John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

. (page 34 of 56)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 34 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Plumage blended, tufty; feathers of the head glossy. Wings of moderate
length, the third and fourth quills longest and equal, fifth little
shorter, second longer than sixth, first and seventh about equal. Tail
long, slender, slightly incurved, rounded, of twelve narrow, rounded

Bill black. Iris dark brown. Feet bluish-grey. The whole upper part
of the head and the hind neck pure black, as is a large patch on the
throat and fore neck. Between these patches of black, there is a band
of greyish-white, from the base of the bill down the side of the neck,
becoming broader and greyer behind. Back and wing-coverts ash-grey,
tinged with brown. Quills brown, margined with greyish-blue, as is the
tail, which is more tinged with grey. Lower parts greyish-white tinged
with brown, the sides more deeply tinted.

Length 4¼ inches, extent of wings 6; bill along the ridge 3/12, along
the edge 5/12; tarsus 6½/12.

Adult Female. Plate CLX. Fig. 2.

The female is similar to the male, but somewhat fainter in its tints.

This species is closely allied to the _Parus palustris_ of Europe, which,
however, has the black of the head tinged with brown, and that of the
throat not nearly so extensive or decided, and has the lower parts still
more tinged with yellowish-brown. It is also closely allied to the _Parus
atricapillus_ of WILSON, of which a description is subjoined.



Proportions and plumage as in _Parus carolinensis_.

Bill brownish-black. Iris dark brown. Feet bluish-grey. The whole upper
part of the head and the hind neck pure black, as is a large patch on
the throat and fore neck. Between these patches of black is a band of
white, from the base of the bill down the sides of the neck, becoming
broader behind and encroaching on the back, which, with the wing-coverts,
is ash-grey tinged with brown. Quills brown, margined with bluish-white,
the secondary quills so broadly margined as to leave a conspicuous white
dash on the wing; tail of the same colour, similarly edged. Lower parts

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge 5/12, along
the edge 7½/12; tarsus 7/12.

The two species are almost precisely similar in most respects; but _Parus
carolinensis_ is much smaller than _P. atricapillus_, the former being
4½ inches long, while the latter is 5½, a great difference in birds of
so small a size. The differences in the other parts are proportional.
The grey of the back is purer in the smaller species, and the white of
the neck more so in the larger, in which also the white edgings of the
wings are very conspicuous.


The Supple Jack is a species of Smilax extremely abundant in all the
swampy portions of the Southern States. Its slender stem entwines the
trunk and branches of even the tallest trees, and, with its delicate
branches, is extremely tough and pliant, one of half an inch in diameter
being strong enough to suspend a body having a weight of several hundred
pounds. It is frequently used instead of a cord to hang clothes upon to
dry. The festoons which it forms are graceful and pleasing to the eye.


I left you abruptly, perhaps uncivilly, reader, at the dawn of day, on
Sandy Island, which lies just six miles from the extreme point of South
Florida. I did so because I was amazed at the appearance of things around
me, which in fact looked so different then from what they seemed at
night, that it took some minutes' reflection to account for the change.
When we laid ourselves down in the sand to sleep, the waters almost
bathed our feet; when we opened our eyes in the morning, they were at an
immense distance. Our boat lay on her side, looking not unlike a whale
reposing on a mud-bank. The birds in myriads were probing their exposed
pasture-ground. There great flocks of Ibises fed apart from equally
large collections of Godwits, and thousands of Herons gracefully paced
along, ever and anon thrusting their javelin bills into the body of
some unfortunate fish confined in a small pool of water. Of Fish-Crows
I could not estimate the number, but from the havoc they made among the
crabs, I conjecture that these animals must have been scarce by the time
of next ebb. Frigate Pelicans chased the Jager, which himself had just
robbed a poor Gull of its prize, and all the Gallinules ran with spread
wings from the mud-banks to the thickets of the island, so timorous had
they become when they perceived us.

Surrounded as we were by so many objects that allured us, not one could
we yet attain, so dangerous would it have been to venture on the mud;
and our pilot having assured us that nothing could be lost by waiting,
spoke of our eating, and on this hint told us that he would take us to
a part of the island where "our breakfast would be abundant although
uncooked." Off we went, some of the sailors carrying baskets, others
large tin pans and wooden vessels, such as they use for eating their
meals in. Entering a thicket of about an acre in extent, we found on
every bush several nests of the Ibis, each containing three large and
beautiful eggs, and all hands fell to gathering. The birds gave way to
us, and ere long we had a heap of eggs that promised delicious food.
Nor did we stand long in expectation, for, kindling a fire, we soon
prepared, in one way or other, enough to satisfy the cravings of our
hungry maws. Breakfast ended, the pilot looking at the gorgeous sunrise,
said, "Gentlemen, prepare yourselves for fun, the tide is acoming."

Over these enormous mud-flats, a foot or two of water is quite sufficient
to drive all the birds ashore, even the tallest Heron or Flamingo,
and the tide seems to flow at once over the whole expanse. Each of us
provided with a gun, posted himself behind a bush, and no sooner had
the water forced the winged creatures to approach the shore, than the
work of destruction commenced. When it at length ceased, the collected
mass of birds of different kinds looked not unlike a small haycock. Who
could not with a little industry have helped himself to a few of their
skins? Why, reader, surely no one as fond of these things as I am. Every
one assisted in this, and even the sailors themselves tried their hand
at the work.

Our pilot, good man, told us he was no hand at such occupations, and
would go after something else. So taking Long Tom and his fishing-tackle,
he marched off quietly along the shores. About an hour afterwards we
saw him returning, when he looked quite exhausted, and on our inquiring
the cause said, "There is a dew-fish yonder and a few balacoudas, but
I am not able to bring them, or even to haul them here; please send the
sailors after them." The fishes were accordingly brought, and as I had
never seen a dew-fish, I examined it closely, and took an outline of its
form, which some days hence you may perhaps see. It exceeded a hundred
pounds in weight, and afforded excellent eating. The balacouda is also
a good fish, but at times a dangerous one, for, according to the pilot,
on more than one occasion "some of these gentry" had followed him when
waist-deep in the water, in pursuit of a more valuable prize, until in
self-defence he had to spear them, fearing that "the gentlemen" might
at one dart cut off his legs, or some other nice bit, with which he was
unwilling to part.

Having filled our cask from a fine well long since dug in the sand of
Cape Sable, either by Seminole Indians or pirates, no matter which,
we left Sandy Isle about full tide, and proceeded homewards, giving a
call here and there at different keys, with the view of procuring rare
birds, and also their nests and eggs. We had twenty miles to go "as
the birds fly," but the tortuosity of the channels rendered our course
fully a third longer. The sun was descending fast, when a black cloud
suddenly obscured the majestic orb. Our sails swelled by a breeze, that
was scarcely felt by us, and the pilot, requesting us to sit on the
weather gunwale, told us that we were "going to get it." One sail was
hauled in and secured, and the other was reefed although the wind had
not increased. A low murmuring noise was heard, and across the cloud that
now rolled along in tumultuous masses, shot vivid flashes of lightning.
Our experienced guide steered directly across a flat towards the nearest
land. The sailors passed their quids from one cheek to the other, and
our pilot having covered himself with his oil-jacket, we followed his
example. "Blow, sweet breeze," cried he at the tiller, and "we'll reach
land before the blast overtakes us, for, gentlemen, it is a furious
cloud yon."

A furious cloud indeed was the one which now, like an eagle on
outstretched wings, approached so swiftly, that one might have deemed
it in haste to destroy us. We were not more than a cable's length from
the shore, when, with imperative voice, the pilot calmly said to us,
"Sit quite still, Gentlemen, for I should not like to lose you overboard
just now; the boat can't upset, my word for that, if you will but sit
still—here we have it!"

Reader, persons who have never witnessed a hurricane, such as not
unfrequently desolates the sultry climates of the south, can scarcely form
an idea of their terrific grandeur. One would think that, not content
with laying waste all on land, it must needs sweep the waters of the
shallows quite dry, to quench its thirst. No respite for an instant does
it afford to the objects within the reach of its furious current. Like
the scythe of the destroying angel, it cuts every thing by the roots,
as it were with the careless ease of the experienced mower. Each of its
revolving sweeps collects a heap that might be likened to the full sheaf
which the husbandman flings by his side. On it goes with a wildness
and fury that are indescribable; and when at last its frightful blasts
have ceased, Nature, weeping and disconsolate, is left bereaved of her
beauteous offspring. In some instances, even a full century is required,
before, with all her powerful energies, she can repair her loss. The
planter has not only lost his mansion, his crops, and his flocks, but
he has to clear his lands anew, covered and entangled as they are with
the trunks and branches of trees that are every where strewn. The bark
overtaken by the storm, is cast on the lee-shore, and if any are left
to witness the fatal results, they are the "wreckers" alone, who, with
inward delight, gaze upon the melancholy spectacle.

Our light bark shivered like a leaf the instant the blast reached her
sides. We thought she had gone over; but the next instant she was on
the shore. And now in contemplation of the sublime and awful storm, I
gazed around me. The waters drifted like snow; the tough mangroves hid
their tops amid their roots, and the loud roaring of the waves driven
among them blended with the howl of the tempest. It was not rain that
fell; the masses of water flew in a horizontal direction, and where a
part of my body was exposed, I felt as if a smart blow had been given me
on it. But enough!—in half an hour it was over. The pure blue sky once
more embellished the heavens, and although it was now quite night, we
considered our situation a good one.

The crew and some of the party spent the night in the boat. The pilot,
myself, and one of my assistants took to the heart of the mangroves,
and having found high land, we made a fire as well as we could, spread
a tarpauling, and fixing our insect bars over us, soon forgot in sleep
the horrors that had surrounded us.

Next day, the Marion proceeded on her cruize, and in a few more days,
having anchored in another safe harbour, we visited other Keys, of which
I will, with your leave, give you a short account.

The Deputy-Collector of Indian Isle gave me the use of his pilot for a
few weeks, and I was the more gratified by this, that besides knowing
him to be a good man and a perfect sailor, I was now convinced that he
possessed a great knowledge of the habits of birds, and could without loss
of time lead me to their haunts. We were a hundred miles or so farther
to the south. Gay May like a playful babe gambolled on the bosom of his
mother nature, and every thing was replete with life and joy. The pilot
had spoken to me of some birds, which I was very desirous of obtaining.
One morning, therefore, we went in two boats to some distant isle, where
they were said to breed. Our difficulties in reaching that Key might to
some seem more imaginary than real, were I faithfully to describe them.
Suffice it for me to tell you that after hauling our boats and pushing
them with our hands, for upwards of nine miles, over the flats, we at
last reached the deep channel that usually surrounds each of the mangrove
islands. We were much exhausted by the labour and excessive heat, but
we were now floating on deep water, and by resting a short while under
the shade of some mangroves, we were soon refreshed by the breeze that
gently blew from the Gulf. We further repaired our strength by taking
some food; and I may as well tell you here, that during all the time I
spent in that portion of the Floridas, my party restricted themselves
to fish and soaked biscuit, while our only and constant beverage was
water and mollasses. I found that in these warm latitudes, exposed as we
constantly were to alternate heat and moisture, ardent spirits and more
substantial food would prove dangerous to us. The officers, and those
persons who from time to time kindly accompanied us, adopted the same
regimen, and not an individual of us had ever to complain of so much as
a headache.

But we were under the mangroves—at a great distance on one of the
flats, the Heron which I have named _Ardea occidentalis_ was seen moving
majestically in great numbers. The tide rose and drove them away, and
as they came towards us, to alight and rest for a time on the tallest
trees, we shot as many as I wished. I also took under my charge several
of their young alive.

At another time we visited the "Mule Keys." There the prospect was
in many respects dismal in the extreme. As I followed their shores,
I saw bales of cotton floating in all the coves, while spars of every
description lay on the beach, and far off on the reefs I could see the
last remains of a lost ship, her dismantled hulk. Several schooners were
around her; they were wreckers. I turned me from the sight with a heavy
heart. Indeed, as I slowly proceeded, I dreaded to meet the floating
or cast ashore bodies of some of the unfortunate crew. Our visit to
the Mule Keys was in no way profitable, for besides meeting with but a
few birds in two or three instances, I was, whilst swimming in the deep
channel of a mangrove isle, much nearer a large shark than I wish ever
to be again.

"The service" requiring all the attention, prudence and activity of
Captain DAY and his gallant officers, another cruize took place, of which
you will find some account in the sequel; and while I rest a little on
the deck of the Lady of the Green Mantle, let me offer my humble thanks
to the Being who has allowed me the pleasure of thus relating to you,
kind reader, a small part of my adventures.




I was not aware of the existence of the Caracara or Brazilian Eagle in
the United States, until my visit to the Floridas in the winter of 1831.
On the 24th November of that year, in the course of an excursion near
the town of St Augustine, I observed a bird flying at a great elevation,
and almost over my head. Convinced that it was unknown to me, and bent
on obtaining it, I followed it nearly a mile, when I saw it sail towards
the earth, making for a place where a group of Vultures were engaged in
devouring a dead horse. Walking up to the horse, I observed the new bird
alighted on it, and helping itself freely to the savoury meat beneath
its feet; but it evinced a degree of shyness far greater than that of its
associates, the Turkey Buzzards and Carrion Crows. I moved circuitously,
until I came to a deep ditch, along which I crawled, and went as near
to the bird as I possibly could; but finding the distance much too great
for a sure shot, I got up suddenly, when the whole of the birds took to
flight. The eagle, as if desirous of forming acquaintance with me, took
a round and passed over me. I shot, but to my great mortification missed
it. However it alighted a few hundred yards off, in an open savanna,
on which I laid myself flat on the ground, and crawled towards it,
pushing my gun before me, amid burs and mud-holes, until I reached the
distance of about seventy-five yards from it, when I stopped to observe
its attitudes. The bird did not notice me; he stood on a lump of flesh,
tearing it to pieces, in the manner of a Vulture, until he had nearly
swallowed the whole. Being now less occupied, he spied me, erected the
feathers of his neck, and, starting up, flew away, carrying the remainder
of his prey _in his talons_. I shot a second time, and probably touched
him; for he dropped his burden, and made off in a direct course across
the St Sebastian River, with alternate sailings and flappings, somewhat
in the manner of a Vulture, but more gracefully. He never uttered a cry,
and I followed him wistfully with my eyes until he was quite out of sight.

The following day the bird returned, and was again among the Vultures,
but at some distance from the carcass, the birds having been kept off by
the dogs. I approached by the ditch, saw it very well, and watched its
movements, until it arose, when once more I shot, but without effect.
It sailed off in large circles, gliding in a very elegant manner, and
now and then diving downwards and rising again.

Two days elapsed before it returned. Being apprised by a friend of
this desired event, instead of going after it myself, I dispatched
my assistant, who returned with it in little more than half an hour.
I immediately began my drawing of it. The weather was sultry, the
thermometer being at 89°; and, to my surprise, the vivid tints of
the plumage were fading much faster than I had ever seen them in like
circumstances, insomuch that Dr BELL of Dublin, who saw it when fresh, and
also when I was finishing the drawing twenty-four hours after, said he
could scarcely believe it to be the same bird. How often have I thought
of the changes which I have seen effected in the colours of the bill,
legs, eyes, and even the plumage of birds, when looking on imitations
which I was aware were taken from stuffed specimens, and which I well knew
could not be accurate! The _skin_, when the bird was quite recent, was
of a bright yellow. The bird was extremely lousy. Its stomach contained
the remains of a bullfrog, numerous hard-shelled worms, and a quantity
of horse and deer-hair. The _skin_ was saved with great difficulty, and
its plumage had entirely lost its original lightness of colouring. The
deep red of the fleshy parts of the head had assumed a purplish livid
hue, and the spoil scarcely resembled the coat of the living Eagle.

I made a double drawing of this individual, for the purpose of shewing
all its feathers, which I hope will be found to be accurately represented.

Since the period when I obtained the specimen above mentioned, I have
seen several others, in which no remarkable differences were observed
between the sexes, or in the general colouring. My friend Dr BENJAMIN
STROBEL, of Charleston, South Carolina, who has resided on the west
coast of Florida, procured several individuals for the Reverend JOHN
BACHMAN, and informed me that the species undoubtedly breeds in that
part of the country, but I have never seen its nest. It has never been
seen on any of the Keys along the eastern coast of that peninsula; and
I am not aware that it has been observed any where to the eastward of
the Capes of Florida.

The most remarkable difference with respect to habits, between these
birds and the American Vultures, is the power which they possess of
carrying their prey in their talons. They often walk about, and in the
water, in search of food, and now and then will seize on a frog or a
very young alligator with their claws, and drag it to the shore. Like
the Vultures, they frequently spread their wings towards the sun, or in
the breeze, and their mode of walking also resembles that of the Turkey

POLYBORUS VULGARIS, _Vieillot_, Galerie des Ois. pl. vii.

FALCO BRASILIENSIS, _Gmel._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 262.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 21.

CARACARA, _Raii_, Synops. p. 17.—CARACARA ORDINAIRE, _Cuv._
Regne Animal, vol. i. p. 328.

BRAZILIAN KITE, _Lath._ Synops. vol. i. p. 63.

Adult Male. Plate CLXI. Two figures.

Bill rather long, very deep, much compressed, cerate for one-half of
its length; upper mandible with the dorsal outline nearly straight, but
declinate for half its length, curved in the remaining part, the ridge
narrow, the sides flat and sloping, the sharp edges slightly undulated,
the tip declinate, trigonal; lower mandible with the sides nearly erect,
the back rounded, the tip narrow, and obliquely rounded. Nostrils oblong,
oblique, in the fore and upper parts of the cere. Head of moderate size,
flattened; neck rather short, body rather slender. Feet rather long and
slender; tarsus rounded, covered all round with hexagonal scales, the
anterior much larger, and the five lower broad and transverse; toes of
moderate size, scutellate above, the inner scaly at the base; the outer
is connected with the middle-toe, at the base by a web, as is the inner,
although its web is smaller; lateral toes equal, middle one considerably
longer, hind-toe shortest, and not proportionally stronger; claws long,
arched, roundish, tapering to a point.

Plumage compact, slightly glossed. Upper eye-lid with short strong
bristles; space before the eye, cheeks, throat, and cere of both
mandibles, bare, having merely a few scattered bristly feathers. Feathers
of the head, neck, and breast narrow; of the back broad and rounded;
outer tibial feathers elongated, but shorter than in most Hawks. Wings
long, reaching to within two inches of the tip of the tail; primaries
tapering, secondaries broad and rounded, with an acumen; the fourth
quill longest, third scarcely shorter, first and seventh about equal;
almost all the primaries are more or less sinuate on their inner webs,
and the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth on their outer. Tail
long, rounded, of twelve broadish, rounded feathers. There is a large
bare space on the breast, as in the Turkey Buzzard.

Bill pale blue, yellow on the edges, cere carmine. Iris dark-brown. Feet
yellow; claws black. Upper part of the head umber-brown, streaked with
brownish-black. Feathers of hind-neck and fore part of the back light
brownish-yellow, mottled with dark brown towards the end. Back and wings
dark brown, edged with umber. Primaries and some of the secondaries
barred with broad bands of white, excepting towards the end. Tail
coverts dull-white, slightly barred with dusky. Tail greyish-white, with
sixteen narrow bars, and a broad terminal band of blackish-brown, the
tips lighter. Fore part and sides of the neck light brownish-yellow; the
fore part of the breast marked like that of the back, the yellow colour
extending over the lateral part of the neck; the hind part, abdomen,
sides, and tibia dark brown; the lower tail-coverts yellowish-white.
Interior of mouth and skin of the whole body bright yellow.

Length 23½ inches, extent of wings 4 feet; bill along the ridge 2¼, the
cere being 1, along the edge 2¼; tarsus 3¼, middle-toe and claw 3¾.




The impressions made on the mind in youth, are frequently stronger than
those at a more advanced period of life, and are generally retained. My
Father often told me, that when yet a child, my first attempt at drawing
was from a preserved specimen of a dove, and many times repeated to me
that birds of this kind are usually remarkable for the gentleness of
their disposition, and that the manner in which they prove their mutual
affection, and feed their offspring, was undoubtedly intended in part
to teach other beings a lesson of connubial and parental attachment.
Be this as it may, hypothesis or not, I have always been especially
fond of doves. The timidity and anxiety which they all manifest, on
being disturbed during incubation, and the continuance of their mutual
attachment for years, are distinguishing traits in their character. Who

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 34 of 56)