"Spring Is Here"
M AGNA, the meadowlark, was sitting on the broken top of an old tree trunk which stood at the edge of Holiday Meadow. The upper parts of his feather coat were mostly dark. His throat and breast were bright yellow. Between the yellow of his throat and the yellow of his breast he wore a black bib shaped somewhat like a new moon.
"Spring is here!" Magna's voice was sweet and a bit sad-sounding. The singer, himself, was not sorry about anything, though. He was happy. He was glad to be home again at Holiday Meadow. Perhaps he had spent his winter in Maryland or perhaps not so far south. He did not mind rather cold weather.
It was pleasant for Magna that he did not feel chilly while he sat on top of the old tree trunk that first day of April. For it was a nipping sort of morning. The air was cold. When Magna opened his mouth and sang, his breath came out in white frosty puffs. It showed plainly because the sky beyond was clear deep blue.
If you had been there at six o'clock that morning you could have seen the bird's song while you were hearing it. That is it would have seemed like seeing a song,—with the notes floating up from the bird's mouth like frosted music.
"Spring is here!" Magna sang his song again and again. Way up the road a bird like him was sitting on the tip of a telegraph pole. He was singing rather slowly. He sounded as if he was saying, "Swe‑e‑et spri‑i‑ng is he‑ere!"
Over by the pasture a third bird was perched on top of a fence post. He was calling in a quick voice, "Spring's here!"
Young Dick, in his room at Holiday Farm, rubbed his eyes and then sat up in bed to listen. A few minutes later he was rapping on his cousin's door.
"Wake up, you lazy Anne," he called, "and look and listen out of the hall window."
Anne pulled on her warm bath robe and joined her cousin at the open window. First she looked, and what she saw was a fresh sprinkling of snow that had fallen on Holiday Meadow the evening before. Next she listened, and what she heard was "Spring is here!" "Swe‑e‑et spri‑i‑ng is he‑ere!" "Spring's here!"
Then Anne danced on her toes and said, "The meadowlarks have come—three of them and each with his own way of telling us that spring is here." And Anne was so glad that her voice sounded like a song, too.
Dick chuckled. "Doesn't look much like spring with last night's snow, does it? And see our breath going out of the window, all white and frosty!"
"Spring is here!" sang Magna.
The cousins laughed. "I think that is his April Fool Song, to‑day," said Anne.
Dick and Anne had learned from their bird book that the meadowlarks of western prairies had much longer and sweeter songs than those that came to Holiday Meadow. The cousins hoped that some time they might visit places where they could hear the full rich music of the western meadowlarks. Meanwhile they enjoyed Magna's song—what there was of it.
It was a short tune, to be sure, but he sang it a great many times. One of his favorite singing places was the top of the old broken tree where he perched the first day of April, but often he sang while he was standing on the ground. Sometimes he sang a warbly sort of twitter while he was flying.
Early in the season Magna met his mate and they passed pleasant days together. For a while they were most interested in their nest.
They did not make a hanging nest like the one a pair of orioles put on a swinging branch of an elm that stood in the yard of Holiday Farm. They did not attach their nest to a low willow bush over in Holiday Swamp as did a pair of red-winged blackbirds. They built their nest on the ground.
Even though it was in a different sort of place, the nest of Magna and his mate was, in one respect, somewhat like the nest in the elm and the one in the swamp bush. All three nests were carefully woven. Perhaps it is because meadowlarks and orioles and blackbirds are rather closely related that they all weave their nests, instead of making them with sticks laid criss-cross as some other birds do.
Magna's mate found a house lot that suited her exactly. There was a little hollow just right to fit a nest into. Close to the hollow grew a tall tuft of sheltering grass. This house lot was near one edge of the meadow not too far from the swamp where a thirsty bird could find a shallow stream and drinking pools. A water supply is as important to a bird as it is to a person.
When the nest was finished it had coarse grass on the outside and fine grass on the inside, and it had a dome-shaped roof of woven grass. Of course all the grass in the nest was brown and dry. That is, it was dry when the nest was finished. But while Mrs. Magna was working on it she used damp grass fibers which were so soft they could be woven without breaking. She gathered these in the morning while they were wet with dew. Afterward the grass dried in the sunshine.
It was a charming nest even while it was empty. But about a week later when it had six eggs in it, it was such a dear nest that Mother Magna could not bear to leave it except when she was very thirsty or very hungry indeed. The rest of the time she brooded her eggs and kept them warm. They were white eggs with brown and purple speckles on them.
Dick and Anne had been watching the meadow through their bird glasses and had noticed that Magna quite often alighted near a certain spot when he flew down to the meadow. They thought that he was visiting Mother Magna.
One day Dick said, "Let's go and find the meadowlark's nest." When they reached the place near where Magna had disappeared, the bird flew up from the ground. While he was flying he showed the white outer feathers of his short tail. He went to the broken tree and called "Yert" in an anxious voice. That was his way of warning Mother Magna of danger.
The cousins walked slowly and were careful where they stepped. They hunted for more than an hour without finding the nest. Then Anne said, "Let's stop. That poor old meadowlark is staying on guard in the tree and he is worried. I'm worried, too. There is so much dry grass next the ground that it would be easy to step on a hidden nest without seeing it. If we do, we'll be sorry all summer."
"All right," said Dick, "we can go to the swamp and hunt for the red-winged blackbird's nest. There is no danger of stepping on that. Maybe there will be eggs to see now, and later we can visit the young birds and see how fast they grow."
Magna watched Dick and Anne walk toward the swamp. When they had gone far enough so that he no longer felt anxious about his mate and her nest, he stopped calling "Yert" and flew down to the meadow to hunt for food.
The old bird had a keen appetite and enjoyed stalking along in the tall grass to find something to eat. But it was not until the speckled eggs had hatched that his hunting season began in earnest. Then Father Magna hunted from dawn until dusk.
For there were six mouths always open to give him a hungry greeting when he went to the nest. And much fresh meat must be poked into those mouths before the young birds could grow up and be able to do their own hunting.
The food that was best for the young meadowlarks was insect-meat. Magna caught grasshoppers, both old ones with wings and young ones without. He pounced on grown moths and young caterpillars. He picked up beetles and grubs.
And every time he carried insects to the nest, he found six little birds with mouths wide open and ready to swallow what he brought.
Of course Magna did not provide all the family meals. Mother Magna was as good a hunter as he was and she kept as busy. As soon as her eggs were hatched she did not need to stay on the nest. So she hurried here and there and did her full share of the day's hunting.
When the Man of Holiday Farm saw these birds busy in the meadow he smiled. "The meadowlarks help take care of the hay," he said. "Most of the insects they catch are such as feed on grass. So the more of these birds there are in the field, the better the hay crop will be."
Each time Magna and Mother Magna went to feed their young ones they brushed against the woven roof of the nest from the outside. Each time the growing birds reached up for food they brushed against the roof from the inside. The dome-shaped top was not very strong, so before the birds were ready to leave the nest they were without any roof to cover them. However, they did not really need a roof, so they were well enough off without it.
Besides they were growing rapidly for their diet of insects agreed with them. In due time they were too big and strong to stay crowded together in so small a home.
One day when Dick and Anne were running along the edge of the meadow, eight birds flew up ahead of them. They all showed white outer tail feathers. One of the birds went to the top of the old broken tree and said "Yert" in an anxious voice. One of them alighted on a fence post and moved her tail in a fidgety way. The other six flew a little way over the grass and then dropped to the ground as if they were a bit tired.
"Look," said Dick, "those must be the young meadowlarks. Perhaps that is the first time they ever flew. They did not go far. Aren't you glad they are out of the nest before it is time to cut the hay?"
Just then Magna sang from the top of his tree. "Spring is here!" was what his song sounded like to the cousins.
"It is summer, now, old chap," Anne called to him, "and next it will be fall."
"Perhaps," said Dick thoughtfully, "it always seems like spring to a meadowlark—when he is happy."