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Title: Introduction to Our Bird Friends, Volume 1

Author: Lenwood Ballard Carson

Illustrator: Orville O. Rice

Release date: February 5, 2020 [eBook #61319]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Stephen Hutcheson and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at


Introduction to Our Bird Friends, Volume 1


Text by L. B. Carson
Illustrations by Orville O. Rice

Copyright, 1954

Printed in the United States of America

Published August 1954
Second Printing (Revised), December 1954
Third Printing, April 1955
Fourth Printing, January 1956
Fifth Printing, May 1956
Sixth Printing, May 1957


More and more people are turning to the outdoors and the enjoyment of nature. Many great Americans have been students of wild birds. This is not accidental, for few forms of outdoor recreation offer so much pleasure.

The season of the year will in some cases determine what birds are in your area. Color is important in identifying species. Look carefully at the silhouette or shape; is it slender or chunky, is the tail short or long? Compare its size with a bird with which you are more familiar. Habitat is important, too. One learns to look for Red-winged Blackbirds in wet marshes; for a meadowlark in pastures and fields. Behavior is a clue. Does it walk or hop; does it soar, does it walk headfirst down a tree, as is the habit of the nuthatch, or scratch among leaves like the towhee? Listen to the bird’s song and call note. With a little experience, distinctive songs may be identified. Each bird has its characteristic song.

Bird study can be pursued with as much effort as the watcher cares to exert. Birds need food, water and protection from their natural enemies. You can provide these in your own yard. Some birds will be attracted and you can study them at your leisure. Other species, those which live in swamps, for example, must be searched for aggressively.

A bird guide is a splendid investment, considering the hours of pleasure it will bring you. Binoculars are a help, too, in studying the size, shape, beak, legs and color pattern.

Make written notes of what you see and hear, or a dated list of species and numbers of each. Records will add to your own pleasure and add to the sum of knowledge on birds in general.

This is the first of two booklets on common birds of the United States published by Capper Publications, Inc. Each of the two volumes illustrates and describes 50 different species. Additional copies (specify whether volume I or II is desired) may be ordered for 25 cents each as follows:

Bird Book Department 1-6
Capper Publications, Inc.
8th and Jackson Streets
Topeka, Kansas

Pied-billed Grebe
Podilymbus podiceps


It makes little difference to this bird whether you call him “Water-witch, Hell-diver, Dabchick or Pied-billed Grebe,” for these are only a few of the names by which he is known. His only concern is finding a pond, lake or other water, well supplied with crayfish, minnows or insects on which he feeds. Leeches are a favorite morsel.

The short, thick bill of this grebe is distinctive, even in winter when the black encircling band from which it gets its name, is missing. General appearance is brown, being brownish-black above, lighter brown and white below. On water the short tail usually is carried high enough to show the white under-tail coverts.

This grebe is perfectly adjusted to water and can swim, dive or lower his body in water just as far as desired with little effort, often showing only bill and eyes above the surface. This protects him from predators or hunters who might mistake him for a duck. Even his nest is a floating structure so placed that he can gain the safety of his natural element.

Wet pavements are hazardous for they resemble water and if the Pied-billed Grebe lands there, he is helpless. His legs are placed too far back on his body for walking and he finds it difficult to regain the air except by skittering over water.

He sinks or dives

Without a care,

For water hides

His daily fare.

Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias


Altho protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty, this heron often finds himself the target for thoughtless hunters. Not that he would make a tasty dish, but any bird which stands 4 feet high with a wing spread of almost 70 inches is in constant danger. His favorite feeding grounds are wet meadows or pastures, ponds, lakes or streams. Most of his food consists of rough fish which he catches expertly, either standing patiently in shallow water until a fish appears, or walking slowly along the edge of some shallow pond until he discovers his prey. Snakes, frogs, insects, mice, eels, or even small birds are not safe from a hungry heron.

Unlike cranes, which fly with necks outstretched, herons fold their necks back as if resting their heads on their shoulders. Their flight is a slow, measured beat which carries them to their destination. These birds seem to prefer tops of tall trees, such as sycamores or cottonwoods, either in isolated locations or on islands. Favorite sites are used year after year and nests often cover as much as 3 feet in space and are placed well out on limbs. A colony of Great Blue Herons is frequently joined by herons of other species. Such a colony of fish-eating birds is both noisy and odorous.

If, when he flies

He folds his neck,

The heron is

The bird to check.


Snow Goose
Chen hyperborea


This medium-size goose is the most abundant member of the family and can be identified by white plumage and black wing tips. He is often called “wavy,” in the northern part of his range, while southern hunters refer to him as a “white brant.” His Latin name describes him as “a goose beyond the north wind.” We see him only as a migrant, either going to nesting grounds in Northern Canada or returning to his winter home on the coast of Louisiana and Texas. A somewhat larger relative known as the Greater Snow Goose, nests in Northern Greenland and winters along our Atlantic coast.

This bird feeds on roots and bulbs of water plants found in his wintering area. Grasses, grains or other vegetation bring huge flocks where they can be seen grazing like tame geese. Feeding flocks are not welcome to the wheat grower who has fields near lakes which are used as resting places for migrating birds.

Snow Geese often travel with their near relatives, the Blue Geese. The gray body and white head of the latter give a color contrast which is apparent in a mixed flock. These birds interbreed frequently and their offspring are confusing but usually show more white on the breast than the Blue Goose parent.

Like mammoth flakes of drifting snow

We see you come, we watch you go

We hear your call like trumpet’s blare

Which guides the flock in upper air.

Common Mallard
Anas platyrhynchos


The Mallard drake with green head, purple chestnut breast, reddish feet, white collar, black and white tail with a curled feather, combine to make a colorful duck. The female, more in keeping with her motherly duties, is content to wear a trim suit of buffy gray, streaked with brown. The orange to greenish-olive bill and pale orange-red feet give perfect clues to her identity.

Any pond, puddle, lake or stream is not overlooked by this bird and he is especially fond of shallow water where he can secure food by tipping up and extending his neck to muddy bottoms. These ducks are good divers but if not closely pressed, seem to dive only for pleasure.

The Mallard is not a good father, but leaves his mate soon after she has started to incubate her eggs. Her nest is well hidden and often found some distance from water. Her downy young soon can travel and the proud mother leads them to the nearest body of water as soon as possible. These trips are hazardous, for predators relish such dainty morsels. Turtles and fish also take their toll.

Hunters look forward to the fall flight of these ducks for they furnish a major portion of the annual duck harvest. They soon learn that guns are dangerous and often feed at night.

Oh, green-head, with your yellow bill,

Your rapid flight gives us a thrill

And when we hear your mate’s loud quack

We’re always glad that you are back.


Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura


Vultures play an unusual part in nature’s drama. They, along with Sexton Beetles, other insects and animals, form the sanitary unit. When we consider the heavy toll of wildlife along our highways, we can appreciate the usefulness of such a unit. Lacking talons, vultures are not equipped to catch their prey, but feed on whatever nature provides.

This vulture is almost eagle size, with a wingspread of 70 inches and can be identified by his long tail, small head, 2-toned wings, and habit of soaring, the wings forming a dihedral or open V-shape. On close inspection, you will find the head bare and a reddish color. The young have blackish heads which is one of the marks of the Black Vulture, but the latter is smaller with a square tail and shows white spots under the wing when flying. This is a southern cousin.

No other land bird soars so gracefully. Every air current carries this bird with little effort on his part. From high in the air, he scans vast areas for food, not forgetting to check his neighbors who are riding other currents in like manner. When one bird descends, every vulture in the air soon joins him.

Whether you call him “Turkey Buzzard, Carrion Crow or Turkey Vulture,” you will admire his flight.

Black omen floating far o’erhead,

Your mission, to remove the dead.

A useful bird, we must agree

Whate’er the cost, you’ve earned your fee.

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis


Red-tails, like other hawks, show a great variation in plumage. The dark phase of a Western Red-tail compares favorably with the plumage of an adult Golden Eagle, but the smaller size and the reddish upper tail surface which reflects the sun as the bird soars, furnishes the clue. Typical plumage shows a dark belly-band with bright, reddish upper tail, while some birds show a light breast and belly.

This bird prefers open woodlands or a dead tree with fields adjoining. There he may sit for hours, but ever watchful for some movement which might indicate the presence of a gopher, field mouse, rat or even a snake. All add to his varied menu. Rodents soon become pests when these hawks are scarce. This bird often is killed by farmers and poultry raisers when the real culprit, the Cooper’s Hawk, lives on to enjoy the flock.

The Red-tail’s size and habit of perching in exposed places make him a ready target for anyone who carries a gun. Slow flight combined with his habit of soaring also add to his high death rate.

He adds a few sprigs of green foliage to the mass of sticks, which goes to make his nest, usually placed in a tall tree near the edge of timber.

Your great broad wings, red, fan-shaped tail,

The ease and power with which you sail,

We recognize a noble clan

Which spends its life in helping man.


Sparrow Hawk
Falco sparverius


This little falcon, about the size of a Robin, is also known as Kestrel. Calling him a Sparrow-hawk is misleading, for insects and spiders, along with a generous portion of mice, go to make up his daily fare. Grasshoppers seem to be a special delicacy. Like other birds, he feeds on whatever is available. In cities, this includes English Sparrows.

The smallest of the hawk family can be found along highways where he uses telephone poles, wires or dead trees, while scanning the fields and fence rows for prey. Dressed in colorful plumage with spotted breast, slate-blue wings, red-brown back and tail, with head showing 2 black lines and a dot, he easily is seen and readily identified. The female is slightly larger, shows more banding on the tail and lacks the blue wings, hers being browner.

These birds nest in holes in trees or around buildings and join the Kingbirds, Chimney Swifts and Martins in chasing other predators out of the neighborhood. Their rapid swallow-like flight makes them a mean contender in any aerial joust.

The Sparrow Hawk ranges as far north as Southern Canada and winters from the central states south into South America.

Your high-pitched call,

Your rapid flight,

A friend to man,

From dawn ’til night.

Prairie Chicken
Tympanuchus cupido


Those who live near prairies and brushy grasslands have a chance to become acquainted with this brown hen-like bird which formerly ranged over much of the middle west. Cultivation and hunters have reduced the numbers until they no longer are common. The large size, the short, dark, rounded tail, the heavily barred underparts, the rounded wings, all are descriptive of this bird. In flight he reminds you of king-size Meadow Larks, flapping then sailing, as he journeys to and from favorite feeding grounds.

In early spring these birds gather in a selected location known as a “booming ground”; there the males defend a certain area against other males, yet welcome the hens by strutting, inflating their yellow throat sacks and erecting the feathers over their heads until they resemble ears. These antics are accompanied by clucks and a series of 3-noted hoots which make up their love songs. The males often engage in fighting to protect their area.

Their food includes insects such as crickets, grasshoppers and beetles with plenty of roughage such as leaves, seeds and berries. Waste corn, wheat, rye or sorghums are relished in season. Heavy snows drive the birds to sumacs and elm buds.

We hear your call in early morn

Like measured toots on mellow horn,

We watch your rhythmic flap ... then sail

As you descend from hill to vale.


American Coot
Fulica americana


This slate-gray bird with white bill and white patch under the tail, belongs to the rail family but spends more time with ducks. He swims with a jerky motion of the head, dives like a grebe, walks out on the shore and eats grass like a goose. Yes, the “mudhen,” for that is what he is commonly called, is quite versatile. When taking flight, he either runs into the breeze or skitters across the water for a short distance until he can gain sufficient speed to gain altitude, then away to safety.

Coots feed largely on underwater vegetation and prefer algae or musk grass. Small fish or other aquatic animals are eaten on occasion while grass, grain or weeds are not overlooked. When diving for food, these birds often are robbed by the American Widgeon, or Baldpate, which relishes such juicy morsels but does not dive. Coots take such invasions as a matter of course.

They build nests of dried leaves of marsh plants, usually on a floating structure, either well hidden or rather open, depending on the habitat available.

Coots have large, greenish feet, with long-lobed toes, not webbed like ducks or geese, but just as useful for walking or swimming.

He feels at home

Where’er he goes

But likes a pond

Where algae grows.

Charadrius vociferus


The killdeer is the common plover which we see in pastures, meadows, fields or on shores of ponds and lakes. Freshly mown alfalfa fields, short grass or stubble, even newly plowed fields attract them. They gather in loose flocks to feed on exposed insects or worms. Their usual pace consists of a short run, a quick stop to check for some juicy morsel, then another short run. All stops are accompanied by a jerky movement as if undecided whether to spring into the air or stay on the ground. Even the spindly legged young have this bobbing habit.

This bird is only a little bigger than the Robin, but longer legs and tail make him appear larger. White collar with 2 black bands across the lower neck and upper breast, chestnut back and tail, white lines in the wings in flight, all make this plover easily identified. If there is any doubt you will soon hear his “kill-dee,” or “kill-deer” notes, for he is a noisy bird, quick to resent any intrusion in his territory. These calls alert other birds, much to the disgust of duck hunters who are trying to make a quiet approach to their blinds.

Nests are placed in open spots on the ground and lined with pebbles or grasses. Eggs are protectively colored and not easily found.

Two black bands, on breast so white

Rusty tail, which shows in flight,

That you would kill a deer’s absurd

But that is what you say, I’ve heard.


Spotted Sandpiper
Actitis macularia


Any pond, lake or stream will be visited sooner or later by these little sandpipers. You find them teetering along shores, picking up insects and small crustacea which form the diet. Mud banks, sandy shores, pebbly mountain streams, half-sunken logs, all furnish happy hunting grounds.

The teetering tail is distinctive and no other sandpiper has the round black spots on his breast and none has the fluttering flight. They seem to tip-toe thru the air with very short wingbeats. Young and adults in winter plumage do not show the spots but continue to teeter. They often show a white spot just above the bend of the wing when in this plumage. Their usual note is a 2-tone “peet-weet,” which it utters when flushed from its feeding ground.

These birds nest in a variety of places, sometimes well hidden but often in more open situations but always in a slight depression in the ground. Their 4 eggs are protectively colored and are sometimes found some distance from water. The young teeter to the closest stream, led by the ever-watchful mother. There you will find them busily engaged in gathering food. They can swim or even dive, if necessary.

Wee wader with the spotted breast

We wonder if you ever rest,

“Peet-weet,” is what you seem to say

As you go bobbing on your way.

Black Tern
Chlidonias niger


This tern is distinctive, especially in summer plumage when the black head and body, short, slightly notched tail, slate-gray wings, combined with the erratic flight, tells us it has to be a Black Tern. In winter plumage these birds have white heads and bodies with backs and wings darker than other terns. They show dark spots around the eyes and back of neck. In fall migration you find birds of this species in various stages of dress, but there are usually a few which carry enough black to give a clue to their identity.

They nest in inland marshes and around lakes, forming loose colonies on favorite nesting sites. Floating vegetation, muskrat houses, in fact most any structure strong enough to support a nest is used.

Black Terns feed on larger insects such as moths, grasshoppers, dragonflies and water insects which they obtain from the air or by gliding down and picking them from the water. They can be seen flying over the fields like swallows or nighthawks, feeding as they go. When flying over lakes, they often hover then glide to the surface for minnows or insects.

These terns spend the winter in South America and migrate earlier than some species. They also arrive later from their winter homes.

What are those birds, we’d like to know,

Which fly like swallows, black as crow?

Twisting, turning, then a glide,

To pluck some morsel which they’ve spied.


Mourning Dove
Zenaidura macroura


There is something about a dove which makes you want to know him better. Could it be his low mournful call? (And why do we call it mournful? Someone described it in that manner, and while it is not as colorful as other bird notes, it has a restful and pleasing quality.) Could it be the graceful flight which shows the pointed tail with the white trimming? Could it be dainty steps which seem to fit his personality? Perhaps the way he drinks by inserting his bill and swallowing water until he has his fill. It might be the way he builds his nest: no time wasted when this bird constructs a home. It might even be the way he jerks his head, as if trying to get a better focus on the sights of the world.

Some call him brown; if so, where did we get the description, “dove colored”? In good light, the head and neck have a rich sheen which blends with the rest of the body. All in all, he is a beautiful bird.

He nests in almost any spot which suits his fancy, on the ground, in evergreens, around buildings, well out on a limb or in the crotch of a tree, but always in a loosely constructed home, unless he takes over some well constructed nest, made by others.

His food consists mostly of weed seeds.

Altho you make a mournful sound

We’re glad to know that you’re around.

We like your shy confiding way

And only hope you’re here to stay.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Coccyzus americanus


This slim, long-tailed bird is far more common than people suspect for he seldom is seen. He prefers to move slowly thru the heavy foliage, peering under each branch and leaf for the leaf-eating worms which form his diet. Wooly worms, which other birds seem to shun, are relished by him. His long bill is a perfect tool for breaking into webs where he creates havoc with the wiggly inhabitants.

Cuckoos are larger than Robins and their long tails make them look even longer than the 12¼ inches which they measure. They fly directly from the center of one tree to the next, thus giving us a chance to check the rufous coloring of the wings and the large white spots on the ends of their black tails. The back is dark gray while the breast and belly are white. The yellow lower bill, the rufous wings and larger white spots on the tail are the main difference between this and the slightly smaller Black-billed Cuckoo. Both have a series of clucking notes but the Yellow-billed Cuckoo song gets slower, then runs down the scale, different from his relative’s long efforts.

Unlike the Old-World cuckoos which depend on other birds to rear their young, the Yellow-billed builds a nest, altho it is flimsy. There, the 3 or 4 young get their start in life.

Slow moving, with a watchful eye,

Straight as an arrow, when you fly,

You’re seldom seen, but often heard,

Elusive for so large a bird.


Screech Owl
Otus asio


The Screech Owl is the smallest of the eared owls, about robin size. In fact he often nests in holes built by larger woodpeckers such as flickers. Like other owls, he hunts at night when his quavering call blends with the murmur of the night breeze. Mice, shrews, beetles, moths, crayfish, frogs and small birds seem to furnish a well-rounded diet.

These small owls have 2 distinct color phases, one a rich brown, the other a soft gray. Both blend with the bark of trees thus giving them protection. This is one of the mysteries of the bird world. Just why do these owls wear different colors? Both colors are often found in the same brood.

Even tho small, they give a good account of themselves and soon let you know when they have young in the vicinity. The parents defend their young against all comers and often surprise innocent persons who may stroll too close to the young only to be attacked by the irate parents.

This bird prefers open woodlands, orchards and clearings and often spends the day in the same cavities which are used for nesting. Some even spend the day in evergreens, but soon attract the attention of other birds which hate all owls and soon make their feelings known.

Mysterious birds

In every way,

Sometimes they’re brown,

Sometimes they’re gray.

Chordeiles minor


He’s not a hawk, but like other members of the Goatsucker family, often feeds at night. This gray-brown, robin size bird with white bars across the wings, often is called a “bull-bat.” Early morning and late evenings seem to be favorite feeding times for then insects on which he feeds, are on the wing. During the day you will find him sitting horizontally on some sheltered limb, his colors blending perfectly. He looks more like a knot or broken stub than a bird. He leaves his resting place with a glide and then goes into his distinctive flight.

The Nighthawk often ascends high in the sky with a series of quick wing beats, each accompanied by his call of a nasal “peent.” When the desired height is attained, he folds his wings slightly and dives with a booming sound. This is a part of the breeding display.

Nests are no problem, for this bird prefers a graveled flat roof or some similar open space where a slight depression furnishes ample protection for the eggs. The mother shelters her eggs and young from the blistering sun which beats down.

We watch your flight on white-barred wing

And hear the notes, you try to sing,

But there’s one thing, we’d hate to try

Your way of diving from the sky.


Chimney Swift
Chaetura pelagica


Unlike swallows which bend their wings, this bird holds his wings straight, but the natural curve gives the appearance of a bow. The long wings make him appear larger than the small sparrow size which he attains. This sooty-black swift is the only member of his family which visits the eastern part of America and since he has adopted chimneys as his favorite nesting and roosting sites, he is not hard to find.

Few birds seem so perfectly fitted for living in the air and except when nesting or roosting, there is where he will be found. When flying, he looks almost like a bird without head or tail but if you will examine him closely you will find a short tail with spines which combined with his sharp claws, help anchor him to the flat inner surface of chimneys. Nests consist of small twigs which he snaps off the end of some dead limb while flying by, then glues to the chimney with saliva. This does not make an imposing structure, but is ample for safety of eggs and young.

The swift is a fast flier and combines long circular glides with quick wing beats and sharp turns, this erratic flight accompanied by a series of sharp, clicking notes which aids in identification. While drinking or bathing each bird glides down, each hitting the water in turn.

“Cigar with wings,”

You hear folks say,

As he darts past

On summer’s day.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris


This, the smallest bird found in the area, can be confused only with large moths such as the sphinx or hawk moths. Both the moths and hummingbirds like to feed on deep-throated flowers such as honeysuckles, petunias and trumpet-vines but the moths prefer late evening or early morning while the hummer never passes up a chance to explore such flowers with his long brush-like tongue with which he gathers nectar. This combined with small insects and spiders goes to make up his diet. Brightly colored phials filled with sugar water will attract him to your yard.

Hummingbirds are among the best fliers of the bird world and can hover, fly backward or forward or straight away, whatever meets their fancy. The male has a green back and in some lights the throat patch looks black only to flash ruby red when the bird changes position so the light is reflected. The female is duller and has white feather tips on the tail.

The female builds one of the daintiest of nests on top of some sloping branch, using lichens and spider web to attach the cup to the limb. This little nest which is only 1½ inches in diameter is not often found for it has the appearance of being only a part of the branch. Two young constitute the usual family.

A little jewel

With buzzy wings,

He only squeaks

Whene’er he sings.


Belted Kingfisher
Megaceryle alcyon


Rarely in the bird world, is the female more colorful than the male. The Belted Kingfisher is one example, for the female sports brown flanks and breastband in addition to the blue-gray belt worn by her mate. These birds, larger than Robins, can be confused only with the Blue Jay; however, their plumage is blue-gray. Near creeks, ponds, lakes or other bodies of water they may be seen flying low over the water or hovering momentarily before plunging after some minnow, crayfish or other food which has attracted their attention. They have choice perches over the water and fly from one spot to another, always on the lookout for unwary prey. They are rather solitary in habits, each pair defending its territory against all comers.

The large head and beak, uneven crest, habit of flapping and sailing, the series of call notes often referred to as a rattle, are distinctly kingfisher. Nesting holes are dug in steep banks and extend several feet before ending in an enlarged space which holds the eggs and young. Both birds help with the digging using their strong bills to loosen the dirt and their flatly constructed feet to kick it out.

Kingfishers eat small fry which abound in such numbers that a natural check is desirable.

Up and down

The creek he goes.

With rattled call

To warn his foes.

Downy Woodpecker
Dendrocopos pubescens


The sparrow-size Downy Woodpecker resembles his robin-size cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker, but his notes are a little softer and his tapping a little faster for his short bill can produce no such wallop as the heavy-billed Hairy. The outer tail feathers are barred, instead of the black and white pattern of the latter. Both males show a red spot on the nape which is lacking on the females. General coloring is black and white.

While this friendly little woodpecker relishes suet, he does not let his visits to your feeder interfere with his constant search for the larvae which he finds in galls, cornstalks, weed stems or the bark of trees. He makes a small opening into the tunnel where the larvae are hiding, then inserts his long tongue and spears the worm. Nature has provided him with a barbed spear on his long tongue and he uses it constantly in protecting our trees.

Spring brings much activity for a nesting site must be found, then the labor of digging a cavity from 8 to 12 inches deep in a post, dead limb or tree trunk. The home may be near the ground or high in some tree and often is found with the entrance beneath a limb. There the young are protected until they can join their parents in their search for insects.

It seems absurd for such a bird

To work so hard, we know

But every worm must learn to turn

If he expects to grow.


Eastern Kingbird
Tyrannus tyrannus


The Eastern Kingbird, altho slightly smaller than a Robin, is “monarch of all he surveys,” and is ready and willing to defend his territory against all comers. His happiest moments seem to be spent in chasing hawks, crows, herons or vultures and he is the first to see their approach and give the alarm. Then, like a fighter-plane, he speeds high in the air and dives on the intruder. Such aerial attacks are of short duration for the larger bird soon escapes to a safer location. He then drops back to his favorite perch, often using such quick wing-beats that he seems to be tip-toeing thru the air.

This flycatcher with his white breast, dark head, back and wings, and black tail with white terminal band, is identified easily. He likes to nest around farm homes or other open country but wants a few open spots where he can perch while waiting for passing insects. People who raise bees often refer to him as a “bee-martin,” and accuse him of eating honeybees. There is little ground for this accusation for only 22 stomachs of 634 examined showed a total of 61 bees eaten and 51 of the total were drones. On the other hand, this bird eats robber flies which catch and destroy bees. Eighty-five per cent of his food consists of insects which includes grasshoppers, crickets and cutworms.

He tiptoes thru the ozone

Demure in black and white,

Let other birds take warning

For he is dynamite.

Eastern Phoebe
Sayornis phoebe


Unlike many of the flycatchers, this bird which is only a little larger than the English Sparrow, is easily identified. His black bill, lack of wing bars or eye ring is distinctive but his habit of jerking or waving his tail is conclusive. The habit of repeating his name over and over in a low but emphatic tone gives little doubt of his presence. Some people might confuse this call with the high notes of the Black-capped Chickadee but when once learned there is little resemblance.

The Phoebe is one of the hardiest of his clan, often wintering in the southern portion of its nesting range and returning in spring so early that we often wonder how he can find sufficient flying insects to sustain life.

The Phoebe likes to place his well-built nest under some sort of a shelter. Any overhanging cliff, under bridges, even rafters or window sills are not overlooked as long as some projecting surface furnishes a place to start the foundation. Mud and moss are the main materials used for building and this bird knows that such a nest will not stand too much rough weather.

Two broods usually are raised during the summer and it takes a lot of small flying insects to keep these healthy youngsters happy, so you are lucky if he decides to be your neighbor.

’Neath bridges or on sheltered walls

They like to build their nests,

Then sally forth to catch the bugs

Which we consider pests.


Horned Lark
Eremophila alpestris


A sparrow-size bird with black tail, which flushes from the road while you travel along, is the Horned Lark. When you travel slower you will find that he walks when he moves around, never hopping like birds which prefer trees. Other marks to look for are a black crown, black line extending from the beak, curving back and down over the cheek and a black patch below the white or yellow throat. A white or yellow line, depending on the subspecies of the bird you see, separates the crown from the black facial pattern. The horns, from which the bird gets his name, consist of 2 tufts of feathers extending up from the crown, but sometimes are hard to see. Body color is brownish above with light belly.

Horned Larks prefer short-grass country with barren hills or other open spots such as the sandy shoulders of highways. There you will find them walking or running in their search for small seeds or insects. When snow covers the ground they flock to the highways where graders and snowplows have removed the icy covering.

This, our only true lark, nests early in spring when late snows make life hazardous. Then you will hear his twittering call as it floats in on the chilly breeze.

On barren ground or highway

He walks with dainty step,

He dines on seeds and insects

That’s why he’s full of pep.

Barn Swallow
Hirundo rustica


This friendly bird discovered long ago that barns or sheds made excellent cover for its adobe nest and now you often will find from one to several of these mud structures neatly plastered on the beams of buildings. This is a happy arrangement for both the tenant and landlord, for the swallow more than pays the rent on the space used, not in cash but in the thousands of insects which make up his food. The swallow gets whatever protection is offered.

A Barn Swallow is identified easily. No other swallow has the steel-blue back, the brown spot above the bill with brown throat and belly nor the deeply forked tail showing white beneath. Another good field mark is the way he flies with wings bent so the long pointed primaries point back. He is a swift but erratic flier and it is a pleasure to watch him as he darts across a field, pond or pasture, searching for flying insects.

His song is a series of twittering notes, rather musical and when once learned will be easily remembered. Many of the notes have a liquid or bubbling sound which is distinctive.

Two broods of 4 or 5 young usually are raised during the summer. Fall brings huge but loose flocks, headed south and feeding as they go, all headed for South America for the winter.

The tiny space

Required by you,

Seems little pay

For what you do.


Purple Martin
Progne subis


This, the largest member of the swallow family, has adopted the many-roomed apartments which man is glad to furnish. For there are few people who do not take pleasure in watching the graceful flight of this bird as he flaps and sails above your trees. His low-pitched, gurgling notes help to identify him.

They arrive from their winter homes rather early in spring and often are heard or seen by the latter part of March. Heavy mortality can result when late snows or icy rains cut down the quota of flying insects which are his food. As soon as family cares are over, they gather in huge flocks and soon leave for their winter home in South America. They usually are gone by the last of August.

The male is entirely blue-black which may look purple in some lights, while the female and young birds show lighter breasts with duller head and back.

A Purple Martin is a social bird and likes to nest in colonies. A series of gourds, boxes or a fancy many-roomed martin house all seem to offer an equal appeal to this bird; however, he prefers they be placed on a pole well above the ground and in an open space where he can come and go without dodging limbs. A pond or lake in the neighborhood is desirable.

He flaps and sails,

Goes here and there

To catch the bugs....

His daily fare.

Blue Jay
Cyanocitta cristata


You may admire him greatly or hate him intensely. It depends on what he is doing when you form your opinion. A flock of these blue and white birds with large crests and black chin-straps, add color and cheer as they pass thru the timber. They often are conversing in a series of soft musical tones which are pleasing to the ear when all is serene. Moments later they discover a sleeping owl, cat or snake and the flock changes into a group of loud-mouthed bullies. Such is the way of a Blue Jay.

During the nesting season, this bird which is larger than a Robin, shows the darker side of his character, for then he destroys the homes of many nesting birds, eating both eggs and young of the smaller species. You can hate him and all of his kin for such habits, but this is nature and nature is never mild. Later you will find him hiding pecans, acorns or sunflower seeds under leaves, sticks or moss. Then you will learn that he does a lot of good, for many of these seeds are never eaten but grow into new trees or bushes. It is just as natural for Blue Jays to hide these acorns as it is for squirrels to do the same thing. His alarm notes often save animals and birds for they have learned to heed his warning call.

He dresses like a dandy

With chin-strap from his crest....

Sometimes you must admire him,

At times he is a pest.


Common Crow
Corvus brachyrhynchos


In many areas there is no other with which this 19-inch all-black bird could be confused. His steady wing beat, his characteristic call of “caw” or “ca-ah,” his flocking habits in fall and winter help to identify him. Along the Atlantic and Gulf shores, the smaller Fish Crow is found, while on the western prairies the White-necked Raven which is slightly larger, may be confused with the Crow. Mountainous areas and seacoasts also have the Common Raven, which is much larger, but all show the color pattern of the Common Crow. The last 3 birds have different calls and all are more inclined to mix a lot of sailing in their flight.

But what about the crow? We know he robs nests of eggs and young, we know that he eats corn, peanuts, pecans, in fact anything he can lay his beak on, and he is cunning enough to get his share. But do we give him credit for the huge crop of grasshoppers, crickets, moths and weed seeds he consumes? We may be blaming him unduly, for many of his food habits are beneficial.

In winter they gather in huge roosting flocks and can be seen going to and from these roosts. They co-operate with each other both in finding food and seeking protection. Their system must be admired for they are doing all right.

We feel quite sure

That you all know

If he says “Caw”

He is a crow.

Black-capped Chickadee
Parus atricapillus


Altho smaller than a sparrow, this little bird is hardy. He does not leave his summer home and move to a warmer climate just to dodge the snow and sleet. You will find him feeding just as happily in a snowstorm as on a warm spring day, always consuming small insects, their eggs or larvae. Exploring the trunks of trees, hanging upside down on the end of a limb, or hunting larvae on tender leaves, it makes no difference to this sharp-eyed bird. Those of you who feed birds will find the chickadee one of your friendliest customers, for he relishes peanut butter, suet, sunflower seeds or doughnuts and often gets tame enough to eat from your hand.

He shows a whitish line on the edge of his wing which is lacking on the slightly smaller Carolina Chickadee which has a southern range. The latter bird uses a 4-note call “fe-be-fe-bay,” while the black-capped uses only “phe-be.” The normal chick-a-de-de-de call of the black-capped seems a little lower and slower than that of his southern cousin.

Both birds nest in cavities in stumps or trees, some being old nesting sites of the Downy Woodpecker, while others are prepared by the chickadees themselves. This seems quite a task for so small a bird.

A friendly little urchin

With black on cap and chin.

He will become quite chummy

If you are kind to him.


Tufted Titmouse
Parus bicolor


This sparrow-size cousin of the chickadee has a tuft of feathers which gives him a striking appearance. The tuft, nape, back, wings and tail are slate gray, while the cheek, throat, breast and belly are white with a pinkish-brown patch just below the wing. Habits are similar to chickadees and he often can be found feeding in loose flocks with these and other small birds such as Downy Woodpeckers, nuthatches and Brown Creepers. Together they form a useful team for what one species misses by his method of feeding, one of the others will find by a slightly different method.

They nest in holes in trees or even a bird box to their liking. They are noisy birds and their song is much louder and clearer than you would expect to hear from such small singers. The song consists of a series of whistled notes which sound like “pet-er” or “pet-o,” the first note usually slightly higher. Other notes remind you of a Carolina Wren or a Kentucky Warbler but the phrasing and tempo soon lead you to proper identification.

A titmouse enjoys a well-stocked feeder and is a nice neighbor for he enjoys singing and the clear whistled notes add a touch of nature to a cold winter day.

How can a bird

As small as he

Sing half so loud?

We cannot see.

Brown Creeper
Certhia familiaris


There is no other bird quite like the Brown Creeper. He is well named for his brown plumage with lighter stripes gives him perfect protection as he climbs spirally up some rough-barked tree. His curved bill, sharp claws and long tail, all serve a distinct purpose in helping him find his food. Hackberries or other rough-barked trees serve as his hunting grounds and there you will find him checking the cracks and crevices as he starts from the base and works upward, sometimes checking the larger limbs, but often dropping down to the base of the next tree after reaching the lower limbs. Insects, their eggs and larvae form the major portion of his diet but he will not spurn suet on your feeder.

Brown Creepers are found in this area only in winter, when they can be found in loose flocks along with kinglets, chickadees, nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers and titmice, all working together to rid the trees of the insects which are wintering there.

His note is a weak lisp which can be confused only with the series of similar notes uttered by the Golden-crowned Kinglet. He nests under a strip of loose bark or occasionally in knotholes or well-hidden spots around larger trees.

His brown-striped coat

Is hard to see,

As he climbs spirally

Up your tree.


House Wren
Troglodytes aëdon


Most Americans seem to have fallen in love with the House Wren. It could not be his beauty for he lacks the distinctive markings found on other birds, even other wrens. Even in good light you see only a small grayish-brown bird with lighter underparts. It is surely not his size for he is smaller than a sparrow. His song is a sort of spontaneous outburst of notes which give you more quantity than quality, with a liberal helping of scolding notes, so it is not his vocal efforts. He is not a good bird neighbor for he often punctures the eggs of other nesting birds in his area. It must be his independence that has won him favor.

No other bird finds such an assortment of nesting boxes, all sizes, shapes and colors, some homemade, others purchased. Some he will use, while others offer no attraction. He may pass up a well-placed wren house to build in the pocket of an old coat hung in a shed. He likes boxes 8 to 10 feet above ground, not hidden by limbs.

He prefers low shrubs, piles of brush or wood, or even open spots in heavy timber, for there he finds the insects and small spiders which form the major part of his food. Most of his hunting is either on or near the ground while nesting sites are seldom above 12 feet. He runs to large families and more than one brood is reared.

His brownish hue, his bubbling song,

His impish little ways,

You like to have him ’round your home

To gladden summer days.

Mimus polyglottos


A trim, robin-size pale gray bird which shows extensive white patches on the wings and outer tail when in flight. These markings will identify this bird in winter when you find him feeding on whatever fruits or berries he can locate. He does not choose to migrate when a good supply of red cedar, bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, persimmon, bittersweet or other such seeds are available. Raisins or currants will entice him to your feeder but he is too big a bully to make a good guest for he chases other birds away.

In summer he adds other little habits which soon bring him to your attention. First, his song, a medley of rich notes which include not only his own song, but a mimicked version of other songs and sounds which he has heard. These are usually repeated 2 or 3 times and then he goes to a new series, which may be harsh or pleasing. His song has more variety of notes than the Brown Thrasher or Catbird. He prefers high perches when singing, such as aerials, chimneys, windmills, trees, buildings or water towers. He always is doing unusual things like leaping into the air or going thru other antics which show his well-marked plumage.

He likes to nest in arbors, shrubs or trees which offer protection to his bulky home which is often only a few feet above the ground.

With clearest tone or rasping call,

With notes unheard in music hall

They form the mocker’s roundelay

On moonlight night or sunny day.


Dumetella carolinensis


This trim member of the mocker family leaves no doubt as to his identity. No other bird has a uniform slate-gray plumage with a black cap and rusty brown under-tail coverts. It makes little difference if you miss the rusty marking under the tail, or even see the bird, for he soon discloses his identity by his song. The normal song consists of a series of musical phrases, well seasoned with catlike mews, often heard coming from some concealed perch in shrubs or low bushes, for there is the favorite home of the catbird.

Altho slightly smaller than a Robin, he consumes many insects while waiting for the small fruit and berries to ripen. Mulberries and wild cherries are relished in season, while strawberries, blackberries or grapes are not overlooked.

He prefers low shrubbery or vines for nesting and builds rather a bulky structure of sticks, twigs, paper, rags or leaves, lined with finer material. Two broods during the summer keep the parents busily engaged.

When trying to impress his mate, he often fluffs his feathers out until he looks much larger, sticks his head up with mouth open and struts around like a clown. It is just a part of nature.

In brushy thickets or some low tree

A slate-gray bird is what we see.

And oft we listen, wondering how

He can repeat the cat’s me-ow.

Turdus migratorius


There is no reason to tell you this bird is robin-size except that we would like you to remember he is 10 inches long. This helps when making a comparison with other birds. This medium-size member of the thrush family makes himself at home on your lawn, in your garden, pastures or fields. There you will see his reddish breast, dark head and back, all distinctive in sunlight or shadow. Yes, you can spot a Robin anywhere. The young have spotted breasts which is typical of the thrush family.

Robins are early risers and start singing as soon as the first faint glow shows the approach of a new day. Robins do most of their feeding on the ground. There you will see them making a short run, then stop, look and listen. They seem to be able to hear their prey, for you will notice them digging worms and insects from depths which would make them impossible to see. These birds sometimes add small snakes, minnows or frogs to their diet of worms, insects and fruit. Hackberries, persimmons and red cedar seeds help carry them thru the winter.

Robins often winter rather far north and are one of the first migrants to make an appearance in spring.

Your travels bring you wide acclaim

For everyone can call your name.

They count the days ’til you appear

For then they feel that spring is near.


Eastern Bluebird
Sialia sialis


This small thrush, only slightly larger than an English Sparrow, is held in high esteem by those who have made his acquaintance. Unlike the Hermit and Wood Thrushes which sing in the seclusion of deep forests, the Bluebird prefers open country with scattered trees. Old apple orchards make choice locations for usually they have a number of old woodpecker holes for nests.

Unlike most thrushes, he is not noted for his song, however his frequently heard “tur-wee,” gives a restful assurance that all is well. The male has bright blue upper parts with reddish-brown breast. The female is duller with only the wings and tail showing blue with duller brown breast. The young have spotted breasts like others of the thrush family.

Bluebird houses will help bring this bird to your community but remember that the opening should be smaller than 1½ inches which will admit Starlings, while low sites such as fence posts discourage the English Sparrow. These birds cover a large area in their search for food so houses should be spaced accordingly.

Grasshoppers, crickets, cutworms and other insects form a major portion of the food while small fruits and berries also are relished. Like the Robin, he often spends his winters with us.

A little bit of heaven

Seems a part of your array,

So blue above with brownish breast

How can you dress so gay?

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Regulus satrapa


Energetic little birds, smaller than House Wrens, the Golden-crowned Kinglets spend the winter busily engaged in searching the twigs and branches for insect eggs or larvae. There they join mixed flocks of chickadees, Brown Creepers, nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers, all working together to protect our trees. He is easily identified for he has the habit of flicking his wings as he moves thru the branches. His short, slightly forked tail, white line over the eye, distinct wing bars, all seem dull when compared to the golden crown, edged with black. This gives an artistic touch to his olive-gray plumage. The female shows a yellowish crown. The only bird with which he can be confused is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet which shows a distinct eye ring. He flashes his ruby crown only when excited.

Like the Brown Creeper, this bird has a faint lisping call which usually is given in a series of from one to 3 notes, not the single note of the creeper.

They often feed in low bushes or shrubs, sometimes on the ground and seem to have little fear of man and will permit a close inspection. When feeding high in the trees, their small size gives you a clue to their identity.

Oh, little king with crown of gold

How do you stand the winter’s cold?

If I were small as you, I know

I’d travel south and miss the snow.


Loggerhead Shrike
Lanius ludovicianus


A gray bird with a black mask over the eyes, black wings which show a white patch when flying, and a black tail with white margins, all help identify this shrike. His head seems large when compared to his trim body, he has a hooked beak, the under plumage is white. If there is any doubt, watch him fly from one perch to another. He drops down near the ground, flies rapidly and then zooms up to his next location. Another habit is flicking his tail like a Phoebe when he alights.

This bird likes open fields, pastures, grassy or weedy grounds with handy perches where he can get a good view of his surroundings. He has good eyes and any small snake, mouse or grasshopper will cause him to investigate. He often hovers before striking and catches his prey with his strong beak, for his feet are not equipped with heavy claws like most predators. This also makes it necessary for him to impale his prey on thorns, barbed wire or some other pointed object where he can cut it with his sharp bill.

Shrikes seem to prefer thorny trees for nesting, but will use whatever is available. Most nests are rather low and are bulky structures.

These birds kill more food than they consume and would be held in better repute except for the habit of killing other birds.

A “butcher-bird,” you hear folks say

For you use thorns to hang your prey.

Now we don’t mind, your catching mice,

But killing songbirds isn’t nice.

Sturnus vulgaris


Previous to 1890, this bird was unknown in America. Then a few pairs were released in New York City and now look at them! Starlings are everywhere. When walking around your yard or field he appears to be black with a short tail, pointed wings and a sharp pointed beak which is yellow in summer and brownish-black in winter. On closer inspection you will find that he is a little smaller than a Robin, greenish with speckled plumage in fall and winter, which develops into greenish-purple in spring. In flight he flaps and sails much like a Meadowlark but his short tail and wing pattern are distinctive. The young are brownish with lighter throats.

Many of the Starling’s feeding habits are beneficial for he eats many worms and insects which he finds by turning over leaves or probing with his sharp bill. The fact that he likes fruit on occasion is not in his favor for he likes to travel in flocks and it takes a lot of fruit to feed a flock of Starlings.

Starlings have not learned to migrate and large flocks often gather about buildings to roost, and what noisy, dirty lodgers they are. Perhaps the worst habit is that of taking over all the available nesting sites before our native birds arrive in spring. Every hole, crack or cranny is occupied, so where are they to go?

When foreigners invade our land

They sometimes get clear out of hand.

So leave them all where they belong

And then you’ll know they’ll do no wrong.


Red-eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus


Unlike some of his relatives which prefer low bushes and shrubs, the Red-eyed Vireo prefers heavily-wooded areas. Where forests occur, he is the commonest bird. Clearing of timber reduced much of his habitat, but any grove of trees will furnish a home for this species. His numbers are limited only by the area of the wooded section.

Vireos are more often heard than seen for they feed slowly thru the tops of high trees, but have an endless series of notes and sing during the hot summer days when other birds seek shelter. The song consists of a series of short phrases sometimes rising, sometimes falling, as if the bird were talking to himself, even answering his own questions, with a distinct pause between. Some of these notes have a robin or tanager-like quality, but the repeated song soon places the bird.

When you see this sparrow-size bird, you will find that he has a clear white line over the eye, bordered with black. This is his only outstanding mark for he has no wing bars. His general appearance is greenish-gray above, white below with a greenish-yellow tinge on the sides and flanks. His red eye is not distinct enough to make a good field mark. His main diet consists of leaf-eating worms.

With others hushed

By summer’s sun

He still sings on

As tho ’twere fun.

Myrtle Warbler
Dendroica coronata


The Myrtle Warbler is a member of a colorful family of American birds most of which are smaller than sparrows, have thin pointed bills, are more active than vireos. They are often referred to as the butterflies of the bird world. The Myrtle Warbler is presented because he is the first to arrive in spring, often before the leaves arrive to hide him from view. This 5½-inch bird has 4 yellow marks which will identify him: the crown, rump and each side of the breast. He appears darker than most warblers, being blue-gray above, white below with black marks across the breast and back beneath the wings. The white throat and 2 white wing bars offer contrast. Females and young lack the brilliant markings of the male, but the yellow rump patch will identify the birds. The white throat distinguishes this from other warblers which show a yellow rump.

This bird is a migrant since he prefers to nest in the evergreens of Northern United States and Canada. He feeds on insects and larvae which infest our trees but captures many flying insects when available. Often he winters farther north than you would expect to find warblers and then feeds on small berries. Myrtle or bayberries are a favorite food and the name of the bird indicates its fondness for these berries.

The first to greet us in the spring,

The last to leave in the fall,

Four yellow spots before your eyes

Is proof he’s paid a call.


Geothlypis trichas


The adult male of this species wears a black mask over his eyes and is only 5¼ inches long. The female lacks the mask but has a yellow throat, white belly and olive-brown head, back, wings and tail which identify the birds.

They nest over a wide area, favorite habitat being bushy thickets near water. He is quick to resent any invasion of his privacy and uses a variety of scolding notes to let you know how unhappy he is. His movements are wren-like and hurried and his black eyes fairly sparkle to show his excitement. He soon vanishes into the undergrowth but you will have a chance to learn his call which sounds like “witchity, witchity, witchity,” or “witcheree, witcheree, witcheree,” usually repeated 3 times.

While all warblers are beneficial, the Yellowthroat perhaps leads the list for he feeds over a large area and in a variety of places. Cankerworms in your orchard will soon bring this bird for they along with fall webworms, are his favorites. Other caterpillars, plant lice, leaf-hoppers, grasshoppers, flies and beetles add variety to his menu and protection to the farmer.

They nest on or near the ground, the female builds the nest and hatches the young, but he is a devoted father and helps gather juicy worms to feed the offspring.

A singing bandit he might be

Who seems to say just “witchity.”

Near wooded draws he likes to stay

And there he spends the summer’s day.

House Sparrow
Passer domesticus


Whether you call him an English Sparrow or a House Sparrow, makes little difference. He is not a sparrow, nor can we blame the English for the vast population of these birds found within our borders. The fact that it is a weaver-finch would indicate that Africa was the original home of this species. This bird has been introduced into many countries and he soon adapts himself to any surroundings. The record shows that 8 pairs were introduced in Brooklyn in 1850 but did not survive. Two years later, more were imported and now they are at home over a wide range.

Since we have referred to this bird for comparative size, it is well that we keep him in mind. His length runs from 5½ to 6¼ inches with a wingspread of 9½ to 10 inches. The male is rather colorful with his gray crown, chestnut nape, white cheeks, black throat and chest, brown back and gray-white belly. The thick finch-like bill, the slightly notched tail which they flick often, the habit of hopping when feeding on the ground—all help in identification. The young and winter males resemble the female which is a dull-brown above with gray-white below and a pale stripe over the eye.

They consume quantities of insects but will eat almost anything available.

He sits and chirps all day long

With what to him must be a song,

He thinks your home a place to nest,

Which wins for him, the name of pest.


Eastern Meadowlark
Sturnella magna


This chunky robin-size bird is perfectly at home in fields and pastures. There he is easily recognized as a plump brown-streaked bird with yellow underparts and a black crescent on the breast like a black V. The short tail shows white on each side and is flicked nervously. The crown shows black and white stripes. They fly low over the fields with a series of flaps and sails and walk around short-grass meadows in their search for insects.

They are not larks but are closely related to Starlings, as shown by their scientific name and their resemblance to the invading flocks of these aliens. Unlike their relatives, Meadowlarks have no bad habits and feed largely on cutworms, grasshoppers and beetles which are found in their chosen habitat.

The Eastern Meadowlark has a loud clear song often referred to as “spring is here,” while his western cousin, slightly smaller in size, produces a series of whistled notes and warbles which is quite pleasing to the ear. Both have a series of chattering notes which is typical. Neither is hesitant about singing and they add much to their surroundings by the quality of song.

They not only should be protected but encouraged to nest around farms for they more than pay their way.

With yellow breast and black cravat

Whoever asks, “What bird is that?”

For meadowlarks range far and near

And sweetly whistle, “spring is here.”

Red-winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus


A black bird with a bright red shoulder patch identifies the adult male. Females and young are a heavily streaked gray-brown while young males are brown with an orange wing patch. In fall and winter the brilliant red shoulder patch is not so apparent, sometimes reduced to only a line.

These numerous birds are slightly smaller than Robins and are abundant along ditches, ponds, lakes or other marshy areas where they nest in rushes, cattails or small bushes surrounding water. Irrigation has increased their habitat until they are one of our common birds. Vast flocks spend the winter in southern marshes.

While nesting in swamps or other low areas, they range widely in search of insects and larvae and account for many which would be injurious to crops. In fall they feed heavily on weed seeds and waste grain. Huge flocks are not welcomed in the unharvested rice fields of the south.

Feeding habits make him a good neighbor to everyone in his northern range before he joins the flocks of Starlings and other birds which flock to the southern areas.

The male is a bigamist on occasion and often entices more than one mate to share his chosen marsh.

A flash of red

You’re bound to see

And then you’ll hear

His “oka-l-e-e-e.”


Brown-headed Cowbird
Molothrus ater


The coffee-brown head and black body of the male are distinctive, but in fall the brown head shows more of a purplish tinge. The young, while larger than sparrows, could be confusing since they are olive-brown above with a buffy scaled appearance. The underparts show brown streaking. The female is dusky gray.

They feed near grazing animals and consume quantities of insects which are disturbed by the herds. In winter they join other flocking birds for migration. Then they feed on small seeds.

They build no nest but lay eggs in the nests of vireos, warblers, sparrows or flycatchers and depend on the foster parents to rear the young. The white, evenly speckled-with-brown egg usually hatches before the eggs of the rightful owner and the young Cowbird immediately tries to push the other eggs or young out of the nest. He wants all the food for himself. Some birds destroy the unwanted eggs, others desert their own nest or build a new structure which covers the eggs, but most species raise the young Cowbird. Such habits are not condoned in the best bird circles.

Gurgling notes of the male offer a soothing note to nature, when flocks of these birds join other blackbirds in the treetops. The female has a chattering note which is distinctive.

“No moral standards”

Man would say,

But nature governs

And birds obey.

Summer Tanager
Piranga rubra


The rosy red plumage of the male Summer Tanager is helpful in identification for he is smaller than the Cardinal and lacks the tuft and black face patch of the latter. Females, which resemble orioles, do not have the sharply pointed bill of the oriole and are richer colored than the female Scarlet Tanager, being almost an orange-yellow below. She is olive-yellow above with no wing bars. The wings are greener than those of her near relative. Young males often show a mottled pattern of reds and yellows before attaining the rosy red hue of the adult.

They prefer a rather open forest such as is found on hillsides. A dead treetop makes an ideal perch while singing or catching insects on the wing. The song is a rather melodious series of notes which reminds one of a Robin. Alarm notes are a distinctive series of chippy-tuk-tuk notes.

These birds feed rather deliberately thru the trees and destroy many insects and leaf-eating larvae which they encounter. Their nest is usually far out on the limb and at least 10 feet above the ground. They spend winters in South and Central America. The breeding range does not extend as far north as that of the Scarlet Tanager.

We like your color, rosy red

We like to hear you, overhead.

In open woods, we know you’ll rest

For there your mate conceals her nest.


Richmondena cardinalis


Most folks call him a “redbird,” which is only natural. The male is entirely red except for the black face. No other redbird shows a tuft or has such a heavy, orange bill. The female is dressed more in keeping with family duties for yellowish-brown plumage offers more protection to her and the secluded nest. She always shows a reddish tinge especially on the crest, wings and tail. These markings combined with the conical reddish beak, leave little doubt as to identity. The young resemble the female.

The Cardinal, slightly smaller than a Robin, can be found in almost any area which includes thickets or tangled vines for protected nesting sites. Hedges, plum thickets, woodland borders, city parks, swamps or around your home, any or all are used on occasion. He likes to feed on small seeds which means he must venture into the open, but he wants cover handy, when predators arrive.

In summer the Cardinal feeds heavily on insects and larvae but seeds and small fruit form the major portion of his diet. He is fond of sunflower, melon or squash seeds and will be among the first to visit your feeder when these seeds are offered. If no regular feeder is available, he will accept food when placed on the ground or snow.

With brilliant coat and whistled song,

A thing of beauty all day long.

A joy forever you will find,

If you will keep his wants in mind.

Spiza americana


This sparrow-size finch is not too easy to describe for plumage varies. There is no doubt about the singing male for he gets his name from his song and reminds you every few seconds that he is a Dickcissel. He shows a yellow breast with a black spot and except for size resembles a meadowlark. Telephone wires, fences or weeds offer good perches and there you will find him with head back and tail hanging down as he repeats his song. A reddish-brown wing patch is a good field mark in some seasons. The female is much like the female English Sparrow but is lighter with a tinge of yellow and a lighter eye-line.

Dickcissels are common around fields or meadows and seem to be especially fond of alfalfa fields for they offer a good assortment of beetles, bugs and hoppers on which the bird thrives. Larvae and small seeds round out the diet and make this bird a useful neighbor on any farm.

They nest on or near the ground. This makes them victims of various predators which range thru such areas. Cowbirds seem to rely on these birds to raise their young for they are often found feeding the young imposters. They wander widely in both nesting and winter range and frequently appear where least expected.

In summer when the days are long

You’re bound to hear his cheerful song.

In open fields, he likes to stay

And calls his name thruout the day.


American Goldfinch
Spinus tristis


The American or Common Goldfinch often is called “wild canary.” Altho he is not a canary, his small size, color and twittering notes remind people of their pets. While smaller than sparrows, these birds are rugged and winter over much of their nesting range. Their habit of flocking and tendency to feed on weed seeds makes them easily found.

The male of this species is a rich lemon yellow with a small black mark above the bill, black wings and tail. The wings show distinct white bars especially in winter when the yellow has faded to the more somber hue of the female. The tail is forked with white tips on the outer feathers and coverts. The bill is yellow.

Goldfinches are noted for their cheerful dispositions. A feeding flock can be heard uttering twittering conversational notes even in winter. Spring brings the notes of their beautiful but varied song which usually can be identified as “tzee,” or “per-chic-o-ree,” which is the song heard when the birds pass overhead.

Goldfinches nest late in the season and use quantities of thistle down or similar fiber in building their compact homes. Fondness for thistles, both seeds and down, often gives him the name “thistle-bird,” and many artists picture him perched on this colorful weed.

He’s never happy when alone

But with the flock is prone to roam.

You often hear his questioning “tzeee”

In flight he says, “per-chic-o-ree.”

Slate-colored Junco
Junco hyemalis


The sparrow-size Slate-colored Junco or the “snowbird,” as he frequently is called, is only a winter visitor in most areas. But what a welcome guest he is! The white belly and outer tail feathers add distinctive marks to his slate-gray plumage. The bill is pinkish white. Females and immature birds are duller and sometimes show a pinkish-brown tinge on their backs and sides.

Juncos can be found around weed patches, hedges or sheltered corners of fields, where they spend much time in feeding on weed or grass seeds which provide their winter diet. Even fallen seeds are not overlooked for these birds do much of their feeding on the ground. They sleep in evergreens, sheds or other protected areas which shelter them from the cold and snow. They often visit feeders for small seeds provided by bird lovers.

Their notes are hard to describe but have a musical smacking or clinking note or series of notes which once learned, are easily remembered. Their song is a series of chipping notes much like those of a Chipping Sparrow, but with more variation and more of a musical quality. This song is heard when the first warm days of spring arrive. They nest in either mountainous or northern regions for they enjoy cool climates.

Slate-gray above and white below,

Reminds us of a winter’s snow.

The leaden clouds we see o’erhead

Bring flaky snow, thru which we tread.

Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May. Jun. Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec.
Blackbird, Red-winged 22      ..oo XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX ooo. ..  
Bluebird, Eastern 18 .... ..oo XXXX oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ooXX XXXX oooo ....
Catbird 17                  .. oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oo.           
Chickadee, Black-capped 14 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Coot, American 5 ....   .. oXXX XXXX XXoo oooo ..     .. ooxx XXXX oooo ....
Cowbird, Brown-headed 23 .... ...o XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX oooo ....
Creeper, Brown 15 oooo oooo oooo o..                           ..oo oooo oooo
Crow, Common 14 XXXX XXXX XXoo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ooXX XXXX XXXX
Cuckoo, Yellow-billed 7                   . oooo oooo oooo oooo oo.. .             
Dickcissel 24                  .. ooXX XXXX XXXX Xooo oo.. .             
Dove, Mourning 7 .... .... ooXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXoo oooo oo.. ....
Goldfinch, American 25 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Goose, Snow 2        .o XXXX oo.. .                         XXX oo.      
Grebe, Pied-billed 1             .. oooo ..         ..o oooo oooo oooo oo.. ....
Hawk, Red-tailed 3 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Hawk, Sparrow 4 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Heron, Great Blue 1            ... oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo .... .   
Hummingbird, Ruby-throated 9                  .. oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo .             
Jay, Blue 13 oooo oooo oooo ooXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXoo oooo oooo oooo
Junco, Slate-colored 25 XXXX XXXX XXXX XXoo                          oooX XXXX XXXX
Killdeer 5    . ...o oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oXXo oooo oo.. ....
Kingbird, Eastern 11                 .oo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo               
Kingfisher, Belted 10 .... .... oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ....
Kinglet, Golden-crowned 18 oooo oooo oo.. ...                            ... oooo oooo
Lark, Horned 12 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Mallard, Common 2 XXXX XXXX XXXX oooo ...                 ...o oooo XXXX XXXX
Martin, Purple 13             oo oooo oooo ooXX XXXX XXoo ..                 
Meadowlark, Eastern 22 .... .... oooo XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXoo oooo oooo oooo ....
Mockingbird 16 .... .... ..oo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo .... ....
Nighthawk 8                   o XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXo o             
Owl, Screech 8 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Phoebe, Eastern 11             oo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo o..           
Prairie Chicken 4 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Robin 17 oooo oooo ooXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXoo oooo oooo
Sandpiper, Spotted 6                  .. oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo o.            
Shrike, Loggerhead 19 oooo oooo oooo oooo XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX oooo oooo oooo
Swallow, Barn 12                 ooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ..            
Swift, Chimney 9                 ooX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX oo            
Tanager, Summer 23                     oooo oooo oooo .... ....               
Tern, Black 6                     oXXX XXoo       ooX XXXX oo            
Titmouse, Tufted 15 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Vireo, Red-eyed 20                  .o oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oo            
Vulture, Turkey 3              . oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ....     
Warbler, Myrtle 20                .ooo Xoo                      oooo .        
Woodpecker, Downy 10 oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo
Wren, House 16                .ooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo ..            
Yellowthroat 21                  oo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oo            
. The dot or period indicates the bird is occasionally seen.
o The small o shows the bird is more frequently seen.
X The capital X shows the bird is commonly seen.

For example, during the first 2 weeks of February, the Red-winged Blackbird is rarely seen. During the last 2 weeks of February, it is seen frequently, after which it is commonly seen until the end of October. The table is based on bird census figures collected within a radius of 50 miles of Topeka, Kansas. Your area may show different results.


Kansas Farmer
Missouri Ruralist
The Topeka Daily Capital
The Kansas City Kansan
Michigan Farmer
The Ohio Farmer
Capper’s Farmer

Capper Publications, Inc.

Transcriber’s Notes