John James Audubon.

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Well, the Song Sparrow is among the cleanest of the clean. I have often
watched the young birds leaving the nest; and after their departure,
have found it as well fitted for the reception of a fresh set of eggs
as the new nest which the bird constructs. I am unable to understand
the reason why a new nest is formed. Can you, reader, solve the question?

I have at all times been very partial to the Song Sparrow; for although
its attire is exceedingly plain, it is pleasing to hear it, in the
Middle States, singing earlier in spring, and later in autumn, than
almost any other bird. Its song is sweet, of considerable duration, and
performed at all hours of the day. It nestles sometimes on trees, and
sometimes on the ground. I have imagined that the old birds, finding by
experience the insecurity of their ordinary practice of nestling on the
ground, where the eggs are often devoured by Crows, betake themselves
to the bushes to conceal their nests from their enemies. But whatever
may be the reason, the fact certainly exists, and the nests of the Song
Sparrow occur in both kinds of situation. The nest for the first brood
is prepared, and the eggs laid, sometimes as early as the 15th of April.
The young are out by the first week of May. The third brood is seen by
the middle of September. The nest, when on the ground, is well sunk in
the earth, and is placed at the roots of tall grasses. It is made of
fine grass, and lined with hair, principally horse hair. The number of
eggs is from five to seven, usually from four to six, excepting those
for the last brood, which I have seldom found to exceed three. They are
of a very broad ovate form, light greenish-white, speckled with dark
umber, the specks larger toward the greater end. The male assists in
the process of incubation, during which one of the birds feeds the other
in succession. At this time the male is often to be observed singing on
the top of a neighbouring bush, low tree, or fence-rail.

The flight of the Song Sparrow is short, and much undulated, when the
bird is high in the air, but swifter and more level when it is near the
ground. They migrate by night, singly or in straggling troops. Some of
them remain the whole winter in the Middle Districts, where they are
not unfrequently heard to sing, if the weather prove at all pleasant.
The greater part, however, seek the Southern States, where myriads of
Sparrows of different kinds are everywhere to be seen in low swampy
situations, such as they at all periods prefer. It is a fine plump bird,
and becomes very flat and juicy. It is picked up in great numbers by the
Hen-harriers, which visit us for the purpose of feeding on the different
kinds of Sparrows that resort to these States in winter from the Middle
Districts. In Louisiana, they are frequently seen to ascend to the tops
of large trees, and there continue for some time singing their agreeable
chant, after which they dive again into the low bushes or amongst the
rank weeds which grow wherever a stream is to be found. They feed on
grass seeds, some berries and insects, especially grasshoppers, and
now and then pursue flies on the wing. On the ground their motions are
lively. They continue running about with great nimbleness and activity,
and sometimes cross shallow waters leg-deep. To the eastward, they often
frequent orchards and large gardens, but seldom approach houses.

I have placed a pair of them on a twig of the Huckleberry Bush in blossom.
This species sometimes grows to the height of six or seven feet, and
produces a fine berry in great abundance. Huckleberries of every sort
are picked by women and children, and sold in the eastern markets in
great profusion. They are used for tarts, but in my opinion are better
when eaten fresh.

FRINGILLA MELODIA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 108.

vol. ii. p. 125. Pl. xvi. fig. 4.

Adult Male. Plate XXV. Fig. 1.

Bill short, robust, conical, a little bulging, straight, acute; upper
mandible broader, slightly declinate at the tip; gap line a little
declinate at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the frontal
feathers. Feet of moderate length; tarsus longer than the middle toe;
toes free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage rather compact above, soft and blended beneath. Wings short,
rounded, the third and fourth quills longest. Tail longish, even, the
feathers narrow and acute.

Bill deep brown above, bluish beneath. Iris hazel. Feet and claws pale
brown. Upper part of the head reddish-brown, mottled with dark brown,
with a broad line of bluish-grey down the middle. Back grey, streaked
with reddish-brown and dusky. Lower back bluish-grey; tail-coverts tinged
with light brown. Sides of the head bluish-grey; a broad line of brown
from the eye backwards, and another from the commissure of the mouth.
Under parts white, tinged on the sides with grey, and posteriorly with
reddish-brown, the neck and breast spotted with dark brown, and the
lateral under tail-coverts streaked with the same. Wings dark brown, the
quills margined externally with reddish-brown, the coverts margined and
tipped with whitish. Tail-feathers uniformly dull brown.

Length 6 inches, extent of wings 8½; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the
gap ½; tarsus 1, middle toe ¾, hind toe ⅔.

Adult Female. Plate XXV. Fig. 2.

The female hardly differs in colour from the male.


VACCINIUM FRONDOSUM, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 352. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 285.—DECANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._ ERICÆ,

Leaves deciduous, ovato-oblong or lanceolate, entire, smooth, glaucous
beneath, resinous; racemes lax, bracteate; pedicels long, filiform,
bracteolate; corollas ovato-companulate, with acute laciniæ and included
anthers. The flower is white, the calyx green, the berry globular and
of a bluish-black colour. It varies greatly in the form of the leaves,
as well as in stature, sometimes attaining a height of six or seven feet.

Huckle-berries form a portion of the food of many birds, as well as of
various quadrupeds. Of the former, I may mention in particular the Wild
Turkey, several species of Grouse, the Wild Pigeon, the Turtle Dove,
some Loxias, and several Thrushes. Among the latter, the Black Bear
stands pre-eminent, although Raccoons, Foxes, Oppossums, and others
destroy great quantities. When the season is favourable, these berries
are so thickly strewn on the twigs, that they may be gathered in large
quantities, and as they become ripe, numerous parties resort to the
grounds in which they are found, by way of frolicking, and spend the
time in a very agreeable manner.


I have so frequently spoken of the Mississippi, that an account of the
progress of navigation on that extraordinary stream may be interesting
even to the student of nature. I shall commence with the year 1808, at
which time a great portion of the western country, and the banks of the
Mississippi River, from above the City of Natchez particularly, were
little more than a waste, or, to use words better suited to my feelings,
remained in their natural state. To ascend the great stream against a
powerful current, rendered still stronger wherever islands occurred,
together with the thousands of sand-banks, as liable to changes and
shiftings as the alluvial shores themselves, which at every deep curve
or _bend_ were seen giving way, as if crushed down by the weight of the
great forests that everywhere reached to the very edge of the water,
and falling and sinking in the muddy stream, by acres at a time, was
an adventure of no small difficulty and risk, and which was rendered
more so by the innumerable logs, called _sawyers_ and _planters_, that
everywhere raised their heads above the water, as if bidding defiance to
all intruders. Few white inhabitants had yet marched towards its shores,
and these few were of a class little able to assist the navigator. Here
and there a solitary encampment of native Indians might be seen, but
its inmates were as likely to prove foes as friends, having from their
birth been made keenly sensible of the encroachments of the white men
upon their lands.

Such was then the nature of the Mississippi and its shores. That river was
navigated principally in the direction of the current, in small canoes,
pirogues, keel-boats, some flat-boats, and a few barges. The canoes and
pirogues being generally laden with furs from the different heads of
streams that feed the great river, were of little worth after reaching the
market of New Orleans, and seldom reascended, the owners making their way
home through the woods, amidst innumerable difficulties. The flat-boats
were demolished and used as fire-wood. The keel-boats and barges were
employed in conveying produce of different kinds besides furs, such as
lead, flour, pork, and other articles. These returned laden with sugar,
coffee, and dry goods suited for the markets of St Genevieve and St Louis
on the Upper Mississippi, or branched off and ascended the Ohio to the
foot of the Falls near Louisville in Kentucky. But, reader, follow their
movements, and judge for yourself of the fatigues, troubles and risks of
the men employed in that navigation. A keel-boat was generally manned by
ten hands, principally Canadian French, and a patroon or master. These
boats seldom carried more than from twenty to thirty tons. The barges
frequently had forty or fifty men, with a patroon, and carried fifty
or sixty tons. Both these kinds of vessels were provided with a mast,
a square-sail, and coils of cordage, known by the name of _cordelles_.
Each boat or barge carried its own provisions. We shall suppose one of
these boats under way, and, having passed Natchez, entering upon what
were called the difficulties of their ascent. Wherever a point projected,
so as to render the course or bend below it of some magnitude, there
was an eddy, the returning current of which was sometimes as strong as
that of the middle of the great stream. The bargemen therefore rowed
up pretty close under the bank, and had merely to keep watch in the
bow, lest the boat should run against a planter or sawyer. But the boat
has reached the point, and there the current is to all appearance of
double strength, and right against it. The men, who have all rested a
few minutes, are ordered to take their stations, and lay hold of their
oars, for the river must be crossed, it being seldom possible to double
such a point and proceed along the same shore. The boat is crossing,
its head slanting to the current, which is however too strong for the
rowers, and when the other side of the river has been reached, it has
drifted perhaps a quarter of a mile. The men are by this time exhausted,
and, as we shall suppose it to be twelve o'clock, fasten the boat to
the shore or to a tree. A small glass of whisky is given to each, when
they cook and eat their dinner, and after repairing their fatigue by an
hour's repose, recommence their labours. The boat is again seen slowly
advancing against the stream. It has reached the lower end of a large
sand-bar, along the edge of which it is propelled by means of long poles,
if the bottom be hard. Two men called bowsmen remain at the prow, to
assist, in concert with the steersman, in managing the boat, and keeping
its head right against the current. The rest place themselves on the
land side of the footway of the vessel, put one end of their poles on
the ground, the other against their shoulders, and push with all their
might. As each of the men reaches the stern, he crosses to the other
side, runs along it, and comes again to the landward side of the bow,
when he recommences operations. The barge in the mean time is ascending
at a rate not exceeding one mile in the hour.

The bar is at length passed, and as the shore in sight is straight on
both sides of the river, and the current uniformly strong, the poles
are laid aside, and the men being equally divided, those on the river
side take to their oars, whilst those on the land side lay hold of the
branches of willows, or other trees, and thus slowly propel the boat.
Here and there, however, the trunk of a fallen tree, partly lying on
the bank, and partly projecting beyond it, impedes their progress, and
requires to be doubled. This is performed by striking it with the iron
points of the poles and gaff-hooks. The sun is now quite low, and the
barge is again secured in the best harbour within reach. The navigators
cook their supper, and betake themselves to their blankets or bear-skins
to rest, or perhaps light a large fire on the shore, under the smoke of
which they repose, in order to avoid the persecutions of the myriads of
moschettoes which occur during the whole summer along the river. Perhaps,
from dawn to sunset, the boat may have advanced fifteen miles. If so,
it has done well. The next day, the wind proves favourable, the sail is
set, the boat takes all advantages, and meeting with no accident, has
ascended thirty miles, perhaps double that distance. The next day comes
with a very different aspect. The wind is right a-head, the shores are
without trees of any kind, and the canes on the banks are so thick and
stout, that not even the cordelles can be used. This occasions a halt.
The time is not altogether lost, as most of the men, being provided with
rifles, betake themselves to the woods, and search for the deer, the
bears, or the turkeys, that are generally abundant there. Three days may
pass before the wind changes, and the advantages gained on the previous
fine day are forgotten. Again the boat proceeds, but in passing over a
shallow place runs on a log, swings with the current, but hangs fast,
with her lea-side almost under water. Now for the poles! All hands are
on deck, bustling and pushing. At length towards sunset, the boat is
once more afloat, and is again taken to the shore, where the wearied
crew pass another night.

I shall not continue this account of difficulties, it having already
become painful in the extreme. I could tell you of the crew abandoning
the boat and cargo, and of numberless accidents and perils; but be it
enough to say, that, advancing in this tardy manner, the boat that left
New Orleans on the first of March, often did not reach the Falls of
the Ohio until the month of July,—nay, sometimes not until October; and
after all this immense trouble, it brought only a few bags of coffee, and
at most 100 hogsheads of sugar. Such was the state of things in 1808.
The number of barges at that period did not amount to more than 25 or
30, and the largest probably did not exceed 100 tons burden. To make
the best of this fatiguing navigation, I may conclude by saying, that
a barge which came up in three months had done wonders, for I believe,
few voyages were performed in that time.

If I am not mistaken, the first steam-boat that went down out of the
Ohio to New Orleans was named the "Orleans," and if I remember right,
was commanded by Captain OGDEN. This voyage, I believe was performed
in the spring of 1810. It was, as you may suppose, looked upon as the
_ne plus ultra_ of enterprise. Soon after, another vessel came from
Pittsburg, and before many years elapsed, to see a vessel so propelled
become a common occurrence. In 1826, after a lapse of time that proved
sufficient to double the population of the United States of America,
the navigation of the Mississippi had so improved both in respect to
facility and quickness, that I know no better way of giving you an idea
of it, than by presenting you with an extract of a letter from my eldest
son, which was taken from the books of N. BERTHOUD, Esq. with whom he
at that time resided.

"You ask me in your last letter for a list of the arrivals and departures
here. I give you an abstract from our list of 1826, shewing the number
of boats which plied each year, their tonnage, the trips which they
performed, and the quantity of goods landed here from New Orleans and
intermediate places.

from to boats tons. trips. tons.
"1823, Jan. 1. Dec. 31. 42 7,860 98 19,453
1824, 1. Nov. 25. 36 6,393 118 20,291
1825, 1. Aug. 15. 42 7,484 140 24,102
1826, 1. Dec. 31. 51 9,388 182 28,914

"The amount for the present year will be much greater than any of the
above. The number of flat-boats and keels is beyond calculation. The
number of steam-boats above the Falls I cannot say much about, except
that one or two arrive at and leave Louisville every day. Their passage
from Cincinnati is commonly 14 or 16 hours. The Tecumseh, a boat which
runs between this place and New Orleans, and which measures 210 tons,
arrived here on the 10th instant, in 9 days 7 hours, from port to port;
and the Philadelphia, of 300 tons, made the passage in 9 days 9½ hours,
the computed distance being 1650 miles. These are the quickest trips made.
There are now in operation on the waters west of the Alleghany Mountains
140 or 145 boats. We had last spring (1826), a very high freshet, which
came 4½ feet deep in the counting-room. The rise was 57 feet 3 inches

The whole of the steam-boats of which you have an account did not perform
voyages to New Orleans only, but to all points on the Mississippi, and
other rivers which fall into it. I am certain that since the above date
the number has increased, but to what extent I cannot at present say.

When steam-boats first plied between Shippingport and New Orleans, the
cabin passage was a hundred dollars, and a hundred and fifty dollars on
the upward voyage. In 1829, I went down to Natchez from Shippingport
for twenty-five dollars, and ascended from New Orleans on board the
Philadelphia, in the beginning of January 1830, for sixty dollars,
having taken two state-rooms for my wife and myself. On that voyage we
met with a trifling accident, which protracted it to fourteen days; the
computed distance being, as mentioned above, 1650 miles, although the
real distance is probably less. I do not remember to have spent a day
without meeting with a steam-boat, and some days we met several. I might
here be tempted to give you a description of one of these steamers of
the western waters, but the picture having been often drawn by abler
hands, I shall desist.




Doubtless, kind reader, you will say, while looking at the seven figures
of Parakeets represented in the plate, that I spared not my labour. I
never do, so anxious am I to promote your pleasure.

These birds are represented feeding on the plant commonly named the
_Cockle-bur_. It is found much too plentifully in every State west of the
Alleghanies, and in still greater profusion as you advance towards the
Southern Districts. It grows in every field where the soil is good. The
low alluvial lands along the Ohio and Mississippi are all supplied with
it. Its growth is so measured that it ripens after the crops of grain
are usually secured, and in some rich old fields it grows so exceedingly
close, that to make one's way through the patches of it, at this late
period, is no pleasant task. The burs stick so thickly to the clothes,
as to prevent a person from walking with any kind of ease. The wool of
sheep is also much injured by them; the tails and manes of horses are
converted into such tangled masses, that the hair has to be cut close
off, by which the natural beauty of these valuable animals is impaired.
To this day, no useful property has been discovered in the Cockle-bur,
although in time it may prove as valuable either in medicine or chemistry
as many other plants that had long been considered of no importance.

Well, reader, you have before you one of these plants, on the seeds of
which the parrot feeds. It alights upon it, plucks the bur from the stem
with its bill, takes it from the latter with one foot, in which it turns
it over until the joint is properly placed to meet the attacks of the
bill, when it bursts it open, takes out the fruit, and allows the shell
to drop. In this manner, a flock of these birds, having discovered a
field ever so well filled with these plants, will eat or pluck off all
their seeds, returning to the place day after day until hardly any are
left. The plant might thus be extirpated, but it so happens that it is
reproduced from the ground, being perennial, and our farmers have too
much to do in securing their crops, to attend to the pulling up the
cockle-burs by the roots, the only effectual way of getting rid of them.

The Parrot does not satisfy himself with Cockle-burs, but eats or destroys
almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately, and on this account is always
an unwelcome visitor to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener. The
stacks of grain put up in the field are resorted to by flocks of these
birds, which frequently cover them so entirely, that they present to the
eye the same effect as if a brilliantly coloured carpet had been thrown
over them. They cling around the whole stack, pull out the straws, and
destroy twice as much of the grain as would suffice to satisfy their
hunger. They assail the Pear and Apple-trees, when the fruit is yet
very small and far from being ripe, and this merely for the sake of the
seeds. As on the stalks of Corn, they alight on the Apple-trees of our
orchards, or the Pear-trees in the gardens, in great numbers; and, as if
through mere mischief, pluck off the fruits, open them up to the core,
and, disappointed at the sight of the seeds, which are yet soft and of
a milky consistence, drop the apple or pear, and pluck another, passing
from branch to branch, until the trees which were before so promising,
are left completely stripped, like the ship water-logged and abandoned
by its crew, floating on the yet agitated waves, after the tempest has
ceased. They visit the Mulberries, Pecan-nuts, Grapes, and even the
seeds of the Dog-wood, before they are ripe, and on all commit similar
depredations. The Maize alone never attracts their notice.

Do not imagine, reader, that all these outrages are borne without severe
retaliation on the part of the planters. So far from this, the Parakeets
are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off
the fruits or tearing the grain from the stacks, the husbandman approaches
them with perfect ease, and commits great slaughter among them. All the
survivors rise, shriek, fly round about for a few minutes, and again
alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The gun is kept at
work; eight or ten, or even twenty, are killed at every discharge. The
living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep
over their bodies, screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the
stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does
not consider it worth his while to spend more of his ammunition. I have
seen several hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few
hours, and have procured a basketful of these birds at a few shots, in
order to make choice of good specimens for drawing the figures by which
this species is represented in the plate now under your consideration.

The flight of the Parakeet is rapid, straight, and continued through the
forests, or over fields and rivers, and is accompanied by inclinations
of the body which enable the observer to see alternately their upper
and under parts. They deviate from a direct course only when impediments
occur, such as the trunks of trees or houses, in which case they glance
aside in a very graceful manner, merely as much as may be necessary. A
general cry is kept up by the party, and it is seldom that one of these
birds is on wing for ever so short a space without uttering its cry. On
reaching a spot which affords a supply of food, instead of alighting at
once, as many other birds do, the Parakeets take a good survey of the
neighbourhood, passing over it in circles of great extent, first above the
trees, and then gradually lowering until they almost touch the ground,
when suddenly re-ascending they all settle on the tree that bears the
fruit of which they are in quest, or on one close to the field in which
they expect to regale themselves.

They are quite at ease on trees or any kind of plant, moving sidewise,
climbing or hanging in every imaginable posture, assisting themselves very

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 14 of 50)