Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

But how obliging has nature become, that she allows a convalescent to interview her from his study windows. Yes, and her coyness breaks down too, for she lets out some of the esoteric ways of her winter birds. After falling many hours, the snow stops, and a cold clear blue sky opens over head. A flock of snow-birds has come. They seem to be the living feathery fringe on the skirts of the snow storm. And what a relief these pretty birds impart. This nival covering is not a shroud to conceal the dead, but a warm comforter spread over earth's slumbering forces by that Great, Good Hand “which giveth snow like wool.” In easy view from my library windows is a spot in the headland of the old orchard, where last autumn grew a tall Phytolacca decandra. The tip of the dead plant is but just exposed, and that is hint enough to the little fellows that the dried currant-like berries of the pokewort are to be found in a natural cache under the snow. The

way in which a group of five or six birds keep at the spot would indicate that the placer “pans out well." How they do dig down into the snow! Dig? Yes, though, very un-birdlike, that is the right word, for it is altogether unlike scratching. Its method of mining, for a bird, seems to me to be original. Our Junco hyemalis is a hopper, not a runner, and scratching is, as a rule, not an accomplishment of the hopper family. In truth, you can't bring the hoppers up to the scratch any way. Still our snow-bird is great on push-he does shove things; and a queer shove it is. I am almost afraid to attempt a description. The bird stiffens out its toes, then makes a jumping shove forward and upward, thus lifting and Airting the snow. The movement is of the whole body, and the action is scooping, not unlike that of a ditcher. It is not a shuffling motion, for it demands too much dexterity, but a true shoveling movement. Like the post-hole digger's shovel with its short blade and long handle, the middle toe of Junco is shorter than its tarsus.

Soon this natural cache was exhausted, and a deep, wide excavation with a small entrance was the result of their patient digging It was truly a snow cavern. The birds soon learned to feed from a supply put at their service on the window sill. Finding so good a commissariat, they sojourned with us a number of days, the little bevy of not more than seven, keeping always together, as if by a family compact. Indeed, this is a pretty domestic feature of our eastern snow-bird. Some twenty-five feet from

our study windows is a beautiful copse of Thuja occidentalis, or arbor vitæ, its object being to screen an outhouse from the public road. The trees are high and the foliage dense, and each tree hugs its companion lovingly, so that all seem but as one. Hither come our little birds when the day's foraging is done-this is their nightly “ covert from storm and rain;" while strange to tell, their snow dug-out is made to serve as a cosy asylum from the cutting wind by day. A callow philosopher to whom the above was men-· tioned, pronounced it a probable instance of mimicry inherited from a very ancient Junco, who got the idea from that glacial Eskimo who made snow dug-outs in Central New Jersey. The suggestion was declined, with thanks, but our speculative friend seemed much graveled about it. Nor did the counter suggestion mollify matters—that snow-house building required some architectural skill. We even urged the fact of its form, a segment of a sphere, and further that as a true surbased dome, this igloo of these Innuits greatly antedated that famous dome of the Parthenon, yet were less ancient than the dug-out domiciles made by mollusks, insects, birds and beasts.

There are always to be found the ne'er-do-wells among both birds and men. The survivals generally are such as anticipate the untoward times. We hear of the imported sparrows stuffing their boxes to exclude the cold; and we saw in an elm tree in the village, a nest which they had made of coarse materials, almost large enough for a hawk, the simple carrying labor for which must have been prodigious. But among these little folks, this providing for a rainy day is exceptional. It does not indicate the tribal habit so much as the individual capacity. I did not see any other Juncos improvise a snow dug-out into a shelter from the storm. With many birds it is a common practice to avail themselves of the handiwork of man. My daily paper reads: “During the recent cold weather a flock of snow-birds took refuge from the cold in Margaret English's barn at Smith's Landing, and became very tame.” We trust that the good Madam, like a pearl of a woman, gave the wee birdies food. “Became very tame.” This tail end of that local item wags more gravely than the writer knew. This tameness of the snow-bird is only in winter born, and coines of pitiless pinching pain. The food supply withdrawn they come timidly to our doors. And how delightful it is that one may turn his window sill into an almonry for the

winter birds—to us and them, so much happiness at such small cost. What goes on in these little birdies' brains, we may not find out; yet it would be just nice to know if gratitude were there, and maybe homage too; and if they looked to us as being unto them their Great, and Good, and Bountiful. Well, all this is the poor man's privilege, despite that greed of opulence :

“Whose talons grasp the blessings of the world.” Our eastern snow-bird does not hold together long in large flocks, but does like to keep together in small bevies, or family groups. Whatever it is, whether conjugal, parental or filial, or all combined—there certainly is affection:

“Oh, love is sweet through all the busy day time;

Oh, love is true in winter and in May-lime!" The group I am interviewing numbers seven individuals; whether they are blood-kin I cannot affirm, but I adopt the hypothesis and feed them as a necessitous family. But see! Is a good deed contagious ? These tiny things have caught the knack of charity among themselves! There is a poor little snowbird on a rail; something ails it, for a stalwart Junco is carrying food and feeding it with nursely tenderness. To and fro goes the noble little fellow, until the hunger of its nursling is appeased. The bird is in some way lame of wing; and its benefactor knows all about it. But this in a little birdie's noddle, is a good deal; for a double question is under consideration, namely, hunger and safety, demanding foresight and strategy. If it would, the crippled bird could go to the window sill and help itself; for it has managed to keep up with the family flock, but with painful effort. These two words lighten up the whole case. Even the stalwarts come to the place of feeding not without circumspection and some distrust, being very watchful for grimalkin and every other danger; hence this thoughtful commiseration—that crippled bird must be allowed a position "surveying vantage.” We have it from the professional bird trapper, that “snow-birds are not easy to catch."

Our Junco hyemalis has some really good qualities; he is social, and can be generous on occasion, and if clannish he is at least peaceably minded in his own family circle; with encouragement, I think the trick of familiarity would grow upon him, and he might become a welcome window bird in winter, like the English redbreast, sitting on the sill and pecking at the pane. Although farther on I may have, for the sake of truth, to mention an instance, far from commendable, of Junco's ill conduct in the company of his “betters.” As a cage bird he is cheerful, and generally bears a good reputation; he is reported to us, however, as impatient of restraint when the warm season comes; and I think that I have seen his best qualities in his winter freedom. He is winsome, and has a trace of humor-an unconscious serenity of the Mark Tapley order — for let the clime be almost Arctic, so but the rations hold out, he is gay and wide-awake; his plumage, too, is that of a well conditioned bird-so trim and smooth and bright. But here comes one of those proletarian summer bickerers—he of the bad reputation—“ who killed Cock Robin.” Poor sparrow! I do feel for him, with his fluffy outspread like a little impish owl, which "for all his feathers is acold,” He moves squattingly, so as to hug his frozen toes. The snow-birds let him to their store and welcome; having fed well, they feel too good to be malevolent, and are enjoying a sort of pop-game, hopping in and out of their snow dug-out. But whom have we here? The Carolina wax-wing, close cousin to that big Bohemian; he is the only one of his tribe that has been along this winter; despite a trace of the stuck-up, there is something almost ducal in his coronal uprightness; nor is he at all crestfallen at the unwonted inclemency; in fact he is rather majestical in a toploftical way, and deigns, through a two minutes' patronage, to look at the snow-birds' frolic, and then leaves. A very practical fellow now appears in the apple tree near my window, the hairy woodpecker, and he begins business at once, pegging in for dear life after that larval Saperda. How he makes the chips fly, and breaks the cold stillness with his rat-ta tat-tat. All these are living episodes. But that poor moribund sparrow, he is so forlorn; and well he may be, for my boy reports that several of his fellows have just succumbed to the pitiless cold, and are lying stark-stiff in the barnyard. The truth told, the winter is exceptionally severe; reports from over thirty observers in our county declare that two-thirds of the quails have perished, albeit the efforts to feed them; and our village taxidermist has set up a number of “ new birds,” brought him by farmers who found them dead, and who say that many small birds have died of starvation. Well, what about Junco? O, he's become jocose ; at least he seems to twitter: “ This is none of my funeral.” But then our Junco can be jolly under trying circumstances, and we must not write him down as going to the bad, simply because he trends a little on the heartless ways of men.

As hinted above, I think the snow-bird has capacities for human attachments. I saw one at a friend's house which had domiciled for the winter among the plants that filled the bay window. Over these hung a canary cage, the seed spilling from which fell into the flower pots, and were ample for Junco's wants. The bird seemed entirely at home, often leaving the window garden for the wider range of the sitting room. With the first snow of the winter, the bird had entered at an open door of its own accord; and when the spring came it took its departure in the same way.

I find myself so much interested by an account of a caged snow-bird, in a letter from my friend, Dr. Richard E. Kunze, of New York, that I cannot refrain from giving an extract: “In my aviary I have kept from eighteen to twenty denizens, during the past winter. I had no canary, and only one snow-bird, Junco hyemalis, which I obtained from a bird dealer early in the winter. I kept him two months, and I think I had him just two months too long! They are regularly trapped and offered for sale in this city, on account of their frolicsome ways, and not because they are songsters. In song they are much inferior to our purple finch, song sparrow or yellow-bird, yet their song is more varied than that of the lesser red-poll. They also sing at night, and quite frequently when domesticated. His note at night is more of a monotonous character, amounting to just a whirring r-r-s-r-r-r -r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r, and so on, reminding one of a tree-toad more than anything else. Not being very timid, he naturally becomes very tame. He is rather too much of a pugnacious character for a well kept aviary, and to my sorrow I must confess that when last week I took him to one of the Central Park menagerie aviaries, it was with no great reluctance that I parted with him. Before his banishment he had destroyed the plumage of many a fine bird for me. In putting a new bird in my aviary, it is the aviarian custom to give him a hazing, like any other freshman of a higher order of beings; yet that snow-bird was not molested by any one, which, no doubt, made him bolder. I have in my aviary an African weaver-bird and a Japanese robin, both of which are not to be trifled with, and generally are very aggressive themselves; yet he chased them in pairs, as he did also the indigo bunting, yellow-bird, nonpareil and the smaller birds of the finch tribe.

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »