Then I watched him. While his mate whisked about the top rail he dropped to the middle one, hopped gradually to one side, then dropped suddenly to the lowest one, half hidden by vines, and disappeared. I turned my eyes to the nest. In a moment there he was—just a little gray flash, appearing for an instant from behind the post, only to disappear into the dark entrance. When he came out again I had but a glimpse of him till he appeared on the rail near me beside his mate.
Their little ruse was now quite evident. They had come back from gathering rabbit fur, and found me unexpectedly near their nest. Instead of making a fuss and betraying it, as other birds might do, they lit on the rail before me, and were as sociable as only chickadees know how to be. While one entertained me, and kept my attention, the other dropped to the bottom rail and stole along behind it; then up behind the post that held their nest, and back the same way, after leaving his material. Then he held my attention while his mate did the same thing.
Simple as their little device was, it deceived me at first, and would have deceived me permanently had I not known something of chickadees’ ways, and found the nest while they were away. Game birds have the trick of decoying one away from their nest. I am not sure that all birds do not have more or less of the same instinct; but certainly none ever before or since used it so well with me as Ch’geegee.
For two hours or more I sat there beside the pine thicket, while the chickadees came and went. Sometimes they approached the nest from the other side, and I did not see them, or perhaps got only a glimpse as they glided into their doorway. Whenever they approached from my side, they always stopped on the rail before me and went through with their little entertainment. Gradually they grew more confident, and were less careful to conceal their movements than at first. Sometimes only one came, and after a short performance disappeared. Perhaps they thought me harmless, or that they had deceived me so well at first that I did not even suspect them of nest-building. Anyway, I never pretended I knew.
As the afternoon wore away, and the sun dropped into the pine tops, the chickadees grew hungry, and left their work until the morrow. They were calling among the young birch buds as I left them, busy and sociable together, hunting their supper.
XI. A FELLOW OF EXPEDIENTS.
Among the birds there is one whose personal appearance is rapidly changing. He illustrates in his present life a process well known historically to all naturalists, viz., the modification of form resulting from changed environment. I refer to the golden-winged woodpecker, perhaps the most beautifully marked bird of the North, whose names are as varied as his habits and accomplishments.