John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 19 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 19 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


LEGUMINOSÆ, _Juss._

This species is distinguished by its ovato-lanceolate, quinquejugate
leaves, scabrous at the margin, the outer larger; its many-flowered
axillar and somewhat panicled peduncles, and its linear, falciform
legumes. It flowers through the summer, and grows chiefly in old fields,
in the Southern States.




MEADVILLE.


The incidents that occur in the life of a student of nature, are not
all of the agreeable kind, in proof of which, I shall present you, good
reader, with an extract from one of my journals.

My money was one day stolen from me by a person, who perhaps imagined
that to a naturalist it was of little importance. This happened on the
shores of Upper Canada. The affair was as unexpected as it well could
be, and as adroitly managed as if it had been planned and executed in
Cheapside. To have repined when the thing could not be helped, would
certes not have been acting manfully. I therefore told my companion to
keep a good heart, for I felt satisfied that Providence had some relief
in store for us. The whole amount of cash left with two individuals
fifteen hundred miles from home, was just seven dollars and a-half. Our
passage across the lake had fortunately been paid for. We embarked and
soon got to the entrance of Presque Isle Harbour, but could not pass the
bar, on account of a violent gale which came on as we approached it. The
anchor was dropped, and we remained on board during the night, feeling
at times very disagreeable, under the idea of having taken so little
care of our money. How long we might have remained at anchor I cannot
tell, had not that Providence, on whom I have never ceased to rely, come
to our aid. Through some means to me quite unknown, Captain Judd of the
United States Navy, then probably commandant at Presque Isle, sent a gig
with six men to our relief. It was on the 29th of August 1824, and never
shall I forget that morning. My drawings were put into the boat with
the greatest care. We shifted into it, and seated ourselves according to
directions politely given us. Our brave fellows pulled hard, and every
moment brought us nearer to the American shore. I leaped upon it with
elated heart. My drawings were safely landed, and for any thing else I
cared little at the moment. I searched in vain for the officer of our
navy, to whom I still feel grateful, and gave one of our dollars to
the sailors to drink the "freedom of the waters;" after which we betook
ourselves to a humble inn to procure bread and milk, and consider how
we were to proceed.

Our plans were soon settled, for to proceed was decidedly the best. Our
luggage was rather heavy, so we hired a cart to take it to Meadville,
for which we offered five dollars. This sum was accepted, and we set
off. The country through which we passed might have proved favourable
to our pursuits, had it not rained nearly the whole day. At night we
alighted and put up at a house belonging to our conductor's father. It
was Sunday night. The good folks had not yet returned from a distant
meeting-house, the grandmother of our driver being the only individual
about the premises. We found her a cheerful dame, who bestirred herself
as actively as age would permit, got up a blazing fire to dry our wet
cloths, and put as much bread and milk on the table as might have sufficed
for several besides ourselves.

Being fatigued by the jolting of the cart, we asked for a place in which
to rest, and were shewn into a room in which were several beds. We told
the good woman that I should paint her portrait next morning for the
sake of her children. My companion and myself were soon in bed, and soon
asleep, in which state we should probably have remained till morning, had
we not been awakened by a light, which we found to be carried by three
young damsels, who having observed where we lay, blew it out, and got
into a bed opposite ours. As we had not spoken, it is probable the girls
supposed us sound asleep, and we heard them say how delighted they would
be to have their portraits taken, as well as that of their grandmother.
My heart silently met their desire, and we fell asleep, without farther
disturbance. In our back woods it is frequently the case that one room
suffices for all the sleepers of a family.

Day dawned, and as we were dressing we discovered that we were alone
in the apartment, the good country girls having dressed in silence and
left us before we had awakened. We joined the family and were kindly
greeted. No sooner had I made known my intentions as to the portraits,
than the young folks disappeared and soon after returned attired in
their Sunday clothes. The black chalk was at work in a few minutes,
to their great delight, and as the fumes of the breakfast that was
meantime preparing reached my sensitive nose, I worked with redoubled
ardour. The sketches were soon finished, and soon too was the breakfast
over. I played a few airs on my flageolet, while our guide was putting
the horses to the cart, and by ten o'clock we were once more under way
towards Meadville. Never shall I forget Maxon Randell and his hospitable
family. My companion was as pleased as myself, and as the weather was
now beautiful, we enjoyed our journey with all that happy thoughtlessness
best suited to our character. The country now became covered with heavy
timber, principally evergreens, the Pines and the Cucumber trees loaded
with brilliant fruits, and the Spruces throwing a shade over the land
in good keeping for a mellow picture. The lateness of the crops was the
only disagreeable circumstance that struck us; hay was yet standing,
probably, however, a second crop; the peaches were quite small and green,
and a few persons here and there, as we passed the different farms,
were reaping oats. At length we came in sight of French Creek, and soon
after reached Meadville. Here we paid the five dollars promised to our
conductor, who instantly faced about, and applying the whip to his nags,
bade us adieu, and set off.

We had now only a hundred and fifty cents. No time was to be lost. We
put our baggage and ourselves under the roof of a tavern-keeper known
by the name of J. E. SMITH, at the sign of the _Traveller's Rest_, and
soon after took a walk to survey the little village that was to be laid
under contribution for our further support. Its appearance was rather
dull; but, thanks to God, I have never despaired while rambling thus for
the sole purpose of admiring his grand and beautiful works. I had opened
the case that contained my drawings, and putting my portfolio under my
arm, and a few good credentials in my pocket, walked up Main Street,
looking to the right and left, examining the different _heads_ which
occurred, until I fixed my eyes on a gentleman in a store who looked as
if he might want a sketch. I begged him to allow me to sit down. This
granted, I remained purposely silent until he very soon asked me what
was "_in that portfolio_." These three words sounded well, and without
waiting another instant, I opened it to his view. This was a Hollander,
who complimented me much on the execution of the drawings of birds and
flowers in my portfolio. Shewing him a sketch of the best friend I have in
the world at present, I asked him if he would like one in the same style
of himself. He not only answered in the affirmative, but assured me that
he would exert himself in procuring as many more customers as he could.
I thanked him, be assured, kind reader; and having fixed upon the next
morning for drawing the sketch, I returned to the _Traveller's Rest_,
with a hope that to-morrow might prove propitious. Supper was ready, and
as in America we have generally but one sort of _Table d'hôte_, we sat
down, when, every individual looking upon me as a Missionary priest, on
account of my hair, which in those days flowed loosely on my shoulders,
I was asked to say grace, which I did with a fervent spirit.

Daylight returned. I visited the groves and woods around, with my
companion, returned, breakfasted, and went to the store, where,
notwithstanding my ardent desire to begin my task, it was ten o'clock
before the sitter was ready. But, reader, allow me to describe the
_artist's room_. See me ascending a crazy flight of steps, from the back
part of a store-room into a large garret extending over the store and
counting room, and mark me looking round to see how the light could be
stopped from obtruding on me through no less than four windows facing
each other at right angles. Then follow me scrutinizing the corners, and
finding in one a cat nursing her young, among a heap of rags intended
for the paper-mill. Two hogsheads filled with oats, a parcel of Dutch
toys carelessly thrown on the floor, a large drum and a bassoon in
another part, fur caps hanging along the wall, and the portable bed of
the merchant's clerk swinging like a hammock near the centre, together
with some rolls of sole leather, made up the picture. I saw all this at
a glance, and closing the extra windows with blankets, I soon procured
a _painter's light_.

A young gentleman sat, to try my skill. I finished his phiz, which
was approved of. The merchant then took the chair, and I had the good
fortune to please him also. The room became crowded with the gentry of
the village. Some laughed, while others expressed their wonder; but my
work went on notwithstanding the observations that were made. My sitter
invited me to spend the evening with him, which I did, and joined him
in some music on the flute and violin. I returned to my companion with
great pleasure; and you may judge how much that pleasure was increased,
when I found that he also had made two sketches. Having written a page
or two of our journals, we retired to rest.

The following day was spent much in the same manner. I felt highly
gratified that from under my grey coat my talents had made their way
and I was pleased to discover that industry and moderate abilities prove
at least as valuable as first-rate talents without the former of these
qualities. We left Meadville on foot, having forwarded our baggage by
waggon. Our hearts were light, our pockets replenished, and we walked
in two days to Pittsburg, as happy as circumstances permitted us to be.




THE STANLEY HAWK.

_FALCO STANLEII._

PLATE XXXVI. MALE AND FEMALE.


Before entering upon the description of this interesting species, allow
me to submit to your consideration a few observations respecting the
flight of the different species of Hawks, which I have had occasion to
examine both in America and in Europe.

All such species as are usually referred to the subgenus Astur, or are
most nearly allied to it, and which consequently have shorter wings,
as well as longer tails, than the true Falcons, sail less frequently
and less continuously in circles, and embrace a smaller space in their
gyrations, than the latter birds. Their general flight is low, sometimes
only a few feet above the ground, and their velocity surpasses that of
the true Falcons on such occasions. Their body is more compressed and
elongated, and appears to be propelled through the air chiefly by the
action of their long tail. None of these birds ever glide down on their
prey from a great height, with closed wings, and the rustling noise
produced by Eagles or other nobler tribes of the genus. The types of
this group I would consider to be the Goshawk (_Falco palumbarius_) and
the Stanley Hawk. For the type of the True Falcons, no species could
answer better than the Great-footed Hawk (_Falco peregrinus_).

A distinct and intermediate kind of flight belongs to such Hawks as have
both a long tail and long wings. These species are able to dive through
the air, either when in pursuit of their prey, or for amusement or
exercise, although with less firmness of action than the True Falcons;
and they fly over the earth with less velocity than the Asturs, their
motions then consisting of easy flappings, or loose protracted sailings.
The Hen-harrier (_Falco cyaneus_), the Forked-tailed Hawk (_Falco
furcatus_), and the White-tailed Hawk (_Falco dispar_), are of this tribe.

It may be remarked here, that most species of Shrikes bear a great
resemblance in their flight to the Asturs. But, let us return to the
Stanley Hawk.

On the 5th of December 1809, I made a drawing of the male of this species,
in its matured state of colouring, at Louisville, in Kentucky, where
I then resided. That drawing is now before me, and the bird which it
represents is to this day undescribed. The figure would have been engraved
and presented to your consideration, kind reader, had it not been as
stiff, and as little indicative of life, as those usually seen in books
on Natural History. The expectation of being able to procure another
individual in precisely the same state of plumage, has, together with the
above circumstance, induced me to content myself, for the present, with
offering to your inspection a male, probably two years old, and an adult
female. I have killed many of the latter in the course of my rambles, but
I had not the good fortune to obtain an old male, although I have seen
several on wing, and once wounded one whilst perched near its nest. In
this article, I shall give you a full description of the three different
figures, as they shew considerable diversity, especially in the colour
of the eyes, the adult bird having the iris of a reddish-orange tint,
while the young bird has it of a bright yellow. But as I am desirous of
adhering to my plan, I shall speak of its habits before I trouble you
with its description, remarking in the mean time, that I have honoured
the species with the name of the President of the Linnean Society of
London, the Right Honourable Lord STANLEY, a nobleman whose continued
kindness to me I am happy in acknowledging.

The flight of the Stanley Hawk is rapid, protracted, and even. It is
performed at a short height above the ground or through the forest. It
passes along in a silent gliding manner, with a swiftness even superior
to that of the Wild Pigeon (_Columba migratoria_), seldom deviating
from a straight-forward course, unless to seize and secure its prey.
Now and then, but seldom unless after being shot at, it mounts in the
air in circles, of which it describes five or six in a hurried manner,
and again plunging downwards, continues its journey as before.

The daring exploits performed by the Stanley Hawk, which have taken
place in my presence, are very numerous, and I shall relate one or two
of them. This marauder frequently attacks birds far superior to itself
in weight, and sometimes possessed of courage equal to its own. As I was
one morning observing the motions of some Parakeets near Bayou Sara,
in the State of Louisiana, in the month of November, I heard a Cock
crowing not far from me, and in sight of a farm-house. The Stanley Hawk
the next moment flew past me, and so close that I might have touched it
with the barrel of my gun, had I been prepared. Its wings struck with
extraordinary rapidity, and its tail appeared as if closed. Not more
than a few seconds elapsed before I heard the cackling of the Hens, and
the war-cry of the Cock, and at the same time observed the Hawk rising,
as if without effort, a few yards in the air, and again falling towards
the ground with the rapidity of lightning. I proceeded to the spot, and
found the Hawk grappled to the body of the Cock, both tumbling over and
over, and paying no attention to me as I approached. Desirous of seeing
the result, I remained still, until perceiving that the Hawk had given
a fatal squeeze to the brave Cock, I ran to secure the former; but the
marauder had kept a hawk's eye upon me, and, disengaging himself, rose in
the air in full confidence. The next moment I pulled a trigger, and he
fell dead to the ground. It proved a young male, such as you see, kind
reader, represented in the Plate, pursuing a lovely Blue-bird nearly
exhausted. The Cock was also dead; its breast was torn, and its neck
pierced in several places by the sharp claws of the Hawk.

Some years afterwards, not far from the famed Falls of Niagara, in the
month of June, one of these Hawks, which on being examined proved to
be a female, attacked a brood of young chickens, yet under the care of
their mother. It had just struck one of the chickens, and was on the
eve of carrying it off in its claws, when the hen, having perceived the
murderous deed, flew against the Hawk with such force as to throw it
fairly on its back, when the intrepid mother so effectively assailed the
miscreant with feet and bill, as to enable me, on running up, to secure
the latter.

This species frequently kills and eats the bird commonly called the
Pheasant (_Tetrao Umbellus_). Partridges and young hares are also
favourite dainties. It also follows the Wild Pigeons in their migrations,
and always causes fear and confusion in their ranks.

It breeds in the mountainous districts of the Middle and Northern States,
to which it returns early in spring from the Southern States, where it
spends the winter in considerable numbers, and is known by the name of
the _Great Pigeon Hawk_. So rapidly must they travel from one extremity
of the country to another, to reach the places to which they resort for
the purpose of breeding, that I have seen them copulate in Louisiana,
where they never breed, in the month of February, and have found their
nest with eggs in which the chick was far advanced, in the State of
Connecticut, on the 20th of April.

The nest is usually placed in the forks of the branch of an Oak-tree
towards its extremity. In its general appearance it resembles that of the
Common Crow, for which I have several times mistaken it. It is composed
externally of numerous crooked sticks, and has a slight lining of grasses
and a few feathers. The eggs are three or four, almost globular, large
for the size of the bird, of a dullish-white colour, strongly granulated,
and consequently rough to the touch. It was on discovering one of
these nests that I wounded the second adult male which I have seen, but
which never returned to its nest, on which I afterwards shot the female
represented in the Plate, in the act of pouncing. I have several times
found other nests of birds of this species, but the owners were not in
full plumage, and their eyes had not obtained the rich orange colouring
of the adult birds.

Those which I have observed near the Falls of Niagara were generally
engaged in pursuing Red-winged Starlings, over the marshes of the
neighbourhood. When this Hawk is angry, it raises the feathers of the
upper part of the head, so as to make them appear partially tufted. The
cry at this time may be represented by the syllable _kee, kee, kee_,
repeated eight or ten times in rapid succession, and much resembling
that of the Pigeon Hawk (_Falco columbarius_) or the European Kestril.
The young of this species bear no resemblance to those of the Goshawk,
of which a figure will be given in the same Plate with the adult of the
Stanley Hawk.


STANLEY HAWK, FALCO STANLEII.


Adult Male.

Bill short, robust, cerate; upper mandible with the dorsal outline
curved from the base, the back rounded, the sides sloping at the base,
convex toward the end, the margin sharp, overlapping, having an obtuse
lobe, the tip trigonal, very acute, and curved downwards; lower mandible
broadly rounded on the back, convex on the sides, acute in the edges,
somewhat abrupt at the end. Nostrils oval, oblique, in the fore-part of
the cere. Head rather large, flat above; eyebrow acute and projecting.
Neck strong. Body rather elongated. Legs long; tarsi rather long, and
with the toes somewhat slender, the former scutellate anteriorly, the
latter scutellate above, papillar and tuberculate beneath; claws long,
curved, roundish, rather slender, and extremely acute.

Plumage compact, imbricated, glossy. Space between the beak and eye
sparsely covered with bristly feathers. Tibial feathers rather compact,
and not much elongated. Wings long: fifth quill longest, sixth and fourth
nearly equal, first very short. Tail long, straight, a little rounded,
of twelve rather broad feathers.

Bill light blue at the base, black at the tip. Cere greenish-yellow. Iris
reddish-orange. Tarsus and toes bright yellow; claws brownish-black. The
general colour of the upper parts is dark greyish-brown. Quills barred
with brownish-black. Tail with four bars of brownish-black, the terminal
one broader; the tips of all the feathers white. The general colour
of the lower parts is brownish-white. Sides of the head and the throat
longitudinally lined with dark brown; fore-neck and breast marked with
arrow-shaped spots of brownish-red, the shafts blackish. Legs similarly
marked, the spots smaller, and transversely elongated. Abdomen and under
tail-coverts nearly free of spots.

Length 20 inches, extent of wings 36; beak along the back 1¼, along the
gap from the tip of the lower mandible 1¼; tarsus 2¾, middle toe 2½.
Wings 4½ inches shorter than the tail.


Adult Female. Plate XXXVI. Fig. 2.

Bill brownish-black above; the base of the upper mandible, and the
greater part of the lower, light blue. Cere greenish. Iris yellow. Feet
greenish-yellow; claws brownish-black. Head and neck brownish-white, each
feather with a large reddish-brown spot near the end. General colour of
the upper parts chocolate-brown; quills and tail wood-brown, barred as
in the male. Under parts brownish-white. Throat and sides of the head
marked as in the male; breast with guttiform spots of deep brown; legs
with smaller, somewhat arrow-shaped spots of reddish-brown. Abdomen and
under tail-coverts whitish.

Length 21¼ inches, extent of wings 38; bill along the back 1¼, along
the gap 1¼; tarsus 3, middle toe 2¾. Wings 5 inches shorter than the tail.


Young Male. Plate XXXVI. Fig. 1.

Bill and feet coloured nearly as in the adult. Iris yellow, as in the
female. The general colour of the upper parts is dark umber; several of
the scapulars, wing-coverts and upper tail-coverts with a large spot of
white. Quills and tail-feathers barred as in the adult, the last bar on
the tail much narrower. Under parts light reddish-brown. Sides of the
head, and the neck longitudinally streaked with deep brown; the markings
on the breast and legs also longitudinal.

Length 19¾, extent of wings 34; beak 1¼; wings 5½ inches shorter than
the tail.

The bird represented as about to be seized by the male is the Blue-bird,
_Saxicola Sialis_ of Bonaparte, _Sylvia Sialis_ of other authors.




THE GOLDEN-WINGED WOODPECKER.

_PICUS AURATUS_, LINN.

PLATE XXXVII. MALE AND FEMALE.


It is generally agreeable to be in the company of individuals who are
naturally animated and pleasant. For this reason, nothing can be more
gratifying than the society of Woodpeckers in the forests. To prove this
to you, kind reader, I shall give you a full account of the habits of
the Golden-winged Woodpecker.

This species, which is usually called _Pique-bois jaune_ by the French
settlers in Louisiana, and receives the name of _High-holder_, _Yucker_,
and _Flicker_ in other parts of the Union, being seldom or never graced
with the epithet _Golden-winged_, employed by naturalists, is one of
the most lively of our birds, and is found over the whole of the United
States.

No sooner has spring called them to the pleasant duty of making love,
as it is called, than their voice, which, by the way, is not at all
disagreeable to the ear of man, is heard from the tops of high decayed
trees, proclaiming with delight the opening of the welcome season. Their
note at this period is merriment itself, as it imitates a prolonged and
jovial laugh, heard at a considerable distance. Several males pursue
a female, reach her, and, to prove the force and truth of their love,
bow their heads, spread their tail, and move sidewise, backwards and
forwards, performing such antics, as might induce any one witnessing
them, if not of a most morose temper, to join his laugh to theirs. The
female flies to another tree, where she is closely followed by one,
two, or even half a dozen of these gay suitors, and where again the
same ceremonies are gone through. No fightings occur, no jealousies seem
to exist among these beaux, until a marked preference is shewn to some
individual, when the rejected proceed in search of another female. In
this manner all the Golden-winged Woodpeckers are soon happily mated.
Each pair immediately proceed to excavate the trunk of a tree, and finish
a hole in it sufficient to contain themselves and their young. They both
work with great industry and apparent pleasure. Should the male, for



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 19 of 50)