Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/475

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BIRDS OF THE GRASS LANDS.

row is another East and West form, spreading over the dry central plains and presenting a paler variety in the latter region. The familiar song sparrow, whose bright, cheery ditty enlivens the closing days of winter, though a haunter of garden shrubbery and brier patches, is a bird of the grass, building its nest upon the ground. It is widely distributed over the continent, and in the West is broken up into a number of geographical races.

A remarkably interesting case is that of the black-throated bunting or dicksissel. This bird is one of the most abundant species in the grass lands of the Mississippi Valley and on thePSM V42 D475 Meadow lark.jpgFig. 5.—Meadow Lark. prairies of Kansas and Nebraska. In the time of the ornithologist Wilson and to within fifteen or twenty years ago, it was an abundant bird in the fields of the Eastern States. Now it is rarely seen along the Atlantic seaboard. Some years ago I knew of several pairs breeding each spring in a restricted area in southeastern Pennsylvania. Timothy and clover fields were their favorite nesting places, and a bird-loving friend who had watched these pairs from year to year suggested a cause for their increasing scarcity. About the time the young were hatched the remorseless reaper appeared upon the scene, and the keen-edged knife soon laid waste the home of the unfortunate dicksissel. It was not long before these birds disappeared altogether from their once favorite fields, and a probable clew to the cause seemed to point toward the reaping machine. This I have never been able to verify, as the harvests on their prairie home must be equally as destructive unless a much larger territory or a difference in the times of hatching and reaping has prevented the rapid destruction of the young birds. Be this as it may, the evidence before us goes to show that the grass-loving dicksissel came early from the Western prairies to the newly opened fields of the East, and has abandoned them for its Western home, disgusted, we may imagine, with the innovations of civilized man.

The meadow lark of the East is replaced on the Western plains by a lighter form. Our curious cowbird, stealing its egg into the nests of other birds, is abundantly spread over the continent, and the remarkable habit of associating with cattle for the purpose of feeding upon the flies that swarm about them suggests the question, Was this habit acquired since the settlement of the country, or did the birds haunt the herds of buffalo on the