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A Bird Medley
by [?]

“Steering north, with raucous cry,
Through tracts and provinces of sky,
Every night alighting down
In new landscapes of romance,
Where darkling feed the clamorous clans
By lonely lakes to men unknown.”

Dwelling upon these sights, I am reminded that the seeing of spring come, not only upon the great wings of the geese and the lesser wings of the pigeons and birds, but in the many more subtle and indirect signs and mediums, is also a part of the compensation of living in the country. I enjoy not less what may be called the negative side of spring,– those dark, dank, dissolving days, yellow sposh and mud and water everywhere,–yet who can stay long indoors? The humidity is soft and satisfying to the smell, and to the face and hands, and, for the first time for months, there is the fresh odor of the earth. The air is full of the notes and calls of the first birds. The domestic fowls refuse their accustomed food and wander far from the barn. Is it something winter has left, or spring has dropped, that they pick up? And what is it that holds me so long standing in the yard or in the fields? Something besides the ice and snow melts and runs away with the spring floods.

The little sparrows and purple finches are so punctual in announcing spring, that some seasons one wonders how they know without looking in the almanac, for surely there are no signs of spring out of doors. Yet they will strike up as cheerily amid the driving snow as if they had just been told that to-morrow is the first day of March. About the same time I notice the potatoes in the cellar show signs of sprouting. They, too, find out so quickly when spring is near. Spring comes by two routes,–in the air and underground, and often gets here by the latter course first. She undermines Winter when outwardly his front is nearly as bold as ever. I have known the trees to bud long before, by outward appearances, one would expect them to. The frost was gone from the ground before the snow was gone from the surface.

But Winter hath his birds also; some of them such tiny bodies that one wonders how they withstand the giant cold,–but they do. Birds live on highly concentrated food,–the fine seeds of weeds and grasses, and the eggs and larvae of insects. Such food must be very stimulating and heating. A gizzard full of ants, for instance, what spiced and seasoned extract is equal to that? Think what virtue there must be in an ounce of gnats or mosquitoes, or in the fine mysterious food the chickadee and the brown creeper gather in the winter woods! It is doubtful if these birds ever freeze when fuel enough can be had to keep their little furnaces going. And, as they get their food entirely from the limbs and trunks of trees, like the woodpeckers, their supply is seldom interfered with by the snow. The worst annoyance must be the enameling of ice our winter woods sometimes get.

Indeed, the food question seems to be the only serious one with the birds. Give them plenty to eat, and no doubt the majority of them would face our winters. I believe all the woodpeckers are winter birds, except the high-hole or yellow-hammer, and he obtains the greater part of his subsistence from the ground, and is not a woodpecker at all in his habits of feeding. Were it not that it has recourse to budding, the ruffed grouse would be obliged to migrate. The quail–a bird, no doubt, equally hardy, but whose food is at the mercy of the snow–is frequently cut off by our severe winters when it ventures to brave them, which is not often. Where plenty of the berries of the red cedar can be had, the cedar-bird will pass the winter in New York. The old ornithologists say the bluebird migrates to Bermuda; but in the winter of 1874-75, severe as it was, a pair of them wintered with me eighty miles north of New York city. They seem to have been decided in their choice by the attractions of my rustic porch and the fruit of a sugar-berry tree (celtis–a kind of tree-lotus) that stood in front of it. They lodged in the porch and took their meals in the tree. Indeed, they became regular lotus-eaters. Punctually at dusk they were in their places on a large laurel root in the top of the porch, whence, however, they were frequently routed by an indignant broom that was jealous of the neatness of the porch floor. But the pair would not take any hints of this kind, and did not give up their quarters in the porch or their lotus berries till spring.