Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold, editor. February 28, 1909. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 44(22): 4-S. Portion of Forest Field and Stream column.

Forest, Field and Stream.

Spring's First Harbinger.

From what I observed on my frequent fall chicken, quail and duck hunts, and from what I have heard other sportsmen say, there were more crows in the different sections of Nebraska—always a crow's paradise—the past fall than there has been since long years ago, when they used to frequent our streets and door-yards like tame pigeons. Upon the flats northeast of old Fort Calhoun, flocks of tens of thousands of these sable birds assembled daily, and all along the Missouri river bottoms, clear up to the last of November, they roosted in countless numbers. Many of them remain with us through the entire winter, however frigid, and they are always back with us at the very first suggestion of spring.

Did you ever watch the evening flight of these birds, on their way to roost, in the dreary days of late autumn? If so, you are certainly highly entertained, for there is no other spectacle in nature that fits so completely with the surroundings as the afternoon processions of the crows from their harrowing fields to the low, thick willows for the night. While the feathered buffoon of the wild, and dismal, indeed, would be the aspect of field and wood if he were forever taken away from us.

And in the spring, when the coyote is lean and hungry, what a boon to the lover of the outdoor world is the crow. Long before the bluebird's sweet but mournful note is heard dropping from the skies, before the trill of even the hardy little field sparrow ripples upon the sensuous air, before the soft currents from the south tinge the slopes' sides and fan the delicate anemone into color and starts the shrill serenades in the wet meadows, the crow forms the vanguard of approaching spring.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

That is the cry that heralds really the coming of spring. The tunes of those other blithe musicians only accompany the soft winds that bare the fields, empurple the maple buds and open the blooms of the first squirrel cup in the Pappio's bottom and set the hylas shrill chime a-ringing along Cut-Off's marshy shore.

Preceding these, you have all noticed, while the fields are yet an unbroken whiteness and the coping of the drifts maintain the fantastic grace of their storm-built shapes, before a really recognized waft of spring is felt, or the voice of the freed stream is heard, comes that sable pursuivant, the crow, fighting his way against the still fierce north wind, tossed alow and aloft, buffeted to this side and that, yet persevering bravely onward and sounding his querulous note in the face of the raging antagonist, and far in advance of its banners proclaiming spring.

The crow's cry is truly the first audible promise of the longed for season, and it fills us with hope, though there be dreary days of waiting for its fulfillment, while the bold herald is beset by storm and pinched by hunger as he holds his outpost and gleans his scant rations in the winter-desolated land. But he finds some friendliness in nature even now. Though her forces assail him with relentless fury, she gives him here the shelter of her thick willows in the bottom lands, in the windless depths of the Elkhorn's woods, and bares for him in the fields a rood of sward or stubble whereon to find some crumb or comfort, leaves for him ungathered buds on the wild rose bushes, and on the matted tangles of vines, fox-eye grapes—poor raisins of the frost—the remnants of autumnal feasts of robins and jays. Again, a dead duck, lost by some hunter, on the marsh's shore, affords him a real banquet. Thankful now for such meager fare and eager for the full of disgusting repasts. In the bounty of other seasons, he becomes an epicure whom only the choicest food will satisfy. He has the pick of the fattest grubs and field mice, he makes stealthy raids on the earliest song bird's nests, and from some lofty lookout watches the farmer plant his corn and awaits its sprouting into the daintiest tidbits, a fondness for whose sweetness is his overmastering weakness, and the one that makes him the ruralists' pest. In the later springtide days he turns aside from mouse and corn hunting—the evil and the good—for spousal allurements wherein you hear his strident cawing attuned in cluttering notes, and having wooed his mate, the pair begins the work of nest building and family raising. The crows nest is the rudest and clumsiest of all bird architecture. A jumble of sticks and twigs as even then winds may lodge upon its forged foundations, but woo-be-tide the sparrow hawk or screech owl who ventures near, or fox squirrel who dares flaunt his brush about his sacred precincts.

In the late summer when the young crows have come to weeks of discretion and the parents are liberated from the bondage of care, a long holiday begins for all the black clansmen. The shorn meadows and close cropped pastures swarm with plump grasshoppers, and lake shore, field and road offer their abundant fruits. Careless, unhunted and uncared for, what luxuriant lives they lead, sauntering here along aerial paths on sagging wing, through the sunshine from chosen field to chosen wood, and at night-fall, bivouacking in the odorous tents of the willowed bottoms. At last the cold, cheerless somber banners of November signal their departure a little further south and the flocking hosts file away, straggling columns flecking the steely blue sky with pulsating dots of ebony, the brown earth with wavering shadows. Sadly we note the retreat of the sable cohorts whose desertion leaves our woods and fields to the desolation of on-rushing winter.

Caw! Caw! Caw! A harsh but ever welcome cry to lovers of the woods and fields in the somber days of early spring.

The Spring Shooting.

The reports we have received from various sources would seem to indicate that the season about to open will be a very favorable one for wild fowling. It is perhaps too soon to pronounce upon this point, for owing to the variableness of the weather up to this time, the birds have made their appearance in only scattering or sporadic flocks. Way back in the early part of February there was quite a big issue, including pintails, mallards and teal, came north, but the severe weather that swooped down upon us about the second week in the month, sent them all scurrying southward again. Since then only pintails have ventured so far up as this, and there has been little or no shooting anywhere. The Canada geese, however, have come in in unusual numbers, and some good sport has been enjoyed both on the Platte and up the Big Muddy. Sunday morning last some ten or a dozen big flocks of geese were seen harrowing the upper spaces over the city on their way north.

One reason why good shooting may be anticipated this season is because there is going to be an abundance of both water and feed everywhere throughout the state. The Platte is flush to her banks and jammed with ice. This means grand sport when the breakup comes. In the sandhills, about the big lakes and marshes, the crop of grasses, cress, wapoto and celery was uncommonly exuberant last fall, and will make a great feeding grounds this spring. In the years when there is plenty of food and water there are always great hordes of geese and ducks, and all the accounts which we have so far, from out the Platte and up the Missouri, unite in saying that the general conditions have never been more promising than at present.