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COWBIRD (Molothrus ater).
Length, about 10 inches. Our only blackbird with a yellow head.
Range: Confined to western North America. Breeds from southern British Columbia, southern Mackenzie, southwestern Keewatin, and northern Minnesota to southern California and Arizona, east to southern Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana; winters from southwestern California, Southern Arizona, southeastern Texas, and southwestern Louisiana south into Mexico.
Apparently Nature started out with the intention of making an oriole but decided to make a blackbird instead-and behold the yellowhead. He is a sociable chap and nests in great companies in the tule swamps of the west. The yellowhead's voice is harsh and guttural and his vocal efforts have been well characterized as a maximum of earnest effort with a minimum of harmony. Late in midsummer when the young are on the wing, old and young betake themselves to the uplands, grain fields, pastures and corrals, associating as often as not with redwings and Brewer's blackbirds. The yellowhead seeds principally upon insects, grain and weed seed, and does not attack fruit or garden produce; but it does much good by eating noxious insecis and troublesome weeds; where too abundant it is likely to be injurious to grain.
(See Biol. Surv. Bul. No. 13, 1900, p. 32.)
Length, about 8 inches. Male glossy black, head, neck and breast brown. Female brownish gray.
Range: Breeds from southern British Columbia, southern Mackenzie and southeastern Canada south to northern California, Nevada, northern New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina; winters from southeastern California and the Ohio and Potomac Valley's to the Gulf and to central Mexico.
Chapman calls the cowbird a villain—but is not the villain in the piece often the most interesting character on the stage? Thus our cowbird, short as he is of manners and morals, cannot fail to interest the bird lover. He is full of idiosyncrasies that keep one guessing. Why for instance his close association with the peaceful cow? Why his ludicrous attempts to sing, he who has not a thread of music in his whole make-up? How did Madame Cowbird come to lapse from the paths of virtue and, in place of building il nest of her own, foist her egos and the care of her offspring on smaller and better principled birds to their detriment. Leaving these conundrums for wiser heads to solve, I must say that the cowbird seems to have chosen the smooth path to prosperity. It makes an easy livelihood, having no parental cares or worries, and is common and widely distributed. The farmer seems to have little to complain of in respect to the bird's food habits.
(See Biol. Surv. Bul. 13, p. 29, 1900.)
STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris).
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chætura pelagica).
Length, about 8 inches. General color dark purple or green with reflections; feathers above tipped with creamy buff. In flight and general appearance unlike any native species.
Range: At present most numerous near New York City. Has spread to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and recently to the District of Columbia; resident where found, though wandering southward in winter in search of food.
The Old World has sent us two bird pests, the English sparrow and the starling. Although, up to the present time, we cannot convict the starling of having done any great damage he has proclivities which make him potentially very dangerous. Introduced into New York in 1890, the original sixty hare multiplied many fold and spread in all directions till now they occupy territory hundreds of miles square, and are multiplying and spreading faster than ever. On the north they have entered Massichusetts and Connecticut, and on the south they have reached Richmond, though only in migration. Even as I write the calls of a flock of 200 or more can be heard coming from a neighboring park, but as vet the bird has not clected to summer in the Niltional Capital. The starling is a hardy, prolific bird and is also aggressive. Like the English sparrow it associates in flocks, which is a great advantage in bird disputes. There is little doubt that the effect of its increase and spread over our country will prove disastrous to native species such as the bluebirds, crested flycatchers, swallows, wrens and flickers, all valuable economic species, which nest in cavities is does the starling. Then too the starling has a taste for grain and small fruits, especially cherries, which will not commend it to our farmers and orchardists.
Length, rather less than 5 inches. Too well known by its peculiar flight and habits to need describing.
Range: Known only in eastern North America. Breeds from southeastern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland south to Gulf Coast; west to Plains from eastern Montana to eastern Texas; winters south of the United States.
The popular name of this bird, chimney swallow, embodies an error since the bird not only is not a swallow but is not even distantly related to the swallow family. Unlike the humming birds as the chimney swift is in appearance and habits, it is structurally not far removed from them. Like the swallows it is an indefatigable skimmer of the air and like them it earns a debt of gratitude by destroying vast numbers of our winged enemies, which its usurpassed powers of flight enable it to capture. Indeed, chimney swifts cat nothing but insects, and no insect that flies is safe from them, unless it be too large for them to swallow. In June swifts may be seen gathering twigs for nest material. They disdain to pick these up from the ground but seize the coveted twig with their strong feet and break it off from the terminal branch when in full flight. By means of a sticky saliva secreted for the purpose the swist glues these twigs to the sides of the chimney in the form of a shallow nest. Although not generally known, swifts roost in chimney's and cling to the walls by using the sharp pointed tail as a prop, as do many woodpeckers in uscending trees. Any bird lover may secure distinction by solving an ornithological riddle and telling us where our chimney swifts spend ter. They come in spring, they go in fall and at present that is about all we know of the matter, save that they do not hibernate in hollow trees, as many have believed.
MARSH HAWK (Circus hudsonius).
Length, about 19 inches. The ashy upper parts, white rump and long tail of the adult male sufficiently distinguish this hawk; while the fuscous upper parts and buff under parts much streaked with brown distinguish the female and young.
Range: Breeds through much of Canada, south to the middle United States; winters in the United States, especially in the south.
Though not exclusively a marsh frequenter, as its name might seem to imply, this hawk prefers open country, and its favorite hunting grounds are meadow and marsh, in which it nests on the ground. It flies rather low, the better to see and drop suddenly upon the luckless meadow mice—its favorite food. Unfortunately small birds form part of its fare, and there are localities, like Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, where this hawk has earned a bad reputation as a destroyer of poultry and game. Howe ver, over much the larger part of the vast territory it inhabits, the marsh hawk is a rodent cater, and the debt of gratitude it lays upon the farmer is large. This debt should be fully discharged by preserving the bird and encouraging its presence unless it is caught committing overt acts. In other words, as this hawk is very beneficial over most of its range, individual hawks should be presumed to be innocent unless detected in transgression.
OSPREY (Pandion haliætus carolinensis).
Length, about 23 inches. The great size, brown upper parts and white under parts are distinguishing features.
Range: Breeds from northwestern Alaska, and central Canada south to the Gulf Coast, western Mexico and Lower California; winters from the southern United States, Lower California and Mexico to Central America.
A thin, high pitched whistle, the alarm as well as the call note of the osprey, frequently directs the attention of the passer by to this fine hawk as he circles high in air on the watch for fish. The bird is common along our coast and to some extent along our rivers, and his bulky nest of twigs, often in low trees or sometimes on the ground, frequently attests his former presence when he is wintering elsewhere. When unmolested, osprey's return to their own strip of territory year after year, and they and their descendants probably rear their young in the same nest for generations, repairing it from season to season as necessity requires. The osprey lives solely on fish which he catches himself-he disdains carrion
-diving from mid air upon his quarry and often burying himself in the water momentarily by the force of his descent. He often fastens his talons in the back of a large fish, which proves too heavy, and he has to abandon it; but usually he succeeds in carrying his prey to his nest, though his slow and labored wing-beats often prove how heavy is his load. Notwithstanding the fact that the Osprey makes no direct return for the fish he eats, no one can doubt that indirectly he renders a full cquivillent. Visitors to the seashore, and even old residents, never tire of watching his superb flight and interesting habits, and his plunge, after his quarry, whether successful or unsuccessful, is a sight to be remembered.
TURKEY BUZZARD (Cathartes aura sep
tentrionalis). Length, about 30 inches. The naked head and neck and glossy black plumage are distinctive.
Range: Extends from southwestern Canada, northern Minnesota, southern New York and south into northern Mexico and Lower California.
This buzzard displays superb powers of flight which even the eagle cannot surpass, and no small part of its time is spent in the upper air, describing great circles on motionless wings as if for the mere pleasure of flight. Let another buzzard, however, discover a carcass, and the movements of our pronaut as he hastens to the feast are at once noted by his next neighbor, and his by a third, till the carrion feeders of a wide territory are assembled. Sight and not smell, then, is depended on by the buzzard to guide him to his food. Though of great strength and provided with i formidable bill, the buzzard rarely, if ever, ittacks living animals, unless they are disabled, but depends upon death to provide for his wants. No doubt his ability to fast is as great as his capacity for gorging himself when oceasion offers, and he must often go for days without food. As a scavenger the buzzard does good service and no sound reason exists for destroying him, notwithstanding the fact that occasionally the bird may be instrumental in spreading hoy cholera by transporting the germs on his feet and bill. This disease, however, may be, and no doubt often is, transmitted by the feet of so many other birds, especially the English sparrow, and of so many mammals, especially rats, and even on the foot wear of man himself as to lead to the belief that is every buzzard in the hog cholera districts were to be sacrificed no perceptible diminution of the disease would follow. The bird should continue to enjoy the protection which is at present accorded it in nearly every state of the Union. BALD EAGLE (Haliætus leucocephalus and
sub-species). Length, about 33 inches. The white head (adult) and naked tarsus distinguish this species from the golden eagle.
Range: A resident of Alaska, much of Canada, and the whole of the United States in suitable localities.
Though a fisherman by profession, the white head is by no means the master of his craft that the osprey is. In fact he never fishes for himself so long as he can rob the more skilful and more industrious fish hawk. When necessity compels, however, he fishes to some purpose, und much after the manner of his erstwhile victim, the fish hawk. He is far less fastidious in his food habits than that bird, however, and often gorges himself until he cannot fly on dead fish gathered along shore, especially on the great salmon rivers of the northwest. When fish are scarce and waterfowl are plentiful, the white head has little difficulty in living off them. Complaint is made in Alaska, where the bald eagle is numerous, that he sometimes interferes with blue fox farming by killing the animals for food. Though the blue fox is not a large animal he is by no means il pigmy, and the bird who would make him his quarry must needs possess both strength and determination. As this eagle has been taken for our National emblem it would seem to be the part of patriotism to condone his faults and remember only his virtues, among which are a magnificent presence, superb powers of fight, and his devoted care of his family.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON
(Nycticorax nævius nævius).
Length, about 24 inches. The black crown distinguishes it from its relative, the yellow-crowned night heron.
Range: Breeds from northern Oregon, southern Wyoming, southern Manitoba, and central Quebec south to Patagonia; winters from northern California and Gulf States southward.
Given for a roosting place a suitable stand of leafy trees, especially evergreens, conveniently near stream or pond that harbors fish, frogs and tadpoles, and any locality may have its colony of night herons. As its name implies, this heron is a bird of the night, not leaving its roost till dusk when, with frequent iteration of its hoarse quawk, it wings its way in the gathering gloom straight to its feeding place. So rarely is the bird about in daylight that a large colony may exist for years near a town or large city, and not above a dozen individuals have an inkling of its existence. True to its sociable instincts, the night heron by preference nests in colonies, and several pairs often place their rude nests of sticks in the same tree; or, in the absence of trees, as in the extensive tule swamps of the far west, where other conditions are ideal for herons, they nest on the ground or on the prostrate tules, hundreds of pairs being associated together.
This heron sometimes feeds on field mice, but it eats too many fish to please the fishculturist, and after it has once learned the way to : hatchery strong measures are needed to discourage its activities.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias
and sub-species). Length, from 42 to 50 inches.
Range: Breeds from the southern Canadian provinces south to southern Lower California, southern Mexico and South Atlantic States; winters from Oregon, the Ohio Valley and Middle States south to the West Indies, Panama and Venezuela.
When one sees a large bluish bird, with long neck and stilt-like legs, standing motionless by river, pond or lake, or slowly wading in the shallows, he may be sure he has before him the great blue heron, and a notable bird he is in many ways. Wary as this heron is and keen to scent danger, he offers so tempting i mark as he wings his way slowly along, with head and neck drawn in against the body and long legs trailing behind, or as he stands motionless watching for game, that he is frequently shot “just for the fun of it." This wanton taking of life is never justifiable, but when the life cut short represents so much beauty and grace as are embodied in this stately bird, the crime seems doubly heinous. Naturally this heron is much less common than he used to be.
Small fish, frogs, tadpoles, and snakes form the bulk of his food, and in some regions he is a determined foe of mice and gophers, and the sight of a heron in the midst of a dry pasture or in a stubble field watching for a gopher to emerge from his hole is very common.
(See Biol. Surv. Bul. 31, p. 52; also Bul. 17,
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus).
Length, about 24 inches. Deep pearl gray above; much of rest of plumage white. Not readily distinguished in life from its allies.
Range: Breeds in Alaska and in Arctic regions south southern British Columbia, Southern Albertil, northern North Dakotil, central Wisconsin southern Ontario, northern New York, and Maine; winters from southern British Columbia to Lower California and western Mexico, and from Guf of St. Lawrence and Great Lakes south to Bahamas, Yucatan, and coast of Texas.
All things considered, the herring gull is probably the best known of the family by reason of its abundance and wide distribution. Moreover, this is the gull most frequently noticed by passengers als it follows in the wake of our ocean and trans-Atlantic steamers. It breeds no farther south than the coast of Maine, but in winter it is very numerous along the Atlantic coast and in many of our inland ponds. It does excellent service as a scavenger in our harbors, venturing fearlessly among the shippivg to secure anything edible that may find its way overboard. The services of this and other gulls in such a capacity are so valuable that their destruction wder any pretense is to be deprecated. When the craze for feathered hat gear was at its height thousands of gulls. without regard to species, were killed for millinery purposes, but it is to be hoped that, now the sale of their feathers is illegal practically everywhere in the United States, the gulls will rapidly increase.
(See Biol. Surv. Bul. 17, pp. 53, SO.)
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo). Length, about 15 inches. The pearl-gray breast and belly distinguish the adult of this tern from its relatives. The outer web of the outer tail feathers is darker than the inner web; the reverse is true of Forster's Tern, its nearest ally.
Range: Breeds from Great Slave Lake, central Keewatin and southern Quebec south to southwestern Saskatchewan, northern North Dakota, southern Wisconsin, northern Ohio and North Carolina; winters from Florida to Brazil.
Our common tern is, alas, common no longer. The Atlantic coast is peculiarly fitted to be the home of the terns by reason of the extensive shallows and the great number of sandı islands on which terng and gulls used to breed in absolute safety. At the bidding of fashion, however, thousands of these beautiful creatures were slaughtered till the sand was red with their blood and island colonies that used to number thousands were exterminated. No excuse serves to palliate the crime of the wholesale murder of these graceful seal swallows, as they are aptly termed, which used to make our shores so attractive by their presence.
But the tide seems to have turned, partly at least. The Government has set aside islands as breeding resorts and places of refuge und, through the activity of Audubon Societies and of individual workers, a certain measure of safety seems now assured to these persecuted birds. It may eren prove possible, by the bird sanctuary plan, to increase their numbers again and make them a familiar sight along our deserted shores. Could the sentiment of the women of the United States be united for their protection, all doubt as to the future of these beautiful creatures would be removed, but so long as the arbiter of Fashion decrees feathers on hats, so long will the eternal vigilance of their friends be needed to assure the safety of the small remnant of this species and its kindred.