John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 18 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 18 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the wings; of twelve, broad, rounded feathers.

Bill, cere, edge of eyebrow, iris, and feet, yellow; claws bluish-black.
The general colour of the plumage is deep chocolate, the head, neck,
tail, abdomen, and upper and under tail-coverts, white.

Length 34 inches, extent of wings 7 feet; bill along the back 2¾ inches,
along the under mandible 2¾, in depth 1-5/12; tarsus 3, middle toe 3½.




I have not met with this species in the State of Louisiana more than
half a dozen times; nor indeed have I seen it at all in the Western
States, excepting that of Ohio, where I have occasionally observed an
individual, apparently out of its usual range. Some of these individuals
were probably bound for the Upper Lakes. The woody sides of the sea are
the places to which this species usually resorts. It passes from the
south early in March, and continues its route through Florida, Georgia,
and all the other States verging on the Atlantic, beginning to rest and
to breed in North Carolina, and extending its travels to the Province
of Maine.

The flight of this species is swifter than that of its near relative, the
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, for which bird it is easily mistaken by ordinary
observers. It does not so much frequent the interior of woods, but appears
along their margins, on the edges of creeks and damp places. But the
most remarkable distinction between this species and the Yellow-billed
Cuckoo is, that the former, instead of feeding principally on insects
and fruits, procures fresh-water shellfish and aquatic larvæ for its
sustenance. It is therefore more frequently seen on the ground, near the
edges of the water, or descending along the drooping branches of trees
to their extremities, to seize the insects in the water beneath them[3].

The nest of this bird is built in places similar to those chosen
by the other species, and is formed of the same materials, arranged
with quite as little art. The females lay from four to six eggs, of a
greenish-blue, nearly equal at both ends, but rather smaller than those
of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. It retires southward fully a fortnight
before the latter.

It being so scarce a species in Louisiana, I have honoured it by placing
a pair on a branch of Magnolia in bloom, although the birds represented
were not shot on one of these trees, but in a swamp near some, where
the birds were in pursuit of such flies as you see figured, probably to
amuse themselves. The Magnolia has already been presented to your view
in another plate, where it was figured in seed. Here you have it arrayed
in all the beauty of its splendid blossoms.

COCCYZUS ERYTHROPHTHALMUS, _Ch. Bonap._ Synops. of Birds of
United States, p. 42.

Ornith. vol. iv. p. 15. Pl. xxviii. fig. 2.

Adult Male. Plate XXXII. Fig 1.

Bill as long as the head, compressed, slightly arched, acute, not more
robust than that of many Sylviæ; upper mandible carinated above, its
margins acute and entire; lower mandible carinated beneath, acute.
Nostrils basal, lateral, linear-elliptical, half-closed by a membrane.
Head and neck of ordinary size. Body rather slender. Feet short and
small; tarsus scutellate before and behind; toes two before, separated;
two behind, one of which is versatile; the sole flat; claws slender,
compressed, arched.

Plumage blended, soft, slightly glossed. Wings long, the first quill
short, the third longest. Tail long, graduated, of ten feathers, which
are rather narrow and rounded.

Upper mandible brownish-black; lower bluish. Iris hazel. A bare space of
a deep scarlet tint around the eye. Feet dull blue. The general colour
of the upper parts is light greenish-brown. Cheeks and forehead tinged
with greyish-blue. Tail-feathers, excepting the two middle ones, tipped
with white. Under parts brownish-white.

Length 11½ inches, extent of wings 15; beak along the ridge ⅚, along
the gap 1¼.

Adult Female, Plate XXXII. Fig. 2.

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


MAGNOLIA GRANDIFLORA, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1255.

This plant has already been described at p. 28, the ripe fruit having
been represented in Plate V.




This species merely passes over the State of Louisiana in the beginning of
January, and at that season is seen there for only a few days, alighting
on the highest tops of trees near water-courses, in small groups of
eight or ten, males and females together. They feed at that period on
the opening buds of Maples, and others that are equally tender and juicy.
In the month of November they are again seen moving southwards, and for
a few days only.

A few breed in Kentucky and the State of Ohio, but the Middle Districts
are their principal places of resort during summer, although they extend
their migrations to a high latitude. They arrive in the State of New
York about the middle of April; and as they become very abundant in that
State during the summer, I shall describe their habits as observed there.

The flight of the American Goldfinch is exactly similar to that of the
European Bird of the same name, being performed in deep curved lines,
alternately rising and falling, after each propelling motion of the
wings. It scarcely ever describes one of these curves without uttering
two or three notes whilst ascending, such as its European relative
uses on similar occasions. In this manner, its flight is prolonged to
considerable distances, and it frequently moves in a circling direction
before alighting. Their migration is performed during the day. They seldom
alight on the ground, unless to procure water, in which they wash with
great liveliness and pleasure, after which they pick up some particles of
gravel or sand. So fond of each other's company are they, that a party
of them passing on the wing will alter its course at the calling of a
single one perched on a tree. This call is uttered with much emphasis:
the bird prolongs its usual note, without much alteration, and as the
party approaches, erects its body, and moves it to the right and left,
as if turning on a pivot, apparently pleased at shewing the beauty of
its plumage and the elegance of its manners. No sooner has the flock,
previously on wing, alighted, than the whole party plume themselves,
and then perform a little sweet concert. So much does the song of our
Goldfinch resemble that of the European species, that whilst in France
and England, I have frequently thought, and with pleasure thought, that
they were the notes of our own bird which I heard. In America again,
the song of the Goldfinch recalled to my remembrance its transatlantic
kinsman, and brought with it too a grateful feeling for the many acts
of hospitality and kindness which I have experienced in the "old country."

The nest also is perfectly similar to that of the European bird, being
externally composed of various lichens fastened together by saliva, and
lined with the softest substances. It is small and extremely handsome,
and is generally fixed on a branch of the Lombardy Poplar, being
sometimes secured to one side of a twig only. I have also found it in
Alder bushes, a few feet above the ground, as well as in other trees.
The female deposits from four to six eggs, which are white, tinged with
blush, and marked at the larger end with reddish-brown spots. They raise
only one brood in a season. The young follow the parents for a long
time, are fed from the mouth, as Canaries are, and are gradually taught
to manage this themselves. When it happens that the female is disturbed
while on her nest, she glides off to a neighbouring tree, and calls for
her mate, pivoting herself on her feet, as above described. The male
approaches, passes and repasses on the wing at a respectful distance
from the intruder, in deeper curves than usual, uttering its ordinary
note, and when the unwelcome visitant has departed, flies with joy to
his nest, accompanied by the female, who presently resumes her occupation.

The food of the American Goldfinch consists chiefly of seeds of the
Hemp, the Sun-flower, the Lettuce, and various species of Thistle. Now
and then, during winter, it eats the fruit of the Elder.

In ascending along the shores of the Mohawk river, in the month of
August, I have met more of these pretty birds in the course of a day's
walk than anywhere else; and whenever a thistle was to be seen along
either bank of the New York Canal, it was ornamented with one or more
Goldfinches. They tear up the down and withered petals of the ripening
flowers with ease, leaning downwards upon them, eat off the seed, and
allow the down to float in the air. The remarkable plumage of the male,
as well as its song, are at this season very agreeable; and so familiar
are these birds, that they suffer you to approach within a few yards,
before they leave the plant on which they are seated. For a considerable
space along the Gennessee river, the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario,
and even Lake Superior, I have always seen many of them in the latter
part of summer. They have then a decided preference for the vicinity of

It is an extremely hardy bird, and often remains the whole winter in
the Middle Districts, although never in great numbers. When deprived of
liberty, it will live to a great age in a room or cage. I have known two
instances in which a bird of this species had been confined for upwards
of ten years. They were procured in the market of New York when in mature
plumage, and had been caught in trap-cages. One of them having undergone
the severe training, more frequently inflicted in Europe than America,
and known in France by the name of _galérien_, would draw water for its
drink from a glass, it having a little chain attached to a narrow belt
of soft leather fastened round its body, and another equally light chain
fastened to a little bucket, kept by its weight in the water, until the
little fellow raised it up with its bill, placed a foot upon it, and
pulled again at the chain until it reached the desired fluid and drank,
when, on letting go, the bucket immediately fell into the glass below.
In the same manner, it was obliged to draw towards its bill a little
chariot filled with seeds; and in this distressing occupation was doomed
to toil through a life of solitary grief, separated from its companions,
wantoning on the wildflowers, and procuring their food in the manner
in which nature had taught them. After being caught in trap-cages, they
feed as if quite contented; but if it has been in spring that they have
lost their liberty, and they have thus been deprived of the pleasures
anticipated from the previous connexion of a mate, they linger for a
few days and die. It is more difficult to procure a mule brood between
our species and the Canary, than between the latter and the European
Goldfinch, although I have known many instances in which the attempt
was made with complete success.

The young males do not appear in full plumage until the following spring.
The old ones lose their beauty in winter, and assume the duller tints
of the female. In fact, at that season, young and old of both sexes
resemble each other.

There is a trait of sagacity in this bird and the Purple Finch (_Fringilla
purpurea_), which is quite remarkable, and worthy of the notice of
such naturalists as are fond of contrasting instinct with reason.
When a Goldfinch alights on a twig imbued with bird-lime expressly for
the purpose of securing it, it no sooner discovers the nature of the
treacherous substance, than it throws itself backwards, with closed
wings, and hangs in this position until the bird-lime has run out in
the form of a slender thread considerably below the twig, when feeling
a certain degree of security, it beats its wings and flies off, with a
resolution, doubtless, never to alight in such a place again; as I have
observed Goldfinches that had escaped from me in this manner, when about
to alight on any twig, whether smeared with bird-lime or not, flutter
over it, as if to assure themselves of its being safe for them to perch
upon it.

FRINGILLA TRISTIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 320.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 62.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds
of the United States, p. 111.

p. 288.—_Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. i. p. 20. Pl. 1. fig. 2.
Adult Male in Summer.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Amer. Ornith. vol. i.
p. 57. Pl. 6. fig. 4. Female.

Adult Male in spring. Plate XXXIII. Fig. 1.

Bill rather short, conical, very acute; upper mandible a little broader
than the lower, very slightly declinate at the tip, rounded on the sides,
as is the lower, which has the edges inflected and acute; the gap line
straight, not extending to beneath the eye. Nostrils basal, roundish,
concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short. Body pretty
full. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle
toe, covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella; toes scutellate
above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws very slender, much
compressed, acute, and slightly arched, that of the hind toe not much

Plumage soft and blended. Wings of ordinary length, the third and fourth
quills longest, the second nearly as long. Tail of ordinary length,
forked, the lateral feathers curved outwards a little towards the tip.

Bill and feet yellowish-brown. Iris dark brown. The general colour of the
plumage is a rich lemon-yellow, fading posteriorly into yellowish-white.
Fore and upper part of the head, wings, and tail, black; quills externally
margined, and the large coverts tipped, with yellowish-white; inner webs
of the tail white.

Length 4½ inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the
gap 5/12.

Adult Female in spring. Plate XXXIII. Fig. 2.

The female wants the black spot on the head, and in her the fine yellow
of the male is changed into brownish-olive, fading posteriorly into
yellowish-grey, the fore neck and breast greyish-yellow. The band formed
by the tips of the large wing-coverts is dull white.

Length and other dimensions nearly as in the male.


CNICUS LANCEOLATUS, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. iii. p. 1666. _Pursh_,
Flora Amer. vol. ii. p. 506. _Smith_, Engl. Bot. vol. iii.

This well known species of Thistle, common in the temperate and colder
parts of both continents, it is unnecessary to describe.




The nest of this active little bird is formed of singular materials,
being composed externally of dried mosses and the green blossoms of
Hickories and Chestnut-trees, while the interior is prettily lined with
fine fibrous roots, the whole apparently rather small for the size of
the occupants. About the middle of May the female lays four or five eggs,
which are cream-coloured, with a few dark red spots near the larger end,
leaving a circular unspotted part at the extremity. The nest is usually
placed between two small twigs of a bush, not more than eight or nine
feet from the ground, and sometimes only four or five.

The flight of the Worm-eating Warbler resembles that of the Crested
Titmouse, being of short duration, and accompanied with the same rustling
noise, which is occasioned by the rather concave formation of their wings.

It merely passes through Louisiana in spring, appearing there as early
as the beginning of April, and extends its migrations to the borders
of Lake Erie, where I shot several in autumn. It is probable that it
proceeds farther north. It returns through Louisiana about the end of
October, only remaining a few days on its passage.

It is an inhabitant of the interior of the forests, and is seldom found
on the borders of roads or in the fields. In spring they move in pairs,
and, during their retrograde marches, in little groups, consisting each
of a family, seven or eight in number; on which account I am inclined
to believe that they raise only a single brood in the year. They are
ever amongst the decayed branches of trees or other plants, such as are
accidentally broken off by the wind, and are there seen searching for
insects or caterpillars. They also resort to the ground, and turn over
the dried leaves in quest of the same kind of food. They are unsuspecting,
and will suffer a person to approach within a few paces. When disturbed,
they fly off to some place where withered leaves are seen. They have
only a few weak notes, which do not deserve the name of song. Their
industry, however, atones for this defect, as they are seen continually
moving about, rustling among the leaves, and scarcely ever removing from
one situation to another until after they have made a full inspection
of the part in which they have been employed.

This species reaches the Central Atlantic Districts in the middle of
May, and breeds there, as well as farther northward. I have found them
more numerous in the Jerseys than in any other portion of the Union. In
Kentucky and Ohio I have seen only a few of them; nor have I ever found
their nests in either of these States.

The plant on which you see a pair of Worm-eating Warblers is well known
throughout the United States by the name of Poke-berry. It grows in
every situation, from the tops of the most arid mountain-ridges to the
lowest and richest valleys; and it is almost impossible to follow a
fence for a hundred yards without seeing some of it. Its berries are
food for numerous species of our birds, and produce a beautiful dark
crimson juice, which is used instead of red ink by some of the country
people, although it does not retain its original colour for many days.
This plant grows to the height of four or six feet, and is eaten when it
first shoots from the ground as a substitute for asparagus, quantities
of it being not unfrequently exposed in the markets. The juice of the
berries is taken in cases of ague and continued fever, but requires to
be used with judgment, as too large a doze proves deleterious.

SYLVIA VERMIVORA, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 544.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 86.

vol. iii. p. 74. vol. xxiv. fig. 4.

Adult Male. Plate XXXIV. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, nearly straight, rather strong, elongated-conical, as deep
as broad at the base, with sharp, nearly straight edges. Nostrils basal,
oval, half concealed by the feathers. Head rather large, neck short.
Body short and full. Feet of ordinary length, rather slender; tarsus
compressed, covered anteriorly with a few long scutella, acute behind,
longer than the middle toe; toes scutellate above, free; claws arched,
slender, compressed, acute.

Plumage blended, soft and tufty. Wings of ordinary length, considerably
curved, the second quill longest, the first little shorter. Tail rather
short, a little rounded, of twelve rather narrow, obtuse feathers.

Bill blackish-brown above, greenish-grey beneath. Iris hazel. Feet
flesh-colour. General colour of the upper parts deep green, tinged with
brown. Head and lower parts light brownish-yellow, the former with four
longitudinal black bands, of which one on each side proceeds from the
middle of the upper mandible, the other from the inferior angle of its
base. The lower part of the neck anteriorly, and the fore part of the
breast are more yellow than the rest of the under parts; the abdomen
and under tail-coverts nearly white.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 8½; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap ¾; tarsus ⅚, middle toe ¾.

Adult Female. Plate XXXIV. Fig. 2.

The female hardly differs from the male in external appearance.


PHYTOLACCA DECANDRA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. i. p. 322. _Pursh_,
Fl. Amer. vol. i. p. 324.—DECANDRIA DECAGYNIA, _Linn._

This species is distinguished by its elliptico-lanceolate leaves,
and decandrous flowers, the other species differing in the number of
stamina and one of them being diœcious. The berries, which are nearly
globular, are disposed in an elongated, pendulous raceme, and are of a
purplish-black colour. The flowers are white, their peduncles, partial
and general, of a bright carmine-purple colour.




This little bird so much resembles the young of that called, I know
not why, the Blue-eyed Yellow Warbler, that I was at first inclined to
think it the same; but, recollecting that the latter acquires the full
colouring of its plumage, in both sexes, before the return of spring, and
finding some material differences in their habits, I have not hesitated
in presenting it to you, kind reader, not only as a new species, but as
one extremely rare in the United States.

I shot two of these birds in May 1821, near the town of Jackson, in the
State of Louisiana. They were sitting amongst the stalks of the plant, on
which they are represented. Their wings were constantly drooping by the
sides of their body, their tail spread out like a fan, and they uttered
a low _tweet_ note, which was very soft and sweet. They now and then
chased small insects on the wing, but more commonly searched for them
amongst the leaves and blossoms of the plants on which they were. After
a few minutes, I discovered their nest, which contained five young ones
nearly fledged. It was attached by the sides to two twigs of the plant,
and was formed of the dried bark of the same plant, mixed with skins of
caterpillars and some silky substances. The lining consisted of goat's
or deer hair, I think the former, as there were some tame goats in an
adjoining pasture. I shot both the parents, and took the young under my
care, but they would not receive any food, and died towards the end of
the second day after their removal. I have never seen another of these
birds since.

The scarcity of this species in the United States putting me in mind of
that of true friendship among men, I have named it after my most esteemed
friend, J. G. CHILDREN, Esq. of the British Museum, as a tribute of
sincere gratitude for the unremitted kindness which he has shewn me.

The plant is known by the name of the _Wild Spanish Coffee_. It grows very
abundantly in almost every field in the Uplands of Lower Louisiana. The
smell of its flowers, as well as of its leaves, is extremely disagreeable,
if not nauseous.


Adult Male. Plate XXXV. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, straight, subulato-conical, acute, the edges sharp, the gap
line slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical,
half closed by a membrane. Head and neck of ordinary size. Body rather
slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle
toe, covered anteriorly by a few scutella, the uppermost long; toes
scutellate above, free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws slender,
compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. Wings of ordinary length, acute, the
first quill longest. Tail shortish, when closed nearly even. A few short
bristles at the base of the upper mandible.

Bill brown, lighter beneath. Iris dark brown. Feet flesh-coloured.
The general colour of the upper parts is yellowish-green, tinged with
brown. Forehead, sides of the head, supra-ocular region, and under parts
generally deep yellow. Quills dusky on the inner webs. Tail feathers
dusky on the outer webs, yellow on the inner, excepting the two middle,
which are dusky.

Length 4¾ inches, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge 5/12, along
the gap 7/12.

Adult Female. Plate XXXV. Fig. 2.

The female is considerably smaller. The distribution of its colouring
is the same, but the tints are much lighter, the upper parts being pale
yellowish-green tinged with grey; the sides of the head, supra-ocular
and frontal spaces pale yellowish-grey, and the under parts of a tint
approaching to lemon-yellow.


CASSIA OCCIDENTALIS, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 518. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 305.—DECANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 18 of 50)