IN the study of wild birds the problem of approach has always been difficult to master. The land birds of every continent are, as a rule, shy and difficult to study with that minuteness of detail which alone can satisfy the naturalist and careful observer of their habits.
Birds have enemies to fear and shun, and their discrimination does not exclude their most ardent or curious admirers from their bitterest foes. With them the battle is not always to the strong. Timidity, agility, protective colors and the instinct of concealment are as important in the struggle for life as the bill-hook and mailed foot. We speak of wild birds or of wild animals generally in contrast to the comparatively few which are tame, and if the wilderness does not always howl, it is often because its inhabitants have found it better policy to remain silent.
Wildness is due to fear which may be inherited or acquired by experience with this wicked world. Tameness on the other hand comes only through the casting out of fear, and may be effected by the formation of new habits, which are either spontaneous or forced. In order to tame a wild animal we must therefore teach it new lessons, and in doing this it is a common practice to literally chain it to a fixed spot, where its conditions of life are uniform and under control, and where no other teachers are allowed to interfere. The moment, however, the wild bird is placed in a cage its behavior is no longer perfectly spontaneous or free, at least not until all fear has been subdued. What is needed, therefore, is an invisible chain to hold the animals to some fixed and chosen spot, which may be approached in disguise.
Fortunately for the student of birds all these conditions are fulfilled for a very important period—that of life at the nest. The nest with its young is the given fixed point, and parental instinct is the invisible chain.
- Messrs. G. P. Putnam's Sons will shortly publish a book by Professor Herrick, in which the original method described in this paper will be given in greater detail, and the interesting results obtained will be more fully set forth. The book will be entitled 'The Home-Life of Wild Birds: A New Method of Bird Study and Bird Photography,' and will contain upwards of 140 illustrations from nature.—Editor.