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Birds And Birds
by [?]


There is an old legend which one of our poets has made use of about the bird in the brain,–a legend based, perhaps, upon the human significance of our feathered neighbors. Was not Audubon’s brain full of birds, and very lively ones, too? A person who knew him says he looked like a bird himself; keen, alert, wide-eyed. It is not unusual to see the hawk looking out of the human countenance, and one may see or have seen that still nobler bird, the eagle. The song-birds might all have been brooded and hatched in the human heart. They are typical of its highest aspirations, and nearly the whole gamut of human passion and emotion is expressed more or less fully in their varied songs. Among our own birds, there is the song of the hermit thrush for devoutness and religious serenity; that of the wood thrush for the musing, melodious thoughts of twilight; the song sparrow’s for simple faith and trust, the bobolink’s for hilarity and glee, the mourning dove’s for hopeless sorrow, the vireo’s for all-day and every-day contentment, and the nocturne of the mockingbird for love. Then there are the plaintive singers, the soaring, ecstatic singers, the confident singers, the gushing and voluble singers, and the half-voiced, inarticulate singers. The note of the wood pewee is a human sigh; the chickadee has a call full of unspeakable tenderness and fidelity. There is pride in the song of the tanager, and vanity in that of the catbird. There is something distinctly human about the robin; his is the note of boyhood. I have thoughts that follow the migrating fowls northward and southward, and that go with the sea-birds into the desert of the ocean, lonely and tireless as they. I sympathize with the watchful crow perched yonder on that tree, or walking about the fields. I hurry outdoors when I hear the clarion of the wild gander; his comrade in my heart sends back the call.


Here comes the cuckoo, the solitary, the joyless, enamored of the privacy of his own thoughts; when did he fly away out of this brain? The cuckoo is one of the famous birds, and is known the world over. He is mentioned in the Bible, and is discussed by Pliny and Aristotle. Jupiter himself once assumed the form of the cuckoo in order to take advantage of Juno’s compassion for the bird.

We have only a reduced and modified cuckoo in this country. Our bird is smaller, and is much more solitary and unsocial. Its color is totally different from the Old World bird, the latter being speckled, or a kind of dominick, while ours is of the finest cinnamon-brown or drab above, and bluish white beneath, with a gloss and richness of texture in the plumage that suggests silk. The bird has also mended its manners in this country, and no longer foists its eggs and young upon other birds, but builds a nest of its own and rears its own brood like other well-disposed birds.

The European cuckoo is evidently much more of a spring bird than ours is, much more a harbinger of the early season. He comes in April, while ours seldom appears till late in May, and hardly then appears. He is printed, as they say, but not published. Only the alert ones know he is here. This old English rhyme on the cuckoo does not apply this side the Atlantic:–

“In April
Come he will,
In flow’ry May
He sings all day,
In leafy June
He changes his tune,
In bright July
He’s ready to fly,
In August
Go he must.”

Our bird must go in August, too, but at no time does he sing all day. Indeed, his peculiar guttural call has none of the character of a song. It is a solitary, hermit-like sound, as if the bird were alone in the world, and called upon the Fates to witness his desolation. I have never seen two cuckoos together, and I have never heard their call answered; it goes forth into the solitudes unreclaimed. Like a true American, the bird lacks animal spirits and a genius for social intercourse. One August night I heard one calling, calling, a long time, not far from my house. It was a true night sound, more fitting then than by day.