John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 4 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 4 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

moving leisurely along. Turkeys being then in prime condition for the
table, I ordered my dog to chase it, and put it up. The animal went off
with great rapidity, and as it approached the Turkey, I saw, with great
surprise, that the latter paid little attention. Juno was on the point of
seizing it, when she suddenly stopped, and turned her head towards me.
I hastened to them, but you may easily conceive my surprise when I saw
my own favourite bird, and discovered that it had recognised the dog,
and would not fly from it; although the sight of a strange dog would
have caused it to run off at once. A friend of mine happening to be in
search of a wounded deer, took the bird on his saddle before him, and
carried it home for me. The following spring it was accidentally shot,
having been taken for a wild bird, and brought to me on being recognised
by the red ribbon which it had around its neck. Pray, reader, by what
word will you designate the recognition made by my favourite Turkey of
a dog which had been long associated with it in the yard and grounds?
Was it the result of instinct, or of reason,—an unconsciously revived
impression, or the act of an intelligent mind?

At the time when I removed to Kentucky, rather more than a fourth of
a century ago, Turkeys were so abundant, that the price of one in the
market was not equal to that of a common barn-fowl now. I have seen them
offered for the sum of three pence each, the birds weighing from ten to
twelve pounds. A first-rate Turkey, weighing from twenty-five to thirty
pounds avoirdupois, was considered well sold when it brought a quarter
of a dollar.

The weight of Turkey hens generally averages about nine pounds
avoirdupois. I have, however, shot barren hens in strawberry season,
that weighed thirteen pounds, and have seen a few so fat as to burst
open on falling from a tree when shot. Male Turkeys differ more in their
bulk and weight. From fifteen to eighteen pounds may be a fair estimate
of their ordinary weight. I saw one offered for sale in the Louisville
market, that weighed thirty-six pounds. Its pectoral appendage measured
upwards of a foot.

Some closet naturalists suppose the hen Turkey to be destitute of the
appendage on the breast, but this is not the case in the full-grown bird.
The young males, as I have said, at the approach of the first winter,
have merely a kind of protuberance in the flesh at this part, while the
young females of the same age have no such appearance. The second year,
the males are to be distinguished by the hairy tuft, which is about
four inches long, whereas in the females that are not barren, it is
yet hardly apparent. The third year, the male Turkey may be said to be
adult, although it certainly increases in weight and size for several
years more. The females at the age of four are in full beauty, and have
the pectoral appendage four or five inches long, but thinner than in
the male. The barren hens do not acquire it until they are very old. The
experienced hunter knows them at once in the flock, and shoots them by
preference. The great number of young hens destitute of the appendage
in question, has doubtless given rise to the idea that it is wanting in
the female Turkey.

The long downy _double_ feathers[2] about the thighs and on the lower
parts of the sides of the Wild Turkey, are often used for making tippets,
by the wives of our squatters and farmers. These tippets, when properly
made, are extremely beautiful as well as comfortable.

A long account of the habits of this remarkable bird has already been
given in Bonaparte's American Ornithology, vol. i. As that account was
in a great measure derived from notes furnished by myself, you need not
be surprised, good reader, to find it often in accordance with the above.

Having now said all that I have thought it might be agreeable to you
to know of the history and habits of the Wild Turkey, I proceed to the
technical description of that interesting bird.

MELEAGRIS GALLOPAVO, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 268.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. p. 618.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 122.

WILD TURKEY, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Americ. Ornith. vol. i. p. 79.
Pl. ix. Male and Female.

AMERICAN TURKEY, _Lath._ Synops. vol. ii. p. 676.

Adult Male. Plate I.

Bill shortish, robust, slightly arched, rather obtuse, the base covered
by a bare membrane; upper mandible with the dorsal outline arched, the
sides convex, the edges overlapping, the tip a little declinate; under
mandible somewhat bulging towards the tip, the sides convex. Nostrils
situated in the basal membrane, oblique, linear, covered above by a
cartilage. Head small, flattened above, with a conical pendulous, erectile
caruncle on the forehead. Neck slender. Body robust. Feet longish and
strong; tarsus covered anteriorly with numerous transverse scutella,
scaly on the sides, scutellate behind; toes scutellate above, scabrous,
papillar and flat beneath; hind toe elevated, half the length of the
lateral toes, which are nearly equal, and much shorter than the middle
toe; claws slightly arched, strong, convex above, obtuse, flat beneath.
A conical, rather obtuse spur on the tarsus, about two-thirds down.

Conical papilla of the forehead rugose, sparsely covered with bristles.
Head bare, and corrugated, the skin irregularly raised, and covered with
a few scattered bristles. External ear margined with short and slender
thin feathers. Neck also bare, corrugated, beset anteriorly and below
with a series of oblong, irregular, cavernous caruncles, interspersed
with small bristly feathers. Plumage in general compact, glossy, with
metallic reflections. Feathers double, as in other gallinaceous birds,
generally oblong and truncated. A pendulous tuft of long bristles from
the upper part of the breast. Wings shortish, convex, rounded, the fourth
and fifth quills longest. Tail rather long, ample, rounded, consisting of
eighteen broad rounded feathers; capable of being erected and expanded
in a permanent manner, when the bird is excited, and reaching nearly to
the ground, when the bird stands erect.

Bill yellowish-brown. Frontal caruncle blue and red. Rugose and
carunculated skin of the head and neck of various tints of blue
and purple, the pendulous anterior caruncles of the latter, or the
_wattles_, bright red, changing to blue. Iris hazel. Legs and toes
bright purplish-red; claws brown. Upper part of the back and wings
brownish-yellow, with metallic lustre, changing to deep purple, the
truncated tips of the feathers broadly margined with velvet-black. On
the middle and lower back, the black terminal bands of the feathers
almost conceal the bronze colour. The large quill-coverts are of the
same colour as the back, but more bronzed, with purple reflections.
Quills brownish-black, the primaries banded with greyish-white, the
secondaries with brownish-white, gradually becoming deeper towards the
proximal feathers, which are similar to the coverts. The lower part of
the back and the tail-coverts are deep chestnut, banded with green and
black. The tail-feathers are of the same colour, undulatingly barred and
minutely sprinkled with black, and having a broad blackish bar towards
the tip, which is pale brown and minutely mottled. The under parts are
duller. Breast of the same colours as the back, the terminal black band
not so broad; sides dark-coloured; abdomen and thighs brownish-grey;
under tail-coverts blackish, glossed with bronze, and at the tip bright

Length 4 feet 1 inch, extent of wings 5 feet 8 inches; beak 1½ inches
along the ridge, 2 along the gap; tarsus 7¼; middle toe 5, hind toe 2;
pectoral appendage 1 foot. Such were the dimensions of the individual
represented in the plate, which, I need not say, was a fine specimen.




Were I inclined, like many persons who write on Natural History, to
criticise the figures given by other students, I should find enough to
be censured; but as my object is simply to communicate the result of
studies to which I have devoted the greater part of my life, I shall
content myself with merely recommending to those intent on the advancement
of that most interesting science, to bestow a little more care on their
representations of the bills, legs and feet of the species which they
bring into notice, and let it be seen that they indeed borrow from nature.

From Nature!—How often are these words used, when at a glance he who
has seen the perfect and beautiful forms of birds, quadrupeds or other
objects, as they have come from the hand of Nature, discovers that the
representation is not that of _living_ Nature! But I am deviating from
the track which I wish to follow, my desire being simply to give you
an opportunity, good reader, of judging for yourself as to the truth of
my delineations, and to present you with the results of my observations
made in those very woods where the subjects have been found and depicted.

The flight of the bird now before you is rapid, silent, and horizontal,
as it moves from one tree to another, or across a field or river, and is
generally continued amongst the branches of the trees in our woods. When
making its way among the branches, it occasionally inclines the body to
either side, so as alternately to shew its whole upper or under parts.
During its southward migration, it flies high in the air, and in such
loose flocks that the birds might seem to follow each other, instead of
their keeping company together. On the other hand, early in March, the
greater number enter our southern boundaries singly, the males arriving
first, and the females a few weeks after. They do not fly in a continued
line, but in a broad front, as, while travelling with great rapidity in
a steam-boat, so as to include a range of a hundred miles in one day,
I have observed this Cuckoo crossing the Mississippi at many different
points on the same day. At this season, they resort to the deepest shades
of the forests, and intimate their presence by the frequent repetition
of their dull and unmusical notes, which are not unlike those of the
young Bull-Frog. These notes may be represented by the word _cow_, _cow_,
repeated eight or ten times with increasing rapidity. In fact, from the
resemblance of its notes to that word, this Cuckoo is named _Cow Bird_
in nearly every part of the Union. The Dutch farmers of Pennsylvania
know it better by the name of _Rain Crow_ and in Louisiana the French
settlers call it _Coucou_.

It robs smaller birds of their eggs, which it sucks on all occasions,
and is cowardly and shy, without being vigilant. On this latter account,
it often falls a prey to several species of Hawks, of which the Pigeon
Hawk (_Falco columbarius_) may be considered as its most dangerous enemy.
It prefers the Southern States for its residence, and when very mild
winters occur in Louisiana, some individuals remain there, not finding
it necessary to go farther south.

This bird is not abundant anywhere, and yet is found very far north. I
have met with it in all the low grounds and damp places in Massachusets,
along the line of Upper Canada, pretty high on the Mississippi and
Arkansas, and in every state between these boundary lines. Its appearance
in the State of New York seldom takes place before the beginning of May,
and at Green Bay not until the middle of that month. A pair here and
there seem to appropriate certain tracts to themselves, where they rear
their young in the midst of peace and plenty. They feed on insects, such
as caterpillars and butterflies, as well as on berries of many kinds,
evincing a special predilection for the mulberry. In autumn they eat
many grapes, and I have seen them supporting themselves by a momentary
motion of their wings opposite a bunch, as if selecting the ripest, when
they would seize it and return to a branch, repeating their visits in
this manner until satiated. They now and then descend to the ground, to
pick up a wood-snail or a beetle. They are extremely awkward at walking,
and move in an ambling manner, or leap along sidewise, for which the
shortness of their legs is ample excuse. They are seldom seen perched
conspicuously on a twig, but on the contrary are generally to be found
amongst the thickest boughs and foliage, where they emit their notes
until late in autumn, at which time they discontinue them.

The nest is simple, flat, composed of a few dry sticks and grass, formed
much like that of the Common Dove, and, like it, fastened to a horizontal
branch, often within the reach of man, who seldom disturbs it. It makes
no particular selection as to situation or the nature of the tree, but
settles any where indiscriminately. The eggs are four or five, of a
rather elongated oval form, and bright green colour. They rear only one
brood in a season, unless the eggs are removed or destroyed. The young
are principally fed with insects during the first weeks. Towards autumn
they become very fat, and are fit for being eaten, although few persons,
excepting the Creoles of Louisiana, shoot them for the table.

The branch, among the foliage of which you see the male and female winging
their way, is one of the Papaw, a tree of small size, seldom more than
from twenty to thirty feet in height, with a diameter of from three to
seven inches. It is found growing in all rich grounds, to which it is
peculiar, from the southern line of our States to central Pennsylvania,
seldom farther eastward, here and there only along the alluvial shores
of the Ohio and Mississippi. In all other places of like nature you may
meet with groves of Papaw trees, covering an acre or more of ground. The
fruit, which is represented in the plate, consists of a pulpy and insipid
substance, within which are found several large, hard, and glossy seeds.
The rind is extremely thin. The wood is light, soft, brittle, and almost
useless. The bark, which is smooth, may be torn off from the foot of the
tree to the very top, and is frequently used for making ropes, after it
has been steeped in water sufficiently to detach the outer part, when
the fibres are obtained, which, when twisted, are found to be nearly as
tough and durable as hemp. The numerous islands of the Ohio and all the
other western rivers are generally well stocked with this tree.

COCCYZUS AMERICANUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 42.

CUCULUS AMERICANUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 170.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 219.

CAROLINA CUCKOO, _Lath._ Synopsis, vol. ii. p. 527.

Ornith. vol. iv. p. 13. Pl. 28. fig. 1.

Adult Male. Plate II. Fig. 1.

Bill as long as the head, compressed, slightly arched, acute, scarcely
more robust than in many Sylviæ; upper mandible carinated above, its
margins acute and entire; lower mandible carinated beneath, acute.
Nostrils basal, lateral, linear-elliptical, half closed by a membrane.
Feet short; tarsus scutellate before and behind; toes two before,
separated; two behind, one of which is versatile, the sole flat; claws
slender, compressed, arched.

Plumage blended, slightly glossed. Wings long, the first quill short,
the third longest, the primaries tapering. Tail long, graduated, of ten
feathers, which are rather narrow and rounded.

Upper mandible brownish-black, yellow on the margin towards the base;
under mandible yellow. Iris hazel. Feet greyish-blue. The general
colour of the upper parts, including the wing-coverts and two middle
tail-feathers, is light greenish-brown, deeper anteriorly. Primary quills
with the inner webs brownish-orange. Tail-feathers, excepting the two
middle ones, black, the next two entirely black, the rest broadly tipped
with white, the outermost white on the outer web. The under parts are

Length 12½ inches, extent of wings 16; bill along the ridge 1, along
the gap 1⅓.

Adult Female. Plate II. Fig. 2.

The female differs very little from the male in colouring.


PORCELIA TRILOBA, _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 383. ANONA
TRILOBA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1267. _Mich._ Arbr.
Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. iii. p. 162. Pl. 9. —POLYANDRIA
POLYGYNIA, _Linn._ Anonæ, _Juss._

Leaves obovato-cuneate, acuminate, smoothish; outer petals orbiculate;
fruits oblong, large, and fleshy. The leaves are from six to ten inches
long; the flowers of a rich dark purple.




I never saw this pretty bird in any of our eastern districts, and rarely
farther up the Ohio than Louisville, in the neighbourhood of which place
it rears its young. Louisiana seems in fact better suited to its habits
than any other state, on account of its numerous lakes, creeks and
lagoons, overshadowed by large trees, and which are favourite places of
resort for this species. It is fond of flying over the water of these
creeks and lagoons, and is seldom seen in the woods. Its flight is rapid,
and more steady than is usual in birds of its genus; and as it moves
along, the brightness of its colours attracts the eye. On alighting,
it moves rapidly along the twigs, partly sidewise, frequently turning
about and extending its neck to look under the leaves, from which it
picks various kinds of insects. It often perches upon the rank grasses
and water plants, in quest of minute molluscous animals which creep
upon them, and which, together with small land snails, I have found in
its stomach. It does not perform _sorties_, or sally forth after flying
insects, as many other Warblers are in the habit of doing. It has a few
notes for its song, which possess no interest. The males, when chasing
each other, keep up a creaking noise, until the little battle is over,
when they perch and balance their body with much grace and liveliness.

I have observed their arrival in Louisiana to take place, according to
the state of the weather, from the middle of March to the first of April.
At Henderson, in Kentucky, they do not arrive until a month later. They
remain until October, but, I am inclined to believe, rear only a single
brood in a season. The nest is fixed in the fork of a small twig bending
over the water, and is constructed of slender grasses, soft mosses, and
fine fibrous roots. The number of eggs is from four to six. I could never
ascertain whether the male assists in incubation, as the difference of
plumage in the sexes is not perceptible when the bird is at large, and
indeed can hardly be traced when one has procured the male and the female
for comparison. It cannot be called a plentiful species. To search for
them on the high lands, or at any considerable distance from the places
mentioned, would prove quite useless.

The plant on which you see these birds, grows in swampy places, but
is extremely rare, and I have not been able to procure any scientific
appellation for it. In Louisiana, it is called the _Cane Vine_. It bears
a small white flower in clusters. The berries are bitter and nauseous.
The stem, which runs up and over trees, resembles that of other climbing
plants, is extremely elastic, and as tough as a cord. The leaves, of
which you see the form and colour, are also tough and thick.

SYLVIA PROTONOTARIUS, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 542.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 86.

Ornith. vol. iii. p. 72. Pl. xxiv. fig. 3.

Adult Male. Plate III. Fig. 1.

Bill nearly as long as the head, slender, tapering, nearly straight,
as deep as broad at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical,
half closed by a membrane. Head rather small. Neck short. Body rather
slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle
toe, covered anteriorly with a few scutella, the uppermost long: toes
scutellate above, the inner free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws
slender, compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. Wings of ordinary length, acute, the
first and second quills longest. Tail nearly even, of twelve straight,
rather narrow feathers. Bill brownish-black. Iris hazel. Feet and claws
greyish-blue. Head all round, neck and under parts generally, of a
bright rich pure yellow, paler on the abdomen, and passing into white
on the under tail-coverts. Fore part of the back and lesser wing-coverts
yellowish-green. Lower back and wings light greyish-blue. Inner webs of
the quills blackish. Inner webs of the tail-feathers bluish-grey at the
base then white to near the tip, which is black, as well as the outer
webs. The two middle feathers blackish, tinged with greyish-blue.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 8½; beak along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap ¾; tarsus 11/12.

Adult Female. Plate III. Fig. 2.

The differences which the female exhibits are so slight as scarcely to
be describable, the tints being merely a little duller.




From the beginning of November until April, flocks of the Purple Finch,
consisting of from six to twenty individuals, are seen throughout the
whole of Louisiana and the adjoining States. They fly compactly, with an
undulating motion, similar to that of the Common Greenfinch of Europe.
They alight all at once, and after a moment of rest, and as if frightened,
all take to wing again, make a circuit of no great extent, and return to
the tree from which they had thus started, or settle upon one near it.
Immediately after this, every individual is seen making its way toward
the extremities of the branches, husking the buds with great tact, and
eating their internal portion. In doing this, they hang like so many
Titmice, or stretch out their necks to reach the buds below. Although
they are quite friendly among themselves during their flight, or while
sitting without looking after food, yet, when they are feeding, the moment
one goes near another, it is strenuously warned to keep off by certain
unequivocal marks of displeasure, such as the erection of the feathers
of the head and the opening of the mouth. Should this intimation be
disregarded, the stronger or more daring of the two drives off the other
to a different part of the tree. They feed in this manner principally
in the morning, and afterwards retire to the interior of the woods.
Towards sunset they reappear, fly about the skirts of the fields and
along the woods, until, having made choice of a tree, they alight, and,
as soon as each bird has chosen a situation, stand still, look about
them, plume themselves, and make short sallies after flies and other
insects, but without interfering with each other. They frequently utter a
single rather mellow _clink_, and are seen occupied in this manner until
near sunset, when they again fly off to the interior of the forest. I
one night surprised a party of them roosting in a small holly tree, as
I happened to be brushing by it. In their consternation they suddenly
started all together, and in the same direction, when, not knowing what
birds they were, I shot at them and brought down two.

It is remarkable that, at this season, males in full beauty of plumage
are as numerous as during the summer months in far more northern parts,
where they breed; and you may see different gradations of plumage, from
the dingy greenish-brown of the female and young to the richest tints of
the oldest and handsomest male; while along with these there are others
which, by my habit of examining birds, I knew to be old, and which are
of a yellowish-green, neither the colour of the young males, nor that
of the females, but a mixture of all.

The song of the Purple Finch is sweet and continued, and I have enjoyed
it much during the spring and summer months, in the mountainous parts
of Pennsylvania, where it occasionally breeds, particularly about the
Great Pine Forest, where, although I did not find any nests, I saw pairs
of these birds flying about and feeding their young, which could not
have been many days out, and were not fully fledged. The food which
they carried to their young consisted of insects, small berries, and
the juicy part of the cones of the spruce pine.

They frequently associate with the Common Cross-bills, feeding on the same
trees, and like them are at times fond of alighting against the mud used
for closing the log-houses. They are seldom seen on the ground, although

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 4 of 50)