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seven miles, and navigable so far by vessels not exceeding fifty or
sixty tons. After breakfast, our amiable host shewed us the way to the
celebrated spring, the sight of which afforded me pleasure sufficient
to counterbalance the tediousness of my journey.

This spring presents a circular basin, having a diameter of about sixty
feet, from the centre of which the water is thrown up with great force,
although it does not rise to a height of more than a few inches above the
general level. A kind of whirlpool is formed, on the edges of which are
deposited vast quantities of shells, with pieces of wood, gravel, and
other substances, which have coalesced into solid masses having a very
curious appearance. The water is quite transparent, although of a dark
colour, but so impregnated with sulphur, that it emits an odour which
to me was highly nauseous. Its surface lies fifteen or twenty feet below
the level of the woodland lakes in the neighbourhood, and its depth, in
the autumnal months, is about seventeen feet, when the water is lowest.
In all the lakes, the same species of shells as those thrown up by the
spring, occur in abundance, and it seems more than probable that it is
formed of the water collected from them by infiltration, or forms the
subterranean outlet of some of them. The lakes themselves are merely
reservoirs, containing the residue of the waters which fall during the
rainy seasons, and contributing to supply the waters of the St John
River, with which they all seem to communicate by similar means. This
spring pours its waters into "Rees's Lake," through a deep and broad
channel, called Spring Garden Creek. This channel is said to be in some
places fully sixty feet deep, but it becomes more shallow as you advance
towards the entrance of the lake, at which you are surprised to find
yourself on a mud flat covered only by about fifteen inches of water,
under which the depositions from the spring lie to a depth of four or
five feet in the form of the softest mud, while under this again is
a bed of fine white sand. When this mud is stirred up by the oars of
your boat or otherwise, it appears of a dark green colour, and smells
strongly of sulphur. At all times it sends up numerous babbles of air,
which probably consist of sulphuretted hydrogen gas.

The mouth of this curious spring is calculated to be two and a half
feet square; and the velocity of its water, during the rainy season, is
three feet per second. This would render the discharge per hour about
499,500 gallons. Colonel REES showed us the remains of another spring
of the same kind, which had dried up from some natural cause.

My companion the Engineer having occupation for another day, I requested
Colonel REES to accompany me in his boat towards the River St John,
which I was desirous of seeing, as well as the curious country in its
neighbourhood. He readily agreed, and, after an early breakfast next
morning, we set out, accompanied by two servants to manage the boat. As
we crossed Rees's Lake, I observed that its north-eastern shores were
bounded by a deep swamp, covered by a rich growth of tall cypresses,
while the opposite side presented large marshes and islands ornamented
by pines, live-oaks, and orange trees. With the exception of a very
narrow channel, the creek was covered with nympheæ, and in its waters
swam numerous alligators, while Ibises, Gallinules, Anhingas, Coots,
and Cormorants, were seen pursuing their avocations on its surface or
along its margins. Over our heads the Fish Hawks were sailing, and on
the broken trees around we saw many of their nests.

We followed Spring Garden Creek for about two miles and a half, and
passed a mud bar, before we entered "Dexter's Lake." The bar was stuck
full of unios in such profusion, that each time the Negroes thrust their
hands into the mud they took up several. According to their report, these
shellfish are quite unfit for food. In this lake the water had changed
its hue, and assumed a dark chestnut colour, although it was still
transparent. The depth was very uniformly five feet, and the extent of
the lake was about eight miles by three. Having crossed it, we followed
the creek, and soon saw the entrance of Woodruff's Lake, which empties
its still darker waters into the St John's River.

I here shot a pair of curious Ibises, which you will find described in
my fourth volume, and landed on a small island covered with wild orange
trees, the luxuriance and freshness of which were not less pleasing to
the sight, than the perfume of their flowers was to the smell. The group
seemed to me like a rich bouquet formed by nature to afford consolation
to the weary traveller, cast down by the dismal scenery of swamps, and
pools, and rank grass, around him. Under the shade of these beautiful
evergreens, and amidst the golden fruits that covered the ground, while
the humming birds fluttered over our heads, we spread our cloth on the
grass, and with a happy and thankful heart I refreshed myself with the
bountiful gifts of an ever-careful Providence. Colonel REES informed
me that this charming retreat was one of the numerous _terræ incognitæ_
of this region of lakes, and that it should henceforth bear the name of
"Audubon's Isle."

In conclusion, let me inform you, that the spring has been turned to
good account by my generous host Colonel REES, who, aided by my amiable
companion the Engineer, has directed its current so as to turn a mill,
which suffices to grind the whole of his sugar cane.




THE FISH-CROW.

_CORVUS OSSIFRAGUS_, WILS.

PLATE CXLVI. MALE AND FEMALE.


This may be said to be the only species of _Black Bird_ found in the
United States, that is not constantly subjected to persecution. You
would suppose it fully aware of its privileges, were you to witness
the liveliness of its motions, and to listen to its continued chatter.
While the Raven and the Common Crow are ever on the watch to escape the
effects of the enmity which man harbours towards them, the Fish-Crow pays
little attention to him as he approaches, and even enters his garden to
feed on his best fruits. Hundreds are seen to alight on the trees near
the towns and cities placed along our southern shores; many fly over
or walk about the pools and rivers, and all pursue their avocations
without apprehension of danger from the lords of the land. This sense
of security arises entirely from the circumstance that man generally
believes the bird to be perfectly inoffensive, and glad am I, reader,
that it at least bears so good a character.

The Fish-Crow is almost entirely confined to the maritime districts of
the Southern States, and there it abounds at all seasons. Those which
migrate proceed to the eastward about the beginning of April, and some
go as far as New York, where they are, however, rather rare. They ascend
the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, nearly up to its source, and some
breed in the State of Jersey every year; but all return to the south
at the approach of cold weather. Some go up the Mississippi for four
or five hundred miles, but I have not seen any higher on that stream,
which they generally leave to return to the vicinity of the sea-shore,
in the winter season. In East Florida, where they abound, I found them
breeding in February, in South Carolina about the 20th of March, and in
New Jersey a month later.

While on the St John's River in Florida, during the month of February,
I saw flocks of Fish-Crows, consisting of several hundred individuals,
sailing high in the air, somewhat in the manner of the Raven, when the
whole appeared paired, for I could see that, although in such numbers,
each pair moved distinctly apart. These aërial excursions would last for
hours, during the calm of a fine morning, after which the whole would
descend toward the water, to pursue their more usual avocations in all
the sociability of their nature. When their fishing, which lasted about
half an hour, was over, they would alight in flocks on the live oaks and
other trees near the shores, and there keep up their gabbling, pluming
themselves for hours. Once more they returned to their fishing-grounds,
where they remained until about an hour from sunset, when they made for
the interior, often proceeding thirty or forty miles, to roost together
in the trees of the Loblolly Pine. They scarcely utter a single note
during this retreat, but no sooner does the first glimmer of day appear
than the woods around echo to their matin cries of gratulation. They
depart at once for the sea-shores, noisy, lively, and happy. Now you
find them busily engaged over the bays and rivers, the wharfs, and even
the salt-ponds and marshes, searching for small fry, which they easily
secure with their claws as they pass close over the water, and picking
up any sort of garbage suited to their appetite.

Like the Raven, the Common Crow, or the Grakle, the Fish-Crow robs
other birds of their eggs and young. I observed this particularly on
the Florida Keys, where they even dared to plunder the nests of the
Cormorant (_Carbo Graculus_) and White Ibis, waiting with remarkable
patience, perched in the neighbourhood, until these birds left their
charge. They also frequently alight on large mud flats bordering the
salt-water marshes, for the purpose of catching the small crabs called
_Fiddlers_. This they do with ease, by running after them or digging
them out of the muddy burrows into which they retire at the approach of
danger. I have frequently been amused, while standing on the "Levée" at
New Orleans, to see the alacrity and audacity with which they pursued
and attacked the smaller Gulls and Terns, to force them to disgorge the
small fish caught by them within sight of the Crows, which, with all
the tyrannical fierceness of the Lestris, would chase the sea birds
with open bill, and extended feet and claws, dashing towards their
victims with redoubled ardour, the farther they attempted to retreat.
But as most gulls are greatly superior in flight to the Crow, the black
tyrants are often frustrated in their attempts, and obliged to return,
and seek their food in the eddies by their own industry. They are able
to catch fish alive with considerable dexterity, but cannot feed on the
wing, and for that purpose are obliged to retire to some tree, stake,
or sandbank, and like the Common Crow, the Magpie, and the Cow Bunting,
they sometimes alight on the backs of cattle, to search there for the
larvæ which frequently harbour in their skin.

During winter and spring, the Fish-crows are very fond of feeding on
many kinds of berries. After the frosts have imparted a rich flavour
to those of the cassina (_Ilex Cassina_), they are seen feeding on them
in flocks often amounting to more than a hundred individuals. They are
also fond of the berries of the holly (_Ilex opaca_), and of those of
an exotic tree now naturalized in South Carolina, and plentiful about
Charleston, the tallow-tree (_Stillingia sebifera_). The seeds of this
tree, which is originally from China, are of a white colour when ripe,
and contain a considerable quantity of an oily substance. In the months
of January and February, these trees are covered by the crows, which
greedily devour the berries. As spring advances, and the early fruits
ripen, the Fish-crows become fond of the mulberry, and select the
choicest of the ripe figs, more especially when they are feeding their
young. A dozen are often seen at a time, searching for the tree which
has the best figs, and so troublesome do they become in the immediate
vicinity of Charleston, that it is found necessary to station a man near
a fig-tree with a gun, not to burn powder to drive the Crows away by
the smell, but to fire in good earnest at them. They eat pears also, as
well as various kinds of huckleberries (_Vaccinium_), and I have seen
them feeding on the berries of at least one species of smilax.

In the Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas, this species usually breeds
on moderate-sized trees of the loblolly pine (_Pinus Tæda_), making its
nest generally about twenty or thirty feet from the ground, towards the
extremities of the branches. In the State of New Jersey, where they are
frequently killed in common with the larger crow, in whose company they
are often found, they are more careful, and place their nests in the
interior of the deepest and most secluded swamps. The nest is smaller than
that of the Common Crow, and is composed of sticks, moss, and grasses,
neatly finished or lined with fibrous roots. The eggs are from four to
six, and resemble those of the Common American Crow, but are smaller.
I once found several nests of this crow a few miles from Philadelphia,
in the State of Jersey, which were placed on high oaks and other trees.
The birds when disturbed, evinced much concern for the safety of their
brood. Although I have found this species breeding in different districts,
from February till May, I am unable to say decidedly whether it raises
more than one brood in the year, although I am of opinion that it does
not.

The common note of the Fish-Crow is different from that of the other
species of the genus, resembling the syllables _ha, ha, hae_, frequently
repeated. At times the sound of their voice seems as if a faint mimicry
of that of the Common Crow; at others, one would suppose that they are
troubled with a cough or cold. During the breeding season, their notes
are much varied, and are not disagreeable.

Their flight is strong and protracted. While searching for food, these
birds hover at a moderate height over the water; but when they rise in
the air, to amuse themselves, they often reach a great elevation. While
on the ground, their movements are graceful, and resemble those of the
Boat-tailed Grakle. Like the other crows, they are fond of replacing
their wings, as it were, in their proper situations, frequently opening
them out a little, and instantly closing them again.

On several occasions, when one of these birds had been wounded, I
found, on approaching it, that it had the power of disgorging its food
somewhat in the manner of the Turkey Buzzard. When one is thus wounded,
its companions come sailing over you, with a loud scream, in the manner
of gulls, so that several may be brought down by an expert marksman, as
they are not easily intimidated at such times. Indeed, this species is
easily approached, and may be killed without difficulty. I have known
fifteen of them shot at once, while feeding on the cassina berries.

During winter, when they are chiefly frugivorous, they become extremely
fat and very tender. Their pouch-like stomach, although large, is not
muscular; the intestines are large and baggy. Very few are bare on the
lower mandible; perhaps among a hundred which I have examined, not more
than six or seven exhibited this nakedness, without removing the feathers
of that part with the hand.

I have represented a pair on a branch of the Honey-locust, already
figured in my first volume, but here represented with its matured fruit.


CORVUS OSSIFRAGUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 57.

FISH-CROW, CORVUS OSSIFRAGUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. v.
p. 27. pl. 37. fig. 2.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 216.


Adult Male. Plate CXLVI. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, straight, robust, somewhat compressed; upper mandible with
the dorsal line arched and declinate, the sides concave at the base, flat
in the middle, the edges slightly inflected, the tip declinate; lower
mandible straight, the dorsal line slightly convex, the sides at the
base flat, towards the end rounded, the edges inclinate. Nostrils basal,
lateral, round, covered by bristly feathers. Head large, neck short, body
moderate. Legs of moderate length, strong, tarsus compressed, covered
anteriorly with scutella, sharp behind; toes united at the base, the
middle toe long, the outer longer than the inner, the hind toe robust;
claws rather large, arched, compressed, acute, channelled beneath.

Plumage soft, highly glossed, on the head and neck blended, on the
back compact. Stiff bristly feathers, with disunited barbs over the
nostrils, directed forwards and adpressed. Wings long, first primary
short, third longest, fourth little shorter, seventh equal to first;
primaries tapering, second, third, fourth, and fifth, slightly cut out
on the outer web; secondaries broad, rounded with a minute acumen.

Tail of moderate length, slightly rounded, of twelve straight feathers.

Beak, tarsi, toes, and claws, black. Iris dark brown. The general colour
of the plumage is deep black, with blue and purple reflections above,
blue and greenish beneath; the colouring being almost the same as that
of the Common American Crow.

Length 16 inches, extent of wings 33; bill along the back 1-11/12; tarsus
1¾; middle toe and claw 1-11/12.


Adult Female. Plate CXLVI. Fig. 2.

The female is considerably smaller, but resembles the male in plumage,
although the gloss not quite so rich, and the reflections more brown on
the upper parts.

Length 15 inches, extent of wings 31.


THE HONEY LOCUST.

GLEDITSCHIA TRIACANTHOS, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 1097.
_Pursh_, Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 221.—POLYGAMIA DIŒCIA, _Linn._
LEGUMINOSÆ, _Juss._

See Vol. I. p. 226.




THE NIGHT-HAWK.

_CAPRIMULGUS VIRGINIANUS_, BRISS.

PLATE CXLVII. MALE AND FEMALE.


The name of this bird disagrees with the most marked characteristics of
its habits, for it may be seen, and has frequently been seen, on the
wing, during the greater part of the day, even when the atmosphere is
perfectly pure and clear, and while the sun is shining in all its glory.
It is equally known that the Night-Hawk retires to rest shortly after
dusk, at the very time when the loud notes of the Whip-poor-will, or
those of the Chuck-will's-widow, both of which are nocturnal ramblers,
are heard echoing from the places to which these birds resort.

About the 1st of April, the Night-Hawk makes its appearance in the
lower parts of Louisiana, on its way eastward. None of them breed in
that State, or in that of Mississippi, nor I am inclined to believe any
where south of the neighbourhood of Charleston, in South Carolina. The
species is, however, seen in all the Southern States, on its passage to
and from those of the east. The Night-Hawks pass with so much comparative
swiftness over Louisiana in the spring, that in a few days after their
first appearance none are to be seen; nor are any to be found there until
their return in autumn, when, on account of the ample supply of food they
still meet with at this late season, they remain several weeks, gleaning
the insects off the cotton fields, waste lands, or sugar plantations,
and gambolling over the prairies, lakes or rivers, from morning till
night. Their return from the Middle Districts varies according to the
temperature of the season, from the 15th of August to late in October.

Their migrations are carried on over so great an extent, and that so
loosely, that you might conceive it their desire to glean the whole
country, as they advance with a front extending from the mouths of the
Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, passing in this manner from the south
far beyond our eastern boundary lines. Thus they are enabled to disperse
and breed throughout the whole Western and Eastern States, from South
Carolina to Maine. On their way they may be seen passing over our cities
and villages, alighting on the trees that embellish our streets, and
even on chimney tops, from which they are heard to squeak their sharp
notes, to the amusement or surprise of those who observe them.

I have seen this species in the British Provinces of New Brunswick and
Nova Scotia, where they remain so late as the beginning of October, but
I observed none in Newfoundland, or on the shores of Labrador. In going
north, their appearance in the Middle States is about the first of May;
but they seldom reach Maine before June.

The Night-Hawk has a firm, light, and greatly prolonged flight. In dull
cloudy weather, it may be seen on the wing during the whole day, and is
more clamorous than at any other time. The motions of its wings while
flying are peculiarly graceful, and the playfulness which it evinces
renders its flight quite interesting. The bird appears to glide through
the air with all imaginable ease, assisting its ascent, or supporting
itself on high, by irregular hurried flappings performed at intervals,
as if it had unexpectedly fallen in with its prey, pursued, and seized
it. Its onward motion is then continued. It moves in this manner, either
upwards in circles, emitting a loud sharp squeak at the beginning of
each sudden start it takes, or straight downwards, then to the right or
left whether high or low, as it presses onward, now skimming closely over
the rivers, lakes, or shores of the Atlantic, and again wending its way
over the forests or mountain tops. During the love season its mode of
flight is particularly interesting: the male may be said to court his
mate entirely on the wing, strutting as it were through the air, and
performing a variety of evolutions with the greatest ease and elegance,
insomuch that no bird with which I am acquainted can rival it in this
respect.

It frequently raises itself a hundred yards, sometimes much more, and
apparently in the same careless manner already mentioned, its squeaking
notes becoming louder and more frequent the higher it ascends; when,
checking its course, it at once glides obliquely downwards, with wings
and tail half closed, and with such rapidity that a person might easily
conceive it to be about to dash itself against the ground. But when
close to the earth, often at no greater distance than a few feet, it
instantaneously stretches out its wings, so as to be nearly directed
downwards at right angles with the body, expands its tail, and thus
suddenly checks its downward career. It then brushes as it were, through
the air, with inconceivable force, in a semicircular line of a few yards
in extent. This is the moment when the singular noise produced by this
bird is heard, for the next instant it rises in an almost perpendicular
course, and soon begins anew this curious mode of courtship. The
concussion caused, at the time the bird passes the centre of its plunge,
by the new position of its wings, which are now brought almost instantly
to the wind, like the sails of a ship suddenly thrown aback, is the cause
of this singular noise. The female does not produce this, although she
frequently squeaks whilst on the wing.

Sometimes, when several males are paying their addresses to the same
female, the sight of those beaux plunging through the air in different
directions, is curious and highly entertaining. This play is quickly
over, however, for no sooner has the female made her choice, than her
approved gives chase to all intruders, drives them beyond his dominions,
and returns with exultation, plunging and gambolling on the wing, but
with less force, and without nearing the ground.

In windy weather, and as the dusk of the evening increases, the Night-Hawk
flies lower and more swiftly than ever, making wide and irregular
deviations from its general course, to overtake an insect which its keen
eye has seen at a distance, after which it continues onward as before.
When darkness comes on, it alights either on the ground or on a tree,
where it spends the night, now and then uttering its squeak.

These birds can scarcely walk on the ground, on account of the small size
and position of their legs, which are placed very far back, for which
reason they cannot stand erect, but rest their breast on the ground, or
on the branch of a tree, on which they are obliged to alight sidewise.
They alight with ease, however, and squat on branches or fence-rails,
now and then on the tops of houses or barns. In all such positions they
are easily approached. I have neared them when on a fence or low wall to
within a few feet, when they would look upon me with their large mild
eyes more as a friend than an enemy, although they flew off the moment
they observed any thing suspicious in my movements. They now and then
squeak while thus seated, and when this happens when they are perched
on the trees of our cities, they seldom fail to attract the attention
of persons passing.

In Louisiana this species is called by the French Creoles "_Crapaud
volant_," in Virginia "_Bat_;" but the name by which it is most commonly
known is "_Night-Hawk_." The beauty and rapidity of its motions render it
a tempting object to sportsmen generally, and its flesh is by no means
unpalatable. Thousands are shot on their return to the south during the



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 27 of 56)