“Well,” said Bobbie, after a while, “if those little soft white birds can go about in such weather, I guess I can too,” and in a few minutes with high rubber boots, and a fur cap drawn over his ears, off trudged Bobbie like another little hero to school.
HIS charming bird comes to us at a time when his presence may be truly welcomed and appreciated, nearly all our summer companions of the feathered tribe having departed. He might not inappropriately be named the great Snowflake, though in winter he wears a warm brown cloak, with black stripes, brown collar, and a brown and white vest. In summer, however, he is snow white, with black on the back, wings, and tail. He lives all over northern North America, and in the United States as far south as Georgia.
About the first of November, flocks of Snowflakes may be seen arriving, the males chanting a very low and somewhat broken, but very pleasant song. Some call him White Snowbird, and Snow Bunting, according to locality. The birds breed throughout the Arctic regions of both continents, the National Museum at Washington possessing nests from the most northern points of Alaska, (Point Barrow), and from Labrador, as well as from various intermediate localities.
These birds are famous seed eaters, and are rarely found in trees. They should be looked for on the ground, in the air, for they are constantly seeking new feeding grounds, in the barn-yard, or about the hay stack, where seeds are plentiful. They also nest on the ground, building a deep, grassy nest, lined with rabbit fur or feathers, under a projecting ledge of rock or thick bunch of grass. It seems curious that few persons readily distinguish them from their sparrow cousins, as they have much more white about them than any other color. Last November multitudes of them invaded Washington Park, settling on the ground to feed, and flying up and scurrying away to successive pastures of promise. With their soft musical voices and gentle manners, they were a pleasing feature of the late Autumn landscape. “Chill November’s surly blast” making “field and forest bare,” had no terrors for them, but rather spread before them a feast of scattered seeds, winnowed by it from nature’s ripened abundance.
The Snowflakes disappear with the melting of their namesake, the snow. They are especially numerous in snowy seasons, when flocks of sometimes a thousand are seen in the old fields and meadows. It is unusual, though it has been known to breed in the Northern States. In July, 1831, Audubon found it nesting in the White Mountains, and Dr. J. A. Allen notes a pair as breeding near Springfield, Mass. The Arctic regions are its nesting place however, and these birds were probably belated on their return migration. The Snowflake and Shorelark are so much alike in habits, that the two species occasionally associate. Ernest E. Thompson says: “Apparently the Snowflakes get but little to eat, but in reality they always find enough to keep them in health and spirits, and are as fat as butter balls. In the mid-winter, in the far north, when the thermometer showed thirty degrees below zero, and the chill blizzard was blowing on the plains, I have seen this brave little bird gleefully chasing his fellows, and pouring out, as he flew, his sweet voluble song with as much spirit as ever Skylark has in the sunniest days of June.”
junco.From col. F. M. Woodruff. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.
THE SLATE-COLORED JUNCO.
LACK SNOWBIRD, in most of the United States and in Ontario, where it is a common resident, and White Bill, are names more often applied to this species of Sparrow than the one of Junco, by which it is known to ornithologists. It nests in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, and is a resident throughout the year in northeastern Ohio, and in Michigan. In all probability, the Snowbird does not breed, even occasionally, anywhere within the limits of the state of Illinois, though individuals may in very rare instances be found several weeks after others have departed for the north, these having probably received some injury which prevents their migration. Prof. Forbes refers to such an instance, which came under his own observation. He saw on a tree in the edge of a wood, in the southern part of the state, an adult specimen of the Junco, and only one, which, he says, astonished him.
Mr. William L. Kells states that in Ontario this Junco selects a variety of places for nesting sites, such as the upturned roots of trees, crevices in banks, under the sides of logs and stumps, a cavity under broken sod, or in the shelter of grass or other vegetation. The nest is made of dry grasses, warmly and smoothly lined with hair. The bird generally begins to nest the first week of May, and nests with eggs are found as late as August. A nest of the Junco was found on the rafters of a barn in Connecticut.
Almost any time after the first of October, little excursion parties of Juncos may be looked for, and the custom continues all winter long. When you become acquainted with him, as you surely will, during his visit, you will like him more and more for his cheerful habits. He will come to your back door, and present his little food petition, very merrily indeed. He is very friendly with the Chick-a-dee, and they are often seen together about in the barn-yards, and he even ventures within the barn when seeds are frozen to the ground.
“The Doctor,” in Citizen Bird, tells this pretty story of his winter pets:
“My flock of Juncos were determined to brave all weathers. First they ate the seeds of all the weeds and tall grasses that reached above the snow, then they cleaned the honeysuckles of their watery black berries. When these were nearly gone, I began to feed them every day with crumbs, and they soon grew very tame. At Christmas an ice storm came, and after that the cold was bitter indeed. For two days I did not see my birds; but on the third day, in the afternoon, when I was feeding the hens in the barn-yard, a party of feeble, half-starved Juncos, hardly able to fly, settled down around me and began to pick at the chicken food. I knew at a glance that after a few hours more exposure all the poor little birds would be dead. So I shut up the hens and opened the door of the straw-barn very wide, scattered a quantity of meal and cracked corn in a line on the floor, and crept behind the door to watch. First one bird hopped in and tasted the food; he found it very good and evidently called his brothers, for in a minute they all went in and I closed the door upon them. And I slept better that night, because I knew that my birds were comfortable. The next afternoon they came back again. I kept them at night in this way for several weeks, and one afternoon several Snowflakes came in with them.” (See page 150.)