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Birds Every Child Should Know
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RASCALS WE MUST ADMIRE
TWO close relatives there are which, like the poor, are always with us -- the crow and the blue jay. Both are mischievous rascals, extraordinarily clever, with the most highly developed brains that any of our birds possess. Some men of science believe that, because of their brain power, they rightly belong at the head of the bird class where the thrushes now stand; but who wishes to see a family of songless rogues awarded the highest honours of the class Aves?
No bird is so well known to "every child," so admired by artists, so hated by farmers, as the crow, who flaps his leisurely way above the cornfields with a caw for friend and foe alike, not caring the least for anyone's opinion of him, good or bad. Perhaps he knows his own true worth better than the average farmer, who has persecuted him with bounty laws, shotgun, and poison for generations. The crow keeps no account of the immense numbers of grubs and larvae he picks up as he walks after the plough every spring, nor does the farmer, who nevertheless counts the corn stolen as fast as it is planted, and as fast as it ripens, you may be very sure, and puts a price on the robber's head. Yet he knows that corn, dipped in tar before it is put in the ground, will be left alone to sprout. But who is clever enough to keep the crows out of the field in autumn?
How humiliated would humans feel if they realised what these knowing birds must think of us when we set up in our cornfields the absurd-looking scares they so calmly ignore! Some crows I know ate every kernel off every ear around the scare-crow in a neighbour's field, but touched no stalk very far from it, as much as to say: "We take your dare along with your corn, Mr. Silly. If the ox that treadeth out his corn is entitled to his share of it, ought not we, who saved it from grasshoppers, cutworms, May beetles and other pests, be sharers in the profits?" Granted; but what about eating the farmer's young chickens and turkeys as well as the eggs and babies of little song birds? At times, it must be admitted, the crow's heart is certainly as dark as his feathers; he is as black as he is painted, but happily such cannibalism is apt to be rare. Strange that a bird so tenderly devoted to his own fledglings, should be so heartless to others!
Toward the end of winter, you may see a pair of crows carrying sticks and trash to the top of some tall tree in the leafless woods, and there, in this bulky cradle, almost as bulky as a squirrel's nest, they raise their family. Young crows may be easily tamed and they make interesting, but very mischievous pets. It is only when crows are nesting that they give up their social, flocking habit.
In winter, if the fields be lean, large picturesque flocks may be seen at dawn streaking across the sky to distant beaches where they feed on worms, refuse and small shellfish. More than one crow has been watched, rising in the air with a clam or a mussel in his claws, dropping it on a rock, then falling after it, as soon as the shell is smashed, to feast upon its contents. The fish crow, a distinct species, never found far inland, although not necessarily seen near water, may be distinguished from our common crow by its hoarser car. In some cases it joins its cousins on the beaches. With punctual regularity at sundown, the flocks straggle back inland to go to sleep, sometimes thousands of crows together in a single roost. Many birds have more regular meal hours and bed-time than some children seem to care for. Because crows eat almost anything they can find, and pick up a good living where other birds, more finical or less clever, would starve, they rarely need to migrate; but they are great rovers. There is not a day in the year when you could not find a crow.
This vivacious, dashing fellow, harsh-voiced and noisy, cannot be overlooked; for when a brightly coloured bird, about a foot long, roves about your neighbourhood with a troop of screaming relatives, everybody knows it. In summer he keeps quiet, but throws off all restraint in autumn. Hear him hammering at an acorn some frosty morning! How vigorous his motions, how alert and independent! His beautiful military blue, black and white feathers, and crested head, give him distinction.
He is certainly handsome. But is his beauty only skin deep? Does it cover, in reality, a multitude of sins? Shocking stories of murder in the song bird's nest have branded the blue jay with quite as bad a name as the crow's. The brains of fledglings, it has been said, are his favourite tid-bits. But happily scientists, who have turned the searchlight on his deeds, find that his sins have been very greatly exaggerated. Remains of young birds were found in only two out of nearly three hundred blue jays' stomachs analysed. Birds' eggs are more apt to be sucked by both jays and squirrels than are the nestlings to be eaten. Do you ever enjoy an egg for breakfast? Fruit, grain, thin-shelled nuts, and the larger seeds of trees and shrubs, gathered for the most part in Nature's open store-room, not in man's, are what the jay chiefly delights in; and these he hides away, squirrel-fashion, to provide for the rainy day. More than half of all his food in summer consists of insects, so you see he is then quite as useful as his cousin, the crow.
Jays are fearful teasers. How they love to chase about some poor, blinking, bewildered owl, in the daylight! Jay-jay-jay, you may hear them scream through the woods. They mimic the hawk's cry for no better reason, perhaps, than that they may laugh at the panic into which timid little birds are thrown at the terrifying sound. A pet jay I knew could whistle up the stupid house-dog, who was fooled again and again. This same jay used to carryall its beech nuts to a piazza roof., wedge them between the shingles, and open them there with ease. An interesting array of hair pins, matches, buttons, a thimble and a silver spoon were raked out of his favourite cache under the eaves.
Called also: Whiskey Jack; Moose-bird; Meat-bird
Anyone who has camped in the northern United States and over the Canadian border knows that the crow and blue jay have a rogue for a cousin in this sleek, bold thief, the Canada jay. He is a fluffy, big, gray bird, without a crest, with a white throat and forehead and black patch at the back of his neck. This rascal will walk alone or with his gang into your tent, steal your candles, matches, venison, and collar, buttons before your eyes, or help himself to the fish bait while he perches on your canoe, or laugh at you with an impudent ca-ca-ca from the mountain ash tree where he and his friends are feasting on the berries; then glide to the ground to slyly pick a trap set for mink or marten. Fortunate the trapper who, on his return, does not find either bait gone, or game damaged.
Fearless, amazingly hardy (having been hatched in zero weather), mischievous and clever to a maddening degree, this jay, like his cousins, compels admiration, although we know all three to be rogues.
Blue jay on her nest
Five little teasers get no dinner from Mamma blue jay
Not afraid of the camera: baby blue jay out for their first airing