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the return of day, trying in vain to destroy the tormenting moschettoes,
silently counting over the years of my youth, doubting perhaps if ever
again I should return to my home, and embrace my family!—how often, as
the first glimpses of morning gleamed doubtfully amongst the dusky masses
of the forest-trees, has there come upon my ear, thrilling along the
sensitive cords which connect that organ with the heart, the delightful
music of this harbinger of day!—and how fervently, on such occasions, have
I blessed the Being who formed the Wood Thrush, and placed it in those
solitary forests, as if to console me amidst my privations, to cheer my
depressed mind, and to make me feel, as I did, that never ought man to
despair, whatever may be his situation, as he can never be certain that
aid and deliverance are not at hand.

The Wood Thrush seldom commits a mistake after such a storm as I have
attempted to describe; for no sooner are its sweet notes heard than the
heavens gradually clear, the bright refracted light rises in gladdening
rays from beneath the distant horizon, the effulgent beams increase in
their intensity, and the great orb of day at length bursts on the sight.
The grey vapour that floats along the ground is quickly dissipated, the
world smiles at the happy change, and the woods are soon heard to echo
the joyous thanks of their many songsters. At that moment, all fears
vanish, giving place to an inspiriting hope. The hunter prepares to
leave his camp. He listens to the Wood Thrush, while he thinks of the
course which he ought to pursue, and as the bird approaches to peep at
him, and learn somewhat of his intentions, he raises his mind towards
the Supreme Disposer of events. Seldom, indeed, have I heard the song of
this Thrush, without feeling all that tranquillity of mind, to which the
secluded situation in which it delights is so favourable. The thickest and
darkest woods always appear to please it best. The borders of murmuring
streamlets, overshadowed by the dense foliage of the lofty trees growing
on the gentle declivities, amidst which the sunbeams seldom penetrate,
are its favourite resorts. There it is, kind reader, that the musical
powers of this hermit of the woods must be heard, to be fully appreciated
and enjoyed.

The song of the Wood Thrush, although composed of but few notes, is so
powerful, distinct, clear, and mellow, that it is impossible for any
person to hear it without being struck by the effect which it produces
on the mind. I do not know to what instrumental sounds I can compare
these notes, for I really know none so melodious and harmonical. They
gradually rise in strength, and then fall in gentle cadences, becoming
at length as to be scarcely audible; like the emotions of the lover,
who at one moment exults in the hope of possessing the object of his
affections, and the next pauses in suspense, doubtful of the result of
all his efforts to please.

Several of these birds seem to challenge each other from different
portions of the forest, particularly towards evening, and at that time
nearly all the other songsters being about to retire to rest, the notes of
the Wood Thrush are doubly pleasing. One would think that each individual
is anxious to excel his distant rival, and I have frequently thought that
on such occasions their music is more than ordinarily effective, as it
then exhibits a degree of skilful modulation quite beyond my power to
describe. These concerts are continued for some time after sunset, and
take place in the month of June, when the females are sitting.

This species glides swiftly through the woods, whilst on wing, and
performs its migrations without appearing in the open country. It is
a constant resident in the State of Louisiana, to which the dispersed
individuals resort, as to winter quarters, from the different parts of the
United States, to which they had gone to breed. They reach Pennsylvania
about the beginning or middle of April, and gradually proceed farther
north.

Their food consists of different kinds of berries and small fruits, which
they procure in the woods, without ever interfering with the farmer.
They also occasionally feed on insects and various lichens.

The nest is usually placed in a low horizontal branch of the Dogwood
Tree, occasionally on smaller shrubs. It is large, well saddled on the
branch, and composed externally of dry leaves of various kinds, with a
second bed of grasses and mud, and an internal layer of fine fibrous
roots. The eggs are four or five, of a beautiful uniform light blue.
The nest is generally found in deep swampy hollows, on the sides of hills.

On alighting on a branch, this Thrush gives its tail a few jets, uttering
at each motion a low chuckling note peculiar to itself, and very different
from those of the Hermit or Tawny Thrush. It then stands still for a
while, with the feathers of the hind part a little raised. It walks and
hops along the branches with much ease, and often bends down its head
to peep at the objects around. It frequently alights on the ground,
and scratches up the dried leaves in search of worms and beetles, but
suddenly flies back to the trees, on the least alarm.

The sight of a fox or raccoon causes them much anxiety, and they generally
follow these animals at a respectful distance, uttering a mournful
_cluck_, well known to hunters. Although, during winter, these birds are
numerous in Louisiana, they never form themselves into flocks, but go
singly at this period, and only in pairs in the breeding season. They
are easily reared from the nest, and sing nearly as well in confinement
as while free. Their song is occasionally heard during the whole winter,
particularly when the sun reappears after a shower. Their flesh is
extremely delicate and juicy, and many of them are killed with the
blow-gun.

Having given you a description of the Dogwood before, when I presented
that tree in bloom, I have only to say here, that you now see it in its
autumnal colouring, adorned with its berries, of which the Wood Thrush
is fond.


TURDUS MUSTELINUS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 817.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 331.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 75.

TAWNY THRUSH, _Lath._ Syn. vol. iii. p. 28.

WOOD THRUSH, TURDUS MELODIUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. i.
p. 35. Pl. 2. fig. 1.


Adult Male. Plate LXXIII. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight, compressed towards the end;
upper mandible with the dorsal outline a little convex, the tip slightly
declinate, the margins acute, inflected towards the end, slightly notched
close upon the tip; lower mandible slightly convex in its dorsal line,
the tip rather obtuse. Head of ordinary size; neck and body rather
slender. Feet rather long; tarsus longish, compressed, slender, anteriorly
covered with a few elongated scutella, posteriorly edged, longer than
the middle toe; toes scutellate above, lateral ones almost equal, the
outer connected as far as the second joint.

Plumage rather loose. A few longish bristles at the base of the upper
mandible. Wings of ordinary length, the third quill longest, the first
very short. Tail rather short, even, of twelve broad feathers.

Bill dark brown above, flesh-colour beneath. Iris dark brown. Feet
pale flesh-colour. The general colour of the upper parts is light
yellowish-brown, the tail and wings a little darker, the lower part of
the back and the upper tail-coverts green. Eyes margined with a whitish
circle. Under parts yellowish-white, spotted with blackish-brown,
excepting the throat, the under tail-coverts, and the middle part of
the breast and abdomen.

Length 8 inches, extent of wings 13; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap 1; tarsus 1⅓, middle toe 11/12.


Adult Female. Plate LXXIII. Fig. 2.

The female scarcely differs from the male in external appearance.


THE DOG-WOOD.

CORNUS FLORIDA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. i. p. 661. _Mich._ Arbr.
Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. t. iii. p. 138. Pl. iii. _Pursh_, Fl.
Amer. p. 108.—TETRANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._ CAPRIFOLIA, _Juss._

This plant has already been described at p. 45, a twig of it in flower
having been represented in Plate VIII.




THE INDIGO BIRD.

_FRINGILLA CYANEA_, WILS.

PLATE LXXIV. MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.


The species here presented for inspection is best known to the Creoles
of Louisiana by the name of _Petit Papebleu_. This is in accordance with
the general practice of the first settlers of that State, who named all
the Finches, Buntings, and Orioles, _Papes_; and all the Warblers and
Fly-catchers, _Grassets_. They made an exception, however, in favour
of the Rice Bird, which they honoured with the name of _Ortolan_, an
appellation given in the Island of St Domingo to the Ground Dove, which,
however, is seldom seen near New Orleans.

The Indigo Bird arrives in the Southern States from the direction of
Mexico, along with its relative the Painted Finch, and is caught in
trap-cages, but with more difficulty than the latter bird. It spreads
far and wide over the United States, extending from the borders of our
Atlantic shores to those of our great lakes. It is not a forest bird,
but prefers the skirts of the woods, the little detached thickets in
and along the fields, the meadows, the gardens, and orchards, and is
frequently seen hopping along, or perched on a fence, from which it does
not disdain to send forth its pretty little song. The highest top of a
detached tree is, however, preferred for this purpose, and the Indigo Bird
is to be observed perched on this pinnacle, singing at short intervals
for half an hour at a time. Its song is at first loud and clear, falling
in cadences to a very low key. The whole consists of eight or ten notes.
The bird now and then launches into the air, to cross a field, and
sings until it has espied a favourite spot amongst the clover, when it
immediately becomes silent and dives to the ground. The whole of this
parade is performed by the male, which is alone to be seen, the female
at this season keeping amongst the grass or the briars along the fields,
where her humble plumage hides her in a great measure from observation.
Some persons have thought that this practice was changed towards the
latter part of summer, when, by a casual observer, only the females are
to be seen. The true reason of this, however, is, that the young birds
of both sexes resemble the mother during the first season.

The Indigo Bird is an active and lively little fellow, possesses much
elegance in his shape, and also a certain degree of firmness in his make,
which renders him equally a favourite with the Painted Finch, although
he does not possess the variegated plumage of the latter. When the male
of the species now before you is in full plumage, the richness of his
apparel cannot fail to attract and please the eye of any observer. It is
highly glossy, and changes from the brightest azure to green, when placed
in a strong light. It requires three years to attain this perfect state.
The female continues in the same very humble vesture which nature first
accorded to her. The males, in the first spring, and not unfrequently
during the first autumn, are mottled with dull light blue, interspersed
among the original deep buff of their earlier stage. The blue increases
in extent, and acquires a deeper tint, as the age of the bird advances.
I have often seen males two years old which were still much inferior
in the beauty of their plumage to those which had passed through three
springs. Should the birds be caught when in full plumage, they gradually
lose their brilliant tints, which at length become extremely dull. A
similar alteration is observed to take place in Painted Finches which
have been kept in cages for a certain period, as well as in the Baltimore
and Orchard Orioles, and in the Bulfinch, Chaffinch, and other European
birds.

The nest of the Indigo Bird is usually fixed amongst the rankest stalks
of weeds or grass, now and then amongst the stems of a briar, or even in
a small hollow in a decayed tree. In all cases its composition is the
same; but when amongst grass, clover, or briars, it is attached to two
or three of the stalks by its sides. It is formed of coarse grasses,
hemp stalks, and flax, and is lined with slender grasses. The female
lays from four to six eggs, which are blue, with a spot or two of purple
at the larger end.

Towards fall, the young congregate into loose flocks or parties of eight
or ten individuals, and proceed southward. I think their migration,
at both periods of the year, is performed during night. Two broods
are generally raised in a season. The food of the Indigo Bird consists
of small seeds of various kinds, as well as insects, some of which it
occasionally pursues on wing with great vigour. They are fond of basking
and rolling themselves in the roads, from which they gather small
particles of sand or gravel. I have frequently seen live birds of this
species offered for sale in Europe.

I have represented an adult female, two young males of the first and
second year, in autumn, and a male in the full beauty of its plumage.
They are placed on a plant usually called the _Wild Sarsaparilla_. It
grows in Louisiana, on the skirts of the forests, in low damp places,
and along the fields, where the Indigo Birds are to be found. It is a
creeping plant, and is considered valuable on account of its medicinal
properties.


FRINGILLA CYANEA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 107.

INDIGO BIRD, FRINGILLA CYANEA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. i.
p. 100. Pl. 4. fig. 5. Male.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Amer. Ornith.
vol. ii. Pl. 2. fig. 3. Female.


Male in full plumage. Plate LXXIV. Fig. 1.

Bill short, robust, conical, a little bulging, straight, acute; upper
mandible broader, slightly declinate at the tip; gap-line a little
declinate at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partially concealed
by the frontal feathers. Head rather large. Neck of ordinary size. Body
ovate. Feet of ordinary length, rather slender; tarsus covered anteriorly
with a few scutella, the uppermost long, posteriorly edged; toes free,
scutellate above; claws slender, compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage glossy, somewhat silky, blended. Wings of ordinary length, the
second and third quills longest. Tail of ordinary length, distinctly
emarginate, of twelve obtuse feathers.

Bill brownish-black, light blue beneath. Iris dark brown. Feet
yellowish-brown. The general colour is a rich sky-blue, deeper on the
head, lighter beneath, and in certain lights changing to verdigris-green.
The quills, larger wing-coverts, and tail-feathers, dark brown, margined
externally with blue.

Length 5¼ inches, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the
gap nearly ½; tarsus ¾.


Male in the second year. Plate LXXIV. Fig. 3.

Bill lighter, irides and feet as in the adult. Head, neck and body,
blue, but of a lighter tint; tail as in the adult; wings, including the
lesser coverts, dull brown, the secondary coverts and some of the quills
margined with blue.


Male in the first autumn. Plate LXXIV. Fig. 2.

Bill, irides and feet as in the last. Head and body of a lighter and
duller blue, interspersed with brown patches; wings brown, secondary
coverts tipped with whitish.


Adult Female. Plate LXXIV. Fig. 4.

Bill light brown, tinged with blue. Iris hazel. Feet yellowish-brown.
The general colour is light yellowish-brown, the under parts and the
sides of the head lighter; the wings deep brown, margined with lighter.
The female is also considerably smaller.


THE WILD SARSAPARILLA.

SCHISANDRA COCCINEA, _Mich._ Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 218,
_Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol i. p. 212.—PENTANDRIA POLYGYNIA,
_Linn._

A climbing shrubby plant, distinguished by its carmine-coloured flowers,
consisting of nine sepals; its numerous, one-seeded berries, and
elliptico-lanceolate leaves, acute at both ends, and supported upon a
long petiole.




LE PETIT CAPORAL.

_FALCO TEMERARIUS._

PLATE LXXV.


This beautiful little Hawk appears to be nearly allied to the European
Hobby (_Falco Subbuteo_, LINN.), and is not inferior to that species in
spirit and activity. I procured the individual represented, in April
1812, near Fatland Ford in Pennsylvania, whilst in pursuit of a Dove,
which it would doubtless have secured, had I not terminated its career.
When I first discovered this species, the individual was standing perched
on an old fence-stake, in the position in which it is figured. Never
having met with another of the kind, I conclude that it is extremely
rare in the United States. Of its nest or young I am unable to say any
thing at present.

The name which I have given to this new and rare species was chosen at
the time when NAPOLEON LE GRAND was in the zenith of his glory. Every
body knows that his soldiers frequently designated him by the nickname
of _Le Petit Caporal_, which I thought more suitable to our _little_
Hawk, than the names NAPOLEON or BONAPARTE, which I should have adopted,
had I been so fortunate as to procure a new Eagle.


FALCO TEMERARIUS.


Plate LXXV.

Bill short, as broad as deep at the base, compressed towards the end,
the dorsal outline convex from the base; upper mandible cerate, with
the edges acute, slightly inflected, and forming a sharp projecting
process on each side, the tip trigonal, acute, descending; lower mandible
inflected at the edges, with a notch near the end on each side, abrupt
at the tip. Nostrils roundish, with a central tubercle, perforated in
the cere. Head rather large, neck short, body robust. Legs of ordinary
length; tarsus scutellate before and behind; toes scutellate above, scaly
on the sides, scabrous and tuberculate beneath; middle toe much longer
than the outer, which is connected with it at the base by a membrane;
claws long, curved, roundish, very acute.

Plumage ordinary compact. Feathers of the head and neck narrow, of the
back broad and rounded, of the breast oblong. Tibial feathers elongated
externally. Space between the bill and eye covered with bristly feathers.
Orbital spaces, and projecting edge of eyebrow bare. Wings nearly as
long as the tail; the primary quills narrow and tapering, the second
longest; the secondary quills short and rounded. Tail longish, nearly
even.

Bill bluish-black above, yellow beneath. Cere, orbits and eyebrow
greenish-yellow. Iris hazel. Feet pale orange. The general colour of
the upper parts is light bluish-grey, darker on the head and wings, each
feather with a black line along the shaft. Quills brownish-black. Tail
marked with alternate broad bands of light ash-grey and brownish-black,
the last black band much broader, the feathers tipped with white. Chin and
throat yellowish-white; sides of the neck light yellowish-red, streaked
with dark brown; lower part of the fore neck, the whole of the breast,
and the sides, yellowish-white, with large spots of brown. Abdomen and
under tail-coverts brownish-white; tibial feathers light reddish, each
with a central line of blackish-brown.

Length 10⅘ inches; bill along the back ⅔; tarsus 1½, middle toe 1-7/12.




HOSPITALITY IN THE WOODS.


Hospitality is a virtue, the exercise of which, although always agreeable
to the stranger, is not always duly appreciated. The traveller who
has acquired celebrity, is not unfrequently received with a species of
hospitality, which is so much alloyed by the obvious attention of the
host to his own interest, that the favour conferred upon the stranger
must have less weight, when it comes mingled with almost interminable
questions as to his perilous adventures. Another receives hospitality
at the hands of persons, who, possessed of all the comforts of life,
receive the way-worn wanderer with pomposity, lead him from one part of
their spacious mansion to another, and bidding him good night, leave
him to amuse himself in his solitary apartment, because he is thought
unfit to be presented to a party of _friends_. A third stumbles on a
congenial spirit, who receives him with open arms, offers him servants,
horses, perhaps even his purse, to enable him to pursue his journey,
and parts from him with regret. In all these cases, the traveller feels
more or less under obligation, and is accordingly grateful. But, kind
reader, the hospitality received from the inhabitant of the forest,
who can offer only the shelter of his humble roof, and the refreshment
of his homely fare, remains more deeply impressed on the memory of the
bewildered traveller than any other. This kind of hospitality I have
myself frequently experienced in our woods, and now proceed to relate
an instance of it.

I had walked several hundred miles, accompanied by my son, then a
stripling, and, coming upon a clear stream, observed a house on the
opposite shore. We crossed in a canoe, and finding that we had arrived
at a tavern, determined upon spending the night there. As we were both
greatly fatigued, I made an arrangement with our host to be conveyed in
a light Jersey waggon a distance of a hundred miles, the period of our
departure to be determined by the rising of the moon. Fair Cynthia, with
her shorn beams, peeped over the forest about two hours before dawn, and
our conductor, provided with a long twig of hickory, took his station
in the fore-part of the waggon. Off we went at a round trot, dancing
in the cart like pease in a sieve. The road, which was just wide enough
to allow us to pass, was full of deep ruts, and covered here and there
with trunks and stumps, over all which we were hurried. Our conductor
Mr FLINT, the landlord of the tavern, boasting of his perfect knowledge
of the country, undertook to drive us by a short-cut, and we willingly
confided ourselves to his management. So we jogged along, now and then
deviating to double the fallen timber. Day commenced with promise of fine
weather, but several nights of white frost having occurred, a change
was expected. To our sorrow, the change took place long before we got
to the road again. The rain fell in torrents; the thunder bellowed; the
lightning blazed. It was now evening, but the storm had brought perfect
night, black and dismal. Our cart had no cover. Cold and wet, we sat
silent and melancholy, with no better expectation than that of passing
the night under the little shelter the cart could afford us.

To stop was considered worse than to proceed. So we gave the reins to the
horses, with some faint hope that they would drag us out of our forlorn
state. Of a sudden the steeds altered their course, and soon after we
perceived the glimmer of a faint light in the distance, and almost at
the same moment heard the barking of dogs. Our horses stopped by a high
fence, and fell a-neighing, while I hallooed at such a rate, that an
answer was speedily obtained. The next moment, a flaming pine torch
crossed the gloom, and advanced to the spot where we stood. The Negro
boy who bore it, without waiting to question us, enjoined us to follow
the fence, and said that Master had sent him to shew the strangers to
the house. We proceeded, much relieved, and soon reached the gate of a
little yard, in which a small cabin was perceived.

A tall fine-looking young man stood in the open door, and desired
us to get out of the cart and walk in. We did so, when the following
conversation took place. "A bad night this, strangers; how came you to
be along the fence? you certainly must have lost your way, for there
is no public road within twenty miles." "Aye," answered Mr FLINT, "sure
enough we lost our way; but, thank God! we have got to a house, and thank
_you_ for your reception." "Reception!" replied the woodsman, "no very
great thing after all; you are all here safe, and that's enough.—Eliza,"
turning to his wife, "see about some victuals for the strangers, and
you, Jupiter," addressing the Negro lad, "bring some wood and mend the
fire. Eliza, call the boys up, and treat the strangers the best way you
can. Come, gentlemen, pull off your wet clothes, and draw to the fire.
Eliza, bring some socks and a shirt or two."

For my part, kind reader, knowing my countrymen as I do, I was not
much struck at all this; but my son, who had scarcely reached the age
of fourteen, drew near to me, and observed how pleasant it was to have
met with such good people. Mr FLINT bore a hand in getting his horses
put under a shed. The young wife was already stirring with so much
liveliness, that to have doubted for a moment that all she did was not



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 36 of 50)