morning and evening twilight. To this group be-
longs the beautiful great snowy owl of the North.
Its usual white coat is sometimes specked with
black. It is rapid in flight, and, falcon-like, strikes
ducks, grouse, and pigeons on the wing, and seizes
hares from the ground, and fish from shallows.
20. Driving; home in the warm afternoon sun,
the children nodding on their seats, our naturalist
concludes by dreamily quoting from John Bur-
roughs : "All the ways of the owl are ways of soft-
ness and duskiness. His wings are shod with
silence his plumage is edged with down."
POLLY AND HER KIN. 121
POLLY AND HER KIN
1. WE have become so well acquainted with
polly in her cage, or on her perch, or sitting in the
shop-window, that she seems to be one of us, and
we seldom think or ask where she came from. We
must, therefore, follow the parrot to its home in
South America, where we shall find the rnacaw-
the large parrot, with long, tapering tail, and
bright red, blue, green, and black colors. There
we shall find these birds of exquisite feather more
numerous than blackbirds about our swamps.
2. And here, in their native woods, too, these
"pollies" keep up an incessant talking and
laughing, all in their own language. The great
Humboldt, who has told so much about South
America, says it is necessary to have lived in the
hot valleys of the Andes to believe that u the
shrieking of the parrots actually drowns the roar
of the mountain torrents."
3. Or we may visit the home of the gray par-
rot, with its tail of deep red, on the western coast
or in the interior of Africa. Here there will be
the same jolly, great, happy family, all talking,
and perhaps vieing with the monkeys in climbing
the trees. In their original home, parrots are
NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
clean birds. They rise early in the morning, get
their breakfast of fruit or nuts, then take a bath,
and return to the trees, where they smooth down
their gaudy dresses, and sit and sleep during the
The Gray Parrot.
4. The green parrot learns to talk in the Ian
guage of men, but not so well as the gray parrot,
POLLY AND HER KIX. 123
Indeed, polly is not only a great climber, but it is
so good an imitator that we must call it a monkey
in feathers. The beak of the parrot is unlike that
of any other bird. How odd it is the upper part
turning down like a hook, and the under part
shaped like a cup. By this beak, polly hooks on
to a limb and pulls herself up so that she can
catch it with her foot, which has two toes in front
and two behind. By her beak she can crack the
hardest nuts, and on this account is called a
5. These bird-talkers have done some wonder-
ful talking with their bills and thick tongues. In
the sixteenth century a cardinal paid a hundred
crowns for a parrot that could repeat the Apos-
tles' Creed correctly. Another parrot could act
as chaplain on board of a ship, by repeating the
Lord's Prayer. In the year 1822 there w r as a par-
rot living in London who sang a number of songs
in perfect time and tune. She could ask for what
she wanted as nicely as could any human being.
6. Is polly a mere imitator, or does she under-
stand what she learns ? Some singular facts may
help to answer this question. There was once in
England a parrot which was able to speak both in
English and Portuguese; and, when addressed in
either of these tongues, its reply was in the lan-
guage of the speaker. Another one, in the hot
NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
weather enjoyed having water poured over her,
and when she was satisfied would say, " That's
enough." The same accomplished bird would sing
and dance ; and, if a stranger came into the kitchen,
polly w r ould cry out, "Somebody's wanted," or
ask, " What's your business ? ' :
7. There was once a parrot in Boston that had
been taught to whistle for a dog. One day, when
he was tuning up his whistle, a dog happened to
be passing by, and, thinking he heard a familiar
call, started toward the cage of the parrot, when
the bird roughly shouted, " Get out, you brute ! r
The dog ran at once, leaving the parrot to enjoy
8. The little parrakeet of South Africa is
thought to be the handsomest of all the parrot
tribe. It has an emerald-green body, a deep-red
beak, a rose-colored ring round its neck, and two
long tail-feathers of brilliant blue. It is graceful,
lively, gentle, and a good talker. One of these
ringed parrakeets, if told to call the cat, would
either " mew ' loudly, or use the cat's name. It
would also play hide-and-seek, and, if the mistress
hid under the table, the bird would knock on the
table several times to induce her to come out.
9. Our own North America is the native home
of a very pretty parrot, called the Carolina parra-
keet. It is small, and its coat is mainly of a pleas-
POLLY AND HER KIN. 125
ing green color. A golden collar adorns its neck,
and its wings are olive green with yellow tips. In
flocks it has been seen as far north as the Ohio
River, and individuals were formerly met still far-
ther to the north. A great destroyer of grain-
crops, it has made sore enemies, in spite of its
pretty ways and its talent for talk.
10. Wilson, the lover of birds, captured one of
these parrots that had been slightly wounded in
the wing. He carried it in his boat and on land,
wrapped in a handkerchief, a thousand miles, when
he arrived at the country of the Chickasaw In-
dians. These people recognized in the feathered
traveler an old friend, and it became a bond of
friendship between them and its master.
11. The bird sighed for a companion, and
called to the wild parrakeets that flew by its cage.
A looking-glass was placed before it, in which its
own form was reflected, and it appeared to be
satisfied. At night it would lay its head against
the image in the glass and whisper some gentle
note. Very tame at length it became, and learned
to speak its own name.
12. An interesting parrot, found in Australia
and the adjacent tropical islands, is called the
cockatoo. The note it utters is something like
" cockatoo " ; whence its name. Upon the head it
carries a crest of brilliant feathers, which can be
126 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
set up or laid down as it may choose. Gathered
in large flocks, this species presents a beautiful
appearance by the variety of the colors of its
plumage. The disposition of the cockatoo is
gentle, and it learns to talk and form words into
13. The cockatoo, by the mischief it makes,
creates enemies. The natives remember the plun-
der of their crops with, anything but kindness. So
they hunt and kill the cockatoo. They have no
guns, but use a weapon called a boomerang. This
weapon is made of wood, and is shaped like a
sickle. When thrown, it flies in many circles, and
in a winding path. A great flock of cockatoos, sit-
ting on the trees near a body of water, is slyly
approached by the hunters. When the birds rise in
a body, the boomerangs are hurled, one after
another, among them, and large numbers drop to
the ground with broken necks or wings. The
cockatoo, like other parrots, is tamed and petted.
14. A cockatoo was once trained to act a little
scene in company with a Newfoundland dog. The
'dog would 'sit up quietly, while the bird would
walk up his back, over his head, out on the end
of his nose, and make a bow to the spectators.
Then the bird flew to its master's hand, while the
dog picked up a hat, and passed it around for con-
tributions to a fund raised for a humane society.
1. " WHAT ! Do you call the woodpecker a
friend iu feathers ? You do ? Well, well ! May be
he is a friend to you book-folks ; you have a very
soft way of looking at
everything that seems
pretty about you. But
you just turn farmer
once, and then see
whether this little red-
headed rascal is a friend
to you. Pretty friend
in feathers ! If I could,
I'd hang every wood-
pecker in the land. I
tell the boys to rob
every nest they can
2. So said our farm-
er - neighbor, when it
was gently suggested
to him that the woodpecker is his true friend.
" But what does the red-headed rascal do, neigh-
bor, that brings him your ill will ? ' " Do ? Why,
he's an everlasting thief and robber. He steals
128 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
our cherries, apples, pears, and strips the husks
from our growing corn, and hammers the apple-
trees full of holes. There ought to be a law, as
there was in old times, giving four cents a head
for every dead woodpecker."
o. Perhaps there is a good deal of truth in
what our neighbor has said ; but we must give the
accused " rascal " a chance to be heard before he
is condemned. First, however, let us follow the
boy -farmer in his exploit to rob the red-head's nest.
He has found the tree in which the nest is, for it
is easy enough to find the woodpecker's hole in a
dry, bare tree. He pulls off his boots, moistens
his hands, and hitches and puffs up the trunk of
4. There is a naked limb, fortunately, right
over the hole ; it is very slender and partly de-
cayed, but a boy can afford to risk his neck to rob
a nest, and especially the nest of a rascal that robs
his father. So he sits on the limb, and holds fast
with one hand while he bends over and softly
passes the other hand into the hole. Scarcely has
it entered as far as the wrist when out comes the
hand as quickly as if it had been bitten, and the
boy slides down the tree much more briskly than
he went up.
5. Just look at that boy ! How pale he is !
And his hands, how they are scratched. What
was the matter ? Did the red rascal drive his bill
into him ? No ; worse than that. He put his hand
on a snake ; and that is the reason why he turned
so white, and slid down so hastily, and now
sulks away to his home, saying, " You won't catch
me trying to rob a red-head's nest again."
6. The woodpecker, then, not only has the farm-
er for an enemy, but his boy, and the black snake
too, who, having surmised that the boy would soon
make his annual visit to the nest, has got ahead of
him, and is enjoying a feast on six little white eggs,
in a house that has cost a great deal of hard labor
to build. Well, suppose the woodpecker does steal
the fruit, and bore holes in the living trees ; does
he not, on the w^hole, do a great deal more good
than harm ?
7. We must watch these abused friends and
become better acquainted with them. They are
birds of very fine feather. Do you not know the
little downy woodpecker, black and white, and
smallest of all ? And the hairy woodpecker, a little
larger, and with almost the same variegated coat ?
And the yellow-bellied, and red-breasted, and gold-
en-wing, with crimson crowns or necks, and soft
gray feathers, exquisitely penciled with white or
gold? These, though not so mischievous as the
red-head, sometimes taste fruit. Woodpeckers are
good judges of fruit. When thev test the farmer's
130 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
cherries or apples, they are sure to sample the best
and the ripest.
8. But suppose the woodpeckers were all mur-
dered or banished : what -then would become of
the trees and the fruit left to the mercy of cater-
pillars and bugs and worms ? These insects do far
more mischief than the birds do that live chiefly
on them, and, when we have given the woodpecker
a fair trial, our judgment must be that he deserves
all the fruit he gets for the good he does.
9. See what a splendid carpenter the wood-
pecker is. He needs no scaffold. His little feet
have two toes with sharp claws in front and two
behind, so that he can cling to the bark of the
tree, with his head up or down. His tail-feathers
are stiff and help to hold him up. His bill is long,
straight, and so formed as to be pick-axe, auger,
chisel, and hammer. His tongue is a still more
wonderful tool. He has in his head a little ma-
chine by which he can push it out far beyond the
end of his bill. And on the end of this tongue are
little fine points, like the barb of a fish-hook.
10. So, with this fish-hook tongue, the wood-
pecker can pierce and draw from the tree, even
beyond the reach of his bill, a worm or grub ; and
if the insect is too small to catch in this way, he
has a guni, or sticky liquid, that flies to the end of
his tongue and glues the game to it. And he is a
TREE- CLIMBERS. 131
great worker. No other bird works so hard or has
so tough a muscle. From daybreak to dark he
hammers away, his little mate now and then taking
his place and giving him a rest.
11. The woodpecker is a skilled worker. He
knows by the looks of the bark where the worm
is ; or, if in doubt, he taps with his hammer until
he strikes the place that sounds hollow. To build
his nest, he cuts a smooth, round hole, inclined a
little upward to keep the rain out, and then down
lengthwise of the tree, sometimes five inches deep.
He has no delicious song with which to charm his
mate. His music is made by the noise of his bill
rapping on a hard, hollow tree.
12. "Another trait our woodpeckers have that
endears them to me," says Mr. Burroughs, " is their
habit of drumming in the spring. They are song-
less birds, and yet are all musicians ; they make the
dry limbs eloquent of the coming change. Did you
think that loud, sonorous hammering, which pro-
ceeded from the orchard or from the near woods,
on that still March or April morning, was only
some bird getting its breakfast ? It is downy, but
he is not rapping at the door of a grub ; he is rap-
ping at the door of spring, and the dry limb thrills
beneath the ardor of his blows.
13. " Or, later in the season, in the dense forest,
or by some remote mountain lake, does that meas-
132 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS ASD FINS,
ured rhythmic beat that breaks upon the silence
first tkree strokes following each other rapidly,
succeeded by two louder ones with longer intervals
between them, and that has an effect upon the alert
ear as if the solitude itself had at last found a
voice does that suggest anything less than a de-
liberate musical performance ? In fact, our wood-
peckers are just as much drummers as is the ruffed
grouse, and they have their particular limbs and
stubs to which they resort for that purpose. Their
need of expression is apparently just as great as
that of song-birds, and it is not surprising that they
should have found out that there is music in a dry,
seasoned limb, which can be evoked beneath theii
14. " The past spring a downy woodpecker be-
gan to drum early in March on a partly-decayed
apple-tree that stands on the edge of a narrow strip
of woodland near me. His drum was the stub of
a dry limb about the size of one's wrist. The heart
was decayed and gone, but the outer shell was hard
and resonant. The bird would keep his position
there for an hour at a time. Between his drum-
niiugs he would preen his plumage and listen as if
for the drum of some rival. How swift his head
would go when he was delivering his blows upon
the limb ! His beak wore the surface perceptibly.
When he wished to change the key, wilich was
quite often, he would shift his position an inch or
two to a knot which gave out a higher, shriller
15. Largest of all his tribe is the ivory -billed
woodpecker. A splendid bird is he, with a scarlet
crest upon his head. The forests and marshes of
the West and South are his home, and his work is
shown by great heaps of chips that fall at the roots
of the pine and cypress trees upon which he works.
Among the Indians he is regarded as a hero for his
labor, and they wear the head of the ivory-billed
woodpecker for a charm.
16. There are other birds that have the climb-
ing feet like the
they do not in the
same manner search
for food. The tou-
can, of South Amer-
ica, ]s, in some re-
spects, like the
woodpecker, but its
bill looks like a
nose, and is soft
and spongy. It is
not a worker like its cousin we have been reading
about, but uses other birds' holes to make its nest
134 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
in, and gets its food as easily as it can. But its
plumage is beautiful and soft, and is used for
17. Cuckoos are related to woodpeckers by
their feet, but they have different habits of life*
The ground or California cuckoo, or chapparal
cock, is a fine-looking bird, nearly as large as the
crow, with glossy and variegated green feathers,
shy, and swifter on its feet than the horse. The
European cuckoo is the cuckoo of the poets and of
song. It is the harbinger of spring. But there
are some queer things to be said about it.
18. This cuckoo lays her eggs at too long in-
tervals to be hatched at the same time. So what
does she do ? She lays her eggs in other birds'
nests, one in each nest, or, laying them on the
ground, carries them in her bill and deposits them
in these nests. So Mrs. Wren or Mrs. Bluebird,
or some other patient sitter, hatches out the young
cuckoo and rears him. But when the little wretch
has grown big enough he tumbles his step brothers
and sisters out of their home.
19. The American cuckoo does no such strange
things. She builds her own nest, and hatches and
broods her young like a good, faithful mother.
About the size of a turtle-dove, she is clothed in
Quaker brown, and is a deft, sprightly bird. The
simple note, coo, coo, coo, from the thicket, an-
nounces the presence of the male, and, when it is
most clamorous, is taken as a sign of approaching
1. O blithe comer ! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O cuckoo ! shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice ?
2. While I am lying on the grass,
Thy loud note smites my ear !
From hill to hill it seems to pass
At once far off and near.
3. I hear thee babbling to the vale,
Of sunshine and of flowers ;
And unto me thou bring'st a tale
Of visionary hours.
4. Thrice welcome, darling of the spring !
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing
A voice, a mystery.
5. The same whom in my boyhood days
I listened to ; the cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.
136 NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
6. To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green
And thou wert still a hope, a love ;
Still longed for, never seen !
7. And I can listen to thee yet ;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.
DIVERS OF THE AIR.
1. ALONG the quiet, shady brooks, where bend-
ing willows gently touch the still water, or perched
upon the scraggy top of some tall tree that leans
over a woody river there we may see the king-
fisher. He deserves his name, for he has a royal
look. Upon his head he wears a kingly crest, and
shades of blue glimmer on his back, making a
showy contrast with the white, thick, oily plumage
below, and the white collar about his neck.
2. A royal sportsman is this kingfisher, as
weary, luckless boys well know, who have watched
him as he stands, still as a statue, on some stone or
overhanging bough, and then shoots down like a
DIVERS OF THE AIR.
meteor and carries off the fish which was nibbling
away at their baits. " Oh, if we could only catch
fish like him ! '
sigh these droop-
ing boys, as they
bait and throw
their hooks, and
jerk, and won-
der, and scold at
crafty perch or
they will not be
caught. But it
is serious busi-
ness with our bird, for he must get his fish, or
starve ; while our disappointed boys are only fish-
ing for fun.
3. Mr. Darwin says the kingfisher always beats
his fish before he swallows it, to express his emo-
tions. His emotions must be lively ones, and we
may wonder what they can be. Is it because he is
glad, or because he is hungry, that he takes a perch
by the tail and lashes him first on one side and
then on the other of the limb of a tree ? It is said
that in the zoological gardens where he is confined
he treats his beefsteak in the same way.
4. Now, we will leave Mr. Darwin to settle the
matter of emotions, but we must conclude that the
13b NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
kingfisher beats his fish for the same reason that a
cook beats his steak because it is tough. A perch
has very angry fins, too, and a rough tail, that are
not pleasant to think of in close connection with
the tender throat and crop of a bird. It surely
seems wise to beat and break these fierce and jag-
ged instruments before they are sent upon a jour-
ney so sensitive and perilous.
5. It is pleasant to think of bird-life so airy
and serene ; pleasant to think that bird-bread may
be earned so easily ; and pleasant to think what
rare fun it must be for the kingfisher with his long,
stout, sharp bill to strike for his game, and scarce-
ly ever miss ; and then rise upon his happy wing
to some high limb where he can express his emo-
tions and enjoy his meal. But stop ! Life is not
always a smooth and unvexed current even for our
happy kingfisher. He sometimes gets a bone in
his throat, or chokes with a fish too large to swal-
low ; drops from his lofty breakfast-table and floats
down the stream to be devoured by some ravenous
6. The kingfisher, though possessed of a good
appetite, has an eye to future wants, and in some
hole in the bank of a stream he stores away his
surplus game for a rainy day, or for a time when
his luck is poor. The nest of this bird is a piece
of cunning architecture. Several feet above the
DIVERS OF THE AIR. 139
water-line, in the bank of the stream, a smooth,
deep hole is made, at the end of which a larger
room is scooped out. Here the nest is built. First
there is laid up a platform of fish-bones, to keep
the eggs from the moist ground ; then upon this
curious foundation the soft nest is placed, the
white eggs are laid, and the young are hatched.
7. Birds, as we have already seen, are not all
free from moral imperfection. The kingfisher is
not a saint or an angel. True parental affection is
on the side of the mother. The father is said to
cherish cruel feelings toward the little ones. If
not prevented by the watchful mother, he drags
them from their downy nest and even kills them.
8. But this bird has an honored history. He
it is that was called by the ancients the halcyon.
And for seven days before and seven days after
the winter solstice, when the halcyon was supposed
to build its nest, the sea was calm, and those
were happy days. The dead body of the king-
fisher was thought to keep away thunderbolts, and
to bring beauty, peace, plenty, and prosperity. So,
among some unlettered people of to-day, the head
of the kino-fisher is believed to be a charin for love,
a protection against witchcraft, or a pledge of fair
9. There lives in the Malay Islands a larger
bird than our kingfisher being eighteen inches
NEIGHBORS WITH WINGS AND FINS.
The Racket-tailed Kingfisher.
long called the
fisher. Like so
many of the trop-
ical birds, it is
dressed in beautiful
plumage. The bill
is coral red, the back
and wings are pur-
ple, the upper parts
bright azure blue,
and the breast
white. Two exceed-
ingly long tail-feath-
ers extend away be-
yond the ordinary
tail, ending in
points shaped like
10. A very odd
member of the king-
fisher family is the
giant kingfisher, or
Its home is Aus-
tralia, and its pe-
culiar name arises
from its strange
DIVERS OF THE AIR. 141
cry and its queer actions. The diet it feeds upou
is not confined to fish, but includes insects, rats,
and snakes. When the sun rises and when it sets,
the laughing jackass sets up a lively chant, on ac-
count of which it has been called the "settlers'
clock." This music has been compared to the
" yelling chorus of unquiet demons."
11. Any event out of the usual course calls
forth the peculiar strains of the laughing jackass.
If a fire is lighted, or a stranger arrives, or a native
encamps, a few of these droll birds consider it their
special duty to draw near, and from some over-
hanging branch pour down their contemptuous,
braying laughter. A vile criminal was once caught
by means of these intruders. Just in advance of
his pursuers, he had taken to the thicket. The
birds saw the fellow, and thought it a fitting op
portunity for a laugh. So they hovered over the