Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Notes on a Well-Known Songster

Popular Science News appears to be a new publication added to Verrill’s publications. It may have only been in existence for the year 1902, probably an offshoot of Popular Science.

Notes on a Well-Known Songster

A. Hyatt Verrill

Popular Science News; Nov 1, 1902; researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, October 2011.

Photos from life by A. Hyatt Verrill,

THROUGHOUT the eastern states, wherever brushy pasture or brambly thicket afford a suitable home, the catbird dwells. From the first warm days of earliest spring, until the frosty autumn mornings skim the woodland pools with a delicate shimmer of ice, he is in evidence. In the early morning and late afternoon, his loud musical song, which for variety and richness rivals that of the Mockingbird, is poured forth from fence-post or tree top, while during the day his queer feline "meow" greets each and every intruder on his domains. Sociable in disposition, attractive in appearance, with his odd voice and well-developed intellect, it is a wonder his habits and economic value are so little known or studied. Many a farmer will tell you that he robs the granaries and commits depradations on fruit and berries. Moreover, the black character given him by the rustics is further augmented by many persons who aver that he destroys and devours the eggs and young of other birds.

Suppose he does occasionally help himself to the farmers' plentiful stores, must we forget the fact that he raises on an average 12 young each year, the hungry mouths of which he keeps constantly supplied with caterpillars, grubs and other insects, which would do the farmers' crops far greater injury than all the catbirds of the neighborhood? As to his destroying bird homes, I can never believe him guilty. Often a catbird will build her nest and raise her brood close to that of some small warbler or sparrow, but in such cases I never knew of the neighbor's nest being disturbed. Moreover, they seem tender-hearted creatures, and are the first to show anxiety when the cry of a young or wounded bird is heard. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt until their actual guilt is proven, and even then may there not be outlaws and criminals with perverted tastes and instincts in birdland as well as elsewhere?

Unlike most birds these little gray chaps seem to reason, and really have a knowing expression that is lacking in many species. On one occasion I endeavored to secure some photographs of a catbird feeding her young. The camera, as usual, was set up and focussed on the nest and was partially concealed by means of branches and a green cloth. This matter arranged, I retired a short distance, and bulb in hand, awaited the mother catbird's return. Presently, bearing a fat green caterpillar, she flitted up, but instantly her bright beady eyes discovered the camera. Cocking her head on one side she eyed it suspiciously, complaining meanwhile in a low tone and hopping about uneasily. At last, with a quick flirt of tail and wings, she sprang to the edge of her home, and ere I could spring the shutter, had dropped the morsel to her babies and was out of sight among the leaves. In a few moments I heard her complaining notes in the thicket and soon she reappeared with her mate. Both birds hopped about, chattering to each other, eyeing the camera, and evidently discussing the danger lurking therein. Finally the father darted up to within a few inches of the lens, "meowing" defiantly and fluffing up his feathers, apparently challenging the queer contrivance to do its worst. After a few moments of this (during which his wife looked on approvingly), he seemed satisfied as to the instrument's harmless character, and with contempt expressed in every feature, perched upon the lens-board and twittered a few low notes of satisfaction. Satisfied that they had nothing to fear, both birds at once fell to work to feed their neglected babes, hurrying back and forth with insect tidbits, and paying not the least attention to the camera. As soon as I had made an exposure, it was necessary for me to approach the instrument to replace the slide and insert another plate. Much to my surprise, when I did so, the busy parents showed not the least alarm at my presence, evidently thinking that I was in some way connected with the camera, and therefore harmless. In this way I was able to obtain a number of excellent photographs of the old birds at their domestic duties.

The catbird's bump of curiosity is remarkably developed, and any odd or peculiar thing will invariably be investigated, once they are satisfied it is harmless. I well remember how amused I was in watching a catbird engaged in solving the mystery of an old shoe, caught on a barbed wire fence near a clump of barberry bushes. She would alight beside it, peer inside, peck inquisitively at its many rents, retire to the seclusion of the barberries, scold a few seconds, return to the discarded footgear and repeat the performance. So intent was she upon solving the mystery of the queer affair, that she was entirely indifferent to my proximity, and as, gathering courage, she perched upon the stubbed-out toe, and with head on one side studied the mysteries of the shoemaker's art, I took her portrait. As the sharp click of the shutter aroused her from her contemplation, she darted off with remonstrating voice, but her curious thirst for knowledge was still unsatisfied, and a few days later I noticed her, again striving to solve the problem of the unknown.

Living and breeding close to haunts of man, these birds soon learn what to avoid and of what to take advantage. Where undisturbed, they become very tame, building their nests and laying their deep, blue-green eggs in dooryard shrubbery and porch-covering vines, and hopping about kitchen door and poultry-yard,—almost as much at home as members of the domestic flock. On one occasion I knew a pair of these birds to build in a honeysuckle close to the dining-room window, and regularly after each meal, the neighborly couple would enter the room, hopping about the floor or even venturing on tables and chairs,—gleaning many a scrap and crumb to satisfy their dainty appetites.

Perhaps it is this association with mankind that causes them to make use so readily of human inventions. Scraps of rags or carpet, as well as string and tough paper, they find are more enduring and easily manipulated than sticks and leaves for nest building, while a watering-trough or rain barrel is a more reliable source of drinking water than that of the wayside puddle.

Quite recently, while driving along a suburban road I noticed a catbird preening her wet plumage in a brush pile by the roadside. Evidently she had just completed her morning's ablutions, and curious to learn where she had found any water (for I knew of none in the vicinity). I stopped to investigate. Beside the brush was a collection of old rubbish,—broken crockery, old bottles and empty tins,—and among the other trash was a discarded dish half filled with water from the last rain. The following morning ere daylight, I visited the spot and waited for my little bather to appear. At last she came, accompanied by her husband, and, while she fluttered about in her porcelain bathtub, he watched her lovingly from a nearby twig, regaling her with bits of song and stopping now and then to arrange some rumpled feather in his smooth, gray costume, while awaiting his turn.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.