National Geographic : 1914 May
TREE SWALLOW (Iridoprocne bicolor). Length, about 6 inches. The steel blue upper parts and pure white under parts are distinguishing characteristics. Range: Breeds from northwestern Alaska and northern Canada south to southern California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Virginia; winters in central California, southern Texas and Gulf States and south to Guatemala. In its primitive state the tree swallow used to nest in hollow trees, and in some parts of the country it still continues to do so. Early in the settlement of the country it saw the advantage of putting itself under man's protection, and now no bird is quicker to respond to an invitation to nest in a box dedicated to its use. The bird lover within the range of the species may secure an interesting tenant or two by the expenditure of a little trouble and labor, since the bird is not a bit fastidious as to its domicile, providing it is weather tight. Tree swallows arrive from the south early in April and soon begin to nest. In the fall they gather in great flocks preparatory to their departure, and may then be seen by hun dreds perched on telegraph wires. As is the habit with swallows generally, tree swallows migrate by day feeding as they go, and a flock passing swiftly south presents to the casual observer an every day appearance well calculated to deceive. Watch the flock as it crosses the road and passes from field to field and you will notice that while the line of flight has many a twist and turn it trends steadily to the south and that no individual takes the back track. The tree swallow consumes vast numbers of gnats, flying ants, beetles, mosquitoes and other flying insects. It exhibits a rather curious departure from the traditions of its kind in that it appears to be very fond of the berries of the bayberry or wax myrtle. It also often chooses these bushes for a roosting place at night. SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga erythromelas). Length, about 74 inches. The scarlet coat and black wings and tail mark this bird out from all others. Range: Breeds from southern Canada south to southern Kansas, northern Arkansas, Tennessee, northern Georgia and mountains of Virginia and South Carolina; winters from Colombia to Bolivia and Peru. The tanagers are strictly an American family, and as their bright colors might seem to suggest, they originated in the Tropics to which most of the nu merous species are confined. In fact the gleam of scarlet from the coat of this tanager in our somber woods always seems a little out of place as though the bird were an alien. But it is wholly at home with us, and, indeed, does not hesitate to make its summer residence still farther north in Canada. Curiously enough the nearest relatives of the brilliant tanagers in the bird world are the plainly colored spalrows. The chirp-churr of the tanager is a familiar call note in our northern woods, while its song is one of the sweetest; so that altogether this species is to be classed as a notable member of our bird world. In some localities it is accused of eating honey bees, but to offset this local habit it devours the potato-beetle and many other beetles and a great variety of caterpillars. Blueberries and other small berries also form an important part of its food. CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon lunifrons and sub-species). Length, about 6 inches. The rufous upper tail coverts serve to distinguish this swallow from other species. Range: Breeds from central Alaska and northern Canada south over the United States (except Flori da) and to Guatemala; winters in South America. The cliff and the barn swallow are members in good standing of the original guild of masons, and their clever constructive work in nest building with mud pellets will bear the severest professional in spection. Through much of the west the cliff swal low still attaches its mud house to the faces of cliffs as from time immemorial, and it was not until the farmers' house and barn offered a satisfactory sub stitute for granite and sandstone bluffs, that the bird became really numerous in our eastern States. In some localities this swallow is not a welcome guest about the homestead as its nest is apt to contain parasites which the good housekeeper fears. Such parasites, however, are not to be dreaded as they will live only on birds. The cliff swallow performs invaluable service to man since its food consists wholly of insects, and among them are many pestif erous kinds, such as leaf bugs, leaf-hoppers and the boll weevil. Whoever then protects this and other species of swallows and encourages their presence on their premises does good and patriotic service and can moreover be sure of adequate reward. WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana). Length, about 7 inches. The combination of orange-red head, black back, and yellow under parts are distinctive. Range: Breeds from northeastern British Colum bia, southwestern Mackenzie and southwestern South Dakota to the mountains of southern Cali fornia and New Mexico; winters from central Mexico to Guatemala. Discovered in Idaho by Lewis and Clarke in 1806, this tanager has thus been known more than a hun dred years inwhichtime it has become one of the most familiar of western birds.' It is a common inhabitant of both the western Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, and is very much at home among the pine woods of which it is the brightest ornament. In general its habits are like those of its scarlet cousin, and it also has a sweet song very similar in general effect. In California this tanager has acquired an evil reputation by attacks on the cherry crop, and there is no doubt that when it assembles in large numbers in the fruit districts it is thd cause of heavy loss to small fruit growers. Under ordinary cir cumstances, however, the greater part of its food consists of insects, many of them harmful, and it is only fair to balance the good the bird does against the harm. Two very harmful families of beetles, whose larvse are wood borers and do much damage to trees and other plants, are represented in the food. The planting of berry bearing trees near the orchard would no doubt prevent much of the loss, occasioned by this bird, which by no means occurs every year. For the rest the fruit grower must be allowed to protect his fruit in the best and most effective way.