Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/Tragic Valentines Day

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A Tragic St. Valentine′s Day


he cold wave reached us at Miami, on Biscayne Bay, Florida, in the night of February 12. 1899. It was preceded by severe thunder storms in the evening. On the 13th, Monday, it was very cold all over the state, with snow and sleet as far south as Ormond and Titusville. Our thermometers at Miami ranged from 36° to 40° during the day. As I sat in my room at the hotel, about four in the afternoon, I saw a bird outside my window, then another and another, and soon the air seemed full of wings.

Opening my window to see what the visitors could be, I found they were Tree Swallows (Tachycincta bicolor). Several flew into my room, others clustered on the window ledge, huddling closely together for warmth. There were hundreds of them about the house seeking shelter and warmth. They crept in behind the window blinds, came into open windows, huddled together by dozens on cornices and sills. They were quite fearless; once I held my hand outside and two of them lighted on its palm and sat there quietly. As it grew dark and colder their numbers increased. They flew about the halls and perched in corners, and the whole house was alive with them. Few of the guests in the hotel knew what they were; some even called them ‘bats,’ and were afraid they might fly into their faces or become entangled in their hair. One man informed those about him that they were Humming Birds, ‘the large kind, you know,’ but all were full of sympathy for the beautiful little creatures, out in the cold and darkness. A few were taken indoors and sheltered through the night, but what were these among so many?

The next morning the sun shone brightly though the weather was still very cold—the mercury had fallen below 30° during the night. But as I raised the shade of one of my eastern windows I saw a half-dozen of the Swallows sitting upon the ledge in the sunshine, while the air seemed again filled with flashing wings. I was so relieved and glad. Surely the tiny creatures, with their tints of steely blue or shining green contrasting with the pure white of the under parts, were more hardy than I had feared. But alas! it was but a remnant that escaped. Hundreds were found dead. Men were sent out with baskets to gather the limp little bodies from piazzas, window ledges, and copings. It was a pitiful sight for St. Valentine Day, when, as the old song has it,

“The birds are all choosing their mates.”