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A Bird Medley
by [?]

Though this bird, and one or two others, like the chickadee and nuthatch, are more or less complacent and cheerful during the winter, yet no bird can look our winters in the face and sing, as do so many of the English birds. Several species in Great Britain, their biographers tell us, sing the winter through, except during the severest frosts; but with us, as far south as Virginia, and, for aught I know, much farther, the birds are tuneless at this season. The owls, even, do not hoot, nor the hawks scream.

Among the birds that tarry briefly with us in the spring on their way to Canada and beyond, there is none I behold with so much pleasure as the white-crowned sparrow. I have an eye out for him all through April and the first week in May. He is the rarest and most beautiful of the sparrow kind. He is crowned, as some hero or victor in the games. He is usually in company with his congener, the white-throated sparrow, but seldom more than in the proportion of one to twenty of the latter. Contrasted with this bird, he looks like its more fortunate brother, upon whom some special distinction has been conferred, and who is, from the egg, of finer make and quality. His sparrow color of ashen gray and brown is very clear and bright, and his form graceful. His whole expression, however, culminates in a singular manner in his crown. The various tints of the bird are brought to a focus here and intensified, the lighter ones becoming white, and the deeper ones nearly black. There is the suggestion of a crest, also, from a habit the bird has of slightly elevating this part of its plumage, as if to make more conspicuous its pretty markings. They are great scratchers, and will often remain several minutes scratching in one place, like a hen. Yet, unlike the hen and like all hoppers, they scratch with both feet at once, which is by no means the best way to scratch.

The white-throats often sing during their sojourning both in fall and spring; but only on one occasion have I ever heard any part of the song of the white-crowned, and that proceeded from what I took to be a young male, one October morning, just as the sun was rising. It was pitched very low, like a half-forgotten air, but it was very sweet. It was the song of the vesper sparrow and the white-throat in one. In his breeding haunts he must be a superior songster, but he is very chary of his music while on his travels.

The sparrows are all meek and lowly birds. They are of the grass, the fences, the low bushes, the weedy wayside places. Nature has denied them all brilliant tints, but she has given them sweet and musical voices. Theirs are the quaint and simple lullaby songs of childhood. The white-throat has a timid, tremulous strain, that issues from the low bushes or from behind the fence, where its cradle is hid. The song sparrow modulates its simple ditty as softly as the lining of its own nest. The vesper sparrow has only peace and gentleness in its strain.

What pretty nests, too, the sparrows build! Can anything be more exquisite than a sparrow’s nest under a grassy or mossy bank? What care the bird has taken not to disturb one straw or spear of grass, or thread of moss! You cannot approach it and put your hand into it without violating the place more or less, and yet the little architect has wrought day after day and left no marks. There has been an excavation, and yet no grain of earth appears to have been moved. If the nest had slowly and silently grown like the grass and the moss, it could not have been more nicely adjusted to its place and surroundings. There is absolutely nothing to tell the eye it is there. Generally a few spears of dry grass fall down from the turf above and form a slight screen before it. How commonly and coarsely it begins, blending with the debris that lies about, and how it refines and comes into form as it approaches the centre, which is modeled so perfectly and lined so softly! Then, when the full complement of eggs is laid, and incubation has fairly begun, what a sweet, pleasing little mystery the silent old bank holds!