CCORDING to one intelligent observer, the Finches are, in Nature’s economy, entrusted with the task of keeping the weeds in subjection, and the gay and elegant little Goldfinch is probably one of the most useful, for its food is found to consist, for the greater part, of seeds most hurtful to the works of man. “The charlock that so often chokes his cereal crops is partly kept in bounds by his vigilance, and the dock, whose rank vegetation would, if allowed to cast all its seeds, spread barrenness around, is also one of his store houses, and the rank grasses, at their seeding time, are his chief support.” Another writer, whose study of this bird has been made with care, calls our American Goldfinch one of the loveliest of birds. With his elegant plumage, his rhythmical, undulatory flight, his beautiful song, and his more beautiful soul, he ought to be one of the best beloved, if not one of the most famous; but he has never yet had half his deserts. He is like the Chickadee, and yet different. He is not so extremely confiding, nor should I call him merry. But he is always cheerful, in spite of his so-called plaintive note, from which he gets one of his names, and always amiable. So far as I know, he never utters a harsh sound; even the young ones asking for food, use only smooth, musical tones. During the pairing season, his delight often becomes rapturous. To see him then, hovering and singing,—or, better still, to see the devoted pair hovering together, billing and singing,—is enough to do even a cynic good. The happy lovers! They have never read it in a book, but it is written on their hearts:
“The gentle law that each should be
The other’s heaven and harmony.”
In building his nest, the Goldfinch uses much ingenuity, lichens and moss being woven so deeply into the walls that the whole surface is quite smooth. Instead of choosing the forks of a bough, this Finch likes to make its nest near the end of a horizontal branch, so that it moves about and dances up and down as the branch is swayed by the wind. It might be thought that the eggs would be shaken out by a tolerably sharp breeze, and such would indeed be the case, were they not kept in their place by the form of the nest. On examination, it will be seen to have the edge thickened and slightly turned inward, so that when the nest is tilted on one side by the swaying of the bough, the eggs are still retained within. It is lined with vegetable down, and on this soft bed repose five pretty eggs, white, tinged with blue, and diversified with small grayish purple spots.
A curious story is told of a caged Goldfinch, which in pleasant weather always hung in a window. One day, hearing strange bird voices, the owner looked up from her seat and saw a Catbird trying to induce the Finch to eat a worm it had brought for it. By dint of coaxing and feeding the wild bird, she finally induced it to come often to the window, and one day, as she sat on the porch, the Catbird brought a berry and tried to put it into her mouth. We have often seen sparrows come to the window of rooms where canaries were imprisoned, but it has uniformly been to get food and not to administer it. The Catbird certainly thus expressed its gratitude.
chimney swift.From col. Eugene Bliss. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.
THE CHIMNEY SWIFT.
HIEF POKAGON, of the Pottawattamie Indians, in an article in The Osprey, writes delightfully of the Chimney Swift, and we quote a portion of it describing a peculiar habit of the bird. The chief was a youth when he made the observation, and he writes in the second person:
“As you look, you see the head of the young chief is turning slowly around, watching something high in air above the stream; you now begin to look in the same direction, catching glimpses every now and then, of the segment of a wild revolving ring of small unnumbered birds circling high above the trees. Their twittering notes and whizzing wings create a musical, but wild, continued roar. You now begin to realize he is determined to understand all about the feathered bees, as large as little birds, the village boy had seen. The circle continues to decrease in size, but increases the revolution until all the living, breathing ring swings over the stream in the field of your vision, and you begin to enquire what means all this mighty ingathering of such multitude of birds. The young chief in admiration claps his hands, leaping towards the stream. The twittering, whizzing roar continues to increase; the revolving circle fast assumes a funnel shape, moving downward until the point reaches the hollow in the stub, pouring its living mass therein until the last bird dropped out of sight. Rejoicing in wonder and admiration, the youth walks round the base of the stub, listening to the rumbling roar of fluttering wings within. Night comes on, he wraps his blanket closer about him, and lies down to rest until the coming day, that he may witness the swarming multitudes pass out in early morning. But not until the hour of midnight does he fall asleep, nor does he wake until the dawn of day, when, rising to his feet, he looks upward to the skies. One by one the stars disappear. The moon grows pale. He listens. Last night’s familiar roar rings in his ears. He now beholds swarming from out the stub the living, breathing mass, forming in funnel shape, revolving like a top, rising high in air, then sweeping outward into a wide expanding ring, until the myriads of birds are scattered wide, like leaves before the whirlwind.”
And then what do they do? Open the mouth of a swallow that has been flying, and turn out the mass of small flies and other insects that have been collected there. The number packed into its mouth is almost incredible, for when relieved from the constant pressure to which it is subjected, the black heap begins to swell and enlarge, until it attains nearly double its former size.
Chimney Swallow is the name usually applied to this Swift. The habit of frequenting chimneys is a recent one, and the substitution of this modern artificial home for hollow trees illustrates the readiness with which it adapts itself to a change in surroundings. In perching, they cling to the side of the chimney, using the spine-pointed tails for a support. They are most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when one may hear their rolling twitter as they course about overhead.
The question whether Chimney Swifts break off twigs for their nests with their feet is now being discussed by ornithologists. Many curious and interesting observations have been made, and the momentous question will no doubt in time be placed beyond peradventure.
Up with me! up with me into the clouds!
For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me! Up with me into the clouds!
With clouds and sky about thee ringing.
Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seems so to thy