Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

October 8, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 58(2): 3-W.

Birds Are More Sociable When Weather Grows Cold

By Sandy Griswold.

Winter rambles will soon be the vogue. I have always loved them, although I now lack the steam to go like I once went, and yet I can and do go some, still.

I love these sorties afield, however, in the sombre days of November, and in the real wintry ones of December, too, just as fondly as I do those of the present month of gold or any of those in the sweet old summer time.

Winter rambles enable one, at that, to note a more interesting variety of temperament in the avian realm, than do the most studious wanderings in the milder seasons. One of the chief things we learn in the bleak days of fall and the trenchant ones of winter, is, that fewer birds are recluses than they are in the summer, as anomalous as this may strike many of my readers.

Yet it is true. All of them, fro crow down to chickadee, are more sociable, and live in what we might safely style, nomadic communities.

In the vernal time, after the birds have begun to mate, they are, of course, found generally in pairs. They are more or less exclusive, secretive and covert, and keep close to some limited signoiry that has taken their fancy.

In the winter time there are no jealousies and consequently little quarreling, even among those most at variance in their habits. With little or nothing to do but search for food, and a protected roosting place, they become exceedingly neighborly, and flit about among the gray branches of the woods, or over the desolate fields, in flocks, in which there is sometimes an intermingling of many different species, sometimes more than a dozen.

Those who are really interested in the study of birds, for the pleasure this entrancing knowledge gives him, and who are determined to learn all they can about the smallest details of their lives, know all this already, but there are others who do not.

To Study Birds.

Birds must be studied intelligently. The one idea should be to get into the very heart of their lives, and then it is possible to complete your education in this line, enabling one to classify them with a real personal knowledge of general species and varieties, with an accurate knowledge of their ranges and general habits.

To begin with, as a foundation for your own study and research, get one of the best manuals published, and read as many of the charming works written by scholars in a literary vein, describing personal observations of bird life, and you will fill a nook that can only otherwise be filled by going afield yourself, which is the greatest joy of all.

This will help you immensely.

Winter rambles, to go back to my original theme, bring to your notice flocks of birds, that, if you did not go out among them, you could hardly believe that they were to be really found and enjoyed. No matter how many species there may be among the scores you will find, they will be on fairly intimate terms with each other, cordial and unafraid, like the different breeds of people in a small town.

Northern Birds Here.

Just a few days ago, on a particularly crisp morning, as I was on my way through Turner park to catch a car downtown, I was surprised at the sight of six or eight nuthatches scrambling about the gray bolls of the elms, and among them were three redbreasted, and I at once realized that the northern birds had arrived.

And, of course, I loitered, and quietly discovered that these birds were not only ones that had made their way into this little woodland, for I quickly espied a pair of tufted titmouse, several down and one hairy woodpecker, a wisp of white throats, chickadees a plenty, and a flicker or two.

It was the little ruby chested sapsucker, however, that pleased me most. While I had seen any number of the white breasted all through the summer, and several had partaken of my bounty from my window sill, I had not seen a single red one.

I like his looks better than I do the white. His colors are more varied and more vivid, with his buffy belly, velvet black cap and nape, the white stripes, ebony circled about the eyes, and his blue-gray overcoat. He is much smaller than his white-throated cousin and his summers are spent - that is, a big majority of them - much farther north. True, there are some red-breasted that remain in this section all summer, but it is rare that you find one nesting here. The red-breasted does not breed throughout its range like the white, but travels far on to the north to nest and rear its young.

Little Ruby Chest.

Of the two species, I think the red is the more distinctive, as a migrant, for while the white lingers here in great numbers, strange as it is, the hardier red comes south for his winter residence. For a little scientific switch, the white is known as the Carolinensis and the red as the Canadensis, and they queerly overlap each other in their nesting and family rearing, the red, as I have stated, coming down from the far north to take up residence farther to the south, which the white-breasted never does.

The latter is better adapted to our oak and elm and maple woods. The red prefers the evergreens of the north, of whose fruits he is especially fond. They both have the same call, or so nearly alike that it is difficult to differentiate one from the other, but the white has a beady strand of cherry little concatenated notes, which he gushes forth as he starts in flight, which the red does not.

Small cavities, often chiseled out by themselves, in dead snags, stumps or fence posts, are favorite breeding abodes for both kinds, the red being the most secretive as to the location and shyer in betraying his procreant habitations.

Once in a great while we encounter still another species of this cunning little sprite, in our home woods and groves, a very tiny specimen, with a chestnut colored hood, which, however, is a true resident of the tropics. It is rare, indeed, that he wanders this far north, but I did see two - both males - among the oaks in the park at Point Pleasant Inn, on Lake Madison, Minn., during my sojourn up there the past June. In all but his mahogany crown, this little fellow closely follows in coloration of plumage, the markings of the red-breasted.

Another strange thing about the birds of this order - the picidae - is that the red-headed woodpecker, regarded as one of the sturdiest of all our summer visitants, and who has many of the characteristics of the squirrels, in his constant chattering and the storing away of food for a rainy day, is the first of all of the species to leave us in the early fall - the yellowhammer remaining long after the red-head has gone. Very seldom, but occasionally, a red-head, lingers here all winter, and it seems to make little difference with him, how rigorous the weather may be.

In a final word, I must add, that in spite of the unique, interesting and useful characteristics of this family, their praises are chanted by our bird lovers less than almost any other species I can name, and later on I shall endeavor to tell you something more about the red-headed and the golden-winged.