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Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/522

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COW-PEN BIRD.

It also is a seed, but it gives rise to a very different object. Fostered by the warmth imparted by the parent bird, the germ which it contains swells into life, and at length bursting its fragile enclosure, comes tottering into existence. To sustain the life and contribute to the development of this helpless being, the mother issues in quest of food, which she carefully places in its open throat. Day after day it acquires new development under the fostering care of its nurse, until at length, invested with all the powers which Nature intended to bestow upon it, it spreads its pinions to the breeze, and sallies forth to perform the many offices for which it is destined.

How often have I watched over the little bird in its nest, and marked the changes which day after day it exhibited: the unfolding of its first scanty covering of down, the sprouting of its plumelets, the general enlargement of all its parts! With what pleasure have I viewed the development of its colouring and the early manifestations of its future habits!

Amid these wonderful operations of Nature, there is one which has occasionally engaged my attention, and occupied my thoughts, ever since I first became acquainted with the bird of which I now proceed to speak.

The Cow Bird, which in form and character is allied to the Crow Blackbird, the Redwing, the Orchard Oriole, and other species, together with some of which it forms the genus Icterus, differs from these birds in one important circumstance, which approximates it to the Cuckoo of Europe, a bird entirely different in habits and appearance. Like that bird, it makes no nest of its own, but deposits its eggs, one at a time, in the nests of other birds, leaving them to the care of a foster-parent.

In the State of Louisiana, the Cow-pen Bird, or as it is also called, the Cow Blackbird, or Cow Bunting, is seen only at long intervals. Some years pass without the appearance of a single individual there. At other times immense flocks are observed mixing with the Redwings, Crow Blackbirds and Robins, searching about the farm-yards, the fields, and the meadows with great diligence for food. At such times they are easily approached, and are shot in great numbers, being considered more delicate and better flavoured than the species with which they associate, excepting the Robin. Like the Redwings, they seek the swamps and the margins of lakes and rivers, where they roost among the tall sedges, flags, and other aquatic plants. When disturbed in these retreats, they rise in a dense mass, perform various evolutions in the air, and alight again