Encouraging Birds in the Cemetery

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William Falconer, the superintendent of Allegheny Cemetery, was a frequent correspondent to Park and Cemetery magazine a century ago. When the magazine sent a few questions about encouraging birds to various cemetery managers, Mr. Falconer contributed a substantial article in response.

“Do you encourage the presence of birds on the cemetery grounds?” Indeed we do. We love birds and coax and protect them.

“Do you know of any objections to birds in the cemetery?” No, none whatever. Of course, they are naughty sometimes, so, too, are our children, but we love them and forgive them.

“Are there some varieties of birds that are objectionable, and if so, which are they?” Well, the robins perch on the heads of granite angels and bronze statesmen, leaving unseemly evidence of their visits, but that can be washed off, so, too, can the blue-black blotches of elderberry time. A couple of years ago the army worm was a plague with us, and while it was here we had many graves prettily sodded with sedum or carpeted with alternanthera; when it was time to pupate the worms seemed to have a marked preference for these nicely fixed graves and buried themselves an inch or two in the soft ground. Then along came the robin and the sparrow and dug up the befatted army morsel, tearing out and scattering the sedum or alternanthera carpet to get at their prey. Of course, the Italian gardeners were mad and swore a little, but in a foreign tongue that neither the birds nor myself could understand, so we didn’t mind what they said. The dickies kept on digging and I repairing, and in a few weeks all was over and all of us were happy—and mighty glad the birds were still with us.

Most decidedly, I believe we should encourage the birds; feed them, shelter them and protect them. In cemeteries, as a rule, there are lots of trees and shrubs and vines sufficient for sheltering and nesting purposes, but these can be greatly augmented by introducing artificial nesting houses, ornamental in their way as well as useful, and appropriately placed to suit the several genera of birds. And in most cemeteries there is open water, either as streams or lakes, sufficient for the feathered needs. Now, about feeding the birds: In cemeteries in a broken or timber country there generally is a good deal of natural woodland and lanes or belts of wild trees and shrubs, say, including bird cherry, dogwood, wild roses, elderberry, June berry, sumach, barberry, hercules club, and other “berry” or small fruit bearing shrubs or vines, together with pokeberry, sunflower, coreopsis and other seed-bearing herbaceous and annual plants and grasses, and all of these bear food for birds. To these in a decorative way may be added many plants whose fruit enlarge the bird larder; for instance, the single roses, viburnums of sorts, yellow flowering currant, snowberry, Indian currant, Japanese crabapples, benzoin bush, Boston ivy, junipers; in fact, most anything that will bear and ripen berries or other fruit. Above all things, give elderberry, mulberry and hercules club the preference as summer food. And some superintendents, like myself, who live in the cemetery and have a big garden, but no scarecrow, are compelled to pay toll to the birds in cherries, strawberries, currants, corn and other things, but bless you, there is enough in the yard for both of us. In winter we feed the birds systematically. To make a man useful you have got to keep him busy, more especially a policeman, and that is why we have a good one. We have two policemen who patrol the cemetery faithfully all night — at any rate, before I go to bed — and they protect the grounds, including the birds, from night prowlers, both bipedal and quadrupedal, of all kinds. It would ruin the day policeman if he had nothing to do but twirl his club, so in the summer time, in addition to patrol duties, he is also timekeeper and official mole-catcher; in the winter time he is timekeeper and bird-man. We buy mixed bird seed — grain, cracked corn, milled sunflower and some other seeds — and distribute this at certain feeding places, both on the ground and on little table-like boards, eight or nine feet up on the trees. A very little goes a long way. He also keeps a supply of suet in flat wire nests fastened to the trees. The whole thing is exceedingly simple and inexpensive, and our “Bobby” is so proud of his job that he thinks every bird in the cemetery knows him. True, the sparrows are the chief beneficiaries, but what of that? Who would not shudder to see a sparrow starving of hunger?

Wm. Falconer,
Supt., Allegheny Cemetery.
Pittsburgh, Pa.