John James Audubon.

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somewhat lighter, as are the tips of the quills and larger wing-coverts.




The haunts of this interesting little bird are, in the Middle Districts,
the margins of rivers at their confluence with the sea, and the adjoining
marshes of our Atlantic shores. In such places, the Marsh Wren is found
in great numbers, from the beginning of April to the middle of October,
when it retires southward, many individuals wintering on the south-western
shores of the Floridas, and along the mouths of the Mississippi.

It is a homely little bird, and is seldom noticed, unless by the
naturalist, when searching for other species, or by children, who in
all countries are fond of birds. It lives entirely amongst the sedges,
flags, and other rank plants that cover the margins of the rivers, and
the inlets of the sea. Its flight is very low and short, and is performed
by a continued flirting of the wings, but without the motions of the tail
employed by the Great Carolina Wren. Its song, if song I can call it, is
composed of several quickly repeated notes, resembling the grating of
a rusty hinge, and is uttered almost continuously during the fore part
of the day, the performer standing perched on the top of a tall weed,
from which, on the appearance of an intruder, it instantly dives into
the thickest part of the herbage, but to which it returns the moment it
thinks the danger over, and renews its merry little song.

The males are extremely pugnacious, and chase each other with great
animosity, until one or other has been forced to give way. This
disposition is the more remarkable, as these birds build their nests
quite close to each other. I have seen several dozens of these nests in
the course of a morning ramble, in a piece of marsh not exceeding forty
or fifty acres.

The nest is nearly of the size and shape of a cocoa-nut, and is formed
of dried grasses, entwined in a circular manner, so as to include in
its mass several of the stems and leaves of the sedges or other plants,
among which it is placed. A small aperture, just large enough to admit
the birds, is left, generally on the south-west side of the nest. The
interior is composed of small dry grasses, and is nearly of the depth
and width of a common bottle. The eggs, which are from six to eight, are
of a regular oval form, and deep chocolate colour, and, from their small
size, resemble so many beads. The Marsh Wren raises two broods in the
season, and on each occasion forms a new nest. In consequence of this
practice, the deserted nests of the year, and those remaining since the
preceding season, may be seen in the marshes in every direction, there
being scarcely a tuft of tall weeds that is not adorned with one of them.

The food of the Marsh Wren principally consists of minute aquatic insects,
and equally diminutive mollusca, which it procures by moving along the
blades of the grasses, or the twigs of other plants, which it does with
great activity. Indeed, so rapid are its movements among the weeds, that
one might easily mistake it for a mouse, did he not observe its tail now
and then raised over its back, so as to allow the white under-coverts
of the former to become conspicuous.

Although I have shot and examined many birds of this species, I have
not found any remarkable differences in the plumage of the sexes.

The young birds assume their full colouring so soon after they leave their
nest, that by the time the species departs from the Middle Districts on
its way southward, it is hardly possible to distinguish them from the
old birds.

In the plate, the last of my first volume of the BIRDS OF AMERICA, you
have, _kind_ reader (as I hope I may now with confidence call you),
three figures of this little inhabitant of our marshy shores, together
with the representation of its nest.

TROGLODYTES PALUSTRIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 93.

MARSH WREN, TROGLODYTES PALUSTRIS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iii.
p. 58. Pl. 12. fig. 4.

Adult Male. Plate C. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, slightly arched, slender, acute, subtrigonal at the base,
compressed towards the tip; upper mandible with the ridge obtuse, the
sides convex towards the end, concave at the base, the edges acute and
overlapping; under mandible with the sides and back convex. Nostrils
oblong, direct, basal, with a cartilaginous lid above, open and bare.
Head ovate, eyes rather large, neck of ordinary length, body short
and full. Legs of ordinary length; tarsus longer than the middle toe,
compressed, covered anteriorly with six scutella, posteriorly with a
long plate, forming an acute edge; toes scutellate above, the second and
fourth nearly equal, the hind toe almost equal to the middle one, the
third and fourth united as far as the second joint; claws rather long,
slender, acute, arched, much compressed.

Plumage soft, tufty, slightly glossed. No bristly feathers about the
bill. Wings short, broad, rounded: first quill half the length of the
second, which is very little shorter than the third and fourth. Tail of
ordinary length, much rounded, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill dark brown above, yellow beneath. Iris hazel. Feet light brown.
The general colour of the upper parts is dark brown, the sides of the
head deeper, the fore part of the back brownish-black, longitudinally
streaked with white, the quills externally margined with lighter brown,
the tail barred with dark brown. A white line over the eye, extending
down the neck; the sides of the latter mottled with light brown and grey;
the under parts of a silvery greyish-white; the abdominal feathers and
under tail-coverts tipped with brown.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 6¼; bill along the ridge nearly 7/12,
along the gap ¾; tarsus ⅚, middle toe nearly ¾.

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

The female differs very little in external appearance from the male. The
black of the back is less deep, and the white lines are less conspicuous;
the under parts, also, are of a duller white.


DANIEL BOON, or, as he was usually called in the Western Country, COLONEL
BOON, happened to spend a night with me under the same roof, more than
twenty years ago. We had returned from a shooting excursion, in the
course of which his extraordinary skill in the management of the rifle
had been fully displayed. On retiring to the room appropriated to that
remarkable individual and myself for the night, I felt anxious to know
more of his exploits and adventures than I did, and accordingly took
the liberty of proposing numerous questions to him. The stature and
general appearance of this wanderer of the western forests approached
the gigantic. His chest was broad and prominent; his muscular powers
displayed themselves in every limb; his countenance gave indication of
his great courage, enterprise, and perseverance; and when he spoke, the
very motion of his lips brought the impression that whatever he uttered
could not be otherwise than strictly true. I undressed, whilst he merely
took off his hunting shirt, and arranged a few folds of blankets on
the floor, choosing rather to lie there, as he observed, than on the
softest bed. When we had both disposed of ourselves, each after his own
fashion, he related to me the following account of his powers of memory,
which I lay before you, kind reader, in his own words, hoping that the
simplicity of his style may prove interesting to you.

"I was once," said he, "on a hunting expedition on the banks of the
Green River, when the lower parts of this State (Kentucky) were still
in the hands of nature, and none but the sons of the soil were looked
upon as its lawful proprietors. We Virginians had for some time been
waging a war of intrusion upon them, and I, amongst the rest, rambled
through the woods in pursuit of their race, as I now would follow the
tracks of any ravenous animal. The Indians outwitted me one dark night,
and I was as unexpectedly as suddenly made a prisoner by them. The trick
had been managed with great skill; for no sooner had I extinguished the
fire of my camp, and laid down to rest, in full security, as I thought,
than I felt myself seized by an indistinguishable number of hands, and
was immediately pinioned, as if about, to be led to the scaffold for
execution. To have attempted to be refractory, would have proved useless
and dangerous to my life; and I suffered myself to be removed from my
camp to theirs, a few miles distant, without uttering even a word of
complaint. You are aware, I dare say, that to act in this manner was
the best policy, as you understand that by so doing, I proved to the
Indians at once, that I was born and bred as fearless of death as any
of themselves.

"When we reached the camp, great rejoicings were exhibited. Two squaws
and a few papooses appeared particularly delighted at the sight of me,
and I was assured, by very unequivocal gestures and words, that, on the
morrow, the mortal enemy of the Red-skins would cease to live. I never
opened my lips, but was busy contriving some scheme which might enable
me to give the rascals the slip before dawn. The women immediately
fell a searching about my hunting-shirt for whatever they might think
valuable, and, fortunately for me, soon found my flask filled with
_monongahela_ (that is, reader, strong whisky). A terrific grin was
exhibited on their murderous countenances, while my heart throbbed with
joy at the anticipation of their intoxication. The crew immediately
began to beat their bellies and sing, as they passed the bottle from
mouth to mouth. How often did I wish the flask ten times its size, and
filled with aqua-fortis! I observed that the squaws drank more freely
than the warriors, and again my spirits were about to be depressed, when
the report of a gun was heard at a distance. The Indians all jumped on
their feet. The singing and drinking were both brought to a stand, and I
saw, with inexpressible joy, the men walk off to some distance and talk
to the squaws. I knew that they were consulting about me, and I foresaw
that in a few moments the warriors would go to discover the cause of the
gun having been fired so near their camp. I expected that the squaws
would be left to guard me. Well, Sir, it was just so. They returned;
the men took up their guns, and walked away. The squaws sat down again,
and in less than five minutes had my bottle up to their dirty mouths,
gurgling down their throats the remains of the whisky.

"With what pleasure did I see them becoming more and more drunk, until
the liquor took such hold of them that it was quite impossible for
these women to be of any service. They tumbled down, rolled about, and
began to snore: when I, having no other chance of freeing myself from
the cords that fastened me, rolled over and over towards the fire, and,
after a short time, burned them asunder. I rose on my feet, stretched my
stiffened sinews, snatched up my rifle, and, for once in my life, spared
that of Indians. I now recollect how desirous I once or twice felt to
lay open the skulls of the wretches with my tomahawk; but when I again
thought upon killing beings unprepared and unable to defend themselves,
it looked like murder without need, and I gave up the idea.

"But, Sir, I felt determined to mark the spot, and walking to a thrifty
ash sapling, I cut out of it three large chips, and ran off. I soon
reached the river, soon crossed it, and threw myself deep into the
cane-brakes, imitating the tracks of an Indian with my feet, so that no
chance might be left for those from whom I had escaped to overtake me.

"It is now nearly twenty years since this happened, and more than five
since I left the Whites' settlements, which I might probably never have
visited again, had I not been called on as a witness in a law-suit that
was pending in Kentucky, and which I really believe would never have
been settled, had I not come forward, and established the beginning of
a certain boundary line. This is the story, Sir.

"Mr —— moved from Old Virginia into Kentucky, and having a large tract
granted to him in the new State, laid claim to a certain parcel of land
adjoining Green River, and as chance would have it, took for one of his
corners the very Ash tree on which I had made my mark, and finished his
survey of some thousands of acres, beginning, as it is expressed in the
deed, 'at an Ash marked by three distinct notches of the tomahawk of a
white man.'

"The tree had grown much, and the bark had covered the marks; but somehow
or other, Mr —— heard from some one all that I have already said to you,
and thinking that I might remember the spot alluded to in the deed, but
which was no longer discoverable, wrote for me to come and try at least
to find the place or the tree. His letter mentioned that all my expenses
should be paid, and not caring much about once more about going back to
Kentucky, I started and met Mr ——. After some conversation, the affair
with the Indians came to my recollection. I considered for a while, and
began to think that after all I could find the very spot, as well as
the tree, if it was yet standing.

"Mr —— and I mounted our horses, and off we went to the Green River
Bottoms. After some difficulties, for you must be aware, Sir, that great
changes have taken place in those woods, I found at last the spot where
I had crossed the river, and waiting for the moon to rise, made for the
course in which I thought the Ash tree grew. On approaching the place,
I felt as if the Indians were there still, and as if I was still a
prisoner among them. Mr —— and I camped near what I conceived the spot,
and waited until the return of day.

"At the rising of the sun, I was on foot, and after a good deal of
musing, thought that an Ash tree then in sight must be the very one on
which I had made my mark. I felt as if there could be no doubt of it,
and mentioned my thought to Mr ——. "Well, Colonel BOON," said he, "if you
think so, I hope it may prove true, but we must have some witnesses; do
you stay here about, and I will go and bring some of the settlers whom
I know." I agreed. Mr —— trotted off, and I, to pass the time, rambled
about to see if a deer was still living in the land. But ah! Sir, what
a wonderful difference thirty years makes in the country! Why, at the
time when I was caught by the Indians, you would not have walked out in
any direction for more than a mile without shooting a buck or a bear.
There were then thousands of buffaloes on the hills in Kentucky; the land
looked as if it never would become poor; and to hunt in those days was
a pleasure indeed. But when I was left to myself on the banks of Green
River, I dare say for the last time in my life, a few _signs_ only of
deer were to be seen, and, as to a deer itself, I saw none.

"Mr —— returned, accompanied by three gentlemen. They looked upon me
as if I had been WASHINGTON himself, and walked to the Ash tree, which
I now called my own, as if in quest of a long lost treasure. I took an
axe from one of them, and cut a few chips off the bark. Still no signs
were to be seen. So I cut, again until I thought it was time to be
cautious, and I scraped and worked away with my butcher knife, until I
_did_ come to where my tomahawk had left an impression in the wood. We
now went regularly to work, and scraped at the tree with care, until
three hacks as plain as any three notches ever were, could be seen. Mr
—— and the other gentlemen were astonished, and, I must allow, I was as
much surprised as pleased myself. I made affidavit of this remarkable
occurrence in presence of these gentlemen. Mr —— gained his cause. I
left Green River for ever, and came to where we now are; and, Sir, I
wish you a good night."

I trust, kind reader, that when I again make my appearance with another
volume of Ornithological Biography, I shall not have to search in vain
for the impression which I have made, but shall have the satisfaction
of finding its traces still unobliterated. I now withdraw, and, in the
words of the noted wanderer of the western wilds, "WISH YOU A GOOD NIGHT."



Acer rubrum, 287, 352

Adonis autumnalis, 48

Æsculus Pavia, 402

Alcedo Alcyon, 394

American Bear, 479

—— Cane, 149

—— Goldfinch, 172

—— Hare, 272

—— Pokeweed, 179

—— Redstart, 202

Anthus pipiens, 408

—— Spinoletta, 49

Autumnal Warbler, 447

Azure Warbler, 255

Baltimore Oriole, 66

Barred Owl, 242

Bay-breasted Warbler, 358

Bay-winged Bunting, 473

Bead-tree, 330

Bear, Black, 479

Bear-berry, 257

Belted Kingsfisher, 394

Betula papyracea, 449

Bewick's Wren, 96

Bignonia capreolata, 334

—— radicans, 254

Birch, Paper, 449

Bird of Washington, 58

Bitterwood, 123

Blackberry, 152

Black-billed Cuckoo, 170

Black-and-white Creeper, 452

—— Warbler, 290

Black Oak, 426

Black Walnut, 433

Black Warrior, 441

Blue-grey Fly-catcher, 431

Blue Tangles, 129

Blue-winged Yellow Warbler, 102

Blue-green Warbler, 258

Blue Yellow-backed Warbler, 78

Bombycilla carolinensis, 227

Bonaparte's Fly-catcher, 27

Boon, Colonel, 503

Broad-winged Hawk, 461

Brown Titlark, 49

Buck-eye, Dwarf, 402

Bull-frog, 367

Bunting, Henslow's, 360

—— Towhe, 150

Cactus opuntia, 475

Callicarpa americana, 592

Cane, American, 149, 458

Cane-brake, 458

Caprimulgus carolinensis, 273

—— vociferus, 422

Carolina Parrot, 135

Carolina Rose, 472

Carbonated Warbler, 308

Castanea pumila, 436

Cassia occidentalis, 181

Cedar Bird, 227

Cedar, Red, 230

Certhia varia, 452

Chestnut-sided Warbler, 306

Chicasaw Plum, 282

Children's Warbler, 180

Chinquapin, 436

Chuck-will's-widow, 273

Cinereous Eagle, 64

Cliff Swallow, 353

Cnicus lanceolatus, 176

Cockle-bur, 140

Coccyzus americanus, 18

—— erythrophthalmus, 170

Columba carolinensis, 91

—— migratoria, 319

Columbia Jay, 483

Common Crow Blackbird, 35

Cornus florida, 45, 376

Corvus Bullockii, 483

Corvus floridanus, 444

Cotton, Highland, 359

Cotton-wood, 407

Cotton-rose, 140

Cougar, 205

Cow-pen Bird, 492

Creeper, Black-and-White, 452

Crested Titmouse, 199

Cuckoo, Black-billed, 170

—— Yellow-billed, 18

Cuvier's Regulus, 288

Deer Hunting, 335

Diosporos virginiana, 446

Dogwood, 45, 376

Driving, 335

Earthquake, 239

Eagle, White-headed, 160

—— Washington, 58

Emberiza Henslowii, 360

—— erythrophthalma, 150

Falco Albicilla, 64

—— borealis, 265

—— columbarius, 466

—— Haliaetos, 415

—— Harlani, 441

—— hyemalis, 364

—— furcatus, 368

—— leucocephalus, 160

—— lineatus, 296

—— pennsylvanicus, 461

—— peregrinus, 85

—— Stanleii, 186

—— temerarius, 381

—— Washingtonii, 38

Falls of Niagara, 362

Finch, Painted, 279

—— Purple, 24

—— Sea-side, 470

Fire-light Hunting, 337

Fish Hawk, 415

Flood of the Ohio and Mississippi, 156

Flos Adonis, 48

Florida Jay, 444

—— Jessamine, 114

Fly-catcher, Bonaparte's, 27

—— Blue-grey, 431

—— Selby's, 46

—— Solitary, 147

—— Traill's, 236

—— Tyrant, 403

—— White-eyed, 328

Fringilla ciris, 279

—— cyanea, 377

—— erythrophthalma, 150

—— graminea, 473

—— hyemalis, 72

—— maritima, 470

—— melodia, 126

—— palustris, 331

—— pennsylvanica, 42

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 47 of 50)