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many yards from each other, in the manner of the Carolina Dove.

At the approach of spring, the flocks break up, the females first
separating. The males then commence their migration, flying in small
flocks, or even sometimes singly. At this season the beauty of their
plumage is much improved, their movements have acquired more grace, their
manner of flight and all their motions when on the ground evidently
shewing how strongly they feel the passion that glows in their bosom.
The male is seen to walk with stately measured steps, jerking out his
tail, or spreading it to its full extent, and then closing it, like a
fan in the hands of some fair damsel. Its loud notes are more melodious
than ever, and are now frequently heard, the bird sitting the while on
the branch of a tree, or the top of some tall weed of the meadows.

Woe to the rival who dares to make his appearance! Nay, should any male
come in sight, he is at once attacked, and, if conquered, chased beyond
the limits of the territory claimed by the first possessor. Several
males may sometimes be seen engaged in fierce conflict, although these
frays seldom last more than a few moments. The sight of a single female
at once changes their occupation, and after her they all fly off as if
mad. The female exhibits the usual timidity of her sex, that timidity
without which, even in Meadow Larks, she would probably fail in finding
a mate. As he flies towards her, uttering the softest of his notes, she
moves off in such a manner that her ardent admirer often seems doubtful
whether she means to repel or encourage him. At length, however, he is
permitted to go nearer, to express by his song and courteous demeanour
the strength and constancy of his passion. She accepts him as her lord,
and in a few days both are seen busily searching for an appropriate spot
in which to rear their young.

At the foot of some tuft of tall strong grass you find the nest. A cavity
is scooped out of the ground, and in it is placed a quantity of grass,
fibrous roots, and other materials; circularly disposed so as to resemble
an oven, around which leaves and the blades of the surrounding grasses
are matted together so as to cover and conceal it. The entrance admits
only one at a time, but both birds incubate. The eggs are four or five,
pure white, sprinkled and blotched with reddish-brown, mostly towards
the larger end. The young are out towards the end of June, and follow
their parents for some weeks afterwards. These birds are unremitting in
their attention towards each other, and in the care of their offspring,
and while the female sits, the male not only supplies her with food,
but constantly comforts her by his song and the watchfulness which he
displays. Should one approach the nest, he immediately rises on wing,
passes and repasses in circles over and around the spot in which the
nest is, and thus frequently leads to the hidden treasure.

Excepting hawks and snakes, the Meadow Lark has few enemies at this
season. The prudent and enlightened farmer, mindful of the benefit his
meadows have received from the destruction of thousands of larvæ, which
might have greatly injured his grass, disturbs it not, and should he
find its nest while cutting his hay, he leaves the tuft in which it is
placed. Even young children seldom destroy this bird or its brood.

It must not, however, be supposed that the Meadow Lark is entirely
harmless. In the Carolinas, many well instructed planters agree in
denouncing it as a depredator, alleging that it scratches up oat seeds
when sown early in spring, and is fond of plucking up the young corn,
the wheat, the rye, or the rice.

In confinement, this bird has another fault, of which I was not aware
until my last visit to Charleston. In February 1834, Dr SAMUEL WILSON of
that city told me that one of the Meadow Larks which he had purchased in
the market, with a number of other birds, ten days previously, had been
found feeding on the body of a Bay-winged Bunting, which it had either
killed, or found dead in the aviary. He said he had watched the bird
more than twenty minutes, and plainly saw that it plunged its bill into
the flesh of the finch to its eyes, and appeared to open and close it
alternately, as if sucking the juices of the flesh. Two days afterwards,
the same Meadow Lark actually killed two other finches that had their
wings clipped, and ate them.

During the latter part of autumn, as well as in winter, this species
affords a good deal of sport, especially to young gunners, some of whom
speak highly of its flesh. This may be true respecting the young, but
the yellow oily appearance of the flesh of the old ones, its toughness,
and the strong smell of insects which it emits, prevent it from being
an agreeable article of food. They are nevertheless offered for sale in
almost all our markets.

In the winter months, this bird frequently associates with the Carolina
Dove, several species of Grakle, and even Partridges, is fond of spending
its time in corn fields after the grain has been gathered, and often
makes its appearance in the cattle-yard of the planters. In Virginia,
it is called the "Old-field Lark."

While on the ground, the Meadow Lark walks well, and much in the manner
of the Grakle and the European Starling, to which it is in some measure
allied. When on the wing, they seldom fly close enough to allow more
than one to be shot at a time. When wounded, they run off with alacrity,
and hide with great care, so as to be found with difficulty. They alight
with equal readiness on trees, on the branches of which they walk with
ease, on fences, and even at times on out-houses. Their food consists
of grass seeds, and grains of almost every sort, along with all kinds of
insects and berries. Although gregarious, they seldom move close together
while on the ground, and, on the report of a gun, you may see perhaps a
hundred of them rise on the wing from different parts of a field. They
are never found in close woods. During winter, the open western prairies
abound with them, and in every corn-field in the State of Kentucky, you
are sure to find them in company with partridges and doves. They now and
then resort to roads, for the purpose of dusting themselves, and move
along the edge of the water in order to bathe.

The plate represents two pairs of these birds, with a nest placed in a
rich cluster of the Yellow Gerardia.

STURNUS LUDOVICIANUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 290.
—_Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 323.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops.
of Birds of the United States, p. 50.

MEADOW LARK, ALAUDA MAGNA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 20.
pl. 19. fig. 2.

AMERICAN STARLING or MEADOW LARK, _Nuttall_, Manual, part i.
p. 147.

Richards._ Fauna Bor.-Amer. part ii. p. 282.

Adult Male. Plate CXXXVI. Fig. 1. 1.

Bill rather long, almost straight, strong, conico-subulate, depressed
towards the end; upper mandible encroaching a little on the forehead,
flattish on the ridge, with sharp overlapping edges, the tip rounded;
lower mandible nearly straight, the back convex, the sides ascending,
the edges sharp, the tip slightly rounded, and a little shorter. Nostrils
oval, half-closed by an arched membrane. Head of ordinary size, depressed,
neck of moderate length, body rather full. Feet of moderate length,
strong; tarsus anteriorly scutellate, sharp behind; lateral toes nearly
equal, hind toe stoutest, with a large claw; claws arched, compressed,

Plumage soft, rather compact. The upper eyelid margined with strong
bristles. Feathers of the top of the head with strong shafts. Wings of
ordinary length, broad, the second, third, and fourth primaries longest,
the first longer than the fifth; those mentioned, except the first,
sinuate on the outer web; primaries rather pointed, secondaries broad
and rounded, two of the inner nearly as long as the primaries when the
wing is closed. Tail short, much rounded, of twelve acute feathers.

Bill dark brown above, bluish-grey beneath and on the sides. Iris hazel.
Feet flesh-coloured, tinged with blue. The upper parts are variegated
with dark brown, bay, and light yellowish-brown, the latter bordering
the feathers; those of the hind parts of the back barred, as are the
secondary quills and their coverts. Primary quills dark brown, margined
the outermost with white, the rest with pale brown. The edge of the wing
yellow; the smaller wing-coverts black bordered with grey. The three
outer tail-feathers white, with a dash of black on the outer web near the
end; the next feather also more or less white, and barred on the outer
web. On the upper part of the head are a central and two lateral stripes
of brownish-yellow, separated by two broader stripes of brownish-black;
the lateral stripes are sometimes white tinged with yellow anteriorly.
Sides of the head and neck greyish-white, dotted with dusky, and the
flanks and under tail-coverts are spotted with black; abdomen white,
the rest of the under parts rich yellow, excepting a large crescent of
black on the breast.

Length 11-2/12, extent of wings 16½; bill along the back 1-3/12, along
the edge 1-5/12; tarsus 1¾, middle toe 1-4/8.

Adult Female. Plate CXXXVI. Fig 2. 2.

The Female differs little from the male, the colours being scarcely
paler, but is smaller.


GERARDIA FLAVA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iii. p. 223. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 423.—DIDYNAMIA ANGIOSPERMIA,
_Linn._ SCROPHULARINÆ, _Juss._

Downy, with the stems nearly undivided, the leaves subsessile, lanceolate,
entire or toothed, the lower incised, the flowers axillary, opposite,
nearly sessile. I found this plant abundant in the meadows of New Jersey,
where it was in full flower at the end of May, the rich yellow blossoms
enlivening the uniform aspect of the plains. It is pretty generally
distributed along the Atlantic coasts, and attains a height of from two
to three feet.




This singular bird is extremely plentiful in Louisiana, Georgia, and
the Carolinas, during spring and summer. It arrives in the first of
those States as soon as the blossoms of the dog-wood mark the return
of the vernal season. Many continue their migrations eastward as far
as Connecticut, but beyond this the species is seldom if ever seen. I
have found it equally abundant in Kentucky, particularly in the barrens
of that State; and it ascends the Ohio, spreading over the country, and
extending as far as the borders of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. It never
enters what is properly called the woods, preferring at all periods
of its short stay with us, the large tangled and almost impenetrable
patches of briars, sumach, prickly ash, and different species of smilax,
wherever a rivulet or a pool may be found.

As in other migratory species, the males precede the females several
days. As soon as they have arrived, they give free vent to their song at
all hours of the day, renewing it at night when the weather is calm, and
the moon shines brightly, seeming intent on attracting the females, by
repeating in many varied tones the ardency of their passion. Sometimes
the sounds are scarcely louder than a whisper, now they acquire strength,
deep guttural notes roll in slow succession as if produced by the emotion
of surprise, then others clear and sprightly glide after each other,
until suddenly, as if the bird had become confused, the voice becomes
a hollow bass. The performer all the while looks as if he were in the
humour of scolding, and moves from twig to twig among the thickets with
so much activity and in so many directions, that the notes reach the
ear as it were from opposite places at the same moment. Now the bird
mounts in the air in various attitudes, with its legs and feet hanging,
while it continues its song and jerks its body with great vehemence,
performing the strangest and most whimsical gesticulations; the next
moment it returns to the bush. If you imitate its song, it follows your
steps with caution, and responds to each of your calls, now and then
peeping at you for a moment, the next quite out of sight. Should you
have a dog, which will enter its briary retreat, it will skip about him,
scold him, and frequently perch, or rise on wing above the thicket, so
that you may easily shoot it.

The arrival of the females is marked by the redoubled exertions of the
males, who now sing as if delirious with the pleasurable sensations they
experience. Before ten days have elapsed, the pairs begin to construct
their nest, which is placed in any sort of bush or briar, seldom more
than six feet from the ground, and frequently not above two or three. It
is large, and composed externally of dry leaves, small sticks, stripes
of vine bark and grasses, the interior being formed of fibrous roots and
horse-hair. The eggs are four or five, of a light flesh colour, spotted
with reddish-brown. In Louisiana and the Carolinas, these birds have
two broods in the season; but in Pennsylvania, where they seldom lay
before the 20th of May, they have only one brood. The eggs are hatched
in twelve days. The male is seldom heard to sing after the breeding
season, and they all depart from the Union by the middle of September.
Their eggs and young are frequently destroyed by snakes, and a species
of insect that feeds on carrion, and burrows in the ground under night.
The young resemble the females, and do not acquire the richness of the
spring plumage while in the Union.

The food of the Yellow-breasted Chat consists of coleopterous insects
and small fruits. They are especially fond of the wild strawberries so
abundant in the Kentucky barrens.

When migrating they move from bush to bush by day, and frequently continue
their march by night, especially should the moon be out and the weather
pleasant. Their flight is short and irregular at all times. When alighted,
they frequently jerk their tail, squat, and spring on their legs, and
are always in a state of great activity. I never observed them chasing
insects on the wing.

I have presented you with several figures of this singular species, to
shew you their positions when on the wing performing their antics in the
love season as well as when alighted. The wild rose branch with the nest,
was cut out of a thicket for the purpose which you see accomplished.

ICTERIA VIRIDIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 69.

vol. i. p. 90. pl. 6. fig. 2.

part i. p. 299.

Adult Male. Plate CXXXVII. Fig. 1, 1.

Bill of moderate length, strong, slightly arched, broad at the base,
compressed towards the end; upper mandible with the sides convex, the
edges acute, destitute of notch, the tip acute, and a little declinate;
lower mandible with the dorsal line nearly straight, the edge line
slightly arched and inflected. Nostrils rounded, half covered by a
vaulted membrane. The form is rather robust. Legs of moderate length,
slender; tarsus compressed, anteriorly scutellate, sharp behind; two
lateral toes nearly equal, the hind one not much stouter; claws small,
compressed, acute.

Plumage blended. Wings of moderate length, rounded; third and fourth
primaries longest, second almost equal, first a little shorter. Tail
longish, rounded. Feathers of the throat and breast with a silky gloss.

Bill black, the base of lower mandible blue. Iris hazel. Feet
greyish-blue. The general colour of the upper parts is deep olive-green;
the inner webs of the tail-feathers and quills, and the ends of the
latter, dusky-brown. A line over the eye, a small streak under it, and
a spot at the base of the lower mandible, white. Lore black. Throat and
breast bright yellow, abdomen and under tail-coverts white.

Length 7 inches, extent of wings 9; bill along the ridge 6/12, along
the edge 9/12; tarsus 10/12.

Adult Female. Plate CXXXVII. Fig. 2, 2.

The Female scarcely differs from the male in any perceptible degree,
and is of the same size.



The Sweet Briar is very generally distributed in the United States. I
have found it from Louisiana to the extremities of Nova Scotia along
the Atlantic coast, and as far in the interior as I have travelled.
The delicious odour of its leaves never fails to gratify the person who
brushes through patches of it, while the delicate tints of its flowers
reminds one of the loveliness of female beauty in its purest and most
blooming state. Truly a "sweet home" must be the nest that is placed
in an eglantine bower, and happy must be the bird that in the midst of
fragrance is cheered by the warble of her ever loving mate.




I procured the pair represented in the Plate, on a fine evening, nearly
at sun-set, at the end of August, on the banks of the Delaware River, in
New Jersey, a few miles below Camden. When I first observed them, they
were hopping and skipping from one low bush to another, and among the
tall reeds of the marsh, emitting an often-repeated _tweet_ at every
move. They were chasing a species of spider which runs nimbly over the
water, and which they caught by gliding over it, as a Swallow does when
drinking. I followed them for about a hundred yards, when, watching a fair
opportunity, I shot both at once. The weather was exceedingly sultry;
and although I outlined both by candle-light that evening, and finished
the drawing of them next morning by breakfast time, they had at that
early hour become putrid, so that their skins could not be preserved. On
opening them I counted upwards of fifty of the spiders mentioned above,
but found no appearance of any other food. The sexual distinction was
very apparent, and the brace proved a pair. They were not in the least
shy, and in fact seemed to take very little notice of me, although at
times I was quite close to them. These being the only individuals I ever
met with, I am of course unable to say where the species breeds, or what
are its migrations.

The plant on which they are placed grew abundantly on the spot where I
procured them; and as they had just alighted on it when I shot them, it
being moreover a handsome species, I thought it best to attach it to them.

SYLVIA AGILIS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United
States, p. 84.

p. 64. pl. 39. fig. 4.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 399.

Adult Male, Plate CXXXVIII, Fig. 1.

Bill short, straight, conico-subulate, acute; nostrils basal, lateral,
oval, exposed; head of moderate size; neck short, body rather slender;
feet of moderate length; tarsus slender, compressed, scutellate before,
sharp behind; toes free, the lateral equal, the hind one not much
stronger; claws arched, slender, much compressed, acute.

Plumage soft and blended, with little gloss; wings rather short, the
first and second quills longest; tail of moderate length, rounded, and

Bill light-brown on the ridge and tips, flesh-coloured beneath. Iris
hazel. Legs pale flesh-coloured. The general colour above is rich
olive-green, the concealed parts of the quills and tail dusky-brown;
eye margined with a ring of yellowish-white; throat ash-grey, the rest
of the under parts dull greenish-yellow, excepting the sides, under the
wings, which are olive-green.

Length 5¾ inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge 4/12, along
the edge 6½/12; tarsus 10/12.

Adult Female, Plate CXXXVIII, Fig. 2.

The Female resembles the male in the upper parts, but the throat is
greenish-yellow, and the rest of the under parts somewhat less richly
coloured than those of the male.

GENTIANA SAPONARIA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. i. p. 1388. _Pursh_,
Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 185.—PENTANDRIA DIGYNIA, _Linn._

Stem round, smooth; leaves oblongo-lanceolate, three nerved; flowers
sessile, tufted, terminal and axillar; corolla quinquefid, campanulate,
ventricose, with the divisions obtuse, the internal plaits with toothed
segments. It grows in meadows and woods, from Canada to Carolina,
flowering in August and September.




This diminutive and elegant species of Finch may certainly be ranked
among our constant residents, numerous individuals remaining during the
winter within the limits of the Union. In Louisiana and the countries
along the Mississippi, as far as Kentucky, and in all the Southern
States, as far as Maryland, they are to be found in the coldest weather.
In South Carolina they are met with along every hedge-row and in every
briar-patch, as well as in the old fields slightly covered with tall
slender grasses, on the seeds of which they chiefly subsist during the
inclement season. Loose flocks, sometimes of forty or fifty, are seen
hopping along the sandy roads, picking up particles of gravel. On the
least alarm, they all take to wing, and alight on the nearest bushes, but
the next moment return to the ground. They leave the south as early as
March, move northwards as the season advances, and appear in the States
of New York and Pennsylvania, about the middle of April.

The song of the Field Sparrow is remarkable, although not fine. It trills
its notes like a young Canary Bird, and now and then emits emphatical,
though not very distinct sounds of some length. One accustomed to
distinguish the notes of different birds can easily recognise the song
of this species; but the description of it, I confess, I am unable to
accomplish, so at least as to afford you any tolerable idea of it.

It is a social and peaceable bird. When the breeding season is at hand
they disperse, move off in pairs, and throw themselves into old pasture
grounds, overgrown with low bushes, on the tops of which the males may be
heard practising their vocal powers. They usually breed on the ground,
at the foot of a small bush or rank-weed; but I have also found several
of their nests on the lower branches of trees, a foot or two from the
ground. The nest is simple, formed chiefly of fine dry grasses, in some
instances scantily lined with horse-hair or delicate fibrous roots, much
resembling hair. The eggs are from four to six, of a light ferruginous
tint, produced by the blending of small dots of that colour. So prolific
is this species, that I have observed a pair raise three broods in one
summer, the amount of individuals produced being fifteen. The young
run after their parents, leaving the nest before they can fly, and are
left to shift for themselves ere they are fully fledged; but as they
find every where abundance of insects, berries, and small seeds, they
contrive to get on without help.

These birds are fond of orchards, enter our country towns in autumn,
alight on the tallest trees in open woods, and migrate solely by day.
Their flight is rapid, even, and occasionally sustained; for, when fairly
alarmed, they move at once over fields of considerable extent.

I saw few in Maine, and none in the British provinces, in Labrador or
in Newfoundland.

The colour of the bill varies with the seasons, being in winter of a
dingy reddish-brown, and in summer assuming a tint approaching to orange.
There is no perceptible difference in the size or colour of the sexes.
The young acquire their full plumage the first autumn.

Travelling from Great Egg Harbour towards Philadelphia, I found a nest
of this species placed at the foot of a bush growing in almost pure
sand. Near it were the plants which you see accompanying the figure.

FRINGILLA PUSILLA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 110.

FIELD SPARROW, FRINGILLA PUSILLA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. ii.
p. 121. pl. 16. fig. 2.

part i. p. 499.

Adult Male, Plate CXXXIX.

Bill short, rather small, strong, conical, acute; upper mandible rather
narrower 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 very slightly arched, slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils
basal, roundish, partially concealed by the feathers. The general form

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 23 of 56)