John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 11 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 11 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fifty or three hundred doves together being considered a large flock.

On the ground, along the fences, or on the branches of trees, the Carolina
Turtle walks with great ease and grace, frequently jerking its tail.
It is able to run with some swiftness when searching for food in places
where it is scarce. It seldom bathes, but drinks by swallowing the water
in long draughts, with the bill deeply immersed, frequently up to the
eyes.

They breed in every portion of the United States that I have visited,
and according to the temperature of different localities, rear either
one or two broods in the season. In Louisiana, they lay eggs early in
April, and sometimes in the month of March, and have there two broods.
In the State of Connecticut, they seldom begin to lay before the middle
of May, and as seldom have more than one brood. On the borders of Lake
Superior, they are still later. They lay two eggs of a pure white colour,
and having some degree of translucency. They make their nest in any
kind of tree, on horizontal branches or twigs. It is formed of a few dry
sticks, so loosely put together as to appear hardly sufficient to keep
the eggs or young from falling.

The roosting places which the Carolina Turtles prefer are among the long
grasses found growing in abandoned fields, at the foot of dry stalks of
maize, or on the edges of meadows, although they occasionally resort
to the dead foliage of trees, as well as that of different species of
evergreens. But in all these places they rise and fly at the approach
of man, however dark the night may be, which proves that the power of
sight which they then possess is very great. They seldom place themselves
very near each other when roosting on the ground, but sometimes the
individuals of a flock appear diffused pretty equally over a whole field.
In this particular, they greatly differ from our Common Wild Pigeon,
which settles in compact masses on the limbs of trees during the night.
The Doves, however, like the Pigeons, are fond of returning to the same
roosting grounds from considerable distances. A few individuals sometimes
mix with the Wild Pigeons, as do the latter sometimes with the Doves.

The Turtle Dove may with propriety be considered more as a gleaner than
as a reaper of the husbandman's fields, scarcely ever committing any
greater depredation than the picking up a few grains in seed-time, after
which it prefers resorting to those fields from which the grain has been
cut and removed. It is a hardy bird, and stands the severest winters of
our Middle States, where some remain the whole year.

The flesh of these birds is remarkably fine, when they are obtained young
and in the proper season. Such birds become extremely fat, are tender
and juicy, and in flavour equal in the estimation of some of my friends,
as well as in my own, to that of the Snipe or even the Woodcock; but as
taste in such matters depends much on circumstances, and perhaps on the
whim of individuals, I would advise you, reader, to try for yourself.
These birds require good shooting to bring them down, when on wing, for
they fly with great swiftness, and not always in a direct manner. It is
seldom that more than one can be killed at a shot when they are flying,
and rarely more than two or three when on the ground, on account of
their natural propensity to keep apart.

In winter, they approach the farm-houses, feed among the Poultry,
Sparrows, Grakles, and many other birds, and appear very gentle; but
no sooner are they frequently disturbed or shot at, than they become
extremely shy. When raised from the nest, they are easily tamed. I have
even known some instances of their breeding in confinement. When caught
in traps and cooped, they feed freely, and soon become fat, when they
are excellent for the table.

When shot, or taken alive in the hand, this and our other species of
Pigeon, lose the feathers on the slightest touch, a circumstance peculiar
to the genus, and to certain gallinaceous birds.

* * * * *

The _Stuartia Malacodendron_, on which I have placed the two pairs alluded
to at the commencement of this article, is a tree of small height, which
grows in rich grounds at the foot of hills not far from water-courses.
The wood is brittle and useless, the flower destitute of scent, but
extremely agreeable to the eye. Little clusters of twenty or thirty of
these trees are dispersed over the southernmost of the United States.
I have never met with it in the Middle, Western or Northern Districts.


COLUMBA CAROLINENSIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 286.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 613.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of
Birds of the United States, p. 119.

CAROLINA PIGEON, _Lath._ Syn. vol. iv. p. 663.

CAROLINA PIGEON, OR TURTLE DOVE, COLUMBA CAROLINENSIS, _Wils._
Amer. Ornith. vol. v. p. 91. Pl. xliii. fig. 1.


Adult Male. Plate XVII. Fig. 1, 1.

Bill straight, of ordinary length, rather slender, broader than deep
at the base, with a tumid fleshy covering, compressed towards the end,
rather obtuse; upper mandible slightly declinate at the tip; edges
involute. Head small. Neck slender. Body rather full. Legs short and
strong; tarsus covered anteriorly with scutella, rather rounded; toes
scutellate, slightly webbed at the base; claws short, depressed, obtuse.

Plumage compact on the back, blended and soft on the head, neck and
under parts. Wings long, second quill longest. Tail wedge-shaped, long,
of fourteen feathers, the middle ones tapering, the rest obtuse.

Bill blackish, at the base carmine-purple. Iris hazel; orbit
greenish-blue. Feet carmine-purple; claws dusky. Crown of the head,
and upper part of the neck, bright greenish-blue; the rest of the upper
parts, including the wing-coverts, light yellowish-brown, tinged with
light blue, of which colour are the edges of the wings, and the outer
webs of the quills towards the base. Some of the proximal wing-coverts
spotted with black. Forehead, and sides of the head brownish-yellow,
which colour predominates on the under parts, the breast and neck tinged
with blue, and the abdomen and under tail-coverts paler. Quills dusky,
margined externally with whitish, the last secondaries light brown and
spotted with black. The two middle tail-feathers, and the outer webs of
the next five on each side like the back; all the feathers, excepting the
middle ones, have a spot of black about an inch from their extremity, the
space between which and the base is bright greenish-blue, that beyond it
being paler and tinged with brown, excepting in the three outer feathers,
where it is white, as is the outer web of the outermost.

Length 12 inches, extent of wings 17; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap ¾.


Adult Female. Plate XVII. Fig. 2, 2.

The female is somewhat duller in the tints of the plumage; the bright
blue of the head is wanting, that part being coloured like the back; the
neck and breast have less blue, and the white of the tail is less pure.

Length 11 inches, extent of wings 15½; bill as in the male.


THE WHITE-FLOWERED STUARTIA.

STUARTIA MALACODENDRON, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iii. p. 840.
STUARTIA VIRGINICA, _Pursh_, Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 451.
—MONADELPHIA POLYANDRIA, _Linn._

A small tree, with smooth spreading branches; ovate-acute leaves,
generally entire at the margins; axillar flowers, which are solitary,
or two together; large white corollas, of five rounded petals, and
reddish-purple stamina. The leaves vary in being sometimes serrated,
and more or less downy. It flowers from June to September.




BEWICK'S WREN.

_TROGLODYTES BEWICKII._

PLATE XVIII. MALE.


The bird represented under the name of Bewick's Wren I shot on the 19th
October 1821, about five miles from St Francisville, in the State of
Louisiana. It was standing as nearly as can be represented in the position
in which you now see it, and upon the prostrate trunk of a tree not far
from a fence. My drawing of it was made on the spot. Another individual
was shot a few days after, by a young friend, JOSEPH R. MASON, who
accompanied me on my rambles. In the month of November 1829, I had the
pleasure of meeting with another of the same species, about fifteen miles
from the place above mentioned, and as it was near the house at which I
was then on a visit, I refrained from killing it, in order to observe its
habits. For several days, during which I occasionally saw it, it moved
along the bars of the fences, with its tail generally erect, looking
from the bar on which it stood towards the one next above, and caught
spiders and other insects, as it ran along from one pannel of the fence
to another in quick succession, now and then uttering a low _twitter_,
the only sound which I heard it emit. It occasionally hopped sidewise,
now with its head towards me, and again in the contrary direction, at
times descending to the ground, to inspect the lowest bar, but only for
a few moments. At other times, it would fly to a peach or apple-tree
close to the fence, ascend to its top branches, always with hopping
movements, and, as if about to sing, would for an instant raise its
head, and lower its tail, but without giving utterance to any musical
notes. It would then return to the fence, and continue its avocations
as already described. I shot the bird, and have it preserved in spirits.

In shape, colour and movements, it nearly resembles the Great Carolina
Wren, and forms a kind of link between that bird and the House Wren, an
account of which you will find in this volume. It has not the quickness
of motion, nor the liveliness, of either of these birds. Where it comes
from, and whither it goes to breed, are quite unknown to me.

I have honoured this species with the name of BEWICK, a person too well
known for his admirable talents as an engraver on wood, and for his
beautiful work on the Birds of Great Britain, to need any eulogy of mine.
I enjoyed the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with that gentleman,
and found him at all times a most agreeable, kind, and benevolent friend.

The little twig on which the Wren is perched, is from the tree commonly
called the Iron-wood Tree, a species of Elm, the wood of which is very
hard and of close texture. The branches, and sometimes the stem, are
ornamented with longitudinal expansions, resembling cork in their nature,
but much harder.


TROGLODYTES BEWICKII.


Adult Male. Plate XVIII.

Bill nearly as long as the head, subulato-conical, acute, slightly
arched, compressed. Mandibles of equal breadth, with acute margins, the
gap line a little arched, and slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils
basal, oval, half closed by a membrane. Feet longish, proportionally
rather robust; tarsus anteriorly scutellate, compressed, acute behind,
longer than the middle toe; toes free, scutellate above, the lateral
ones nearly equal, the posterior long; claws slender, compressed, acute,
arched, that of the hind toe much larger.

Plumage rather compact above, blended beneath. Wings short, very convex,
rounded; first quill short, third and fourth longest. Tail erect, long,
of ten feathers, much rounded, the outer feather not more than half the
length of the middle one, all rounded at the end.

Bill blackish-brown above, pale blue beneath. Iris brown. Feet and claws
pale brown. The general colour of the upper parts is rusty brown, that
of the lower greyish-blue. Quills and wing-coverts barred with rusty
brown and black, as are the two middle tail-feathers. Outer web of the
lateral tail-feather, and the terminal portion of that of the others,
whitish, barred with black, their middle parts black, toward the base
barred with rusty brown. A line of pale brownish-yellow extending from
the upper mandible, over the eye, to half way down the neck. The rump
feathers white towards their base, with central spots.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 6½; beak along the ridge ½, along the
gap ⅔; tarsus 7/12, middle toe ½, hind toe 7/12.


THE IRON-WOOD TREE, OR WAHOO.

ULMUS ALATA, _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 200. _Mich._ Arbr.
Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. vi. p. 275. Pl. 5.—PENTANDRIA
DIGYNIA, _Linn._ AMENTACEÆ, _Juss._

Twigs winged on two opposite sides with a corky substance; leaves
oblongo-oval, acute, nearly equal at the base; fruit downy and ciliated.
This species of Elm occurs only in the Southern States, where it grows
by the sides of rivers and in marshes. It attains a height of from thirty
to forty feet.




THE LOUISIANA WATER THRUSH.

_TURDUS LUDOVICIANUS._

PLATE XIX. MALE.


Much and justly as the song of the Nightingale is admired, I am inclined,
after having often listened to it, to pronounce it in no degree superior
to that of the Louisiana Water Thrush. The notes of the latter bird are
as powerful and mellow, and at times as varied.

This bird is a resident of the low lands of the States of Louisiana
and Mississippi, and is to be found at all seasons in the deepest and
most swampy of our cane brakes, from which its melodies are heard to a
considerable distance, its voice being nearly as loud as that of the Wood
Thrush. The bird may be observed perched on a low bough scarcely higher
than the tops of the canes, in an erect attitude, swelling its throat,
and repeating several times in succession sounds so approaching the
whole two octaves of a good piano-forte, as almost to induce the hearer
to imagine that the keys of that instrument are used on the occasion.
The bird begins on the upper key, and progressively passes from one to
another, until it reaches the base note, this last frequently being lost
when there is the least agitation in the air. Its song is heard even in
the winter, when the weather is calm and warm.

I have taken the liberty of naming this first songster of our groves after
the country which has afforded me my greatest pleasures, not, however,
as I trust I shall prove in the sequel, without having assured myself
that in _habits_, and somewhat in colour, it differs from its kinsman
the Common Water Thrush.

The Common Water Thrush is at all times, and in every situation, shy even
to wildness. The Louisiana Water Thrush is so gentle and unsuspicious as
to allow a person to approach within a few yards of it. The species met
with in the Eastern and Northern Districts during the spring months only,
has its feet of a clear and transparent flesh-colour, and its tail even.
The Southern bird, on the contrary, has the feet of a deep bluish-brown,
and the tail forked. Never have I seen it wade through water, although it
is always near and over it; while in the bird of the Northern Districts
this is a prominent habit. I may add, that I never heard the latter
species sing, but merely utter a single smart _twit_, when started by
surprise. It moreover frequently feeds on minute water-insects, none of
which I have ever been able to discover on dissecting the present species.

The flight of this bird is easy, and continued amongst the trees, just
above the canes, or closer over the ground, when it is passing along
their skirts, gliding smoothly through the air. When alighted, its body
is continually vibrating, the tail being at the same time alternately
jerked out and closed again. It walks prettily along the branches, or
on the ground, but never _hops_. It feeds on insects and larvæ, often
pursuing the former on wing, as well as on the ground, yet in seizing them
it does not produce the clicking sound heard from the bill of Flycatchers.

I think its proper station in a general system would be between the
Golden-crowned Thrush and the Water Thrush. Its location, however, I
leave to the consideration of better ornithologists than myself.

The nest of this species is commenced in the first days of April. I may
here remark, that I am not aware that the Common Water Thrush breeds in
the United States. It is placed at the foot and amongst the roots of
a tree, or by the side of a decayed log, and is so easily discovered
at times that my eyes have once or twice been attracted by it, whilst
walking about in search of something else. The outer parts are formed of
dry leaves and mosses, the inner of fine grasses, with a few hairs, or
the dried fibres of the Spanish Moss, which so much resemble horse-hair
as scarcely to be distinguished from it. The female lays four or five
eggs, and takes fourteen days to hatch them. When disturbed on her nest
at an early period of incubation, she merely flies off; but if discovered
towards the conclusion of that period, she is seen tumbling and rolling
about, spreading her wings and tail, as if in the last agonies of despair,
uttering all the while a most piteous tone, to entice the intruder to
follow her.

The young leave the nest in about ten days, and follow the parent from
place to place, on the ground, where they are fed until able to fly. I
have not been able to ascertain whether this bird rears more than one
brood in a season, but am inclined to believe that it does not. The eggs
are flesh-coloured, sprinkled with darker red on the large end.

During winter, this bird becomes so plump as to be a pure mass of fat,
and furnishes extremely delicate eating. I have never seen this species
farther eastward than Georgia, nor higher on the Ohio than the cane
brakes about Henderson.

The plant on which I have placed a male (the sexes being so nearly alike
as to offer no external distinctive characters) is commonly called the
Indian Turnip. It grows abundantly in the places frequented by this
bird. The root, which is like a small potato, is extremely pungent.


TURDUS LUDOVICIANUS.


Adult Male. Plate XIX.

Bill of ordinary length, straight, slender, tapering to a point, broadish
at the base, compressed toward the end; upper mandible with the edges
sharp, and destitute of a notch. Nostrils basal, rounded, half closed
by a membrane. Feet of ordinary length, rather slender; tarsus a little
longer than the middle toe; toes free; claws slender, much compressed,
arched, acute, the hind one not much larger than that of the middle toe.

Plumage ordinary, soft, slightly glossy; a few bristles at the base of
the upper mandible. Wings of ordinary length; first quill longest. Tail
shortish, a little notched, the feathers rather obtuse.

Bill deep brown above, black at the tip, flesh-coloured beneath. Iris
deep brown. Feet and claws brown, tinged with blue. The general colour
of the upper parts is dull greenish-brown, that of the under parts
yellowish-white. A streak of the latter colour over the eye, from the
base of the upper mandible, and another from the base of the lower,
curving upwards behind the ear-coverts. Fore-neck and breast marked with
sagittiform spots of blackish-brown; sides under the wings streaked with
the same colour.

Length 5¾ inches, extent of wings 9½; bill along the ridge ½, along the
gap ¾; tarsus ¾.

The female, as has been said, hardly differs from the male in appearance.


THE INDIAN TURNIP.

ARUM TRIPHYLLUM, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 480. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 399.—POLYANDRIA POLYGYNIA, _Linn._
AROIDEÆ, _Juss._

Somewhat caulescent; leaves ternate, with ovate acuminate leaflets;
spadix clavate; flowers monœcious. The flowers are green and purple,
and the roots are used by the Indians as a remedy for colic.




THE BLUE-WINGED YELLOW WARBLER.

_SYLVIA SOLITARIA_, WILS.

PLATE XX. MALE AND FEMALE.


This pretty little Warbler is migratory, and arrives in Louisiana from
the south, in the beginning of spring. It is found in open woods, as well
as in the vicinity of ponds overgrown with low bushes and rank weeds.
Along with a pair of Blue-winged Yellow Warblers, I have represented a
species of Hibiscus, which grows on the edges of these ponds. Its flowers
are handsome, but unfortunately have no pleasant odour.

The species which now occupies our attention is a busy, active bird,
and is seen diligently searching among the foliage and grasses for the
small insects on which it feeds, mounting now and then towards the tops
of the bushes, to utter a few weak notes, which are in no way interesting.

Its nest, which is singularly constructed, and of an elongated inversely
conical form, is attached to several stalks or blades of tall grass by
its upper edge. The materials of which it is formed are placed obliquely
from its mouth to the bottom. The latter part is composed of dried
leaves, and is finished within with fine grass and lichens. The female
lays from four to six eggs, of a pure white colour, with a few pale red
spots at the larger end. The first brood is out about the middle of May,
the second in the middle of July. The young disperse as soon as they
are able to provide for themselves, this bird being of solitary habits.

It leaves Louisiana in the beginning of October. I have never seen
the species farther eastward than the State of Jersey, where I killed
several within a few miles of Philadelphia, not however until my last
visit to that State in 1829. It is frequent in the barrens of Kentucky,
and up the Mississippi, as far at least as St Genevieve, where I shot
two individuals many years ago.

Its flight is short, undetermined, and is performed in zig-zag lines,
as in most of its tribe. It sometimes ascends twenty or thirty yards in
the air, as if with an intention of going to a great distance, but still
moving in a zig-zag manner, when it suddenly turns about, and comes
down near the place from which it set out. It does not chase insects
on wing, but feeds in a great measure on the smaller kinds of spiders,
not neglecting, however, to seize other insects when they come within
reach. It remains almost constantly among the bushes, and is seldom seen
on trees of any size.


SYLVIA SOLITARIA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 87.

BLUE-WINGED YELLOW WARBLER, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 109.
Pl. 15. fig. 4.


Adult Male. Plate XX. Fig. 1.

Bill nearly as long as the head, straightish, subulato-conical, acute,
as deep as broad at the base, the edges acute, the gap line a little
deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical, half-closed by
a membrane. Head rather small. Neck short. Body slender. Feet of ordinary
length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly
by a few scutella, the uppermost long; toes scutellate above, the inner
free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws slender, compressed, acute,
arched.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. Wings of ordinary length, acute, the second
quill longest. Tail longish, rounded when expanded, slightly forked when
closed.

Bill black, with a pale margin. Iris dark brown. Feet and claws
flesh-colour, tinged with yellow. Forehead, crown, and under parts of a
rich bright-yellow. Back of the head and neck, the back and upper tail
coverts bright grass-green. Lore black. Wings greyish-blue, slightly
margined with paler, the first two rows of coverts tipped with whitish.
Four middle tail-feathers greyish-blue, the outer webs of the rest, and
an oblique portion of the outer feather at the end, of the same colour,
their inner webs white.

Length 4¾ inches, extent of wings 7; bill along the ridge ½, along the
gap 1.


Adult Female. Plate XX. Fig. 2.

The female scarcely differs from the male in appearance, and is of nearly
the same dimensions.


LARGE-FLOWERED HIBISCUS, COTTON ROSE, OR WILD ALTHÆA.

HIBISCUS GRANDIFLORUS, _Mich._ Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 46.
_Pursh_, Fl. Amer. p. 455.—MONADELPHIA POLYANDRIA, _Linn._
MALVACEÆ, _Juss._

This beautiful species of Hibiscus, which does not precisely agree with
any that I have seen described, although it is probably the above, is
characterised by its ovato-cordate, obtusely and irregularly serrated,
acute, venous tough leaves, and its large rose-coloured flowers, which
are deep-red at the base, and streaked with the same colour. The corolla
is about five inches in diameter, the anthers yellow. The stem and leaves
are smooth. It grows in salt marshes, and by the edges of pools.




THE REGULATORS.


The population of many parts of America is derived from the refuse of
every other country. I hope I shall elsewhere prove to you, kind reader,
that even in this we have reason to feel a certain degree of pride, as
we often see our worst denizens becoming gradually freed from error,
and at length changing to useful and respectable citizens. The most
depraved of these emigrants are forced to retreat farther and farther
from the society of the virtuous, the restraints imposed by which they



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 11 of 50)