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The Yellow-bellied Woodpecker prefers the interior of the forest during
spring and summer, seldom shewing itself near the habitations of man
at those seasons. It is a sly and suspicious bird, spending most of its
time in trees which have close branches and dense foliage. It generally
bores its nest at a considerable height, and usually in the trunk of an
undecayed tree, immediately beneath a large branch, and on its southern
side. The hole is worked out by the male as well as the female, in
the manner followed by other species, and to the depth of from fifteen
to twenty-four inches. The aperture is just large enough to admit the
birds, but the hole widens gradually towards the bottom, where it is
large and roomy. The eggs, which are from four to six, and pure white,
with a slight blush, are deposited on the chips without any nest. The
young seldom leave the hole until they are fully fledged, after which
they follow their parents, in a straggling manner, until the approach
of spring, when the males become shy towards each other, and quarrel
whenever they meet, frequently erecting the feathers of the head and
fighting desperately.

They fly through the woods with rapidity, in short undulations, seldom
going farther at a time than from one tree to another. I never observed
one of these birds on the ground. Their food consists of wood-worms
and beetles, to which they add small grapes and various berries during
autumn and winter, frequently hanging head downwards at the extremity
of a bunch of grapes, or such berries as those you see represented in
the Plate.

I found this species extremely abundant in the upper parts of the State
of Maine, and in the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but
saw none in Newfoundland or Labrador.

While travelling I observed that they performed their migration by day, in
loose parties or families of six or seven individuals, flying at a great
height, and at the intervals between their sailings and the flappings of
their wings, emitting their remarkable plaintive cries. When alighting
towards sunset, they descended with amazing speed in a tortuous manner,
and first settled on the tops of the highest trees, where they remained
perfectly silent for a while, after which they betook themselves to the
central parts of the thickest trees, and searched along the trunks for
abandoned holes of squirrels or woodpeckers, in which they spent the
night, several together in the same hole. On one occasion, while I was
watching their movements at a late hour, I was much surprised to see a
pair of them disputing the entrance of a hole with an owl (_Strix Asio_),
which for nearly a quarter of an hour tried, but in vain, to drive them
away from its retreat. The owl alighted sidewise on the tree under its
hole, swelled out its plumage, blew and hissed with all its might; but
the two Woodpeckers so guarded the entrance with their sharp bills, their
eyes flushed, and the feathers of their heads erected, that the owner
of the abode was at length forced to relinquish his claims. The next
day at noon I returned to the tree, when I found the little nocturnal
vagrant snugly ensconced in his diurnal retreat.

This species of Woodpecker does not obtain the full beauty of its plumage
until the second spring; and the variety of colouring which it presents
in the male and female, the old and young birds, renders it one of the
most interesting of those found in the United States.


PICUS VARIUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 176.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 45.

PICUS (DENDROCOPUS) VARIUS, _Swains. and Richards._ Fauna Bor.-
Amer. vol. ii. p. 309.

YELLOW-BELLIED WOODPECKER, PICUS VARIUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith.
vol. i. p. 147. pl. 9. fig. 2. Male.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Amer.
Ornith. vol. i. p. 75. pl. 8. fig. 1, 2, young.—_Nuttall_,
Manual, part i. p. 574.


Adult Male. Plate CXC. Fig. 1.

Bill longish, straight, strong, tapering, compressed towards the end,
slightly truncated and cuneate at the tip; mandibles of equal length, both
nearly straight in their dorsal outline, their sides convex, excepting
at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical, open, covered by the
feathers, and having a sharp ridge passing over them to the edge of
the bill near the middle. Head of moderate size, neck rather short,
body rather robust. Feet rather short; tarsus compressed, anteriorly
scutellate, laterally covered with hexagonal scales, sharp behind; two
toes before, united as far as the second joint; two behind, the first
very small, the second equal in length to the third, claws strong, much
curved, compressed, with a short deep groove on each side, very acute.

Plumage soft, rather blended, slightly glossed, that of the head shining.
Wings long, the first quill extremely small, fourth longest, third nearly
equal, second shorter than fifth; secondaries slightly emarginate. Tail
of ordinary length, cuneate, of ten pointed feathers, having very short
shafts.

Bill brownish-black. Iris brown. Feet greyish-blue. Forehead and crown,
chin and sides of the throat blood-red, the two patches margined with
greenish-black, of which colour is a broad band on the occiput, and
a large space on the lower neck and fore part of the breast, a broad
band of white from the eye margining the back of the occiput; another
from the base of the upper mandible down the side of the neck, the
interspace black. Scapulars black, tinged with green. Wing-coverts and
quills black, the first row of smaller coverts white, excepting at the
base, those of the outer secondary coverts are white on the outer webs,
and the quills, excepting the first, are spotted on the outer and inner
edges, and more or less tipped with the same. The back is variegated
with black and brownish-white. Tail-feathers black, the outer margined
with white towards the tip, the two inner spotted with white on the
inner web. Middle of the breast yellow, sides dusky yellow, variegated
with brownish-black.

Length 8½ inches, extent of wings 15; bill along the ridge 10/12, along
the edge 1-1/12; tarsus 10/12.


Adult Female. Plate CXC. Fig. 2.

The female resembles the male, but the throat is white, and the yellow
of the lower parts less pure.


THE WILD ALMOND.

This plant has already been noticed at p. 340 of the present volume.




COD-FISHING.


Although I had seen, as I thought, abundance of fish along the coasts
of the Floridas, the numbers which I found in Labrador quite astonished
me. Should your surprise while reading the following statements be as
great as mine was while observing the facts related, you will conclude,
as I have often done, that Nature's means for providing small animals
for the use of larger ones, and _vice versa_, are as ample as is the
grandeur of that world which she has so curiously constructed.

The coast of Labrador is visited by European as well as American
fishermen, all of whom are, I believe, entitled to claim portions of
fishing-ground, assigned to each nation by mutual understanding. For the
present, however, I shall confine my observations to those of our own
country, who, after all, are probably the most numerous. The citizens of
Boston, and many others of our eastern sea-ports, are those who chiefly
engage in this department of our commerce. Eastport in Maine sends out
every year a goodly fleet, of schooners and "pickaxes" to Labrador, to
procure cod, mackerel, halibut, and sometimes herring, the latter being
caught in the intermediate space. The vessels from that port, and others
in Maine and Massachusetts, sail as soon as the warmth of spring has
freed the gulf of ice, that is, from the beginning of May to that of June.

A vessel of one hundred tons or so, is provided with a crew of twelve
men, who are equally expert as sailors and fishers, and for every couple
of these hardy tars, a Hampton boat is provided, which is lashed on the
deck, or hung in stays. Their provision is simple, but of good quality,
and it is very seldom that any spirits are allowed, beef, pork, and
biscuit, with water, being all they take with them. The men are supplied
with warm clothing, waterproof oiled jackets and trowsers, large boots,
broad-brimmed hats with a round crown, and stout mittens, with a few
shirts. The owner or captain furnishes them with lines, hooks, and nets,
and also provides the bait best adapted to ensure success. The hold of
the vessel is filled with casks of various dimensions, some containing
salt, and others for the oil that may be procured.

The bait generally used at the beginning of the season, consists of
mussels salted for the purpose; but as soon as the capelings reach the
coast, they are substituted to save expense; and in many instances,
the flesh of gannets and other sea-fowl is employed. The wages of
fishermen vary from sixteen to thirty dollars per month, according to
the qualifications of the individual.

The labour of these men is excessively hard, for, unless on Sunday, their
allowance of rest in the twenty-four hours seldom exceeds three. The
cook is the only person who fares better in this respect, but he must
also assist in curing the fish. He has breakfast, consisting of coffee,
bread, and meat, ready for the captain and the whole crew, by three
o'clock every morning, excepting Sunday. Each person carries with him
his dinner ready cooked, which is commonly eaten on the fishing-grounds.

Thus, at three in the morning, the crew are prepared for their day's
labour, and ready to betake themselves to their boats, each of which has
two oars and lugsails. They all depart at once, and either by rowing or
sailing, reach the banks to which the fishes are known to resort. The
little squadron drop their anchors at short distances from each other,
in a depth of from ten to twenty feet, and the business is immediately
commenced. Each man has two lines, and each stands in one end of the
boat, the middle of which is boarded off to hold the fish. The baited
lines have been dropped into the water, one on each side of the boat;
their leads have reached the bottom, a fish has taken the hook, and
after giving the line a slight jerk, the fisherman hauls up his prize
with a continued pull, throws the fish athwart a small round bar of iron
placed near his back, which forces open the mouth, while the weight of
the body, however small the fish may be, tears out the hook. The bait is
still good, and over the side the line again goes, to catch another fish,
while that on the left is now drawn up, and the same course pursued.
In this manner, a fisher busily plying at each end, the operation is
continued until the boat is so laden, that her gunwale is brought within
a few inches of the surface, when they return to the vessel in harbour,
seldom distant more than eight miles from the banks.

During the greater part of the day, the fishermen have kept up a constant
conversation, of which the topics are the pleasure of finding a good
supply of cod, their domestic affairs, the political prospects of the
nation, and other matters similarly connected. Now the repartee of one
elicits a laugh from the other; this passes from man to man, and the
whole flotilla enjoy the joke. The men of one boat strive to outdo those
of the others in hauling up the greatest quantity of fish in a given
time, and this forms another source of merriment. The boats are generally
filled about the same time, and all return together.

Arrived at the vessel, each man employs a pole armed with a bent iron,
resembling the prong of a hay-fork, with which he pierces the fish,
and throws it with a jerk on deck, counting the number thus discharged
with a loud voice. Each cargo is thus safely deposited, and the boats
instantly return to the fishing-ground, when, after anchoring, the men
eat their dinner and begin a-new. There, good reader, with your leave,
I will let them pursue their avocations for a while, as I am anxious
that you should witness what is doing on board the vessel.

The captain, four men, and the cook, have, in the course of the morning,
erected long tables fore and aft the main hatchway, they have taken to
the shore most of the salt barrels, and have placed in a row their large
empty casks, to receive the livers. The hold of the vessel is quite
clear, except a corner where is a large heap of salt. And now the men
having dined precisely at twelve, are ready with their large knives.
One begins with breaking off the head of the fish, a slight pull of the
hand and a gash with the knife effecting this in a moment. He slits up
its belly, with one hand pushes it aside to his neighbour, then throws
overboard the head, and begins to doctor another. The next man tears
out the entrails, separates the liver, which he throws into a cask, and
casts the rest overboard. A third person dexterously passes his knife
beneath the vertebræ of the fish, separates them from the flesh, heaves
the latter through the hatchway, and the former into the water.

Now, if you will peep into the hold, you will see the last stage of the
process, the salting and packing. Six experienced men generally manage to
head, gut, bone, salt and pack, all the fish caught in the morning, by
the return of the boats with fresh cargoes, when all hands set to work,
and clear the deck of the fish. Thus their labours continue until twelve
o'clock, when they wash their faces and hands, put on clean clothes,
hang their fishing apparel on the shrouds, and, betaking themselves to
the forecastle, are soon in a sound sleep.

At three next morning comes the captain from his berth, rubbing his
eyes; and in a loud voice calling "all hands, ho!" Stiffened in limb,
and but half awake, the crew quickly appear on the deck. Their fingers
and hands are so cramped and swollen by pulling the lines, that it is
difficult for them to straighten even a thumb; but this matters little
at present; for the cook, who had a good nap yesterday, has risen an
hour before them, and prepared their coffee and eatables. Breakfast
dispatched, they exchange their clean clothes for the fishing-apparel,
and leap into their boats, which had been washed the previous night,
and again the flotilla bounds to the fishing-ground.

As there may be not less than 100 schooners or pickaxes in the harbour,
300 boats resort to the banks each day; and, as each boat may procure
2000 cods per diem, when Saturday night comes about 600,000 fishes have
been brought to the harbour. This having caused some scarcity on the
fishing-grounds, and Sunday being somewhat of an idle day, the Captain
collects the salt ashore, and sets sail for some other convenient
harbour, which he expects to reach long before sunset. If the weather
be favourable, the men get a good deal of rest during the voyage, and
on Monday things go on as before.

I must not omit to tell you, reader, that, while proceeding from one
harbour to another, the vessel has passed near a rock, which is the
breeding place of myriads of Puffins. She has laid to for an hour or
so, while part of the crew have landed, and collected a store of eggs,
excellent as a substitute for cream, and not less so when hard boiled
as food for the fishing-grounds. I may as well inform you also, how
these adventurous fellows distinguish the fresh eggs from the others.
They fill up some large tubs with water, throw in a quantity of eggs,
and allow them to remain a minute or so, when those which come to the
surface are tossed overboard, and even those that manifest any upward
tendency, share the same treatment. All that remain at bottom, you may
depend upon it, good reader, are perfectly sound, and not less palatable
than any that you have ever eaten, or that your best guinea-fowl has
just dropped in your barn-yard. But let us return to the cod-fish.

The fish already procured and salted, is taken ashore at the new
harbour, by part of the crew, whom the captain has marked as the worst
hands at fishing. There, on the bare rocks, or on elevated scaffolds of
considerable extent, the salted cods are laid side by side to dry in the
sun. They are turned several times a-day, and in the intervals the men
bear a hand on board at clearing and stowing away the daily produce of
the fishing-banks. Towards evening they return to the drying grounds, and
put up the fish in piles resembling so many hay-stacks, disposing those
towards the top in such a manner that the rain cannot injure them, and
placing a heavy stone on the summit to prevent their being thrown down
should it blow hard during the night. You see, reader, that the life of
a Labrador fisherman is not one of idleness.

The capelings have approached the shores, and in myriads enter every
basin and stream, to deposit their spawn, for now July is arrived. The
cods follow them, as the blood-hound follows his prey, and their compact
masses literally line the shores. The fishermen now adopt another method:
they have brought with them long and deep seines, one end of which is,
by means of a line fastened to the shore, while the other is, in the
usual manner, drawn out in a broad sweep, to inclose as great a space as
possible, and hauled on shore by means of a capstan. Some of the men in
boats support the corked part of the net, and beat the water to frighten
the fishes within towards the land, while others, armed with poles,
enter the water, hook the fishes, and fling them on the beach, the net
being gradually drawn closer as the number of fishes diminishes. What do
you think, reader, as to the number of cods secured in this manner at
a single haul?—thirty, or thirty thousand? You may form some notion of
the matter when I tell you that the young gentlemen of my party, while
going along the shores, caught cod-fish alive, with their hands, and
trouts of many pounds weight with a piece of twine and a mackerel-hook
hung to their gun-rods; and that, if two of them walked knee-deep along
the rocks, holding a handkerchief by the corners, they swept it full of
capelings. Should you not trust me in this, I refer you to the fishermen
themselves, or recommend you to go to Labrador, where you will give
credit to the testimony of your eyes.

The seining of the cod-fish, I believe, is not _quite_ lawful, for a
great proportion of the codlings which are dragged ashore at last, are
so small as to be considered useless; and, instead of being returned to
the water, as they ought to be, are left on the shore, where they are
ultimately eaten by bears, wolves, and ravens. The fishes taken along
the coast, or on fishing-stations only a few miles off, are of small
dimensions; and I believe I am correct in saying, that few of them weigh
more than two pounds, when perfectly cured, or exceed six when taken
out of the water. The fish are liable to several diseases, and at times
are annoyed by parasitic animals, which in a short time render them lean
and unfit for use.

Some individuals, from laziness, or other causes, fish with naked hooks,
and thus frequently wound the cod without securing them, in consequence of
which the shoals are driven away, to the detriment of the other fishers.
Some carry their cargoes to other parts before drying them, while others
dispose of them to agents from distant shores. Some have only a pickaxe
of fifty tons, while others are owners of seven or eight vessels of equal
or larger burden; but whatever be their means, should the season prove
favourable, they are generally well repaid for their labour. I have known
instances of men, who, on their first voyage, ranked as "boys," and in
ten years after were in independent circumstances, although they still
continued to resort to the fishing; for, said they to me, "how could
we be content to spend our time in idleness at home!" I know a person
of this class who has carried on the trade for many years, and who has
quite a little fleet of schooners, one of which, the largest and most
beautifully built, has a cabin as neat and comfortable as any that I
have ever seen in a vessel of the same size. This vessel took fish on
board only when perfectly cured, or acted as pilot to the rest, and now
and then would return home with an ample supply of halibut, or a cargo
of prime mackerel. On another occasion, I will offer some remarks on
the improvements which I think might be made in the cod-fisheries of
the coast of Labrador.




THE WILLOW GROUS.

_TETRAO SALICETI_, TEMM.

PLATE CXCI. MALE, FEMALE AND YOUNG.


Although I have not seen this beautiful bird within the limits of the
United States, I feel assured that it exists in the State of Maine, as
well as in the northern districts bordering on the great lakes. THEODORE
LINCOLN, Esq. of Dennisville in Maine, shot seven one day, not many
miles from that village; and the hunter who guided me to the breeding
grounds of the Canada Grous, assured me, that he also knew where the
"Red-necked Partridge" was to be found. The places which he described
as frequented by them, seemed to bear as near a resemblance to those in
which I found the species in Labrador and Newfoundland, as the difference
of latitude and vegetation could admit. I have also seen several skins
of individuals that were killed near Lake Michigan.

The Willow Grous differs in its habits from the Canada Grous in several
remarkable circumstances. In the first place, neither myself nor any
of my party ever found the former solitary or single. The males were
always in the immediate vicinity of the nest while the females were
sitting, and accompanied them and the young, from the time the latter
were hatched until they were full-grown; and whenever we met with them,
we observed that the males and the females manifested the strongest
attachment towards each other, as well as towards their young. In fact,
so much was this the case, that when a covey happened to come in our
way, the parents would fly directly towards us with so much boldness,
that some were actually killed on the wing with the rods of our guns,
as they flew about in the agonies of rage and despair, with all their
feathers raised and ruffled. In the mean time, the little ones dispersed
and made off through the deep moss and tangled creeping plants with
great rapidity, squatting and keeping close to the ground, when it became
extremely difficult to find them. This is the only American species of
Grous I am acquainted with that possesses these habits; in all others
found in the United States, the male not only leaves the female as soon
as incubation has commenced, but both fly from man and urge their young
to do the same from their earliest age.

The Willow Grouse, moreover, join their broods whenever an opportunity
offers, and we found flocks of old and young, in which the latter were
of very different sizes. This species rarely if ever alights on bushes
or trees after being fully grown, and appears to resort at all times
by preference to the ground, living among the naked rocks of the open
morasses.

The young birds do not acquire their full summer plumage before they are
two years old. Many of these middle-aged birds, as I would call them,
which our party procured early in the month of July, differed greatly
from the older birds, which had their broods then quite small. They
were much lighter in colour, their tails were shorter, and they weighed
less, but afforded much better eating. Some of them had young, but their
broods were much smaller in point of number, seldom exceeding four or
five, while the old birds frequently had a dozen or more.

The flight of the Willow Grous resembles that of the Red Grous of
Scotland, being regular, swift, and on occasion protracted to a very
great distance. They have no whirring sound of their wings, even when
put up by sudden surprise. Whenever we found a pair without young, they
were extremely shy, and would fly from one hill to another often at a
great distance. If pursued, they would be seen standing erect, and boldly
watching our approach, until we got to the distance of a few hundred
yards from them, when they would run from the naked rocks into the moss,
and there squat so close, that unless one of the party happened to walk
almost over them, they remained unseen, and could not be raised. When
discovered and put up, they were easily shot, on account of the beautiful
regularity of their flight. In rising from the ground, they utter a loud
and quickly repeated chuck, which is continued for eight or ten yards.

Young birds shot in Newfoundland, on the 11th of August, weighed 6¼
ounces, and were fully fledged. Their primaries were of a sullied white,
but their legs were not closely covered with hair-like feathers as in



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 50 of 56)