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T is somewhat strange that there should be little unity of opinion concerning a bird as well known as is this charming fellow, who has at least one quality which we all admire—courage. We will quote a few of the opinions of well-known observers as to whether his other characteristics are admirable, and let the reader form his own conclusion.
John Burroughs says of him: “The exquisite of the family, and the braggart of the orchard, is the Kingbird, a bully that loves to strip the feathers off its more timid neighbors like the Bluebird, that feeds on the stingless bees of the hive, the drones, and earns the reputation of great boldness by teasing large hawks, while it gives a wide berth to the little ones.” Decidedly, this classifies him with the English Sparrow. But we will hear Dr. Brewer: “The name, Kingbird, is given it on the supposition that it is superior to all other birds in the reckless courage with which it will maintain an unequal warfare. My own observations lead me to the conclusion that writers have somewhat exaggerated the quarrelsome disposition of this bird. I have never, or very rarely, known it to molest or attack any other birds than those which its own instinct prompts it to drive away in self-defense, such as Hawks, Owls, Eagles, Crows, Jays, Cuckoos, and Grackles.” That Dr. Coues is a friend of the Kingbird, his language amply proves: “The Kingbird is not quarrelsome—simply very lively. He is the very picture of dash and daring in defending his home, and when he is teaching his youngsters how to fly. He is one of the best of neighbors, and a brave soldier. An officer of the guild of Sky Sweepers, also a Ground Gleaner and Tree Trapper killing robber-flies, ants, beetles, and rose-bugs. A good friend to horses and cattle, because he kills the terrible gadflies. Eats a little fruit, but chiefly wild varieties, and only now and then a bee.” If you now have any difficulty in making up your verdict, we will present the testimony of one other witness, who is, we think, an original observer, as well as a delightful writer, Bradford Torrey. He was in the country. “Almost, I could have believed myself in Eden,” he says. “But, alas, even the birds themselves were long since shut out of that garden of innocence, and as I started back toward the village a Crow went hurrying past me, with a Kingbird in hot pursuit. The latter was more fortunate than usual, or more plucky, actually alighting on the Crow’s back, and riding for some distance. I could not distinguish his motions—he was too far away for that—but I wished him joy of his victory, and grace to improve it to the full. For it is scandalous that a bird of the Crow’s cloth should be a thief; and so, although I reckon him among my friends—in truth, because I do so—I am always able to take it patiently when I see him chastised for his fault.”
The Kingbird is a common bird in Eastern United States, but is rare west of the Rocky Mountains. It is perhaps better known by the name of Beebird or Bee-martin. The nest is placed in an orchard or garden, or by the roadside, on a horizontal bough or in the fork at a moderate height; sometimes in the top of the tallest trees along streams. It is bulky, ragged, and loose, but well capped and brimmed, consisting of twigs, grasses, rootlets, bits of vegetable down, and wool firmly matted together, and lined with feathers, hair, etc.
king bird.From col. F. M. Woodruff. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.
You think, my young friends, because I am called Kingbird I should be large and fine looking.
Well, when you come to read about Kings in your history-book you will find that size has nothing to do with Kingliness. I have heard, indeed, that some of them were very puny little fellows, in mind as well as in body.
If it is courage that makes a king then I have the right to be called Kingbird. They say I have a reckless sort of courage, because I attack birds a great deal larger than myself.
I would not call it courage to attack anything smaller than myself, would you? A big man finds it easy to shoot a little bird in the air; and a big boy does not need to be brave to kill or cripple some poor little animal that crosses his path. He only needs to be a coward to do that!
I only attack my enemies,—the Hawks, Owls, Eagles, Crows, Jays, and Cuckoos. They would destroy my young family if I did not drive them away. Mr. Crow especially is a great thief. When my mate is on her nest I keep a sharp lookout, and when one of my enemies approaches I give a shrill cry, rise in the air, and down I pounce on his back; I do this more than once, and how I make the feathers fly!
The little hawks and crows I never attack, and yet they call me a bully. Sometimes I do go for a Song-bird or a Robin, but only when they come too near my nest. People wonder why I never attack the cunning Catbird. I’ll never tell them, you may be sure!
To what family do I belong? To a large family called Flycatchers. Because some Kings are tyrants I suppose, they call me the Tyrant Flycatcher. Look for me next summer on top of a wire fence or dead twig of a tree, and watch me, every few minutes, dash into the air, seize a passing insect, and then fly back to the same perch again.
Any other names? Yes, some folks call me the Bee Bird or Bee Martin. Once in awhile I change my diet and do snap up a bee! but it is always a drone, not a honey-bee. Some ill-natured people say I choose the drones because they can’t sting, and not because they are tramp bees and will not work.
Sing? Yes, when my mate is on her nest I please her with a soft pretty song, at other times my call-note is a piercing Kyrie-K-y-rie! I live with you only in the summer. When September comes I fly away to a warmer climate.
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER.—Dendroica blackburniæ.
Range—Eastern North America; breeds from northern Minnesota and southern Maine northward to Labrador and southward along the Alleghenies to South Carolina; winters in the tropics.
Nest—Of fine twigs and grasses, lined with grasses and tendrils, in coniferous trees, ten to forty feet up.
Eggs—Four, grayish white or bluish white, distinctly and obscurely spotted, speckled, and blotched with cinnamon brown or olive brown.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH.—Spinus tristis. Other names: “Yellow-bird,” “Thistle-bird.”
Range—Eastern North America; breeds from South Carolina to southern Labrador; winters from the northern United States to the Gulf.
Nest—Externally, of fine grasses, strips of bark and moss,