John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

. (page 19 of 56)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 19 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


happens that it becomes the sufferer for its temerity.

The vulgar name which this species bears, has probably rendered it more
conspicuous than it would otherwise be, and has also served to bring
it into some degree of contempt with persons not the best judges of
the benefits it confers on the husbandman in early spring, when, with
industrious care, it cleanses his fruit-trees of thousands of larvæ and
insects, which, in a single day, would destroy, while yet in the bud,
far more of his fruit than the Cat Bird would eat in a whole season.
But alas, selfishness, the usual attendant of ignorance, not only heaps
maledictions on the harmless bird, but dooms it to destruction. The
naughty boys pelt the poor thrush with stones, and destroy its nest
whenever an opportunity presents; the farmer shoots it to save a pear;
and the gardener to save a raspberry; some hate it, not knowing why: in
a word, excepting the poor, nearly extirpated crow, I know no bird more
generally despised and tormented than this charming songster.

The attachment which the Cat Bird shews towards its eggs or young is
affecting. It even possesses a humanity, or rather a generosity and
gentleness, worthy of beings more elevated in the scale of nature. It
has been known to nurse, feed, and raise the young of other species, for
which no room could be afforded in their nests. It will sit on its eggs
after the nest has been displaced, or even after it has been carried
from one bush to another.

Like all our other Thrushes, this is very fond of bathing and rolling
itself in the dust or sand of the roads or fields. Several are frequently
seen together on the borders of small ponds or clear rivulets, immersed
up to their body, splashing the water about them until completely wetted;
then, ascending to the tops of the nearest bushes, they plume themselves
with apparent care, notwithstanding which they are at times so infested
with a minute species of louse as to be destroyed by it. This is also the
case with the Mocking Bird and the Ferruginous Thrush, many individuals
of which I have known to be killed by these parasitic animals.

Although the Cat Bird is a pleasant songster, it is seldom kept in a cage,
and I believe all attempts at breeding it in aviaries have failed. Its
food consists of fruits and berries of all descriptions, worms, wasps,
and various other insects. Its flight is low, often rapid, and somewhat
protracted, generally performed by glidings, accompanied with sudden
jerks of the tail. It moves on the ground with alertness and grace, not
unfrequently going before a person the whole length of the garden-walk.

The nest of the Cat Bird is large, composed externally of dry twigs and
briars, mixed with withered leaves, weeds, and grass, and lined with
black fibrous roots, neatly arranged in a circular form. The eggs are
from four to six, of a plain glossy greenish-blue, without spots. Two
and sometimes three broods are raised in the season.

I have placed a pair of these birds on a branch of the Blackberry Bush,
on the fruit of which they feed. The young attain their full plumage
before they depart in autumn.


TURDUS FELIVOX, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United
States, p. 75.

MUSCICAPA CAROLINENSIS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 328.
—_Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 483.

ORPHEUS FELIVOX, _Swains. and Richards._ Fauna Bor.-Amer. part
ii. p. 192.

CAT BIRD, TURDUS LIVIDUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 90.
pl. 20. fig. 3.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 332.


Adult Male. Plate CXXVIII. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, rather weak, slightly arched, broad at the base,
compressed towards the end acute; upper mandible with the ridge rather
acute, the sides convex, the edges sharp, the tip a little declinate;
lower mandible nearly straight. Nostrils basal, oblong, half closed above
by a membrane, and partially concealed by the feathers. Head of ordinary
size, neck rather long, general form slender. Feet of ordinary length,
slender; tarsus compressed, anteriorly scutellate, acute behind; toes
free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal; hind toe rather
stronger; claws compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage soft and blended. Bristles at the base of the bill. Feathers
of the hind head longish. Wings of ordinary length, broad, rounded, the
fifth quill longest, the fourth nearly equal, the first very short. Tail
long, rounded, of twelve straight narrowly rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet dark umber. The general colour of the plumage
above is blackish-grey, the head and tail brownish-black, as are the
inner webs of the quills. The cheeks, and under surface in general, deep
bluish-grey, the abdomen paler, and the under tail-coverts brownish-red.
The outer tail-feather transversely barred with white on the inner web.

Length 9 inches, extent of wings 12; bill along the ridge 7½/12, along
the edge 9½/12; tarsus 1-1/12.


Adult Female. Plate CXXVIII. Fig. 2.

The female is a little paler in the tints of the plumage, but in other
respects is similar to the male.

The Cat Bird, both in the form of its bill, and the colour of its
plumage, as well as in many of its habits, is closely allied to several
Flycatchers, while in other respects it approaches the genus Turdus,
and especially that section of it which contains the Mocking Birds.


THE BLACKBERRY.

RUBUS VILLOSUS, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1085. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 346.—ICOSANDRIA POLYGYNIA, _Linn._
ROSACEÆ, _Juss._

This species of bramble is pubescent, prickly, with angular twigs; the
leaves ternate or quinate, with ovato-oblong, serrate, acuminate leaflets,
downy on both sides; the calycine leaves short, acuminate; the flowers
white, in a loose raceme. Blackberries are so plentiful in all parts
of the United States, that they are gathered in great quantities, and
often exposed for sale in the markets, especially those of the Eastern
Districts, where they are applied to various domestic uses. They grow to
a remarkably large size in the Southern States, where the plant itself is
larger and more productive. In Kentucky and Louisiana, I have observed a
variety bearing fruit of a light yellow colour, which is still superior
to the common sort in flavour.




THE GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER.

_MUSCICAPA CRINITA_, LINN.

PLATE CXXIX. MALE.


How often whilst gazing on the nest of a bird, admiring the beauty of its
structure, or wondering at the skill displayed in securing it from danger,
have I been led to question myself why there is often so much difference
in the conformation and materials of those of even the same species, in
different latitudes or localities. How often, too, while admiring the
bird itself, have I in vain tried to discover the causes why more mental
and corporeal hardihood should have been granted to certain individuals,
which although small and seemingly more delicate than others, are wont
to force their way, and that at an early season, quite across the whole
extent of the United States; while others, of greater bodily magnitude,
equal powers of flight, and similar courage, never reach so far, in fact
merely enter our country or confine their journeys to half the distance
to which the others reach. The diminutive Ruby-throated Humming-bird,
the delicate Winter Wren, and many warblers, all birds of comparatively
short flight, are seen to push their way from the West India Islands,
or the table-lands of Mexico and South America, farther north than our
boundary-lines, before they reach certain localities, which we cannot
look upon but as being the favourite places of rendezvous allotted to
these beings for their summer abode.

How wonderful have I thought it that all birds which migrate are not
equally privileged. Why do not the Turkey Buzzard, the Fork-tailed Hawk,
and many others possessing remarkable ease and power of flight, visit the
same places? There the Vulture would find its favourite carrion during
the heat of the dog-days, and the Hawk abundance of insects. Why do
not the Pigeons found in the south ever visit the State of Maine, when
one species, the _Columba migratoria_, is permitted to ramble over the
whole extent of our vast country? And why does the small Pewee go so far
north, accompanied by the Tyrant Flycatcher; while the Titirit, larger
and stronger than either, remains in the Floridas and Carolinas, and
the Great Crested Flycatcher, the bird now before you, seldom travels
farther east than Connecticut? Reader, can you assist me?

The places chosen by the Great Crested Flycatcher for its nest are
so peculiar, and the composition of its fabric is so very different
from that of all others of the genus with which I am acquainted, that
perhaps no one on seeing it for the first time, would imagine it to
belong to a Flycatcher. There is nothing of the elegance of some, or of
the curious texture of others, displayed in it. Unlike its kinsfolk,
it is contented to seek a retreat in the decayed part of a tree, of a
fence-rail, or even of a prostrate log mouldering on the ground. I have
found it placed in a short stump at the bottom of a ravine, where the
tracks of racoons were as close together as those of a flock of sheep
in a fold, and again in the lowest fence-rail, where the black snake
could have entered it, sucked the eggs or swallowed the young with more
ease than by ascending to some large branches of a tree forty feet from
the ground, where after all the reptile not unfrequently searches for
such dainties. In all those situations, our bird seeks a place for its
nest, which is composed of more or fewer materials, as the urgency may
require, and I have observed that in the nests nearest the ground, the
greatest quantity of grass, fibrous roots, feathers, hair of different
quadrupeds, and exuviæ of snakes was accumulated. The nest is at all
times a loose mass under the above circumstances. Sometimes, when at a
great height, very few materials are used, and in more than one instance
I found the eggs merely deposited on the decaying particles of the wood,
at the bottom of a hole in a broken branch of a tree, sometimes of one
that had been worked out by the grey squirrel. The eggs are from four to
six, of a pale cream colour, thickly streaked with deep purplish-brown
of different tints, and, I believe, seldom more than a single brood is
raised in the season.

The Great Crested Flycatcher arrives in Louisiana and the adjacent
country in March. Many remain there and breed, but the greater number
advance towards the Middle States, and disperse among the lofty woods,
preferring at all times sequestered places. I have thought that they
gave a preference to the high lands, and yet I have often observed them
in the low sandy woods of New Jersey. Louisiana, and the countries along
the Mississippi, together with the State of Ohio, are the districts most
visited by this species in one direction, and in another the Atlantic
States as far as Massachusetts. In this last, however, it is very seldom
met with unless in the vicinity of the mountains, where occasionally
some are found breeding. Farther eastward it is entirely unknown.

Tyrannical perhaps in a degree surpassing the King Bird itself, it yet
seldom chases the larger birds of prey, but, unlike the Bee Martin,
prefers attacking those smaller ones which inadvertently approach its nest
or its station. Among themselves these birds have frequent encounters,
on which occasions they shew an unrelenting fierceness almost amounting
to barbarity. The _plucking_ of a conquered rival is sometimes witnessed.

In its flight this bird moves swiftly and with power. It sweeps after its
prey with a determined zeal, and repeatedly makes its mandibles clatter
with uncommon force and rapidity. When the prey is secured, and it has
retired to the spray on which it was before, it is seen to beat the
insect on it, and swallow it with greediness, after which its crest is
boldly erected, and its loud harsh squeak immediately resounds, imitating
the syllables _paiip, paip, payup, payiup_. No association takes place
among different families, and yet the solicitude of the male towards
his mate, and of the parent birds towards their young, is exemplary. The
latter are fed and taught to provide for themselves, with a gentleness
which might be copied by beings higher in the scale of nature, and in
them might meet with as much gratitude as that expressed by the young
Flycatchers towards their anxious parents. The family remain much together
while in the United States, and go off in company early in September.
This species, like the Tyrant Flycatcher, migrates by day, and during
its journeys is seen passing at a great height.

The squeak or sharp note of the Great Crested Flycatcher is easily
distinguished from that of any of the genus, as it transcends all
others in shrillness, and is heard mostly in those dark woods where,
recluse-like, it seems to delight. During the love-season, and as long
as the male is paying his addresses to the female, or proving to her
that he is happy in her society, it is heard for hours both at early
dawn and sometimes after sunset; but as soon as the young are out, the
whole family are mute.

It feeds principally upon insects, so long as these are abundant; but
frequently in autumn, and as it retrogrades from the Middle Districts, its
food is grapes and several species of berries, among which those of the
pokeweed are conspicuous. While in the woods, its flight is peculiarly
rapid: it dashes through the upper branches of the tallest trees like
an arrow, and often sweeps from this elevated range close to the earth,
to seize an insect, which it has espied issuing from among the grass or
the fallen leaves.


MUSCICAPA CRINITA, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 325.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 485.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 67.

GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, MUSCICAPA CRINITA, _Wils._ Amer.
Ornith. vol. ii. p. 75. pl. 13. fig. 2.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i.
p. 271.


Adult Male. Plate CXXIX. Fig. 1

Bill rather long, stout, broader than deep, excepting towards the end,
where it is compressed; upper mandible with the ridge broad and nearly
straight, the sides convex, the tip declinate, the edges sharp, with a
sinus close to the tip; lower mandible with the back broad at the base,
the sides convex, the ridge rather sharp towards the end, the edges
sharp. Nostrils basal, lateral, roundish, partly covered by the bristly
feathers. Head rather large, but the general form rather slender. Feet
short; tarsus very short, covered anteriorly with a few scutella, sharp
behind; toes free, scutellate, slender; claws arched, much compressed,
very acute.

Plumage soft and blended. Feathers of the head pointed and elongated.
Wings of ordinary length, broad, rounded, the fourth and fifth quills
longest. Tail rather long, slightly forked, of twelve rounded feathers.
The bristles at the base of the bill strong.

Bill and legs brownish-black. Iris brown. The colour of the upper parts
is dull greenish-olive. Quills and coverts dark brown, the primaries
margined with light reddish-brown, the secondaries with white, of which
there are two bars across the wing, formed by the tips of the secondary
coverts and first row of small coverts. Inner webs of the tail-feathers
light ferruginous, as are those of the quills. Sides of the head and
neck bluish-grey. The under parts in general lemon-yellow.

Length 8½ inches, extent of wings 13; bill along the ridge 8/12, along
the edge 11/12; tarsus 8/12.

The Female resembles the male.




THE YELLOW-WINGED SPARROW.

_FRINGILLA PASSERINA_, WILS.

PLATE CXXX. MALE.


This is another of those remarkable species which pass unobserved from
the Mexican dominions and some of the West India Islands, to the middle
portions of our Atlantic States. Not one of the species have I ever
met with in Louisiana, the Floridas, any of the other Southern States,
or those west of the Alleghany range; while from Maryland to Maine it
is found in considerable numbers, and is not uncommon in Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. In all the States it prefers the
neighbourhood of the coast and a light sandy soil. It arrives in the
latter districts about the 10th of May, and throws itself into the open
newly-ploughed fields, and those covered with the valuable red clover.
It is never found in the woodlands. Its food consists of such insects
and larvæ as are found on the ground, together with the seeds of grasses
and other plants.

Its flight is low, short, and performed by a kind of constant tremor of
the wings, resembling that of a young bird. It alights on the tops of
low bushes, fence-rails, and tall grasses, to sing its unmusical ditty,
composed of a few notes weakly enunciated at intervals, but sufficing
to manifest its attachment to its mate. Almost unregarded, it raises two
broods in the season, perhaps three when it has chosen the warmer sandy
soils in the vicinity of the sea, where it is evidently more abundant
than in the interior of the country.

The nest of the Yellow-winged Sparrow is as simple as its owner is
innocent and gentle. It is placed on the ground, and is formed of light
dry grasses, with a scanty lining of withered fibrous roots and horse
hair. The female deposits her first egg about the 20th of May. The eggs
are four or five, of a dingy white, sprinkled with brown spots. The
young follow their parents on the ground for a short time, after which
they separate and search for food singly. This species, indeed, never
congregates, as almost all others of its tribe do, before they depart
from us, but the individuals seem to move off in a sulky mood, and in
so concealed a way, that their winter quarters are yet unknown.

Scarcely any difference is perceptible in the plumage of the sexes,
and by the time the young return to us the following spring, they have
obtained the full plumage of their parents.


FRINGILLA PASSERINA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 109.

YELLOW-WINGED SPARROW, FRINGILLA PASSERINA, _Wils._ Amer.
Ornith. vol. iii. p. 76. pl. 24. fig. 5.

SAVANNAH FINCH, or YELLOW-SHOULDERED BUNTING (FRINGILLA
SAVANARUM, _Gmel._) _Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 494.


Bill short, conical, acute; upper mandible slightly convex in its dorsal
outline, angular, and encroaching a little on the forehead, of the same
breadth as the lower, with sharp and inflected edges; lower mandible
also inflected on the edges; gap-line slightly deflected at the base.
Nostrils basal, roundish, open, concealed by the feathers. Head rather
large, neck short, body full. Feet of moderate length, slender; tarsus
covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella, acute behind; toes
free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender,
compressed, acute, slightly arched, that of the hind toe elongated.

Plumage soft and blended, slightly glossed. Wings shortish, curved,
rounded, the first and second primaries longest, the third scarcely
shorter; the secondaries long, but less so than in the Henslow Bunting,
which belongs to the same group. Tail short, small, rounded, slightly
emarginate, of twelve narrow, tapering feathers.

Bill flesh-coloured beneath, dusky above. Iris dark brown. Feet
light flesh-coloured. The general colour of the upper parts is light
greyish-brown, mixed on the neck with ash-grey tints, the central parts
of the feathers brownish-black, the margins of those of the back bright
chestnut. The upper part of the head brownish-black, with a longitudinal
central line of brownish-white. Secondary coverts dusky, margined with
greyish-white; along the flexure of the wing the small feathers are bright
yellow, whence the name of the species. Quills wood-brown, margined with
pale yellowish-brown. Tail-feathers of the same colour, the outermost
much paler. The under parts pale yellowish-grey, the breast of a richer
tint, being of a light yellowish-brown, its sides anteriorly spotted
with brownish-black.

Length 4-10/12 inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge 5½/12,
along the edge ½; tarsus ⅔, middle toe a little more than ⅔, hind toe
7/12.

This species forms part of a group more allied to the Buntings than to
the Finches, and composed of HENSLOW'S Bunting or Finch, the Savannah
Finch, and the Yellow-winged Sparrow. They are all very closely allied,
so that it is somewhat difficult to distinguish them.

Let us compare the _Yellow-winged Sparrow_ in the first place, with the
_Henslow Bunting_, described at p. 360 of Vol. I.

In HENSLOW'S Bunting the bill is smaller, and has the margin less
sinuous; the tarsi are shorter, being only 7/12 (erroneously ⅔ in the
description), while those of the present species are ⅔. The feet of the
latter are also stronger, and the toes a little longer. The colouring of
the upper parts is very similar; but the present species has a distinct
white line along the middle of the head, whereas the other has the same
part of the general olivaceous tint of the hind-neck, the quills are
differently coloured on their margins, and while the present species is
unspotted on the breast and sides, the other is distinctly streaked.

But besides these differences the feathers present others still more
decisive. The tail of HENSLOW'S Bunting is 2⅛ inches long, graduated, with
narrower feathers, which taper to a point, while that of the Yellow-winged
Sparrow is only 1-10/12, rounded, much stronger, with broader (though
still very narrow) feathers, having a narrow rounded point. Then in the
first the secondaries are so long as to be only 2/12 shorter than the
longest primary, whereas in the second they are ½ inch shorter. In the
first the third quill is longest, while in the second the first exceeds
the others, although in neither is there any great difference between
the first three quills in length.

But the Yellow-winged Sparrow is much more closely allied to the Savannah
Finch than to HENSLOW'S Bunting.

The colouring of the upper parts is almost the same, but the Savannah
Finch has very little of the bright bay tints, and the flexure of the wing
is so slightly tinged with yellow that one might be apt to overlook it.
There is a central whitish streak on the head of the Savannah Finch, as
on that of the Yellow-winged Sparrow. The great difference in colouring
lies in the circumstance, that while the throat, breast, and sides of
the latter are unspotted, those of the former are very conspicuously
marked with longitudinal dark brown streaks, margined with reddish-brown.

The bills and feet are of the same form, but the bill of the Savannah
Finch is much less robust, and its feet rather more so. In the Savannah
Finch the secondaries are proportionally as long as in the Henslow
Bunting, and the third and fourth quills are longest; whereas in the
Yellow-winged Sparrow the first is longest, and in the Henslow Bunting
the third.

* * * * *

Having in my possession a fine specimen of a new species allied to the
above, but still more decidedly an Emberiza, I embrace this opportunity
of describing it. The species having been discovered, in the vicinity
of Philadelphia, by Dr TOWNSEND of that city, I cannot dedicate it with
equal propriety to any other individual, and I am happy in thus paying
my tribute of respect to him for his great attainments in ornithology.




TOWNSEND'S BUNTING.

_EMBERIZA TOWNSENDII._


In form this species is compact and rather robust, like the common
Sparrow of Europe, or the Black-throated Bunting of America. The bill is
short, strong, conical, compressed, acute; the upper mandible narrower,
with its dorsal line a little convex, as is that of the lower, the edges
of both inflected, and the gap-line declinate at the base. Nostrils
roundish, basal. Feet of ordinary length and thickness, the tarsus with
seven anterior scutella, and two lateral plates meeting behind so as to
form an edge; lateral toes equal, the outer united as far as the second
joint, hind-toe strong; claws, arched, compressed, acute, with a lateral
groove.

The wings are short, the first quill longest, the next scarcely shorter,
the rest graduated, the second, third, and fourth, very slightly cut
out on the outer web towards the end, the secondaries rounded, the outer
slightly emarginate. Tail of moderate length, and slightly emarginate.
The plumage is soft and rather compact.

Bill brownish-black above, light blue beneath, with a longitudinal black



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 19 of 56)