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A Bird Medley
by [?]

After the leaves are out, and gayer colors come into fashion, the robin takes a back seat. He goes to housekeeping in the old apple- tree, or, what he likes better, the cherry-tree. A pair reared their domestic altar (of mud and dry grass) in one of the latter trees, where I saw much of them. The cock took it upon himself to keep the tree free of all other robins during cherry time, and its branches were the scene of some lively tussles every hour in the day. The innocent visitor would scarcely alight before the jealous cock was upon him; but while he was thrusting the intruder out at one side, a second would be coming in on the other. He managed, however, to protect his cherries very well, but had so little time to eat the fruit himself that we got fully our share.

I have frequently seen the robin courting, and have always been astonished and amused at the utter coldness and indifference of the female. The females of every species of bird, however, I believe, have this in common,–they are absolutely free from coquetry, or any airs and wiles whatever. In most cases, Nature has given the song and the plumage to the other sex, and all the embellishing and acting is done by the male bird.

I am always at home when I see the passenger pigeon. Few spectacles please me more than to see clouds of these birds sweeping across the sky, and few sounds are more agreeable to my ear than their lively piping and calling in the spring woods. They come in such multitudes, they people the whole air; they cover townships, and make the solitary places gay as with a festival. The naked woods are suddenly blue as with fluttering ribbons and scarfs, and vocal as with the voices of children. Their arrival is always unexpected. We know April will bring the robins and May the bobolinks, but we do not know that either they or any other month will bring the passenger pigeon. Sometimes years elapse and scarcely a flock is seen. Then, of a sudden, some March or April they come pouring over the horizon from the south or southwest, and for a few days the land is alive with them.

The whole race seems to be collected in a few vast swarms or assemblages. Indeed, I have sometimes thought there was only one such in the United States, and that it moved in squads, and regiments, and brigades, and divisions, like a giant army. The scouting and foraging squads are not unusual, and every few years we see larger bodies of them, but rarely indeed do we witness the spectacle of the whole vast tribe in motion. Sometimes we hear of them in Virginia, or Kentucky and Tennessee; then in Ohio or Pennsylvania; then in New York; then in Canada or Michigan or Missouri. They are followed from point to point, and from State to State, by human sharks, who catch and shoot them for market.

A year ago last April, the pigeons flew for two or three days up and down the Hudson. In long bowing lines, or else in dense masses, they moved across the sky. It was not the whole army, but I should think at least one corps of it; I had not seen such a flight of pigeons since my boyhood. I went up to the top of the house, the better to behold the winged procession. The day seemed memorable and poetic in which such sights occurred.

[Footnote: This proved to be the last flight of the pigeons in the valley of the Hudson. The whole tribe has now (1895) been nearly exterminated by pot-hunters. The few that still remain appear to be scattered through the Northern States in small, loose flocks.]

While I was looking at the pigeons, a flock of wild geese went by, harrowing the sky northward. The geese strike a deeper chord than the pigeons. Level and straight they go as fate to its mark. I cannot tell what emotions these migrating birds awaken in me,–the geese especially. One seldom sees more than a flock or two in a season, and what a spring token it is! The great bodies are in motion. It is like the passage of a victorious army. No longer inch by inch does spring come, but these geese advance the standard across zones at one pull. How my desire goes with them; how something in me, wild and migratory, plumes itself and follows fast!