This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Mr. Editor, - When we go to Europe, especially to western Germany, we are surprised at the multitude of birds there, in comparison with those of our own land; and the cause of this scarcity with us is generally considered to be the wanton destruction committed on the feathered tribe.
This supposition is certainly correct to a very great extent, and is no commendation to the moral state of our society; but there is another circumstance by which our birds are destroyed annually to a still greater extent. This is, the excessive character of our climate. Sudden changes from mild spring weather to most furious blasts of severe cold, sinking the mercury in Fahrenheit forty degrees within six hours, as we have seen it during last winter, are enough to kill any bird, especially when it suffers at the same time from hunger.
It was, then, as much from sympathy as from any other motive, that we resolved to feed these little sufferers. We had but a small company of them during the first winter; but the following summer we found that we were less troubled with certain insects, especially caterpillars and tree-borers, the latter having been very destructive to some of our plants.
When autumn came again, we commenced feeding much earlier, and secured by that a much larger company of boarders for the winter, and by them the amount of work done on our premises in proportion; for the birds are never idle, and the better they are fed the more active they will be. And they soon learn to know their benefactor. While walking through our garden and orchard, they will actually follow us, expressing their confidence and gratitude in sweet and pleasing notes; and while they are at the same time busily engaged in their work, we notice that every tribe of these birds have each their own particular office assigned to them by nature, or, (what is the same,) by their Creator. Here we see a flock of the common snow-bird, so named from the circumstance of their appearance during deep snow, as then they are prevented from prosecuting their natural employment. Every weed stalk which carelessness had left to ripen its seed is diligently looked for, and every grain of seed picked up. There, at an old apple tree, and in the corners of some ancient fence posts, are four or five individuals of the small blue woodpecker, (Sittay) in search of the hidden "Turks;" while an army of the Parus family, (titmouse,) twist around every twig a dozen times during the winter, permitting no possible escape of a single egg that might produce an insect.
But, behold the grave-looking Picus minor, with the small red band at the back of his head, hammering away for nearly half an hour at one spot in an old lilac tree just opposite our window; and although the day is cold, and snow-flakes float from all directions, he does not give up until the rascal there hidden is cut free and leisurely drawn out.
Where, then, is the planter or the digger, old or young, who would not give protection to aids like these? The task is easy, and affords an amount of true pleasure during the hours of dreary winter, and abundant reward in summer. provide yourself in due season with three or four bushels of black walnuts, some hemp-seed, millet, and oats, and you are provided for as large a flock as you may likely draw together. We try to feed the snow-birds separate from the insect-eaters, by throwing some oats, millet, and a little hemp-seed on the ground of the south side of a stable, or on a board a little elevated, so that they are not annoyed by cats while they are eating; while the woodpeckers, etc., are fed with the cracked walnuts, hemp-seed, and once a week a little fine cut bacon, all put together in a shallow drawer, which we fasten under a window which opens just above the roof of a verandah. And here it is delightful to sit at the window, and see how the little folks approach their table, chirping to us as they behold the familiar faces of their protectors.
If circumstances had permitted, we should have tried long ago to import from Europe some of the moth-snapper varieties of birds, of which we have but too few, and so many there; for instance, the numerous families of the Sylvia, Curruca, and Muscicapa; also the grub-destroyer, King Sturnus, or starling, who follows every plow in the field; and of the Passer family, the Fringilla domestica. This bird is sometimes complained of as making free with cherries, and also helping itself to some wheat or barley; but no other bird will destroy as many caterpillars in the course of a day and throughout the summer as this is known to do. Professor Oken says, "As to benefit and harm which birds generally do, it is even not worth while to speak of the latter".
But if any one should attempt to import some of these birds, we would advise such to get them from the continent, perhaps from Bremen; not from England, as those from the continent will be easier acclimated.
[A tender and suggestive plea for the birds, to which we heartily respond. We have only to look at the condition of the trees in our large cities, where the birds find no abiding place, to become convinced of the great service they render us. Let us, then, cherish and protect these beautiful denizens of the woods. - Ed].
Our "Weed and Insect Destroyer" Association, as stated in the last June number of the Horticulturist, has proved to be a wholesome movement to our neighborhood, as the people begin to see that feeding the birds becomes a monopoly of their services to the feeder. Bird-feeding, therefore, becomes general here, and it is probable that, within a few years to come, we shall have all the birds of the state congregated in our county, except feeding be practiced elsewhere.
We have added now to our flock of workers also the crow by domesticating it, and find it very important to be employed in orchards as a powerful grub and mouse destroyer.
A farmer at our elbow, who was advised to shoot a bird occasionally for the purpose of ascertaining if it was an injurious bird or not, by opening its craw, went to his cornfield in May last with his gun, there hid in a bush, and soon found a number of quails nearing, and apparently in the very act of pulling up the sprouted corn. He shot two of them, and on his way home killed also a robin, the very bird that took some of his cherries last year. The craws were examined, but, to his surprise, no corn nor cherries were found in them, but only worms and grubs, the very things that had destroyed his corn. And as he now wished our opinion and advice on the subject, we directed him that, whenever he should again be vexed at the birds, to load his gun as usual, but leave out the shot, (the lead,) and fire away at them as often as he pleased.
I was happy to find in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post of the 4th inst., an article similar to mine as pointed to above. You will find it inclosed.
But before I close this chapter on birds, I wish to draw attention to another little winged and much-abused animal; and although not a bird, its great usefulness in destroying mosquitoes is generally very little appreciated or even known; we mean the bat.
In localities where mosquitoes are plenty and annoying, we would recommend to keep one or two of them in a cage or little box, and before bedtime let them fly through the house, closing the windows, when they will free every room in the house of that well-known torment, the mosquitoes, in less than ten minutes, after which they may be caught and recaged.
The dread which women have of this little harmless creature is founded on fable.
We give the above from our experiments with the bats.
[There can be no doubt that G. H. B. is entirely right with his "Weed and Insect Destroyer" Association. Every village should have an association of this kind. The birds may occasionally take a little corn, or a few cherries and strawberries; but what of that 1 Do they not consume millions of noxious insects that would otherwise destroy all our fruit? The good that they do preponderates so immensely over the harm they occasion, that this alone should insure their protection against wanton destruction. Then they are so pretty and sing so sweetly that we should do every thing in our power to induce them to congregate around our homes. - The suggestion in regard to the bat is to us a very novel one. We hope some of our readers will give the bats a trial. We have no doubt they have tried the mosquitoes to their entire satisfaction: we have. - Ed].