Produced by Al Haines
The Autobiography of a Bird
VIRGINIA SHARPE PATTERSON
"The Girl of the Period," "All on Account of a Bonnet," "The Wonderland
With Introduction by
HON. JOHN F. LACEY, M.C.
ELIZABETH M. HALLOWELL
A. J. Rowland - 1420 Chestnut Street
Copyright 1899 by the
AMERICAN BAPTIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
From the Society's own Press
my dear children
Laura, Virgie, and Robert George
this little Volume is
This beautiful volume has been written for a good purpose. I had the
pleasure of reading the proof-sheets of the book while in the
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Yellowstone National Park, where no gun may be lawfully fired at any of
God's creatures. All animals there are becoming tame, and the great
bears come out of the woods to feed on the garbage of the hotels and
camps, fearless of the tourists, who look on with pleasure and wonder
at such a scene.
"The child is father of the man," and this volume is addressed to the
heart and imagination of every child reader. If children are taught to
love and protect the birds they will remember the lesson when they grow
old. When children learn to prefer to take a "snap-shot" at a bird
with a camera, rather than with a gun, they will protect these
feathered friends for their beauty, even if they do not regard them for
Nature has supplied a system of balances if left to itself. Some forms
of insect life are so prolific that but for the voracity and industry
of the birds the world would become almost uninhabitable.
Bird life appeals to the eye for its beauty, to the ear for its music,
and to the interest of man for its utility. Shooting-clubs have
foreseen the extermination that awaits many of the finest of the game
birds, and are taking much pains to enforce the laws enacted for game
protection. A selfish interest thus is called into activity, and one
class of birds is receiving protection through the aid of its own
But the birds of beautiful plumage are now threatened with extinction
by the desire of womankind for personal decoration. Against this
destruction Audubon societies are organizing a crusade, and Mrs.
Patterson's principal purpose in this book is to direct attention to
the wholesale slaughter of the birds of plumage and song.
The Princess of Wales was requested to write in an album her various
peculiarities. Among the inquiries was: "What is your greatest
weakness?" She answered: "Millinery."
When Napoleon was banished to Elba it is stated that the fallen monarch
was followed by Josephine's old millinery bills. How many of these
bills were for the plumage of slaughtered birds the historian does not
say. But the passion for the beautiful is very strong in the tender
hearts of women, and an earnest appeal to the natural gentleness of the
sex must be made to enlist them in the defense of the birds.
Mrs. Patterson enters upon this task with enthusiasm, and many a bird
will live to flutter through the trees or glisten in the sunshine and
gladden the earth with its beauty that but for this little book would
have perched for a brief season upon the headgear of some lovely woman.
Let the good work go on until the mummy of a dead bird will be
recognized by all persons as an unfitting decoration for the head of
JOHN F. LACEY.
I. THE ORCHARD
II. DICKEY DOWNY'S MEDITATIONS
III. THE RULER WITH THE IRON HAND
IV. DICKEY'S COUSINS
V. "DON'T, JOHNNY"
VI. THE PARROT AT A PARTY
VII. A WINTER IN THE SOUTH
VIII. THE PRISON
IX. THE HUNTERS
X. A NEW HOME
XI. THE ILL-MANNERED CHILD
XII. TWO SLAVES OF FASHION
XIII. DICKEY'S VISIT
XIV. THE COUNTRY SCHOOL
XV. POLLY'S FAREWELL
List of Illustrations
The Indigo Bird
The Summer Tanager
The Baltimore Oriole
Last night Alicia wore a Tuscan Sonnet
And many humming birds were fastened on it.
Caught in a net of delicate creamy crêpe
The dainty captives lay there dead together;
No dart of slender bill, no fragile shape
Fluttering, no stir of radiant feather;
Alicia looked so calm, I wondered whether
She cared if birds were killed to trim her bonnet.
Her hand fell lightly on my hand;
And I fancied that a stain of death
Like that which doomed the Lady of Macbeth
Was on her hand.
- Elizabeth Cavazza
Bobolink, that in the meadow
Or beneath the orchard's shadow
Keepest up a constant rattle,
Joyous as my children's prattle,
Welcome to the North again.
- _Thos. Hill._
My native home was in a pleasant meadow not far from a deep wood, at
some distance from the highway. From this it was separated by plowed
fields and a winding country lane, carpeted with grass and fringed with
While it was yet dawn, long before the glint of the sun found its way
through the foliage, the air was musical with the twittering of our
It is true our noisy neighbors, the blue-jays, sometimes disturbed my
mother by their hoarse chattering when she was weary of wing and wanted
a quiet hour to meditate, but they disturbed us younger ones very
little. My mother did not think they were ever still a minute.
Constantly hopping back and forth, first on one bough, then on another,
flirting down between times to pick up a cricket or a bug, they were
indeed, a most fidgetty set. Their restlessness extended even to their
handsome top-knots, which they jerked up and down like a questioning
eyebrow. They were beautiful to look at had they only possessed a
little of the dignity and composure of our family. But as I said, we
little ones did not trouble ourselves about them.
The air was so pleasant, our nest so cozy, and our parents provided us
such a plentiful diet of nice worms and bugs, that like other
thoughtless babies who have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and grow, we
had no interest in things outside and did not dream there was such a
thing as vexation or sorrow or crime in this beautiful world. When our
parents were off gathering our food, we seldom felt lonely, for we
nestled snugly and kept each other company by telling what we would do
when we should be strong enough to fly.
At this stage of our existence we were as ungainly a lot of children as
could well be imagined. To look at our long, scrawny necks and big
heads so disproportioned to the size of our bodies, which were scantily
covered with a fuzzy down that scarcely concealed our nakedness, who
would have thought that in time we would develop into such handsome
birds as the bobolink family is universally considered to be?
Our mother, who was both very proud and very fond of us, was untiring
in her watchful care. No human mother bending over the nursery bed
soothing her little one to rest, showed more devotion than did she, as
she hovered near the tiny cradle of coarse grass and leaves woven by
her own cunning skill - alert and sleepless when danger was near and
enfolding us with her warm, soft wings. Thus tenderly cared for we
passed the early sunny days of life.
After we could fly we often visited a fragrant orchard that sent its
odors across the grain fields. From its green shade we made short
excursions to the rich, black soil in search of some choice tid-bit of
a worm turned up by the plow expressly for our dessert. We were indeed
glad to be of use to the farmer by devouring these pests so destructive
to his crops, but did not limit our labors to these places; we also
made it our business to pick off the bugs and slugs that infested the
fruit trees, and often extended our efforts to the tender young grape
leaves in the arbor and the rose bushes and shrubs in the flower garden.
On a warm morning after a rain was our favorite time for work, and it
was pleasant to hear the tap-tap-tapping of our neighbor the
woodpecker, as he located with his busy little bill the bugs in the
tree limb. It was like the hammer of an industrious blacksmith
breaking on the still air. His jaunty red cap and broad white shoulder
cape made of him a very pretty object as he worked away blithely and
cheerily at his useful task. While the rest of us did not make so much
noise at our work, we were equally diligent in picking off the larvae
and borers that ruined the trees, and on a full crop we enjoyed the
consciousness of having aided mankind.
On several occasions I had seen our enemy, the cat, slinking stealthily
on his padded feet from the direction of the great brick house which
stood on the edge of the orchard. Crouched in a furrow he would gaze
upward at us so steadily and for so long a time without so much as a
wink or a blink of his green eyes, that it seemed he must injure its
muscles. Aside from the many frights he gave us it is sad to relate
that he succeeded before many days in getting away with one of our
number. One morning he crept softly up to a young robin which had
flown down in the grass, but had not sufficient power to rise quickly,
and before the unsuspecting little creature realized its danger, the
cat arched his back, gave a spring, and seized it. A moment later he
softly trotted out of the orchard with the poor bird in his mouth and
doubtless made a dainty dinner in the barn off our unfortunate comrade.
This incident cast a deep gloom over us, and our songs for many days
held a mournful note.
But while cats were unwelcome visitors from the great brick house, we
sometimes had others whom we were always glad to see. The two young
ladies of the family, together with their mother and little niece,
occasionally came out for a saunter under the trees, and it was very
delightful to listen to their merry chat. So affectionate toward each
other, so gentle and withal so bright and lively, they seemed to bring
a streak of sunshine with them whenever they came. Miss Dorothy, who
was tall and stately, seldom sat on the grassy tufts which rose like
little footstools at the base of each tree, but rambled about while
talking. This was perhaps because she disliked to rumple her
beautifully starched skirts. But Miss Katie - impetuous, dimple-cheeked
Katie, would fling herself down anywhere regardless of edged ruffles or
floating sash ribbons.
"For it is clean dirt," she laughingly said, when Miss Dorothy
playfully scolded her for it. "This kind of dirt is healthful, and it
isn't going to hurt me if a few dusty twigs or a bit of dried grass or
weeds should cling to my gown. You must remember, Sister Dorothy,
there are different kinds of dirt. I haven't any respect for grease
spots or for clothes soiled from wearing them too long. I don't like
that kind of dirt, but to get close to dear old mother earth, and have
a scent of her fresh soil once in a while is what I enjoy. It is
delightful. I like nature too well to stand on ceremony with her."
"You like butterflies too, don't you, aunty?" asked little Marian.
"To be sure I do, dear. I love all the pretty things that fly."
"And the birdies too?" asked the child.
"Yes, indeed; I love the birds the best of all."
"And the old cat was awful naughty when he caught the baby robin the
other day and ate it up. Wasn't he, aunty?"
"Yes. Tom is a cruel, bad, bad cat," responded Miss Katie, as she
squeezed Marian's little pink hand between her own palms. "That
naughty puss gets plenty to eat in the house and there are lots of nice
fat mice in the barn, and yet he slips slyly out to the orchard and
takes the life of a poor, innocent little bird."
"And it made the mamma-bird cry because her little one was dead," added
Miss Dorothy, who had drawn near.
Little Marian heaved a deep sigh and her rosy lips trembled
suspiciously. "Poor mamma-bird! It can never have its baby bird any
more," she said, with a sob of sympathy. "Don't you feel sorry for it,
"Yes, dear. I feel very sorry for it."
"And I expect the poor mamma-bird cries and cries and weeps and grieves
when she comes home to supper and finds out her little children are
gone forever and ever." And with her bright eyes dimmed with tears of
pity, Marian, clasping a hand of each of the young ladies, walked
slowly to the house still bewailing the fate of the robin.
My heart warmed toward these sweet young girls for their tender
sympathy. I almost wished I were a carrier pigeon, that I might devote
myself hereafter to their service by bearing loving messages from them
to their friends.
But, alas! I was to have a rude awakening from this pleasant thought.
As we flew that evening to our roosting-place, I observed to my mother
that if there were no cats in the world what a delightful time we birds
"You have a greater enemy than the cat," she responded sadly. "It is
true the cat is cruel and tries to kill us, but it knows no better."
"If not the cat, what enemy is it?" I asked in surprise. "I thought
the cat was the most bloodthirsty foe the birds had."
My mother dipped her wings more slowly and poised her body gracefully a
moment. Then she said impressively, "Our greatest enemy is man. No,"
suddenly correcting herself, "not man, but women, women and children."
"Women and dear little children our enemies?" said I, in astonishment.
"The pretty ladies who speak so sweet and kind! The pretty ladies who
gather roses in the garden! Would they deprive us of life?"
My mother nodded.
"Yes," she answered, "the pretty ladies, the wicked ladies."
DICKEY DOWNY'S MEDITATION
It hath the excuse of youth.
That night I pondered long upon what my mother had told me. Ever since
I left my shell I had been taught to respect my elders, and that it was
a mark of ill manners and bad breeding for children to question the
superior knowledge of those much older than themselves.
Notwithstanding this, in my secret heart I could not help thinking that
my mother was mistaken in her estimate of women when she called them
wicked. She had surely misjudged them. However, I took good care not
to mention these doubts to her.
I had heard from my grandmother, who had traveled a great deal from the
tropics to the North and back again, that women were the leaders in the
churches and were foremost in all Christian and philanthropic work;
that they provided beautiful homes for orphan children, where they took
care of them and nursed them when they were sick. She told me about
the hospitals where diseased and aged people were kindly cared for by
them. She said they were active in the societies for the prevention of
cruelty to children and to animals. They fed armies of tramps out of
sheer pity; even the debauched drunkard was the object of their
tenderest care and their earnest prayers. They held out a friendly
hand to the prisoners in the jails and sent them flowers and Bibles;
they pitied and cheered the outcast with kind words. They offered
themselves as missionaries for foreign lands to convert the heathen and
bring them to Christ. They soothed the sick and made easy the last
days of the dying.
On the battlefield, when blood was flowing and cannon smoking, my
grandmother had seen the Red Cross women like angels of mercy binding
up the gaping wounds and gently closing the glazed eyes of the expiring
soldier. In woman's ear was poured his last message to his loved ones
far away, and when death was near it was woman who spoke the words of
consolation and her finger that pointed hopefully to the stars.
Did not all this prove her to be sweet and tender and loving and gentle
and kind? Yes - a thousand times yes.
My grandmother once had her nest near a cemetery, and often related
pathetic incidents which had come under her observation at that time.
One in particular I now recalled. It was of a woman who came every day
to weep over the mound where her babe was buried. She was worn to a
shadow from her long watching through its illness, and when it was
taken from her, her grief was deep. The bright world was no longer
bright since she was bereft of her darling, and her moans for the lost
loved one were heartrending.
This incident was only yet another instance of the tenderness of
woman's nature, and I could not reconcile it with what my mother had
"No, no," I repeated as I cuddled my head under my wing, "never can I
believe that woman, tender-hearted woman, who is all love and mercy,
all gentleness and pity, never can I believe she is our enemy." And
resolving to ask my mother to more fully explain her unjust assertion I
But a source of fresh anxiety arose which for a time caused me to
forget the matter.
The lindens which fringed the wood were now in full leafage, adorned
with their delicate ball-like tassels, and hosts of birds flitted among
them daily. Many of them were of the kind frequently known as indigo
birds, smaller than the ordinary bluebird. In color they were of the
metallic cast of blue which has a sheen distinct from the rich shade
seen on the jay's wings or the brilliance of the bluebird. Flashing in
and out among the hanging blossoms their beautiful blue coats made them
an easy target for the boys who attended the neighborhood country
[Illustration: The Indigo Bird.]
To bring down a sweet songster with a shower of stones, panting and
bleeding to the ground, they thought was the best sport in the world,
and the woods rang and echoed with their whoops and cheers as each poor
bird fell to the earth. A mere glimpse of one of the blue beauties as
he hid among the leaves seemed to fire these cruel children with a wish
to kill it.
One half-grown boy, who went by the name of Big Bill, was noticeable
for his brutality. He encouraged the others in cruelties which they
might not have thought of, for such is the force of evil example and
companionship. A distinguishing mark was a large scar on his cheek,
probably inflicted by some enraged animal while being tortured by him.
I always felt sure Big Bill would come to some bad end. My mother said
that a cruel childhood was often a training school for the gallows, and
the boy who killed defenseless birds and bugs deadened his
sensibilities and destroyed his moral nature so that it was easy to
commit greater crimes.
So dreadful became the persecutions of the schoolboys that the indigo
birds finally held a council and determined to leave that part of the
country and settle far from the habitations of men, where they might
live unmolested and free from persecutions.
THE RULER WITH THE IRON HAND
But evil is wrought by want of thought
As well as want of heart.
One morning as we flew across the open space which lay between the wood
and the wheat fields, we noticed two gentlemen in the orchard who were
carefully examining the trees, peering curiously into the cracks of the
rough bark or unfolding the curled leaves.
As we came nearer we discovered that one of them was the owner of the
place, the father of Miss Dorothy and Miss Katie. The other was a thin
gentleman in spectacles, who held a magnifying glass through which he
intently looked at a twig which he had broken off.
After a few minutes' inspection he said: "Colonel, your orchard is
somewhat affected. This is a specimen of the _chionaspis furfuris_."
"Is it anything like the scurfy-bark louse?" inquired the colonel.
"The same thing exactly. It occurs more commonly in the apple, but it
infects the pear and peach trees. You will find it on the mountain
ash, and sometimes on the currant bushes," he answered.
The colonel asked him if he would recommend spraying to get rid of the
pests, and was advised to begin immediately, using tobacco water or
"By the way," said the colonel, "there is a beetle attacking my shade
trees. They are ruining that fine row of elms in front of the lawn."
"It is undoubtedly the _melolontha vulgaris_," said the professor. I
designate him in this way because he used such large words we did not
understand. My mother told us that she was positive he was president
of a college. "The _melolontha vulgaris_ is the most destructive of
beetles, but the larvae are still more injurious. They do incalculable
damage to the farmer. Fortunately enormous numbers of these grubs are
eaten by the birds."
"Unfortunately the birds are not so numerous as they used to be. They
are being destroyed so rapidly, more's the pity! These grounds and
woods yonder were formerly alive with birds of all kinds. Flocks of
the purple grakle used to follow the plow and eat up the worms at a
great rate. You are familiar with their habits? You know they are
most devoted parents. I have often watched them feeding their young.
The little ones have such astonishingly good appetites that it keeps
the old folks busy to supply them with enough to eat. They work like
beavers as long as daylight lasts, going to and from the fields
carrying on each return trip a fat grub or a toothsome grasshopper."
"I am a great lover of birds," returned the professor enthusiastically,
"and I find them very interesting subjects of study. By the way, I was
reading the other day a little incident connected with one of America's
great men which impressed me deeply. The story goes that he was one
day walking in company with some noted statesmen, busily engaged in
conversation. But he was not too much occupied to notice that a young
bird had fallen from its nest near the path where they were walking.
He stopped short and crossing over to where the bird was lying,
tenderly picked it up and put it back into its nest. There was a
gentleman of a noble nature! No wonder that man was a leader and a
"Who was he?"
"The grand, the great Abraham Lincoln," responded the professor
"Well, he'd be the very one to do just such a kind deed as that," was
the colonel's hearty response. "No man ever lived who had a bigger,
more merciful heart than 'Honest Abe.'"
For myself I did not know who Abraham Lincoln was. I had never heard
the name before, but I was quite sure from the proud tone of the
professor's voice that he was a distinguished man, as I was equally
sure from the story of his pity for the helpless bird, that he was a
"You mentioned the industry of the grakle a moment ago," resumed the
professor. "Do you know that the redwing is equally as useful, and
besides he is a delightful singer?
"The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee.
"Do you remember that line, colonel?" and the professor softly whistled
a strain in imitation of a bird's note. "The services of our little
brothers of the air are exceedingly valuable to the horticulturist.
And think of the damage done to arboriculture by the woodborers alone
were it not for the help given by the birds. Did you ever notice those
borers at work, colonel? Some writer has well described them as
animated gimlets. They just stick their pointed heads into the bark
and turn their bodies around and around and out pours a little stream
of sawdust. The birds would pick off such pests fast enough if people
would only give them a chance and not scare them off with shotguns."
"Yes, the birds earn their way, there is no denying it, and he is a
very stupid farmer who begrudges them the little corn and wheat they
take from the fields. The account is more than balanced by the good
they do." Then the conversation ceased, for the colonel and his friend
moved off to inspect the quince bushes.
Pleased by the praises they had bestowed on us for our efforts in
cleaning the fruit trees and cornfields of injurious insects, I went to
work with new vigor to get out some bugs for my luncheon, and was thus
pleasantly employed when a sharp twitter from my mother attracted my
"Look, children!" she exclaimed. "Here come our young ladies with some
company from the city. Be careful to notice what they have on their
heads and then tell me what you think of our sweet, pretty ladies."
One of my brothers was swaying lightly on a little swing below me. I
flew down hastily and placed myself on the next bough, where I could
also get a good view of the ladies as they strolled toward us. They
were in a very merry mood and each one seemed striving to say something
more arousing than her companions. Miss Dorothy led the way, her arm