For Young Observers
Our Doorstep Sparrow
Don’t think that I mean the House, or English Sparrow, for he is quite a different bird. Our little doorstep friend is the very smallest of all the brown Sparrows you know, and wears a reddish brown cap, and a gray vest so plain it hasn’t a single button or stripe on it. He is a dear, plump little bird, who sits in the sun and throws up his head and chippers away so happily that people call him the Chipping Sparrow.
He comes to the doorstep and looks up at you as if he knew you wanted to feed him, and if you scatter crumbs on the piazza he will pick them up and hop about on the floor as if it were his piazza as well as yours.
One small Chippy, whom his friends called Dick, used to light on the finger of the kind man who fed him. and use his hand for dining-room, and sometimes when he had had a very nice breakfast, he would hop up on a finger, perch, and sing a happy song!
Dick was so sure his friends were kind and good, that as soon as his little birds were out of the nest, he brought them to be fed too. They did not know what a nice dining-room a hand makes, so they wouldn’t fly up to it, but when the gentleman held their bread and seeds close to the ground, they would come and help themselves.
If you were a bird and were going to build a nest, where would you put it? At the end of a row of your brothers’ nests, as the Eave Swallows do? Or would that be too much like living in a row of brick houses in the city? Chipping Sparrows don’t like to live too close to their next door neighbors. They don’t mind if a Robin is in the same tree, on another bough, but they want their own branch all to themselves.
And they want it to be a branch, too. Other birds may build their nests on the ground, or burrow in the ground, or dig holes in
TAMING A CHIPPY
Photographed by Mr. George Wood at the home of Lieutenant Wirt Robinson, in Virginia. Lieutenant Robinson writes that a pair of Chipping Sparrows placed their nest in the climbing rose bush at the end of the piazza. One of the pair, supposed to be the female, was easily tamed with the aid of bread crumbs, and for three successive years she returned to the piazza, always immediately resuming her habits of familiarity.
tree trunks, or even hang their nests down inside dark chimneys if they like, but Chippy doesn't think much of such places. He wants plenty of daylight and fresh air. But even if you have made up your mind to build on a branch, think how many nice trees and bushes there are to choose from, and how hard it must be to decide on one. You’d have to think a long time and look in a great many places. You see you want the safest, best spot in all the world in which to hide away your pretty eggs, and the precious birdies that will hatch out of them. They must be tucked well out of sight, for weasels and cats, and many other giants like eggs and nestlings for breakfast.
If you could find a kind family fond of birds, wouldn’t you think it would be a good thing to build near them? Perhaps they would drive away the cats and help protect your brood. Then on hot summer days maybe some little girl would think to put out a pan of water for a drink and a cool bath. Some people, like Dick’s friends, are so thoughtful they throw out crumbs to save a tired mother bird the trouble of having to hunt for every morsel she gets to give her brood. Just think what work it is to find worms enough for four children who want food from daylight to dark!
The vines of a piazza make a safe, good place for a nest if you are sure the people haven’t a cat, and love birds. I once saw a Chippy’s nest in the vines of a dear old lady's house, and when she would come out to see how the eggs were getting on she would talk so kindly to the old birds it was very pleasant to live there. In such a place your children are protected, they have a roof over their little heads so the rains won't beat down on them, and the vines shade them nicely from the hot sun.
When you are building your house everything you want to use will be close by. On the lawn you will find the soft grasses you want for the outside, and in the barnyard you can get the long horse hairs that all Chipping Sparrows think they must have for a dry, cool nest-lining. Hair-birds, you know Chippies are called, they use so much hair. The question is how can they ever find it unless they do live near a barn? You go to look for it, someday, out on a country road or in a pasture. It takes sharp eyes and a great deal of patience, I guess you'll find then. But if you live on the piazza of a house, with a barn in the back yard, you can find so many nice long hairs that you can sometimes make your whole nest of them. I have seen a Chippy’s nest that hadn’t another thing in it—that was just a coil of black horse hair.
After you have built your nest and are looking for food for your young it is most convenient to be near a house. The worms
Did you ever look into a Chippy’s nest? The eggs are a pretty blue and have black dots on the larger end. When the little birds first come out of the shell their eyes are shut tight, like those of little kittens when they are first born. If you are very gentle you can stroke the backs of the little ones as they sit waiting for the old birds to feed them. I remember one plum tree nest on a branch so low that a little girl could look into it. One day when the mother bird was brooding the eggs the little girl crept close up to the tree, so close she could look into Mother Chippy's eyes, and the trustful bird never stirred, but just sat and looked back at her. “Isn't she tame?” the child cried, she was so happy over it.
There was another Chippy’s nest in an evergreen by the house, and when the old birds were hunting for worms we used to feed the nestlings bread crumbs. They didn't mind the bread not being worms so long as it was something to eat. It would have made you laugh to see how wide, they opened their bills! It seemed as if the crumbs could drop clear down to their boots! Wouldn’t you like to feed a little family like that sometime?