John James Audubon.

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soft cottony materials. The female lays from four to six white eggs,
sprinkled with ash-grey and blackish dots. It rears only a single brood
in a season. The old birds, I am inclined to think, leave the United
States a month or three weeks before the young, some of which linger
in the deep swamps of the States of Mississippi and Louisiana until the
beginning of November.

MUSCICAPA RUTICILLA, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 236.—_Lath._
Ornith. vol. ii. p. 473.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 68.

vol. i. p. 103. Pl. vi. fig. 6. adult male; vol. v. p. 119.
Pl. 45. fig. 2. young.—_Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 427.

Adult Male. Plate XL. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, depressed at the base, compressed toward the tip,
acute; upper mandible slightly notched, and deflected at the tip; lower
straight. Nostrils basal, lateral, linear. Head and neck of moderate size.
Body rather slender. Feet moderately long, slender; tarsus covered with
short scutella before, with a longitudinal keeled plate behind, longer
than the middle toe; toes slender, free; claws small, weak, slightly
arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage blended, soft, glossy. The bill margined at the base with long
spreading bristles. Wings of moderate length, third quill longest, second
and first little shorter. Tail rather long, rounded.

Bill brownish-black. Iris dark brown. Feet blackish. Head, neck, fore part
of the breast, and upper parts, black, the head, neck, and back glossed
with blue. Sides of the breast, and under wing-coverts reddish-orange;
abdomen white. Quills brownish-black, their anterior half orange, forming
a broad transverse band on the wing. Two middle tail-feathers black,
the rest black in their terminal half, yellow in the basal half.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 6½; bill along the ridge 9/24, along
the gap ½; tarsus ¾, middle toe 7/12.

Adult Female, Plate XL. Fig. 2.

Bill, feet and iris, as in the male. Head and upper parts brownish-grey,
the former tinged with blue. Under parts greyish-white, the breast at
the sides dull yellow. Band on the wings and at the base of the tail,
pale yellow, tinged with green.

Dimensions nearly as in the male.


OSTRYA VIRGINICA, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 469. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 623.—MONŒCIA POLYANDRIA, _Linn._
Amentaceæ, _Juss._

This species is distinguished by its ovato-oblong leaves, which are
somewhat cordate at the base, unequally serrated and acuminate, and
its twin, ovate, acute cones. It is a small tree, attaining a height of
from twenty to thirty feet, and a diameter of about one foot. The wood
is white, and close-grained. The common name in America is _Iron-wood_,
which it receives on account of the great hardness of the wood.


There is an extensive Swamp in the section of the State of Mississippi
which lies partly in the Choctaw territory. It commences at the borders of
the Mississippi, at no great distance from a Chicasaw village, situated
near the mouth of a creek known by the name of Vanconnah, and partly
inundated by the swellings of several large bayous, the principal of
which, crossing the swamp in its whole extent, discharges its waters
not far from the mouth of the Yazoo River. This famous bayou is called
False River. The swamp of which I am speaking follows the windings of the
Yazoo, until the latter branches off to the north-east, and at this point
forms the stream named Cold Water River, below which the Yazoo receives
the draining of another bayou inclining towards the north-west, and
intersecting that known by the name of False River, at a short distance
from the place where the latter receives the waters of the Mississippi.
This tedious account of the situation of the Swamp, is given with the
view of pointing it out to all students of nature who may chance to
go that way, and whom I would earnestly urge to visit its interior, as
it abounds in rare and interesting productions: birds, quadrupeds and
reptiles, as well as molluscous animals, many of which, I am persuaded,
have never been described.

In the course of one of my rambles, I chanced to meet with a squatter's
cabin on the banks of the Cold Water River. In the owner of this hut,
like most of those adventurous settlers in the uncultivated tracts of
our frontier districts, I found a person well versed in the chase, and
acquainted with the habits of some of the larger species of quadrupeds
and birds. As he who is desirous of instruction ought not to disdain
listening to any one, who has knowledge to communicate, however humble
may be his lot, or however limited his talents, I entered the squatter's
cabin, and immediately opened a conversation with him respecting the
situation of the swamp, and its natural productions. He told me he
thought it the very place I ought to visit, spoke of the game which
it contained, and pointed to some bear and deer skins, adding that the
individuals to which they had belonged formed but a small portion of the
number of those animals which he had shot within it. My heart swelled
with delight, and on asking if he would accompany me through the great
morass, and allow me to become an inmate of his humble but hospitable
mansion, I was gratified to find that he cordially assented to all my
proposals. So I immediately unstrapped my drawing materials, laid up my
gun, and sat down to partake of the homely but wholesome fare intended
for the supper of the squatter, his wife, and his two sons.

The quietness of the evening seemed in perfect accordance with the
gentle demeanour of the family. The wife and children, I more than
once thought, seemed to look upon me as a strange sort of person, going
about, as I told them I was, in search of birds and plants; and were I
here to relate the many questions which they put to me in return for
those which I addressed to them, the catalogue would occupy several
pages. The husband, a native of Connecticut, had heard of the existence
of such men as myself, both in our own country and abroad, and seemed
greatly pleased to have me under his roof. Supper over, I asked my kind
host what had induced him to remove to this wild and solitary spot. "The
people are growing too numerous now to thrive in New England," was his
answer. I thought of the state of some parts of Europe, and calculating
the denseness of their population compared with that of New England,
exclaimed to myself, "How much more difficult must it be for men to
thrive in those populous countries!" The conversation then changed, and
the squatter, his sons and myself, spoke of hunting and fishing, until
at length tired, we laid ourselves down on pallets of bear skins, and
reposed in peace on the floor of the only apartment of which the hut

Day dawned, and the squatter's call to his hogs, which, being almost in
a wild state, were suffered to seek the greater portion of their food in
the woods, awakened me. Being ready dressed, I was not long in joining
him. The hogs and their young came grunting at the well known call of
their owner, who threw them a few ears of corn, and counted them, but
told me that for some weeks their number had been greatly diminished by
the ravages committed upon them by a large _Panther_, by which name the
Cougar is designated in America, and that the ravenous animal did not
content himself with the flesh of his pigs, but now and then carried off
one of his calves, notwithstanding the many attempts he had made to shoot
it. The _Painter_, as he sometimes called it, had on several occasions
robbed him of a dead deer; and to these exploits the squatter added
several remarkable feats of audacity which it had performed, to give
me an idea of the formidable character of the beast. Delighted by his
description, I offered to assist him in destroying the enemy, at which
he was highly pleased, but assured me that unless some of his neighbours
should join us with their dogs and his own, the attempt would prove
fruitless. Soon after, mounting a horse, he went off to his neighbours,
several of whom lived at a distance of some miles, and appointed a day
of meeting.

The hunters, accordingly, made their appearance, one fine morning, at
the door of the cabin, just as the sun was emerging from beneath the
horizon. They were five in number, and fully equipped for the chase,
being mounted on horses, which in some parts of Europe might appear
sorry nags, but which in strength, speed and bottom, are better fitted
for pursuing a cougar or a bear through woods and morasses than any in
that country. A pack of large ugly curs were already engaged in making
acquaintance with those of the squatter. He and myself mounted his two
best horses, whilst his sons were bestriding others of inferior quality.

Few words were uttered by the party until we had reached the edge of
the Swamp, where it was agreed that all should disperse and seek for
the fresh track of the Painter, it being previously settled that the
discoverer should blow his horn, and remain on the spot, until the rest
should join him. In less than an hour, the sound of the horn was clearly
heard, and, sticking close to the squatter, off we went through the
thick woods, guided only by the now and then repeated call of the distant
huntsmen. We soon reached the spot, and in a short time the rest of the
party came up. The best dog was sent forward to track the Cougar, and
in a few moments, the whole pack were observed diligently trailing, and
bearing in their course for the interior of the Swamp. The rifles were
immediately put in trim, and the party followed the dogs, at separate
distances, but in sight of each other, determined to shoot at no other
game than the Panther.

The dogs soon began to mouth, and suddenly quickened their pace. My
companion concluded that the beast was on the ground, and putting our
horses to a gentle gallop, we followed the curs, guided by their voices.
The noise of the dogs increased, when, all of a sudden their mode of
barking became altered, and the squatter, urging me to push on, told me
that the beast was _treed_, by which he meant that it had got upon some
low branch of a large tree to rest for a few moments, and that should we
not succeed in shooting him when thus situated, we might expect a long
chase of it. As we approached the spot, we all by degrees united into
a body, but on seeing the dogs at the foot of a large tree, separated
again and galloped off to surround it.

Each hunter now moved with caution, holding his gun ready, and allowing
the bridle to dangle on the neck of his horse, as it advanced slowly
towards the dogs. A shot from one of the party was heard, on which the
Cougar was seen to leap to the ground, and bound off with such velocity
as to shew that he was very unwilling to stand our fire longer. The dogs
set off in pursuit with great eagerness and a deafening cry. The hunter
who had fired came up and said that his ball had hit the monster, and
had probably broken one of his fore-legs near the shoulder, the only
place at which he could aim. A slight trail of blood was discovered on
the ground, but the curs proceeded at such a rate that we merely noticed
this, and put spurs to our horses, which galloped on towards the centre
of the Swamp. One bayou was crossed, then another still larger and more
muddy; but the dogs were brushing forward, and as the horses began to
pant at a furious rate, we judged it expedient to leave them and advance
on foot. These determined hunters knew that the Cougar being wounded,
would shortly ascend another tree, where in all probability he would
remain for a considerable time, and that it would be easy to follow the
track of the dogs. We dismounted, took off the saddles and bridles, set
the bells attached to the horses' necks at liberty to jingle, hoppled
the animals, and left them to shift for themselves.

Now, kind reader, follow the group marching through the swamp, crossing
muddy pools, and making the best of their way over fallen trees and
amongst the tangled rushes that now and then covered acres of ground. If
you are a hunter yourself, all this will appear nothing to you; but if
crowded assemblies of "beauty and fashion," or the quiet enjoyment of
your "pleasure-grounds," alone delight you, I must mend my pen before
I attempt to give you an idea of the pleasure felt on such an expedition.

After marching for a couple of hours, we again heard the dogs. Each of
us pressed forward, elated at the thought of terminating the career of
the cougar. Some of the dogs were heard whining, although the greater
number barked vehemently. We felt assured that the cougar was treed,
and that he would rest for some time to recover from his fatigue. As we
came up to the dogs, we discovered the ferocious animal lying across
a large branch, close to the trunk of a cotton-wood tree. His broad
breast lay towards us; his eyes were at one time bent on us and again
on the dogs beneath and around him; one of his fore legs hung loosely
by his side, and he lay crouched, with his ears lowered close to his
head, as if he thought he might remain undiscovered. Three balls were
fired at him, at a given signal, on which he sprang a few feet from the
branch, and tumbled headlong to the ground. Attacked on all sides by the
enraged curs, the infuriated Cougar fought with desperate valour; but
the squatter advancing in front of the party, and almost in the midst
of the dogs, shot him immediately behind and beneath the left shoulder.
The Cougar writhed for a moment in agony, and in another lay dead.

The sun was now sinking in the west. Two of the hunters separated from
the rest, to procure venison, whilst the squatter's sons were ordered
to make the best of their way home, to be ready to feed the hogs in the
morning. The rest of the party agreed to camp on the spot. The cougar
was despoiled of its skin, and its carcass left to the hungry dogs.
Whilst engaged in preparing our camp, we heard the report of a gun, and
soon after one of our hunters returned with a small deer. A fire was
lighted, and each hunter displayed his _pone_ of bread, along with a
flask of whisky. The deer was skinned in a trice, and slices placed on
sticks before the fire. These materials afforded us an excellent meal,
and as the night grew darker, stories and songs went round, until my
companions, fatigued, laid themselves down, close under the smoke of
the fire, and soon fell asleep.

I walked for some minutes round the camp, to contemplate the beauties of
that nature, from which I have certainly derived my greatest pleasures.
I thought of the occurrences of the day, and glancing my eye around,
remarked the singular effects produced by the phosphorescent qualities
of the large decayed trunks which lay in all directions around me. How
easy, I thought, would it be for the confused and agitated mind of a
person bewildered in a swamp like this, to imagine in each of these
luminous masses some wondrous and fearful being, the very sight of
which might make the hair stand erect on his head. The thought of being
myself placed in such a predicament burst over my mind, and I hastened
to join my companions, beside whom I laid me down and slept, assured
that no enemy could approach us without first rousing the dogs, which
were growling in fierce dispute over the remains of the cougar.

At daybreak we left our camp, the squatter bearing on his shoulder the
skin of the late destroyer of his stock, and retraced our steps until
we found our horses, which had not strayed far from the place where we
had left them. These we soon saddled, and jogging along, in a direct
course, guided by the sun, congratulating each other on the destruction
of so formidable a neighbour as the panther had been, we soon arrived
at my host's cabin. The five neighbours partook of such refreshment as
the house could afford, and dispersing, returned to their homes, leaving
me to follow my favourite pursuits.




You are now presented, kind reader, with a species of Grouse, which,
in my humble opinion, far surpasses as an article of food every other
land-bird which we have in the United States, except the Wild Turkey,
when in good condition. You must not be surprised that I thus express an
opinion contradictory to that of our Eastern epicures, who greatly prefer
the flesh of the Pinnated Grouse to that of the present species, for I
have had abundant opportunity of knowing both. Perhaps, after all, the
preference may depend upon a peculiarity in my own taste; or I may give
the superiority to the Ruffed Grouse, because it is as rarely met with
in the Southern States, where I have chiefly resided, as the Pinnated
Grouse is in the Middle Districts; and were the _bon-vivants_ of our
eastern cities to be occasionally satiated with the latter birds, as I
have been, they might possibly think their flesh as dry and flavourless
as I do.

The names of _Pheasant_ and _Partridge_ have been given to the present
species by our forefathers, in the different districts where it is
found. To the west of the Alleghanies, and on these mountains, the first
name is generally used. The same appellation is employed in the Middle
Districts, to the east of the mountains, and until you enter the State
of Connecticut; after which that of _Partridge_ prevails.

The Ruffed Grouse, although a constant resident in the districts which it
frequents, performs partial sorties at the approach of autumn. These are
not equal in extent to the peregrinations of the Wild Turkey, our little
Partridge, or the Pinnated Grouse, but are sufficiently so to become
observable during the seasons when certain portions of the mountainous
districts which they inhabit become less abundantly supplied with food
than others. These partial movings might not be noticed, were not the
birds obliged to fly across rivers of great breadth, as whilst in the
mountain lands their groups are as numerous as those which attempt these
migrations; but on the north-west banks of the Ohio and Susquehanna
rivers, no one who pays the least attention to the manners and habits
of our birds, can fail to observe them. The Grouse approach the banks of
the Ohio in parties of eight or ten, now and then of twelve or fifteen,
and, on arriving there, linger in the woods close by for a week or a
fortnight, as if fearful of encountering the danger to be incurred in
crossing the stream. This usually happens in the beginning of October,
when these birds are in the very best order for the table, and at this
period great numbers of them are killed. If started from the ground,
with or without the assistance of a dog, they immediately alight on the
nearest trees, and are easily shot. At length, however, they resolve
upon crossing the river; and this they accomplish with so much ease,
that I never saw any of them drop into the water. Not more than two or
three days elapse after they have reached the opposite shore, when they
at once proceed to the interior of the forests, in search of places
congenial to the general character of their habits. They now resume
their ordinary manner of living, which they continue until the approach
of spring, when the males, as if leading the way, proceed singly towards
the country from which they had retreated. The females follow in small
parties of three or four. In the month of October 1820, I observed a
larger number of Ruffed Grouse migrating thus from the States of Ohio,
Illinois and Indiana into Kentucky, than I had ever before remarked.
During the short period of their lingering along the north-west shore of
the Ohio that season, a great number of them was killed, and they were
sold in the Cincinnati market for so small a sum as 12½ cents each.

Although these birds are particularly attached to the craggy sides of
mountains and hills, and the rocky borders of rivers and small streams,
thickly mantled with evergreen trees and small shrubs of the same
nature, they at times remove to low lands, and even enter the thickest
cane-brakes, where they also sometimes breed. I have shot some, and have
heard them _drumming_ in such places, when there were no hills nearer
than fifteen or twenty miles. The lower parts of the State of Indiana and
also those of Kentucky, are amongst the places where I have discovered
them in such situations.

The charming groves which here and there contrast so beautifully with
the general dull appearance of those parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, to
which the name of _Barrens_ is given, are sought by the Ruffed Grouse.
These groves afford them abundant food and security. The gentle coolness
that prevails in them during the summer heat is agreeable and beneficial
to these birds, and the closeness of their undergrowth in other spots
moderates the cold blasts of winter. There this species breeds, and is at
all times to be found. Their _drumming_ is to be heard issuing from these
peaceful retreats in early spring, at the same time that the _booming_
of their relative, the Pinnated Grouse, is recognised, as it reaches the
ear of the traveller, from the different parts of the more open country
around. In such places as the groves just mentioned, the species now
before you, kind reader, is to be met with, as you travel towards the
south, through the whole of Tennessee and the Choctaw Territory; but as
you approach the city of Natchez they disappear, nor have I ever heard
of one of these birds having been seen in the State of Louisiana.

The mountainous parts of the Middle States being more usually the chosen
residence of this species, I shall, with your permission, kind reader,
return to them, and try to give you an account of this valuable Grouse.

The flight of the Ruffed Grouse is straight-forward, rather low, unless
when the bird has been disturbed, and seldom protracted beyond a few
hundred yards at a time. It is also stiff, and performed with a continued
beating of the wings for more than half its duration, after which the
bird sails and seems to balance its body as it proceeds through the air,
in the manner of a vessel sailing right before the wind. When this bird
rises from the ground at a time when pursued by an enemy, or tracked by
a dog, it produces a loud whirring sound, resembling that of the whole
tribe, excepting the Black Cock of Europe, which has less of it than
any other species. This whirring sound is never heard when the Grouse
rises of its own accord, for the purpose of removing from one place to
another; nor, in similar circumstances, is it commonly produced by our
little Partridge. In fact, I do not believe that it is emitted by any
species of Grouse, unless when surprised and forced to rise. I have
often been lying on the ground in the woods or the fields for hours at a
time, for the express purpose of observing the movements and habits of
different birds, and have frequently seen a Partridge or a Grouse rise
on wing from within a few yards of the spot in which I lay unobserved
by them, as gently and softly as any other bird, and without producing
any whirring sound. Nor even when this Grouse ascends to the top of a
tree, does it make any greater noise than other birds of the same size
would do.

I have said this much respecting the flight of Grouse, because it is a
prevalent opinion, both among sportsmen and naturalists, that the whirring
sound produced by birds of that genus, is a necessary effect of their
_usual_ mode of flight. But that this is an error, I have abundantly
satisfied myself by numberless observations.

On the ground, where the Ruffed Grouse spends a large portion of its
time, its motions are peculiarly graceful. It walks with an elevated
firm step, opening its beautiful tail gently and with a well-marked jet,
holding erect its head, the feathers of which are frequently raised, as
are the velvety tufts of its neck. It poises its body on one foot for
several seconds at a time, and utters a soft _cluck_, which in itself
implies a degree of confidence in the bird that its _tout ensemble_
is deserving of the notice of any bystander. Should the bird discover
that it is observed, its step immediately changes to a rapid run, its
head is lowered, the tail is more widely spread, and if no convenient
hiding-place is at hand, it immediately takes flight with as much of the
whirring sound as it can produce, as if to prove to the observer, that,
when on wing, it cares as little about him as the deer pretends to do,

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 21 of 50)