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in fact oftener heard than seen. When I first heard its notes, they so
nearly resembled those of the Towhe Bunting, that I took it to be that
bird: a somewhat greater softness, and a slight variation in the notes,
alone induced me to suspect that it was another, and caused me to go
in pursuit of it. Since then I have heard as many as five or six in the
course of a morning's ride, but found it almost impossible to get even a
sight of the bird. This was owing, not to its being particularly wild,
but to the habits it possesses of darting from the tall pine-trees,
where it usually sits to warble out its melodious notes, and concealing
itself in the tall brome-grass which is almost invariably found in those
places which it frequents. As soon as alighted, it keeps running off in
the grass, like a mouse, and it is extremely difficult to put them up,
or see them afterwards.

"It breeds in Carolina, to all appearance on the ground, where it is
usually found when not singing. I never saw its nest; but in the month of
June last (1833), I observed two pair of these birds, each having four
young ones, that were pretty well fledged, and following their parents
along the low scrub oaks of the pine lands.

"This is decidedly the finest songster of the Sparrow Family with which
I am acquainted. Its notes are very loud, considering the size of the
bird, and can be heard at a considerable distance in the pine woods,
where it is found, and where it is the only songster at that season.

"In the beginning of November, this bird usually disappears, and I think
it probably migrates farther south. Still it is likely that it does not
go beyond the limits of the United States, and that some few remain in
Carolina during the whole winter, as, on the 6th of February, the coldest
time of the year, I found one of these birds in some long grass, a few
miles from Charleston."

Since then, kind reader, I have had the pleasure, in the company of its
amiable discoverer, to hear the melodious notes of this southern species.
Our endeavours, however, to find its nest have been unsuccessful.

On my return from the Floridas to New York, in June 1832, I travelled
through both the Carolinas, and observed many of these Finches on the
sides of the roads cut through the pine woods of South Carolina. At this
time, they filled the air with their melodies. I traced them as far as
the boundary between that State and North Carolina, in which none were
seen or heard. They were particularly abundant near the Great Santee

The food of this species consists of the seeds of grasses, coleopterous
insects, and a variety of the small berries so abundant in that part of
the country. Its flight is swift and direct, now and then protracted,
so that the bird is out of sight before it alights.

I observed no difference in the size or colour of the sexes, and have
represented a Male in full summer dress, which was presented to me,
while yet quite fresh, by my friend BACHMAN.

The beautiful plant on which it is placed, was drawn by my friend's
sister, who has kindly rendered me similar services, which will be
pointed out on the proper occasions; and here let me again express my
gratitude toward that amiable lady, and her esteemed brother.


Adult Male. Plate CLXV. Fig. 1.

Bill short, conical, acute; upper mandible almost straight in its
dorsal outline, rounded on the sides; lower mandible slightly convex
beneath, the sides rounded; edges of both sharp and inflected; gap-line
deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partially concealed by
the feathers. Head rather large, neck short, body rather full. Feet of
moderate length, slender; tarsus covered anteriorly with a few longish
scutella; toes free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal,
hind-toe proportionally large; claws slender, compressed, acute, slightly
arched, that of the hind-toe longer.

Plumage soft, blended, rather compact on the back, slightly glossed.
Wings shortish, curved, third and fourth quills longest, fifth and second
nearly equal; the secondaries long and rounded. Tail long, graduated,
and deeply emarginate, of twelve straight, narrow feathers, tapering to
a rounded point.

Bill dark brown above, light blue beneath. Iris hazel. Feet very light
flesh-coloured. The general colour of the upper parts is reddish-brown,
the central parts of the feathers on the back black, their margins
bluish-grey. Secondary coverts dull yellowish-brown on the outer edge;
quills dark brown, the first seven or eight slightly edged with pale
ochre, the rest edged with light brown; flexure of the wing bright
yellow; small coverts varied with brown and yellowish-grey. Tail-feathers
brown, lighter on the outer edges. A streak from the upper mandible
over the eye, as well as the margin of the eye, ochre-yellow. Throat
pale yellowish-grey, with a short streak of blackish on each side, from
the base of the mandible; fore part of the breast and sides tinged with
brown; the rest of the lower parts yellowish-grey.

Length 6 inches, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge ½, along the
sides ⅝; tarsus ⅞.

The Female is slightly smaller, but does not differ in colouring.

This species belongs to the same group as the Yellow-winged Sparrow,
the Savannah Finch, the Lincoln Finch, and the Henslow Finch. At the
same time, the form of the bill and tail indicates an affinity to the
Sharp-tailed Finch, the Sea-side Finch, and MacGillivray's Finch, which
are maritime birds, while the former do not betake themselves to the
salt marshes. Both groups, however, have the tail-feathers more or less

PINCKNEYA PUBESCENS, _Mich._ Fl. Amer. vol. i. p. 105. _Pursh_,
Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 158.—PENTANDRIA MONOGYNIA, _Linn._

This shrubby tree grows on the banks of rivers, and near swamps in
Georgia; but the twig represented in the Plate was from a tree in the
beautiful botanic garden of M. NOISETTE, a few miles from Charleston, in
South Carolina. The leaves are oval, acute at both ends, somewhat downy
beneath; the flowers are yellow, tinged with red; one of the divisions
of the calyx enlarges to a whitish leaf, tinged with red, which renders
the plant highly ornamental.


The Tortugas are a group of islands lying about eighty miles from Key
West, and the last of those that seem to defend the peninsula of the
Floridas. They consist of five or six extremely low uninhabitable banks
formed of shelly sand, and are resorted to principally by that class
of men called Wreckers and Turtlers. Between these islands are deep
channels, which, although extremely intricate, are well known to those
adventurers, as well as to the commanders of the revenue cutters, whose
duties call them to that dangerous coast. The great coral reef or wall
lies about eight miles from these inhospitable isles, in the direction of
the Gulf, and on it many an ignorant or careless navigator has suffered
shipwreck. The whole ground around them is densely covered with corals,
sea-fans, and other productions of the deep, amid which crawl innumerable
testaceous animals, while shoals of curious and beautiful fishes fill
the limpid waters above them. Turtles of different species resort to
these banks, to deposit their eggs in the burning sand, and clouds of
sea-fowl arrive every spring for the same purpose. These are followed
by persons called "Eggers," who, when their cargoes are completed, sail
to distant markets, to exchange their ill-gotten ware for a portion of
that gold, on the acquisition of which all men seem bent.

The "Marion" having occasion to visit the Tortugas, I gladly embraced
the opportunity of seeing those celebrated islets. A few hours before
sunset the joyful cry of "land" announced our approach to them, but as
the breeze was fresh, and the pilot was well acquainted with all the
windings of the channels, we held on, and dropped anchor before twilight.
If you have never seen the sun setting in those latitudes, I would
recommend to you to make a voyage for the purpose, for I much doubt, if,
in any other portion of the world, the departure of the orb of day is
accompanied with such gorgeous appearances. Look at the great red disk,
increased to triple its ordinary dimensions! Now it has partially sunk
beneath the distant line of waters, and with its still remaining half
irradiates the whole heavens with a flood of golden light, purpling the
far off clouds that hover over the western horizon. A blaze of refulgent
glory streams through the portals of the west, and the masses of vapour
assume the semblance of mountains of molten gold. But the sun has now
disappeared, and from the east slowly advances the grey curtain which
night draws over the world.

The Night-hawk is flapping its noiseless wings in the gentle sea-breeze;
the Terns, safely landed, have settled on their nests; the Frigate
Pelicans are seen wending their way to distant mangroves; and the Brown
Gannet, in search of a resting-place, has perched on the yard of the
vessel. Slowly advancing landward, their heads alone above the water,
are observed the heavily-laden Turtles, anxious to deposit their eggs
in the well-known sands. On the surface of the gently rippling stream, I
dimly see their broad forms, as they toil along, while at intervals may
be heard their hurried breathings, indicative of suspicion and fear. The
moon with her silvery light now illumines the scene, and the Turtle having
landed, slowly and laboriously drags her heavy body over the sand, her
"flappers" being better adapted for motion in the water than on shore.
Up the slope, however, she works her way, and see how industriously she
removes the sand beneath her, casting it out on either side. Layer after
layer she deposits her eggs, arranging them in the most careful manner,
and, with her hind-paddles, brings the sand over them. The business is
accomplished, the spot is covered over, and, with a joyful heart, the
Turtle swiftly retires toward the shore, and launches into the deep.

But the Tortugas are not the only breeding places of the Turtles; these
animals, on the contrary, frequent many other keys, as well as various
parts of the coast of the mainland. There are four different species,
which are known by the names of the _Green_ Turtle, the _Hawk-billed_
Turtle, the _Logger-head_ Turtle, and the _Trunk_ Turtle. The first is
considered the best as an article of food, in which capacity it is well
known to most epicures. It approaches the shores, and enters the bays,
inlets and rivers, early in the month of April, after having spent the
winter in the deep waters. It deposits its eggs in convenient places, at
two different times in May, and once again in June. The first deposit
is the largest, and the last the least, the total quantity being at an
average about two hundred and forty. The Hawk-billed Turtle, whose shell
is so valuable as an article of commerce, being used for various purposes
in the arts, is the next with respect to the quality of its flesh. It
resorts to the outer keys only, where it deposits its eggs in two sets,
first in July, and again in August, although it "crawls" the beaches of
these keys much earlier in the season, as if to look for a safe place.
The average number of its eggs is about three hundred. The Loggerhead
visits the Tortugas in April, and lays from that period until late in
June three sets of eggs, each set averaging a hundred and seventy. The
Trunk Turtle, which is sometimes of an enormous size, and which has a
pouch like a pelican, reaches the shores latest. The shell and flesh are
so soft that one may push his finger into them, almost as into a lump
of butter. This species is therefore considered as the least valuable,
and indeed is seldom eaten, unless by the Indians, who, ever alert when
the turtle season commences, first carry off the eggs, and afterwards
catch the Turtles themselves. The average number of eggs which it lays
in the season, in two sets, may be three hundred and fifty.

The Loggerhead and the Trunk Turtles are the least cautious in choosing
the places in which to deposit their eggs, whereas the two other species
select the wildest and most secluded spots. The Green Turtle resorts
either to the shores of the Main, between Cape Sable and Cape Florida,
or enters Indian, Halifax, and other large rivers or inlets, from which
it makes its retreat as speedily as possible, and betakes itself to
the open sea. Great numbers, however, are killed by the Turtlers and
Indians, as well as by various species of carnivorous animals, as cougars,
lynxes, bears and wolves. The Hawkbill, which is still more wary, and
is always the most difficult to surprise, keeps to the sea islands. All
the species employ nearly the same method in depositing their eggs in
the sand, and as I have several times observed them in the act, I am
enabled to present you with circumstantial account of it.

On first nearing the shores, and mostly on fine calm moonlight nights,
the Turtle raises her head above the water, being still distant thirty or
forty yards from the beach, looks around her, and attentively examines
the objects on the shore. Should she observe nothing likely to disturb
her intended operations, she emits a loud hissing sound, by which such
of her many enemies as are unaccustomed to it, are startled, and so are
apt to remove to another place, although unseen by her. Should she hear
any noise, or perceive indications of danger, she instantly sinks and
goes off to a considerable distance; but should every thing be quiet,
she advances slowly towards the beach, crawls over it, her head raised
to the full stretch of her neck, and when she has reached a place fitted
for her purpose, she gazes all round in silence. Finding "all well,"
she proceeds to form a hole in the sand, which she effects by removing
it from _under_ her body with her _hind_ flappers, scooping it out with
so much dexterity that the sides seldom if ever fall in. The sand is
raised alternately with each flapper, as with a large ladle, until it
has accumulated behind her, when supporting herself with her head and
fore part on the ground fronting her body, she with a spring from each
flapper, sends the sand around her, scattering it to the distance of
several feet. In this manner the hole is dug to the depth of eighteen
inches or sometimes more than two feet. This labour I have seen performed
in the short period of nine minutes. The eggs are then dropped one by
one, and disposed in regular layers, to the number of a hundred and
fifty, or sometimes nearly two hundred. The whole time spent in this
part of the operation may be about twenty minutes. She now scrapes the
loose sand back over the eggs, and so levels and smooths the surface,
that few persons on seeing the spot could imagine any thing had been
done to it. This accomplished to her mind, she retreats to the water
with all possible dispatch, leaving the hatching of the eggs to the heat
of the sand. When a turtle, a loggerhead for example, is in the act of
dropping her eggs, she will not move although one should go up to her,
or even seat himself on her back, for it seems that at this moment she
finds it necessary to proceed at all events, and is unable to intermit
her labour. The moment it is finished, however, off she starts; nor would
it then be possible for one, unless he were as strong as a Hercules, to
turn her over and secure her.

To upset a turtle on the shore, one is obliged to fall on his knees,
and, placing his shoulder behind her forearm, gradually raise her up by
pushing with great force, and then with a jerk throw her over. Sometimes
it requires the united strength of several men to accomplish this; and,
if the turtle should be of very great size, as often happens on that
coast, even hand-spikes are employed. Some turtlers are so daring as to
swim up to them while lying asleep on the surface of the water, and turn
them over in their own element, when, however, a boat must be at hand
to enable them to secure their prize. Few turtles can bite beyond the
reach of their fore legs, and few, when once turned over, can, without
assistance, regain their natural position; but, notwithstanding this,
their flappers are generally secured by ropes so as to render their
escape impossible.

Persons who search for turtles' eggs are provided with a light stiff
cane or a gun-rod, with which they go along the shores, probing the sand
near the tracks of the animals, which, however, cannot always be seen,
on account of the winds and heavy rains, that often obliterate them. The
nests are discovered not only by men, but also by beasts of prey, and
the eggs are collected, or destroyed on the spot in great numbers, as
on certain parts of the shores hundreds of turtles are known to deposit
their eggs within the space of a mile. They form a new hole each time
they lay, and the second is generally dug near the first, as if the
animal were quite unconscious of what had befallen it. It will readily
be understood that the numerous eggs seen in a turtle on cutting it up
could not be all laid the same season. The whole number deposited by
an individual in one summer may amount to four hundred, whereas if the
animal is caught on or near her nest, as I have witnessed, the remaining
eggs, all small, without shells, and as it were threaded like so many
large beads, exceed three thousand. In an instance where I found that
number, the turtle weighed nearly four hundred pounds. The young, soon
after being hatched, and when yet scarcely larger than a dollar, scratch
their way through their sandy covering, and immediately betake themselves
to the water.

The food of the Green Turtle consists chiefly of marine plants, more
especially the Grasswrack (_Zostera marina_), which they cut near the
roots to procure the most tender and succulent parts. Their feeding
grounds, as I have elsewhere said, are easily discovered by floating
masses of these plants on the flats, or along the shores to which they
resort. The Hawk-billed species feeds on sea-weeds, crabs, various
kinds of shellfish, and fishes; the Loggerhead mostly on the fish of
conch-shells of large size, which they are enabled, by means of their
powerful beak, to crush to pieces with apparently as much ease as a man
cracks a walnut. One which was brought on board the Marion, and placed
near the fluke of one of her anchors, made a deep indentation in that
hammered piece of iron that quite surprised me. The Trunk Turtle feeds
on mollusca, fish, crustacea, sea urchins, and various marine plants.

All the species move through the water with surprising speed; but the
Green and Hawk-billed in particular, remind you, by their celerity and
the ease of their motions, of the progress of a bird in the air. It is
therefore no easy matter to strike one with a spear, and yet this is
often done by an accomplished turtler.

While at Key West and other islands on the coast, where I made the
observations here presented to you, I chanced to have need to purchase
some turtles, to feed my friends on board the Lady of the Green Mantle—not
my friends her gallant officers, or the brave tars who formed her crew,
for all of them had already been satiated with turtle soup, but my friends
the Herons, of which I had a goodly number alive in coops, intending to
carry them to JOHN BACHMAN of Charleston, and other persons for whom
I ever feel a sincere regard. So I went to a "crawl," accompanied by
Dr BENJAMIN STROBEL, to inquire about prices, when, to my surprise, I
found that the smaller the turtles, above ten pounds weight, the dearer
they were, and that I could have purchased one of the loggerhead kind
that weighed more than seven hundred pounds, for little more money than
another of only thirty pounds. While I gazed on the large one, I thought
of the soups the contents of its shell would have furnished for a "Lord
Mayor's dinner," of the numerous eggs which its swollen body contained,
and of the curious carriage which might be made of its shell,—a car in
which Venus herself might sail over the Carribbean sea, provided her
tender doves lent their aid in drawing the divinity, and provided no
shark or hurricane came to upset it. The turtler assured me that although
the "great monster" was in fact better meat than any other of a less
size, there was no disposing of it, unless indeed it had been in his
power to have sent it to some very distant market. I would willingly
have purchased it, but I knew that if killed, its flesh could not keep
much longer than a day, and on that account I bought eight or ten small
ones, which "my friends" really relished exceedingly, and which served
to support them for a long time.

Turtles such as I have spoken of, are caught in various ways on the
coasts of the Floridas, or in estuaries and rivers. Some turtlers are in
the habit of setting great nets across the entrance of streams, so as to
answer the purpose either at the flow or at the ebb of the waters. These
nets are formed of very large meshes, into which the turtles partially
enter, when, the more they attempt to extricate themselves, the more
they get entangled. Others harpoon them in the usual manner; but in my
estimation no method is equal to that employed by Mr EGAN, the Pilot of
Indian Isle.

That extraordinary turtler had an iron instrument, which he called a
_peg_, and which at each end had a point not unlike what nail-makers
call a brad, it being four-cornered but flattish, and of a shape somewhat
resembling the beak of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, together with a neck
and shoulder. Between the two shoulders of this instrument a fine tough
line, fifty or more fathoms in length, was fastened by one end being
passed through a hole in the centre of the peg, and the line itself
was carefully coiled up and placed in a convenient part of the canoe.
One extremity of this peg enters a sheath of iron that loosely attaches
it to a long wooden spear, until a turtle has been pierced through the
shell by the other extremity. He of the canoe paddles away as silently
as possible whenever he spies a turtle basking on the water, until he
gets within a distance of ten or twelve yards, when he throws the spear
so as to hit the animal about the place which an entomologist would
choose, were it a large insect, for pinning it to a piece of cork. As
soon as the turtle is struck, the wooden handle separates from the peg,
in consequence of the looseness of its attachment. The smart of the
wound urges on the animal as if distracted, and it appears that the
longer the peg remains in its shell, the more firmly fastened it is,
so great a pressure is exercised upon it by the shell of the turtle,
which being suffered to run like a whale, soon becomes fatigued, and is
secured by hauling in the line with great care. In this manner, as the
Pilot informed me, eight hundred Green Turtles were caught by one man
in twelve months.

Each turtler has his _crawl_, which is a square wooden building or
pen, formed of logs, which are so far separated as to allow the tide to
pass freely through, and stand erect in the mud. The turtles are placed
in this inclosure, fed and kept there until sold. If the animals thus
confined have not laid their eggs previous to their seizure, they drop
them in the water, so that they are lost. The price of Green Turtles,
when I was at Key West, was from four to six cents per pound.

The loves of the turtles are conducted in a most extraordinary manner;
but as the recital of them must prove out of place here, I shall pass
them over. There is, however, a circumstance relating to their habits,
which I cannot omit, although I have it not from my own ocular evidence,
but from report. When I was in the Floridas, several of the turtlers
assured me, that any turtle taken from the depositing ground, and
carried on the deck of a vessel several hundred miles, would, if then
let loose, certainly be met with at the same spot, either immediately
after, or in the following breeding season. Should this prove true, and
it certainly may, how much will be enhanced the belief of the student
in the uniformity and solidity of Nature's arrangements, when he finds
that the turtle, like a migratory bird, returns to the same locality,
with perhaps a delight similar to that experienced by the traveller,
who, after visiting distant countries, once more returns to the bosom
of his cherished family.




Should the bird known in Europe by the above name, and that found in the
United States, prove to be identical, I should not be a little surprised,

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 36 of 56)