|Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture|
Birds. The horticulturist has the opportunity to avail himself of a mighty band of helpers in the birds. It seems not to be understood that it is perfectly possible for a bird to be eating something useful to man at some particular moment, and at the same time to be spending by far the greater part of its time eating things that are harmful to man, for which service it should be carefully protected. Very thorough studies of the food of birds have proved that the great majority are helpful to one who raises crops. Most birds are beneficial most of the time, and very few have no redeeming traits in this regard. Moreover, if use of birds are protected at all times, so as to encourage the natural increase, they will do their part in an emergency, such as an invasion of insects. Aside from these economic reasons for bird-protection is the gain that comes from their presence as attractive and interesting objects in nature, as much to be desired as blossoms and gardens. It is said that there is less need of birds now that insects are being destroyed by arsenical sprays. This is perhaps to some extent true, but even in fruit-plantations the birds are still effective; and there are hosts of insects that are not effectively held within bounds by the sprays. Spraying will never take the place of birds.
Protection of birds from their enemies
Birds should be both protected and attracted. Men and boys with guns and sling-shots, cats, and the English or house sparrow are the most common enemies or destroyers of birds. The red squirrel, weasel, crow, and shrike are destroyers as well, but they seem to be regulated naturally, although frequently one may interfere to good effect, particularly in the case of squirrels in parks. But man, the cat and the English sparrow should be controlled. Our boys can be educated to protect the wild birds. It is being done in many homes and schools. As soon as a boy learns the interesting habits of the common birds he loses the desire to kill, and he prefers to protect and observe. A bluebird or wren nesting on the premises will do more than all the laws to correct the lawlessness of boys.
Experience shows that one must deal wit h the house or English sparrow, if one is to win back pur insect- eating birds in any great numbers. The increase of other birds is in inverse ratio to the decrease of English sparrows. However, not everyone should be allowed to take part in the warfare against them. Schoolboys and inexperienced men make too many mistakes in trying to destroy them and their nests; and the taking of the eggs from the nest seems too much like an out- rage on the instinct of motherhood, to be tolerated. The English sparrows should be kept within bounds as to numbers. They can be kept in check by the use of poisoned grain in winter. Some persons object to this practice from sentimental reasons, but it is no worse to despatch house sparrows than mice, prairie dogs, insects or other pests; and if man does not keep the sparrows within limits, they will destroy or drive away other birds. A certain number of house sparrows is desirable in winter, particularly in towns where there are few other winter birds, but they should not be allowed to become nuisances. See page 507.
It has been estimated that a cat destroys on an average about fifty song birds in one season. A new attitude toward cats is needed. They should no more be allowed to roam at will than should chickens or goats. All cats away from home are trespassers, and should be so regarded; they should fall to the care of a bird-warden. Bird-killing cats should be destroyed or kept within doors.
To attract birds, it is of course necessary to win their confidence. They must feel comfortable and secure. They must be aided to live through severe winter weather, and they must have adequate nesting-places and drinking-places. Measures to secure these ends have been put to the test and found to be genuinely satisfactory.
Feeding birds in winter.
Many birds perish for want of food in every severe winter. They digest their food so quickly that lack of it for a few days results in death. The real necessity is in the time of blizzards and continued cold, when they cannot find their natural food.
For insect-eating birds, suet and fat pork or a split bone may be fastened to the trunks of trees by means of wire netting and stout cord. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees will be attracted. The netting prevents crows, jays and squirrels from carrying off the whole piece of food.
Seed-eating birds may be fed crumbs, nuts, millet, chaff, sunflower seeds, squash seeds, and various grains, including corn; also any kind of poultry-food, and even dog-biscuit. These materials may be placed on the ground after removing the snow, but should be protected to prevent waste. Many a bob-white has survived a heavy snowstorm by coming regularly to such a place. All kinds of sparrows, juncos, and snow buntings are among the birds that are attracted by such supplies.
Many ways for feeding birds near the residence have been more or less successful, depending largely on the prevalence of the English or house sparrows. The tree -shelf, window -shelf, moving shelf or counter. and the coconut filled with pork and kernels of nuts, are among the most useful devices.
In Germany. Baron von Berlepsch has experimented effectively in the winter-feeding of birds, with the idea of securing the protection of the food, and of making it accessible at all times to all birds. On his estate at Seebach he uses the "food-tree," the "food- stick," the "food-house" and the "food-bell," all of which were devised after many years of study of the habits of birds. The food-tree (Fig. 556) imitates a coniferous tree closely covered with insect eggs and larvae. A mixture of hot liquid food which hardens as it cools is poured upon the tree. This food consists of white bread (dried and ground), meat (dried and ground), hemp, millet, sunflower seeds, and other seeds mixed with water. The food-tree is especially interesting to children and has brought good results in the study of winter birds. The food-stick (Fig. 557) is merely a part of a branch with six holes in which the food mixture is placed at intervals. The food-house (Fig. 558) is the most satisfactory of all ways of feeding. It consists of a roof on four corner posts with upper and lower food-tables, the lower being used only until the birds have discovered the upper table. Below the roof a strip of glass is fixed from post to post. This is very important to protect the food from the weather and also to admit light. The food-bell (Fig. 559) is a device for making hemp seed always accessible to the birds. It is very popular, except with the English sparrows. It may be placed on trees or buildings.
The birds that naturally make their nests in holes in trees are the ones that have been induced to build in artificial houses. Accordingly , the most successful houses are those that somewhat resemble a hollow limb, although great success has been attained with board houses, and other styles, as gourds, and coconuts, and even tin-cans. In fact, some bird will adapt itself to almost any kind of house, provided cats, red squirrels and English sparrows are kept away.
A most satisfactory cat-proof box for a bluebird can be made of weather-stained boards, if the following precautions are taken: The hole should be well near the top with no perch near: the roof should slope from the back toward the front and should project about three inches. If the box is deep, the young bluebirds find it difficult to leave the house until they are strong and able to care for themselves, and this is a great advantage. The roof prevents rain from beating in, and keeps the cats out. From whatever direction the cat may attempt to reach the hole, the projecting roof stands in the way of reaching the nest. Twelve by 6 by 6 inches are good dimensions for such a house. It should be placed 8 to 15 feet above the ground.
The house wren is the easiest of birds to attract. It will easily appropriate any little house if the English sparrow does not interfere. A good size is 7 by 5 by 5 inches, with the hole only as large as a 25-cent piece. It should be planed 6 to 8 feet from the ground, with the long axis of the box backward. The wren has the habit of filling the front of the house with sticks and leaving a hollow in the rear for the eggs. The hole should be in the upper half of the box. The middle of April is not too early to place it, in the northern states, although houses put out late may attract for the second brood. It is well to make the house so that it can be opened, to permit of its being cleaned for the second brood, for the wren will choose a clean house if it can find one.
The purple martin is an attractive neighbor. Unlike the wrens, which will not nest near one another, the martins are gregarious, so that the houses should have a number of compartments, each part 9 by 11 inches, with entrance 2¾ inches across. The house should be placed 15 to 20 feet above the ground. To prevent English sparrows from building before the martin arrives in the spring, the openings should be covered until April; or better, the house may be taken down in the fall and put up again in April.
Woodpeckers may be induced to live in houses. The opening should always be circular and with an upward slant; the bottom of the nesting cavity should be gourd-shaped and end in a pointed trough within which a few shavings are placed; and the inner walls should be roughened somewhat to allow the young birds to cling more easily. Of the 10,000 or more of these houses tried in parts of Germany, more than 90 per cent are occupied.
Drinking- and bathing-places for birds.
Birds need free access to water. If a brook or pond is near by, no more is necessary; but, otherwise, special provision should be made. The presence of water is a great factor in inducing birds to nest in a given locality.
There are many kinds of bird-fountains, but the chief characteristics are that the water be shallow, that the edge of the container be not slippery, and that they be placed where there are no hiding-places for cats. Most interesting styles have been devised, varying from constructions of natural rocks holding little pools, with wild flowers and ferns close by, to those made of flowerpot saucers, or of special pans, placed safe from molestation. School children are readily interested in the placing of bird-fountains and in watching the birds that come to drink and to bathe.
Nesting-places for birds that build in the open.
Birds breeding in the open nest in bushes and trees and on the ground, and among reeds or in banks. These comprise by far the larger class, and yet these birds are finding it more and more difficult to secure nesting-places. One cuts off hedges along roads and fences, cleans the pastures and meadows, digs away the banks and seals up the roofs of barns with little thought of the birds that would like to nest there. While all trees provide more or less shelter for birds, the conifers are most useful for this purpose. It is practicable so to plant as to have wild fruits for birds at all times of the year, and especially in cold winter days, and perhaps during the time in which one wishes to protect cultivated fruits. It seems to be agreed that the best single tree is the mulberry, either the white or the Russian. The fruiting season is long, and the trees are easily grown. Four good plants are: early sweet cherry, June berry or shadbush, mulberry, Virginia creeper. Probably more birds visit these plants than any others. Many other shrubs and herbs are of great value, as elder, black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, dogwood, pokeberry, and mountain-ash. Many growers protect their cherries and strawberries with mulberry and shadbush; or they plant a sweet early variety of the given fruit, to be left unpicked especially for the birds. Elder, Virginia creeper, and black cherry will serve as protectors for grapes. Raspberries and blackberries may be protected by mulberry, chokecherry, and elder.
Germany recognizes Seebach as the great bird experiment station. Representatives of many states and countries have visited the place, making effective observations of methods. For these students, special winter courses in bird-protection have been arranged, including not only theory but practical instruction. They find many acres of wood, thicket, and park made attractive to birds, with luxuriant undergrowth about the trees, special care as to the species, the shrubs specially pruned (Figs. 565, 566); hundreds of nesting- houses;' food-houses and food-bells in various situations for winter-feeding. In the spring of 1905, the trees of the Hainich wood, south of Seebach, were stripped bare by the larva of a little moth (Tortrix viridana), whereas the wood at Seebach with its nesting-boxes was untouched. At a distance of a little more than a quarter of a mile the first traces of the plague were apparent.
The Economic Importance Of Familiar Birds.
Woodpeckers are especially fitted for the care of trees. The downy is the most useful woodpecker. It is the bird of the old orchard, preferring neglected trees, under the scales of which the codling-moth larva lies during the winter. It has been known to visit as many as 181 woodland trees between 9:40 A.m. and 12:15 P.m., making, meanwhile, twenty-six excavations for food, most of which exposed galleries of wood-boring ants. The hairy woodpecker (Fig. 567) is equal to the downy in importance, being fond of wood-boring beetles and wood-boring ants. Its large size and strong beak give it much power in drilling deep. A few ears of corn and a little suet will attract him. He is becoming less common than the other woodpeckers. The flicker is much misunderstood. Ants constitute about 40 per cent of his food, and he eats, also, many beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, besides some wild fruit. The red-headed woodpecker id especially fond of beech-nuts and acorns. It stores them for winter use. In its storehouse are often to be found quantities of dried grasshoppers also. It is an irregular permanent resident in the East, but in the West it migrates regularly. The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Fig. 568) doubtless does considerable harm; in fact, it is responsible for moat of the objections to woodpeckers in general. Whether the good done in destroying insects in the breeding season balances the harm done in sucking sap is an open question. The sapsucker drills holes in the trunks of many of the most valuable trees, as sugar maple, birch, pignut hickory, pine, apple, mountain- a»h, beech, and others. The death of the trees may result not only from the loss of sap, but from the work of borers that deposit eggs in the holes. If the sapsuckers are to be destroyed, care must be taken not to kill the downy woodpecker at the same time. Fortunately, the sapsuckers are resident in fruit sections for only a short time in the spring and autumn. In their northern breeding - grounds they destroy many noxious insects. The red-bellied woodpecker annoys growers of Florida by its fondness for orange juice. Else where it is of much value as a destroyer of ants and beetles and other insects.
The chickadee is a permanent resident. Many other birds seek their company, so that one has but to follow them as they rove to find many smaller birds. This is particularly true in spring and fall, when the warblers are in migration. In an experiment in Massachusetts, chickadees were attracted to an orchard in the winter by means of suet fastened to the trees. The birds destroyed multitudes of eggs of the fall canker-worm moth. The conclusion was reached that one chickadee would destroy in one day 5,550 eggs; and in the twenty-five days during which the canker-worm moths crawl up the trees 138,750 eggs might be taken by one chickadee. Chickadees readily accept a nesting-box. The white-breasted nuthatch is the constant companion of the chickadee and the downy woodpecker. It takes from the bark great numbers of eggs of canker-worms, and many of the oyster- shell bark-house, and even the hairy caterpillars of the gypsy moth. It is easily attracted by suet and will often eat crumbs as well. The red-breasted nuthatch, a smaller bird with dull reddish breast, comes from the North in September, spending the winter in attending to tree-trunks, and returning North in the spring.
The brown creeper, with its long curved beak, rounded back, and stiff tail, is especially valuable to service among shade trees. It starts at the base of the trunk, ascending spirally, quietly investigating crevices as it goes.
The slate-colored junco, or snowbird, comes from the North in autumn and remains all winter, busy all the time in reducing the number of weed- feeds. The snowbirds rove in little flocks, and easily respond to seeds and crumbs put in any open place. In the North the junco destroys many insects, for the young eat insect food only. The American robin (Fig. 569), (which is a very different bird from the robin of Europe), is protected by law in all of the United States excepting seven of the southern states. The National Association of Audubon Societies is making efforts to secure the passage of laws better calculated to protect it. An examination of the stomachs of 330 robins showed that vegetable food constituted about 58 per cent of the contents. Of this, 47 per cent was wild fruit, with only a little over 4 per cent cultivated fruit. The United States Department of Agriculture has shown by recent investigation that in the South the robin is essentially an insect -eating bird. The robin is the great enemy of the white grub, the young of the May-beetle or June-bug. The robin is an inveterate devourer of earth-worms in spring. Although the earthworm is useful to the soil, if it were allowed to increase naturally, with no interference by the birds, it would rapidly become a pest. The favorite food of young robins is the cutworm, and this is important, since there are frequently two or three broods of robins in a season and a young robin's appetite is nearly insatiable. The cutworm feed at night and is going back to its hole at daybreak, when the robin intercepts it. One may prevent the robin from eating cherries by planting trees that are in fruit at the same time, as the Russian mulberry, and the shadbush and wild cherries, or even a cheap variety of cherry. The strawberry-grower may plant a variety of inferior strawberries to attract the robins from his choice fruit.
The bluebird (Fig. 570) destroys quantities of cutworms and other caterpillars. In August and September grasshoppers constitute more than 60 per cent of its food. It is fond of wild fruit, especially berries. Unfortunately, the bluebird is becoming uncommon.
The sparrows are among the most valuable birds to the farmer. The food of the native sparrows, as a family, consists of 25 to 35 per cent of vegetable matter, and 65 to 75 per cent animal matter. Young sparrows are almost entirely insectivorous until they leave the nest. Many sparrows rear two broods in a season. As soon as the insect season is over, they turn their attention to weed-seeds, of which Beal estimates that tree sparrows alone eat 875 tons in one season ; and even this estimate may be too low. Forbush found, among other things, that a song sparrow, even after it had been eating seeds for about an hour before be began to count, ate 154, seeds in ten minutes and forty-five seconds. Song sparrows eat the seeds of such troublesome things as chickweed, purslane, sorrel, dandelion, and dock; also pests like plant-lice and cutworms, and caterpillars of the brown-tail and gypsy moths. The field sparrow (Fig. 571) is smaller than the song sparrow and very shy. It scarcely comes into our towns, but its clear trill from the fields suggests the warm days of late spring and early summer. It has been seen to eat May-beetles, leaf-hoppers, saw-flies, spiders, ants, and some earthworms. In the field it prefers weed-seed to grain. The chipping sparrow has the distinction of being the most useful sparrow, having an astonishing list of services to its credit. In the spring it feeds largely upon small caterpillars, as the gypsy, brown- tail, and tussock moths. It destroys at least three species of caterpillars on the cabbage; it is fond of wild cherries, chickweed seeds and seeds of ragweed, smartweed and many other weeds, including dandelions and the crab-grass of the lawn. The vesper sparrow is nearly as abundant as the song sparrow. It eats quantities of grasshoppers and beetles and weed-seeds. The English sparrow was introduced into the United States in 1850 for the purpose of destroying cankerworms and other insects just then becoming numerous. At first it was received with delight. A very short time, however, showed conclusively that it did more harm than good, and now every locality has its "sparrow problem." The charges against the English sparrow are serious. An investigation in Illinois showed that out of twenty-five stomachs of English sparrows at a time when 30 per cent of the food of the robin, 30 per cent of the food of the catbird, and 90 per cent of that of the bluebird consisted of insects, no insects were found in these sparrows, excepting traces of grasshoppers making perhaps 6 per cent of the food. However, during the first sixteen days of the nestlings' life, 40 per cent of the food consists of caterpillars, 10 per cent of beetles, and 40 per cent of small grains. This is perhaps the best that can be said for the English sparrow. It is so pugnacious that it has driven most of the bluebirds, wrens, and purple martins from the towns, while they themselves do not eat the insects that these birds would eat. Organized warfare against them has been more or leas successful. But to allow the public in general to attempt destroying the nests, poisoning them or shooting them, is running a great risk in the use of guns and poison: and to offer prices for their nests and eggs is sure to result in the destruction of many nests of valuable sparrows. This work should be done systematically by specially appointed persons at the public expense. In some European cities, there is an official known as the "Sparrow Warden," whose duty it is to proceed energetically against the sparrows.
The house finch, or linnet, has been the source of much complaint on the part of the fruit-growers of California, so that the investigations of the Biological Survey were of great interest. It appears that its claim to protection is in its enormous consumption of the seeds of weeds, as well as for its esthetic value,—for it certainly is a trim little bird and a good singer. Inasmuch as the linnet's food has been proved to be 86.2 per cent weed-seeds, and since examination of the contents of many stomachs shows that fruit is far from being its principal article of of diet, many Californians protect the bird and plant shrubs and trees , to attract them away from the fruit. These birds are fond of elderberries and many other wild fruits. The cedar waxwings or cherry- birds (Fig. 572), go in small flocks in search of food. Their fondness for cedar berries has given them their name, although they have a wide range of food. In early summer they feed almost exclusively on insects and become expert flycatchers. Unfortunately, they have a bad reputation among fruit- growers because of their fondness for cherries. It has been shown, however, that they abundantly pay for the cherries taken. From an orchard infested with canker-worms, the stomachs of seven cedar-birds were examined, all of which were full of worms, averaging 100 to each. It was estimated that this flock would destroy 90,000 of the pests if they stayed in the orchard a month, At Washington, 152 stomachs of cedar-birds were examined showing that 74 per cent of the food consisted of wild fruits, 13 per cent of cultivated fruits, 5 per cent of which was cherries. The remainder consisted of grasshoppers, bark-lice, and beetles, among them the elm-leaf beetle.
The Carolina wren adapts itself to civilized conditions, and often nests about houses and farm buildings, as well as in old logs and tree-trunks. It is an eminently useful species, destroying great numbers of beetles, ants, weevils, especially the boll-weevil, which it destroys during its period of hibernation. Like its relative, the house wren, it may be attracted by nesting-houses. It is not migratory and may be heard all the year round from the Gulf north to Connecticut and Illinois. The house wren (Fig. 573) will occupy almost any little box, provided it be water-tight. The English sparrow will do its best to drive the wren away, but with a small opening the wren is safe and will usually win in the contest. The diet of the wren is mainly insectivorous, consisting of grasshoppers, ants, beetles, grubs, spiders, and hairy caterpillars. Many a fruit tree has been saved from the ravages of the tussock moth caterpillar by a family of wrens in the vicinity. Wrens gather spiders egg-sacs full of eggs, putting them inside the house on the wall, ready for the first meal of the young birds.
The catbird (Fig. 574) is fond of fruit. The robin is often blamed for the deeds of the catbird. Inasmuch as the nestlings eat 95 per cent animal food, mainly insects and spiders, it is far better to plant fruit trees especially for the catbirds than to destroy them on account of their fruit-eating habits. In case of insect outbreaks, the catbird attacks gypsy, brown-tail, canker-worm, and tent-caterpillars. The attacks that the Baltimore oriole makes on the cherries, grapes, and the pea-pods, are more than paid for by its destruction of insects.
Tent-caterpillars and other hairy larvae that many other birds will not touch are eagerly eaten by it. The oriole does not swallow the whole caterpillar, but carefully removes a small portion of the inside. The orchard oriole is a related bird. Investigations in the cotton fields of Texas and Louisiana show that nearly a third of the specimens examined contained remains of the cot ton-boll-wee vil. Like the Baltimore oriole, it is mainly insectivorous in its diet and destroys a great many injurious species.
Blackbirds are of several kinds. The purple grackle and the bronzed grackle are together known as crow blackbirds (Fig. 575). Their food has been thoroughly studied. An examination of 2,258 stomachs showed that corn is consumed every month. At the same time, were found insects, spiders, myriapods, crawfish, earthworms, row-bugs, hairsnakes, snails, fishes, tree-toads, salamanders, lizards, snakes, birds' eggs, and mice. Of the 45 per cent of animal food, 46 per cent consisted of insects. Of these, beetles were present in the greatest numbers. Many stomachs were crammed with large white beetle grubs. Often more than thirty grasshoppers were found in a single bird. Young blackbirds arc fed on insect food entirely. They flock to caterpillar outbreaks. Many cases are reported in which fields have been entirely freed of sudden growths of grasshoppers and crickets. The red-winged blackbird has a bad reputation and is unprotected in many states. These birds appear early in the spring and remain late in the fall. They feed their young on insect food. Examinations of the stomach contents of the adults show that about seven-eighths of the red-wing's diet is made up of noxious insects and weed-seeds. The slaughter of blackbirds that occurred in the West during the twelve years previous to 1877 was in reality a national loss. The cowbird was named from its habit of accompanying the cattle and eagerly picking up the insects which are started up as they feed. The cowbird's food habits are on the whole beneficial, since it eats many injects and weed-seeds. The fact, however, that each young cowbird is raised at the expense of several more valuable birds (by appropriating their nests) makes it too costly. Brewer's blackbird is the western representative of the eastern rusty blackbird. Examination of 146 specimens gave the following facts: (1) Grasshoppers constitute more than half of its animal food; (2) more than 88 per cent of the vegetable food is grain, which is freely eaten at all seasons, even when insects are abundant; (3) seeds of harmful weeds are eaten sparingly. On the other hand, it does not attack fruit, which is an important point in a California bird. The yellow-headed blackbird, while wintering in the South, wanders over the country in quest of scattered and wild grain, weed-seeds, various insects, grubs and worms, and does little harm. In the spring, however, the birds congregate at their nesting-haunts and supplement their insect and waste-seed diet by various grains planted by the farmer of the Great Plains, and they are deservedly regarded as a great problem. In the plowing season, they follow the plow and greedily devour the earthworms and insects turned out, also the white grub, the cockchafer, and grasshoppers, the last forming a large part of the food of the young. So far as it has gone, the published work of the Biological Survey on the food of the yellow-headed blackbird, indicates that on the whole the good done by this bird somewhat overbalances the harm.
The meadow lark destroys quantities of grasshoppers, cutworms, beetles, chinch-bugs, crane-flies, and "thousand-legs," where it takes only a few useful insects and a little scattered grain. In summer, 99 per cent of its food consists of insects, and in winter it takes many weed-seeds.
The kingbird (bee martin) (Fig. 576) is esteemed by agriculturists for its pugnacious disposition in driving off crows and hawks. Ninety per cent of its food consists of flying insects. It belongs to the family of flycatchers, of which the phoebe, the wood pewee and the great crested flycatcher are conspicuous members. They all obtain their food on the wing, darting out frequently from some chosen limb and back again. Bee-keepers have contended that the kingbird catches and kills honey-bees. In an investigation of 281 stomachs, only fourteen contained any remains of bees, fifty in all, of which forty were drones, four were workers, and six undetermined. At the same time, nineteen robber-flies were found, which more than compensated for the four workers. It is probable that kingbirds do eat a few bees, mostly drones, but they certainly also protect bees from insects that prey upon them.
Of swallows, there are five species in Eastern North America that one may expect to see: the barn swallow, the cliff swallow, bank swallow, tree swallow, and the purple martins. All of them do valuable work in clearing the air of insects, but the horticulturist will do well to encourage especially the purple martin. It feeds largely on some of the greatest pests: rose-beetles and May- beetles, the striped cucumber-beetle, as well as house-flies and flies that trouble cattle and horses.
The blue jay (Fig. 577) has been shown by investigation to be beneficial as a rule, and that, except in cases in which it is discovered actually engaged in doing harm, it should be protected. Nearly 300 stomachs showed that the real food is composed of about 25 per cent animal matter, and about 75 per cent vegetable matter. The animal matter is chiefly insects, with a few spiders, myriapods, snails, fish, salamanders, tree frogs, mice, and birds. Remains of birds were found in only two out of 300 examined. Only three contained eggs of small birds. Apparently its nest-robbing propensities are not so general as is supposed. In August, the percentage of insects reaches 66 per cent. They prefer mast, or seeds of trees and shrubs, to corn or any other vegetable food. Corn is the only vegetable food of which the farmer suffers any loss, and here the damage is small. The California jay is a problem. Very careful and extensive investigations of the bird have resulted in the conviction that it has many more bad qualities than good. In fact, it has few redeeming virtues. Something may be said in his favor, from the esthetic side, as he is a handsome bird, and people interested in country life would no doubt miss his presence. Beal says that if they could be reduced to a fourth or a half of their present numbers, the remainder would probably do no serious harm. They eat very few insects, and destroy many eggs and young birds. They eat groin from the newly sown fields, but do not pull it up after it has sprouted, so that this is of minor importance. They are insatiable fruit thieves, not only eating enough for present need, but storing it away for future use.
The black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos are valuable to the forester, orchardist, and the farmer. They feed mainly on the medium-sized and larger caterpillars and grasshoppers, as well as many other insects. In May and June, when the tent-caterpillars are defoliating forest trees, these insects constitute half of the cuckoo's food. One stomach was so full that the bird had evidently devoured the whole tent-colony. It is impossible to over-estimate the value of the cuckoo's work. The cuckoo of Europe is a bird of very different habits.
The common crow is a subject of much dispute. In a report of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1895, the evidence for and against the crow is clearly summarized as follows: (1) Crows seriously damage the corn crop and injure other farm crops, usually to a less extent; (2) they are very destructive to the eggs and young of domesticated fowls; (3) they do incalculable damage to the eggs and young of other birds; (4) they do much harm by the distribution of seeds of poison-ivy, poison sumach, and perhaps other noxious plants; (5) they do harm by the destruction of beneficial insects. On the other hand, they do much good: (1) By the destruction of injurious insects; (2) by the destruction of mice and other rodents; (3) they are valuable occasionally as scavengers. On the whole, it seems that the crow is not to be encouraged, although it need not be altogether exterminated.
The bobolink does nothing but good while it is feeding the young, insects forming about 85 per cent of the food. No fault can be found with him in the North, although he becomes a veritable pest in the South, destroying much rice. The annual »laughter of the "rice-birds" in the South accounts for the gradual decrease in numbers in New England.
An examination of eighty-two specimens of California thrasher shows that vegetable food exceeds the animal in the proportion of 59 to 41. Since it is eminently a bird of the ground, it is surprising to find that in addition to very many beetles, caterpillars, ants and spiders, a great number of bees and wasps were found in the food, also. There were many more wasps than bees. The vegetable food consisted of fruit, poison-oak seeds, and miscellaneous material. The thrasher must be added to the list of birds that assist in the dissemination of poisonous plants. It is not probable that the thrasher will ever become a resident of the orchard.
The western tanager, like the robin, sometimes becomes a nuisance in the orchard. It breeds north of the fruit-growing sections of California, but does injury to the cherry crop on its way north during the migration period. The investigation of the Biological Survey shows that it has a fair right to protection at the hands of the farmer, and even of the orchardist. It is suggested that wild cherry trees planted around cherry orchards may attract the birds away from the fruit.
The California bush-tit has been made the subject of special study. From 353 stomachs of bush-tits collected in every month, leas than 1 per cent of the food was found to consist of fruit, and over four-fifths consisted of insects and spiders. The largest item was plant-lice, or bark-lice, or scale insects. Several stomachs were entirely filled with them. The stomachs of eight nestlings contained pupae of the codlin-moth. It would probably be difficult to find a more valuable bird than the bush-tit. The birds live in flocks nearly nine months of the year.
The black-headed grosbeak has been the subject of complaint by the Pacific coast fruit-growers, for it ie fond of figs, cherries, and berries. However, it eats many insects that cost the horticulturists much annoyance. The codlin moth, canker-worm, flower-beetles, and scale insects are among its favorites. An examination of 226 stomachs, the majority of which were collected in California, shows that during the six months of its stay in that state the bird consumes about 34 per cent of vegetable food, and 66 per cent of animal food, with a distinct preference for the black olive-scale, one of the moat destructive insects of the coast. This insect alone constitutes a fifth of the entire food. To put it graphically, the block-headed grosbeak, for every quart of fruit eaten, eats more than three pints of black olive-scales, and more than a quart of flower-beetles, besides a generous supply of canker-worms and pupae of codlin-moths.
The mourning dove has scarcely an equal as a weed -eradicator. The Biological Survey has shown that of 237 stomachs examined, over 99 per cent of the food consisted of seeds. Wheat, oats, rye, corn, barley, and buckwheat, were found in 150 of the stomachs and constituted about 32 per cent of the whole food. Three-fourths of this however, was waste grain picked up from the fields after the harvesting was over. Wheat was the favorite grain, and about the only one taken when in good condition. Corn, the second in amount, was damaged grain, taken after the harvest. The principal and almost constant diet, however, is weed-seed eaten at all seasons, constituting 64 per cent of the annual food-supply and showing little variation in any month. Three mourning doves which were examined had destroyed 23,000 prospective weeds. Yet they moved silently, and no one knew of their work.
The dickcissel, or black-throated bunting, is common in field and prairie in the Middle West, where its plaintive song gives variety to the silent days of July and August. Its food is more than half grasshoppers and crickets, and the remainder seeds of weeds and (grasses. In some localities it is known as the "little meadowlark," its color being like that of the meadowlark, even to the black locket on a breast of brilliant yellow.
The cardinal and his mate are indeed a conspicuous pair. They are known as cardinal grosbeaks, redbirds, crested redbirds, and Virginia nightingales. They are most abundant in the southern United States, although frequent records show the limit of their range to be approximately a line drawn from New York City westward to southern Nebraska, and thence south to Texas. The cardinals' food is varied, consisting of seeds of numerous plants, especially those of rank weeds and grosses. The large and powerful beak readily breaks into large seeds, as corn, wheat, rye, and oats. It eats great quantities of adult beetles, especially rose-beetles; also crickets, grasshoppers, flies and ants. It enjoys grapes, berries, mulberries, cedar-berries, preferring the wild varieties always. These habits, added to the striking beauty of its plumage and of its song, make the cardinal a great favorite.
The mockingbird is omnivorous. While investigating the feeding habit of this remarkable bird, Beal found that in fifty-two specimens 29 per cent of the food consisted of vegetable matter, of which 50 per cent was fruit. The birds' appetite for fruit and berries in some communities becomes at times so marked that many fruit-growers complain, while others plant more fruit to provide enough for both man and bird. Besides fruit and berries, its food includes the seeds of dogwood, holly, red cedar, and pokeberry. It eats a great many noxious insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, cotton-worms and Doll-weevils.
The bird pictures herewith are adapted from Farmers' Bulletin 54, U. S. Dept. Agric. on "Some Common Birds in Their Relation to Agriculture," by F. E. L. Beal. Cora A. Smith.