Sunday, 11 March 2012

Three Funny Birds


Three Funny Birds
Everyland's Nature Club
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland, April 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar 2012.

All readers of Everyland who collect stamps must have noticed the graceful bird on the stamps from Guatemala. This is the Quetzal or Resplendent Trogan. It would have been far more appropriate as the emblem of Mexico than of Guatemala for when the Spaniards first came to Mexico, they found the Aztecs' kings and priests wearing robes and head-dresses made from the feathers of the quetzal which was the sacred bird of the Mexicans.
The quetzal is as beautiful in color as in form, and is bright green above and scarlet below, with a black and white tail. The male bird has several long feathers, often a yard or more in length, projecting from the back and drooping over the short tail, but the female is not so brightly colored and lacks these long, graceful feathers.
The quetzal lays its eggs in holes in trees and the father bird, who is a very devoted husband, helps his mate by taking turns at sitting on the eggs.
Of course the long feathers on his tail, of which he is very proud, would soon be broken and injured in the hole, and to prevent this the quetzal does a very funny thing. This consists in digging the hole clear through the limb of the tree, and then the pretty father sits upon the white eggs with his fine tail safely hanging out of the hole, and in this position he can leave the nest without turning around and ruining the long feathers.
But a cousin of the quetzal has an even funnier habit. This bird is a handsome fellow with a deep-blue back and yellow breast. One day while walking through the woods in Central America I saw one of these trogans perched upon a branch near a large hornets’ nest. While I was watching him he darted forward, snapped up a hornet and disappeared. Puzzled at the way he vanished, I examined the limb carefully, expecting to find he had slipped into some hole, when to my great surprise he suddenly flitted out from the opening in the hornets' nest! As the hornets were very large and lively, I didn't investigate further, but afterwards I discovered that these trogans actually make their nests inside of the hornets' home and add insult to injury by feeding themselves and their babies on the rightful owners of the nests.
You may think this is a funny sort of place for a bird to live, but what would you say to a bird that builds barbed wire fences to keep intruders from entering his nest? In the same countries where the quetzal and his hornet-loving cousin are found there is a small reddish-brown bird with a stubby tail with two long, stiff feathers sticking out behind. He is a shy, suspicious little chap who lives in thorny hedges and along old fences and is really a sort of wren. He is such a tiny little fellow that no one would ever believe he was the maker of the huge nests which may be seen among the bushes and thickets where he lives, but it is a fact nevertheless. The funniest thing about the nests is not their size, however, but the curious way in which they arc built.
When the wrens are ready to begin housekeeping, they select a small bush or tree with horizontal branches, and across these they place sticks which are fastened in place by tough grass and roots until a rough platform is made about six feet in length and two feet wide. On the end of this floor, and close to the trunk of the tree or bush, the wrens build a dome-shaped nest about a foot high and with thick walls composed of interwoven thorns. Then from this nest they make a curved or zigzag tunnel to the outer end of the platform. Even then they are not satisfied and make their home even more secure by building little thorn fences across the tunnel, leaving just room enough for the wrens to squeeze through. When they leave the nest, the wrens close their doors behind them by placing thorns across the openings in the fences so that no robber can get in to rob the nest or destroy the dainty speckled eggs within.

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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.