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immense numbers to roost by the margins of ponds, lakes, and rivers,
covered with a luxuriant growth of rank weeds or cat-tails. They may
be seen proceeding to such places more than an hour before sunset, in
long straggling lines, and in silence, and are joined by the Grakles,
Starlings, and Reed Birds, while the Fish-Crows retire from the very same
parts to the interior of the woods many miles distant from any shores.

No sooner has the horizon brightened at the approach of day, than the
Crows sound a reveillé, and then with mellowed notes, as it were, engage
in a general thanksgiving for the peaceful repose they have enjoyed. After
this they emit their usual barking notes, as if consulting each other
respecting the course they ought to follow. Then parties in succession
fly off to pursue their avocations, and relieve the reeds from the weight
that bent them down.

The Crow is extremely courageous in encountering any of its winged
enemies. Several individuals may frequently be seen pursuing a Hawk or
an Eagle with remarkable vigour, although I never saw or heard of one
pouncing on any bird for the purpose of preying on it. They now and then
teaze the Vultures, when those foul birds are alighted on trees, with
their wings spread out, but they soon desist, for the Vultures pay no
attention to them.

The most remarkable feat of the Crow, is the nicety with which it, like
the Jay, pierces an egg with its bill, in order to carry it off, and eat
it with security. In this manner I have seen it steal, one after another,
all the eggs of a wild Turkey's nest. You will perceive, reader, that
I endeavour to speak of the Crow with all due impartiality, not wishing
by any means to conceal its faults, nor withholding my testimony to its
merits, which are such as I can well assure the farmer, that were it not
for its race, thousands of corn stalks would every year fall prostrate,
in consequence of being cut over close to the ground by the destructive
grubs which are called "cut-worms."

I never saw a pet Crow in the United States, and therefore cannot say
with how much accuracy they may imitate the human voice, or, indeed, if
they possess the power of imitating it at all, which I very much doubt,
as in their natural state they never evince any talents for mimicry. I
cannot say if it possess the thieving propensities attributed by authors
to the European Crow.

Its gait, while on the ground, is elevated and graceful, its ordinary mode
of progression being a sedate walk, although it occasionally hops when
under excitement. It not unfrequently alights on the backs of cattle,
to pick out the worms lurking in their skin, in the same manner as the
Magpie, Fish-Crow, and Cow-bird. Its note or cry may be imitated by the
syllables _cāw, cāw, cāw_, being different from the cry of the European
Carrion Crow, and resembling the distant bark of a small dog.

At Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania I saw a pair of Crows perfectly white, in
the possession of Mr LAMPDIN, the owner of the museum there, who assured
me that five which were found in the nest were of the same colour.

I have placed the pensive oppressed Crow of our country on a beautiful
branch of the Black Walnut tree, loaded with nuts, on the lower twig of
which I have represented the delicate nest of our Common Humming Bird,
to fulfil the promise which I made when writing the history of that
species for my first volume.

In conclusion, I would again address our farmers, and tell them that
if they persist in killing Crows, the best season for doing so is when
their corn begins to ripen.


CORVUS CORONE, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 56.—_Nuttall_, Manual, p. 209.—_Swains. and
Richards._ Fauna Bor.-Amer. vol. ii. p. 291.

THE CROW, CORVUS CORONE, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iv. p. 79.
pl. 35 fig. 3.

Adult Male. Plate CLVI.

Bill longish, straight, robust, compressed; upper mandible with the
dorsal line a little convex, declinate towards the end, the sides
convex; lower mandible straight, the sides inclined obliquely outwards;
the edges of both sharp and inflected. Nostrils basal, lateral, round,
covered by bristly feathers, which are directed forwards. Head large,
neck of ordinary length, body of moderate proportions, the whole form
rather compact and not inelegant. Legs of moderate length, strong; tarsus
anteriorly scutellate, rather longer than the middle toe; toes scutellate
above, separated almost to the base; first, second, and fourth nearly
equal in length, third longest; claws moderate, arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage of the back compact, of the head and neck blended, and glossy,
of the lower parts rather loose. Stiff bristly feathers with disunited
barbs over the nostrils, directed forwards and adpressed. Wings long,
first primary short, fourth longest; primaries tapering, secondaries
broad, the outer abrupt with a minute acumen, the inner rounded. Tail
rather long, rounded, of twelve nearly straight, rounded feathers, their
shafts distinctly undulated.

Beak, tarsi, toes and claws, black. Iris brown. The general colour of
the plumage is deep black, with purplish-blue reflections, the hind
parts of the neck tinged with purplish-brown; the lower parts less glossy.

Length 18 inches, extent of wings 3 feet 2 inches; bill along the ridge
2-2/12; tarsus 2½.

The Female differs from the Male in being less glossy, but the difference
is not very perceptible. The young when fully fledged are of a rather
dull brownish-black, with the blue and purple reflections much less

After a careful comparison of specimens of the European Carrion Crow with
others of the American Crow, I have found decided differences, which to
me seem quite sufficient to set the question of their identity at rest.

The European Crow is larger than the American; the length of the former
being 20 inches, that of the latter 18; and the wing from the flexure
to the extremity is proportional, being in the one 13¼ inches, in the
other 12.

The bill is stronger and deeper, more convex on the sides, and with the
edges more involute in the Carrion Crow than in the American Crow, the
depth at the base in the former being 10/12, in the latter 8½/12.

The scutella of the tarsus in both are 10, but the feet of the Carrion
Crow are much stronger and its toes and claws larger than those of the
other. In the European Crow, the fourth primary is longest, the third
almost equal, and this is also the case in the American, although slight
differences occur in individuals.

The principal character besides the different form of the bill, is
to be found in the feathers of the neck. In the European bird, the
feathers of the hind neck are narrow, and although blended, have their
points distinct; while in the American bird, they are broad, rounded,
and perfectly blended, so that their individual form cannot be traced.
The feathers of the fore neck in the former are lanceolate, compact
at the end, and, although shorter, resemble those of the Raven; but in
the American Crow they are three times as broad, rounded, and entirely

Lastly, the American species has a decided purplish-brown tinge on the
neck, while the European bird has that part glossed with green and blue.

I am happy on this occasion to have an opportunity of referring you
to an excellent paper, on the specific characters of birds, by Mr
MACGILLIVRAY, which you will find in the Transactions of the Wernerian
Natural History Society, and in which he shews the great advantage that
may be derived from attending to the structure and form of the feathers.
The characters by which the American Crow is distinguished from the
European Carrion Crow are an exemplification of his views, in which I
cordially agree:—"Allowing," says he, "only a partial application of the
principle of characterizing the species by the forms of the feathers,
even this would be a matter of importance; and were the attention of
ornithologists directed toward this point, there can be little doubt
that discoveries would quickly be made, which would determine species and
varieties with much greater precision than can be attained by attending
to colour alone."


JUGLANS NIGRA, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 456. _Pursh_, Flor.
Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 636. _Mich._ Arbr. Forest. vol. i. p. 157.

The Black Walnut of the United States is generally a tree of beautiful
form, and often, especially in the Western and Southern States, attains
a great size. Wherever it is found, you may calculate on the land being
of good quality; the wood is very firm, of a dark brown tint, veined,
and extremely useful for domestic purposes, many articles of furniture
being made of it. It is also employed in ship-building. When used for
posts or fence rails, it resists the action of the weather for many
years. The nuts are gathered late in autumn, and although rather too
oily, are eaten and considered good by many persons. The husking of
them is however a disagreeable task, as their covering almost indelibly
stains every object with which it comes in contact.

See Vol. I. p. 433.




In the winter months the Rusty Grakle is found as far south as Lower
Louisiana and the Floridas, which it reaches in small flocks, along
with the Cow Bunting and Red-winged Starling, with which it continues
frequently to associate until the return of spring. At this season it
occurs in all the Southern and Western States, as well as in the Middle
and Eastern Districts, where some remain during the most severe cold.

These Grakles are fond of the company of cattle, and are seen with them
in the pastures or in the farm-yards, searching for food among their
droppings, and picking up a few grains of the refuse corn. They are less
shy than the other species, possibly because less acquainted with man, as
they retire to the north for the purpose of breeding. In the winter they
frequently resort to moist places, such as are met with round the ponds
and low swampy meadows, where you sometimes find a single one remaining
for weeks apart from its companions. They then feed on aquatic insects
and small snails, for which they search diligently among the rank reeds
or sedges, which they climb with great agility. Their note is a kind of
chuck. It is rare to meet with them in full plumage at this time, even
the old males becoming rather rusty, instead of being of a pure glossy
black, as they are in spring.

About the beginning of March, the males are seen moving northwards.
They cross the greater part of the United States almost in silence
and unheeded, seldom tarrying any where until they reach the State of
Maine, where some few remain to breed, while the greater number advance
farther north. I saw some of these birds on the Magdeleine Islands, in
Newfoundland, as well as in Labrador, where many breed. Their migrations
are performed by day.

In their habits they resemble the Red-winged Starling, becoming loquacious
at this season, and having a lively and agreeable song, although less
powerful in tone than that of the species just mentioned. Equally fond
of the vicinity of meadows or moist places, they construct their nests
in the low bushes that occur there. The nest is not so large as that of
the Redwing, but is composed of much the same materials. In Labrador I
found it lined with moss instead of coarse grass. The eggs are four or
five, of a light blue colour, streaked and dashed with straggling lines
of brown and deep black, much smaller than those of the Redwing, but in
other respects bearing a considerable resemblance to them. They begin to
lay about the 1st of June, in the State of Maine, and fully a fortnight
later in Labrador. They raise only one brood in the season. The young,
when first able to fly, are nearly of an uniform brown, brighter on
the breast and shoulders. Although they seem to prefer alder and willow
bushes, for the purpose of incubation, I have found their nests among
the tall reeds of the _Cat's-tail_ or Typha, to which they were attached
by interweaving the leaves of the plant with the grasses and stripes of
bark of which they were externally composed.

During early autumn, and before they remove southward, they frequently
resort to the sandy beaches of lakes, rivers, and the sea, in search
of small testaceous mollusca and aquatic insects. They do little or no
mischief in the corn-fields. While walking they frequently jerk their
tail, and move with much grace, in the same manner as other birds of
the genus. Their flight resembles that of the Red-winged species.

An acquaintance of mine, residing in New Orleans, found one of these
birds, a beautiful male in full plumage, not far from that city, while
on one of his accustomed walks. It had been shot, but was only slightly
injured in one of its wings, and as it was full of vivacity, and had a
clear and brilliant eye, indicating that its health had not suffered, he
took it home and put it in a cage with several Painted Buntings. They
soon became accustomed to each other, the Grakle evincing no desire
to molest its smaller companions. I saw it when it had already been
caged upwards of four months, and had the satisfaction to hear it sing
repeatedly. Its notes, however, were less sonorous than they usually
are when the birds are at liberty. It frequently uttered its travelling
chuck-note. It was fed entirely on rice. This was the only specimen I
ever saw in captivity, and it proved a very amiable companion.

I have figured four of these birds, to enable you the better to understand
their different states of plumage, and placed them on a plant of the
genus Prunus, which grows in Louisiana, and on the berries of which they
occasionally feed.

ORIOLUS FERRUGINEUS, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 126.

QUISCALUS FERRUGINEUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of
the United States, p. 55.

Richards._ Fauna Bor.-Amer. part ii. p. 286.

RUSTY GRAKLE, GRACULA FERRUGINEA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. iii.
p. 41. pl. 21. fig. 3. Male.


Adult Male. Plate CLVII. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, straight, tapering, compressed from the base;
upper mandible prolonged on the forehead, forming an acute angle there,
a little declinate at the tip, the dorsal outline slightly convex,
the sides convex, the edges sharp and inflected; lower mandible nearly
straight in its dorsal outline, convex on the sides, the edges sharp and
inflected; gap-line deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, oval, half
closed above by a membrane. Head of ordinary size, neck rather short,
body rather slender. Feet of moderate length, strong; tarsus compressed,
with a few long scutella anteriorly, sharp behind; toes compressed, the
lateral nearly equal, the outer united as far as the second joint to the
middle, which is much longer, hind-toe not much stouter than the inner;
claws rather long, arched, compressed, very acute.

Plumage soft, blended, glossy. Wings rather long, second quill longest,
first and fourth equal. Tail rather long, slightly rounded, of twelve
broad feathers.

Bill and feet black. Iris pale yellow. The general colour is deep black,
with greenish and bluish reflections.

Length 9¼ inches, extent of wings 14¼; bill along the back ¾, along the
edge 11/12; tarsus 1¼.

Adult Female. Plate CLVII. Fig. 2.

Bill, iris, and feet as in the male. The general colour is brownish-black;
the sides of the head over the eyes, and a broad band beneath it light
yellowish-brown, the feathers of the lower parts more or less margined
with brownish.

Length 8-11/12 inches, extent of wings 13½.

Young bird fully fledged. Plate CLVII. Fig. 3, 3.

Bill and feet brownish-black. Iris pale yellow. Head and neck light
brown, the rest of the upper parts brownish-black, edged with light
reddish-brown, the rump tinged with grey. A band over the eye, and the
fore part and sides of the neck and breast pale yellowish-brown, sides
tinged with brown, under tail-coverts dusky.


PRUNUS NIGRA, _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 331.

Leaves deciduous, ovate, acuminate, unequally serrate, smooth on both
sides; umbels sessile, solitary, few-flowered.

This species of Prunus, which is tolerably abundant in Louisiana, the
only State in which I have observed it, grows along the borders of the
forest, and often attains a height of thirty or more feet. Its leaves
fall at a very early period, but its fruits, which are pleasant to the
taste, remain until after the first frosts, or until devoured by birds,
opossums, squirrels, or racoons.




Since our country has furnished thousands of convenient places for this
Swallow to breed in, free from storms, snakes, or quadrupeds, it has
abandoned, with a judgment worthy of remark, its former abodes in the
hollows of trees, and taken possession of the chimneys, which emit no
smoke in the summer season. For this reason, no doubt, it has obtained
the name by which it is generally known. I well remember the time when,
in Lower Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, many resorted to excavated
branches and trunks, for the purpose of breeding; nay, so strong is the
influence of original habit, that not a few still betake themselves to
such places, not only to roost, but also to breed, especially in those
wild portions of our country that can scarcely be said to be inhabited.
In such instances, they appear to be as nice in the choice of a tree, as
they generally are in our cities in the choice of a chimney, wherein to
roost, before they leave us. Sycamores of gigantic growth, and having a
mere shell of bark and wood to support them, seem to suit them best, and
wherever I have met with one of those patriarchs of the forest rendered
habitable by decay, there I have found the Swallows breeding in spring
and summer, and afterwards roosting until the time of their departure. I
had a tree of this kind cut down, which contained about thirty of their
nests in its trunk, and one in each of the hollow branches.

The nest, whether placed in a tree or chimney, consists of small dry
twigs, which are procured by the birds in a singular manner. While on
wing, the Chimney Swallows are seen in great numbers whirling round
the tops of some decayed or dead tree, as if in pursuit of their insect
prey. Their movements at this time are extremely rapid; they throw their
body suddenly against the twig, grapple it with their feet, and by an
instantaneous jerk, snap it off short, and proceed with it to the place
intended for the nest. The Frigate Pelican sometimes employs the same
method for a similar purpose, carrying away the stick in its bill, in
place of holding it with its feet.

The Swallow fixes the first sticks on the wood, the rock, or the chimney
wall, by means of its saliva, arranging them in a semicircular form,
crossing and interweaving them, so as to extend the framework outwards.
The whole is afterwards glued together with saliva, which is spread
around it for an inch or more, to fasten it securely. When the nest is
in a chimney, it is generally placed on the east side, and is from five
to eight feet from the entrance; but in the hollow of a tree, where
only they breed in communities, it is placed high or low according to
convenience. The fabric, which is very frail, now and then gives way,
either under the pressure of the parents and young, or during sudden
bursts of heavy rain, when the whole is dashed to the ground. The eggs
are from four to six, and of a pure white colour. Two broods are raised
in the season.

The flight of this species is performed somewhat in the manner of the
European Swift, but in a more hurried although continued style, and
generally by repeated flappings, unless when courtship is going on, on
which occasion it is frequently seen sailing with its wings fixed as it
were, both sexes as they glide through the air issuing a shrill rattling
twitter, and the female receiving the caresses of the male. At other
times it is seen ranging far and wide at a considerable elevation over
the forests and cities; again, in wet weather, it flies close over the
ground; and anon it skims the water, to drink and bathe. When about to
descend into a hollow tree or a chimney, its flight, always rapid, is
suddenly interrupted as if by magic, for down it goes in an instant,
whirling in a peculiar manner, and whirring with its wings, so as to
produce a sound in the chimney like the rumbling of very distant thunder.
They never alight on trees or on the ground. If one is caught and placed
on the latter, it can only move in a very awkward fashion. I believe
that the old birds sometimes fly at night, and have reason to think that
the young are fed at such times, as I have heard the whirring sound of
the former, and the acknowledging cries of the latter, during calm and
clear nights.

When the young accidentally fall, which sometimes happens, although the
nest should remain, they scramble up again, by means of their sharp
claws, lifting one foot after another, in the manner of young Wood
Ducks, and supporting themselves with their tail. Some days before the
young are able to fly, they scramble up the walls to near the mouth of
the chimney, where they are fed. Any observer may discover this, as he
sees the parents passing close over them, without entering the funnel.
The same occurrence takes place when they are bred in a tree.

In the cities, these birds make choice of a particular chimney for their
roosting place, where, early in spring, before they have begun building,
both sexes resort in multitudes, from an hour or more before sunset,
until long after dark. Before entering the aperture, they fly round and
over it many times, but finally go in one at a time, until hurried by
the lateness of the hour, several drop in together. They cling to the
wall with their claws, supporting themselves also by their sharp tail,
until the dawn, when, with a roaring sound, the whole pass out almost
at once. Whilst at St Francisville in Louisiana, I took the trouble of
counting how many entered one chimney before dark. I sat at a window not
far from the spot, and reckoned upwards of a thousand, having missed a
considerable number. The place at that time contained about a hundred
houses, and no doubt existed in my mind that the greater number of these
birds were on their way southward, and had merely stopped there for the

Immediately after my arrival at Louisville, in the State of Kentucky, I
became acquainted with the hospitable and amiable Major WILLIAM CROGHAN
and his family. While talking one day about birds, he asked me if I had
seen the trees in which the Swallows were supposed to spend the winter,
but which they only entered, he said, for the purpose of roosting.
Answering in the affirmative, I was informed that on my way back to
town, there was a tree remarkable on account of the immense numbers
that resorted to it, and the place in which it stood was described to
me. I found it to be a sycamore, nearly destitute of branches, sixty or
seventy feet high, between seven and eight feet in diameter at the base,
and about five for the distance of forty feet up, where the stump of a
broken hollowed branch, about two feet in diameter, made out from the
main stem. This was the place at which the Swallows entered. On closely
examining the tree, I found it hard, but hollow to near the roots. It
was now about four o'clock after noon, in the month of July. Swallows
were flying over Jeffersonville, Louisville, and the woods around,
but there were none near the tree. I proceeded home, and shortly after
returned on foot. The sun was going down behind the Silver Hills; the
evening was beautiful; thousands of Swallows were flying closely above
me, and three or four at a time were pitching into the hole, like bees
hurrying into their hive. I remained, my head leaning on the tree,
listening to the roaring noise made within by the birds as they settled
and arranged themselves, until it was quite dark, when I left the place,
although I was convinced that many more had to enter. I did not pretend

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 32 of 56)