CHAPTER I FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BIRDS
It is in spring that wild birds make their strongest appeal to the human mind; in fact, the words "birds" and "spring" seem almost synonymous, so accustomed are we to associate one with the other. All the wild riotous singing, all the brave flashing of wings and tail, all the mad dashing in and out among the thickets or soaring upward above the tree-tops, are impelled by the perfectly natural instinct of mating and rearing young. And where, pray, dwells the soul so poor that it does not thrill in response to the appeals of the ardent lover, even if it be a bird, or feel sympathy upon beholding expressions of parental love and solicitude. Most people, therefore, are interested in such spring bird life as comes to their notice, the extent of this interest depending in part on their opportunity for observation, but more especially, perhaps, on their individual taste and liking for things out of doors.
It would seem safe to assume that there is hardly any one who does not know by sight at least a few birds. Nearly every one in the eastern United States and Canada knows the Robin, Crow, and English Sparrow; in the South most people are acquainted with the Mockingbird and Turkey Buzzard; in California the House Finch is abundant about the towns and cities; and to the dwellers in the Prairie States the Meadowlark is very familiar.
Taking such knowledge, however slight, as a basis, there is no reason why any one, if he so desires, should not, with a little effort, get on neighbourly terms with a large number of birds of the region, and spring is a most favourable time to begin such an effort. One may learn more about a bird's habits by closely observing its movements for a few hours at this season than by watching it for a month later on. The life that centres about the nest is most absorbing. Few sights are more stimulating to interest in outdoor life than spying on a pair of wild birds engaged in nest building. Nest hunting, therefore, soon becomes a part of the bird student's occupation, and I heartily recommend such a course to beginners, provided great care is exercised not to injure the nests and their contents.
Caution in Nest Hunting.—A thoughtful person will, of course, be careful in approaching a wild bird's nest, otherwise much mischief may be done in a very short time. I have known "dainty eggs" and "darling baby-birds" to be literally visited to death by well-meaning people, with the best of intentions. The parents become discouraged by constantly recurring alarms and desert the nest, or a cat will follow the path made through the weeds and leave nothing in the nest worth observing. Even the bending of limbs, or the pushing aside of leaves, will produce a change in the surroundings, which, however slight, may be sufficient to draw the attention of some feathered enemy.
When one stumbles on the nest of a Quail, Meadowlark, or Oven-bird, it is well not to approach it closely, because all over the country many night-prowling animals have the habit of following by scent the footsteps of any one who has lately gone along through the woods or across the fields....