John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 32 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 32 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Birds of the United States, p. 120.

p. 661.—_Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. v. p. 102. Pl. 44. fig. 1.

Adult Male. Plate LXII. Fig. 1.

Bill straight, of ordinary length, rather slender, broader than deep
at the base, with a tumid fleshy covering above, compressed towards
the end, rather obtuse; upper mandible slightly declinate at the tip;
edges inflected. Head small, neck slender, body rather full. Legs short
and strong; tarsus rather rounded, anteriorly scutellate; toes slightly
webbed at the base; claws short, depressed, obtuse.

Plumage blended on the neck and under parts, compact on the back. Wings
long, the second quill longest. Tail graduated, of twelve tapering

Bill black. Iris bright red. Feet carmine purple, claws blackish. Head
above and on the sides light blue. Throat, fore-neck, breast, and sides,
light brownish-red, the rest of the under parts white. Lower part of the
neck behind, and along the sides, changing to gold, emerald green, and
rich crimson. The general colour of the upper parts is greyish-blue,
some of the wing-coverts marked with a black spot. Quills and larger
wing-coverts blackish, the primary quills bluish on the outer web, the
larger coverts whitish at the tip. The two middle feathers of the tail
black, the rest pale blue at the base, becoming white towards the end.

Length 16¼ inches, extent of wings 25; bill along the ridge ⅚, along
the gap 1-1/12; tarsus 1¼, middle toe 1⅓.

Adult Female. Plate LXII. Fig. 2.

The colours of the female are much duller than those of the male, although
their distribution is the same. The breast is light-greyish-brown, the
upper parts pale reddish-brown, tinged with blue. The changeable spot
on the neck is of less extent, and the eye of a somewhat duller red, as
are the feet.

Length 15 inches, extent of wings 23; bill along the ridge ¾, along the
gap ⅚.




This interesting little bird enters the State of Louisiana often as
early as the 1st of March. Indeed, some individuals may now and then
be seen a week or ten days sooner, provided the weather be mild. It
throws itself into the thickest part of the briars, sumachs, and small
evergreen bushes, which form detached groves in abandoned fields, where
its presence is at once known by the smartness of its song. This song
is composed of many different notes, emitted with great spirit, and a
certain degree of pomposity, which makes it differ materially from that
of all other Fly-catchers. It is frequently repeated during the day.

These birds become at once so abundant, that it would be more difficult
not to meet one, than to observe a dozen or more, during a morning walk.
Their motions are as animated as their music. They pass from twig to
twig, upwards or downwards, examining every opening bud and leaf, and
securing an insect or a larva at every leap. Their flight is short,
light, and easy. Their migrations are performed during the day, and by
passing from one low bush to another, for these birds seldom ascend to
the tops of even moderately tall trees. Like all our other visitors, they
move eastward as the season opens, and do not reach the Middle States
before the end of April, or the beginning of May. Notwithstanding this
apparently slow progress, they reach and disperse over a vast expanse of
country. I have met with some in every part of the United States which
I have visited.

Many remain in Louisiana, where they rear two broods, perhaps sometimes
three, in a season. Of this, however, I am not quite certain. I never
saw them alight on the ground, unless for the purpose of drinking, or of
procuring fibrous roots for their nests. They are fond of sipping the
dew drops that hang at the extremities of leaves. Their sorties after
insects seldom extend beyond the bushes.

About the first of April, the White-eyed Fly-catcher forms a nest of dry
slender, twigs, broken pieces of grasses, and portions of old hornets'
nests, which have so great a resemblance to paper, that the nest appears
as if studded with bits of that substance. It is lined with fine fibrous
roots, and the dried filaments of the Spanish moss. The nest is of the
form of an inverted cone, and is fastened to two or three twigs of a
Green Briar, a species of Smilax abundant in the old fields and along
the fences. The eggs are from four to six, of a pure white, with a few
dark spots near the larger end. In those districts where the Cow-bird
is found, it frequently drops one of its eggs among them. I have seen
the first brood from the nest about the middle of May. Unless when
disturbed while upon its nest, this bird is extremely sociable, and may
be approached within a few feet; but when startled from the nest, it
displays the anxiety common to almost all birds on such occasions. The
difference of colour in the sexes is scarcely perceptible.

The figure of a male has been given on a branch of the tree called in
Louisiana the _Pride of China_, an ornamental plant, with fragrant
flowers. The wood is extremely valuable on account of its great
durability, and is employed for making posts and rails for the fences.
Being capable of receiving a beautiful polish, it is also frequently
made into various articles of furniture. For these reasons, the planters
have found it expedient to adopt measures for increasing the propagation
of this tree. It bears a pulpy fruit inclosing a hard seed, which is
swallowed by different birds during the winter months. It has been thought
deleterious, but without reason. A decoction of the root is used by the
planters as an effectual vermifuge.

VIREO NOVEBORACENSIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 70.

MUSCICAPA NOVEBORACENSIS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 947.
—_Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 489.

HANGING FLY-CATCHER, _Lath._ Synops. Suppl. p. 174.

Ornith. vol. ii. p. 266. Pl. 18. fig. 6.

Adult Male. Plate LXIII.

Bill shortish, nearly straight, rather strong, conico-acuminate,
compressed towards the end; upper mandible slightly notched, and a little
deflected at the tip; lower mandible ascending at the tip. Nostrils
basal, rounded. Head and neck of ordinary size; body rather slender.
Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus anteriorly scutellate; lateral
toes nearly equal.

Plumage blended, soft and tufty. Wings shortish, the third quill longest.
Tail even, of twelve rounded feathers.

Upper mandible blackish blue, lower light blue. Iris white. Feet
greyish-blue. The general colour of the upper parts is light olive,
the head greener. Sides of the head, including a line above the eye,
and the loral space, bright yellow. Quills, large coverts, and tail,
wood-brown, the quills edged externally with greenish-yellow, the larger
coverts tipped with white, forming two bands. Sides of the neck tinged
with bluish-grey; the under parts greyish-white, excepting the sides,
which are yellow.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 7; bill along the ridge 5/12, along
the gap 7/12.

The female scarcely differs from the male in external appearance.


_Linn._ MELIÆ, _Juss._

Distinguished by its bipinnate shining leaves, with ferruginous dots
beneath. In the south of Europe, the nuts are bored and strung by the
Roman Catholics.




The shores and such flat sand-bars as are overgrown with grasses and
rank weeds, along the Mississippi, from its mouth to a great height, as
well as the swamps that occur in the woods, within a short distance from
the margins of that river, are the resorts of the Swamp Sparrow, during
autumn and winter. Although these birds do not congregate in flocks,
their numbers are immense. They form the principal food of the many
Sparrow Hawks, Pigeon Hawks, and Hen-harriers, which follow them as well
as several other species, on their return from the Middle Districts,
where they go towards spring, for the purpose of breeding. In those
districts they continue to prefer low swampy places, damp meadows, and
the margins of creeks and rivers.

It is a timid species, destitute of song, and merely uttering a single
_cheep_, which is now and then heard during the day, but more frequently
towards evening. They skulk along the weeds with activity, and feed
principally upon the seeds of grasses, with a few insects, sometimes
wading in shallow water. When wounded and forced to fall in the stream,
they swim off to the nearest tuft of grass and hide in it. Their flight
is short, low, and assisted by strong jerking motions of the body and
tail, accompanied by a rustling of the wings. They alight by dropping
suddenly amongst the weeds, seldom making towards a high tree. They are
rarely if ever met with in dry woodlands.

Their nest is placed on the ground, at the foot of a large bunch of tall
grass. It is composed of dry weeds and finer fibres of the same, and is
sometimes partially covered over. The eggs are four or five, of a dull
white, speckled with reddish. They raise two, sometimes three, broods
in a season.

I found these birds abundantly dispersed in the swamps of Cayaga Lakes,
and those bordering the Illinois river, during summer, and far up the
Arkansas River in the winter months. Their flesh is sedgy, which perhaps
forms no objection to some people against its use. They become fat and
tender, when the weeds have produced an abundance of seeds. Their note
differs from that of all other species of Sparrow, being harsher in its
tone. The young follow the parents on the ground, skulking among the
grass for nearly a week before they are able to fly.

The plant on which you see this bird is called the _May-apple_. It shoots
from the ground in great numbers, and grows very close. The flowers
appear at an early season, and are succeeded by a pulpy yellowish fruit,
about the size of a pullet's egg, and which, when ripe, is pleasant to
the taste, being a little acid and very cooling.

FRINGILLA PALUSTRIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 110.

SWAMP SPARROW, FRINGILLA PALUSTRIS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iii.
p. 49, Pl. xxii. fig. 1. Male.

Adult Male. Plate LXIV.

Bill short, conical, acute, straight; upper mandible nearly straight
in its dorsal line, as is the lower; gap-line a little declinate at the
base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partly concealed by the feathers. Feet
of moderate length; tarsus longer than the middle toe; toes free, the
lateral ones nearly equal; claws compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage rather compact above, soft and blended beneath. Wings short,
rounded, the third and fourth quills longest. Tail longish, slightly
notched, the feathers broad and rather acute.

Bill dark brown above, paler and tinged with blue beneath. Iris hazel.
Feet yellowish-brown. Upper part of the head reddish-brown, streaked with
black. Loral space, and a broad streak over the eye, yellowish-grey;
a dark line behind the eye, and another from the commissure of
the mandibles. Upper parts generally yellowish-brown, spotted with
brownish-black. Primary quill-coverts dusky, as are the inner webs of
the secondary coverts and quills, their outer webs being brownish-red.
Tail-feathers dusky, their outer webs brownish-red. Sides of the neck
and the breast light grey, the rest of the under parts greyish-white.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge 5/12, along
the back ⅔; tarsus 11/12.


PODOPHYLLUM PELTATUM, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1141.
_Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 366.—POLYANDRIA MONOGYNIA,
_Linn._ RANUNCULACEÆ, _Juss._

Root of many large tubers. Stalks several, each divided at the top,
and bearing two peltate leaves, composed of five or seven lobes, with a
flower in the fork. Petals nine, white. Fruit when ripe of the size of
a plum, yellow.




Kind reader, you are now presented with a new and beautiful little
species of Warbler, which I have honoured with the name of a family that
must ever be dear to me. Were I at liberty here to express the gratitude
which swells my heart, when the remembrance of all the unmerited kindness
and unlooked-for friendship which I have received from the RATHBONES
of Liverpool comes to my mind, I might produce a volume of thanks. But
I must content myself with informing you, that the small tribute of
gratitude which alone it is in my power to pay, I now joyfully accord,
by naming after them one of those birds, to the study of which all my
efforts have been directed. I trust that future naturalists, regardful of
the feelings which have guided me in naming this species, will continue
to it the name of the _Rathbone Warbler_.

I met with the species now under consideration only once, when I procured
both the male and the female represented in the plate. They were actively
engaged in searching for food amongst the blossoms and leaves of the
Bignonia on which I have placed them. All my endeavours to discover
their nest, or to procure other individuals, having proved abortive,
I am unable to say any thing of their habits and history; but should I
be more fortunate at some future period, I shall not fail to record the
result of my observations respecting this delicate little Warbler.

The Bignonia on which they are represented, grows abundantly in the low
alluvial grounds of the States of Mississippi and Louisiana, sparingly
in Tennessee, and about the mouth of the Ohio. It twines round the trunks
of various trees, and produces beautiful flowers, in which Humming Birds
are frequently seen to search for the minute insects which form their
food. They are destitute of smell, but are seen both during spring and


Adult Male. Plate LXV. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight subulato-conical, acute, as
deep as broad at the base, with sharp edges. Nostrils basal, oval, half
concealed by the feathers. Head rather large, neck short, body ovate.
Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly
with a few long scutella, acute behind, a little longer than the middle
toe; toes free, scutellate above; claws arched, slender, compressed,

Plumage blended, soft, and tufty. Wings of ordinary length, the second
quill longest. Tail rather short, nearly even, of twelve obtuse feathers.

Bill yellowish-brown above, yellow beneath. Iris hazel. Feet flesh-colour.
The general colour is bright yellow, the upper parts olivaceous. Quills
and tail wood-brown, the former yellow on the outer web, the latter
margined externally with the same colour.

Length 4½ inches; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the gap 5/12; tarsus
7/12, middle toe ½.

Adult Female. Plate LXV. Fig. 2.

The female is almost precisely the same in external appearance.


BIGNONIA CAPREOLATA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iii. p. 297. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 419.—DIDYNAMIA ANGIOSPERMIA, _Linn._

This species is distinguished by its conjugate cirrhous leaves, with
oblongo-lanceolate leaflets, which are somewhat cordate at the base,
the lower leaves single. The flowers are carmine.


The different modes of destroying Deer are probably too well understood
and too successfully practised in the United States; for, notwithstanding
the almost incredible abundance of these beautiful animals in our forests
and prairies, such havock is carried on amongst them, that, in a few
centuries, they will probably be as scarce in America, as the Great
Bustard now is in Britain.

We have three modes of hunting Deer, each varying in some slight degree,
in the different States and Districts. The first is termed _Still
Hunting_, and is by far the most destructive. The second is called
_Fire-light Hunting_, and is next in its exterminating effects. The
third, which may be looked upon as a mere amusement, is named _Driving_.
Although many deer are destroyed by this latter method, it is not by
any means so pernicious as the others. These methods I shall describe

_Still Hunting_ is followed as a kind of trade by most of our frontier
men. To be practised with success, it requires great activity, an expert
management of the rifle, and a thorough knowledge of the forest, together
with an intimate acquaintance with the habits of the Deer, not only at
different seasons of the year, but also at every hour of the day, as
the hunter must be aware of the situations which the game prefers, and
in which it is most likely to be found, at any particular time. I might
here present you with a full account of the habits of our Deer, were it
not my intention to lay before you, at some future period, in the form
of a distinct work, the observations which I have made on the various
Quadrupeds of our extensive territories.

Illustrations of any kind require to be presented in the best possible
light. We shall therefore suppose that we are now about to follow the
_true hunter_, as the Still Hunter is also called, through the interior
of the tangled woods, across morasses, ravines, and such places, where
the game may prove more or less plentiful, even should none be found
there in the first instance. We shall allow our hunter all the agility,
patience, and care, which his occupation requires, and will march in
his rear, as if we were spies, watching all his motions.

His dress, you observe, consists of a leather hunting-shirt, and a pair of
trowsers of the same material. His feet are well moccassined; he wears a
belt round his waist; his heavy rifle is resting on his brawny shoulder;
on one side hangs his ball-pouch, surmounted by the horn of an ancient
Buffalo, once the terror of the herd, but now containing a pound of the
best gunpowder; his butcher knife is scabbarded in the same strap; and
behind is a tomahawk, the handle of which has been thrust through his
girdle. He walks with so rapid a step, that probably few men, besides
ourselves, that is, myself and my kind reader, could follow him, unless
for a short distance, in their anxiety to witness his ruthless deeds.
He stops, looks at the flint of his gun, its priming, and the leather
cover of the lock, then glances his eye towards the sky, to judge of
the course most likely to lead him to the game.

The heavens are clear, the red glare of the morning sun gleams through
the lower branches of the lofty trees, the dew hangs in pearly drops
at the top of every leaf. Already has the emerald hue of the foliage
been converted into the more glowing tints of our autumnal months. A
slight frost appears on the fence-rails of his little corn-field. As he
proceeds, he looks to the dead foliage under his feet, in search of the
well known traces of a buck's hoof. Now he bends toward the ground, on
which something has attracted his attention. See! he alters his course,
increases his speed, and will soon reach the opposite hill. Now, he
moves with caution, stops at almost every tree, and peeps forward, as
if already within shooting distance of the game. He advances again,
but how very slowly! He has reached the declivity, upon which the sun
shines in all its growing splendour;—but mark him! he takes the gun from
his shoulder, has already thrown aside the leathern cover of the lock,
and is wiping the edge of his flint with his tongue. Now he stands like
a monumental figure, perhaps measuring the distance that lies between
him and the game, which he has in view. His rifle is slowly raised, the
report follows, and he runs. Let us run also. Shall I speak to him, and
ask him the result of this first essay? Assuredly, reader, for I know
him well.

"Pray, friend, what have you killed?" for to say, "what have you shot
at?" might imply the possibility of his having missed, and so might
hurt his feelings? "Nothing but a Buck." "And where is it?" "Oh, it has
taken a jump or so, but I settled it, and will soon be with it. My ball
struck, and must have gone through his heart." We arrive at the spot,
where the animal had laid itself down among the grass in a thicket of
grape-vines, sumachs, and spruce-bushes, where it intended to repose
during the middle of the day. The place is covered with blood, the hoofs
of the deer have left deep prints in the ground, as it bounced in the
agonies produced by its wound; but the blood that has gushed from its
side discloses the course which it has taken. We soon reach the spot.
There lies the buck, its tongue out, its eye dim, its breath exhausted:
it is dead. The hunter draws his knife, cuts the buck's throat almost
asunder, and prepares to skin it. For this purpose he hangs it upon the
branch of a tree. When the skin is removed, he cuts off the hams, and
abandoning the rest of the carcass to the wolves and vultures, reloads his
gun, flings the venison, enclosed, by the skin, upon his back, secures
it with a strap, and walks off in search of more game, well knowing
that, in the immediate neighbourhood, another at least is to be found.

Had the weather been warmer, the hunter would have sought for the buck
along the _shadowy_ side of the hills. Had it been the spring season, he
would have led us through some thick cane-brake, to the margin of some
remote lake, where you would have seen the deer, immersed to his head in
the water, to save his body from the tormenting attacks of moschettoes.
Had winter overspread the earth with a covering of snow, he would have
searched the low damp woods, where the mosses and lichens, on which at
that period the deer feeds, abound, the trees being generally crusted with
them for several feet from the ground. At one time, he might have marked
the places where the deer clears the velvet from his horns by rubbing
them against the low stems of bushes, and where he frequently _scrapes_
the earth with his fore-hoofs; at another, he would have betaken himself
to places where persimons and crab-apples abound, as beneath these trees
the deer frequently stops to munch their fruits. During early spring,
our hunter would imitate the bleating of the doe, and thus frequently
obtain both her and the fawn; or, like some tribes of Indians, he would
prepare a deer's head, placed on a stick, and creeping with it amongst
the tall grass of the prairies, would decoy the deer within reach of his
rifle. But kind reader, you have seen enough of the _still hunter_. Let
it suffice for me to add, that by the mode pursued by him, thousands
of deer are annually killed, many individuals shooting these animals
merely for the skin, not caring for even the most valuable portions of
the flesh, unless hunger, or a near market, induce them to carry off
the hams.

The mode of destroying deer by _fire-light_, or, as it is named in some
parts of the country, _forest-light_, never fails to produce a very
singular feeling in him who witnesses it for the first time. There is
something in it which at times appears awfully grand. At other times, a
certain degree of fear creeps over the mind, and even affects the physical
powers, of him who follows the hunter through the thick undergrowth of
our woods, having to leap his horse over hundreds of huge fallen trunks,
at one time impeded by a straggling grape-vine crossing his path, at
another squeezed between two stubborn saplings, whilst their twigs come
smack in his face, as his companion has forced his way through them.
Again, he every now and then runs the risk of breaking his neck, by being
suddenly pitched headlong on the ground, as his horse sinks into a hole
covered over with moss. But I must proceed in a more regular manner, and
leave you, kind reader, to judge whether such a mode of hunting would
suit your taste or not.

The hunter has returned to his camp or his house, has rested and eaten of
his game. He waits impatiently for the return of night. He has procured
a quantity of pine-knots filled with resinous matter, and has an old
frying-pan, that, for aught I know to the contrary, may have been used
by his great grandmother, in which the pine-knots are to be placed when
lighted. The horses stand saddled at the door. The hunter comes forth,
his rifle slung on his shoulder, and springs upon one of them, while

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 32 of 50)