John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

. (page 35 of 56)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 35 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

can approach a sitting dove, hear its notes of remonstrance, or feel the
feeble strokes of its wings, without being sensible that he is committing
a wrong act?

The cooing of the Zenaida Dove is so peculiar, that one who hears it
for the first time naturally stops to ask, "What bird is that?" A man
who was once a pirate assured me that several times, while at certain
wells dug in the burning shelly sands of a well known Key, which must
here be nameless, the soft and melancholy cry of the doves awoke in his
breast feelings which had long slumbered, melted his heart to repentance,
and caused him to linger at the spot in a state of mind which he only
who compares the wretchedness of guilt within him with the happiness
of former innocence, can truly feel. He said he never left the place
without increased fears of futurity, associated as he was, although I
believe by force, with a band of the most desperate villains that ever
annoyed the navigation of the Florida coasts. So deeply moved was he
by the notes of any bird, and especially by those of a dove, the only
soothing sounds he ever heard during his life of horrors, that through
these plaintive notes, and them alone, he was induced to escape from
his vessel, abandon his turbulent companions, and return to a family
deploring his absence. After paying a parting visit to those wells,
and listening once more to the cooings of the Zenaida Dove, he poured
out his soul in supplications for mercy, and once more became what one
has said to be "the noblest work of God," an honest man. His escape was
effected amidst difficulties and dangers, but no danger seemed to him
to be compared with the danger of one living in the violation of human
and divine laws, and now he lives in peace in the midst of his friends.

The Zenaida Dove is a transient visitor of the Keys of East Florida.
Some of the fishermen think that it may be met with there at all seasons,
but my observations induce me to assert the contrary. It appears in the
islands near Indian Key about the 15th of April, continues to increase
in numbers until the month of October, and then returns to the West
India Islands, whence it originally came. They begin to lay their eggs
about the first of May. The males reach the Keys on which they breed
before the females, and are heard cooing as they ramble about in search
of mates, more than a week before the latter make their appearance. In
autumn, however, when they take their departure, males, females, and
young set out in small parties together.

The flight of this bird resembles that of the little Ground Dove more than
any other. It very seldom flies higher than the tops of the mangroves,
or to any considerable distance at a time, after it has made choice of
an island to breed on. Indeed, this species may be called a Ground Dove
too; for, although it alights on trees with ease, and walks well on
branches, it spends the greater portion of its time on the ground, walking
and running in search of food with lightness and celerity, carrying its
tail higher than even the Ground Dove, and invariably roosting there.
The motions of its wings, although firm, produce none of the whistling
sound, so distinctly heard in the flight of the Carolina Dove; nor does
the male sail over the female while she is sitting on her eggs, as is the
habit of that species. When crossing the sea, or going from one Key to
another, they fly near the surface of the water; and, when unexpectedly
startled from the ground, they remove to a short distance, and alight
amongst the thickest grasses or in the heart of the low bushes. So gentle
are they in general, that I have approached some so near that I could
have touched them with my gun, while they stood intently gazing on me,
as if I were an object not at all to be dreaded.

Those Keys which have their interior covered with grass and low shrubs,
and are girt by a hedge of mangroves, or other trees of inferior height,
are selected by them for breeding; and as there are but few of this
description, their places of resort are well known, and are called Pigeon
or "_Dove Keys_." It would be useless to search for them elsewhere. They
are by no means so abundant as the White-headed Pigeons, which place
their nest on any kind of tree, even on those whose roots are constantly
submersed. Groups of such trees occur of considerable extent, and are
called "Wet Keys."

The Zenaida Dove always places her nest on the ground, sometimes
artlessly at the foot of a low bush, and so exposed that it is easily
discovered by any one searching for it. Sometimes, however, it uses
great discrimination, placing it between two or more tufts of grass, the
tops of which it manages to bend over, so as completely to conceal it.
The sand is slightly scooped out, and the nest is composed of slender
dried blades of grass, matted in a circular form, and imbedded amid dry
leaves and twigs. The fabric is more compact than the nest of any other
pigeon with which I am acquainted, it being sufficiently solid to enable
a person to carry the eggs or young in it with security. The eggs are
two, pure white, and translucent. When sitting on them, or when her young
are still small, this bird rarely removes from them, unless an attempt
be made to catch her, which she however evades with great dexterity.
On several occasions of this kind, I have thought that the next moment
would render me the possessor of one of these doves alive. Her beautiful
eye was steadily bent on mine, in which she must have discovered my
intention, her body was gently made to retire sidewise to the farther
edge of her nest, as my hand drew nearer to her, and just as I thought
I had hold of her, off she glided with the quickness of thought, taking
to wing at once. She would then alight within a few yards of me, and
watch my motions with so much sorrow, that her wings drooped, and her
whole frame trembled as if suffering from intense cold. Who could stand
such a scene of despair? I left the mother to her eggs or offspring.

On one occasion, however, I found two young birds of this species about
half grown, which I carried off, and afterwards took to Charleston, in
South Carolina, and presented to my worthy friend the Rev. JOHN BACHMAN.
When I robbed this nest, no parent bird was near. The little ones uttered
the usual lisping notes of the tribe at this age, and as I put their
bills in my mouth, I discovered that they might be easily raised. They
were afterwards fed from the mouth with Indian corn meal, which they
received with avidity, until placed under the care of a pair of common
tame pigeons, which at once fostered them.

The cooing of this species so much resembles that of the Carolina Dove,
that, were it not rather soft, and heard in a part of the world where
the latter is never seen, you might easily take it for the notes of that
bird. Morning is the time chosen by the Zenaida Dove to repeat her tender
tales of love, which she does while perched on the low large branch of
some tree, but never from the ground. Heard in the wildest solitudes of
the Keys, these notes never fail to remind one that he is in the presence
and under the protection of the Almighty Creator.

During mid-day, when the heat is almost insufferable in the central parts
of the Keys resorted to by these birds, they are concealed and mute.
The silence of such a place at noon is extremely awful. Not a breath
of air is felt, nor an insect seen, and the scorching rays of the sun
force every animated being to seek for shelter and repose.

From what I have said of the habits of the Zenaida Dove, you may easily
conceive how difficult a task it is to procure one. I have had full
experience of the difficulty, and entire satisfaction in surmounting it,
for in less than an hour, with the assistance of Captain DAY, I shot
nineteen individuals, the internal and external examination of which
enabled me to understand something of their structure.

The flesh is excellent, and they are generally very fat. They feed on
grass seeds, the leaves of aromatic plants, and various kinds of berries,
not excepting those of a tree which is extremely poisonous,—so much so,
that if the juice of it touch the skin of a man, it destroys it like
aqua-fortis. Yet these berries do not injure the health of the birds,
although they render their flesh bitter and unpalatable for a time. For
this reason, the fishermen and wreckers are in the habit of examining the
crops of the doves previous to cooking them. This, however, only takes
place about the time of their departure from the Keys, in the beginning
of October. They add particles of shell or gravel to their food.

From my own observations, and the report of others, I am inclined to
believe that they raise only two broods each season. The young, when
yet unfledged, are of a deep leaden or purplish-grey colour, the bill
and legs black, nor is it until the return of spring that they attain
their full plumage. The male is larger than the female, and richer in
the colouring of its plumage. Their feathers fall off at the slightest
touch, and like all other pigeons, when about to die, they quiver their
wings with great force.

The branch on which I have represented these birds, belonged to a low
shrub abundant in the Keys where they are found. The flower has a musty
scent, and is of short duration.

This species resorts to certain wells, which are said to have been dug
by pirates, at a remote period. There the Zenaida Doves and other birds
are sure to be seen morning and evening. The loose sand thrown up about
these wells suits them well to dust in, and clean their apparel.

COLUMBA ZENAIDA, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 119, and Amer. Ornith. vol. ii. pl. 15. fig. 2.
—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 625.

Adult Male. Plate CLXII. Fig. 1.

Bill short, straight, rather slender, compressed; upper mandible with
a tumid fleshy covering at the base, a convex, declinate, obtuse tip,
of which the margins are acute and overlapping; lower mandible, with
the angle near the extremity, which is compressed and rounded. Nostrils
medial, oblique, linear. Head small and compressed; the general form
rather full. Legs short and of moderate strength; tarsus short, covered
anteriorly with four broad scutella at the upper part, and a double
series below, rounded and hexagonally reticulated behind; toes scutellate
above, free, margined; two lateral toes nearly equal, middle one not
much longer, hind toe much smaller.

Plumage rather compact. Wings of moderate length, second and third quills
longest, first and fourth equal. Tail rather short, much rounded.

Bill deep carmine-purple. Iris brown; bare space surrounding the eye
light blue. Feet deep carmine-purple. The general colour of the plumage
above is light yellowish-brown tinged with grey. Quills brownish-black,
narrowly margined with white, seven of the secondaries broadly tipped
with the same; the inner ones of the same colour as the back, but having
a broad black spot on the inner web towards the end, which is also
the case with the tertiaries; several of the coverts also have a black
spot on the outer web. The four lateral tail-feathers on each side are
greyish-blue, with a broad black bar towards the end, the extremity
greyish-white, the four middle feathers of the colour of the back, with
a faint dusky bar. The sides of the head and under parts are of a light
brownish-red, paler on the throat, and passing into greyish-blue on the
sides; under wing-coverts pale bluish-grey. There is a small spot of
deep blue immediately behind the eye, and a larger one a little below on
the side of the neck; and a band of splendent feathers extends over the
back and sides of the neck, having bright purple and greenish reflections.

Length 11½ inches; extent of wings 18⅛; bill along the back 7/12, along
the edges 11/12; tarsus 11/12.

Adult Female. Plate CLXII. Fig. 2.

The female can scarcely be distinguished from the male, the colouring
being but slightly fainter.

Length 10½ inches.


PORCELIA PARVIFLORA, _Pursh_, Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 383.

This plant is very abundant on many of the outer Keys of the Floridas.
It grows among other shrubs, seldom exceeding seven or eight feet in
height, and more frequently not more than four or five. The leaves are
obovate, rounded at the base, thick, glossy above, downy beneath. The
outer petals are larger, and not unlike the divided shell of a hickory
or pig nut; the inner ovate, deep purple, with a white band at the base.
I did not see the fruit, which I was told is not unpalatable when ripe,
it being then about the size of a common walnut, and of a black colour.




The Yellow Red-Poll Warbler, of which an old bird in summer and a young
one fully fledged are represented in the plate, being abundant in East
Florida, and especially in the neighbourhood of St Augustine, the most
prosperous town on the eastern coast of that peninsula, I hope you will
not think it irrelevant to say a few words respecting that place, to
whose inhabitants I am indebted for many acts of kindness.

To reach St Augustine, the navigator has first to pass over a difficult
sand-bar, which frequently changes its position; he then, however, finds
a deep channel leading to a safe and commodious harbour. The appearance
of the town is rather romantic, especially when the Spanish Fort, which
is quite a monument of ancient architecture, opens to the view. The
place itself is quite Spanish, the streets narrow, the church not very
remarkable, and the market-place the resort of numerous idlers, whether
resident or from other parts. It is supplied with, I believe, the best
fish in America, the "sheep-head" and "mullet" being the finest I have
ever seen; and its immediate neighbourhood produces as good oranges
as can any where be found. The country around is certainly poor, and
although in an almost tropical climate, is by no means productive. When
the United States purchased the peninsula from the Spanish Government,
the representations given of it by Mr BARTRAM and other poetical writers,
were soon found greatly to exceed the reality. For this reason, many
of the individuals who flocked to it, returned home or made their way
towards other regions with a heavy heart; yet the climate during the
winter months is the most delightful that could be imagined.

In the plate you will find a branch of the wild orange, with its flowers.
I have already spoken of the tree at p. 260, to which I refer you.
Whatever its original country may be _supposed_ to be, the plant is to
all appearance indigenous in many parts of Florida, not merely in the
neighbourhood of plantations, but in the wildest portions of that wild

SYLVIA PETECHIA, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 355.

SYLVIA PALMARUM, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 78.

Adult Male in summer. Plate CXLIII. Fig. 1.

In its full summer plumage this bird presents so different an appearance,
that it has in that state been considered as a distinct species, and
yet the difference is not greater than is observed in many other birds.
When the plumage is new, with the tips of the feathers unworn, the
lower parts shew less of the red streaks so conspicuous in the opposite
case; the yellow is brighter, and the crown of the head is of a richer
brownish-red colour. In other respects, however, the description already
given at p. 261, corresponds with that which might be presented here.

Young Bird. Plate CLXIII. Fig. 2.

On the head of the young the red is not perceptible, that part being of
nearly the same colour as the back.




The song of this northern species greatly resembles that of its relative,
the ever-pleasing Wood-Thrush. While at Charleston, in March 1834, I heard
a bird singing in the garden-ground of my learned and highly respected
fellow-citizen Mr POINSETT, in the immediate neighbourhood of the city.
I mentioned the circumstance to my friend JOHN BACHMAN, who expressed
his surprise on account of the early period of the season. The next day,
as we were both going out to the woods, we heard the same music again,
when a short discussion ensued, and as neither of us could be positive
whether it came from a Wood-Thrush or not, we shot the bird, which we
instantly discovered to be of the species which has been honoured with
the name of its illustrious discoverer. This was the more extraordinary,
as that Thrush is very rarely seen in Carolina either in winter or in
summer. It was indeed the first time my friend BACHMAN had ever heard
its voice.

WILSON'S Thrush is never seen or heard in Louisiana during spring, and
a few only pass through the lower portions of that State in autumn. I
suppose its migration from the farther south is along the declivities of
the range of the Alleghany Mountains, at least for some distance, and it
probably takes place under night. It reaches the mountainous districts
of Pennsylvania early in the month of May, but few if any breed there.
In the upper parts of the State of New York, they become more plentiful,
and there some undoubtedly spend the summer; but from Massachusetts
eastward to Labrador, they become more and more abundant. On the 20th
of July, while in the latter country, I saw the young of this species
following their mother. They were there almost full grown, and could
fly a hundred yards or so at a time. By the 12th of August none were
seen, although during my stay they were as common as any other birds.
In the latter part of the same month, I met with those which had bred
at Newfoundland, on their return to the south, and followed them into

At Labrador, as well as in the latter State, the Tawny Thrush retains
its retired habits, and seeks refuge in the concealment of dark shady
woods, near brooks or moist grounds. There, in a low bush, or on the
ground beneath it, this bird builds its nest, which is large, composed
externally of dry leaves, mosses, and the stalks of grasses, and lined
with finer grasses, and delicate fibrous portions of different kinds of
mosses, without any mud or clay. The eggs, which are deposited early
in June, are from four to six, and resemble those of the Cat Bird in
colour and shape, but are of smaller size. They raise only one brood in
the season. The parents, ever extremely shy, shew no desire to assist
their young, or defend their nest from intruders, but remain during your
visit at some distance, uttering a mournful and angry _quake_, somewhat
resembling that of the Cat Bird on such occasions. The Cow Bunting
not unfrequently deposits its egg in the nest of this Thrush, where it
is hatched, and the young brought up with all imaginable care. In the
neighbourhood of the city of Boston, some of these birds, according to
my learned friend NUTTALL, breed sometimes in the gardens, and he has
known of a nest placed in a gooseberry bush. A full-fledged young one
that was caught and placed in a cage, retained the unsocial and silent
timidity peculiar to the species. The males are obstinate in their
quarrels, and fight with great fierceness in maintaining their right to
the ground which they have appropriated to themselves.

The song of this species, although resembling that of the Wood Thrush in
a great degree, is less powerful, and is composed of continued trills
repeated with different variations, enunciated with great delicacy and
mellowness, so as to be extremely pleasing to one listening to them in
the dark solitudes where the sylvan songster resides. It now and then
tunes its throat in the calm of evening, and is heard sometimes until
after the day has closed.

It searches for food even at those hours, and feeds principally on
coleopterous insects. In Labrador it also picks the tender blossoms of
several dwarf plants, and feeds on berries. Its time is, for the most
part, spent on the ground, where it moves with singular agility by leaps,
stopping instantaneously and standing erect for a few moments, as if
apprehending danger, but immediately renewing its course.

We have in the Middle Districts another species of Thrush nearly allied
to this, but differing considerably in the size and shape of its bill,
and especially in its habits. Of this bird I shall give you an account
on another occasion.

The specimen represented in the plate was procured and drawn in the
State of Maine, and was in full plumage. The female can scarcely be
distinguished from the male.

TURDUS WILSONII, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 76.

MERULA WILSONII, _Swains. and Richards._ Fauna Boreali-Americ.
vol. ii. p. 182.

TAWNY THRUSH, TURDUS MUSTELINUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. v.
p. 98. pl. 43. fig. 3.—_Nuttall_, Manual, vol. i. p. 349.

Adult Male. Plate CLXIV.

Bill rather short, nearly straight, compressed towards the end; upper
mandible with the dorsal outline a little convex, the tip slightly
declinate, the margins acute, inflected towards the end, slightly
notched close upon the tip; lower mandible nearly straight in its dorsal
outline, the tip rather obtuse. Head of ordinary size, neck and body
rather slender. Feet rather long; tarsus longish, compressed, slender,
anteriorly covered with a few elongated scutella, posteriorly sharp-edged,
longer than the middle toe; toes scutellate above, lateral ones almost
equal, the outer connected as far as the second joint.

Plumage soft, rather loose, slightly glossed. A few longish bristles
at the base of the upper mandible. Wings of ordinary length, the third
quill longest, the second and fourth little shorter, the first very
short. Tail rather short, even, of twelve broad feathers.

Bill brownish-black above, flesh-coloured at the base of the lower
mandible. Iris dark-brown. Feet pale flesh-colour. The general colour of
the upper parts is uniform reddish-brown, slightly tinged with green,
the upper tail-coverts and edge of the wing inclined to rufous. Cheeks
and space before the eye pale greyish-brown, obscurely streaked with
hair-brown; a faint line of the same colour over the eye. Wings and tail
dark brown, margined with pale. The lower parts are white, the sides of
the neck tinged with pale brownish-yellow, and with the lateral parts
of the breast and the sides faintly marked with small triangular dusky

Length 7-2/12 inches, extent of wings 12; bill along the ridge 7/12,
along the edge 9/12; tarsus 1-3/12; middle-toe 11/12; weight 1⅛ oz.

The Female resembles the Male in external aspect.

Amer. vol. ii. p. 156. _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 586.
of the plate.

This beautiful Habenaria is characterized by having the lip of the corolla
elongated and tripartite, with narrow segments, the spur filiform,
and of the length of the ovarium, and the flowers alternate. The stem
is about a foot in height, leafy; the lower leaves ovate, the upper
gradually narrower; the large loose spike is composed of numerous pale
pink flowers. It grows in moist meadows.

CORNUS CANADENSIS, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. i. p. 661. _Pursh_,
Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 107.—TETRANDRIA MONOGYNIA,
_Linn._—Fig. 2. of the plate.

The plate represents the aggregated bright red globular berries, and
ovate-acute leaves of this pretty little plant, which is abundant in
shady woods and in mountainous situations in the Middle and Northern
States, as well as in the British provinces.




In honouring so humble an object as this Finch with the name of BACHMAN,
my aim is to testify the high regard in which I hold that learned and
most estimable individual, to whose friendship I owe more than I can
express on this occasion.

"In the month of April 1832," says my worthy friend, the gentleman
just named, "I discovered near Parker's Ferry, on the Edisto River,
in this State, a Fringilla which I had not seen before, and which, on
investigation, I found had never been described. On searching for the
same bird in the neighbourhood of Charleston, I discovered it breeding
in small numbers on the Pine Barrens, about six miles north of this
city, where I obtained many specimens of it.

"This bird appears to be rarer in Carolina than it really is. It is

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 35 of 56)