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a pleasure to her would have been impossible. Two Negro lads made their
appearance, looked at us for a moment, and going out, called the dogs.
Soon after the cries of the poultry informed us that good cheer was
at hand. JUPITER brought more wood, the blaze of which illumined the
cottage. Mr FLINT and our host returned, and we already began to feel
the comforts of hospitality. The woodsman remarked that it was a pity
we had not chanced to come that day three weeks; "for," said he, "it was
our wedding-day, and father gave us a good house-warming, and you might
have fared better; but, however, if you can eat bacon and eggs, and a
broiled chicken, you shall have that. I have no whisky in the house, but
father has some capital cider, and I'll go over and bring a keg of it."
I asked how far off his father lived. "Only three miles, Sir, and I'll
be back before Eliza has cooked your supper." Off he went accordingly,
and the next moment the galloping of his horse was heard. The rain fell
in torrents, and now I also became struck with the kindness of our host.

To all appearance the united ages of the pair under whose roof we had
found shelter did not exceed two score. Their means seemed barely
sufficient to render them comfortable, but the generosity of their
young hearts had no limits. The cabin was new. The logs of which it was
formed were all of the tulip-tree, and were nicely pared. Every part
was beautifully clean. Even the coarse slabs of wood that formed the
floor looked as if newly washed and dried. Sundry gowns and petticoats
of substantial homespun hung from the logs that formed one of the sides
of the cabin, while the other was covered with articles of male attire.
A large spinning-wheel, with rolls of wool and cotton, occupied one
corner. In another was a small cupboard, containing the little stock of
new dishes, cups, plates, and tin pans. The table was small also, but
quite new, and as bright as polished walnut could be. The only bed that
I saw was of domestic manufacture, and the counterpane proved how expert
the young wife was at spinning and weaving. A fine rifle ornamented the
chimney-piece. The fire-place was of such dimensions that it looked as
if it had been purposely constructed for holding the numerous progeny
expected to result from the happy union.

The black boy was engaged in grinding some coffee. Bread was prepared
by the fair hands of the bride, and placed on a flat board in front of
the fire. The bacon and eggs already murmured and spluttered in the
frying-pan, and a pair of chickens puffed and swelled on a gridiron
over the embers, in front of the hearth. The cloth was laid, and every
thing arranged, when the clattering of hoofs announced the return of
the husband. In he came, bearing a two-gallon keg of cider. His eyes
sparkled with pleasure as he said, "Only think, ELIZA; father wanted to
rob us of the strangers, and was for coming here to ask them to his own
house, just as if we could not give them enough ourselves; but here's the
drink—Come gentlemen, sit down and help yourselves." We did so, and I,
to enjoy the repast, took a chair of the husband's making in preference
to one of those called _Windsor_, of which there were six in the cabin.
This chair was bottomed with a piece of deer's skin tightly stretched,
and afforded a very comfortable seat.

The wife now resumed her spinning, and the husband filled a jug with
the sparkling cider, and, seated by the blazing fire, was drying his
clothes. The happiness he enjoyed beamed from his eye, as at my request
he proceeded to give us an account of his affairs and prospects, which he
did in the following words:—"I will be twenty-two next Christmas-day,"
said our host; "My father came from Virginia when young, and settled on
the large tract of land where he yet lives, and where with hard working he
has done well. There were nine children of us. Most of them are married
and settled in the neighbourhood. The old man has divided his lands
among some of us, and bought others for the rest. The land where I am
he gave me two years ago, and a finer piece is not easily to be found.
I have cleared a couple of fields, and planted an orchard. Father gave
me a stock of cattle, some hogs, and four horses, with two Negro boys.
I camped here for most of the time when clearing and planting; and when
about to marry the young woman you see at the wheel, father helped me
in raising this hut. My wife, as luck would have it, had a Negro also,
and we have begun the world as well off as most folks, and, the Lord
willing, may—but, gentlemen, you don't eat; do help yourselves—ELIZA,
maybe the strangers would like some milk." The wife stopped her work,
and kindly asked if we preferred sweet or sour milk; for you must know,
reader, that sour milk is by some of our farmers considered a treat.
Both sorts were produced, but, for my part, I chose to stick to the cider.

Supper over, we all neared the fire, and engaged in conversation. At
length our kind host addressed his wife as follows:—"ELIZA, the gentlemen
would like to lie down, I guess. What sort of bed can you fix for them?"
ELIZA looked up with a smile, and said: "Why, WILLY, we will divide
the bedding, and arrange half on the floor, on which we can sleep very
well, and the gentlemen will have the best we can spare them." To this
arrangement I immediately objected, and proposed lying on a blanket by
the fire; but neither WILLY nor ELIZA would listen. So they arranged
a part of their bedding on the floor, on which, after some debate, we
at length settled. The Negroes were sent to their own cabin, the young
couple went to bed, and Mr FLINT lulled us all asleep, with a long story
intended to shew us how passing strange it was that he should have lost
his way.

"Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,"—and so forth. But Aurora
soon turned her off. Mr SPEED, our host, rose, went to the door, and
returning assured us that the weather was too bad for us to attempt
proceeding. I really believe he was heartily glad of it; but anxious to
continue our journey, I desired Mr FLINT to see about his horses. ELIZA
by this time was up too, and I observed her whispering to her husband,
when he immediately said aloud; "To be sure, the gentlemen will eat
breakfast before they go, and I will shew them the way to the road."
Excuses were of no avail. Breakfast was prepared and eaten. The weather
brightened a little, and by nine we were under way. WILLY on horseback
headed us. In a few hours, our cart arrived at a road, by following
which we at length got to the main one, and parted from our woodsman
with the greater regret that he would accept nothing from any of us. On
the contrary, telling Mr FLINT with a smile, that he hoped he might some
time again follow the longest track for a short cut, he bade us adieu,
and trotted back to his fair ELIZA and his happy home.




THE VIRGINIAN PARTRIDGE.

_PERDIX VIRGINIANA_, LATH.

PLATE LXXVI. MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.


The common name given to this bird in the Eastern and Middle Districts
of our Union is that of _Quail_, but in the Western and Southern States,
the more appropriate appellation of _Partridge_ is bestowed upon it.
It is abundantly met with in all parts of the United States, but more
especially towards the interior. In the States of Ohio and Kentucky,
where they are very abundant, they are to be seen in the markets, both
dead and alive, in large quantities.

This species performs occasional migrations from the north-west to
the south-east, usually in the beginning of October, and somewhat in
the manner of the Wild Turkey. For a few weeks at this season, the
north-western shores of the Ohio are covered with flocks of Partridges.
They ramble through the woods along the margin of the stream, and
generally fly across towards evening. Like the Turkeys, many of the
weaker Partridges often fall into the water, while thus attempting to
cross, and generally perish; for although they swim surprisingly, they
have not muscular power sufficient to keep up a protracted struggle,
although, when they have fallen within a few yards of the shore, they
easily escape being drowned. I have been told by a friend that a person
residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had
described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had
accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost
every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and
you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by
throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water. As
soon as the Partridges have crossed the principal streams in their way,
they disperse in flocks over the country, and return to their ordinary
mode of life.

The flight of these birds is generally performed at a short distance
from the ground. It is rapid, and is continued by numerous quick flaps
of the wings for a certain distance, after which the bird sails until
about to alight, when again it flaps its wings to break its descent.
When chased by dogs, or started by any other enemy, they fly to the
middle branches of trees of ordinary size, where they remain until danger
is over. They walk with ease on the branches. If they perceive that
they are observed, they raise the feathers of their head, emit a low
note, and fly off either to some higher branch of the same tree, or to
another tree at a distance. When these birds rise on wing of their own
accord, the whole flock takes the same course; but when put up (in the
sportsman's phrase), they disperse, after alighting call to each other,
and soon after unite, each running or flying towards the well-known cry
of the patriarch of the covey. During deep and continued snows, they
often remain on the branches of trees for hours at a time.

The usual cry of this species is a clear whistle, composed of three
notes; the first and last nearly equal in length, the latter less loud
than the first, but more so than the intermediate one. When an enemy is
perceived they immediately utter a lisping note, frequently repeated,
and run off with their tail spread, their crest erected, and their wings
drooping, towards the shelter of some thicket or the top of a fallen
tree. At other times, when one of the flock has accidentally strayed to
a distance from its companions, it utters two notes louder than any of
those mentioned above, the first shorter and lower than the second, when
an answer is immediately returned by one of the pack. This species has
moreover a love-call, which is louder and clearer than its other notes,
and can be heard at a distance of several hundred yards. It consists of
three distinct notes, the two last being loudest, and is peculiar to the
male bird. A fancied similarity to the words _Bob White_ renders this
call familiar to the sportsman and farmer; but these notes are always
preceded by another, easily heard at a distance of thirty or forty yards.
The three together resemble the words _Ah Bob White_. The first note is
a kind of aspiration, and the last is very loud and clear. This whistle
is seldom heard after the breeding season, during which an imitation
of the peculiar note of the female will make the male fly towards the
sportsman, who may then easily shoot it.

In the Middle Districts, the love-call of the male is heard about the
middle of April, and in Louisiana much earlier. The male is seen perched
on a fence-stake, or on the low branch of a tree, standing nearly in the
same position for hours together, and calling _Ah Bob White_ at every
interval of a few minutes. Should he hear the note of a female, he sails
directly towards the spot whence it proceeded. Several males may be heard
from different parts of a field challenging each other, and should they
meet on the ground, they fight with great courage and obstinacy, until
the conqueror drives off his antagonist to another field.

The female prepares a nest composed of grasses, arranged in a circular
form, leaving an entrance not unlike that of a common oven. It is placed
at the foot of a tuft of rank grass or some close stalks of corn, and
is partly sunk in the ground. The eggs are from ten to eighteen, rather
sharp at the smaller end, and of a pure white. The male at times assists
in hatching them. This species raises only one brood in the year, unless
the eggs or the young when yet small have been destroyed. When this
happens, the female immediately prepares another nest; and should it
also be ravaged, sometimes even a third. The young run about the moment
after they make their appearance, and follow their parents until spring,
when, having acquired their full beauty, they pair and breed.

The Partridge rests at night on the ground, either amongst the grass
or under a bent log. The individuals which compose the flock form a
ring, and moving backwards, approach each other until their bodies are
nearly in contact. This arrangement enables the whole covey to take wing
when suddenly alarmed, each flying off in a direct course, so as not to
interfere with the rest.

These birds are easily caught in snares, common dead-falls, traps and
pens, like those for the Wild Turkey, but proportionate to the size of
the bird. Many are shot, but the principal havock is effected by means of
nets, especially in the Western and Southern States. The method employed
is as follows:

A number of persons on horseback, provided with a net, set out in search
of Partridges, riding along the fences or briar-thickets, which the birds
are known to frequent. One or two of the party whistle in imitation of
the second call-note above described, and as Partridges are plentiful,
the call is soon answered by a covey, when the sportsmen immediately
proceed to ascertain their position and number, seldom considering it
worth while to set the net when there are only a few birds. They approach
in a careless manner, talking and laughing as if merely passing by. When
the birds are discovered one of the party gallops off in a circuitous
manner, gets in advance of the rest by a hundred yards or more, according
to the situation of the birds, and their disposition to run, while the
rest of the sportsmen move about on their horses, talking to each other,
but at the same time watching every motion of the Partridges. The person
in advance being provided with the net, dismounts, and at once falls to
placing it, so that his companions can easily drive the Partridges into
it. No sooner is the machine ready, than the net-bearer remounts and
rejoins the party. The sportsmen separate to a short distance, and follow
the Partridges, talking and whistling, clapping their hands, or knocking
upon the fence-rails. The birds move with great gentleness, following
each other, and are kept in the right direction by the sportsmen. The
leading bird approaches and enters the mouth of the net, the others
follow in succession, when the net-bearer leaps from his horse, runs up
and secures the entrance, and soon dispatches the birds. In this manner,
fifteen or twenty Partridges are caught at one driving, and sometimes
many hundreds in the course of a day. Most netters give liberty to a
pair out of each flock, that the breed may be continued.

The success of driving depends much on the state of the weather. Drizzly
rain or melting snow are the best, for in such weather Partridges and
Gallinaceous Birds in general will run to a great distance rather than
fly; whereas if the weather be dry and clear, they generally take to
wing the moment they discover an intruder, or squat so that they cannot
be driven without very particular care. Again, when the flocks are found
in the woods, they run off so briskly and so far, that it is difficult
for the net-bearer to place his machine in time.

The net is cylindrical, thirty or forty feet in length, by about two
in diameter, excepting at the mouth or entrance, where it is rather
larger, and at the extremity, where it assumes the form of a bag. It is
kept open by means of small wooden hoops, at a distance of two or three
feet from each other. The mouth is furnished with a semicircular hoop,
sharpened at both ends, which are driven into the ground, thus affording
an easy entrance to the birds. Two pieces of netting called wings, of the
same length as the cylindrical one, are placed one on each side of the
mouth, so as to form an obtuse angle with each other, and are supported
by sticks thrust into the ground, the wings having the appearance of
two low fences leading to a gate. The whole is made of light and strong
materials.

The Virginian Partridge is easily kept in cages or coops, and soon becomes
very fat. Attempts at rearing them from the eggs have generally failed,
probably for want of proper care, and a deficiency of insects, on which
the young feed. The ordinary food of the species consists of seeds of
various kinds, and such berries as grow near the surface of the ground,
along with which they pick up a quantity of sand or gravel. Towards
autumn, when the young have nearly attained their full size, their flesh
becomes fat, juicy and tender, and being moreover white and extremely
agreeable to the palate, is in much request. Twenty years ago, they were
commonly sold at twelve cents the dozen; but now they are more commonly
sold at fifty cents. They suffer greatly in the Middle Districts during
severe winters, and are killed in immense numbers.

This bird has been introduced into various parts of Europe, but is not
much liked there, being of such pugnacious habits as to drive off the
common Grey Partridge, which is considered a better bird for the table.

In the Plate I have represented a group of Partridges attacked by a Hawk.
The different attitudes exhibited by the former cannot fail to give you
a lively idea of the terror and confusion which prevail on such occasions.


PERDIX VIRGINIANA, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 650.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 124.

TETRAO VIRGINIANUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 277.

QUAIL or PARTRIDGE, PERDIX VIRGINIANA, _Wils._ Americ. Ornith.
vol. vi. p. 21. Pl. 47. fig. 2. Male.


Adult Male. Plate LXXVI. Fig. 1, 1, 1, 1.

Bill short, robust, rather obtuse, the base covered by feathers; upper
mandible with the dorsal outline curved, the sides convex, the edges
overlapping, the tip declinate; under mandible nearly straight in its
dorsal outline, arched on the edges, the sides convex. Nostrils concealed
among the feathers. Head and neck of ordinary size. Body short and
bulky. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus anteriorly scutellate, a little
compressed, spurless; toes scutellate above, pectinate on the sides;
claws arched, obtuse.

Plumage compact, glossy. Feathers of the upper part of the head erectile
into a tuft. Wings short, broad, much curved and rounded, the fourth
quill longest. Tail short, rounded, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill dark brown. Iris hazel. Feet greyish-blue. The forehead, a broad
line over each eye, and the throat and fore-neck, white. Lore, auricular
coverts, and a broad irregular semilunar band on the fore-neck, more or
less black. Upper part of the head, hind and lower part of the neck all
round, reddish-brown. Upper back and wing-coverts bright brownish-red;
the lower part of the back light red tinged with yellow. Primaries dusky,
externally margined with blue; secondaries irregularly barred with light
red. Tail greyish-blue, excepting the middle feathers, which are dull
greyish-yellow, sprinkled with black. Sides of the neck spotted with
white. Under parts white, streaked with brownish-red, transversely and
undulatingly barred with black. Sides and under tail-coverts reddish.

Length 10 inches, extent of wings 15; bill along the back ½, along the
gap 7/12; tarsus ¼, middle toe nearly the same.


Young Male. Plate LXXVI. Fig. 2, 2.

Similar to the adult male in the general distribution of the colours;
but the white of the head and throat bright reddish-yellow, the black
of the fore-neck and sides of the head deep brown, the under parts less
pure and more dusky, and the tail of a duller grey.


Adult Female. Plate LXXVI. Fig. 3, 3, 3.

The female resembles the young male, but is more decidedly coloured,
the bill darker, the head of a more uniform and richer reddish-yellow,
the sides of the neck spotted with yellow and black.

Length 9½ inches, extent of wings 14.


Young Female. Plate LXXVI. Fig. 4, 4. 4.

The young females are somewhat smaller and lighter in their tints than
the young males.


Very Young Birds. Plate LXXVI. Fig. 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5.

Bill brownish-yellow. Iris light hazel. The general colour of the upper
parts light yellowish-brown, patched with grey; sides of the head dusky.




THE BELTED KINGSFISHER.

_ALCEDO ALCYON_, LINN.

PLATE LXXVII. MALE AND FEMALE.


You must not suppose, good-natured reader, that the lives which I try
to write, are short or lengthy according to the natural dimensions of
the objects themselves; for if with the representation of a large bird,
I present you with a long history of its habits, it is merely because
that bird, being perhaps more common, and therefore more conspicuous, I
have had better and more frequent opportunities of studying them. This
happens to be the case with the bird which I proceed to describe.

The Belted Kingsfisher!—Now, kind reader, were I infected with the
desire of giving new names to well-known objects, you may be assured
that, notwithstanding the partly appropriate name given to this bird,
I should call it, as I think it ought to have been called, the _United
States' Kingsfisher_. My reason for this will, I hope, become apparent
to you, when I say that it is the only bird of its genus found upon
the inland streams of the Union. Another reason of equal force might be
adduced, which is, that, although the males of all denominations have,
from time immemorial, obtained the supremacy, in this particular case the
term Belted applies only to the female, the male being destitute of the
belt or band by which she is distinguished. But names already given and
received, whether apt or inapt, I am told, must not be meddled with. To
this law I humbly submit, and so proceed, contenting myself with feeling
assured that many names given to birds might, with much benefit to the
student of nature, become the subjects of reform.

The Belted Kingsfisher is a constant resident in the States of Louisiana,
Mississippi, Arkansas, and all the districts that lie to the south of
North Carolina. Its inland migrations along the windings of our noble
rivers extend far and wide, over the whole of the United States. In all
those portions which I have visited it also breeds, although it returns
to the south from many parts during severe winters.

The flight of this bird is rapid, and is prolonged according to its
necessities, extending at times to considerable distances, in which
case it is performed high in the air. When, for instance, the whole
course of one of our northern rivers becomes frozen, the Kingsfisher,
instead of skimming closely over the surface that no longer allows it to
supply itself with food, passes high above the tallest trees, and takes
advantage of every short cut which the situation of the river affords.
By this means it soon reaches a milder climate. This is also frequently
the case, when it seems tired of the kind of fish that occurs in a lake,
and removes to another in a direct line, passing over the forests, not
unfrequently by a course of twenty or thirty miles towards the interior
of the country. Its motions when on wing consist of a series of flaps,
about five or six in number, followed by a direct glide, without any
apparent undulation. It moves in the same way when flying closely over
the water.

If, in the course of such excursions, the bird passes over a small pool,
it suddenly checks itself in its career, poises itself in the air, like
a Sparrow-hawk or Kestril, and inspects the water beneath, to discover
whether there may be fishes in it suitable to its taste. Should it find
this to be the case, it continues poised for a few seconds, dashes
spirally headlong into the water, seizes a fish, and alights on the
nearest tree or stump, where it swallows its prey in a moment.

The more usual range of the Belted Kingsfisher, however, is confined
to the rivers and creeks that abound throughout the United States; all
of which, according to the seasons, are amply supplied with various
fishes, on the fry of which this bird feeds. It follows their course up
to the very source of the small rivulets; and it is not unusual to hear



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 37 of 50)