BEGINNING THE STUDY
Why should not people ride natural history hobbies as well as other kinds of hobbies? Almost all persons become interested in some special study, recreation, or pastime, and their choice is not always as profitable as the selection of a specific branch of nature lore would be. The writer confesses that he would rather pursue a bright, lilting bird or butterfly than a bounding tennis-ball or football, and he finds the chase every whit as exciting and the knowledge gained of more permanent value; and he says this without in anywise intending to discountenance healthful games and athletic exercises, but simply to express a preference. What could be more fascinating, for instance, than for a young person—or an older person, either, for that matter—to spend his leisure in trying to identify every bird in his neighborhood? As a result of such an attempt he would doubtless become so interested in the study of his bird neighbors that he would resolve to learn all he could about their charming habits.
How may one study the birds intelligently? That is a question every beginner will want to have answered. When I began my bird studies I spent much valuable time in simply trying to learn the modus operandi, and while I do not consider the time thus spent entirely wasted, still I am anxious to save my readers as much needless effort as possible. This I shall do by showing them how they may begin at once to form an acquaintance with the various families and species of birds.
It goes without saying that, to become a successful nature student, one must have good eyes, strong limbs, nimble feet, and, above all, an alert mind. People who lack these qualities, especially the last, will not be likely to pursue the noble science of ornithology. The stupid sort will prefer to drowse in the shade, and the light-minded will care only for the gay round of social pleasures. Any bright and earnest person, however, can in good time become an expert student of the feathered creation, provided only that he feels a genuine interest in such pursuit. No one, let it be repeated, can study nature successfully in a dull, perfunctory spirit. Here, as in religion, one must have the baptism of fire, the temper of devotion.
In the study of birds it must be admitted that men and boys have some advantage over their cousins of the gentler sex. Men folk may ramble pretty much where they please without danger, whereas the freedom of women folk in this respect is somewhat restricted. However, the engaging works of Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller, of Mrs. Florence M. Bailey, and of many others prove that women are not debarred from outdoor studies, and that in some ways they may even have an advantage over men; they are not so ambitious to cover a wide territory, to penetrate to out-of-the-way haunts, or to roll up a long "list," and they are therefore apt to make more intimate studies of the common species, thus getting into the very heart of the bird's life. A man's observations may embrace a wider range, and he may add more species to the science of ornithology than his sister, but she will be likely to discover facts about the commonest fowl that he will overlook....