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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / The birds of North America

[Plate XXIII. The blue-bird. (Sialia sialis.) cont.],   p. 23

Page 23

as he regularly returns about the middle of March. At this time,
the male and female are seen together examining the box or hole
in the apple-tree where they raised their young the previous year.
It is not only amusing but interesting to observe the courtship of the
male bird, and the pains he takes to win the tender regard of the
female. Always sitting near her, he makes use of the most tender
expressions, and sings to her his most endearing warbles.  If he
spies an insect which he knows is pleasing to her taste, he at once
flies down and picks it up; flying back to her and spreading his
wings he puts it in her bill. No sooner does a rival make his ap-
pearance than he quits her for a moment, and goes after the in-
truder from place to place, expressing his jealousy in unmistakable
notes, driving his rival with reproof beyond the boundaries of his
territory, and immediately returning, warbling his triumph in the
sweetest and tenderest notes to his beloved mate.
After the settling of preliminaries both birds begin to clear out
the old nest, removing the rubbish of last year, and go to work to
construct a new nest, the home of their future offspring. In this
business they are often annoyed by the little House Wren, just
now returned from winter-quarters, who watches his opportunity,
and, in the momentary absence of the Blue-bird, pops in, slyly
pulling out some sticks, and taking special care to make off with
them as fast as he can before the tenants return. When the nest
is completed, the female lays usually five, and, occasionally, six
eggs, of a delicate pale blue color. They raise two and, when
circumstances are favorable, three broods in one season. The
male takes particular charge of the last brood while the female is
sitting again.
The principal focd of the Blue-bird consists of insects, particu-
larly large beetles, and other coleoptera that lurk among decaying
trees or fences, etc. IHe also makes use of spiders. In the latter
part of autumn he Cegales himself on several kinds of fruits and
berries, as ripe persimnmons, the berries of the sour gum, or even
the berries of the rY.d cedar, and onseveral other seeds and berries.
It is a well-known fact that a great many birds are afflicted with a
species of tape-worm; but I have never found these worms so fre-
quently in any as in the Blue-birds and Woodcocks. In these,
tape-worms are sometimes found in great numbers and of a very
large size; but the poor birds are also tormented by numerous in-
sects infesting their plumage.
Several kinds of Blue-birds are found in North America, which
will be figured and described hereafter. They are very interest-
ing links in the natural system, although it seems to the writer that
some of them ought to be placed among the Saxicoline.
In the summer and fall whole families of Blue-birds are found
frequenting open pastures, perching on the stalks of the great mul-
len ( Verbascum nzgella), on the lookout for passing insects. On
such occasions, the object seems to be the instruction of the young
in dexterity. The old bird can see at a great distance an insect
crawling among the moss or grass, and flying to it and feeding on
it, he returns in an instant to his former position. This is exactly
the manner of the Saxicoline.
The Blue-bird, in the vwinter, migrates to the South, sometimes
even as far as the West India islands; but some doubtless re-
main in the southern parts of the United States, and, in unusually
mild winters, some remain even in the Northern States, coming out
in mild weather to the open plains from their sheltering thickets,
and retiring to them in cold and stormy weather. In the woods of
the Southern States I have frequently met with large flocks. They
are found in all the United States, and also in the Bahama islands,
in Mexico, Brazil, and Guiana.
It is very common to see large flocks of Blue-birds passing at
considerable heights in the air, in a northern direction, in the
spring, and in a southern direction in autumn. I have several
times observed such flocks descending a little after sunrise from
great heights, and settling on the top of some high detached tree.
Judging from their sedateness and silence they were tired strangers.
After resting a few minutes, they invariably began to dress and
arrange their plumage, continuing that operation for about a quar-
ter of an hour. After a few warning notes had been uttered, as it
seemed to me, by the leader of the flock, the whole party re-
ascended to a vast height, and continued their flight. It does cer-
tainly seem a great task for so little and feeble a creature as the
Blue-bird to migrate to the West Indies; but if he should fly at the
rate of one mile per minute, and he flies swifter than that, as has
often been observed, it would only require from ten to eleven hours
to reach the Bermudas, which are about six hundred miles from the
nearest point of the mainland. Besides, he would have many
chances to rest by the way, on the masts and yards of the numer-
ous vessels generally navigating those waters.
When winter's cold tempests and snows are no more,
Green meadows and brown furrow'd fields reappearing,
The fishermen hauling their nets to the shore,
And cloud-cleaving Geese to the north are all steering;
When first the low butterfly flits on the wing,
When red glow the maples, so fresh and so pleasing,
0 then comes the Blue-bird, the herald of spring I
And hails, with his warblings, the charms of the season.
He flits through the orchard, he visits each tree,
The red-flowering peach, and the apple's sweet blossoms,
The fruit-bearing products, wherever they be,
And seizes the caitiffs that lurk in their bosoms;
He drags the vile grub from the corn it devours,
The worms from their beds where they riot and welter;
His song and his services freely are ours,
And all that he asks is, in summer, a shelter.
The plowman is pleased when he gleans in his train,
Now searching the furrows, now mounting to cheer him;
The gardener delights in his sweet simple strain,
And leans on his spade to survey and to hear him;
The slow, lingering school-boys forget they '11 be chid,
While gazing intent as he warbles before them,
In mantle of sky-blue, and bosom so red,
That each little loiterer seems to adore him.
But when the gay scenes of the summer are o'er,
And autumn slow enters, so silent and sallow,
And millions of warblers, that charm'd us before,
Have fled in the train of the sun-seeking Swallow,
The Blue-bird, forsaken, yet true to his home,
Still lingers and looks for a milder " to-morrow,"
Till, forced by the rigors of winter to roam,
He sings his adieu in a lone note of sorrow.
While spring's lovely season, serene, dewy, warm,
The green face of earth, and the pure blue of heaven,
Or love's native music, have power to charm,
Or sympathy's glow to our feelings is given,
Still dear to each bosom the Blue-bird shall be;
His voice, like the thrillings of hope, is a treasure;
For, through bleakest storms, if a calm he but see,
He comes to remind us of sunshine and pleasure.
The Meadow Lark. (Sturnella magwa.)
The position of this bird, although assigned by Linnrus, the father
of systematic classification  in natural history, to the Alaudo
(Larks), has often been questioned among ornithologists. Swain-
son puts the bird down as Sturnella Ludoviciana; Bonaparte,

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