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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/55

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cornices of some building, usually a barn. These nests are built of mud gathered by the birds from wet places on the ground, and carried in their mouths to the sites chosen by them. Many of our farmers have an unkind feeling for the barn swallows, as they think the mud-daubed nests on the new red paint are not an artistic addition; but if our cattle could give an intelligent opinion they would welcome the birds, for all swallows are entirely insectivorous, and they must eat many flies and mosquitoes that otherwise would be left to torment our animals.

Birds that build in inaccessible places seem to rely upon that for security, and apparently make little effort to conceal their nests, while those building on or near the ground are generally careful to hide them, and they display considerable cunning in preventing discovery. Robins, for instance, after the young are hatched, never drop the eggshells over the side of the nests to the ground, where they would attract attention and cause one to look directly overhead and thus find the nest, but take the broken shells in their bills and carry them off, dropping them while flying. Frequently birds are very shy and easily frightened away from their nests, but after they are well established they sometimes show a good deal of tenacity in staying by them until the young are ready to leave.

Some years ago we opened an old ore mine, where a pair of phœbe birds had placed their nest on a shelf a few feet overhead, a projecting rock protecting it from the flying stones of the blasts that were fired several times a day, and the men were working so near that they could almost touch it with their hands. These birds did not desert their nests until the young were old enough to leave. The site was not used the following year, as is usually the case with the phœbe bird.

No bird has insinuated himself into our affections more deeply than the bluebird. He charms us as he flits through the air like a painted arrow, reflecting the sunlight from the metallic luster of his wings, while he pours out his inspired song "in notes as sweet as angels' greetings when they meet." He comes to us before the unfolding of the first bud of spring, sings to us until our hills and mountains are covered with the richness of their summer verdure, and stays with us until this verdure is changed to all the beauty of its autumnal glory. I am very sorry, but I believe our bluebirds are gradually though steadily decreasing in numbers. Some years ago two pairs nested in our yard, one pair in a hole in an old apple tree and one pair in a box, but for several years these nesting places have been unoccupied, and I know of a number of other former nesting places that have been vacant for years.