our amazing birds

Our Amazing Birds: Crow

Our Amazing Birds  by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

Our Amazing Birds by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

I’ve recently had the delight of discovering Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives (1951), a collection of short essays with cooky, humorous, and less commonly known tidbits about common birds in the US. The book was written by Robert S. Lemmon, a naturalist in the early-mid 1900’s and author of books on a variety of topics, ranging from Training the Dog to All About Moths and Butterflies. Click here to read his obituary from 1964.

In this series, I share with you excerpts from some of my favorite essays. They’re light-hearted reads to get your bird-nerd fix on a fall afternoon. To read the full stories, find a copy of this book — I promise you won’t regret it!


Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Crow: Smartest of our native birds

“Of all our native American birds, the crow has most thoroughly mastered the problem of how to thrive in the face of heavy odds. Tough, resourceful, amazingly intelligent, it prospers despite the handicaps of large size and a jet-black uniform which make it almost startlingly prominent. Man’s hand is ever against it, yet it caws derisively and flaps away in safety almost every time. It is incredible the way crows make crime pay. And yet, if it’s not your corn that has been stolen or your nestling robin that has been gobbled, you can’t help admiring their skill and daring.

“How does a crow manage so successfully that today its tribe is probably more numerous all over central and Eastern North America than when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Well, for one thing, crows stand together against the world, helping each other on every possible occasion; so strong is their communal spirit that they even spend the night together in crowded flocks that may number fifty thousand bird or more. By means of variations in their far-carrying calls they signal the approach of danger, the discovery of food, the presence of natural enemies like foxes and large hawks and owls. When several are feeding together, a sentinel is detailed to stand guard in a nearby tree and sound a warning in crow language if its keen eyes detect anything suspicious. It is as though, living by their wits and faced by constant perils, they have perfected as their family slogan, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’

“Here, then, are a few highlights on an exceedingly smart bird. Perhaps Henry Ward Beecher gave us the best summation of this sable fellow’s intelligence when he remarked that if men wore feathers and wings a very few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

Continue reading in “Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives” by Robert S. Lemmon

Photo by Phil Brown

Photo by Phil Brown

Introduction by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Cover photo by Arlene Koziol

Our Amazing Birds: White-Breasted Nuthatch

Our Amazing Birds  by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

Our Amazing Birds by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

I’ve recently had the delight of discovering Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives (1951), a collection of short essays with cooky, humorous, and less commonly known tidbits about common birds in the US. The book was written by Robert S. Lemmon, a naturalist in the early-mid 1900’s and author of books on a variety of topics, ranging from Training the Dog to All About Moths and Butterflies. Click here to read his obituary from 1964.

In this series, I share with you excerpts from some of my favorite essays. They’re light-hearted reads to get your bird-nerd fix on a fall afternoon. To read the full stories, find a copy of this book — I promise you won’t regret it!


Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

White-breasted nuthatch: Our champion upside-down bird

“A young farmer neighbor of mine, untrained in the niceties of ornithology but, like many countrymen, keenly observant of its facts, calls the white-breasted nuthatch “that upside-down bird.” No name could be more appropriate, for this nuthatch, at least during waking hours, spends fully as much time with its head lower than its tail as it does in a more conventional position. Why the bird seems to think no more about running headfirst down a vertical tree trunk than of climbing straight up it is doubtless its own affair. To us it looks fool-hardy and provocative of cerebral hemorrhages. But nobody has ever seen a nuthatch come to grief that way!

“This trim little scrap of light gray, black and white with a touch of rusty around its tummy has the special build and temperament of an all-around acrobat. Watch one closely as it searches a nearby tree for insects or gyrates comically at your feeding station while snatching a bit of suet or a sunflower seed, and you will notice how perfectly its legs, with their unusually long-toed feet, are designed to give full stability to the body weight regardless of position. That with the backward tilt of the head when upside down, enables a nuthatch to look literally straight out at the world if it wants to. There is no long tail to get in the way while its owner scrambles about with apparent disregard for all the laws of gravity and safety. The bird is so stocky and perfectly balanced that a somersault means no more to it than a mere flip of a wing.

“With it all, the white-breasted nuthatch is remarkably calm and matter-of-fact. You feel that it has a strong streak of friendliness toward people, too, and no little curiosity about them and their strange ways. With patience you can coax one to take a peanut from your fingers in winter when the hardships of cold and dwindling natural food supply make the birds constant visitors to the feeding tray or suet holder. Speaking in a purely figurative sense, they always maintain a level head, carrying their nonchalance even to the point of not bothering to migrate like so many other birds. Wherever you find them, from Quebec to Florida, they stay around and take care of their own affairs from year’s end to year’s end. The name, incidentally, comes from the birds’ habit of tucking acorns and other nut-like foods in bark crevices as provision against hard times.”

Continue reading in “Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives” by Robert S. Lemmon

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Introduction by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Cover photo by Monica Hall