Winter Bird Studies
LTHOUGH we have fewer birds during the winter than at any other season, at no other time during the year do the comparative advantages of ornithology as a field study seem so evident. The botanist and entomologist now find little out of doors to attract them, and. if we except a stray squirrel or rabbit, birds are the only living things we may see from December to March. Winter, therefore, is a good time to begin the study of birds, not only because flowers and insects do not then claim our attention, but also because the small number of birds then present is a most encouraging circumstance to the opera-glass student, who. in identifying birds, is at the mercy of a ' key.'
Indeed, the difficulty now lies not in identification, but in discovery; unless one is thoroughly familiar with a given locality and its bird-life, one may walk for miles and not see a feather—a particularly unfortunate state of affairs if one has a bird-class in charge. This dilemma, however, may be avoided by catering to the dominant demand of bird-life at this season, the demand for food. Given a supply of the proper kind of food, and birds in the winter may nearly always be found near it. Bird seed and grain may be used, but a less expensive diet, and one which wall doubtless be more appreciated, consists of sweepings from the hay-loft containing the seeds to which our birds are accustomed. This may be scattered by the bushel or in a sufficient quantity to insure a hearty meal for all visiting Juncos and Tree Sparrows, with perhaps less common winter seed-eaters.
The bark-hunting Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Chickadees will require different fare, and meat-bones, suet, bacon-rinds and the like have been found to be acceptable substitutes for their usual repast of insects’ eggs and larvæ.
Winter, strange as it may seem, is an excellent season for bird-nesting. The trees and bushes now give up the secrets they guarded from us so successfully during the summer, and we examine them with as much interest as we pore over the ' Answers to Puzzles in Preceding Number ' department of a favorite magazine.
Immediately after a snow storm is the best time in which to hunt for birds’ nests in the winter. Then all tree and bush nests have a white cap, which renders them more conspicuous.
When walking with children, the spirit of competition may be aroused by saying " Who’ll see the first nest," or " Who’ll see the next nest first," as the case may be, and the number discovered under this impetus is often surprising.