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_Muscicapa acadica_ is also similarly coloured, but in it the whitish
space about the eye is larger, the throat darker, the breast and abdomen
lighter. The tail also is quite even. A decided difference exists in
the bill, which, in place of being convex in its lateral outlines, is
a little concave.


THE SWEET GUM.

LIQUIDAMBAR STYRACIFLUA, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 476.
_Pursh_, Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 635. _Mich._ Arbr. Forest. de
l'Amer. Sept. vol. iii. p. 194, Pl. iv.—MONŒCIA POLYANDRIA,
_Linn._ AMENTACEÆ, _Juss._

This species, which is the only one that grows in the United States,
is distinguished by its palmate leaves, the lobes of which are toothed
and acuminate, the axils of the nerves downy. In large individuals, the
bark is deeply cracked. The wood is very hard and fine grained, but is
now little used, although formerly furniture of various kinds was made
of it. When the bark is removed, a resinous substance exudes, which has
an agreeable smell, but is only obtained in very small quantity.




THE EARTHQUAKE.


Travelling through the Barrens of Kentucky (of which I shall give you
an account elsewhere) in the month of November, I was jogging on one
afternoon, when I remarked a sudden and strange darkness rising from the
western horizon. Accustomed to our heavy storms of thunder and rain,
I took no more notice of it, as I thought the speed of my horse might
enable me to get under shelter of the roof of an acquaintance, who lived
not far distant, before it should come up. I had proceeded about a mile,
when I heard what I imagined to be the distant rumbling of a violent
tornado, on which I spurred my steed, with a wish to gallop as fast
as possible to the place of shelter; but it would not do, the animal
knew better than I what was forthcoming, and, instead of going faster,
so nearly stopped, that I remarked he placed one foot after another on
the ground with as much precaution as if walking on a smooth sheet of
ice. I thought he had suddenly foundered, and, speaking to him, was
on the point of dismounting and leading him, when he all of a sudden
fell a-groaning piteously, hung his head, spread out his four legs, as
if to save himself from falling, and stood stock still, continuing to
groan. I thought my horse was about to die, and would have sprung from
his back had a minute more elapsed, but at that instant all the shrubs
and trees began to move from their very roots, the ground rose and fell
in successive furrows, like the ruffled waters of a lake, and I became
bewildered in my ideas, as I too plainly discovered that all this awful
commotion in nature was the result of an earthquake.

I had never witnessed any thing of the kind before, although, like
every other person, I knew of earthquakes by description. But what is
description compared with the reality? Who can tell of the sensations
which I experienced when I found myself rocking as it were on my horse,
and with him moved to and fro like a child in a cradle, with the most
imminent danger around, and expecting the ground every moment to open,
and present to my eye such an abyss as might engulf myself and all around
me? The fearful convulsion, however, lasted only a few minutes, and the
heavens again brightened as quickly as they had become obscured; my horse
brought his feet to the natural position, raised his head, and galloped
off as if loose and frolicking without a rider.

I was not, however, without great apprehension respecting my family,
from which I was yet many miles distant, fearful that where they were
the shock might have caused greater havock than I had witnessed. I gave
the bridle to my steed, and was glad to see him appear as anxious to get
home as myself. The pace at which he galloped accomplished this sooner
than I had expected, and I found, with much pleasure, that hardly any
greater harm had taken place than the apprehension excited for my own
safety.

Shock succeeded shock almost every day or night for several weeks,
diminishing, however, so gradually as to dwindle away into mere vibrations
of the earth. Strange to say, I for one became so accustomed to the
feeling as rather to enjoy the fears manifested by others. I never can
forget the effects of one of the slighter shocks which took place when
I was at a friend's house, where I had gone to enjoy the merriment
that, in our western country, attends a wedding. The ceremony being
performed, supper over, and the fiddles tuned, dancing became the order
of the moment. This was merrily followed up to a late hour, when the
party retired to rest. We were in what is called, with great propriety,
a _Log-house_, one of large dimensions, and solidly constructed. The
owner was a physician, and in one corner were not only his lancets,
tourniquets, amputating-knives, and other sanguinary apparatus, but all
the drugs which he employed for the relief of his patients, arranged in
jars and phials of different sizes. These had some days before made a
narrow escape from destruction, but had been fortunately preserved by
closing the doors of the cases in which they were contained.

As I have said, we had all retired to rest, some to dream of sighs and
smiles, and others to sink into oblivion. Morning was fast approaching,
when the rumbling noise that precedes the earthquake began so loudly,
as to waken and alarm the whole party, and drive them out of bed in the
greatest consternation. The scene which ensued it is impossible for me
to describe, and it would require the humorous pencil of CRUICKSHANK to
do justice to it. Fear knows no restraints. Every person, old and young,
filled with alarm at the creaking of the log-house, and apprehending
instant destruction, rushed wildly out to the grass enclosure fronting
the building. The full moon was slowly descending from her throne,
covered at times by clouds that rolled heavily along, as if to conceal
from her view the scenes of terror which prevailed on the earth below.
On the grass-plat we all met, in such condition as rendered it next
to impossible to discriminate any of the party, all huddled together
in a state of almost perfect nudity. The earth waved like a field of
corn before the breeze; the birds left their perches, and flew about
not knowing whither; and the Doctor, recollecting the danger of his
gallipots, ran to his shop-room, to prevent their dancing off the shelves
to the floor. Never for a moment did he think of closing the doors, but,
spreading his arms, jumped about the front of the cases, pushing back
here and there the falling jars; with so little success, however, that
before the shock was over, he had lost nearly all he possessed.

The shock at length ceased, and the frightened females, now sensible
of their dishabille, fled to their several apartments. The earthquakes
produced more serious consequences in other places. Near New Madrid,
and for some distance on the Mississippi, the earth was rent asunder in
several places, one or two islands sunk for ever, and the inhabitants
fled in dismay towards the eastern shores.




THE BARRED OWL.

_STRIX NEBULOSA_, LINN.

PLATE XLVI. MALE.


Should you, kind reader, find it convenient or agreeable to visit the
noble forests existing in the lower parts of the State of Louisiana,
about the middle of October, when nature, on the eve of preparing for
approaching night, permits useful dews to fall and rest on every plant,
with the view of reviving its leaves, its fruits, or its lingering
blossoms, ere the return of morn; when every night-insect rises on
buzzing wings from the ground, and the fire-fly, amidst thousands of
other species, appears as if purposely to guide their motions through the
sombre atmosphere; at the moment when numerous reptiles and quadrupeds
commence their nocturnal prowlings, and the fair moon, empress of the
night, rises peacefully on the distant horizon, shooting her silvery rays
over the heavens and the earth, and, like a watchful guardian, moving
slowly and majestically along; when the husbandman, just returned to his
home, after the labours of the day, is receiving the cheering gratulations
of his family, and the wholesome repast is about to be spread out for
master and servants alike;—it is at this moment, kind reader, that were
you, as I have said, to visit that happy country, your ear would suddenly
be struck by the discordant screams of the Barred Owl. Its _whah, whah,
whah, whah-aa_ is uttered loudly, and in so strange and ludicrous a
manner, that I should not be surprised were you, kind reader, when you
and I meet, to compare these sounds to the affected bursts of laughter
which you may have heard from some of the fashionable members of our
own species.

How often, when snugly settled under the boughs of my temporary
encampment, and preparing to roast a venison steak or the body of a
squirrel, on a wooden spit, have I been saluted with the exulting bursts
of this nightly disturber of the peace, that, had it not been for him,
would have prevailed around me, as well as in my lonely retreat! How
often have I seen this nocturnal marauder alight within a few yards of
me, exposing his whole body to the glare of my fire, and eye me in such
a curious manner that, had it been reasonable to do so, I would gladly
have invited him to walk in and join me in my repast, that I might have
enjoyed the pleasure of forming a better acquaintance with him. The
liveliness of his motions, joined to their oddness, have often made me
think that his society would be at least as agreeable as that of many
of the buffoons we meet with in the world. But as such opportunities of
forming acquaintance have not existed, be content, kind reader, with the
imperfect information which I can give you of the habits of this Sancho
Pança of our woods.

Such persons as conclude, when looking upon owls in the glare of day,
that they are, as they then appear, extremely dull, are greatly mistaken.
Were they to state, like BUFFON, that Woodpeckers are miserable beings,
they would be talking as incorrectly; and, to one who might have lived
long in the woods, they would seem to have lived only in their libraries.

The Barred Owl is found in all those parts of the United States which
I have visited, and is a constant resident. In Louisiana it seems to
be more abundant than in any other state. It is almost impossible to
travel eight or ten miles in any of the retired woods there, without
seeing several of them even in broad day; and, at the approach of night,
their cries are heard proceeding from every part of the forest around
the plantations. Should the weather be lowering and indicative of the
approach of rain, their cries are so multiplied during the day, and
especially in the evening, and they respond to each other in tones so
strange, that one might imagine some extraordinary fête about to take
place among them. On approaching one of them, its gesticulations are
seen to be of a very extraordinary nature. The position of the bird,
which is generally erect, is immediately changed. It lowers its head and
inclines its body, to watch the motions of the person beneath, throws
forward the lateral feathers of its head, which thus has the appearance
of being surrounded by a broad ruff, looks towards him as if half blind,
and moves its head to and fro in so extraordinary a manner, as almost to
induce a person to fancy that part dislocated from the body. It follows
all the motions of the intruder with its eyes; and should it suspect any
treacherous intentions, flies off to a short distance, alighting with its
back to the person, and immediately turning about with a single jump, to
recommence its scrutiny. In this manner, the Barred Owl may be followed
to a considerable distance, if not shot at, for to halloo after it does
not seem to frighten it much. But if shot at and missed, it removes to
a considerable distance, after which its _whah-whah-whah_ is uttered
with considerable pomposity. This owl will answer the imitation of its
own sounds, and is frequently decoyed by this means.

The flight of the Barred Owl is smooth, light, noiseless, and capable
of being greatly protracted. I have seen them take their departure
from a detached grove in a prairie, and pursue a direct course towards
the skirts of the main forest, distant more than two miles, in broad
daylight. I have thus followed them with the eye until they were lost in
the distance, and have reason to suppose that they continued their flight
until they reached the woods. Once, whilst descending the Ohio, not far
from the well-known _Cave-in-rock_, about two hours before sunset, in
the month of November, I saw a Barred Owl teased by several crows, and
chased from the tree in which it was. On leaving the tree, it gradually
rose in the air, in the manner of a Hawk, and at length attained so great
a height that our party lost sight of it. It acted, I thought, as if it
had lost itself, now and then describing small circles, and flapping its
wings quickly, then flying in zigzag lines. This being so uncommon an
occurrence, I noted it down at the time. I felt anxious to see the bird
return towards the earth, but it did not make its appearance again. So
very lightly do they fly, that I have frequently discovered one passing
over me, and only a few yards distant, by first seeing its shadow on the
ground, during clear moon-light nights, when not the faintest rustling
of its wings could be heard.

Their power of sight during the day seems to be rather of an equivocal
character, as I once saw one alight on the back of a cow, which it left
so suddenly afterwards, when the cow moved, as to prove to me that it
had mistaken the object on which it had perched for something else.
At other times, I have observed that the approach of the grey squirrel
intimidated them, if one of these animals accidentally jumped on a branch
close to them, although the Owl destroys a number of them during the
twilight. It is for this reason, kind reader, that I have represented
the Barred Owl gazing in amazement at one of the squirrels placed only
a few inches from him.

The Barred Owl is a great destroyer of poultry, particularly of chickens
when half-grown. It also secures mice, young hares, rabbits, and many
species of small birds, but is especially fond of a kind of frog of a
brown colour, very common in the woods of Louisiana. I have heard it
asserted that this bird catches fish, but never having seen it do so,
and never having found any portion of fish in its stomach, I cannot
vouch for the truth of the report.

About the middle of March, these Owls begin to lay their eggs. This
they usually do in the hollows of trees, on the dust of the decomposed
wood. At other times they take possession of the old nest of a Crow
or a Red-tailed Hawk. In all these situations I have found their eggs
and young. The eggs are of a globular form, pure white, with a smooth
shell, and are from four to six in number. So far as I have been able to
ascertain, they rear only one brood in a season. The young, like those
of all other Owls, are at first covered with a downy substance, some
of which is seen intermixed with and protruding from the feathers, some
weeks after the bird is nearly fledged. They are fed by the parents for
a long time, standing perched, and emitting a hissing noise in lieu of
a call. This noise may be heard in a calm night, for fifty or probably a
hundred yards, and is by no means musical. To a person lost in a swamp,
it is, indeed, extremely dismal.

The plumage of the Barred Owl differs very considerably, in respect to
colour, in different individuals, more so among the males. The males
are also smaller than the females, but less so than in some other
species. During the severe winters of our Middle Districts, those that
remain there suffer very much; but the greater number, as in some other
species, remove to the Southern States. When kept in captivity, they
prove excellent mousers.

The antipathy shewn to Owls by every species of day bird is extreme.
They are followed and pursued on all occasions; and although few of the
day birds ever prove dangerous enemies, their conduct towards the Owls
is evidently productive of great annoyance to them. When the Barred
Owl is shot at and wounded, it snaps its bill sharply and frequently,
raises all its feathers, looks towards the person in the most uncouth
manner, but, on the least chance of escape, moves off in great leaps
with considerable rapidity.

The Barred Owl is very often exposed for sale in the New Orleans market.
The Creoles make _gumbo_ of it, and pronounce the flesh palatable.


STRIX NEBULOSA, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 291.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 21.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 38.

BARRED OWL, STRIX NEBULOSA, _Lath._ Synops. vol. i. p. 133.
—_Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iv. p. 61. Pl. 23. fig. 2.


Adult Male. Plate XLVI. Fig. 1.

Bill very short, compressed, curved, acute, with a small cere at the
base; upper mandible with its dorsal outline curved from the base, the
edges acute, the point trigonal, very acute, deflected, lower mandible
with the edges acute and inflected, obtuse at the tip. Nostrils roundish,
in the fore part of the cere, concealed by the recumbent bristles. Head
disproportionately large, as are the eyes and external ears. Body short.
Legs long; tarsus feathered; toes feathered at the base, scutellate
above, papillar and tubercular beneath; claws curved, slender, rounded,
extremely sharp.

Plumage exceedingly soft and downy, somewhat distinct above, tufty and
loose beneath. Long bristly feathers at the base of the bill, stretching
forwards. Eyes surrounded by several circles of compact feathers;
auricular feathers forming a ruff, and with those of the head and neck
capable of being erected. Wings ample, the fourth quill longest, the
first short. Tail long, large, rounded, of twelve broad, rounded feathers.

Bill yellow, the under mandible tinged with blue on the back. Eyes black.
Toes yellow; claws bluish-black. The general colour of the upper parts is
light reddish-brown. Face and greater part of the head brownish-white,
the feathers of the latter broadly marked with brown, of which a narrow
band passes from the bill along the middle of the head. Feathers of the
back and most of the wing-coverts largely spotted with white. Primary
coverts, quills, and tail, barred with light brownish-red; wings and tail
tipped with greyish-white. Under parts pale brownish-red, longitudinally
streaked with brown, excepting the neck and upper breast, which are
transversely marked, the abdomen, which is yellowish-white, and the
tarsal feathers, which are light reddish.

Length 18 inches, extent of wings 40. Bill along the ridge 1½; tarsus
2½, middle toe 2.


THE GREY SQUIRREL.

SCIURUS CINEREUS, _Harlan_, Fauna Americana, p. 173.

The Grey Squirrel is too well known to require any description. It
migrates in prodigious numbers, crossing large rivers by swimming
with its tail extended on the water, and traverses immense tracts of
country, in search of the places where food is most abundant. During
these migrations, the Squirrels are destroyed in vast quantities. Their
flesh is white, very delicate, and affords excellent eating, when the
animals are young. "In 1749," says Dr HARLAN, in the work above referred
to, "a premium of three pence a-head was offered for their destruction,
which amounted in one year to L.8000 Sterling, which is equal to about
1,180,000 individuals killed."




THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING BIRD.

_TROCHILUS COLUBRIS_, LINN.

PLATE XLVII. MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.


Where is the person who, on seeing this lovely little creature moving
on humming winglets through the air, suspended as if by magic in it,
flitting from one flower to another, with motions as graceful as they
are light and airy, pursuing its course over our extensive continent,
and yielding new delights wherever it is seen;—where is the person, I
ask of you, kind reader, who, on observing this glittering fragment of
the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and instantly turn his mind with
reverence toward the Almighty Creator, the wonders of whose hand we
at every step discover, and of whose sublime conceptions we everywhere
observe the manifestations in his admirable system of creation?—There
breathes not such a person; so kindly have we all been blessed with that
intuitive and noble feeling—admiration!

No sooner has the returning sun again introduced the vernal season, and
caused millions of plants to expand their leaves and blossoms to his
genial beams, than the little Humming Bird is seen advancing on fairy
wings, carefully visiting every opening flower-cup, and, like a curious
florist, removing from each the injurious insects that otherwise would
ere long cause their beauteous petals to droop and decay. Poised in the
air, it is observed peeping cautiously, and with sparkling eye, into
their innermost recesses, whilst the etherial motions of its pinions, so
rapid and so light, appear to fan and cool the flower, without injuring
its fragile texture, and produce a delightful murmuring sound, well
adapted for lulling the insects to repose. Then is the moment for the
Humming Bird to secure them. Its long delicate bill enters the cup of
the flower, and the protruded double-tubed tongue, delicately sensible,
and imbued with a glutinous saliva, touches each insect in succession,
and draws it from its lurking place, to be instantly swallowed. All
this is done in a moment, and the bird, as it leaves the flower, sips so
small a portion of its liquid honey, that the theft, we may suppose, is
looked upon with a grateful feeling by the flower, which is thus kindly
relieved from the attacks of her destroyers.

The prairies, the fields, the orchards and gardens, nay, the deepest
shades of the forests, are all visited in their turn, and everywhere
the little bird meets with pleasure and with food. Its gorgeous throat
in beauty and brilliancy baffles all competition. Now it glows with a
fiery hue, and again it is changed to the deepest velvety black. The
upper parts of its delicate body are of resplendent changing green; and
it throws itself through the air with a swiftness and vivacity hardly
conceivable. It moves from one flower to another like a gleam of light,
upwards, downwards, to the right, and to the left. In this manner, it
searches the extreme northern portions of our country, following with
great precaution the advances of the season, and retreats with equal
care at the approach of autumn.

I wish it were in my power at this moment to impart to you, kind reader,
the pleasures which I have felt whilst watching the movements, and viewing
the manifestation of feelings displayed by a single pair of these most
favourite little creatures, when engaged in the demonstration of their
love to each other:—how the male swells his plumage and throat, and,
dancing on the wing, whirls around the delicate female; how quickly he
dives towards a flower, and returns with a loaded bill, which he offers
to her to whom alone he feels desirous of being united; how full of
ecstacy he seems to be when his caresses are kindly received; how his
little wings fan her, as they fan the flowers, and he transfers to her
bill the insect and the honey he has procured with a view to please her;
how these attentions are received with apparent satisfaction; how, soon
after, the blissful compact is sealed; how, then, the courage and care
of the male are redoubled; how he even dares to give chase to the Tyrant
Fly-catcher, hurries the Blue-bird and the Martin to their boxes; and
how, on sounding pinions, he joyously returns to the side of his lovely
mate. Reader, all these proofs of the sincerity, fidelity, and courage,
with which the male assures his mate of the care he will take of her
while sitting on her nest, may be seen, and have been seen, but cannot
be portrayed or described.

Could you, kind reader, cast a momentary glance on the nest of the
Humming Bird, and see, as I have seen, the newly-hatched pair of young,
little larger than humble-bees, naked, blind, and so feeble as scarcely
to be able to raise their little bill to receive food from the parents;
and could you see those parents, full of anxiety and fear, passing and
repassing within a few inches of your face, alighting on a twig not more
than a yard from your body, waiting the result of your unwelcome visit
in a state of the utmost despair,—you could not fail to be impressed
with the deepest pangs which parental affection feels on the unexpected



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 24 of 50)