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Bird Life In Winter
by [?]

The distribution of our birds over the country in summer is like that of the people, quite uniform. Every wood and field has its quota, and no place so barren but it has some bird to visit it. One knows where to look for sparrows and thrushes and bobolinks and warblers and flycatchers. But the occupation of the country by our winter residents is like the Indian occupation of the land. They are found in little bands, a few here and there, with large tracts quite untenanted.

One may walk for hours through the winter woods and not see or hear a bird. Then he may come upon a troop of chickadees, with a nuthatch or two in their wake, and maybe a downy woodpecker. Birds not of a feather flock together at this inclement season. The question of food is always an urgent one. Evidently the nuthatch thinks there must be food where the chickadees flit and call so cheerily, and the woodpecker is probably drawn to the nuthatch for a similar reason.

Together they make a pretty thorough search,–fine, finer, finest. The chickadee explores the twigs and smaller branches; what he gets is on the surface, and so fine as to be almost microscopic. The nuthatch explores the trunks and larger branches of the trees; he goes a little deeper, into crevices of the bark and under lichens. Then comes Downy, who goes deeper still. He bores for larger game through the bark, and into the trunks and branches themselves.

In late fall this band is often joined by the golden-crowned kinglet and the brown creeper. The kinglet is finer-eyed and finer-billed than even the chickadee, and no doubt gathers what the latter overlooks, while the brown creeper, with his long, slender, curved bill, takes what both the nuthatch and the woodpecker miss. Working together, it seems as if they must make a pretty clean sweep. But the trees are numerous and large, and the birds are few. Only a mere fraction of tree surface is searched over at any one time. In large forests probably only a mere fraction of the trees are visited at all.

One cold day in midwinter, when I was walking through the snowless woods, I saw chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers upon the ground, and upon roots and fallen branches. They were looking for the game that had fallen, as a boy looks for apples under the tree.

The winter wren is so called because he sometimes braves our northern winters, but it is rarely that one sees him at this season. I think I have seen him only two or three times in winter in my life. The event of one long walk, recently, in February, was seeing one of these birds. As I followed a byroad, beside a little creek in the edge of a wood, my eye caught a glimpse of a small brown bird darting under a stone bridge. I thought to myself no bird but a wren would take refuge under so small a bridge as that. I stepped down upon it and expected to see the bird dart out at the upper end. As it did not appear, I scrutinized the bank of the little run, covered with logs and brush, a few rods farther up.

Presently I saw the wren curtsying and gesticulating beneath an old log. As I approached he disappeared beneath some loose stones in the bank, then came out again and took another peep at me, then fidgeted about for a moment and disappeared again, running in and out of the holes and recesses and beneath the rubbish like a mouse or a chipmunk. The winter wren may always be known by these squatting, bobbing-out-and-in habits.

As I sought a still closer view of him, he flitted stealthily a few yards up the run and disappeared beneath a small plank bridge near a house.