Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

December 19, 1920. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(11=12): 5-W.

Our Little Winter Visitants Welcome as Those of Summer

With Chickadee, Downy, Titmouse, Bluejay, Redbird, Junco and Sparrow Among the Commonest.

By Sandy Griswold.

Well, this is Friday. The second week of December, and still autumn lingers in the lap of winter, and while most of our summer birds have long since scampered off to the south, but precious few of their customary substitutes have arrived from the still congenial regions of the north. Usually, soon after our little feathered summer pets have taken up their winter residence in warmer latitudes, the more hardy of their successors are here to make up for the drab scenery of woods and fields, with their animation, varied colors and mellifluous notes. Like the summer tenants they have, for at least a brief period, forsaken the localities where they sung their ditties of spring and summer, and raised their families, and come down here where they find the climate still satisfactory, despite the many inevitable cold, bleak and snowy days that are to come, and as naturally as the birds that have flown south before them, appropriate the same clefts and crevices in our woods and fields, will again do when the vernal winds once more start the sap to flowing and the buds to swelling. Rugged and beautiful are these winter visitants, and the thickets, holes and hollows of our deciduous trees furnish them with homes in which they defy the cold and sleet and snowy blasts as securely as they find the abodes amidst the evergreen forests of their summer abiding places.

One of the most common of our winter guests is the chickadee, and while many of them remain here the year around, there are many more of them in winter than there are in summer, and sometimes I think there are two species of this sprightly little coxcomb, but the learned savants say there is not - that the summer and winter birds are the same, just like they do of the yellow-legged mallard of the golden fall and his red-legged congener of frigid December.

No stickler for fair weather is the chickadee, and neither is the mallard, although a heavy fall of snow always sends the latter scurrying gulfwards, as excessive cold or icy blasts fail to do. As long as the fields are bare and slender threads of open water streak the currents of our rivers, whither they can find food and refreshment, they do not leave us.

Clear up to the close of the lawful shooting season the mallard, therefore, furnishes the sportsman unrivaled pleasure and supplies our holiday tables with a morceau unequalled in all the gastronomic calendar.

The little chickadee, however, serves a more useful purpose than exhilarating the sportsman and giving us such toothsome feasts, for he not only enters the dreary aisles of our woods and cheers downcast humanity, but is the greatest enemy of all, of the canker worm moth, and it is said a single bird eats a quarter of a million eggs in the three weeks it requires these moths to crawl up the trees.

Another valuable and interesting perennial resident is the white-breasted nuthatch, or sapsucker, as we called him in callow days, or Sitta carolinensis, if you care for his highbrow appellation. He is a lover of the gloomiest of woodsy solitudes, and yet docile, friendly and fearless, and often comes into our orchards and our dooryards. He is neat, slender and svelte, and a most wondrous arboreal acrobat, of a uniform slaty-gray color, with wing tips of black, fading into brown; a white barred tail of a reddish hue beneath.

I meet him daily on my way to the car through Turner park, running along the branch of a tree, now on the underside, again on top, or hitching up the hole, busy as a tiny nailer, pecking here and pecking there, in the crevices of the bark for spiders' eggs.

Closely allied with the white-breast is his cousin, the red-breasted, a trifle smaller, same general color, with head and neck black, chin and shoulders white, with light, rusty lingerie, and a real winter visitant, easily distinguished from his larger relative by his red vest. Both birds have a very similar note, a faint, dim, ventriloquil "yank, yank, yank," which may be heard when the weather is at its fiercest, and both associate much with the chickadees, kinglets, titmice and groundcreepers.

The titmouse is a close connection of the chickadee's, but is not nearly so plentiful here, although quite often met with. He is a venturesome and courageous little dandy, a trifle larger than the chickadee. His topknot, which is high and pointed, is of a cloudy, blue color. His back and sides, with dark wing coverts and black shoulders. Like the bluejay, which bird, in general conformation and demeanor, he greatly resembles, he is a leader among a horde of other little winter visitants, and a welcome sight any time in the woods. His melodious call, "che-vee, che-vee," is a familiar sound in among the darkening trees, especially when a storm is menacing.

Another of our best known winter residents is the brown creeper with his ashy stripes and small oval splotches and slender curving tail. He is the literal embodiment of thrift, and while he is not averse to the company of the chickadees, the kinglets and the sapsuckers, he evidently much prefers to be alone. He is a diligent worker when he wants to stuff his crop, and generally starts at the base of a big, shaggy barked tree, which, in a sort of a spiral fashion, he climbs upwards. Now you see him and now you don't, flitting from tree to tree and pursuing his task throughout the short winter days.

Another of our most entrancing winter guests is the golden-crowned kinglet, although he is but infrequently met with in our city parks. He has a crown patch of bright orange, bordered with a paler yellow, circled with a jetty line, while his body, olivaceous with under parts, soiled white.

When October unfurls her gay banners this tiny bit of exquisite bird life arrives, and he flits with such nervous energy, with ever fluttering wings, that you never would know him at all if you did not catch sight of his crown of flame. He isn't a bit afraid of the iciest weather, and he is just as voluble with his "see! see! see! when the mercury is at the bottom of the tube as he is on October's blandest day. He is also quite a trapeze performer, and hangs upside down from twig or tendril with all the facility of chickadee or nuthatch.

Both the hairy and downy woodpecker are among the winter's busiest little troubadours, and no more voluble birds are in existence anywhere in the world. They probably destroy more dangerous insects than all the rest of the bird family combined, and they are never idle. Their raids on these infinitesimal pests are perennial and they are happiest when old Boreas howls his loudest and blows his coldest. They never mingle with the other birds, and are even shy of each other. The hairy is the largest, but not within one hundredth part as large as his good work would lead one to think he ought to be. His "tap-rat-ta-ta-tat-tat!" on some old resonant limb is as musical a sound in the winter woods as the cat bird's flute and bells are in June. Both bear the woodpecker coat of arms, a scarlet band on the nape of the neck, and both are black and white striped with wedged tails.

The downy is even more confiding than the chickadee, mischievous, fearless and cram-full of curiosity. I have one little fellow whom I feed every morning out in Turner park and I now him from the others by an unusually broad white stripe above his eyes. When I am tacking a piece of suet to the bole of a tree, he quickly spies me out and flies to a perch not a yard above my head, where after a pink! wink! wink! or two, as a greeting, he waits patiently till I am through, and step back, when down he hitches, backwards, and falls to, greedily at the breakfast I have spread for him. Of course, in this little paper, I have mentioned only our commonest of winter birds, for there are many others, including the waxwing or cedar bird, the crossbills, pine grosbeaks and others, but these will serve to fill in another hour. However, among the common little folk, I must include the tree sparrows, the bluejay and the redbird. The tree sparrow, by the way, is wrongly named, as he does not haunt the trees much, preferring our bushy and weedy fields and barren wastes, and with the slate-colored junco, are cold defying little heroes, and are gregarious and maintain a constant and sweet twittering when feeding along the weed patches. Their song is sententious, but sweetly melodious, and they often indulge in it on the dreariest of winter days.

Every tot knows the bluejay, if he doesn't know any other bird, for he is the most extraordinarily and vividly dyed of all our American species. A saucy, pugnacious, inquisitive and interesting fellow always. Sky blue, with artistic black pencilings and an ebony scarf around his neck; white skirts and an elegantly tufted head. He is nomadic in his habits, and sojourns but briefly in the winter time, in any one locality, yet he is exceedingly sociable, but always on the alert, and frequently partakes greedily of the suet I hang up out in my own little woods for the downies and the chickadees, and squawks daily from the big cottonwood near my window.

The gorgeous grosbeak is probably the most beautiful of all the winter birds, a brilliant cardinal, and, in fact, that is his name, but when a boy we knew he as the red bird only. His chin is jet black, as is the band around his beak, which is a pale pink. He is a roamer like the bluejay, but is endowed with a wonderful voice, which he seldom uses, however, in the winter season. Shy as he is, when the weather assumes its most rigorous attitude, he will mingle occasionally with the chickadees and downies in our very dooryards and is a welcome sight any time and always.

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