Birds and All Nature, Vol. VI, No. 5, December 1899 online

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her eggs. This includes woodpeckers, flycatchers, orioles, thrushes,
sparrows, vireos, wrens, and warblers, but the most frequently imposed
upon are so small that the cowbird's big nestling is almost certain
to be the one to survive, the smaller birds being crowded out, and
left to perish. It is said that as many as seven cowbird eggs have
been found in a single nest, but there is generally only one. It is
believed that a brood of insectivorous and useful birds is almost
invariably sacrificed for every cowbird raised. Mr. Ridgway, in his
fascinating book on the birds of Illinois, gives the following vivid
picture of the female searching for a nest in which to deposit her
egg: "She hunts stealthily through the woods, usually among the
undergrowth, and when a nest is discovered, patiently awaits from a
convenient hiding-place the temporary absence of the parent, when the
nest is stealthily and hastily inspected, and if found suitable, she
takes possession and deposits her egg, when she departs as quietly as
she came." "In the village of Farmington, Conn.," says Florence A.
Merriam, "we once saw a song sparrow on a lawn feeding a cowbird bigger
than she. When she handed it a worm, one of my field class exclaimed in
astonishment, 'I thought the big bird was the mother!'"

Some of the foster parents abandon their nests, or build a second nest
over the eggs, but usually the little bird works faithfully to bring
up the foundling. Sometimes the egg is recognized by the mother and
quickly thrown out. Frequently, also, the cowbird will eject one or
more eggs of the owner to make room for her egg, or to deceive the
owner and leave the same number of eggs as were in the nest before her
visit. Sometimes an egg of the owner is found on the ground near a nest
containing an egg of the cowbird, and it is no unusual occurrence to
find an egg of the cowbird lying near a nest of a species regularly
imposed upon by the parasite. Silloway says that the wood thrush,
towhee, field and chipping sparrows, yellow-breasted chat, and the
Maryland yellow-throat are oftenest selected to bear the burden of
rearing the young of the cowbird.

In their courtship the males are very gallant. They arrive from the
south several days in advance of the females. At this season - about
the middle of March - they generally associate in groups of six or
eight, and the males are easily distinguished by the gloss of their
black plumage in contrast to the dull brown of the female. They do not
pair, the females meeting the advances of the males indiscriminately.
Dr. Gibbs, however, thinks that the birds may pair frequently for the
summer, and suggests this as reasonable, referring to an incident
coming under his notice when he saw a blue jay, on the point of
despoiling the nest of a vireo, driven away by a pair of cowbirds in a
most valiant manner. In going to the nest he found a large over-grown
cowbird occupying the largest share of the structure, "while a poor
little red-eyed vireo occupied a small space at the bottom, and beneath
his big foster brother."

The eggs of the cowbird hatch in eleven or twelve days. They average
.88 by .65 of an inch, the length varying from .95 to .67 of an inch,
and the width varying from .72 to .58 of an inch. The ground is a dingy
white or gray, and the markings vary through all the shades of brown,
sometimes evenly distributed over the surface, and at other times
predominating around the larger end. There is so much diversity in the
appearance of different specimens, that frequently the investigator is
puzzled in distinguishing the true eggs of the towhee, cardinal, and
other species from those of the cowbird.

In the breeding season the male grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and
the cowbirds of both sexes, nightly congregate to roost together. Early
after the breeding season they form into flocks of from fifty to sixty.
The birds have then finished moulting, and the glossy black of the
males has been changed into the duller colors of the females and the
young. They assemble with the blackbirds of various species where food
is most abundant and easy to be procured.

Late investigations of the food habits of the cowbird indicate that
the species is largely beneficial. Prof. Beal showed the food of the
cowbird to consist of animal and vegetable matter in the proportion of
about twenty-eight per cent. of the latter. Spiders and harmful insects
compose almost exclusively the animal food, while weed seeds, waste
grain, and a few miscellaneous articles make up the vegetable food. Mr.
Silloway thinks "it is not improbable that the so-called insectivorous
birds displaced by the cowbird are thus kept in check by this natural
agent, and their mission performed by the usurper in directions as
helpful as the special functions of the sufferers. We may later come to
understand that one cowbird is worth two bobolinks after all."


There runs an old, old legend,
A tale of Christmas time,
Low breathed round the fireside
In distant Northern clime;
It tells how once an angel
Looked down in mercy sweet,
And bade the people listen
To hear the Master's feet:
"Behold the Christ-child cometh!
The King of love is near!
Oh! bring your gifts of Noel
Unto the Lord most dear."

With golden grain of plenty
Fair shone each raptured home;
The corn crown'd every dwelling
Whereto the Christ should come.
And one, a blue-eyed stripling,
In longing all unknown,
With heart aflame had labored
For gift that God might own:
"Behold the Christ-child cometh!"
Up rose the music blest,
And Silverus stood waiting
With sheaf the richest, blest.

A tiny bird, nigh fainting,
A little trembling thing,
Through chilling airs of Christmas
Drew near on drooping wing;
The people raised a clamor,
They chased it from the corn,
They drove it from the garlands
That gleamed for Christmas morn:
"Behold the Christ-child cometh!"
His praise they fain would win;
How could they bring to Jesus
An offering marred and thin?

On drooping, dying pinion
That vainly sought relief,
The shivering bird down lighted
Where shone the proudest sheaf;
And Silverus moved softly,
Though dews all wistful stirred,
Close, close within his bosom
He fed the fainting bird:
"Behold the Christ-child neareth!"
He spake in faltering tone,
"The golden ears are broken,
Yet broken for His own."

And while the sheaf of beauty
Grew marred and spent and bare,
The sweet bird flew to heaven;
The King of love stood there:
"Oh! tender heart and Christlike,
Whose yearnings soared on high,
Yet could not see, uncaring,
My weakest creature die!
Lo, I am with thee always,
My Christmas light is thine;
The dearest gift of Noel
Is pity poured for mine!"


An almond-grower of this locality hit upon a neat device for gathering
his crop last fall. His trees bore largely, and this early became known
to the yellowhammers, a species of the woodpecker tribe of birds, and
they had regularly stored away large quantities of ripe nuts taken from
the orchard in the limb of an oak tree near by. The astute orchardist
watched operations, and at last hit upon a novel nut and labor-saving
plan, and he lost no time in putting it into execution.

The limb was sawed from the tree and replaced by a square-shaped
funnel, long enough nearly to reach the ground; a bucket was then set
underneath. A genuine robbing game then went merrily on. The birds
gathered the nuts, which they dropped into the funnel and down into the
bucket below, and as regularly as night came the almond-grower would
in his turn empty it of its contents and set it back for a new supply.
This was kept up until the entire crop had been gathered and the
yellowhammers had departed broken-hearted at the heartless deception
practiced upon them. - _Sutler (Cal.) Enterprise._


A specimen of the egg of that rara avis, the great auk, which was
discovered after twenty-seven years in a disused attic in the house
of Lord Garvagh in England, recalls to mind the fact that only about
seventy of these zoölogical treasures are now known to exist. Of these
G. F. Rowley of Brighton possesses half a dozen, while Prof. Alfred
Newton of Cambridge, the well-known zoölogical expert, has half that
number. The same gentleman discovered a splendid set of ten, labeled
"penguin eggs," in the Royal College of Surgeons upward of thirty years
ago, while the university museum at Cambridge possesses four, which
were the gift of the late Lord Lilford, whose beautiful grounds at
Oundle were a veritable paradise of bird life. One of these was brought
to light in a farm-house in Dorsetshire, and another changed hands in
Edinburgh for a mere trifle. It is a remarkable fact that, whereas in
1830 the market price of a great auk's eggs was no more than $1.25,
Lord Garvagh's specimen was bought from Dr. Troughton in 1869 for $320;
Sir Vauncey Crewe, in 1894, paid $1,575 for one; in 1897, another was
knocked down in London for $1,470, and a slightly cracked specimen went
about the same time for $840; not so long ago a couple of these eggs
was purchased at a country sale for $19 and resold for $2,284.

* * * * *

Some few years ago a robin took up his abode near the communion
table in the old abbey at Bath, England, and remained there for some
considerable time; his victualing department being presided over by
a friendly verger, he naturally had every inducement to remain, and
remain he did. During sermon time, with the exception of an occasional
chirp of approval, he preserved an exemplary silence, neither coughing
nor yawning, but when the hymns were sung, and he perched himself on
the communion rail, his voice could be heard high above those of the
human singers. All redbreasts, however, do not behave so well, and one
at Ely cathedral some time ago carried on in such a manner that he
brought disgrace on his tiny head. During the service he behaved fairly
well, but when the clergyman ascended the pulpit and began to speak,
the robin deliberately perched himself on an adjacent pinnacle of the
chancel screen and began to sing, and the louder the preacher spoke the
greater volume of sound proceeded from the irreverent bird, till he had
to be removed.

* * * * *

The first place in the ranks of birds was until lately given by
naturalists to eagles and hawks. The low-foreheaded tyrants are now
dethroned, and the highest development of the race is reached in the
family of the sparrows, if the following story be true. A man was
feeding with breadcrumbs a wood pigeon at his feet. One of the bird's
feathers, which was ruffled and out of place, caught the eye of a
sparrow; the little bird flew down, seized the feather in its beak and
pulled its best. The feather did not yield at once, and the pigeon
walked off with offended dignity. The sparrow followed, still holding
on; and, in the end, flew off triumphant with the trophy to its nest.


Down swept the chill wind from the mountain peak,
From the snow five thousand summers old;
On open wold and hill-top bleak
It had gathered all the cold,
And whirled it like sleet on the wanderer's cheek;
It carried a shiver everywhere
From the unleafed boughs and pastures bare;
The little brook heard it and built a roof
'Neath which he could house him, winter-proof;
All night by the white stars' frosty gleams
He groined his arches and matched his beams;
Slender and clear were his crystal spars
As the lashes of light that trim the stars;
He sculptured every summer delight
In his halls and chambers out of sight.

* * * * *

'Twas as if every image that mirrored lay
In his depths serene through the summer day,
Each fleeting shadow of earth and sky,
Lest the happy model should be lost,
Had been mimicked in fairy masonry
By the elfin builders of the frost.
- _Lowell._

[Illustration: FROM COL. F. NUSSBAUMER & SON.
1/6 Life-size.


(_Lynx rufus._)

C. C. M.

The species of lynx found in forests in the United States is the red
or bay lynx. Its popular name is wild cat, but it is a true lynx,
with the ear tufts characteristic of that group, and differs from
the other members of it principally in the color of its fur. It is a
resident of every part of the United States from ocean to ocean. The
general color is usually red, but darker, and sometimes nearly black
along the backbone, while under the body it is whitish and on the
breast pure white. The entire fur, except the breast, is covered with
spots and streaks of darker fur. The length of the body and head is
about fifty-three inches and the tail is six inches long. The color
of the fur is of a brighter red in summer and a darker brownish-red
in winter. Different writers have classified several species of the
American lynx, including the Texas lynx, which is found in Texas, and
southern California; the Oregon lynx, which inhabits northern Oregon
and Washington. There is also a Florida lynx. It is believed there
is not much justification for these divisions, which Brehm says are
based principally upon the different markings of the fur, and that in
a general way it may be said that the specimens obtained from southern
climates have shorter fur, which is more brightly colored and more
distinctly spotted than those from the northern regions; but otherwise
these animals do not differ in their habits and characteristics, which
are those of the lynx group in general.

The natural home of the wild cat is a dense forest abounding in deep
thickets and game. It rarely seeks sparsely-wooded sections. Sometimes
it will hunt the hare even on the plain, and a prairie fire will drive
it to the neighborhood of settlements. It is capable of great endurance
in walking, can leap an astonishing distance, climbs well, and is said
to be a good swimmer. Its sense of hearing is very acute, and its sight
keen. It is a night-prowler, hiding at the dawn of day, and remaining
still until evening. The wild cat selects for its lair a deep thicket,
a cavern, or hole in a tree trunk.

As the shades of evening fall, says Brehm, it becomes active. During
the day it seems as rigid as a statue, but at night it sets out, and on
the first part of its journey makes frequent pauses, like those made
by the domestic cat previous to entering an enclosure that appears to
threaten danger. Only a very inexperienced person could mistake the
spoor of the lynx for that of any other animal. The imprint is very
deep owing to the strength of the paw, which exceeds that of a large
wolf. It is very round and, as the claws are hidden, it is blunt in
front. The pace is short compared with the size of the imprints made.
The spoor takes a form something like that of a row of pearls; any one
who has once seen it is sure to recognize it again.

The wild cat seems clumsy; its body is heavy, but it possesses the
agility of its kind and surpasses them in rapidity of movement and
endurance. Almost all animals and birds are its prey, although only the
strongest lynx will attack deer. In temperate climates it is detested
by the farmer and sportsman as it kills more than it needs, for its
sustenance, often merely lapping the blood of its victim, and eating
only the choicest portions. In the south it will not return a second
time to this food, but in the north, where game is scarce, it always
returns, remaining near the carcass until it is all eaten.

The wild cat has been tamed but it has not been found to be a very
attractive animal to handle when angry. Loewis gives the following
report of a female that he kept. He says: "A few months sufficed
to teach my young lynx her name, 'Lucy.' When, during a hunting
expedition, I would call out this name, together with those of numerous
dogs, she would always respond to her own name, but to no other. Her
training had been very easy and had reached such a point that when she
was engaged in a passionate, but forbidden chase of hares, sheep, or
poultry, and I called her, she would stop instantly and return, like
a guilty dog, crouching low on the ground and pleading for mercy.
When she was too far away to hear our voices, the report of a gun was
sufficient to call her back in breathless haste. Lucy took part in all
my autumnal hunting-trips. When she got sight of a poor hare she at
once engaged in hot pursuit, and, in spite of her great excitement,
she always had enough reasoning power to gauge the distance and to
approximate the difference between the hare's speed and her own. She
would obey only my brother's and my own summons, and showed no respect
to any other persons. When we were both absent for a whole day, nobody
could control her, and then, woe be unto the careless chicken or the
thought-less goose! During our absence she would, as soon as it became
dusk, climb on the roof, lean against the chimney, and go to sleep. As
soon as our carriage came into the yard, late at night, she sprang to
the stairs in a few bounds. If I then called her name she would come
to me quickly, put her strong fore-paws on my shoulders and, purring
and rubbing herself against me, she would follow me into the room and
prepare to pass the night on the bed or the lounge."

The fur of the lynx is very valuable. The Scandinavian specimens are
counted among the largest and finest. Siberia and Russia furnish
many thousands of skins. The flesh is said to be very palatable. It
is light colored and tender, like the best veal, and is free from
the disagreeable taste so common in game. The lynx was known to the
ancients but was exhibited much more rarely in Rome than the lion and
leopard, because even then it was so much more difficult to take alive.
The one that Pompey exhibited had been captured in Gaul. The life of
the wildcat in the natural state was shrouded in mystery which left
room for many fables.



The silent skies are full of speech,
For who hath ears to hear;
The winds are whispering each to each;
The moon is calling to the beach;
And stars their sacred wisdom teach
Of Faith and Love and Fear.

But once the sky its silence broke,
And song o'erflowed the earth;
The midnight air with glory shook,
And angels mortal language spoke,
When God our human nature took
In Christ the Savior's birth.

And Christmas once is Christmas still;
The gates through which He came,
And forests wild, and murmuring rill,
And fruitful field, and breezy hill,
And all that else the wide world fill,
Are vocal with His name.

Shall we not listen while they sing
This latest Christmas morn,
And music hear in everything,
And faithful lives in tribute bring,
To the great song which greets the King
Who comes when Christ is born?

[Illustration: FROM COL. F. KAEMPFER.
2/3 Life-size.


(_Sciurus vulgaris._)

C. C. M.

This is regarded as the typical species among the tree squirrels, and
its character and that of the common species of American squirrels are
very similar. The attitudes of the animals are familiar to all who have
watched the antics of squirrels in their arboreal homes. It is widely
distributed throughout all of Europe and across the Caucasus and Ural
through southern Siberia to the Altai and eastern Asia. Brehm says it
is not equally common everywhere or every year. Its favorite haunts are
dry, shady forests with high trees and it is as much averse to dampness
as to sunshine. When fruit and nuts are ripe it visits the gardens of
villages, but only when they are connected with the forest by small
tracts of trees or bushes. It will not attempt to forage far from the
protection of the trees. Where there are many pine cones the squirrel
makes its permanent home, and builds one or several habitations,
usually in old crows' nests, which it improves very ingeniously. If
it intends to make only a short stay, it uses the forsaken nests of
magpies, crows, or birds of prey, just as it finds them, but the
nests which it intends to serve as a permanent sleeping-place, a
shelter against bad weather or a nursery, are built new, though the
materials collected by birds are often utilized. It is said that every
squirrel has at least four nests, though nothing has been definitely
proven as to this. Hollows in trees, especially hollow trunks, are
also frequented by them and occasionally built in. The open-air nests
usually lie in a fork, close to the main trunk of the tree; the bottom
is built like one of the larger bird's nests, while above there is a
flat conical roof, after the manner of magpies' nests, close enough to
constitute a perfect protection from the rain. The main entrance is
placed sideways, usually facing east; a slightly smaller loop-hole for
escape is found close to the trunk. Moss forms a soft lining inside.
The outer part consists of twigs of various thicknesses, intertwined.
Brehm says this squirrel especially likes to use the firm bottom of a
forsaken crow's nest, filled with earth and clay, as a base upon which
to construct a nest of its own.

A famous naturalist, describing this little creature, says that it is
one of the principal ornaments of a forest. In quiet, fine weather
it is incessantly active, keeping as much as possible to the trees,
which at all times afford it food and cover. Occasionally it will
deliberately descend a tree, run to another tree and climb that; doing
this often in pure playfulness; for it need not touch the ground at
all, unless it wishes to do so. He calls it the monkey of the woods
of temperate climes, and it is possessed of many attributes which
remind one of that capricious inhabitant of the warmer zone. There are
probably few mammals which are possessed of such constant briskness and
remain for so short a time in the same place as the squirrel does in
tolerably fair weather. It is ever going from tree to tree, from top
to top, from branch to branch; and even on the ground it is anything
but clumsy or out of place. It never walks or trots, but always
proceeds in longer or shorter bounds, and so quickly that a dog can
hardly overtake it, and a human being has to give up the pursuit after
a short time. "It glides up even the smoothest trees with wonderful
ease and speed. The long, sharp claws on the toes stand it in good
stead, for it hooks them into the bark, all four feet at once. Then
it takes a running start for another leap and darts further upward;
but one bound succeeds another with such rapidity that the ascent
proceeds uninterruptedly, and looks as if the creature glided up the
tree. Usually it ascends to the top of the tree without pausing, not
infrequently reaching the highest point; then it goes out on one of
the horizontal branches and generally jumps to the tip of a branch of
another tree, covering in these jumps distances of four or five yards,
always in a downward direction. How necessary the bushy tail is for
leaping has been demonstrated by cruel experiments, which consisted in
cutting off the tail of some captive squirrel. It was then seen that
the mutilated creature could not leap half so far as one having a tail.
The squirrel is an excellent swimmer, though it does not go into the
water willingly."

The squirrel eats fruit or seeds, buds, twigs, shells, berries, grain,
and mushrooms. The seeds, buds, and young shoots of fir and pine
trees form its principal food. It bites pine cones off at the stem,
comfortably sits down on its haunches, lifts the cone to its mouth
with its fore-paws, and turning it constantly around, it bites off one
little scale after another with its sharp teeth, until the kernel is

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