Neltje Blanchan.

Birds that hunt and are hunted; life histories of one hundred and seventy birds of prey, game birds and water fowls online

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poking among the shells, chasing out after the waves, and hur-
riedly picking up bits of food before being chased in by them, or
flying above the crests short distances along the beach, usually to
escape a deluge from the combing breakers. All its movements
are alert, quick, graceful. At Muskegat, where this plover's nests
are found among the terns', the plover loses little by comparison
with those preeminently graceful birds. Around the great lakes



scattered flocks are seen in the migrations chiefly; but it is on
the secluded Atlantic beaches, comfortably distant from seaside
resorts, that we find the piping plover most abundant.

The Belted Piping Plover (/Egialitis meloda circumcincta), a
western representative of the preceding, differs from it only in
having the black links on the breast joined to form a band.

The Mountain Plover (SEgialitis montana), a distinctly prairie
bird, rather than a mountaineer, has grayish brown upper parts,
the feathers margined with chestnut; the white under parts grow
yellowish on breast, but without belt or patches ; the front of the
crown and the cheeks black. It is almost nine inches long. It
has all the charming grace, quickness of motion, and winning
confidence that characterize its clan.

Wilson's Plover

(/Egialitis wilsonia)

Length 7.50 inches.

Male and Female Upper parts ashy brown, tinged on nape and
sides of head with chestnut ; forehead and under parts white,
the white of throat passing around like a collar, and the
white of forehead running backward in a line over each eye
to nape ; lores, front of crown, and a band across the breast
black in male, brownish gray in female; inner tail feathers
dark olive, the outer ones becoming white. Bill large, stout,
and black; no colored eye ring; legs flesh colored. Imma-
ture birds look like mother, but have upper parts margined
with gray or white, more closely resembling dry sand, if
possible, than do the adults.

Range America, nesting from Virginia southward ; winters south
to Central and South America; common on south Atlantic
and Gulf beaches and California.

Season Summer resident; a few winter in the south.

A beach bird in the strictest sense, Wilson's plover is never
found inland, but close beside tide water on the mud flats that
furnish a fresh menu at each ebbing; or on the dry sand beyond
the reach of the surf, where its plumage, in wonderful mimicry of
its surroundings, conceals it perfectly. In the short, sparse grass



of the upper beaches, a brooding bird that knows enough to keep
still in the presence of a passer-by, runs little risk of detection.
The three clay colored eggs, evenly and rather finely spotted
and speckled with brown, that are laid directly on the sand,
require little incubating, however, beyond what the sunshine
gives them ; but the parents never stroll so far away from their
treasures that they may not return instantly danger threatens and
run or swoop about the visitor, imploring retreat. Gentle, unsus-
picious manners give these birds half their charm. Their grace
of motion, another characteristic, suffers little by comparison with
that of the terns not infrequently found nesting among them.
On the ground all plovers excel in sprightliness; every move-
ment is quick and free; and on the wing, also, these describe all
manner of exquisite evolutions, half turning in the air to show now
the upper, now the under side of the bodies; now sailing on
long, decurved, motionless wings; now hovering an instant
before alighting, stretching their wing tips high above the back
a beautiful posture that the terns have evidently copied.

Quite closely resembling the semipalmated plover in plu-
mage, this species may always be known by its large, heavy bill,
the largest, in proportion to the size of the bird, any plover has,
and by the absence of a bright eye ring that, with the partial
webbing of its toes, are the ring-neck's diagnostic features. Small
flocks of Wilson's plover reach Long Island every summer, but
rarely touch the New England coast. The morsel of flesh on its
plump little breast should seem not worth the hunting by healthy
men, whose appetites need no coaxing. One who little under-
stands the ways of gunners might think a bird smaller than a
robin would suffer little persecution.

Dr. Coues describes this plover's note as half a whistle, half a
chirp, quite different from the other plovers' calls; but a plaintive
quality can be detected in it, too, as in the voices of most beach
birds, that reflect something of the mystery and sadness of the
sea. In his lines to "The Little Beach Bird," that are appli-
cable to a dozen species, Richard Henry Dana emphasizes the
contrast between the joyous songs of land birds and the melan-
choly, plaintive strains of those that live along the sea.



(Family Apbri^idce)


(Arenaria interpres)


Length 8. 50 to 9. 50 inches. A little smaller than a robin.

Male and Female In summer-. Upper parts strangely variegated
and patched with chestnut, black, brown, and white ; base of
tail white, the tail feathers banded with black and tipped
with white; white band on wings; beneath, including wing
linings, white; the throat and breast jet black divided by a
white space. Black, short bill tapers to an acute tip, very
slightly recurved ; legs orange red ; the small hind toe turns
inward. The female has less chestnut and more plain brown
on her upper parts, and the black lacks the lustre of jet.
In winter: Upper parts blackish blotched with gray and brown
or ashy brown, and lacking the chestnut feathers ; the breast
markings more restricted.

Range Nearly cosmopolitan; nests in Arctic latitudes and in the
Western hemisphere; migrates to South America so far as

Season Irregular, transient visitor; April. May; August, Septem-
ber, or later.

With a bill curiously like a writing pen, this well named
wader turns over pebbles, clods of mud, shells, and seaweed on
the beaches more commonly about the foot of cliffs and in stony
coves than on long, sandy stretches, ever looking for the small
marine creatures that satisfy its appetite, particularly for the eggs
of the horsefoot or king crab (Limulus polyphemus), its favorite
dainty. Often not only the head and bill must be used to push over
a stone, but the breast assists too ; ordinarily, however, the bird



simply pokes its bill under a lighter object, and, giving its head a
quick jerk, turns over the roof under which some small prey
thought itself secure, swallows the morsel, then runs off to the next
shell to repeat the operation. Seaweed is simply tossed aside.

Joseph's coat doubtless showed no more variegated patch-
work than the turnstone's nesting plumage, which, however,
differs greatly in individuals, scarcely any two of which have pre-
cisely the same markings at any season. Because of this variety
the early ornithologists believed there were several more distinct
species of turnstones than actually exist. Other beach birds are
mostly clad in soft tints that so blend with the sand we can
scarcely distinguish them until they move; but the calico back,
although small, is ever conspicuous, and possibly because it knows
how hopeless concealment is, as compared with the confiding,
gentle little sandpipers and plovers, it is shy and wild.

Small companies of three or four, or family parties, run about
the outer beaches with all the sprightliness of plovers, then stop
suddenly to meditate, then run on again, pausing to turn over a
shell now and then, but always active, and more ready to place
dependence on their fleet legs than on their wings to distance a
pursuer; yet when one goes too near, the turnstone rises, uttering
a few twittering, complaining notes, flaps its wings quickly,
sails low, and with a few more flaps and another sail soon alights
at no great distance, to return to the point where it was flushed
at its first opportunity. It is wonderfully patient and persistent
about exhausting the resources of one feeding ground before
looking for another. Wading about in a cove, it will sometimes
deliberately seat itself in the water, just as it squats on a beach,
and swim off easily to a safe distance across the inlet from the

A bird that travels from Patagonia to the Arctic Circle to nest,
naturally is a fast, strong flyer, the frequent sailings after quick
flaps of the wings resting them sufficiently to make long, unin-
terrupted flights possible. General Greeley found turnstones as
far north as he went, and reported that fledgelings which in
late June had emerged from clay colored eggs (blotched and
scrambled with grayish brown) were able to fly by the ninth of
July. A few birds take an inland route during the migrations,
and display their freaky feathers on the shores of the Great Lakes
and larger rivers.



(Family Hcematopodidce)

American Oyster-Catcher

(Hcematopus palliatus)


Length 17 to 21 inches.

Male and Female Head, neck, and upper breast black; back and
wings dark olive brown ; greater wing coverts, base of sec-
ondaries, sides of lower back, upper tail coverts, base of tail,
and all under parts, white. Bill coral red, twice as long as
head, compressed, almost like a knife-blade at end, but vary-
ing in shape, owing to wear and tear; feet flesh colored;
three toes united by a membrane to middle joint.

Range "Sea-coasts of temperate and tropical America, from New
Jersey and Western Mexico to Patagonia; occasional or ac-
cidental on the Atlantic coast north to Massachusetts and
Grand Menan." A. O. U.

Children brought up on " Alice in Wonderland " might imag-
ine from the name of this bird that oysters are fleet-footed racers
along our beaches, overtaken at the end of a breathless chase by
the oyster-catcher! On the New Jersey coast and southward, but
rarely farther north, we see (if we are cautious, far sighted-stalk-
ers), this curious bird actually prying open shells of bivalves oys-
ters less commonly, however, than mussels and some others
and digging up fiddler crabs and worms that have buried them-
selves in the soft sand, with a bill that is one of the most peculiar
among bird tools. Long, stout at the base, but compressed like
a knife blade at the end; often as worn and jagged as the opener
seen at a Coney Island oyster stand ; sometimes bent sideways from
severe wrenches ; and bright coral red this bill belongs in the
same class of freaks as the bills of the avocet, skimmer, curlew,



woodcock, and sea parrot. The oyster-catcher is a shy bird, con-
stantly on the alert, and it is no easy matter to steal upon one close
enough to watch it at work. Walking with stately dignity along
the lower beach, striking its bill into the sand, often up to the nos-
trils, suddenly it stops at a glimpse of an intruder, and with shrill
notes of alarm springs into the air and is off, not in a short flight,
as the confiding little plovers and sandpipers make, soon to return,
but away down the beach, often out of sight. Another time you
will have learned to rely on a powerful field glass to lessen the
distance between you.

But this bird, so quick to move out of harm's way, is a past
master in the art of stealing upon bivalves unawares when they
are lying about on the beaches with their shells open, and prying
the shells apart until the delectable morsels are cut from them and
swallowed. Whoever has had his finger pinched between mus-
sel shells will not be surprised at the crooked, jagged blade the
oyster-catcher often carries about. When the bird finds its bill
hopelessly caught in a vise, it simply lifts the razor clam, " racoon
oyster," or whatever its captor may be, knocks it against a rock
until the shell is broken, and then feasts. Limpets are pried off
rocks as if with a chisel. Again the oyster-catcher wades into
the shallows for shrimps and other little marine creatures. No
doubt it can swim well too, owing to the partial webbing of its
toes; but rapid running and still more rapid flying usually make
other accomplishments superfluous. With tough, unsavory flesh
to save it from sportsmen's persecutions, it is a timid bird, never-
theless. It does not live in large flocks; solitary, or with two or
three companions only, it dwells far from the haunts of men and
apart from those sociable beach birds that are too confiding for
self-preservation. A striking, handsome wader on the ground,
it is even more attractive as it flies with a few friends, showing
its glistening white under parts as it wheels about overhead
with great regularity of manoeuvre. Rapid wing beats and fre-
quent sails make its flight strong, yet extremely graceful. A
quick, shrill wheep, wheep, wheo, uttered on the wing as well as
on the ground, voices the bird's various emotions. Birds of a
migrating flock are said to keep together in lines like a mar-
shalled troop, swayed by one mind, just as they appear to be
when wheeling over the beach on pleasure bent.

Like gulls, terns, skimmers, and other beach nesters, the oys-


ter-catchers allow the sun-baked sand to do the greater part of
the incubating, the parents confining themselves only at night or
during storms on three or four pale buff eggs spotted and blotched
with chocolate, and laid directly on the shingle, in a depression.
Mr. Walter Hoxie, in the "Ornithologist and Oologist," tells of
seeing a pair of these birds whose nest had been discovered, but
not disturbed, take the eggs about one hundred yards farther
along the beach and deposit them safely, one by one, in a new
nest which he watched them prepare. Fluffy chicks, that run as
soon as hatched, will squat and remain motionless like plovers,
secure in their plumage's perfect imitation of their surroundings.





Bob Whites



17 257


(Order Gallince)

Birds that scratch the ground for food, the progenitors of our
barn-yard fowls, the game birds par excellence of the sportsman,
none are more interesting either from his point of view or from
that of the bird student, or of greater commercial value. Certain
structural peculiarities are noticeable throughout the group: a
greatly enlarged esophagus, now called a crop, receives the
bolted food and moistens it, leaving to a very thick, hard gizzard
(except in the sage cock) the work of grinding the food with the
help of gravel swallowed with it. Usually heavy in body, round
breasted, small of head, stout of legs and feet, sometimes with
spurs on the former, richly, if often quietly, plumed, the appear-
ance of these birds is too familiar to be enlarged upon. They are
prolific layers, and raise large broods, that follow the mother like
chickens, as soon as hatched, one or more families composing a
covey or bevy soon after the nesting season.

Bob Whites, Grouse, etc.

(Family Tetraonidce)

Of the two hundred species contained in this great family,
one-half belong to the Old World, where they are known
as partridges and quail, names miscellaneously applied to our
grouse and Bob Whites, that differ greatly in structure from their
European allies, and the source of endless confusion in the
popular mind. Three subfamilies go to make up this large
family: the Perdicince, or Old World partridges and quail; the
Odontophorince, or New World partridges and Bob Whites ; and
the Tetraonince, or grouse. These fowl-footed birds have the
hind toe raised above the ground, differing from the pigeon-
footed gallinaceous birds, that have four toes on the same level;


Gallinaceous Game Birds

and the grouse have feathered legs, like many birds of prey, to
keep these parts from being frozen, since they frequent high
altitudes. None of these American species is migratory, yet
their rapid, -whirring flight, performed with quick strokes of
small, concave, stiffened wings, is well sustained, and sometimes
for long distances. The heads of grouse especially, high at the
rear to contain the unusually developed brain, indicate that rare
degree of intelligence among birds which so taxes the wits of
the sportsman; but certainly the Bob White is not lacking in
mental calibre. The latter birds are devoted lovers and parents,
whereas grouse are generally polygamous, and the males are
either indifferent to the eggs and young, or, in some cases, de-
structive of them. Mr. D. G. Elliot remarks: "It is a rather
singular fact that in most polygamous species the plumage of the
sexes is very dissimilar, while there is usually but little difference
observable between those that are monogamous."

Bob White, or Quail.

Dusky, or Blue Grouse.

Canada Grouse, or Spruce Partridge.

Ruffed Grouse, or Partridge.

Canadian Ruffed Grouse.

Gray Ruffed Grouse.

Oregon, or Red Ruffed Grouse.

Prairie Chicken, or Pinnated Grouse.

Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sage Grouse, or Cock of the Plains.

Pheasants and Turkeys

(Family Pbasianidce)

A group of magnificent birds, including the peacock,
pheasants, and the jungle fowl, the progenitors of our domestic
poultry. From the Mexican turkey, now imported all over the
world, and into France and England since the sixteenth century,
came the race that furnishes our Thanksgiving feasts.
Wild Turkey.


% Life-size.


(Family Tetraonidce)

Bob White

(Colinus mrginianus)


Length 9.5010 10.50 inches.

Male and Female Upper parts reddish brown or chestnut, flecked
with black, white, and tawny; rump grayish brown, finely
mottled, and with a few streaks of blackish ; tail ashy, the
inner feathers mottled with buff; front of crown, a line from
bill beneath the eye, and band on upper breast, black ; fore-
head, and stripe over the eye, extending down the side of the
neck, white; breast and under parts white or buff, crossed
with irregular narrow black lines; feathers on sides and
flanks chestnut, with white edges barred with black. The
female has forehead, line over the eye, and throat, buff, and
little or no black on upper breast. Summer birds have
blacker crowns and paler buff markings. Much individual
variation in plumage.

Range " Eastern United States and southern Ontario, from south-
ern Maine to the south Atlantic and Gulf states ; west to cen-
tral South Dakota, Nebraska; Kansas, Oklahoma and eastern
Texas. Of late years has gradually extended its range west-
ward along lines of railroad and settlements; also introduced
at various points in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho,
California, Oregon, and Washington. Breeds throughout
its range." A. O. U.

Season Permanent resident.

Endless confusion has arisen through the incorrect local
names given to the Bob White, which in New England is called
quail wherever the ruffed grouse is called partridge, and called
partridge in the middle and southern states wherever the ruffed
grouse is called pheasant; but true partridges and quail, quite


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc.

different in habits and appearance from ours, are confined to the
Old World, however firmly their names cling to the American
species. That which we call a quail, by any other name would
taste as sweet; and it is surely time the characteristic game bird of
this country received in all sections its characteristic, distinctive
title. Bob White, the name it calls itself, also has the sanction
of that dignified, conservative body, the American Ornithologists'
Union, than which can there be two higher authorities ?

Before the snow and ice have been melted by spring sun-
shine, Bob White ! ah, Bob White ! a clear staccato whistle, rings
out from some plump little feathered breast swelling with tender
and sincere emotions. Mates are not easily won : sharp contests of
rival males, that fight desperately, like game cocks, occur through-
out the pairing season; the demure, coy little sweetheart, con-
cealing her admiration for the proud victor strutting before her,
only fans his flame by her feigned indifference. In vain he jumps
upon a stump and, like a ruffled orator, repeats his protestations.
He runs beside her, now bowing, now crossing her path, ardently
entreating some sign that his handsome feathers, his gallantry,
his musical voice, his sworn devotion to her, have made an im-
pression ; but the shy little lady, appearing to be frightened by
such ardor, discreetly withdraws, knowing perfectly well, as
every coquette must, that such coyness never discourages a suitor
worth the having. Marriage is not entered into lightly or irrev-
erently by these monogamous birds, unlike their European Mor-
mon kin that utterly lack the gallantry and affectionate nature
characteristic of the American bird. It is a slander to call Bob
White by the name of the disreputable, pugnacious, selfish, mean-
looking quail. Rarely, indeed, does he lapse from rectitude and
take a second mate.

In May, a simple nest, or slight depression in the ground,
lined with leaves and grasses, is formed sometimes in the stub-
ble, in a grassy tussock that meets overhead, and must be entered
from one side; or beneath a small bush, next a worm-eaten old
log, at the foot of a stump; or in the cotton rows anywhere, in
fact, where seclusion favors. Some nests have been found with
well constructed domes, and the entrance a foot or more from the
nest proper. Incredibly large numbers of brilliant white eggs
as many as thirty-two are reported in a single nest, all skilfully
packed in, pointed end downwards to economize space. Does


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc.

the amiability of the female extend to sharing her nest with a
rival, or are all these eggs hers ? Remove an egg, and it is im-
possible for the human hand to rearrange the clutch with such
faultless economy. In the middle and southern states, where two
and even three broods have been reared in a season, the number
of eggs laid at a time rarely exceeds ten, so that the autumn
coveys there are no larger than those in the north. Both parents
take turns in covering the eggs, the male encouraging his brood-
ing mate by cheerful, musical whistles introduced by a half-sup-
pressed syllable, that the New Englanders translate into No more
wet! more wet! or Pease most ripe! most ripe ! and the West-
ern farmers into Sow more wheat! more wheat! A shrill wee-
teeh, used as a note of warning; quoi-hee, quoi-hee, to reassemble
a scattered covey; a subdued clucking when undisturbed, and a
rapidly repeated twitter when surprised, are Bob White's vocal
expressions. One feels happier for having heard his exuberant
joy and pride whistled from a fence-rail or low branch of a tree.
How readily he answers the farmer's boy whistling to him from
the plough ! He is decidedly in evidence, bold and fearless during
the twenty-four days of incubation ; but one rarely sees the female
then. She is ever shy. Ray, the English naturalist, says the
European quail hatches one-third more males than females a
proportion that corresponds with the numbers generally bagged
by our gunners. Should the eggs be handled when first laid,
the nest is at once deserted. Mowing machines work sad havoc
every year.

Precisely as a brood of chickens follows a mother hen about
the farm, so a bevy of comical little downy Bob Whites, some-
times with the shells still sticking to their backs, run about
through the tangled brake and cultivated fields, learning from both
devoted parents which seeds of grasses, cereals, and berries they
may eat. Farmers bless them for the number of weed-seeds and
insects they destroy. The fox and the hawk, next to man, are their
worst enemies. A note of alarm sends the fledgelings half-running,
half-flying, to huddle up close to the mother; or when a cold wind
blows, a soft, low, caressing twitter summons the babies to shelter
beneath her short wings, that barely cover the large brood.

Later, the young scatter and hide among the grass, while
the parents, feigning lameness and the usual pathetic artifices
familiar to one who has ever disturbed a family of young birds,


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc.

dare all things for their dear sakes. Should some accident befall
the female during incubation, the male faithfully covers the eggs
and ministers to every want of his happily precocious family; and

Online LibraryNeltje BlanchanBirds that hunt and are hunted; life histories of one hundred and seventy birds of prey, game birds and water fowls → online text (page 20 of 29)