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the shooters amount to half a dozen, two nails are frequently needed
before each can have a shot. Those who drive the nail have a further
trial amongst themselves, and the two best shots out of these generally
settle the affair, when all the sportsmen adjourn to some house, and
spend an hour or two in friendly intercourse, appointing, before they
part, a day for another trial. This is technically termed _Driving the
Nail_.

_Barking off squirrels_ is delightful sport, and in my opinion requires a
greater degree of accuracy than any other. I first witnessed this manner
of procuring squirrels, whilst near the town of Frankfort. The performer
was the celebrated DANIEL BOON. We walked out together, and followed
the rocky margins of the Kentucky River, until we reached a piece of
flat land thickly covered with black walnuts, oaks and hickories. As the
general mast was a good one that year, squirrels were seen gambolling
on every tree around us. My companion, a stout, hale, and athletic man,
dressed in a homespun hunting-shirt, bare-legged and moccasined, carried
a long and heavy rifle, which, as he was loading it, he said had proved
efficient in all his former undertakings, and which he hoped would not
fail on this occasion, as he felt proud to shew me his skill. The gun
was wiped, the powder measured, the ball patched with six-hundred-thread
linen, and the charge sent home with a hickory rod. We moved not a
step from the place, for the squirrels were so numerous that it was
unnecessary to go after them. BOON pointed to one of these animals
which had observed us, and was crouched on a branch about fifty paces
distant, and bade me mark well the spot where the ball should hit. He
raised his piece gradually, until the _bead_ (that being the name given
by the Kentuckians to the _sight_) of the barrel was brought to a line
with the spot which he intended to hit. The whip-like report resounded
through the woods and along the hills, in repeated echoes. Judge of my
surprise, when I perceived that the ball had hit the piece of the bark
immediately beneath the squirrel, and shivered it into splinters, the
concussion produced by which had killed the animal, and sent it whirling
through the air, as if it had been blown up by the explosion of a powder
magazine. BOON kept up his firing, and, before many hours had elapsed,
we had procured as many squirrels as we wished; for you must know, kind
reader, that to load a rifle requires only a moment, and that if it is
wiped once after each shot, it will do duty for hours. Since that first
interview with our veteran BOON, I have seen many other individuals
perform the same feat.

The _snuffing of a candle_ with a ball, I first had an opportunity of
seeing near the banks of Green River, not far from a large pigeon-roost,
to which I had previously made a visit. I heard many reports of guns
during the early part of a dark night, and knowing them to be those of
rifles, I went towards the spot to ascertain the cause. On reaching the
place, I was welcomed by a dozen of tall stout men, who told me they
were exercising, for the purpose of enabling them to shoot under night
at the reflected light from the eyes of a deer or wolf, by torch-light,
of which I shall give you an account somewhere else. A fire was blazing
near, the smoke of which rose curling among the thick foliage of the
trees. At a distance which rendered it scarcely distinguishable, stood a
burning candle, as if intended for an offering to the goddess of night,
but which in reality was only fifty yards from the spot on which we all
stood. One man was within a few yards of it, to watch the effects of the
shots, as well as to light the candle should it chance to go out, or to
replace it should the shot cut it across. Each marksman shot in his turn.
Some never hit either the snuff or the candle, and were congratulated
with a loud laugh; while others actually snuffed the candle without
putting it out, and were recompensed for their dexterity by numerous
hurrahs. One of them, who was particularly expert, was very fortunate,
and snuffed the candle three times out of seven, whilst all the other
shots either put out the candle, or cut it immediately under the light.

Of the feats performed by the Kentuckians with the rifle, I could say
more than might be expedient on the present occasion. In every thinly
peopled portion of the State, it is rare to meet one without a gun of
that description, as well as a tomahawk. By way of recreation, they
often cut off a piece of the bark of a tree, make a target of it, using
a little powder wetted with water or saliva, for the bull's eye, and
shoot into the mark all the balls they have about them, picking them
out of the wood again.

After what I have said, you may easily imagine with what ease a Kentuckian
procures game, or dispatches an enemy, more especially when I tell you
that every one in the State is accustomed to handle the rifle from the
time when he is first able to shoulder it until near the close of his
career. That murderous weapon is the means of procuring them subsistence
during all their wild and extensive rambles, and is the source of their
principal sports and pleasures.




RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.

_FALCO LINEATUS_, GMEL.

PLATE LVI. MALE AND FEMALE.


Although we are informed that a _skin_ of this species has long ago
been described in Europe, we are, in the same breath, told that nothing
is known of the life and habits of the individual on the body of which
it once shone in all its native glossiness. Nothing, kind reader:—the
tarnished coat only has been transmitted abroad; and, like that belonging
to many equally interesting species of the feathered tribe, has been
exposed for sale in distant markets, where the purchaser has felt as
little concern about the life of the individual to which it belonged,
as purchasers of another kind usually feel about the former owners
of the thread-bare vestments which we see offered for sale by the
old-clothes'-men of St Giles's. Even Mr ALEXANDER WILSON himself, knew
nothing respecting the habits of this species; and as other authors,
ranking equally high with that pleasing writer, have unwittingly
confounded it with another species, known in the United States by the
name of the _Winter Hawk_, it is with satisfaction that I find myself in
some degree qualified to give an account of the differences of _habit_
between the two species.

The _Red-shouldered Hawk_, or, as I would prefer calling it, the
_Red-breasted Hawk_, although dispersed over the greater part of the
United States, is rarely observed in the Middle Districts, where, on
the contrary, the _Winter Falcon_ usually makes its appearance from the
north, at the approach of every autumn, and is of more common occurrence.
Kentucky, Tennessee, and other Western States, with the most Southern
Districts of our Union, are apparently best adapted for the constant
residence of the Red-shouldered Hawk, as in all these latter districts
it is met with in greater numbers than in any other.

This bird is one of the most noisy of its genus, during spring especially,
when it would be difficult to approach the skirts of woods bordering a
large plantation without hearing its discordant shrill notes, _ka-hee,
ka-hee_, as it is seen sailing in rapid circles at a very great elevation.
Its ordinary flight is even and protracted, excepting when it is
describing the circles just mentioned, when it often dives and gambols.
It is a more general inhabitant of the woods than most of our other
species, particularly during the summer, and in autumn and winter; now
and then only, in early spring, shewing itself in the open grounds, and
about the vicinity of small lakes, for the purpose securing Red-winged
Starlings and wounded Ducks.

The interior of woods seems, as I have said, the fittest haunts for
the Red-shouldered Hawk. He sails through them a few yards above the
ground, and suddenly alights on the low branch of a tree, or the top
of a dead stump, from which he silently watches, in an erect posture,
for the appearance of squirrels, upon which he pounces directly and
kills them in an instant, afterwards devouring them on the ground. If
accidentally discovered, he essays to remove the squirrel, but finding
this difficult, he drags it partly through the air and partly along the
ground, to some short distance, until he conceives himself out of sight
of the intruder, when he again commences feeding. The eating of a whole
squirrel, which this bird often devours at one meal, so gorges it, that
I have seen it in this state almost unable to fly, and with such an
extraordinary protuberance on its breast as seemed very unnatural, and
very injurious to the beauty of form which the bird usually displays.
On all occasions, such as I have described, when the bird is so gorged,
it is approached with the greatest ease. On the contrary, when it is in
want of food, it requires the greatest caution to get within shooting
distance of it.

At the approach of spring, this species begins to pair, and its flight
is accompanied with many circlings and zigzag motions, during which it
emits its shrill cries. The male is particularly noisy at this time. He
gives chase to all other Hawks, returns to the branch on which his mate
has chanced to perch, and caresses her. This happens about the beginning
of March. The spot adapted for a nest is already fixed upon, and the
fabric is half finished. The top of a tall tree appears to be preferred
by this Hawk, as I have found its nest more commonly placed there, not
far from the edges of woods bordering plantations. The nest is seated
in the forks of a large branch, towards its extremity, and is as bulky
as that of the Common Crow. It is formed externally of dry sticks and
Spanish moss, and is lined with withered grass and fibrous roots of
different sorts, arranged in a circular manner. The female usually lays
four eggs, sometimes five. They are of a broad oval form, granulated all
over, pale blue, faintly blotched with brownish-red at the smaller end.

When one ascends to the nest, which, by the way, is not always an easy
matter, as our Beech-trees are not only very smooth, but frequently
without any boughs to a considerable distance from the ground, as well
as of rather large size, the female bird, if she happens to be sitting,
flies off silently and alights on a neighbouring tree, to wait the
result. But, should the male, who supplies her with food, and assists
in incubation, be there, or make his appearance, he immediately sets
up a hue and cry, and plunges towards the assailant with such violence
as to astonish him. When, on several occasions, I have had the tree on
which the nest was placed cut down, I have observed the same pair, a few
days after, build another nest on a tree not far distant from the spot
in which the first one had been.

The mutual attachment of the male and the female continues during life.
They usually hunt in pairs during the whole year; and although they
build a new nest every spring, they are fond of resorting to the same
parts of the woods for that purpose. I knew the pair represented in the
Plate for three years, and saw their nest each spring placed within a
few hundred yards of the spot in which that of the preceding year was.

The young remain in the nest until fully fledged, and are fed by the
parents for several weeks after they have taken to wing, but leave them
and begin to shift for themselves in about a month, when they disperse
and hunt separately until the approach of the succeeding spring, at
which time they pair. The young birds acquire the rusty reddish colour
of the feathers on the breast and shoulders before they leave the nest.
It deepens gradually at the approach of autumn, and by the first spring
they completely resemble the old birds. Only one brood is raised each
season. Scarcely any difference of size exists between the sexes, the
female being merely a little stouter.

This Hawk seldom attacks any kind of poultry, and yet frequently pounces
on Partridges, Doves, or Wild Pigeons, as well as Red-winged Starlings,
and now and then very young rabbits. On one or two occasions, I have
seen them make their appearance at the report of my gun, and try to
rob me of some Blue-winged Teals shot in small ponds. I have never seen
them chase any other small birds than those mentioned, or quadrupeds of
smaller size than the _Cotton Rat_; nor am I aware of their eating frogs,
which are the common food of the Winter Falcon, an account of which you
will find, kind reader, in another part of this the first volume of my
Biography of the Birds found in the United States of America.


FALCO LINEATUS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 268.—_Lath._
Synops. vol. i. p. 27.—_Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. vi. p. 86.
Pl. 53, fig. 3. Young Male.

FALCO HYEMALIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United
States, p. 33.


Adult Male. Plate LVI. Fig. 1.

Bill short, as broad as deep, the sides convex, the dorsal outline
convex from the base; upper mandible cerate, the edges blunt, slightly
inflected, with an obtuse lobe towards the curvature, the tip trigonal,
deflected, very acute; lower mandible involute at the edges, a little
truncate at the end. Nostrils round, lateral, with a soft papilla in the
centre. Head rather large. Neck and body rather slender. Legs longish;
tarsus rather slender, anteriorly scutellate; toes scutellate above,
scaly on the sides, scabrous and tuberculate beneath; middle and outer
toe connected at the base by a small membrane; claws roundish, slender,
curved, very acute.

Plumage compact, imbricated; feathers of the head and neck narrow towards
the tip, of the back broad and rounded; tibial feathers elongated behind.
Wings long, third and fourth primaries longest, first short.

Bill light blue at the base, bluish-black at the tip; cere, basal
margin of the bill, edges of the eyelids, and the feet, bright yellow.
Iris hazel. Claws black. Head, neck, and back, light yellowish-red,
longitudinally spotted with dark brown. Tail brownish-black, banded
with greyish-white, the tip of the latter colour. Lesser wing-coverts
bright yellowish-red, spotted with brown; larger coverts and secondary
quills dusky, broadly barred with white; primary quills brownish-black
banded with white, the greater part of their inner webs being of the
latter colour. Lower parts of the neck and under wing-coverts light
yellowish-red, the former longitudinally lined with blackish; breast
reddish-white, marked with transverse hastate yellowish-red spots;
abdomen and under tail-coverts reddish-white. Tibial feathers yellowish,
transversely barred with dull orange.

Length 18 inches; bill along the back 1¼, along the gap from the tip of
under mandible 1¼; tarsus 2¾.


Adult Female. Plate LVI. Fig. 1.

The female differs from the male in being a little larger, and in having
the tints lighter.




THE LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.

_LANIUS LUDOVICIANUS_, LINN.

PLATE LVII. MALE AND FEMALE.


This species may with great propriety be called an inhabitant of the
"Low Countries," as it is seldom or never met with even in the vicinity
of the mountains intersecting the districts in which it usually resides.
It is also confined to that portion of our country usually known under
the name of the Southern States, seldom reaching farther eastward than
North Carolina, or farther inland than the State of Mississippi, in
which latter, as well as in Louisiana, it appears only during the winter
months. Its residence may, therefore, be looked upon as confined to the
Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In these States, it is seen along
the fences and bushes about the rice plantations at all seasons, and is
of some service to the planter, as it destroys the field-mice in great
numbers, as well as many of the larger kinds of grubs and insects, upon
which it pounces in the manner of a Hawk.

The Loggerhead has no song, but utters a shrill clear creaking prolonged
note, resembling the grating of a rusty hinge slowly moved to and fro.
This sound is heard only during the spring season, and whilst the female
is sitting. About the beginning of March these birds begin to pair. They
exhibit at this time few of those marks of the tender affection which
birds usually shew. The male courts the female without much regard, and
she, in return, appears to receive his haughty attentions with merely
just as much condescension as enables her to become the mother of a
family, whose feelings are destined to be of the same cold nature.

The nest is fixed in a low bush, generally near the centre of a dwarf
hawthorn, and is so little concealed as to be easily discovered. It is
coarsely constructed of dry crooked twigs, and is lined with fibrous
roots and slender grasses. The eggs, which are of a greenish white, are
from three to five. Incubation is performed by the male as well as by
the female, but each searches for its own food during the intervals of
sitting.

The young are at first fed on crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects;
but as they become larger and stronger, they receive portions of mice,
which form the principal food of the grown birds at all seasons. The
Loggerheads rear only one brood in the season.

Whilst this species is on wing, its motions are very rapid and direct,
its flight being produced by quick flutterings of the wings, without any
apparent undulation. The bird alights in a sudden firm manner, like a
Hawk, stands erect, silent and watchful, until it spies its prey on the
ground, when it suddenly pounces upon it, striking it first _with its
bill_, but seizing it with its claws so immediately after, that the most
careful observation alone can enable one to decide as to the priority
of either action. I have never seen it attack birds, nor stick its prey
on thorns in the manner of the Great American Shrike.

This bird appears in Louisiana only at intervals, and seldom remains more
than a few weeks in December or January. It never comes near houses,
although it frequents the fields around them. It has no note at this
period, and appears singly, alighting on the stacks and fences, where
it stands perched for a considerable time, carefully looking around over
the ground. As soon as the spot is thoroughly examined, it flies off to
another, and there renews its search.

I have given you, kind reader, the representation of a pair of these
Shrikes, contending for a mouse. The difference of plumage in the sexes
is scarcely perceptible; but I have thought it necessary to figure both,
in order to shew the quarrelsome disposition of these birds even when
united by the hymeneal band.


LANIUS LUDOVICIANUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 134.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 72.

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, LANIUS CAROLINENSIS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith.
vol. iii. p. 57. Pl. 22. fig. 8.


Adult Male. Plate LVII. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, straightish, robust, acute, compressed; upper
mandible with the dorsal outline a little arched, the tip declinate,
the edges acute and overlapping, with a sharp process near the tip;
lower mandible with the dorsal line a little convex, the tip acute and
ascending. Nostrils basal, lateral, half closed by an arched membrane.
Head large. Neck and body robust. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus
scutellate before, acute behind; toes free, the lateral ones nearly
equal; claws arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage soft, blended. Long bristly feathers at the base of the bill.
Wings of ordinary length, curved, the second quill longest, the first
and fifth equal. Tail long, graduated, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris dark brown. Feet greyish-black. The general colour
of the upper parts is dark grey, of the under greyish-white, the sides
tinged with brown. Forehead and sides of the head included in a broad
black band. Wings and tail black. Base of the primaries, and tips of
the secondaries and six inner primaries, white. Tail-feathers, excepting
the four middle ones, white towards the end, the outer ones nearly all
of that colour.

Length 8½ inches, extent of wings 13; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap nearly 1; tarsus 1, middle toe 11/12.


Adult Female. Plate LVII. Fig. 2.

The female differs from the male only in being a little smaller and
somewhat darker and duller in the plumage.


THE GREEN BRIAR, OR ROUND-LEAVED SMILAX.

SMILAX ROTUNDIFOLIA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 779. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 250.—DIŒCIA HEXANDRIA, _Linn._ ASPARAGI,
_Juss._

This species of Smilax, which is common along fences, in old fields,
and by the borders of woods, is characterized by its shrubby stem,
round branches, roundish-ovate, acuminate, slightly cordate, five or
seven-nerved leaves, and spherical berries. It flowers in May and June.
The berries are of a dark purple colour.


THE FIELD MOUSE.

This species is found in all parts of the United States, living in the
meadows and woods. It forms narrow subterranean passages, to which it
resorts on the least appearance of danger, but from which it is easily
driven, by thrusting a twig into them.




THE HERMIT THRUSH.

_TURDUS MINOR_, GMEL.

PLATE LVIII. MALE AND FEMALE.


This, kind reader, is another constant resident in the Southern States,
more especially those of Mississippi and Louisiana, where it abounds
during the winter months, and is found in considerable numbers during
spring and summer. In the lower parts of Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee,
it is also observed during spring and summer; but it becomes scarcer as
you advance towards the Middle Districts, where a few are occasionally
seen about the low woodlands of the Atlantic shores.

Except during winter, this Thrush prefers the darkest, most swampy, and
most secluded cane-brakes along the margins of the Mississippi, where
it breeds and spends the summer, retiring to higher lands during the
period when the alluvial grounds are covered with the water which, during
freshets, generally inundates these low cane-brakes and swampy retreats.

The flight of the Hermit Thrush is performed low over the ground, and
in a gliding manner, as the bird shifts from one place to another at a
short distance. In this respect, it differs greatly from its relative, my
great favourite, the Wood Thrush, the flight of which is more protracted,
and is performed at a greater elevation.

The Hermit Thrush has no song, and only utters a soft plaintive note,
seldom heard at a greater distance than twenty-five or thirty yards.
It is most frequently seen on the ground, where it hops with the same
movements employed by the well-known little _Red-breast_ of Europe, in
other words, before it hops its breast almost comes in contact with the
ground, the tail is a little raised, the wings droop, and after hopping,
it runs a few steps, erects its head, and looks around.

All the nests of the Hermit Thrush which I have found were in every
instance placed lower on the branches of trees than those of the Wood
Thrush, seldom above seven or eight feet from the ground, and sometimes
so low that I could easily look into them. These nests were fixed to
a horizontal bough, but were not _saddled_ upon it so deeply as those
of the Wood Thrush are. They were smaller, and had no mud or plaster
of any kind, but were extremely compact, the outer parts being formed
of coarse dry weeds, and here and there a withered leaf, the interior
composed of a long delicate kind of grass, which is found growing along
the edges of cane-brakes. This grass is arranged in a circular manner,
to the whole extent of its length, and gives the inner part of the nest
of this bird a remarkable appearance of neatness and finish. The female
lays from four to six eggs, of a light blue colour, sprinkled with dark
dots towards the large end. The first set are laid early in April, the
second about the middle of June; for, in Lower Louisiana, this species
rears two broods in the year. The female is much attached to her nest,
and glides off silently from it when closely approached, not, however,
unless she thinks herself or her nest observed. The young run after the
parents, on the ground, for several days after they leave the nest.

As soon as the waters of the Mississippi become so swelled as to overflow
the banks, the Hermit Thrush retires to the nearest hills, and mixes
with many other birds, amongst which the Wood Thrush is pre-eminent. The
former is, however, easily recognised at once, by its single plaintive
note, heard from the boughs of low trees, on the berries of which it



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 29 of 50)