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The Lark In The Meadow





If Jack's big black dog, Nero, had not chanced to snatch Phyllis's rag
doll by the head and run away with it this story would have never been
written.

You see, Nero bounded straight across the meadow and Phyllis, fearing
that she would lose the doll, ran shrieking after him.

Nero was only playing, and soon dropped the doll and ran off. Phyllis
regained her property and started to return, when a bird rose from the
grass at her feet with a queer whirring sound.

Phyllis looked up at the bird and then down to the spot from which it
had flown.

In another moment she would have stepped in the nest. This meadow
lark's nest was unlike any other Phyllis had found. Indeed, it could
scarcely be called a nest at all.

But when she looked at it Phyllis thought what a wise little bird the
meadow lark must be to choose such a place for the nest.

Had Phyllis not chanced upon it in just the way she did she might have
looked all day long and not discovered it.

The nest was flat upon the ground. Around it and over it arched the
tall meadow grasses. The nest itself was made of grass--it seemed to
Phyllis that it was made in a somewhat careless manner, and that the
eggs might easily roll out upon the ground.

There were four beautiful oval eggs in the nest--the largest birds'
eggs Phyllis had as yet discovered. They were over an inch long, and
were of a beautiful rosy white colour, speckled closely with reddish
brown spots.

As Phyllis sat very still, the mother bird crept softly back to her
home. She carefully settled herself on the grassy nest and with her
bill tenderly tucked the eggs under her soft feathers.

"How careful you are!" exclaimed Phyllis. "No fear of your breaking
the eggs."

The brown bird rose up quickly in fright and looked uncertainly toward
the fence. Phyllis thought to see her whirr off again.

"Oh, don't go," she cried. "I will not harm you! Truly I will not
disturb you!"

The meadow lark looked again toward the fence, and then settled herself
once more over her precious eggs.

"Why do you look toward the fence so often?" asked Phyllis.

"Do you not see that bird perched upon the fence?" asked the meadow
lark.

"Yes," Phyllis answered, "what is he doing there?"

"He is our sentinel," said the meadow lark. "He is on the lookout for
danger. When he gives the alarm, the rest of the flock know there is
danger near.

"When we hear the sentinel's alarm we are off in an instant. We fly
high into the air. Did you not notice how I hovered near the
grass-tops for a moment and then rose high into the air?"

"Yes," answered Phyllis, "and I knew that you were a lark because of

that whirring sound you made when flying."

"Ah, but I am not really a lark at all," said the bird. "I am called
the meadow lark, but in truth I belong to the blackbird family. The
red-winged blackbird is an own cousin of mine. So also is the oriole,
who builds a queer hanging nest in the tree-tops.

"The oriole is very proud of her woven nest, but I should consider it a
dangerous place for bird babies. My little ones will never be hurt by
falling from their nest.

"Neither can I imagine how any bird can dare to build in such an open
place.

"My home is hidden here amid the grasses. Sometimes we find places
like this, where the grass blades naturally arch over and hide the nest.

"Sometimes we weave a sort of arch over the nest with the downy, fine
fibres from the grass leaves.

"Did you notice the little lane down which I returned to my tiny home?"

"No," said Phyllis, "I thought you just came through the grasses by the
easiest way."

"If you will look closely," said the meadow lark, pecking away at her
own brown feathers, "if you look very, very closely, you will see the
tiny path which leads directly to my door."

Phyllis leaned down and peered very curiously among the grass stems.
Sure enough, there was a tiny winding path, almost hidden from sight.
It led directly to the meadow lark's nest.

"You are a very wonderful little bird," she cried.

"I shall have some very wonderful babies one of these fine days," said
the meadow lark, proudly.

"How safely they will be hidden from danger," said Phyllis.

"Well," said the mother bird, shaking her head, sadly, "I am very sure
that I build in a safer manner than my cousins. But, alas, even meadow
larks are not free from danger."

"I might have stepped on your nest?" said Phyllis.

"Yes," said the bird, "but what makes me fear most are the field-mice
and the snakes. They make great havoc in our nests when they discover
them. Many a tiny fledgling has been swallowed by a great creeping,
crawling snake. Many a beautiful egg has been eaten by the hungry
little field-mice."

"I hope no harm will come to your little home," said Phyllis. "I
notice one thing which you have for a protection from harm."

"What is that?" asked the meadow lark.

"It is your colour."

The meadow lark raised her head in gentle surprise.

"And what has my colour to do with my danger?" she asked.

"Why," said the little girl, feeling wondrous wise, "do you not see
that the browns of your feathery dress are the same colours as the
grass stems and the stubble amid which you brood and feed?"

"Why, so it is," said the meadow lark. "My back is brown, edged with
brownish white. That is like the grass stems. I am streaked with
black and brown and cream colours. That is like the blades of grass.

"My throat and breast are yellow like the stubble amid which I feed.
You are wonderfully wise, Miss Phyllis."

"What a beautiful black crescent you have upon your breast," said
Phyllis. "It was almost the first thing I noticed when I met you."

"Did you observe the dark brown lines on my head? They seem to cross
my eyes."

"I think you are quite beautiful," said Phyllis.

"Ah, but you should see my mate," said the meadow lark. "He is much
more beautiful than I. My feathers seem pale and faded when I walk
beside him. When fall comes, however, my own colours will brighten."

"On what shall you feed your little ones?"

"When I tell you, you will see again that I am wise in choosing this
place for a nest.

"My babies need never grow hungry, for the grass seeds are always
falling. The beetles and worms and ants are always walking by. The
moths and the butterflies are for ever laying their eggs in all sorts
of convenient places. You remember how their eggs do not hatch out
into butterflies and moths at once. They are just ugly little worms
called grubs."

"Yes," said Phyllis, "I remember."

The meadow lark carefully tucked an egg farther under her soft brown
feathers.

"I am glad," she said, "that my eggs do not hatch out as grubs.
Perhaps if they did, I should care no more for my babies than the
butterfly does for hers. I am told that she does not even know her own
children."

"You are quite right," said Phyllis. "She herself told me so."

The meadow lark gave a low whistle and nervously flitted her tail,
showing the white feathers with which it was edged.

"It has been some time since I have heard your clear, sweet whistle,"
said Phyllis. "I thought you must have left our meadow. You have a
most beautiful voice."

"Oh, no, we shall not soon leave your meadow, Phyllis. In the autumn
we may join a party of larks and take our family to the marshes for
awhile, but we shall return. Meadow larks do sometimes go south for
the winter, but usually they live their lives in their home meadows."

"Then you will sing for me again?" asked the little girl.

"Oh, with pleasure," said the meadow lark.

"You remember how we used to sing in the spring? Just now our thoughts
are so taken up with our nesting that we have little time for song.
But later, when the little ones are able to care for themselves, I
shall gladly whistle to you once more."

"I shall listen for you," said Phyllis. "Just now I must go, for I
hear my mother's voice. Good-bye, meadow lark!"

And the meadow lark from her nest whistled a low good-bye.





Next: The Song Of The Merry Lark

Previous: All About The Woodpecker



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