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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/77

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73
NATURE NAMES IN AMERICA

which they found in their new home is apparent in the vernacular names bestowed upon a number of our native birds. It was most natural that a bird so well known and so generally beloved as the English robin-redbreast should find a namesake in America, even though very different in habits and appearance. When the engaging birds with russet breasts came about the New England settlements in early spring, and cheerful pipings sounded through the clearings, 'robin' became a term of welcome and endearment, In some early notices of the bird the entire old world name of robin-redbreast was given. 'Daw' was an early name given to the crow blackbird or purple grackle by the settlers in the Middle Colonies and in Virginia. Though but distantly related to the jackdaw of England, this grackle[1] undoubtedly suggested the name from its habit of gathering in colonies about dwellings, where in the tops of tall pines and other shade trees it builds bulky nests. The jackdaw frequents belfrys and towers, but our blackbird has more of the rook in its nature, although a very different bird both in size and general appearance. The flocking of these grackles about the grounds of country houses and the noise of their vernal clatter is a welcome sign of returning spring. It savors of old homesteads in cultivated lands and suggests ancestral holdings, like the rooks in an English spinney or the daws in castle towers. In this vein of thought Lowell says 'they are the best substitute we have for rooks.' 'Blackbird' could only have been suggested by the generally dark color of the bird seen at a distance and in certain lights. There is nothing about our grackle that is in any way like the English blackbird.

A name is frequently the symbol of some striking characteristic as of color, or peculiarity of voice. Bluebird, redbird, yellow warbler, goldfinch and many others are full of color suggestion, while catbird, chat, phœbe, bobolink, towhee, song sparrow, and the like, appeal to the auditory sense. The bluebird, the nearest we have in this country to the English robin-redbreast and quite as lovable a bird in its way, has found a place in literature as it has in the hearts of all true lovers of the countryside. Alexander Wilson, poet and ornithologist, but first of all a poet, felt the charm of this bird when he immortalized its name in sympathetic prose and verse. The cardinal grosbeak was known as 'redbird' to the Virginia settlers, and, later, when much prized in London as a cage bird, its mellow, whistling notes won for it the title of 'Virginia nightingale.' 'Cardinal' has without doubt come into our language through the French of Louisiana, and possibly also, from the West Indies. The final 'grosbeak' is little used in general talk. I have lately heard some persons speak of this bird as the


  1. We are indebted to science for this word 'grackle' which is an Anglicized form of the Latin Gracula—a jack daw, a proof that even the scientific mind was biased in favor of recognizing the distant relationship. The black bird of England is a thrush—the ouzel cock or merle of the old English poets.