John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

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The Tennessee Warbler, _Sylvia peregrina_, 307
The Black-throated Blue Warbler, _Sylvia canadensis_, 309


The American Crow, _Corvus americanus_, 317
The Rusty Grakle, _Quiscalus ferrugineus_, 325
The Chimney Swallow, or American
Swift, _Cypselus pelasgius_, 329
The Cardinal Grosbeak, _Fringilla Cardinalis_, 336
The Carolina Titmouse, _Parus carolinensis_, 341


The Caracara Eagle, _Polyborus vulgaris_, 350
The Zenaida Dove, _Columba Zenaida_, 354
The Yellow Red-Poll Warbler, _Sylvia petechia_, 360
The Tawny Thrush, _Turdus Wilsonii_, 362
Bachman's Finch, _Fringilla Bachmanii_, 366


The Rough-legged Falcon, _Falco lagopus_, 377
The Key West Pigeon, _Columba montana_, 382
The Fork-tailed Flycatcher, _Muscicapa savana_, 387
The Mangrove Cuckoo, _Coccyzus Seniculus_, 390
The Pipiry Flycatcher, _Muscicapa dominicensis_, 392


The Barn Owl, _Strix flammea_, 403
The Blue-headed Pigeon, _Columba cyanocephala_, 411
The Barn Swallow, _Hirundo rustica_, 413
The Olive-sided Flycatcher, _Muscicapa Cooperi_, 422
Nuttall's Short-Billed Marsh Wren, _Troglodytes
brevirostris_, 427


The Spotted or Canada Grous, _Tetrao canadensis_, 437
White-headed Pigeon, _Columba leucocephala_, 443
The Orange-crowned Warbler, _Sylvia celata_, 440
The Wood Wren, _Troglodytes americana_, 452
The Pine Finch, _Fringilla pinus_, 455


The Golden Eagle, _Falco chrysaëtos_, 464
The Ground Dove, _Columba passerina_, 471
American Golden-crested Wren, _Regulus tricolor_, 476
The Mango Humming Bird, _Trochilus Mango_, 480
Bachman's Warbler, _Sylvia Bachmanii_, 483


The Pinnated Grous, _Tetrao Cupido_, 490
The Boat-tailed Grakle or Great
Crow Blackbird, _Quiscalus major_, 504
The Tree Sparrow, _Fringilla canadensis_, 511
The Snow Bunting, _Emberiza nivalis_, 515
The Yellow-bellied Woodpecker, _Picus varius_, 519


The Willow Grous, _Tetrao Saliceti_, 528
The Great Cinereous Shrike, _Lanius Excubitor_, 534
Lincoln's Finch, _Fringilla Lincolnii_, 539
The Hudson's Bay Titmouse, _Parus hudsonicus_, 543
The Ruby-crowned Regulus, _Regulus Calendula_, 546


The Iceland or Jer Falcon, _Falco islandicus_, 552
The Common Crossbill, _Loxia curvirostra_, 559
Swainson's Warbler, _Sylvia Swainsonii_, 563
The Little or Acadian Owl, _Strix acadica_, 567
The Shore Lark, _Alauda alpestris_, 570






Leaving to compilers the task of repeating the mass of fabulous and
unedifying matter that has been accumulated in the course of ages,
respecting this and other remarkable species of birds, and arranging the
materials which I have obtained during years of laborious but gratifying
observation, I now resume my attempts to delineate the manners of the
feathered denizens of our American woods and plains. In treating of the
birds represented in the Second Volume of my Plates, as I have done with
respect to those of the First, I will confine myself to the particulars
which I have been able to gather in the course of a life chiefly spent
in studying the birds of my native land, where I have had abundant
opportunities of contemplating their manners, and of admiring the
manifestations of the glorious perfections of their Omnipotent Creator.

There, amid the tall grass of the far-extended prairies of the West, in
the solemn forests of the North, on the heights of the midland mountains,
by the shores of the boundless ocean, and on the bosom of the vast lakes
and magnificent rivers, have I sought to search out the things which have
been hidden since the creation of this wondrous world, or seen only by
the naked Indian, who has, for unknown ages, dwelt in the gorgeous but
melancholy wilderness. Who is the stranger to my own dear country that
can form an adequate conception of the extent of its primeval woods,—of
the glory of those columnar trunks, that for centuries have waved in
the breeze, and resisted the shock of the tempest,—of the vast bays of
our Atlantic coasts, replenished by thousands of streams, differing in
magnitude, as differ the stars that sparkle in the expanse of the pure
heavens,—of the diversity of aspect in our western plains, our sandy
southern shores, interspersed with reedy swamps, and the cliffs that
protect our eastern coasts,—of the rapid currents of the Mexican Gulf,
and the rushing tide streams of the Bay of Fundy,—of our ocean-lakes,
our mighty rivers, our thundering cataracts, our majestic mountains,
rearing their snowy heads into the calm regions of the clear cold sky?
Would that I could delineate to you the varied features of that loved
land! But, unwilling, as I always am, to attempt the description of
objects beyond my comprehension, you will, I hope, allow me to tell you
all that I know of those which I have admired in youth, and studied in
manhood,—for the acquisition of which I have braved the enervating heats
of the south, and the cramping colds of the north, penetrated the tangled
cane-swamp, thrid the dubious trail of the silent forest, paddled my
frail canoe in the creeks of the marshy shore, and swept in my gallant
bark o'er the swelling waves of the ocean. And now, Kind Reader, let me
resume my descriptions, and proceed towards the completion of a task
which, with reverence would I say it, seems to have been imposed upon
me by Him who called me into existence.

In the United States, the Raven is in some measure a migratory bird,
individuals retiring to the extreme south during severe winters, but
returning towards the Middle, Western, and Northern Districts, at the
first indications of milder weather. A few are known to breed in the
mountainous portions of South Carolina, but instances of this kind are
rare, and are occasioned merely by the security afforded by inaccessible
precipices, in which they may rear their young. Their usual places of
resort are the mountains, the abrupt banks of rivers, the rocky shores
of lakes, and the cliffs of thinly-peopled or deserted islands. It is
in such places that these birds must be watched and examined, before
one can judge of their natural habits, as manifested amid their freedom
from the dread of their most dangerous enemy, the lord of the creation.

There, through the clear and rarified atmosphere, the Raven spreads
his glossy wings and tail, and, as he onward sails, rises higher and
higher each bold sweep that he makes, as if conscious that the nearer
he approaches the sun, the more splendent will become the tints of his
plumage. Intent on convincing his mate of the fervour and constancy of
his love, he now gently glides beneath her, floats in the buoyant air,
or sails by her side. Would that I could describe to you, reader, the
many musical inflections by means of which they hold converse during
these amatory excursions! These sounds doubtless express their pure
conjugal feelings, confirmed and rendered more intense by long years of
happiness in each other's society. In this manner they may recall the
pleasing remembrance of their youthful days, recount the events of their
life, express the pleasure they have enjoyed, and perhaps conclude with
humble prayer to the Author of their being for a continuation of it.

Now, their matins are over; the happy pair are seen to glide towards
the earth in spiral lines; they alight on the boldest summit of a rock,
so high that you can scarcely judge of their actual size; they approach
each other, their bills meet, and caresses are exchanged as tender as
those of the gentle Turtle Dove. Far beneath, wave after wave dashes in
foam against the impregnable sides of the rocky tower, the very aspect
of which would be terrific to almost any other creatures than the sable
pair, which for years have resorted to it, to rear the dearly-cherished
fruits of their connubial love. Midway between them and the boiling
waters, some shelving ledge conceals their eyry. To it they now betake
themselves, to see what damage it has sustained from the peltings of the
winter tempests. Off they fly to the distant woods for fresh materials
with which to repair the breach; or on the plain they collect the hair
and fur of quadrupeds; or from the sandy beach pick up the weeds that
have been washed there. By degrees, the nest is enlarged and trimmed,
and when every thing has been rendered clean and comfortable, the female
deposits her eggs, and begins to sit upon them, while her brave and
affectionate mate protects and feeds her, and at intervals takes her

All around is now silent, save the hoarse murmur of the waves, or the
whistling sounds produced by the flight of the waterfowl travelling
towards the northern regions. At length the young burst the shell, when
the careful parents, after congratulating each other on the happy event,
disgorge some half-macerated food, which they deposit in their tender
mouths. Should the most daring adventurer of the air approach, he is
attacked with fury and repelled. As the young grow up, they are urged to
be careful and silent:—a single false movement might precipitate them
into the abyss below; a single cry during the absence of their parents
might bring upon them the remorseless claws of the swift Peregrine or
Jerfalcon. The old birds themselves seem to improve in care, diligence,
and activity, varying their course when returning to their home, and often
entering it when unexpected. The young are now seen to stand on the edge
of the nest; they flap their wings, and at length take courage and fly
to some more commodious and not distant lodgment. Gradually they become able
to follow their parents abroad, and at length search for maintenance in
their company, and that of others, until the period of breeding arrives,
when they separate in pairs, and disperse.

Notwithstanding all the care of the Raven, his nest is invaded wherever
it is found. His usefulness is forgotten, his faults are remembered and
multiplied by imagination; and whenever he presents himself he is shot at,
because from time immemorial ignorance, prejudice, and destructiveness
have operated on the mind of man to his detriment. Men will peril their
lives to reach his nest, assisted by ropes and poles, alleging merely
that he has killed one of their numerous sheep or lambs. Some say they
destroy the Raven because he is black; others, because his croaking is
unpleasant and ominous! Unfortunate truly are the young ones that are
carried home to become the wretched pets of some ill-brought-up child!
For my part, I admire the Raven, because I see much in him calculated to
excite our wonder. It is true that he may sometimes hasten the death of
a half-starved sheep, or destroy a weakly lamb; he may eat the eggs of
other birds, or occasionally steal from the farmer some of those which
he calls his own; young fowls also afford precious morsels to himself
and his progeny;—but how many sheep, lambs, and fowls, are saved through
his agency! The more intelligent of our farmers are well aware that
the Raven destroys numberless insects, grubs, and worms; that he kills
mice, moles, and rats, whenever he can find them; that he will seize the
weasel, the young opossum, and the skunk; that, with the perseverance
of a cat, he will watch the burrows of foxes, and pounce on the cubs;
our farmers also are fully aware that he apprises them of the wolf's
prowlings around their yard, and that he never intrudes on their corn
fields except to benefit them;—yes, good reader, the farmer knows all this
well, but he also knows his power, and, interfere as you may, with tale
of pity or of truth, the bird is a Raven, and, as LAFONTAINE has aptly
and most truly said, "La loi du plus fort est toujours la meilleure!"

The flight of the Raven is powerful, even, and at certain periods greatly
protracted. During calm and fair weather it often ascends to an immense
height, sailing there for hours at a time; and although it cannot be
called swift, it propels itself with sufficient power to enable it
to contend with different species of hawks, and even with eagles when
attacked by them. It manages to guide its course through the thickest
fogs of the countries of the north, and is able to travel over immense
tracts of land or water without rest.

The Raven is omnivorous, its food consisting of small animals of every
kind, eggs, dead fish, carrion, shell-fish, insects, worms, nuts, berries,
and other kinds of fruit. I have never seen one attack a large living
animal, as the Turkey Buzzard and Carrion Crow are wont to do; but I
have known it follow hunters when without dogs, to feed on the offals of
the game, and carry off salted fish when placed in a spring to freshen.
It often rises in the air with a shell-fish for the purpose of breaking
it by letting it fall on a rock. Its sight is exceedingly acute, but
its smell, if it possess the sense, is weak. In this respect, it bears
a great resemblance to our vultures.

The breeding season of this bird varies, according to the latitude, from
the beginning of January to that of June. I have found young Ravens on
the banks of the Lehigh and the Susquehannah rivers on the 1st of May;
about ten days later on those of the majestic Hudson; in the beginning of
June on the island of Grand Manan off the Bay of Fundy; and at Labrador,
as late as the middle of July. The nest is always placed in the most
inaccessible part of rocks that can be found, never, I believe, on trees,
at least in America. It is composed of sticks, coarse weeds, wool, and
bunches of hair of different animals. The eggs are from four to six,
of a rather elongated oval shape, fully two inches in length, having
a ground colour of light greenish-blue, sprinkled all over with small
irregular blotches of light purple and yellowish-brown, so numerous on
the larger end, as almost entirely to cover it. The period of incubation
extends to nineteen or twenty days. Only one brood is raised in a year,
unless the eggs or young be removed or destroyed. The young remain in
the nest many weeks before they are able to fly. The old birds return
to the same nest for years in succession; and should one of them be
destroyed, the other will lead a new partner to the same abode. Even
after the young have made their appearance, should one of the parents
be killed, the survivor usually manages to find a mate, who undertakes
the task of assisting in feeding them.

The Raven may be said to be of a social disposition, for, after the
breeding season, flocks of forty, fifty, or more, may sometimes be
seen, as I observed on the coast of Labrador, and on the Missouri. When
domesticated, and treated with kindness, it becomes attached to its owner,
and will follow him about with all the familiarity of a confiding friend.
It is capable of imitating the human voice, so that individuals have
sometimes been taught to enunciate a few words with great distinctness.

On the ground the Raven walks in a stately manner, its motions exhibiting
a kind of thoughtful consideration, almost amounting to gravity. While
walking it frequently moves up its wings as if to keep their muscles in
action. I never knew an instance of their roosting in the woods, although
they frequently alight on trees, to which they sometimes resort for the
purpose of procuring nuts and other fruits. They usually betake themselves
at night to high rocks, in situations protected from the northerly
winds. Possessing to all appearance the faculty of judging of the coming
weather, they remove from the higher, wild and dreary districts where
they breed, into the low lands, at the approach of winter, when they
are frequently seen along the shores of the sea, collecting the garbage
that has been cast to land, or picking up the shell-fish as the tide
retires. They are vigilant, industrious, and, when the safety of their
young or nest is at stake, courageous, driving away hawks and eagles
whenever they happen to come near, although in no case do they venture
to attack man. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to get within shot of
an old Raven. I have more than once been only a few yards from one while
it was sitting on its eggs, having attained this proximity by creeping
cautiously to the overhanging edge of a precipice; but the moment the
bird perceived me, it would fly off apparently in much confusion. They
are so cunning and wary, that they can seldom be caught in a trap; and
they will watch one intended for a fox, a wolf, or a bear, until one of
these animals comes up, and is taken, when they will go to it and eat
the alluring bait.

While at Little Macatina Harbour, on the coast of Labrador, in July
1833, I saw a Raven's nest placed under the shelvings of the rugged and
fearful rocks that form one side of that singular place. The young were
nearly fledged, and now and then called loudly to their parents, as if
to inquire why our vessel had come there. One of them in attempting to
fly away fell into the water. It was secured, when I trimmed one of its
wings, and turned it loose on the deck along with some other birds. The
mother, however, kept sailing high over the schooner, repeating some
notes, which it seems the young one understood, for it walked carefully
to the end of the bowsprit, opened its wings, and tried to fly, but
being unable, fell into the water and was drowned. In a few days the
rest of the family left the place, and we saw no more of them. Some
of the sailors who had come to the harbour eight years in succession,
assured me that they had always observed the Ravens breeding there. My
whole party found it impossible to shoot one of the old ones, who went
to the nest and left it with so much caution, that the task of watching
them became irksome. One afternoon I concealed myself under a pile of
detached rocks for more than two hours. The young frequently croaked as I
was waiting there, but no parent came; so I left the place, but the next
moment the female was seen from the deck of the Ripley. She alighted in
the nest, fed her young, and was off again before I could reach within
shooting distance. It was at this place that I observed how singularly
well those birds could travel to and from their nest, at a time when I
could not, on account of the fog, see them on wing at a greater distance
than twenty or thirty yards. On the 29th of the same month, young Ravens
were seen in flocks with their parents; but they were already very shy.

I found a nest of this bird at a narrow part of the Lehigh in
Pennsylvania, in a deep fissure of the rocks, not more than twenty
feet above the water, the security afforded by which had probably been
considered as equivalent to that which might have been gained by a greater
height of rock. The nest, in fact, hung over the stream, so that it was
impossible to reach it either from above or from below. Many years ago,
I saw another placed immediately beneath the arch of the Rock Bridge in
Virginia. It was situated on a small projecting stone scarcely a foot
square; yet the Raven appeared quite satisfied as to the security of
her brood on that narrow bed. This extraordinary production of Nature is
placed on the ascent of a hill, which appears to have been rent asunder
by some convulsion of the earth. The fissure is about 200 feet deep, and
above 80 in width under the arch, narrowing to 40 or so at the bottom.
The thickness of the arch probably exceeds 30 feet, and increases at
either end. At the bottom is seen the water of what is called Cedar
Creek, gently meandering in its rocky channel. The place, when I saw it,
was graced by handsome trees, and in some positions there was a pleasing
view of the "Blue Ridge" and the "North Mountain." Tradition reports that
General WASHINGTON threw a dollar over the bridge from the creek below.
I may mention, that I passed it under peculiar circumstances connected
with my ornithological pursuits, as you will find detailed in another
page of this volume.

I have already stated that some Ravens breed as far south as the
Carolinas. The place to which they resort for this purpose is called the
Table Mountain, which is situated in the district of Pendleton, and of
which I extract an account from DRAYTON'S Views of South Carolina. "The
Table Mountain is the most distinguished of all the eminences of the
State. Its height exceeds 3000 feet, and thirty farms may be discerned
at any one view from its top by the unaided eye. Its side is an abrupt
precipice of solid rock, 300 feet deep, and nearly perpendicular. The
valley underneath appears to be as much below the level as the top of
the mountain towers above it. This precipice is called the Lover's Leap.
To those who are in the valley, it looks like an immense wall stretching
up to heaven, and the awe which it inspires is considerably increased by
the quantities of bones which lie whitening at its base,—the remains of
various animals which had incautiously approached too near its edge. Its
summit is often enveloped in clouds. The gradual ascent of the country
from the sea-coast to this western extremity of the State, added to the
height of this mountain, must place its top more than 4000 feet above the
level of the Atlantic Ocean; an eminence from which vessels crossing the
bar of Charleston might be seen with the aid of such improved glasses
as are now in use. Large masses of snow tumble from the side of this
mountain in the winter season, the fall of which has been heard seven
miles. Its summit is the resort of deer and bears. The woods produce mast
in abundance; wild pigeons resort to it in such numbers as sometimes to
break the limbs of trees on which they alight."

A friend of mine, who is an excellent observer of the habits of birds,
has told me that he saw a Raven's nest in the high lands of New York
placed in a deep fissure of a rock, in the immediate vicinity of that
of a Golden Eagle. I chanced one day, while in the Great Pine Forest of
Pennsylvania, to stop, for the purpose of resting and refreshing myself,
at a camp of the good JEDIAH IRISH, with whom I have already made you
acquainted during my former rambles in that remarkable district. We had
seen some Ravens that day, and our conversation returning to them, the
person employed in preparing the food of the woodcutters told us, that
whenever she chanced to place a salt mackerel or other fish in the brook
running from the spring near the camp, "the Raven was sure to carry it
away in less than an hour." She firmly believed that it had the power
of smelling the fish as she carried it from the hut to the water. We
went to the spot with her, and, leaving a fish there, returned to our
homely meal, but on visiting the place several hours after, we found
it untouched. "The Raven perhaps smelt the powder in our guns!" At all
events, it did not choose to come that day.

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 3 of 56)