Bird Identification – Bob-white – Quail-on-toast – Partridge
What a cheerful contrast is Bob White’s clear, staccato whistle to the drawing coo of the amorous dove! Character is often expressed in a bird’s voice as well as in ours. From their voices alone you might guess that the dove and the quail are no relation. They do not belong even to the same order, bob-white being a scratching bird and having the ruffed grouse and barnyard chicken for his kin. Pheasants and turkeys are distantly related. In the South people call him a partridge; in New England it is the ruffed grouse that is known by that name; therefore, to save confusion, why not always give bob-white the name by which he calls himself? The chickadee, phoebe, peewee, towhee, whip-poor-will and bobolink, who tell their names less plainly than he, save every child who tries to know them much trouble. Don’t you wish every bird would introduce himself?
The boy who
"Drives home the cows from the pasture, Up through the long, shady lane, Where the quail whistles loud in the wheat fields, That are yellow with ripening grain,"
probably “whistles up” those bob-whites on his way home as you would start up the roosters in the barnyard by imitating their crow. Bob White! Ah, Bob White! rings from some plump little feathered gallant on the outskirts of almost any farm during the long nesting season.
A slight depression in some dry, grassy field or a hole at the foot of an old stump or weed-hedged wall will be lined with leaves and grasses by both mates in May to receive from ten to eighteen brilliant white eggs that are packed in, pointed end downwards, to economise space. If an egg were removed, it would be difficult indeed to re-arrange the clutch with such economy. Would it not be cruel to touch a nest which the outraged owners would at once desert?
Just as baby chickens follow the mother about, so downy bob-whites run after both their parents and learn which seeds, grain, insects and berries they may safely eat. Man, with his gun and dog and mowing machines, is their worst enemy, of course; then comes the sly fox and sneaking weasel that spring upon them from ambush, and the hawk that drops upon them like a thunderbolt. Birds have enemies above, below, and on every side. Is it any wonder that they are timid and shy? A note of alarm from Mamma White summons the chicks, half-running, half-flying, to huddle close to her or to take shelter beneath her short wings. Their little grouse cousins find protection in a more original way. When the mother is busy sitting on a second or third clutch of eggs, it is Bob himself, a pattern of all the domestic virtues, who takes full charge of the family. When the last chicks are ready to join their older brothers and sisters, the bevy may contain three or four dozen birds, all devotedly attached to one another. At bed time they squat in a circle on the ground, tails toward the centre of the ring, heads pointing outward to detect an enemy coming from any direction. As if their vigilance were not enough, Bob usually remains outside the ring to act as sentinel. At the sign of danger the bunch of birds will rise with loud whirring of the wings, as suddenly as a bomb might burst.
From November onward, every gun in the country will be trained against them. There is sufficient reason for poor people, who rarely have any really good food, or enough to eat, shooting game birds in season; but who has any patience with the pampered epicures for whose order “quail-on-toast” are cooked by the hundred thousand at city clubs, restaurants, and private tables, already over-supplied? No chef could ever tempt me to eat this friendly little song bird that stays about the farm with his family through the coldest winter to pick up the buckwheat, cheap raisins, and sweepings from the hay loft that keep him as neighbourly as a robin. Every farmer who does not post his place, and who allows this useful ally in his eternal war against weeds and insect pests to be shot, impoverishes himself more than he is aware.