From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
| Vol. II

finale would be a short scrimmage among the thick foliage of a spruce, with a clatter of beating wings and a few sharp squeals like a robin's. They would fall slowly through the branches to the ground, when the contestants would separate, panting, and puffing out different parts of their plumage. The greatest apparent injury to either of the belligerents would be the loss of two or three feathers, yet one of them would consider himself fairly beaten, and soon retire, leaving the victor free to press his suit.

The song of the male Varied Thrush consists of a series of peculiar notes uttered slowly and at rather long intervals. Each note is complete in itself. It is a quavering twang with a faint rasping quality, the effect resembling the twang of a banjo string on a cracked bridge. These strange notes are produced in various keys, including a full octave, but the succession in which they are slowly uttered is irregular; a high note, then a low one, then a medium, with apparently no set arrangement. I have heard a single thrush from his secluded perch near the top of a dark evergreen, thus "sing" for twenty minutes at a time. It is an odd bird song, but when heard amid the solitude of the dark, damp spruce woods, it has an indescribably melancholy musical quality, which sets one to dreaming of far-away home. Many a half-hour have I spent lying on my back on some mossy hummock in the northern forest, spell-bound by this Mesmer of the woods. The ordinary call-note or note of warning of both male and female is a low liquid "quirt.' It is heard quite frequently as one walks through the woods disturbing the thrushes, the sites of whose homes may be near by. In the Kowak Valley, I noticed the first signs of nest-building by the Varied Thrush, on the 25th of May, just four days after their arrival, and by the 28th nearly every pair were busy, for the summer is short and here is no loitering as in the case of many southern birds.

The female does all the work' of constructing the nest, the male accompanying her constantly in her many trips after material, but as far as my observations go, never proffering any assistance. Many of the nests are built on those of the previous year as a foundation, and I even found three-storied nests. The old nests are flattened and dilapidated by the heavy August rains and winter snows, with the mud mostly dissolved out of them. During the winter a tour of the woods discloses hundreds of old thrushes' nests in various states of preservation, and in some sections nearly every tree harbors one or more. Where well-protected in dense spruce, they must survive many years. Probably the same pair of birds returns to a single nesting site for several successive seasons, especially if they raise their young there, unmolested. I found no evidence of any natural enemies of the Varied Thrush during the breeding season. The shrikes and small hawks seem to prey mainly on mice and lemmings with an occasional Redpoll.

All the nests of the Varied Thrush observed were in spruces, and varied in height above the ground from six to twenty feet, the latter being far above the average height which I should judge to be ten feet. Even in the tallest timber, the nesting sites are chosen in the lower foliage at a similar elevation. The parent birds are very solicitous about the safety of their homes, and the female, especially, exhibits great distress, when the nest is disturbed. The female performs the entire duty of incubation, at least I never discovered a male bird on the nest. The female sits very close, once remaining on the nest until I had climbed within a yard of her, and in this instance there were as yet no eggs in the nest. While one is near the nest, the female flies wildly around the tree at a short distance, uttering loud squeals and cries, much resembling those of the common robin. The male is less vehement in his protests and follows the movements of the female, but at a longer radius answering her screams with the ordinary liquid alarm note, frequently uttered. I often found it an unpleasant undertaking to rob a nest in the face of such unmistakable solicitude and remenstrance, and I would hurriedly leave the vicinity after the deed was