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think that they do not spend the winter months so much in the Southern
parts of America as in some of the West India Islands. Indeed, I am
the more inclined to believe this to be the case, that they seldom
penetrate far into the interior, during their stay with us, but prefer
the districts bordering upon the Atlantic, through which they pass and
repass in incredible numbers.

In Louisiana, small detached flocks of males or of females appear about
the middle of March and beginning of April, alighting in the meadows
and grain-fields, where they pick up the grubs and insects found about
the roots of the blades. I have heard it asserted, though I cannot give
it as a fact, that the appearance of the Rice Bird in spring forebodes
a bad harvest. The idea probably originates from the circumstance that
these birds do not pass through Louisiana regularly every year, there
being sometimes three or four springs in succession in which they are
not observed.

The plumage of many of the males at this early season still resembles
that of the females, but it changes in the course of their stay,
which is seldom more than a fortnight. I have ascertained this fact by
dissecting many at this period, when, notwithstanding the dull colour
of their plumage, I found the sexual organs greatly developed, which is
not the case in autumn, even in the old males. I had another clew to
the discovery of this fact. No sooner did a flock of females make its
appearance, than these dull-looking gentlemen immediately paid them such
particular attention, and sang so vehemently, that the fact of their
being of a different sex became undeniable.

Here they pass under the name of _Meadow Birds_. In Pennsylvania they
are called _Reed Birds_, in Carolina _Rice Buntings_, and in the State
of New York _Boblinks_. The latter appellation is given to them as far
eastward as they are known to proceed for the purpose of breeding.

During their sojourn in Louisiana, in spring, their song, which is
extremely interesting, and emitted with a volubility bordering on the
burlesque, is heard from a whole party at the same time; when, as each
individual is, of course, possessed of the same musical powers as his
neighbours, it becomes amusing to listen to thirty or forty of them
beginning one after another, as if ordered to follow in quick succession,
after the first notes are given by a leader, and producing such a medley
as it is impossible to describe, although it is extremely pleasant to
hear it. While you are listening, the whole flock simultaneously ceases,
which appears equally extraordinary. This curious exhibition takes place
every time that the flock has alighted on a tree, after feeding for a
while on the ground, and is renewed at intervals during the day.

There is a very remarkable fact in the history of this species, which is,
that while moving eastward, during their migration, in spring, they fly
mostly at night; whereas in autumn, when they are returning southward,
their flight is diurnal. This, kind reader, is another puzzle to me.

About the middle of May, the Boblinks reach the State of New York,
their stay in the intermediate States being of short duration at that
season, although sufficient to enable them to cause great injury to the
corn fields in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, where it is said,
although I can scarcely give credit to the assertion, that they cut
the blade near the root. This is perhaps laid to their charge for the
purpose of aggravating the real injury which they afterwards inflict on
the farmers, by feeding on the grain when in a milky and tender state.
However, they reach the States of New York and Connecticut, and extend
their journey to the easternmost of our districts, proceeding also to
the borders of Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, and the St Laurence.

By this time, they have become so plentiful, and have so dispersed all
over the country, that it is impossible to see a meadow or a field of
corn, which does not contain several pairs of them. The beauty, or,
perhaps more properly, the variety of their plumage, as well as of their
song, attracts the attention of the bird-catchers. Great numbers are
captured and exposed for sale in the markets, particularly in those of
the city of New York. They are caught in trap-cages, and feed and sing
almost immediately after. Many are carried to Europe, where the shipper
is often disappointed in his profits, as by the time they reach there,
the birds have changed their colours and seem all females.

Whilst the love season lasts, the males are more sprightly than ever.
Their song is mostly performed in the air, while they are rising and
falling in successive jerks, which are as amusing as the jingling of
their vocal essays. The variety of their colours is at this juncture
very remarkable. It is equally so, when, on rising from among the grass
and flying away from the observer, they display the pure black and white
of their wings and body.

The nest of the Rice Bunting is placed on the ground, without much
apparent care as to choice of situation, but always amongst the grass,
or in a field of wheat or barley. It is composed of coarse dried grasses
and leaves externally, and is lined with finer meadow grass. It appears
large for the size of the bird. The female lays from four to six eggs, of
a white colour, strongly tinged with dull blue, and irregularly spotted
with blackish. They raise only one brood in a season.

No sooner have the young left the nest, than they and their parents
associate with other families, so that by the end of July large flocks
begin to appear. They seem to come from every portion of the Eastern
States, and already resort to the borders of the rivers and estuaries to
roost. Their songs have ceased, the males have lost their gay livery,
and have assumed the yellow hue of the females and young, although the
latter are more firm in their tints than the old males, and the whole
begin to return southward, slowly and with a single _clink_, sufficient
however to give intimation of their passage, as they fly high in long
files during the whole day.

Now begin their devastations. They plunder every field, but are shot
in immense numbers. As they pass along the sea shores, and follow the
muddy edges of the rivers, covered at that season with full grown reeds,
whose tops are bent down with the weight of the ripe seeds, they alight
amongst them in countless multitudes, and afford abundant practice to
every gunner.

It is particularly towards sunset, and when the weather is fine, that
the sport of shooting _Reed Birds_ is most profitable. They have then
fully satiated their appetite, and have collected closely for the
purpose of roosting. At the discharge of a gun, a flock sufficient to
cover several acres rises _en masse_, and performing various evolutions,
densely packed, and resembling a sultry cloud, passes over and near
the sportsman, when he lets fly, and finds occupation for some time in
picking up the dozens which he has brought down at a single shot. One
would think that every gun in the country has been put in requisition.
Millions of these birds are destroyed, and yet millions remain, for after
all the havock that has been made among them in the Middle Districts,
they follow the coast, and reach the rice plantations of the Carolinas
in such astonishing numbers, that no one could conceive their flocks to
have been already thinned. Their flesh is extremely tender and juicy.
The markets are amply supplied, and the epicures have a glorious time
of it.

By the end of October, few are found remaining in the States of New York
and Pennsylvania; and by the first of December they have left the United

The food of these birds varies according to the seasons, and consists
of grubs, caterpillars, insects of various kinds, such as beetles,
grasshoppers, crickets, and ground-spiders, and the seeds of wild oats,
wheat, barley, rice, and other grasses. They cling or climb along the
stalks of rank weeds, reeds, and corn, with great activity and ease,
and when at roost place themselves as near the ground as possible.

ICTERUS AGRIPENNIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 53.

EMBERIZA ORYZIVORA, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 311.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 408.

RICE BUNTING, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iii. p. 188.—_Wils._ Amer.
Ornith. vol. ii. p. 48, Pl. xii. fig. 1, 2.

Plate LIV. Fig. 1. Adult Male in summer.

Bill of ordinary length, robust, conical, compressed; upper mandible
narrower, inflected at the edges, the dorsal outline a little convex,
the ridge slightly prolonged on the forehead, the palate furnished with
a hard tubercle; under mandible with the dorsal outline convex, as are
the sides, the edges inflected; the gap line much deflected at the base,
straight. Nostrils basal, oval, in a short deep grove, nearly concealed
by the feathers. Head large, neck thick, body full. Feet of ordinary
length, rather strong; tarsus compressed, anteriorly covered with six
scutella, posteriorly acute; toes scutellate above, the outer united at
the base; claws arched, compressed, acute, the hind one very long.

Plumage compact, glossy. Wings of ordinary length, the second quill
longest. Tail of ordinary length, composed of twelve acuminate feathers.

Bill dark brown above, bluish-grey beneath. Iris hazel. Feet light
reddish-brown. Upper and fore part of the head, cheeks, tail, quills, and
the whole under parts, black. Back of the head and neck brownish-yellow.
Fore part of the back black, the feathers margined with yellow, as are
the secondary quills and coverts. Lower back, tail-coverts and scapulars,
pure white.

Length 7 inches, extent of wings 11; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap ⅔; tarsus 1⅙, middle toe 1¼.

Adult Female in summer. Plate LIV. Fig. 2.

The female is somewhat less than the male, and differs greatly in the
colours of the plumage, the upper parts being light yellowish-brown,
longitudinally streaked with blackish-brown, the under parts pale
greyish-yellow, the sides longitudinally marked with dark brown. There
is a broad band of dark brown on each side of the head, beneath which
is a yellowish streak over the eye, and a blackish spot behind it. The
quills and tail-feathers are wood-brown, the former, as well as the
coverts, margined with yellowish.

Notwithstanding the somewhat greater length of the bill, this bird
evidently approaches very nearly to the genus _Emberiza_, or is one of
the connecting links between it and the genus _Icterus_. The female in
colouring bears a striking resemblance to _Emberiza miliaria_.


ACER RUBRUM, _Willd._ Sp. Plant. vol. iv. p. 984. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 265. _Mich._ Arb. Forest. de l'Amer.
Sept. vol. ii. p. 210. Pl. 14.—OCTANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._

This species, which is known by the names of _Red Maple_ and _Swamp
Maple_, is distinguished by its five-lobed or three-lobed leaves, which
are cordate at the base, unequally and deeply toothed, and glaucous
beneath; its sessile umbels, elongated pedicels, and smooth germens.
The flowers and seeds are red. It is very extensively distributed, and
in the Swamps of Pennsylvania and New Jersey attains a height of from
sixty to eighty feet. When young, the bark is smooth, and covered with
large white spots, but it ultimately cracks and becomes brown. The wood
is hard and close, and takes a good polish. It is extensively used for
various purposes.




I have named this pretty and rare species after BARON CUVIER, not merely
by way of acknowledgment for the kind attentions which I have received
at the hands of that deservedly celebrated naturalist, but more as a
homage due by every student of nature to one at present unrivalled in
the knowledge of General Zoology.

I shot the bird represented in the Plate, on my father-in-law's plantation
of Fatland Ford, on the Skuylkill River in Pennsylvania, on the 8th June
1812, while on a visit to my honoured relative Mr WILLIAM BAKEWELL.
The drawing which I then made I have kept to this date, without having
described the bird from which it was taken. I killed this little bird,
supposing it to be one of its relatives, the Ruby-crested Wren, whilst
it was searching for insects and larvæ amongst the leaves and blossoms
of the _Kalmia latifolia_, on a branch of which you see it represented,
and was not aware of its being a different bird until I picked it up
from the ground. I have not seen another since, nor have I been able to
learn that this species has been observed by any other individual. It
might, however, be very easily mistaken for the Ruby-crowned Wren, the
manners of which appear to be much the same.

My excellent friend CHARLES LUCIAN BONAPARTE, to whom also I shewed my
drawing of this bird in London, proposed naming it _Regulus Carbunculus_;
and I should probably have introduced it to you, kind reader, under that
appellation, had I not changed it for that of _Regulus Cuvierii_, on my
fortunately becoming acquainted with the highly celebrated and equally
kind Secretary of the Royal Institute of France.

The _Kalmia latifolia_ grows in great profusion in the State of
Pennsylvania, and along the range of the Alleghanies, in all rocky and
hilly situations.


Plate LV. Male.

Bill short, straight, subulate, very slender, compressed, with inflected
edges; upper mandible nearly straight in its dorsal outline, the edges
slightly notched close upon the slightly declinate acute tip; lower
mandible straight, acute. Nostrils basal, elliptical, half closed above
by a membrane, covered over by the feathers. The whole form slender.
Legs rather long; tarsus slender, much compressed, longer than the middle
toe, covered anteriorly with a few indistinct scutella; toes scutellate,
the lateral ones nearly equal and free; hind toe stouter; claws weak,
compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage very loose and tufty. Bristles at the base of the bill; a small
decomposed feather covering the nostril. Wings of ordinary length, the
third and fourth primaries longest. Tail of twelve feathers, emarginate.

Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet yellowish-brown. The general colour of the
upper parts is dull greyish-olive. Forehead, lore, and a line behind
the eye, black. A semilunar band of the same on the top of the head, the
middle space vermilion. Wings and tail dusky, edged with greenish-yellow.
Secondary coverts tipped with greyish-white. Under parts greyish-white.

Length 4¼ inches, extent of wings 6; bill along the ridge nearly ⅓,
along the gap nearly ½; tarsus ¾.


KALMIA LATIFOLIA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 600. _Pursh_, Fl.
Amer. vol. i. p. 296.—DECANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._ RHODODENDRA,

This beautiful species is characterized by its scattered, petiolate,
elliptical leaves, which are smooth, and nearly of the same colour on
both sides; and its terminal, viscid, and pubescent corymbs. It is a
middle-sized shrub, sometimes attaining a height of eight or ten feet.
The leaves are evergreen, as in the other species, and the flowers of
a delicate pink.


It may not be amiss, kind reader, before I attempt to give you some idea
of the pleasures experienced by the sportsmen of Kentucky, to introduce
the subject with a slight description of that State.

Kentucky was formerly attached to Virginia, but in those days the Indians
looked upon that portion of the western wilds as their own, and abandoned
the district only when forced to do so, moving with disconsolate hearts
farther into the recesses of the unexplored forests. Doubtless the
richness of its soil, and the beauty of its borders, situated as they are
along one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, contributed as much
to attract the Old Virginians, as the desire so generally experienced
in America, of spreading over the uncultivated tracts, and bringing
into cultivation lands that have for unknown ages teemed with the wild
luxuriance of untamed nature. The conquest of Kentucky was not performed
without many difficulties. The warfare that long existed between the
intruders and the Redskins was sanguinary and protracted; but the former
at length made good their footing, and the latter drew off their shattered
bands, dismayed by the mental superiority and indomitable courage of
the white men.

This region was probably discovered by a daring hunter, the renowned
DANIEL BOON. The richness of its soil, its magnificent forests, its
numberless navigable streams, its salt springs and licks, its saltpetre
caves, its coal strata, and the vast herds of buffaloes and deer that
browsed on its hills and amidst its charming valleys, afforded ample
inducements to the new settler, who pushed forward with a spirit far
above that of the most undaunted tribes, which for ages had been the
sole possessors of the soil.

The Virginians thronged towards the Ohio. An axe, a couple of horses, and
a heavy rifle, with store of ammunition, were all that were considered
necessary for the equipment of the man, who, with his family, removed
to the new State, assured that, in that land of exuberant fertility, he
could not fail to provide amply for all his wants. To have witnessed the
industry and perseverance of these emigrants, must at once have proved the
vigour of their minds. Regardless of the fatigue attending every movement
which they made, they pushed through an unexplored region of dark and
tangled forests, guiding themselves by the sun alone, and reposing at
night on the bare ground. Numberless streams they had to cross on rafts,
with their wives and children, their cattle and their luggage, often
drifting to considerable distances before they could effect a landing
on the opposite shores. Their cattle would often stray amid the rice
pasturage of these shores, and occasion a delay of several days. To these
troubles add the constantly impending danger of being murdered, while
asleep in their encampments, by the prowling and ruthless Indians; while
they had before them a distance of hundreds of miles to be traversed,
before they could reach certain places of rendezvous called _Stations_.
To encounter difficulties like these must have required energies of no
ordinary kind; and the reward which these veteran settlers enjoy was
doubtless well merited.

Some removed from the Atlantic shores to those of the Ohio in more comfort
and security. They had their waggons, their Negroes, and their families.
Their way was cut through the woods by their own axemen, the day before
their advance, and when night overtook them, the hunters attached to
the party came to the place pitched upon for encamping, loaded with the
dainties of which the forest yielded an abundant supply, the blazing light
of a huge fire guiding their steps as they approached, and the sounds
of merriment that saluted their ears assuring them that all was well.
The flesh of the buffalo, the bear, and the deer, soon hung in large
and delicious steaks, in front of the embers; the cakes already prepared
were deposited in their proper places, and under the rich drippings of
the juicy roasts, were quickly baked. The waggons contained the bedding,
and whilst the horses which had drawn them were turned loose to feed on
the luxuriant undergrowth of the woods, some perhaps hoppled, but the
greater number, merely with a light bell hung to their neck, to guide
their owners in the morning to the spot where they might have rambled,
the party were enjoying themselves after the fatigues of the day.

In anticipation all is pleasure; and these migrating bands feasted in
joyous sociality, unapprehensive of any greater difficulties than those
to be encountered in forcing their way through the pathless woods to
the land of abundance; and although it took months to accomplish the
journey, and a skirmish now and then took place between them and the
Indians, who sometimes crept unperceived into their very camp, still did
the Virginians cheerfully proceed towards the western horizon, until
the various groups all reached the Ohio, when, struck with the beauty
of that magnificent stream, they at once commenced the task of clearing
land, for the purpose of establishing a permanent residence.

Others, perhaps encumbered with too much luggage, preferred descending
the stream. They prepared _arks_ pierced with port-holes, and glided
on the gentle current, more annoyed, however, than those who marched
by land, by the attacks of the Indians, who watched their motions. Many
travellers have described these boats, formerly called _arks_, but now
named _flat-boats_. But have they told you, kind reader, that in those
times a boat thirty or forty feet in length, by ten or twelve in breadth,
was considered a stupendous fabric; that this boat contained men, women
and children, huddled together, with horses, cattle, hogs and poultry
for their companions, while the remaining portion was crammed with
vegetables and packages of seeds? The roof or deck of the boat was not
unlike a farm-yard, being covered with hay, ploughs, carts, waggons, and
various agricultural implements, together with numerous others, among
which the spinning-wheels of the matrons were conspicuous. Even the
sides of the floating-mass were loaded with the wheels of the different
vehicles, which themselves lay on the roof. Have they told you that these
boats contained the little all of each family of venturous emigrants,
who, fearful of being discovered by the Indians under night moved in
darkness, groping their way from one part to another of these floating
habitations, denying themselves the comfort of fire or light, lest the
foe that watched them from the shore should rush upon them and destroy
them? Have they told you that this boat was used, after the tedious
voyage was ended, as the first dwelling of these new settlers? No, kind
reader, such things have not been related to you before. The travellers
who have visited our country, have had other objects in view.

I shall not describe the many massacres which took place among the
different parties of White and Red men, as the former moved down the
Ohio; because I have never been very fond of battles, and indeed have
always wished that the world were more peaceably inclined than it is; and
shall merely add, that, in one way or other, Kentucky was wrested from
the original owners of the soil. Let us, therefore, turn our attention to
the sports still enjoyed in that now happy portion of the United States.

We have individuals in Kentucky, kind reader, that even there are
considered wonderful adepts in the management of the rifle. To _drive a
nail_ is a common feat, not more thought off by the Kentuckians than to
cut off a wild turkey's head, at a distance of a hundred yards. Others
will _bark_ off squirrels one after another, until satisfied with the
number procured. Some, less intent on destroying game, may be seen under
night _snuffing a candle_ at the distance of fifty yards, off-hand,
without extinguishing it. I have been told that some have proved so
expert and cool, as to make choice of the eye of a foe at a wonderful
distance, boasting beforehand of the sureness of their piece, which has
afterwards been fully proved when the enemy's head has been examined!

Having resided some years in Kentucky, and having more than once been
witness of rifle sport, I shall present you with the results of my
observation, leaving you to judge how far rifle-shooting is understood
in that State.

Several individuals who conceive themselves expert in the management
of the gun, are often seen to meet for the purpose of displaying their
skill, and betting a trifling sum, put up a target, in the centre of
which a common-sized nail is hammered for about two-thirds of its length.
The marksmen make choice of what they consider a proper distance, which
may be forty paces. Each man cleans the interior of his tube, which is
called _wiping_ it, places a ball in the palm of his hand, pouring as much
powder from his horn upon it as will cover it. This quantity is supposed
to be sufficient for any distance within a hundred yards. A shot which
comes very close to the nail is considered as that of an indifferent
marksman; the bending of the nail is, of course, somewhat better; but
nothing less than hitting it right on the head is satisfactory. Well,
kind reader, one out of three shots generally hits the nail, and should

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 28 of 50)