Short Stories » Robbing Bird's-nests
IT is quite common in the spring of the year for boys to go out on expeditions for young birds. The brown larks that make their nests low in the grass, and the magpies that build theirs in clumps of scrub oak, are the commonest victims. Many of you have never seen a magpie's nest, so you will be surprised to learn that it is very large, sometimes three feet across, and has enough wood in it to make a bonfire. These nests look quite coarse and uncomfortable, but who- ever heard the birds complain ? It may seem a beautiful idea to have a young bird to raise, but there is more sorrow than beauty in it. I have seen so many of these poor things brought away from their parents that it seemed likely to clean out the tribe ; but the saddest feature is the cruelty practised by slitting their tongues to enable them to talk. As I have known many birds to die from this mutilation (not being able to talk), I have often wished that it could be prevented. There was one case near by where the poor parent- bird hovered outside, pitifully answering the plaintive cries of her wounded and prisoned young one, which was worried by a pet dog, watched by a hungry cat, and sadly neglected by its captors, until death released it.
At another time I was walking, on a hot, dusty day, in Salt Lake City, when, coming to a second-hand store, I saw, in a small cage, a poor magpie panting with the heat and hopping to and fro, vainly seeking to make its escape.
If I had had money with me, I would have bought it away and loosed it among the wild trees. Poor bird ! The sight made me sad at heart. I would not have that bird's suffering to answer for, for any price.
When I was quite young, I heard a good neighbor chiding his boys for robbing nests. Said he : " My brother and I robbed a mourning dove's nest of her two young ones. She followed us home, but we did not mind her sad cries. By and by we began to wish she would stop, and one of us tried to frighten her away, but she would come back. We were so tired with our ramble that our mother let us go to bed very early, and as we fell asleep we heard her mournful voice. Next morning it was the first sound we heard, and all day it continued. We stuck to the birds, but by night began to feel badly, still would not give them up. In the morning there it was again, and we could stand it no longer. We said we would take them back to her nest, but when we uncovered them they were dead. Oh, how sad and frightened we were ! My brother thought that if we put them where the mother could see them she would understand and go away, so we laid them on the roof of the porch and came away. She had been watching us and settled beside them, continuing her sad notes. This seemed worse than ever, so we climbed up again and carried them away to some tall grass, hoping she would follow and stay there ; but no, that mother-bird flew back and forth, cooing her broken-hearted story of accusation until she died.
"We never robbed another bird's nest, and I never hear a mourning dove now, that I do not feel sorry for that deed." Mr. Garner wiped his eyes as he concluded, and you may be sure we all felt pretty solemn.
THE ROBIN AND THE CARPET RAG.
I will tell you something not so sad. Do you think birds understand anything we say? "Well," you answer, " some birds, tame ones, may, if they've been taught." That is true; but a lady once told me some- thing so curious that I could not say anything against it and yet it was very strange.
She had been sewing carpet-rags out on her porch, and it was about the time of spring for birds, especially robins, to be building their nests. As she sat all alone at her quiet work, she noticed the lively movements of a robin which seemed to be also watching her.
This interested the lady, and she kept very still, as she continued her sewing. By and by the bird came near enough to seize a long soft rag that had fallen just over the edge of the porch. Mrs. Robin tugged very hard, pulling it along backwards for some distance, when she stopped for a rest, still eyeing the lady.
"Oh, you little thief!" said she softly, "stealing my carpet rags." The bird looked at her, then at the rag, and to her surprise flew a little distance away and sat for a while on the fence as though not knowing what to do.
The lady said she began to feel as though the bird had understood her, and said she : " There that bird sat and sat and I watched her, and she watched me till at last I felt so mean I was ashamed of myself, although I only said it in fun; but at last I spoke, " Come and get it, you pretty bird; you can have all the carpet- rags you want. And what do you think ? As true as I live, that robin flew back and got that carpet-rag and came for some more I threw over while she was gone, and I tell you I felt relieved." Now, whether the bird understood words or not, this circumstance really occurred.
At our home in the country we watch the birds with great interest, although there are not so many or such pretty ones as in California, my early home.
When we see large flocks of blackbirds flying low, we look for high winds. Sometimes they seem to hold "conference" in a large locust tree near by, and then we have some fine choir exercises between the remarks of the leaders. I am sorry to have to state that these meetings are sometimes broken up by a mob-like attack of boys with guns.
We have the mischievous little English sparrows, the little brown snow-birds, and, oh ! when the first flock of bluebirds comes in the spring, how glad we are, and throw out wheat in the front yard! It is a lovely sight to see one's snow-covered yard adorned with a flock of lovely bluebirds with top-knots.
We have read that they are very fond of the berries of the Virginia creeper, and as we have a fine one, that was a slip taken from the beautiful vine at the Wells House, on the corner opposite the Deseret News Office, we have expectations of annual visits from this regiment in blue uniform.
We value our vine very highly, first, because of where it came from, second, on account of its own beauty, and third, on account of the bluebirds.
Is it not a vine of more than ordinary interest ?
The next birds we welcome are the robins; they are regarded as a sure sign of spring, but they will insist on moving so close to the cherry trees. But, after all, perhaps the Lord intended cherries for birds as well as for persons, and we must not be selfish.
Then there are the larks. I know a boy who wants to spend a day in the country just to hear the larks sing, and I don't wonder.
Very soon there is a rush of others, all building in the orchard and lucerne fields. If you want a treat, slip down into a field where larks, blackbirds and bobolinks have colonized for the summer. Just lie down with the tall blades and green plumes of wheat, rye or barley around you, and listen for an hour or two. If new happiness does not slip into your soul, then I think the gates of it must be fastened, the lock rusted and the key lost.
If you live in a city where such a delight as this cannot be had, tame birds are better than none; but I would rather walk down the green aisles of a corn-field whose blades are like swords, whose tassels are - like silk floss, and whose very rustle betokens the industrious, bustling farmer, hurrying up his crop for the mill. Perhaps when you get down to the farther end, a whole army of sunflowers with their splendid golden heads will surprise you, and some common weeds may be all interlaced with the dodder, as though a skein of yellow silk thread had got tangled in them. But if you must live in the city, which of those birds that live in cages do you like best? I have had parrots, cockatoos and canaries, but my favorites were the humming-birds, and I will tell you about them. One day while walking in the orchard, I observed a large knot on a branch. As I gazed, a humming-bird flew out, and, stepping up, I found a nest not near so large as half a common egg, and in it were two eggs like peas. What a wonderful sight for me! and a good long look I enjoyed every day.
One morning when I went there I saw two black, ugly things, and exclaimed: "Oh, those horrible bugs have eaten those pretty eggs ! " and was just going to send them whirling, when they opened their mouths, and I saw that they were young birds, but such ugly things. I watched them daily, and they grew very fast, their bodies soon catching up in proportion to their mouths, and in due time the pretty feathers appeared. Then I took a hoop-skirt, covered it with mosquito bar netting, gathered together at the top and underneath, and, hanging it in a deep window, had a large and pretty cage. I cut off the apricot branch and fastened it like a perch inside, then with fresh bunches of sweet flowers in the swinging vase, it was a pretty home. I wondered if the old birds would have me for a landlady, and left the front open. It was not long before they flew to their young ones, and then the opening was fastened. I afterward hung a division inside, and other humming-birds also came in. In a short time all were so tame that they would perch on one hand and eat from a spoon held in the other, and when they were done eating the dissolved sugar or honey, they would wipe their long bills on my hand. They also beame very affectionate, and when a hand was thrust inside, they would 1 fly to it, and, perching, rub their heads against it just as a kitten does. Visitors were often surprised at these lovely pets and their humming. One was a voracious and noisy fellow, and I let him go, for his incessant darting and loud humming sometimes made our heads ache.
Once after a thunder-storm I found some dead humming-birds and happened to throw them near an ant- hill. A few days later I discovered them entirely stripped of feathers and skin. Once when I was holding a live one by the feet and its wings were extended, its feathers seemed to stand out, and I could see al- most through the body, which appeared like a bubble, so I thought they have hardly any flesh upon them. Well, the ants had left the skeletons entire, from bill- tips to claw-tips, and they were the tiniest and prettiest anatomies that could be imagined. I kept them a long time as curiosities, in a pretty, saucer-shaped shell.
California has one hundred varieties of these tiny birds. I have seen them perched upon clothes-lines, and so tame that the gardener could strike the line with his hoe handle, when they would drop, stunned by the shock. They are also very wise and wary. One cold morning I found one that was like dead. I held it by the tip of its bill, pitying the limp little creature, then laid it in my hand, admiring the pretty feathers, when, away it flies! ''Oh, the little deceiver!" cried my sister. But perhaps it just then, in the warmth of my hands, recovered consciousness.
On cool mornings I often wore a soft woolen scarf around my shoulders, crossed in front and tied behind, especially in my early rambles before breakfast. More than once I found, after a rain, chilled humming- birds unable to fly. It was easy to catch these, for they were just newly fledged, and I would place them inside my warm scarf. Before long they would begin to flutter; then when I reached home it was easy to add them to my collection. I fear that many of those fairy-like creatures die annually if a cool wave occurs before they are grown.
Now let me tell you of a parrot I once knew. He was owned by the mayor of San Francisco, who lived so near to the ships in the harbor at one time that the sailors could be seen on the ships, and their rough language heard by Polly, who seemed to be always listening to everything, and to have no objection to repeating it. I found this out by following the house-keeper into the kitchen, when I was at the house with my mother. Polly had become so boisterous that his society was not considered suitable for the parlor. They called Polly " him " and " her " also. Polly often annoyed the cook by moving the spice-boxes and other small articles he was using, if he turned his back, blowing out the wax candles in the dining- room with his wings, disarranging the newly-set table, etc. Polly would call back the master's hound from following him, or cry, "Stop thief!" after any gentle- man passing. When Polly at last caught a gentleman's gold-bowed spectacles from beside his book while he was opening their case to put them away, and then dropped them from the balcony into the harbor, patience was exhausted, and Polly banished from the luxurious home. After this I never saw Polly again.
WHEN about eight years old, I had, on my way to school, to pass three things that I dreaded. One was a lone pelican that would follow me for a portion of my school lunch. I judge that it could easily have swallowed it all and wished for more.
The next was a lame old white horse that would walk when I walked and run when I ran. He was a constant alarm to me, although he might once have been a pet and his intentions may have been friendly. Perhaps some little girl just my size may have been good to him and he remembered it; but I didn't know. Further along lived a gentleman who had as pets four monkeys, and they used to climb the poles to which they were chained and then jump down and make disagreeable faces and noises, beside throwing anything they could get hold of at passers. I have never liked monkeys since.