**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Bird Life In Winter
by [?]

I wondered what he could feed upon at such a time. There was a light skim of snow upon the ground, and the weather was cold. The wren, so far as I know, is entirely an insect-feeder, and where can he find insects in midwinter in our climate? Probably by searching under bridges, under brush heaps, in holes and cavities in banks where the sun falls warm. In such places he may find dormant spiders and flies and other hibernating insects or their larvae. We have a tiny, mosquito-like creature that comes forth in March or in midwinter, as soon as the temperature is a little above freezing. One may see them performing their fantastic air-dances when the air is so chilly that one buttons his overcoat about him in his walk. They are darker than the mosquito,–a sort of dark water-color,–and are very frail to the touch. Maybe the wren knows the hiding-place of these insects.

With food in abundance, no doubt many more of our birds would brave the rigors of our winters. I have known a pair of bluebirds to brave them on such poor rations as are afforded by the hardhack or sugarberry,–a drupe the size of a small pea, with a thin, sweet skin. Probably hardly one per cent. of the drupe is digestible food. Bluebirds in December will also eat the berries of the poison ivy, as will the downy woodpecker.

Robins will pass the winter with us when the cover of a pine or hemlock forest can be had near a supply of red cedar berries. The cedar-bird probably finds little other food in the valley of the Hudson and in New England, yet I see occasional flocks of them every winter month.

Sometimes the chickadees and nuthatches, hunting through the winter woods, make a discovery that brings every bird within hearing to the spot,–they spy out the screech owl hiding in the thick of a hemlock-tree. What an event it is in the day’s experience! It sets the whole clan agog.

While I was walking in the December woods, one day, my attention was attracted by a great hue and cry among these birds. I found them in and about a hemlock-tree,–eight or ten chickadees and four or five red-bellied nuthatches. Such a chiding chorus of tiny voices I had not heard for a long time. The tone was not that of alarm so much as it was that of trouble and displeasure.

I gazed long and long up into the dark, dense green mass of the tree to make out the cause of all this excitement. The chickadees were clinging to the ends of the sprays, as usual, apparently very busy looking for food, and all the time uttering their shrill plaint. The nuthatches perched about upon the branches or ran up and down the tree trunks, incessantly piping their displeasure. At last I made out the cause of the disturbance,–a little owl on a limb, looking down in wide-eyed intentness upon me. How annoyed he must have felt at all this hullabaloo, this lover of privacy and quiet, to have his name cried from the treetops, and his retreat advertised to every passer-by!

I have never known woodpeckers to show any excitement at the presence of hawk or owl, probably because they are rarely preyed upon by these marauders. In their nests and in their winter quarters, deeply excavated in trunk or branch of tree, woodpeckers are beyond the reach of both beak and claw.

The day I saw the winter wren I saw two golden-crowned kinglets fly from one sycamore to another in an open field, uttering their fine call-notes. That so small a body can brave the giant cold of our winters seems remarkable enough. These are mainly birds of the evergreens, although at times they frequent the groves and the orchards.

How does the ruby-crowned kinglet know he has a brilliant bit of color on his crown which he can uncover at will, and that this has great charms for the female? During the rivalries of the males in the mating season, and in the autumn also, they flash this brilliant ruby at each other. I witnessed what seemed to be a competitive display of this kind one evening in November. I was walking along the road, when my ear was attracted by the fine, shrill lisping and piping of a small band of these birds in an apple-tree. I paused to see what was the occasion of so much noise and bluster among these tiny bodies. There were four or five of them, all more or less excited, and two of them especially so. I think the excitement of the others was only a reflection of that of these two. These were hopping around each other, apparently peering down upon something beneath them. I suspected a cat concealed behind the wall, and so looked over, but there was nothing there. Observing them more closely, I saw that the two birds were entirely occupied with each other.