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Following is the list of the birds of prey reported to be most numerous in this State :
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo borealis). Resident.
Sparrow hawk (Falco sparverius). Tolerably common resident, but more frequently met with in the spring and fall.
Pigeon hawk (Falco columbarius). Rather rare; spring, fall and winter.
Marsh hawk (Circus Hudsonius). Summer resident.
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter Cooperii). Summer resident; occasionally found in winter.
Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter velox). Summer resident; not common in winter.
Rough-legged hawk (Archibuteo lagopus Sancti Johannis). Winter resident; occurs generally in meadows and marshes.
Great horned owl (Bubo Virginianus). Resident.
Short-eared owl (Asio accipitrinus). Resident; most numerous in winter.
Screech owl (Megascops asio). Resident.
Of this list, all the species, other than the cooper's, sharpshinned and pigeon hawks, and the great horned owl, and perhaps the barred, which prey considerably upon poultry, different kinds of game and various species of small wild birds, are beneficial, and should be protected by the farmer and fruit grower. With the exceptions just noted, the birds named in the foregoing list feed mainly on mice, and other small quadrupeds and insects, which are so destructive in the fields, orchards and gardens.
The rough-legged, marsh and red-tailed hawks feed chiefly on meadow mice; the red-shouldered hawk, in addition to feeding on mice, devours grasshoppers, crickets and beetles, and he also frequently catches frogs and lizards, and occasionally, like the red-tailed hawk, he preys on snakes. The beautiful little sparrow hawk, the smallest of all our falcons, subsists principally on a diet of grasshoppers and beetles; he is also a good mouser, and, since the pestiferous English sparrows have become so abundant, he has been observed to frequently prey upon them.
The great horned owl feeds to a small extent on different kinds of insects, but his destruction of poultry, game birds and mammals, and various species of small wild birds, is such that the injury he commits is greater than the benefit he confers. The barred owl is also regarded with disfavor by many poultrymen and farmers, because of his occasional visits to the farm-yard. The other small owls are beneficial, subsisting as they do principally on destructive rodents and noxious insects.
Woodpeckers. The hairy and downy woodpeckers are improperly termed, almost universally, by farmers, fruit growers and sportsmen, swapsuckers.” The flicker is called, by many, high-holder and golden-wing. Although woodpeckers make no efforts to build nests as other birds generally do, they nevertheless prepare with great care and labor equally suitable receptacles for their eggs and young. Woodpeckers lay their eggs, which are white, and usually number from four to six, on chips and bits of rotten wood in cavities which they excavate with their powerful and chisel-like or wedge-shaped bills, in the dead limbs or trunks of trees. These holes or nesting-places — oftentimes dug to a considerable depth – at the mouth are often just sufficiently large to permit the birds to pass in and out; from the entrance downward the diameter of these wooden burrows increases in size. The tongue of all woodpeckers found in this region, with one exception, viz., the yellow-bellied, is capable of being protruded beyond the point of the bill to a considerable extent. The cornua or horns of the tongue, extending backward, curl up over the back of the skull; these horns are enveloped in muscles by the action of which the tongue is thrust out. This singular arrangement can easily be demonstrated by simply taking hold of the end of the tongue of a flicker, we will say, and, as you move it backward and forward, place the finger on the top of the bird's head, and at once a peculiar, worm-like movement will be discovered as the horns run back and forth between the skin and bony covering of the head, beneath the finger. The end of the tongue in woodpeckers, other than the species above mentioned, is generally furnished on either side with little barbs, very similar in appearance to those found on small fish-hooks. In the yellow-bellied woodpecker the horns of the hyoid bone extend only to the base of the skull, hence the tongue is capable of but little extensibility; in place of the barbs commonly seen, we find the end quite abundantly provided with “ bushy filaments.” The peculiar structure of their feet and sharp nails enables them, by the additional support of their rigid tail, to ascend the trunks and limbs of trees with singular address and celerity, either in straight or spiral lines. From “ Coues' Key to North American Birds” the following extract relative to these birds is taken: “ Species are abundant in all the wooded portions of this country, and wherever found are nearly resident; for, although insectivorous, they feed principally upon dormant or at least stationary insects, and therefore need not migrate ; they are, moreover, hardy birds. They dig insects and their larvæ out of trees, and are eminently beneficial to the agriculturist and fruit grower. Contrary to prevalent impression, their boring does not seem to injure fruit trees, which may be riddled with holes without harmful results. The number of noxious insects these birds destroy is simply incalculable ; what little fruit some of them steal is not to be mentioned in the same connection, and they deserve the good will of all. The birds of the genus Sphyrapicus are probably an exception to most of these statements. But woodpeckers also feed largely upon nuts, berries and other fruits; and those which thus vary their fare to the greatest extent are apt to be more or less migratory, like the common red-head, for example. Woodpeckers rarely if ever climb head downward, like nut-hatches, nor are the tarsi applied to their support.”
The notes of these birds, uttered when on the wing, likewise when at rest, are loud and unmusical. Woodpeckers, with the exception of the flicker, are not usually observed to alight on the ground. Insects which lie under the bark are readily discovered by the woodpecker, who gives a sharp tap with his bill, and then, placing his head close to the tree, listens attentively to hear the movements of his favorite prey. As soon as he discovers a beetle or grub moving in its snug retreat, the bark or other covering of the luckless insect is torn away, and the crawling creature is captured.
Crows, Jays and Blackbirds. The American crow and blue jay, both resident species in Massachusetts, although known to destroy many species of noxious insects, are not regarded with particular favor by naturalists who have carefully studied their habits, or the close-observing farmer who has watched their actions.
Crows and jays are omnivorous; in addition to feeding on numerous kinds of insects, they subsist on small fruits and berries, and destroy the eggs and young of domestic fowls ; and they also devour the eggs and young of many species of other wild birds, such as robins, doves, blackbirds, etc.
The crow blackbird (Quiscalus quiscula æneus) and the red-winged or swamp blackbird are common summer residents in Massachusetts. The crow blackbird, like the jay and crow, is omnivorous, he devours the eggs and young of other kinds of wild birds; cereals, garden fruits and different berries are also eaten by him. In the late summer and fall months the crow blackbird at times commits serious depredations in the grain fields; but at other seasons of the year, when found here, he subsists chiefly on insects and their larvæ. The red-winged blackbird is not known to disturb the eggs or young of other birds. Redwinged blackbirds during their residence in this locality subsist mainly on an insect bill of fare. In the autumn, when they assemble in flocks, preparatory to migrating southward, they sometimes visit grain fields in the neighborhood of the marshes, and inflict more or less damage.
The Sparrow Family. Between thirty and forty species of the sparrow family (Fringillide) occur in Massachusetts, and about twenty are said to breed here. Of this large number the English sparrow is the only species regarded by naturalists as being detrimental to the interests of agriculture. The English or European house sparrow, an abundant resident about buildings, nests in bird boxes, holes in trees or branches of trees, in vines and in various places about houses and other buildings. The nest is composed of dried grasses, pieces of string, etc., lined with an abundance of feathers. The dullwhitish eggs, from four to seven in number, are thickly spotted and streaked with different shades of brown. In this locality at least two and probably more broods are reared in a season. The English sparrow, as this species is commonly known throughout the United States, is universally despised by farmers, fruit growers and naturalists, because of its pernicious habits. In the spring it feeds largely on the buds of fruit trees, bushes and vines, chief among which may be mentioned the pear, apple, peach, plum, cherry, currant and grape. Different garden products, such as lettuce, beans, peas, cabbage, berries, pears, apples and grapes, are greedily fed upon. The sparrow greatly damages the corn crop, tearing open the husks, devouring the tender part of the ear, and exposing the remainder to the ravages of the insects and the atmospherical changes. It alights on fields of whea“, oats and barley, consuming a large quantity, and, by swaying to and fro on the tender stalks and flapping its wings, showers the remainder on the ground. In addition to a much-varied vegetable diet, the sparrow has been known to kill and devour the young of other small birds. Our native song and insectivorous birds, viz., the robin, bluebird, wren, chippy, song sparrow, red-eyed vireo and some few others, which were formerly plentiful residents in our lawns, parks and gardens, have rapidly and steadily diminished since the hosts of pugnacious sparrows have appeared. This species is more or less gregarious at all seasons of the year. When not engaged in rearing their young, they are always observed in flocks. In the late summer and autumn they assemble in flocks of hundreds, and daily repair to the wheat and corn fields in the vicinity of cities and towns, where they commit serious depredations that are only checked by barvesting the crops.