John James Audubon.

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segments of the corolla, pubescent curved tube, and long subulate calycine
teeth. The corolla is rose-coloured, but varies in tint, being sometimes
nearly white, and sometimes deep red. It is perennial, flowers in the
summer months, and occurs in the Middle and Atlantic States.


After wandering on some of our great lakes for many months, I bent my
course towards the celebrated Falls of Niagara, being desirous of taking
a sketch of them. This was not my first visit to them, and I hoped it
should not be the last.

Artists (I know not if I can be called one) too often imagine that what
they produce must be excellent, and with that foolish idea go on spoiling
much paper and canvas, when their time might have been better employed in
a different manner. But digressions aside,—I directed my steps towards
the Falls of Niagara, with the view of representing them on paper, for
the amusement of my family.

Returning as I then was from a tedious journey, and possessing little
more than some drawings of rare birds and plants, I reached the tavern at
Niagara Falls in such plight, as might have deterred many an individual
from obtruding himself upon a circle of well-clad and perhaps well-bred
society. Months had passed since the last of my linen had been taken
from my body, and used to clean that useful companion, my gun. I was
in fact covered just like one of the poorer class of Indians, and was
rendered even more disagreeable to the eye of civilized man, by not
having, like them, plucked my beard, or trimmed my hair in any way.
Had HOGARTH been living, and there when I arrived, he could not have
found a fitter subject for a ROBINSON CRUSOE. My beard covered my neck
in front, my hair fell much lower at my back, the leather dress which
I wore had for months stood in need of repair, a large knife hung at my
side, a rusty tin-box containing my drawings and colours, and, wrapped
up in a worn-out blanket that had served me for a bed, was buckled to
my shoulders. To every one I must have seemed immersed in the depths of
poverty, perhaps of despair. Nevertheless, as I cared little about my
appearance during those happy rambles, I pushed into the sitting-room,
unstrapped my little burden, and asked how soon breakfast would be ready.

In America, no person is ever refused entrance to the inns, at least
far from cities. We know too well how many poor creatures are forced to
make their way from other countries in search of employment or to seek
uncultivated land, and we are ever ready to let them have what they may
call for. No one knew who I was, and the landlord looking at me with
an eye of close scrutiny, answered that breakfast would be on the table
as soon as the company should come down from their rooms. I approached
this important personage, told him of my avocations, and convinced him
that he might feel safe as to remuneration. From this moment, I was,
with him at least, on equal footing with every other person in his
house. He talked a good deal of the many artists who had visited the
Falls that season, from different parts, and offered to assist me, by
giving such accommodations as I might require to finish the drawings I
had in contemplation. He left me, and as I looked about the room, I saw
several views of the Falls, by which I was so disgusted, that I suddenly
came to my better senses. "What!" thought I, "have I come here to mimic
nature in her grandest enterprise, and add _my_ caricature of one of
the wonders of the world to those which I here see? No.—I give up the
vain attempt. I shall look on these mighty cataracts and imprint them,
where alone they can be represented,—on my mind!"

Had I taken a view, I might as well have given you what might be termed
a regular account of the form, the height, the tremendous roar of
these Falls; might have spoken of people perilling their lives by going
between the rock and the sheet of water, calculated the density of the
atmosphere in that strange position, related wondrous tales of Indians
and their canoes having been precipitated the whole depth;—might have
told of the narrow, rapid, and rockbound river that leads the waters of
the Erie into those of Ontario, remarking _en passant_ the Devil's Hole
and sundry other places or objects;—but supposing you had been there, my
description would prove useless, and quite as puny as my intended view
would have been for my family; and should you not have seen them, and are
fond of contemplating the more magnificent of the Creator's works, go to
Niagara, reader, for all the pictures you may see, all the descriptions
you may read, of these mighty Falls, can only produce in your mind the
faint glimmer of a glow-worm compared with the overpowering glory of
the meridian sun.

I breakfasted amid a crowd of strangers, who gazed and laughed at me,
paid my bill, rambled about and admired the Falls for a while, saw
several young gentlemen _sketching on cards_ the mighty mass of foaming
waters, and walked to Buffalo, where I purchased new apparel and sheared
my beard. I then enjoyed civilized life as much as, a month before, I
had enjoyed the wildest solitudes and the darkest recesses of mountain
and forest.




Every species of bird is possessed of a certain, not always definable,
cast of countenance, peculiar to itself. Although it undergoes changes
necessary for marking the passions of the individual, its joy, its
anger, its terror or despondency, still it remains the same _specific
look_. Hawks are perhaps more characteristically marked in this manner
than birds of any other genus, being by nature intended for deeds of
daring enterprise, and requiring a greater perfection of sight to enable
them to distinguish their prey at great distances. To most persons the
_family-look_ of particular species does not appear so striking as to the
student of Nature, who examines her productions in the haunts which she
has allotted to them. He perceives at a glance the differences of species,
and when he has once bent his attention to an object, can distinguish
it at distances which to the ordinary observer present merely a moving
object, whether beast or bird. When years of constant observation have
elapsed, it becomes a pleasure to him to establish the differences that he
has found to exist among the various species of a tribe, and to display
to others whose opportunities have been more limited the fruits of his

I hope, kind reader, you will not lay presumption to my charge, when I
tell you that I think myself somewhat qualified to decide in a matter of
this kind, or say that I go too far, when I assert that the Hawk which
sails before me, at a distance so great that a careless observer might be
apt to fancy it something else, I can distinguish and name with as much
ease as I should recognise an old friend by his walk or his _tournure_.
Independently of the cast of countenance so conspicuously distinctive of
different species of birds, there are characters of separation in their
peculiar notes or cries; and if you add to these the distinctions that
exist in their habits, it will be easy for you, when you have looked
at the Plate of the _Winter Falcon_ and that of the _Red-shouldered
Hawk_, and have been told that their notes and manners differ greatly,
to perceive that these birds, although confounded by some, are truly

The Winter Hawk is not a constant resident in the United States, but
merely visits them, making its first appearance there at the approach
of winter. It extends over the whole Union, from the eastern to the
southernmost parts, but gives a decided preference to the Middle
Districts, where the greater number spend the winter. They come from
the northern portions of the continent, where they breed, and from
whence they seem to be forced by the severity of the weather, to seek
subsistence for a time in milder climates. They return at the approach
of spring, and none, in as far as I have been able to discover, remain
to breed in the United States.

The flight of the Winter Hawk is smooth and light, although greatly
protracted, when necessity requires it to be so. It sails at times at a
considerable elevation, and, notwithstanding the comparative shortness
of its wings, performs this kind of motion with grace, and in circles
of more than moderate diameter. It is a remarkably silent bird, often
spending the greater part of a day without uttering its notes more than
once or twice, which it does just before it alights to watch with great
patience and perseverance for the appearance of its prey. Its haunts are
the extensive meadows and marshes which occur along our rivers. There it
pounces with a rapid motion on the frogs, which it either devours on the
spot, or carries to the perch, or the top of the hay-stack, on which it
previously stood. If it seizes a small frog, it swallows it whole and at
once; but if a large one, it first tears it to pieces. The appetite of
the Winter Hawk may be said to be ravenous. It seldom gives up eating,
when food is plentiful, until it has gorged itself so as to seem on the
point of being suffocated. At such times, it flies heavily, but removes
farther at once from a person who pursues it, than when its stomach is
empty, as if at one effort to ensure its safety, and afterwards enjoy
the digestion of its food in quiet.

When frogs are scarce during frosty weather, the Winter Hawk pursues the
meadow mouse, but only in such cases, frogs being the favourite food
of this species. I have seen it when disappointed in seizing a large
bull-frog, which had saved itself by leaping into the water, stand on the
spot previously occupied by the reptile, and wait until it reappeared
and approached the shore, when the Hawk would strike at it with his
talons, although seldom successfully, as the frog would sink backward,
and thus escape.

Mr ALEXANDER WILSON has given a figure so unlike any bird of this species,
for one of the Winter Falcons, that although he has at the same time
briefly described the habits of the latter with accuracy, I cannot think
that the bird figured by him was of that species. My excellent friend
CHARLES LUCIAN BONAPARTE, has probably been led by Mr WILSON's error to
consider the Winter Hawk and the Red-shouldered Hawk as identical. I have
killed many individuals of both species, and knowing as I do that the
Red-shouldered Hawk is a constant resident in the Southern States, where
I have often destroyed its nest and young, and where very few Winter
Hawks are ever seen, even during winter, I cannot hesitate a moment to
pronounce them different and distinct species.

The Winter Hawk generally rests at night on the ground, amongst the
tall sedges of the marshes. From such places I have on several occasions
started it, whilst in search of Ducks, and have shot it as it flew low
over the ground, attempting to escape unobserved. I have never seen this
Hawk in pursuit of any other birds than those of its own species, each
individual chasing the others from the district which it has selected
for itself.

The cry of the Winter Hawk is clear and prolonged, and resembles the
syllables _kay-o_. After uttering these notes, it generally alights.
Towards spring they associate in small parties of four or five, to
perform their migrations. In this respect the species resembles most of
the Marsh Hawks or Hen-harriers.

FALCO HYEMALIS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 274.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 34.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 33.

WINTER FALCON, FALCO HYEMALIS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iv.
p. 73. Pl. 35.

Adult Male. Plate LXXI.

Bill short, as broad as deep at the base, 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.
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, curved,
slender, very acute.

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

Bill light blue, darker at the tip; cere, basal margin of the bill,
edges of the eyelids, and the feet, yellow, tinged with green.
Iris yellow. Claws black. Head, neck and back, pale brownish-red,
longitudinally spotted with dark-brown, the sides and fore-part of the
head greyish-white. Upper tail-coverts bluish-grey at the margins. Tail
dull brown, banded with brownish-white, and tipped with white. Lesser
wing-coverts brownish-red, spotted with dark brown; larger coverts
and secondary quills umber, banded with brownish-white; primary quills
light yellowish-red at the base, dull brown towards the end, barred with
dark brown. Lower part of the neck, the sides and under wing-coverts,
light brownish-red, the former longitudinally lined with brown. Breast
greyish-white, sparsely marked with guttiform spots, abdomen white.
Tibial feathers yellowish-white, marked with small roundish spots.

Length 22 inches; bill along the back 1½; tarsus 3.

Compared with the adult male of the Red-shouldered Hawk, the present bird
is much larger, and differs greatly in colouring; but the differences
will be best understood by referring to the figures.


The body olive-green, clouded with black; a yellow line along the back.
Length ten or twelve inches. This Frog is found in all parts of the
United States, but is more abundant in the Southern Districts. Its voice
is louder than that of any other species, and may be distinctly heard
at the distance of forty or fifty yards. It is particularly fond of
such small pure streams of water as are thickly shaded by overhanging
bushes. It sits for hours during the middle of the day, basking in the
sun, near the margin of the water, to which it betakes itself by a great
leap at the least appearance of danger, diving at once to the bottom, or
swimming to the opposite side. In the Southern States, it is heard at
all seasons, but principally during the spring and summer months. Its
flesh is tender, white, and affords excellent eating. The hind legs,
however, are the only parts used as food. They make excellent bait for
the larger cat-fish. Some bull-frogs weigh as much as half a pound. I
have generally used the gun for procuring them, shooting with very small




The flight of this elegant species of Hawk is singularly beautiful and
protracted. It moves through the air with such ease and grace, that
it is impossible for any individual, who takes the least pleasure in
observing the manners of birds, not to be delighted by the sight of
it whilst on wing. Gliding along in easy flappings, it rises in wide
circles to an immense height, inclining in various ways its deeply forked
tail, to assist the direction of its course, dives with the rapidity
of lightning, and, suddenly checking itself, reascends, soars away, and
is soon out of sight. At other times a flock of these birds, amounting
to fifteen or twenty individuals, is seen hovering around the trees.
They dive in rapid succession amongst the branches, glancing along the
trunks, and seizing in their course the insects and small lizards of
which they are in quest. Their motions are astonishingly rapid, and the
deep curves which they describe, their sudden doublings and crossings,
and the extreme ease with which they seem to cleave the air, excite the
admiration of him who views them while thus employed in searching for

A solitary individual of this species has once or twice been seen in
Pennsylvania. Farther to the eastward, the Swallow-tailed Hawk has never,
I believe, been observed. Travelling southward, along the Atlantic coast,
we find it in Virginia, although in very small numbers. Beyond that State
it becomes more abundant. Near the Falls of the Ohio, a pair had a nest
and reared four young ones, in 1820. In the lower parts of Kentucky it
begins to become numerous; but in the States farther to the south, and
particularly in parts near the sea it is abundant. In the large prairies
of the Attacapas and Oppellousas, it is extremely common.

In the States of Louisiana and Mississippi, where these birds are
abundant, they arrive in large companies, in the beginning of April, and
are heard uttering a sharp plaintive note. At this period I generally
remarked that they came from the westward, and have counted upwards of
a hundred in the space of an hour, passing over me in a direct easterly
course. At that season, and in the beginning of September, when they all
retire from the United States, they are easily approached when they have
alighted, being then apparently fatigued, and busily engaged in preparing
themselves for continuing their journey, by dressing and oiling their
feathers. At all other times, however, it is extremely difficult to get
near them, as they are generally on wing through the day, and at night
rest on the highest pines and cypresses, bordering the river-bluffs,
the lakes or the swamps of that district of country.

They always feed on the wing. In calm and warm weather, they soar to an
immense height, pursuing the large insects called _Musquito Hawks_, and
performing the most singular evolutions that can be conceived, using
their tail with an elegance of motion peculiar to themselves. Their
principal food, however, is large grasshoppers, grass-caterpillars, small
snakes, lizards, and frogs. They sweep close over the fields, sometimes
seeming to alight for a moment to secure a snake, and holding it fast
by the neck, carry it off, and devour it in the air. When searching for
grasshoppers and caterpillars, it is not difficult to approach them
under cover of a fence or tree. When one is then killed and falls to
the ground, the whole flock comes over the dead bird, as if intent upon
carrying it off. An excellent opportunity is thus afforded of shooting
as many as may be wanted, and I have killed several of these Hawks in
this manner, firing as fast as I could load my gun.

The Forked-tailed Hawks are also very fond of frequenting the creeks,
which, in that country, are much encumbered with drifted logs and
accumulations of sand, in order to pick up some of the numerous
water-snakes which lie basking in the sun. At other times, they dash
along the trunks of trees, and snap off the pupæ of the locust, or that
insect itself. Although when on wing they move with a grace and ease
which it is impossible to describe, yet on the ground they are scarcely
able to walk.

I kept for several days one which had been slightly wounded in the wing.
It refused to eat, kept the feathers of the head and rump constantly
erect, and vomited several times part of the contents of its stomach. It
never threw itself on its back, nor attempted to strike with its talons,
unless when taken up by the tip of the wing. It died from inanition,
as it constantly refused the food placed before it in profusion, and
instantly vomited what had been thrust down its throat.

The Swallow-tailed Hawk pairs immediately after its arrival in the
Southern States, and as its courtships take place on the wing, its motions
are then more beautiful than ever. The nest is usually placed on the
top branches of the tallest oak or pine tree, situated on the margin
of a stream or pond. It resembles that of the Common Crow externally,
being formed of dry sticks, intermixed with Spanish moss, and is lined
with coarse grasses and a few feathers. The eggs are from four to six,
of a greenish-white colour, with a few irregular blotches of dark brown
at the larger end. The male and the female sit alternately, the one
feeding the other. The young are at first covered with buff-coloured
down. Their next covering exhibits the pure white and black of the old
birds, but without any of the glossy purplish tints of the latter. The
tail, which at first is but slightly forked, becomes more so in a few
weeks, and at the approach of autumn exhibits little difference from
that of the adult birds. The plumage is completed the first spring. Only
one brood is raised in the season. The species leaves the United States
in the beginning of September, moving off in flocks, which are formed
immediately after the breeding-season is over.

Hardly any difference as to external appearance exists between the sexes.
They never attack birds or quadrupeds of any species, with the view of
preying upon them. I never saw one alight on the ground. They secure
their prey as they pass closely over it, and in so doing sometimes seem
to alight, particularly when securing a snake. The common name of the
Snake represented in the plate is the Garter Snake.

FALCO FURCATUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 129.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 22.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 31.

SWALLOW-TAILED FALCON, _Lath._ Synops. vol. i. p. 60.

SWALLOW-TAILED HAWK, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. vi. p. 70.
Pl. 51. fig. 2.

Adult Male. Plate LXXII.

Bill short, strong, curved, compressed towards the tip, opening to
beneath the eye; upper mandible cerate, its dorsal outline curved from
the base, the edges acute and overlapping, the tip trigonal, very acute;
lower mandible rounded on the back, the edges acute, the tip rounded and
declinate. Head large, neck short, body robust. Feet rather short; tarsus
very short, scaly all round; toes scaly, scutellate above, excepting at
the base; claws curved, very acute.

Plumage rather compact, blended, glossy. Wings very long and acute, the
third quill longest, the first equal to the fifth, the primaries widely
graduated, the secondaries comparatively very short. Tail very deeply
forked, of twelve feathers, the lateral ones extremely elongated.

Bill bluish-black above, light blue on the cere, and the edges of both
mandibles. Edges of the eyelids light blue; iris black. Feet light blue,
tinged with green; claws flesh-coloured. The head, the neck all round,
and the under parts, are white, tinged with bluish-grey; the shafts of
the head, neck, and breast blackish. The rest of the plumage is black,
with blue and purple reflections.

Length 25 inches, extent of wings 51½; beak along the back 1¼.

The female is similar to the male.


This is one of our most abundant species, and is found everywhere in the
meadows, the fields, the gardens, and the forests. It moves with ease,
and now and then ascends low bushes. It is quite harmless.




Kind reader, you now see before you my greatest favourite of the feathered
tribes of our woods. To it I owe much. How often has it revived my
drooping spirits, when I have listened to its wild notes in the forest,
after passing a restless night in my slender shed, so feebly secured
against the violence of the storm, as to shew me the futility of my
best efforts to rekindle my little fire, whose uncertain and vacillating
light had gradually died away under the destructive weight of the dense
torrents of rain that seemed to involve the heavens and the earth in
one mass of fearful murkiness, save when the red streaks of the flashing
thunderbolt burst on the dazzled eye, and, glancing along the huge trunk
of the stateliest and noblest tree in my immediate neighbourhood, were
instantly followed by an uproar of crackling, crashing, and deafening
sounds, rolling their volumes in tumultuous eddies far and near, as if
to silence the very breathings of the unformed thought! How often, after
such a night, when far from my dear home, and deprived of the presence
of those nearest to my heart, wearied, hungry, drenched, and so lonely
and desolate as almost to question myself why I was thus situated, when
I have seen the fruits of my labours on the eve of being destroyed, as
the water, collected into a stream, rushed through my little camp, and
forced me to stand erect, shivering in a cold fit like that of a severe
ague, when I have been obliged to wait with the patience of a martyr for

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 35 of 50)