Nature Notes

Vol. III June 1, 1926 No. 19


For years the Naturalist has been on the lookout for the matted ball of green moss perched on a niche of rock beneath a waterfall or pasted to the sheltered side of a boulder in midstream which is the home of the little water ouzel or dipper bird.

The ouzel is one of the most interesting birds of the region and is fairly abundant along all the streams and lakes at timberline and below, but the nest is always placed in such inaccessible places that it is rarely found.

On May 10th, the Naturalist was walking along the Nisqually River above Longmire Springs when he noticed a smooth wall of rock, moss-covered in spots and wet with the spray from the dashing stream just below. It formed the far bank of the river for a hundred yards or more.

That, he thought, is an ideal place for the nest of a water ouzel so he climbed down into the canyon to investigate.

As luck would have it a nest was located almost at the first glance. Time and again he had searched in vain and now he found what he had looked for without any search at all. Moreover that was not all. Fifty yards down the stream was another nest attached to a rock just above the high water mark.

A male ouzel was perched on a water-swept boulder nearby but he paid no attention to the naturalist. Presently, with a wren-like chatter, the mother bird flew down the river close to the crest of the waves. In her mouth was several insects. She perched for an instant on a rock below the nest then fluttered up to the opening on the lower side. Two half-grown birds reached out for the food.

The other nest proved to be deserted. It is likely the last years dwelling of the same pair as the ouzels seem to hold their choice stretches of fast water or favorite cascades year after year.

The Naturalist well remembers his first experience with one of these fascinating little birds. He had been interested in bird study for years and knew by sight all of the common birds of his native state, but that was in the east and he had never even heard of the water ouzel. In fact it would have been hard to believe that such a peculiar bird existed.

Then one day while on a trip through the western mountains he noticed a small slate-colored bird that looked and sang like an overgrown wren but acted like a madman. He was perched on a small boulder that stood only a few inches above the rushing waters of the Flathead River in Montana. The strange bird squatted a few times and blinked his eye, then he squatted again and flirted his wings and stub of a tail.

Imagine his surprise when this frail little bird with none of the marks of a water dweller about him dived headfirst into the swift current and was presently seen walking about beneath a foot of clear water pecking here and there among the stones at the bottom like a chicken in a barnyard. The bird hunts entirely in the water but it is not even web-footed. In fact it cannot swim, it literally flies through the water.

Later he found that this is only one of his many peculiarities. The habit of building nests of growing moss beneath water-falls or on the side of spray drenched cliffs, and his love of singing with the noise of dashing water as competition even in mid-winter are two others.

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