Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

June 7, 1914. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 49(36): 4-M. Includes three pictures of the men afield and three pictures of mounted bird skins.

Hunting Wild Birds in Parks and Green Woods that Abound Near Omaha

The Boom of the Gun is No Longer Heard in the Woods Near Omaha, But in its Place Bird Hunters Search Diligently with Lead Pencil, Notebook and Camera, While About Flit the Feathered Tribe Happy in Their Freedom.

For those who may wish to study the birds of Nebraska, the government offers a pamphlet called "Fifty Common Birds of Farm and Orchard," published with Farmers' Bulletin No. 513 by the Department of Agriculture. Senator Hitchcock or Congressman Lobleck or any member of Congress can furnish copies of this pamphlet upon application. While some of the birds dealt with in this pamphlet will not be found here, most of them are fairly common in this section, and the descriptions and identifications are as nearly perfect as could be.

By Miles Greenleaf.

Despite the recent law enacted by Uncle Sam, the spring hunting in the vicinity of Omaha has been great this year. Never were the birds more docile nor more beautiful. In the past three Sundays we have averaged between thirty and forty birds a trip, and this but little west of Elmwood park. And what are our weapons? - Why - lead pencils!

There are generally three in our party. One of them is Robert D. Neely, a well-known young attorney and the other is Billy Marsh, property owner and naturalist, who could emulate the example of "September Morn" if he thought he could get away with it, so "bughouse" is he on the nature stuff.

Marsh is the chap who invented the new style of hunting. Himself a dead shot with a Parker when the game is on the wing, and the law is not, Billy takes as much pleasure in hunting with a lead pencil as he does with a shotgun. Nearly every day, in every season, Marsh hits into the underbrush, armed with his morocco-covered record book, and emerges with a complete list of the birds he has seen and identified. He dates each entry and heads it with the name of the district in which he was hunting. Very naturally a comparison of his records for the past many years is highly interesting. But that, as your old friend Rudyard would probably observe, is another yarn.

It was Marsh, anyhow, who first made bird-bugs out of the estimable Mr. Neely and the writer of this swarm of words. It took him a long time to do it - but he did it.

Beginning the Record.

One day when we were out on a long hike, and the snow was up to our knees, Billy, apparently went into a cataleptic convulsion on the Big Pappio bridge on West Center street. He grabbed out his mysterious book and began to scribble violently therein. In was January, 1912, and bitter cold. We figured he was suffering from thermometeritis, and were preparing to overpower him when he pointed into a nearby thicket and gasped:

"Don't you see it? For the love of Mike - don't you see it?"

We looked and saw a splotch of bright crimson in the winter sunlight. We told him so.

"It's nothing but a red lamp," we asserted with confidence, "There's probably a deep hole over there and somebody has hoisted a danger signal to keep the farmer from falling in."

"Cut it out," snarled Billy. "That's a cardinal - and in the middle of winter."

"Cardinal nothing!" snorted the eminent young barrister, who is very well informed on all subjects. "This ain't any cardinal."

Marsh then went on to explain that a cardinal is a bird - a very beautiful and tuneful bird - who is frequently seen hereabouts in the summer time, but, who generally makes it for warmer climes in the winter. Just why said cardinal chose Omaha as a winter resort that year we have never been able to figure out, but we have learned to love the cardinal, and know him by his song, as well as by his gorgeous plumage. It was our first lesson in bird-hunting with lead pencils, and from that time on it has filled us with horror to meet a thicket prowler, in the gentle spring, toting a deadly weapon when all our friendly feathered fellows are yodeling and whistling of peace and the other emotions higher up.

Just how fascinating this game may become is difficult to express in mere words. It develops into a contest. One of the party, who has seen and identified a bird which escaped the notice of the others, proudly brags of his prowess, and when the numbers are totaled at the end of the hike, the one with the largest "bag" becomes the here of the day by common consent.

Silly - did you say? Just try it a couple of times and see.

Ours is not the only party that hunts with lead pencils. There are many bevies of enthusiastic young women who search the woods near Riverview park and Child's Point in much the same manner that we browse around Elmwood and the two Pappio creeks. They are becoming educated in birddom even as we hope to be, and if it weren't an interesting game, they wouldn't be doing it.

Haw many of you who may read this story can identify over half a dozen song birds to be found in Omaha parks or in nearby woods, can name them at a glance or by hearing their song or call? Not many, perchance.

And yet, within the short space of three hours, in Elmwood park and along the little Pappio creek, as far south as Center street, we three saw and identified the following thirty-three birds in the forenoon of Sunday, May 17:

Thirty Three Songsters 
Maryland Yellowthroat  Mourning Dove 
Robin  Rosebreasted Grosbeak 
Bluejay  Phoebe 
Cowbird  Crow 
Brown Thrasher  Hawk 
Dickcissel  Redeyed Vireo 
Redheaded Woodpecker  Chickadee 
Kingbird  Redwinged Blackbird 
Meadowlark  Flicker 
Northern Shrike  Bluebird 
Chimney Swift  Baltimore Oriole 
Towhee  Barn Swallow 
Yellow Warbler  Scarlet Tanager 
Catbird  Purple Grackle 
House Wren  Cardinal 
Wood Thrush  Orchard Oriole 

That's a pretty lively young list, isn't it? And yet the sport of the game shows up when we had to realize that several other birds, which we could hear, were in our immediate vicinity, and yet we could not get a slant at them. We had seen them the Sunday before, and saw them the Sunday after, but since we could not surround them that day they had to stay off the list. There is no cheating in the bird game. Everybody plays square. A bird must be seen and identified before he goes down in the records. We should have seen, for instance, a hairy woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, a crested flycatcher and several varieties of warblers - but we didn't, and so there you are.

The weapons for bird hunting in its most satisfactory form are a notebook, a lead pencil, a pair of binoculars, a camera and some courtplaster. Butting through the underbrush is calculated to disturb the epidemic veneer on the human form when in wild pursuit of some particularly elusive birdlet.

Very naturally, as the spring arrives and the weather warms up the song birds increase in numbers. You know pretty well what to expect and can refresh your memory by a glance at your notebook under the similar entry of the year before. But even with this expectancy the game has an additional charm. Omaha is situated in the Missouri valley, which is a veritable highway for birds passing between the south and the north, which always stay close to some stream. Thus a lead pencil hunter is always on the alert for new or strange birds that may drop off to pass the time of day while en route one way or another. There are scores of varieties of warblers and to identify them is most difficult, so the notebook prowler generally has to admit himself baffled in half a dozen cases at least when on the summer trail.

Weather Affects Changes.

One might think that the game would drag in the winter, when the more brilliantly colored songsters are off the job hereabouts, but it is just such instances as the unexpected appearance of the cardinal in a snowdrift, previously mentioned, that makes the sport good. It is interesting to see the birds come and go as the weather becomes too warm or too cool.

Opening Mr. Marsh's notebook at random and striking the date of December 21, 1913, it is found that in Elmwood park we saw but eight birds - brown creeper, screech owl, junco, cardinal, chickadee, nuthatch, downy woodpecker and crow. The winter was very mild, which probably accounts for the presence of the cardinal, but compare that list with the one recently quoted for May 17.

The more riotous songbirds have come, but what has become of the junco and the nuthatch and the brown creeper?

The junco is a little slate colored bird who is a real Arctic explorer. Peary never had a thing on Mr. Junco. He nests in the Arctic circle and comes down here to get warm in the middle of the winter. You will find hundreds of them in our parks, but would you recognize them? Probably not. He has long since left for his northern home, although Billy Marsh did see one two weeks ago in the wilds of East Omaha. The poor thing had probably been on a debauch down there and missed the homeward caravan.

And then there's the nuthatch - another winter bird. Perhaps you have seen the little critter, and if you have you have noted him well, for he is generally upside down. Mr. Nuthatch prefers to stand on his head, and in this giddy manner he will start at the top of a tree and prowl his way downward. it is pretty safe to say hat if you see a bird standing on his head he is a nuthatch.

While the nuthatch is standing on his head, and you are standing on yours in a snowdrift trying to locate him properly, there appears another winter feathered friend - the brown creeper. This pretty little fellow, with his gently striped back, has a stunt of his own - as have most of the birds. He sneaks along the ground just ahead of you and scolds with his little "Seep! Seep!" until you have gone. Then he proceeds to hustle his daily grub. He does this by starting at the bottom of a tree and creeping up to the top, meanwhile looking for grubs or bugs that he may located. When he reaches the top of the tree, he flies down to the bottom of the next and then repeats the dose, thus reversing the nuthatch stunt - the nuthatch starting at the top. Between the two of 'em, they cover the ground pretty thoroughly.

But it would be ridiculous to pose as naturalists, for the lead pencil hunters are merely the laity. Theirs but to observe, not to teach. It is fun enough to know birds when you see 'em without attempting to take the chair of birdology, or whatever you call it.

The hunting itself is the most fun. Most everybody takes you for bird assassins and the inquiry is generally, "What'd you get, boys?" You tell 'em you got thirty birds, and they ask to see 'em. Then you pull out your notebook and they march away in disgust. You are branded as gibbering idiots - but you know better.

Tale of a Northern Shrike.

Lately our party has been blessed, or otherwise, by the presence of one going through the throes of being a bridegroom. The gent referred to was the aforesaid Attorney Robert D. Neely. With the crowning event of his bright career staring him in the face, he wandered through the woods with us in a sublime trance - tangled himself up in the wild grapevines and butted his head into stalwart trees that had come there first and objected to being pushed around. To him all pretty birds were feminine and all of more modest hue were masculine, which is not the case.

We pulled him out of the creeks, wiped away his tears when the deep-throated song of the cardinal touched his t[h]robbing heart, and manfully reassured him as the mourning doves sobbed over the pitiful scene. As we distangled him from a particularly tenacious bunch of grapevine, Billy saw a flash of black and white as a bird dashed into the darkened embrace of an evergreen tree.

"A northern shrike," pronounced Bill. "Probably got a nest in there."

The word "nest" attracted the barrister. No music was ever sweeter to human ear. He would have a look at said nest. Nothing would deter him.

Pulling down the branches of the evergreen he peered over into the neat little bungalow erected by the bird family, when of a sudden out came Mrs. Shrike, spoiling for a fight. She attempted to peck the button off the top of the attorney's cap and made other representations that soon had the legal light in full retreat.

"That bird," quoth Mr. Marsh later, as the prospective bridegroom was adjusting himself, "is better known as a butcher bird [loggerhead shrike], but is really a militant suffragette. She has many traits noticed in the modern woman."

For half an hour, Mr. Neely had nothing to say - he was deep in thought.

The northern shrike, be it known, can lick a dozen or so of almost any other brand of bird, generally sticking the bodies of its victims on thorns or barbs for future reference. Its filing system is unusually complete.

But the witchery of the outdoor game is really the outdoors itself, the fresh air and the unfailing healthfulness that accompanies it. When one is looking for birds, he finds flowers, and when he finds flowers he finds mushrooms or plants that he may wish to take home with him. Omaha's outer parks open up a wide field for amateur research, and the street car company will tell you that the citizens are taking more and more advantage of the opportunity thus afforded.

The Northwestern School of Taxidermy, in the Ramge building, has a set of stuffed birds, representing practically every feathered friend that appears in Nebraska, and pictures of a few of these specimens are reproduced herewith. For this courtesy the World-Herald and the writer are much obliged. No bird lover could spend a pleasanter hour than in the midst of this collection, where one can easily learn the difference between a Baltimore oriole and a Bronx cocktail.

The blast of a shotgun and the drop of a duck may be fine sport, but it hasn't any advantage over the gentler art of hunting with a lead pencil and notebook.

Just organize a weekly party, try it for a while and see. The chances are you will never again wish to kill a bird.

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