**** 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 [?]

They behaved exactly as if they were comparing crowns, and each extolling his own. Their heads were bent forward, the red crown patch uncovered and showing as a large, brilliant cap, their tails were spread, and the side feathers below the wings were fluffed out. They did not come to blows, but followed each other about amid the branches, uttering their thin, shrill notes and displaying their ruby crowns to the utmost. Evidently it was some sort of strife or dispute or rivalry that centred about this brilliant patch.

Few persons seem aware that the goldfinch is also a winter bird,–it is so brilliant and familiar in summer and so neutral and withdrawn in winter. The call-note and manner of flight do not change, but the color of the males and their habits are very different from their color and habits in summer. In winter they congregate in small, loose flocks, both sexes of a dusky yellowish brown, and feed upon the seeds of grasses and weeds that stand above the snow in fields and along fences.

Day after day I have observed a band of five or six of them feeding amid the dry stalks of the evening primrose by the roadside. They are adepts in extracting the seed from the pods. How pretty their call to each other at such times,–paisley or peasely, with the rising inflection!

The only one of our winter birds that really seems a part of the winter, that seems to be born of the whirling snow, and to be happiest when storms drive thickest and coldest, is the snow bunting, the real snowbird, with plumage copied from the fields where the drifts hide all but the tops of the tallest weeds,–large spaces of pure white touched here and there with black and gray and brown. Its twittering call and chirrup coming out of the white obscurity is the sweetest and happiest of all winter bird sounds. It is like the laughter of children. The fox-hunter hears it on the snowy hills, the farmer hears it when he goes to fodder his cattle from the distant stack, the country schoolboy hears it as he breaks his way through the drifts toward the school. It is ever a voice of good cheer and contentment.

One March, during a deep snow, a large flock of buntings stayed about my vineyards for several days, feeding upon the seeds of redroot and other weeds that stood above the snow. What boyhood associations their soft and cheery calls brought up! How plump and well-fed and hardy they looked, and how alert and suspicious they were! They evidently had had experiences with hawks and shrikes. Every minute or two they would all spring into the air as one bird, circle about for a moment, then alight upon the snow again. Occasionally one would perch upon a wire or grapevine, as if to keep watch and ward.

Presently, while I stood in front of my study looking at them, a larger and darker bird came swiftly by me, flying low and straight toward the buntings. He shot beneath the trellises, and evidently hoped to surprise the birds. It was a shrike, thirsting for blood or brains. But the buntings were on the alert, and were up in the air before the feathered assassin reached them. As the flock wheeled about, he joined them and flew along with them for some distance, but made no attempt to strike that I could see.

Presently he left them and perched upon the top of a near maple. The birds did not seem to fear him now, but swept past the treetop where he sat as if to challenge him to a race, and then went their way. I have seen it stated that these birds, when suddenly surprised by a hawk, will dive beneath the snow to escape him. They doubtless roost upon the ground, as do most ground-builders, and hence must often be covered by the falling snow.