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the muddy lakes of Louisiana, in the neighbourhood of New Orleans, during
the winter months; but they appeared emaciated, and were probably unable
to follow their natural inclinations, and proceed farther south.

As soon as the females make their appearance, which happens eight or ten
days after the arrival of the males, the love-season commences, and soon
after, incubation takes place. The loves of these birds are conducted
in a different way from those of the other Falcons. The males are seen
playing through the air amongst themselves, chasing each other in sport,
or sailing by the side or after the female which they have selected,
uttering cries of joy and exultation, alighting on the branches of the
tree on which their last year's nest is yet seen remaining, and doubtless
congratulating each other on finding their home again. Their caresses
are mutual. They begin to augment their habitation, or to repair the
injuries which it may have sustained during the winter, and are seen
sailing together towards the shores, to collect the drifted sea-weeds
with which they line the nest anew. They alight on the beach, search
for the driest and largest weeds, collect a mass of them, clench them
in their talons, and fly towards their nest with the materials dangling
beneath. They both alight and labour together. In a fortnight the nest
is complete, and the female deposits her eggs, which are three or four
in number, of a broadly oval form, yellowish-white, densely covered with
large irregular spots of reddish-brown.

The nest is generally placed in a large tree in the immediate vicinity
of the water, whether along the seashore, on the margins of the inland
lakes, or by some large river. It is, however, sometimes to be seen in
the interior of a wood, a mile or more from the water. I have concluded
that, in the latter case, it was on account of frequent disturbance, or
attempts at destruction, that the birds had removed from their usual
haunt. The nest is very large, sometimes measuring fully four feet
across, and is composed of a quantity of materials sufficient to render
its depth equal to its diameter. Large sticks, mixed with sea-weeds,
tufts of strong grass, and other materials, form its exterior, while the
interior is composed of sea-weeds and finer grasses. I have not observed
that any particular species of tree is preferred by the Fish Hawk. It
places its nest in the forks of an oak or a pine with equal pleasure.
But I have observed that the tree chosen is usually of considerable size,
and not unfrequently a decayed one. I dare not, however, affirm that the
juices of the plants which compose the nest, ever become so detrimental
to the growth of a tree as ultimately to kill it. In a few instances,
I have seen the Fish Crow and the Purple Grakle raising their families
in nests built by them among the outer sticks of the Fish Hawk's nest.

The male assists in incubation, during the continuance of which the one
bird supplies the other with food, although each in turn goes in quest
of some for itself. At such times the male bird is now and then observed
rising to an immense height in the air, over the spot where his mate
is seated. This he does by ascending almost in a direct line, by means
of continued flappings, meeting the breeze with his white breast, and
occasionally uttering a cackling kind of note, by which the bystander is
enabled to follow him in his progress. When the Fish Hawk has attained
its utmost elevation, which is sometimes such that the eye can no longer
perceive him, he utters a loud shriek, and dives smoothly on half-extended
wings towards his nest. But before he readies it, he is seen to expand his
wings and tail, and in this manner he glides towards his beloved female,
in a beautifully curved line. The female partially raises herself from
her eggs, emits a low cry, resumes her former posture, and her delighted
partner flies off to the sea, to seek a favourite fish for her whom he

The young are at length hatched. The parents become more and more
attached to them, as they grow up. Abundance of food is procured to favour
their development. So truly parental becomes the attachment of the old
birds, that an attempt to rob them of those dear fruits of their love,
generally proves more dangerous than profitable. Should it be made, the
old birds defend their brood with great courage and perseverance, and
even sometimes, with extended claws and bill, come in contact with the
assailant, who is glad to make his escape with a sound skin.

The young are fed until fully fledged, and often after they have left the
nest, which they do apparently with great reluctance. I have seen some
as large as the parents, filling the nest, and easily distinguished by
the white margins of their upper plumage, which may be seen with a good
glass at a considerable distance. So much fish is at times carried to
the nest, that a quantity of it falls to the ground, and is left there
to putrify around the foot of the tree. Only one brood is raised each

The Fish Hawk seldom alights on the ground, and when it does so, walks
with difficulty, and in an extremely awkward manner. The only occasions
on which it is necessary for them to alight, are when they collect
materials for the purpose of repairing their nest at the approach of
autumn, or for building a new one, or repairing the old, in spring.

I have found this bird in various parts of the interior of the United
States, but always in the immediate neighbourhood of rivers or lakes.
When I first removed to Louisville in Kentucky, several pairs were in the
habit of raising their brood annually on a piece of ground immediately
opposite the foot of the Falls of the Ohio in the State of Indiana. The
ground belonged to the venerable General CLARK, and I was several times
invited by him to visit the spot. Increasing population, however, has
driven off the birds, and few are now seen on the Ohio, unless during
their migrations to and from Lake Erie, where I have met with them.

I have observed many of these birds at the approach of winter, sailing
over the lakes near the Mississippi, where they feed on the fish which
the Wood Ibis kills, the Hawks themselves being unable to discover them
whilst alive in the muddy water with which these lakes are filled. There
the Ibises wade among the water in immense flocks, and so trample the
bottom as to convert the lakes into filthy puddles, in which the fishes
are unable to respire with ease. They rise to the surface, and are
instantly killed by the Ibises. The whole surface is sometimes covered in
this manner with dead fish, so that not only are the Ibises plentifully
supplied, but Vultures, Eagles and Fish Hawks, come to participate in
the spoil. Except in such places, and on such occasions, I have not
observed the Fish Hawk to eat of any other prey than that which it had
procured by plunging headlong into the water after it.

I have frequently heard it asserted that the Fish Hawk is sometimes
drawn under the water and drowned, when it has attempted to seize a
fish which is too strong for it, and that some of these birds have been
found sticking by their talons to the back of Sturgeons and other large
fishes. But, as nothing of this kind ever came under my observation,
I am unable to corroborate these reports. The roosting place of this
bird is generally on the top-branches of the tree on which its nest is
placed, or of one close to it.

Fish Hawks are very plentiful on the coast of New Jersey, near Great
Egg Harbour, where I have seen upwards of fifty of their nests in the
course of a day's walk, and where I have shot several in the course of
a morning. When wounded, they defend themselves in the manner usually
exhibited by Hawks, erecting the feathers of the head, and trying to
strike with their powerful talons and bill, whilst they remain prostrate
on their back.

The largest fish which I have seen this bird take out of the water, was
a Weak Fish, such as is represented in the plate, but sufficiently large
to weigh more than five pounds. The bird carried it into the air with
difficulty, and dropped it, on hearing the report of a shot fired at it.

FALCO HALIAËTUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 129.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 17. _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 26.

CAROLINA OSPREY, _Lath._ Synops. vol. i. p. 74.

FISH HAWK, FALCO HALIAËTUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. v. p. 13.
Pl. 5. fig. 1.

Adult Male. Plate LXXXI.

Bill short, as broad as deep at the base, the sides convex, dorsal outline
straight at the base, curved towards the end; upper mandible cerate,
the edges acute, with a festoon at the curvature, the tip trigonal,
deflected, very acute; lower mandible inflected at the edges, which are
slightly arched, the tip obtusely truncate, the dorsal line slightly
concave at the base, convex towards the end. Nostrils oval, oblique,
lateral, in the fore part of the cere. Head rather large. Body robust.
Legs rather long; tarsus short, remarkably thick, covered all round
with hexagonal scales; toes also remarkably thick, the outer versatile,
covered anteriorly with broad, laterally with small hexagonal scales;
claws curved, roundish, very acute.

Plumage compact, imbricated; feathers of the head and neck narrow, of
the back broad and rounded, of the breast also rounded. Tibial feathers
short, tarsus feathered anteriorly one-third down. Wings very long,
acute, the third quill longest, the second and fourth equal, the first
not much shorter. Tail rather long, of twelve broad, rounded feathers.

Bill brownish-black, blue at the base and margin; cere light-blue. Iris
yellow. Feet pale greyish-blue, tinged with brown; claws black. The
general colour of the upper parts is dusky brown, the tail barred with
pale brown. The upper part of the head and neck white, the middle part
of the crown dark brown. A broad band of the latter colour from the bill
down the side of the neck on each side. Under parts of the neck brownish
white, streaked with dark brown. Under parts generally white. Anterior
tarsal feathers tinged with brown.

Length 23 inches, extent of wings 54; bill along the back 2; tarsus 2¼,
middle toe 3.


The Weak Fish makes its appearance along our eastern shores about the
middle of April, and remains until autumn. It is caught in the seine,
and sold in our markets, being a delicate well-flavoured fish. It seldom
attains any remarkable size. It is particularly plentiful about Great
Egg Harbour, in New Jersey.




This bird makes its appearance in most parts of our Western and Southern
Districts, at the approach of spring, but is never heard, and indeed
scarcely ever seen, in the State of Louisiana. The more barren and
mountainous parts of the Union seem to suit it best. Accordingly, the open
Barrens of Kentucky, and the country through which the Alleghany ridges
pass, are more abundantly supplied with it than any other regions. Yet,
wherever a small tract of country, thinly covered with timber, occurs
in the Middle Districts, there the _Whip-poor-will_ is heard during the
spring and early autumn.

This species of Night-jar, like its relative the Chuck-will's-widow,
is seldom seen during the day, unless when accidentally discovered in a
state of repose, when, if startled, it rises and flies off, but only to
such a distance as it considers necessary, in order to secure it from the
farther intrusion of the disturber of its noon-day slumbers. Its flight
is very low, light, swift, noiseless, and protracted, as the bird moves
over the places which it inhabits, in pursuit of the moths, beetles and
other insects, of which its food is composed. During the day, it sleeps
on the ground, the lowest branches of small trees and bushes, or the
fallen trunks of trees so abundantly dispersed through the woods. In
such situations, you may approach within a few feet of it; and, should
you observe it whilst asleep, and not make any noise sufficient to alarm
it, it will suffer you to pass quite near it, without taking flight, as
it seems to sleep with great soundness, especially about the middle of
the day. In rainy or very cloudy weather, it sleeps less, and is more
on the alert. Its eyes are then kept open for hours at a time, and it
flies off as soon as it discovers an enemy approaching, which it can
do, at such times, at a distance of twenty or thirty yards. It always
appears with its body parallel to the direction of the branch or trunk
on which it sits, and, I believe, never alights _across_ a branch or a

No sooner has the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, than this bird
bestirs itself, and sets out in pursuit of insects. It passes low over
the bushes, moves to the right or left, alights on the ground to secure
its prey, passes repeatedly and in different directions over the same
field, skims along the skirts of the woods, and settles occasionally
on the tops of the fence-stakes or on stumps of trees, from whence
it sallies, like a Fly-catcher, after insects, and, on seizing them,
returns to the same spot. When thus situated, it frequently alights on
the ground, to pick up a beetle. Like the Chuck-will's-widow, it also
balances itself in the air, in front of the trunks of trees, or against
the sides of banks, to discover ants, and other small insects that may
be lurking there. Its flight is so light and noiseless, that whilst it
is passing within a few feet of a person, the motion of its wings is not
heard by him, and merely produces a gentle undulation in the air. During
all this time, it utters a low murmuring sound, by which alone it can
be discovered in the dark, when passing within a few yards of one, and
which I have often heard when walking or riding through the barrens at

Immediately after the arrival of these birds, their notes are heard in the
dusk and through the evening, in every part of the thickets, and along
the skirts of the woods. They are clear and loud, and to me are more
interesting than those of the Nightingale. This taste I have probably
acquired, by listening to the Whip-poor-will in parts where Nature
exhibited all her lone grandeur, and where no discordant din interrupted
the repose of all around. Only think, kind reader, how grateful to me must
have been the cheering voice of this my only companion, when, fatigued
and hungry, after a day of unremitted toil, I have planted my camp in the
wilderness, as the darkness of night put a stop to my labours! I have
often listened to the Nightingale, but never under such circumstances,
and therefore its sweetest notes have never awaked the same feeling.

The Whip-poor-will continues its lively song for several hours after
sunset, and then remains silent until the first dawn of day, when its
notes echo through every vale, and along the declivities of the mountains,
until the beams of the rising sun scatter the darkness that overhung the
face of nature. Hundreds are often heard at the same time in different
parts of the woods, each trying to out-do the others; and when you are
told that the notes of this bird may be heard at the distance of several
hundred yards, you may form an idea of the pleasure which every lover
of nature must feel during the time when this chorus is continued.

Description is incapable of conveying to your mind any accurate idea of
the notes of this bird, much less of the feelings which they excite.
Were I to tell you that they are, in fact, not strictly musical, you
might be disappointed. The cry consists of three distinct notes, the
first and last of which are emphatical and sonorous, the intermediate
one less so. These three notes are preceded by a low cluck, which seems
preparatory to the others, and which is only heard when one is near
the bird. A fancied resemblance which its notes have to the syllables
_whip-poor-will_, has given rise to the common name of the bird.

This species is easily shot, when the moon is shining, and the night
clear, as you may then approach it without much caution. It is, however,
difficult to hit it on wing, on account of the zig-zag lines in which
it flies, as well as the late hour at which it leaves its resting-place.
It is seldom killed, however, being too small to be sought as an article
of food, although its flesh is savoury, and it is too harmless to excite

It deposits its eggs about the middle of May, on the bare ground, or on
dry leaves, in the most retired parts of the thickets which it frequents.
They are always two in number, of a short elliptical form, much rounded,
and nearly equal at both ends, of a greenish-white colour, spotted and
blotched with bluish-grey, and light brown. The young burst the shell in
fourteen days after the commencement of incubation, and look at first
like a mouldy and almost shapeless mass, of a yellowish colour. When
first able to fly they are of a brown colour, interspersed with patches
of buff, the brown being already beautifully sprinkled with darker dots
and zig-zag lines. They attain their full plumage before they depart,
with their parents, for the south. I think their southward migration,
which is performed by night, must be very rapid, as I have never found
any of these birds in Louisiana at that season, whereas they proceed
slowly on their return in spring. Both birds sit on the eggs, and feed
the young for a long time after they are able to fly, either on wing,
in the manner of the Common House Swallow, or while perched on the
fences, wood-piles, or houses. The food of the young at first consists of
ants, and partially digested beetles and large moths, which the parents
disgorge; but at the end of a fortnight the parents present the food
whole to the young, which then swallow it with ease.

Much has been said respecting the difference existing between the
_Whip-poor-will_ and the _Night Hawk_ for the purpose of shewing them to
be distinct species. On this subject I shall only say, that although I
have known both birds from my early youth, I have seldom seen a farmer
or even a boy in the United States, who did not know the difference
between them.

It is a remarkable fact that even the largest moths on which the
Whip-poor-will feeds, are always swallowed tail foremost, and when
swallowed, the wings and legs are found closely laid together, and as if
partially glued by the saliva or gastric juice of the bird. The act of
deglutition must be greatly aided by the long bristly feathers of the
upper mandible, as these no doubt force the wings of the insects close
together, before they enter the mouth.

I have represented a male and two females, as well as some of the insects
on which they feed. The former are placed on a branch of Red Oak, that
tree being abundant on the skirts of the Kentucky Barrens, where the
Whip-poor-will is most plentiful.

CAPRIMULGUS VOCIFERUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 62.

vol. v. p. 71. Pl. 41. fig. 1. Male, fig. 2. Female, fig. 3.

Adult Male. Plate LXXXII. Fig. 1.

Bill extremely short, feeble, opening to beyond the eyes, making the
mouth, when open, of enormous dimensions; upper mandible arched in
its dorsal outline, very broad at the base, suddenly contracted at the
tip, which is compressed and rather obtuse; lower mandible decurved.
Nostrils basal, oval, prominent, covered above by a membrane. Head
disproportionately large. Eyes and ears very large. Neck short. Body
rather slender. Feet very short; tarsus partly feathered, anteriorly
scutellate below; fore toes three, connected to the second joint by
membranes, scutellate above; claws depressed, arched, that of the middle
toe with the inner edge expanded and pectinate.

Plumage blended, soft and silky, without much gloss. Upper mandible
margined at the base with stiff bristles, much longer than the bill,
extending forwards and outwards. Wings long, narrow, the second and
third quills longest. Tail rather long, ample, even, of ten broad rounded

Bill dark brown. Iris dark hazel. Feet reddish-purple, the scales
and claws blackish. The general colour of the upper parts is dark
brownish-grey, streaked and minutely sprinkled with brownish-black.
Cheeks brownish-red. The quills and coverts are dark brown, spotted in
bars with light brown, the tips of the former mottled with light and
dark brown. Four middle tail-feathers like those of the back, the three
lateral white in their terminal half, deep brown, spotted with light
brown towards the base, the latter colours running along the outer web
of the outermost to near the tip. Throat and breast similar to the back,
with a transverse band of yellowish-white across the fore-neck; the rest
of the under parts paler and mottled.

Length 9 inches, extent of wings 19; bill along the ridge 5/12, along
the gap 1-7/12.

Adult Female. Plate LXXXII. Fig. 2, 3.

The female resembles the male in colouring, but the lateral tail-feathers
are reddish-white towards the tip only, and the band across the fore-neck
is pale yellowish-brown.


QUERCUS TINCTORIA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 414. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 629. _Mich._ Abr. Forest. de l'Amer.
Sept. vol. ii. p. 110. Pl. 2.—MONŒCIA POLYANDRIA, _Linn._

Leaves obovato-oblong, sinuate, pubescent beneath, their lobes acuminate,
obsoletely denticulate; the cup scutellato-turbinate; the acorn globular
depressed. This is one of the largest trees of the United States, and
attains a height from eighty to ninety feet, with a diameter of from
four to five. The bark is deeply cracked, and of a black colour. The
wood is reddish, coarse-grained, and not so much esteemed as that of
the White Oak, and some other species. The bark is used for tanning, as
well as for dyeing wool of a yellow colour. It is generally distributed,
especially in the mountainous parts.




Although Louisiana is supplied with thousands of the Great Carolina Wren,
not a single individual of the present species is ever to be found there.
It appears, indeed, that the central districts of our Atlantic coasts
are their principal places of resort, probably because certain portions
of the country are intended to be occupied by different species of the
same genus. Thus, I think it highly probable that the Great Carolina
Wren has been intended for the Southern Districts, the House Wren for
the Middle States, Bewick's Long-tailed Wren for the regions of the
Rocky Mountains, and the Little Wren for our north-eastern territories,
along the St Lawrence, although it also breeds in the State of New York,
and even in that of Pennsylvania, where I have found it in the Great
Pine Swamp. I am induced to think that a fifth species of Wren will yet
be found within the limits of the United States. From this arrangement
I exclude the bird called the Marsh Wren, which more properly belongs
to the genus _Certhia_. But, as I have already said, I leave all these
matters to be discussed by the system-makers.

The opinion expressed by a former writer, that the House Wren occurs
in the United States, is as incorrect as the assertion of a subsequent
author, that the Florida Jay is met with on the Mississippi and Ohio.
During a residence of twenty years in the different States through which
these great streams pass, I never saw either the one or the other of
these birds. These are errors, however, which are to be attributed to
the circumstance that one of the writers alluded to never visited the
Southern or Western States, while the other merely passed once through

From whence the House Wren comes, or to what parts it retires during
winter, is more than I have been able to ascertain. Although it is
extremely abundant in the States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia,
and Maryland, from the middle of April until the beginning of October, I
have never been able to trace its motions, nor do I know of any naturalist
in our own country, or indeed in any other, who has been more fortunate.

Its flight is short, generally low, and performed by a constant tremor
of the wings, without any jerks of either the body or tail, although the
latter is generally seen erect, unless when the bird is singing, when
it is always depressed. When passing from one place to another, during
the love-season, or whilst its mate is sitting, this sweet little bird

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 40 of 50)