John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

. (page 25 of 56)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 25 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


course, to give chase to a large flock of Crow Blackbirds (_Quiscalus
versicolor_), then crossing the river. The Hawk approached them with the
swiftness of an arrow, when the Blackbirds rushed together so closely that
the flock looked like a dusky ball passing through the air. On reaching
the mass, he, with the greatest ease, seized first one, then another,
and another, giving each a squeeze with his talons, and suffering it to
drop upon the water. In this manner, he had procured four or five before
the poor birds reached the woods, into which they instantly plunged,
when he gave up the chase, swept over the water in graceful curves, and
picked up the fruits of his industry, carrying each bird singly to the
shore. Reader, is this instinct or reason?

The nest of the Goshawk is placed on the branches of a tree, near the
trunk or main stem. It is of great size, and resembles that of our Crow,
or some species of Owl, being constructed of withered twigs and coarse
grass, with a lining of fibrous stripes of plants resembling hemp. It
is, however, much flatter than that of the Crow. In one I found, in the
month of April, three eggs, ready to be hatched; they were of a dull
bluish-white, sparingly spotted with light reddish-brown. In another,
which I found placed on a pine-tree, growing on the eastern rocky bank
of the Niagara River, a few miles below the Great Cataract, the lining
was formed of withered herbaceous plants, with a few feathers, and the
eggs were four in number, of a white colour, tinged with greenish-blue,
large, much rounded, and somewhat granulated. In another nest were four
young birds, covered with buff-coloured down, their legs and feet of a
pale yellowish flesh-colour, the bill light-blue, and the eyes pale-grey.
They differed greatly in size, one being quite small compared with the
rest. I am of opinion that few breed to the south of the State of Maine.

The variations of plumage exhibited by the Goshawk are numerous. I
have seen some with horizontal bars, of a large size on the breast, and
blotches of white on the back and shoulders, while others had the first
of these parts covered with delicate transverse lines, the shaft of each
feather being deep brown or black, and were of a plain cinereous tint
above. The young, which at first have but few scattered dashes of brown
beneath, are at times thickly mottled with that, and each feather of
the back and wings is broadly edged with dull white.

My opinion respecting the identity of the American Goshawk and that of
Europe, is still precisely the same as it was four years ago, when I wrote
a paper on the subject, which was published in the Edinburgh Journal of
Natural and Geographical Science. I regret differing on this point from
such accomplished ornithologists as my excellent friend Prince CHARLES
BONAPARTE and M. TEMMINCK; but, after due consideration, I cannot help
thinking these birds the same.

The figure of the adult was drawn at Henderson, in Kentucky, many years
ago. That of the young bird was taken from a specimen shot in the Great
Pine Forest in Pennsylvania.


FALCO PALUMBARIUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 130.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 29.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 28.

ACCIPITER (ASTUR) PALUMBARIUS, _Swains. and Richards._ Fauna
Bor.-Americ. part ii. p. 39.

ASH-COLOURED OR BLACK-CAPPED HAWK, FALCO ATRICAPILLUS, _Wils._
Amer. Ornith. vol. vi. p. 80. pl. 5. Fig. 3.—AMERICAN GOSHAWK,
_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 85.


Adult Male. Plate CXLI. Fig. 1.

Bill short, nearly as deep as broad at the base, the tip trigonal, very
acute and decurved; upper mandible with the dorsal outline convex from the
base, the ridge rounded, the sides convex, the edges acute, overlapping,
and slightly festooned; lower mandible a little deflected towards the
tip, which is broadly rounded. Head large, neck short, body robust.
Legs longish, the tibia long, the tarsus rounded, anteriorly scutellate,
scaly on the sides, tubercular and scabrous beneath; the fore-toes with
a slight web at the base; claws roundish, curved, extremely acute, that
of the inner toe as large as the claw of the hind one.

Plumage compact. Wings reaching to the middle of the tail, the fourth
quill longest, the first and eighth equal. Tail long, nearly even, of
twelve broad feathers. Tarsus feathered more than one-third down.

Bill black, light blue at the base; cere greenish-yellow; eye-brow
greenish-blue. Iris reddish-orange. Feet yellow. The general colour of
the upper parts is dark ash-grey; the upper part of the head and the
ear-coverts are greyish-black; a broad line of white over each eye; a
central line on each feather black, as is the case with those of the
neck and back; under parts greyish-white; the sides and abdomen tinged
with brown; fore-neck longitudinally marked with blackish-brown streaks;
the breast, sides, and belly transversely barred with blackish-grey,
and longitudinally lined with black; tail with five broad bands of
brownish-black, the terminal band much broader; the extreme tips whitish.

Length 24 inches, extent of wings 47. Weight 2½ lb.


Young Male. Plate CXLI. Fig. 2.

Bill as in the adult. Iris light-yellow. Feet greenish-yellow. The
general colour of the upper parts is light reddish-brown, largely spotted
with brownish-black; on the upper part of the head, the margins of the
feathers are brownish-red, and the black predominates; a broad band
of white over each eye. Quills lightish-brown, barred with a darker
colour; tail brownish-grey, banded with brownish-black; ear-coverts
brownish, streaked with black, as is the throat; fore-neck and breast
pale reddish-brown, the former marked with small oblong spots of dark
brown, the latter with large ovate, acuminate spots of a deeper tint;
the shafts black; the short tarsal feathers similarly spotted.

Length 21½ inches; extent of wings 46.


The Female agrees with the Male in external appearance, but is
considerably larger.


STANLEY HAWK. FALCO STANLEII, _Audub._

An Adult Female and a Young Male of this species have been represented
in Plate XXXVI. of my American Birds, and the figure of an Adult Male is
here introduced, for the purpose of being compared with the Goshawk. The
form is the same in both, and in the colouring of the upper parts there
is little difference; but the size is much less, and the breast is marked
with light-brown arrow-shaped spots, and large irregular transverse bars,
differing greatly from the markings of the Goshawk. Other differences
are perceptible, especially in the colour of the ear-coverts; but as
this specimen has been described at page 189 of the first volume, and
as a glance at the figures in the plate will convey more intelligence
than words could do, it is quite unnecessary to say more here.




THE AMERICAN SPARROW-HAWK.

_FALCO SPARVERIUS_, LINN.

PLATE CXLII. MALE AND FEMALE.


We have few more beautiful hawks in the United States than this active
little species, and I am sure, none half so abundant. It is found in every
district from Louisiana to Maine, as well as from the Atlantic shores to
the western regions. Every one knows the Sparrow-Hawk, the very mention
of its name never fails to bring to mind some anecdote connected with
its habits, and, as it commits no depredations on poultry, few disturb
it, so that the natural increase of the species experiences no check from
man. During the winter months especially it may be seen in the Southern
States about every old field, orchard, barn-yard, or kitchen-garden,
but seldom indeed in the interior of the forest.

Beautifully erect, it stands on the highest fence-stake, the broken
top of a tree, the summit of a grain stack, or the corner of the barn,
patiently and silently waiting until it spy a mole, a field-mouse, a
cricket, or a grasshopper, on which to pounce. If disappointed in its
expectation, it leaves its stand and removes to another, flying low
and swiftly until within a few yards of the spot on which it wishes to
alight, when all of a sudden, and in the most graceful manner, it rises
towards it and settles with incomparable firmness of manner, merely
suffering its beautiful tail to vibrate gently for a while, its wings
being closed with the swiftness of thought. Its keen eye perceives
something beneath, when down it darts, secures the object in its talons,
returns to its stand, and devours its prey piece by piece. This done,
the little hunter rises in the air, describes a few circles, moves on
directly, balances itself steadily by a tremulous motion of its wings,
darts towards the earth, but, as if disappointed, checks its course,
reascends and proceeds. Some unlucky finch crosses the field beneath
it. The Hawk has marked it, and, anxious to secure its prize, sweeps
after it; the chase is soon ended, for the poor affrighted and panting
bird becomes the prey of the ruthless hunter, who, unconscious of wrong,
carries it off to some elevated branch of a tall tree, plucks it neatly,
tears the flesh asunder, and having eaten all that it can pick, allows
the skeleton and wings to fall to the ground, where they may apprise
the traveller that a murder has been committed.

Thus, reader, are the winter months spent by this little marauder. When
spring returns to enliven the earth, each male bird seeks for its mate,
whose coyness is not less innocent than that of the gentle dove. Pursued
from place to place, the female at length yields to the importunity of
her dear tormenter, when side by side they sail, screaming aloud their
love notes, which if not musical, are doubtless at least delightful to
the parties concerned. With tremulous wings they search for a place in
which to deposit their eggs secure from danger, and now they have found
it.

On that tall mouldering headless trunk, the hawks have alighted side by
side. See how they caress each other! Mark! The female enters the deserted
Woodpecker's hole, where she remains some time measuring its breadth and
depth. Now she appears, exultingly calls her mate, and tells him there
could not be a fitter place. Full of joy they gambol through the air,
chase all intruders away, watch the Grakles and other birds to which the
hole might be equally pleasing, and so pass the time, until the female
has deposited her eggs, six, perhaps even seven in number, round, and
beautifully spotted. The birds sit alternately, each feeding the other
and watching with silent care. After a while the young appear, covered
with white down. They grow apace, and now are ready to go abroad, when
their parents entice them forth. Some launch into the air at once, others,
not so strong, now and then fall to the ground; but all continue to be
well provided with food, until they are able to shift for themselves.
Together they search for grasshoppers, crickets, and such young birds
as, less experienced than themselves, fall an easy prey. The family
still resort to the same field, each bird making choice of a stand, the
top of a tree, or that of the Great Mullein. At times they remove to the
ground, then fly off in a body, separate, and again betake themselves to
their stands. Their strength increases, their flight improves, and the
field-mouse seldom gains her retreat before the little Falcon secures
it for a meal.

The trees, of late so richly green, now disclose the fading tints of
autumn; the cricket becomes mute, the grasshopper withers on the fences,
the mouse retreats to her winter quarters, dismal clouds obscure the
eastern horizon, the sun assumes a sickly dimness, hoarfrosts cover the
ground, and the long night encroaches on the domains of light. No longer
are heard the feathered choristers of the woods, who throng towards more
congenial climes, and in their rear rushes the Sparrow-Hawk.

Its flight is rather irregular, nor can it be called protracted. It flies
over a field, but seldom farther at a time; even in barren lands, a few
hundred yards are all the extent it chooses to go before it alights.
During the love season alone it may be seen sailing for half an hour,
which is, I believe, the longest time I ever saw one on the wing. When
chasing a bird, it passes along with considerable celerity, but never
attains the speed of the Sharp-shinned Hawk or of other species. When
teazing an Eagle or a Turkey Buzzard, its strength seems to fail in a
few minutes, and if itself chased by a stronger hawk, it soon retires
into some thicket for protection. Its migrations are pursued by day,
and with much apparent nonchalance.

The cry of this bird so much resembles that of the European Kestrel,
to which it seems allied, that, were it rather stronger in intonation,
it might be mistaken for it. At times it emits its notes while perched,
but principally when on the wing, and more continually before and after
the birth of its young, the weaker cries of which it imitates when they
have left the nest and follow their parents.

The Sparrow Hawk does not much regard the height of the place in which
it deposits its eggs, provided it be otherwise suitable, but I never saw
it construct a nest for itself. It prefers the hole of a Woodpecker, but
now and then is satisfied with an abandoned crow's nest. So prolific
is it, that I do not recollect having ever found fewer than five eggs
or young in the nest, and, as I have already said, the number sometimes
amounts to seven. The eggs are nearly globular, of a deep buff-colour,
blotched all over with dark brown and black. This Hawk sometimes raises
two broods in the season, in the Southern States, where in fact it may
be said to be a constant resident; but in the Middle and Eastern States,
seldom if ever more than one. Nay, I have thought that in the South the
eggs of a laying are more numerous than in the North, although of this
I am not quite certain.

So much attached are they to their stand, that they will return to it
and sit there by preference for months in succession. My friend BACHMAN
informed me that, through this circumstance, he has caught as many as
seven in the same field, each from its favourite stump.

Although the greater number of these Hawks remove southward at the
approach of winter, some remain even in the State of New York during the
severest weather of that season. These keep in the immediate neighbourhood
of barns, where now and then they secure a rat or a mouse for their
support. Sometimes this species is severely handled by the larger Hawks.
One of them who had caught a Sparrow, and was flying off with it, was
suddenly observed by a Red-tailed Hawk, which in a few minutes made it
drop its prey: this contented the pursuer and enabled the pursued to
escape.

THEODORE LINCOLN, Esq. of Dennisville, Maine, informed me that the
Sparrow-Hawk is in the habit of attacking the Republican Swallow, while
sitting on its eggs, deliberately tearing the bottle-neck-like entrance
of its curious nest, and seizing the occupant for its prey. This is as
fit a place as any to inform you, that the father of that gentleman,
who has resided at Dennisville upwards of forty years, found the swallow
just mentioned abundant there, on his arrival in that then wild portion
of the country.

In the Floridas the Sparrow-Hawk pairs as early as February, in the
Middle States about April, and in the northern parts of Maine seldom
before June. Few are seen in Nova Scotia, and none in Newfoundland, or
on the western coast of Labrador. Although abundant in the interior of
East Florida, I did not observe one on any of the keys which border the
coast of that singular peninsula. During one of my journeys down the
Mississippi, I frequently observed some of these birds standing on low
dead branches over the water, from which they would pick up the beetles
that had accidentally fallen into the stream.

No bird can be more easily raised and kept than this beautiful Hawk.
I once found a young male that had dropped from the nest before it was
able to fly. Its cries for food attracted my notice, and I discovered
it lying near a log. It was large, and covered with soft white down,
through which the young feathers protruded. Its little blue bill and yet
grey eyes made it look not unlike an owl. I took it home, named it Nero,
and provided it with small birds, at which it would scramble fiercely,
although yet unable to tear their flesh, in which I assisted it. In a
few weeks it grew very beautiful, and became so voracious, requiring a
great number of birds daily, that I turned it out, to see how it would
shift for itself. This proved a gratification to both of us: it soon
hunted for grasshoppers and other insects, and on returning from my
walks I now and then threw a dead bird high in the air, which it never
failed to perceive from its stand, and towards which it launched with
such quickness as sometimes to catch it before it fell to the ground. The
little fellow attracted the notice of his brothers, brought up hard by,
who, accompanied by their parents, at first gave it chase, and forced
it to take refuge behind one of the window-shutters, where it usually
passed the night, but soon became gentler towards it, as if forgiving
its desertion. My bird was fastidious in the choice of food, would not
touch a Woodpecker, however fresh, and as he grew older, refused to eat
birds that were in the least tainted. To the last he continued kind to
me, and never failed to return at night to his favourite roost behind
the window-shutter. His courageous disposition often amused the family,
as he would sail off from his stand, and fall on the back of a tame
duck, which, setting up a loud quack, would waddle off in great alarm
with the Hawk sticking to her. But, as has often happened to adventurers
of similar spirit, his audacity cost him his life. A hen and her brood
chanced to attract his notice, and he flew to secure one of the chickens,
but met one whose parental affection inspired her with a courage greater
than his own. The conflict, which was severe, ended the adventures of
poor Nero.

I have often observed birds of this species in the Southern States, and
more especially in the Floridas, which were so much smaller than those met
with in the Middle and Northern Districts, that I felt almost inclined
to consider them different; but after studying their habits and voice,
I became assured that they were the same. Another species allied to the
present, and alluded to by WILSON, has never made its appearance in our
Southern States.


FALCO SPARVERIUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 128.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 42.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds
of the United States, p. 27.

AMERICAN SPARROW-HAWK, FALCO SPARVERIUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith.
vol. ii. p. 117. pl. 16. fig. 1, Female; and vol. iv. p. 57.
pl. 32. fig. 2, Male.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 58.

FALCO SPARVERIUS, LITTLE RUSTY-CROWNED FALCON, _Swains. and
Richards._ Fauna Bor.-Amer. part ii. p. 31.


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

Bill short, cerate at the base, the dorsal line curved in its whole
length; upper mandible with the edges slightly inflected, and forming
a small projecting process, the tip trigonal, acute, descending; lower
mandible inflected at the edges, with a notch near the end, which is
abrupt. Nostrils roundish, with a central papilla, and placed close to
the edge of the cere. Head rather large, flattened, neck short, body of
moderate size. Legs of ordinary length; tarsi roundish with two rows
of large scales before, three only below being transverse, with small
scales on the sides; toes scutellate above, scabrous and tuberculate
beneath; middle toe much longer than the outer, which is connected with
it by a small web; claws longish, curved, rounded, very acute.

Plumage compact on the back, blended on the head and under parts. Feathers
of the head and neck narrow, of the breast oblong, of the back broad and
rounded. Space between the bill and eye covered with bristly feathers.
Wings long, much pointed, the primaries tapering, the second and third
with their outer webs, the first and second their inner ones sinuated;
second quill longest. Tail long, moderately rounded, of twelve rather
narrow, rounded feathers.

Bill light blue, the tip black, the cere yellow. Iris brown. Feet yellow;
claws black. A circular patch of deep orange-brown on the crown of the
head, which is surrounded by a band of dark greyish-blue, with which is
in contact a black spot on the nape; a patch of black descends from the
fore part of the eye, another immediately behind it, the cheek between
them being white, and there is a third farther back, and surrounded by
pale brown. A narrow line between the forehead and the bill, and another
over the eye, white. The back and scapulars are brownish-red, with a few
transverse black bars, the rump unspotted and deeper. Tail of the same
colour as the rump, with a broad sub-terminal band of black, the tips
white, as is the outer web of the lateral feather, which on its inner
web has five black bars (including the sub-terminal one), the spaces
between them white. The next feather has also frequently a few marks of
black and white. The wing-coverts are greyish-blue, spotted with black.
Quills brownish-black, their inner webs transversely spotted with white.
The throat, hind part of the belly, and under tail-coverts, white; the
breast brownish-white, its fore part and sides, with the lower part of
the neck, marked with guttiform black spots. Under wing-coverts white,
spotted with black.

Length 12 inches, extent of wings 22; bill along the back ¾; tarsus
1-5/12; middle toe and claw 1-3/12.


Adult Female. Plate CXLII. Fig. 3.

The female is similarly coloured, but the crown of the head is marked
with longitudinal black lines, and the back, which is of a duller tint,
with regular transverse bars of the same. The tail is barred with black,
the subterminal bar not nearly so broad as in the male, and the tips
brownish-white. The under surface is like that of the male, but the
breast and flanks are marked with oblong pale yellowish-brown streaks,
the spots on the inner webs of the quills are pale brown.

Length 12 inches.


THE BUTTER-NUT, OR WHITE WALNUT.

JUGLANS CINEREA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 456. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 626.—J. CATHARTICA, _Mich._
Arbr. Forest. vol. i. p. 165. pl. 2.

In this species the leaflets are numerous, serrated, rounded at the
base, downy beneath, their petiols villous; the fruit oblongo-ovate,
with a long nipple-like apex, which is grooved and rough. It is often a
graceful tree, growing to the height of fifty feet or more. The wood is
light coloured, but is not much used. The nuts, when young and tender,
make a pickle which is relished in many parts of the Union. It does not
occur in Maine, but farther south is abundant, as well as in the western
country.




THE GOLDEN-CROWNED THRUSH.

_TURDUS AUROCAPILLUS_, LATH.

PLATE CXLIII. MALE AND FEMALE.


It is difficult for me to conceive the reasons which have induced certain
naturalists to remove this bird from the Thrushes, and place it in the
genus Sylvia. The habits of a bird certainly are as sure indications of
its nature, as the form of its bill or feet can be; and while the latter
afford no good grounds for rejecting this species as a Thrush, the former
are decidedly favourable to its remaining where its discoverer placed it.

The Golden-crowned Thrush nestles on the ground, where, certes, the nest
of no true Sylvia has ever been found, at least in America; it searches
for food as much there as on the branches of trees; and its young follow
it for nearly a week before they resort to the latter, although quite
able to fly. But differences of opinion, such as that occurring in the
present case, are of little interest to me, and cannot influence Nature,
whom alone I follow, in her arrangements.

The notes of this bird are first heard in Louisiana, about the beginning
of March. Some individuals remain there all summer, but the greater
number proceed eastward, some going as far as Nova Scotia, while others
move towards the west. Over all this extent of country the species is
dispersed, and its breeding places are in the interior or along the
margins of shady woods watered by creeks and rivulets, and seldom visited
by man, it being of a shy and retiring disposition, so that its occurrence
in the open parts of the country is very rare. In places like these, it
settles for the season, attunes its pipe to its simple lay, forms its
nest, rears a brood or two, and at the approach of winter, spreads its



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 25 of 56)