John James Audubon.

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suppose we still are, is renowned for a circumstance which I feel much
inclined to endeavour to explain to you. Several species of Ducks, that
in myriads cover the waters of the Bay of Fundy, are at times destroyed
in this particular spot in a very singular manner. When July has come,
all the water-birds that are no longer capable of reproducing, remain
like so many forlorn bachelors and old maids, to renew their plumage
along the shores. At the period when these poor birds are unfit for
flight, troops of Indians make their appearance in light bark-canoes,
paddled by their squaws and papooses. They form their flotilla into an
extended curve, and drive before them the birds, not in silence, but
with simultaneous horrific yells, at the same time beating the surface
of the water with long poles and paddles. Terrified by the noise, the
birds swim a long way before them, endeavouring to escape with all their
might. The tide is high, every cove is filled; and into the one where we
now are, thousands of Ducks are seen entering. The Indians have ceased
to shout, and the canoes advance side by side. Time passes on, the tide
swiftly recedes as it rose, and there are the birds left on the beach.
See with what pleasure each wild inhabitant of the forest seizes his
stick, the squaws and younglings following with similar weapons! Look at
them rushing on their prey, falling on the disabled birds, and smashing
them with their cudgels, until all are destroyed! In this manner upwards
of five hundred wild fowls have often been procured in a few hours.

Three pleasant days were spent about Point Lepreaux, when the Fancy
spread her wings to the breeze. In one harbour we fished for shells,
with a capital dredge, and in another searched along the shore for
eggs. The Passamaquody chief is seen gliding swiftly over the deep in
his fragile bark. He has observed a porpoise breathing. Watch him, for
now he is close upon the unsuspecting dolphin. He rises erect, aims his
musket; smoke rises curling from the pan, and rushes from the iron tube,
when soon after the report comes on the ear;—meantime the porpoise has
suddenly turned back downwards;—it is dead. The body weighs a hundred
pounds or more, but this to the tough-fibred son of the woods is nothing;
he reaches it with his muscular arms, and at a single jerk, while with
his legs he dexterously steadies the canoe, he throws it lengthwise at
his feet. Amidst the highest waves of the Bay of Fundy, these feats
are performed by the Indians during the whole of the season when the
porpoises resort thither.

You have often no doubt heard of the extraordinary tides of this bay;
so had I, but, like others, I was loth to believe that the reports were
strictly true. So I went to the pretty town of Windsor, in Nova Scotia,
to judge for myself. But let us leave the Fancy for a while, and fancy
ourselves at Windsor. Late one day in August, my companions and I were
seated on the grassy and elevated bank of the river, about eighty feet
or so above its bed, which was almost dry, and extended for nine miles
below like a sandy wilderness. Many vessels lay on the high banks, taking
in their lading of gypsum. We thought the appearance very singular,
but we were too late to watch the tide that evening. Next morning we
resumed our station, and soon perceived the water flowing towards us,
and rising with a rapidity of which we had previously seen no example.
We planted along the steep declivity of the bank a number of sticks,
each three feet long, the base of one being placed on a level with the
top of that below it, and when about half flow the tide reached their
tops, one after another, rising three feet in ten minutes, or eighteen
in the hour; and, at high water, the surface was sixty-five feet above
the bed of the river! On looking for the vessels which we had seen the
preceding evening, we were told that most of them had gone with the
night tide.

But now we are again on board the Fancy; Mr CLAREDGE stands near the
pilot, who sits next to the man at the helm. On we move swiftly, for
the breeze has freshened; many islands we pass in succession; the wind
increases to a gale; with reefed sails we dash along, and now rapidly
pass a heavily laden sloop gallantly running across our course with
undiminished sail; when suddenly we see her upset. Staves and spars
are floating around, and presently we observe three men scrambling up
her sides, and seating themselves on the keel, where they make signals
of distress to us. By this time we have run to a great distance; but
CLAREDGE, cool and prudent, as every seaman ought to be, has already
issued his orders to the helmsman and crew, and now near the wind we
gradually approach the sufferers. A line is thrown to them, and next
moment we are alongside the vessel. A fisher's boat, too, has noticed
the disaster; and, with long strokes of her oars, advances, now rising
on the curling wave, and now sinking out of sight. By our mutual efforts
the men are brought on board, and the sloop is slowly towed into a safe
harbour. In an hour after my party was safely landed at Eastport, where,
on looking over the waters, and observing the dense masses of vapour
that veiled the shores, we congratulated ourselves at having escaped
from the Bay of Fundy.




It has been my good fortune to study the habits of this species of
Grous, at a period when, in the district in which I resided, few other
birds of any kind were more abundant. I allude to the lower parts of the
States of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Twenty-five years
and more have elapsed since many of the notes to which I now recur were
written, and at that period I little imagined that the observations
which I recorded should ever be read by any other individuals than those
composing my own family, all of whom participated in my admiration of
the works of Nature.

The Barrens of Kentucky are by no means so sterile as they have sometimes
been represented. Their local appellation, however, had so much deceived
me, before I travelled over them, that I expected to find nothing but an
undulated extent of rocky ground, destitute of vegetation, and perforated
by numberless caverns. My ideas were soon corrected. I saw the Barrens
for the first time in the early days of June, and as I entered them from
the skirts of an immense forest, I was surprised at the beauty of the
prospect before me. Flowers without number, and vying with each other in
their beautiful tints, sprung up amidst the luxuriant grass; the fields,
the orchards, and the gardens of the settlers, presented an appearance
of plenty, scarcely any where exceeded; the wild fruit-trees, having
their branches interlaced with grape-vines, promised a rich harvest;
and at every step I trode on ripe and fragrant strawberries. When I
looked around, an oak knob rose here and there before me, a charming
grove embellished a valley, gently sloping hills stretched out into the
distance, while at hand the dark entrance of some cavern attracted my
notice, or a bubbling spring gushing forth at my feet seemed to invite
me to rest and refresh myself with its cooling waters. The timid deer
snuffed the air, as it gracefully bounded off, the Wild Turkey led her
young ones in silence among the tall herbage, and the bees bounded from
flower to blossom. If I struck the stiff foliage of a black-jack oak, or
rustled among the sumachs and brambles, perchance there fluttered before
me in dismay the frightened Grous and her cowering brood. The weather
was extremely beautiful, and I thought that the Barrens must have been
the parts from which Kentucky derived her name of the "Garden of the

There it was, that, year after year, and each successive season, I
studied the habits of the Pinnated Grous. It was there that, before
sunrise, or at the close of day, I heard its curious boomings, witnessed
its obstinate battles, watched it during the progress of its courtships,
noted its nest and eggs, and followed its young until, fully grown, they
betook themselves to their winter quarters.

When I first removed to Kentucky, the Pinnated Grous were so abundant,
that they were held in no higher estimation as food than the most common
flesh, and no "hunter of Kentucky" deigned to shoot them. They were, in
fact, looked upon with more abhorrence than the Crows are at present in
Massachusetts and Maine, on account of the mischief they committed among
the fruit trees of the orchards during winter, when they fed on their
buds, or while in the spring months they picked up the grain in the
fields. The farmer's children or those of his Negroes were employed to
drive them away with rattles from morning to night, and also caught them
in pens and traps of various kinds. In those days, during the winter,
the Grous would enter the farm-yard and feed with the poultry, alight
on the houses, or walk in the very streets of the villages. I recollect
having caught several in a stable at Henderson, where they had followed
some Wild Turkeys. In the course of the same winter, a friend of mine,
who was fond of practising rifle-shooting, killed upwards of forty in
one morning, but picked none of them up, so satiated with Grous was he,
as well as every member of his family. My own servants preferred the
fattest flitch of bacon to their flesh, and not unfrequently laid them
aside as unfit for cooking.

Such an account may appear strange to you, reader; but what will you
think when I tell you, that, in that same country, where, twenty-five
years ago they could not have been sold at more than one cent. a-piece,
scarcely one is now to be found? The Grous have abandoned the State of
Kentucky, and removed (like the Indians) every season farther to the
westward, to escape from the murderous white man. In the Eastern States,
where some of these birds still exist, game-laws have been made for their
protection during a certain part of the year, when, after all, few escape
to breed the next season. To the westward you must go as far at least
as the State of Illinois, before you meet with this species of Grous,
and there too, as formerly in Kentucky, they are decreasing at a rapid
rate. The sportsman of the Eastern States now makes much ado to procure
them, and will travel with friends and dogs, and all the paraphernalia
of hunting, an hundred miles or more, to shoot at most a dozen braces in
a fortnight; and when he returns successful to the city, the important
results are communicated by letter to all concerned. So rare have they
become in the markets of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, that they
sell at from five to ten dollars the pair. An excellent friend of mine,
resident in the city of New York, told me that he refused 100 dollars
for ten brace, which he had shot on the Pocano mountains of Pennsylvania.

On the eastern declivities of our Atlantic coast, the districts in
which the Pinnated Grous are still to be met with, are some portions of
the State of New Jersey, the "brushy" plains of Long Island, Martha's
Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, Mount Desert Island in the State of
Maine, and a certain tract of Barreny country in the latter State,
lying not far from the famed Mar's Hill, where, however, they have been
confounded with the Willow Grous. In the three first places mentioned,
notwithstanding the preventive laws now in force, they are killed without
mercy by persons such as in England are called poachers, even while the
female bird is in the act of sitting on her eggs. Excepting in the above
named places, not a bird of the species is at present to be found, until
you reach the lower parts of Kentucky, where, as I have told you before,
a few still exist. In the State of Illinois, all the vast plains of the
Missouri, those bordering the Arkansas River, and on the prairies of
Opellousas, the Pinnated Grous is still very abundant, and very easily

As soon as the snows have melted away, and the first blades of grass
issue from the earth, announcing the approach of spring, the Grous,
which had congregated during the winter in great flocks, separate into
parties of from twenty to fifty or more. Their love season commences,
and a spot is pitched upon to which they daily resort until incubation is
established. Inspired by love, the male birds, before the first glimpse
of day lightens the horizon, fly swiftly and singly from their grassy
beds, to meet, to challenge, and to fight the various rivals led by the
same impulse to the arena. The male is at this season attired in his
full dress, and enacts his part in a manner not surpassed in pomposity
by any other bird. Imagine them assembled, to the number of twenty, by
day-break, see them all strutting in the presence of each other, mark
their consequential gestures, their looks of disdain, and their angry
pride, as they pass each other. Their tails are spread out and inclined
forwards, to meet the expanded feathers of their neck, which now,
like stiffened frills, lie supported by the globular orange-coloured
receptacles of air, from which their singular booming sounds proceed.
Their wings, like those of the Turkey Cock, are stiffened and declined
so as to rub and rustle on the ground, as the bird passes rapidly along.
Their bodies are depressed towards the ground, the fire of their eyes
evinces the pugnacious workings of the mind, their notes fill the air
around, and at the very first answer from some coy female, the heated
blood of the feathered warriors swells every vein, and presently the
battle rages. Like Game Cocks they strike, and rise in the air to meet
their assailants with greater advantage. Now many close in the encounter;
feathers are seen whirling in the agitated air, or falling around them
tinged with blood. The weaker begin to give way, and one after another
seeks refuge in the neighbouring bushes. The remaining few, greatly
exhausted, maintain their ground, and withdraw slowly and proudly, as
if each claimed the honours of victory. The vanquished and the victors
then search for the females, who believing each to have returned from
the field in triumph, receive them with joy.

It not unfrequently happens that a male already mated is suddenly attacked
by some disappointed rival, who unexpectedly pounces upon him after a
flight of considerable length, having been attracted by the cacklings of
the happy couple. The female invariably squats next to and almost under
the breast of her lord, while he, always ready for action, throws himself
on his daring antagonist, and chases him away never to return. Such is
the moment which I have attempted to represent in the plate which you
will find in the second volume of my "Illustrations."

In such places in the Western country as I have described, the "Prairie
Hen" is heard "booming" or "tooting" not only before break of day, but
frequently at all hours from morning until sunset; but in districts where
these birds have become wild in consequence of the continual interference
of man, they are seldom heard after sunrise, sometimes their meetings are
noiseless, their battles are much less protracted or of less frequent
occurrence, and their beats or scratching grounds are more concealed.
Many of the young males have battles even in autumn, when the females
generally join, not to fight, but to conciliate them, in the manner of
the Wild Turkeys.

The Pinnated Grous forms its nest, according to the latitude of the place,
between the beginning of April and the 25th of May. In Kentucky I have
found it finished and containing a few eggs at the period first mentioned,
but I think, taking the differences of seasons into consideration, the
average period may be about the first of May. The nest although carelessly
formed of dry leaves and grasses, interwoven in a tolerably neat manner,
is always carefully placed amidst the tall grass of some large tuft, in
the open ground of the Prairies, or at the foot of a small bush in the
barren lands. The eggs are from eight to twelve, seldom more, and are
larger than those of the _Tetrao umbellus_, although nearly of the same
colour. The female sits upon them eighteen or nineteen days, and the
moment the young have fairly disengaged themselves, leads them away from
the nest, when the male ceases to be seen with her. As soon as autumn is
fairly in, the different families associate together and at the approach
of winter I have seen packs composed of many hundred individuals.

When surprised, the young squat in the grass or weeds, so that it is
almost impossible to find any of them. Once, while crossing a part of
the barrens on my way homewards, my horse almost placed his foot on a
covey that was in the path. I observed them, and instantly leaped to
the ground; but notwithstanding all my endeavours, the cunning mother
saved them by a single cluck. The little fellows rose on the wing for
only a few yards, spread themselves all round, and kept so close and
quiet, that, although I spent much time in search for them, I could not
discover one. I was much amused, however, by the arts the mother employed
to induce me to leave the spot where they lay concealed, when perhaps
I was actually treading on some of them.

This species never raises more than one brood in the season, unless the
eggs have been destroyed, in which case the female immediately calls for
her mate, and produces a second set of eggs, generally much smaller in
number than the first. About the 1st of August, the young are as large
as our little American Partridge, and are then most excellent eating.
They do not acquire much strength of wing until the middle of October,
and after that period they become daily more difficult to be approached.
Their enemies are at this season very numerous, but the principal are
the Polecat, the Racoon, the Weasel, the Wild Cat, and various Hawks.

The Pinnated Grous is easily tamed, and easily kept. It also breeds
in confinement, and I have often felt surprised that it has not been
fairly domesticated. While at Henderson, I purchased sixty alive, that
were expressly caught for me within twelve miles of that village; and
brought in a bag laid across the back of a horse. I cut the tips of their
wings, and turned them loose in a garden and orchard about four acres in
extent. Within a week they became tame enough to allow me to approach
them without their being frightened. I supplied them with abundance of
corn, and they fed besides on vegetables of various kinds. This was in
the month of September, and almost all of them were young birds. In the
course of the winter they became so gentle as to feed from the hand of
my wife, and walked about the garden like so many tame fowls, mingling
occasionally with the domestic poultry. I observed that at night each
individual made choice of one of the heaps in which a cabbage had grown,
and that they invariably placed their breast to the wind, whatever way
it happened to blow. When spring returned, they strutted, "tooted," and
fought, as if in the wilds where they had received their birth. Many
laid eggs, and a good number of young ones made their appearance, but
the Grous at last proved so destructive to the young vegetables, tearing
them up by the roots, that I ordered them to be killed. So brave were
some of the male birds, that they never flinched in the presence of a
large Turkey Cock, and now and then they would stand against a dunghill
cock, for a pass or two, before they would run from him.

During very severe weather, I have known this species to roost at a
considerable height on trees, but they generally prefer resting on the
ground. I observed that for several nights in succession, many of these
Grous slept in a meadow not far distant from my house. This piece of
ground was thickly covered with tall grass, and one dark night I thought
of amusing myself by trying to catch them. I had a large seine, and took
with me several Negroes supplied with lanterns and long poles, with the
latter of which they bore the net completely off the ground. We entered
the meadow in the early part of the night, although it was so dark that
without a light one could hardly have seen an object a yard distant, and
spreading out the leaded end of the net, carried the other end forward
by means of the poles at the height of a few feet. I had marked before
dark a place in which a great number of the birds had alighted, and now
ordered my men to proceed towards it. As the net passed over the first
Grous in the way, the alarmed bird flew directly towards the confining
part of the angle, and almost at the same moment a great number of others
arose, and, with much noise, followed the same direction. At a signal,
the poles were laid flat on the ground, and we secured the prisoners,
bagging some dozens. Repeating our experiment three times in succession,
we met with equal success, but now we gave up the sport on account of the
loud bursts of laughter from the Negroes, who could no longer refrain.
Leaving the net on the ground, we returned to the house laden with spoil,
but next evening not a Grous was to be found in the meadow, although I
am confident that several hundreds had escaped.

On the ground the Pinnated Grous exhibits none of the elegance of manner
observed in the Ruffed Grous, but walks more like the Common Hen, although
in a more erect attitude. If surprised, it rises at once with a moderate
whirring sound of the wings; but if it happens to see you at a distance,
and the place is clear, it instantly runs off with considerable speed,
and stops at the first tuft of high grass or bunch of briar, when it
squats, and remains until put up. In newly ploughed grounds I have
seen them run with all their might, their wings partially expanded,
until suddenly meeting with a large clod, they would stop, squat, and
disappear in a moment. During the noontide hours, several may often be
seen dusting themselves near each other, either on the ploughed fields
or the dry sandy roads, and rearranging their feathers in a moment, in
the same manner as the Wild Turkey. Like the Common Fowls, they watch
each other's motions, and if one has discovered a grasshopper, and is
about to chase it, all the rest within sight of it either fly or run up
to the place. When the mother of a brood is found with her young ones,
she instantly ruffles up her feathers, and often looks as if she would
fly at you; but this she never ventures to do, although she tries every
art to decoy you from the place. On large branches of trees these birds
walk with great ease, but on small ones they require the aid of their
wings to enable them to walk steadily. They usually, if not always, roost
singly within a few feet of each other, and on such little eminences as
the ground affords. I have found them invariably fronting the wind, or
the quarter from which it was to blow. It is only during the early age
of the young birds that they at on the ground in a circle.

The flight of the Prairie Hen is strong, regular, tolerably swift, and at
times protracted to the distance of several miles. The whirring of its
wings is less conspicuous than that of the Ruffed Grous or "Pheasant"
(_Tetrao umbellus_), and its flight is less rapid. It moves through
the air with frequent beats, after which it sails with the wings bent
downwards, balancing itself for a hundred yards or more, as if to
watch the movements of its pursuer, for at this time they can easily
be observed to look behind them as they proceed. They never rise when
disturbed without uttering four or five distinct clucks, although at
other times they fly off in silence. They are easily shot down by a
calm sportsman, but are very apt to deceive a young hand. In the western
country they rarely stand before the pointer, and I think the setter is
a more profitable dog there. In the Eastern States, however, pointers,
as I am informed, are principally employed. These birds rarely wait the
approach of the sportsman, but often rise when he is at such a distance
as to render it necessary for him to be very prompt in firing. Unlike
other species, they seldom pass over you, even when you surprise them,
and if the country is wooded, they frequently alight on the highest
branches of the tallest trees, where they are usually more accessible.
If shot almost dead, they fall and turn round on the ground with great
violence until life is extinct; but when less injured, they run with
great celerity to some secluded place, where they remain so quiet and
silent as to render it difficult to find them without a good dog. Their
flesh is dark, and resembles that of the Red Grous of Scotland, or the

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 47 of 56)