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5 inches, extent of wings 7¼.


THE WHITE OAK.

QUERCUS PRINUS, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 439. _Pursh_,
Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 633.—QUERCUS PRINUS PALUSTRIS, _Mich._
Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 51. Pl. 7.—MONŒCIA
POLYANDRIA, _Linn._ AMENTACEÆ, _Juss._

Leaves oblongo-oval, acute, largely toothed, the teeth nearly equal,
dilated, and callous at the tip; cupule craterate, attenuated at the
base; acorn ovate. This species grows in low shady woods, and along the
margins of rivers, from Pennsylvania to Florida. The wood is porous,
and of inferior quality.




THE HURRICANE.


Various portions of our country have at different periods suffered
severely from the influence of violent storms of wind, some of which have
been known to traverse nearly the whole extent of the United States,
and to leave such deep impressions in their wake as will not easily be
forgotten. Having witnessed one of these awful phenomena, in all its
grandeur, I shall attempt to describe it for your sake, kind reader,
and for your sake only, the recollection of that astonishing revolution
of the etherial element even now bringing with it so disagreeable a
sensation, that I feel as if about to be affected by a sudden stoppage
of the circulation of my blood.

I had left the village of Shawaney, situated on the banks of the Ohio,
on my return from Henderson, which is also situated on the banks of
the same beautiful stream. The weather was pleasant, and I thought not
warmer than usual at that season. My horse was jogging quietly along, and
my thoughts were, for once at least in the course of my life, entirely
engaged in commercial speculations. I had forded Highland Creek, and was
on the eve of entering a tract of bottom land or valley that lay between
it and Canoe Creek, when on a sudden I remarked a great difference in
the aspect of the heavens. A hazy thickness had overspread the country,
and I for some time expected an earthquake, but my horse exhibited no
propensity to stop and prepare for such an occurrence. I had nearly
arrived at the verge of the valley, when I thought fit to stop near a
brook, and dismounted to quench the thirst which had come upon me.

I was leaning on my knees, with my lips about to touch the water, when,
from my proximity to the earth, I heard a distant murmuring sound of
an extraordinary nature. I drank, however, and as I rose on my feet,
looked toward the south-west, where I observed a yellowish oval spot,
the appearance of which was quite new to me. Little time was left me
for consideration, as the next moment a smart breeze began to agitate
the taller trees. It increased to an unexpected height, and already the
smaller branches and twigs were seen falling in a slanting direction
towards the ground. Two minutes had scarcely elapsed, when the whole
forest before me was in fearful motion. Here and there, where one tree
pressed against another, a creaking noise was produced, similar to that
occasioned by the violent gusts which sometimes sweep over the country.
Turning instinctively toward the direction from which the wind blew,
I saw, to my great astonishment, that the noblest trees of the forest
bent their lofty heads for a while, and unable to stand against the
blast, were falling into pieces. First, the branches were broken off
with a crackling noise; then went the upper part of the massy trunks;
and in many places whole trees of gigantic size were falling entire
to the ground. So rapid was the progress of the storm, that before I
could think of taking measures to insure my safety, the hurricane was
passing opposite the place where I stood. Never can I forget the scene
which at that moment presented itself. The tops of the trees were seen
moving in the strangest manner, in the central current of the tempest,
which carried along with it a mingled mass of twigs and foliage, that
completely obscured the view. Some of the largest trees were seen bending
and writhing under the gale; others suddenly snapped across; and many,
after a momentary resistance, fell uprooted to the earth. The mass of
branches, twigs, foliage and dust that moved through the air, was whirled
onwards like a cloud of feathers, and on passing, disclosed a wide space
filled with fallen trees, naked stumps, and heaps of shapeless ruins,
which marked the path of the tempest. This space was about a fourth of
a mile in breadth, and to my imagination resembled the dried-up bed of
the Mississippi, with its thousands of planters and sawyers, strewed in
the sand, and inclined in various degrees. The horrible noise resembled
that of the great cataracts of Niagara, and as it howled along in the
track of the desolating tempest, produced a feeling in my mind which it
were impossible to describe.

The principal force of the hurricane was now over, although millions of
twigs and small branches, that had been brought from a great distance,
were seen following the blast, as if drawn onwards by some mysterious
power. They even floated in the air for some hours after, as if supported
by the thick mass of dust that rose high above the ground. The sky had
now a greenish lurid hue, and an extremely disagreeable sulphureous
odour was diffused in the atmosphere. I waited in amazement, having
sustained no material injury, until nature at length resumed her wonted
aspect. For some moments, I felt undetermined whether I should return
to Morgantown, or attempt to force my way through the wrecks of the
tempest. My business, however, being of an urgent nature, I ventured into
the path of the storm, and after encountering innumerable difficulties,
succeeded in crossing it. I was obliged to lead my horse by the bridle,
to enable him to leap over the fallen trees, whilst I scrambled over or
under them in the best way I could, at times so hemmed in by the broken
tops and tangled branches, as almost to become desperate. On arriving at
my house, I gave an account of what I had seen, when, to my surprise,
I was told that there had been very little wind in the neighbourhood,
although in the streets and gardens many branches and twigs had fallen
in a manner which excited great surprise.

Many wondrous accounts of the devastating effects of this hurricane
were circulated in the country, after its occurrence. Some log houses,
we were told, had been overturned, and their inmates destroyed. One
person informed me that a wire-sifter had been conveyed by the gust to
a distance of many miles. Another had found a cow lodged in the fork of
a large half-broken tree. But, as I am disposed to relate only what I
have myself seen, I shall not lead you into the region of romance, but
shall content myself with saying that much damage was done by this awful
visitation. The valley is yet a desolate place, overgrown with briars and
bushes, thickly entangled amidst the tops and trunks of the fallen trees,
and is the resort of ravenous animals, to which they betake themselves
when pursued by man, or after they have committed their depredations on
the farms of the surrounding district. I have crossed the path of the
storm, at a distance of a hundred miles from the spot where I witnessed
its fury, and, again, four hundred miles farther off, in the State of
Ohio. Lastly, I observed traces of its ravages on the summits of the
mountains connected with the Great Pine Forest of Pennsylvania, three
hundred miles beyond the place last mentioned. In all these different
parts, it appeared to me not to have exceeded a quarter of a mile in
breadth.




THE RED-TAILED HAWK.

_FALCO BOREALIS_, GMEL.

PLATE LI. MALE AND FEMALE.


The Red-tailed Hawk is a constant resident in the United States, in
every part of which it is found. It performs partial migrations, during
severe winters, from the Northern Districts towards the Southern. In the
latter, however, it is at all times more abundant, and I shall endeavour
to present you with a full account of its habits, as observed there.

Its flight is firm, protracted, and at times performed at a great height.
It sails across the whole of a large plantation, on a level with the
tops of the forest-trees which surround it, without a single flap of its
wings, and is then seen moving its head sidewise to inspect the objects
below. This flight is generally accompanied by a prolonged mournful cry,
which may be heard at a considerable distance, and consists of a single
sound resembling the monosyllable _Kae_, uttered in such a manner as to
continue for three or four minutes, without any apparent inflection or
difference of intensity. It would seem as if uttered for the purpose of
giving notice to the living objects below that he is passing, and of thus
inducing them to bestir themselves and retreat to a hiding-place, before
they attain which he may have an opportunity of pouncing upon some of
them. When he spies an animal, while he is thus sailing over a field,
I have observed him give a slight check to his flight, as if to mark
a certain spot with accuracy, and immediately afterwards alight on the
nearest tree. He would then instantly face about, look intensely on the
object that had attracted his attention, soon after descend towards it
with wings almost close to his body, and dart upon it with such accuracy
and rapidity as seldom to fail in securing it.

When passing over a meadow, a cotton-field, or one planted with
sugar-canes, he performs his flight close over the grass or plants,
uttering no cry, but marking the prey in the manner above described, and
on perceiving it, ascending in a beautiful curved line to the top of the
nearest tree, after which he watches and dives as in the former case.
Should he not observe any object worthy of his attention, while passing
over a meadow or a field, he alights, shakes his feathers, particularly
those of the tail, and after spending a few minutes in pluming himself,
leaves the perch, uttering his usual cry, and ascending in the air,
performs large and repeated circular flights, carefully inspecting the
field, to assure himself that there is in reality nothing in it that
may be of use to him. He then proceeds to another plantation. At other
times, as if not assured that his observations have been duly made, he
rises in circles over the same field to an immense height, where he looks
like a white dot in the heavens. Yet from this height he must be able
to distinguish the objects on the ground, even when these do not exceed
our little partridge or a young hare in size, and although their colour
may be almost the same as that of surrounding bodies; for of a sudden
his circlings are checked, his wings drawn close to his body, his tail
contracted to its smallest breadth, and he is seen to plunge headlong
towards the earth, with a rapidity which produces a loud rustling sound
nearly equal to that of an Eagle on a similar occasion.

Should he not succeed in discovering the desired object in the fields,
he enters the forest and perches on some detached tree, tall enough to
enable him to see to a great distance around. His posture is now erect,
he remains still and silent, moving only his head, as on all other
occasions, to enable his keen eye to note the occurrences which may take
place in his vicinity. The lively Squirrel is seen gaily leaping from one
branch to another, or busily employed in searching for the fallen nuts
on the ground. It has found one. Its bushy tail is beautifully curved
along its back, the end of it falling off with a semicircular bend; its
nimble feet are seen turning the nut quickly round, and its teeth are
already engaged in perforating the hard shell; when, quick as thought,
the Red-tailed Hawk, which has been watching it in all its motions,
falls upon it, seizes it near the head, transfixes and strangles it,
devours it on the spot, or ascends exultingly to a branch with the yet
palpitating victim in his talons, and there feasts at leisure.

As soon as the little King-bird has raised its brood, and when its
courage is no longer put in requisition for the defence of its young
or its mate, the Red-tailed Hawk visits the farm-houses, to pay his
regards to the poultry. This is done without much precaution, for, while
sailing over the yard where the chickens, the ducklings, and the young
turkeys are, the Hawk plunges upon any one of them, and sweeps it off
to the nearest wood. When impelled by continued hunger, he now and then
manages to elude the vigilance of the Martins, Swallows and King-birds,
and watching for a good opportunity, falls upon and seizes an old fowl,
the dying screams of which are heard by the farmer at the plough, who
swears vengeance against the robber. He remembers that he has observed
the Hawk's nest in the woods, and full of anger at the recollection
of the depredations which the plunderer has already committed, and at
the anticipation of its many visits during the winter, leaves his work
and his horses, strides to his house, and with an axe and a rifle in
his hands proceeds towards the tree, where the hopes of the Red-tailed
Hawk are snugly nestled among the tall branches. The farmer arrives,
eyes the gigantic tree, thinks for a moment of the labour which will be
required for felling it, but resolves that he shall not be overreached
by a Hawk. He throws aside his hat, rolls up his sleeves, and applies
himself to the work. His brawny arms give such an impulse to the axe,
that at every stroke large chips are seen to fall off on all sides. The
poor mother-bird, well aware of the result, sails sorrowfully over and
around. She would fain beg for mercy towards her young. She alights on
the edge of the nest, and would urge her offspring to take flight. But
the farmer has watched her motions. The axe is left sticking in the core
of the tree, his rifle is raised to his shoulder in an instant, and the
next moment the whizzing ball has pierced the heart of the Red-tailed
Hawk, which falls unheeded to the earth. The farmer renews his work,
and now changes sides. A whole hour has been spent in the application of
ceaseless blows. He begins to look upwards, to judge which way the giant
of the forest will fall, and having ascertained this, he redoubles his
blows. The huge oak begins to tremble. Were it permitted to speak, it
might ask why it should suffer for the deeds of another; but it is now
seen slowly to incline, and soon after with an awful rustling produced
by all its broad arms, its branches, twigs and leaves, passing like
lightning through the air, the noble tree falls to the earth, and almost
causes it to shake. The work of revenge is now accomplished: the farmer
seizes the younglings, and carries them home, to be tormented by his
children, until death terminates their brief career.

Notwithstanding the very common occurrence of such acts of retribution
between man and the Hawk, it would be difficult to visit a plantation
in the State of Louisiana, without observing at least a pair of this
species hovering about, more especially during the winter months. Early in
February, they begin to build their nest, which is usually placed within
the forest, and on the tallest and largest tree in the neighbourhood.
The male and female are busily engaged in carrying up dried sticks,
and other materials, for eight or ten days, during which time their
cry is seldom heard. The nest is large, and is fixed in the centre of a
triply forked branch. It is of a flattish form, constructed of sticks,
and finished with slender twigs and coarse grasses or Spanish moss. The
female lays four or five eggs, of a dull white colour, splatched with
brown and black, with a very hard, smooth shell. The male assists the
female in incubating, but it is seldom that the one brings food to the
other while thus employed.

I have seen one or two of these nests built in a large tree which had
been left standing in the middle of a field; but occurrences of this kind
are rare, on account of the great enmity shewn to this species by the
farmers. The young are abundantly supplied with food of various kinds,
particularly grey squirrels, which the parents procure while hunting in
pairs, when nothing can save the squirrel from their attacks excepting
its retreat into the hole of a tree; for should the animal be observed
ascending the trunk or branch of a tree by either of the Hawks, this one
immediately plunges toward it, while the other watches it from the air.
The little animal, if placed against the trunk, when it sees the Hawk
coming towards it, makes swiftly for the opposite side of the trunk, but
is there immediately dived at by the other Hawk, and now the murderous
pair chase it so closely, that unless it immediately finds a hole into
which to retreat, it is caught in a few minutes, killed, carried to the
nest, torn in pieces, and distributed among the young Hawks. Small hares,
or, as we usually call them, _rabbits_, are also frequently caught, and
the depredations of the Red-tailed Hawks at this period are astonishing,
for they seem to kill every thing, fit for food, that comes in their
way. They are great destroyers of tame Pigeons, and woe to the Cock or
Hen that strays far from home, for so powerful is this Hawk, that it
is able not only to kill them, but to carry them off in its claws to a
considerable distance.

The continued attachment that exists between Eagles once paired, is
not exhibited by these birds, which, after rearing their young, become
as shy towards each other as if they had never met. This is carried to
such a singular length, that they are seen to chase and rob each other
of their prey, on all occasions. I have seen a couple thus engaged,
when one of them had just seized a young rabbit or a squirrel, and was
on the eve of rising in the air with it, for the purpose of carrying it
off to a place of greater security. The one would attack the other with
merciless fury, and either force it to abandon the prize, or fight with
the same courage as its antagonist, to prevent the latter from becoming
the sole possessor. They are sometimes observed flying either one after
the other with great rapidity, emitting their continued cry of _kae_,
or performing beautiful evolutions through the air, until one or other
of them becomes fatigued, and giving way, makes for the earth where the
battle continues until one is overpowered and obliged to make off. It
was after witnessing such an encounter between two of these powerful
marauders, fighting hard for a young hare, that I made the drawing now
before you, kind reader, in which you perceive the male to have greatly
the advantage over the female, although she still holds the hare firmly
in one of her talons, even while she is driven towards the earth, with
her breast upwards.

I have observed that this species will even condescend to pounce on
wood-rats and meadow-mice; but I never saw one of these birds seize even
those without first alighting on a tree before committing the act.

During the winter months, the Red-tailed Hawk remains perched for hours
together, when the sun is shining and the weather calm. Its breast is
opposed to the sun, and it then is seen at a great distance, the pure
white of that portion of its plumage glittering as if possessed of a
silky gloss. They return to their roosting-places so late in the evening,
that I have frequently heard their cry after sun-set, mingling with the
jovial notes of Chuck-will's-widow, and the ludicrous laugh of the Barred
Owl. In the State of Louisiana, the Red-tailed Hawk roosts amongst the
tallest branches of the _Magnolia grandiflora_, a tree which there often
attains a height of a hundred feet, and a diameter of from three to four
feet at the base. It is also fond of roosting on the tall Cypress-trees
of our swamps, where it spends the night in security, amidst the mosses
attached to the branches.

The Red-tailed Hawk is extremely wary, and difficult to be approached by
any one bearing a gun, the use of which it seems to understand perfectly;
for no sooner does it perceive a man thus armed than it spreads its
wings, utters a loud shriek, and sails off in an opposite direction.
On the other hand, a person on horseback, or walking unarmed, may pass
immediately under the branch on which it is perched, when it merely
watches his motions as he proceeds. It seldom alights on fences, or the
low branches of trees, but prefers the highest and most prominent parts
of the tallest trees. It alights on the borders of clear streams to
drink. I have observed it in such situations, immersing its bill up to
the eyes, and swallowing as much as was necessary to quench its thirst
at a single draught.

I have seen this species pounce on soft-shelled tortoises, and amusing
enough it was to see the latter scramble towards the water, enter it,
and save themselves from the claws of the Hawk by immediately diving.
I am not aware that this Hawk is ever successful in these attacks, as
I have not on any occasion found any portion of the skin, head, or feet
of tortoises in the stomachs of the many Hawks of this species which I
have killed and examined. Several times, however, I have found portions
of bull-frogs in their stomach.

All our Falcons are pestered with parasitic flying ticks. Those found
amongst the plumage of the Red-tailed Hawk, like all others, move swiftly
sidewise between the feathers, issue from the skin, and shift from one
portion of the body to another on wing, and do not abandon the bird for
a day or two after the latter is dead. These ticks are large, and of an
auburn colour.

The body of the Red-tailed Hawk is large, compact, and muscular. These
birds protrude their talons beyond their head in seizing their prey, as
well as while fighting in the air, in the manner shown in the Plate. I
have caught several birds of this species by baiting a steel-trap with
a live chicken.

The animal represented as held in one of the feet of the female, is
usually called a _rabbit_ in all parts of the United States, but is
evidently a true hare. It never burrows, but has a _form_ to rest in,
and to which it returns in the manner of the common hare of Europe.
I may hereafter present you, kind reader, with a full account of this
American species, which occurs in great abundance in the United States.

I have only here to add, that amongst the American farmers the common
name of our present bird is the _Hen-hawk_, while it receives that of
_Grand mangeur de poules_ from the Creoles of Louisiana.


FALCO BOREALIS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 266.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 25.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. p. 32.

AMERICAN BUZZARD, _Lath._ Synops. vol. i. p. 50.

RED-TAILED HAWK, FALCO BOREALIS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. vi.
p. 75. Pl. 52. fig. 1. Adult.

AMERICAN BUZZARD, OR WHITE-BREASTED HAWK, FALCO LEVERIANUS,
_Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. vi. p. 78. Pl. 51. fig. 3. Young.


Adult Male. Plate LI. Fig. 1.

Bill short, robust, at the base as broad as deep, compressed towards
the end, cerate; upper mandible, with the dorsal outline, convex from
the base, rounded on the sides, the edges with an obtuse lobe, the
tip trigonal, descending obliquely, acute; lower mandible involute at
the edges, truncate at the end, broadly rounded on the back. Nostrils
roundish, nearly dorsal, in the fore part of the cere. Head large,
flat above. Neck shortish, robust. Body bulky. Legs rather long, very
robust; tarsi stout, scutellate before and behind, the sides covered with
hexagonal scales; toes scutellate above, scaly on the sides, scabrous
and tubercular beneath; claws roundish, strong, curved, very acute.

Plumage compact and firm; feathers of the head and neck rather narrow,
of the other parts broad and rounded. Tarsus feathered anteriorly about
one-third down. Wings long, ample, rounded, the fourth quill longest,
the first short. Tail of twelve broad, rounded feathers, even, and of
ordinary length.

Bill light blue, blackish at the tip, greenish-yellow on the margin
towards the base; cere greenish-yellow. Iris hazel. Tarsi and toes yellow;
claws brownish-black. Upper part of the head light brownish-grey. Loral
space and under eyelid white. A broad band of dark brown from the angle
of the mouth backwards. Neck above and on the sides reddish-yellow, with
large deep brown spots. Back deep brown; scapulars of the same colour,
broadly margined and tipped with brownish-white. Lesser wing-coverts
chocolate-brown; larger lighter brown, tipped with white. Primary quills
blackish-brown; secondaries lighter, tipped with brownish-white; all
barred with blackish. Upper tail-coverts whitish, barred with brown,
and yellowish-red in the middle. Tail bright yellowish-red, tipped with



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 26 of 50)