29 June 2012

Owls for House Decorations

There seems to be a great demand for birds and animals for ornamenting rooms and hallways just now. The most popular, and now the greatest rage, is stuffed owls. There are five varieties, but the favorite is the common screech owl, not because they are the cheapest, but are called so "cute" by the ladies, that they cannot resist buying them. These owls are carried to New York from several states — New Jersey and Connecticut furnish a good many. Farmers' boys capture them alive, or kill them and sell their bodies for twenty-five or fifty cents. They are mounted usually with their wings folded, as they appear when sitting on the branch of a tree. Sometimes they are mounted on a crescent, but most usually on a twig or small branch. Then again two or them are mounted together — a male and a female. The feathers of the male are gray and those of the female are a brownish red. The screech owl ranges in height from six to nine inches, and retail at $3.50 apiece. The meadow owl has a very large, round head, and is a trifle larger than the screech owl. They sell at retail, when mounted, for $6.00. The bard owl, which is very much like the meadow owl, only a trifle larger, is also a native bird. A good specimen properly mounted will readily sell for $10 to $12.

August 26, 1884. Atlanta Week Constitution 17(n.a.): 8.

Song of the Whip-poor-will

By Park Benjamin.

Complaining bird, that sing'st at eve
When all around is calm and still—
Why wilt thou make my spirit grieve,
And bid me "Whip poor will!"
What has poor Willy done, that he
Should be the burden of thy song.
As, sitting on yon old oak tree,
Thou chauates all night long — "Whip poor will!"
I whipped him o ice, but ah! in vein;
From copse and wood, from glen and hill,
That oft-repeated solemn strain
Still bids me "Whip poor Will"
And though the little fellow screamed
For being whipped he knew not why —
Till on you heavens the starlight gleamed,
There came that mournful cry — "Whip poor Will!"
On other themes, oh lonesome bird!
Employ thy deep, melodious bill,
And let me hear some other word,
And not "Wil "—" Whip poor will."
For William is a pleasant boy.
A merry-hearted, lovely one —
His father's pride, his mother's joy;
Why must I whip my son! — "Whip poor will"
What! Never done! wilt always sing?
Can no person don keep thee still!
Has thy small harp no other string,
Besides that "Whip poor will!"
'Tis even so — tis mine own thoght,
And not thy mate, does Willy wrong!
Then sing away — with sweetness fraught —
Sing that coin; laining, constant song — "Whip poor Will!"

February 24, 1842. Southern Banner 10(50): 1. The text of this poem is presented as based on the best interpretation possible of the text given online within a scanned version of the original newspaper page.

23 June 2012

A Singular Bird Killed in Kentucky

James Henry, of Mound City, Illinois, on Sunday week, shot a new and comparatively unknown bird, on the Kentucky shore opposite that city, which is thus described by the Cairo Democrat:

It is larger than the ostrich, and weighs 104 pounds. The body of this wonderful bird is covered with snow white down, and its head is of a fiery red. The wings of deep black, measure 15 feet from tip to tip, and the bill, of a yellow color, 24 inches. Its legs are slender and sinewy, pea green in color, and measure 48 inches in length. One of the feet resembles that of a duck, and the other that of a turkey. Mr. Henry shot it a distance of one hundred yards, from the topmost branch of a dead tree, where it was perched, preying upon a full-sized sheep that it had carried from the ground. This strange species of bird, which is said to have existed extensively during the days of the mastodon, is almost entirely extinct — the last one having been seen in the State of New York, during the year 1812. Potter has it on exhibition in his office, at Mound City. Its flight across the town and river was witnessed by hundreds of citizens.

September 22, 1868. Federal Union 39(8): 4.

Sparrow Hawk Dies Upon Hitting Glass


—On Friday morning the following singular incident occurred: T.F. Hudson's canary bird usually sets on the counter, in his store, just opposite the show window. A sparrow hawk, starting from one of the oak trees in the Plaza, which faces the store, made a plunge for the bird and brought up with such force against the plate-glass that it fell dead upon the sidewalk, its skull crushed and eyes protruding from their sockets. This was an enterprising forager; one leg had been shot away and part of the remaining claw, still the bird was in good condition. The plate-glass window was the mistake of its life. — Santa Rosa Democrat.

This news item is significant as it is the first known window-strike for the West Coast.

January 18, 1875. Daily Alta California 27(9056): 1.

14 June 2012

A Monster Bird in California

Last Tuesday evening about seven o'clock, says the Winnemucca (Cal.) Register of August 9, the people in the lower town were startled by the sudden appearance of a huge monster we are at a lost to know whether to call fowl or beast, not-withstanding it had wings and could fly. It was certainly the biggest creature ever seen in this country with feathers. If a bird, it belongs to a giant species unknown to American ornithology. Our attention was first attracted by hearing some one sing out, "Holy Mother, see that cow with wings." We stepped to the door just in time to see the monster alight with something of a crash on the roof of Mrs. Collier's dwelling house, where it remained for several minutes taking a quiet survey of the land and the astonished multitude who stood gazing at that unexpected visitor. It could not have weighed less than seventy or one hundred lbs., with a pair of ponderous wings, which, when stretched out to the breeze, must have been fully twelve feet from tip to tip. Its color was that of a raven, with the exception that the tip of its wings and tail were white. An "old salt," who happened to get sight of the bird, thinks he must be a renegade member of the condor family. He says he has frequently met with such "critters" on the coast of South America.

Tuesday Evening would have been August 1, 1871.
September 15, 1871. Macon (Georgia) Telegraph and Messenger 6126): 2.

13 June 2012

Shower of Birds - Strange Thing at Chicago

Chicago special: A phenomenon occurred during the storm of Saturday night in the vicinity of the Board of Trade tower light. It was none other than a shower of birds. Yesterday when the watchman made his rounds he found the sidewalk and streets fairly covered with dead birds of all sorts. A little later the electrician came down, and when he saw the great pile of birds he said it was the electric light at the top of the tower. When he went up to the lantern with some members of the Board of Trade the roof was found covered with dead birds and each of the lamps in the big circle of light was filled with them, one globe having eight birds in it. These birds are of every known variety, and many unknown, or rather unfamiliar, species among the lot. All shades and colors are there -- scarlet, blue, pink, red, canary, mottled, black and white, and there were some snipe and plover among them. The theory is that they were migratory flocks going from South to North and were attracted by the great light, which the moment they touched killed them. The birds are all of the small species. There was a countless number of them, enough to trim all the ladies; hats in Illinois. Many Bohemians were in the streets with bags and baskets, and in less than two hours the streets were cleared of every vestige of the bird shower, but the roof of the Board of Trade is now covered, and the janitors will remove them to-day.

May 18, 1886. A shower of birds. The strange thing that happened to Chicago during a storm. Macon (Georgia) Weekly Telegraph 61(7): 10.

Purple Martins Return to Midtown Roost

Purple Martins have returned to their roost at the Nebraska Medical Center campus in midtown Omaha.

There were about 130 martins of different ages present the evening of June 12th. A few flying birds were noted first, and they were then seen gathered on the wires up near 40th Street. About dusk, they were flying in their wonderfully aerobatic way before alighting for the night in the trees along 44th Street, near Farnam Street.

The splendor of this yearly gathering will be appreciated and enjoyed by many local bird watchers. Last year, the martins were first noted at the roost on June 6th.

The banners on the skywalk windows have not yet been put in place by medical center officials.

An announcement of the return of the martins was given June 15th, in Nancy's Almanac on the Omaha World-Herald webpage.

12 June 2012

Legend of Flying Pigeon and the Whip-poor-will

The aboriginal tradition concerning the origin of the well known inhabitant of our forests, whose plaintive cry has induced its cognomen of whip poor will is highly imaginative, and worthy of the ancient mythologists.

Ranchewaine, or the Flying Pigeon of Wisconsin, loved Wai-o-naisa a young chief. The father and kinsmen of the maiden were opposed to her wedding with Wai-o-naisa.

In the beautiful islands of the river, near the home of the Indian maiden, the lovers had frequent stolen interviews.

The young Chief was forced to go out on a war scout against the Sioux. The maiden, disconsolate during his absence, was accustomed to swim nightly to the loved islands, and there wandering among scenes hallowed by his remembrance, call[ing] plaintively on the name of her lover. One night some of her father's people heard her voice, and pursued the sounds. — Whilst fleeing from them, just as her weary limbs were about to fail her, the kind Maniton changed her into a bird, which has ever since borne the name of her lover, and flits continually from bush to bush, repeating in melancholy notes, Wai-o-naisa!

April 9, 1841. An Indian legend. Macon Georgia Telegraph 15(27): 2. From the Philadelphia North American.

Cruel Fashion - Birds Skinned Alive

There is no lady deserving of the name who could witness without a feeling of horror the process of preparing for use the feathered beauties which form such conspicuous ornaments in the present style of women's hats. If those who wear such ornaments knew the tortures to which these helpless little creatures are subjected, and the heartless cruelty with which the business is carried on, they would shrink from even indirect complicity in it. Of course the impression prevails that all birds used for personal decoration are killed immediately when caught and prepared in the ordinary way by taxidermists; but here is just where the mistake is made. The birds are taken alive, and while living the skin is skillfully stripped from their quivering, ghastly bodies. By this process it is claimed the feathers retain a firmer hold upon the skin. Such is the method by which all birds used in the decoration of ladies' hats are prepared. Think of the exquisite humming bird, the blue bird, the cardinal bird, the oriole, and numberless others of beautiful plumage, struggling beneath the knife of the heartless operator; think of this, tender-hearted ladies, as your admiring gaze rests on the latest novelties in fashion by which our city belles are crowned! Hundreds of thousands of birds of the brightest plumage are literally flayed alive every year, and so long as our ladies will consent to wear such ornaments, just so long will this cruel business continue. The Baroness Burdett-Coutts has placed herself at the head of a movement in England designed to put an end to the brutal business, and it is to be hoped that she will meet with cordial encouragement and co operation on this side of the Atlantic.

May 16, 1876. A cruel fashion. Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Georgia Journal and Messenger 59(39): 5. From the New York Sun.

11 June 2012

Coal Tar Spill at Jersey Coast

Masters of vessels arriving at this port report that in passing near the Jersey coast they observed a number of wild geese, ducks, gulls, and other birds in helpless condition, being unable to fly or help themselves. It is supposed that the fowl were hampered by a sediment of coal tar which is supposed to have came from the wrecked German ship Meta, which ran ashore near Rayhead, N.J. Water fowl dipping in the sea after fish were covered by the tar, as large quantities of it have spread on the surface of the ocean in the vicinity of the wreck. Since the recent storm, driven by hunger and unable to fly, whole flocks of ducks have sought the shore, where they are easily caught.

December 22, 1883. Tarring their feathers. Sterling Gazette 29(n.l.): 4. From the Philadelphia Record.

10 June 2012

Fall Fashions - Pretty Things in Dress and Fixings

The Fall Fashions.

Pretty New Things in Dress and Feminine Fixings.

(From Harper's Bazar from this week.)


Bonnets of regular shape, with strings, are provided by French milliners almost to the exclusion of round hats. The strings are not necessarily tied in front, but may be fastened behind or passed around the neck in the way talle is now done. There is a fancy for making the bonnets of a demi-season of velvet and silk, without flowers and feathers. This is a natural reaction after the profusion of flowers worn during the summer, and will not last after the gay winter season begins. There are other imported bonnets for autumn completely trimmed with bird's wings. Sometimes six wings are on each side of the bonnet. There are small wings of larks, starlings and blackbirds, and are sold in pairs, as the right and left wing must be placed in natural position. Still another capricious trim is wings a la Mercure — a pair of wings arranged at the back just as they are on Mercury's cap. Birds will also be much used for trimming. These are quite large birds, such as pigeons, the bird-of-the-isles, the lopophore, and various others with bronzed shaded plumage. French milliners poise those in most fantastic ways. Thus a large blue bird is placed low on the back of the bonnet with outspread wings, as if flying down; in his beak he catches up the long ribbon strings that are tied behind. Sometimes a gay pigeon nestles close against the right side of the bonnet; in others, only the head and breast of the pigeons are used; a bandeau is made of seven or eight tiny humming birds.

September 5, 1875. Columbus Sunday Enquirer 17(207): 4. From Harper's Bazaar from this week. Only a portion of the article is included.

Grain Grower Rids Field of Ducks

How a Grain Grower Rids His Fields of a Pest

The wild ducks are more destructive to grain this winter than are the geese. At least that is the complaint of the ranchers. While the geese feed more or less during the day, the ducks confine their depredations to the night, when the darkness prevents the herders from successfully warring against them. Charles Chapman has been greatly annoyed by ducks, and his grain has suffered to a considerable extent. But Charlie has hit upon an expedient that is not only protecting his grain, but threatening to annihilate the duck family. He stretched five strands of barbed wire fence from the top of his barn to a post twenty-five feet high, placing the wires about eight inches apart. A hair trigger shot-gun, loaded, was fastened on the side of the post, at the top, the muzzles pointing along the wires. From one of the latter a small wire ran to the trigger of the gun. This trap was set Thursday night of last week. The wires were only thirty-four feet in length. About 2 o'clock a.m. Friday Charlie was awakened by the discharge of the gun. Then followed a chorus of "quacks." He went out. On the ground in the vicinity of the wires he found twenty-three ducks; nineteen were dead, the remainder crippled so badly that they couldn't fly. Ten of the lot had been struck by the shot from the gun. The remainder had flown against the wires, the shock killing them. He reloaded the gun and put up one of the wires that had been loosened from the pole. Between 3 and 4 o'clock the same morning he was again waked up, but didn't go out. When he arose in the morning he picked up thirty-seven dead ducks — making a total of sixty killed during the night. He was in town Friday, and told us that he intended erecting at least 500 yards of the trap on his grain fields. The experiment was suggested to him by recollections of the manner in which prairie chickens killed themselves by flying against the telegraph wires "back east." The experiment would be a costly one to large ranchers, but if the game was bled immediately so that it would be fit for the market, the sale of ducks would be more than meet the outlay.

February 3, 1883. Columbus Daily Enquirer 25(29): 1. From the Gridley (Cal.) Herald.

Spring - Poetry by Brother Ticknor

Br. F.O. Ticknor, Columbus, Ga.

A deeper azure where the clouds are flying
Along the upper sky —
A softer shadow where the heavens are lying
Oar forest pathway by —
A sweeter murmur in the south winds sighing
Tell us the Spring is nigh.
The blue bird flits, and coos the ring-dove tender
Amid the young green leaves;
Mansions of mist and silver white and slender
The shy wood spider weaves;
Swingeth the swallow to his old home under
The unforgotten eaves.
Its bridal wreaths with starry gems of yellow,
The jassmine's stores unfold,
Adown the tresses of the trembling willow
Dropping its bells of gold;
Fit tracery to deck the perfumed pillow
Where love's first dreams are told.
A thousand forms, like frolic children hiding,
Challenge the laughing showers,
Watching the flight of pearly clouds and chiding
The treasure-laden hours;
A thousand forms of untold beauty, budding
Amid the unborn flowers.
A thousand forms, and not in nature, nature only
The warm spring showers unfold;
Another mission - pure and calm and holy.
The voice of Spring has told,
Waking some joy on souls long sad and lonely,
Some hope in hearts long cold.
Some light from sunlight may our sadness borrow,
Some Strength from bright young wings;
Some hope from brightening reasons, when each morrow
A lovelier verdure brings;
Some softened shadow of remembered sorrow
From the calm depths of Spring.
Blend thy blest visions with the sleep that cumbers
The dull, cold earth so long;
Bring bloom and fragrance to the flow'ret's slumbers,
And bid our hearts by strong;
Breathe thine on music through our spirit's numbers,
Season of light and song.

April 20th, 1855.

April 21, 1876. Columbus Sunday Enquirer 20(97): 3.

07 June 2012

Lights Entice Birds for Keeper's Larder

The man on the bell tower has gone to housekeeping in earnest, and hangs out his lamp as in[an] ingenious method blinding birds of the night and salting them down in his larder. Only list night a giant of blue crane, blinded by the electric light, used as an illuminator, attracted by the eyrie of Augusta's night hawk, stalked in upon the glass house of the watchman and was easily captured. The crane was a mammoth one and measured about ten feet from tip to tip.

July 27, 1880. Athens Banner 64(39): 1. From the Augusta News.

Purple Martin Stamped Envelope

When purchasing a pre-stamped envelope, it was surprising to note it featured the Purple Martin. What an appropriate stamp to be using here in the river city. A comment was made about the species and the clerk -- with an apparent interest in birds -- got so flummoxed that she lost track of the amount to charge and how much change to provide. And then the charge was 55 cents, rather than the 45 cents indicated as being the proper cost.

"On January 23, 2012, in Mulberry, Florida, the Postal Service™ will issue a Purple Martin stamped envelope (Forever® priced at 45 cents).

"The U.S. Postal Service® celebrates the largest swallow in North America with issuance of Purple Martin Stamped Envelope. The highly realistic stamp art includes a large illustration of a purple martin perching and a smaller illustration showing the bird in flight. Art director William J. Gicker designed the stamps, using illustrations by artist Matthew Frey."

It seem appropriate that it says "Forever U.S.A." and though this is provided for service reasons, it seems to be an appropriate statement regarding this iconic species that will hopefully be forever enjoyed.

05 June 2012

Whistling Ducks Present in Cherry County

Contrary to their usual habits, two errant black-bellied whistling ducks left their typical haunts of southern climes with drought and dry conditions to visit northerly spaces.

Two were first reported at Lake Contrary, near St. Joseph along the Missouri River. A local birder, Larry Lade, had his eye on the two lingering at a yard by the lake. The two were first reported for May 24th. They continued their visit for eight days, Lade reported. They continued there until May 31st, Thursday.

Their Friday would be at some other place with suitable aquatic habitat.

A surprise sighting of two black-bellied whistling ducks along Goose Creek Valley, added this species to the list of more than 400 already known to occur within the Sand Hill region.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at a wetland along Goose Creek.
Photographs courtesy of Mary Sue Shoemaker.

Mary Sue Shoemaker was returning to their Crooked Bar D Ranch northwest of Elsmere on June 1st, when she noticed the two different-looking ducks in a small pond along the county road. Their unusual color and shape first attracted her attention as being notably different from the species typically present. In taking a closer look, she was able to identify the two ducks, as she is familiar with the species, having seen them previously in Texas.

"I couldn’t believe my eyes," Shoemaker said. "I was so excited to share the experience. I really forgot about pictures in the excitement and pleasure of observing them."

She then quickly drove the few miles to the ranch, and got three other observers, including her husband Ross. They returned to the pond where the bird’s presence was confirmed and enjoyed. Pictures of the habitat and birds were taken with a cell-phone camera.

The two ducks were busy feeding while they were being observed during a period of nearly two hours, she said.

This record also adds to the tally of species seen on the ranch and in Cherry county for the Shoemakers, who have rediscovered the enjoyment of watching birds, especially during the past five-to-ten years.

Closeup of the whistling ducks.

The two errant ducks were gone the next day, Mary Sue Shoemaker said, and with area ponds drying up due to a lack of sufficient precipitation, the birds were expected to have left the country.

The Shoemaker family has a heritage of interest in observing birds both in the county and during trips to other places. Her parents Donald and Lola Held had a similar interest and reported some of their observations in the Nebraska Bird Review during the mid-1950s.

The day after noting the whistling ducks, a female Wood Duck arrived at the ponds — another unusual sighting for those of the community interested in such happenings — obviously attracted to the bit of special fowl habitat. It may have been a bird that left another area due to a loss of nest or young, as wood ducks at this time of the year might typically have young ducklings to care for.

Then a single whistling duck was noted on June 4th, alone and calling — according to birder Shoemaker — at the same pond along the Goose Creek Road, up north of Elsmere. It was gone on the second visit, off to somewhere else. Other species about that day were long-billed curlews — including a group of seven feeding "on a meadow" — upland sandpipers, mallard and blue-winged teal. The trill of bobolinks was heard in the creek meadow, beyond the red-winged blackbird and heron places. Viewing more than 20 typical species of the Goose Creek country provided "a great morning in the area," Shoemaker said in her note to NEBirds.

One bird was still about, with one bird apparently gone, or perhaps it had been killed or died.

Might it have flown southward towards its normal range. A report on the Kansas bird forum provides an intriguing possibility. On June 4th, in the evening, a single whistling duck was observed by Scott Schmidt at Cheyenne Bottoms, in central Kansas.

In the sand hills, a single duck of particular note was still present on June 9th at the same pond where first seen, Shoemaker reported.

Did the birds have different intents. One staying put for a while, while the other preferred to head back towards the south? It is a possibility, though complete conjecture as there is no definitive evidence proving the occurrence.

Could this have been the saga — still ongoing — of two black-bellied whistling ducks?

To a Waterfowl

Whither, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark the distant flight to do wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.
Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of woody lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side?
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast —
The desert and illimitable air —
Lone wandering but not lost.
All day the wings have fanned
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.
And soon that foil shall end;
Soon shall thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bond
Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.
Then'st gone, the abyss of Heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart.
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.

W.C. Bryant

May 19, 1883.Glenwood [Iowa] Weekly Opinion 20(6): 1.