National Geographic : 1914 May
TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Length, about 8' inches. Male mostly black, belly white. Female brown. Outer tail feathers white tipped. Range: Breeds in the United States from Sas katchewan and southeastern Canada south to Cen tral Kansas and northern Georgia; winters from southeastern Nebraska and the Ohio and Potomac southward. The towhee is a frequenter of second-growth and of scrub, and when the visitor enters such pre cincts he is pretty sure to hear the challenging cry, "chewink," and to catch sight of the bird as it hurriedly dashes into some brushy thicket as if in mortal terror. The flight is hurried, jerky and heavy, as though the bird was accustomed to use its wings only in emergencies. This is not far from being the case, as the towhee sticks close to mother earth and uses its great strength and long claws to advantage in making the leaves and rubbish fly in its vigorous efforts to uncover the seeds and in sects upon which it relies for food. The towhee thus literally scratches for a living as no other of our birds does, except possibly the brown thrush, and the lazy man may well pass by the industrious ant and go to the towhee for inspiration. No one waxes enthusiastic over its musical ability, but the song is given with such right good will that it is sure to satisfy the hearer as, no doubt, it does the bird himself. Seton interprets it to a nicety with the phrase "chuck-burr, pill-a-will-a -will-a ." The towhee includes in its bill of fare beetles and their larvae, ants, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers and flies, and also in Texas the boll weevil. Wild fruit and berries complete the list. ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius). Length, about 7- inches. Our only oriole with black and chestnut markings. Female grayish olive green. Range: Confined to eastern North America. Breeds from North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, southern Ontario, central New York and Massachusetts south to northern Florida, the Gulf Coast and southern Mexico, west to central Nebraska and western Kansas; winters from south ern Mexico to northern Colombia. Though clad in modest garb (for an oriole) and in no respect a rival of the Baltimore, the orchard oriole has merits of his own. As his name implies, he is a lover of orchards, and I have always asso ciated him with the glory of apple orchards in full bloom and with the delicious perfume with which the air is heavy. Amidst such surroundings, the black and chestnut livery of the orchard oriole marks him as one of the princes of our bird world. Gardens and parks also know him well, and he is not averse to swinging his nest from the trees that shade the farmer's house. His nest betrays his connection with the family of weavers, but his skill does not equal that of the Baltimore and he is con tent with a smaller pensile basket made chiefly of grasses. His song, like his dress, is modest, but it is exceedingly sweet, and one who hears it is sure to pause in his walk and wish that it were longer and given more frequently. The orchard oriole is chiefly insectivorous, as in deed are all of our species. CALIFORNIA BROWN TOWHEE (Pipilo crissalis and varieties). Length, about 9 inches. The long tail and brown plumage with white belly distinguish these ground and thicket-loving birds. Range: Southwestern Oregon, through Cali fornia to northern Lower California. The brown towhees, of which the California form is a good type, are characteristic of the brushy canyons of the far west, where they skulk and hide among the shrubbery and cactus much as do the common eastern towhees. Their powers of wing are not great and their long tails and heavy bodies render their flight awkward in the extreme. On the ground, however, they run with great ease and speed. In California brown towhees are common in the parks and gardens, and in every way are very much more familiar than the related towhee of the east. Like its eastern cousin, it is much addicted to scratching among leaves and rubbish, for which work its stout legs and claws are par ticularly adapted. The thin "tchip," which is the call note, seems out of all proportion coming from such a stout, vigorous body. The birds of this group are not fine songsters, but their simple ditties are pleasant to hear in the waste places where they are generally found. The brown towhee is much more of a vegetarian than an insect eater, and in California Professor Beal found that 85 per cent. of its yearly food con sists of fruit, grain and weed seeds. BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula). Length, about 7 inches. The combination of black and orange marks this bird from its fellows. Range: Breeds from central Saskatchewan and the southeastern provinces of Canada south to northern Texas, Louisiana and northern Georgia, west to Montana, Wyoming and eastern Colorado; winters from southern Mexico to Colombia. Lord Baltimore was signally honored when one of our finest birds was christened with his name be cause it chanced to carry the family colors, black and yellow. Orioles are a tropical group and the luxuriant tropical forests are bright with the gleaming colors of many species of these beautiful birds. Only a few have found their way into the temperate zone, but not one of the tropical species is garbed in more tasteful dress than this exotic which has adopted the elms and sycamores of the temperate zone for its summer home. When chill November winds have stripped our shade trees of their foliage then are revealed the long, pendant nests, wrought with so much skill and patience by Madame Oriole, and we begin to realize how many of these birds summer with us. Suitable material for the oriole nest is none too easily found, and the weaver is not so fastidious that she will not accept strings and yarn of any color which are hung out for her convenience; so that at the end of the oriole season the bird lover who is willing to co-operate with a pair of Nature's weavers may fall heir to a nest made to order, so to speak. The oriole is as useful as it is tuneful and orna mental. Caterpillars constitute the largest item of its fare, including many not touched by other birds. It eats also beetles, bugs, ants, grasshoppers and spiders. Particular mention must be made of the boll weevil, of which the oriole is a determined foe. The small amount of fruit taken by the oriole, in cluding cherries, is insignificant when compared with the long list of harmful insects it destroys.