Agassiz Association. Wilson Ornithological Chapter.

The Wilson bulletin (Volume 26, 1914) online

. (page 2 of 19)
Online LibraryAgassiz Association. Wilson Ornithological ChapterThe Wilson bulletin (Volume 26, 1914) → online text (page 2 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

It was an old bird in perfect plumage, and I secured it for a
quarter of a dollar. Recently they have been quite numerous
in this section, and this one was shot within a couple of miles
of where I stood when making the purchase.

Several days passed before I could get at this specimen;
but when I did, I obtained from it a very perfect skeleton
as well as a part of the plumage. On opening its stomach —
a practice I never neglect — it was found to contain the
remains of three or four small mice. As usual, these remains
had formed into "pellets," principally consisting of hair and
bones. Some of the jaws w^ere quite complete, and these I
saved, later on showing them to Mr. Gerrit S. Miller, Jr.,
Curator of the Division of Mammals of the U. S. National

Pboto by Dr. Shufeldt

8 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86

Museum, who kindly pronounced them to be those of speci-
mens of Pitymys pinetonim.

While investigating some of the anatomy of this owl —
another practice I am almost invariably guilty of during
such operations — there came to hand a package from Mr
Edward E. Schmid, the well-known proprietor of an exten-
sive Pet Emporium in Washington, containing not only a
fine Macaw {Ara macao), but also an unusually good speci-
men of a Snowy Owl {Nyctea nyctea). Both specimens had
recently died, and they were adults in fine plumage. Mr.
Schmid kindly sends me all such material, and has done so
for many years. He is well known to the naturalists of the
Smithsonian, where he occasionally sends such animals as die
on his hands.

Here was Owl No. 2, and from it I obtained another fine
skeleton, together with not a little more of its structure or
its anatomy, as some people say. Parts of this were so
important that I wrote out a description of them, which will
appear elsewhere later on.

I did not photograph the Barred Owl, though I usually
secure negatives of nearly all specimens coming to my study ;
I find the prints are often valuable, especially for the use of
taxidermists. Turning my camera, however, on the face of
this Snowy Owl, I got a good negative of it, a print from
which is here reproduced to show how useful such pictures
may sometimes be. I have many of them, not only of birds,
but of a great number of other animals. This is not an
example of the best ones, for the big, yellow eyes took black,
which is unfortunate. I have some parrots that it would be
hard to say whether they had been taken from dead or from
living specimens ; later on I propose to publish some of these
— in fact, a few of them are being engraved as I write these

While contemplating the structure of my Snowy Owl, a
curious coincidence occurred, for tivo more of the same species
came to hand. This time, however, they came from Copen-
hagen, Denmark, being a most generous gift of my friend,
Mr. Gerhard Heilmann of that city. I hasten to say that


> '^ "*




From a painting by Gerhard Heilmann, Copenliagen, Denmark

10 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86

it was an oil painting of these birds, the subjects being
natural size and in an elegant plain frame of gilt (30x30

As posed by the artist, these Owls are shown in Fig. 2,
which is a reproduction of a photograph I made of this
beautiful picture. It will be noted that they are sitting on
a dark rock, partly covered with snow, the rock being on the
shore of the frozen sea on the north coast of Denmark. The
birds are contemplating the setting sun, and ]\Ir. Heilmann
has been wonderfully successful in depicting the rosy hues
of the same, as its rays tinge their white plumages and the
glistening ice on all sides. As we say of so many lieautiful
things in this world, this picture should be seen to be appre-

At the present time, ^Ir. Heilmann is engaged ujDon a very
important piece of work — a study of the origin of birds
from their ancestral stock among the prehistoric reptiles.
Two Parts of this work are already published, with many
fine illustrations, and the remaining three Parts will appear
during the course of 1914.

With my Barred Owl, and old Nyctea coming in threes, I
surely thought that my strigine experiences — following upon
each other with such rapidity — would come to an end ; but
no, I was to be treated to another immediately on top of
them. Hardly had my picture been hung in an appropriate
place, than a call on my 'phone from Mr. Schmid informed
me that he had at my service a fine, living specimen of an
adult Saw-whet Owl {Cryptoglaux a. arcadica), which had
been captured in the city (Washington) the day before. As
usual, the man who took it simply walked up to the bird and
"bagged it." In less than an hour it was in a small cage in
my study, at which time the amusements for the afternoon
were opened. He was not altogether a fractious subject, how-
ever; not nearly as bad as many another live bird I have

It seems to me that all my life I wanted to have in my
possession a specimen of a living Owl of this species; and
now, after waiting for over half a century, here was the real

riioto from life by Dr. ShufelrU. Roduced.

12 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86

thing: a perfectly healthy, adult "Saw-whet," in elegant
winter plumage.

There are but very few even passable pictures of this owl
extant and a good many very poor ones. Many years ago I
saw one, painted life-size in water-color by John Woodhouse
Audubon, the erratic son of the well-known Franco-American
ornithologist. Without exception I think it was the worst
picture of an owl that I recall having ever seen. It reminded
me of the labored drawing of a bird's nest by a little fellow
seven years old, who, when he had finished his sketch, showed
it to his father with no small degree of pride. "What is it
intended to represent, my son?" said the father, after gazing
at it for a moment or so with a puzzled expression. ' ' A bird 's
nest," explained the young hopeful. "Oh," said his parent,
"it looked to me like a pretty good attempt to draw a
cyclone. ' '

On this occasion I will not state exactly how many dry
plates I expended on this little representative of the
Strigidce; but it was a number over a box of five by eights
and two eight by tens. I don't regret it though, for I did
get some pictures after the first few attempts, and some good
ones. One of these last is reproduced here (Fig. 3).

In studying him, I noticed that, Avhen his eyes were closed,
the feathering below them became very prominent, bulging
outward and downward like two tufts — one beneath either
eye. This was especially the case when he started to doze off
to sleep, and it is a character in the plumage of this owl that
I have never seen described. Thus far, he has refused to
drink any water, and will not eat raw beef placed as little
bits in his cage at night. So I have kept him alive by feed-
ing him with the same, putting the pieces, one at a time, into
his mouth with a pair of spring forceps. After swallowing
two or three pieces, he became very lively during the course
of the following ten minutes. I believe he would relish a
sparrow, but I have not as yet secured one in that I might
make the trial. As a matter of fact, I do not believe he will
live very long in confinement ; but should he succumb, there
is another skeleton coming to my collection.

Pied-Billed Grebe Notes 13

This is all I have had to do with owls for the last live or
six days.



Ever since the time, when as a small boy, I first discovered
that the mass of decaying vegetation found floating in the
swamps was the nest of the Pied-billed Grebe {Podilymhus
podiceps) this species has been of great interest to me. In
the course of observations from year to year a few facts of
interest have been noted that I do not recall seeing in print.

The species nests here (Northwestern Iowa*) around the
edge of the lakes and ponds in the rushes and in the cat-tail
gwamps. The nest is built of decaying vegetation and is
usually floating, slightly anchored to the surrounding reeds.
The eggs, when left, are completely covered with the nest
material and occasionally a few green reeds. The statement
is often seen that the bird covers the eggs in this manner,
but I do not remember of seeing any explanation as to how
this was accomplished. After watching many times one was
discovered in the act. She stood or rather sat on the edge
of the nest and used the beak to root the nest material over
the eggs. In this manner she worked entirely around the
eggs until they were hidden from view. The beak was then
used, much as a robin uses hers in ironing the nest, to spread
the material around. She then seized one or two reeds, broke
them off with a quick sidewise jerk of the head, laid them
across the nest, and sliding into the water swam away.

It is commonly known that many birds will feign injury
to entice an intruder away from the nest or young, but to
me, at least, it was a great surprise to know that the Pied-
billed Grebe would occasionally resort to this artifice. Only
two instances of this have come to my notice, and both of
these occurred on the same day, June 26, 1913. In com-

* This includes notes made in a Nebraska swamp just across the Mis-
souri Eiver from Sioux City, Iowa, as well as those in Iowa.

14 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86

pany with ]Mr. Howard Graham the writer was poling a boat
thru the rushes of an old swamp for the purpose of locating
Yellow-headed Blackbird nests on which Ave wished to make
some observations. Suddenly a great commotion was heard
just ahead of the boat, and I stepped to the prow to see
what it was. The boat was almost onto a nest of this species
and the old bird was near it, apparently helpless. One wing
hung limp and she frantically kicked and splashed about
without making an.y forward progress. All of the time she
uttered a curious grating note unlike anything I ever heard
from a grel)e. For an experiment we swung the boat around
and followed her. She kept up these actions, but swam slowly
away until a point some twenty-five yards from the nest was
reached, when she dived into the reeds and was seen no more.
Shortly after this experience, progress became so slow in the
boat that we abandoned it and started to wade. After travel-
ing about half an hour, I came to another grebe nest in which
the eggs were just hatching. Both parents were present and
commenced the same performance. As I took a step forward
they worked slowly away, splashing violently and creating a
great disturl)ance. The same peculiar call was noted as in
the other case. After moving a few steps I stopped and
remained standing quietly near the nest. The grebes, on see-
ing me stop, disappeared and I supposed they had given up
the attempt to lead me away. Suddenly one popped into
view almost within reach of my hand and worked slowly
aw^ay as before. This one had proceeded about ten yards
when the other one came into view near me and started away.
The pair kept up this alternate performance for fully five
minutes l)efore they finally ceased. On seeing that I was not
to l)e duped by their actions, they remained quietly on the
water about ten yards away until I started again. One of
them followed me for some distance before finally disap-

The parents seem to be more devoted to the young than
many of the other marsh nesting birds. The young crawl
from the nest as soon as they hatch and the parent leads
them away, always keeping between them and a possible

Log-Cock or Pileated Woodpecker 15

enemy. On being approached she directs them to the nearest
cover, generally a patch of reeds, and as soon as it is reached
they all disappear except the parent. A careful watch kept
on the edge of the patch will usually reveal her swimming
slowly back and forth with only the eyes and bill above
water. It is almost impossible to tind the young once they
have entered the weeds, as they are adept at hiding and
remaining motionless.

In August after the young are feathered out and almost
fully grown, the grebes in one swamp or pond sometimes
assemble in one flock and feed together. The largest number
I ever noted was on August 19, 1913, in the same swamp in
which the notes of June 26 were made. This flock numbered,
as near as could be counted, two hundred. I watched them
for some time and saw them eating numbers of the small
frogs which swarmed about the water's edge and on the mud
flats. Occasionally two would seize the same frog and attempt
to swallow it. This would cause a tug of war, in which several
others sometimes joined, and often neither of the original
contestants finally secured the prize.

Marshalltown, Iowa.



For several years I enjoyed the rolling call of a Pileated
Woodpecker, which from the peculiar resonance of sounding-
board carried to an almost incredible distance. The scene
was located a mile and a quarter from my home, and impossi-
ble as it may appear I have heard the roll when in the house
with doors and windows closed; this of course when atmos-
pheric conditions were favorable. Out of doors the sound
doubtless carried two miles.

This sounding-board of the Log-cock was the big hollow
arm of a great tulip-tree or white-wood {Liriodendron tulipi-

16 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86

fcra), usually miscalled "poplar'' of the lumbermen, eighty
to one hundred feet high, which stood on an eminence between
two towns and towards the west end of a strip of timber over
two miles long. This big arm was flung westward and parallel
with the earth at a height of 50 to 60 feet, and the spot on it
where he hammered was barkless, seasoned, hard and white,
for it had been used for years.

Long had I heard the drummer ere I located the drum,
which I did one early day in spring.

By care and stealth I approached near enough with my
glass to observe the bird to good advantage.

His modus operandi was as follows : Sitting uj^right
lengthwise on the limb, grasping it firmly and bracing him-
self with his tail, poised and with head drawn back and eyes
fixed on the spot to be struck; then, making a pass or two,
as if about to begin as a skillful penman makes a preliminary
flourish, he came suddenly and almost savagely down on the
limb ; and though the blows were slowly and lightly delivered
at first, they increased in speed and force one by one to the
highest power, whence they diminished to the close. Thus
his roll was composed of a dozen strokes delivered as an
ascending and descending climax. These tones were of a
peculiar rich, resonant xylophone quality, echoing in ever
widening and pleasing circles off through the woods.

After the delivery he would relax, pause as if to note the
effect, or more probably to listen for a response from mate
or distant neighbor, for this habit may hark back to a time
when some such means of "wireless"' was necessary in the
vast reach of unbroken forest. Thus there were codes ere
Morse's invention and ere the white man arrived to plant
the poles.

Then he would hop about on the limb a little perhaps, cock
his head this way and that to take in the world below, dress
his feathers for a time or search for parasites. But, although
so deliberate, he did not long forget what he was there for
and would gather himself together to smite his musical instru-
ment again. The gravity and intense concentration of this
act made it almost ludicrous to the beholder were it not for

Log-Cock or Pileated "Woodpecker 17

his earnestness and preoccupation. With such energy did
he hammer that his whole body shook and his wings quivered,
while the splendid scarlet of his loose hair-like crest flowed
in the bright spring sunshine, added to which his scarlet
mustaches gave him a distinguished and savage air.

Later in the season I placed my camera high in a neighbor-
ing birch and waited beneath with more or less patience
vainly hoping to catch him in the act. But he must have been
haunting some distant portion of his range, for he never
came near.

Several years since the big tulip-tree came down in a storm
and I miss the wonderful roll that used to travel so far.
Occasionally I heard his bill on some punky old snag, but it
is not probable that he will ever find another sounding board
comparable with the old white wood arm.

This is the only Pileated Woodpecker I ever saw beat upon
a horizontal limb by habit. This is the only case that has come
under my observation where a log-cock has selected a hori-
zontal sounding board.

I afterward sought in the debris of the uprooted tulip for
this musical limb, but it was impossible to discover a trace
of it more than if so wonderful a thing had been whisked off
by magic. It would have been good to have taken its caliber
and that of the cavity within and to have examined that
smooth hard spot where he had smote full lustily so oft.

The roll of the Pileated woodpecker is one of the most
impressive sounds in nature, and among the noblest of spring,
being most frequently heard on still, humid mornings when
the air seems hungering to transmit sound; the earth is
vaporing, mellowing ripening for the plow. The glad strain
of the meadow-lark bursts everywhere from the ground, and
the cackle of the flicker comes from sunny places. All the
woodpecker tribe love to beat the tom-tom in such weather,
but the stately roll of Hylotomus easily lords it over all. It
is then as the gavel of the speaker calling the Whole House
of Nature to order after the defection and chaos of winter.

18 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86


OF 1913-14.


Everybody in the middle sections of the United States will
remember the early November storm which resulted in block-
ing traffic and the destruction of miles of telegraph and
telephone lines. Any storm or considerable cold so early is
unusual and might therefore be expected to have its effect
upon the birds of the region affected.

In the vicinity of Oberlin this storm marked the advent of
winter conditions as far as the smaller birds were concerned.
A good idea of the conditions which followed this storm will
be gained from the following extracts from a letter written by
Mr. Harry G. Morse, who resides at Huron, Ohio, at the
mouth of the river by that name, and within three miles of
the marshes which extend eastward from Sandusky. He
writes: "It has been rather quiet so far. I don't think the
mild winter has had much influence except in the case of the
ducks and gulls. I have found both Black Ducks and Mal-
lards since the first of the year, and Bonaparte's Gulls were
here until January 11. Saw several flocks of ducks flying
south today (February 8).

"Song Sparrows and Flickers have been very scarce since
the first of January. I have a record of a Killdeer on
February 1, on the beach about a mile west of town. Of the
more uncommon winter visitors I have seen very little.
Found Snowflakes a few times last fall on the sand spit, and
a pair of Lapland Longspurs near the lake December 28.

"Robins, Bluebirds and Rusty Blackbirds, which were
found all last Avinter, do not seem to have stayed this year.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are, however, fairly common, as
I have recorded about a dozen different birds within a radius
of three miles from town."

My own experience is that of the usually common winter
birds. The Song Sparrow was entirely absent from most of
its usual winter haunts, while scattering Red-headed Wood-

Winter Conditions in Northern Ohio 19

peckers were to be found. Pine Siskins, Redpolls, Snow-
flakes, Lapland Longspurs, Prairie Horned Larks, Horned
Larks, IMeadowlarks, jMourning Doves, Northern Flickers,
Kobins, Bluebirds, and Bronzed Grackles Avere in about the
usual number in and around Oberlin. Reliable reports of
Evening Grosbeaks and Snowy Owls were received.

The regular resident birds seemed to be in their usual
numbers, but Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, and Blue Jays
were more concentrated in town and were hard to find in
the country. No Carolina Wrens have been recorded since
October, but Cardinals are rather more numerous than in
former winters.

The natural conclusion, judged from the past winter, is
that an early storm of snow accompanied with cold, drives the
smaller migratory birds south, but does not seem to affect
much the larger birds which are inclined to tarry until the
lakes and streams are ice-bound. Thus the Canvasback ducks
remained in Sandusky harbor all winter until the severest
cold of the winter in late February closed the water com-
pletely. It is also interesting to note that the Herring Gulls,
which were fed at the wharves of Sandusky during that long
cold winter when they must have starved otherwise, congre-
gated there again this winter just as soon as the ice closed
the lake, although two winters of open water had intervened.

It is apparent that we know as little about the winter move-
ments and general habits of birds as of any phase of Orni-
thology. The problem seems to be capable of solution just
as soon as we can organize the winter study in a way which
will make it possible for students in one section of North
America to learn from those studying in other sections what
the conditions are which are known to affect the birds and
the known food materials. This ought to be possible every
winter, but since it appears not to be, ought not the members
of the Wilson Club who live in the ]\Iississippi Valley and
north to organize for such a campaign of study during the
coming winter? It is certainly worth considering with care.

20 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 86


By George L. Fordyce.

For the past ten years I have been keeping a definite record
of the migratory movement of the birds in Eastern Ohio
within a 12-mile radius of Youngstown. The opening of Mill
Creek Park, in which there are two reservoirs in the Mill
Creek Valley, and the enterprise of the Mahoning Valley
Water Company in building two reservoirs in the Yellow
Creek Valley has brought about a marked change as to the
birds that may be seen in this locality.

Mill Creek Park is a deep gorge, extending about three
miles up the lower end of the Mill Creek Valley, with the
stream from which its name is derived winding through the
center. The source of Mill Creek is some 20 miles — almost
directly south of Youngstown. The gorge, the edges of
which represent the boundaries of Mill Creek Park, extends
about three miles up from where Mill Creek joins the Mahon-
mg River. On either side of this gorge are precipitous bluffs,
quite heavily wooded, with hardwood trees as well as a dense
growth of Hemlocks. During the spring migration this valley
seems like a funnel, which the birds follow in their north-
ward movement to where it narrows down to the park gorge,
in which the migrants stop over and are so concentrated that
one has a remarkable opportunity for bird observation. The
many miles of drives and walks in the park add very greatly
to this opportunity.

Youngstown is located in the Mahoning River Valley, and
substantially all the territory covered by my observations
is in the Alleghenian Life Zone. Mill Creek Park, however,
seems to include some of the Transition Zone, and my records
show that more than 90% of the warblers which I have listed
during the period covering these records have been seen in
this park, including some 30 species of this family. With
the exception of four species of Warblers, which I mention

Effect on Birds op Youngstown, 0. 21

below, the others are usually listed annually. The excep-
tional records are the

Prothonotary Warbler May 16, 1911,

Kentucky Warbler May 11th, 1909,

fMay 17th, 1906,

Connecticut Warbler May 28th, 1907, and

[May 24th, 1913.
Orange Crowned Warbler May 15th, 1909.

My Vireo records are nearly all made in the Park, the only
unusual record being that of the Philadelphia Vireo, May
12th, 1912, and May 6th, 1913.

Lake Cohasset, the upper reservoir in the park, was filled
with water in 1899, and covers about 28 acres. This lake is
rather narrow, with steep bluffs on both sides, and for several
years after being filled with water was a stop-over place for
many species of water birds. My first water bird records
for this locality were made at Lake Cohasset, including the

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAgassiz Association. Wilson Ornithological ChapterThe Wilson bulletin (Volume 26, 1914) → online text (page 2 of 19)