Thursday, April 17, 2008

Useful Birds of America

Yesterday was a glorious spring day, warm and sunny, windy. The yard is filled with a carpet of blue scillia, and the birds are singing. Late in the morning I went foraging through the dresser in my studio that I reserve for papers and miscellaneous bits for collages. I found a stack of old bird trading cards that I picked up from the consignment shop last winter. I'm not sure I can collage the actual cards, they're too wonderful. After a little online research I discovered that from around 1915 until 1938 Arm and Hammer Baking Soda issued trading cards in their packages. Each card encourages the reader to buy Arm and Hammer, "An Excellent Tooth Powder," and gives all sorts of information about the bird. Each card ends with the comment, "For the good of all, do not destroy the birds."

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens medianus): A lively little all-the-year-round resident of North America. He makes an excellent customer at feeding stations and suet chunks, but the bulk of his diet is made up of harmful insects which he searches out of cracks in the bark by the incessant hammering of his sharp bill. Farmers recognize him a valuable friend. His staccato note of "peek peek" closely resembles that of the hairy woodpecker. From to six white eggs are laid in May, usually in the hole of a dead tree.

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus): The redwing is a well-known inhabitant of reedy marshes throughout North America. In different regions is varies slightly in size, form and color ad is therefore divided into several races: while in the Pacific Coast is is replaced by two distinct species, the Bicolored and Tricolored Blackbirds. The male in his glossy black plumage and scarlet epaulettes , is conspicuous about his haunts and if these are invaded he greets the intruder with loud cries of protest. His song is a rich "oh-ka-lee" often given as he sails downward on spread wings. His mate is somewhat smaller and very different in color , brown above, below white streaked with black. The nest is usually built a few feet above the water in a bush or a sapling with four or five eggs that are bluish white curiously scrawled with black.

Robin (Turdus migratorius) : The one bird known by everyone. His friendliness to man has in turn won him man's friendship. His markedly cheerful song, heard most frequently at dawn and dusk, is one of spring's earliest signs. He usually nests near human habitation in trees of orchard, lawn and thin woodland. His building materials are of a wide variety , including grasses, roots, leaves, string and paper for the outside, and inner wall of mud lined with fine grasses. Eggs are bluish-green and three to five in number. Man need not begrudge him the small amount of fruit he eats, for that damage is abundantly offset by the large numbers of insects and worms he destroys. His range is North America, from the treeline to the Mexican tableland.

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