National Geographic : 1914 May
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus and sub-species). Length, about 6 inches. Its white tipped outer tail feathers distinguish this individual from its brown liveried fellows. Range: Breeds from southern Canada south to Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina; winters from southern California, Texas, Missouri and North Carolina, south to the Gulf coast and southern Mexico. There is little about this brown streaked sparrow to attract attention and, until it flies and displays the white tipped tail feathers, you might mistake the bird for any one of a half dozen of the sparrow family. Indeed if one catches merely a glimpse of a vesper sparrow crouched low and running swiftly through the grass one may be forgiven for mistaking the bird for a mouse. It frequents open pastures and when singing likes to mount a rocky boulder so common in New England and other parts of the east. We are perhaps justified in calling its song its most not able characteristic. Though not a pretentious effort the voice of the vesper sparrow is sweet and plaintive beyond expression, and harmonizes with the dying day as does the song of no other bird. Prof. Beal records the fact that in winter the food of this sparrow consists wholly of vegetable matter, while in summer it consists of little else than insects. The vesper sparrow cares less for grass seed than any other of its fellows but consumes great quantities of weed seeds. It eats also large numbers of grass hoppers, caterpillars and weevils. A number of these sparrows taken in Utah where the newly imported alfalfa weevil is doing much damage were found to have eaten these weevils to the average extent of more than half their food. Thus the value of this bird to the farmer cannot be questioned. ]LUE GROSBEAK (Guiraca cserulea and sub species). Length, about 7 inches. Distinguished by its larger size from the inaigo bird which alone resem bles it. Range: Breeds in the southern United States north to northern California, Colorado, Nebraska, .southern Illinoisand Maryland andsouth to southern Mexico; winters in Mexico and Central America. One seldom sees the blue grosbeak at short range or under circumstances which make identification easy, as the bird is rather shy and frequents brushy thickets and viny tangles much as does the indigo bird. The low warbling song of this grosbeak may be compared with that of the purple finch but it is neither so loud nor so well sustained. Under the name of "blue pap" the grosbeak used to be a favorite cage bird in Louisiana and other southern states, and no doubt is so today, despite protective laws. In the matter of diet it shows a marked pref erence for insect food over vegetable, the propor tion being about 67 to 33 per cent. The vegetable matter includes many weed seeds, as foxtail and bindweed, also corn, the taking of which makes a black mark against its record. As, however, the bird consumes twice as much animal matter as vegetable, the balance is much in its favor and it accordingly earns protection as well by its economic service as by its beauty and song. CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis and sub-species). Length, about 84 inches. Its size, crest and bright red color serve for instant identification. Range: Southern United States generally, west to Texas and southern Arizona, north to lower Hudson, northern Ohio, northern Indiana, southern Iowa and southeastern South Dakota; resident. The cardinal is a notable bird and any locality he chooses for his residence must be considered highly favored. His bright colors, trim form and erectile crest, his clear whistling call, and his fine song are all to his credit. He is a resident of thickets and tangled undergrowth with hanging vines, and, when these are provided and he feels safe from the prowling cat and marauding hawk, he will take up his abode in your garden or back yard as readily as anywhere else. Favor him further by supplying him food and water in winter and you make him your friend indeed. Practically he is a resident wherever found and the sight of his flashing red suit amidst snow covered bushes is a memorable picture. The cardinal used to be a favorite cage bird in the South ern States and the business of trapping him for market, especially about the large southern cities, was common. The bird is now protected by law as it should be, and the sight of a cardinal behind prison bars has become rare indeed. How many thousands were sacrificed for hat gear we shall never know but happily this practice too is fast disappear ing. By preference the cardinal is a vegetarian, and about seven-tenths of its food consists of vegetable matter in the form of seeds, berries, etc. But it also eats many insects, potato beetles, cotton worms, boll worms, cotton-boll weevils, codling moths and many other scarcely less note worthy. Mr. McAtee in attempting to sum up all the economic facts, declares that the bird does at least fifteen times as much good as harm, which is a record to be proud of. CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Lophortyx californica and varieties). Length, about 9 - inches. Distinguished from Gambels' quail by the reddish instead of black belly. Range: Resident in the Pacific Coast region from southwestern Oregon and western Nevada through California and Lower California. The California quail is one of our most beautiful game birds and the sight of a large covey running daintily along, with crests nodding and fine plumage gleaming in the sun is a sight to remember. Before quail were so much persecuted, covieswere common in the gardens of Oakland and other California towns, seemingly as much at home among calla lilies and rosebushes as in the stubble field. The numerous families in the fall associate in bands of three or four hundred, or even more. The Cali fornia quail has learned one lesson never acquired by our bob-white-to roost in trees and bushes instead of on the ground, and no doubt the safety thus ob tained during the hours of darkness is one reason for its great abundance. This quail is the greatest vegetarian of any of our game birds, the vegetable food eaten by over 600 individuals examined amounting to 95 per cent of the total food consumed. Unfortunately the California quail consumes much grain when germinating and thus damages the growing crop; it also attacks grapes and, while it does not eat a great many, it seriously damages bunches by puncturing a few grapes here and there, so ruining the fruit for market.