to the soft structure of the Humming-Bird
, a baby-house among nests.
Among all created things, the birds come nearest to man in their domesticity.
Their unions are usually in pairs, and for life; and with them, unlike the practice of most quadrupeds, the male labors for the young.
He chooses the locality of the nest, aids in its construction, and fights for it, if needful.
He sometimes assists in hatching the eggs.
He feeds the brood with exhausting labor, like yonder Robin, whose winged picturesque day is spent in putting worms into insatiable beaks, at the rate of one morsel in every three minutes. He has to teach them to fly, as among the Swallows, or even to hunt, as among the Hawks.
His life is anchored to his home.
Yonder Oriole fills with light and melody the thousand branches of a neighborhood; and yet the centre for all this divergent splendor is always that one drooping dome upon one chosen tree.
This he helped to build in May, confiscating cotton as if he were an army provost-marshal, and singing many songs, with his mouth full of plunder; and there he watches over his household, all through the leafy June
, perched often upon the airy cradleedge, and swaying with it in the summer wind.
And from this deep nest, after the pretty eggs are hatched, will he and his mate extract every fragment of the shell, leaving it, like all other nests, save those of birds of prey, clean and pure, when the young are flown.
This they do chiefly from an instinct of delicacy; since wood-birds are not wont to use the same nest a second time, even if they rear several broods in a season.
The subdued tints and notes which almost always mark the female sex, among birds,—unlike insects and human beings, where the female is often more showy than the male,—seem designed to secure their safety while sitting on the nest, while the brighter colors and louder song of the male enable his domestic circle to detect his whereabouts more easily.
It is commonly noticed, in the same way, that ground-birds have more neutral tints than those which build out of reach.
With the aid of these advantages, it is astonishing how well these roving creatures keep their secrets, and what sharp eyes are needed to spy out their habitations,—while it always seems as if the empty last-year's nests were very plenty.
Some, indeed, are very elaborately concealed, as of the Golden-Crowned Thrush
, called, for this reason, the Oven-Bird
, with its burrowed gallery among the grass,—and the Kingfisher
, which mines four feet into the earth.
Many of the rarer nests would hardly be discovered, only that the maternal instinct seems sometimes so overloaded by Nature as to defeat itself, and the bird flies and chirps in agony, when she might pass unnoticed by keeping still.
The most marked exception I have noticed is that of the Red Thrush
, which, in this respect, as in others, has the most high-bred manners among all our birds: both male and female sometimes flit in perfect silence through the bushes, and show solicitude only in a sob that is scarcely audible.