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Stoutheart And His Black Cravat

from Things To See In Springtime





Do you know the bird that wears a black cravat, which he changes once a year? It is the English Sparrow, the commonest of all our birds. His hair is gray, but he must have been red-headed once, for just back of his ears there is still a band of red; and his collar, maybe, was white once, but it is very dingy now. His shirt and vest are gray; his coat is brown with black streaks—a sort of sporting tweed. The new cravat comes when the new feathers grow in late summer; and, at first, it is barred with gray as if in half mourning for his sins. As the gray tips wear off, it becomes solid black; that is, in March or April. In summer, it gets rusty and worn out; so every year he puts on a new one in late August.


The hen sparrow is quite different and wears no cravat. She has a black-and-brown cape of the sporting pattern, but her dress is everywhere of brownish Quaker gray.


The song of the English Sparrow is loud and short; but he tries to make up, by singing it over and over again, for many minutes.


He eats many bad bugs, and would be well liked, if he did not steal the nests and the food of Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, Swallows, and others that are prettier and more useful birds, as well as far better singers than he is.


But there is much to admire in the Sparrow. I do not know of any bird that is braver, or more ready to find a way out of trouble; and if he cannot find a way, he cheerfully makes the best of it.


Some years ago I was at Duluth during a bitterly cold spell of weather. The thermometer registered 20° or 30° below zero, and the blizzard wind was blowing. Oh my, it was cold. But out in the street were dozens of English Sparrows chirruping and feeding; thriving just as they do in warmer lands and in fine weather.


When black night came down, colder yet, I wondered what the little stout-hearts would do. Crawl into some hole or bird-house, maybe? or dive into a snowdrift? as many native birds do.


I found out; and the answer was most unexpected.


In front of the hotel was a long row of electric lights. At nine o'clock, when I chanced to open the window for a breath of air, my eye fell on these; on every bulb was an English Sparrow sound asleep with the overarching reflector to turn the storm, and the electric bulb below him to warm his toes. My hat is off. Our Department of Agriculture may declare war on the Sparrow; but what is the use? Don't you think that a creature who is not afraid of blizzard or darkness, and knows how to use electric lights, is going to win its life-battle, and that he surely is here to stay?







Next: Tracks And The Stories They Tell

Previous: The Twin Stars



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