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Our Neglected Friends the Birds

BY WALTER PRICHARD EATON

WONDER if any read- there are many more than 70,000 cats in er of this article was Massachusetts, even on the farms, and ever present when a those which live near the open, even in State legislature con the suburbs, take a toll of bird life that sidered the question of is probably in excess of ten birds a year. licensing cats. If so, he A cat belonging to a neighbor of mine, must have been im

not a farm. cat, but a pampered house pressed anew with several facts, one of puss, brought twenty-six birds to the them being that in spite of all the in veranda last summer, and I have to formation disseminated by the ornitho wage a constant warfare on half a dozen logical and biological bureaus of the sleek, well-fed house cats which daily Federal and State governments, and by try to catch birds in my garden. Doctor other ornithologists, regarding the eco Forbush is too careful and conservative. nomic value of our common birds, the The toll of bird life due to farm cats average man is still blind to the impor- alone in the single State of Massachutance of the subject. Of course, one setts is probably in excess of 1,000,000 doesn't expect a State legislator to be a year. To this huge total we must swayed by sentiment; one expects him, probably add another 1,000,000 for the rather, to yield to economic pressure! toll taken by the domestic pets and stray Yet when the question of establishing a cats and their descendants, now gone cat license, as we now have a dog li- wild.

wild. Few people have any conception cense, comes up, the only economic argu of the number of cats gone wild there ment your average legislator can see is are in our woods. on the other side. The cats catch rats in Now, undoubtedly, if cats were lithe farmer's barn. We mustn't do any censed as dogs are, and men appointed thing to lose the rural vote! The Con to dispose of the strays, there would be gressional wag makes a funny speech a great and immediate diminution of the about pretty pussy and the old maids feline population, still more noticeable coming down-town to get their licenses, in a second generation, for the females the legislative assembly titillates with would pay a higher fee. The cats which mirth, and the bill is laid on the table. remained would be those valued and It would all be rather amusing if it cared for as pets (and if a person isn't weren't so serious.

willing to pay one or two dollars a year How serious it is a very brief survey for his or her pet, his attachment isn't of the figures will show. The figures, too, very strong) or else those cats valuable may well be taken from reports by Ed as destroyers of rodents. The stray cat, ward Howe Forbush, State Ornithologist that has to hunt for a living, would be of Massachusetts, whose own legislature eliminated, as would the present excess has tabled a bill to license cats, with the of half-stray house and barn cats. usual display of Sunday-supplement hu- There would be little hardship to the

Mr. Forbush bases his figures on farmer, because a good barn cat earns the reports of over a hundred observers its license fee; and, besides, very few throughout the State. “If we assume, cats are as effective as traps, anyhow, he says, “that the average cat on the as careful experiments have again and farm kills but ten birds in a year, and again proved. Finally, an added revenue that there are but two cats on each farm would accrue to the State. in Massachusetts, we have in round But why go to all this trouble merely numbers 70,000 cats, killing 700,000 to save 2,000,000 birds a year? asks the birds annually.” As a matter of fact, sentimental cat-lover, who would rather

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have the cat than the bluebirds and in one State alone, by cats, is a serious song-sparrows, because he cannot pat a affair? If all those birds had been sparbluebird, nor dangle a string before its rows, that would mean a daily increase young

of 32,000 pounds in the number of The answer is, because the birds help weed seeds allowed to ripen, and posto maintain the balance in nature be- sibly to germinate, in Massachusetts tween destructive insects and growing alone. Of course it doesn't mean quite things, between weeds and flowers, and that, for many birds do not live on weed any serious diminution in our bird popu- seeds. On the other hand, many of lation means a serious increase in the them live on even more objectionable ranks of our insect and vegetable foes. insects and tree pests. The economic The birds are among our best and most loss is very clear and very serious. valuable friends, while the cat, artifi Here is a paragraph from the same cially bred and introduced, does not bulletin quoted above: belong to the natural scheme of things. A bluebird, a barn-swallow, a screech

It is interesting to observe that hungry owl, even a so-called "hen hawk" (which

birds—and birds are hungry most of the time scarcely touches hens at all) has a defi

are not content to fill their stomachs with

insects or seeds, but, after the stomach is nite economic value, and its protection

stuffed until it will hold no more, continue to by man from cats and other hunters, on

eat till the crop or gullet also is crammed. four legs or two, from storms and starva It is often the case that when the stomach is tion, is as useful, and some day we shall opened and the contents piled up the pile is realize as necessary, as catching rats in two or three times as large as the stomach the barn or spraying the potato-vines. was when filled. Birds may truly be said to Indeed, if every potato-field could har have healthy appetites. To show the astonbor a bevy of quail (and it could if we

ishing capacity of birds' stomachs and to re

veal the extent to which man is indebted to had not been such game-hogs in America

birds for the destruction of noxious insects, for a hundred years) there would be

the following facts are given as learned by little call for Paris green or arsenate of stomach examinations made by assistants of lead.

the Biological Survey: Again let us quote figures. There are A tree-swallow's stomach was found to plenty of them. The appeal to sentiment contain 40 entire chinch-bugs and fragments in order to save the birds is not neces of many others, besides 10 other species of The matter can be reduced to a

insects. A bank-swallow in Texas devoured sary.

68 cotton-boll weevils, one of the worst insect cold business proposition for the farmer,

pests that ever invaded the United States; or for anybody else with trees and a

and 35 cliff-swallows had taken an average garden.

of 18 boll weevils each. Two stomachs of In Farmers' Bulletin No. 513, pre pine-siskins from Haywards, California, conpared by the United States Bureau of tained 1,900 black olive scales and 300 plant Biological Survey, it is stated that at lice. A killdeer's stomach taken in Novema conservative estimate the common

ber in Texas contained over 300 mosquito

larvæ. tree-sparrow consumes a quarter of an

A ficker's stomach held 28 white ounce of weed seed a day. On this basis, grubs. A night-hawk's stomach collected in in the State of Iowa alone, the bureau

Kentucky contained 34 May-beetles, the

adult form of white grubs. Another nightestimates these sparrows consume 875 hawk from New York had eaten 24 clovertons of weed seeds. If

you
will

leaf weevils and 375 ants. Still another imagine the acres upon

night-hawk had eaten 340 grasshoppers, 52 could be sown to weeds with such bugs, 3 beetles, 2 wasps, and a spider. A a pile, and the weeks upon weeks of boat-tailed grackle from Texas had eaten at labor necessary to harrow them out, you one meal about 100 cotton-boll worms, behardly need to be told further that the sides a few other insects. A ring-necked combined sparrow family (not including pheasant's crop from Washington contained

8,000 seeds of chickweed and a dandelion the pestiferous English sparrow) proba

head. More than 72,000 seeds have been bly saved the farmers of the United

found in a single duck stomach taken in States in 1910 $89,260,000.

Louisiana in February.” Doesn't it begin to be apparent why the destruction of 2,000,000 birds a year From so brief a survey as this of the

try to acres which

actual, ascertained facts about the hab in this capacity is far up in the millions its and economic value of certain birds, of dollars. Their destruction would it should at least be apparent even to a mean a very grave disturbance of the State legislator, one would suppose, that balance of nature; and, conversely, the subject of bird protection is impor- their protection by every means in our tant, worthy of investigation, not lightly power is as much a duty as any other to be dismissed. Some day these gen form of conservation. Sentiment may tlemen will wake up, but probably not be left quite out of the question. until public opinion wakes them, in Over perhaps the worst foe of bird cluding the opinion of those most con life we have no control—the weather. A servative of God's creatures, the farm bad winter twelve years ago killed nearly ers, who for the most part are not yet all the quail in Massachusetts, for exeven dimly aware of how much they owe ample. The exceptionally deep snow of to birds and how sorely the birds need the winter of 1915-16, also, my own obprotection, need it more and more every servations lead me to believe, wrought year.

Our birds are decreasing; our great havoc among the partridges and pests are increasing; And in part, at pheasants. Storms may catch the migraleast, it is cause and effect, though the tory birds when over the water, and increased facilities of commerce have destroy them by the thousands. The been responsible for some of our worst cold, wet, late spring of 1917, in the inflictions.

Northeastern States, exacted a pathetic The limits of this article do not per toll from the warblers. These beautiful mit me to discuss at any length the little birds, of so many and bewildering harmful birds. They are relatively few varieties, are entirely insectivorous and in number, the worst being the goshawk, seem never to have learned how to eat the Cooper and sharp-shinned hawks anything else, even in times of dire (which are the only ones that seriously need. Migrating in May over a land still raid poultry, the others doing more good too cold and wet for insect life to be than harm by destroying field-mice, active, they were hard pressed, and came moles, snakes, and the like). Bobolinks into our gardens by the thousands, lookare harmful to the Southern rice-fields, ing for food in the newly turned earth. destroying as high as ten per cent. of the I often had red-starts and Blackburnians crop. Crows are neither all bad nor all hopping on my very feet as I hoed or good; they are the most human of cultivated. They not only died of starbirds! The English sparrow is an undi vation in droves, but fell, through weakluted pest because he drives out other

ness, an easy prey to cats. A cat belongand much more desirable birds, and ing to a neighbor of mine was seen to kill should always be destroyed, either by ten warblers in a single afternoon. poison, by traps, or by a gun. Knocking But, next to the elements, man is the down the nest does no good, though tak birds' chief foe--man, the cruelest of ing out the eggs every day helps. The God's creatures. Not only does he turn ro in and certain other birds sometimes his cats loose to prey, and go out himseriously raid small-fruit crops, particu- self with a gun to slaughter, but gradularly the cherry, but by planting a few ally, as more and more land comes under trees of a wild variety on the edge of an cultivation, he is destroying the cover orchard they can be controlled; and for the birds, taking away their nestingin most cases the good they do outbal- places, driving them, his best friends, ances the harm. The great bulk of our unconsciously from his door. I never common North American birds are un see the modern slaughter with a brush reservedly our friends, in a very real scythe along a country road, for insense, working for us at least ten hours stance, without thinking not only how a day, busily, without pay, singing at much beauty of wild landscape gardentheir labors, destroying insect pests, ing has been laid low, but how many keeping down weeds, grubbing up nesting-places have been laid low, also worms, helping the beneficent forces in nesting-places for birds that are the nature in their endless battle with the farmers' assistants. The vireos and parasites. Their total economic value chipping-sparrows love to nest in friend

ly proximity to a road or lane, in shrubs procession down to the feeding-shelf outor low trees, and both varieties of birds side the kitchen window. But I decided are great insect-destroyers. The spar there were too many of them for that row also eats weed seeds. A nest of four small supply station, so I packed down young sparrows was watched by a Gov- with my snow-shoes a considerable area ernment observer at different hours on on the other side of the house, and scatfour different days, and the result was tered seeds and fine mixed chicken feed that a day's average rations for the (which I had been using for pheasants) brood was 238 insects and caterpillars. on the hard snow. The juncos immediHow can any one doubt that it pays to ately discovered it, as did a flock of have as many chipping-sparrows as pos horned larks (rare visitors with us). sible nesting near one's farm and or As the snow rapidly melted, I kept food chard?

scattered about. In a few days the lawn The problem of attracting the birds was visible, but the birds were still there, back to our dwellings and farms, of and in the morning, when I got up, assisting them to breed in safety, of there would be no less than a hundred providing them with proper shelter, and, of them scratching and pecking in the in seasons when their natural food grass. I stopped putting out food now, supply is difficult to get, of furnishing but they did not stop pecking. In the them the food their active little bodies section where they worked, the lawn demand, is not one that can be solved is spoiled late each summer by crab by law. All laws which protect the grass, an abominable annual, which beneficent birds from destruction by spreads low and ripens in spite of the pot and feather hunters, by cats and mower, thus seeding itself. That flock game-hogs, are of course necessary, and of birds was after the seed and doing will have to be ever more strictly en me a valuable service. A little feeding forced. But it is of slight avail to protect at a time when they needed it kept them the robin from the pot hunter of the on my premises until they were ready to South during the winter season, only to migrate northward. let him freeze and starve during a late Outside my kitchen door stands an spring snow-storm in the North, for lack apple-tree. Just beyond this tree is a of evergreens to take shelter in, or any thick stand of pines, partly on my land, food-bearing shrubs above the snow. partly across the fence on my neighWhat is the bluebird to do, or the chicka bor's. All winter long a large number of dee, or the downy woodpecker, if he birds ride out the severest storms in the flies to his grove where the hole for his safe shelter of these evergreens, and nest was so tempting the year before come to the apple-tree for a perch before and finds no grove there? What are the darting down to the window-ledge for quail to do in winter when the few who sunflower seeds and suet. Last winter have escaped the hunters find all their our all-winter guests included chickafood-supply buried deep in snow, at the dees, white-breasted nuthatches, a pair very time that their bodies need a big of golden-crowned kinglets, tree-sparsupply to keep them warm? Such ques rows, a pair of downy woodpeckers (their tions as these are not to be answered by third winter), a pair of red - breasted laws. They are only to be answered by nuthatches (their third winter also), individual and community effort. several blue jays, and a cock pheasant,

But, as a matter of fact, they can be which stalked up in a stately manner answered, and rather easily. How easily, over the snow nearly every morning. I have illustrated for myself. I live on The chickadees would alight on our fina five-acre place, on the main street of a gers, our heads and shoulders, and even village in western Massachusetts. The hop through the open door or window heavy snow of March, 1916, lay deep in into the house and eat from a dish on my yard even on the ist of April, when the table. But neither chickadees, nuta flock of juncos made their appearance. hatches, nor woodpeckers were made They joined the chickadees and tree- lazy by this feeding. They continued, sparrows and other birds which had even after a square meal, to hop up and been with us all winter, in the steady down and round about every limb and

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Drawn by Walter King Stone

TREE-SPARROWS FEEDING IN THE SNOW Vol, CXXXVI.—No. 815.-89

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