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The , Cowbird has no song.
Nature seldom furnishes any creature with an instinct which would be of no service to the species. What occasion has the Cowbird for a song,
a bird that neither wooes nor marries, that would not sing lullabies to its own young ; that cares no more for one female than for another, and whose indifference is perfectly reciprocated? As well might a poet write Petrarchian sonnets who was never in love; or a practical plodder write amatory songs, who asks the members of a church whom he shall marry. There is nothing romantic in this bird's character. His love is a mere gravitation. Nature, despising his habits, has not even arrayed him in attractive plumage; for why should he have beauty when his whole species are without the sentiment that could appreciate it ? The Cowbirds are the free-love party among the feathered tribes, — the party also of communism, who would leave their offspring in others hands, that they may have leisure for æsthetic culture.
“ This species,” says Dr. Brewer, “is at all times gregarious and polygamous, never mating and never exhibiting any signs of either conjugal or parental affection. Like the Cuckoos of Europe, our Cow-Blackbird never constructs a nest of her own, and never hatches out or attempts to rear her own offspring, but imposes her eggs upon other birds; and most of them, either unconscious of the imposition or unable to rid themselves of the alien, sit upon and hatch the stranger, and in so doing virtually destroy their own offspring; for the eggs of the Cowbird are the first hatched, usually two days before the others. The nursling is much larger in size, filling up a large portion of the nest, and is insatiable in appetite, always clamoring to be fed, and receiving by far the larger share of the food brought to her nest; its foster companions, either starved or stifled, soon die, and their dead bodies are
removed, it is supposed, by the parents. They are never found near the nest, as they would be if the young CowBlackbird expelled them as does the Cuckoo; indeed, Mr. Nuttall has seen parent birds removing the dead young to a distance from the nest and there dropping them.”
In early spring no sounds attract so much attention as the unmusical notes of the Redwing-Blackbird coming to our ears from every wooded meadow. A sort of chipchip churee, mixed with many other confused and some guttural sounds, forms this remarkable chorus, which seems to be a universal chattering, hardly to be considered a song. Most of the notes are sharp, and in none could I ever detect anything like musical intonation. Sometimes they seem to chant in concert with the little piping frogs, though the sounds made by the latter are by far the most musical. Indeed, the Redwing-Blackbird never sings, though we frequently hear from a solitary individual the sound of chip-churee.
This bird, as well as the Cowbird, is a free-lover, though the females have not yet declared their rights, and their communistic prejudices are not sufficient to cause them to refuse to rear and educate their offspring. In early April assemblages of Redwings, perched upon trees standing in wet grounds, constantly chatter in merry riot, while the bright scarlet epauletted males strive to recommend themselves by music, like some awkward youth who serenades his mistress with a jewsharp. These notes seem to spring from a fulness of joy upon returning to their native swamps. The Redwings undoubtedly mate, though there is plainly no jealousy among them. Like the Otaheitans, a flock of birds has a flock of wives, the true wife being recognized above the others only while rearing their young. In this respect they differ from the gallinaceous birds, who resolutely demand exclusive possession of all the females and establish their right by might. They fight until the conqueror is left to be the sultan of the flock.
The nests of the Redwing are always suspended upon a bush or a tuft of reeds in a halt-inundated meadow. I have frequently found them in a button-bush, surrounded by water ; but they are also suspended from the perpendicular stalks of cat-tails, which encircle the nests, bound to them by the leaves of the same plant or any other fibrous material which is near at hand. The Redwing displays almost as much dexterity as the Baltimore Oriole in the construction of its nest, which is always firmly woven so that it is not easily detached from its position. It rear3 but one brood in a season. The
have a whitish ground tinged slightly with blue, and mottled with dark purple blotches irregularly distributed. The Redwings are resolute defenders of their nest and young, both parents manifesting equal anxiety and courage.
Like all our most useful birds, the Redwings are very mischievous, consuming Indian corn while it is in the inilk, and thus doing an incalculable amount of damage, especially at the South, where the species assemble in countless flocks. Alexander Wilson has seen them so numerous in Virginia during the month of January, as to resemble an immense black cloud. When they settled upon a meadow their united voices made a sound which, heard at a distance, was sublime; and when they all rose together upon the wing, the noise was like distant thunder. He took particular notice of the glitter of their epaulets, flashing from thousands of wings from this vast assemblage. At the North they are seldom numerous enough to do any extensive damage, and they are such indefatigable hunters of all those grubs that are concealel
beneath the surface of the ground, that they probably compensate in this way for all the mischief they perform.
THE PURPLE GRACKLE.
High up in the pines or firs that constitute a grove outside of any of our villages, in the latter part of April, small flocks of Purple Grackles may be seen gathered together like Rooks, and making the whole neighborhood resound with their garrulity. They are not very shy birds, seeming hardly conscious of the enmity with which they are regarded by the villagers near whose habitations they congregate. They become every year more numerous and familiar, their numbers increasing with the extension of the area of tillage. In no way is the truth of the Malthusian theory more clearly proved or more plainly illustrated than in the habits of certain species of birds. They will increase in spite of our persistent efforts to exterminate them, unless we cut down our woods and thickets to deprive them of a shelter and a home. A single model farmer or landscape-gardener may do more in the way of their extermination, by keeping his grounds nice, and clear of undergrowth, than twenty mischievous boys with guns or a dozen avaricious farmers with their nets. Birds that, like the Robin and the Grackle, all sorts of insects they can find upon the ground, will increase with their supply of insect food. If we wish to stop their multiplication, we must bury every fertilizer six feet deep
The Grackles are intelligent birds, and, though apparently not very shy, they are wise enough to build their nests in the tops of tall trees which are difficult of access, choosing an evergreen for this purpose, that they may be more safely concealed. These birds have been known to build sometimes in the hollows of trees; like
wise inside of the spire of a church and in martin-houses. Indeed, Mr. S. P. Fowler thinks that as human population increases, the Grackles are gradually assuming the habits of the English Rooks. Like the Rook, they are naturally gregarious, and as the area of agriculture is expanded, and woods afford birds less protection than formerly, they are disposed to seek artificial shelter in the vicinity of towns, that they may feed upon insect food, which in these localities is very abundant.
The Purple Grackle has, upon examination, very beautiful plumage; for its black feathers are full of various tints, changeable, according as the light falls upon thein, into violet, purple, blue, and green. We see, however, nearly all the same varying shades in the plumage of the common Cock, when it is black. They are said to consume so much corn as to seriously injure the crop wherever they exist in large numbers. Still they are so useful as to deserve not only protection, bụt encouragement, and groves in which they can nestle without disturbance should be saved for them.
Like the Redwing, they assemble in large flocks in the Southern States. According to Wilson, the magnitude of their assemblages can hardly be described. In Virginia he witnessed one of these myriad flocks settled on the banks of the Roanoke. When they arose at his approach, the noise of their wings was like distant thunder, and they completely hid from sight the fields over which they passed by the blackness of their multitudinous flocks. He thought the assemblage might contain hundreds of thousands. The depredations of such immense flocks upon the Indian-corn crop must be incalculable, since they are known to attack it in all stages of its growth, beginning as soon as it is planted.
In New England they remain only during the breedingseason, when it is a well-established fact that their whole