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Bird-Nesting Time
by [?]

The other day I sat for an hour watching a pair of wood thrushes engaged in building their nest near “Slabsides.” I say a pair, though the female really did all the work. The male hung around and was evidently an interested spectator of the proceeding. The mother bird was very busy bringing and placing the material, consisting mainly of dry maple leaves which the winter had made thin and soft, and which were strewn over the ground all about. How pretty she looked, running over the ground, now in shade, now in sunshine, searching for the leaves that were just to her fancy! Sometimes she would seize two or more and with a quick, soft flight bear them to the fork of the little maple sapling. Every five or six minutes during her absence, the male would come and inspect her work. He would look it over, arrange a leaf or two with his beak, and then go his way. Twice he sat down in the nest and worked his feet and pressed it with his breast, as if shaping it. When the female found him there on her return, he quickly got out of her way.

But he brought no material, he did no needful thing, he was a bird of leisure. The female did all the drudgery, and with what an air of grace and ease she did it! So soft of wing, so trim of form, so pretty of pose, and so gentle in every movement! It was evidently no drudgery to her; the material was handy, and the task one of love. All the behavior of the wood thrush affects one like music; it is melody to the eye as the song is to the ear; it is visible harmony. This bird cannot do an ungraceful thing. It has the bearing of a bird of fine breeding. Its cousin the robin is much more masculine and plebeian, harsher in voice, and ruder in manners. The wood thrush is urban and suggests sylvan halls and courtly companions. Softness, gentleness, composure, characterize every movement. In only a few instances among our birds does the male assist in nest-building. He is usually only a gratuitous superintendent of the work. The male oriole visits the half-finished structure of his mate, looks it over, tugs at the strings now and then as if to try them, and, I suppose, has his own opinion about the work, but I have never seen him actually lend a hand and bring a string or a hair. If I belonged to our sentimental school of nature writers I might say that he is too proud, that it is against the traditions of his race and family; but probably the truth is that he doesn’t know how; that the nest-building instinct is less active in him than in his mate; that he is not impelled by the same necessity. It is easy to be seen how important it is that the nesting instinct should be strong in the female, whether it is or not in the male. The male may be cut off and yet the nest be built and the family reared. Among the rodents I fancy the nest is always built by the female.

Whatever the explanation, the mother bird is really the head of the family; she is the most active in nest-building, and in most cases in the care of the young; and among birds of prey, as among insects, the female is the larger and the more powerful.

The wood thrush whose nest-building I have just described, laid only one egg, and an abnormal-looking egg at that–very long and both ends of the same size. But to my surprise out of the abnormal-looking egg came in due time a normal-looking chick which grew to birdhood without any mishaps. The late, cold season and the consequent scarcity of food was undoubtedly the cause of so small a family.