Winter Birds
from "A Year With The Birds"
BY
ALICE E. BALL
Illustrated by
ROBERT BRUCE HORSFALL 1915
Our Winter Neighbors

When Summer journeys toward fair southern lands,
Her migrants follow close in roving bands;
Contented, there they dwell, until the Spring
Beguiles them back again on eager wing.

Then radiant Autumn, clad in red and gold,
Kills insect swarms with touch both swift and cold;
But o'er the birds that linger, she doth keep
A vigil keen, till she "lies down to sleep."

A bounteous feast of berries, nuts and seeds
With care she hung, on trees and shrubs and weeds;
Old Winter calls the birds to share this cheer
In field and forest, while the days are drear.

Then flaps the noisy crow, with raucous cry;
The jay gleams like a sapphire 'gainst the sky;
The cardinal shines, a ruby in the snow;
To sheltered thickets quails in coveys go.

Slate-colored juncos flock near chickadees;
Nuthatches wander up and down the trees.
Up climb the downy and the creeper small;
The crested titmouse sounds his cheery call.

A flock of waxwings seek the cedar-tree,
Or coral-laden ash or barberry.
The crossbills feast in groves of spruce and pine;
On seeds in meadows winter-sparrows dine.

Their sweet-voiced goldfinch cousins, clad in brown;
The tiny kinglet, with the golden crown;
The owl, the shrike, the soaring hawk so bold,
All brave Old Winter's stirring, stinging cold.

Long bitter nights they hide, when blasts blow keen,
In hollow trunks, or groves of evergreen;
Throughout the dreary days their voices ring,
And life to forests gaunt and chill they bring.

                                                            A.E.B.
 
The Snowflake or Snow Bunting

Across the fields we see them go--
Old brown leaves, driven by the snow.


Are not the dead leaves clinging fast
To oak or beech, or from the blast
All deeply hidden? Can it be
That they are whirling rapidly?

Ah! Now we hear a sharp, clear "Chur"
As they speed onward with a whir;
Upon the snow they settle down,
All white and black and leafy brown.

They're but a gentle Snowflake band;
Their Mother Earth has laid a hand
On head and throat and soft white dress
Of each, and left a brown impress.

While they're our winter guests, they wear
These russet coats; but when they fare
To Arctic lands, their summer home,
In robes of black-and-white they roam.


                                           
The Blue Jay

A flash of blue, a dash of white,
  Gleam from the branches dead,
As from oaks to beeches and hickories flits
  The jay with the crested head;
Then in crannies the acorns and nuts he stores,
  His winter's feast to spread.

'Tis said he's the dread of the feathered-folk,--
  This robber in bright array--
That they mourn when he drives them from new-built nests,
  Or carries their eggs away,
And cry aloud when he takes their young,
  With his "Yah, yah, jay!"

Devoted is he to his nestlings and mate,
  Or to jays that are feeble and old;
Delightfully gentle his household ways,
  Though his neighbors he loves to scold.
"Pedunkle! Pedunkle! Parlez-vous!"
  Sweet tones his voice can hold.

He's a handsome, noisy, unsociable bird,--
  An amusing mimic and tease;
He's the bane of the sleepy, half-blind owls,
  Till the mischievous fellow they seize;
But in spite of his pranks, we like him well,
  This clever knave of the trees.

                                                            
The Cardinal


When autumn woods are bare and dead,
A crested bird, of cardinal red,
Sways like an oakdeaf overhead;
  And sighs, "D    d     d
                      r     r      r
                       e     e     e
                        a     a     a
                          r!    r!    r!

When winter woods are white with snow,
And drifts pile high as wild winds blow,
Like flame this torchlike bird doth glow;
  And cries, "W   w    w
                       h    h     h
                         e    e     e
                          w!   w!  w!"

When springtime's crimson buds appear,
And red-gold columbines are here,
This songster welcomes the new year;
  And sings, "C    c    c
                       h    h    h
                        e    e    e
                         e    e    e
                           r!   r!   r!"

When summer's sun sheds scorching beams,
And cardinal flowers beside the streams
Grow wild, this brilliant bird still gleams;
  And whistles, "H    h    h
                           u    u    u
                             e!   e!   e!"
The Junco or Slate-Colored Snowbird

When the first gray days of autumn
   With their chill, have driven away
Many merry bird-musicians
   That made blithe each summer day;
Or when leaden skies brood o'er us,
   And the snowflakes whirl about,
Wings a cloud-gray flock, snow-breasted,
   To the thickets, in and out,
Fluttering gently, lisping sweetly,--
   Cheery, friendly junco throng,--
Neighbors till in April sunshine
   North they fly, with trilling song.
The Tree Sparrow or Winter Chippy

When lordly Winter stalks abroad,
   With trailing robes of snow,
That hide the lovely tender things
   His icy breath lays low;
When grasses, shrubs and hardy weeds
   Hold high their heads, and mock
Their tyrant lord,--from Northland woods
   There comes a merry flock
Of feathered songsters, soft and brown,
   With a dark spot on each breast;
They sway on stalk of golden-rod
   Above a snowdrift's crest.
Their voices ring like tinkling bells
   Beneath the wintry sky,
Till April, when with joyous songs
   Back to the North they fly.
The Chickadee

I am cheery, black-capped Chickadee,
With my head as dark as the duskiest tree;
I'm as gray as the boughs of the beeches bare,
And as white as the snow that is lodging there;
While my sides are tinged like the willow wands,
That rim with yellow the streams and ponds.

As I dart about, as I swing and I sway,
No blinding storm doth me dismay,
For I'm borne with the flakes as they scurry along
And I gleefully sing my tiny song:
"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!
This world holds nothing but good for me."

When insect eggs are incased in ice
In the crystalled trunks, I fly in a trice
To the homes of the human friends I know,
Who have spread me a feast on the crusted snow.
"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!
Oh, wouldn't you like to make friends with me?"
The Tufted Titmouse

I am Chickadee's cousin!
   I am gray tinged with red;
No black velvet cap
   Do I wear on my head.
I've a tuft of soft feathers,
   Like an Indian chief's,
With which I express
   My joys and my griefs.

I am merry and lively--
   An active athlete;
I can turn somersaults,
   An acrobat's feat.
If my loud ringing call
   You should hear far away,
You can find me with ease;
   This is what I will say:
"Péto! Péto! Péto! Péto! Péto!"
The Cedar Waxwing

A beautiful gray-brown bird is he,
   With a crest on his velvet head,
Which stands erect when he is surprised,
   And is flattened tight in dread;
When contented and happy loose it lies--
   As when he is bountifully fed.

His wings and tail are of softest gray
   That blend to a darker shade;
On his wings are scarlet wax-like tips
   That seem by magic made;
On his breast and the band across his tail
   The "Golden Touch" was laid.

He and his roving flock alight
   Where berries and seeds they spy;
Well-fed, they perch on a bough of a tree
   In a row, remote and shy;
They preen their coats, and whisper and lisp,
   And then away they fly.
The White-Breasted Huthatch

I'm the nuthatch--white-breasted,
   Black, rusty, blue-gray,
Long-billed and bright-eyed.
   Over tree-trunks I stray,
Up, down, all about--
   Wherever I see
Tiny eggs in the bark,
   Tucked away cunningly.

I've a short, square-cut tail;
   I need no firm prop
Like the woodpecker tribe,
   Or the creepers. I hop
On my large, sturdy feet
   Where I please without fear;
And my cheery "Crank-crank"
   You will frequently hear.

When not searching for food
   On a cold winter's day,
Near Chickadee, Downy,
   Or Titmouse I stay;
During long, bitter nights
   We may nestle--snug, warm--
In a woodpecker's hole,
   Sheltered safe from the storm.
The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Tree-dwelling insects must quiet be,
When Downy knocks at their door in a tree;
His ears are so sharp, if they stir a mite,
He will dig them out for a toothsome bite.
And when in winter they all are dead,
You'll see his bobbing, red-capped head
In search of the eggs they've hidden away,
In the trunks of the trees, now gaunt and gray.

Downy and Hairy look as though
They had had a frolic in the snow;
Had tumbled about till their breasts were white,
And with Jack Frost had a snowball fight,
Till their backs were streaked, and flecked were their wings;
The grove with their cheerful voices rings!
Can they be playing hide-and-seek?
Just hear them call, "Peek--peek ! Peek--peek !"
The Brown Creeper

I am Little Brown Creeper--
   White-flecked and pale gray,
With no red on my head
   Like the woodpeckers gay.

They climb up the trees;
   Nuthatches run down;
I circle the trunks--
   A tiny sprite brown.

With my long curving bill
   Eggs of insects I seek,
And I timidly call,
   "Skreek-Skreek, skreek-skreek!"

You may find me in winter,
   A visitor shy;
In the spring, to my home
   In the North woods I fly.
Bob White or Quail

"Bob White? Bob, Bob White?"
Was ever more joy--more pure delight--
Revealed in a voice? Mayhap you'll see
The singer building his home with glee--
A shallow nest, o'erhung with weeds,
And lined with grass, to suit the needs
Of a wife and a dozen babies small.
(If she were to die, he'd attend to them all l)

The lively nestlings! They run around
As soon as they're hatched, and on the ground
Find seeds of weeds and insect food.
In autumn, the parents and all the brood
Wander in meadows to glean the grain.
Each night they gather together again,--
A family circle, on leafy beds,--
And outward point their striped heads.

All brown and quiet, like leaves they lie
Till you're right upon them; then "Whir-r-!" and they fly.
If the covey are scattered, they tenderly call
Again and again, till assembled are all.
In winter to thickets and bogs they retreat;
When snow falls, berries and seeds they eat;
A loving family they live till May,
When each chooses a mate and wanders away.