National Geographic : 1914 May
YELLOWHEAD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). Length, about 10 inches. Our only blackbird with a yellow head. Range: Confined to western North America. Breeds from southern British Columbia, southern Mackenzie, southwestern Keewatin, and northern Minnesota to southern California and Arizona, east to southern Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana; winters from southwestern California, southern Arizona, southeastern Texas, and southwestern Louisiana south into Mexico. Apparently Nature started out with the intention of making an oriole but decided to make a black bird instead-and behold the yellowhead. He is a sociable chap and nests in great companies in the tule swamps of the west. The yellowhead's voice is harsh and guttural and his vocal efforts have been well characterized as a maximum of earnest effort with a minimum of harmony. Late in mid summer when the young are on the wing, old and young betake themselves to the uplands, grain fields, pastures and corrals, associating as often as not with redwings and Brewer's blackbirds. The yellowhead feeds principally upon insects, grain and weed seed, and does not attack fruit or garden prod uce; but it does much good by eating noxious insects and troublesome weeds; where too abundant it is likely to be injurious to grain. (See Biol. Surv. Bul. No. 13, 1900, p. 32.) STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris). Length, about 82 inches. General color dark purple or green with reflections; feathers above tipped with creamy buff. In flight and general appearance unlike any native species. Range: At present most numerous near New York City. Has spread to Massachusetts, Connecti cut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and recently to the District of Columbia; resident where found, though wandering southward in winter in search of food. The Old World has sent us two bird pests, the English sparrow and the starling. Although, up to the present time, we cannot convict the starling of having done any great damage he has proclivities which make him potentially very dangerous. In troduced into New York in 1890, the original sixty have multiplied many fold and spread in all direc tions till now they occupy territory hundreds of miles square, and are multiplying and spreading faster than ever. On the north they have entered Massa chusetts and Connecticut, and on the south they have reached Richmond, though only in migration. Even as I write the calls of a flock of 200 or more can be heard coming from a neighboring park, but as yet the bird has not elected to summer in the Na tional Capital. The starling is a hardy, prolific bird and is also aggressive. Like the English sparrow it associates in flocks, which is a great advantage in bird disputes. There is little doubt that the effect of its increase and spread over our country will prove disastrous to native species such as the blue birds, crested flycatchers, swallows, wrens and flickers, all valuable economic species, which nest in cavities as does the starling. Then too the starling has a taste for grain and small fruits, especially cherries, which will not commend it to our farmers and orchardists. COWBIRD (Molothrus ater). Length, about 8 inches. Male glossy black, head, neck and breast brown. Female brownish gray. Range: Breeds from southern British Columbia, southern Mackenzie and southeastern Canada south to northern California, Nevada, northern New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina; winters from southeastern California and the Ohio and Potomac Valleys to the Gulf and to central Mexico. Chapman calls the cowbird a villain-but is not the villain in the piece often the most interesting char acter on the stage? Thus our cowbird, short as he is of manners and morals, cannot fail to interest the bird lover. He is full of idiosyncrasies that keep one guessing. Why for instance his close association with the peaceful cow? Why his ludicrous attempts to sing, he who has not a thread of music in his whole make-up? How did Madame Cowbird come to lapse from the paths of virtue and, in place of build ing a nest of her own, foist her eggs and the care of her offspring on smaller and better principled birds to their detriment? Leaving these conundrums for wiser heads to solve, I must say that the cowbird seems to have chosen the smooth path to prosperity. It makes an easy livelihood, having no parental cares or worries, and is common and widely distrib uted. The farmer seems to have little to complain of in respect to the bird's food habits. (See Biol. Surv. Bul. 13, p. 29, 1900.) CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chstura pelagica). Length, rather less than 52 inches. Too well known by its peculiar flight and habits to need describing. Range: Known only in eastern North America. Breeds from southeastern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland south to Gulf Coast; west to Plains from eastern Montana to eastern Texas; winters south of the United States. The popular name of this bird, chimney swallow, embodies an error since the bird not only is not a swallow but is not even distantly related to the swallow family. Unlike the humming birds as the chimney swift is in appearance and habits, it is structurally not far removed from them. Like the swallows it is an indefatigable skimmer of the air and like them it earns a debt of gratitude by destroy ing vast numbers of our winged enemies, which its unsurpassed powers of flight enable it to capture. Indeed, chimney swifts eat nothing but insects, and no insect that flies is safe from them, unless it be too large for them to swallow. In June swifts may be seen gathering twigs for nest material. They disdain to pick these up from the ground but seize the coveted twig with their strong feet and break it off from the terminal branch when in full flight. By means of a sticky saliva secreted for the purpose the swift glues these twigs to the sides of the chimney in the form of a shallow nest. Although not generally known, swifts roost in chimneys and cling to the walls by using the sharp pointed tail as a prop, as do many woodpeckers in ascending trees. Any bird lover may secure distinction by solving an ornitho logical riddle and telling us where our chimney swifts spend the winter. They come in spring, they go in fall and at present that is about all we know of the matter, save that they do not hibernate in hollow trees, as many have believed.