The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1)

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And the next night, or two or three nights later, they go on again. So they do till they reach their winter home, hundreds or thousands of miles away. These night flyers are the timid birds, and those who live in the woods, and do not like to be seen,—thrushes, wrens, vireos, and others.

Birds with strong wings, who are used to flying hours every day, and bolder birds, who do not mind being seen, take their journey by daylight. Most of them stop now and then, a day or two at a time, to feed and rest.

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American robin

They fly very high, and faster than our railroad trains can go. How they know their way on these journeys, men have been for many years trying to find out. They have found that birds travel on regular roads, or routes, that follow the rivers and the shore of the ocean. They can see much better than we can, and even in the night they can see water. One such road, or highway, is over the harbor of New York.

When the statue of Liberty was set up on an island in the harbor a few years ago, it was put in the birds' path. Usually they fly too high to mind it; but when there is a rain or fog they come much lower, and, sad to say, many of them fly against it and are killed.

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We often see strange birds in our city streets and parks, while they are passing through on their migrations, for they sometimes spend several days with us. A sparrow, who was hurt and unable to fly, was picked up one fall and kept in a house all winter. He was not caged, and he chose for his headquarters and sleeping-place a vase that stood on a shelf. He went with the family to the table, and made himself very much at home there. He [65] picked out what he wanted to eat and drink, and scolded well if he did not have it. The thing he liked best was butter, and when he was ready to wipe his bill after eating, as birds do, he found the coat-sleeve of the master soft and nice for the purpose.

This pleased the bird better than it did the owner of the sleeve, but he tried in vain to keep the saucy fellow off. If he forgot for an instant to watch the bird, he would dash up, wipe off the butter, and fly away out of the reach of everybody. In the spring the sparrow left the family, and lived out of doors.

But, with the first cold weather of fall, he came back, went to his old vase, and settled himself for the winter again.

This he did for several years. We can see why birds leave us and go to a warmer and better place for the winter; but why they do not stay in that country where there is always plenty of food, but choose to come back in the spring to their old home, we do not know. It may be because they want more room to build nests, and bring up their little ones. Or it may be that they want to come back because they love their old home. Whatever may be the reason, it is well for us that they do so, for if we had no more birds in the summer than we have in the winter, we should suffer very much from insects.

We could not raise fruit, or vegetables, or grain, for insects would eat it all. That is one reason we are so glad that birds come back to us in the spring. Though so many birds leave us in the fall, they do not all go. A few come to us who have nested farther north, and some who have been with us all summer stay over winter too. These last are called "permanent residents," that is, they stay all the year round. There are several hawks and owls and woodpeckers, the crow, bob-white, the blue jay, and the meadowlark, and, of the little ones, the goldfinch, in his sober winter coat, his cousin the purple finch, the song sparrow, the nuthatch, and the chickadee.

Besides these "permanent residents," there are ten or twelve who come from the north. The funny little saw-whet owl is one, and the snowflake, who loves to frolic in the snow, is another.

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Many of our summer birds stay in the Southern States all winter. Those who can eat seeds and winter berries—for instance, robins and bluebirds, catbirds and sparrows—need not go very far south; and some of them even stay in the State of New York. Most of our birds who do not eat berries, but must have insects, go farther, some to Florida [68] or the West Indies, others to Central America, and a few even into South America,—except the woodpecker, who gets his insects under the bark of trees.

The little birds who stay with us are only those who can eat seeds, as I said, or the eggs and insects to be found in the crevices of the bark on trees. These birds do a great deal of good, for each one destroys thousands of insects before they have come out of the egg. One small chickadee will eat several hundred insect eggs in a day.

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These little fellows can almost always find their food, for the snow seldom covers the trunks of the trees; but now and then in the winter we have an ice storm; then the trunks and branches are buried under ice, so that the birds suffer, and perhaps will starve to death. In such a time it will be kind of you who live in the country to put out food for them.

You can give them any table scraps of meat or vegetables, or bread, chopped fine for their tiny mouths, with corn or grain for bigger birds. What they all like best to eat is suet,—which the butcher will give you,—chopped fine, or, better still, nailed or tied to a branch or a fence, [69] so that they can pick off morsels for themselves.

This will make them all very happy; but you must see that the English sparrow does not drive them away, or eat it all himself. Some persons who live in the country or small towns spread a table every day through the winter for the birds.

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Many come for food, and they have great pleasure in watching them and studying their ways. One lady I know who is an invalid, and her greatest happiness in the long cold months, when she cannot go out, is to set her breakfast-table, and watch the guests who come to it. She lives in the southern part of Ohio, and she has all winter cardinal grosbeaks, or redbirds as she calls them, blue jays, tufted titmice, and others. The cardinals are fine singers, and they sing to her every month in the year. Many people think that as soon as the young birds of a nest are full grown, and know how to take care of themselves, the family separate, and have no more to do with each other.

Some have even said that the old birds push the little ones out of the nest to get rid of them. In many cases, when the brood is grown and all have left the nest, the whole family keep together. One who has eyes sharp to see will find everywhere little groups of parents with their young.

If the old birds rear more than one brood in a summer, the young ones of the first nest keep together. I have often seen little parties of young bluebirds or sparrows going about after food on the grass, or on the newly cut hay. Now and then one of the parents would come around as if to see that all was well, and then leave them alone [71] again.

When the second brood is ready to go out, the whole family often unite in a small flock. In some cases, where they could be watched, they have been known to stay so all winter. Some birds who live and nest by themselves, each pair in its own tree, or bush, or field, come together in larger parties after the young are grown, in a social way. A few do this only at night, in what are called roosts, which I spoke of in a former chapter. Other birds, when nestlings are out, unite in flocks, and stay so all the time, or through the winter.

Our pretty little goldfinch does this. Most of the birds we see about our homes like to have a tree or bush to themselves for their nest. But there are many birds that live close together all the time. Some, you may say, in small villages,—swallows, for instance. We generally see several swallows flying about together. They make their nests near each other. The barn swallow chooses the beams inside the barn, and there are often three or four or more nests in the same barn. The eave swallows put their mud cottages in a row, under the eaves outside the barn.

One [72] would think they needed to have numbers on their doors, to know which was their own. There, too, are the common crow blackbirds. They come in the spring in crowds, and when it is time to make nests, they find some grove or clump of trees that suits them, and all of them build their nests close together. Often there are two or three on one tree, like a bird city. There they live and rear their little ones, and it is said they never quarrel. Then there are the birds who get their food from the sea, such as penguins.

These birds live in big cities, of many thousand nests.

They go to an island where no people live, and build on the ground, or on rocks, or anywhere. Sometimes they are so near together one can hardly walk without stepping on them. How each mother can tell her own, it is hard to see. They live very happily together, and if a mother is killed, so that her little ones are left orphans, one of the neighbors will adopt them all, and feed and bring them up with her own. Some of these birds do not even take the trouble to make a nest. They put the eggs anywhere on the sand or earth. Some one, Mr. Brehm, I think, tells a pretty story about a certain kind of duck who rears two broods every season.

After the ducklings of the [73] first brood have learned to take care of themselves, they go about together, getting their food and sailing on the water in a little party, while their parents are hatching the second brood. But when the younger ones are big enough, they are led to the water, and at once their elder brothers and sisters join them.

They all swim around together, the youngest in the middle of the group, where they are protected and fed by the elder brood as well as by the parents, a lovely and united little family. Birds are helpful to each other when in trouble. If a robin is in distress, other robins will come to see what is the matter, and to help if they can. And not only robins, but catbirds, and orioles, and chickadees, and others, will come, too. Sometimes when a person tries to rob a nest, all the birds near will come in a crowd, to drive away the thief.

They will cry and scream at him, and sometimes fly at his face, and try to peck his eyes.

The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1) The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1)
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The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1) The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1)
The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1) The Shy Bird (Good Habits Book 1)
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