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THIRTY-THIRD DAY (continued) This is what Uncle Jack promised to read to the children about birds:
The Farmer's Best FRIEND: — BIRDS*
Birds live to eat. It is lucky for men they do; for if the birds did not breakfast, man would not dine. Some years ago a French naturalist told the world that, if all the birds should suddenly die, man would have only a year's lease of life left to him. The Frenchman proved his point to the satisfaction of other scientists, but laymen laughed and the usual proportion of them kept on killing.
It always has been my belief that the sin of bird persecution had its beginning with other sins in the Garden. Adam probably saw a robin picking away at a cherry and instantly said, “The bird is a thief.” Then Eve very likely saw a scarlet tanager sunning itself, and straightway coveted its
* Copyright, July, 1913, by “The Country Gentleman” and used by permission of the author, Edward B. Clark, and publishers.
plumage. So it is that the hand of man and the head of woman have been raised against the bird ever since.
Why should not a robin or a cedar bird or a catbird or any other bird eat an occasional cherry? Their dinners of cutworms, caterpillars and other things noxious make cherry dessert their due.
There is no farmer in the land who does not know the kingbird, although the chances are that he calls it the bee martin. This bird underwent years of persecution because it was supposed to be the deadly enemy of the honey bee. It lives entirely upon insects and once in a while it eats a bee. The man who owned hives saw the kingbird snap up a bee and, apparently, instantly concluded that it ate nothing else. This bird lives almost wholly on winged insects of a kind injurious to man.
Persecution marked the kingbird. Then two scientists of Uncle Sam's Biological Survey had a suspicion that the kingbird was being badly treated. In order to prove their suspicion, it was necessary to kill a good many of the birds. An examination of the stomachs showed that nearly everything the kingbird ate was something which, living, was an enemy to the farmer's interests.
As for the bee matter, a strange and almost unbelievable thing developed. Bees were found in some numbers in the stomachs which were examined, but it seems that the kingbird was able to distinguish between bees and bees; he had let the workers alone to dine off the worthless drones.
The bee keepers laughed at the report of the scientists. Then they did a little investigating on their own account and after a few months' observation they were willing to allow the kingbird to nest in comfort in the apple tree shadowing the beehives.
The kingbird is the guardian of the poultry yard and the corn field. If a pair has chosen for a summer home a tree near the newly planted field, no crow will be allowed to come within thieving distance. The kingbird hates the crow and the crow fears the kingbird. No hawk will come within swooping range of a chicken if this bird is on guard.
The house wren is the busiest of all American birds. When it is not eating, it is either singing or building make-believe nests. Until about ten years ago the house wren was one of the most abundant of garden birds. It nests in a hole in a tree, in a crevice under the porch roof, or, if it is given a chance, in a box or a tin can put up for its use. The wren has been disappearing from many of the localities where it was abundant because of the English sparrow.
Wrens raise big families and every member of those families is hungry. I once watched a wren which was busy feeding its nestlings. It carried food to the young, one hundred and ten times in an hour. Both parent birds were about the nest and it is possible that each had a share in the feeding process, but as near as I could determine one bird did all the work, although as a usual thing both
father and mother wren labor side by side in the care of their nestlings.
Is it worth while to have the wren in the dooryard? Its song alone makes it worth while, and then if you add to the service of song its daily sixteen hours of work in the destruction of grasshoppers, cutworms, weevils, spiders and stink bugs, the question answers itself.
Years ago when the potato bug appeared in the West, naturalists tried to find out whether or not it had a bird enemy. Close observation for weeks made it seem that finally a pest had appeared which could be checked only by poison. A brave man tasted a potato bug and then he thought he had found the reason why no bird would eat it. His description of the vileness of that taste has kept anybody from repeating the experiment.
An Iowa farmer once sprinkled his potato plants liberally with Paris green. The next morning he went into the patch and found three rose-breasted grosbeaks dead on the ground. They had been eating potato bugs and they had taken an overdose of poison. Now the rose-breasted grosbeak is accounted the dandy of the bird race. It dresses with simple elegance in black and white, but always wears a crimson rose at its breast. From