Passerine

We have now run through the list of all the orders of birds except the last and largest—the "passerine" birds, the ordinary songsters of the fields and woodlands of the northern hemisphere. There are fifty families contained in the order. Here, among our North American migratory birds are to be found the kingbirds, pewees and other "tyrant" flycatchers; the larks of our western plains and eastern seashore; that sprite of the Rocky Mountain brooks, the ouzel; the waxwings, the butcher birds; the pretty greenish vireos that build those exquisite, cup-shaped hanging nests made of grapevine bark and spider's silk; and the swallows that become so friendly every summer about barns, paying rent by diligent service in insect killing. Then there is that interesting little group of small and cheerful climbers, the nuthatches, chickadees, and creepers, that rid trees of hosts of injurious insects which they dig out of crevices of the bark as they scramble up and down the trunks, some of them continuing the good work all through the winter. These have their counterparts in Europe, for in respect of our common song birds, as of the birds of prey and game birds, the avifauna of Europe and North America is virtually one. The differences are mainly in the few representatives of tropical groups that visit northern countries in summer, those of Europe partaking of the African or Indian families, while we have wandering species from groups that are properly inhabitants of Mexico and southward. Such, in fact, are our few humming birds, hundreds of species of which belong to the American tropics (and none to the Old World), our two tanagers, members of a very large tropical family, and our blackbirds and orioles, far more numerous in species south of the United States.

While we have many delightful vocalists, the best singers of all our birds are no doubt the thrushes, and that is true of thrushes elsewhere, for the European blackbird and mavis, the celebrated nightingale, the solitaire—both that of the West Indies and that of our northern Pacific Coast—and several noted musicians in the Orient, are of this melodious family. Which is the best singer of them all will never be settled, for the citizen of each country likes best that to which he is most used; but to Americans nothing can be better than the evening carol of the wood thrush, the serene hymnlike music of the hermit, or the sweet and wavering call of the veery. Yet in the South, where these northern thrushes are rarely heard at their best, the palm is given to the mocking bird, which, like the northern brown thrasher, rivals all in turn by simulating their notes in a liquid melody that, especially when heard in the calm of a moonlit summer evening, seems of surpassing beauty.