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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/400

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

NOTES ON A FEW OF OUR BIRDS.
By HARRY MERRILL.

MUCH has been said and written in regard to the fact that birds temporarily change their habits and customs, and adapt themselves to surrounding circumstances so as to meet their immediate wants and necessities; and these changes are by no means rare, but occur whenever anything is interposed which may conflict with their usual methods of practice. In some cases these habits have been perpetuated, and have become the established custom of a number of species. Our martins and chimney-swallows have almost entirely deserted their original quarters in hollow trees for those that have been furnished by the advent of man. Some sea-birds, that in Labrador build nests and raise their young in the usual way, in the south abandon their eggs to the sand and sun, which perform the duties of a parent in the most acceptable manner. It is noticed that birds which usually build on the ground, particularly sparrows, frequently build in bushes or even in low trees. This is very often the case in pastures where the nest and eggs would be liable to be destroyed by being trodden on by cattle or sheep; in such a situation I have found a nest of the song-sparrow at a height of six feet.

During the past few years I have met with many instances where birds have so changed their habits; and the purple grackle or crow-blackbird has furnished several examples of this kind. These birds are quite common, and rule with undisputed sway over the groves in which they dwell. One of these nesting-places is situated on the banks of the Kenduskeag River in Maine, in a most beautiful spot, where steep ledges rise abruptly from the water's edge, and are covered with a rich growth of pine and cedar, together with wild flowers and climbing plants. Here these birds for many years have built their nests, a single tree often containing several of them; they are very bulky affairs, composed of mud, weeds, and similar materials, and lined with hay.

Peace and prosperity dwelt in this little colony until a few years ago, when the destroyer, man—or rather the father of the man, the boy—commenced to collect birds' eggs; then this spot offered a rare field for his depredations, and one that was not overlooked, so that in a short time many were robbed of home and its treasures, and driven from their ancestral grove. Thereupon, large numbers of the birds proceeded to a lumberyard situated on the river a short distance below, and, seeking there that peace which the grove failed to give, commenced building their nests in the huge piles of boards which lined the water's edge, and in this peculiar situation they began anew the battle of life and reared their young.