National Geographic : 1914 May
BLACK FLYCATCHER; PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens). Length, about 71 inches. The glossy black color and marked crest of the male and the brownish gray of the female, also crested, distinguish this species. Range: Breeds from central California, Nevada, Utah, and southwestern Texas southward; winters from southern California southward. Though a distant relative of the cedar bird, the phainopepla differs markedly from that species both in appearance and habits. It is known to few, for it lives chiefly in the desert country of the southwest. though it is not wholly a stranger in the parks and gardens of that region. When flying the white wing patch becomes conspicuous and distinguishes the bird from all others. In the fall it is not unusual to find it in loose flocks the members of which are drawn temporarily together, perhaps by the abundance of some favorite food. Like the cedar bird, it is essen tially a berry eater, and in California sometimes makes free of the cherry crop. Its chief dependence, however, is the mistletoe, the mucilaginous berries of which delight it, as also do those of the juniper and pepper. Its partiality for mistletoe is probably the bird's worst trait, as it distributes the seeds of this pernicious parasite to the detriment of many fine oaks and sycamores. It eats many insects, principally ants, and has the habit of perching on a tall shrub, from which it sallies forth after flying insects, thus simulating a flycatcher. It is this habit which has given the bird its common name. The phainopepla has a variety of call notes and a very pleasant song. YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Lanivireo flavifrons). Length, about 6 inches. Its green upper parts and bright yellow throat and upper breast are its identi fication marks. Range: Breeds from southern Canada south to / central Texas, central Louisiana and central Florida; S winters from southern Mexico through Central America. By no means so common as the red-eye, the yellow throat inhabits the same kind of woodland tracts and like it may often be seen, and still oftener heard, in the trees that shade the village or even the city streets. It is, however, much less common in such places since the advent of the English sparrow, hav ing been driven away by that little pest. Its song is much like that of the red-eye, yet it has a rich throaty quality quite foreign to the notes of that tireless songster and far superior to them. Neither this, nor indeed any of the vireos, ever seem to be in a hurry. They move quietly through the leafy covert, scanning the most likely lurking places for insects, pausing now and then to sing in a meditative manner, then renewing their quest. All of which is as different as possible from the busy, nervous move ments of the wood warblers, that seem ever in haste as though time were much too precious to waste. The food of the yellow-throat consists of a large variety of insects, including caterpillars, moths and beetles, and also those well-known pests, flies and mosquitoes. It also eats the plum curculio. RED-EYED VIREO (Vireosylva olivacea). Length, about 64 inches. The slaty gray crown enclosed by narrow black lines serves to identify this vireo. Range: Breeds from central Canada south to southeastern Washington, southern Montana, east ern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, western Texas, and central Florida; winters in South America. The red-eye is one of the commonest not only of our vireos but also of all our small birds, and inhabits every suitable piece of woodland throughout its territory. Its notes may be frequently heard coming from the village shade trees; city parks and streets also know it. Its most notable trait is its habit of singing almost continuously as it moves slowly through the branches, pausing now and then to pick up a caterpillar or other insect. In woods where these vireos are common its voice may be heard all the livelong day, even during the noon hours when most birds are silently resting. The nest, suspended in a V-shaped fork, is a beautiful specimen of avian architecture, and so indifferent is the bird to its location that the nest of no other bird is so fre quently seen by the chance passerby. Though fond of mulberries and sassafras berries, the red-eye eats insects by preference, and spends most of its time gleaning the branches for plant lice scales and caterpillars of various kinds. It eats such harmful beetles as the long-horned borers and weevils. I once saw a red-eye with a full grown luna moth in its bill. After vigorously beating the helpless moth on a limb to get rid of the wings the bird succeeded in reducing the enormous body to a formless mass and eventually swallowed it. (See Bull. 17, p. 23.) LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus and sub-species). Length, about 61 inches. The variegated head markings and white outer tail feathers distinguish this species. Range: From western Pennsylvania and western Maryland and the Mississippi valley westward; and from southern British Columbia and southern Sas katchewan to central Alabama, northern Louisiana, Texas and south into Mexico; winters from northern California, southern Texas and southern Mississippi to Guatemala. With some of the habits of the grass finch and, like that species, having the tail feathers tipped with white, the lark sparrow yet possesses distinctive traits of its own and after a little scrutiny can be mistaken for no other species. Its peculiar head markings have suggested the local western name of "snake bird," although the reason is not quite obvious. The lark finch is usually very abundant where found at all, and inhabits the open country, prairie, plain, and desert. It is often to be seen running along the dusty roads or perching on the roadside bushes and fences. It is a really fine songster and the possession of a musical voice has led to its capture and sale as a cage bird. It has peculiar claims on the interest of the west ern farmer since it is to be classed in the front rank of sparrows as a destroyer of grasshoppers. These harmful insects and others constitute about a third of its food for the year, while weed seeds of great variety form the other two thirds.