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THE OWL. 198


The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
Of water 'neath the summer sunshine gleamed;
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile, gently, for their sakes
Who listened, might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O'er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.
- Helen Hunt Jackson

Best of all, old King December,
Laughs beside the burning ember,
With his children round his knees,
And a look of jovial ease.
He is crowned Lord of Misrule -
Here's his Queen, and there's his fool.
He is wreathed with frosty green,
And ever the gay song between
"Wassail!" shouts he, "health to all!"
And re-echoes the old hall. -
Kind December!
- Walter Thornbury, "The Twelve Brothers."

Copyright, 1900, by A. W. Mumford.


(_Bubo virginianus subarcticus._)

"Bird of the silent wing and expansive eye, grimalkin in feathers,
feline, mousing, haunting ruins and towers, and mocking the midnight
stillness with thy uncanny cry." - _John Burroughs, Birds and Poets._

Among the birds of prey (Raptores) none are better known, more written
about or more cosmopolitan than that nocturnal division (Family
Strigidae), which includes the two hundred or more species of Owls.
From the Arctic regions of the north to the Antarctic regions of the
south they are known. Most of the genera are represented in both
hemispheres, though eight are peculiar to the Old World and three to
the New. The majority of the species finds a home in the forests,
though a few live in marshes and on the plains. Some invade the
buildings of civilization and may be found in the unfrequented towers
of churches and in outbuildings.

Disliked by all birds its appearance during the day is the signal for a
storm of protests and, knowing that there is little need of fear of his
power at this time, they flock about him, pecking and teasing him till
he is obliged to retreat to his obscure roosting place.

The Owls in most countries of both the New World as well as the Old are
regarded as birds of ill omen and messengers of woe, and are protected
from harm by some uncivilized and superstitious peoples, some believing
that spirits of the wicked reside in their bodies. By others they have
been called "Devil's Birds." The belief of some unlearned people in the
close relationship of the Owl with death and the grave dates back at
least to the time of Shakespeare, who speaks of the Owl's hoot as "A
song of death." Among the ancient races only the Athenians seem not to
have possessed this popular fear and superstition. They venerated the
Owl and regarded it as the favorite bird of Minerva. On the other hand
the Romans looked upon the Owl with fear and detestation, dreading its
appearance as the embodiment of all evil and the omen of unfortunate
events to come. By them the Owl was consecrated to Proserpine, the wife
of Hades and queen of the underworld. Pliny tells us that the city of
Rome underwent a solemn cleansing because of the visit of one of these
birds. When the unearthly character of their cries and their quiet,
spirit-like motion, as they fly through the night hours, are taken
into consideration, it is not surprising that they have been and are
held in awe and dread by many people. The characteristics of the two
sexes are practically the same, except that the female is somewhat the
larger. The young resemble the adults, but are usually darker in color.
Excepting those species that are whitish in color, the Owls are usually
a mixture of black, brown, rufous gray, yellow and white, and barring
is common on the wings and tail. Their bills are blackish, dusky or
yellowish. Their eyes are so fixed that they have little power of
turning the eye-balls and thus are obliged to turn the head when they
wish to change their range of vision. This they do with great rapidity,
in fact, the motion is so rapid that without close observation the bird
seems to turn its head in one direction for several revolutions if the
object looked at passes around the perch upon which the Owl rests.
A remarkable characteristic is the reversible fourth toe or digit,
enabling the Owl to perch with either one or two toes behind.

[Illustration: WESTERN HORNED OWL.
(Bubo virginianus subarcticus.)
About 1/3 Life-size.

Mr. Evans tells us that "the note varies from a loud hoot to a low,
muffled sound or a clear, musical cry; the utterance of both young and
adults being in some cases a cat-like mew, while the screech-owl
snores when stationary. The hoot is said to be produced by closing the
bill, puffing out the throat, and then liberating the air, a proceeding
comparable to that of the Bitterns. On the whole the voice is mournful
and monotonous, but occasionally it resembles a shrill laugh." The
utterances of the Owls are, however, quite various. Some species will
give a piercing scream and hiss like an angry cat when disturbed.

The Western Horned Owl of our illustration is a variety of the Great
Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) of eastern North America. It has a wide
and extensive range reaching from Manitoba, on the north, into the
table-lands of Mexico on the south and eastward from the Pacific coast
across the Great Plains. Occasionally specimens are taken as far east
as the states of Illinois and Wisconsin. It is replaced in the Arctic
regions by the Arctic Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus arcticus), which
is lighter in color, its range only reaching as far south as Idaho
and South Dakota. The Western Horned Owl breeds nearly throughout its
range. It is of interest that this Owl is not an inhabitant of high
altitudes but rather of the foothills and more open country of its
range. The Dusky Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus saturatus), the darkest
colored of all the owls, taking its place in the higher regions.

In its habits it is closely related to its eastern relative. It has
a similar call note and is as destructive. It feeds on grouse and
ducks as well as other species of valuable food water-birds. It also
kills many forest birds that are useful to man as insect destroyers.
It is said that they will feed on mammals, such as pole cats, prairie
dogs, squirrels, rabbits and other rodents. But this is not the worst
crime of this marauder, for when it visits the more thickly inhabited
districts it appreciates the delicacies to be found in the poultry
yards of the farmer and kills far more than it needs to satisfy its

With regard to the nesting habits of this Owl, Captain Charles Bendire
says: "While perhaps the majority of these birds resort to hollow
trees or old nests of the larger hawks and of the common crow, quite
a number nest in the wind-worn holes in sandstone and other cliffs,
small caves in clay and chalk bluffs, in some localities on the ground,
and, I believe, even occasionally in badger holes under ground. On
the grassy plains in the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in northeastern
Oregon, I have several times seen Owls of this race sitting on the
little mounds in front of badger or coyote burrows, near the mouths of
which small bones and pellets of fur were scattered about. While unable
to assert positively that they do actually breed occasionally in such
holes, the indications point that way, and this would not seem to be
due to the absence of suitable timber, as an abundance of trees grow
along the banks of the Umatilla river not more than a mile away. When
nesting in trees, large cottonwoods, sycamores, willows, pecans, pines,
oaks and firs are generally preferred. In regions, however, where heavy
timber is scarce, they content themselves with nests in small mesquite
and hackberry trees, frequently placed not more than ten feet from
the ground." Captain Bendire also states that they have been known to
use the nests of the black-billed magpie, either laying their eggs on
the inside of these curiously built and enormous structures or on the
broken-down roofs. These nests are well adapted to the requirements
of the Owl, for they vary from one to three feet in diameter and are
constructed in a very substantial manner. The foundations consist of
twigs held together with mud, and upon this, built of smaller twigs, is
the nest, which is plastered with mud and lined with grass and small
roots. The whole structure is surrounded by dead twigs, which form an
arch over the top of the nest. This is a palace which the Owl would
never take the trouble to construct, but is willing to use.

It is said that the Western Horned Owl will lay two or more sets of
eggs at short intervals if the nest and eggs are disturbed, and an
instance has been recorded where three sets of eggs have been taken
from the nest of a single pair at intervals of about four weeks. The
number of eggs laid is usually two or three, and infrequently four are
found and sets of five and six have been reported. The eggs are white,
showing, as a rule, but little gloss and are roughish. In form they are
rounded oval, about two and one-half inches long, and nearly two inches
in diameter. The period of incubation lasts about four weeks, and it
is said that only the female sets on the eggs, the male furnishing her
with food.

Like the Great Horned Owl this variety is quite solitary in its habits,
except during the breeding season, and is almost as destructive as that
bird which is considered the most destructive of all the Owls.

The Owl has long been an inspiration to the poets, due to its odd
appearance and uncanny actions during the daylight hours, the wise
expression of its face, and its quiet flight during the weird hours of
the night.

"The lark is but a bumpkin fowl;
He sleeps in his nest till morn;
But my blessing upon the jolly owl
That all night blows his horn."


When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,
And the whirring sail goes round,
And the whirring sail goes round;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.

When merry milkmaids click the latch,
And rarely smells the new-mown hay,
And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch
Twice or thrice his roundelay,
Twice or thrice his roundelay;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.
- Alfred Tennyson.

[Illustration: LONG-CRESTED JAY.
(Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha.)
Nearly Life-size.


(_Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha._)

The family (Corvidae) of birds to which the long-crested jay belongs
includes not only the jays but also the crows, the ravens, the magpies
and the rooks. It is a cosmopolitan family with the exception that no
representatives are found in New Zealand. It includes over two hundred
species of which about twenty-five are inhabitants of North America.
Strictly speaking, none of the species are migratory, excepting
those whose range carries them to regions of severe winters. Some of
the species are well protected by soft and thick coats of down and
feathers, and as they are generous in their selection of food, eating
varieties that may be procured at any season, they do not need to move
from place to place but may remain resident throughout the year.

The jays differ from the crows in their method of progression on the
ground, hopping instead of walking. They are distinctly arboreal in
their habits, and usually have a bright-colored plumage, blue being
the most common. Their heads are often crested. Though found nearly
throughout the world their highest development seems to have been
reached by those species that are resident in the warmer portions of

The jays are noisy and quarrelsome, fretting apparently for the most
insignificant reasons. They are great mimics and exhibit a high degree
of intelligence. The jay possesses a variety of notes and calls,
and is a notable borrower of those of some other species of birds.
This versatility has given rise to the very appropriate name of the
sub-family in which they are included, the Garrulinae, from the Latin
word garrio, meaning to prattle.

Our illustration shows the color and markings of the long-crested jay.
Its home is in the wooded regions of the southern Rocky Mountains,
southern Arizona and the northwestern portion of Mexico. It breeds
throughout this range.

Dr. Coues has said regarding this bird that it is "a stranger to
modesty and forbearance, and the many qualities that charm us in some
little birds and endear them to us; he is a regular fillibuster,
ready for any sort of adventure that promises sport or spoil, even if
spiced with danger." In spite of these characteristics they are very
quiet during the nesting season and the female is very devoted to her
nest and will almost allow herself to be touched before flying from
her eggs. Their nests are bulky and usually placed in out-of-the-way
places, in low, bushy, cone-bearing trees. They seemingly will eat
anything of a nutritious nature. Flying insects, larvae, beetles,
flies, spiders, eggs, and even small birds, seem to be palatable to
their tastes. Yet they are principally vegetarians feeding upon seeds,
hard fruits and berries when these are obtainable.

The Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), of which the long-crested form
is a geographical variety, is a resident of the Northwestern portion of
North America ranging from northern California to southern Alaska and
eastward to the Cascade Mountains.


"Ah walk out when de eas' am red
Among de timbehs tall;
Ah heah a mockeh oberhead,
De sweetest froat ob all.
'Why do yo' sing?' Ah stop en ask,
En den Ah heah her say;
'Dis am mah daily sunup task,
A sahanade to Day.'

"Songs ob sunrise joy when de darkness fades away,
De mockeh in de treetop sing a welcum song to Day.

"Ah brush among de meddeh lan's
Wheh yelleh-jackets hum;
Ah look up wheh det dogwood spans,
En heah det solemn drum.
Oh. Misteh Gol' Wing, why yo' drum
Up yandah in de tree?
'Ah drum jes' kase de day hab cum,'
Is how he answeh me.

"Drum! drum! drum! Yo' see his movin' haid,
De peckeh drum a welcum when de eas' am fiah red.

"Ah thrash among de bramble vines,
A-brushin' off de dew;
A jaybird callin' fum de pines,
A catbird chimes in, too,
'What's all dis racket fum yo' two?'
En den Ah heah dem say:
'We's callin' kase de sun am new,
En de night hab gone away.'

"De jaybird en de catbird, dey call en welcum day,
Dey's happy when de sun cum up en bathe with sumac spray.

"En all aroun' de timbeh lan'
Deh watch foh cummin' day;
En Night she shake Mis' Mawnin's han,'
En den she fade away.
Den ebehy songsteh break de hush,
De hummin' bird he hum;
Mis' Quail she wistle in de brush,
De gol' wing peckeh drum.

"En all bus' out in melody det echo fro' de haze,
When de sun he smile in crimson en de dewdrops tuhn a-blaze."
- Victor A. Hermann, in The Chicago Daily News.


Once there had been six little brothers and sisters, six little fluffy,
plush-covered creatures with tiny silken ears of which Madam Field
Mouse had been so proud it had been only a delight to take long trips
over the farm for dainty tidbits, if only for the pleasure of seeing
their bright black eyes sparkle as they speedily devoured them.

Once there had been six but now there were only three. Yesterday
morning there had been four, and the morning before, five. Each night
found one less to snuggle down in the fluffy bed of corn stalks,
which Madam, their mother, had carefully shredded lest there be found
something which should hurt their tender little limbs.

She looked about searchingly. Perhaps they had not all yet arisen,
and she poked the nest over carefully; but her search was unrewarded
and she looked sadly at Fluffy and Flossy and Flutter as she prepared
to depart on her daily journey, wondering which one she should never
see again. Finally she turned to Mr. Field Mouse, who was daintily
combing his long whiskers with his hind foot. Mr. Field Mouse was very
particular as to his appearance, and never ventured abroad unless his
toilet had been properly made.

"I think, my dear, we must find a new dwelling place," she said. "This
corn shock, although snug and having the advantage of containing an
abundance of homely food, is yet in danger of being disturbed. I saw
yesterday there were boys at the other side of the field, tearing down
the shocks and pulling off the ears of corn, and I greatly fear they
will continue until our home will be destroyed and our darling children
eaten by the cruel dog that sits by them, watching intently. I am sure
he can be looking for nothing but baby mice," and she looked tenderly
at Fluffy, who was listening interestedly.

But Mr. Field Mouse only continued to comb, as if her remarks were not
worthy of consideration.

She looked indignantly at him for a moment, and continued in a louder,
more emphatic tone of voice: "Have you noticed, Mr. Field Mouse, that
only three of our precious darlings are here? Perhaps you can tell me
where Fatty has gone; he was here yesterday morning. You will remember
I left them in your charge while I went to fetch some buckwheat from
the bin."

He looked inquiringly about. "I have not missed any of them, my dear.
You know I am not very good at arithmetic. I only left them for a few
moments, a very few, while I went to fetch a bit of that sugar-cane
stacked up by the fence. The juice is excellent and I felt faint," he
said, apologetically. "If you are not going out this morning I think I
should relish a little more." He smacked his lips appreciatively.

"You are a gourmand, Mr. Field Mouse," she said, severely, turning away
in disgust as he scampered off over the stubble.

"It is fortunate that I am able to take care of myself and our
children, too," she mused, digging her way to the ground and beginning
to throw out the dirt with her tiny paws.

Soon a neat underground channel was dug which led out into the open
air, and then Mrs. Field Mouse rested from her labors and hungrily
nibbled a bit of corn.

"We can escape if worst comes to worst, darlings," she said,

When Mr. Field Mouse returned he looked discontentedly over the supper
table where his family were contentedly nibbling at an ear of nice
yellow corn. "Nothing but corn for supper," he grumbled.

Mrs. Field Mouse resolutely kept her temper and went on placidly
eating. "Well, have you decided to move?" she asked, pleasantly. "I
have discovered a barrel of broomcorn seed setting up in the granary
that will make a snug home for the winter. No one will be likely to
disturb us, and on the whole I think it will be a desirable change,"
she said.

"It is too far away from the pile of sugar cane to suit me, I fear,"
he said, curling up in the softest part of the nest, and covering his
nose with his paws was soon snoring heavily.

"I think this is the shock, Sam. I am sure I heard a mouse squeal when
I went by this morning. Now, Fido!"

There was a great rattling of stalks, a sharp bark, a rush and Fido
licked his chops and nosed about the place where Mr. Field Mouse had
been contentedly snoozing but a few moments before, but he did not find
any more dainty tidbits, for Mrs. Field Mouse and her children were
safely skurrying away over the stubble in the direction of the granary.

Mary Morrison.


(_Dendrocygna fulva._)

The Tree Ducks are natives of tropical or semi-tropical countries. Two
species are found in the United States, the bird of our illustration
and the Black-bellied Tree-duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis). The range
of the fulvous species extends from the southern border of the United
States, and in Nevada and California, southward through Mexico, and
reappears in the southern portion of Brazil and in the Argentine
Republic. It has also been reported as a visitor to the states of North
Carolina and Missouri.

Mr. Frank M. Woodruff, in speaking of his experience while on a
collecting tour in Texas, says, "I found the Fulvous Tree-Duck in small
numbers resident on Galveston Island, but found them abundant and
nesting in the heavy timber along the Brazos river, sixty miles from
Galveston. In the early morning, as we would leave our boat and make
our way to our blinds, on some small inland pond where we had prepared
for collecting, we would flush immense flocks of this duck, which would
fly over our heads at rather a low altitude and continuously calling.
On several occasions we obtained specimens by firing into a flock
while it was still so dark that we could scarcely define the outlines
of the individual birds. The Fulvous Tree-Duck generally feeds in the
night and usually at a place several miles from the nesting site. They
leave the feeding grounds on the first sign of approaching day. During
my stay of three months in the Brazos river region only on one or two
occasions did I have an opportunity to observe this bird by the light
of day. In form it resembles a miniature swan. It stands very high on
its legs and presents a wonderfully curious and graceful appearance as
it walks along the shore feeding on shellfish and decaying matter."

[Illustration: FULVOUS TREE-DUCK.
(Dendrocygna fulva.)
Nearly 1/2 Life-size.


Once upon a time there was a family of Humming Birds who always spent
the winter in Mexico. In this family, besides the father and mother,
there was a grandfather and grandmother, and also a great-grandfather
and great-grandmother, and ever so many children. It was the custom
of the Humming Bird family to spend Christmas day together, and they
assembled early in the morning in a beautiful live oak tree, the leaves

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Online LibraryVariousBirds and Nature, Vol. VIII, No. 5, December 1900 → online text (page 1 of 5)