Agassiz Association. Wilson Ornithological Chapter.

The Wilson bulletin (Volume 26, 1914) online

. (page 7 of 19)
Online LibraryAgassiz Association. Wilson Ornithological ChapterThe Wilson bulletin (Volume 26, 1914) → online text (page 7 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The nest was a small platform built in the rushes and back
of it was a mass of broken down vegetation which formed a
platform several feet square. This the Bitterns used as a
landing place. The fifth egg had hatched and the shell was
gone when I entered the blind, although the nestling was not
yet dry. One or the other of the parents kept the nest
covered throughout the day and both assumed the same posi-
tion. They sat on the nest with the wings spread in such a
manner as to give the body a curious flattened appearance
while the head and neck were extended to their full length
with the beak pointing straight in the air. Occasionally the
head was lowered for an instant to examine the young but
almost immediately was raised again. Every bird that flew
by was watched and every movement in the surrounding
vegetation seemed to be noted by the bird on the nest. This
position had the advantage of elevating the eyes some distance
above the nest and gave the bird a better view of what was
going on around.

I was curious to see how these newly hatched yoiuig would
get their food ; to see if they were fed as the young American
Bitterns had been. At 10 :50 the bright colored little male
alighted on the platform behind the nest and stood there
watching the female who was on the nest. From time to
time he allowed the beak to hang open and shook his head
in a comical way. After he had been doing this for ten

68 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

minutes, the female stepped from the nest and flew away.
The male took her place and stood, still shaking his head.
All of the brood, including the one just hatched, were jump-
ing at his beak. Finally one of them succeeded in securing a
hold on it and pulled his head down toward the nest. His
beak was seized at right angles by that of the young as in the
case of the American Bittern. Instead of the violent contor-
tions which preceded the act of regurgitation in the other
species, a few convulsive jerks of the throat and neck muscles
brought the food into the mouth, from which it passed into
that of the young in the same manner as before. The food
instead of being in a compact mass was more of a liquid
containing pieces of small frogs and occasionally whole ones.
These nestlings had not yet become proficient in their strange
manner of feeding and more or less of the food material fell
into the nest. When this happened, the young which were
not receiving food at the time seized it and swallowed it.
When two secured a hold on the same frog, an exciting tug
of war followed until one or the other was victorious. All
five young were fed at each visit, and it seemed to be as
instinctive for them to jump at the beak of the parent as it is
for other young birds to raise the opened beak.

During the day the male and female alternated in the care
of the nest but the brooding periods of the latter were much
the longer. She seldom remained away any length of time.
On the other hand the male did all the feeding, four times,
during the day. The female evidently hunted only for her
own food during her absences from the nest while the male
foraged for both the nestlings and himself. Both parents did
their hunting on an extensive mud flat about two hundred
yards from the nest.

No attempt was made at sanitation during our brief study,
the excreta being allowed to drop on the nest or fall into the
water beneath. The unconcern of the parents at our presence
made them the most interesting of all the birds studied and it
was with regret that we removed the blind and closed the

MarshalltOA^Ti, Iowa.

Breeding Birds of an Iowa Farm



By Ira N. Gabrielson.

The title of this paper is not literally accurate, as the
territory included parts of several farms as well as the home
place. The notes on which the report is based were made
during the summer months in the years 1907-1911 inclusive.
The land of the farm and surrounding territorj^ is typical
prairie land lying in the eastern edge of the county. It is


gently rolling and is characterized by innumerable "kettle
holes," cat-tail swamps, ponds, and small lakes. Much of it
is still unbroken and retains a flora of native grasses and
flowers. The only timber in the territory covered by this
report consists of the artificial groves — mostly willow, maple,
box elder, and cottonwood — a small apple orchard on the home
place, and a fringe of low bushy willows along one of the
ponds. The remainder of the land is in native grasses, used
as hay, or pasture, or under cultivation, usually in corn, oats.


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

or clover. There were, during the years of study, two ponds
of thirty and forty acres respectively, and fifteen small
swamps, ranging from one or two square rods to three acres
in size, scattered over the region included. This and much
of the surrounding land has been drained since 1911, and it is
only a question of a short time until the remainder of the
swamps and ponds will disappear. A visit during August,
1913, was interesting because of the glimpse obtained of the


manner in which bird life had been affected by the change.
Only five species of birds, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow,
Bartramian Sandpiper, Killdeer, and Meadowlark, were noted
in an entire day in the field where in 1910 or 1911 from forty
to fifty species could be noted any August day. Of these five
species, the last four were resident and of these only two,
the Meadowlark and Barn Swallow, were as numerous as

Breeding Birds of an Iowa Farm


While the list may appear as incomplete, the draining
of the country makes it impossible to obtain any further data
under the old conditions, and it is deemed advisable to publish
it at this time as an approximate list of the nesting species of
the region. It might be said that the only species noted in


the territory during the breeding season which did not nest
there was the Black-crowned Night Heron. These birds
visited the ponds daily but nested in the timber along the
Little Sioux River some ten miles away.

The species listed here are sharply divided into two dis-
tinct groups ; viz., those native to the prairie and swamp, and


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

those which have followed man into the country and nest in
the artificial groves and about the buildings.

In the first class may be placed the following twenty-eight
species which in all probability were in the country in greater
or less numbers previous to its settlement : Pied-billed Grebe,
Black Tern, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Bittern, Least Bit-


tern, King Rail, Sora Rail, Florida Gallinule, Coot, Wilson's
Phalarope, Bartramian Sandpiper, Killdeer, Prairie Chicken,
Marsh Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Prairie-horned Lark, Bobo-
link, Cowbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Black-
bird, Western Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lark
Sparrow, Dickcissel, Maryland Yellow-throat, Short-billed
Marsh Wren, and Prairie Marsh Wren.

Breeding Birds of an Iowa Farm


In the second class are included the following twenty-one
species which nest only in the artificial groves and about the
buildings : Bob-white, Mourning Dove, Screech Owl, Downy
Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Flicker, Chimney
Swift, Phoebe, Blue Jay, Crow, Baltimore Oriole, Bronzed

NEST ani> i;(;(;s of Florida gallinule

Crackle, Goldfinch, Purple Martin, Cliff Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Catbird, BrowTi Thrasher, Western
House Wren, and Robin,

Of the fifty on the list only the Kingbird is doubtful. This
species nests usually in the groves and belongs probably to
the second class, but I have found them nesting in the willow


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

growth along the pond, and they may have nested in situa-
tions of that kind before the groves were present. However
that may be, it was, at the time these notes were made, one
of the most characteristic and abundant birds of the


After the young left the nest, they were to be found along
the fences and telephone lines and during August were among
the most conspicuous bird forms.

1. Podilymbus podiceps. Pied-billed Grebe. Abundant summer resi-
dent and breeder. One or two nests found every year in each little swamp.

2. Hydrochelidon nigra surinamensis. Black Tern. Breeds com-

Breeding Birds op an Iowa Farm


monly in small colonies in the swanijis. Nest generally built on a de-
serted niuskrat house. In the spring and fall they follow the plows in
great flocks, picking up the insects turned up. Picture was taken June
18, 1910. The nest was, as usual, on an old muskrat house.

3. Anas platyrhynclws. Mallard. A common migrant, but rather
rare breeder. On July 24, 1910, I saw a female and nine partly grown
young in one of the small ponds.

4. Querquedula discors. Blue-winged Teal. Common breeder. Nests
generally found in the long grass bordering the swamps.

5. Botaurus lentiginosus. Bittern. One nest containing five eggs
was discovered in a hay field on the ground on June 15, 1909. June I'.i,


1910, I found another nest containing four young within a few feet of
the place where the 1909 nest was located. Picture taken June 15, 1909.

6. Ixobrychus exilis. Least Bittern. Common about the swamps
every year, but only one nest was ever discovered. That was found
June 10, 1909. It contained five eggs and was a platform built in the
reeds over the water.

7. BaUus elegans. King Rail. Common summer resident and breeder.
Nests usually built in the thick grass around the small swamps, though
they were occasionally placed in the hay fields some distance from the
water. A photo of a nest of this species containing 14 eggs was taken
June 24, 1907.


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

8. Porzana Carolina. Soia Rail. This species was always present in
considerable numbers during June and July. While I never succeeded
in finding a nest, there is no question of their nesting here, as I noted
several times young birds scarcely able to fly.

9. Gallinula galeata. Florida Gallinule. Three nests of this species
were found: two in 1909 on June 10, and one on June 18, 1910. They
seemed to be quite common throughout the region.

10. Fulica americana. Coot. Abundant breeder in the ponds and
cat-tail swamps.

11. Steganopus tricolor. Wilson's Phalarope. I have no definite
breeding record for this species, but a pair remained all through June


and July, 1910. A certain small muddy point projecting out in one
of the small ponds seemed to be their particular haunt. At any ap-
proach to this place both male and female would appear and circle
about the intruder. I thought they had a nest at that point, but
although I searched carefully I never succeeded in finding it.

12. Bartramia longicauda. Bartramian Sandpiper. Common summer
resident. One nest containing four eggs was discovered in a pasture
in a bunch of grass. The nest was well concealed and was found with
difficulty after it had been visited twice. The photo of this nest was
taken June 4, 1909.

13. Oxeychus vociferus. Killdeer. Common breeder. Nests generally
in the cornfields. The eggs are laid on the ground or on a few pieces

Breeding Birds of an Iowa Farm


of broken corn husks, with little attempt at nest building. Picture taken
June 15, 1910.

14. Colinus virginianus virginianus. Bob-white. During 1909 and
1910 a pair of these birds nested in the corner of the orchard.

15. Tympanchus americanus americanus. Prairie Chicken. One or
more pairs of this species nested every year. Nest built generally along
the fences in the tall grass and weeds.

16. Zenaidura macroura carolinensis. Mourning Dove. Nests in the

17. Circus hudsonius. Marsh Hawk. Nested in the damp wild hay
fields. One or two nests discovered and destroyed every year by the


18. Asio flamvteus. Short-eared Owl. Nested in much the same
localities as the marsh hawk. The young were very tame and imsus-
picious and would allow a close approach as they sat on the hay stacks.

19. Otus asio asio. Screech Owl. Nested every year in one of the

20. Dryobates pubescens medianus. Downy Woodpecker. Nested in
the same grove with the screech owl.

21. Melanerpes erthroceplialus. Ked-headed Woodpecker. Common
summer resident and breeder in the groves.

22. Colaptes auralus luteus. Northern Flicker. Not as common as
the preceding. One nest found July 3, 1909, containing six eggs.


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

23. Chaetura pelagica. Chimney Swift. Two pairs nested in the
chimney to the farm house every year.

24. Tyrdnnus tyrannus. Kingbird. Common breeder. After the
young leave the nest they spend their time on the fences and telephone
wires. At this season they appear to be the most conspicuous birds of
the region. Nests in groves, in the willows along the swamps, on fence
posts, and even in machinery left in the fields. June 26, 1910, a nest
was found in a large maple tree along the road.

25. Sayornis phoehe. Phoebe. One pair nested in 1910 and 1911
under a small wooden culvert in the road in front of the farm.


Containing Two Cowbird"s Eggs

26. Octocoris alpestris praticola. Prairie Horned Lark. Nests abun-
dantly. Two broods are generally raised. The first nests are built in
pastures and the second ones almost invariably in the corn fields at the
base of a hill of corn. I have found as many as ten in a thirty-acre

27. Cyanocitta cristata crisfata. Blue Jay. A common bird in the
neighboring towns, but not often found in the groves. One or two
nests have been found in the region covered by the paper. One nest
built in an old apple tree and one in a maple grove.

Breeding Birds of an Iowa Farm


28. Corvus brackyrhynchos hrachyrhyndws. Crow. Breeds quite
commonly in the larger groves.

29. Doliclwnyx oryzivorus. Bobolink. One of the most common
breeders. Nests commonly in the hay fields. Nests are well concealed in
the long grass. One found June 12, 1910, contained four bobolink eggs
and two cowbird eggs.

30. MolothrUrS ater ater. Cowbird. Altogether too common. The
eggs are most frequently placed in the nests of redvA'ings and bobolinks,
although they are sometimes placed in the robin, yellow warbler, and
meadowlark nests.


31. XanthocepJialus xantlwceplialus. Yellow-headed Blackbird. Breeds
in colonies in the swamps over the water. The nests are basket-like
affairs woven in the reeds about two feet from the water. In 1909
many nests were flooded and the young drowned by high water.

32. Agelaius phoeniceus phoeniceus. Red-winged Blackbird. Prob-
ably the most abundant breeding bird. Generally builds in the cat-tails
and flags in the edge of the swamps, but sometimes in the meadows in
bunch grass. On June 18, 1910, I found twenty-three nests in a small
swamp not over two rods square. The number of nests in the territory

80 The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

covered by this report ran into the hundreds if not thousands. In 1909
many nests were destroyed by flooding. A nest discovered June 12,
1910, contained three redwing eggs and two cowbirds' eggs.

33. Sturnella neglecta. Western Meadowlark. Common breeder.
Next to the bobolink the most numerous of the ground-nesting birds.

34. Icterus galhuJa. Baltimore Oriole. One or more pairs nested in
the groves each year. I never succeeded in finding an occupied nest, but
noted them each year after the fall of the leaves. I also saw the young
after leaving the nest.

35. Quiscalus quiscula aeneus. Bronzed Graekle. Nests in groves.

36. Astragalinus tristis tristis. Goldfinch. One pair nested every year
in the orchard.

37. Ammodramus savannarum australis. Grasshopper Sparrow. July
14, 1910, I found the only nest of this species discovered in this region.
The nest contained two eggs and was in a hay field. It was discovered
in mowing, the old bird remaining on the nest until the mower had
passed, and then flying off. The nest was abandoned, although every
effort was made to leave it undisturbed.

38. Chondestes grammacus grammacus. Lark Sparrow. Nests on
the dry hillsides.

39. Spiza americana. Dickcissel. Nests commonly along the fences
and in weeds in the small grain fields.

40. Progne subis suMs. Purple Martin. Common summer resident in
the towns. Several pairs built about the farm building in 1910.

41. Petrochelidon lunifrons lunifrons. Cliff Swallow. In 1909 and
1910 a colony of these swallows built under the eaves of the home build-
ings. Each year there were about half a dozen nests containing eggs
and several others in which eggs were not laid.

42. Hirundo erytlirogasira. Barn Swallow. Common about the build-
ings. Nests found every year at all the farms of the region.

43. Dendroica aestiva aestiva. Yellow Warbler. Several pair built
every year in the orchard and in bushes about the house.

44. Geothlypis trichas trichas. Maryland Yellowthroat. One pair
built in the orchard in 1909. The nest containing three eggs was found
Jime 12 at the foot of a small tree.

45. Dumetella carolinensis. Catbird. Builds occasionally in bushes
about farm houses. The parents and young leave the groves as soon as
the latter are able to fly.

46. Taxostoma rufum. Brown Thrasher. Found nesting in 1910 in
an old brush pile in one of the groves.

47. Troglodytes aedon parlcaviani. Western House Wren. Common
breeder about the farm houses.

48. Cistothorus stellaris. Short-billed Marsh Wren. Bather a rare
resident and breeder. One nest found July 28, 1910, contained six eggs.
The nest was built close to the ground in a damp marshy hay field.

Notes on the Spotted Sandpiper 81

49. Tehnatodyies paltistris iliacus. Prairie Marsh Wren. Nests com-
monly in the reeds growing in the ends of the larger ponds.

50. Planesticus migratorius migratorius. Eobin. Common. Builds
in the groves and about the houses.

By Arthur F. Smith.

During the summer of 1913 the writer was privileged to be
present at the session of the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, on
Lake Okoboji, Iowa. There are many opportunities here for
the intensive study of the life and behavior of birds, and
such work is encouraged by the Laboratory.

In the summer of 1913 two nests of the Spotted Sand-
piper (Actitis niacidarius) were found, and at the suggestion
of Dr. T. C. Stephens the writer followed their history some-
what carefully. Both of the nests were located similarly,
viz., near the extremity of long, low sand spits projecting
into the lake for a distance of two hundred yards or more.
In each case the nest was about seventy-five feet from the
point. The nests, which were located on Gull Point and the
Sand Spit in Miller's Bay respectively, may now be considered

The nest on Gull Point was found on Friday, June 27, at
5:30 P.M. At this time it contained four eggs. The ground
at this point was sandy, covered by a sparse growth of fox-
tail grass and a few weeds. The neck of land here was not
over thirty or forty feet in width, and was quite low. The
nest was afforded very little concealment among the short,
dry grass ; but, nevertheless, the nest itself is so inconspicuous
that it is seen with difficulty even at close range. It was
noted that when the parent bird was on the nest her colors
harmonized quite perfectly with the surrounding vegetation
and ground. The eggs also presented little or no contrast
with the environs of the nest.

Visits were made to this nest on June 29, July 1, 5, 7, 8,
10, and 13, and on each occasion one of the parents was

82 The Wilson Bulletin — No, 87

flushed from the nest. At each of these visits the bird, when
flushed, flew to some distance ; however, when the eggs began
to hatch this distance became greatly shortened.

About 7 :3(rP. M. on the 14th of July the first egg was found
to be hatching. The shell was roughly broken across the large
end for a distance of about three-fourths of an inch, and from
one end of this jagged opening there extended a clean crack
pretty nearly to the small end of the egg.

Close examination now revealed that two other eggs were
pipped. In both cases there was a little round hole just large
enough to permit the protrusion of the tip of the chick 's beak.
In all three the beak of the chick kept at work crumbling
away the edge of the shell and membrane.

The old bird was now very tame, and at no time was she
more than a few yards away. She displayed great curiosity,
or anxiety, slipping in and out between the grass, and eyed
the intruder from one side and then the other.

I then withdrew to a point about twenty feet away in order
to allow her to return to the nest. This she did immediately,
but something must have frightened her again, for she
jumped about four feet straight into the air. I now grad-
ually approached the nest, repeatedly flushing the bird and
waiting for her return ; when I got within five feet of the
nest the old bird left, only to return at once, calling and
receiving answering chirps from the partly hatched young.
Finally, I got within three feet of the nest; the old bird
simply stood up on the piece of bark by the nest, looked
interested, and returned to the nest.

The old bird covered the nest by spreading the wings
slightly, and fluffing the breast feathers.

As I crept a little closer the old bird flushed, and I saw
that the first young bird had emerged from the shell. At
8 :30 P.M. I left. The nest contained at this time one chick,
two pipped eggs, one entire, and one empty shell.

July 15. When I returned to the nest at 4:30 A.M. the
old bird was on the nest, but flushed at my approach. The
nest now contained four young birds and three empty shells.
Evidently one shell had been disposed of, and probably the

Notes on the Spotted Sandpiper 83

night before. One of the chicks left the nest with vigorous
chirps, and joined the mother near by. One other chick,
though not yet dry, was endeavoring also to leave the nest.

As I lay within two and a half feet of the nest, the old bird
came and pecked at an egg shell, and then sat down. Two of
the chicks climbed onto the mother's back.

I was able to distinguish two calls of the adult birds. One
might be called the alarm note, which gives warning to the
young of danger; it is simply a repetition of a single note,
thus: "Peet-peet-peet-peet," etc. The other might be called
a song, for the parent sings it as she coddles the young. It
runs thus : ' ' Tr-tr-tr weet, tr-tr-tr weet, tweet, tweet, tweet,

One of the first acts of the old bird was to pick up one of
the half shells and carry it to the water's edge, where it was
dropped. A little later she bit off some pieces from the small
part of the shell and swallowed them. At 5 :30 A. M. she
carried oft' the second half shell and dropped it at the lake
shore as before. At 6 :00 A. M. she cleaned out the nest,
eating a number of small bits of shell, some of which she
obtained by scatching in the grass; the last large piece of
shell was carried to the shore as before, but this time she
held it under the water and shook it. The shell was then
eaten, thus departing somewhat from the previous conduct.

At 6 :10 A. M., when the old bird returned, two of the young
were about twenty feet away in the grass. Up to this time a
close watch had been kept as to the feeding of the young
birds. The parent was not observed to bring any food to the
nest. But now the two little chicks which had left the nest
were observed to pick at the grass as if in the act of catching
insects. And with continued observation I concluded they
were feeding, all of which the old bird watched attentively.
On one occasion a garter snake came to the vicinity of the
nest, but was warded away from the direction of the young
birds by the vigorous wing action of the parent.

On the 17th the place was again visited for the pui-pose
of photographing the young. Two were found and photo-
graphed ; the other two were seen to run off in the grass, but


The Wilson Bulletin — No. 87

were not caught. The old bird seemed to divide her atten-
tion between these two pairs of chicks.

Some summer cottagers living near by said they had been
in the habit of feeding these sandpipers (what I do not
know), and they stated that the chicks usually appeared in

1 2 3 4 5 7 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 7 of 19)