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CHAPTER IX

SOME NATURALIZED FOREIGNERS

FROM time to time American travelers, wishing to add some bird from the Old World to the steadily decreased ranks of our native species, have brought home with them game birds, songsters and birds presumably useful to the agriculturist, to be released in various parts of the United States. Which are these immigrants living in our midst? How have they fared? Have all proved themselves worthy of naturalization among our feathered citizens?



THE ENGLISH SPARROW

This was among the first aliens introduced, and 1850 is the earliest known date of his arrival. Then eight pairs were imported by the directors of Brooklyn Institute into their city; and, notwithstanding the fact that the sparrows' first impressions of America were formed in Greenwood Cemetery, where they were set at liberty, they went to housekeeping with great cheerfulness and that marvelous adaptability to new conditions which has made them the most successful colonists among the feathered tribes. It certainly is not because they are meek that they are inheriting the earth.

Not only did individuals continue to import sparrows for the next twenty years, and set them free at various places from Sandy Hook to Iowa — the San Francisco and other western colonies were not started until 1875 — but corporations took up the task of introducing them into cities where the measuring worms hung from every tree and dropped on every passer-by, only to be crushed under foot until the sidewalks were disgusting. Philadelphia alone imported a thousand sparrows. People benevolently disposed sent them to friends in distant states; they protected, fed, housed and coddled them. Meanwhile the birds, which needed nobody's care, being fit to survive if ever creature was, multiplied enormously, and soon escaped from the cities to towns, and from towns to villages, but always keeping near man, for a parasitical existence ever suits them best. The hardships and dangers of the wild, independent state are carefully avoided by these little tramps. By 1870 they had gained a foothold in twenty states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces. Now only Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico remain to be invaded. In an old number of the "Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences" there is an account by a local ornithologist of his visit to Madison Square to see if he could find some English Sparrows which, he had heard, might be seen there. Though written less than forty years ago, it reads like a page of ancient history.

As the "yellow peril" is to human immigration, so is this sparrow to other birds. It is true he banished the measuring caterpillar from our cities and helps destroy the seeds of crab-grass, dandelions, and other noxious weeds on our lawns; but so numerous are the charges brought against him in the Government's exhaustive report — charges that the bird lover fain would pardon, if in justice he might — that one by one his staunchest old friends are deserting him. In several wheat-growing states where his depredations on the ripened grain cost the farmers many thousands of dollars a year, a price is put upon his head. Reversing the order of Pope's epigram on vice, we first embraced, then pitied and now must endure the English sparrow. Yet had a sparrow exclusion act been suggested when the sparrow craze was at its height, it is doubtful if a single senator who lent his voice to secure the Chinese exclusion act would have given it his support. But our legislators have learned a lesson: the Lacey Act permits no one to bring a foreign bird into this country without permission from the Department of Agriculture.

Not to be confounded with the English house- sparrow is the useful and tuneful European tree-sparrow, which has been successfully acclimated after repeated failures, around St. Louis, Missouri.



AN INFLUX OF SONGSTERS

A few years before the first English sparrow came across the ocean, Thomas Woodcock, president of the Natural History Society of Brooklyn, imported, for their charm's sake, European goldfinches, linnets, bullfinches, and the skylarks, whose mottled brown coloring suggests more of earth than of heaven. It is known that the last-named species, at least, survived two winters, albeit that over-populated city of the dead, Greenwood Cemetery, seemed to be the most satisfactory asylum they could find. Possibly the little strangers wished to be personally conducted daily by American angels to sing "at heaven's gate" when "Phoebus 'gins arise." In 1853 more skylarks were liberated in Greenwood, also woodlarks, English blackbirds, and brown thrushes, the little robin red-breast — a diminutive edition of our robin — and another lot of goldfinches. Skylarks imported by other enthusiastic lovers of this heavenly minstrel were then soaring and singing above the fields around Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington, D. C., but none survived. So far as is known, the bird has become naturalized only in certain Long Island meadows, not many miles from Brooklyn, and in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon.


One of the first and most delightful European immigrants to arrive - the skylark.
(From a mounted specimen)

In the early seventies the Acclimatization Society of Cincinnati imported about twenty species of European birds, spending nearly nine thousand dollars on the four thousand individuals that were set at liberty. Unhappily that laudable experiment proved a failure. A similar society at Cambridge, Massachusetts, had better success, at least with its goldfinches, whose descendants are now found in several places in the eastern part of the state. Goldfinches released in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1878, soon found their way across the Hudson river to Central Park, New York city, where their descendants still flourish. Apparently the charming little black and yellow American goldfinches gave their less amiable European relatives a cordial welcome, for flocks seen in Bronx Park and at other points around the upper end of Manhattan Island frequently contain both species. The immigrant is a trifle larger than the native, although both are smaller than the sparrow; he has a bright red region around the base of his strong, ,harp bill; the top of his head and the sides of his neck are black, as are also his wings and tail; the former is crossed by a yellow band, the latter marked with touches of white; his back is cinnamon brown and the under parts are white, lightly washed with the same shade across the breast. May his tribe increase!


The European goldfinch now naturalized in Massachusetts and New York
(Mounted Specimen)

Neither expense nor failure seems to prevent enthusiastic bird lovers from continuing these colonization schemes, at which nature cruelly laughs so often. Three attempts to introduce the starling were made in New York before 1890, when at length success crowned the efforts of Mr. Eugene Schieffelin, who has probably paid the passage of more feathered immigrants to this country than any other American. Like the sparrow, the starling is not afraid to live in cities. It nests on the Strand, London, and early in the spring of 1902 three pairs made their home in the cornice of the building on Union Square, New York, where the publishers of this book have their offices. The clanging of cable-cars in the busy thoroughfare below, the rattle of wagons, street vendors' cries, even the steam drill and the blasting of rocks in the subway, which shook the building to its foundations, did not disturb their domestic peace. Cracked corn, crushed hemp seed, and mockingbird food, which were kept on the fire escape outside the publisher's windows, may have had something to do with their perfect content. Passers-by would look up at the sound of their unfamiliar musical whistle — two long-drawn, high, clear notes, the last a trifle higher than the first — and see an unfamiliar black bird, suggesting a grackle, but with a short, square tail, which emphasized the length and point of the wings. Seen at close range at the nesting season, the plumage is glossy black brightly shot with purple, green, and steel-blue iridescence. After the annual molt new feathers come in tipped with buff, which makes the plumage look heavily speckled at first. Gradually it is more lightly sprinkled with dots, as the markings wear off, until the bird is wholly black in time to go a-wooing. Then his bill becomes bright yellow.

With us the starling is a permanent resident. From Staten Island and the opposite New Jersey and Long Island shores up the Hudson thirty miles or more, and along the Sound as far as New Haven, Connecticut, it is slowly extending its range. Noisy broods are reared in tree hollows preferably. Seen in flight, the bird appears triangular, owing to the wide stretch of its long wings and its short tail, whereas the grackle's long steering gear is its most characteristic feature. Sailing for some little distance before alighting, the starling finally settles in large, open spaces and walks over the ground — crow fashion. On the South Downs of England I have watched it familiarly riding on the sheeps' backs, looking for pests imbedded in the fleece, or walking through the fields after the plow, devouring wholesale quantities of grubs and crawling insects. Both agriculturists and graziers count it their very useful ally, and it is so considered throughout Europe. The worst that can be said of it is that occasionally pilfers small fruits, but never so much as the robin.


Starling before his speckles have worn off.
(Mounted specimen)

With extraordinary precision, great flocks of starlings, numbering sometimes hundreds of birds, wheel around through the air, close ranks, spread out again, rise and descend, as if the regiment were a single living thing. This is their usual evening performance before settling to roost in their native land. At their present rate of increase, it will not be long before they can engage in similar manœuvers here.



WESTERN COLONIZING AGENTS

Activity in introducing foreign birds has been by no means confined to the east. Beside the group of men in St. Louis who naturalized the tree-sparrow already referred to, many individuals throughout the western states have encouraged the immigration of birds from Asia, as well as Europe. The first Mongolian and other Asiatic pheasants to reach the United States were sent to Oregon from China in 1881 by Judge O. N. Denny, formerly consul-general at Shanghai. Most of the birds died on the long voyage, only twelve males and three females reaching Portland alive. Later, about three dozen ring- necked pheasants were liberated in one place and nineteen at another. Two years after, golden and silver pheasants were placed with some ring-necks on Protection Island, near Port Townsend, Washington. While all four colonies were successful, the hardy, prolific Mongolian pheasant, as might have been expected, increased more rapidly than all the others put together. Within ten years it had overrun western Oregon, and now promises to become a common game bird if sufficiently protected.

"English pheasants," says Mr. T. S. Palmer, of the Biological Survey, "have been imported mainly in the eastern states; some were liberated near Tarrytown, New York, about thirty-five years ago; seventy-eight were turned out on Jekyl Island near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1887, and these increased to eight hundred and fifty during the following year; others were introduced into New Jersey. Since 1890 there has been widespread interest in these experiments, and pheasants (mainly Mongolian) have now been introduced into at least twenty-five states, and have increased rapidly through protection laws and the establishment of pheasantries for their propagation." Concerning the other foreign game birds, for whose naturalization many enthusiastic sportsmen have labored in vain, the painful facts are quickly told. The few sand grouse liberated in Oregon promptly disappeared. Of a large importation of Indian black partridges only three lived to reach their destination in Illinois. The black grouse, which has been liberated in Newfoundland, in Vermont and other eastern states, appears to be holding its own. Recently the capercailzie has been introduced in the Adirondacks.

Although several thousand European quail were distributed in New England and the middle states, all disappeared after a year or two. What splendid results the same amount of money and effort expended on our more desirable Bob-White, or the fast disappearing prairie-grouse, or the woodcock, for example, might have accomplished! Ought we not to be just before we are generous?

Thanks to the homesickness of the Dutch and English colonists, who had no sooner cleared the wilderness around their homes than they sent to Europe for trees, shrubs, vines, and plants from the dear old gardens left behind, our native flora was speedily enriched by valuable additions, many of which took kindly to the soil and, escaping from cultivation, became wild. And how many weed seeds stole a passage across the Atlantic with them! Perhaps the colonists longed as greatly to see the familiar birds from their old homes, too, but no one risked sending for them until steam shortened the ocean crossing. Within the last few years, a number of bird-loving Germans living in Portland, Oregon, have been doing their utmost to naturalize the songsters of the Fatherland on the Pacific slope. Owing partly to the equable climate of the Puget Sound region making migration unnecessary, their efforts are uncommonly successful. Blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, skylarks, green finches, and goldfinches have been acclimatized, and are increasing. A second attempt to introduce the nightingale and the blackcap was made early in the spring of 1902, when a large importation reached New York in safety; but, shameful to tell, the majority of them were permitted to die on the way to Oregon for want of water!



A CHASE IN MID-OCEAN

If some of these feathered travelers from Europe could write the story of their adventures and their impressions of America, what thrilling, hair-breadth escapes might be told, what a stimulating effect the "odious comparisons" might have on our lightly- enforced or non-existing bird laws! Because the birds chiefly concerned in the following tale couldn't write it, unfortunately it necessarily ends at the opening of its most interesting chapter.

In an out-of-the-way corner of London, at the back of a bird fancier's shop, where cockatoos and parrots screamed and swore at one another, dogs yelped and whined while straining at their chains, pigeons cooed their tiresome love stories all the day long, and shrill-voiced canaries tried to drown every other noise, some blackbirds and brown thrushes were seen huddled together, silent and disconsolate, in tiny, dirty cages. From the condition of their plumage it was evident that they had been caged many months.

On that bright May morning when an American visitor chanced to enter the bird shop, wild thrushes were tripping lightly and swiftly through the grass on every lawn in England with the same freedom of motion, the same alert grace that characterizes their American cousin, the robin. Sweet, bell-like notes were pealing from the throats of happy thrushes throughout merry England at that glad time of the year. In every English hedge blackbirds piped the richest of sweet songs to nesting mates hidden among the blossoming hawthorns. There are no finer songsters living than these two. The contrast afforded by the miserable, dejected thrush and blackbird prisoners in the shop was too appealingly piteous: every one — there were only twelve pairs — was purchased forthwith.

But the American visitor loved her own land too well not to take those birds home with her. Two days later they had started westward across the Atlantic, comfortably housed in large cages, which were placed in a sunny, sheltered corner of the upper deck. Their spirits quickly revived; so did their appetites, which were amazing. A sack of sand, another of crushed hemp, some patent food for soft- billed birds, garden snails, and fresh fruit from the table, kept them in perfect health.

No matter how much food was in their cages, they ate only twice a day, in the early morning and late afternoon. One evening when their guardian opened the thrushes' door to refill a drinking cup, suddenly a bird brushed past her face: a thrush had escaped! From stem to stern of that great steamer a lusty German sailor and the bereaved American pursued that little bird. After resting a moment on the moorings of a lifeboat it flew among the rigging, then down on the deck, then up on the captain's bridge, and finally took shelter from the wind and human pursuers under a piece of sail-cloth beyond reach. And the wise captain would not permit the sailor to climb after it then. "If it flies away from the ship," said he, "it is lost forever; it could never overtake us and would soon die. Wait until it goes to sleep; then the sailor may try again."

Darkness fell; the long, table d'hôte dinner of a German liner finally dragged to an end, and news of the supperless, solitary thrush under the sail-cloth was eagerly sought for. "It's too bad," said the officer on the bridge, in his kind German way. "When you were at dinner your little bird was sleeping with one eye open, it seems; he was too quick for that sailor. No; I don't know which way he flew. Maybe he went straight to sea in the dark; maybe he flew toward the stern of the ship. If so, I guess he was drawn by suction down one of those big funnels, and that ends him, sure, if he went down the one that leads to the engine-room. Never mind," he continued, trying to be consoling. "What's the use of bothering about one leetle bird?"

But the guardian, refusing to be comforted, sought the seclusion that the cabin granted, and surrendered her imagination to dismal reflections. Poor little solitary waif, beating its wings, so long unused, back and forth above the waves over an unknown sea, engulfed in darkness, straining every muscle to reach the lights on the fast disappearing vessel, only to sink at last from exhaustion into the cruel, cold sea! A sharp knock at the stateroom door startled the occupant. Without waiting for a "Come in," blonde Gustave, the room steward, threw open the door and entered, smiling, with the truant thrush safe in his hand! "It flew down the funnel into the butcher shop," said Gustave, simply. The butcher asked the officer on the bridge if a pet bird had been lost by any of the passengers. The officer said, "Yes; take it to stateroom 117."

Not a feather had been injured. That particular thrush took an extra long nap the next morning when its companions were feasting on snails, otherwise it appeared none the worse for its reckless adventures. Three days later, when the cage doors were purposely opened on the lawn of their guardian's Long Island home, thrush followed thrush with a glad cry, and blackbirds followed thrushes to the trees and freedom. Now the really interesting part of this story would properly begin.


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