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when, on being started by the hound, he makes several lofty bounds, and
erects his tail to the breeze. Should the Grouse, however, run into a
thicket, or even over a place where many dried leaves lie on the ground,
it suddenly stops, squats, and remains close until the danger is over,
or until it is forced by a dog or the sportsman himself to rise against
its wish.

The shooting of Grouse of this species is precarious, and at times very
difficult, on account of the nature of the places which they usually
prefer. Should, for instance, a covey of these birds be raised from
amongst Laurels (_Kalmia latifolia_) or the largest species of Bay
(_Rhododendron maximum_), these shrubs so intercept the view of them,
that, unless the sportsman proves quite an adept in the difficult art
of pulling the trigger of his gun at the proper moment, and quickly,
his first chance is lost, and the next is very uncertain. I say still
more uncertain, because at this putting up of the birds, they generally
rise higher over the bushes, flying in a straight course, whereas at
the second start, they often fly among the laurels, and rise above them
in a circuitous manner, when to follow them along the barrel of the gun
is considerably more difficult. Sometimes, when these birds are found
on the sides of a steep hill, the moment they start, they dive towards
the foot of the declivity, take a turn, and fly off in a direction so
different from the one expected, that unless the sportsman is aware of
the trick, he may not see them again that day. The young birds often
prove equally difficult to be obtained, for as they are raised from
amongst the closely tangled laurels, they only fly a few yards, and
again drop among them. A smart cur-dog generally proves the best kind on
these occasions; for no sooner does he start a covey of Ruffed Grouse
than his barking alarms the birds as much as the report of a gun, and
causes them to rise and alight on the nearest trees, on which they may
be shot at with great success.

This leads me to remark, that the prevailing notion which exists in
almost every district where these birds are numerous, that on firing
at the lowest bird perched on a tree, the next above will not fly, and
that by continuing to shoot at the lowest in succession, the whole may
be killed, is contradicted by my experience; for on every attempt which
I have made to shoot several in this manner on the same tree, my efforts
have proved unsuccessful, unless indeed during a fall of snow, when I
have killed three and sometimes four. The same cause produces the same
effect on different birds. It may happen, however, that in districts
covered with deep snow for several weeks, during severe winters, these
birds, becoming emaciated and weak, may stand a repetition of shots from
a person determined to shoot Grouse even when they are good for nothing;
but, kind reader, this barbarous taste is, I hope, no more yours than
it is mine.

During spring, and towards the latter part of autumn, at which times the
Ruffed Grouse is heard _drumming_ from different parts of the woods to
which it resorts, I have shot many a fine cock by imitating the sound of
its own wings striking against the body, which I did by beating a large
inflated bullock's bladder with a stick, keeping up as much as possible
the same _time_ as that in which the bird beats. At the sound produced
by the bladder and the stick, the male Grouse, inflamed with jealousy,
has flown directly towards me, when, being prepared, I have easily shot
it. An equally successful stratagem is employed to decoy the males of our
little Partridge by imitating the call-note of the female during spring
and summer; but in no instance, after repeated trials, have I been able
to entice the Pinnated Grouse to come towards me, whilst imitating the
_booming_ sounds of that bird.

Early in spring, these birds are frequently seen feeding on the tender
buds of different trees, and at that season are more easily approached
than at any other. Unfortunately, however, they have not by this time
recovered their flesh sufficiently to render them worthy of the attention
of a true sportsman, although their flavour has already improved.
When our mountains are covered with a profusion of Huckleberries and
Whortleberries, about the beginning of September, then is the time for
shooting this species, and enjoying the delicious food which it affords.

The Ruffed Grouse, on alighting upon a tree, after being raised from the
ground, perches amongst the thickest parts of the foliage, and, assuming
at once an erect attitude, stands perfectly still, and remains silent
until all appearance of danger has vanished. If discovered when thus
perched, it is very easily shot. On rising from the ground, the bird
utters a cackling note repeated six or seven times, and before taking
wing emits a lisping sort of whistle, which seems as if produced by the
young of another bird, and is very remarkable.

When the ground is covered with snow sufficiently soft to allow this bird
to conceal itself under it, it dives headlong into it with such force
as to form a hole several yards in length, re-appears at that distance,
and continues to elude the pursuit of the sportsman by flight. They are
sometimes caught while beneath the snow. Many of them are taken alive
in trap boxes during winter, although the more common method of catching
or rather destroying them is by setting dead falls with a figure-of-four
trigger.

Early in April, the Ruffed Grouse begins to _drum_ immediately after
dawn, and again towards the close of day. As the season advances, the
drumming is repeated more frequently at all hours of the day; and where
these birds are abundant, this curious sound is heard from all parts
of the woods in which they reside. The drumming is performed in the
following manner. The male bird, standing erect on a prostrate decayed
trunk, raises the feathers of its body, in the manner of a Turkey-cock,
draws its head towards its tail, erecting the feathers of the latter at
the same time, and raising its ruff around the neck, suffers its wings
to droop, and struts about on the log. A few moments elapse, when the
bird draws the whole of its feathers close to its body, and stretching
itself out, beats its sides with its wings, in the manner of the domestic
Cock, but more loudly, and with such rapidity of motion, after a few
of the first strokes, as to cause a tremor in the air not unlike the
rumbling of distant thunder. This, kind reader, is the "_drumming_" of
the Pheasant. In perfectly calm weather, it may be heard at the distance
of two hundred yards, but might be supposed to proceed from a much
greater distance. The female, which never drums, flies directly to the
place where the male is thus engaged, and, on approaching him, opens
her wings before him, balances her body to the right and left, and then
receives his caresses.

The same trunk is resorted to by the same birds during the season, unless
they are frequently disturbed. These trunks are easily known by the
quantity of excrements and feathers about them. The males have the liberty
of promiscuous concubinage, although not to such an extent as those
of the Pinnated Grouse. They have frequent and severe battles at this
season, which, although witnessed by the females, are never interrupted
by them. The drumming sounds of these birds lead to their destruction,
every young sportsman taking the unfair advantage of approaching them
at this season, and shooting them in the act.

About the beginning of May, the female retires to some thicket in a close
part of the woods, where she forms a nest. This is placed by the side
of a prostrate tree, or at the foot of a low bush, on the ground, in a
spot where a heap of dried leaves has been formed by the wind. The nest
is composed of dried leaves and herbaceous plants. The female lays from
five to twelve eggs, which are of a uniform dull yellowish colour, and
are proportionate in size to the bird. The latter never covers them on
leaving the nest, and in consequence, the Raven and the Crow, always on
the look out for such dainties, frequently discover and eat them. When
the female is present, however, she generally defends them with great
obstinacy, striking the intruder with her wings and feet, in the manner
of the Common Hen.

The young run about and follow the mother, the moment after they leave
the egg. They are able to fly for a few yards at a time, when only six
or seven days old, and still very small. The mother leads them in search
of food, covers them at night with her wings, and evinces the greatest
care and affection towards them on the least appearance of danger,
trying by every art in her power to draw the attention of her enemies to
herself, feigning lameness, tumbling and rolling about as if severely
wounded, and by this means generally succeeding in saving them. The
little ones squat at the least chuck of alarm from the mother, and lie
so close as to suffer one to catch them in the hand, should he chance
to discover them, which, however, it is very difficult to do. The males
are then beginning to associate in small parties, and continue separated
from the females until the approach of winter, when males, females, and
young, mingle together. During summer, these birds are fond of dusting
themselves, and resort to the roads for that purpose, as well as to pick
up gravel. I have observed this species copulating towards autumn, but
have not been able to account for this unseasonable procedure, as only
one brood is raised in the season.

These birds have various enemies besides man. Different species of Hawks
destroy them, particularly the Red-tailed Hawk and the Stanley Hawk.
The former watches their motions from the tops of trees, and falls upon
them with the swiftness of thought, whilst the latter seizes upon them
as he glides rapidly through the woods. Pole-cats, weasels, raccoons,
oppossums, and foxes, are all destructive foes to them. Of these, some
are content with sucking their eggs, while others feed on their flesh.

I have found these birds most numerous in the States of Pennsylvania
and New York. They are brought to the markets in great numbers, during
the winter months, and sell at from 75 cents to a dollar a-piece, in the
eastern cities. At Pittsburg I have bought them, some years ago, for 12½
cents the pair. It is said that when they have fed for several weeks
on the leaves of the _Kalmia latifolia_, it is dangerous to eat their
flesh, and I believe laws have been passed to prevent their being sold
at that season. I have, however, eaten them at all seasons, and although
I have found their crops distended with the leaves of the Kalmia, have
never felt the least inconvenience after eating them, nor even perceived
any difference of taste in their flesh. I suspect it is only when the
birds have been kept a long time undrawn and unplucked, that the flesh
becomes impregnated with the juice of these leaves.

The food of this species consists of seeds and berries of all kinds,
according to the season. It also feeds on the leaves of several species
of evergreens, although these are only resorted to when other food has
become scarce. They are particularly fond of fox-grapes and winter-grapes,
as well as strawberries and dewberries. To procure the latter, they
issue from the groves of the Kentucky Barrens, and often stray to the
distance of a mile. They roost on trees, amongst the thickest parts of
the foliage, sitting at some distance from each other, and may easily
be smoked to death, by using the necessary precautions.

I cannot conclude this article, kind reader, without observing how
desirable the acquisition of this species might be to the sportsmen of
Europe, and especially to those of England, where I am surprised it has
not yet been introduced. The size of these birds, the beauty of their
plumage, the excellence of their flesh, and their peculiar mode of
flying, would render them valuable, and add greatly to the interest of
the already diversified sports of that country. In England and Scotland
there are thousands of situations that are by nature perfectly suited
to their habits, and I have not a doubt that a few years of attention
would be sufficient to render them quite as common as the Grey Partridge.


TETRAO UMBELLUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 275.—_Lath._
Ind. Orn. vol. ii. p. 638.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 126.

RUFFED GROUSE, TETRAO UMBELLUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. vi.
p. 45. Pl. 49. Male.—_Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 738.

SHOULDER-KNOT GROUSE.—_Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 737.


Adult Male. Plate XLI. Fig. 1, 2.

Bill short, robust, slightly arched, rather obtuse, the base covered
by feathers; upper mandible with the dorsal outline straight in the
feathered part, convex towards the end, the edges overlapping, the tip
declinate; under mandible somewhat bulging toward the tip, the sides
convex. Nostrils concealed among the feathers. Head and neck small.
Body bulky. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus feathered, excepting at the
lower part anteriorly, where it is scutellate, spurless; toes scutellate
above, pectinated on the sides; claws arched, depressed, obtuse.

Plumage compact, glossy. Feathers of the head narrow and elongated into
a curved tuft. A large space on the neck destitute of feathers, but
covered over by an erectile ruff of elongated feathers, of which the
upper are silky, shining, and curved forwards at the end, which is very
broad and rounded. Wings short, broad, much rounded and curved, the
third and fourth quills longest. Tail long, ample, rounded, of eighteen
feathers.

Bill horn-colour, brownish-black towards the tip. Iris hazel. Feet
yellowish-grey. Upper part of the head and hind part of the neck bright
yellowish-red. Back rich chestnut, marked with oblong white spots,
margined with black. Upper wing-coverts similar to the back. Quills
brownish-dusky, their outer webs pale reddish, spotted with dusky. Upper
tail-coverts banded with black. Tail reddish-yellow, barred and minutely
mottled with black, and terminated by a broad band of the latter colour,
between two narrow bands of bluish-white, of which one is terminal. A
yellowish-white band from the upper mandible to the eye, beyond which it
is prolonged. Throat and lower part of the neck light brownish-yellow.
Lower ruff feathers of the same colour, barred with reddish-brown, the
upper black with blue reflections. A tuft of light chestnut feathers
under the wings. The rest of the under parts yellowish-white, with broad
transverse spots of brownish-red; the abdomen yellowish-red; and the
under tail-coverts mottled with brown.

Length 18 inches, extent of wings 2 feet; bill along the ridge ¾, along
the gap 1-1/12; tarsus 1-7/12, middle toe 1¾.


Adult Female. Plate XLI. Fig. 3.

The plumage of the female is less developed and inferior in beauty. The
feathers of the head and ruff are less elongated, the latter of a duller
black. The tints of the plumage generally are lighter than in the male.




THE ORCHARD ORIOLE.

_ICTERUS SPURIUS_, BONAP.

PLATE XLII. MALE IN DIFFERENT STATES, ADULT FEMALE AND NEST.


The plumage of many species of our birds undergoes at times very
extraordinary changes. Some, such as the male Tanagers, which during the
summer months exhibit the most vivid scarlet and velvety black, assume
a dingy green before they leave the country, on their way southward.
The Goldfinch nearly changes to the same colour, after having been seen
in a gay apparel of yellow and black. The Rice Bird loses its lively
brightness until the return of spring. Others take several years before
they complete their plumage, so as to shew the true place which they hold
amongst the other species, as is the case with the Ibis, the Flamingo,
and many other Waders, as well as with several of our land birds, among
which, kind reader, the species now under your consideration is probably
that in which these gradual improvements are most observable by such
persons as reside in the country inhabited by them.

The plumage of the young birds of this species, when they leave the
nest, resembles that of the female parent, although rather less decided
in point of colouring, and both males and females retain this colour
until the approach of the following spring, when the former exhibit a
portion of black on the chin, the females never altering. In birds kept
in cages, this portion of black remains without farther augmentation
for two years; but in those which are at liberty, a curious mixture of
dull orange or deep chestnut peeps out through a considerable increase
of black-coloured feathers over the body and wings, intermixed with the
yellowish-green hue which the bird had when it left the nest. The third
spring brings him nearer towards perfection, as at that time the deep
chestnut colour has taken possession of the lower parts, the black has
deepened on the upper parts, and over the whole head, as well as on the
wings and tail-feathers. Yet the garb with which it is ultimately to be
covered requires another return of spring before it is completed, after
which it remains as exhibited in the adult male, represented in the plate.

These extraordinary changes are quite sufficient of themselves to lead
naturalists abroad into error, as they give rise to singular arguments
even with some persons in America, who maintain that the differences of
colour are indicative of different species. But, since the _habits_ of
these birds under all these singular changes of plumage are ascertained
to be precisely the same, the argument no longer holds good. I shall
now endeavour to describe these habits with all the accuracy supplied
by long observation.

The migration of the Orchard Oriole from south to north is performed by
day, and singly, as is that of its relative the Baltimore Oriole, the
males appearing a week or ten days sooner than the females. Their flight
is lower than that of the Baltimore, and considerably shorter in its
continuance, the Orchard Oriole alighting more frequently on the tops
of the trees, to rest or to feed. They exhibit a greater repetition of
motions of the wings, although sliding through the air for a few yards
only at a time, and whilst about to alight, as well as afterwards, perform
strong and well marked jettings of the tail. This the Baltimore seldom
does. No sooner have they reached the portion of the country in which
they intend to remain during the time of raising their young, than these
birds exhibit all the liveliness and vivacity belonging to their nature.
The male is seen rising in the air for ten or twenty yards in an indirect
manner, jerking his tail and body, flapping his wings, and singing with
remarkable impetuosity, as if under the influence of haste, and anxious
to return to the tree from which he has departed. He accordingly descends
with the same motions of the body and tail, repeating his pleasant song
as he alights. These gambols and carollings are performed frequently
during the day, the intervals being employed in ascending or descending
along the branches and twigs of different trees, in search of insects or
larvæ. In doing this, they rise on their legs, seldom without jetting
the tail, stretch their neck, seize the prey, and emit a single note,
which is sweet and mellow, although in power much inferior to that of the
Baltimore. At other times, it is seen bending its body downwards, in a
curved posture, with the head greatly inclined upwards, to peep at the
under parts of the leaves, so as not to suffer any grub to escape its
vigilance. It now alights on the ground, where it has spied a crawling
insect, and again flies towards the blossoms, in which many are lurking,
and devours hundreds of them each day, thus contributing to secure to
the farmer the hopes which he has of the productiveness of his orchard.

The arrival of the females is marked with all due regard, and the males
immediately use every effort in their power to procure from them a return
of attention. Their singings and tricks are performed with redoubled
ardour, until they are paired, when nidification is attended to with
the utmost activity. They resort to the meadows, or search along the
fences for the finest, longest, and toughest grasses they can find, and
having previously fixed on a spot either on an Apple Tree, or amidst
the drooping branches of the Weeping Willow, they begin by attaching
the grass firmly and neatly to the twigs more immediately around the
chosen place. The filaments are twisted, passed over and under, and
interwoven in such a manner as almost to defy the eye of man to follow
their windings. All this is done by the bill of the bird, in the manner
used by the Baltimore Oriole. The nest is of a hemispherical form, and
is supported by the margin only. It seldom exceeds three or four inches
in depth, is open almost to the full extent of its largest diameter at
the top or entrance, and finished on all sides, as well as within, with
the long slender grasses already mentioned. Some of these go round the
nest several times, as if coarsely woven together. This is the manner
in which the nest is constructed in Louisiana; in the Middle Districts
it is usually lined with soft and warm materials. The female lays from
four to six eggs of a bluish-white tint, sprinkled with dark brown, and
raises only a single brood in the season. The young follow the parents
for several weeks, and many birds congregate towards autumn, but the
males soon separate from the females, and set out by themselves as they
arrived in spring.

The sociality of the Orchard Oriole is quite remarkable, and in this
respect that bird differs widely from the Baltimore, which will not suffer
any other bird of its species to build a nest, or to remain within a
considerable distance from the spot which it has selected for its own;
whereas many nests of the species now before you may be observed in the
same garden or orchard, and often within a few yards of the house. I
have counted as many as nine of these nests on a few acres of ground,
and the different pairs to which they belonged lived in great harmony.

Although the food of the Orchard Orioles consists principally of insects
of various kinds, it is not composed exclusively of them. They are fond
of different sorts of fruits and berries. Figs are also much relished by
them, as well as mulberries and strawberries, but not to such a degree
as to draw the attention of the gardener or husbandman towards their
depredations.

This species makes its first appearance in Louisiana early in March, and
remains until October, being seen for several weeks after the Baltimore
Oriole has set out. In reaches the Middle Districts in the beginning of
April. I have met with it as far as the province of Maine and the head
waters of the Mississippi. It is fond of high ground and the neighbourhood
of mountains during the breeding season, after which it removes to the
meadows and prairies in considerable numbers. Whilst in these meadows,
it feeds principally upon a small species of cricket, ground spiders
and small grasshoppers. Their flesh is very good at that late season,
and is much esteemed by the Creoles of Louisiana.

The French of that State give it the name of _Pape de Prairie_, while
they designate the Baltimore Oriole by that of _Pape de Bois_, which
arises no doubt from the marked preference which the former manifests
to the plains in autumn, where a great number are shot or caught in trap
cages. It is easily kept in cages, where it sings with all the liveliness
which it shews in its wild state, and may be fed on rice and dry fruits,
when fresh ones cannot be procured. I have known one of these birds, a
beautiful male, kept for upwards of four years by a friend of mine at
New Orleans. It had been raised from the nest, and having passed through
the different changes of its plumage, had become perfect, was full of
action, and sung delightfully.

The nest represented in the plate was drawn in Louisiana, and was entirely
composed of grass. It may be looked upon as a sample of the usual form
and construction. The branch of Honey Locust on which you see these
birds belongs to a tree which sometimes grows to a great height, without
much apparent choice of situation. It is more abundant to the west of
the Alleghanies, and towards the Southern Districts, than in the Middle
States. The wood is brittle and seldom used. The trunk and branches are
frequently covered with innumerable long, sharp, and extremely hard
spines, protruded in every direction, and in some instances placed



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 22 of 50)