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their motions there are by no means embarrassed. They are considered as
destructive birds by some farmers, who accuse them of committing great
depredations on the blossoms of their fruit-trees. I never observed this
in Louisiana, where they remain long after the peach and pear trees are
in full bloom. I have eaten many of them, and consider their flesh equal
to that of any other small bird, excepting the Rice Bunting.

FRINGILLA PURPUREA, _Gmel._ Syst. vol. i. p. 923.—_Lath._ Ind.
Ornith. vol. i. p. 446.

vol. i. p. 119, Pl. 7, fig. 4. Adult Male; and vol. v. p. 87,
Pl. 42, fig. 3. Male.

Adult Male. Plate IV. Fig. 1, 2.

Bill shortish, robust, bulging, conical, acute; upper mandible with its
dorsal outline a little convex, under mandible with its outline also
slightly convex, both broadly convex transversely, the edges straight
to near the base, where they are a little deflected. Nostrils basal,
roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers. Head rather large.
Neck short and thick. Body full. Legs of moderate size; tarsus of the
same length as the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a longitudinal
plate above and a few transverse scutella below, posteriorly with an
acutely angular longitudinal plate; toes scutellate above, free, the
lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, arched, compressed, acute,
that of the hind toe not much larger.

Plumage compact above, blended beneath, wings of moderate length, third
and fourth primaries longest, second and first very little shorter. Tail
forked. The lateral feathers curved outwards toward the tip.

Bill deep brown above, paler and tinged with blue beneath. Iris
blackish-brown. Feet and claws brown. Head, neck, breast, back, and upper
tail-coverts of a rich deep lake, approaching to crimson on the head
and neck, and fading into rose-colour on the belly. Fore part of the
back streaked with brown. Quills and larger coverts deep brown, margined
externally and tipped with red. Tail feathers deep brown, similarly
margined. A narrow band of cream-colour across the forehead margining
the base of the upper mandible.

Length 6 inches, extent of wings 9, beak along the ridge 5/12, along
the gap 7/12, tarsus ⅔.

Female. Plate IV. Fig. 3.

The young bird so closely resembles the adult female, that the same
description will answer for both. The general colour of the upper parts
is brownish-olive, streaked with dark brown. There is a broadish white
line over the eye, and another from the commissure of the gap backwards.
The under parts are greyish white, the sides streaked with brown. The
quills and tail-feathers are dark brown, margined with olive.


LARIX AMERICANA, _Pursh_, Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 645. _Mich._
Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. iii. p. 137. Pl. 4.—MONŒCIA

This species of larch, which is distinguished by its short, deciduous,
fasciculate leaves, and short ovate cones, occurs in the more northern
parts of the United States, and in the mountainous regions of the middle
states. It attains a height of sixty feet, and a diameter sometimes
of two feet. The wood is highly esteemed on account of its excellent




Whilst I have the pleasure of honouring this beautiful new species with
the name of so distinguished a naturalist as CHARLES LUCIEN BONAPARTE,
Prince of Musignano, I regret that I am unable to give any account of
its habits, or even of its manner of flight, and must therefore confine
my remarks upon it within very brief space. The following extract from
my journal contains all that I have to say respecting it.

"Monday, August 13th 1821.—Louisiana.—On arriving at the Cypress Swamp
(about five miles from St Francisville), I saw a great number of small
birds of different species, and as I looked at them I observed two engaged
in a fight or quarrel. I shot at them, but only one fell. On reaching
the spot, I found the bird was only wounded, and saw it standing still
and upright as if stupified by its fall. When I approached it to pick
it up, it spread its tail, opened its wings, and snapped its bill about
twenty times sharply and in quick succession, as birds of the genus do
when seizing insects on wing. I carried it home, and had the pleasure
of drawing it while alive and full of spirit. It often made off from my
hand, by starting suddenly, and then would hop round the room as quickly
as a Carolina Wren, uttering its _tweet, tweet, tweet_ all the while,
and snapping its bill every time I took it up. I put it into a cage for a
few minutes, but it obstinately thrust its head through the lower parts
of the wires. I relieved it from this sort of confinement, and allowed
it to go about the room. Next day it was very weak and ruffled up, so
I killed it and put it in spirits." To this account I have only to add,
that I have not seen another individual since.


Bill of moderate length, straight, subtrigonal, depressed at the base,
acute, upper mandible slightly notched and a little inflected at the
tip, lower mandible straight. Nostrils basal, lateral, roundish, partly
covered by the frontal feathers. Head and neck moderate. Eyes large.
Body slender. Legs of ordinary size; tarsus a little longer than the
middle toe; inner toe a little united at the base; claws compressed,
acute, arched.

Plumage ordinary, blended. Wings rather long, somewhat acute, second
primary longest. Tail rather long, nearly even, straight. Basirostral
feathers bristly and directed outwards.

Bill brown above, yellowish beneath, orbits yellow. Iris deep brown.
Feet and claws flesh-colour. The upper parts of a light greyish-blue, the
quills dusky, their outer webs blue, the two first margined with white.
Under parts and forehead ochre-yellow, under tail-coverts whitish; a
few dark spots on the upper part of the breast.

Length 5¼ inches; bill along the ridge 5/12, along the gap ⅔; tarsus ⅚.


MAGNOLIA GRANDIFLORA, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1255. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 380. _Mich._ Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer.
Sept. vol. iii. p. 71. Pl. i.—POLYANDRIA POLYGYNIA, _Linn._

The magnificent tree, of which a twig, with a cone of ripe fruit, is
represented in the plate, attains a height of a hundred feet or even more.
The bright red bodies are the seeds, suspended by a filament for some
time after the capsules have burst. The trunk is often very straight,
from two to four feet in diameter at the base, with a greyish smooth
bark. The leaves which remain during the winter are stiff and leathery,
smooth, elliptical, tapering at the base. The flowers are white, and
seven or eight inches in diameter. It is known by the names of _Large
Magnolia_, _Big Laurel_ and _Bay-tree_, and occurs abundantly in some
parts of Carolina, Georgia, the Floridas and Louisiana.


To render more pleasant the task which you have imposed upon yourself,
of following an author through the mazes of descriptive ornithology,
permit me, kind reader, to relieve the tedium which may be apt now and
then to come upon you, by presenting you with occasional descriptions
of the scenery and manners of the land which has furnished the objects
that engage your attention. The natural features of that land are not
less remarkable than the moral character of her inhabitants; and I cannot
find a better subject with which to begin, than one of those magnificent
rivers that roll the collected waters of her extensive territories to
the ocean.

* * * * *

When my wife, my eldest son (then an infant), and myself were returning
from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, we found it expedient, the waters being
unusually low, to provide ourselves with a _skiff_, to enable us to
proceed to our abode at Henderson. I purchased a large, commodious, and
light boat of that denomination. We procured a mattress, and our friends
furnished us with ready prepared viands. We had two stout Negro rowers,
and in this trim we left the village of Shippingport, in expectation of
reaching the place of our destination in a very few days.

It was in the month of October. The autumnal tints already decorated
the shores of that queen of rivers, the Ohio. Every tree was hung with
long and flowing festoons of different species of vines, many loaded
with clustered fruits of varied brilliancy, their rich bronzed carmine
mingling beautifully with the yellow foliage, which now predominated
over the yet green leaves, reflecting more lively tints from the clear
stream than ever landscape painter portrayed or poet imagined.

The days were yet warm. The sun had assumed the rich and glowing hue
which at that season produces the singular phenomenon called there the
"Indian Summer." The moon had rather passed the meridian of her grandeur.
We glided down the river, meeting no other ripple of the water than that
formed by the propulsion of our boat. Leisurely we moved along, gazing
all day on the grandeur and beauty of the wild scenery around us.

Now and then, a large cat-fish rose to the surface of the water in pursuit
of a shoal of fry, which starting simultaneously from the liquid element,
like so many silvery arrows, produced a shower of light, while the
pursuer with open jaws seized the stragglers, and, with a splash of his
tail, disappeared from our view. Other fishes we heard uttering beneath
our bark a rumbling noise, the strange sounds of which we discovered
to proceed from the white perch, for on casting our net from the bow we
caught several of that species, when the noise ceased for a time.

Nature, in her varied arrangements, seems to have felt a partiality
towards this portion of our country. As the traveller ascends or descends
the Ohio, he cannot help remarking that alternately, nearly the whole
length of the river, the margin, on one side, is bounded by lofty hills
and a rolling surface, while on the other, extensive plains of the
richest alluvial land are seen as far as the eye can command the view.
Islands of varied size and form rise here and there from the bosom of
the water, and the winding course of the stream frequently brings you
to places where the idea of being on a river of great length changes to
that of floating on a lake of moderate extent. Some of these islands are
of considerable size and value; while others, small and insignificant,
seem as if intended for contrast, and as serving to enhance the general
interest of the scenery. These little islands are frequently overflowed
during great _freshets_ or floods, and receive at their heads prodigious
heaps of drifted timber. We foresaw with great concern the alterations
that cultivation would soon produce along those delightful banks.

As night came, sinking in darkness the broader portions of the river,
our minds became affected by strong emotions, and wandered far beyond
the present moments. The tinkling of bells told us that the cattle which
bore them were gently roving from valley to valley in search of food, or
returning to their distant homes. The hooting of the Great Owl, or the
muffled noise of its wings as it sailed smoothly over the stream, were
matters of interest to us; so was the sound of the boatman's horn, as
it came winding more and more softly from afar. When daylight returned,
many songsters burst forth with echoing notes, more and more mellow to
the listening ear. Here and there the lonely cabin of a squatter struck
the eye, giving note of commencing civilization. The crossing of the
stream by a deer foretold how soon the hills would be covered with snow.

Many sluggish flat-boats we overtook and passed: some laden with produce
from the different head-waters of the small rivers that pour their
tributary streams into the Ohio; others, of less dimensions, crowded with
emigrants from distant parts, in search of a new home. Purer pleasures
I never felt; nor have you, reader, I ween, unless indeed you have felt
the like, and in such company.

The margins of the shores and of the river were at this season amply
supplied with game. A Wild Turkey, a Grouse, or a Blue-winged Teal,
could be procured in a few moments; and we fared well, for, whenever we
pleased, we landed, struck up a fire, and provided as we were with the
necessary utensils, procured a good repast.

Several of these happy days passed, and we neared our home, when, one
evening, not far from Pigeon Creek (a small stream which runs into the
Ohio, from the State of Indiana), a loud and strange noise was heard, so
like the yells of Indian warfare, that we pulled at our oars, and made
for the opposite side as fast and as quietly as possible. The sounds
increased, we imagined we heard cries of "murder;" and as we knew that
some depredations had lately been committed in the country by dissatisfied
parties of Aborigines, we felt for a while extremely uncomfortable. Ere
long, however, our minds became more calmed, and we plainly discovered
that the singular uproar was produced by an enthusiastic set of
Methodists, who had wandered thus far out of the common way, for the
purpose of holding one of their annual camp meetings, under the shade of
a beech forest. Without meeting with any other interruption, we reached
Henderson, distant from Shippingport by water about two hundred miles.

When I think of these times, and call back to my mind the grandeur and
beauty of those almost uninhabited shores; when I picture to myself the
dense and lofty summits of the forest, that everywhere spread along the
hills, and overhung the margins of the stream, unmolested by the axe
of the settler; when I know how dearly purchased the safe navigation of
that river has been by the blood of many worthy Virginians; when I see
that no longer any Aborigines are to be found there, and that the vast
herds of elks, deer and buffaloes which once pastured on these hills
and in these valleys, making for themselves great roads to the several
salt-springs, have ceased to exist; when I reflect that all this grand
portion of our Union, instead of being in a state of nature, is now
more or less covered with villages, farms, and towns, where the din
of hammers and machinery is constantly heard; that the woods are fast
disappearing under the axe by day, and the fire by night; that hundreds
of steam-boats are gliding to and fro, over the whole length of the
majestic river, forcing commerce to take root and to prosper at every
spot; when I see the surplus population of Europe coming to assist in
the destruction of the forest, and transplanting civilization into its
darkest recesses;—when I remember that these extraordinary changes have
all taken place in the short period of twenty years, I pause, wonder,
and, although I know all to be fact, can scarcely believe its reality.

Whether these changes are for the better or for the worse, I shall not
pretend to say; but in whatever way my conclusions may incline, I feel
with regret that there are on record no satisfactory accounts of the
state of that portion of the country, from the time when our people
first settled in it. This has not been because no one in America is able
to accomplish such an undertaking. Our IRVINGS and our COOPERS have
proved themselves fully competent for the task. It has more probably
been because the changes have succeeded each other with such rapidity,
as almost to rival the movements of their pen. However, it is not too
late yet; and I sincerely hope that either or both of them will ere long
furnish the generations to come with those delightful descriptions which
they are so well qualified to give, of the original state of a country
that has been so rapidly forced to change her form and attire under the
influence of increasing population. Yes; I hope to read, ere I close my
earthly career, accounts from those delightful writers of the progress of
civilization in our western country. They will speak of the CLARKS, the
CROGHANS, the BOONS, and many other men of great and daring enterprise.
They will analyze, as it were, into each component part, the country as
it once existed, and will render the picture, as it ought to be, immortal.




The Male Turkey has already been described, and you have seen that
magnificent bird roaming in the forests, approaching the haunts of man,
and performing all the offices for which he is destined in the economy
of nature. Here you have his mate, now converted into a kind and anxious
parent, leading her young progeny, with measured step and watchful eye,
through the intricacies of the forest. The chickens, still covered with
down, are running among her feet in pursuit of insects. One is picking
its sprouting plumelets, while another is ridding itself of a tick which
has fastened upon its little wing.

In addition to what has already been said respecting the manners of
the Wild Turkey, I have a few circumstances to mention, which relate
chiefly to both sexes. Its flight is powerful and rapid, and is composed
of strong flappings, which enable it to rise with ease to the highest
branches of the largest forest trees. When it starts from the ground, it
generally leaves marks which are made by the first motions of its wings,
which are so powerful as raise the withered leaves around it. When the
ground is covered with snow, the impressions are so distinctly defined
as to imitate the form of the pinions. When it leaves its perch, it
flaps its wings only a few times at the outset, and then sails for many
hundred yards, balancing itself as it proceeds, with great steadiness,
until it reaches the ground. If it has flown from its perch with the
view of reaching another, it repeats the flappings at intervals of a
hundred yards or so. On coming to the ground, it is obliged to run for
a few yards, its great weight rendering this necessary to prevent its
body from being injured.

The great strength of a full grown Turkey-cock renders it no easy matter
to hold it when but slightly wounded; and once or twice I have thought
myself in jeopardy, when on entering a pen in which six or seven large
cocks had imprisoned themselves, their flutterings and struggles rendered
it extremely difficult to secure them.

The Female Turkey, which is considerably inferior in size to the male,
differs further from him in wanting the spurs and pendulous wattles, in
having the frontal papilla much smaller, the naked space of the neck less,
and the colours much duller, although similar in distribution. The naked
parts of the head and neck are more furnished with bristly feathers,
and are of a light blue colour, with reddish tints interspersed. The
bill, the eyes, and the feet, are of the same colour as in the male, the
latter considerably paler. There is a line of short bristly dark-coloured
feathers down the back of the neck. The general colour of the upper and
under parts is greyish-brown, with metallic bronzed reflections, each
feather terminated by a band of black. On the lower back the brown tints
become brighter, and on the rump and upper tail-coverts change into
bright chestnut, with transverse bands of brown. The ground colour of
the tail is pale yellowish-brown, transversely barred and mottled as in
the male, and with a broad subterminal band of brownish-black, beyond
which the feathers are mottled, and finally terminated by uniform light
brown. The abdominal region is dull brownish-grey. The primary quills are
greyish-white, barred with brownish-black; the secondaries brownish-grey,
similarly barred. The wing-coverts are similar to the feathers of the

Length 3 feet 1 inch, extent of wings 4 feet 6 inches; bill 1 inch
along the ridge, 1¾ along the gap; tarsus 6; middle toe 3¾, hind toe
1½, pectoral appendage 4 inches.

The young, a few days old, are pale brownish-yellow above, pale
yellowish-grey beneath, the top of the head brighter, marked in the middle
with a longitudinal pale brown band, the back and wings spotted with
brownish-black, excepting the lesser wing-coverts, which are uniformly
dull brown. Iris yellowish-brown; bill and feet flesh-coloured.




I could not think of any better mode of representing these birds than
that which I have adopted, as it exhibits them in the exercise of their
nefarious propensities. Look at them: The male, as if full of delight
at the sight of the havoc which he has already committed on the tender,
juicy, unripe corn on which he stands, has swelled his throat, and
is calling in exultation to his companions to come and assist him in
demolishing it. The female has fed herself, and is about to fly off
with a well-loaded bill to her hungry and expectant brood, that, from
the nest, look on their plundering parents, joyously anticipating the
pleasures of which they shall ere long be allowed to participate. See
how torn the husk is from the ear, and how nearly devoured the grains
of corn already are! This is the tithe our Blackbirds take from our
planters and farmers; but it was so appointed, and such is the will of
the beneficent Creator.

These birds are constant residents in Louisiana. I say they are so,
because a certain number of them, which in some countries would be called
immense, is found there at all seasons of the year. No sooner has the
cotton or corn planter begun to turn his land into brown furrows, than
the Crow-Blackbirds are seen sailing down from the skirts of the woods,
alighting in the fields, and following his track along the ridges of
newly-turned earth, with an elegant and elevated step, which shews them
to be as fearless and free as the air through which they wing their
way. The genial rays of the sun shine on their silky plumage, and offer
to the ploughman's eye such rich and varying tints, that no painter,
however gifted, could ever imitate them. The coppery bronze, which in
one light shews its rich gloss, is, by the least motion of the bird,
changed in a moment to brilliant and deep azure, and again, in the next
light, becomes refulgent sapphire or emerald-green.

The bird stops, spreads its tail, lowers its wings, and, with swelled
throat and open bill, sounds a call to those which may chance to be
passing near. The stately step is resumed. Its keen eye, busily engaged
on either side, is immediately attracted by a grub, hastening to hide
itself from the sudden exposure made by the plough. In vain does it hurry,
for the Grakle has seen and marked it for its own, and it is snatched
up and swallowed in a moment.

Thus does the Grakle follow the husbandman as he turns one furrow after
another, destroying a far worse enemy to the corn than itself, for every
worm which it devours would else shortly cut the slender blade, and
thereby destroy the plant when it would perhaps be too late to renew it
by fresh seed. Every reflecting farmer knows this well, and refrains from
disturbing the Grakle at this season. Were he as merciful at another
time, it would prove his grateful recollection of the services thus
rendered him. But man is too often forgetful of the benefit which he
has received; he permits his too commonly weak and selfish feelings to
prevail over his reason; and no sooner does the corn become fit for his
own use, than he vows and executes vengeance on all intruders. But to
return to our Blackbird.

The season of love has arrived. Each male having, by assiduity, valour,
or good fortune, received the affectionate regards of a faithful mate,
unites with her in seeking a safe and agreeable retreat. The lofty dead
trees left standing in our newly cultivated fields, have many holes
and cavities, some of which have been bored by woodpeckers, and others
caused by insects or decay. These are visited and examined in succession,
until a choice being made, and a few dry weeds and feathers collected,
the female deposits her eggs, which are from four to six in number, of
a bluish tint, blotched and streaked with brown and black. She sits upon
them while her valiant mate and guardian mounts to the summit of a broken
branch, pours forth his rude notes, and cheers and watches her with the
kindest and most unremitting care. I think I see him plunging through
the air and overtaking the Red-headed or the Golden-winged Woodpecker,
which, in search of their last year's nest, have imprudently alighted at

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