Again, true to his word, the Boy was over bright and early Sunday morning, and for a change we took the car and drove out to the Big Pappio, west of the old Paxton farm, where this butterfly little creek makes its sinuous way, sometimes for a distance of hundreds of yards, through a deep rain-worn gully crowded with plum and grape, bittersweet, sumac and a variety of lesser willows. It was an area of country with which I was quite familiar years before, when it was far scraggier and wilder than it is today, and also a favorite haunt of Bob White, our common quail, now all but extinct throughout Douglas and adjacent counties.
I those days however, I made the trip out there two or three times every fall, and never failed in making at least a fair bag of what is undoubtedly the most precious game bird in the world.
The Boy and I were soon on the ground, and parking the car off the road, started for the creek. We had reached a point within a hundred yards or so of the creek's weedy shores when we were startled by several sharp "chuck! chuck! chucks," coming from the tangle below and the Boy eagerly demanded:
"Now what's that - a blackbird?" And we stopped for a reconnaissance.
"You don't see any blackbirds, do you, kid?" I enquired.
The Redbird Calls.
"No. But that sounds very much as if there was one somewhere's ahead of us there among those plum trees."
"Chuck! Chuck!" And before I could proclaim its identity, for had immediately recognized the bird's call as that of the cardinal, our common redbird, when there was a bright flaming flash athwart our vision and the bird itself, a gorgeous male, curved up out of the lower covert over the bank and, describing a parabola, was back in the thick of the tangle again, its disappearance being followed by a perfect concatenation of querulous chucks.
Raising my hand to the Boy as an admonition for quiet, we moved slowly forward, step by step, until finally we stood on the slight escarpment overlooking the Pappio and its brushy embroidery.
The redbird wasn't long in showing himself again, and this time, as if to block any intrusion on our part upon the sacredness of his sanctuary, he fluttered among the pallid stalks of the sumac almost in our very faces.
"Isn't he tame?" ventured the Boy.
Winter Birds Friendly.
"Yes, he is tame," I answered, "but it is just a gray, chilly day like this, with little flurries of snow about, that I have always regarded as the prime time to study the great variety of temperament there is among our little winter avian friends. You will find that your wanderings will be fuller of results than those taken in the milder and brighter seasons."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because, one of the chief things I have learned is, that in the bleak and trenchant days of winter there are fewer recluses among the birds than there are in the summer, when the fact is, it seems, as if it should be just the contrary.
"Yet it is true, Boy, as you will see, probably this very day - all of the birds that are here, from the crow down to the chickadee, are more sociable with each other and reside in what I might call, nomadic communities."
"Isn't that because there are fewer of them here, and there is nothing to do, but keep their little crops filled - don't you think, Mr. G.?"
"I don't think anything about it, and it please me beyond expression to see what a wonderful Bob Scout you really are."
"Thanks - awfully," and he screwed his mouth to one side, and gave me a wink as much as to say, "Oh, don't you kid me."
Song of the Creek.
"I never let on, however, but continued my dissertation along the lines I considered most valuable for any young and receptive mind, as we forced our way through the tangles down the bank to where the waters of the Pappio were heroically endeavoring to make their little roundelay heard above the low soughing wind, as they swirled over the muddy bottom and around obstructing drift or disputations, little curves and cul-de-sacs, the cardinal keeping just so far ahead of us all the time, like a real guide.
"You see, Kid, in the spring-time, after the birds have begun to mate, they are, of course, found most generally in pairs. They are then, too, more exclusive, secretive and covert, and keep close to some favored seignory that has taken their fancy and they claim as their own. The great adventure of their lives is imminent, and they have many secrets to jealously guard and many enemies to watch.
"Then, in the wintertime, there are no jealousies and few enemies among any of the hardier of our birds, consequently no quarreling even among those most at variance in their habits, like the crow for instance and the little woodpeckers.
And We Saunter On.
"As you have so aptly remarked, with nothing to do but search for food, and a cozy, protective roosting place, they are content to make the most of the society which, in the summer time, they would entirely ignore. Often they become exceedingly neighborly, the juncos and the sparrows, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, cardinals, and chewinks, all searching for fallen seeds among the same low bushes, or flitting about among the naked branches, or flying in variegated blocks over the desolate fields.
"There's our redbird - see, he is surely keeping an eye on us. Isn't he beautiful? I never saw such a vivid red. Don't they ever go south at all?" and the Boy made a leap and pulled down a scraggly vine to which a sad little cluster of wind-beaten and faded bittersweet was still clinging.
About the Cardinal.
"Yes, the cardinals go south, just like the robins and the meadowlarks, and just like these birds, a large number of them never make the trip at all and are numbered among our true winter birds. The fact is some ornithologists claim that none of our cardinals ever migrate, but the same bird exists in the more tropic states, and that these never come north. Their first cousins, though, the rose-breasted grosbeaks, depart early, go far beyond the gulf, and come back late in the spring.
"There are few showier birds than our redbird, and for one, I am glad he is here the year around.
"There he is, on that little white ash snag; look at him close; he's red all over, save that black marking around his cherry-colored beak, and isn't his head feathers dandy, crested just like a bluejay's and always erect excepting when the rain is falling?"
"And he is a good singer, too," remarked the boy, a question in his tone.
"That he is, not only himself, but his more sober hued little frau, for she is similarly gifted, with a more charming song, and with a sweeter softer voice than the ringing whistle of her gaudy mate, and quite different in general tone and timbre."
A Flurry of Sparrows.
Whirr-rrrr; That was a veritable flock of small brownish slate-colored birds flashing up into the air right in our very faces. They rose from a clump of low lacey weeds that covered a little open space traversing the creek for many yards ahead of us. For a time I could not make out what they were, but when I got my glasses focused on a number of them, perched as sedately as young owls along a limb of a nearby plum tree, I saw what they were, at least the most of them, but I wasn't so sure of the grayer ones, Harris sparrows. The boy, however, was in an ecstasy of delight, more so even, than over my statement that another bluejay had joined our pet of the window-sill, that he had arrived just that morning, but wasn't long getting acquainted and quickly availed himself of our pet's invitation to partake of the peanut banquet his big friends had spread so generously for himself and the bunnies.
First he wanted me to find out what those birds were, that seemed to be puzzling me, but I knew later he would return to the new bluejay. Therefore we crouched down together while I made an investigation through my glasses.
"Here, take the glasses and see what you can make out about the smaller of those birds in the plum tree ahead of us there," I said to the Boy, handing him my binoculars, which he quickly adjusted to his eyes and after quite a prolonged peering through them, he handed them back to me with the remark:
"I know the bigger birds are sparrows - tree sparrows - for you have pointed them out to me so many times, but those little fellows flitting about so lively, I don't recollect of ever having seen anything like them before - maybe they are the young birds hatched late last fall."
"No, I don't think so, but I believe I know what they are, but I am not dead certain, for I have seen them so seldom, but am quite sure they are what are called clay-colored sparrows."
"Well, I never saw any of them and can't say anything about the. Still I would know they belonged to the sparrow family," and the Boy stopped beside me while I gave the little fellows, a number of whom had hopped down upon the ground beneath the plum trees, another searching examination.
I saw that they greatly resemble our common little chipping sparrows, save their crown-piece and the general tone of the back, which was decidedly darker, while their under parts were almost as white as snow, and finally it was a much greater treat to me than it was to the Boy, this opportunity to study a bird so rare, in, at least, this part of the state, but which is quite common along our northern borders.
They are vivacious little bodies, are almost constantly on the move, flitting nervously among the lower branches of the low growths along the Pappio, and on the ground in weed patches and amongst the low underbrush.
You will not find much about them in bird literature, just why, I can't imagine, but the time will come when they will be known, I think, as well as any of the other familiar members of the family, and so I remarked to the Boy, who replied, that strange as they were, they seemed pretty much at home, and "I guess they know where they are at."
Points to Keep in Mind.
"Well, Kiddie, in bird study it is never safe to take too much for granted," I quickly rejoined, as I suspected the lad wasn't quite as greatly interested in these birds as he would have been in most any of our commoner sort.
"The rarer the bird, the more the real bird student is interest," I went on. "One must be constantly upon the alert, and he will soon be able to make fine distinctions with both eye and ear, and you must - hello, there they go, all together, Harris sparrow and the little fellows," and away the whole lot did go, rising up and out of the Pappio's deeply furrowed runway, high into the air, and bearing swiftly away to the southward.
The Harris Sparrow.
"And those larger birds, the Harrises," exclaimed the Boy. "I don't know anything about them. Are they common here?"
"Fairly so, but I am puzzled to find them here at this stage of the season. I am quite sure they go south in the fall, at least that is a natural conclusion, judging from the fact that they are late arrivals in the spring. Still this weather we are having is enough to change the habits of any bird, and the tree sparrows rank with our true winter birds. The Harris sparrows are common winter sojourners, too, just like the cardinal, the robin and the meadowlark. Those that do go south are invariably back here in February, and sometimes February is our very toughest month.
"'Well, they looked like fine birds to me, although this is the first time I ever saw one, and I'd like to have had a better look at them.'
"Truly, Boy, they are fine birds, and if anything a little larger than our dandy fox sparrow, supposed to be the biggest of them all. You saw, of course, how neatly they were attired. And those whose breasts were so strikingly decorated with a brooch of black dots held in place by an equally black necklace, and with shadowy throats and heads, were the males. So with their pink beaks and pinker legs, they are quite dudish, don't you think?"
"They certainly are, and I am going to know them better. I've go to."
And on we went, forgetting all about our redbird and the sparrows, when suddenly, in rounding a really big bend for the Pappio, we found ourselves at the edge of quite an extensive clump of big cottonwoods, towering upwards over a very tangle of underbrush, grapevines, sumachs, willows and other growths, and as we stopped, for a look around, we noticed a great bulging bunch of grapevines, that was dangling from the lower branches of a group of saplings, and which was fairly alive with birds evidently taking their noonday luncheon of the fruit of the vines, still clinging, withered and desiccated, to many of the inside threads of the vines.
Commonest of Winter Birds.
"Juncos!" I ejaculated and the Boy repeated the exclamation with equal fervor and delight, for he recognized them almost as quickly as I did.
"These jolly little Eskimos," I remarked, lacking a better simile,. "Boy, dwell with us all the winter, let old Boreas howl as loud as he may. They are always as full of life as little dynamos, flitting constantly from bush to weed and from the bare or snow-covered earth, to the storm-gnarled trees, now stuffing themselves upon the residue of wild berries and grapes, now on almost any kind of weed seeds, and they always generate enough caloric in their trig little corporosities to defy the blackest scowls of the ugliest of winter days.
"'My aren't they neat and trim,' the Boy cut in, 'just like our summer birds in full uniform - you see, Mr. G., our lingering robins and tree sparrows generally appear somewhat unkept in the winter time.'
The Junco Always Neat.
"That's a fact, Boy, but never the Junco, and I wish you could see them take a bath in some hole in the Pappio - but they must have the cleanest of water, and there can't be much of any kind in this shabby little old creek. Then any water they do find, must be ice cold, and the Juncos will plunge into it and rinse and rerinse their gray plumage with as much relish as if their lavatory was nice and tepid, like you have at your own home, and with as much joy as if June winds, instead of nipping northerners, were blowing over the land.
"Look, Boy, how dainty they eat," and then we watched one who had discovered quite a little raceme of the shrunken and blasted croweyes - grapes - and it was real fun to see him select one of what he thought was the choicest of the cluster; pressing it daintily between his white mandibles for a few seconds, swallow with jerking neck, whatever he got out of the withered skin and dropping the rest to the ground. Then together with others up he popped where the vines were thinner and the black little knots of berries more plentiful.
"'My, how I wonder where the birds all sleep these blustery winter nights,' and the Boy pulled up his sweater collar at the bare thought, and shivered like you old duck hunters have seen your retriever do many a time, while watching for ducks on a cold, autumn day.
"Well, that is something that has often set me to thinking, hard, myself, sure, but I can tell you where these Juncos will bunk, and that is in any corn shock they can find within five miles flight, but preferably in a field with bordering woods."
"In corn shocks?"
"Yes, in corn shocks, and many's the time when I was about so big, have I gone out to a cornfield near our old farmstead and started more than a dozen Juncos from a single shock.
"Oh, just for fun. It made me fairly squeal with delight when the little gray fellows would burst pell-mell from their haven in the shock's top, chippering lugubriously their protestations until swallowed up in the thickening dusk.
"'What sort of beds do they find in a corn shock, I'd like to know?' from the Boy, half banteringly.
"Well you shall," I got back at him, "and when we come to a field of shocked corn, you had better examine one of the shocks and among the stalks and long, wide blades, and you'll find many coziest kind of little nooks and cunning angles, where they find a roost - and a covert as wind and cold-proof as your own bed-chamber at home.
"I used to stand, in the mysterious gloaming, at the border of the woods that walled the west side of our cornfield, when I was out on a marauding trip against the peace and quiet of my little friends, the juncos, listening to the elfin rustling of the fodder tops as the juncos settled themselves for the night within.
"'And then you'd route 'em out?'
"Yes, I would, and yet never in an evil spirit, Boy, as I have loved the birds too much for that, and I knew they'd soon get settled again -"
"'But if they didn't?'
"Oh, well, then they'd find some other roost," evasively, "and to prove to you, Boy, how my heart was always right when it came to the little people of the wild, I'll tell you some time, how, when I was a smaller codger than you are today, how I lay on my belly for hours, in the woods, every afternoon, for over a whole week, to make friends with one wary but beautiful little chipmunk. Hallow! On my life, look at that flock of pintails of there to the southwest, see 'em; it must be that we are going to have an early spring."
Then, flushing the juncos, on we stalked - the Boy and I, and I wondered and conjured over what little things it takes to bring happiness to either or both, a young heart and an old one! But, after all, don't we all get wisdom and sweetness out of the soil and the stars?
"A friend of mine, I remarked to the Boy as we rambled aimlessly along up the tortuous Pappio, "once told me that he never ran across a member of the feathered family with which he was not familiar but what it gave him a great thrill as well as a great feeling of exultation. He said that he became at once oblivious to all other surroundings as long as it gave him the opportunity to study it. That is characteristic of all lovers of the birds and that accounts for my own interest in those little strangers, the clay-colored sparrows, that we just saw in that plum thicket behind us."
"'That doesn't happen very often with you, does it, Mr. G? for you seem to know about all of them' was the youngster's complimentary rejoinder.
Up on Beautiful Ontonoggan.
"Oftener than you think. Why no longer ago than last June while I was fishing up on Lake Ontonoggan, in Minnesota, I was attracted by a charming little bird song that came seeping tenderly out of a dense thicket a few yards back of the rocky shore where I was casting for bass, and while I had never before heard such a quaint little ditty, I felt that it wasn't worthy while to go look it up, but that is just exactly what I did do, laying my rod on the ground, and cautiously advancing toward the thicket.
"'And did you find it?"
"That I did and identified it, too, although I had never seen one before that I could remember."
"'What was it?'
"A Bell vireo; which, like those clay-colored sparrows, are seldom seen in this section of the country, but which I later learned were not so rare in Minnesota, and before I left the woods on that trip I even found the nest of one, a cute little basket deftly made of small twigs and rooty fibers hanging in true vireo fashion among some low bushes not one hundred yards from the spot where I had seen one of the birds days before.
"'Wasn't that fine?'
"Indeed it was, Boy; and by the way, I discovered another bird up there that same trip that I knew little about.
"'And for pity's sake, what could that have been,' and the Boy laughed roguishly as he tugged at my sweater sleeve and looked up into my face.
"Oh, nothing more nor less than a Lincoln sparrow.
"'A Lincoln sparrow.'
"Yes, and they are one of the most tantalizing of all the finches, so inconsistent as to appear actually absurd.
"Why because they are about the wildest and wariest that I have ever endeavored to spy upon, and yet, at that, I discovered a contradiction to this opinion, when I later saw them right in the little town where I was stopping."
It was one lovely opalescent June evening, and I was lolling on the back porch of the ramshackle log tavern that graced the village, watching the fading lights over the firs and their lengthening shadows across an adjoining vacant lot, I saw several of these remarkable birds flitting about on the ground, in the low bushes and along the board fence that walls the farther side of the lot, in the wariest and most nervous maneuver, as if they were trespassers in that locality and were keenly aware of it. They appeared just like intermittent golden flashes, as they darted from fence to ground and from ground to bush, and back again, always chittering suspiciously as if they doubted their right to be so far away from their own signoiry in the deep woods.
"I had a hard time keeping my glasses upon any one of them long enough to see as I would have loved to have done, the snow-white throat and breast, washed with chestnut-hued streaks, which is a peculiar, but unmistakable marking of the Lincoln sparrow. While they are quite tuneful all I could catch of their ability in this line were some short squeaky little trills that did not impress me greatly with their lyrical accomplishments. However, up there on the fabled Ontonoggan is the only place I have ever seen them, and as they are so fidgety and contrary I was unable to acquire all the knowledge about them that I should have liked to.
"'It is a trade that requires lots of patience - ain't it, Mr. G,' and I thought I caught a tone of compassion in the Boy's inquiry.
"Yes, Kiddie, it is, but it is just that which gives such persons as you and I so much pleasure and satisfaction in its pursuit. If it did not require patience and a goodly amount of natural talent and the inherent love of the fine and beautiful, it would certainly prove a tiresome and illy-rewarded pastime. And we are not built that way, and thanks for that.
"'Yes, indeed, I would rather take such a hike as this, with you than anything that could be offered me; but gee! ain't it some work to find out much about the small birds?'
About the Small Birds.
"It is all that, Boy, the small birds are the worst of all to handle, while the robins, bluejays, meadowlarks, blackbirds, woodpeckers, in fact all of those we are so familiar with, are just so many chickens in the backyard, and all they need is your care and administration, but the warblers, well that is a different proposition entirely.
"'I'll tell the cockeyed world, it is,' the Boy rejoined with unusual vehemence in his tones, 'and I don't see how I am ever going to manage it. I'm afraid I can't even learn a great deal about them.'"
That the Boy was in earnest when he declared that he was fearful he would never acquire much knowledge of our warblers, I hurried to reassure him.
"Oh, yes you will, Boy, for you are made out of the right stuff; where there's a will there's a way, you know. But it is well to realize that the smaller the bird the more difficult it is to study and identify and that takes in all the scores and scores of warblers with which our woods and fields are so full, and it is the warblers, at that, which afford us our chief delight in the study, they are so elusive and so provokingly charming that we can not pass them up, like we can the big birds, the wild fowl, the hawks and owls and crows, for instance, for they are easy.
"'That is true, too, for I know a lot about all those birds, but the little snippers are so different, but I am going to find out more about them, you bet I am.'
"That's the right spirit, Boy. Just think of the long life I have spent at the very work, and how many long years it has taken to know even the little I do -
Many Left to Work On.
"Yes, little, for there are still many of the little feathered fairies that are yet a puzzle to me, and I fear always will be, many that keep close to the leafy depths and bushy tree tops, which jealously hold their little secrets.
Winter Turtle Doves.
"Many and many the laborious chase they have led me, and more than once have I thought I had disjointed my neck peering up into the labyrinth of leaves of the tall trees in our woods to see what they were at in that haven of reticulated lace work of limb, branches and twigs. One day - Hello! What's this we have here?" and we both stood stock still as the musical whistle of wings greeted our hearing and away, up over the banks of the Pappio a bunch of doves - really doves - and out over the forlorn corn stubble they went, to my unbounded incredulity, and the Boy's jubilant delight - a bunch of turtle doves - and it wasn't the middle of February."
As the doves disappeared up over the creek's bank the Boy and I ran up hastily after them and luckily gained the top of the gentle slope to see them, and there must have been six or eight of them, circling 'round out over the center of a broad cornfield, where in a bare open space they lit.
The Boy was anxious and wanted to follow them, but I knew that we could not get anywhere nearly close enough to examine them, even through the glasses, with any satisfaction, and as the tramping would be anything but comfortable over the frozen ground, we gave it up and went back down along the creek.
A Trifle Premature.
"Those birds are certainly way head of their time," I remarked, "and as they are unusually wild and wary when they first come north at their normal time, I knew they would flush long before we could get near them and that is the main reason, Boy, that I concluded not to go after them.
"'When do the doves, arrive, anyway," he inquired, and I informed him not until well in March, unless the spring is materially advanced, but, at that, I have seen them even earlier than this, and once or twice in really severe weather in mid-winter.
"That, however, is exceedingly rare, as the bird is highly delicate and sensitive and cannot stand much cold, although they are prone, that is, many of them, to linger here until late in November.
Elusive Robin Redbreast.
"'It was fine we got to see them, even for a glimpse, then' he continued, 'and just think of it we haven't seen a single robin yet.'
"That is as true as it is remarkable, and while many persons have told me they have seen robins already, as diligently as I have searched for them, I haven't seen the sign of one. However, instead of being the first robin of spring, which people see at this time, they are undoubtedly birds that have not migrated at all. The robin, you know, is one of the hardiest and most indomitable of all our commoner kind, and can endure almost as much cold and inclement weather as some of the wild fowl, and even more than the bluewing teal."
"Well, it is pretty nearly time now for all the 'first robins' to report, isn't it," observed the Boy.
Yes, it is, and I wouldn't be surprised if we should see one yet this afternoon, but I hardly look for it. However, as you say, it is pretty nearly time now for the robins to come along from their winter homes in the southland. Most of the males should certainly be here within the next 10 days, unless the weather should happen to take one or more ugly twist. The advance couriers are most always here about this time.
"By the way, a friend of mine writes me from way up on the Niobrara that many robins have wintered in the deep canyons along that wonder river. This is no rare thing, right here, providing they can find cover and food. They like thick clumps of pine and cedar scrubs where they can find them, and the berries of the cedars are a great food of theirs.
"By the way, Boy, not so many years ago, robins were slaughtered by thousands for the table in some of our gulf states, and the result was that the birds down there became extremely wary and hard to get near, but when they came up here they seemed to lose all their timidity, made their nests in our very dooryards and grubbed for worms all about our lawns within a few feet of us human beings, and, in fact, are the most sociable of all our birds, and are even more scared than the turtledove.
"At that, my Boy, as I was saying, the turtledove is a most valuable bird, although almost wholly a grain and seed-eater - a really beautiful creature, and so gentle and affectionate as to be almost scared, and at the same time the most widely distributed of any American bird that I know of. It is a perfect prototype of the wild pigeon which 60 years ago was the most prolific of any known bird in the world, but today there is not one single specimen in existence - they have been absolutely exterminated."
"Not one left anywhere?"
"What became of them?"
"Well, it has been a pretended mystery to naturalists ever since they were finally blotted off the face of the earth back in the '70's, but there has never been the ghost of a doubt in my mind - they were simply slaughtered by man for the market. Why, Boy, myself, when I was a youngster back in the good old Buckeye state, I saw more than three thousand wild pigeons caught in one cast of the net, and after the three hours netting was over, oftener in the late afternoon, I saw them hauled off from the field not a mile from my home by the wagon load. Why -"
Ho! Molly Cottontail.
"Yes, it was awful, but I'll tell you all abut it some time later on. It is a long story and, well, for me, I don't like to talk about it. However - ah! A cottontail! Didn't he get out of sight quickly? You saw him, didn't you?"
"'Indeed, I did, and to tell the truth he scared me for a second,' and without waiting for a reply he ran swiftly forward and stopped at the spot from which Molly had jumped, and stooping down beside a dense tuft of dead grass and weeds he exclaimed; 'Oh, come here and see where he has been snuggled up,' and as I joined him he pulled the long stems aside, and true enough, there was a bunny's form - a round cup-like little hollow where he had been enjoying himself safe from the sharpest eyes of hawk or crow. "But he's gone," I said, "so let's mosey along. Let's see, you wanted me to tell you about the turtledove."
And the Dove Again.
"As I remarked, the dove is found in every state in the union, in fact, in almost every country in the world, and while exquisite in form and color and deportment, they have one glaring drawback - they are terribly slovenly about their housekeeping, making the shabbiest kind of a nest out of a handful of sticks, and twigs - a simply, flimsy little shallow saucer-like affair, on the flat side of a rail, in a corner of some old fence, or in the lowest crotch of some old, dead tree, and often on the naked ground. It has always been a mystery to me how the mother bird - she does all the nesting - ever managed to keep her two eggs - that is all she lays - in the nest for the two weeks it requires to hatch them. The way they drink, too, is different from any of our other birds. Immersing her whole bill in the water and sucking up the fluid until they are satisfied, instead of dipping nervously down, getting a beak full then raising her head and throwing it back to let the water trickle down her gullet like all other birds.
"'Drinks like a horse,' and the boy laughed at the simile.
"That's it, like a horse. And when she feeds her babies, she stands beside the nest and opens her beak and the little ones, one at a time, of course, poke their tender little bills down her throat and gorge themselves on the food she regurgitates."
"Regurgitates - what's that?"
"That is, she brings up to her bill the food she has already swallowed, softened and partially digested - just as a cow brings up her food and has the felicitation of eating it all over again - chewing her cud. There are other birds that feed their little ones in this manner - but say, boy, speaking of doves, you ought to try one some time, nicely broiled, and lain on a delicately browned piece of three-cornered toast. Yum! yum! yum!"
"'Oh, Mr. Griswold, you wouldn't--'"
The Call of the Flicker.
"Come boy, I think around this next bend ahead we'll find another thicket, and mayhap that robin we've been looking for - stop! Listen! Hear that flicker!" And as I spoke there came from a little clump of cottonwoods, off to our right a little ways, two or three sharp, far carrying 'kee-uck! kee-uck! kee-ucks!' The cries a yellowhammer always emits just as he is ready to leave his perch on old snag, stump or fence post, and as good luck would have it we quickly saw him coming our way on that undulating flight of his, displaying with each up-lift of his strong wings the golden flashes of their underparts.
The bird did not stop but went swiftly over, and back up the creek from where we had just come, and a moment later we heard his lighting call - 'ee-co! ee-co! ee-co!' faintly wafted our way on the gently blowing winds. And I was invidious enough to chuckle inwardly enough over this opportune interruption, for the moment I said it, I regretted that reference to a dove on toast, for it certainly checked all solicitation for an explanation the boy would have surely demanded. But the flicker, and his mellifluous calls, threw the dear lad's thoughts into another channel.
"'I have read,' he said, 'that the flicker is one of the most handsomely marked birds in the world - do you think so?'
"Indeed, I do; but let's toddle one, and I'll tell you about the goldenwing as we go."February 5, 1928. Sunday World-Herald. 63(19): 13-W. Continues: 2/12, 63(20): 13-W; 2/19, 63(21): 15-W; 2/26, 63(22): 15-W; 3/4, 63(23): 13-W. Leaves From the Notebook of an Old Nature Student.