The Baldwin Library
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ON OF TH NET ,E FOND
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING
FIELD, WOOD AND MEADOW RAMBLES
AMANDA B. HARRIS
ILLUSTRATIONS BY G. F. BARNES
D. LOTHROP & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
FRANKLIN STREET, CORNER OF HAWLEY
D. LOTHROP & CO.
PRESS OF ROCKWELL AND CHURCHILL,
39 Arch St., Boston.
THE PEWEE, THE PARTRIDGE, AND THE WHIP-POOR-WILL.
THE CUCKOO, THE VIREO, THE CAT-BIRD, AND THE SANDPIPER.
THE GRASS-FINCH, THE HERMIT-THRUSH, THE KING-BIRD, AND THE EAVE-SWALLOW.
THE CHEBPC, THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE, AND THE CHIMNEY-SWALLOW.
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING,
THE PEWEE, THE PARTRIDGE, AND THE WHIP-POOR-WILL.
NE happy summer, out of pure love for wild birds and a desire to know more about
their ways, especially of nest-building, we two girls spent weeks in wandering over
miles of country, through woods and across meadows and along the banks of streams;
and I must say they were among the best spent as well as the pleasantest of our lives.
We hunted for ourselves, waited patiently, and watched and observed keenly. We met
with many discouragements, to be sure. As we had no books on ornithology, and no
one to tell us, we were too early for some of the little architects and too late for others
from not knowing their times of building, and so just missed of the nest, as was the
case with the chick-a-dees, which we tramped hours and hours to find, prying into every
stump and hole in a tree, not finding because we were too early, and then not finding
' because we were too late--and, I may as well add, have never found at all.
Then, again, we were baffled and misled by the artful birds themselves. I am ashamed
to have to say it -but a thrush beguiled us rods away from her nest till she got us
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
into a thicket of briars, and then slipped noiselessly back and left us to our fate;
and we followed bobolinks over a spongy meadow all one afternoon, searching every
place where they settled in the grass, and--we had the delight of the sweet, gushing,
inspiring notes that dropped and lingered on the air, and the sight of the joyous birds
floating and dipping, but never a nest!
But one bird we were always sure of-one can't help finding a pewee's nest.
Perhaps (,v,-ldl in the verandah, or in a brace of your wood-shed or corn-barn or
any out-building; but certainly under a bridge. There was not a bridge in all that region
where we did not find one-and never but one.
I said we, but-my companion, being timid about water, shirked that part of our
undertaking. So it became with me a matter of determination never to miss a single
bridge-and the country hereabouts abounds with them, so many are the mountain
brooks; besides, I wanted to know from actual sight whether every bridge had its nest,
and to see how nearly alike the nests were, all of which I accomplished. I also found
that there was never but one bird to'be seen-one lonely pewee in that dusky retreat
above the plashing water, blooding patiently over the eggs, while the mate was abroad-
who knows where?
How many dark places I explored, pressing through tangled brakes, and standing on
slippery stones, waiting till my eyes became accustomed to the gloom and could spy out
the things they sought. Sometimes the bird would fly off, and after skimming a few
minutes over the water would return to her nest, but always in silence.
Our most satisfactory experience was when, after ascertaining that a certain nest was
directly under the bridge, we went up and by our united strength lifted a plank and
looked into it. The bird was absent, or we should not have done this. There were five
IL I TE P..WEE
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THE PE WEE.
eggs, perfectly lovely in tint and shape. When we speak of the shape of birds' eggs, it
is natural to suppose that they are much after the same type, but it is not so. Some are
nearly round, others are elliptical, some of a simple oval, and many almost pear-shaped.
Those of tke pewee vary in different nests, but are always delicate, being of a creamy
white, tinged with flesh color at one end almost as if there were a pink lining to the
dainty shells and it was shining through, an almost definite line showing where the
roseate wave begins.
This was on the third of June-for we put down the dates-and we had reason to
think that the pewees that built under bridges were later than those who chose places
around the houses. We know of one house-pair that commenced to lay their foundations
early in March, working diligently till a sudden cold snap came on, freezing the ground
so that they could get no more clay, when, quite discouraged, they abandoned it wholly.
They need to start in good season if they mean to raise two broods, as they often do,
for they appear to be slow builders, perhaps waiting for their walls to dry as they go
The nests differ much in the matter of delicacy and finish, just as does the work of
men and women, although, of course, they are always of clay mixed with hair, on the
same principle that a plasterer uses it in his mortar the first plasterer, very likely,
having learned from the bird in some far-off time.
The nicest pewee nest we saw-on the last day of May-was just inside the eaves
of a piazza at the back door of a farm-house, so low down that by standing on tip-toe
you could reach into it with your hand; and there were hatched two broods the summer
before, though a dog made the steps his lounging place, two cats kept a watchful eye
on the eaves, persons were often going in and out, and the farm-hands sat there and
smoked during their noonings. This beautiful specimen of bird-masonry was of clay
brought from the door-yard, held together with white hair shed by a certain old horse
HOW WE WENT BIRD S'-NESTING.
of that color who had drawn the wagon to and from those steps for years, and it was.
lined with wool picked up from the sheep-fold, so that it was strictly home material,
all except the tips of satin-green moss which were inserted as if for decoration. It
was caked together as solidly as if it had been baked, and plastered fast to the wood,
and if it had been shaped in a mould it could not have been more symmetrical-one of
the snuggest, trimmest, neatest little affairs ever made by a bird, round as a cup inside,
and the wool, which was beaten together like felt, lapped over on the outside and
made a narrow ruche-like border.
Into this small tenement we ventured to look while the mother for a few moments
had left her six eggs; which, notwithstanding her public place of living, she resented,
perhaps because we were strangers, and directly called her mate, who perched on a
clothes-line overhead and inspected the habitation to discover what the damage was,
scolding vigorously. They were an hour recovering from the shock, as we supposed,
until we were assured that it was the restless habit of the female to fly off and on a
hundred times a day, or to sit "tetering" on the well-curb, in an uncertain way, where
she showed all the dinginess of her dim spring suit that stood sadly in need of washing--
though truth compels me to say that, after her second brood is out of the way, and
family cares are over, she comes out, late in summer, in an elegant costume of greenish-
olive. Her companion, too, had a mania of uneasiness, hovering about and asking what
was the matter; and after the fledglings appeared, the questioning and responses would
be incessant; it would be "Phe-be! Phe-bee!" on the part of the parents, and "Here
we be Here we bee!" from the children.
But, unsettled as the pewit may seem, it is a bird that has decidedly conservative views
and its attachment to place is strong. For instance, we were told by an old gentleman
that in a fissure of a ledge by the side of a lonesome pond on his farm he had seen a
pewit's nest for fifty years. There was always one of the broods hatched there--it was
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evidently an ancestral home for generations of them, and it was distinguished by a name
of its own, "Pewee Rock."
One of our discoveries that same May was the nest of a bird whose haunts one
may know well, and yet vainly search for the secret spot where she lays her -,-
we were fortunate indeed when we found our first and only partridge nest.
These birds have come to our door-yard in winter, driven by stress of hunger, have
fed on the buds of our one pear-tree, and sought shelter at night on the roost with
our hens; but at their own home in their summer retreat they have proved the shyest
of all winged creatures.
We had always been used to starting them up, and their "drumming," and tile rush
of their stiff, swift wings, had been familiar sounds to us in a certain wild kind of pasture
whose covert of dry woods, hanging on the edges of a swamp, was a favorite feeding
ground of theirs, but the most vigilant search among the fallen leaves and by the side
of old logs had never before resulted in our finding a nest.
It was, therefore, a great surprise when the thing happened at last -" happened,"
because it was by the merest accident. We were gathering trailing arbutus on the skirts
of a pine grove through which wound the often-travelled wood-path to the swamp,
when the mother flew up not three feet from us. If she had only kept her position
a few minutes longer we should never have seen that nest full of eggs. Shy indeed
was she, though so close on that road-way, for she had chosen her place with wise
forethought, having a rock at her back, a cluster of yard-high blueberry bushes and
sweet-fern around her, and the ground all about of the color of her own mottled and
russet plumage-so like it that against the rusty brown of the pine needles and the
tawny hue of the fallen oak leaves it would never have shown if she had sat still.
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
We parted the shrubs and beheld fourteen eggs in a shallow basin, partly a natural
hollow, partly rounded and smoothed by her own skill; and the hollow was carpeted
with soft pine-needles, over which was laid a thin covering of the small feathers from
her own breast.
The eggs were about the size of doves' eggs, and of a dull pale buff color without
blotch or mark. We left them undisturbed, but returned to take a peep twice during
the following week, when we saw her liquid eyes all alert; but the third time, when
we hoped to catch a glimpse of the brood-though we might have known better-
there were only bits of shell. She had stolen away with her little ones who can run
and hide an hour after they have chipped through the walls of their prison, and we
might as well have hunted for the end of the rainbow, or looked for a cloud that was
in the sky last year.
Our greatest triumph, however, was when we found the whip-poor-will sitting on her
It is not a piece of every-day's luck, as we were told by an experienced naturalist
who had never seen such a sight himself, or even been able to obtain an egg for
We were searching in a dense sort of coppice between the highway and the railroad
embankment -a good place for birds, where we saw a great variety, and of which I
shall have more to say by and by. The underbrush was very close down towards the
track, but in the middle of the wood, though thick at the top, it was open enough
for us to pass about with ease. The earth was covered with dry,' faded leaves, faded
to a dark grayish buff--the least noticeable of all colors, indeed of no color.
From these a bird rose, flew low for a short distance, with uncertainty, as if venturing
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T HE W H P-POO -WILL
THE WHIP- POOR-WILL.
in the dark -which might have been the case, though we have cause enough for
believing that she was trying to lead us away-settled on the ground, then rose again,
and we followed. One would have thought her half asleep, for she seemed not only
too feeble to fly without resting, but too drowsy to start again; yet farther and farther
on she went, and we kept near until we had had a good look at her a clumsy,
homely creature, showing off all her awkwardness in feigning such stupidity, dressed in
dull brown, singularly marked with blotches and bands of black and of yellowish-white,
and with a short triangular bill like a wedge.
HIaving seen enough of her, we retraced our steps, and after seeking long saw her
eggs. Nest there was not. She had laid them in a dry place on the ground where
there was hardly enough of a depression to keep them from rolling away like marbles
at the first touch; of course the bird knew what she was about, but it looked to our
eyes a very risky proceeding. There were two-I believe the whip-poor-will never lays
more-and they were the handsomest eggs we had ever seen, the ends uniform in shape,
of a pearly ground freckled all over with lavender, and having lavender and choco-
late running together in cloud-like blendings at one end.
This was on the last day of May; and before we had time to re-visit the place she
too had hatched her young and departed.
But other birds remained- vireos, cuckoos, cat-birds, thrushes; and pleasant experiences
were in store for us through the bonny month of June.
THE CUCKOO, THE VIREO, THE CAT-BIRD AND THE SANDPIPER.
E had a great day of it hunting for nests on that thirty-first of May. I am
particular about giving the date, because we meant to be accurate and so we
noted down everything on the spot, not only the day of the month, but all about
the place, the birds, the nests, and the eggs.
We went equipped for our business, wearing strong dresses and shoes, and shade-
hats securely tied down; and we each carried a basket, one containing lunch enough
for all day, for going on such a tramp was hungry work; the other was to bring
things home in-" things" meaning roots, mosses, vines, flowers, and any decorative
bits we chose. It also held the rubber over-shoes which we took along for emergencies,
as there was no knowing where we might venture, going through swamps or even
wading a river; also into it I always slipped a jack-knife and some strings, for which
I was invariably laughed at, especially about the strings, which, nevertheless, were sure
to come handy; finally something which must by no means be left out of this record,
viz.: a transplanting trowel, which "had been in the family," as they say of jewels,
more than fifty years. It had been lost and found as many times, consequently it had
become highly valued, insomuch that our sole anxiety in all our excursions was about
this precious relic, and our only worry was from the fear that we might lose it.
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
On that eventful day we first went to the tangled wood I have spoken of, where
we discovered the whip-poor-will. It was hardly a mile from the village, and it not
only bordered on the main thoroughfare but was within a stone's throw of two houses,
and close by were cornfields where men were often at work; so that in one sense it
was a very exposed place, although in another it was a very secluded one. The
railroad was back of it, just where the ground made an abrupt descent into a strip
of marsh; then the river fringed with alders and willows; then a belt of meadow.
This little wild, being a useless piece, neither field nor pasture nor woodland, had
been left to itself in the midst of cultivation; and if it had been made for the sole use
of birds it could not have served its purpose better. There were only three or four acres
of it, bog and all, but as Thoreau once said about Concord, that he could find everything
worth knowing within its limits, so we began to think before the season was over that
there was at least a possibility of getting a sight of almost any inland bird of New
England within that circumscribed district.
Both land and water-birds built there, undismayed by the sounds of life going on so
near them-the carriages on the highway, or the rush of the cars which fairly shook
them in their nests; and our experience seemed to justify us in the conclusion that the
place to find the nests of even some shy birds is near the haunts of men, and further,
that where we found one we were pretty sure of many others in the neighborhood. At
any rate there seemed to be a gregarious spirit in this matter, even with varieties whose
habits are supposed to be solitary. It was astonishing how much family life was being
lived there, and equally a surprise to us that each separate pair were attending to their
own business as if there were no others in the world; and it was so still there! The
birds that were not brooding over their nests slipped about quietly, as if intent on
business which demanded the utmost silence and mystery.
There were not only cat-birds, cuckoos, thrushes, yellow-birds, vireos, brown-and-white
creepers and sparrows, but king-birds, sandpipers and bank-swallows, besides many others
whose names were unknown to us; and even a scarlet tanager came; and on that same
day in May we started up a pair of Blackburnian warblers from the darkest covert on
the bank, but though we waited long and wore ourselves out in struggling through the
briary thicket they were too crafty for us, and in following where their flame-bright
plumage showed in the green gloom we strayed hopelessly away from their nesting-place
which we were never able to find.
It was not twenty feet away from the whip-poor-will that a most elegant bird flew
up -a bright, large-eyed, lovely creature, leaving exposed in the shabbiest of nests
four eggs of a wonderfully beautiful blue.
Those blues of birds' eggs--what inimitable tints they have, and no two blues alike!
There is the true robin's-egg blue; and the dark, metallic green-blue of the cat-bird; the
pure, almost shining lue of the hermit-thrush, which seems of pale green and azure
blended, hinting of both colors and belonging to neither; and the painted pea-green
deepening fairly into blue, of the cuckoo; and I know not how many more, in shades
innumerable, and no more to be defined than those of a cloud or a flower.
It was a cuckoo's nest we had come upon, in a place so open that the sun shone
on it through the thin tree-tops. It was built in a low hemlock about a yard from
the ground, in plain sight, with not the least attempt at concealment. It was so
slightly put together that it seemed impossible it could bear the weight of so heavy
a bird -only a few dry sticks and rusty brown rootlets such as might have been pulled
from some old tree torn up by the roots; no moss or lining of any kind, or anything
softer than those wiry fibers. They must be thick-skinned younglings who could bear so
hard a cradle, we thought, and such we afterward found them.
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HO TV WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTI.NG.
That nest was a thing to be ashamed of and to think of it as belonging to her !
I am sure that in our northern woods it would be hard to find another such stylish
bird; with her long and slender form, her fine long bill, and long, handsome tail, she
is certainly what might be called very distinguished looking." And then her movements
are so dignified and composed, and she has such a high-bred air, that she is the lady
among the feathered people of our region. Then, again, her attire is in such perfect
harmony with this symmetry of proportion and stateliness of manner as to give her an
appearance of refinement and delicacy--which may be true of her character or it may
not; I am speaking on the strength of an acquaintance formed and matured in two
interviews, during which her behavior was charming. We studied her for an hour that
morning. She had no fear of us, and would immediately have returned to her nest, but
her mate, who had at once appeared, kept up cautionary signals. After flying a few yards
away she gradually dismissed the distance between us by slipping from bough to bough, so
noiselessly that we could not hear so much as the rustle of her wings, and then sat
placidly regarding us, just where the sunshine fell on her ashen white breast, making it wave
and glisten like watered silk, and on the brown of her wings and tail, which glowed as if
they had been bronzed. A week later we made her another visit, when we were favored
with a sight of her fledglings-four as homely creatures as ever were hatched, but which,
notwithstanding, she seemed very tender of, although her poor preparations for them would
lead one to think her lacking in maternal instinct.
Of all the nests-robins' excepted-those of the vireos most abounded. We found
them everywhere, in all woods and by all waters, and we made quite a collection of the
deserted ones; they seemed too pretty to be left behind, and as the owners had no
further use for them we cut off the branches and brought them home.
These nests were all alike, with a difference. In other words of about the same type
and size. All the vireos build hanging nests, the material for the frame-work being
much the same, while the lining and the outer finish vary greatly. The place oftenest
selected is towards the cnd of some flexile bough of a tree, or on an alder or witch-
hazel, or some such withy kind of wood. The bird begins in the angle where two small
stems separate like the letter V, winding around them for a distance of perhaps three or
four inches narrow ribbons of some tough inner bark which she knows best where to
collect. She knots these fibres by one of those bird-nooses which no human hands can
either tie or untie, and then sticks them fast by some gluey secretion she has among her
own personal resources and the result is that no winds or rains are able to detach
these pensile structures from their fastenings till they are beaten and rotted to rags. In
addition to this the prudent builder makes security doubly strong by looping her cords
to out-lying twigs, just as tent-ropes are stretched to the pins.
Next she fashions within this frame-work an oval basket, which hangs from its rim
like a tiny hand-net, made strong as a hempen web and as elastic and springy as if woven
of hair; and now the most essential part being done, she seems to cast her eyes about to
see what there is lying round for finishing, appropriating almost any soft and pretty
thing she sees. In one we found strong fibres of black sheep's wool, in another strands
of bright-colored shawl-fringe; in some of them pieces of newspaper with the reading still
fresh and distinct, so that the occupant had ample means of indulging her literary
taste while tending her little ones in fact, a great deal of printer's ink comes to an
unlooked-for use in these dainty habitations, so that it is by no means impossible that
some future vireo may read an account of herself on the walls of her own house.
Some of the most delicate substances which are incorporated in the nests are the tow-
colored bits pinched from hornets'-nests, and bunches of caterpillar's silk, and white, fluffy
down from cocoons, all worked in with fibres of bleached grasses and the curling outer
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
bark of birch trees, the fine thin films of which are much used, giving the nests the
appearance of being trimmed with tiny ruffles in shining yellow or pure chalky white.
The daintiest one we found upon the tip of an alder bough; and just above it had
grown out a leaf which so completely hid it that if the wind had not turned up the leaf
just as we were passing we should never have seen it. The dove-eyed little mother
was sitting in this lonely place under the green awning, rocked like Baby Bunting by
every breeze, patiently biding her time.
We did not disturb her, but after she had done with it we brought her cunning house
away to see what curious thing it was that helped towards binding its walls together,
which proved to be a strip cut crosswise from a costly and handsome silk sash, white
plaided with colors. It had evidently been trimmed off the end and had been swept out-
of-doors, and the tasteful builder, spying the treasure, had borne it to the far-off nest,
weaving it in so close that it could not be removed without spoiling the structure. This
was an uncommonly nice nest, almost air and water-tight, lined throughout with the dead
straws which the hemlock sheds, fallen pine-needles, and the finest roots and horsehair,
and it was as smooth and round as a cup.
Our first vireo, who had built far out on a low maple branch, had not done so artistic
a piece of work, but she was such a mild and friendly creature that she let us look in
upon her-a sweet, modest matron in faint ashen plumage beneath, and olive green on
her back. She had five small lovely eggs of her own, of pearly white spattered with
chocolate, which settled into heavier spots at the larger end; and besides these there was
one that did not belong to her--larger and not so pretty, pale, greenish gray, slightly
dingy indeed, speckled thickly with reddish brown -for the poor vireo had been imposed
"upon by the cow-bunting, who, on the watch for an opportunity, had slyly dropped an
egg into the nest during the absence of the unsuspecting owner, and left it for her
to hatch and then rear the intruder with her own little ones.
We knew of so many cat-birds' nests nearer home, and had such good facilities for
examining them in a thicket of syringa, rose and wax-berry bushes on our own premises
that we did not think of such a thing as looking for them in our summer explorations;
but we were glad indeed to linger over one which we came across that afternoon in the
most retired part of the little wilderness that we afterwards almost came to look upon as
our own property, since nobody ever seemed to go there except ourselves. And this
reminds me anew of the deep satisfaction we had all through those long June days in
wandering or waiting in its leafy recesses, where flecks of sunlight brightened the green
half-twilight and dappled the soft floor variegated with fallen leaves and hundreds of
shy plants and tender wild-wood flowers, where our only companions were the many
brooding birds and their mates.
This cat-bird had done a marvelously ingenious but most risky thing, in locating her
nest between two small hemlocks, just where the tip of the outermost branch of one
lapped a bit on the corresponding tip of the other, so that if the wind had happened
to sway them ever so slightly the result to the nest would have been the same as if
it had been left loose in space, its foundations on nothing more tangible than air;
and it would invariably have followed the same law of gravitation which influenced
the falling apple made famous by Sir Isaac Newton.
But our wise little friend had calculated upon such a possible catastrophe, and acted
accordingly, using some kind of foresight which we should call reasoning if a human
being had done it. It chanced that a slim shoot of alder, tough and sinewy as a
whip-lash, had grown up near by. This the bird had seized upon as the needful' thing
to make the place available. The over-lapping hemlock twigs were made to serve as
the bottom and the walls of the nest, on which were laid up some fibres of dry roots
and a few dead birch leaves. There the alder had been bent down and bound like a
withe around the hemlocks, straining them together, then passed around and through
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THE CAT-BIRD AND THE SANDPIPER.
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
the nest, in which two green leaves of it were growing, while the end of the shoot
was growing from the outside as luxuriantly as if nothing had happened to it.
The bird must have had a hard time of it pulling the alder into place and making
it so taut, but the result was beautiful a nest of shining green with the two paler
oval leaves fluttering in it.
She had the usual number of glossy, solid-looking eggs; and ten days later there were
five awkward, yellow-throated, gaping cat-lings. We afterwards saw several nests as we
followed the river, all built of strips of grape-vine bark, dry roots and straw-like grass
and most of them in dangerous places-either on the alders which hung over the water
where the young stood a chance of being drowned, or so exposed that a hawk passing
above could easily spy out and pounce upon the defenceless brood.
We saw no other such sprite-like and winsome creature as the red-backed sandpiper;
almost as swift as its namesake by the sea-shore, footing it lightly over the bits of
miniature beach where the sand has gathered in some bend of the river, running to
the very edge and dipping its feet in the water, then, uttering its childish weet weet,"
flying across and vanishing, perhaps dropping into its nest before you have had time
to miss it.
But to find the nest, there is not one chance in a hundred. A strip of meadow of
unvarying green, on the same monotonous level from end to end, and no hint of a
bird anywhere! Yet that one chance was ours. The lovely little biped flew up, and
after some groping among the tussocks of grass, which all looked precisely alike, we
parted two of them, revealing a small dry hollow, so snug and warm, and just large
enough for her to cuddle down in; and there, on a few fine shavings and stems of dead
grass were four eggs and what eggs they were! out of all proportion to her size, as
if a dove should be sitting on a hen's eggs, they were anything but attractive, being
nearly of a pear shape, and of greenish-yellow, blotched with brown at the heavier end.
However, it was a satisfaction to have seen them and the cheap little nest. We have
never had another opportunity, neither has there been so good a one for studying this
daintiest of birds.
What a marvel of grace and loveliness she was! Only a slight, ashen-red bird: but
how delicate and subtle were the shifting tints of that subdued color, or rarest mingling
of colors, in that reddish, yellowish, grayish plumage set off with a shining ring on each
tiniest feather's tip as beautiful in its diminutive way as those of a peacock, and lustrous
ias a bird-of-paradise. And such a fairy-fine form, of such exquisite finish! Her bill
was long and slim, and she had slender legs on which she stood tall, and a nice light
body; she was fashioned perfectly from tip to toe: and if her long, strong wings were
good for flying, her wiry legs were as good for running, so she was equally at home on
the ground or in the air this nimble-footed, infantile, bewitching, irresistible Ariel of a
THE GRASS-FINCH, THE HERMIT-THIRUSH THE KING-BIRD, AND THE EAVE-
SW AL LOW.
PERHAPS I ought to have written about this bird before, because it was earlier in
the season than the first of July that we found the first nest. I remember it on
account of the day, which was so hazy that the warm, yellowish mist lay over all
the landscape like the filmiest, airiest of gauze, through which the greenness of field
and woodland showed dimly, as if they were about to melt away.
We were in an open pasture, on our usual errand, and there was this modest gray
and brown bird, demurest of the sparrow kind. She was sitting in her lowly place
under the least of tiny blueberry bushes, with one dried brake of last year arching
over her--no, we did not see her sitting, for she stepped forth like a small lady from
her house, just as if she meant to invite us in.
There are some birds whose plumage, nest, ways and surroundings are in perfect
harmony, as is the case with certain individuals. There is a kind of fitness in every-
thing they do, and that pertains to them. And this was the case with her; she seemed
to belong with the subdued landscape and the quiet of the pasture. And then her
attire of soft Quaker hues, her low home-song, her gentle manners, and her modest
THE HER M IT- THR USH.
dwelling were all in accord. It was a cunning, wee nest, all in brown, made like a
basket, too fragile to be lifted, but all right for its place on the ground, neatly lined with
hair-like roots, and dried pine-needles, and containing her four pretty eggs In these
eggs, it must be confessed, she had departed a little from the grave taste manifested in
everything else; for it was on a shell of the faintest green that the flecks of brown
and dull lilac were scattered, giving a mere suggestion, only a hint, of color.
Several times before the summer was over we came upon one of those simple nests,
under' the protection of some miniature pine or hemlock, right out in the pasture where
cows were feeding and over which boys and girls roamed in search of berries. And
there, where any of these trampling hoofs of kine or feet of children were more likely
than not to step, crushing the frail habitation and its inmates on the spot, the trustful
creature sat, raising successfully one, two, or perhaps three broods.
Our thrush experiences were not so encouraging as they might have been, or as we
thought we deserved; as anybody would say who knew how hard we worked, and how
wearied and worried and burned we became following the old, tumble-down hedge
fences, where the blackberry bushes tore our wrists and caught our clothes, only to be
misled and cheated by the bird, or to find, after all, that we had worn ourselves out
in trying to get to an empty nest.
What trials we did have, to be sure! For instance, that day when we determined
that we would keep a pair of indigo-birds in sight till they went to their nest! We
knew they had one by their staying round so, and we meant to stay them out; and
we waited the whole afternoon; and they waited.
But they were more than a match for us in patience; or rather, let me say, time
was to them of no consequence, though it was to us. However, of consequence or
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
not, we remained from noon till sunset of a midsummer's day, and we might have been
worse employed, or have passed the hours in a place less agreeable.
It was on an old country road delightful places those!-at a turn where a clus-
ter of pines made a pleasant shade, and a little spring came trickling down the hill.
On the other side was a house and a small orchard, and a few rods back there was
a piece of woods. No doubt the nest was in one of those apple-trees; but the birds
must guide us to it if we saw it at all, and that they would not do.
Never had birds sharper instinct than those. They had the divining faculties of a
seer. They saw right through us as clearly as though it had been written on our
faces. They read our purpose, and if birds could laugh at the foolishness of men,
what inextinguishablee laughter" would they have indulged in! We shall not be likely
to forget how leisurely they took things while pretending to be busy, with a good deal
of unintelligible murmuring between themselves as they flew across the road and back
fifty times over, and trifled with the pine cones, their vivid ultra-marine plumage like the
flash of blue steel in the sunshine.
No better did we fare with the oven-birds, or the woodpeckers, or the blue-jays.
After considerable useless search for the "ingenious ovens," we were told of a piece
of ground where we could no doubt find a dozen of them by looking under the low
blueberry bushes; but as there were seven acres, and every patch looked precisely like
the next one, and they were the nests of birds that took very unusual pains to conceal
them we decided to give up.
But about the woodpeckers-the dear, red-headed old friends, who had been wont
to run up the trunks of our door-yard apple-trees ever since we could remember, who
had lived through the winters on the bread crumbs and meat we had put out for them
-not to be able to find their nests-oh! it was aggravating.
We fathomed the depths of hollow logs; we groped in the holes of decaying trees,
THE HERMIT-THR USH.
thereby bringing an avalanche of rotten wood down upon us, and ousting colonies of
big ants- but no sign of a nest then or ever.
Blue-jays' nests--there were none. Nobody ever saw one so far as we could learn.
If we had only known that before! Before I climbed so many trees, so far up that
I was afraid to come down--though in the end I did, of course, by dint of catching
hold of the knotty places, and slipping over the smooth ones!
To begin with, they don't build high up; so that would have to be useless toil
any way. They build where no school-boy, intent on birds'-nesting (from other motives
than ours), has ever to my knowledge been able to find out; and that must account
for the multitudes of these birds who make their appearance, in the best of spirits, just
in season for the ripe corn and nuts-say about the first of October. They are bold
enough then; but in the time of rearing their young they retire to the darkest recesses
of the woods, where in silence they devote themselves to their families.
As to the thrush-we did several times start up a hermit-thrush, as we believe, and
at last found the nest of the very hermit himself.
In the first instance we were sauntering home from our coppice, and as we pro-
posed going home by way of the meadow we had crossed a foot-bridge and struck into
a path by which the cows came down from their pasture. It was a darksome place, and
in the most retired part one of those birds shot out of a thicket across our path and
vanished. That time we sought in vain for the nest, staying so late that we had to
come home over the meadow after the dews had fallen and the fire-flies were out and
a whip-poor-will had begun his lonesome cry. The next time-later on in July-we
were more fortunate. It was just such another secluded locality a cart-path down
into a swamp where we had often heard while returning late a strangely sweet, wan-
dering voice, the only one that broke the intense stillness, rising and falling with a
pensive cadence of ineffable melody, and we supposed it to be that of this shy inhabitant
THE -. AND TH HERMI,' THRUSH.I'
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
of the wood, whose tawny plumage we hardly more than caught a glimpse of as it darted
past us, as the other had, and disappeared. But the nest we found in a clump of high
blueberry and hemlock bushes, made of coarse fibres and lined with rootlets, with a few
crumbling leaves in the bottom, on which lay three eggs of a most exquisite fine blue.
Before that summer was over we were destined to see a great deal of "the king-birds.
Hitherto we had not known them much, only as we cultivated their acquaintance
down by the railroad, where we had long been in the habit of noticing them in the
spring sitting on the telegraph wire-quite a company of them-where they seemed to
enjoy themselves much, displaying their jet-black heads and plumage of bluish-ash color,
now and then changing places as children do in that game where all leave their seats at
a given signal and each slips into that of some one else; or like the old-fashioned spelling
classes I remember, where the one who missed went to the foot, and the ones who were
correct ranked up to the head only in the case of the birds no mortal could tell what
it was all about. Then it was amusing to see then all give a sudden start, as though
some dispatch passing along the wire had literally electrified them; and they would take
a turn in the air and then alight again, having shown, while on the wing, their handsome
white-bordered tails, unfolded and spread out like a fan.
We had never known of their coming up to the village till that spring, when a pair
made their appearance in our door-yard, not only showing no fear but being even more
free in their approaches than those most familiar of our domestic birds, the robin and the
They were almost ready to come in at the open window, advancing within a few feet
after the strings we held out to them. They were evidently "prospecting;" and for
about a week they examined this tree and that, being unable to come to any decision,,
but finally fixed upon an apple tree right opposite, across the road; and when they had
decided, they stayed so. If there was fickleness before there was none afterwards, and
both set to work in dead earnest and constructed a most excellent nest, doing it with
such thoroughness that it stood there for more than a year after they were through
That same season another pair followed their example of coming up this way, and
began to build on an ash-tree in a neighbor's front yard; but a female gold-robin, whose
nest was on a branch higher up, was so exasperated that she raved and stormed at them
until they were glad to depart.
Though the male king-bird has the name of being able to fight a bird three times his
size, like a hawk, or crow, this one would not have anything to do with such a spiteful
A third pair chose a tree in a pear orchard more distant from the village, making an
exceedingly nice nest which eventually came into my possession.
It was composed chiefly of the material known as excelsior, with which mattresses are
filled, a manufactory for which stands about four miles up the river; but as that was
too far even for a bird, we concluded that they must have had a streak of good luck
in finding out where a bed had been emptied, or else this waste had been washed down
stream by the spring freshet. That the stuff commended itself highly to them was proved
by the lavish use they had made of it. It was densely packed to the depth of almost
three inches, and surrounded by outworks of dry twigs. Within this solid wall, which
was like a round tower almost, was a roomy cavity like a cup, all smoothly lined with
horse-hair which had been intricately woven into the fibrous fabric of poplar wood (of
which the excelsior is made), and near the top they had worked in some wool, laying
lengthwise on it a covering of small feathers, which on examination proved to have
belonged to a partridge, and these were bound down with hair so tightly that only the
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
down could be seen. No possible reason could there be for this careful padding on the
edge, except to make it soft for the sparsely-clad young ones to lean their necks against
when they wanted to look over. In due time appeared the five roundish, creamy-white
eggs freckled with brown and lavender.
The brood w:e did not happen to see, unless they were present many weeks later as
beyond a doubt they were at the family rendezvous, by the railroad, preparatory to
their southern migration--as if their goings and comings, like those of the human race,
had to do with the trains and the telegraph.
IV. THE EAVE-SWALLOWS.
Having set our hearts upon exploring among the bank-swallows' nests, we went on
tiresome jaunts to every cut, and railroad embankment, and sand-pit, where they would
be likely to be, to no purpose; and then, being fond of swallows of whatever species, we
turned our attention to their kinsfolks who build under the eaves, asking persons who
ought to know where we could find a settlement of them, and always receiving for answer
that "they used to build" in such or such a place, but, from some cause, none had been
seen thereabouts of late years.
The "some cause" we thought we understood; the truth being that there had been
too many improvements going on, too much shingling, new clapboarding, painting and
fixing up. Such things these birds can't bear. They want everything to remain as it
is. They like the same old corner, or snug ledge, or space under the eaves trough.
They are conservatives of the most extreme type. Change is what they cannot abide.
They love the accustomed haunts where they can come and go with all the freedom of
proprietorship. Like the blue-bird and the wren they go away in the autumn with the
expectation of finding everything the same when they come back. In that case they stay
on for years, reappearing with each returning spring then they are fixtures, so far as.
that can be said of a bird. And of eave-swallows, who had become permanent belong-
ings, we heard at last-swallows with a history.
There must have been voluminous annals pertaining to them, an extended genealogy, a
very branching family tree, if one could but have access to the same; for they had built
there for thirty-six years, to the knowledge of the present owner, and much longer as
lie had every reason to believe -undoubtedly ever since there had been a human
habitation on that spot, clinging to it though generations of the men and women had
Now what was there, we asked each other, about this homestead which made the
swallows love it so?
It was a farm-house and the out-buildings pertaining to it, in a sightly, sunny place
on the level of a long swell of land-one of the hills of this hill country; orchards
and mowing fields were to the right and the left and the back of it; and to the
front, across the road, pleasant pastures sloped down to the green "runs," over which
bobolinks were floating, and the air was sweet and pure. That was what King Duncan
noticed at the castle of Macbeth, where the "martlets" built under the eaves, and
about its frieze and buttresses, and every coignee of vantage that the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses."
To which Banquo answered:
"This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet does approve
By his loved mansionry, *
Most breed and haunt, I have observed the air
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
Ancestors of these very eave-swallows, perhaps, were those martlets of a bygone time
beyond the seas. Yet why this one special farmstead should suit them more than
many another we could see on the hilltops was a puzzle we were still unable to solve.
But the swallows had come and come again through these uncounted years, and there
had been ninety nests of them at a time. We counted sixty, part of these in a dilapidated
So much interested in them was the master that he had nailed strips of board along
beneath them for their security. He had each year set down the dates of their arrival,
and taking down his file of Leavitt's almanacs he read some of them to us, showing that
the earliest appeared on the thirteenth of April, and that the average time was from
the middle to the last of that month. One came on in advance, or perhaps two or
three, and then in a few days they all arrived in companies, and soon began work
building new nests and repairing such of the old ones as had been damaged over winter.
He said they had some little quarrels among themselves, though nothing serious;
also that they formerly waged war against the pewee whom they would not allow about
there, yet had become more tolerant lately, as at the time of our last visit there was
actually a pewee's nest within their quarters.
Now their quarters were just these: beyond the house were three or four barns and
other out-buildings on two sides of a large enclosure where the cattle were yarded at
night, where the yoking of oxen, the harnessing of horses and milking of cows went on.
Between two of the barns and beneath another, facing south, was a deep, low shed for
the cattle to go under, and that was where the nests were.
They were ranged all along the beams overhead, almost near enough for a tall person
to reach into them, and where the branching horns of the oxen could come dangerously
near, if they chose to toss their heads aloft. The birds, however, minded nothing
THE A VE- S WALLOWS.
about these neighbors, who, seen from their point of view, must have seemed of
immense stature-the truth really being that birds are fond of cattle.
The nests were generally as close together as so many tenements in a block; in
other words, they joined one another. Every one had literally built against his neighbor,
so that one partition wall served for a side to two dwellings. Still, there was no way
of communication. Each had his own small entrance, just big enough for one to go
in at; and as the occupant usually sat so near it that he could keep his head out,
it is obvious that nobody else could get in.
Well, it was a very, very comical sight. The nests .were of the color of clay, and
shaped like a gourd turned over on its side, the place where the handle would be
curving downward, and there was the hole, like the entrance to the kraal of a Zulu's
or a Laplander's hut. And out of each of these holes, as we drew near, popped a
head; and such a funny head it was too--bright chestnut color, with a steel-blue
patch on it, and the pair of eyes were like two bright, black beads, and the bill like
a small black wedge, and the head was so round, and so glossy and rich, and the
tiny, triangular bill was so queer! The plump shoulders were chestnut-colored, too,
and so was the neck; and under the chin--if a bird has a chin-was another steel-
blue spot, as if these were symbols of some kind, the decorations or insignia of some
They all eyed us a minute, seeing that we were strangers then with one consent
more than half of them took flight, almost sweeping our faces as they rushed out, and
sought the yard, over which they continued to circle round, twittering and saying things
about us, until, thinking it was too bad to have startled a whole settlement in this
way, we moved just outside the shed, when back they all went and settled down as if
nothing had happened.
The owner told us that they would not have minded our presence after a few
HO W WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
minutes. He said that in building they work very fast, choosing a good drying day,
bringing small pellets of clay which they cement together with their saliva-but as they
make use of no hair, or none of any consequence, a whole side is liable to fall down,
especially if they have done it too rapidly, not waiting for it to harden sufficiently,
whereupon they repair damages, nothing discouraged. After putting a few feathers and
cows' hairs in the bottom, it is ready for the little pearly speckled eggs.
Two broods are often reared in the season; and though most of the colony scatter
abroad through the day in quest of food, night-fall brings them all back; but where
they could all lodge after the families had increased was a mystery to me.
In this way they stayed by through the summer, sunset never failing to start them
home-a social, very noisy company, as we could testify, almost making the air dark,
and keeping up that cheerful twittering till the tireless wings were folded for the
By the last of August the young are all grown strong for the journey before them,
and by the first of September they all start for the South.
THE CHEBEC, THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE AND THE CHIMVNEY-SWVALLOW.
A LTHOUGH we went roving about so on our ornithological expeditions, we by no means
failedto keep our eyes open to what was going on nearer home. There is a great deal
of bird-life being lived every summer right over our heads -whether we heed it or not-in
the chimney-tops and belfries, and in the shade trees that hang over our eaves. All around us,
unobserved by half the people who pass, all along the streets, this bird community is acting
out, in its humble but not unintelligent or unintelligible way, some of the very passions and
moods that are experienced by human beings.
If you want to draw birds immediately about you, so that they will seem in a certain sense
your own, and so that they can feel that the portion of the earth's surface which you occupy
is theirs also, that your garden and small patch of land belong to them, too, as much as if
they had a legal right of ownership, a clear title secured by a genuine warrantee deed, why,
then you must have trees and vines and shubbery; and, moreover, you must not be too par-
ticular about the way in which they grow.
In other words, you must not be anxious to clear up every corner. What if a few rose-
bushes and syringas are left to make themselves into a tangle, and encroach on the ground
you wanted for something else? It is just what the birds like. They take a lawless kind of
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
delight in dodging about in such darksome thickets, and many a little brood may be cuddled
in such an unpropitious-looking place, reared and sent forth into the world, and nobody ever
the wiser, until some day an empty nest is discovered.
And you must not prune away all the decayed branches from the trees; for if there is one
perch that seems more desirable to a bird than any other, it is the topmost tip of a very dead
And be sure to spare a few briar bushes that may come up on the outskirts of your domain;
and let the wild black cherry trees stand, though your best friend entreat you to cut them
down. There is nothing more to the taste of a bird--according to my observation -than
those juicy, half-sweet, astringent, winy little cherries. And he knows just as well when
they will begin to turn, as the school-boy does when the early apples will be ripe. Besides,
this, more than any other of the fruit-bearing trees, is full of crawling and creeping and flying
things which the insect-eating species of birds will dig out or snap up, returning to this well-
stocked store-house many times daily for their meaty luncheons. The hole in the trunk or
the caterpillar's nest is as useful to them as the cache of reserved supplies which the hunters
and trappers of the North-west have to fall back upon in case of need.
If it had not been for these mites and borers, the midgets and curculios, the caterpillars and
millers, the winged and many-legged nondescript things which the old fruit trees harbored,
we should never have had so many of the woodpeckers and orioles, the creepers and warblers.
And we never could have been as intimate as we were with the least of the fly-catcher family.
Summer after summer they came, minding nothing about our presence, so intent were they
on securing their flighty prey; flirting their tails like a pewee, and calling out: chTiec, che-
b8c!" with their mouths full--" chebec, che-bc-tr-tr-tree-o-chle!" Then away they went;
birds that seemed not to have a care in the world, fearing nothing, and worrying about noth-
ing. Food was plenty, and might be had for the catching. And how nimbly that was done !
Once a reckless little explorer, while reconnoitring about an aged Canada plum tree, close
THE BALTIMOlr E ORIOLE.
by the house, spied a fly within hovering over the dinner-table, and he dashed in at the open
window, snapped up the unsuspecting victim, and was out again, and all done as coolly as if
this performance, this cutting a circle, and making a raid on another's premises, and seizing a
house-fly on the wing, was a stroke of business lie was accustomed to, an acrobatic feat he had
been in the habit of practising all his life.
It was not until after ten years of their annual coming to us that we were able to find a
nest. This one was in the fork of an apple tree, and was not much larger than a humming-
bird's nest; made of everything that was soft, as nice bits of cobweb, and cotton and silk of
seed-pods, and all such fluffy things, laid inside of finest roots and the most pliant of grasses.
It was as round as a cup, and trim as if it had been clipped, and in the bottom were fine
plump, whity, shining eggs, round at one end and tapering at the other, so fine of form, so
finished and ivory fair that, seeing such perfection on a scale so minute, one could not help
thinking of a lily-of-the-valley. When the young were hatched -a queer little bunch, so
fuzzy and round and dumpy, of such a paly yellow in their sparse covering they looked less
like birds than a brood of faded-out bumble-bees.
II.--THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE.
It is curious to observe how capricious birds sometimes are about building, and how some
slight circumstance will cause them to change their plans, or delay, or abandon their work.
They are especially affected by the weather. Nothing disheartens them like a high wind.
We had three windy days in succession about the time when some of them were just begin-
ning. The sky was brassy with yellow light, the dry street was swept as clean as if done with
a broom, the gritty dust was sifted into the houses, the leaves were all turned wrong side up,
and everything in the outward world seemed under a miserable spell. And the birds showed
it as much as anything. They were annoyed to desperation. The wind blew their feathers
almost over their heads, like so much ruffled, furbelowed drapery set a-flying, till the owners,
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
half beside themselves, began to make querulous protest, as if they could put a stop to it.
Everything was out of tune; everything was disturbed. Some sparrows came and sat by
the hour in the top of an old pear tree, and looked the country over with an air of abject
hopelessness. They had contemplated building near us, but they never did. An oriole, how-
ever, had already begun, and her nest was well along when this blasting simoon came on. It
was the female who had done the work. She is usually the one. She seems to think herself
more capable than her mate, and therefore only allows him to bring material, after which he
may sit by and look on, but on no account meddle.
This one had selected a branch of an elm, so near the house that we could see everything she
did. And on the bright mornings, before the wind began to blow, we had watched her as she
fastened the cords, then twitched, and yanked, and pulled away at them, bracing her feet till
she nearly fell over backwards, putting so much violence into her work that shl must have
tired herself all out in a little while, as was doubtless true; for we noticed that she did not do
anything on it except for an hour or two at that time of day.
She had been engaged upon it four mornings, and on the fifth she came the same as usual.
It was then blowing a gale, the branch was swaying, and the leaves fluttered like rags. She
looked at the half completed nest, waited a while as if meditating, then flew away, and never
came back to it. And the pretty hammock, which she had slung on the twigs, held fast, not only
through that wind but through the storms and blasts of the next twelve months, and at this
very moment is swinging in a summer breeze.
But this could not have been a case of mere discouragement. The place was the one of her
first choice, safe, convenient, sightly, beautiful, where she could sit and see the morning sun,
and look down on the world below. If it had been on the third day of the wind, it would
seem reasonable that she might have succumbed in sheer despair; but under the circumstances
I believe it was temper. There is nothing like the female oriole for temper. A few instances
are all that is needed in proof.
THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE.
That same summer, on a different elm, were an oriole's and a robin's nest, both held in
peaceful possession as far as one could judge. The latter was already occupied by a brood,
half grown; and one day, in the absence of their parents, dame oriole steps across the way to
this unoffending neighbor's domicil, snatches up one of these defenceless little ones, carries it
a step or two, then with all her might hurls it far out into space, and watches it fall the long
way down to the ground, which it strikes with a thud that be.Lts the breath out of its body.
Knowing this fact, and that another of these sweet-dispositioned creatures was seen and heard
raving so at her mate, for daring to tuck a piece of string into the nest when she was not
there, that he flew away and hid from her fury, or rather betook himself to a place far off
from her-knowing these things, it is quite safe to presume that another one, which got hung
and so died, was the victim of her own passion. She might have accidentally become en-
tangled in one of the nooses with which she was fastening a strand in her nest; but more
likely she was so blinded with rage at something that did not go to suit her that she actually
lassoed herself, and so met with that awful fate, although it has been suggested that she did
it intentionally hung herself.
But I don't think that a bird would commit suicide. Cats have been known to- if we can
believe the story -and dogs. An elephant is capable of doing such a thing; and horses,
where there is no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have abundant cause to,
but not birds. Still, the fact remains, she was hung; and, as nobody could reach her, there
the poor thing dangled at the door of her own house till her feathers and flesh wasted away
and the little white skeleton only was left.
And now I begin to feel some compunctions of conscience for telling these dreadful things,
especially since one book on ornithology calls the orioles genial," which must be a figure of
speech. Genial! To whom ? Why, they are sometimes worse than the Philistines of old
towards other tribes; and they have been suspected of demolishing the nests of smaller birds
Circumstantial evidence being against them.
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THE BATIOR ORIOLB.
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
But there are things to offset all this. Such liquid sweetness, such rapture, such a gush of
melody, such exhilaration as there is in that triumphant song of his! There is all the fresh-
ness of May in it, the blueness of the sky, the beauty of apple-blossoms, the fragrance of vio-
lets- all the sweetness and loveliness and newness of the spring in one bird's voice.
And what a glory of color he is And what a toiler is she ; so painstaking, so diligent, so
skilful! Of the ancient craft of weavers, what a web she makes without either loom or shut-
tle. Those pensile nests are all alike with a difference, pouches of interlaced hempen string
and tough fibres of bark and the like, threaded through and through with long hairs from a
horse's mane or tail; woven as no hands could do it; strong, durable, tight, warm, and elastic
as crinoline -a piece of work to be wondered at and admired.
It is not so easy a matter to get sight of the particolored decorated eggs, of varying tint, from
bluish to roseate, adorned with lines and dots, scratches and dashes in russet and lavender.
But the young are apt to make themselves visible in an almost calamitous way; for, venturing
to peep over the threshold of their home too soon, they are likely to come tumbling down,
using their wings just enough to save themselves from harm, but not able to fly to a place
where they will be safe from marauding cats. If, beholding the accident, you pick up the rash
adventurer and set him on some post, and then wait and listen, you will find that no sooner
has he lifted up his voice than from some quarter one or both the parents appear, and manage
to comfort him, keeping a vigilant watch over him till you are off your guard, when, by some
trick which is equal to any sleight-of-hand performance, they spirit him out of sight and hear-
ing in as whist a way as if they were conspirators or fugitives for their lives.
Who ever did such a thing as to go a-birds'-nesting up a chimney, unless it was
that delectable writer and naturalist, White of Selborne, or perhaps Buffon who seems
to know as much about the place and the feathered inhabitants of it as if he too
THE CHIMNEY Y- S WA LL 0 W.
had lived in a flue? There are wonderful doings up there where the swallows have
it all their own way and a curious folk they are. Who ever sees them build, and
when and how do they do it? And when and where do they pick up all those short
twigs, and how can they carry them with those tiny triangles of bills and dainty feet?
And how comes it that they have such supplies of glue in their own throats, and how
does it happen that this home-made mucilage will stick so fast and sure? And by what
kind of manipulation-if a process may be so called in which no hands are engaged--
do they fashion those shallow, saucer-shaped nests which are so black and shiny, and
which look so much like wee wicker baskets? And how unaccountable it is that
they should have such lovely, milk-white eggs, which are so long and so slim,
and look all ready to slip out if anything should give the nest a jar! And how
strange it is that they come with food in the night, reversing the order of the universe
by bringing meat to their chicks when most other little birds are asleep! All along
at intervals through the still hours, the rustle of their stiff wings may be heard as
they skim or slide down the flue, and the rumble like far-off thunder when they
go out. And in the dead of the night too they have been heard to call to one
another and twitter, and make the loneliness less lonely with their cheerful tsp tsp -
tsp tsee "
Birds of the soot and darkness indeed are they; but they come out unsmirched, not a feather
out of place, not a blemish on the smooth olive-brown plumage. It would seem a
depressing sort of atmosphere in which to live, yet there is not anywhere to be found
a family of birds so animated, so sweet-tempered, so joyous as they, who are not only
heartsome themselves but heartsome to all who know them; who make this world a
happier place to be in, and all the summer twilights more enchanting, as they flock and
circle up overhead and chatter to one another in neighborly gossip, and say pleasant
things in those small voices whose sweet, vivacious notes are the next best thing to
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HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
singing, and after all this interchange of expressions of good will, drop down to their
nests in the dark.
These were some of the birds that did build; but oh the birds that didn't! Not a few
came, "interviewed" us, looked at our accommodations, and departed.
Of such were the blue-birds, a whole flock arriving together and tarrying till they had
chosen their mates which was done in the most amicable manner these all took to
flight except one pair which began to pry into nooks and corners, in such a mighty
hurry to set up housekeeping that they would not wait while a box could be nailed
up for them.
The black and white creepers would have remained, but for the interference of a cat,
by reason of which one was left companionless.
The downy woodpecker who had been glad to eat crumbs from our window-sill all
winter, and hammer away at an old tree all the spring, concluded that we had too
many neighbors to suit a family of his ; and the nut-hatch had similar sentiments.
The cherry-birds only came to plunder; the lesser redpolls were only making a con-
venience of our premises, staying over for a day or two on their journey; and the
purple finches were here after a certain kind of exhilerating beverage the winter-made-
cider that may be extracted from the "frozen and thawed" apples that have clung
to a tree since autumn.
The resplendent gold-finches, or yellow-birds, or thistle-birds, whatever their alias may
be, appeared in companies of fifty or sixty after every shower, and feasted on the nutty,
little meats which they picked out of the fallen elm-seeds softened by the rain, as the
quick-witted creatures knew, but never a nest did they build.
So too the humming-birds availed themselves of our stores and made free with
everything, sunning their ruby throats and dressing their iridescent plumage at our
BIRDS THAT DIDN'T BUILD.
door, and even flying in at the windows, but when it came to nest-building they were
too secretive for us to find one out.
The barn-swallows were most ungrateful, for after having had an opening made for their
convenient entrance and exit, they scrutinized every foot of the cob-webbed rafters, partially
repaired an antique nest, and then disappeared over night to return no more.
But our great disappointment was about the wren. As every body knows there are
almost no house-wrens left in this part of the country. For some reason unexplained,
they have deserted us, or become a nearly extinct race, whereas they used to build
in any such place of advantage as a hole in a fence-post or in the well-house, or
where a brace in the wood-shed had shrank away, or even in an augur-hole, or any
aperture that they could creep into and turn round in after the nest was in it.
Enquire where you will, there are now no wrens. But after many years one came
to us--the genuine, old-fashioned, vociferous, chattering, saucy wren. From somewhere
in the vast unknown where she had been abiding, she suddenly made her presence
in the barn-yard known by her impertinent salutation and warning, which meant that
she had begun a nest and that it was none of our business, and that we were to keep
away from it, or there would be trouble. From that somewhere sharp eyes had seen that
one of the posts of a tumble-down building had settled so much that a tenon had dropped
out of its mortise, leaving a deep hole just adapted for a nest: and already a few sticks and
a tuft of wool had been put down the opening, so that there seemed no question about it
- we should soon see what we should see, eight or ten cunning little eggs, as brown
and as trig as hazle-nuts, and then it followed that there would be wrens once more.
Just then, outside of the fence in the long grass a wicked tail was to be seen
waving like a tiger's when she is preparing to spring. And after that-there was
no bird. A vagabond cat had extinguished a race, and devoured the last of the
HOW WE WENT BIRDS'-NESTING.
Such were some of the happenings and findings of that summer. We did not know that so
many trained naturalists were abroad, and that John Burroughs and Ernest Ingersoll and others
had such delightful papers in store.
We then were not acquainted with the descriptions given by Wilson or Audubon. Nor had
we met with those fascinating books on British birds Yarrell's, full of pictures, full of charm-
ing reading; and the old, unabridged Bewick, with each bird amidst its fit surroundings, from
,the drowsy owl on the top of a ruin and the quail in the grass, to the lone flamingoes and her-
ons in marshy places.
Yes: it was all in the books if we had only had them !
All but the best part. All but the glory of the summer skies, the freshness of the air of
June, the cool, green coverts, the shadowy wood-paths, the ripple of waters. All but our own
experience of those perfect days, and the seeing and the hearing and knowing for ourselves.