IV. THE GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN
Do you know another bird with a black and golden crest,
And a suit of olive green that is edged with brownish gray?
There is white upon his forehead, and theres white upon his breast,
For he loves the gayest colors, and he wears them every day.
This beautiful golden-crested wren is often found in winter upon evergreen trees, such as the spruce, the cedar, and the pine.
He is generally in search of the larval insects that lie hidden away under the scales of the evergreen cones; and he may always be known by his fine, golden crest.
The body of the golden-crested wren is fully four inches in length, and his mate is very nearly the same size.
She likes to build her nest upon the leafy branch
of an oak; but sometimes it may be found upon the bough of a fir tree.
The little, round nest of this wren is very neatly made. It is covered entirely over with moss; but there is a small hole at the side of the nest for an entrance. It is lined with soft down, and within it the mother wren lays from six to eight pure white eggs, specked with red.
V. THE BROWN CREEPER
Do you know the little creeper, in his garb of reddish brown,
Having narrow bands of white upon his earlaps and his crown?
With the feathers of his tail finely edged with brownish yellow,
And a vest of silky white,do you know this dapper fellow?
He is another boon companion of the chickadee; and he is well named, as you would say, could you see him creeping round and round a tree, in his journey toward the top.192
The truth is, he finds so many good places on the way to lunch at, that he can not well pass them by; for the bark of the tree is filled with choice dainties.
And very often this bird will build a nest between a piece of loose bark and the body of the tree, where he can have a well-spread table always at hand.
His mate lays six small, grayish eggs, spotted with light brown; and the baby creepers that are hatched from them very quickly learn the ways of their parents, and travel up and down the tree as soon as they can leave the nest.
VI. THE DOWNY WOODPECKER
Do you know a little bird that in mourning shades is dressed,
Black and white upon his wings, black and white upon his head
Underneath, a bib of white on his pretty throat and breast;
While above, upon his nape, gleams a shining bow of red?
This is the suit that the downy woodpecker wears, and his mate is clad in about the same style, except that she does not wear the flaming red ribbon on her neck.193
These birds are fit companions for the others that I have told you about, for they do not seem to mind the cold weather in the least.
Both the male and the female are carpenters by trade; so they will not content themselves with a deserted nest. They build a snug little home of their own.
They generally select a fruit tree of some sort, and they seem to like a cherry tree as well as any.
The male begins the work by cutting a round hole in the body of the tree with his strong bill; and when his good little mate sees that he is getting tired, she turns in and helps him.
They build a roomy nest, sometimes a foot or more in depth, and leave the door of the house just wide enough for each of them to pass in.
Like all carpenters, they make a good many chips; and these they carry away, and then scatter them at quite a distance from the tree so that no one will find out where their nest is hidden.
The bottom of the hole is made very smooth, and upon this, six pure white eggs are laid. This curious house is very neat and comfortable, but the dear little builders are not always permitted to enjoy it, as you will see.
For now I am obliged to tell you something very bad about the house wrens.
These birds will often watch the little woodpeckers till they have made quite a large hole in the body of a tree; and then they will drive them away from it, and take possession themselves.
The poor little birds fight for it as long as they are able, but they are finally forced to give it up.
I am very sure that their little friends, the chickadees, would help them defend it if they could; for they are not mere summer friends, as you have already learned.
Do you know the house wren and his mate?
They are small birds, having a body not over five inches in length from the point of the beak to the tip of the tail.
You would hardly believe that such little creatures could rob other birds of their nests, would you?
But the house wren does not belong to our list of winter friends, although he has a cousin, called the winter wren, that remains with us through all the long, cold winter.
The body of this little bird is hardly four inches in length. He is dressed in a plain, dark-brown suit, having a few black lines across the back; and these lines are touched here and there with dull white. Besides this, there are a few other small spots of white upon his body. In his tail, which is short and erect, there are twelve feathers.
These birds may often be seen about the dooryard, or flying about the barn and outhouses, in search of crumbs, larvæ, or anything that will keep them alive through the cold months of the winter; and however hungry they may be, they keep up a cheerful twitter through it all.
Now I have made you acquainted with only a very few of the little birds that stay with us during the winter months. But all of these are our friends; for they help us destroy the worms and insects that infest our gardens and orchards.
And should they come hopping about your door when the boughs are withered and bare, and the fields are covered with snow, I am very sure that you will not drive them away.
I. THE RUFFED GROUSE
It is midwinter, and the earth is covered all over with a counterpane of snow.
The silvery rills and streamlets glide along between their flowery banks no more; for they are locked up in strong, icy fetters, and Jack Frost carries the key.
Here and there a clump of weeds or grasses rises above the drifted snow, and a few frozen apples hang from the leafless boughs. But the birds with their keen eyes have spied the tops of the weeds, and they are going to make the most of them.
Here is a hungry fellow, clad in modest brown, with flecks of a lighter shade upon his raiment. In his broad tail there are eighteen reddish-brown feathers, tipped with gray.
He combs his hair straight back from his forehead, and wears a dark-colored ruff of broad feathers around his neck.
When he has plenty to eat he is a large, fine-looking fellow; but what a lean and bony creature he is now! He can find no insects, no ripe leaves, and no rich, oily seeds such as he feeds upon in summer time.
So he picks up whatever he can find, with a thankful heart, and only wishes he could get more.
When spring returns, he will sit upon the trunk of a fallen tree, and drum loudly with his wings; while his mate will find a close thicket of bushes and there she will make her nest.
This nest will be built of loose leaves, and within it she will lay from eight to twelve large, yellowish-white eggs. When her young ones are hatched out, she will lead them from place to place, where they can find plenty of berries and tender buds to eat; and if she fears any danger, she will give a loud cluck, in the same way that a mother hen calls to her chickens.
Then every one of the brood will hide from sight, in an instant, and it will be impossible to find them.
The name of this bird is the ruffed grouse, although it is often called a partridge.
What do you suppose happened to some birds of this kind a few days ago? There came a dreary, stormy night, and the poor things had nowhere to sleep, so they made their bed in a deep snowdrift, thinking that it would keep them warm.
And so it might have done; but it rained during the night, and froze to a sheet of ice, and there were the helpless creatures locked within their bedrooms behind a strong, icy door! Was not that pitiful?
Now the very next time that you wish yourself a bird, with nothing to do but to fly from tree to tree, remember how much your feathered friends often suffer with cold and hunger outside, while you have comfort and warmth within.
II. THE WOOD MOUSE
Here are some tiny tracks that wind in and out among the forest trees, making little zigzag lines upon the surface of the snow.
At the foot of some of these trees, and sometimes higher up in the trunk, there are deep holes; and here the wood mice have stored away nuts and other choice tidbits for winter use.
How much wiser of you, little white foot, had you put your goodies all in one place; for see, there are large tracks mixed up with yours, and I greatly fear that you will find some of your storehouses empty.
It is a very easy thing to select the nuts that you have tried to crack, because you make such bad work of getting at the kernel.
If you were sharp, you would not gnaw a hole at both ends of the hard shell; there is no use in doing that. You had better watch the squirreland for more reasons than one.
He knows enough to gnaw a hole at the large end, then he can turn the shell upside down and let the kernel drop out.
But it will soon make very little difference to you; for there is a mottled owl in that tree yonder, and nothing can please him better than an
early breakfast of field mice. He can wait, for he wears his thick, tufted ear muffs, and he does not mind the cold weather at all.
III. THE CHIPMUNK
The chipmunk leaves his tracks on this snowy counterpane, too; but there are not very many of them, for his barrels and bins are pretty full, and he has no need to browse around in the winter for something to eat. He is too good a provider for that.
His home is built down deep in the ground, with a strong stone wall at his door, so that no robber can get in and molest him.
But whenever there comes a warm springlike day, he seems to find it out at once, and up he comes to see what is going on above ground.
Here he is now, whisking his round, narrow tail, and scampering lightly about upon the crusted snow, as happy as a boy on skates.
His eyes are large and bright; his small ears stand up erect; and he has a very pointed snout.
He is clad in a rust-colored suit, striped with black and yellowish-white lines. He wears thin black whiskers, and there is a small black spot upon his nose.
He is lively enough now; but when he first came up out of his burrow he seemed to be very glad indeed to sit still and sun himself upon that old maple stump.
But you should see the chipmunk family during the early fall; then they are all busily at work gathering nuts and other winter stores.
They have a small pouch inside of each cheek; and the nuts that they gather are carried inside of this pouch; and when the pouch can hold no more, they will take still another nut between their strong front teeth. In this way they are able to carry as many as four nuts at a time.
Once in awhile the young ones will dart off and chase one another along the fences and stone walls; but the careful mother soon calls them back with a sharp, quick chirp. This means that they must stay with her and finish their work.
Late in the fall the whole family disappear and go down into the safe burrow which they have made in the ground. They have food enough to last them till spring; and then they will come forth again, as full of fun and frolic as ever.