance. The goldfinch’s bill is heavy, in order that it may crack seeds, whereas the yellow warbler’s is slender, to enable it to pick minute insects from the foliage. The goldfinch’s wavy, curved flight is unique, and that of his “double” differs not a whit from that of all nervous, flitting warblers. Surely no one familiar with the rich, full, canary-like song of the “wild canary,” as the goldfinch is called, could confuse it with the mild “Weechee, chee, cher-wee” of the summer yellowbird. Another distinction, not always infallible, but nearly so, is that when seen feeding, the goldfinch is generally below the line of vision, while the yellow warbler is either on it or not far above it, as it rarely goes over twelve feet from the ground.

No doubt, the particularly mild, sweet amiability of the yellow warbler is responsible for the persistent visitations of the cowbird, from which it is a conspicuous sufferer. In the exquisite, neat little matted cradle of glistening milk-weed flax, lined with down from the fronds of fern, the skulking housebreaker deposits her surreptitious egg for the little yellow mother-bird to hatch and tend. But amiability is not the only prominent trait in the female yellow warbler’s character. She is clever as well, and quickly builds a new bottom on her nest, thus sealing up the cowbird’s egg, and depositing her own on the soft, spongy floor above it. This operation has been known to be twice repeated, until the nest became three stories high, when a persistent cowbird made such unusual architecture necessary.

The most common nesting place of the yellow warbler is in low willows along the shores of streams.

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens) Wood Warbler family


Length — 7.5 inches. A trifle over an inch longer than the English sparrow.
Male and Female — Uniform olive-green above. Throat, breast, and under side of wings bright, clear yellow. Underneath white. Sides grayish. White line over the eye, reaching to base of bill and forming partial eye-ring. Also white line on sides of throat. Bill and feet black.
Range — North America, from Ontario to Central America and westward to the plains. Most common in Middle Atlantic States. Migrations — Early May. Late August or September. Summer resident.

This largest of the warblers might be mistaken for a dozen birds collectively in as many minutes; but when it is known that the jumble of whistles, parts of songs, chuckles, clucks, barks, quacks, whines, and wails proceed from a single throat, the yellow-breasted chat becomes a marked specimen forthwith — a conspicuous individual never to be confused with any other member of the feathered tribe. It is indeed absolutely unique. The catbird and the mocking-bird are rare mimics; but while the chat is not their equal in this respect, it has a large repertoire of weird, uncanny cries all its own — a power of throwing its voice, like a human ventriloquist, into unexpected corners of the thicket or meadow. In addition to its extraordinary vocal feats, it can turn somersaults and do other clown-like stunts as well as any variety actor on the Bowery stage.

Only by creeping cautiously towards the roadside tangle, where this “rollicking polyglot” is entertaining himself and his mate, brooding over her speckled eggs in a bulky nest set in a most inaccessible briery part of the thicket, can you hope to hear him rattle through his variety performance. Walk boldly or noisily past his retreat, and there is “silence there and nothing more.” But two very bright eyes peer out at you through the undergrowth, where the trim, elegant-looking bird watches you with quizzical suspicion until you quietly seat yourself assume silent indifference. “Whew, whew!” he begins, and then immediately, with evident intent to amuse, he rattles off an indescribable, eccentric medley until your ears are tired listening. With bill uplifted, tail drooping, wings fluttering at his side, he cuts an absurd figure enough, but not so comical as when he rises into the air, trailing his legs behind him stork-fashion. This surely is the clown among birds. But any though he is, he is as capable of devotion to his Columbine as Punchinello, and remains faithfully mated year after year. However much of a tease and a deceiver he may be to the passer-by along the roadside, in the privacy of the domestic circle he shows truly lovable traits.

He has the habit of singing in his unmusical way on moonlight nights. Probably his ventriloquial powers are cultivated not for popular entertainment, but to lure intruders away from his nest.

MARYLAND YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5.33 inches. Just an inch shorter than the typical English sparrow.
Male — Olive-gray on head, shading to olive-green on all the other upper parts. Forehead, cheeks, and sides of head black, like a mask, and bordered behind by a grayish line. Throat and breast bright yellow, growing steadily paler underneath. Female — Either totally lacks black mask or its place is Indicated by only a dusky tint. She is smaller and duller. Range — Eastern North America, west to the plains; most common east of the Alleghanies. Nests from the Gulf States to Labrador and Manitoba; winters south of Gulf States to Panama. Migrations — May. September. Common summer resident.

“Given a piece of marshy ground with an abundance of skunk cabbage and a fairly dense growth of saplings, and near by a tangle of green brier and blackberry, and you will be pretty sure to have it tenanted by a pair of yellowthroats,” says Dr. Abbott, who found several of their nests in skunk-cabbage plants, which he says are favorite cradles. No animal cares to touch this plant if it can be avoided; but have the birds themselves no sense of smell?

Before and after the nesting season these active birds, plump of form, elegant of attire, forceful, but not bold, enter the scrubby pastures near our houses and the shrubbery of old- fashioned, overgrown gardens, and peer out at the human wanderer therein with a charming curiosity. The bright eyes of the male masquerader shine through his black mask, where he intently watches you from the tangle of syringa and snowball bushes; and as he flies into the laburnum with its golden chain of blossoms that pale before the yellow of his throat and breast, you are so impressed with his grace and elegance that you follow too audaciously, he thinks, and off he goes. And yet this is a bird that seems to delight in being pursued. It never goes so far away that you are not tempted to follow it, though it be through dense undergrowth and swampy thickets, and it always gives you just glimpse enough of its beauties and graces before it flies ahead, to invite the hope of a closer inspection next time. When it dives into the deepest part of the tangle, where you can imagine it hunting about among the roots and fallen leaves for the larvae, caterpillars, spiders, and other insects on which it feeds, it sometimes amuses itself with a simple little song between the hunts. But the bird’s indifference, you feel sure, arises from preoccupation rather than rudeness.

If, however, your visit to the undergrowth is unfortunately timed and there happens to be a bulky nest in process of construction on the ground, a quickly repeated, vigorous chit, pit, quit, impatiently inquires the reason for your bold intrusion. Withdraw discreetly and listen to the love-song that is presently poured out to reassure his plain little maskless mate. The music is delivered with all the force and energy of his vigorous nature and penetrates to a surprising distance. “Follow me, follow me, follow me,” many people hear him say; others write the syllables, “Wichity, wichity, wichity, wichity”; and still others write them, “I beseech you, I beseech you, I beseech you,” though the tones of this self-assertive bird rather command than entreat. Mr. Frank Chapman says of the yellowthroats: “They sing throughout the summer, and in August add a flight-song to their repertoire. This is usually uttered toward evening, when the bird springs several feet into the air, hovers for a second, and then drops back to the bushes.”

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Dendroica blackburnia) Wood Warbler family


Length — 4.5 to 5.5 inches. An inch and a half smaller than the English sparrow.
Male — Head black, striped with orange-flame; throat and breast orange, shading through yellow to white underneath; wings, tail, and part of back black, with white markings. Female — Olive-brown above, shading into yellow on breast, and paler under parts.
Range — Eastern North America to plains. Winters in tropics. Migrations — May. September. Spring and autumn migrant.

“The orange-throated warbler would seem to be his right name, his characteristic cognomen,” says John Burroughs, in ever-delightful “Wake Robin”; “but no, he is doomed to wear the name of some discoverer, perhaps the first who robbed his nest or rifled him of his mate — Blackburn; hence, Blackburnian warbler. The burn seems appropriate enough, for in these dark evergreens his throat and breast show like flame. He has a very fine warble, suggesting that of the redstart, but not especially musical.”

No foliage is dense enough to hide, and no autumnal tint too brilliant to outshine this luminous little bird that in May, as it migrates northward to its nesting ground, darts in and out of the leafy shadows like a tongue of fire.

It is by far the most glorious of all the warblers — a sort of diminutive oriole. The quiet-colored little mate flits about after him, apparently lost in admiration of his fine feathers and the ease with which his thin tenor voice can end his lover’s warble in a high Z.

Take a good look at this attractive couple, for in May they leave us to build a nest of bark and moss in the evergreens of Canada — that paradise for warblers — or of the Catskills and Adirondacks, and in autumn they hurry south to escape the first frosts.

REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla) Wood Warbler family


Length — 5 to 5.5 inches.
Male — In spring plumage: Head, neck, back, and middle breast glossy black, with blue reflections. Breast and underneath white, slightly flushed with salmon, increasing to bright salmon-orange on the sides of the body and on the wing linings. Occasional specimens show orange-red. Tail feathers partly black, partly orange, with broad black band across the end. Orange markings on wings. Bill and feet black. In autumn: Fading into rusty black, olive, and yellow. Female — Olive-brown, and yellow where the male is orange. Young browner than the females.
Range — North America to upper Canada. West occasionally, as far as the Pacific coast, but commonly found in summer in the Atlantic and Middle States.
Migrations — Early May. End of September. Summer resident.

Late some evening, early in May, when one by one the birds have withdrawn their voices from the vesper chorus, listen for the lingering “‘tsee, ‘tsee, ‘tseet” (usually twelve times repeated in a minute), that the redstart sweetly but rather monotonously sings from the evergreens, where, as his tiny body burns in the twilight, Mrs. Wright likens him to a “wind-blown firebrand, half glowing, half charred.”

But by daylight this brilliant little warbler is constantly on the alert. It is true he has the habit, like the flycatchers (among which some learned ornithologists still class him), of sitting pensively on a branch, with fluffy feathers and drooping wings; but the very next instant he shows true warbler blood by making a sudden dash upward, then downward through the air, tumbling somersaults, as if blown by the wind, flitting from branch to branch, busily snapping at the tiny insects hidden beneath the leaves, clinging to the tree-trunk like a creeper, and singing between bites.

Possibly he will stop long enough in his mad chase to open and shut his tail, fan-fashion, with a dainty egotism that, in the peacock, becomes rank vanity.

The Germans call this little bird roth Stert (red tail), but, like so many popular names, this is a misnomer, as, strictly speaking, the redstart is never red, though its salmon-orange markings often border on to orange-flame.

In a fork of some tall bush or tree, placed ten or fifteen feet from the ground, a carefully constructed little nest is made of moss, horsehair, and strippings from the bark, against which the nest is built, the better to conceal its location. Four or five whitish eggs, thickly sprinkled with pale brown and lilac, like the other warblers’, are too jealously guarded by the little mother-bird to be very often seen.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Iderus galbula) Oriole and Blackbird family


Length — 7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin. Male — Head, throat, upper part of back glossy black. Wings black, with white spots and edgings. Tail-quills black, with yellow markings on the tips. Everywhere else orange, shading into flame.
Female — Yellowish olive. Wings dark brown, and quills margined with white. Tail yellowish brown, with obscure, dusky bars. Range — The whole United States. Most numerous in Eastern States below 55 degrees north latitude.
Migrations — Early May. Middle of September. Common summer resident.

A flash of fire through the air; a rich, high, whistled song floating in the wake of the feathered meteor: the Baltimore oriole cannot be mistaken. When the orchards are in blossom he arrives in full plumage and song, and awaits the coming of the female birds, that travel northward more leisurely in flocks. He is decidedly in evidence. No foliage is dense enough to hide his brilliancy; his temper, quite as fiery as his feathers, leads him into noisy quarrels, and his insistent song with its martial, interrogative notes becomes almost tiresome until he is happily mated and family cares check his enthusiasm.

Among the best architects in the world is his plain but energetic mate. Gracefully swung from a high branch of some tall tree, the nest is woven with exquisite skill into a long, flexible pouch that rain cannot penetrate, nor wind shake from its horsehair moorings. Bits of string, threads of silk, and sometimes yarn of the gayest colors, if laid about the shrubbery in the garden, will be quickly interwoven with the shreds of bark and milkweed stalks that the bird has found afield. The shape of the nest often differs, because in unsettled regions, where hawks abound, it is necessary to make it deeper than seven inches (the customary depth when it is built near the homes of men), and to partly close it at the top to conceal the sitting bird. From four to six whitish eggs, scrawled over with black-brown, are hatched by the mother oriole, and most jealously guarded by her now truly domesticated mate.

The number of grubs, worms, flies, caterpillars, and even cocoons, that go to satisfy the hunger of a family of orioles in a day, might indicate, if it could be computed, the great value these birds are about our homes, aside from the good cheer they bring.

There is a popular tradition about the naming of this gorgeous bird: When George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, worn out and discouraged by various hardships in his Newfoundland colony, decided to visit Virginia in 1628, he wrote that nothing in the Chesapeake country so impressed him as the myriads of birds in its woods. But the song and color of the oriole particularly cheered and delighted him, and orange and black became the heraldic colors of the first lords proprietors of Maryland.

Hush! ’tis he! My Oriole, my glance of summer fire, Is come at last; and ever on the watch, Twitches the pack-thread I had lightly wound About the bough to help his housekeeping. Twitches and scouts by turns, blessing his luck, Yet fearing me who laid it in his way. Nor, more than wiser we in our affairs, Divines the Providence that hides and helps. Heave, ho! Heave, ho! he whistles as the twine Slackens its hold; once more, now! and a flash Lightens across the sunlight to the elm Where his mate dangles at her cup of felt. — James Russell Lowell.


Cardinal Grosbeak
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Pine Grosbeak
American Crossbill and the White-winged Crossbill Redpoll and Greater Redpoll
Purple Finch
Orchard Oriole

See the Red-winged Blackbird (Black). See also the males of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Woodpeckers, the Chewink (Black and White), the Red-breasted Nuthatch, the Bay-breasted and the Chestnut-sided Warblers (Slate and Gray); the Bluebird and Barn Swallow (Blue); the Flicker (Brown); the Humming-bird and the Kinglets (Greenish Gray); and the Blackburnian and Redstart Warblers, and the Baltimore Oriole (Orange).


CARDINAL GROSBEAK (Cardinalis cardinalis) Finch family


Length — 8 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin. Male — Brilliant cardinal; chin and band around bill black. Beak stout and red. Crest conspicuous. In winter dress, wings washed with gray.
Female — Brownish yellow above, shading to gray below. Tail shorter than the male’s. Crest, wings, and tail reddish. Breast sometimes tinged with red.
Range — Eastern United States. A Southern bird, becoming more and more common during the summer in States north of Virginia, especially in Ohio, south of which it is resident throughout the year.
Migrations — Resident rather than migrating birds, remaining throughout the winter in localities where they have found their way. Travel in flocks.

Among the numerous names by which this beautiful bird is known, it has become immortalized under the title of Mr. James Lane Allen’s exquisite book, “The Kentucky Cardinal.” Here, while we are given a most charmingly sympathetic, delicate account of the bird “who has only to be seen or heard, and Death adjusts an arrow,” it is the cardinal’s pathetic fate that impresses one most. Seen through less poetical eyes, however, the bird appears to be a haughty autocrat, a sort of “F. F. V.” among the feathered tribes, as, indeed, his title, “Virginia redbird,” has been unkindly said to imply. Bearing himself with a refined and courtly dignity, not stooping to soil his feet by walking on the ground like the more democratic robin, or even condescending below the level of the laurel bushes, the cardinal is literally a shining example of self-conscious superiority — a bird to call forth respect and admiration rather than affection. But a group of cardinals in a cedar tree in a snowy winter landscape makes us forgetful of everything but their supreme beauty.

As might be expected in one of the finch family, the cardinal is a songster — the fact which, in connection with his lovely plumage, accounts for the number of these birds shipped in cages to Europe, where they are known as Virginia nightingales. Commencing with a strong, rich whistle, like the high notes of a fife, “Cheo-cheo-cheo-cheo,” repeated over and over as if to make perfect the start of a song he is about to sing, suddenly he stops, and you learn that there is to be no glorious performance after all, only a prelude to — nothing. The song, such as it is, begins, with both male and female, in March, and lasts, with a brief intermission, until September — “the most melodious sigh,” as Mr. Allen calls it. Early in May the cardinals build a bulky and loosely made nest, usually in the holly, laurel, or other evergreen shrubs that they always love to frequent, especially if these are near fields of corn or other grain. And often two broods in a year come forth from the pale-gray, brown-marked eggs, beating what is literally for them the “fatal gift of beauty.”

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) Tanager family


Length — 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin. Male — Uniform red. Wings and tail like the body. Female — Upper parts yellowish olive-green; underneath inclining to orange-yellow.
Range — Tropical portions of two Americas and eastern United States. Most common in Southern States. Rare north of Pennsylvania. Winters in the tropics. Mirations — In Southern States: April. October. Irregular migrant north of the Carolinas.

Thirty years ago, it is recorded that so far north as New Jersey the summer redbird was quite as common as any of the thrushes. In the South still there is scarcely an orchard that does not contain this tropical-looking beauty — the redbird par excellence, the sweetest singer of the family. Is there a more beautiful sight in all nature than a grove of orange trees laden with fruit, starred with their delicious blossoms, and with flocks of redbirds disporting themselves among the dark, glossy leaves? Pine and oak woods are also favorite resorts, especially at the north, where the bird nowadays forsakes the orchards to hide his beauty, if he can, unharmed by the rifle that only rarely is offered so shining a mark. He shows the scarlet tanager’s preference for tree-tops, where his musical voice, calling “Chicky-tucky-tuk,” alone betrays his presence in the woods. The Southern farmers declare that he is an infallible weather prophet, his “wet, WET, WET,” being the certain indication of rain — another absurd saw, for the call-note is by no means confined to the rainy season.

The yellowish-olive mate, whose quiet colors betray no nest secrets, collects twigs and grasses for the cradle to be saddled on the end of some horizontal branch, though in this work the male sometimes cautiously takes an insignificant part. After her three or four eggs are laid she sits upon them for nearly two weeks, being only rarely and stealthily visited by her mate with some choice grub, blossom, or berry in his beak. But how cheerfully his fife-like whistle rings out during the temporary exile! Then his song is at its best. Later in the summer he has an aggravating way of joining in the chorus of other birds’ songs, by which the pleasant individuality of his own voice is lost.

A nest of these tanagers, observed not far from New York City, was commenced the last week of May on the extreme edge of a hickory limb in an open wood; four eggs were laid on the fourth of June, and twelve days later the tiny fledglings, that all look like their mother in the early stages of their existence, burst from the greenish-white, speckled shells. In less than a month the young birds were able to fly quite well and collect their food.

SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga erythromelas) Tanager family


Length — 7 to 7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin.
Male — In spring plumage: Brilliant scarlet, with black wings And tail. Under wing coverts grayish white. In autumn: Similar To female.
Female — Olive-green above; wings and tail dark, lightly Margined with olive. Underneath greenish yellow. Range — North America to northern Canada boundaries, and southwardin winter to South America.
Migrations — May. October. Summer resident

The gorgeous coloring of the scarlet tanager has been its snare and destruction. The densest evergreens could not altogether hide this blazing target for the sportsman’s gun, too often fired at the instigation of city milliners. “Fine feathers make fine birds” — and cruel, silly women, the adage might be adapted for latter-day use. This rarely beautiful tanager, thanks to them, is now only an infrequent flash of beauty in our country roads.

Instinct leads it to be chary of its charms; and whereas it used to be one of the commonest of bird neighbors, it is now shy and solitary. An ideal resort for it is a grove of oak or swamp maple near a stream or pond where it can bathe. Evergreen trees, too, are favorites, possibly because the bird knows how exquisitely its bright scarlet coat is set off by their dark background.

High in the tree-tops he perches, all unsuspected by the visitor passing through the woods below, until a burst of rich, sweet melody directs the opera-glasses suddenly upward. There we detect him carolling loud and cheerfully, like a robin. He is an apparition of beauty — a veritable bird of paradise, as, indeed, he is sometimes called. Because of their similar coloring, the tanager and cardinal are sometimes confounded, but an instant’s comparison of the two birds shows nothing in common except red feathers, and even those of quite different shades. The inconspicuous olive-green and yellow of the female tanager’s plumage is another striking instance of Nature’s unequal distribution of gifts; but if our bright-colored birds have become shockingly few under existing conditions, would any at all remain were the females prominent, like the males, as they brood upon the nest? Both tanagers construct a rather disorderly-looking nest of fibres and sticks, through which daylight can be seen where it rests securely upon the horizontal branch of some oak or pine tree; but as soon as three or four bluish-green eggs have been laid in the cradle, off goes the father, wearing his tell-tale coat, to a distant tree. There he sings his sweetest carol to the patient, brooding mate, returning to her side only long enough to feed her with the insects and berries that form their food.

Happily for the young birds’ fate, they are clothed at first in motley, dull colors, with here and there only a bright touch of scarlet, yellow, and olive to prove their claim to the parent whose gorgeous plumage must be their admiration. But after the moulting season it would be a wise tanager that knew its own father. His scarlet feathers are now replaced by an autumn coat of olive and yellow not unlike his mate’s.

PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator) Finch family


Length — Variously recorded from 6.5 to 11 inches. Specimen measured 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin. Male — General color strawberry-red, with some slate-gray fleckings about head, under wings, and on legs. Tail brown; wings brown, marked with black and white and slate. A band- shaped series of markings between the shoulders. Underneath paler red, merging into grayish green. Heavy, conspicuous bill. Female — Ash-brown. Head and hind neck yellowish brown, each feather having central dusky streak. Cheeks and throat yellowish. Beneath ash-gray, tinged with brownish yellow under tail.
Range — British American provinces and northern United States. Migrations — Irregular winter visitors; length of visits as uncertain as their coming.

As inseparable as bees from flowers, so are these beautiful winter visitors from the evergreen woods, where their red feathers, shining against the dark-green background of the trees, give them charming prominence; but they also feed freely upon the buds of various deciduous trees.

South of Canada we may not look for them except in the severest winter weather. Even then their coming is not to be positively depended upon; but when their caprice — or was it an unusually fierce northern blast? — sends them over the Canada border, it is a simple matter to identify them when such brilliant birds are rare. The brownish-yellow and grayish females and young males, however, always seem to be in the majority with us, though our Canadian friends assure us of the irreproachable morals of this gay bird.

Wherever there are clusters of pine or cedar trees, when there is a flock of pine grosbeaks in the neighborhood, you may expect to find a pair of birds diligently feeding upon the seeds and berries. No cheerful note escapes them as they persistently gormandize, and, if the truth must be confessed, they appear to be rather stupid and uninteresting, albeit they visit us at a time when we are most inclined to rapture over our bird visitors. They are said to have a deliciously sweet song in the nesting season. When, however, few except the Canadian voyageurs hear it.

AMERICAN CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra minor) Finch family

Called also: RED CROSSBILL [AOU 1998]

Length — 6 to 7 inches. About the size of the English sparrow. Male — General color Indian red, passing into brownish gray, with red tinge beneath. Wings (without bands), also tail, brown, Beak crossed at the tip.
Female — General color greenish yellow, with brownish tints. Dull-yellowish tints on head, throat, breast, and underneath. Wings and tail pale brown. Beak crossed at tip. Range — Pennsylvania to northern British America. West of Mississippi, range more southerly.
Migrations — Irregular winter visitor. November. Sometimes resident until April.

It is a rash statement to say that a bird is rare simply because you have never seen it in your neighborhood, for while you are going out of the front door your rara avis may be eating the crumbs about your kitchen. Even with our eyes and ears constantly alert for some fresh bird excitement, our phlegmatic neighbor over the way may be enjoying a visit from a whole flock of the very bird we have been looking and listening for in vain all the year. The red crossbills are capricious little visitors, it is true, but by no means uncommon.

About the size of an English sparrow, of a brick or Indian red color, for the most part, the peculiarity of its parrot-like beak is its certain mark of identification.

Longfellow has rendered into verse the German legend of the crossbill, which tells that as the Saviour hung upon the cross, a little bird tried to pull out the nails that pierced His hands and feet, thus twisting its beak and staining its feathers with the blood.

At first glance the birds would seem to be hampered by their crossed beaks in getting at the seeds in the pine cones — a superficial criticism when the thoroughness and admirable dexterity of their work are better understood.

Various seeds of fruits, berries, and the buds of trees enlarge their bill of fare. They are said to be inordinately fond of salt. Mr. Romeyn B. Hough tells of a certain old ice-cream freezer that attracted flocks of crossbills one winter, as a salt-lick attracts deer. Whether the traditional salt that may have stuck to the bird’s tail is responsible for its tameness is not related, but it is certain the crossbills, like most bird visitors from the far north, are remarkably gentle, friendly little birds. As they swing about the pine trees, parrot-fashion, with the help of their bill, calling out kimp, kimp, that sounds like the snapping of the pine cones on a sunny day, it often seems easily possible to catch them with the hand.

There is another species of crossbill, called the White-winged (Loxia leucoptera), that differs from the preceding chiefly in having two white bands across its wings and in being more rare.

THE REDPOLL (Acanthis linaria) Finch family


Length — 5.25 to 5.5 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow.
Male — A rich crimson wash on head, neck, breast, and lower back, that is sometimes only a pink when we see the bird in midwinter. Grayish-brown, sparrowy feathers show underneath the red wash. Dusky wings and tail, the feathers more or less edged with whitish. Soiled white underneath; the sides with dusky streaks. Bill sharply pointed.
Female — More dingy than male, sides more heavily streaked, and having crimson only on the crown.
Range — An arctic bird that descends irregularly into the Northern United States.
Migrations — An irregular winter visitor.

“Ere long, amid the cold and powdery snow, as it were a fruit of the season, will come twittering a flock of delicate crimson-tinged birds, lesser redpolls, to sport and feed on the buds just ripe for them on the sunny side of a wood, shaking down the powdery snow there in their cheerful feeding, as if it were high midsummer to them.” Thoreau’s beautiful description of these tiny winter visitors, which should be read entire, shows the man in one of his most sympathetic, exalted moods, and it is the best brief characterization of the redpoll that we have.

When the arctic cold becomes too cruel for even the snow-birds and crossbills to withstand, flocks of the sociable little redpolls flying southward are the merest specks in the sullen, gray sky, when they can be seen at all. So high do they keep that often they must pass above our heads without our knowing it. First we see a quantity of tiny dots, like a shake of pepper, in the cloud above, then the specks grow larger and larger, and finally the birds seem to drop from the sky upon some tall tree that they completely cover — a veritable cloudburst of birds. Without pausing to rest after the long journey, down they flutter into the weedy pastures with much cheerful twittering, to feed upon whatever seeds may be protruding through the snow. Every action of a flock seems to be concerted, as if some rigid disciplinarian had drilled them, and yet no leader can be distinguished in the merry company. When one flies, all fly; where one feeds, all feed, and by some subtle telepathy all rise at the identical instant from their feeding ground and cheerfully twitter in concert where they all alight at once. They are more easily disturbed than the goldfinches, that are often seen feeding with them in the lowlands; nevertheless, they quite often venture into our gardens and orchards, even in suburbs penetrated by the trolley-car.

Usually in winter we hear only their lisping call-note; but if the birds linger late enough in the spring, when their “fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” a gleeful, canary-like song comes from the naked branches, and we may know by it that the flock will soon disappear for their nesting grounds in the northern forests.

The Greater Redpoll (Acanthis linaria rostrata) may be distinguished from the foregoing species by its slightly larger size, darker upper parts, and shorter, stouter bill. But the notes, habits, and general appearance of both redpolls are so nearly identical that the birds are usually mistaken for each other.

PURPLE FINCH (Carpodacus purpureus) Finch family

Called also: PURPLE LINNET

Length — 6 to 6.25 inches. About the same size as the English sparrow.
Male — Until two years old, sparrow-like in appearance like the female, but with olive-yellow on chin and lower back. Afterwards entire body suffused with a bright raspberry-red, deepest on head, lower back, and breast, and other parts only faintly washed with this color. More brown on back; and wings and tail, which are dusky, have some reddish brown feathers. Underneath grayish white. Bill heavy. Tail forked. Female — Grayish olive brown above; whitish below; finely Streaked everywhere with very dark brown, like a sparrow. Sides of breast have arrow-shaped marks. Wings and tail darkest. Range — North America, from Columbia River eastward to Atlantic and from Mexico northward to Manitoba. Most common in Middle States and New England. Winters south of Pennsylvania. Migrations — March. November. Common summer resident. Rarely individuals winter at the north.

In this “much be-sparrowed country” of ours familiarity is apt to breed contempt for any bird that looks sparrowy, in which case one of the most delicious songsters we have might easily be overlooked. It is not until the purple finch reaches maturity in his second year that his plumage takes on the raspberry-red tints that some ornithologists named purple. Oriental purple is our magenta, it is true, but not a raspberry shade. Before maturity, but for the yellow on his lower back and throat, he and his mate alike suggest a song-sparrow; and it is important to note their particularly heavy, rounded bills, with the tufts of feathers at the base, and their forked tails, to name them correctly. But the identification of the purple finch, after all, depends quite as much upon his song as his color. In March, when flocks of these birds come north, he has begun to sing a little; by the beginning of May he is desperately in love, and sudden, joyous peals of music from the elm or evergreen trees on the lawn enliven the garden. How could his little brown lady-love fail to be impressed with a suitor so gayly dressed, so tender and solicitous, so deliciously sweet-voiced? With fuller, richer song than the warbling vireo’s, which Nuttall has said it resembles, a perfect ecstasy of love, pours incessantly from his throat during the early summer days. There is a suggestion of the robins love-song in his, but its copiousness, variety, and rapidity give it a character all its own.

In some old, neglected hedge or low tree about the countryplace a flat, grassy nest, lined with horsehair, contains four or five green eggs in June, and the old birds are devotion itself to each other, and soon to their young, sparrowy brood.

But when parental duties are over, the finches leave our lawns and gardens to join flocks of their own kind in more remote orchards or woods, their favorite haunts. Their subdued warble may be heard during October and later, as if the birds were humming to themselves.

Much is said of their fondness for fruit blossoms and tree buds, but the truth is that noxious insects and seeds of grain constitute their food in summer, the berries of evergreens in winter. To a bird so gay of color, charming of voice, social, and trustful of disposition, surely a few blossoms might be spared without grudging.

THE AMERICAN ROBIN (Merula migratoria) Thrush family


Length — 10 inches.
Male — Dull brownish olive-gray above. Head black; tail brownish black, with exterior feathers white at inner tip. Wings dark brownish. Throat streaked with black and white. White eyelids. Entire breast bright rusty red; whitish below the tail. Female — Duller and with paler breast, resembling the male in autumn.
Range — North America, from Mexico to arctic regions. Migrations — March. October or November. Often resident throughout the year.

It seems almost superfluous to write a line of description about a bird that is as familiar as a chicken; yet how can this nearest of our bird neighbors be passed without a reference? Probably he was the very first bird we learned to call by name.

The early English colonists, who had doubtless been brought up, like the rest of us, on “The Babes in the Wood,” named the bird after the only heroes in that melancholy tale; but in reality the American robin is a much larger bird than the English
robin-redbreast and less brilliantly colored. John Burroughs calls him, of all our birds, “the most native and democratic.”

How the robin dominates birddom with his strong, aggressive personality! His voice rings out strong and clear in the early morning chorus, and, more tenderly subdued at twilight, it still rises above all the sleepy notes about him. Whether lightly tripping over the lawn after the “early worm,” or rising with his sharp, quick cry of alarm, when startled, to his nest near by, every motion is decided, alert, and free. No pensive hermit of the woods, like his cousins, the thrushes, is this joyous vigorous “bird of the morning.” Such a presence is inspiriting.

Does any bird excel the robin in the great variety of his vocal expressions? Mr. Parkhurst, in his charming “Birds’ Calendar,” says he knows of “no other bird that is able to give so many shades of meaning to a single note, running through the entire gamut of its possible feelings. From the soft and mellow quality, almost as coaxing as a dove’s note, with which it encourages its young when just out of the nest, the tone, with minute gradations, becomes more vehement, and then harsh and with quickened reiteration, until it expresses the greatest intensity of a bird’s emotions. Love, contentment, anxiety, exultation, rage — what other bird can throw such multifarious meaning into its tone? And herein the robin seems more nearly human than any of its kind.”

There is no one thing that attracts more birds about the house that a drinking-dish — large enough for a bathtub as well; and certainly no bird delights in sprinkling the water over his back more than a robin, often aided in his ablutions by the spattering of the sparrows. But see to it that this drinking-dish is well raised above the reach of lurking cats.

While the robin is a famous splasher, his neatness stops there. A robin’s nest is notoriously dirty within, and so carelessly constructed of weed-stalks, grass, and mud, that a heavy summer shower brings more robins’ nests to the ground than we like to contemplate. The color of the eggs, as every one knows, has given their name to the tint. Four is the number of eggs laid, and two broods are often reared in the same nest.

Too much stress is laid on the mischief done by the robins in the cherry trees and strawberry patches, and too little upon the quantity of worms and insects they devour. Professor Treadwell, who experimented upon some young robins kept in captivity, learned that they ate sixty-eight earthworms daily — “that is, each bird ate forty-one per cent more than its own weight in twelve hours! The length of these worms, if laid end to end, would be about fourteen feet. Man, at this rate, would eat about seventy pounds of flesh a day, and drink five or six gallons of water.”

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius) Blackbird and Oriole family


Length — 7 to 7.3 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin.
Male — Head, throat, upper back, tail, and part of wings black. Breast, rump, shoulders, under wing and tail coverts, and under parts bright reddish brown. Whitish-yellow markings on a few tail and wing feathers.
Female — Head and upper parts olive, shading into brown; brighter on head and near tail. Back and wings dusky brown, with pale-buff shoulder-bars and edges of coverts. Throat black. Under parts olive, shading into yellow. Range — Canada to Central America. Common in temperate latitudes of the United States.
Migrations — Early May. Middle of September. Common summer resident.

With a more southerly range than the Baltimore oriole and less conspicuous coloring, the orchard oriole is not so familiar a bird in many Northern States, where, nevertheless, it is quite common enough to be classed among our would-be intimates. The orchard is not always as close, to the house as this bird cares to venture; he will pursue an insect even to the piazza vines.

His song, says John Burroughs, is like scarlet, “strong, intense, emphatic,” but it is sweet and is more rapidly uttered than that of others of the family. It is ended for the season early in July.

This oriole, too, builds a beautiful nest, not often pendent like the Baltimore’s, but securely placed in the fork of a sturdy fruit tree, at a moderate height, and woven with skill and precision, like a basket. When the dried grasses from one of these nests were stretched and measured, all were found to be very nearly the same length, showing to what pains the little weaver had gone to make the nest neat and pliable, yet strong. Four cloudy-white eggs with dark-brown spots are usually found in the nest in June.