ONE of the new pleasures of country life when one has made the acquaintance of the birds is to witness the northward bird procession as it passes or tarries with us in the spring — a procession which lasts from April till June and has some new feature daily.
The migrating wild creatures, whether birds or beasts, always arrest the attention. They seem to link up animal life with the great currents of the globe. It is moving day on a continental scale. It is the call of the primal instinct to increase and multiply, suddenly setting in motion whole tribes and races. The first phœbe bird, the first song sparrow, the first robin or bluebird in March or early April, is like the first ripple of the rising tide on the shore.
In my boyhood the vast armies of the passenger pigeons were one of the most notable spring tokens. Often late in March, or early in April, the naked beech-woods would suddenly become blue with them, and vocal with their soft, child-like calls; or all day the sky would be streaked with the long lines or dense masses of the moving armies. The last great flight of them that I ever beheld was on the tenth of April, 1875, when, for the greater part of the day, one could not at any moment look skyward above the Hudson River Valley without seeing several flocks, great and small, of the migrating birds. But that spectacle was never repeated as it had been for generations before. The pigeons never came back. Death and destruction, in the shape of the greed and cupidity of man, were on their trail. The hosts were pursued from state to state by professional pot-hunters and netters, and the numbers so reduced, and their flocking instinct so disorganized, that their vast migrating bands disappeared, and they were seen only in loosely scattered and diminishing flocks in different parts of the West during the remainder of the century. A friend of mine shot a few in Indiana in the early eighties, and scattered bands of them have occasionally been reported, here and there, up to within a few years. The last time that my eyes beheld a passenger pigeon was in the fall of 1876 when I was out for grouse. I saw a solitary cock sitting in a tree. I killed it, little dreaming that, so far as I was concerned, I was killing the last pigeon.
What man now in his old age who witnessed in youth that spring or fall festival and migration of the passenger pigeons would not hail it as one of the gladdest hours of his life if he could be permitted to witness it once more! It was such a spectacle of bounty, of joyous, copious animal life, of fertility in the air and in the wilderness, as to make the heart glad. I have seen the fields and woods fairly inundated for a day or two with these fluttering, piping, blue-and-white hosts. The very air at times seemed suddenly to turn to pigeons.
One May evening recently, near sundown, as I sat in my summerhouse here in the Hudson Valley, I saw a long curved line of migrating fowl high in the air, moving with great speed northward, and for a moment I felt the old thrill that I used to experience on beholding the pigeons. Fifty years ago I should have felt sure that they were pigeons; but they were only ducks. A more intense scrutiny failed to reveal the sharp, arrow-like effect of a swiftly moving flock of pigeons. The rounder, bottle-shaped bodies of the ducks also became apparent. But migrating ducks are a pleasing spectacle, and when, a little later, a line of geese came into my field of vision, and re-formed and trimmed their ranks there against the rosy sky above me, and drove northward with their masterly flight, there was no suggestion of the barnyard or farm pond up there.
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through the rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Bryant, by the way, handled natural subjects in a large, free, simple way, which our younger poets never attained.
When one is fortunate enough to see a line of swans etched upon the sky near sunset, a mile or more high, as has been my luck but twice in my life, one has seen something he will not soon forget.
The northward movement of the smaller bodies — the warblers and finches and thrushes — gives one pleasure of a different kind — the pleasure of rare and distinguished visitors who tarry for a few hours or a few days, enlivening the groves and orchards and garden borders, and then pass on. Delicacy of color, grace of form, animation of movement, and often snatches of song, and elusive notes and calls, advise the bird-lover that the fairy procession is arriving. Tiny guests from Central and South America drop out of the sky like flowers borne by the night winds, and give unwonted interest to our tree-tops and roadside hedges. The ruby-crowned kinglet heralds the approach of the procession, morning after morning, by sounding his elfin bugle in the evergreens.
The migrating thrushes in passing are much more chary of their songs, although the hermit, the veery, and the olive-backed may occasionally be heard. I have even heard the northern water thrush sing briefly in my currant patch. The bobolink begins to burst out in sudden snatches of song, high in air, as he nears his northern haunts. I have often in May heard the black-poll warbler deliver his fine strain, like that of some ticking insect, but have never heard the bay-breasted or the speckled Canada during migration. None of these birds sing or nest in the tropical countries where they pass more than half the year. They are like exiles there; the joy and color fade out of their lives in the land of color and luxuriance. The brilliant tints come to their plumage, and the songs to their hearts, only when the breeding impulse sends them to their brief northern homes. Tennyson makes his swallow say, —
While in the North long since my nest is made.
It is highly probable, if not certain, that the matches made in the North endure but for a season, and that new mates are chosen each spring. The males of most species come a few days in advance of the females, being, I suppose, supercharged with the breeding impulse.
That birds have a sense of home and return in most cases to their old haunts is quite certain. But whether both sexes do this, or only the males, I have no proof. But I have proof which I consider positive that the male song sparrow returns, and there is pretty good evidence that the same thing is true of several, probably of most, other species. A friend of mine has a summer home in one of the more secluded valleys of the Catskills, and every June for three years a pair of catbirds have nested near the house; and every day, many times, one or both birds come to the dining-room window for sweet butter. Very soon after their arrival they appear at the window, shy at first, but soon becoming so tame that they approach within a few feet of the mistress of the house. They light on the chairbacks and sometimes even hop on the table, taking the butter from the fork held by the mistress. Their behavior now is very convincing that one or both have been at the window for butter in previous years.
Let me quote a page or two from my notebook, under date of May 25:—
‘Walked down through the fields and woods to the river, and then along the wooded banks toward home.
‘Redstarts here and there in the woods, going through their pretty gymnastics. None of our insect-feeders known to me so engage the eye. The flashes of color, and the acrobatic feats — how they set each other off! It is all so much like a premeditated display, or a circus, or an operatic performance, that one is surprised to find a solitary bird in the woods so intent upon it. Every movement is accompanied by its own feathered display. The tail, with its bands of black and orange, is as active in opening and shutting as a lady’s fan at the opera signaling to her lover; the wings unfold, or droop, and second the sensitive tail, and the whole behavior of the bird makes him about the prettiest actor in the little flycatching drama of the season. This behavior would suggest that the bird feeds upon a particular kind of insect; at all times and places it is engaged in the same striking acrobatic feats; just as the black-and-white creeping warbler is always busy in the hunt for some minute insect on the trunks of trees.’
I recall several of our insect-feeders, each of which seems to have its own insect province. The Kentucky warbler, where I have known it on the Potomac, fed for the most part on insects which it gathered from the underside of the leaves of certain plants near the ground. Hence it is classed among the ground warblers, like the Maryland yellowthroat. The red-eyed vireo feeds largely on the insects which hide on the under side of leaves in the treetops.
When the oriole first comes in May, he is very busy searching into the heart of the apple-tree bloom for some small insect. I have seen Wilson’s blackcapped warbler doing the same thing. I have seen a score or more of myrtle warblers very active amid the bushes and trees along a stream, snapping up some slow-moving gauzy insect drifting about there. They often festoon the stream with their curving and looping lines of blue and black and yellow.
The feeding-ground of one bird is often an empty larder to another kind. I saw a pretty illustration of this fact yesterday. On the wide, smooth space, graded with sharp gravel in front of my neighbor’s boathouse, there were three Blackburnian warblers, one male and two females, very much absorbed in hurrying about over the gray surface, picking up some tiny insects which were invisible to my eye. How intent and eager they were! A nuthatch came down the trunk of the elm and eyed them closely; then took to the ground and followed them about for a moment. But evidently he could not make out what the table was spread with, as, after a few seconds, he flew back to the tree and went on with his own quest of food. But the nuthatches will follow the downy woodpeckers through the trees, and the chickadees follow the nuthatches, and the brown creepers follow the chickadees, and each kind appears to find the food it is looking for. Every man to his taste, and every bird to the food that its beak indicates.
I have no idea as to the kind of food that invariably draws the male scarlet tanager to the ground in the ploughed fields at this season; but there they are in pairs or triplets, slowly looking over the brown soil and visible from afar. Yesterday I came upon two on the ground at a wettish place in the woods, demurely looking about them. How they fairly warmed the eye amid their dull and neutral surroundings!
Season after season, all over the country, the spectacle of scarlet tanagers inspecting the ground in ploughed fields recurs.
This season an unusual number of male rose-breasted grosbeaks have frequented the ground in my vineyards at the same time. Their black-and-white plumage, with an occasional glimpse of their rose-colored breasts, makes them very noticeable, but not so conspicuous as the tanagers. But their rich mellow warblings from the tree-tops more than make up to the ear what the eye misses. Strange to say, in my boyhood I never saw or recognized this bird, and few country or farm people, I think, ever discriminate it. Its song is like that of the robin much softened and rounded and more finely modulated, contrasting in this respect with the harder and more midsummer strain of the tanager. The heavy beak of the bird gives him a somewhat Hebraic look.
That birds of a feather flock together, even in migration, is evident enough every spring. When in the morning you see one of a kind, you may confidently look for many more. When, in early May, I see one myrtle warbler, I presently see dozens of them in the trees and bushes all about me; or, if I see one yellow red-poll on the ground, with its sharp chirp and nervous behavior, I look for more. Yesterday, out of the kitchen window, I saw three speckled Canada warblers on the ground in the garden. How choice and rare they looked on the dull surface! In my neighbor’s garden or dooryard I would probably have seen more of them, and in his trees and shrubbery as many magnolia, and bay-breasted, and blackthroated blue warblers as in my own; and about his neighbor’s place, and his, and his, throughout the township, and on west throughout the county, and throughout the state, and the adjoining state, on west to the Mississippi and beyond, I would have found in every bushy tangle and roadside and orchard and grove and wood and brookside, the same advancing line of migrating birds — warblers, fly-catchers, finches, thrushes, sparrows, and so on — that I found here. I would have found highholes calling and drumming, robins and pheebes nesting, swallows skimming, orioles piping, oven birds demurely tripping over the leaves in the woods, tanagers and grosbeaks in the ploughed fields, purple finches in the cherry trees, and white-throats and white-crowned sparrows in the hedges.
One sees the passing bird procession in his own grounds and neighborhood without pausing to think that in every man’s grounds and in every neighborhood throughout the state, and throughout a long, broad belt of states, about several millions of homes, and over several millions of farms, the same flood-tide of bird-life is creeping and eddying or sweeping over the land. When the mating or nesting highholes are awakening you in the early morning by their insistent calling and drumming on your metal roof or gutters or ridge-boards, they are doing the same to your neighbors near by, and to your fellow countrymen fifty, a hundred, a thousand miles away. Think of the myriads of dooryards where the‘chippies’ are just arriving; of the blooming orchards where the passing manycolored warblers are eagerly inspecting the buds and leaves; of the woods and woody streams where the oven birds and water thrushes are searching out their old haunts; of the secluded bushy fields and tangles where the chewinks, the brown thrashers, the chats, the catbirds, are once more preparing to begin life anew — think of all this and more, and you may get some idea of the extent and importance of our bird-life.
I fancy that on almost any day in mid-May the flickers are drilling their holes into a million or more decayed trees between the Hudson and the Mississippi; that any day a month earlier the phœbes are starting their nests under a million or more woodsheds or bridges or overhanging rocks; that several millions of robins are carrying mud and straws to sheltered projections about buildings, or to the big forked branches in the orchards.
When in my walk one day in April, through an old cedar lane, I found a mourning dove’s nest on the top of an old stone wall, — the only one I ever found in such a position, — I wondered how many mourning doves throughout the breadth and length of the land had built or were then building their nests on stone walls or on rocks.
Considering the enormous number of birds of all species that flood the continent at this season, as if some dike or barrier south of us had suddenly given way, one wonders where they could all have been pent up during the winter. Mexico and Central and South America have their own bird-populations the seasons through; and with the additions of the hosts from this country, it seems as if those lands must have literally swarmed with birds, and that the food-question (as with us) must have been pressing. Of course, a great many of our birds — such as sparrows, robins, blackbirds, meadow larks, jays, and chewinks — spend the winter in the Southern states, but many more — warblers, swallows, swifts, hummers, orioles, tanagers, cuckoos, fly-catchers, vireos, and others — seek out the equatorial region.
The ever-memorable war spring of 1917 was very backward, — about two weeks later than the average, — very cold and very wet. Few fruit trees bloomed before the twentieth of May; then they all bloomed together: cherry, pear, peach, apple, all held back till they could stand it no longer. Pink peach-orchards and white apple-orchards at the same time and place made an unusual spectacle.
The cold wet weather, of course, held up the bird procession also. The warblers and other migrants lingered and accumulated. The question of food became a very serious one with all the insect-eaters. The insects did not hatch, and, if they did, they kept very close to cover. The warblers, driven from the trees, took to the ground. It was an unusual spectacle t.o’ see these delicate and many-colored spirits of the air and of the tree-tops hopping about amid the clods and the rubbish, searching for something they could eat. They were like jewels in the gutter, or flowers on the sidewalk.
For several days in succession I saw several speckled Canada warblers hopping about my newly planted garden, evidently with poor results; then it was two or more Blackburnian warblers looking over the same ground, their new black and white and vivid orange plumage fairly illuminating the dull surface. The redstarts flashed along the ground and about the low bushes and around the outbuildings, delighting the eye in the same way. Baybreasted warblers tarried and tarried, now on the ground, now in the lower branches of the trees or in bushes. I sat by a rapid rocky stream one afternoon and watched for half an hour a score or more of myrtle warblers snapping up the gauzy-winged insects that hovered above the water in the fitful sunshine. What loops and lines of color they made, now perched on the stones, now on the twigs of the overhanging trees, now hovering, now swooping. What an animated scene they presented! They had struck a rare find and were making the most of it.
On other occasions I saw the magnolia and Cape May and chestnut-sided warblers under the same stress of foodshortage searching in unwonted places. One bedraggled and half starved female Magnolia warbler lingered eight or ten days in a row of Japanese barberry bushes under my window, where she seemed to find some minute and, to me, invisible insect on the leaves and in the blossoms that seemed worth her while.
This row of barberry bushes was the haunt for a week or more of two or three male ruby-throated humming birds. Not one female did we see, but two males were often there at the same time, and sometimes three. They came at all hours and probed the clusters of small greenish-yellow blossoms, and perched on the twigs of intermingled lilacs, often remaining at rest five or six minutes at a time. They chased away the big queen bumble-bees which also reaped a harvest there, and occasionally darted spitefully at each other. The first day I saw them, they appeared to be greatly fatigued, as if they had just made the long journey from Central America. Never before had I seen this bird-jewel of omnipotent wing take so kindly and so habituatedly to the perch.
The unseasonable season, no doubt, caused the death of vast numbers of warblers. We picked up two about the paths on my place, and the neighbors found dead birds about their grounds. Often live birds were so reduced in vitality that they allowed the passerby to pick them up. When one dead bird was seen, no doubt hundreds escaped notice in the fields and groves. A bird lives so intensely — rapid breathing and high temperature—that its need for food is always pressing. These adventurous little aviators had come all the way from South and Central America; the fuel-supply of their tiny engines was very low, and they suffered accordingly.
A friend writing me from Maine at this time had the same story of famishing warblers to tell. Certain of our more robust birds suffered. A male oriole came under my window one morning and pecked a long time at a dry crust of bread — food, I dare say, it had never tasted before. The robins alone were in high feather. The crop of angle-worms was one hundred per cent, and one could see the robins ‘snaking’ them out of the ground at all hours.
Emerson is happy in his epithet, ‘the punctual birds.’ They are nearly always here on time — always, considering the stage of the season; but the inflexible calendar often finds them late or early. There is one bird, however, that keeps pretty close to the calendar. I refer to the white-crowned sparrow, the most distinguished-looking of all our sparrows. Year after year, be the season early or late, I am on the lookout for him between the 12th and the 16th of May. This year, on the 13th, I looked out of my kitchen window and saw two males hopping along side by side in the garden. Unhurriedly they moved about, unconscious of their shapely forms and fine bearing. Their black and white crowns, their finely penciled backs, pure ashengray breasts, and their pretty carriage, give them a decided look of distinction. Such a contrast to our nervous and fidgety song sparrow, bless her little heart! And how different from the more chunky and plebeian looking white-throats — bless their hearts also for their longer tarrying and their sweet, quavering ribbon of song. The fox sparrow, the most brilliant singer of all our sparrows, is an uncertain visitor in the Hudson River valley, and seasons pass without one glimpse of him.
The spring of 1917 was remarkable for the number of migrating blue jays. For many days in May I beheld the unusual spectacle of processions of jays streaming northward. Considering the numbers I saw during the short time in the morning that I was in the open, if the numbers I did not see were in like proportion, many thousands of them must have passed my outlook northward. The jay is evidently more or less a migrant. I saw not one here during the winter, which is unusual. As one goes south in winter the number of jays greatly increases, till in Georgia they are nearly as abundant as robins are here in summer.
In late April a friend wrote me from a town in northern New York that the highholes disturbed his sleep in the early morning by incessant drumming on the metal roofs and gutters and ridgeboards. They were making the same racket around us at the same hour. Early in the month a pair of them seem to have been attracted to a cavity in the mid-top of a maple tree near the house, and the male began to warm up under the fever of the nesting impulse, till he made himself quite a nuisance to sleepers who did not like to be drummed out before five o’clock in the morning. How loudly he did publish and proclaim his joy in the old command which spring always reaffirms in all creatures! With call and drum, repeated to the weariness of his less responsive neighbors, he made known the glad tidings from his perch on the verge of the tin roof; he would send forth the loud rapid call, which, as Thoreau aptly says, has the effect as of some one suddenly opening a window and calling in breathless haste,
’Quick, quick, quick, quick!’ Then he would bow his head and pour a volley of raps upon the wood or metal, which became a continuous stream of ringing blows. One would have thought that he had a steel punch for a bill, and that it never got dull.
But the highhole’s bill is a wonderful instrument and serves him in many ways. In the spring bird-orchestra he plays an important part, more so than that of any other of the woodpeckers. He is never a disturber of the country quiet except on such occasions as above referred to. His insistent call coming up from the April and May meadows or pastures or groves is pleasing to the nature-lover to a high degree. It does seem to quicken the season’s coming, though my pair were slow in getting down to business, doubtless on account of the backward spring and the consequent scarcity of ants, which is their favorite food.
When on the first of June I looked into the cavity in one of my maples, and saw only one egg, I thought it a meagre result for all that month and a half of beating of drum and clashing of cymbals; but on the twentieth of June the results were more ample, and four open mouths greeted me as I again looked into the little dark chamber in the maple. The drumming and trumpeting had ceased, and the festive and holiday air of the birds had given place to an air of silent solicitude. As the cavity is a natural one, the result of a decayed limb, it does not have the carpeting of soft pulverized ‘dozy’ wood that it would have had it been excavated by the birds. Hence, for days before the full complement of eggs was laid, and after the young had hatched, I used to see and hear, as I passed by, one of the parent birds pecking on the sides of the cavity, evidently to loosen material to supply this deficiency.
The highhole is our most abundant species of woodpecker, and as he gets most of his living from the ground instead of from the trees, he is a migrant in the northern states. Our other members of the family are mostly black, white, and red, but the highhole is colored very much like the meadow lark, in mottled browns and whites and yellows, with a dash of red on the nape of his neck. To his enemies in the air he is not a conspicuous object on the ground, as the other species would be.
The waves of bird-migrants roll on through the states into Canada and beyond, breaking like waves on the shore, and spreading their contents over large areas. The warbler wave spends itself largely in the forests and mountains of the northern tier of states and of Canada; its utmost range, in the shape of Wilson’s black cap, reaching nearly to the Arctic Circle, while its content of ground warblers, in the shape of the Maryland yellowthroat, and the Kentucky and the hooded warblers, begins to drop out south of the Potomac and in Ohio.
The robins cover a very wide area, as do the song sparrows, the kingbirds, the vireos, the flickers, the orioles, the catbirds, and others. The area covered by the bobolinks is fast becoming less and less, or at least it is moving farther and farther north. Bobolinks in New York state meadows are becoming rare birds, but in Canadian meadows they appear to be on the increase. The mowing-machine and the earlier gathering of the hay crop by ten or fourteen days than fifty years ago probably account for it.
As the birds begin to arrive from the South in the spring, the birds that have come down from the North to spend the winter with us — the cross-bills, the pine grosbeaks, the pine linnets, the red-breasted nuthatches, the juncos, and the snow buntings — begin to withdraw. The ebb of one species follows the flow of another. One winter, in December, a solitary red-breasted nuthatch took up his abode with me, attracted by the suet and nuts I had placed on a maple-tree trunk in front of my study window for the downy woodpecker, the chickadees, and the native nuthatches. Red-breast evidently said to himself, ‘Needless to look farther.’ He took lodgings in a wren-box on a post near by, and at night and during windy stormy days was securely housed there. He tarried till April, and his constancy, his pretty form, and engaging ways, greatly endeared him to us. The pair of whitebreasted nuthatches that fed at the same table looked coarse and common beside this little delicate waif from the far North. He could not stand to see lying around a superabundance of cracked hickory nuts, any more than his larger relatives could, and would work industriously, carrying them away and hiding them in the wood-pile and summer-house near by. The other nuthatches bossed him, as they in turn were bossed by Downy, and as he in turn bossed the brown creeper and the chickadees. In early April my little red-breast disappeared, and I fancied him turning his face northward, urged by a stronger impulse than that for food and shelter merely. He was my tiny guest from unknown lands, my baby bird, and he left a vacancy that none of the others could fill.
The nuthatches are much more pleasing than the woodpeckers. Softvoiced, soft-colored, gentle-mannered, gliding over the rough branches and the tree-trunks with their boat-shaped bodies, up and down and around, with apparently an extra joint in their necks that enables them, head-downward, to look straight out from the tree-trunk, their movements seem far less mechanical and angular than those of the woodpeckers and the creepers. Downy can back down a tree by short hitches, but he never ventures to do it headfirst, nor does the creeper; but the universal joint in the nuthatch’s body and its rounded keel enable it to move head on indifferently in all directions. Its soft nasal call in the spring woods is one of the most welcome of sounds. It is like the voice of children, plaintive, but contented, a soft interrogation in the ear of the sylvan gods. What a contrast to the sharp steely note of the woodpeckers — the hairy’s like the metallic sounds of the tin-smith, and Downy’s a minor key of the same!
But the woodpeckers have their drums which make the dry limbs vocal, and hint the universal spring awakening in a very agreeable manner. The two sounds together, the childish ‘Yank, yank,’ of the nuthatch, and the resonant ‘Rat-tat-tat’ of Downy, are coincident with the stirring sap in the maple trees. The robin, the bluebird, the song sparrow, and the phœbe have already loosened the fetters of winter in the open. It is interesting to note how differently the woodpeckers and the nuthatches use their beaks in procuring their food. Downy’s head is a trip-hammer, and he drives his beak into the wood by short, sharp blows, making the chips fly, while the nuthatch strikes more softly, using his whole body in the movement. He delivers a kind of feathered blow on the fragment of nut which he has placed in the vise of the tree’s bark. My little red-breast, previously referred to, came down on a nut in the same way, with a pretty extra touch of the flash of his wings at each stroke, as the wood-chopper says ‘Hah!’ when sending his axe home. If this does not add force to his blows, it certainly emphasizes them in a very pretty manner.
Each species of wild creature has its own individual ways and idiosyncrasies which one likes to note. As I write these lines a male kingbird flies by the apple tree in which his mate is building a nest, with that peculiar mincing and affected flight which none other of the flycatchers, so far as I know, ever assumes. The olive-sided flycatcher has his own little trick, too, which the others do not have: I have seen his whole appearance suddenly change while sitting on a limb, by the exhibition of a band of white feathers like a broad chalk-mark outlining his body. Apparently the white feathers under the wings could be projected at will, completely transforming the appearance of the bird. He would change in a twinkling from a dark, motionless object to one surrounded by a broad band of white.
It occasionally happens that a familiar bird develops an unfamiliar trait. The purple finch is one of our sweetest songsters and best-behaved birds, but one that escapes the attention of most country people. But the past season he made himself conspicuous with us by covering the ground beneath the cherry trees with cherry-blossoms. Being hard put to it for food, a flock of the birds must have discovered that every cherry-blossom held a tidbit in the shape of its ovary. At once the birds began to cut out these ovaries, soon making the ground white beneath the trees. I grew alarmed for the safety of my crop of Windsors, and tried to ‘shoo’ the birds away. They looked down upon me as if they considered it a good joke. Even when we shot one, to make sure of the identity of the bird, the flock only flew to the next tree and went on with the snipping. Beneath two cherry trees that stood beside the highway the blossoms drifted into the wagon tracks like snow flakes. I concluded that the birds had taken very heavy toll of my cherries, but it turned out that they had only done a little of the much-needed thinning. Out of a cluster of six or eight blossoms they seldom took more than two or three, as if they knew precisely what they were about, and were intent on rendering me a service. When the robins and the cedar birds come for the cherries they are not so considerate, but make a clean sweep. The finches could teach them manners — and morals.
Well, bird-life is an inexhaustible subject, but I know that the interest of my reader is not inexhaustible, and therefore I will not press him to the limit.