Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: The stories of Alice, Hamilton, Agatha and Blacky

By STACEY COLE April 20. 2018 8:22PM
 (Metro Creative Connection)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, April 20, 1974.

Let's take a further look at some of our recent correspondence:

First, this most appreciated letter from Durham:

“In response to your interesting article in the Manchester Union of April 6 (1974), we would like to advise you that Durham’s famous mute swans have been around this section of the country for several years, spending the warmer months on Mill Pond in Durham and migrating each year in November to North Mill Pond in Portsmouth (a tidal pond that does not entirely freeze over) — then, in early March returning to Durham when the ice begins to leave.

“The first swan, Alice, arrived by herself on Mill Pond on Nov. 3, 1965. A mate was secured for her, named Hamilton. After several hatches of cygnets over the years, only one cygnet survived, name Agatha, June 3, 1969. Alice was mysteriously killed in May 1971, and in due time Agatha became Hamilton’s companion and mate. They are still together nesting and getting ready to raise a family.

“The swans are fed bread and corn twice daily by the Forrests, in addition to the vegetation the birds pick out of the pond themselves. During the winter the Forrests travel to Portsmouth nearly every day to feed the swans as in this part of the country they need extra food to fortify their bodies against the cold.

“There are many people who visit Mill Pond to see the swans. A book, ‘A Gift from the Sky,’ was written by the Drs. Milne about Alice and her original arrival on Durham’s Mill Pond.”

I had known of the swans this good reader wrote about but, frankly, I had thought of them as semi-domesticated birds rather than wild, as had been my interpretation of the appearance of the mute swan on the Connecticut River.

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One of our longtime readers from Salem had an interesting experience quite a few years back with a crow he named Blacky. The story of Blacky was brought to mind by one of our recent articles telling about a pet flying squirrel. The gentleman’s letter follows:

“I was about 18 or 19 years old when a friend asked me to go along with him in the old Model T Ford (Tin Lizzy). It was in the dead of winter and bitter cold. The temperature was well below zero. Well, we arrived as our destination and stayed about three hours and then decided to start back home, an hour’s drive. The night before we had had a very heavy snowstorm and driving was quite a feat in those days, but the old Tin Lizzy was equal to the snow and did her job well.

“As we were driving along, I saw near the road a crow that I thought dead. I asked my friend to stop and I went and picked it up. As I looked very closely I saw movement in its eyes, so I put it on the floor of the old Ford. Those floor boards sure got very warm and soon Blacky, as I later came to name him, started stirring. Well, I took him home and he soon made himself feel at home. In a few days he would eat at the table with us. I made a perch for him and gave him his cracked corn in a little bowl. If we sat down to eat, he sure would squawk if he didn’t get his meal then. His favorite resting place was the chandelier in the parlor, which was kept dark most of the time. He would sit there and preen himself, then take a nap. But he did acquire a bad habit that was to take any shiny object and hide it someplace, most often under the kitchen range.

“Come spring, I took him out into the yard which was fenced off from the neighbor’s yard. I let Blacky loose, but he made no attempt to fly away and stayed close to the house. After a few weeks I let him stay outside overnight — the next morning, no Blacky. Nature seemed to have called to him. After about six weeks I saw him, at least I thought it was he, in a tree close to home, but he made no move to come to me although I called to him. For about three years after that I would see a single crow there in that tree, off and on, then finally no more visits. That is the story of a half-frozen, half-dead crow called Blacky. Now, when I see a crow around here it makes me think of that little black rascal.”

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at

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