Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

August 29, 1915. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 50(48): 1-M. Includes one picture and ten examples of mounted birds.

Birds That May be Found in Woods Near Omaha are Interesting

The Hunting of Warblers With Notebook and Field Glass Becoming a Fad and Leads to Delightful Revelations - Partial List of Beauties that Visit this Section Given by One Who Knows - Sign of Songsters Point to Early Winter.

By Miles Greenleaf.

More different varieties of birds have been identified in Nebraska than in any other state in the union. This, of course, includes all kinds of birds and coves a wide field, and yet it would seem peculiar that a territory composed so largely of plains and sandhill could lead the list.

One needs but a single scramble through the ravines and over the thickly wooded hills near Child's Point, however, to firmly convince him that any bird who would not travel thousands of miles to camp there is a dithering idiot. And this is but one of several bird paradises very near Omaha along the rivers and smaller streams of Nebraska.

The writer has had but little opportunity to "hunt" through the Child's Point wilderness, but even a casual observation is convincing. Recently as guests of Mr. John Fitz Roberts, South Omaha's premier bird enthusiast, Billy Marsh and myself browsed around among those lovely woods until even the mosquitoes became discouraged.

A sign on the rustic gate read, ominously, "Look Out for the Bull," but we had no chance of seeing the critter, unless he had wings, for our eyes were constantly in the treetops. After have clambered several miles through the jungle we were convinced that the bull was there all right - but we failed to locate him.

Birds - birds to the Nth power!

Flocks of Birds.

Besides the usual August songsters we ran into a veritable flock of Myrtle warblers and American redstarts, the former being extremely unusual at this time of the year. Brilliant in plumage and strangely tame, these beauties fairly flirted with the party of exploration, and seemed likely at times to perch on the end of our field glasses.

As ever, it was the lynx-eyed Billy Marsh, who made the premier discovery of the day, when he led the troupe into a squadron of white breasted nuthatches, who are supposed to be up north just now, not being due in these parts until the frost is on the pumpkin. These upside-down birds were busily engaged in doctoring the trees in this vast reserve and their strange squawk sounded like snow under the beating August sun.

The writer lays no claim to the prowess of Doctor Welsh or the astute Doc Hicks, but if the song birds have an indicatory value it would appear that we are to have an early fall and winter. Else why are the warblers returning southward so much earlier than is their wont - and why are the nuthatches here in the middle of August. And why, as is reported, was there an immense flight of ducks to the south only a week ago?

There is no portent nor purpose in this yarn except to open up a few lines of thought concerning bird life in and about Omaha - to create interest in the most delightful game in the world - the hunting of songsters with notebook and field glasses.

To begin with, since it has been stated above that more birds have been identified in Nebraska than in any other state, it might be well to name those which can be seen in no more accessible retreat than Elmwood park and the immediate vicinity. The following list is taken from weekly observations by the writer, the new birds being registered and numbered as they first came in:

Schedule of Birds

  • January 3-
  • 1 - Chickadee.
  • 2 - Downy woodpecker.
  • 3 - White breasted nuthatch.
  • 4 - Brown creeper.
  • 5 - Crow.
  • 6 - Blue jay.
  • 7 - Slate colored junco.
  • 8 - Cardinal.
  • 9 - Hairy woodpecker.
  • January 10-
  • 10 - Harris sparrow.
  • 11 - Tree sparrow.
  • January 17-
  • 12 - Owl (lesser horned.)
  • February 7-
  • 13 - Horned lark.
  • February 21-
  • 14 - Bluebird.
  • February 28-
  • 15 - Goldfinch.
  • 16 - Pine finch (siskin).
  • 17 - Screech owl.
  • March 14-
  • 18 - Robin.
  • 19 - Sparrow hawk, (Cooper).
  • 20 - Grey hawk, (Goshawk).
  • March 21-
  • 21 - Loggerhead shrike.
  • March 28-
  • 22 - Meadowlark.
  • April 4-
  • 23 - Song sparrow.
  • 24 - Northern flicker.
  • 25 - Phoebe.
  • 26 - Red-winged blackbird.
  • 27 - Black hawk (?).
  • 28 - Red tailed hawk.
  • 29 - Snow goose.
  • 30 - Fox sparrow.
  • April 11-
  • 31 - Field sparrow.
  • 32 - Golden crowned kinglet.
  • 33 - Towhee.
  • April 18-
  • 34 - Chipping sparrow.
  • 35 - Belted kingfisher.
  • 36 - House wren.
  • April 25-
  • 37 - Bronze grackle.
  • 38 - Mourning dove.
  • 39 - Cowbird.
  • 40 - Brown thrasher.
  • 41 - Lark sparrow.
  • 42 - Bank swallow.
  • 43 - Quail.
  • 44 - Yellow warbler.
  • May 2-
  • 45 - Rose breasted grosbeak.
  • 46 - Chimney swift.
  • 47 - Wilson thrush.
  • 48 - Red-eyed vireo.
  • 49 - Kingbird.
  • 50 - Black poll warbler.
  • 51 - Myrtle warbler.
  • 52 - Baltimore oriole.
  • 53 - Barn swallow.
  • 54 - White crowned sparrow.
  • 55 - Yellow breasted chat.
  • May 16-
  • 56 - Maryland yellowthroat.
  • 57 - Catbird.
  • 58 - Yellow billed cuckoo.
  • 59 - Orchard Oriole.
  • 60 - Common tern.
  • 61 - Dickcissel.
  • 62 - Bobolink.
  • 63 - Traill's flycatcher.
  • 64 - Wood thrush.
  • 65 - Franklin gull.
  • May 23-
  • 66 - American redstart.
  • 67 - Wood pewee.
  • 68 - Night hawk.
  • June 6-
  • 69 - Indigo bunting.
  • June 27-
  • 70 - Crested flycatcher.
  • July 4-
  • 71 - Black billed cuckoo.
  • August 8-
  • 72 - Spotted sandpiper.
  • August 15-
  • 73 - Ruby throated hummingbird.

Supplementary List.

(Including birds seen shortly before January 1) (or in past twelve months:)

  • 74 - Green wing teal.
  • 75 - Mallard.
  • 76 - Green heron.
  • 77 - Wilson snipe.
  • 78 - Rusty blackbird.
  • 79 - Arkansas kingbird.
  • 80 - Tree Swallow.
  • 81 - Scarlet tanager.
  • 82 - Winter wren.

A Remarkable List.

This is a remarkable list - not because we recorded it, but because it could so easily be duplicated by nearly any other layman after but a few weeks of study in the outlands. There are but few birds mentioned in the main list of seventy-three that cannot be seen in the same territory at the proper time of nearly any year. The yellow breasted chat is rather unusual hereabout of late and the black-billed cuckoo is far outnumbered by his brother, the yellow bill. The rusty blackbird is likewise pretty elusive, but the rest should be fairly easy.

It must be remembered that this list is by no means a record breaker. Made by one who has spent but a couple of years in the study of birds, it must, of necessity, be incomplete. What songsters might be added to the number of some skilled ornithologist traveling the same paths as religiously as the writer might easily make him shudder with envy. There can be little doubt that in the migratory season of the warblers there are nearly a score which pass through and visit Omaha's parks and nearby wooded spots, but they are so tiny and so elusive in the treetops they frequent that a field-glass hunter is fortunate indeed if he succeeds in identifying one of six. These warblers may be expected next month. Watch for them and try your luck.

But as for those that have seen and have been identified - what a wealth of incident they might give to a story would space permit!

There is the English sparrow, for instance - a critter abhorred by most Americans but which has come to be the object of a most careful study by Fitz Roberts - the South Omaha bird sleuth.

In a corner of the exchange building at Southside, with Fitz has spacious offices, there is probably the only known English sparrow tenement. It is a rather pretentious apartment of six rooms, built one above the other. Six different English sparrow families are being raised in these six flats and all within a yard or so of the office windows.

Now, since the English sparrow is known to be primarily a peevish and disagreeable thug under most circumstances, this discovery of Mr. Roberts is important, for these birds actually built this six-story nest on the community plan - all on the job - and live together as peaceably as so many Quakers.

Mr. Fitz Roberts has another rather interesting place of English sparrow birdlore for the readers. On the northwest corner of Twenty-fifth and B streets there was built, early in the spring, a very pretty robin nest in the crotch of two of the larger limbs of a spreading maple. The sparrows evidently viewed this masterpiece of architecture with bitter envy, for they waited until it was about completed and then rushed the contractors off the place, confiscating the nest for their own uses. They couldn't bear to live in such a tidy establishment, so they dragged in all the straw, newspapers, frazzled clothes line and other bric-a-brac in the neighborhood and fixed that nest so it now has the appearance of a haystack set in the middle of the main dining hall of the Fontenelle hotel.

Enough of the English sparrow! Fitz is interested in them - but different here! Let's talk about something more agreeable.

The Gull Roams Far.

Take the Franklin gull, which you are likely to see almost any day about our fields, especially in the spring and fall. This strange seabird is named after the famous and martyred British arctic explorer and should stay up there where he belongs. But he doesn't.

The Franklin gull is a farmer by nature, for in immense flocks these powerful birds will follow the plow for hours on end, picking worms and insects from the upturned loam, keeping so close to the man with the reins that their wings often beat against his hat. Billy Marsh and myself saw the Franklins "pull" this piece of work late Sunday afternoon, May 16, in a tiny field near Forty-eighth and Leavenworth Streets. They seemed fairly to swarm upon the farmer, and the horses before the plow became frantic in their alarm.

Everybody knows the rain crow, but there are not many who know his real name, which is "yellow-billed cuckoo." This handsome and solemn bird, with his brown plumage, blackish and white-tipped tail and whitish belly is most common in any of our parks or wooded tracts. He is supposed to be a harbinger of rain with his deliberate "Cuk! Cuk! Touk, touk, touk!" - but it is more probable that he doesn't know any more about the weather than the rest of us. He has a freakish habit of insomnia, however, and the writer has heard him deliver his measured song at 2 or 3 o'clock in the darkest of mornings. How the author chanced to hear this call at such an hour is immaterial, irrelevant and not the best evidence, but he heard it, just the same.

Consider the screech owl, which somber personage has probably scared more people to the brink of the grave than any other natural influence - don't you remember his frightful midnight yell of human agony and his whimper of a wounded child? He is to be found in almost any park or woods, if your eyes are keen, and you will then discover that, like Dundee, he has no joints.

At least no joints in his neck! For he will see you first and will follow you as you circle the tree - follow you with his head, without moving his body! Then, like an elevator, he will easily slide down into the hollow of the stump upon which he has been perching. It is impossible to look at a screech owl, stuffed or otherwise, without thinking of elevators - he descends so evenly and smoothly.

The Belted Kingfisher.

In describing the birds whose photographs appear above, thanks to the Northwestern School of Taxidermy, it would be a mistake to overlook the Belted Kingfisher, the kingly fisherman so easily found in these parts. He may be readily identified by his harsh rattle in flight, and you all know how he sits on some stump or convenient limb until he sees a frog or fish in the water below. Then there is a headlong dive, a splash - and the prey has disappeared into Dr. Kingfisher's department of the interior.

Then the Yellow Breasted Chat - perhaps the craziest bird in the world - who prances on a bow, fluffs his wings, jerks himself idiotically about in a very paroxysm of fervor - only to produce a harsh and feeble "cawk!" Occasionally he does more in the singing line, but his antics in the air and while on a tree-top are fearful and wonderful.

Only last Sunday, while rambling through Elmwood, Billy Marsh and myself were very much interested in the antics of a pair of wood pewees, who evidently had a nest nearby and were skirmishing vigorously for food, no doubt for their youngsters. Darting rapidly back and forth across the ravine, they massacred numberless insects, but finally one of them shot out across the road and far up into the air, which is a journey most strange for this lover of seclusion.

The reason of the sudden advance into the skies became soon apparent. A bluejay came forth from a tree over the way and flapped clumsily toward the spot where we thought the pewee nest must be located. At the same instant the tiny pewee, high in the air, descended like a plummet and attacked the jay, which must have been at least six times larger.

Bluejays are marauders of the worst sort and ruthlessly wreck the homes of their fellow birds, eating the eggs and even the young. The wood pewee was on guard, however, and actually drove the bluejay, which squawked ignominiously, far back into the woods. The story of David and Goliath was never better illustrated.

Continuing this somewhat rambling series of bird incidents, calculated only to stimulate interest in the sport, the Nebraska mockingbird must be mentioned. He isn't a mockingbird in name, but he certainly is in nature, for the catbird has no mean skill at mimicry.

Catbird is a Mimic.

A week or so ago the writer was observing a big, flaming cardinal singing away in the very densest part of a very heavy tree. His "What cheer! What cheer! Whew!" was hypnotizing and the queerest part of it all was that there seemed to be a quavering, undecided echo to the song. After several minutes a catbird was discovered in a bush beneath the tree, diligently studying the cardinal song and attempting to imitate it. He didn't do any slouch of a job, either, for his warble would have been a pretty fair Baroda variety had it been possessed of the strength and punch of the real cardinal carol.

Perhaps the only bird that can remain apparently motionless in mid-air is the ruby-throated hummingbird, a beautiful and tiny fellow who feeds in the very hearts of flowers and nests in a gorgeously decorated cup of mosses and petals scarcely larger than a napkin ring.

The ruby throat is very common just now, and you will find him trembling in space above a thistle blossom or other flower only to dart like lightning into the honeyed depths, returning as swiftly as it entered. So speedy is this variety of hummingbird that one's eyes must be mighty nimble to follow him across the porch vine or through the arbor in your back yard. And if you find his nest, something like that of the wood pewee, although even smaller and more beautiful, you will be indeed a hero. Needles in haystacks would look like crowbars compared with a ruby throat's nest in a treelet.

In concluding these remarks it might be well to remember the indigo bunting, a tiny creature with a splendid tenor voice, who always insists on perching upon the very topmost tip of the tallest tree. Once in a while he is to be found upon telegraph wires, but he is as easily identified by his song as he is by his startling coat of blue.

Get in the game! Secure yourself a little notebook, a pair of glasses, and a bird guide. Then take a weekly trip through one of our jungle-parks and see some of the feathered chaps described above.

Uncle Sam has quit shooting songbirds - he's helping them to live and prosper.

Get into the game!

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