A LMOST every morning, when I wake, I hear a curious cry, "tek-tek-tek," in my garden, and I know that if I go out and look, I shall see the cat about somewhere. Sometimes many birds will be making the same cry all together, and when the cat is on the lawn I have seen the swallows swoop down and peck her back, and then rise up again before she can turn round.
For the birds know very well that the cat is their enemy, and scold at her when she comes near, especially when they have young ones.
I wonder if you have ever thought as you lie snugly in bed how many dangers there are for the little birds outside? The owl prowling along the hedge is on the look-out for sitting mothers and for young birds. The cat may climb the tree and put her sharp claws into the nest. Weasels and stoats are hunting about to catch any birds which are sleeping near the ground, or even in the trees, and snakes like eggs for their early breakfast as much as you or I do.
The fox is a great enemy of the ground birds. Partridges, pheasants, and grouse dread a fox at night, as the fowls and ducks do in the farmyard; while in the daytime the hawk is a terror to all birds. The mother lark, on her nest, crouches down in the hope that the grass may hide her. The father lark, as he soars, rises or falls to try to escape. Other little song-birds flutter away to the bushes; partridges run to cover, and pigeons hide in the wood when a hawk is near.
All these are the birds' natural enemies; for of course animals must kill their food, and we too kill birds to eat. But we need not destroy their nests nor take their eggs for show, nor catch them, as many do, in nets to put them in cages, or to use their feathers for ornaments.
Many birds, which were quite common thirty years ago, are rare now because such a number of eggs and birds have been taken. So laws have been made to protect the little song-birds, birds of prey, and sea-birds, as well as partridges and pheasants.
All over England people are now forbidden to shoot or snare any wild birds except on their own land, or to take their eggs, between the 15th of March and 1st of August. This leaves the birds time to bring up their little ones. And there is a special list of birds which people may not disturb, even in their own garden, during this "close time."
I am sure you will be glad to know that the lark is one of these birds.
Then there are some parts of England where people are not allowed to take the eggs of wild birds at any time. These are places, such as some of the Broads in Norfolk, and the sea-shore at Slapton Lee in Devonshire, where many birds breed.
You cannot know all these places, but there is one very safe rule. Do not take any eggs, nor kill any birds; then you are sure not to do wrong.
Watch the birds in the garden, and the fields, and the woods. Learn to know where they build their nests round your house, and take care they are not disturbed. When you wake up in the morning listen to their songs. You will soon know them, and know too when they are happy, or when something is frightening them. Then notice what good work they do, eating the slugs and snails, the wire-worms and grubs.
You must drive them away when you see them eating your seeds, or your young buds, or the sprouting corn. But you can feed them in winter to make them your friends, and you will be surprised how much you can learn about their ways.