REPORT OF THE ENTOMOLOGIST.
Sir: During the past year most of my time and attention have been given
to the agricultural and economic museum under my charge. This museum or
cabinet, illustrating, as it does, in the most practical way, the relations existing
between the farmer's insect enemies and his feathered friends, will, when
thoroughly established and systematized, form the foundation for a most complete course of instruction in entomology and ornithology as connected with
agriculture and horticulture.
Entomology, as a useful science, and to be practicable where most needed,
must be placed before those whom it is to benefit in a language which they can
understand, and in intimate connexion with the objects of their daily interest
and care. Hence the great importance attached to perfecting this system of
ocular instruction, and hence, also, as far as possible in this report, terms recognized as peculiar to pure science are avoided; the aim being to come at once to
facts in plain words—to talk with the farmer where he lives, and show him by
the results of actual investigation wherein his safety lies. Since the opening
of this museum every effort has been made, and much private capital spent, to
add to it everything desirable that came within reach, besides giving the free
use of my own library and collection of birds, insects, insect-plates and model
fruits, for the benefit of all coming here for information.
The voluntary contributions for the year, as will be seen by the list appended,
though not as numerous as might have been wished, have still added much to
the interest of the collection. As no funds have been appropriated for the
purpose, many of the skins of birds and animals sent by correspondents from
the west have not yet been mounted, and therefore do not appear on exhibition.
One of the most successful collectors of specimens, and one to whom the department owes many thanks, is Mr. Allen Crocker, of Kansas. A like attention
from others would soon enrich the museum with all that is desirable in the way
of natural history.
The insects sent for identification have been almost countless, though comprising few that are new; many, however, are interesting from facts and observations connected with them, as mentioned by correspondents.
Letters of inquiry in regard to insects, their depredations, and the best
methods of prevention, have been very numerous from all parts of the country.
These have all been answered promptly, and with the request repeated
from last year's report, that farmers who try the remedies there proposed for
the destruction of noxious insects would report to this department the results
of those trials, so that the successful ones may be registered for future use, and
the useless ones be thrown out of print as soon as may be. As yet this request
has scarcely been heeded, owing, probably, to the fact that the limited number
of reports allowed to the department for distribution did not permit of its being
put into the hands of multitudes who would have taken deep interest in helping
on this work. Hundreds of disappointed applicants, both personally and by
letter, from the working and experimenting classes of farmers, attest the truth
of this. It is among them that the documents of this department should be
most freely distributed, as it is from them we are to obtain the facts most needed
to guide science in her mission of usefulness.
The cereals received since last report have been very few, and, with one or
two exceptions, not of extraordinary quality. California, Oregon, and Colorado
have sent some small samples of very beautiful wheat, and some fine oats, barley, and rye.
The interest in fibres has continued unabated. Specimens have come in from
nearly every section of the country, but only in small parcels, simply to show
the variety of fibre-producing plants at our command. Fine cottons have been
sent from California and the Sandwich Islands, where large quantities were
raised in 1865.
Several of our consuls at foreign ports have interested themselves in collecting and forwarding to this department articles of value, among which may be
mentioned the fine case of China grass, (Bæhmeria nivea,) and the dressed
fibre, yarns and fabrics of the same, from the manufactory of Messrs. Ward &
Sons, Bradford, England, through G.D. Abbott, esq., United States consul at
Sheffield. The fineness and toughness of this fibre, together with its beautiful
lustre, promise to make it a valuable addition to manufacturing materials. A
correspondent writing from London, England, says of it: " The experiments in
the cultivation and manufacture of the plants, made by Colonel Nicolle, in the
island of Jersey, enable him to state with entire certainty that the yield of
China grass per acre is as great as lucerne, or about forty tons of green matter,
of which eighteen tons yield one ton of fibre. The plants attain great perfection in the climate of Jersey, which is very similar to that of Maryland."
The Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax, is also highly spoken of by the
same correspondent, successful experiments having been made in the manufacture of cloth and rope therefrom. Small samples of these have been received,
and are now in the museum.
Some fine specimens of Spanish merino pure and graded wools have been
received from California. From other States very little has come in, and, indeed,
it is at present quite as well so, as, in the crowded condition of our rooms there
is no place in which they could be safely kept. Nearly all the parcels of wool
that were on hand at the organization of the museum, with many since received,
have been destroyed by moths, which it has been impossible to prevent for want
of air-tight cases and proper fumigating apparatus. Until such safeguards are
provided, it will be with the greatest difficulty, even with the constant use of
benzine, that the mounted specimens now in the collection can be preserved;
and wool in parcels being peculiarly liable to the depredations of the moth,
cannot be kept any length of time without proper protection, such as the means
now at command do not afford.
The museum is indebted to J. H. McNall, esq., of North Star, Pennsylvania,
for a skin of a pure-bred Angora goat, and also to B. K. Tully, esq., of Russellville, Kentucky, for one seven-eighths Angora, both of which have been
mounted and are on exhibition, together with some fine samples of Angora
wools of various grades.
Through V. D. Collins, esq., now in China, we have received a number of
cases of insects peculiar to that country, with a variety of papers, fibres, models
of farming implements, irrigating machinery, and other articles, many of which,
however, are mere matters of curiosity.
The department is under obligations to Messrs. Vilmorin, Andrieux & Co.,
celebrated florists of Paris, France, for a full set of the beautiful colored plates
of flowers and vegetables, comprising the "Album Vilmorin," and also for a
variety of seeds of rare flowers for propagation in the department garden.
Our collection of silk in cocoons and reeled samples has been increased by
valuable contributions from the Bohemian Agricultural Society, through the
Austrian minister of commerce, and also from M. Guerin Meneville, of Paris,
who presented a choice variety to me for that purpose during my late visit to
EEPOET OF THE ENTOMOLOGIST.
In regard to experiments made in this country with the Attacus cynthia,
or Chinese Ailanthus silk-worm, there seems very little to be said that is encouraging. The eggs and cocoons of the insect were widely distributed through
out the country, but the reports from them have been very meagre. Some who
have written state that the worms when hatched were totally neglected, and so
perished. From only one correspondent have we a satisfactory account. Mr.
John Akhurst, of Brooklyn, New York, writes under date of November 21,
1865, as follows:
"I received last spring thirty-six cocoons of the Cynthia, with the request
that I would report to you my success at the close of the season. I am pleased
to say that, so far, all is extremely favorable. From the thirty-six cocoons I
have reared upwards of 10,000 cocoons. The greater number were reared in
the open air, many in the most exposed situations. Still I found them to thrive
"One fact is proved beyond a doubt, that two broods can be reared with certainty within one season. The second brood of this season proved stronger,
and the cocoons much larger than those of the spring brood.
"The Rev. Dr. Morris, of Baltimore, in his paper of 1861, says, 'about ten
per cent, of the first brood hatch during the summer.' In this there is a great
mistake. I find from seventy-five to seventy-eight per cent, made their appearance, although I had them in a very cool place.
"There remains no doubt in my mind of the success of the experiment, and,
I believe that with very little care and expense great quantities of silk can be raised in this country. I shall continue to rear the Cynthia next season, and will report my success, whatever it may be."
The cocoons of the Cynthia which I kept for myself produced fine, healthy
moths, which, after pairing, laid their eggs upon the inside of the box in which
they were kept. The eggs hatched well, and in due time the cocoons were spun,
losing only about eight or ten per cent, of the caterpillars. Unfortunately for
the next brood, I was obliged to go to Paris, and had to leave the cocoons in
care of another person, who reported that several moths came' out and laid eggs,
but the worms when hatched proved sickly, refused to eat, and so died without
The simple question as to whether the Cynthia can be acclimated here, and,
will make silk from the ailanthus, no longer admits of doubt. Mr. Gallaber; of
this city, has succeeded in reeling the cocoons, and finds the silk even, of fine
texture, and good strength. A specimen reeled may be seen in the museum.
The utility of the Cynthia here, or, indeed, the practicability of silk-raising at
all to any extent in this country, with labor at its present price, is the real question of doubt, and that is not left with individuals to settle, but with the laws
which control commerce and regulate demand and supply.
In perfecting the system of instruction upon which this museum is based,
small cases covered with glass have been procured, in each of which are arranged the various fibres, silks, &c , beginning with the seed and going through
the different stages of growth and manufacture, so that the whole process may
be seen at a single glance. This is found peculiarly advantageous in giving,
explanations, and is very satisfactory to those seeking to inform themselves in
regard to any product and its uses. In short, the entire collection is intended as an object library of reference for all time; the design being, if permitted and
encouraged to go on with it, to have all the economic products of our country
represented here and so arranged, and to make the collection such a centre of useful information, that the department cannot afford to do without it. A national
museum of this kind is demanded by the needs of the people; and the system, at
once minute in detail and comprehensive in scope and aim, upon which the nucleus
is based, is capable of being extended through every branch of husbandry and manufactures. It is, in fact, the initiatory chapter of a boundless volume of
national industry illustrated.
If proper rooms and cases could be provided, the wool interests of the country might be largely subserved by adding to the few mounted specimens now on
hand such of the pure breeds of sheep and their crosses as are most desirable,
and by having connected with them books or cases in which could be preserved
the grades of each with other breeds, showing the quality of staple, and for
what use it is best adapted. This, it will be seen, would be but the beginning
of an almost endless series representing the industrial arts arising from and connected with agriculture. Animal as well as vegetable products, with the changes
incident upon breeding, growth and manufacture, should be included in this cabinet.
Domestic fowls, of which we have a small collection, should be better represented by true types of the pure breeds, few of which can be had without resorting to importation. When in England recently, I ascertained that most if not all the best varieties might be obtained pure and at reasonable rates from
eminent breeders there, and would suggest that measures be taken to procure
them as soon as facilities can be afforded for preserving them properly.
The model fruits, of which there are now nearly 3,000 specimens on exhibition, are classified and so arranged as to show the effect of soil, climate and culture; a catalogue, specifying the history and quality of each, being kept for reference. The design is to obtain from each State samples of the various
fruits which have been tried and proved, to have them modelled here, retaining
one copy to be added to this national collection, and returning duplicates and
matrices, correctly named, to each State agricultural society. These models are
fac-similes, and are of a durable material, not affected by temperature, and capable of bearing transportation and any amount of handling.
Intimately connected with the fruits are the insects, of which there is a large collection classified, mounted, and conveniently arranged, at the command of
all asking for information, besides a great number of colored plates prepared by
myself, showing the different forms in which the insects appear, with their
names, and references to authors who have treated of their habits and the best
methods of destroying them. There is also a carefully prepared list of the
vegetable productions injured by insects, alphabetically arranged, with the
names of insects feeding upon each, and whether in the larva or perfect state.The list and the plates together form an illustrated cyclopedia, where, the plant or fruit being found, the insect enemy is at once discovered, and, by reference to the engravings, can be seen in all its forms.
The birds mounted in the museum number nearly six hundred, the greater part of them being insectivorous birds of this country. A knowledge of their
nature and habits is of as much importance to the farmer and fruit culturist as
is the science of entomology; hence the two studies are combined by attaching
to each bird a card on which is stated, not only the scientific and common name,
with reference to works on ornithology where their history may be found, but
also the habits and food peculiar to each, so that the farmer may know his
enemies from his friends. In addition to this, the contents of the stomachs of
birds, taken at different seasons of the year, have been preserved, and are placed
in small boxes beside the specimens, so that they may be referred to at any
The following brief synopsis of the number, character, and habits of the
birds examined and preserved in this department since last report, will be of interest to the farmer:
Commencing with the birds of prey, we find the turkey buzzard and black
vulture both exceedingly useful in devouring offal and dead animals, which
would otherwise contaminate the atmosphere.
Hawks are, in general, very injurious to the interests of the farmer, by destroying not only poultry but the small insectivorous birds; at the same time,
they kill immense numbers of mice and insects, and thus partially atone for the
damage they do. In proof of this, a" sparrow-hawk, shot in October, among a
flock of reed or rice birds, was found to be filled with grasshoppers, and contained not the slightest vestige of feathers or bones of birds. This bird was
remarkably fat. A red- shouldered hawk, or winter-falcon, shot in November,
was found filled with crickets and grasshoppers, although its usual food appears to be small birds, animals, frogs, &c. Wilson states that they will even attack ducks.
The rough-legged falcon destroys mice, frogs, and reptiles, but also preys on
smaller birds and animals. The marsh hawk, or hen harrier, destroys great
numbers of field mice, reptiles, and small birds. Taking the hawks together,
the damage they do in destroying poultry and insectivorous birds is by do
means counterbalanced by their good deeds in ridding us of mice, insects, reptiles, &c.; and they may be classed as decidedly injurious to the agriculturist.
Eagles are very injurious, by destroying lambs, young animals, and the
larger game birds; but as the fish hawk lives upon fish alone, and never molests other birds or animals, it ought to be excepted from the general condemnation passed upon the rest of the hawk species.
The owls being nocturnal birds, feed principally upon rats, mice, beetles,
bats, birds, and sometimes even fish. The large owls, such as the great horned
or cat-owls, are very destructive to chickens, quails, and squirrels, although they
also do some good by destroying rats and mice. The barn owl kills immense
numbers of rats, mice, and shrews, but also kills small birds. The mottled
and red or little screech-owl feeds on mice, insects, and small birds. The short
and long-eared owls feed principally on rats, mice, and beetles. The stomach
of one specimen of the long-eared owls in the collection contained the skulls
and bones of at least eight field mice, and therefore, when about barns and
granaries, these birds must be very useful. Poultry, rabbits, and birds are destroyed by the barred owl, and it also feeds on rats and mice. The large snowy
owl, which is occasionally seen in Maryland and other middle States in winter,
feeds on grouse, hares and fish; one kept in confinement appeared to prefer fish
to any other diet. [with modern fencing, the negative aspects of raptors has largely been eliminated, while the positive aspects remain. Thus, in most states, they are protected species. -ASC]
In the second order, Scansores or climbers, we begin with the cuckoo or rain
crow. These birds are very useful in destroying caterpillars, beetles, and insects
in general. Nuttall states that when they have young to provide for, their food
"consists chiefly of hairy caterpillars rejected by other birds, that so commonly
infest apple-trees, and live in communities within a common silky web." The
stomach of a specimen shot in New York was found literally crammed
with sharp-spined caterpillars of Vanessa antiopa. But although these birds
are thus useful, they seek and destroy the eggs of other birds. In one instance,
when attacking the nest of a robin, the parent bird made such a resistance, and
was so much engaged in fighting the cuckoo, that both were taken alive by a
spectator. Unlike its European relative, our cuckoo makes its own nest, and is
a very careful and attentive parent. Our cow blackbird, or cow-bird, on the
contrary, like the European cuckoo, lays its egg in the nest of almost any other
The woodpeckers are, in general, very beneficial to the orchardist, by destroying the larvæ of beetles, which, if left undisturbed, would probably kill the
tree infested by them. The stomach of a specimen of the downy woodpecker,
sometimes called sapsucker, (from the erroneous impression that it sucks the sap of trees,) shot in February, was filled with black ants. This bird is said to be
injurious by making perforations around the trunks and branches of orchard
trees, in regular circles, probably to taste the sap, or feed on the young wood.
Nuttall states, however, that "trees thus perforated are not injured, but thrive
as well or better than those imperforated." On one occasion a downy woodpecker was observed by myself, making a number of small, rough-edged perforations in the bark of a young ask tree, and upon examining the tree when the bird had flown, it was found that wherever the bark had been injured the young
larvae of a wood-eating beetle had been snugly coiled underneath, and had been
destroyed by the bird; thus proving conclusively to my mind that these perforations are made for the purpose of finding insect food.
The stomach of the pileated woodpecker, or black woodcock, was found in
October to be filled with the seeds of wild berries, with no insects whatever;
its principal food, however, consists of wood-boring larvæ and insects, and it
has been accused of eating maize. In the stomach of the red-bellied woodpecker, killed in December, were found pieces of acorns, seeds and gravel, but
no insects. Another shot in December contained wing cases of Buprestis, and
a species of wasp, or Polistes, acorns, seeds, and no bark. A third, shot in May,
was filled with seeds, pieces of bark, and insects, among which was an entire
Lachnosterna, or Maybug. Tbe yellow-bellied woodpecker has been accused of
feeding upon the young bark of trees, and although Nuttall states that "their
principal food is insects, for which they sometimes bore the trunks of orchard
trees," it seems not yet satisfactorily settled as to whether its chief food is the
bark itself or the insects under the bark. Having had no opportunity to examine
the stomach of one of these birds, I am unable at present to answer this question. A piece of bark injured by this bird, sent to the Smithsonian Institute,
was certainly eaten out regularly in large square or round holes, as if for the
sake of the young bark or wood itself. Dr. Trimble states, however, that the
stomach of a yellow-bellied woodpecker contained two
seeds, seven ants, one
insect like a chinch, and of bark and sap not one trace. Another specimen
contained pulp of apple and one ant. Pieces of bark and wood are frequently
found in the stomachs of all woodpeckers, but they have probably been merely
swallowed with their insect prey, and not for the sake of nutriment. The question as to whether the yellow-bellied woodpecker does really feed upon bark
can only be decided by dissecting the bird, observing the structure of the tongue,
whether it is barbed, as with other insect- eating woodpeckers, and examining
the contents of its stomach at all seasons of the year.
The red-headed woodpecker, in May, contained gravel, small, wood-eating
insects, and Iulidae. Another shot in May was full of beetles, pieces of bark,
seeds, one or two specimens of Lachnosterna, or May bug, and other small insects.
They are said to be partial to maize when in its milky state, and sometimes
also to injure fruit.
The flicker, high-hole, or golden-winged woodpecker, shot in spring, contained
a mass of small yellow ants, with the remains of one small plant-bug. These
birds feed, however, on cherries, grapes, and other fruits, and are very partial
to ripening corn, and it is therefore probable that they do more damage to our
crops than they do good by destroying insects.
We find our most useful allies in the third order of birds, the Incessores, which
includes all perching birds. The first in this order is the humming-bird, which
is generally supposed to live on the honey of flowers, but the stomach of a male
humming-bird, dissected by myself, contained some very small spiders, and in
others were found the remains of very small insects and spiders.
The chimney swallow, or swift, is very useful, as it feeds entirely upon gnats,
mosquitoes, and other small insects found flying in the air. The stomach of one
dissected contained nothing but a mass of pulp composed of the remains of soft
The whip-poor-will feeds entirely on large night-flying insects, such as moths
and beetles, and should be protected.
The poor night-hawk, under the popular name of bull-bat, although destroying myriads of noxious insects, meets a most undeserved fate. The young sportsmen of the south ruthlessly slaughter them by hundreds as an article of
food, little thinking that they are killing their best friends.
The kingfisher we will pass over, as his food consists principally of fish, although he also occasionally takes insects floating on the water.
The king-bird, tyrant fly-catcher, or bee-martin, as it is called in the south,
feeds upon beetles, grasshoppers, and insects in general. It has been accused
by many naturalists of feeding upon honey bees; others state that it selects only
the drones. In defence of this bird, I will state that the stomach of one examined in May contained May bugs, but no bees; and another shot by a farmer,
who suspected it of taking his bees, as he had seen it make repeated dives among
them from a willow overhanging his hives, contained no less than fifteen anomala varians, one carabus, and not the vestige of a bee. These insects were so
packed together and mixed up in the stomach, that an inexperienced person
would have taken them for a mass of bees; and it was only after careful and
close examination that they were all identified. This bird may, however, feed
upon bees at some particular seasons; and if farmers would only carefully examine the stomachs of such as are killed, or send them for that purpose to some
competent naturalist, the question would soon be settled as to whether it ought
to be shot as a marauder upon bee-keepers, or protected as a benefactor of farmers. In the southern States I have seen the bee-martin chase and capture the
boll-worm moth not ten paces from where I stood.
A great-crested fly-catcher, in May, contained small hymenopterous insects
and beetles. The pewee fly-catcher, or phoebe bird, so called from its peculiar
note, shot in March, contained seeds of wild plants, and small insects. Two
shot in April contained numerous specimens of Aphodius maculipennis, Fimetanus, and other small insects; and another shot several years ago near a bee
hive contained a mass of the striped bug so destructive to melons and cucumbers; thus proving how beneficial these small birds are to the gardener. A
wood pewee, shot in September, contained a mass of soft-bodied flies, among
which was a perfect specimen of Musca Cæaesar; whilst a yellow-bellied fly
catcher had fed entirely upon Aphodii and other small insects.
We now come to the family of Thrushes, the most remarkable and best known
of which is the robin. It is true that this bird devours great quantities of our
small fruits, such as cherries, &c., but we should remember that during the rest
of the year the robin is busily engaged in destroying insects and larvae which
would otherwise ruin our crops. A robin shot in March contained spiders, several noxious insects, and seeds of wild plants; another shot in the same month,
in a newly ploughed field, was found to contain the nearly full grown larvae of
a cicada which had no doubt been turned up by the plough.
I will remark here that in regard to this family of birds, and, indeed, of nearly
all others as well, I cannot make this report as full and complete as it should
be, on account of the stringent laws here (in Washington) prohibiting the shooting of small birds. So conscientiously law-abiding were the officials, that I
could not even get a permit to shoot specimens for examination preparatory to
making this report. Yet, notwithstanding this, the markets here in spring are
literally overstocked with strings of robins, thrushes, cedar-birds, and even blue
birds, which are brought in and sold for food. Until this public sale of small
birds is prohibited, as with game birds at certain seasons, our little harmless
songsters will rapidly disappear from the neighborhoods of large cities.
The stomach of a hermit, or little thrush, was found filled with seeds of the
Smilax rotundifolia, although its general food in spring and summer consists of
insects. The well-known and favorite bluebird is exceedingly useful to the
horticulturist and farmer, by destroying myriads of larvae and insects which
would otherwise increase and multiply to the great injury of vegetation. A
bluebird, shot in March, was found to contain grasshoppers, while a naturalist
searching for them in the same field could not find a single specimen. Another in the same mouth contained large cut-worms and various small insects; and a
third was filled with small beetles, Aphodii, &c, and some wild seeds. Small
boxes put in the trees, or around the dwelling-house, will invariably attract blue
birds to build in them. They are sometimes turned out, however, by the small
and more pugnacious wren, which, after driving off the rightful occupant, leisurely turns out the eggs, barricades the entrance, and takes possession. I have
known a favorite bluebird build in the same box several years in succession,
and become so tame as to have no fear of the persons or animals on the premises; and was fully convinced of its utility by observing the numbers of caterpillars and insects it carried to its nest to feed its young.
A tit-lark, shot in March, from a large flock which were busily employed in
hunting over a grass field, was found to contain a half-grown grasshopper, several Iulidae, and small insects.
The Maryland warbler, or yellow-throat, frequents sandy situations and feeds
mostly on insects. In one, shot in September, was found nothing but the remains of insects. Indeed, all the warblers, during their summer and fall residence in the northern and middle States, are ever on the search for insects, and destroy numbers of the smaller ones which are too insignificant for the farmer
to observe, yet which do more real damage than many of the large ones daily
coming under his notice. A golden-crowned thrush contained, in May, nothing
but such small insects; and a yellow-rumped warbler had fed principally on
small dipterous or two-winged flies.
In the stomachs of each of three scarlet tanagers, or black-winged summer redbirds, shot in April, were found only grasshoppers, beetles, and flies; and, as
another contained two curculionidæ, Epicœrus fallax, no doubt if left undisturbed they would destroy the much-dreaded curculio. One summer red-bird
contained nothing but seeds of wild plants, although Nuttall states that " bugs,
beetles, stinging bees, flies, and cynips of various kinds also make part of their
Swallows and martins are exceedingly useful in destroying small insects when
flying in the air, and thus help to keep down the multitudes of gnats, mosquitoes, and small flies. By one naturalist it has been urged against them that
they also feed upon the ichneumon flies, which are destructive to insects; but
the damage they do in this way is more than compensated by the benefits they
confer by devouring hordes of noxious insects.
The cedar or cherry bird is very destructive to small fruits, and the fruit
growers cannot be blamed for shooting these voracious birds, as, if undisturbed,
they will entirely strip his cherry trees. In the autumn, however, they feed
upon insects, and Nuttall states that "before the ripening of their favorite fruits,
the cherries and mulberries, they repay the gardener for the tithe of his crop,
by ridding his trees of more deadly enemies which infest them, small caterpillars,
beetles, and various insects then constituting their only food. For hours at a
time they may be seen feeding on the all-despoiling canker-worms which infest
apple and elm trees." Those shot by myself before the fruit season were almost
always filled with seeds of the red cedar and other berries, and no insects what
ever. However, as Dr. Trimble states that one cedar bird dissected by him
contained thirty-six canker-worms, we may give the bird a little credit; though
I very much doubt whether the worms and insects it destroys will repay for the
The shrikes, or butcher-birds, sometimes also in some parts called the French
mocking-bird, feed upon insects, such as grasshoppers and crickets. This bird
has a curious habit of fastening its prey upon thorns and leaving it uneaten. I
have frequently seen grasshoppers impaled in this manner, and thus knew that
the bird was in the vicinity. They also feed upon small birds, and one frequented a barn the whole winter for the shelter, and for the sake of the mice
found in the neighborhood, upon which it fed.
The mocking-bird is accused, and with great truth too, of destroying grapes
and other small fruits in the southern States. It is sometimes most ruthlessly
destroyed in spite of its melodious song; yet I have seen a female mocking-bird
feeding her captive young almost entirely with insects, among which were numbers of the cotton boll-worm moth, so destructive to the crops of the south.
The catbird has very nearly the same habits as the mocking-bird, and though
it destroys immense numbers of worms, caterpillars, and insects in general, will
make too free with the small garden fruits. One catbird, shot in September,
was filled with the seeds of wild berries, as was also a brown-thrush or thrasher.
As all these birds have similar habits, it is left to the horticulturist to judge
whether the fruits they destroy are not more than paid for by the havoc they
make among the noxious insects in early spring, before fruit ripens.
The great Carolina, or mocking wren, properly so- called, as it almost rivals
the mocking-bird in its powers of imitation and song, feeds almost altogether on
insects. One shot in Maryland was found to have fed entirely upon them.
The stomach of the common house wren, in May, had in it a large cut-worm,
and several smaller insects. The wren, like the blue bird, will build in boxes
put up for that purpose, and, if encouraged in gardens, is one of the greatest
benefactors of the horticulturist. I once took the trouble to notice the frequency
of the wren's visits to the nest, and found that at least once in five minutes one
of the pair entered the box, and never without a caterpillar or some insect in its
beak for its young. Taking only ten hours as an average of the time spent by
the birds per day in this work, and not counting the insects they consumed
themselves, there were at least one hundred and twenty, and that at a season of
the year before they had begun to multiply. Wrens and bluebirds, however,
do not agree well together, the wren almost invariably turning the bluebird
from the box to find new quarters.
In two specimens of the white-breasted nut-hatch were found pieces of bark,
mixed up with wing cases of beetles and one large larva. These birds are often
incorrectly called sapsuckers by farmers; indeed, this name appears to be indiscriminately used when speaking of either the small woodpeckers or the nuthatch. A large gall upon a branch is now in the museum which has been
opened in several places by this bird and the larva extracted, thus showing its
industry and perseverance in search of food. A red-bellied nut-hatch, shot in
April, contained among other insects a perfect Rhagium lineatum, the larva
of which lives under pine bark.
The small black-cap titmouse, or chickadee, is also very beneficial by destroying the eggs of minute larvae in the same manner as the golden-created wren.
One shot in winter was full of small larvae and insects which live or hybernate in the crevices of the bark of trees. The tufted titmouse is somewhat musical,
and feeds upon insects.
The purple finch, or American linnet, in the spring, feeds upon the expanding
buds of trees. On one occasion) when there was a light fall of snow, I found
the ground under some peach trees literally strewed with the buds torn open by
the strong, sharp bill of some bird, and the stamens and pistils eaten out. On
shooting some birds found at work on the trees, they proved to be the purple
finch, and their stomachs were completely filled with stamens and pistils of the
peach buds. One branch examined had at least two-thirds of the buds thus
destroyed. There is no doubt that this bird is, in many cases, the cause of
much injury to fruit crops. At the same time Nuttall states that, in summer,
their principal food is insects and juicy berries.
The yellow-bird, or American goldfinch, feeds principally upon seeds, and
frequently does much damage in gardens by eating lettuce, salsify, and other
seeds. Nuttall, however, says that their usefulness in other respects (by eating
the seeds of noxious weeds) far more than counterbalances the trifling injuries
they do. Of this the gardener must judge for himself. Those shot as specimens were found always to have eaten seeds, and mostly of the lettuce and other
garden plants. One author states that they destroy great numbers of the larva
and pupæ of the wheat midge, improperly called the red weevil, so injurious to wheat.
The crossbill is merely a visitor to the middle States during the winter, and
feeds chiefly upon seeds of the pine and hemlock, but also does considerable
damage to the orchard in more northern regions by tearing open apples for the
sake of the seeds. Those shot as specimens contained merely seeds of the pine.
The lesser redpole, likewise a winter visitant, feeds also on seeds.
The buntings and sparrows come next in order, the first of which is the snow
bunting. This only visits the middle States during extremely severe winters,
and feeds upon insects and seeds. All the sparrows are more or less useful, as
their food consists chiefly of insects and seeds of noxious weeds. Several of
them, such as the snow-bird, may be seen always when the ground is frozen,
hunting for small seeds of weeds, and for hybernating larvæ and insects.
The cardinal grosbeak, red-bird, or by some called the Virginia nightingale,
feeds upon seeds, and has been accused of destroying the seeds of orchard fruits.
Nuttall says, "they are said occasionally to prey upon bees." Those shot,
however, were found to contain only wild seeds.
The towee finch, or ground robin, frequents dense thickets near water, and
is said to be particularly fond of Iulidæ. It also feeds upon worms, larvæ, and
seeds. The stomach of a specimen shot in June, was filled with various insects
and seeds of weeds.
The bob-o'-link, or reed-bird of the middle States, and rice-bird of the south,
is exceedingly destructive to rice in Carolina and Georgia; yet, when in the
more northern States, feeds partially upon insects, and is fond of seeds of dock,
dandelion, and grass. Dr. Trimble also states that they destroy canker-worms.
Those shot as specimens, in spring, were found to contain seeds, grasshoppers,
and other insects.
The troopial or cow blackbird never builds a nest for itself, but deposits its
eggs in the nest of some other smaller bird, and, like the European cuckoo,
leaves its young to the charge of foster parents. These birds live upon seeds
The swamp blackbird, formerly known as the red-winged blackbird, does
great damage to corn or maize; but during the spring I have always found their
stomachs filled with worms, larvæ and insects, mixed with seeds of wild plants.
Wilson remarks, "as a balance against the damage they do, there is the service
they perform in the spring season by destroying immense numbers of larvae,
which are of kinds most injurious to farmers." Kalm states, that "after the
great destruction made among the common blackbirds for the legal reward of
threepence' per dozen, the northern States in 1749 experienced a complete loss
of grass and grain crops which were devoured by insects." A southern planter
once stated to me that the cotton-boll worm, which was destroying his cotton
crop, had entirely disappeared after the visit of an immense flock of these or
some other blackbirds, which, after devouring the worms, immediately left the
neighborhood. It is therefore for the farmer to judge whether they do not deserve the toll they take from his crops, for their spring services in destroying
The meadow lark, or American starling, is exceedingly beneficial as destroying immense numbers of larvæ, worms and insects in the cultivated fields. The
stomachs of all examined were full of insects and small seeds. One shot in
March contained nothing but beetles and other insects, and gravel. As it is not
known that this bird eats fruit, it may be considered a decided friend to the
The sprightly and gay-colored Baltimore oriole, golden robin, or hanging bird,
as it is often called from the singular pendant nest it forms, feeds upon insects.
Nuttall says, "they feed their young usually with soft caterpillars which they
swallow, and then disgorge on reaching the nest." These birds, however, do
considerable damage to the pea crop, by splitting open the pods and eating the
young peas. It has been suggested that this was done merely to find the larvæ of the destructive pea bug, which lives in the seed. They are accused of
taking cherries and other small fruit, but are said in Dr. Trimble's book to eat
the curculio, or destructive plum weevil. If this is true, it would atone for any
slight fruit-eating propensities they may have. I would observe here, however,
that I have never found the plum weevil in the stomach of any bird; and that
the nearest approach to it was Epicœrus fallax, found in the stomach of a scarlet tanager.
The stomach of a rusty blackbird, examined in April, was found to contain
snake milipedes in great numbers, worms, caterpillars, and gravel. The crow
blackbirds, examined in early spring, before corn was planted, were found to
have destroyed numberless noxious insects. Nuttall says, " up to the time of
harvest I have uniformly, on dissection, found their food to consist of larvae,
caterpillars, moths and beetles, of which they devour such numbers that, but for
this providential economy, the whole crop of grain in many places, would probably be destroyed by tho time it began to germinate." But as the damage done
to maize by this abundant and destructive bird is in some places almost incalculable, it is no wonder that the farmer renders a verdict against its race, and
exterminates them when and wherever he can. At the same time it should be
considered, that a mischievous bird is much sooner found and destroyed than •
the myriads of noxious insects upon which it preys.
We now come to the common crow, a much slandered and persecuted bird,
on account of his pilfering propensities in the cornfield. Before condemning him
here to certain destruction, let us hear the other side of the question, and consider the great good he does in waging war upon the cut-worms, grubs, and other
noxious insects which, if undisturbed in spring, would quite destroy the crops.
In regard to the seed-corn which he pulls up and eats, many farmers state that
they have always observed that the young corn thus destroyed had almost in
variably a cut-worm or other insect preying upon its roots. This may or may
not be so; but this bad habit of pulling up seed-corn may be easily remedied by
tarring or sulphuring the seed before planting. Some farmers leave a little corn
on the surface for the crow to eat; but this most probably would only attract
him to search for more. No farmer, when ploughing in spring, can have failed
to observe the crows and other birds following in the furrows, and busily engaged in searching for grubs and cut-worms. If shot at this time, they will be
found filled with a mass of worms, caterpillars, grubs and other injurious larvæ
and insects. Now we must consider that these insects, if left undisturbed in
spring, would multiply and spread in the autumn to such an extent that it would
be utterly impossible for man to find and destroy even a tithe of them; while,
should the crows increase so as to become a nuisance, they may be much more
easily discovered and killed. Farmers will abuse the bird for being once seen
feeding upon their crops; but seldom think of giving him credit for the hundreds
of times when he is at work to save them, by devouring their enemies. A planter
in South Carolina informed me that he had seen crows attacking the maize
standing in his field, and upon examination the husks were found torn open and
much of the unripe corn scattered on the ground; but upon looking closer, every
ear of corn thus injured was discovered to have been partially destroyed by the
corn-worm, Heliothis armigera, and the worm had been taken out and devoured
by the bird. Crows are, however, very destructive to small birds, eggs, and to
almost anything they can overcome, and, upon the whole, during summer and
autumn, are serious pests to the farmer. Indeed, it is hard to estimate whether
the good they do is not counterbalanced by their mischievous propensities.
There is a smaller species of crow found along the sea-coast, called the fish crow, which, it is said, does not injure maize, but feeds entirely on fish, berries
and insects, and Nuttall states are therefore " rather friends than enemies "
The food of the blue jay consists of acorns, berries, maize, orchard fruits, in
sects and caterpillars; but as it has the very bad habit of searching for the nests
of small birds, eating their eggs, and even devouring the unfledged young when
ever it finds an opportunity, it may well be doubted if this bird ought to be
classed among those which are beneficial to the farmer.
The order Rasores comprises the pigeons, turkeys, grouse, quails, &c.; and
of the habits of these the farmer is able to judge for himself, as well as of their
uses. The ruffed grouse, or pheasant of the middle and western States, and
partridge of the north, however, sometimes does much damage to orchards by
devouring the buds of apple trees. In the stomach of a prairie hen, or pinnated
grouse, from the west, were found fifty-six grains of maize, besides a quantity
of oats, buckwheat, catkins, and the seeds of wild plants—proving the voracity
of these birds, and showing what quantities of grain they destroy.
The American partridge, or quail, is said to be very useful in grain fields, by
feeding upon the seeds of hurtful weeds during the autumn and winter. In the
Cincinnatus, an agricultural journal published in Cincinnati, is an article stating
that "in the crop of a quail, shot in a cornfield, was found one cut-worm, twenty-
one striped vine-bugs, one hundred chinches, and a mass consisting of hundreds
of chinch-bugs, but not one kernel of corn." If this be correct, it goes far to
prove the quail the farmer's friend.
The order Grallatores comprises the cranes, herons, bitterns, plover, wood
cock, snipe, &c. These birds are all more or less beneficial to the agriculturist,
by destroying reptiles, slugs, insects, &c, and, as they do not injure his crops
in the least, ought to be protected as much as possible. A tame sand-hill
crane I had in Florida exhibited extraordinary sagacity or instinct in finding
grubworms under the green sod, where I could not procure worms to fish
with, and where there was not a vestige of injury to the grass. When he
once commenced digging with his strong and sharp bill he never failed to find
the insect hidden underneath.
A killdeer plover, shot in May in a wheatfield, contained nothing but beetles,
worms, and small insects. Herons, bitterns, &c, do certainly destroy great
numbers of fish and frogs, but at the same time they feed equally on small
noxious quadrupeds and reptiles; and as this paper is intended for farmers and
not for fishermen, we will not discuss the subject further.
To the order Natatores belong swans, geese, ducks, &c.; and as these are well
known, they need not be further described. I will merely remark that several
gulls and sea-swallows, or terns, feed upon insects as well as fish; and in England I have seen them busily hunting for their insect-food in fields some distance inland.
Among the birds which have been introduced from abroad into this country,
for either their song or their utility, may be mentioned the field lark of Europe
and the European house sparrow. The last-named bird would certainly do
much to rid our cities of the disagreeable span-worms infesting the shade-trees.
At the same time there is no doubt that the smaller fruits and the wheat in the
vicinity would suffer to a considerable extent. The question, therefore, arises
whether citizens would be willing to sacrifice their fruits for the sake of being rid of
span-worms and caterpillars. In Philadelphia the great increase of span-worms
was doubtless attributable to the decrease of small insectivorous birds in the
parks; this decrease being caused by the introduction of squirrels. However
graceful, nimble, and ornamental these little animals may be in the public squares,
they can only be kept there at the expense of the birds, as they destroy the eggs,
and the birds themselves when they can catch them, their constant persecutions
causing those not killed to migrate to safer places.
Some persons in England contend that sparrows are much more injurious than beneficial, and have caused them to be killed with gun and strichnine. In regard
to these birds and rooks, I quote below from Anderson's Recreations in Agriculture: " Were it not for the birds that frequent our gardens, and insects which
prey upon each other, the number of these diminutive creatures produced would
be such as soon to overpower the industry of man, and put an end to his miserable existence. The ingenious Dr. Bradley has computed that a pair of sparrows carried to their young, in one week, not less than three thousand three hundred and sixty caterpillars, at which rate, in the course of three months, this
family would consume 43,000,680 caterpillars. Let any one compute the damage
that these caterpillars, and the infinite progeny that must have issued from them,
would have done in that period had they been permitted to get into their winged
state, and he will then see reason to doubt how far we do wisely to exterminate
these birds, because of the tasting they take of our grain and fruit when they
come to maturity. It has often been remarked that after an extensive rookery
has been eradicated on account of the damage it did to the cornfields in the
neighborhood, those fields, both of corn and grass, have been so infested by
grabs as to yield crops much inferior to those which had been reaped from the
same fields while the rooks were there; for it is well known that these creatures
are so fond of grubs as to prefer them to every other kind of food, and are, there
fore, in perpetual search of them, picking them up and devouring them in immense multitudes."
Mr. Florent Prevost, who collected and examined the stomachs of European
birds for several years, comes to the conclusion that, from his researches, "birds
are in general far more useful than hurtful to the agriculturist, and that the
mischief done at certain periods by the graniverous species is largely compensated by the destruction of insects they effect at other periods."
Hon. Isaac Newton,
Commissioner of Agriculture