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“Isn’t it wise the ways things are fixed?” said Rap. “Some birds to eat the insects and sow wild fruits and berries; some birds to eat weed seeds and prevent them from being sown. I think some people would do better if they didn’t think themselves so smart and mix things all up!”

“You are right, my boy! We should not interfere with Heart of Nature by foolishly trying to aid him unless we are perfectly sure that he wishes and needs our help.

“There is one member of this Finch family, the European Sparrow, that we know by the name of English Sparrow. In his native country he eats both insects and seeds, and also does some good by eating certain tree-worms. A number of years ago the trees in our cities were being eaten by canker-worms, and some one said–‘Let us bring over some of these Sparrows to live in the cities and eat the canker-worms.’ This person meant well, but he did not know enough about what he was doing.

“The birds were brought, and for a while they ate the worms and stayed near cities. But soon the change in climate also changed their liking for insects, and they became almost wholly seed and vegetable eaters, devouring the young buds on vines and trees, grass-seed, oats, rye, wheat, and other grains.

“Worse than this, they increased very fast and spread everywhere, quarrelling with and driving out the good citizens, who belong to the regular Birdland guilds, taking their homes and making themselves nuisances. The Wise Men protested against bringing these Sparrows, but no one heeded their warning until it was too late. Now it is decided that these Sparrows are bad Citizens and criminals; so they are condemned by every one. All this trouble came because one man, as Rap says, ‘thought he was so smart and mixed things up.'”

“It was those Sparrows in the city that made me think all wild birds must be ugly; but that was because _I_ was too smart and didn’t know anything about other birds,” said Nat frankly.

“I think we are getting way off from Nat’s yellow bird,” said Dodo; “and now I see lots more of Rap’s Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, over on the fence. I want to know what they are doing in the potato field. I hope they don’t dig up the little potatoes.”

“No, you need not worry about that,” said the Doctor, “and you must wait a bit yet, for the Rose-breast does not come until nearly the end of his family.”

“There must be a great many different-looking birds in this Finch family,” said Rap, “if plain Sparrows and yellow Goldfinches both belong to it.” “Indeed there are! Did I not say that there were both Quakers and soldiers in it?” said the Doctor. “For in addition to the Goldfinch there is a bright-blue cousin and a red one.”

“What are their names, and shall we see them here?” cried Dodo.

“You will learn their names very soon. The blue one now has a nest across the meadow, and the red one makes us a visit every autumn; but you must stop asking questions if you want to hear about them to-day.

“The first of the Finch family is a bird you will only see in the winter, and not even then if you are living further south than the middle range of States. It is called the Pine Grosbeak.”


“This bird has a great heavy beak, that makes him look rather stupid; in fact, this beak gives him the name of Gros-beak, which means the same as Great-beak. He loves the pine woods of Canada and builds his nest among them, only a little way above the snow that still covers the ground at the early season when this bird begins housekeeping.

“When the northern winter is very severe, Pine Grosbeaks gather in flocks and scatter through the States. But you must not expect to see a whole flock of beautiful strawberry-red birds, for only the old males are red; the females are dull gray and yellowish, while the young males look like their mothers, and do not wear their gay coats until they are two years old. You will not be likely to hear these birds sing, though they sometimes do so on their winter trips. Their usual call-note is a whistle which they give when flying.

[Illustration: Pine Grosbeak.]

“Some day this winter when you are taking a walk you may see them on the ground under chestnut and beech trees, and in old pastures where the red sumach berries are the only bright things left above the snow. You will think it a very cheerful sight–red birds and red berries together. You will also have time to take a good look at them, for they move slowly, and be glad to know the names of your friends who are hardy enough to brave the cold.

“Though this Grosbeak seems rather dull and stupid out of doors, he is a charming cage pet, growing tame and singing a delightful warbling song. I picked up one with a broken wing when I was a boy, and kept him for many years; the hurt wing was soon healed, and the bird was always tame and happy after that, though he soon lost his bright feathers. But I would never advise any one to make a cage pet of a bird who has been born wild and once known liberty. No matter if he lives and thrives: he will sometimes remember the days when he was free, and be very sad.” “My Canary is never sad,” said Nat: “he is always singing.”

“For very many years Canaries have been bred in cages, to be pets, and as these have never been wild they are used to cage life. They are the best birds for pets, because they are seed-eaters, and it is easy to supply the food they like.

“Some winter day, or even late in autumn, you may see on your walks, another red bird–a near relation of the Pine Grosbeak; in fact, the two often flock together. This bird is called the American Crossbill.”

The Pine Grosbeak

Length about nine inches.

General color of adult male strawberry-red, the wings and tail dark, with some light-brown and white edgings; the tail forked a little.

The female and young male gray, tinged here and there with saffron-yellow.

A Summer Citizen as far north from the States as trees grow, roving in winter about the northerly and middle States.

A fine, large Weed Warrior, with a very stout beak, almost like a Parrot’s.



“When it is winter in the northern parts of North America, and the Great Snow Owls have scattered on their southward journey–when heavy snows have beaten down and covered the seed-stalks of weeds and well-nigh walled the little fur-bearing beasts into their holes–then in regions where March brings only storms of sleet to coat the tree-trunks and lock up insect food, a pair of strange birds are already building their nest.

“These two birds, though alike in shape, are as different in color as Mr. and Mrs. Scarlet Tanager. But there is one point about them by which you may tell them from any others. Their curving bills are _crossed at the tip_, which strange arrangement gives them their name of Crossbill. At a little distance you might mistake them for Paroquets, but only the upper half of a Paroquet’s beak is curved, and it closes over the under half; while both parts of the Crossbill’s beak are curved, and they cross each other at the tip like a pair of scissors that do not close properly.

[Illustration: American Crossbill]

“How and where do you think these birds build their nests in such a cold season?”

“Make a burrow in the snow, perhaps,” said Dodo.

“Go into a haystack or under a shed,” said Nat.

“Or a hole in a tree,” added Rap.

“No, the Crossbill does not place his nest in any of these ways. He chooses a thick evergreen tree, and upon the fork of one of the branches makes a little platform of rubbish to support the nest. With great care the couple gather shreds of bark, twigs, and small sticks, till they think they have enough; then they begin the nest itself, weaving it of softer materials and lining it with grasses, fur, and feathers, until they make a very comfortable bed for the pale-green, purple-spotted eggs to lie in.”

“How cold the poor birds’ toes must be while they are working,” said Dodo with a shiver; “and I should think the eggs would freeze instead of hatching.”

“But what do they find to eat when everything is frozen stiff?” asked Rap. “Are they cannibal birds that can eat other birds and mice?”

“These two questions can be answered together,” said the Doctor. “The nests are usually built in evergreens, which are cone-bearing or coniferous trees. You all know what a cone is like, I think?”

“Yes, I do!” cried Rap. “It is a long seed pod that grows on evergreens. In summer it is green and sticky, but by and by it grows dry and brown, and divides into little rows of scales like shingles on a house, and there is a seed hidden under each scale. Each kind of an evergreen has a different-shaped cone; some are long and smooth like sausages, and some are thick and pointed like a top. The squirrels often pick the cones off the spruces over at the miller’s and shell out the scales, just as you shell corn off the cob, to get the seeds.”

“Very good, my boy,” said the Doctor. “I see you know something about trees as well as birds. The Crossbills build in evergreens, and all around their nests hang the cones with spicy seeds stored away under the scales, ready for the birds to eat. So they do not have to go far from home for their marketing.”

“But their beaks are so crooked that I don’t see how they can pick out the cone seeds,” said Nat.

“These curiously twisted bills, like pincers, are made expressly for the purpose of wrenching the scales from the cones, so that the seeds are laid bare.”

“It’s very funny,” said Nat; “whenever we think a bird is queer or awkward and would be better in some other way, it is sure to be made the very best way, only we don’t know it.”

“By and by, when the eggs are laid and the young are hatched,” continued the Doctor, “Crossbills make the most devoted parents; they would let themselves be lifted from the nest rather than leave their family.

“And when it is midsummer the old and young Crossbills form into flocks. Then the parents begin to think that the young people need a change of air for their health, and a few months of travel to finish their education. So they wander southward through the States without any method or plan, sometimes going as far as New Orleans before winter really begins; and it is on these journeys that we see them.

“Some frosty morning in October, if you hear a sound coming from the sky, like the tinkling of little bells–‘Tlink-link-link-link’–you may be sure there is a flock of Crossbills near, and soon you will see them climbing about an evergreen, or quietly picking seeds on a birch or beech. The moment before they move to another tree they begin to call; this is the only note you will be likely to hear from them, and one which they often keep up during flight.

“They are capricious birds when on their travels, sometimes letting you come very near them without showing a sign of fear, then suddenly taking flight and dashing about in a distracted way. They are also tardy in getting back to their piney homes sometimes, and choose their mates on the journey, unlike most birds. Very often a thoughtless couple are obliged to camp out and build a home wherever they happen to be, so that their nests have been found in several of the New England States.”

“Is there only one kind of Crossbill in North America?” asked Rap.

“No, this Red Crossbill has two cousins; one with two white bars on each wing, called the White-winged Crossbill, who sometimes travels with him, but is rarer; and another who lives in Mexico.”

The American Crossbill

Length about six inches.

Beak crossed at the tips, but looking like a Parrot’s if you do not notice how the points cross.

Male: general color Indian red, with dark wings and tail.

Female: general color dull olive-green, with wings and tail like the male’s.

A Citizen of the North, making winter excursions all through the United States.



“This must be my other bird,” said Nat, “the yellow one from the wild grass meadow, who had what looked like a little black velvet cap tipped down over his eyes. They are such jolly little chaps that it made me laugh when I watched them swinging on the ends of the tall grass. Once in a while one would play he was angry and try to look cross; but he couldn’t keep it up long, because he really felt so good natured.”

“I believe every one knows Goldfinches,” said Olive. “I remember them longer than any birds, but the Robin and Bluebird.”

[Illustration: American Goldfinch]

“Yes, for even I know them a little bit,” said Dodo, “but not by their right name, for when I saw some in the Park last summer somebody said they were wild Canaries that had flown out of cages.”

“What do they eat, cones or little seeds?” asked Nat.

“They eat grass-seeds, and the seeds of weeds–the most fly-away weeds too, that blow everywhere and spread ever so fast,” said Rap. “Look, quick! There’s a flock coming by now, and they are calling ‘Come _talk_ to me! Come _talk_ to me!’ See–they have settled on the long grass by the fence and are gobbling seeds like everything,” continued Rap in a whisper.

As he spoke a flock of twenty or more birds flew over; some were the bright-yellow males and others the more plainly colored females. They did not fly straight, but in a jerky way, constantly dropping down and then lifting up again, and calling out “wait for me” on every down-grade curve, until by common consent they alighted among some wild grasses, where the early yellow thistles were already going to seed.

“Watch and listen,” said the Doctor, as he handed the field-glass to the children in turn.

There was a perfect babel of bird-talk, the jaunty blond males all making pretty speeches to the gentle brown-haired females, who laughed merry little bird-laughs in return.

“It is like the noise in the store where they sell Canaries,” whispered Nat, after taking a long look; “first they all sing together and then a few sing so much louder that the others stop. I wonder what they are saying?”

“They are talking about housekeeping,” said the Doctor. “Some of the ladies say they prefer high apartments in a tree-top, while others like one-story bushes the best; but all agree that the ground floor is too damp for the health of their families. In a few days, or a week at most, this merry flock will have parted company, and two by two the birds will begin housekeeping.”

“Why, they are pulling off the thistle-down, and gobbling it up. I should think it would choke them,” said Dodo.

“Those are some of the fly-away seeds that Rap spoke of a moment ago. The fluff is not the seed, but a sort of sail to which the seed is fastened, that the wind may blow it away to another place to grow. If you look carefully you will see that the birds do not eat thistle-down, but only the seed; they will soon use the down to line their pretty round cup-shaped nests.” “Oh, yes,” said Dodo, “there are lots of fluffy seeds, and they mostly belong to very bad weeds. Olive has been telling us about them, Uncle Roy, and so of course the Goldies do heaps of good by eating them. If they eat those weed-seeds and do not need insects they can live here all winter–can’t they, uncle?”

“Certainly; they gather in flocks after their nesting-time, which you see is very late. Then the males shed their bright-yellow feathers, and look exactly like their wives and children. Still, they make a merry party flying about in the garden and field edges, where the composite flowers have left them food, whispering and giggling all day long–even singing merrily now and then. They often have hard times in winter, and when I am here at the Farm I always scatter canary seed on the snow for them.”

“What is a com-pos-ite flower?” asked Dodo.

“A kind of flower which has a great many little blossoms crowded together in a bunch, so that they look like one big flower–such as a dandelion, thistle, or sunflower. Olive will tell you more about them to-morrow. She is the Flower Lady, you know–I am only your Bird Uncle, and if I mix up flowers with birds I shall be apt to confuse you.”

“They eat sunflower seeds,” said Rap. “We grow these seeds for our hens and the Goldies always get their share.”

“I wonder if that is why they are such a beautiful yellow,” said Dodo. “‘Flying Sunflower’ would be a nice name for them. No, you needn’t laugh at me, Nat; the man in the bird store said he gave Canaries red pepper to make them red, so I don’t see why the seed of yellow sunflowers shouldn’t make birds yellow!” But in spite of her argument Nat and Rap continued to laugh.

“It must be hard to tell them when they lose their yellow feathers,” said Nat finally.

“No; Goldfinches keep up a habit by which you can always tell them, old or young, male or female, in summer or winter. Can you guess what it is?”

“I know! Oh, I know!” cried Rap. “They always fly with a dip and a jerk.”

The American Goldfinch

Length about five inches.

Male in summer: bright clear yellow, with a black cap, and the wings and tail black with some white on both.

Female at all times, and male in winter: light flaxen brown, the wings and tail as before, but less distinctly marked with white, and no black cap.

A Citizen of temperate North America, and a good neighbor.

Belongs to the guild of Weed Warriors, and is very useful.



“It is a very warm day to talk about snowstorms and winter birds, but several of these birds belong to the Finch family,” said the Doctor, a few mornings later, as the children went through the old pasture down to the river woods in search of a cool quiet place to spend the morning. The sun was hot, and most of the birds were hiding in the shade trees. “But as the Snowflake will walk next to the Goldfinch in the procession of Bird Families I am going to show you after a while, we must have him now.” “I think a cool bird will be very nice for a warm day,” said Dodo. “Something like soda water and ice cream. That makes me think–Mammy Bun was cracking ice this morning, and I wonder what for!”

“I wonder!” said Olive, laughing.

“I know,” said Nat, who was a tease; “it must be to bake a cake with!”

[Illustration: Snowflake.]

“Here is a nice place for us,” said the Doctor, who had walked on ahead, “where we can see over the fields and into the woods by only turning our heads, and the moss is so dry that we may sit anywhere we please.

“The trees are in full leaf now,” he continued, looking up as he leaned comfortably against the trunk of an oak that spread its high root ridges on each side of him like the arms of a chair. “The spring flowers are gone, strawberries are ripe, and there is plenty of food and shelter for birds here. But if we were to travel northward, beyond the United States and up through Canada, we should find that the trees were different; that there were more pines and spruces. Then if we went still further north, even these would begin to grow more scanty and stunted, until the low pines in which the Grosbeak nests would be the only trees seen. Then beyond this parallel of latitude comes the ‘tree limit’–“

“Oh, I know what a ‘parallel of latitude’ is, because I learned it in my geography,” said Dodo, who had been pouting since Nat teased her about the cracked ice; “it’s a make-believe line that runs all round the world like the equator. But what is a ‘tree limit’?”

“Don’t you remember, little girl,” answered the Doctor, “what I told you about the timber-line on a mountain–the height beyond which no trees grow, because it gets too cold for them up there? It is just the same if you go northward on flat ground like Orchard Farm; for when you have gone far enough there are no more trees to be seen. In that northern country the winter is so long and cold, and summer is so short, that only scrubby bushes can grow there. Next beyond these we should find merely the rough, curling grass of the Barren Grounds, which would tell us we were approaching the arctic circle, and already near the place where wise men think it is best to turn homeward; for it is close to the Land of the Polar Bear and the Northern Lights–the region of perpetual snow. But dreary as this would seem to us, nest building is going on there this June day, as well as here.

“Running lightly over uneven hummocks of grass are plump, roly-poly, black-and-white birds, with soft musical voices and the gentlest possible manners. They may have already brought out one brood in thick, deep grassy nests, well lined with rabbit fur or Snow Owl feathers, that they know so well how to tuck under a protecting ledge of rock or bunch of grass. Now and then a male Snowflake will take a little flight and sing as merrily as his cousin the Goldfinch, but he never stays long away from the ground where seeds are to be found.

“The white feathers of these birds are as soft as their friend the snow, of which they seem a part. They have more white about them than any other color, and this snowy plumage marks them distinctly from all their Sparrow cousins. After the moult, when a warm brown hue veils the white feathers, and the short northern summer has ended, the birds flock together for their travels. When they will visit us no one can say; they come and go, as if driven by the wind.

“A soft clinging December snowstorm begins, and suddenly you will wonder at a cloud of brown, snow-edged leaves that settle on a bare spot in the road, then whirl up and, clearing the high fence, drop into the shelter of the barnyard.

“‘How very strange,’ you will say; ‘these leaves act as if they were bewitched.’ You look again, and rub your eyes; for these same whirling winter leaves are now walking about the yard, picking up grass-seed and grain under the very nose of the cross old rooster himself! Then you discover that they are not leaves at all, but plump little birds who, if they could speak, would say how very much obliged they are for the food.

“When the snow melts they fly away. By the time they have got home again, weather and travel have worn the brown edges of their feathers away, so that the black parts show; and thus, without a second moulting, they are black-and-white birds again.

“When you search for them look in the air, or on the shed-top, or about the haystack, or on the ground; for they seldom perch in trees.”

“Why is that?” asked Rap. “I should think it would be warmer for them in the thick evergreens.”

“They nest on the ground, and as they also gather their food there, are unused to large trees.”

“Why don’t they nest in trees up North?” asked Nat.

“For the same reason,” laughed Olive, “that Simple Simon didn’t catch a whale in the water pail! There are no trees where the Snowflake nests!”

The Snowflake

Length seven inches.

In summer snow-white, with black on the back, wings, and tail.

In winter wears a warm brown cloak, with black stripes, fastened with a brown collar, and a brown and white vest.

A Citizen of the North, travelling southward in snowstorms as far sometimes as Georgia.

A member of the guild of Weed Warriors, eating seeds at all seasons. THE VESPER SPARROW


“Please, uncle, before you tell us about this Sparrow, will you look at a sort of a striped, dull-brown bird that has been fidgeting over there under the bushes ever since we have been here?”

[Illustration: Vesper Sparrow.]

“I have been watching him too,” said Rap; “a minute ago, when he flew over the stone fence, I saw he had white feathers outside on his tail–now he is back again.”

“How very kind that bird is to come when he is wanted, and save my time–it is the Vesper Sparrow himself. I suspect that we are nearer to his nest than he cares to have us, he is so uneasy.”

“Where would the nest most likely be?” asked Nat; “in a tree or a bush?”

“Most Sparrow nests are near the ground,” said Rap.

“A little lower yet, Rap; the Vesper Sparrow sinks his deep nest either in thick grass or in the ground itself; but though it is thus supported on all sides it is as nicely woven as if it were a tree nest.”

“It isn’t a very pretty bird,” said Dodo. “Does it sing well? Why is it called the Vesper Sparrow–what does Vesper mean, Uncle Roy?”

“Vesper means evening. This plainly clothed little bird has a beautiful voice, and sings in the morning chorus with his brothers; but he is fond of continuing his song late into the twilight, after most others have gone to bed. Then in the stillness his voice sounds sweet and clear, and the words of the song are: ‘Chewee, chewee, chewee lira, lira, lira lee.’ That is the way he says his evening prayers: you know that in some of the churches there is a beautiful service called Vespers. Ah, if we only knew bird language!”

“Do you remember,” said Olive, “last night when you were going to bed you asked me if it wasn’t a very rare bird that was singing so late down in the garden, and I told you that it was a Sparrow? It was the Vesper Bird, perhaps the very one who is over there in the bushes, wondering if the giant House People will find his nest. You can easily tell him when he flits in front of you by the roadside, because he always shows two white feathers, one on each side of his tail.”

The Vesper Sparrow

Length six inches.

Upper parts brown, streaked with dusty; some bright bay on the wings, but no yellow anywhere, and two white tail-feathers.

Under parts dull-white, striped on breast and sides with brown.

A Citizen of North America from Canada southward, nesting north of the Middle States.

A regular member of the guild of Weed Warriors, and in summer belonging also to the Seed Sowers and Ground Gleaners.



“The White-throat is another bird that you will not see in his summer home, unless you look for him in the Northern States. You may find him nesting about the White Mountains, on or near the ground, with the Olive-backed Thrush and Winter Wren. In other places he may be seen as a visitor any time in spring and autumn, or may even linger about the whole winter. You remember the dead one Nat found, that we used when I was teaching you something about birds in general that rainy day, before I began to tell you the particular bird stories.

“If you think of Sparrows only as a sober, dusty-colored family, you may be surprised to learn that this large, handsome bird, with the white throat, the head striped with black and white, a yellow spot over the eye, and richly variegated brown feathers, is a member of that group.”

“It bothered me dreadfully at first,” said Rap, “until one fall some sportsmen, who came through the upper fields looking for Quail, whistled his song and told me about him. There were lots of them here early this spring by the mill, but the miller didn’t like them because they pitched into his new-sown pasture and gobbled the grass-seed.”

“Yes, of course they eat grass-seed in spring, when the old weed seeds of autumn are well scattered; but surely we must give a Citizen Bird some good valuable food, not treating him like a pauper whom we expect to live always on refuse.

“Some morning in early spring, when the Chickadees who have wintered about the Farm are growing restless, and about ready to go to a more secluded spot to nest, you will hear a sweet persuasive whistling song coming from a clump of bushes. What is it? Not a Bluebird, or a Robin. The notes are too short and simple for a Song Sparrow or a Thrush, too plaintive for a Wren, and too clear for a lisping Wood Warbler.

[Illustration: White-Throated Sparrow.]

“Presently several White-throats fly down to a bit of newly seeded lawn or patch of wild grass, where they feed industriously for a few minutes, giving only a few little call-notes–‘t’sip, t’sip’–by way of conversation. Then one flies up into a bush and sings in a high key. What does he say–for the song of two short bars surely has words? One person understands it one way, and thinks the bird says ‘all-day whittling, whittling, whittling!’ Some one else hears ‘pe-a–peabody–peabody–peabody!’ While to me the White-throat always says ‘_I_ work–cleverly, cleverly, cleverly–poor me–cleverly, cleverly, cleverly!'”

As the Doctor paused a moment, Rap whistled an imitation of the song, throwing the sound far from him after a fashion that the Chat has, so that it seemed to come from the trees, completely deceiving Dodo. “Uncle, uncle!” she whispered, creeping softly up to him, “one of the White-throats must have stayed until now, for that bird says ‘cleverly! cleverly! cleverly!'”

Rap was delighted at the success of his imitation, and Nat and Dodo tried to whistle with him, Dodo being the most successful.

“Oh! oh! what happens to whistling girls?” said Nat, who was a little provoked at her success.

“Nothing at all,” said Olive, “when they only whistle bird-songs. I’ve whistled to birds ever since I could pucker up my lips, and father taught me how–didn’t you, father dear? Only you used to say, ‘Never whistle in public places.'”

“I believe I did; and Rap shall teach you, Dodo, so you can call a bird close to you by imitating its song.”

The White-throated Sparrow

Length about six and a half inches.

Striped on the back with bay, black, and gray; two white crossbars on each wing, the edge of which is yellow; two white stripes on the black crown, and a yellow spot before the eye.

Gray below, more slate-colored on the breast, with a pure white throat, which is bounded by little black streaks.

A Summer Citizen of the Northern States and beyond. Spends the winter in the Middle and Southern States.

Belongs to the guild of Weed Warriors, and is a bright, cheerful, useful bird.



“I know a Chippy now, when I see it, before you tell us anything about it!” said Dodo gleefully. “There were three or four dear little ones yesterday on the grass, near the dining-room window. They had velvety brown caps on, and said ‘chip, chip, chip’ as they hopped along, and as they didn’t seem afraid of me I threw out some bread-crumbs and they picked them up. Then I knew, to begin with, that they must be seed-eating birds.”

“How did you know that?” asked Nat. “Bread-crumbs aren’t seeds!”

[Illustration: Chipping Sparrow.]

“No, but bread is made of ground-up wheat-seed! Don’t you remember Olive said so last week when she told us about all the grains?”

“Yes,” said Nat reluctantly.

“Birds that won’t eat seeds won’t eat bread-crumbs either,” continued Dodo earnestly; “’cause I tried Wood Thrushes with bread-crumbs last week and they simply turned up their noses at them.”

Rap and Nat laughed at the idea of birds turning up their noses, but the Doctor said:

“Very good indeed, Miss Dodo, you are learning to use your eyes and your reason at the same time. Tell us some more about your Chippies.”

“At first I didn’t know what they were, and then they seemed like some kind of Sparrows; so I went to the wonder room and looked at some of the books that you left out on the low shelf for us. I couldn’t find any picture that matched, but then I began to read about Sparrows, and when I came to Chippy Sparrow I was sure it matched; for the book said it was a clever little fellow with a jaunty red cap that came with his mate to the very door and that children make the Chippy’s acquaintance and hunt in the vines on the piazza or in a bush for its nest and that the nest is very neat and made of horsehair–” Here Dodo stopped to get her breath.

“Bravo! bravo!” called the Doctor. “I see that I shall soon have to resign my place as Bird Man if this young lady takes to bird hunting and reading also. Is there more to come, little one?”

“Yes, Uncle Roy, just a little bit more. Because the book said children looked for Chippies’ nests I went right away to see if I could find one. First I hunted in all the bushes, and the Catbirds scolded me and the Brown Thrasher in the barberry bush was very mad and a Robin in the low crotch of the bell-pear tree nearly tipped his nest over, he flew away in such a hurry. I thought I had better stop, but by this time I was way down in the garden and all at once I saw a Chippy fly straight into the big rose bush at the beginning of our arbor. I looked in and there about as high up as my chin was the loveliest little nest like a nice grass cup, with pretty rosebuds all around it for a trimming, and on it sat a Chippy–and do you know it never flew away when I stroked its back with my finger! It was so cute and friendly I thought I would give it a little mite of a kiss on top of its head. But I guess it misunderstood and thought I meant to bite, for it flew off a little way and I saw three speckled blue eggs and–then I thought I’d better come away.” “Did you hear it sing?” asked Nat.

“No–it only said ‘chip–chippy–chip.'”

“Chippies have two songs,” said the Doctor. “One is a kind of chirp or trill like an insect’s note–‘trr-r-r-r-r.’ They give this usually when they first wake up in the morning. The other is a pretty little melody, but is less frequently heard.”

“If they eat seed, why don’t they stay here all winter?” asked Rap; “yet I’m sure they don’t.”

“They are not as hardy as some of their brothers, and do not like our winter weather; but even in autumn you may mistake them for some other Sparrow, for then Mr. Chippy takes off his brown velvet cap, and his dainty little head is stripped.”

The Chipping Sparrow

Length about five inches.

A dark chestnut cap, a light stripe over the eye, and a dark stripe behind the eye; forehead and bill black; back streaked with black, brown, and buff; rump slate-gray; wings and tail dusky.

Under parts plain light gray, almost white on throat and belly, darker on breast.

A Citizen of North America, nesting from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, wintering in the Southern States and beyond.

A Weed Warrior and a member of the Tree Trappers and Ground Gleaners in nesting-time.



“Here we have a northern winter bird–or, at least, one that we associate with winter and call the Snowbird; for everybody sees him on his autumn and winter travels, and knows his Sparrow-like call-note, while his summer home is so far north or so high on mountains that few visit him in the tangled woodlands where he sings a pretty trilling song to his mate.

[Illustration: Slate-Colored Junco.]

“When I was a boy here at the Farm, these white-vested Juncos were my winter pets. A flock was always sure to come in October and stay until the last of April, or even into May if the season was cold. One winter, when the snow came at Thanksgiving and did not leave the ground until March, the birds had a hard time of it, I can tell you. The Robins and Bluebirds soon grew discouraged, and left one by one. The Chickadees retreated to the shelter of some hemlock woods, and I thought the Winter Wrens were frozen into the woodpile, for I did not see any for weeks. The only cannibal birds that seemed to be about were a pair of Cat Owls that spent most of the time in our hay-barn, where they paid for their lodgings by catching rats and mice.

“But my flock of Juncos were determined to brave all weathers. First they ate the seeds of all the weeds and tall grasses that reached above the snow, then they cleaned the honeysuckles of their watery black berries. When these were nearly gone, I began to feed them every day with crumbs, and they soon grew very tame. At Christmas an ice storm came, and after that the cold was bitter indeed. For two days I did not see my birds; but on the third day in the afternoon, when I was feeding the hens in the barnyard, a party of feeble, half-starved Juncos, hardly able to fly, settled down around me and began to pick at the chicken food.

“I knew at a glance that after a few hours’ more exposure all the poor little birds would be dead. So I shut up the hens and opened the door of the straw-barn very wide, scattered a quantity of meal and cracked corn in a line on the floor, and crept behind the door to watch. First one bird hopped in and tasted the food; he found it very good and evidently called his brothers, for in a minute they all went in and I closed the door upon them. And I slept better that night because I knew that my birds were comfortable.

“‘They may go in once, but you will never catch them so again,’ said my father, when he heard about it. I had an idea, however, that the birds trusted me; for though they flew out very gladly the next morning, they did not seem afraid.

“Sure enough, in the afternoon they came back again! I kept them at night in this way for several weeks, and one afternoon several Snowflakes came in with them. Later on this same winter five thin starving Quails came to the barnyard and fed with the hens. I tried several times to lure or drive them into the barn with the Juncos, but they would not go. Finally, one evening when I shut the chickens up, what did these Quails do but run into the hen-house with the others and remain as the guests of our good-natured Cochins until spring!

“I well remember how happy I was when grandmother gave me half a dollar and told me to go over to the mill and buy a bag of grain sweepings for my ‘boarders’; how angry I was with the miller when he said, ‘Those Quails’ll be good eatin’ when they’re fat’; and how he laughed when I shouted, ‘It’s only cannibals that eat up their visitors!'”

The Slate-colored Junco

Length about six inches.

Dark slate color; throat and breast slate-gray; belly and side tail-feathers white; beak pinkish-white.

A Citizen of North America, nesting in the northern tier of States and northward, and also on high mountains as far south as Georgia.

A Tree Trapper, Seed Sower, and Weed Warrior, according to season.



“This Sparrow, who guides you to his name by the dark spot on the breast as clearly as the Peabody-bird does by his white cravat, is every one’s bird and every one’s darling,” said the Doctor, as if he were speaking of a dear friend.

“When you have learned his many songs, his pretty sociable ways, and have seen his cheerfulness and patience in hard times, you will, I know, agree with me that all possible good bird qualities are packed into this little streaked Sparrow.

[Illustration: Song Sparrow.]

“Constancy is his first good point. If we live in southern New England or westward to Illinois, we shall probably have him with us all the year, wearing the same colored feathers after the moult as before, not shedding his sweet temper and song with his spring coat. Now there are a great many birds, as you will see, that wear full-dress suits and sing wonderful songs in spring and early summer, while the weather is warm, food plentiful, and everything full of promise; but whose music and color vanish from the garden and roadside when frost comes. Yet the Song Sparrow sings throughout the year, except in the storms of February and March–not always the varied spring song, but still a sweet little tune.

“The Song Sparrow is humble and retiring about the location of his nest, usually putting it on or near the ground; though of course some pairs may have ideas of their own about nest-building, and choose a bird-box or even a hole in a tree. One thing you must remember about birds and their ways: Nature has fixed a few important laws that must not be changed, but has given birds and other animals liberty to follow their own tastes in all other matters.

“Wherever the thick nest is placed, it is cleverly hidden. If in a low shrub, it is in the crotch where the branches spread above the root. If on the ground, it is against an old stump with a tuft of grass on each side, or in a little hollow between bushes. Our Sparrow likes to live in the garden hedges and about the orchard, and to cultivate the acquaintance of House People in a shy sort of way.

“He never flies directly to and from his home like the Chippy, Wren, and Robin, but slips off the nest and runs along the ground as nimbly as a Thrush, till he reaches a bush, well away from his house, when he hops into it and flies away.

“‘Chek! chek! chek!’ is the call-note of the Song Sparrows, who also have a short, sweet song, which every bird varies and lengthens to please himself or his mate. ‘Maids, maids, maids, hang on your tea-kettle-ettle-ettle,’ some people fancy the bird says, and the short song fits these words very well. But when this Sparrow sings his best music, all trembling with love and joy, he forgets about such a simple thing as the tea-kettle! Now it is a grand banquet he tells you of, with flowers and music; then he stops suddenly, remembering that he is only a little brown bird, and sings to his favorite alder bush by the brook a soft apology for having forgotten himself. This Sparrow even dreams music in the spring, when you will often hear his notes in the darkest hours of the night.

“The eggs are as varied as the songs, being light blue or whitish, with every imaginable sort of brown marking–no two sets are exactly alike. Birds’ eggs often vary in color, like their plumage, and the different hues seem fitted to hide the eggs; for those of birds that nest in holes and need no concealing are usually plain white.

“If you ever make a bird calendar at Orchard Farm, you may be able to write this Sparrow’s name in every month of the year. Another good thing about this happy faithful bird is, that his tribe increases in Birdland, in spite of all dangers.”

“My mother loves Song Sparrows,” said Rap. “She says they are a great deal of company for her when she is doing her washing out under the trees. She thinks they tell her that people can be happy, even if they wear plain clothes and have to be snowed up in the country half the winter. She is right, too; the Song Sparrows only tell her what happens to themselves.”

The Song Sparrow

Length about six inches.

Head and back all streaked with gray and brown, and a brown stripe on each side of throat. Under parts whitish, all striped with dark brown, the heaviest stripes making a large blackish spot on the breast.

A Citizen of the United States east of the plains, nesting from Virginia northward to the Fur Countries.

A Ground Gleaner as well as a Weed Warrior, and a constant joyful songster.

[Illustration: The Towee (Joree. Chewink. Ground Robin.)]

“Here we have one of the larger birds of the Finch family, who is both nervous and shy, and so quick to slip out of sight that he always surprises one.

“To see the Towhee as he hops away from the briers that hide his nest, you would never dream that he is a cousin to the meek brown Sparrows. A very smart bird is ‘Jore-e Blur-re,’ as he keeps telling you his name is, trig in his glossy black long-tailed coat, his vest with reddish side facings, white trousers, and light-brown shoes and stockings. A knowing glance has he in the ruby-red eyes that sparkle in his coal-black head, while inside that little head are very wise thoughts.”

“How are his eyes red, Uncle Roy?” asked Dodo. “Are they all plain red or only red in a ring around the seeing part where mine are blue?”

“They are ‘red in a ring,’ as you say; we call this ring the _iris_, and the ‘seeing part’ the _pupil_.”

“Please, what does iris mean? Iris is the name of one of the lily flowers that grow in the garden.”

“Iris is a word that means rainbow, which as you know is a belt of beautiful colors, made by the sun shining through rain. The iris of the eye is a film of color covering the watery inside part of the eyeball, and the pupil is a round hole in the iris that lets the light into the back of the eye. This opening expands and contracts according to whether the eye needs much or little light. I tell you this now, but you will need to remember it when we come to the Owls, who have curious ways of keeping too much light from their eyes.

“The iris in birds, as in House People, may be of many different colors–red, as in the Vireo I told you about, and as you now know it is with the Towhee. Each has a brother with white eyes. You remember the White-eyed Vireo, and in Florida there is a Towhee who has white eyes; but this is so unusual that it makes the bird look to you as if it were blind, until you understand that it is the natural color. Most birds’ eyes are brown of some shade, or perfectly black; a few have blue or green eyes. But where did I leave Mr. Jore-e Blur-re?” “You were saying that he is wise,” answered Rap.

“Well, he is wise enough never to fly either straight to or from his nest, which is a rather poor affair, down on the ground, within reach of every weasel or snake that cares to rob it.

“He does not sing on the ground, but moves silently among the leaves and litter of old ferns, such as are found near ponds and streams. A stick will crackle perhaps, and thus draw your attention to him. When he knows that he is seen, he will flip his wings and flirt his tail, like suddenly opening and shutting a fan, as he flits on before you with his head on one side, giving the pert call ‘Towhee! towhee!’ that is one of his names. Some people think he says ‘Chewink! chewink!’ and call him by that name; while some who have noticed where he lives, and seen that the color of his sides is like the reddish breast of the Robin, call him the Ground Robin, though he is no relation of the Thrush family.

“Meanwhile his wife stays quietly on the nest, where her brown back matches the dead leaves of which it is made outside, keeping her quite safe from sight.

“In the afternoon, when the work of the day is almost over, and her mate is tired of scratching about for food, he takes a little rest and goes up high in a tree to boldly declare his whereabouts.

“‘Jore-e Blur-re, Jore-e Blur-re, willy-nilly, willy-nilly!’ he calls defiantly, as if he did not like having to keep quiet all day, and meant to tell his name at last.

“In early autumn the Joree family grow sociable enough to come into the garden, but they seldom linger late; vigorous as they are, they hurry southward before any hard frosts come.”

The Towhee

Length about eight and a half inches.

Male: black with chestnut sides, white belly, tan-colored under the tail, the side feathers of which are white-tipped.

Female: reddish-brown where the male is black.

A Summer Citizen of the United States east of the plains, and along the southern border of Canada. Nests northward from Georgia. Winters south of the Middle States.

A Ground Gleaner, Seed Sower, and Weed Warrior.


“There is a legend about this Cardinal–the soldier with a red uniform,” said the Doctor; “one of Mammy Bun’s strange stories that came from the Indians to the negroes, always growing larger and stranger.

“There were two Indian warriors of the southwest that hated each other. One had an only daughter and the other a son. While their fathers were at war, this boy and girl met in the green forest. The old women of their tribes told them that they must never speak to each other, or their fathers would surely kill them. But the children said, ‘There is no war or hate in our forest; the birds meet–why may not we?’ One summer evening they stayed too long, watching the fish swim in the river and floating little sticks for canoes. The two warriors returned suddenly to their villages, missed their children, and then some one told them tales.

[Illustration: Cardinal.]

“The wind whispered to the trees, ‘Trouble, trouble! These warriors hate each other more than they love their children. Hide them, O trees!’ Then the trees whispered to the birds, ‘Help the poor children–help, help!’ And the birds said, ‘They shall be turned into birds and escape, if you will make a little fire, O wind, to delay the warriors and give us time.’

“So the trees told the fireflies to light the dead leaves that covered the ground; the wind breathed on the fire, and soon the wood was all aflame!

“‘What birds do you choose to be, that you may always live in the forest together?’ asked the Bird Brothers of the children. ‘Answer quickly, for the time is short.’

“‘I will be a large brown Sparrow,’ said the girl; ‘then none will trap me for my feathers.’

“‘And I too,’ said the boy.

“Suddenly they were no longer children. But there was confusion, as the fire burned nearer and nearer. “‘Fly! fly!’ cried the Bird Brothers. ‘You have wings–do not look at the earth, lest you grieve to leave it.’

“Gonda, being obedient, made an effort to fly above the flame, which only tinged some of her feathers red. But Towai, loath to leave the earth, lingered so long that his feathers became all red from the flames, and the soot blackened his face.

“Though these two birds and their children still belong to the dull-brown Sparrow family, they have little peace in the forest where they live. Towai wears a splendid red robe and is called the Cardinal, but there is a price upon his head because of his beauty.

“This is one of the legends that explains why this bird is classed with Sparrows. The Tanager is more fiery red, and the Oriole carries flame on his back; but there is something strange about the Cardinal–he seems out of place and lonely with us. He should belong to a tropical country and have orchids and palms for companions–but instead, where do we find him?”

“Please, Doctor,” said Rap, who thought he could answer that question, “the miller’s wife has a pair in a cage, but they aren’t very pretty, ’cause they’ve scraped most of the feathers off their heads and rumpled their tails, trying to get out. The miller caught three of them down there last winter, only one died and the other two aren’t a bit happy; the male doesn’t sing and the female has a cough. The miller’s wife doesn’t care much for them; they’re a bother to feed, she says–have to have meal-worms, and rice with the hulls on, and all that.” “Why doesn’t she let them out?” asked Olive.

“‘Cause she thinks that maybe some of the people that come fishing will buy them.”

“How much does she ask for them?” said the Doctor.

“She said if they ever moulted out and got any decent feathers she could ask three dollars for them, but the way they were looking a dollar was all she could expect.”

“Children, shall we have a Liberty Festival this morning? How would you like for me to buy these birds and bring them here, so that you can see them, then–then what?”

“Open the cage and let them out and see what they will do!” screamed Dodo, jumping up and down.

“May I go down to buy them?” begged Nat.

“You will have to take me, too,” said Olive.

“Can I open the door?” asked Dodo.

“Here is the dollar–now go, all together,” said the Doctor, putting his hands over his ears; “but if you make so much noise the birds in the river woods will mistake your kind intentions and think you are a family of wildcats.”

In less than half an hour the party returned, Nat carrying the cage, which was only a box with a bit of wire netting over the front.

“No wonder poor Mrs. Cardinal has a cough, living in this dirty box,” said Olive. “See, father, only one perch–and I don’t believe the poor things have ever had a bath given them.”

“That is the saddest part of caging wild birds,” said the Doctor. “Not one person in fifty is willing to give them the care they need. Put the cage under those bushes, Nat.

“I began by asking, Where do we find this bird? Living in Florida in sunshine, among the shady redwoods of Kentucky, and in all the bitterness of our northern winters. He varies his habits to suit his surroundings, and roves about after the nesting season; in mild climates he sings for six months of the year–from March until August. But one of the strangest things about him is that he wanders most when the trees are bare and he can be so easily seen that hundreds of his kind are shot for their gay feathers, or trapped to sell alive for cage birds. When snow is on the ground he is very conspicuous.”

“Why doesn’t he get into evergreens or cedar bushes?” asked Rap.

“He does when he can and often sings when so hidden; but he is not a very quick-witted bird and seems to move awkwardly, as if his topknot were as heavy as a drum major’s bearskin.

“But no one can find fault with his song; it first rings out loud like a shout, then ends as clearly as the bubbling of the stream near which he likes best to live–‘Cheo-cheo-chehoo-cheo-qr-qr-qrr-r-r.'”

“Isn’t it time to let them out?” whispered Dodo. “Mrs. Cardinal is coughing again dreadfully!”

“In a moment. Turn the cage sideways, Nat, so that we can watch them through the bushes–so, and please keep quite still. Now, Dodo, open the little door–carefully.”

For two or three minutes there was perfect silence. Four young people squeezed behind a tree, and a Wise Man down on his hands and knees behind a stump–all watching two forlorn birds, who did not understand that liberty was theirs for the taking.

Mrs. Cardinal put out her head, then took a step and hopped along the ground into a cornel bush; where, after looking around a moment, she began to smooth her poor feather’s. Another minute and Mr. Cardinal followed, giving a sharp chip like a loud Sparrow call. They both hopped off as if they were not half sure their freedom was real.

“I think they might have sung to us,” whispered Dodo.

“Too soon,” said the Doctor; “but I’m sure that we have not seen or heard the last of our Cardinals.”

“Hist!” said Nat, “they are taking a bath in the brook this side of the stepping-stones.” And so they were.

The Cardinal

Length eight and a quarter inches.

Male: splendid cardinal-red, with a black throat and band about the coral-red bill, and a fine long crest, like a Cedar Waxwing’s.

Female: yellowish-brown with a little red in her crest, wings, and tail, and her face not so black as her mate’s.

A Citizen of the eastern United States to the plains and from Florida to the Great Lakes, nesting wherever found.

A Tree Trapper, Ground Gleaner, Seed Sower, and Weed Warrior, besides being a fine singer.



“This must be the bird I saw the other day in the brush lot by the old barn,” said Rap; “and there were two more this morning in our own potato patch. Why do they go there, Doctor?” “Because this bird, besides wearing a beautiful rosy shield on his breast, and singing at morning and evening more beautifully even than the very best Robin, is a very industrious and useful bird. He earns his living by helping farmers clear their fields of potato-bugs. If you go quietly over to the large potato lot on the north side of the Farm, you will find these birds at work any morning. I saw them myself to-day, and am going to trust my crop entirely to their keeping this season. They are nesting in the young growth near these very river woods, and I will show you one of their homes presently. You see that protecting birds, and leaving suitable bits of woodland and brush for them to build in, is practical as well as sentimental.

[Illustration: Rose-breasted Grosbeak.]

“This Grosbeak dares not trust its brilliant colors in large trees or open places, and so nests where it may hide in a maze of bushes. When it finds the right spot, it is not very particular about nest-building. A jumble of weeds, twigs, roots, and sometimes rags or bits of paper, serves to hold its light-blue eggs with brown markings.

“If it be ever right to cage a wild bird, you may make a prisoner of this Grosbeak; but remember, you must take a young male before it has known the joys of freedom, and give at least a half-hour every day to taking care of him. Then he will grow to love you and be a charming pet, living happily and singing gladly; but under any other circumstances it is less cruel to shoot one than to make it a prisoner.”

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Length about eight inches.

Male: black on the head, back, wings, and tail; the belly, rump, several spots on the wings, and three outer tail-feathers, white; rose-colored breast and wing-linings; bill white and very heavy.

Female: streaked brownish above and below, without any rosy color, but orange-yellow under the wings; she looks like an overgrown Sparrow with a swelled face.

A Summer Citizen of the eastern United States from Kansas and the Carolina mountains to Canada, travelling south of the United States in winter.

A Tree Trapper, Ground Gleaner, Weed Warrior, and Seed Sower. Rather naughty once in a while about picking tree-buds, but on the whole a good neighbor.



“Blue birds and blue flowers are both rare; you can count our really blue birds on the fingers of one hand, and a Blue Canary is even stranger than a green rose or a black tulip.

“The Indigo Bird has many of the Canary’s gentle ways, and though his music is not so fine or varied as that of the Goldfinch or Song Sparrow, he sings a sweet little tune to his brown mate on her nest in the bushy pasture.

“She is fortunate in having a dull dress; for, if she were as splendidly blue as her husband, nesting would be a very anxious occupation for her. Indeed, her poor mate has anything but an easy time; his color is so bright that everybody can see him at a glance, and when he picks up grass-seed in the streaming sunlight, his feathers glisten like sapphires.”

“We saw an Indigo Bird yesterday!” cried Nat and Dodo together. “It was in the geraniums by the dining-room window, eating the seed I tipped out of my Canary’s cage when I cleaned it,” continued Dodo. “Mammy Bun said it was a Blue Canary, but Nat said it couldn’t be, and I forgot to ask about it.”

“Are you going to tell us about many more birds in the Finch family, Uncle Roy?”

“Not now. You have heard about those that will be most likely to attract your attention, and when you can name them, they will introduce you to all the rest of their relations.”

[Illustration: INDIGO BIRD.]

“It is a great family,” said Rap, who was sitting thinking. “Big birds and little, plain gray and brown, or red, blue, and yellow–some like warm weather and some want it cold.” “Speaking of cold, I wonder what became of the ice that Dodo saw Mammy Bun cracking this morning?” asked the Doctor, looking at Olive. “The very word has a pleasant sound, for it seems to me to be growing warmer and warmer.”

“Toot! toot! t-o-o-t!” squeaked a tin horn across the field from the direction of the farmhouse.

“What’s that?” said Nat, jumping up; “it’s the dinner horn, and it can’t be dinner-time.”

“Not more than eleven o’clock,” said Rap, looking at the sun after the fashion of those who spend much time out of doors.

“I know what the horn means,” said Olive. “It means that the cake, that Nat said Mammy Bun was going to bake with the ice, is done!”

“But that was only nonsense, you know,” said Nat. “Ice won’t bake anything!”

“Perhaps not, but ice can freeze something, if you mix salt with it, even on this warm day, and the horn means that mammy has a tin pail full of ice cream, waiting for some one to eat it! Ice cream, made with fresh strawberries! Don’t break your neck, Nat!” For Nat had dashed off so quickly that it was no use for Dodo and Rap to try to keep up with him.

“Why do you mostly have something nice for us to eat on bird-days?” asked Dodo, cuddling into the bend of her uncle’s arm.

“For two reasons, girlie. When I was a boy, being out of doors made me so hungry that it always seemed a long time between breakfast and dinner. I know that little brains remember best when the stomachs that nourish them are not empty. Neither Bird Children nor House Children should go too long hungry; it is as bad as nibbling all day.”

“I’ve noticed since I came here I haven’t needed even to peep in the cooky box between times. Aren’t you one of the seven Wise Men of–of–I-forget-where?” asked Dodo, hugging him.

“Greece,” answered the Doctor; “no, fortunately, I am not, for they are all dead.”

“What’s that?” whispered Rap, pointing toward the river, whence a strong, rapid, musical song came, ending before you could catch the syllables, and then being repeated two or three times.

“It is the Cardinal,” said, the Doctor, in some surprise–for the bird was singing almost at noon. “I can see his red liberty cap near the top of the tallest hemlock!”

“Che-o–hoo–hoo,” called the Cardinal, and then the ice-cream pail arrived, escorted by Nat.

“This is a festival for us as well as for the Cardinal,” said Rap.

The Indigo Bird

Length five and a half inches.

Male: bright blue, of a greener tint than the Bluebird; wings and tail dusky.

Female: plain brown above and whitey brown below, with a few streaks, including a sharp black one under her beak.

A pleasant neighbor and good Citizen, belonging to the southern branch of the Finch family.

A Tree Trapper and a Weed Warrior.

A Summer Citizen of the eastern United States, west to Kansas and north to Canada. From Kansas to the Pacific Ocean he is replaced by his brother, the Lazuli Bunting.



It was that wonderful week after the middle of June. The week that holds the best of everything; the longest days of the whole fly-away year; the biggest strawberries and the sweetest roses. Everything at its height; birds in full song; bees in the flowers; children in hammocks under the trees, and a Wise Man humming happily to himself as he breathed it all in.

“I don’t think that anything nicer than this can happen,” said Nat, swinging so hard in his hammock that he rolled out into the long grass.

“It doesn’t seem as if it _could_” answered Dodo; “only here at Orchard Farm there is so much niceness you never can tell what is the very nicest.”

The Wise Man laughed to himself, and then whistled an imitation of the White-throated Sparrow’s call–at which sound Dodo promptly rolled out of her hammock and bumped into Nat, who was still lying in the grass; then both the children sat up and listened.

“All day–whittling–whittling–whittling,” whistled the notes.

“You ought to be further north building your nest,” said Nat. “Don’t you know that, Mr. Peabody?”

“It’s Uncle Roy!” cried Dodo, spying him back of the apple-tree perch. “How would you like to go down to the seashore to-morrow, little folks?”

“There!” exclaimed Dodo; “you see there is more niceness yet!”

“I suppose by that you mean ‘yes,'” laughed the Doctor. “Olive and I have planned to take the six-seated surrey, with a hamper of good things to eat, and drive down to the sandy shore where the river broadens into salt water. There is a house on the bay where we can have our dinner, and the meadows and marshes are full of birds–don’t quite smother me, Dodo! Then in the cool of the afternoon we can return and have a picnic supper at some pretty place on the way, for to-morrow night the moon is full!”

“Can Rap go with us–for he hardly ever gets down to the shore?”


“How far is it?” asked Nat.

“About fifteen miles by the road, though not more than ten in a straight line.”

“Are the birds different down there?”

“Some of them are; there is a great colony of Blackbirds I want you to see, for our next family is a very interesting one. It contains a harlequin, a tramp, a soldier, a tent-maker, a hammock-maker, and a basket-maker; and we shall probably see them all, sooner or later, but certainly one or two of them to-morrow.

“No, I won’t tell you a word about them now. But go down and invite Rap, and tell him we will call for him by half-past six o’clock in the morning, because we must have time to drive slowly, stop where we please, and use our eyes.” Early next morning the party set out. Five happy children–the youngest eight and the oldest fifty-eight–started from Orchard Farm behind a pair of comfortable white horses that never wore blinkers or check-reins. These big members of the party were human enough to look around as the children scrambled into the surrey, and then prick up their ears as if they knew the difference between a picnic and a plough, and were happy accordingly.

They trotted down the turnpike a mile, and then turned into a cross-road bordered by hay-fields almost ready for cutting. Olive was driving, for she loved the old white horses. Rap, Nat, and Dodo sat in the middle seat, and the Doctor behind.

“Please, Doctor, what is the name of the Bird family we are going to visit?” asked Rap.

“The family of the Blackbirds and Orioles; but it has a Latin name, _Icteridae_, when it walks in the procession.”

“Listen! listen!” cried Dodo. “Oh, Olive, do stop; there’s some kind of a bird on top of those bars that is singing as if he had started and couldn’t stop, and I’m sure his voice will fly away from him in a minute!”

Olive said “whoa” immediately.

“It’s only a Bobolink!” said Rap, as the bird spread his wings and soared into the air still singing, leaving a little stream of music behind him, as a dancing canoe leaves a train of ripples in the water.

“It is a Bobolink, surely,” said the Doctor, “and not ‘only a Bobolink,’ but the very bird we should be most glad to see–the first of the Blackbird and Oriole family–the harlequin in his summer livery.”



[Illustration: Bobolink.]

“Why do you call the Bobolink a ‘harlequin,’ Uncle Roy? What is a harlequin?” asked Dodo.

“Don’t you remember that Harlequin was the name of the man in the pantomime we saw last winter, who wore clothes of all sorts of colors, changed from one thing to another, and was always dancing about as if he could not possibly keep still?” “Y-e-s, I remember,” said Dodo, “but I don’t think he was a bit like this Bobolink; for that harlequin didn’t say a word, only made signs, and the Bobolink sings faster than any bird I ever heard before.”

“Yes, he sings now; but it is only for a short time. Next month he will be dumb, and before you know it his beautiful shining black coat, with the white and buff trimmings, will have dropped off. Then he will be changed to dull brown like his wife, and keep as quiet as poor Cinderella sitting in the ashes.

“Do you see any birds in that meadow of long grass?” asked the Doctor.

“I don’t see any in the grass,” said Rap; “but there are some Bobolinks all about in the trees along the edges, and more of them up in the air. Where are their nests, Doctor? I’ve never found a Bobolink’s nest!”

“Their nests are hidden in that long grass, and their mates also. Whoever would find them must have the patience of an Indian, the eyes of a bird, and the cunning of a fox.

“Mrs. Bobolink finds a little hollow in the ground where the roots grow, and rounds up a nest from the grass stalks with finer grass tops inside. Then she so arranges the weeds and stems above her home that there is no trace of a break in the meadow; and when she leaves the nest she never goes boldly out by the front door or bangs it behind her, but steals off through a by-path in the grass. When she flies out of shelter at last, she has already run a good way off, so that, instead of telling the watcher where her home is, she tells him exactly where it is not.

“Bob earns his living these days by singing and going to market for the family, but he does both in a tearing hurry; for his housekeeping, like his honeymoon, is short. He must lead his children out of the grass before the mowers overtake him, or the summer days grow short; for then he will have to spend some time at his tailor’s before he can follow the warm weather down South again.

“Twice a year Bob has to make the most complete change of plumage that falls to the lot of any bird. His summer toilet is so tiresome and discouraging that he retires into the thickest reeds to make it. Out he comes in August, leaving his lovely voice behind with his cast-off clothes, dressed like his wife, with hardly a word to say for himself, as he joins the flock into which various families have united. He even loses his name, and is called Reedbird, after his hiding-place. He grows reckless and says to his brothers, ‘What do we care? If we can’t sing any more, we can eat–let us eat and be merry still!’ So they eat all they can, and wax exceedingly fat; the gunners know this, and come after them.

“Meanwhile, in southern lowlands the rice-fields, that have been hoed and flooded with water all the season to make the grain grow, are covered with tall stalks of rice, whose grains are not quite ripe, but soft and milky like green corn.

“Some morning there is a great commotion on the plantation. ‘The Ricebirds have come!’ is the cry–this being only another name for the Bobolink.

“Out fly the field-hands, men, women, and children, waving sticks, blowing horns, and firing off guns, to frighten the invaders away. Fires are lighted by night to scare them, for the birds travel both night and day. The Bobolinks do not stop for all this noise, though of course a great many are shot, ending their lives inside a pot-pie, or being roasted in rows of six on a skewer. But the rest fly on when they are ready, leaving the United States behind them, and go through Florida to Brazil and the West Indies.

“In spring, on the northward journey, the rice-fields suffer again. The males are jolly minstrels once more, all black, white, and buff, hurrying home to their nesting grounds. They think that rice newly sown and sprouting is good for the voice, and stop to gobble it up in spite of all objections.

“Their song is not easy to express in words. ‘Bobolink,’ from which they take their name, is the sound most frequently heard in it; but every bird-lover has tried to give it words, and some have written it down in rhyming nonsense verses, like poetry. I think Mr. Lowell’s are the best.

“‘Ha! ha! ha! I must have my fun, Miss Silverthimble, thimble, thimble, if I break every heart in the meadow. See! see! see!’ is one translation.”

“That does sound exactly like a Bobolink,” laughed Dodo; “and here is one now, right over in that tree, so crazy to sing that he doesn’t mind us a bit.”

“Kick your slipper! Kick your slipper! Temperance! Temperance!” said Bob, as the white horses turned into the road again. “Temperance! take a drink! go to grass, all of you!”

The Bobolink.

Length about seven inches.

Male in spring and summer: jet black with ashy-white rump and shoulders; some light edgings on the back, wings, and tail-feathers, and a buff patch on the back of the neck, like a cream-puff baked just right.

Female: brownish and streaky like a big Sparrow, with sharp-pointed tail-feathers; two dark-brown stripes on the crown. Brown above, with some black and yellowish streaks. Plain yellowish below.

In autumn and winter both sexes alike.

A Summer Citizen of the northern United States and southern Canada. Visits all the Southern States in its journeys, but winters south of them.

A member of the guilds of Ground Gleaners and Tree Trappers, and a good Citizen in its nesting haunts. But on its travels through the South a mischievous bird, who eats sprouting rice in spring and ripening rice grains in fall.



The sun was now well above the trees. The children laughed and talked happily, now seeing a bird they knew, then some of the flowers that their dear flower lady, Olive, had shown them about the Farm.

“When we know some flowers and birds, shan’t we learn about the bugs and things the birds eat, and the bees and butterflies that carry the flower messages, Uncle Roy?”

“Yes, to be sure; and by that time there will be something else for you to wonder about.”

“Why!” cried Dodo gleefully, “if we stay here till we know all we want it will be so long that Rap will have a beard like you, uncle, and I shall have my hair stuck up with hairpins, and wear the long skirts that tangle people up”–and at this they all laughed.

[Illustration: Orchard Oriole. 1. Male. 2. Female]

“What was that?” asked Nat, as a bird darted by, flashing with orange and black.

“That’s an Oriole,” said Rap.

“Yes, an Oriole; but do you know what kind?” said the Doctor. “I didn’t know there was but one kind,” answered Rap. “Anyway, this one makes a long nest hanging from the end of a branch; he is a good fighter if any one touches it, and can keep away squirrels and chipmunks like a little man.”

“There are seven different species of North American Orioles,” said the Doctor; “but you are only likely to see two of them–the hammock-maker and the basket-maker. This one, the hammock-maker, who has just flown by, is called the Baltimore Oriole, because George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, on landing in this country in 1628, is said to have admired the colors of the bird and adopted them for his coat of arms. Some called him Fire-bird, because he is so flaming orange on some parts, and others Hang-nest, from the way he slings his hammock.

“The plainer black and chestnut bird, who now has a nest in our own Orchard, is the Basket-maker. As these two belong to the Blackbird and Oriole family, we may as well have them now, though in the regular family procession the ‘tramp’ walks next to the Bobolink, who is such a vagrant himself.

“This Oriole takes his name because he was once supposed to hang his nest chiefly in the branches of orchard trees; but he is as likely to be found in the maples by the garden fence as anywhere else.

“He has a cheerful rolling song, as varied in its different tunes as that of the Song Sparrow. It is not like a Robin’s, or a Thrush’s, or even like Brother Baltimore’s; it is perfectly original, and before these birds leave the Orchard you must listen, to hear it for yourselves.

“Mrs. O. Oriole is a famous weaver; her grass nest, hung from a crotch, is one of the tidiest bits of basket-making in Birdland, and would do credit to human hands. Yet she has only a beak for a shuttle or darning-needle–whichever you please to call it. I think it is most like the needle of a sewing-machine, with the eye at the point, so that it pokes the thread through as it goes into the cloth, instead of pulling it through with the other end.”

The Orchard Oriole

Length seven inches.

Male: black; the rump, breast, belly, and lesser wing-coverts chestnut. Round black tail with whitish tips, and some whitish on the wings.

Female: grayish-green on the upper parts, greener on the tail, with paler bars on the wings; dull yellow on all the under parts.

The young male is like the female the first year, but a little browner on the back; next year he has a black throat; then he patches up his clothes till he looks like his father, all black and chestnut.

A Summer Citizen of the United States, west to the plains, north to some parts of the Northern States and Canada, travelling entirely south of the United States to spend the winter.

A pleasant though shy neighbor, and very good Citizen, belonging to the Ground Gleaners, Tree Trappers, and Seed Sowers. Eats a little cultivated fruit for dessert, and should be welcome to it.



“The Baltimore Oriole is not so shy as his brother, and rather relies on keeping his nest out of sight than himself out of mind. His home is a sort of hempen hammock, only deeper and more pocket-shaped, to keep the babies from falling out, as Nat and Dodo both did out of our hammock yesterday.”

“This nest Mrs. B. Oriole twines herself, from plant fibres, adding strings of cotton or worsted when she has a chance to find any. She secures it to the end of a strong supple twig, usually at a good height from the ground, and she likes an elm tree best of all, because it is not easy for cats or House People to climb far out on the slender swaying branches. Up there the eggs and young are safely rocked by the wind and sheltered by leaves. A cat may look at a king, and also at an Oriole’s nest, but the looking will not do her much good in either case.

[Illustration: Baltimore Oriole.]

“Mamma Oriole sits on the nest, which is almost closed over her head, and keeps all safe. Though she does not sing to House People, how do we know but what she whispers a little lullaby like this, on stormy nights, to her nestlings?

“Rains beat! Winds blow!
Safe the nest in the elm tree.
Days come! Nights go!
Birds at rest in the elm tree.
To-and-fro, to-a-n-d-fro,
Safe are we from every foe–
Orioles in the elm tree.
Cats come! Cats go!
Lullaby in the elm tree!

“Meanwhile B. Oriole does a great deal of work, for he is a tireless member of the guilds of Tree Trappers and Ground Gleaners, eating hosts of caterpillars, wireworms, and beetles. When he is very thirsty he does, now and then, take a sip of the fruit he has helped to save, and once in a while he may eat a few green peas. But would any one refuse a mess of peas to a neighbor in the next house? Then why should you begrudge a few to neighbor B. Oriole? He doubtless paid you for them before he took them, or will do so before long.

“B. Oriole comes, north before his mate to be, and spends a few days in fretting until she arrives. Then he sings a gladsome song, to tell her of his pleasure, and she answers, I am sorry to say, in rather a complaining tone; but the match is soon made. Though they are not the sweetest-tempered birds possible, they are as quick to aid as to quarrel with their neighbors.

“Their bright colors seem rather out of place in the family which contains also our sombre Blackbirds, but before the leaves have fallen both kinds of Orioles and their families start for Mexico and Central America, where such tropical hues seem more in keeping, and where many members of the family are quite as brilliant as those we see here.” “There goes another Oriole!” cried Nat. “What a beauty, too! I suppose he has a nest high up in one of these elms over the road.”

“Very likely, for in autumn, when the trees are bare, I have sometimes counted a dozen Orioles’ nests in this very row of elms.”

“Look, Uncle Roy! Look over in that pasture! What are all those black and brown birds walking round after the cows, just as chickens do?” said Dodo.

“Those are members of the Blackbird family called Cowbirds, because they follow the cows as they feed, in order to pick up worms and bugs that are shaken out of the grass. But I am sorry to say that these birds are the vagabonds of Birdland–the tramps I told you of.”

The Baltimore Oriole

Length seven and a half inches.

Male: orange flame-color, the head, neck, and upper half of back black; wings black, edged with white; tail black and orange, about half and half.

Female: not clear orange and black, but the former color much duller, and the latter mixed up with gray, olive, and brown.

A Summer Citizen of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, north to Canada, travelling to Central America for the winter.

A worthy Citizen, fine musician, and a good neighbor. Belongs to the guilds of Ground Gleaners, Tree Trappers, and Seed Sowers.



“Cluck-see! cluck-see!” called a Cowbird, flying over the wall to join the others in the pasture.

“What a hoarse ugly cry!” said Nat.

“Yes, but not more disagreeable than the bird’s habits. I will tell you what happens every season to some poor Warbler, Sparrow, or Vireo, on account of this strange bird.

“A Song Sparrow builds her nest in the grass; an egg is laid, the bird looks proudly at it, and may perhaps fly off for a few minutes. Meanwhile, peeping and spying, along comes a Cowbird. She wants to lay an egg, too, but has no home, because she is too lazy and shiftless to build one. She sees the Sparrow’s nest and thinks, ‘Ah, hah! that bird is smaller than I am, and cannot push my egg out; I will leave it there!’ This she does very quickly, and slips away again.

[Illustration: Cowbird]

“When the Sparrow comes home she may wonder at the strange egg, and perhaps be able to push it out of the nest; but more likely she takes no notice of it, as it is so much like her own, and lets it stay. If she does this, that egg is only the beginning of trouble. It is larger than her own, so it gets more warmth and hatches more quickly. Then the young Cowbird grows so fast that it squeezes the little Sparrows dreadfully, sometimes quite out of the nest, and eats so much that they are half or wholly starved. The poor Sparrow and her mate must sometimes think what a big child it is; but they feed it kindly until it can fly–sometimes even after it leaves the nest. Then it goes back to join the flock its tramp parents belong to, without so much as saying ‘thank you’ to its foster parents.

“A Cowbird lays only one egg in each nest, but sometimes several visit the same nest in succession; and then the poor Sparrow has a hard time, indeed.

“The Yellow Warbler is one of the clever birds who will not always be imposed upon–you remember the two-storied nest we found; and some of the larger birds push out the strange egg. But Cowbirds are very crafty, and usually select their victims from among the small, feeble, and helpless.”

“Does this hateful Cowbird over sing?” asked Dodo.

“Sometimes in spring he tries to; he squeaks a few notes, and makes faces, struggling, choking, wheezing, as if he had swallowed a beetle with hooks on its legs and was in great pain. It is a most startling noise, but it certainly is not musical, though perhaps it pleases the Cowbird ladies; for if they have such bad taste in other ways, they doubtless like such harsh and inharmonious sounds.”

“I don’t see what makes them act so,” said Rap. “I thought birds had to build nests, or have a hole or a bit of ground or rock of their own–that it was a law.”

“So it is, my boy; but the Cowbird is one of the exceptions I told you about; and I am glad to say there are very few.”

The Cowbird

Length about seven and a half inches.

Male: very glossy black, excepting the head and neck, which are shiny dark brown like burnt coffee.

Female: dusky brown, the lower parts lighter than the upper.

A Citizen of the entire United States.

A Ground Gleaner and a Weed Warrior, to some extent, but a bad neighbor, a worse parent, a homeless vagabond, and an outlaw in Birdland.


The road crept down hill, passed through a village, and then into the woods once more. The children saw a great many bird friends–Swallows, Goldfinches, a beautiful Blue Jay, which was new to them, and some Yellow Warblers. They stopped for half an hour in the wooded lane, where a Chat whistled to them, a Scarlet Tanager flew hastily overhead, and the Doctor showed them a Towhee rambling among the leaves, while a little brownish bird kept flitting into the air and back to his perch, calling “pewee–pe-a-r!” in a sad voice.

“What’s that?” asked Rap; “it’s a bird I often see near the mill, catching flies on the wing.”

“It is called the Wood Pewee,” said the Doctor; “when we come back this afternoon we will stop, and I will try to find its nest to show you. We must go on now.” As soon as they drove out of the wood, the smell of the salt marsh came to them, and they saw that the road led between low meadows, with wooded knolls here and there. By and by the trees grew thinner and the grass coarser.

“Oh, I see the water!” cried Dodo, “and the little house where we are going! Oh, look at the black birds flying over those bushes! Are those Cowbirds too? And there are more black birds, very big ones too, going over to the water, and more yet coming out of those stumpy little pines, and there are some yellow pigeons down in the grass! Do stop quick, Olive! I think there is going to be a bird clambake or a picnic down here!” And Dodo nearly fell out of the surrey in her excitement.

“Not exactly a picnic,” said the Doctor, “but what I have brought you purposely to see. The birds flying over the alders are Red-winged Blackbirds; those coming from the pines are Purple Grackles; the big black ones flying overhead are Crows; and the yellow-breasted fellows walking in the grass are Meadowlarks. We must first make the horses comfortable, and then we can spend the day with the birds among these marshes and meadows.”

When they reached the beach the wagon track led through a hedge of barberry bushes to a shed covered with pine boughs at the back of the fisherman’s house.

The fisherman himself came out to help them with the horses. He was a Finlander, Olaf Neilsen, who kept boats in summer, fished, and tended two buoy lights at the river entrance for a living. His hut stood on a point, with the sandy beach of the bay in front of it, and the steeper bank where the river ran on the left. All the time the water was rushing out, out, out of the river and creeping down on the sand to make low tide.

The children did not know it then, but they were to spend many happy days on this beach, in company with their uncle and Olaf, during the next two years.

The Doctor whispered something mysterious to Olaf about clams, hoes, and “dead low water”; then he told the children to rest awhile under the pine shelter, and hear about the Blackbirds before they went out to see them in the meadows.



“This handsome Blackbird comes early and stays late in places where he does not linger all the year. He loves wet places, and his note is moist and juicy, to match his nesting haunts. ‘Oncher-la-ree!’ he calls, either in flying or as he walks along the ground after the fashion of his brethren–for Blackbirds never hop, like most birds, with both feet together, but move one after the other, just as we do.

“The Redwings are sociable birds, nesting in small colonies, and when once settled they never seem to stray far from home. The nest is a thick pocket hung either between reeds over the water, or fixed to the upright stems of a bush, quite near the ground, if the place is very marshy.

“The Redwings place their nests where it would seem very easy to reach them; but really the bushes are either surrounded by a little creek, hidden deep in the reeds, or the ground is so marshy that neither man nor beast can come near. That is the one reason why the males fly about so boldly, showing their glossy uniforms with the red and gold epaulets. When we try to visit that group of alders, where the colony lives, you will see for yourselves how nicely it is protected.

“We welcome this Blackbird in the spring, because his is one of the earliest bird-notes. In autumn, when he leaves the marsh and brings his flock to the grain-fields, we do not like him quite so well; but the Wise Men say that even then he is a good fairy in disguise, eating cutworms, army-worms, and other injurious kinds; even when stealing a bit of green corn, they think he clears away the worms that bore under the husks.”

[Illustration: Red-winged Blackbird.]

The Red-winged Blackbird

Length nine and a half inches.

Male: glossy black, except the scarlet shoulders, edged with buff. Female: mixed rusty black and buff, with dull reddish-orange shoulders–not conspicuous.

A Citizen of North America in general.

A member of the guilds of Ground Gleaners and Tree Trappers.



“What a noise those Blackbirds are making!” said Nat.

“That’s nothing to the way they do early in the spring, or in autumn, after they are through nesting,” said Rap. “You should hear them. They come to a big chestnut across the road from our house, more than a hundred of them at once, and they creak and crackle and squeak till all of a sudden down they go on the ground, and walk about awhile to feed.”

[Illustration: Purple Grackle]

“Yes,” said the Doctor, “I call them Rusty Hinges, for their voices sound like the creaking of a door that needs oiling on the hinges. But in spite of this they try to sing to their mates in spring, and very funny is the sight and sound of their devotion. To judge only by their notes, they should belong to the Croaking Birds, and not to the Singers at all; but they have a regular music-box in the throat, only it is out of order, and won’t play tunes. Like the Redwings, they also nest in colonies, either in old orchards, cedar thickets, or among pines; the rest of the year, too, they keep in flocks. Except in the most northerly States Crow Blackbirds stay all winter, like Crows themselves. They are not particularly likable birds, though you will find they have very interesting habits, if you take time to watch them.”

“I wonder if you fed them with cod-liver oil and licorice lozenges if their voices would be better?” asked Dodo, who had suffered from a hoarse cold the winter before.

“I don’t know what that treatment might do for them,” laughed the Doctor; “but if you will agree to feed them I will give you the oil and licorice!” And then Dodo laughed at herself.

The Purple Grackle

Length twelve to thirteen and a half inches.

Male: glossy black, with soap-bubble tints on the head, back, tail, and wings, and yellow iris. A long tail that does not lie flat and smooth like that of most birds.

Female: dull blackish and smaller–not over twelve inches.

A Citizen of the Atlantic States from Florida to Massachusetts.

A good Citizen, if there are not too many in one place to eat too much grain.

A Ground Gleaner and Tree Trapper, clearing grubs and beetles from ploughed land.