National Geographic : 1914 May
MAGPIE (Pica pica hudsonia). Length, from about 18 to 21 inches. The black head and body and the white belly, white wing patches, and long tail are distinguishing features. The yellow-billed magpie is smaller with a yellow bill. Range: A characteristic western species. Breeds from Aleutian Islands and Alaska, central Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and Winnipeg Lake south to northern Arizona and New Mexico, and from the Cascades and Sierra to western North Dakota and western Texas; resident. There are two species of magpies, the yellow billed being confined to California, where it is very local. In general the habits of the two are similar. "Maggie," as this bird is familiarly known in the west, possesses dual traits. He is beautiful of plumage and adds much to the interest of the land scape as he flies from field to field, his long tail ex tending behind like a rudder. Of eminently sociable disposition, this bird is rarely seen alone. He prefers flocks of family size to 50 and upwards. In more ways than one the magpie is like the crow and his sagacity has de veloped along much the same lines. In most locali ties he is suspicious and wary, as he has good cause to be, for he is not a favorite with either farmer or ranchman. He is eminently carnivorous, a carrion feeder by preference, an insect eater by necessity, and he performs good service in the latter role. He eats also many wild fruits and berries, but he is an incorrigible thief and well he knows his way to the poultry yard. No sound is sweeter in "Maggie's" ears than the cackle of the exultant hen that has just laid an egg, and the hen house must be well protected that keeps him from his plunder. Per haps his worst trait, however, is his fondness for the eggs and nestlings of small birds. PH(EBE (Sayornis phoebe). Length, about 7 inches. Distinguishing marks are the dusky brown color, dark brown cap and white margined outer tail feathers. Range: Lives mainly in the east. Breeds from about middle Canada south to northeastern New Mexico, central Texas, northern Mississippi and mountains of Georgia; winters from south of lati tude 370 to southern Mexico. Few of our birds have won a more secure place in our hearts than plain little phoebe, who has no pretentions to beauty of plumage or excellence of song. For this its confiding disposition and trust ing ways are responsible, and many a farmer listens for its familiar voice in early spring and welcomes it back to its accustomed haunts under the old barn. Originally building its nest on the face of cliffs, the phoebe soon forsook the wilds for man's neighbor hood, and year after year apparently the same pair returns to the identical rafter in the barn, the shelter of the porch, or the same nook under the foot bridge, which they have claimed for their own for many seasons. The insistent call of "phcebe phebe" is as familiar as the pipe of the robin. The phoebe has further claims to the favor of man since it is one of the most useful of birds, living almost wholly on insects, among which are many noxious kinds, as May beetles, click beetles, and several species of weevils, including the boll weevil and the strawberry weevil. As if reluctant to leave their northern home, many phcebes remain with us till late fall, and individuals may be seen lingering in sheltered places in the woods long after other fly catchers have started for the tropics. BLUE-FRONTED JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri and sub-species). Length, 114 to 13 inches. Easily distinguished from its fellows by its high crest, brownish slaty fore-parts, dark blue wings and tail and blue or whitish streaks on forehead. Range: Resident in western North America from southern Alaska and Montana to Mexico. The blue-fronted jays, of which the Steller jay may be taken as the type, are common inhabitants of the piny woods of both the Rocky Mountain and the Sierra Nevada States. They are among the handsomest of the family, the beauty of their plum age, their long erectile crests, and their insistent voices compelling the attention of any who invade their retreats. Not being residents of cultivated districts, although they eat grain and small fruits, they do comparatively little damage. On the other hand, they do not do much good, for, although they are insect eaters, insects do not constitute a large part of their food, nor are the kinds they eat very important economically. Probably their most serious fault is a fondness for the eggs and young of small insectivorous birds of which they destroy many in the course of the year. They share this failing with all other members of the family, and bird lovers must deem it a pity that such bold, dash ing, handsome birds as the jays should be so de structive to small but useful birds. This habit is all the more to be deplored inasmuch as when un molested jays readily respond to invitations to be neighborly, and willingly take up their abode near houses, where they never fail to excite admiration and interest. WOOD PEWEE (Myiochanes virens). Length, about 62 inches. Not readily distin guished by color, though darker than most other small flycatchers, and with wing longer than tail. Range: Breeds from Manitoba and southeastern Canada to southern Texas and central Florida; winters in Central and South America. The wood pewee is clad in such modest garb and is of such retiring disposition that, were it not for its voice, it would often be passed unnoticed even by the most observant, especially as its home is in shaded glens or deep woods. Here the wood pewee pursues its vocation with a vigor worthy of all praise, and the snap of its mandibles as they close over some luckless flying insect is often the only sound heard in the depths of the quiet forest. There is little about the habits and make-up of this, or indeed of any of the flycatchers, to suggest great construc tive skill, but the nest of the wood pewee is a marvel of taste and ingenuity and, though much larger, sug gests the dainty architecture of our hummingbirds. Like their fairy creations the wood pewees' nest is covered with lichens and saddled neatly across a limb. The food of this flycatcher consists almost ex clusively of insects and includes among others crane flies, beetles, dragon flies, ants, grasshoppers, cater pillars and moths of many kinds. It also devours such pests as the clover weevil, the plum curculio, the corn weevil, the rice weevil, and others nearly as harmful, and many flies, including the house fly.