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Most of the birds we know think a great deal about their dress. They work much of their time to keep it tidy and in good order. They mend their clothes, too, although they do not use a needle and thread. A little girl we know laughed heartily one day when we told her that the robin mends her dress when it is torn.
The little girl had only to watch and see that Mrs. and Miss Robin, and other birds as well, smooth out and fix up the torn and rumpled feathers till they look as good as new.
Different kinds of birds have different fashions ; but these fashions never change. A bird to-day dresses exactly as its grandmother did, and the
birds never seem to make fun of one another for being old-fashioned.
Once in a long while we find a solitary bird different in color from others of its kind. We have seen a white blue jay, and there is in our yard a brown towhee which has two white feathers in its wing. Such birds are very rare, as are people who have a spot of white hair on their heads when all the rest is dark; or albinos, that *** is, persons with pink eyes and very white skin, although they belong to a dark race.
Two suits of clothes a year are quite enough for most birds, while one suit is all that others can afford. But birds are very careful of their clothes, although they never try to dress more gayly than their neighbors and friends. They only try to be clean, and so they set us a very good example.
Sit down on the grass under a tree, or on a seat
in the park, and see the birds dress themselves. Every separate feather is cleaned and pulled and looked over, just as a woman cleans and stretches delicate lace and embroidery. See how the loose feathers are pulled out and dropped, like so many useless ravelings or worn threads. The bird watches the falling plume until it reaches the ground, turning her head to one side to see what becomes of her tatters, and then she goes on with her dressing
Madam Bird manages very well to twist about and reach all of her clothes except her headdress. Have you wondered how a bird can turn its head all around in a way that would cramp your own neck if you should try it? The neck of a bird is more flexible than yours; that is, it is furnished with more joints, so that the bird can turn its head readily and dress itself with ease.
A bird never changes the whole of its dress at once. Little by little the feathers drop out or are pulled away, so that they are not missed. If they should all come out in one day or one week, the bird would be helpless and unable to fly.
If you should attempt to smooth a bird's feathers without knowing how, you would very likely make her look very ragged. Naturalists, who know how, because they have practiced so much, can smooth and pull the feathers as well as the bird herself. They can pick up a hurt bird and by a few touches make her look respectable.
Madam Bird is not able to smooth her headdress with her bill. What does she do about it? Why, she uses her foot, which serves also as her hand.
Birds are either handed ; that is, they can use the left hand or foot as well as the right. Some people think that a parrot is left handed, because she always takes in her left hand the cracker or sugar which you offer to her. The next time you feed her, stop and see what you are doing. You are standing in front of the bird and offering her the cracker in your right hand. She is facing you, and of course takes the food with the left hand. Everybody gives her things in the same way, and she naturally uses her left hand, because we teach her to do so.
But wild birds are either handed. Watch and see how they comb their hair, first on one side and then on the other, scratching very fast, as if to get all the tangles out, but never crying, “ Oh, don't !” when it pulls. We call the fine feathers “hair," because they grow on the bird's head as our hair does on our own.
See how Mrs. Bird lifts her crown and separates the soft feathers, and fixes her frizzes or bangs, if she wears them. After she has combed her hair this way long enough, she smooths it down in good order, as you will see later on.
Did you ever notice a bird wash its ears ? That is enough to make you smile, but we assure you it does wash its ears and all around its mouth after its meals, and between meals as often as it is necessary.
Watch your tame canary; he is very much like wild birds in habits of neatness. See him stand on one foot and reach the other foot up quickly between the long feathers of his wing and dig away at his ears, just as if his mother had told him to “get ready for school.”