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whitish, and having a narrow bar of black near the end. Lower parts
brownish-white; the fore part of the breast and neck light yellowish-red,
the former marked with guttiform, somewhat sagittate brown spots: abdomen
and chin white; feathers of the leg and tarsus pale reddish-yellow,
those on the outside indistinctly spotted.

Length 20½ inches, extent of wings 46; bill along the back 1¼, along the
gap 2; tarsus 3⅓, middle toe 2¾. Wings when closed reaching to within
two inches of the tip of the tail.

Adult Female. Plate LI. Fig. 2.

The female, which is considerably larger, agrees with the male in the
general distribution of its colouring. The upper parts are darker, and
the under parts nearly white, there being only a few narrow streaks on
the sides of the breast; the tibial and tarsal feathers as in the male.
The tail is of a duller red, and wants the black bar.

Length 24 inches.


LEPUS AMERICANUS, _Harlan_, Fauna Americana, p. 193.

The Rabbit, as this animal is named in the United States, has the habits
of the European Hare, forming a flat, well-beaten, oblong space among
the grass, on which it rests during the day. It never burrows like the
Common Rabbit of Europe, although it resorts for safety to the hollows
of fallen trunks, or those frequently existing at the roots of standing
trees, as well as to cavities in rocks. It feeds principally towards
the approach of night and early in the morning, and spends the greater
part of the day in its form. When startled by a dog, it proceeds in a
direct manner for a considerable way, and then returns nearly by the
same course. When disturbed, if there be not a dog present, it runs to
a short distance, stops, raises its head, erects its ears, and is then
easily discovered and shot. When the period of parturition approaches,
it forms a kind of nest of long grass, arranged in an oblong form. Its
flesh is whiter than that of the European Hare, but resembles it in
flavour. It gnaws the bark of young trees in the orchards as well as in
the forests, and is in many parts very abundant.




Our Goatsuckers, although possessed of great power of wing, are
particularly attached to certain districts and localities. The species now
under consideration is seldom observed beyond the limits of the Choctaw
Nation in the State of Mississippi, or the Carolinas, on the shores
of the Atlantic, and may with propriety be looked upon as the southern
species of the United States. Louisiana, Florida, the lower portions of
Alabama and Georgia, are the parts in which it most abounds; and there
it makes its appearance early in spring, coming over from Mexico, and
probably still warmer climates.

About the middle of March, the forests of Louisiana are heard to echo
with the well-known notes of this interesting bird. No sooner has the
sun disappeared, and the nocturnal insects emerge from their burrows,
than the sounds, "_chuck-will's-widow_" repeated with great clearness
and power six or seven times in as many seconds, strike the ear of every
individual, bringing to the mind a pleasure mingled with a certain degree
of melancholy, which I have often found very soothing. The sounds of
the Goatsucker, at all events, forebode a peaceful and calm night, and I
have more than once thought, are conducive to lull the listener to repose.

The deep ravines, shady swamps, and extensive pine ridges, are all equally
resorted to by these birds; for in all such places they find ample means
of providing for their safety during the day, and of procuring food
under night. Their notes are seldom heard in cloudy weather, and never
when it rains. Their roosting places are principally the hollows of
decayed trees, whether standing or prostrate, from which latter they are
seldom raised during the day, excepting while incubation is in progress.
In these hollows I have found them, lodged in the company of several
species of bats, the birds asleep on the mouldering particles of the
wood, the bats clinging to the sides of the cavities. When surprised in
such situations, instead of trying to effect their escape by flying out,
they retire backwards to the farthest corners, ruffle all the feathers
of their body, open their mouth to its full extent, and utter a hissing
kind of murmur, not unlike that of some snakes. When seized and brought
to the light of day, they open and close their eyes in rapid succession
as if it were painful for them to encounter so bright a light. They snap
their little bill in the manner of Fly-catchers, and shuffle along as
if extremely desirous of making their escape. On giving them liberty
to fly, I have found them able to proceed until out of my sight. They
passed between the trees with apparently as much ease and dexterity as
if it had been twilight. I once cut two of the quill-feathers of a wing
of one of these birds, and allowed it to escape. A few days afterwards
I found it in the same log, which induces me to believe that they, like
many other birds, resort to the same spot, to roost or spend the day.

The flight of the Chuck-will's-widow is as light as that of its relative,
the well-known _Whip-poor-will_, if not more so, and is more graceful
as well as more elevated. It somewhat resembles the flight of the
Hen-harrier, being performed by easy flappings of the wings, interspersed
with sailings and curving sweeps, extremely pleasing to the bystander.
At the approach of night, this bird begins to sing clearly and loudly,
and continues its notes for about a quarter of an hour. At this time it
is perched on a fence-stake, or on the decayed branch of a tree in the
interior of the woods, seldom on the ground. The sounds or notes which
it emits seem to cause it some trouble, as it raises and lowers its
head in quick succession at each of them. This over, the bird launches
into the air, and is seen sweeping over the cotton fields or the sugar
plantations, cutting all sorts of figures, mounting, descending, or
sailing, with so much ease and grace, that one might be induced to call
it the _Fairy of the night_. If it passes close to one, a murmuring
noise is heard, at times resembling that spoken of when the bird is
caught by day. It suddenly checks its course, inclines to the right or
left, secures a beetle or a moth, continues its flight over the field,
passes and repasses hundreds of times over the same ground, and now and
then alights on a fence-stake, or the tallest plant in the place, from
which it emits its notes for a few moments with increased vivacity.
Now, it is seen following a road or a path on the wing, and alighting
here and there to pick up the beetle emerging from its retreat in the
ground; again, it rises high in air, and gives chase to the insects that
are flying there, perhaps on their passage from one wood to another. At
other times, I have seen it poise itself on its wings opposite the trunk
of a tree, and seize with its bill the insects crawling on the bark, in
this manner inspecting the whole tree, with motions as light as those
by which the Humming Bird flutters from one flower to another. In this
manner Chuck-will's-widow spends the greater part of the night.

The greatest harmony appears to subsist between the birds of this
species, for dozens may be observed flying together over a field, and
chasing insects in all directions, without manifesting any enmity or
envy. A few days after the arrival of the male birds, the females make
their appearance, and the love season at once commences. The male pays
his addresses to the female with a degree of pomposity only equalled by
the Tame Pigeon. The female, perched lengthwise on a branch, appears
coy and silent, whilst the male flies around her, alights in front of
her, and with drooping wings and expanded tail advances quickly, singing
with great impetuosity. They are soon seen to leave the branch together
and gambol through the air. A few days after this, the female, having
made choice of a place in one of the most retired parts of some thicket,
deposits two eggs, which I think, although I cannot be certain, are all
that she lays for the season. This bird forms no nest. A little space is
carelessly scratched amongst the dead leaves, and in it the eggs, which
are elliptical, dull olive, and speckled with brown, are dropped. These
are not found without great difficulty, unless when by accident a person
passes within a few feet of the bird whilst sitting, and it chances to
fly off. Should you touch or handle these dear fruits of happy love,
and, returning to the place, search for them again, you would search in
vain; for the bird perceives at once that they have been meddled with,
and both parents remove them to some other part of the woods, where
chance only could enable you to find them again. In the same manner,
they also remove the young when very small.

This singular occurrence has as much occupied my thoughts as the equally
singular manner in which the _Cow Bunting_ deposits her eggs, which she
does, like the _Common Cuckoo_ of Europe, one by one, in the nests of
other birds, of different species from her own. I have spent much time
in trying to ascertain in what manner the Chuck-will's-widow removes
her eggs or young, particularly as I found, by the assistance of an
excellent dog, that neither the eggs nor the young were to be met with
within at least a hundred yards from the spot where they at first lay.
The Negroes, some of whom pay a good deal of attention to the habits
of birds and quadrupeds, assured me that these birds push the eggs or
young with their bill along the ground. Some farmers, without troubling
themselves much about the matter, imagined the transportation to be
performed under the wings of the old bird. The account of the Negroes
appearing to me more likely to be true than that of the farmers, I
made up my mind to institute a strict investigation of the matter. The
following is the result.

When the Chuck-will's-widow, either male or female (for each sits
alternately) has discovered that the eggs have been touched, it ruffles
its feathers and appears extremely dejected for a minute or two, after
which it emits a low murmuring cry, scarcely audible to me, as I lay
concealed at a distance of not more than eighteen or twenty yards. At
this time I have seen the other parent reach the spot, flying so low
over the ground that I thought its little feet must have touched it, as
it skimmed along, and after a few low notes and some gesticulations, all
indicative of great distress, take an egg in its large mouth, the other
bird doing the same, when they would fly off together, skimming closely
over the ground, until they disappeared among the branches and trees.
But to what distance they remove their eggs, I have never been able to
ascertain; nor have I ever had an opportunity of witnessing the removal
of the young. Should a person, coming upon the nest when the bird is
sitting, refrain from touching the eggs, the bird returns to them and
sits as before. This fact I have also ascertained by observation.

I wish I could have discovered the peculiar use of the _pectinated
claw_ which this bird has on each foot; but, reader, this remains one of
the many desiderata in ornithology, and I fear, with me at least, will
continue so.

The Chuck-will's-widow manifests a strong antipathy towards all snakes,
however harmless they may be. Although these birds cannot in any way
injure the snakes, they alight near them on all occasions, and try to
frighten them away, by opening their prodigious mouth, and emitting a
strong hissing murmur. It was after witnessing one of these occurrences,
which took place at early twilight, that the idea of representing these
birds in such an occupation struck me. The beautiful little snake, gliding
along the dead branch, between two Chuck-will's-widows, a male and a
female, is commonly called the _Harlequin Snake_, and is, I believe,
quite harmless.

The food of the bird now under consideration consists entirely of all
sorts of insects, among which the larger species of moths and beetles are
very conspicuous. The long bristly feathers at the base of the mandibles
of these birds no doubt contribute greatly to prevent the insects from
escaping, after any portion of them has entered the mouth of the bird.

These birds become silent as soon as the young are hatched, but are heard
again before their departure towards the end of summer. At this season,
however, their cry is much less frequently heard than in spring. They
leave the United States all of a sudden, about the middle of the month
of August.

CAPRIMULGUS CAROLINENSIS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 1028.
—_Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 584.—_Ch. Bonaparte_,
Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 61.

CAROLINA GOATSUCKER, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 592.

Ornith. vol. vi. p. 95. Pl. 54. fig. 2.

Adult Male. Plate LII. Fig. 1.

Bill extremely short, feeble, opening to beyond the eyes, making the
mouth when open of enormous dimensions; upper mandible arched in its
dorsal outline, very broad at the base, suddenly contracted towards
the tip, which is compressed and rather obtuse; lower mandible a little
decurved at the tip. Nostrils basal, oval, prominent, covered above by a
membrane. Head disproportionately large. Eyes and ears very large. Neck
short. Body rather slender. Feet very short; tarsus partly feathered,
anteriorly scutellate below; fore toes three, connected to the second
joint by membranes, scutellate above; claws depressed, arched, that of
the middle toe with the inner edge expanded and pectinate.

Plumage blended, soft and silky, without much gloss. Upper mandible
margined at the base with long, stiff bristles, extending forwards and
outwards. Wings long, somewhat falcate, narrow, the second and third
quills longest. Tail long, ample, even, of ten broad, rounded feathers.

Bill yellowish-brown, the tip black. Iris hazel. Feet yellowish-brown,
tinged with purple. Head and back dark brown, minutely mottled with
yellowish-red, and longitudinally streaked with black. Three lines
of the latter colour from the upper mandible, diverging along the
head. A yellowish-white line over the eye. Sides of the head and chin
yellowish-red, mottled with black. Wings barred with yellowish-red and
brownish-black, and minutely sprinkled with the latter colour, as are the
wing-coverts, which, together with the scapulars, are largely spotted with
black, and tinged with bluish-grey. Tail similarly barred and sprinkled,
the inner webs of the three outer feathers white, and their extremities
light yellowish-red, more minutely sprinkled, and without bars. Under
parts blackish, sprinkled with yellowish-red, the belly lighter, and a
slight band of whitish across the fore-neck.

Length 12¾ inches, extent of wings 26; bill along the back ⅓, along the
gap 2.

Adult Female. Plate LII. Fig. 2.

The colouring of the female is similar to that of the male. The three
outer tail-feathers are brownish on their inner webs, yellowish-red,
without dots, at the tip, with a distinct subterminal bar of black.


This beautiful Snake is rather rare in the United States, where I have
observed it only in the south. It glides through the grass with ease,
and ascends to the tops of bushes and among the branches of fallen
trees, to bask in the sun. Children are fond of catching it on account
of its beauty. It feeds principally on insects, such as flies and small
Coleoptera. Its usual size is that represented in the plate.




About the middle of April, the orange groves of the lower parts of
Louisiana, and more especially those in the immediate vicinity of the
City of New Orleans, are abundantly supplied with this beautiful little
Sparrow. But no sooner does it make its appearance than trap-cages are
set, and a regular business is commenced in the market of that city. The
method employed in securing the male Painted Finch is so connected with
its pugnacious habits, that I feel inclined to describe it, especially
as it is so different from the common way of alluring birds, that it
may afford you, kind reader, some amusement.

A male bird in full plumage is shot and stuffed in a defensive attitude,
and perched among some grass seed, rice, or other food, on the same
platform as the trap-cage. This is taken to the fields or near the
orangeries, and placed in so open a situation, that it would be difficult
for a living bird of any species to fly over it, without observing it.
The trap is set. A male Painted Finch passes, perceives it, and dives
towards the stuffed bird, with all the anger which its little breast can
contain. It alights on the edge of the trap for a moment, and throwing
its body against the stuffed bird, brings down the trap, and is made
prisoner. In this manner, thousands of these birds are caught every
spring. So pertinacious are they in their attacks, that even when the
trap has closed upon them, they continue pecking at the feathers of
the supposed rival. The approach of man seems to allay its anger in a
moment. The live bird is removed to the lower apartment of the cage,
and is thereby made to assist in decoying others.

They feed almost immediately after being caught; and if able to support
the loss of liberty for a few days, may be kept for several years. I have
known some instances of their being kept in confinement for upwards of
ten years. Few vessels leave the port of New Orleans during the summer
months, without taking some Painted Finches, and through this means
they are transported probably to all parts of Europe. I have seen them
offered for sale in London and Paris, with the trifling difference of
value on each individual, which converted the sixpence paid for it at
New Orleans to three guineas in London.

The pugnacious habits of this species are common in a great degree to
the whole family of Sparrows. Like the most daring, the Common House
Sparrow of Europe, they may be observed in spring time, in little groups
of four, five or six, fighting together, moving round each other to
secure an advantageous position, pecking and pulling at each other's
feathers with all the violence and animosity to which their small degree
of strength can give effect.

A group thus occupied I have attempted to represent in the plate. I have
at the same time endeavoured to save you the trouble of reading a long
description of the changes which take place in their plumage, from the
time at which the young leave the nest, until the fourth year following,
when the males attain the full beauty of their brilliant livery. Where
in fact would be the necessity of telling you more, than that the young,
during the first summer, are similar in colouring to the female; that the
next spring, the head of the males only has become of a handsome blue;
that, the spring following, the same bird is mottled more or less with
azure, carmine, yellow and green; and that it requires another return
of the warm season before all these colours are perfected and rendered
permanent; when at a single glance you can determine all this at once.
Long descriptions of this kind are only fit to be read to the blind.
Colours speak for themselves.

The flight of the _Pape_, by which name the Creoles of Louisiana know
this bird best, is short, although regular, and performed by a nearly
constant motion of the wings, which is rendered necessary by their
concave form. It hops on the ground, moving forward with ease, now and
then jetting out the tail a little, and, like a true Sparrow, picking
up and carrying off on wing a grain of rice or a crumb of bread to some
distance, where it may eat in more security. It has a sprightly song,
often repeated, which it continues even when closely confined. When the
bird is at liberty, this song is uttered from the top branches of an
orange-tree, or those of a common briar, and although not so sonorous
as that of the Canary, or of its nearer relative, the Indigo Bunting, is
not far from equalling either. Its song is continued during the greatest
heats of the day, which is also the case with that of the Indigo Bird.

The nest of this pretty bird is generally placed in a low situation, in
an orange-tree, frequently within a few paces of the house, or far from
it on the edge of the fences, where briars are convenient. It raises two
broods each season. The eggs are four or five, of a beautiful pearly,
rather bluish colour, speckled with blackish, and are deposited in a
simply constructed nest, lined with fine fibrous roots or horse-hair,
and externally formed of fine grass. They readily breed in confinement,
if their prison is rendered tolerably comfortable. The young are fed at
first in the manner of Canaries, but at the end of ten or twelve days
are taught to swallow grains of rice, insects or berries. No sooner are
figs or grapes ripe than these birds attack them, feeding for some time
almost entirely upon them. Towards evening, they also pursue insects on

Some persons give the name of _Nonpareil_ to this species, but it is
more commonly known by the name of _Pape_, which, in fact, is a general
appellation given by the inhabitants of Louisiana to all the smaller
species of thick-billed birds.

The Painted Finches do not proceed far eastward, nor, indeed, up the
Mississippi, being seldom seen above the City of Natchez, on that river,
or farther to the east than the Carolinas. It retires southward in the
beginning of October.

The Chickasaw Wild Plum, on a twig of which I have represented a group of
these birds, is found growing abundantly in the country where the birds
occur. It is a small shrub, the fruit of which is yellow when ripe, and
excellent eating.

FRINGILLA CIRIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds of the
United States, p. 107.

EMBERIZA CIRIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 313.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 416.

PAINTED BUNTING, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iii. p. 206.—_Wils._
Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 68. Pl. xxiv. fig. 1. Male; fig. 2.

Adult Male, in full plumage. Plate LIII. Fig 1.

Bill short, robust, conical, somewhat bulging, straight, acute; upper
mandible broader, slightly declinate at the tip; gap-line a little
declinate at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partly concealed by
the frontal feathers. Head and neck rather large. Body full. Feet of
moderate length; tarsus a little longer than the middle toe; toes free,
the lateral ones nearly equal; claws compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage blended, tufty, somewhat compact on the head and back. Wings of
ordinary length, the third quill longest. Tail shortish, even, of twelve
rounded feathers.

Bill dark brown above, light-blue beneath. Iris hazel. Feet light blue.
Head and upper neck pure azure, a circle of carmine round the eye. Back
and lesser wing-coverts yellowish-green. Lower back and under parts deep
carmine. Quills and tail purplish-brown; secondary coverts green.

Length 5¼, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the gap ½;
tarsus ¾, middle toe ⅔.

Male in the third year. Plate LIII. Fig. 2.

Head and under parts as in the full-plumaged male. Back mottled with
yellow and light green; upper wing-coverts patched with green, yellow
and brown.

Male in the second year. Plate LIII. Fig. 4.

Bill and upper part of the head as in the adult. Upper parts generally
olive-green; under parts dull orange, paler behind.

Male in the first year. Plate LIII. Fig. 3.

Under mandible blue; in other respects similar to the female.

Adult Female. Plate LIII. Fig. 5.

Bill brown. Feet light blue. Upper parts in general light olive green;
under parts dull orange, paler behind.


PRUNUS CHICASA, _Mich._ Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 284. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 332.—ICOSANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._
ROSACEÆ, _Juss._

This species is distinguished by its oblongo-elliptical, acuminate,
serrulate leaves; smooth spinescent branches; flowers in pairs, with
very short pedicels, and glabrous calyces; and its broadly oval fruits.
It flowers in April and May.




Very few of these birds pass through Louisiana in spring, and still
fewer, on their return, in autumn; for which reason I am inclined to

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 27 of 50)