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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

Plate XXIII. The blue-bird. (Sialia sialis.),   p. 22


Page 22


SONG OFP THE OWL-BLUE-BIRD.
constructed, being composed outwardly of sticks, interspersed with
dry grass and dry leaves, and lined with small twigs, fibrous
roots, and a few feathers. The food of these birds consists chiefly
of mice, moles, frogs, lizards, snakes, and sometimes fish.  The
young birds have been often taken from the nest and placed in a
room with the window open, and, in all such instances, the young
ones have been found by their parents the very first night, although
the distance of the room was, in one case, over two miles from the
nest. The parent birds brought plenty of food to their young, so
that almost every morning, a great many frogs, mice, etc., had to
be thrown out. Only once, in all these experiments, did the old
birds bring a partridge; but this, on close inspection, was found to
be in a far-advanced state of decay. The previous night had been
very dark and stormy, perhaps the old birds had not been able to
catch any live prey, and had brought the dead partridge to serve as
food for their young in case of extreme need.
The young are, for some time after birth, covered with a fine
white down, which gives them a peculiar, but not an uninteresting
appearance. Their call or cry is a singular hissing sound, which
can be heard at a great distance. These birds, like most other
Owls, are clothed with feathers of very different shape and texture.
Those surrounding the bill are similar to bristles; those around the
region of the eyes are unwebbed and extremely open, and are
bounded by a set proceeding from the external edge of the ear, small
and velvety, consisting of exquisitely fine fibers, almost invisible to
the naked eye. The outward plumage of these birds has one gen-
eral character at the surface, calculated to repel rain and moisture;
but toward the roots of the feathers, it is composed of a very soft,
loose, and downy substance, so that we may touch without feeling
it. The webs of the wing-quills are also of a delicate softness,
covered with exceedingly fine hair, and edged with a fine, loose,
silky down. All this enables the Owl to pass through the air with-
out disturbing, in the slightest degree, the most profound stillness.
The long bristly feathers around the bill and the eyes serve to
guard the latter from injury, when the Owl sweeps rapidly through
a thicket, as on the slightest touch at the point of any of these
bristles, the nictitating membrane is instantly drawn over the eye.
There is often a remarkable difference in size between the male
and female, and between the birds generally of this species. The
usual length of the female is about twenty-two inches, though I
have shot one that measured twenty-eight inches. The usual aver-
age of the male is seventeen inches, by thirty-eight inches in cir-
cumference. The Owl represented on our plate is a female in
full plumage.
SONG OF THE OWL.
DY MRS. HElWTT.
Tu-whit I tu-whoo I-in my ancient hall,
In my old gray turret high,
Where the moss is thick on the crumbling wall,
A king-a king reign I I
Tu-whoo I
I wake the wood with my startling call
To the frighted passer-by.
The ivy-vines in the chink that grow,
Come clambering up to me;
And the newt, the bat, and the toad, I trow,
A right merry band are we.
Tu-whoo I
Oh, the coffined monks in their cells below,
Have no goodlier company.
Let them joy in their brilliant sunlit skies,
And their sunset hues, who may;
But softer by far than the tints they prize,
Is the dense of the twilight gray.
Tu-whoo I
Oh I a weary thing to an owlet's eyes
Is the garish blare of day.
When the sweet dew sleeps in the midnight cool,
Some tall tree-top I win;
And the toad leaps up on her throne-shaped stool,
And our revels loud begin-
Tu-whoo I
While the bull-frog croaks o'er his stagnant pool
Or plunges sportive in.
As the last lone ray from the hamlet fades
In the dark and still profound,
The night-bird sings in the cloister shades,
And the glow-worm lights the ground-
Tu-whoo!
And fairies trip o'er the broad green glades,
To the fire-fly circling round.
Tu-whit I tu-whoo I all the livelong night,
A right gladsome life lead we;
While the starry ones from their azure height,
Look down approvingly.
Tu-whoo I
They may bask who will in the noonday light,
But the midnight dark for me.
PLATE XXIII.
The Blue-bird. (Sialia sialis.)
The gentle and sociable disposition and the peculiarly pleas-
ing manners of this beautiful little bird entitle it to particular
attention. Being one of the first messengers of spring, it brings
the glad tidings of the approach of warm weather to our very
thresholds.  As everybody, old or young, has been expect-
ing this pleasing visitor, he is met everywhere with a most
hearty welcome.   His gentle, quiet song is extremely soft and
agreeable. It consists of an oft-repeated warble, uttered with open
quivering wing, and very pleasing. In his manners and general
bearing he always reminds me of the House Red Start of Eu-
rope, to which in his motions and general character he bears a
very strong resemblance. Like that bird he is quiet and confiding,
and of a very peaceable disposition, never quarreling or fighting
with other birds. His presence is not only desired, but generally
courted in rural districts; few farmers, or their boys, failing to pro-
vide, in some suitable place, a nice snug little house ready fitted up
for him. In his turn he repays the good farmer tenfold for his kind-
ness, by his cheerful song, and by daily destroying a multitude of
insects, that might otherwise ruin the farmer's whole fruit crop.
The song of the Blue-bird changes in the month of October to a
single plaintive note, which is most noticed when he flies over the
yellow and reddish colored woods, this melancholy air reminding
us of nature's gradual decay. Even after the trees are completely
bare of leaves, he seems to dislike leaving his native fields,
but lingers around until the heavier frosts. Want of food finally
compels him to leave. This happens about the latter part of No-
vember, when only a few or no Blue-birds are to be seen; but they
reappear, at least in this part of the country, on every return of
open and mild weather, so that we hear their plaintive notes in the
fields, or in the air over our heads; and they seem never totally
to forsake us, but merely to follow fair weather in their wanderings
until the return of spring. Even in the midst of winter, when the
whole earth is covered with deep snow, small groups of Blue-birds
are frequently met with conducting themselves as usual, seemingly
unconcerned about the inclement weather.
The Blue-bird is generally regarded as a bird of passage; but
if the weather is at all favorable, he reappears as early as the
middle of February, fluttering about his wonted haunts, the barn,
the house-top, the orchard, or the fence-posts. Deep snow-falls, oi
stormy weather, drive him away again, but only for a short time,
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