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A Bird Medley
by [?]

The song sparrow, whose nest I have been describing, displays a more marked individuality in its song than any bird with which I am acquainted. Birds of the same species generally all sing alike, but I have observed numerous song sparrows with songs peculiarly their own. Last season, the whole summer through, one sang about my grounds like this: swee-e-t, swee-e-t, swee-e-t, bitter. Day after day, from May to September, I heard this strain, which I thought a simple but very profound summing-up of life, and wondered how the little bird had learned it so quickly. The present season, I heard another with a song equally original, but not so easily worded. Among a large troop of them in April, my attention was attracted to one that was a master songster,–some Shelley or Tennyson among his kind. The strain was remarkably prolonged, intricate, and animated, and far surpassed anything I ever before heard from that source.

But the most noticeable instance of departure from the standard song of a species I ever knew of was in the case of a wood thrush. The bird sang, as did the sparrow, the whole season through, at the foot of my lot near the river. The song began correctly and ended correctly; but interjected into it about midway was a loud, piercing, artificial note, at utter variance with the rest of the strain. When my ear first caught this singular note, I started out, not a little puzzled, to make, as I supposed, a new acquaintance, but had not gone far when I discovered whence it proceeded. Brass amid gold, or pebbles amid pearls, are not more out of place than was this discordant scream or cry in the melodious strain of the wood thrush. It pained and startled the ear. It seemed as if the instrument of the bird was not under control, or else that one note was sadly out of tune, and, when its turn came, instead of giving forth one of those sounds that are indeed like pearls, it shocked the ear with a piercing discord. Yet the singer appeared entirely unconscious of the defect; or had he grown used to it, or had his friends persuaded him that it was a variation to be coveted? Sometimes, after the brood had hatched and the bird’s pride was at its full, he would make a little triumphal tour of the locality, coming from under the hill quite up to the house, and flaunting his cracked instrument in the face of whoever would listen. He did not return again the next season; or, if he did, the malformation of his song was gone.

I have noticed that the bobolink does not sing the same in different localities. In New Jersey it has one song; on the Hudson, a slight variation of the same; and on the high grass-lands of the interior of the State, quite a different strain,–clearer, more distinctly articulated, and running off with more sparkle and liltingness. It reminds one of the clearer mountain air and the translucent spring-water of those localities. I never could make out what the bobolink says in New Jersey, but in certain districts in this State his enunciation is quite distinct. Sometimes he begins with the word gegue, gegue. Then again, more fully, be true to me, Clarsy, be true to me, Clarsy, Clarsy, thence full tilt into his inimitable song, interspersed in which the words kick your slipper, kick your slipper, and temperance, temperance (the last with a peculiar nasal resonance), are plainly heard. At its best, it is a remarkable performance, a unique performance, as it contains not the slightest hint or suggestion, either in tone or manner or effect, of any other bird-song to be heard. The bobolink has no mate or parallel in any part of the world. He stands alone. There is no closely allied species. He is not a lark, nor a finch, nor a warbler, nor a thrush, nor a starling (though classed with the starlings by late naturalists). He is an exception to many well-known rules. He is the only ground-bird known to me of marked and conspicuous plumage. He is the only black and white field-bird we have east of the Mississippi, and, what is still more odd, he is black beneath and white above,–the reverse of the fact in all other cases. Preeminently a bird of the meadow during the breeding season, and associated with clover and daisies and buttercups as no other bird is, he yet has the look of an interloper or a newcomer, and not of one to the manner born.