SPRING is the season when every male bird is in his gayest apparel and spirits, and is gallantly and tunefully patrolling the fence along the marches of his domestic domain. The poet's bluebird, "shifting his light load of song from post to post" along the fence, is really warning the world of his homestead. In Ontario the cascades of tinkling bobolink notes are rippling along the edges of the fields as the black-plumed knights warily escort passers-by, flitting ahead of them along the fences until the strangers have moved elsewhere. In Tennessee orioles flute from thick-branched trees. Mockingbirds shout and clown on ridgepoles or telephone poles. Sparrows do it less musically, but far more vociferously and belligerently.
Why all this circling of bits of woodland, meadow, or city lawn with song? Nest-building is in progress, or mother birds are already incubating their eggs. Gorgeous Sir Cardinal, blazing in red and black, whistles from the tulip tree in the yard corner, "Pretty! Pretty! Pretty! It's you! It's you! It's you!" Thus he cheers his hard-working mate. His flaming colors appear in muted tones in her costume, and she flits silently to and from the bridal wreath bush in the porch corner. There's a cardinal castle erecting there. Don't think her old man is a lazy windbag because he sits on the treetop and shouts. He is setting up a vocal "No trespassing" sign.
Each mother bird has chosen her nesting site. Perhaps she approved the one father chose when he returned in the earlier migration. Maybe he put straws in several tempting boxes, holes, or tree crotches, sang hopefully around them, and waited for Her to arrive and approve. Maybe she rewarded him with a caress. Or maybe she said he had no architectural taste and was not supporting her in the style to which her father accustomed her, and chose her own site. Perhaps she accepted his gift of building material. Perhaps she raked it out scornfully. Perhaps he brings her a straw while she works, and tries to weave it in, only to be told that his claws are all big toes, and as a nest weaver he is a better orchestra leader. He cheerfully resumes singing, knowing that soon she will be perfectly willing for him to assume half the job of mouth-cramming when the young ones appear.
Birds are marvelously human. Anyone with keen eyes and patience to watch can catch them in many domestic scenes perfectly understandable in gesture and tone.
All bird life at this season centers about the nest. The nest means life, and life calls forth all the instincts of parenthood. A glimpse of the Creator's own fatherhood is in these tiny, feathered bits of life. They seek homes, just as human hearts seek "a country"-"a better country, that is, an heavenly." As the father bird chooses a nesting site, so our Father is preparing for us "a city." As the birds in David's day flew into the tabernacle courtyard and nested in the hollow corners of the altar (Psalm 84:3), so our hearts will be at rest only in "the house of the Lord," where "the loves and sympathies which God Himself has planted in the soul, shall . . . find truest and sweetest exercise.