Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/804

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of the finches, the marsh wrens, red-winged blackbirds, meadow larks, thrashers, and myrtle warblers are frequently seen in these localities through the winter. I spent one first day of February some years ago among the dunes below Atlantic City, 1ST. J. At Philadelphia that morning it was bleak winter weather, but two hours later we found ourselves in a warm expanse of sunlight on the seaward beaches. The balmy air was filled with bird notes, and the holly thickets and bay bushes fairly swarmed with myrtle warblers. It seems to be a fact that many birds thus make comparatively short migratory movements between the seacoast plain and the mountains, up and down the river valleys.

The phenomenon of the migrating bird has always appealed in a wonderful manner to the human mind. The guiding geographical sense that all animals, and wild animals and birds in particular, possess is peculiarly attractive to men of civilized society, because they have largely lost this same natural instinct of direction, and now look upon it in wonderment. Birds have very sure landmarks; their senses are keen for noting features of topography. They undoubtedly know the Potomac, the Susquehanna, the Delaware, the Hudson, and the Connecticut, and never confuse one with another. They know to which side the sea lies and that the rivers flow down from a wild, wooded region where there are plenty of food and the best possible places to raise their young. All these facts get fixed in their brains. The bird's brain-cell structure is built on these lines and is only waiting to get the impressions of the first migratory experience. They keep in with one another, follow their chirpings in the night, learn to tell the Hudson from the Delaware, or where this or that stretch of woodland lies, just as they learned when first out of the nest how to tell good from bad sorts of food, or how to find their way about the home woods, and that an owl or a fox was an undesirable acquaintance. In the fall migration the young birds follow the older ones in the general movement southward, and are often belated, showing that the impulse to leave their birthplaces is forced upon them, rather from necessity than choice, and is not the well-developed instinct impressed by former experience which their elders seem to possess. The old birds who have bred and reared these young ones set the example of early departure which the birds of the year through inexperience are tardy in appreciating. The habit waits upon experience.

Each year, from midwinter, when the first warmth of advancing sunlight calls to the sleeping life, on to the first fervid heat of the reproductive summer, we have the joyous pageant of the spring. This steady waxing of the new light appealed to the pagan mind of western Europe with a far deeper sense than the modern mind can appreciate. To our rude ancestors it was the goddess Eástre, bountiful