50. “Our Bird Friends”

“This little game is issued with the hope that many children may become more familiar with a few of our common birds and their habits, and in so doing use their influence in helping to protect them, their nests, eggs, and young, from useless and cruel destruction.”
     “They are the winged wardens of your farms,
     Who from the cornfields drive insidious foe.
     And from your harvests keep a hundred harms.”

James thought: It was like
The ones without bright color
Weren’t worth bother.
Such drab cards!
He felt most for the Sparrows,
The only birds
That he had ever seen.
On the cards, their pictures
Were so plain!
White and brown and black,
A streak across the eye,
A dot or stripe.
These none chose.
But his friends
Fought for the lustrous Robin,
Breast red as apples rubbed,
Or Kingbird–that word King!–
With inscription,
“Tyrannus Tyrannus.”
They’d grab
Ruby-Throated Humming Bird–
It sat upon a prairie-dog-like hole–
Or Cedar Waxwing,
Berry in its beak. Or the Flicker,
Gay dollop of gold
Mottled with brown. Card said,
“Fond of ants.” James smiled.
Up and down his pants legs,
Cards with pictures, clues.
He picked one up.

The best,
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak,
“Beautifully marked bird,
Black, white, rose…
Breast, underwings, rose color.
Eggs, lilac, speckled brown.”
Its outspread wing,
A vivid, sun-ripe cloud.
They all vied for this card,
Though James’ odd favorite
Was the Indigo. His eye craved
Its foreign hue.
Now he stacked the Sparrows.
As if in punishment
For brown and white,
They seemed drawn carelessly,
With less delight.

James touched the Purple Martin,
“Progne Subis.” Strange words,
But he would not question Riah,
Who frowned so sadly
When she didn’t know.
First clue to its name: “O birds,
Your perfect virtues bring…
Nestle in hedge, barn, or roof,
Weave your chamber weather proof.”
Rhyme don’t say “Purple Martin,”
Thought James, but it’s
On the card–so
It’s a clue.
Next, a bird he’d seen–
James read the card,
Musing, resigned:
“Chipping Sparrow.” It perched
Eagerly. “Streaky-backed,
Small, common. Song,
Insect-like call.”
At least they eat cankerworms,
Thought James, propping it
Against the wall.

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