Frank H. Shoemaker. . Unpublished manuscript. Frank Shoemaker Collection, Love Library Archives, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Birds of Hanscom Park.
The increasing interest which is being taken in bird study finds many who are not very familiar with bird ways wondering where they may go to see a fair number of species. A trip to distant woodland calls for a little more energy than some care to expend; nor is it necessary to go far to find ample material for study. It is very moderate to state that on any day during the spring or summer an hour or two in any park in Omaha will repay the observer by an acquaintance with from fifteen to twenty-five different kinds of birds.
Probably the most convenient place for a short trip of observation is Hanscom Park. It is well within the city and easy of access, and the birds are always there. If one will make occasional visits to this place, on holidays and after business hours, keeping a list of the birds he sees, he will be surprised at the number of species his list will show after a few trips. The following notes are the result of a series of lists made in this way, all within the limits of Hanscom Park.
The mourning dove, the only representative of the dove tribe in this region, is a common species, and may be seen almost any day in the spring and summer. The red-tailed hawk has been seen on several occasions, sailing above the tree tops. The sparrow hawk sometimes alights upon the taller trees.
One of the most inconspicuous residents is a screech owl, a bird which remains in the park at all seasons. His first home was in a large tree with a decayed stub at a safe distance from the ground, but during the spring he transferred his home to a taller tree overlooking the lake, where he occupied a cavity which had at one time been the nesting place of a yellow-shafted flicker.
The yellow-billed cuckoo is sometimes seen, though never a common bird. Unlike the European species, which is notorious for laying its eggs in other birds' nests and leaving its young to their care, this bird builds its own nest and lays four or five eggs, sometimes at intervals of several days, for which reason it is not unusual to find freshly laid eggs and young birds in the same nest. It must be admitted, however, that the shiftless habit of the European cuckoo is sometimes noted in this species.
The lake furnishes sufficient inducement to the belted kingfisher to make this his home during the early spring and late summer, but as there is no bank of earth adapted to his nesting he goes elsewhere to rear his family.
The woodpeckers are well represented, the yellow-shafted flicker or "yellow-hammer" being the largest and most common species. The red-headed woodpecker is often seen, and is probably the best known bird of the family. The downy and hairy woodpeckers are both present, the former staying through the winter. The red-bellied woodpecker was once seen in the early spring.
In the evening the nighthawks are numerous, busy in the pursuit of insects above the trees. The chimney swift is very common, always on the wing. The flycatchers are represented by the kingbird, phoebe and wood pewee, all being quite common. A bird not often seen in the park is the great-crested flycatcher. The blue jay is always present, and the crows hold conventions in the ravines during the winter.
The meanest bird in the neighborhood is the cowbird, which spends a large part of the springtime hunting for other birds' nests in which to place its eggs. It is not unusual to find a nest of a warbler or vireo with two or three eggs of the cowbird, and a nest of the chewink was observed last summer with seven eggs of the cowbird and one of the rightful owner.
The western meadowlark is properly a bird of the fields, but it has been noted within the limits of the park. The Baltimore oriole seems to have a special liking for this shady place, and several may be seen almost any day in the summer. When the leaves are off the trees a number of the beautiful pensile nests of this species may be found in various portions of the park; but to find the nest among the foliage is a more difficult matter. The bronzed grackle, or "tree blackbird," is not uncommon, but he goes elsewhere during the nesting season to find his favorite cottonwoods and Lombardy poplars.
The American goldfinch is a resident species, and his near relative, the pine siskin, is common during the winter. The white-throated sparrow is a beautiful bird which one may see occasionally in the early spring. The tree sparrow is abundant during the migrating period, and may be seen in the winter also. The chipping sparrow and the field sparrow are fairly common, and several song sparrows spend the early spring in this place. The clay-colored sparrow is not often seen. Slate-colored and Oregon juncos occur in flocks during the spring, both species frequently being seen in the same flock. A few representatives of the former species remain through the winter. The fox sparrow is not common, but may be seen during migrations. The chewink is common, and spends his time singing his various songs and scratching among the dead leaves under the bushes. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are numerous, and furnish some of the best music in the park.
The scarlet tanager occurs sparingly, his brilliant plumage catching the eye where a less attractive bird would be overlooked. The purple martin makes its home in the city, but frequently visits the park, and is often seen on the wing, and occasionally even on the dead branches of the large trees. The cedar waxwing is not often seen, but a flock occasionally visits the place, more commonly during the winter. The white-rumped shrike, or butcher-bird, remains throughout the year, but is not a common species, which is probably a cause for rejoicing among the English sparrows.
The warbling vireo is common during the summer, and the red-eyed vireo is sometimes found, though his preferred habitat is more retired.
The black-and-white creeping warbler is a rare species, but a few may be seen in the early spring. The yellow warbler is common throughout the summer. The myrtle warbler, a bird of rare beauty, is fairly common during the migrating season. An occasional visitor is the redstart. The banks of the lake are too well defined to suit the tastes of the western yellowthroat, which prefers a marshy tract; so the species is not often seen within the limits of the park.
The catbird and the brown thrasher are common, and their songs will repay one for the trouble of becoming acquainted with them. One of the rarest birds of the park is the Carolina wren, which has been noted only once. The house wren is common, and is a well-known bird. The brown creeper may be seen during the spring, climbing in spirals about the tree trunks, but it is so small and its color so nearly that of the bark that one must look closely. Another bark-loving bird is the white-breasted nuthatch, which remains here throughout the year. The black-capped chickadee and a closely allied species, the long-tailed chickadee, are often seen in the park, the former being one of the permanent residents of the place. They are very small birds, both having long tails, the latter species gaining the distinguishing name by virtue of a half-inch extra.
The golden-crowned and the ruby-crowned kinglets are the smallest birds of the list, and occur frequently during the spring. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only bird of this region which is smaller than the kinglets, but it has never come under the notice of the writer within the limits of the park, though it must sometimes be attracted there by the flowers. There is an insect called the sphinx moth, or hawk moth, which hovers over the flowers in the early evening, and it is surprising how often this moth is mistaken for the hummingbird.
The clear, beautiful notes of the wood thrush maybe heard almost any evening in the summer. The olive-backed thrush is fairly common during the early spring. The robin and the bluebird are present, and are well known to all.
It is not pretended that this is a complete list of the birds which may be found in Hanscom Park. The birds named have all been observed by the writer, and the list is thus limited to show what one person may see. If the lists of several observers were gotten together the representation would be found much larger than it appears here.