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WHAT BIRDS DO FOR US
MAN'S attitude toward nature reveals a long step in his evolution. Shocked now and again into sudden recognition of her power by some mighty, destructive phenomenon — an earthquake, volcanic eruption, cyclone or flood — undeveloped man of all nations, trembling with terror, purchased ease of mind only by offering sacrificial gifts to appease the wrath of imaginary gods, and then straightway relapsed into indifference. Her gentle, kindly ministrations every hour of his life, her marvelous beauties, impressed him not at all. Whenever he thought of nature it was of something mystic, beyond his comprehension, evil, terrible.
Even the matchless art of the Greeks reveals no appreciation of natural beauty beyond the glorified human physique. For all the great masters among early Christian painters, for Raphael, Michael Angelo, Correggio, the lovely, smiling Italian Eden lying around them did not exist. It was literally beneath their notice, for their sight, lifted perpetually heavenward in search of subjects, could include nothing but clouds as natural settings for their Madonnas and cherubim. Not until the last century did artists come down to earth and discover the landscape for the people. And not until the last generation has nature study, the trained observation and love of nature, the most spiritualizing of all his lessons, formed part of the American child's education.
One of our greatest religious thinkers has recently set himself the task of getting acquainted with the trees, birds and wild flowers around his summer home. "When I was a boy," he says, half apologetically, "we never noticed these things. The good people fixed their thoughts so steadfastly on the next world, they quite overlooked this. We left nature unread then, thinking that everything worth knowing had to be studied out of lesson books. And the idea of knowledge that obtained in a New England academy was almost mediæval. It bore almost no relation to the people's daily lives. Where nearly the entire population earned a living from the soil, absolutely nothing was done toward making the people understand it and love it. Is it any wonder that farming meant failure so often and that the ambitious young people rushed madly toward the cities? We are only just learning to enjoy nature, to open our blind eyes and see the world around us, to stop destroying and preserve the beneficent gifts lavished upon us, to utilize them intelligently, which is to agree with our Creator that His creation is good."
A NEW THING UNDER THE SUN
In the quite sudden popular interest in nature recently manifest, birds have come in for, perhaps, the lion's share of attention. Unlike most movements, this is an absolutely new one in the history of the world, not a revival. One might have thought that so intensely practical a people as the Americans would have taken up economic ornithology first of all, have learned with scientific certainty which birds are too destructive for survival and which so valuable that every measure ought to be taken to preserve and increase them. In reality this has been the last aspect of the subject to receive attention. First came the classifiers — Wilson, Audubon, Baird, and Nuttall — the pioneers in systematic bird study. Thoreau was as a voice crying in the wilderness. His books lay in piles on the attic floor, unsold many years after his death. It remained for John Burroughs to awaken the popular enthusiasm for out-of-door life generally and for birds particularly, which is one of the signs of our times.
An abandoned farm in New England
Among the first acts passed in the Colonies were bounty laws, not only offering rewards for the heads of certain birds that were condemned without fair trial, but imposing fixed fines upon the farmer who did not kill his quota each year. Of course every man and boy carried a gun. The bounty system did much to foster the popular notion that everything in feathers is a legitimate target. Thus it is that
"The evil that birds do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones."
For two centuries and a half this systematic destruction of birds, which blundered ignorantly along in every colony, state and territory, resulted in a loss to our agriculture whose colossal aggregate would "stagger humanity" if, indeed, our minds could grasp the estimated figures in dollars and cents. Men now living among us were absolutely the first to study the food of any one species of bird through an entire year and in various sections of the country, and to pass scientific judgment upon it only after laboratory tests of the contents of its stomach, — that final court of appeal. Through pressure brought to bear upon Congress by the American Ornithologists' Union, the Department of Agriculture was authorized in 1885 to spend a ridiculously small sum to learn the positive economic value of birds to us, a branch of scientific research now included under the Division of Biological Survey. Until that year all the scientific work that was done in this line could have been recorded in a very small volume indeed.
A GENERAL WHITEWASHING
As might have been expected, when the white search-light of science beats upon the birds, none, not even the crow, appears as black as he has been painted. Only a few culprits among the hawks and owls, and only one little sinner not a bird of prey, stand convicted and condemned to die. When it came to a verdict on the English sparrow, after the most thorough and impartial trial any bird ever received, every thumb, alas ! was turned down. But having proven itself fittest to survive in the struggle for existence after ages of competition with the birds of the Old World, being obedient to nature's great law, it will defy man's legislation to exterminate it. Toilers in our over -populated cities, children of the slums, see at least one bird that is not afraid to live among them the year around.
A much maligned ally of the farmer - the Red-shouldered Hawk
One of the first
good effects of the Government's scientific investigation of birds, and the
consequent whitewashing of bird characters that ensued, was the withdrawal of
bounties by many states. Pennsylvania, for instance, woke up to realize that
her notorious "scalp act" had lost her farmers many millions of
dollars through the ravages of field mice, because the wholesale slaughter of
all hawks and owls, regardless of their food and habits, had been systematically
encouraged. A little knowledge on the part of legislators, backed by an immense
amount of popular ignorance and prejudice against all of the so-called birds of
prey, proved to be a very dangerous thing. Even better than the withdrawal of
bounties is the action taken by many states to protect the birds. Instead of
laying stress upon only the apparent evil in nature, as undeveloped pagans did,
we are at last putting the emphasis where it rightly belongs, — upon the good.
THE PARTITION OF APPETITES
Whoever takes any notice of the birds about us cannot fail to be impressed with the regulation of that department of nature's housekeeping entrusted to them. The labor is so adjusted as to give to each class of birds duties as distinct as a cook's from a chambermaid's. One class of tireless workers is bidden to sweep the air and keep down the very small gauzy-winged pests such as mosquitoes, gnats, and midges. Swallows dart and skim above shallow water, fields, and marshes; purple martins circle about our gardens; swifts around the roofs of our houses, night-hawks and whippoorwills through the open country, all plying the air for hours at a time. Some, which fly with their mouths open, need not pause a moment for refreshments.
On distended upper branches, preferably dead ones, on fence rails, posts, roofs, gables and other points of vantage where no foliage can impede their aerial sallies, sit kingbirds, pewees, phoebes, and kindred dusky, inconspicuous flycatchers, ready to launch off into the air the second an insect heaves in sight, snap it up with the click of a satisfied beak, then return to their favorite look-out and patiently wait for another. This class of birds keeps down the larger flying insects. For generations the kingbird has been condemned as a destroyer of bees. Rigid investigation proves that he eats very few indeed, and those mostly drones. On the contrary, he destroys immense numbers of robber-flies or bee-killers, one of the worst enemies the bee farmer has. The mere fact that the kingbird has been seen so commonly around apiaries was counted sufficient circumstantial evidence to condemn him in this land of liberty. But after a fair trial it was found that ninety per cent of his food consists of insects chiefly injurious: robber-flies, horse-flies, rose chafers, clover weevils, grasshoppers, and orchard beetles among others.
THE CARE OF FOLIAGE
To such birds as haunt the terminal twigs of trees and shrubbery — the warbler tribe and the vireos, chiefly — was assigned the duty of cleaning the foliage on the ends of the branches, where many kinds of insects deposit their eggs that their young may have the freshest, tenderest leaves to feed upon. Some few warblers, in the great family, confine their labors to the ground and undergrowth, it is true, and a few others pick their living out of the trunks of trees, but they are the exceptions which prove the rule. Countless millions of larva, plant lice, ants, canker-worms, leaf-hoppers, flies, and the smaller caterpillars go to supply the tireless energy of these charming little visitors each time they migrate through our neighborhood. Generally speaking, the vireos, or greenlets, are less nervous and more deliberate and thorough in their search than the warblers. Cocking their heads to one side, they scrutinize the under half of the leaves where insects have sought protection from just such sharp eyes as theirs, as well from rain and sun. After a warbler has snatched a hasty lunch in any given place, the vireo can follow him and find a square meal to be enjoyed at leisure.
Parasites on Caterpillar host. What the vireo sees under a leaf
But vireos and warblers, which are smaller than sparrows, however efficient as destroyers of the lesser insects, would be powerless to grapple with the larger pests found in the same places. Accordingly, another gang of larger feathered workers helps take care of the foliage for that most thorough of housekeepers, Dame Nature. Hidden among the foliage of trees and shrubbery, an immense army of feathered workers — many of our most beautiful birds and finest songsters among them — serve her without hire, and during longer working hours than any trades-union songsters would allow. Thrushes, bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds, orioles, catbirds, thrashers, wrens, and tanagers — these and many others keep up a lively insect hunt throughout a long sojourn among us, coming when the first insects emerge in the spring and not wholly giving up the chase until the last die or become dormant with the coming of winter. What could a little warbler do with tent caterpillars, for example? But slim, large cuckoos glide among the leafy branches and count themselves lucky to enter a neighborhood infested by them. The sudden appearance of a new insect pest often attracts large numbers of birds not commonly seen in the neighborhood. If dead or mutilated larvæ of tent caterpillars are seen near the torn tent it was probably opened by an oriole, for the cuckoo does his work more thoroughly, leaving no remains. The black-billed cuckoo has been an invaluable ally of the farmers in their herculean task of destroying the gypsy moth, an alarming pest which, although only recently introduced from Europe, has already laid waste large sections of New England. The stomach of a single yellow-billed cuckoo examined contained two hundred and seventeen fall web- worms! Hairs have been considered a means of protection adopted by many caterpillars. Most birds will not touch the hairy kind. But cuckoos are not so fastidious. The walls of their stomachs are some times as closely coated with hairs as a gentleman's beaver hat. Caterpillars are also the most important item on the Baltimore oriole's bill of fare, of which eighty-three per cent is insect food gleaned among the foliage of trees. Click beetles, which infest every kind of cultivated plant, and their larvæ, known as wire-worms, destroy millions of dollars' worth of farm produce every year. Now, there are over five hundred species of them in North America, and the oriole, which eats them as a staple and demolishes very many other kinds of beetles, wasps, bugs, plant-lice, craneflies, grasshoppers, locusts, and spiders, should win opinions as golden as his feathers for this benefaction alone. It has been said that were all the insects to perish, all the flowers would perish too, which is not half so true as that were all the birds to perish men would speedily follow them. At the end of ten years the insects, unchecked, would have eaten every green thing off the earth!
A feast of tent caterpillars for the cuckoo
"Most birds will not touch the hairy kind"
An important item on the Baltimore Oriole's bill of fare
THE BIRDS THAT HAVE CHARGE OF THE BARK
For obvious reasons, then, many crawling insects hide themselves under the scaly bark of trees or in holes laboriously tunneled in decaying wood; others deposit their eggs in such secret places. When they die a natural death at the close of summer it is with the happy delusion that the next generation of their species, sleeping in embryo, is perfectly safe. But see how long it takes a woodpecker to eat a hundred insect eggs and empty a burrow of every grub in it! Inspecting each crevice where moth or beetle might lay her eggs, he works his way around a tree from bottom to top, now stopping to listen for the stirring of a borer under the smooth, innocent-looking bark, now tapping at a suspicious point and quickly drilling a hole where there is a prospect of heading off his victim. Using his bill as a chisel and mallet and his long tongue as a barbed spear to draw the grub from its nethermost hiding place, he lets nothing escape him. Boring beetles, tree-boring caterpillars, timber ants, and other insects which are inaccessible to other birds, must yield their reluctant bodies to that merciless barbed tongue. Our little friend downy and the hairy woodpecker, the most beneficial members of the family, the flicker that descends to the ground to eat ants, the red-headed woodpecker that intersperses his diet with grasshoppers, even the much-maligned sapsucker that pays for his intemperate drinks of freshly drawn sap by eating ants, grasshoppers, flies, wasps, bugs, and beetles, — to these common woodpeckers and to their less neighborly kin, more than to any other agency, we owe the preservation of our timber from hordes of destructive insects.
Preservers of timber: Downy Woodpeckers
But acknowledgment of this deep obligation must not cause us to overlook the nuthatches, brown creepers, chickadees, kinglets, and such other helpers that keep up quite as tireless a search for insects on the tree trunks and larger limbs as the more perfectly equipped woodpeckers. "In a single day a chickadee will sometimes eat more than four hundred eggs of the apple plant-louse," says Professor Clarence Moores Weed, "while throughout the winter one will destroy an immense number of the eggs of the canker-worm."
CARETAKERS OF THE GROUND FLOOR
Hidden in the grasses at the foot of the trees, among the undergrowth of woodland borders, under the carpet of last year's leaves, and buried in the ground itself, are insect enemies whose name is legion. Among the worst of them are the white grubs — the larvæ of May beetles or June bugs — and the wireworms which attack the roots of grasses and the farmers' grain; the maggots of crane-flies which do their fatal work under cover of darkness in the soil; root- and crown-borers which destroy annually fields of timothy, clover, and herds-grass; grasshoppers, locusts, chinch bugs, cutworms and army worms that have ruined crops enough to pay the national debt many times over.
But what a hungry feathered army rushes to their attack! And how much larger would that army have been if, in our blind stupidity or ignorance, we had not killed off billions of members of it!
Some habitual fruit- or seed-eating birds of the trees descend to the ground at certain seasons, or when an insect plague appears, changing their diet to suit nature's special need; others "lay low" the year around, waging a perpetual insect war. First in that war stands the meadow-lark. It is estimated that every meadow-lark is worth over one dollar a year to the farmers, if only in consideration of the grasshoppers it destroys; and as insects constitute seventy-three per cent of its diet, the remainder being seeds of weeds chiefly, the farmer might as well draw money out of the bank and throw it in the sea as to allow the meadow-lark to be shot; yet it has long been classed among game birds — a target for gunners.
An appetizing dinner
"The average annual loss which the chinch bug causes to the United States cannot be less than twenty million dollars," says Dr. L. O. Howard, of the Department of Agriculture. "It feeds on Indian corn and on wheat and other small grains and grasses, puncturing the stalks and causing them to wilt." Incalculable numbers of this pest are eaten every season by Bob Whites, or quail, which, it will be seen, are perhaps as valuable to the American people when roaming through our grain fields as when served on toast to our epicures. Blackbirds, crows, robins, native sparrows, chewinks, oven-birds, brown thrashers, ground warblers, woodcock, grouse, plovers, and the yellow-winged woodpeckers or flickers, which feed on ants (whose chief offense is that they protect aphides or plant lice to "milk" them) — these, and many other birds contribute to our national wealth more than the wisest statistician could estimate. Many old farmers will wish at least the crow or the blackbird removed from this white list, but scientific experts have proved that the workman is worthy of his hire — that the birds which destroy enormous numbers of white grubs, army worms, cutworms and grasshoppers in the fields are as much entitled to a share of the corn as the horse that plows it or the ox that treads it out. The evil results fol lowing a disturbance of nature's nice balances rest on no scientific theories but on historic facts. Protective bird laws, which very quickly increase the insect police force, add many million dollars annually to the permanent wealth not only of such enlightened states as have adopted them, but to the country at large, for birds, like the rain, minister to the just and the unjust. And the rising generation of farmers is the first to be taught this simple economic fact!
Weeds have been defined as plants out of place, and agriculture as an everlasting war against them. What natural allies has the pestered farmer?
Happily, the sparrows and finches, among the most widely distributed, prolific and hardy of birds, are his constant co-workers, some members of their large clan being with him wherever he may live every day in the year. Nearly all, it is true, vary their diet with insects, but surely they are no less welcome on that account!
A tempting lunch - Milk-weed seeds for the finches
"Certain garden weeds produce an incredible number of seeds," says Dr. Sylvester Judd, of the Biological Survey. "A single plant of one of these species may mature as many as a hundred thousand seeds in a season, and if unchecked would produce in the spring of the third year ten billion plants." With these figures in mind, it is easy to account for the exceedingly rapid spread of certain weeds from the Old World — daisies and wild carrot, for example — of comparatively recent introduction here. The great majority of weeds being annuals, the parent plant dying after frost or one season's growth and the species living only in embryo during the remainder of the year, it follows that seed-eating birds are of enormous practical value. Even the despised English sparrows do great good as weed destroyers — almost enough to tip the scales of justice in their favor. In autumn, what noisy flocks of the little gamins settle on our lawns and clean off seeds of crab-grass, dandelion, plantain, and other upstarts in the turf! The song sparrow, the chipping sparrow, the white-throated sparrow, and the goldfinch are glad enough to follow after their English cousin and get out the dandelion seeds exposed after he cuts off several long, protecting scales of the involucre. Because of his special preference, however, the little black and yellow goldfinch, an unequaled destroyer of the composite weeds, is often called the thistle-bird. The few tender sparrows which must winter in the south are replaced in autumn by hardier relatives, whose feeding grounds at the far north are buried under snow; by juncos, snowflakes, longspurs, redpolls, grosbeaks, and siskins, all of which are busy gleaners among the plow furrows in fallow land, and the brown weed-stalks that flank the roadsides or rear themselves above the snowy fields. In enumerating the little weeders that serve us without so much as a "thank you" — and fifty different birds are on this list — we must not forget the horned lark, chewink, blackbirds, cowbird, grackles, meadow-lark, bobolink, ruffed grouse, Bob White, and the mourning dove.
Even the most sluggish birds — and some of the finch tribe have a reputation for being that — are fast livers compared with men. Their hearts beat twice as fast as ours; we should be feverish were our blood less hot; therefore, the quantity of food required to sustain such high vitality, especially in winter, is relatively enormous. A tree sparrow will eat one hundred seeds of pigeon-grass at a single meal, and a snowflake, observed in a Massachusetts garden one February morning, picked up over a thousand seeds of pigweed for breakfast.
In view of the enormous amount of work certain birds are capable of doing for the farmers, how many take any pains to secure their free services continuously; to get help from them as well as from the spraying machine and insect powder on which so much time and money are spent annually? The truth is that very few farmers indeed realize the true situation; therefore the intelligent, the obvious thing to be done is generally neglected.
How a successful peach grower in Georgia makes the purple martins work for him
One of the most successful fruit-growers in Georgia, whose luxuriant orchard and luscious peaches are famous throughout the market, entered some time ago into a systematic, business-like understanding with a number of birds whose special appetites for special insect pests make them invaluable partners. Up and down through the long avenues of trees he erected poles from twenty to thirty feet high, and from them swung gourds for the purple martins to nest in, because he has found this bird his chief ally in keeping down the curculio beetle, the most destructive foe, perhaps, the fruit-grower has to fight. Through its attack alone the value of a single peach orchard has been reduced from ten thousand dollars to nothing in three weeks! The damage this little beetle does to American fruit-growers annually amounts to many millions of dollars. Just when the martins return from the tropics, it is emerging from its winter hibernation. And when the nuptial flight of the curculio and the shot-hole borer and of the root -borer moth occurs, it ought to be obvious to every fruit-grower that he cannot have too many insectivorous birds about. Bluebirds, which readily accept invitations to nest in boxes placed on poles and trees, destroy immense numbers of insects taken from the trees, ground, and air. In the Georgia orchard referred to, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches are attracted by raw peanuts placed in the trees and scattered over the ground. Once these favorite nuts were discovered, this family of birds likewise joined the firm which, with the addition of the owner of the estate, now consists of purple martins, barn swallows, chimney-swifts, bluebirds and wrens. Of course they have numerous assistants that come and go, but these are the recognized partners, both full-fledged and juniors, with homes on the place. And all draw enormous dividends from it in that unique and happy manner which greatly increases the cash revenues of the business. Perhaps the junior partners, the fledglings, with appetites bigger than their bodies (for many eat more than their weight of food every twenty-four hours) , are of greater value than the seniors. Even seed-eating birds, as we have seen in a previous chapter, feed insects to their nestlings: an indigo bunting mother does not hesitate to ram a very large grasshopper down her very small baby's throat after she has nipped off the wings.
Junior partners: young house-wrens almost ready to earn their own living
"An Indigo Bunting mother does not hesitate to ram a large grasshopper
down her small baby's throat after she has nipped off the wings"
PARTNERSHIPS IN NATURE
Just as many insects have resorted to curious and ingenious devices to avoid the birds' attention, so many trees, shrubs, and plants, with ends of their own to be gained, take great pains to attract it. Some insects mimic with their coloring that of their surroundings: one must look sharp be‑ fore discovering the glaucous green worm on the glaucous green nasturtium leaf. Some, like the milkweed butterfly, secrete disagreeable juices to repel the birds, and other butterflies, which secrete none, fool their foes by bearing a superficial resemblance to it. Others, like the walking-stick, assume a form that can scarcely be distinguished from the objects it frequents. With what pains does the caterpillar draw together the edges of a leaf and hide within it, sleeping until ready to emerge into its winged stage, if by chance a pair of sharp eyes does not discover it at the beginning of its nap, and a sharper beak tear it ruthlessly from the snug cradle! Children who gather cocoons in the autumn are often disappointed to find so many already empty. They forget that. thousands of hungry migrants have been out hunting every morning before they left their beds. No cradle yet woven is too tough for some bird to tear open for the luscious, fat morsel within. To the Baltimore oriole looking for a dinner, the strong cocoon of the great cecropia moth yields one as readily as another; and I have watched an orchard oriole that brought her young family to feast in a tamarix bush in the garden, pick forty-seven basket-worms from their cleverly concealed baskets in fifteen minutes.
A slim enough dinner far any bird that discovers it - The walking-stick
"For how much of earth's beauty are not birds, the seed carriers, responsible!"
Cedar bird in wild-grape vine
But how the bright berries, hanging on the dogwood, mountain ash, pokeweed, choke-cherry, shadbush, partridge vine, wintergreen, bittersweet, juniper, Virginia creeper, and black alder, cry aloud to every passing bird, "EAT ME," like Alice's marmalade in Wonderland! Many plants depend as certainly on the birds to distribute their seeds as on bees and other insects to transfer the pollen of their flowers. It is said that the cuckoo-pint or spotted arum of Europe, a relative of our jack-in-the-pulpit, actually poisons her messengers carrying seed, because the decaying flesh of the dead birds affords the most nourishing food for her seed to germinate in. Happily we have no such cannibalistic pest here. Our wild trees, shrubbery, plants, and vines are honorable partners of the birds. They feed them royally, asking in return only that the undigested seeds or kernels which pass through the alimentary canal uninjured may be dropped far away from the parent plant, to found new colonies. For how much of the earth's beauty are not birds, the seed-carriers, responsible!
The cecropia moth's large, strong cocoon
must likewise yield its contents to the oriole
Up-to-date-farmers who wish to protect their cultivated fruits have learned that birds actually have the poor taste to prefer wild ones, and so they plant them on the outskirts of the farm, along walls and fences. They have also learned that many birds puncture grapes and drink fruit juice simply because they are thirsty. Pans kept filled with fresh water compete successfully with the grape arbor.
SAINTS AND SINNERS
Hawks and owls may be so labeled, yet it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince some people that there is a saint in the group. There is an instinctive popular hatred of every bird of prey, — a hatred so unreasoning and unrelenting that it is well-nigh impossible to secure legislation to protect some of the farmers' most beneficial friends. After condemning the duck hawk for its villainies upon our wild water-fowl, and that powerful brigand, the goshawk, for audaciously carrying off full-grown poultry, ruffed grouse and rabbits, and Cooper's hawk, a deep-dyed chicken stealer, whose aggregate misdeeds are greater than any others (simply because his species is the most numerous), and his smaller prototype, the sharp-shinned hawk for destroying little chickens and song-birds, Dr. Fisher, who made an exhaustive study of hawks and owls for the Government, recommends clemency toward all the others. He investigated forty birds of prey found within our borders.
A Self-constituted Health Department: Vultures feeding on carrion
"It would be just as rational to take the standard for the human race from highwaymen and pirates as to judge all hawks by the deeds of a few," he says. "Even when the industrious hawks are observed beating tirelessly back and forth over the harvest fields and meadows, or the owls are seen at dark flying silently about the nurseries and orchards, busily engaged in hunting the voracious rodents which destroy alike the grain, produce, young trees, and eggs of birds, the curses of the majority of farmers and sportsmen go with them, and their total extinction would be welcomed. How often are the services to man misunderstood through ignorance! The birds of prey, the majority of which labor day and night to destroy the enemies of the husbandman, are persecuted unceasingly, while that gigantic fraud — the house cat — is petted and fed and given a secure shelter from which it may emerge to spread destruction among the feathered tribe. The difference between the two can be summed up in a few words: Only three or four birds of prey hunt birds when they can procure rodents for food, while a cat seldom touches mice if she can procure birds or young poultry. A cat has been known to kill twenty young chickens in a day, which is more than most raptorial birds destroy in a lifetime."
A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the horned owl
Hawks and owls admirably supplement each other's work. One group hunts while the other sleeps. The owls usually remain in a chosen neighborhood through the winter, while the hawks go south. We are never left unprotected. In consideration of the overwhelming amount of good these unthanked friends do us, can we not afford to be to their faults a little blind?
A VOLUNTEER HEALTH DEPARTMENT
In the southern states, Cuba, and the adjacent islands, the great dark vultures that go sailing high in air express the very poetry of motion; but surely their terrestrial habits have to do with the very prose of existence, for self-constituted health officers are they, scavengers of the fields, that rid them of putrefying animal matter. Instead of burying a dead chicken, dog, cat, or even a large domestic animal, the easy-going Negro lets it lie where it dropped, knowing full well that before it becomes offensive the vultures will have begun to feed upon it. In some of the smaller cities the vultures mingle freely with the loungers about the market-place, gorging upon the refuse thrown about for the only street cleaners in sight. Where robins, woodpeckers, and many species of small song-birds are so lightly regarded as to be killed in shocking quantities and not always for food, the vultures are carefully protected by the Southern people, who, not yet realizing the greater value of insectivorous birds to the farmer, do nevertheless know enough to throw the arm of the law around their feathered scavengers.
Sea gulls in the wake of a garbage scow cleansing New York harbor of floating refuse
As if enough services that birds render us had not already been enumerated in this list, — which is merely suggestive and very far indeed from being complete, — the birds that rid our beaches of putrefying rubbish must not be forgotten. While several sea and beach birds share this task, it is to the gulls that we are chiefly indebted. In the wake of garbage scows that put out to deep water from the harbors of the seacoast and Great Lakes where our large cities are situated, and following the ocean liners for the food thrown overboard from the ship's galleys; or resting in the estuaries of the larger rivers where the refuse floats down toward the tide, flocks of strong-winged gulls may be seen hovering about with an eye intently fastened on every floating speck. Enormous feeders, gulls and terns cleanse the waters as vultures do the land. Millions of these graceful birds that enliven the dullest marine picture have been sacrificed for no more worthy end than to rest entire or in mutilated sections on women's hats! But now that the people begin to understand what birds do for us, a happier day is dawning for them all.