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      An Online Edition

 edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Wednesday, June 10, 1914

[Wild Birds]





     The cosmopolitan Martin, whose long wings bear him swiftly over land and sea, is expected to tell something interesting whenever he joins the circle of bathers in the fountain's spray.

     This time the talk turned on those neighbors of woods and field and orchard who seem real dwellers in a mysterious far wilderness to the Sparrows and Pigeons of all the asphalt ways. But to the Martin all are simply Bird People, whatever their habitat; he is much broadened by travel, and has a cheery greeting for all winged creatures alike, as he has the same clear twittering salute for every negro cabin, tanbark shack, skyscraper, bungalow and mansion that he flies over.

     "Tell us about your wild friends, Martin," he was asked.

     "They are not all so wild," he replied. "There is, for instance, a little cousin of yours in the country, Sparrow, who is often mistaken for yourself because he makes himself so much at home on the thresholds of men. But he is readily distinguishable by his rust-colored cap, his smaller size, his habit of going south every winter, and by his pretty way of chirping directly to the children of men as if eager to engage in conversation with them.

     "The jerky, perky little House Wrens, too, are so friendly and familiar in their ways as to give rise to a superstition that it is bad luck if a bird builds its nest in a man's shoe or in the pocket of a garment hung against the wall.

     "The Brown Thrasher, commonly lives near the homes of men. He is frequently confused with the thrushes; but even if his song be not sufficient identification, his habit of singing boldly in the open ought to be. It is safe to say that if you see a bird plainly, out from the covert of the leaves, he is no thrush.

     "In the time of ripening cherries the Catbird is as conspicuous as a bird clothed in smooth slate-color could well be. He more than pays for his toll of small fruit by the silvery, far-falling continuous spray of his morning song.

     "The Cardinal often sleeps in the climbing rambler roses under my lady's window; and the dainty little Humming bird, although nesting far from the dooryard, is daily tempted thither by the flowers. The Nuthatch runs up and down the bark of trees on the lawn, elfishly, taking every position tenable by a fly on the wall; the Phoebe plasters her domicile under the cottage eaves; the Robin knows he will find plenty of e[a]rthworms near the stable and barn.

     "All these may be looked for round the dwellings of men during the summer months. In the ripening oats are whole flocks of pretty black and yellow Goldfinches or summer canaries, who will later come after the garden's ripening seeds; but he eats more than enough plant-lice and ants to pay his way."

     "But are there not many more species in the wild woods?" asked the Pigeon. "Most of those you name are seen in the suburbs from time to time, and a few even come to drink at the Fountain with us. I have always understood, however, that there are many more who never leave the green twilight of the forest shadows."

     "Indeed there are many," said the Martin. "I do not know them all, for I fly above their haunts in pursuit of the insects on which I feed, and only catch glimpses of them from time to time. These Shyer folk are seen sometimes along the mountain road, but never at all by a noisy traveler. The Mourning Dove, always by two and two, flies up before the automobile; but the Veery, the Oven-bird, and the Tanager are among those who never come within hailing distance of so alarming a racket.

     "Every one is familiar with the voice of the yellow-billed Cuckoo, called 'raincrow' by country boys because its 'c-c-c-cow, cow, cow' is supposed to presage a shower. But it is more often heard than seen.

     "The brilliantly black and scarlet Tanager cannot stir without attracting attention, so he keeps his vivid coloring hid among the green leaves. The Thrush, who ranks high, if not highest, among American songbirds, flits like a shadow through the thicket, but makes up for his shynness by the far-ringing quality of his tone.

     "The vivid and noisy Woodpeckers, of which there are five species abroad in the neighboring mountains and country, are much in evidence round every orchard and clearing.

     "Deeper in the green tangle is a whole population of dainty little folk--the Vireos, greenish-gray like a sprite of the forest shadows, who build pretty cuplike nests and eat worms from the leaves; Indig[o]-bunting, a live drop of blue apparently precipitated by the blue summer air; the Gnatcatcher, a nimble gray-coat whose nest is as much a marvel of construction as that of the Hummingbird; the Wilson's Blackcap, and the Carolina Chickadee.

     "Then all the many Warblers--there are no less than twenty-four species found in the immediate vicinity of Chattanooga, all trim of form, graceful of motion, prettily colored, dainty and bright. They live mainly on insects--mostly those harmful to the gardens and fields of man. They are so small and nimble that they pick up tiny pests overlooked by the larger birds. Among the commoner varieties are the Kentucky warbler in olive and black and gold, the black-and-white creeping warbler, the prairie warbler, myrtle warbler, pine warbler, palm warbler, magnolia warbler, blackjoll warbler, the brightly striped Blackburnian warbler, the hooded warbler--

     "All? Oh, not b[y] any means! I have only told you as a paper's society page might, those you would be practically sure of meeting during a summer visit. But on one occasion when a naturalist of considerable prominence visited Signal mountain and St. Elmo for a few days in May, he listed a hundred and fifty different species of birds, most of which were in the woods of Signal mountain. There are a great number of which I can tell you nothing at all."





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