John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) online

. (page 9 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 9 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

them alighting, always singly, about the setting of the sun, uttering a
note or two, and darting into the lower branches to feed, and afterwards
to rest. To assure myself of this mode of travelling by day, I marked the
place where a beautiful male had perched one evening, and on going to
the spot next morning, long before dawn, I had the pleasure of hearing
his first notes as light appeared, and saw him search a while for food,
and afterwards mount in the air, making his way to warmer climes. Their
flight is straight and continuous.

This beautiful bird is easily kept in cages, and may be fed on dried
figs, raisins, hard-boiled eggs, and insects. When shot they will often
clench the twig so firmly as to remain hanging fast to it until dislodged
by another shot or a blow against the twig.

The plumage of the male bird is not mature until the third spring, and I
have therefore in my drawing represented the males of the first, second,
and third years. The female will form the subject of another plate. The
male of the first year was taken for a female by my engraver, during my
absence, and marked as such, although some of the plates were corrected
the moment I saw the mistake.

The Baltimore Oriole, although found throughout the Union, is so partial
to particular sections or districts, that of two places not twenty miles
distant from each other, while none are to be seen in the one, a dozen
pairs or more may be in the neighbourhood of the other. They are fondest
of hilly grounds, refreshed by streams.

ICTERUS BALTIMORE, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds of the
United States, p. 51.

ORIOLUS BALTIMORE, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. p. 162.—_Gmel._ Syst.
vol. i. p. 389.—_Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 180.

vol. i. p. 23. Pl. i. fig. 3. Male; and vol. vi. p. 83. Pl. 53.
fig. 4. Female.

BALTIMORE BIRD, _Lath._ Synops. vol. ii. p. 432.

Adult Male, three years old, in spring. Plate XII. Fig. 1.

Bill conical, slender, longish, compressed, a little curved, very acute,
with inflected acute margins; upper mandible obtuse above, lower broadly
obtuse beneath. Nostrils oval, covered by a membrane, basal. Head and
neck of ordinary size. Body rather slender. Feet of ordinary length;
tarsus a little longer than the middle toe; inner toe little shorter
than the outer; claws arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe
twice the size of the others.

Plumage blended, glossy. Wings longish, somewhat rounded, the first quill
being almost as long as the second and third, which are the longest.
Tail longish, rounded, and slightly forked, the feathers rather narrow,
and acuminate.

Bill and feet light blue. Iris orange. Head, throat, back part of the
neck, fore part of the back, quills and larger secondaries, black, as
are the two middle tail-feathers, and the base of all the rest. The
whole under parts, the lesser wing-coverts, and the posterior part of
the back, bright orange, deeply tinged with vermilion on the breast and
neck. The tips of the two middle tail-feathers, and the terminal ends
of the others, of a duller orange. Quills, excepting the first, margined
with white.

Length 7¾ inches, extent of wings 12; bill ⅚ along the ridge, 11/12
along the gap; tarsus ¼, toe 1.

Male, two years old, in spring. Plate XII. Fig. 2.

The distribution of the colours is the same as in the adult male, but
the yellow is less vivid, the upper mandible is brownish-black above,
and the iris is light-brown.

Young Male, one year old, in spring. Plate XII. Fig. 1.

The bill is dark brown above, pale blue beneath. Iris brown. Feet light
blue. The general colour is dull brownish-yellow, tinged with olive on the
head and back. The wings are blackish-brown, the quills and large coverts
margined and tipped with white. The lesser coverts are olivaceous, the
tail destitute of black, and the under parts paler than in the adult,
without any approach to the vivid orange tints displayed on it.

Length 7½ inches.


LIRIODENDRON TULIPIFERA, _Willd._ Sp. Plant. vol. ii. p. 1254.
_Pursh_, Flora Americ. p. 332. _Mich._ Abr. Forest. de l'Amer.
Sept. t. iii. p. 202, Pl. v.—POLYANDRIA POLYGYNIA, _Linn._

This tree is one of the most beautiful of those indigenous to the United
States, and attains a height of seventy, eighty, or even a hundred
feet. The flowers are yellow and bright red, mixed with green, and
upwards of three inches in diameter. The leaves are ovate at the base,
truncato-bilobate at the end, with one or two lobes on each side, all
the lobes acuminate. It is generally distributed, but prefers rich
soils. Its bark is smooth on the branches, cracked and fissured on the
stems. The wood is yellow, hard, but easily wrought, and is employed for
numerous purposes, particularly in the construction of houses, and for
charcoal. The Indians often form their canoes of it, for which purpose
it is well adapted, the trunk being of great length and diameter, and
the wood light. In different parts of the United States, it receives
the names of Poplar, White Wood, and Cane Wood.




This is one of our winter visitants from the north, which, along with
many others, makes its appearance in Louisiana about the beginning of
November, to remain a few months, and again, when spring returns, fly
off, to seek in higher latitudes a place in which to nestle and rear its
young. So gentle and tame does it become on the least approach of hard
weather, that it forms, as it were, a companion to every child. Indeed,
there is not an individual in the Union who does not know the little
Snow Bird, which, in America, is cherished as the Robin is in Europe. I
have seen it fed by persons from the "Old Country," and have always been
pleased by such a sight. During fine weather, however, it becomes more
timorous, and keeps aloof, resorting to the briar patches and the edges
of the fences; but even then it is easily approached, and will suffer a
person on horseback to pass within a few feet of the place where it may
be searching for food on the road, or the rails of the fences on which
it is perched.

Although the Snow Birds live in little families, consisting of twenty,
thirty, or more individuals, they seem always inclined to keep up a
certain degree of etiquette among themselves, and will not suffer one
of their kind, or indeed any other bird, to come into immediate contact
with them. To prevent intrusions of this kind, when a stranger comes too
near, their little bills are instantly opened, their wings are extended,
their eyes are seen to sparkle, and they emit a repelling sound peculiar
to themselves on such occasions.

They are aware of the advantages to be derived by them from larger birds
scratching the earth, and in some degree keep company with Partridges,
Wild Turkeys, and even Squirrels, for the purpose of picking up such
food as these animals may deem beneath their notice. This habit is
more easily observed in those which frequent the farm-yards, where the
domestic fowls prove regular purveyors to them. The report of a gun, or
the unexpected barking of a dog, cause the little flock to rise and perch
either on the fences or an adjoining tree, where, however, they remain
only for a few minutes, after which they return to their avocations.
They are particularly fond of grass-seeds, to procure which they often
leap up from the ground, and dexterously seize the bending panicles.

It is a true hopping bird, and performs its little leaps without the
least appearance of moving either feet or legs, in which circumstance
it resembles the Sparrows. Another of its habits, also indicative of
affinity to these birds, is it resorting at night, during cold weather,
to stacks of corn or hay, in which it forms a hole that affords a snug
retreat during the continuance of such weather, or its recurrence through
the winter. In fine weather, however, it prefers the evergreen foliage
of the holly, the cedar or low pines, among which to roost. Its flight
is easy, and as spring approaches, and its passions become excited by
the increased temperature, the males chase each other on wing, when
their tails being fully expanded, the white and black colours displayed
in them present a quite remarkable contrast.

The migration of these birds is performed by night, as they are seen
in a district one day, and have disappeared the next. Early in March,
the Snow Bird is scarcely to be seen in Louisiana, but may be followed,
as the season advances, retreating towards the mountains of the middle
districts, where many remain during the summer and breed. Although I
have never had the good fortune to find any of their nests, yet I have
seen them rear their young in such places, and particularly in the
neighbourhood of the Great Pine Forest, where many persons told me they
had often seen their nests.

During the period when the huckleberries are ripe, they feed partially
upon them, being found chiefly on the poorest mountain lands, in which
that shrub grows most abundantly. I have seen the Snow Birds far up the
Arkansas, and in the province of Maine, as well as on our Upper Lakes.
I have been told of their congregating so as to form large flocks of a
thousand individuals, but have never seen so many together. Their flesh
is extremely delicate and juicy, and on this account small strings of
them are frequently seen in the New Orleans market, during the short
period of their sojourn in that district. Towards the spring, the males
have a tolerably agreeable song.

The twig on which you see them is one of the Tupelo, a tree of great
magnitude, growing in the low grounds of the state of Louisiana, and on
one of which I happened to shoot the pair represented in the plate.

FRINGILLA HYEMALIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. Ed. 10. p. 183.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds of the United States, p. 109.

EMBERIZA HYEMALIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. Ed. 12. p. 308.

SNOW BIRD, FRINGILLA NIVALIS, _Wilson_, American Ornithology,
vol. ii. p. 129. Pl. 16. fig. 6.

Adult Male. Plate XIII. Fig. 1.

Bill short, rather small, conical, very acute; upper mandible a little
broader than the lower, very slightly declinate at the tip, rounded on
the sides, as is the lower, which has the edges inflected and acute;
the gap line straight, not extending to beneath the eye. Nostrils basal,
roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short. Body
full. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle
toe, covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella; toes scutellate
above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws very slender, greatly
compressed, acute and slightly arched, that of the hind toe little larger.

Plumage soft and blended. Wings shortish, curved, rounded, the third
and fourth quills longest, the second nearly as long, the first little
shorter. Tail long, forked, the lateral feathers curved outwards a little
towards the tip.

Bill white, tinged with red, dark coloured at the tip. Iris
blackish-brown. Feet and claws flesh-coloured. Head, neck, fore part
of the breast, back, wings and upper part of the sides, blackish-grey,
deeper on the head. Quills margined with whitish; tail of the same dark
colour as the wings, excepting the two outer feathers on each side,
which are white, as are the lower breast and abdomen.

Length 6¼ inches, extent of wings 9; beak ⅓ along the ridge, ½ along
the gap; tarsus ¾, middle toe ½.

Adult Female. Plate XIII. Fig. 2.

The female differs from the male in being of a lighter grey, tinged on
the back with brown. Length 5½ inches.


NYSSA TOMENTOSA, _Wild._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 1113. _Pursh_,
Flora Americ. p. 177.

—— GRANDIDENTATA, _Michaux_, Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Sept.
t. ii. p. 252. Pl. 19.


This species, which occurs in the Southern States only, growing in low
and marshy grounds, attains a height of from seventy to eighty feet,
with a diameter of eighteen or twenty inches some feet above the ground,
although at the very base it is sometimes five or six feet. The leaves are
five or six inches in length, elliptical, acuminate, distantly toothed,
when young very downy, but finally smooth. The fruit is oblong, and of
a dark purple colour. The wood is remarkably light and soft.




This little bird has no song, at least I never heard any from it,
excepting a delicate soft _whirr_, ejaculated whilst it stands erect
on the top of some rank weed or low bush. Its nest, which forms by
far the most interesting part of its history, is uncommonly small and
delicate. Its eggs I have uniformly found to be four in number, and of
a white colour, with a few brownish spots near the larger end. The nest
is sometimes attached to three or four blades of tall grass, or hangs
between two small sprigs of a slender twig. At first sight, it seems
to be formed like that of the Humming Bird, the external parts being
composed of delicate grey lichens and other substances, and skins of
black caterpillars, and the interior finished with the finest fibres of
dried vines. Two broods are reared each season.

In Louisiana I found this bird amongst our cotton fields, where it
easily procures the small insects and flies of which its food is
entirely composed. It is also found in the prairies along the skirts of
the woodlands. I have shot several within a few miles of Philadelphia,
in the Jerseys, in a large opening where the woods had been cut down,
and were beginning to spring up again. Its flight is light and short,
it making an effort to rise to the height of eight or ten yards, and
immediately sinking down to the grass or bushes. Whilst on the ground,
where it remains a good deal, it searches amongst the leaves slowly and
carefully, differing in this respect from all the _true_ warblers with
which I am acquainted. They go singly, and far apart, scarcely more than
three or four being ever seen on an extent of twenty or thirty acres.
It is one of the first birds that arrives in spring in Louisiana, and
one of the first to depart, being rarely found after the first week of
September. I never saw it farther east than on the ridges of the Broad
Mountain, about twelve miles from Mauch Chunk; but I have seen it on
the Arkansas River, and high up on the Mississippi, as well as along
the southern borders of Lake Erie. The young are apt to leave the nest
if discovered when unable to fly, and follow their parents through the
grass to be fed.

The plant on which a pair of Prairie Warblers are represented, is commonly
called Buffalo Grass, and is found all along the edges of our extensive
prairies, in the barrens of Kentucky, and in Louisiana, excepting in
the swamps, it being more inclined to grow in dry soil and stiff grounds.

SYLVIA DISCOLOR, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 83.

PRAIRIE WARBLER, SYLVIA MINUTA, _Wils._ Americ. Ornith. vol. iii.
p. 87. Pl. 25. fig. 4. Male.

Adult Male. Plate XIV. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary, length, slender, nearly straight, acute, as deep as
broad at the base, slightly declinate at the tip. Nostrils oval, basal,
lateral, half closed by a membrane. Head rather small, elongated. Neck
and body slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than
the middle toe, covered anteriorly by a few scutella, the upper long;
toes scutellate above, the inner free, the hind toe of moderate size;
claws slender, compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. A few short bristles at the base of the
upper mandible. Wings of ordinary length, the second quill longest. Tail
longish, rounded.

Bill brown, paler at the margin. Iris dark hazel. Feet and claws
dark brown. The upper parts are light olive, the back spotted with
brownish-red. The under parts, a line over the eye, and the cheeks,
dull ochrey yellow, the sides of the neck and breast spotted with
brownish-black. Lore, and a curved streak under the eye, black. Quills
and tail-feathers deep brown, the former margined with pale yellow;
larger coverts margined and tipped with the same, the second row almost
entirely yellow, the three outer tail-feathers with a broad oblique band
of white.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 7; beak along the ridge ⅓, along the
gap ½; tarsus ⅔, middle toe ½.

Adult Female. Plate XIV. Fig. 2.

The female is nearly of the same size, and is coloured in the same
manner, but wants the black markings about the eye, and has only two of
the lateral tail-feathers white in the middle. The spots on the sides
of the neck and breast are also much paler.

Length 4¾.




This pretty species enters Louisiana from the south as early as spring
appears, at the period when most insects are found closer to the ground,
and more about water-courses, than shortly after, when a warmer sun has
invited every leaf and blossom to hail the approach of that season when
they all become as brilliant as nature intended them to be. The little
fellow under your eye is then seen flitting over damp places, such as
the edges of ponds, lakes, and rivers, chasing its prey with as much
activity and liveliness as any other of the delicate and interesting
tribe to which it belongs. It alights on every plant in its way, runs
up and down it, picks here and there a small winged insect, and should
one, aware of its approach, fly off, pursues it and snatches it in an

I have placed a pair of these Warblers on a handsome species of Iris.
This plant grows in the water, and in the neighbourhood of New Orleans,
a few miles below that city, where I found it abundantly, and in bloom,
in the beginning of April. Several flowers are produced upon the same
stem. I have not met with it anywhere else, and the name of _Louisiana
Flag_ is the one commonly given it.

As soon as the foliage of the forests begins to expand, the Blue
Yellow-backed Warbler flies to the tops of the trees, and there remains
during the season, gleaning amongst the leaves and branches, in the
same active manner as it employed when nearer the ground, not leaving
off its quick and short pursuit of small insects on the wing. When on
the branches, it frequently raises its body (which is scarcely larger
when stripped of its feathers than the first joint of a man's finger)
upwards to the full length of its legs and toes, and is thus enabled to
seize insects otherwise beyond its reach.

Its flight is that of a true Sylvia. It ascends for a while in a very
zigzag manner, and returns suddenly to nearly the same place, as if afraid
to encounter the dangers of a prolonged excursion. I do not think it ever
flies to the ground. It hops sidewise as well as straight forward, hangs
like a Titmouse, and searches the cups of even the smallest flowers for
its favourite insects.

I am inclined to think that it raises two broods in a season, having
seen and shot the young on the trees, in Louisiana, early in May, and
again in the beginning of July. The nest is small, formed of lichens,
beautifully arranged on the outside, and lined with the cottony substances
found on the edges of different mosses. It is placed in the fork of a
small twig, and so far towards the extremity of the branches as to have
forced me to cut them ten or fifteen feet from it, to procure one. On
drawing in the branch carefully to secure the nest, the male and female
always flew toward me, exhibiting all the rage and animosity befitting
the occasion. The eggs are pure white, with a few reddish dots at the
larger end, and were in two instances four in number. It was several
years before I discovered one of these nests, so small are they, and so
difficult to be seen from the ground.

This species is found throughout the United States, and may be considered
as one of the most beautiful of the birds of those countries. It has no
song, but merely a soft, greatly prolonged twitter, repeated at short
intervals. It returns southward, out of the Union, in the beginning of

SYLVIA AMERICANA, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 520.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 33.

YELLOW-BACKED WARBLER, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 440.

Ornith. vol. iv. p. 17. Pl. 28. fig. 3. Male.

Adult Male. Plate XV. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, depressed at the base, nearly straight, tapering to a point.
Nostrils basal, oval, half concealed by the feathers. Feet of ordinary
length, slender; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly with a few long
scutella, acute behind, longer than the middle toe; toes scutellate
above, free; claws arched, slender, compressed, acute.

Plumage blended, glossy. Wings longish, little curved, the first quill
longest. Tail slightly forked, of ordinary length, the twelve feathers
rather narrow and obtuse. A few longish bristles at the base of the
upper mandible.

Bill brownish-black above, yellow beneath. Iris dark brown. Feet and claws
dusky. Front and lore black. Head and back part of the neck bright rich
blue, including the eye, above and beneath which is a slight streak of
white. Back yellowish-green; rump pale blue. Quills blackish, margined
externally with bright blue, of which colour are the wing-coverts, the
tips of the first two rows of which are white, forming two bands of
that colour on the wings. Tail-feathers blackish, the outer webs blue,
a white spot on the inner webs of the three outer, towards the end.
Throat whitish, spotted with yellow; a lunulated blackish spot on the
lower neck in front; breast yellow, spotted with orange; the rest of the
under parts yellowish, fading into white on the abdomen and under tail

Length 4⅙ inches, extent of wings 6½; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the
gap ½; tarsus ¾.

Adult Female. Plate XV. Fig. 2.

Beak and feet of the same colour. Upper parts similarly coloured but
paler, the frontal band wanting. Throat, fore neck and breast, yellow,
without the orange spots, or black lunule. The other parts as in the
male, but fainter.

Length 4 inches.


IRIS CUPREA, _Pursh_, Fl. Amer. vol. i. p. 30.—TRIANDRIA
MONOGYNIA, _Linn._ IRIDES. _Juss._

"Beardless, the stem equal in height to the leaves, which are broadly
ensiform, the stigmas linear and short, all the petals emarginate,
reflected, and obovate, the inner shorter, the capsules large and
hexagonal. Found on the banks of the Mississippi near New Orleans.
Flowers of a beautiful copper colour, veined with purple."


On my return from the Upper Mississippi, I found myself obliged to cross
one of the wide Prairies, which, in that portion of the United States,
vary the appearance of the country. The weather was fine, all around
me was as fresh and blooming as if it had just issued from the bosom of
nature. My napsack, my gun, and my dog, were all I had for baggage and
company. But, although well moccassined, I moved slowly along, attracted
by the brilliancy of the flowers, and the gambols of the fawns around
their dams, to all appearance as thoughtless of danger as I felt myself.

My march was of long duration; I saw the sun sinking beneath the horizon
long before I could perceive any appearance of woodland, and nothing in
the shape of man had I met with that day. The track which I followed
was only an old Indian trace, and as darkness overshaded the prairie,
I felt some desire to reach at least a copse, in which I might lie down
to rest. The Night-hawks were skimming over and around me, attracted by
the buzzing wings of the beetles which form their food, and the distant
howling of wolves, gave me some hope that I should soon arrive at the
skirts of some woodland.

I did so, and almost at the same instant a fire-light attracting my eye,
I moved towards it, full of confidence that it proceeded from the camp
of some wandering Indians. I was mistaken:—I discovered by its glare
that it was from the hearth of a small log cabin, and that a tall figure
passed and repassed between it and me, as if busily engaged in household

I reached the spot, and presenting myself at the door, asked the tall

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 9 of 50)