Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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street rarely away from ground trampled by man. They join
the poultry at breakfast, and pick the grain that is scattered along


the roads, gathering the weed seeds by the way. From their quick
motions and constant haste one might think they were catching
fleeing grasshoppers rather than stationary seeds. They go patter-
ing about, bobbing their heads and keeping up a rapid, hard little
cooing that has scarcely a suggestion of the soft dove tones. In the
breeding season this is the first thing heard in the morning, and it
is kept up well into the glowing heat of the day, usually given
from the ground, but sometimes from the branches of trees.





1. Wing 30 or more Gymnogyps, p. 144.

1'. Wing less than 25.

2. Head red Cathartes, p. 145.

2'. Head black Catharista, p. 146.


324. Gymnogyps californianus (Shaw). CALIFORNIA VUL-

Wing 30 or more ; head and entire neck bare, skin smooth ; plumage of
under parts lanceolate or pencillate ; head much elongated, forehead flat-
tened ; nostril small, its anterior end acute ; bill small, mandibles broader
than deep ; wings folding to or beyond end of square tail. Adults : head
and ueck bare, yellow, or orange in life ; bill whitish or pale yellowish ;
plumage sooty blackish ; outer webs of greater wing coverts and second-
aries grayish, wing coverts tipped with white and outer secondaries edged
with white ; axillars and under wing coverts pure whi f Young : like
adults, but neck more or less covered with sooty grayish down, bill and
naked skin blackish ; brown edgings of feathers of upper parts producing
a scaled effect ; white of under wings and gray webbing of coverts and
secondaries wanting. Length : 44-55, extent S to nearly 11 feet ; weight
20-25 pounds, wing 30-35, tail 15-18, bill 1.50.

Remarks. The vulture can be distinguished in the field by its great
size and its white under wing coverts.

Distribution. Coast ranges of southern California from Monterey Bay
south to Lower California, and east to Arizona.

Nest . A cavity or recess among rocks, or hollow in a stump, log, oi>
tree trunk. Eggs : 1 or 2, plain grayish green, or greenish white.

Food. Carrion,

To come upon the California vulture alive and free is like sud-
denly coming to a giant sequoia towering above the forest. The
sequoia awes you with the feeling of immensity, and the forest


trees that you had looked up to as very large are suddenly dwarfed.
The same thrill strikes you when overhead the great wings of the
vulture spread out and with mighty strokes carry the huge bird in
wide circles up through the sky; and, as you look down, the turkey
buzzards sailing below seem little more than circling swallows.


The sight of a single California vulture is more than is vouch-
safed to most naturalists, but in 1894 Mr. Stephens actually en-
countered a flock of twenty-six of these magnificent birds.

The condor is certainly one of the glories of the splendid state of
California, and every patriotic naturalist should do his part to enforce
the law for its protection.

325.- Cathartes aura (Linn.). TURKEY VULTURE.

Whole head and upper part of neck naked, the skin corrugated and
sparingly bristled ; nostrils large, elliptical ; wings
long, pointed, folding to or beyond the short round tail.
Adults : head bare and crimson in life, bill white ;
lores and top of head sometimes with wart-like papil-
lae ; neck and under parts dull black ; upper parts
blackish glossed with green and purple, feathers
broadly edged with grayish brown, secondaries edged
with gray ; shafts of quills and tail feathers varying
from pale brown to yellowish white. Young : like
adults, but bill and naked skin blackish, brownish margins to wing cov-
erts less distinct. Length : 26-32, extent about 6 feet, wing 20-23, tail
11-12, bill 1.

Distribution. ' Breeds throughout most of temperate and tropical Amer-
ica, from the Saskatchewan south to Patagonia.

Eggs. Laid in a cavern, a cavity between rocks, or a hollow in a log,
stump, or tree trunk ; 2, white, buffy, or greenish white, more or less
spotted or blotched with rich brown and purplish gray.


One of the most familiar sights in southern and western skies is
the dark 'form of the turkey buzzard circling and soaring on out-
spread wings, its black body figure, as seen from below, set in a
bordering of gray wing. As the birds float in the sky apparently
wafted by every passing breeze they are keeping a sharp lookout
over the land outspread beneath them, and so quickly discover any
carrion that the ranchmen, who are numbered among their con-
stituents, find it quite unnecessary to bury their offal, depending
entirely upon the good offices of this self-constituted garbage com-
mittee of Nature's Board of Health. Along the Columbia River the
buzzards dispose of the dead fish on the shores.

From the character of their food and their habit of eating on the
ground instead of carrying their quarry to a tree, the bills and feet


of the vultures are modified from the hawk types. The bill is less
sharply pointed and powerful, while the feet instead of having
curved talons have an elongated middle toe well adapted to walking
on the ground, or steadying the large body as the bird suinds on the
carrion it is devouring.

When walking, the vultures often hold their wings out at their
sides, harpy fashion ; and sometimes as they rise they fly so low over
your head that you hear a loud puff, puff^ puff, puff, as they flap past.

While usually solitary or in scattered companies they gather
quickly at a carcass, and at night often assemble in large flocks to
roost in a favorite grove of cottonwoods. Mr. Evermann reports over
a hundred roosting in a eucalyptus grove.


326. Catharista urubu (VieUL). BLACK VULTURE.

Head naked, but feathers of neck running up behind to a point on the
back of the head ; nostrils narrow ; wings not folding to the end of the
short, even, or emarginate tail. Adults : head bare, blackish, bill blackisb,
with yellowish or whitish tip ; whole body dull black ; wing quills with
white sbaf ts, and webbing on under side hoary whitish. Length : 23-27,
extent about 54, wing 16.50-17.50, tail 7.50-8.50, bill .90-.95.

Distribution. Breeds in Lower Sonoran and Tropical zones from the
Atlantic to western Texas, and from North Carolina, Indiana, and Kansas
south over most of South America. Straggles to New England and South

Eggs. Laid on the ground under bushes or logs, or on rocks ; 1 to 3,
pale grayish green, irregularly marked around the larger end with brown
and sometimes lavender.

Food. Carrion.

Although the turkey buzzard and black vultures resemble each
other in general, you can recognize the black vulture in the sky at
a glance by the shortness of its square tail. You also come to dis-
tinguish its flight, for while a turkey buzzard sails around smoothly
on a level, the black vulture's short wings and abbreviated tail often
give its body a peculiar tilt and a bat-like effect of climbing up the
air. In flying to the ground, its whitish under wing tips are a
striking character.




1. Wing 17-21.

2. Claws all the same length, rounded on under side.

Fandion, p. 172



2'. Claws, not all the same length, grooved on under side.

3. Tarsus feathered to base of toes Aquila, p. 163.

3'. Tarsus not feathered to base of toes .... Haliaeetus, p. 165.

2. Wing with only one or two quills cut out on KjLvL-vOO^~i
inner webs. Fig. 214.

3. Nostril circular, with conspicuous bony tubercle.
Falco, p. 165.

Fig. 215. 3'. Nostrl not circular, without bony tubercle.

4. Tail deeply forked.

Elanoides, p. 148.

Fig. 216.

4'. Tail not deeply forked.
Fig. 217. 5. Tarsus minutely scaled in front . . Blanus, p. 148.

5'. Tarsus coarsely scaled in front.

Ictinia, p. 149.
2'. Wing with three to five quills cut out on inner

3. Face with owl-like ruff of stiff feathers. Fig. 218.

Circus, p. 150.
3'. Face without owl-like ruff of stiff feathers.

4. Legs feathered to toes Archibuteo, p. 162.

4'. Legs not feathered to toes.

5. Nostrils oblique and linear, slanting forward to cut-
ting edge of bill . ... . . Polyborus, p. 171.

5'. Nostrils not oblique or linear.

6. Tail decidedly more than two thirds as long as


7. Lores nearly naked . . . Parabuteo, p. 154.

7'. Lores densely feathered . Accipiter, p. 151.

6'. Tail not more than two thirds as long as wing.

7. Primaries exceeding secondaries by less than

naked front of tarsus . Urubitinga, p. 160.

7'. Primaries exceeding secondaries by much more

than naked front of tarsus.

8. Adults with under parts barred gray and
white ; wing less than four times as long as

tarsus Asturina, p. 161.

8'. Adults with under parts not barred gray and
white ; wing more than four times as long as
tarsus Buteo, p. 155.



Biological Survey, f


327. Elanoides forficatus (Linn.). SWALLOW-TAILED KITE.
Wings long-, slender, acute ; tail forked, and nearly as long as wing ;

feet short but stout; tarsus feathered
about half way down in front ; bill rather
weak. Adults : white ; back, wings, and
tail black, bloomed with gray ; lesser wing
coverts bronzy purple. . Young : head
and neck streaked, back brownish, with
greenish instead of purple gloss ; wings
and tail feathers narrowly tipped with
white. Length : 19.50-25.50, wing 15.40-
17-70, outer tail feathers 12.50-14.50, bill

Distribution. From Assiniboia south
to South America, and, in the United
States, from the Carolinas west to the
Plains ; casually to Colorado and south-
ern New England. Breeds irregularly
throughout its United States range.

Nest. In tops of tall trees, usually
near watercourses, made of dry twigs and
sometimes of gray moss. Eggs : 1 to 4,
white or buffy, boldly spotted or blotched,
chiefly around larger end, with browns.
Fig. 220. Food. Mainly reptiles and insects.

The swallow-tailed kite lives mainly on the wing and by virtue of
its long tail has a remarkably graceful flight. When hunting it
flies close to the ground like a marsh hawk, but at other times sails
above the treetops, sometimes so far above that it takes a good eye
to see it. The kite picks up both food and nesting materials while
on the wing, carrying its food in its talons and eating as it goes.
Its call-notes have been given as a shrill, keen e-e-e or we-we-we, uttered
in a high key which carries a long distance.


328. Elanus leucurus (Vieill). WHITE-TAILED KITE.

Bill rather weak and compressed; feet very small; tarsus feathered
half way down in front, and below covered with minute roundish scales ;
claws not grooved beneath ; hind toe very short, claws all small and little
curved ; wings nearly or about twice as long as tail, pointed, first and
second quills emarginate, the feathers broad, obtuse at tips. Adults :
under parts white, upper parts plain bluish gray, except for white top of
head and tail, and black patches around eye and on shoulders. Young: re-
sembling adults, but tinged with rusty, extensively on under parts ; upper
parts indistinctly streaked ; wing feathers tipped with white ; tail with an
indistinct subterminal dusky band. Length : 15.15-16.75, wing 11.50-
13.30, tail 5.90-7.40, bill .65-.80.

Distribution. Tropical America, except the West Indies ; north in the
United States to about the latitude of San Francisco on the Pacific coast,
St. Louis in the interior, and South Carolina in the east.


Nest . Generally in live oaks, made of wigs, lined with stubble and
grasses. Eggs : 3 to 5, ground color white, heavily marked over entire
surface with blotches of red and brown.

Food. Small snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects such as grasshoppers
and beetles.

The white-tailed kites frequent lowland valleys, breeding when
possible near streams or marshes, where they hide their nests in the
tops of oaks or willows.

Their flight, Mr. Chester Barlow says, is graceful and often quite
rapid, though it lacks the dash of the falcons. When hunting early
in the morning, both birds often go together, when they may be
seen hovering motionless in the air like sparrow hawks. Their
principal call-note Mr. Barlow gives as a plaintive musical whistle.

The kites are resident in the oak groves of Santa Clara Valley, and
frequent the marshes about San Francisco Bay, where Mr. W. K.
Fisher has found them catching large numbers of the California
meadow mouse.


329. Ictinia mississippiensis (Wils.). MISSISSIPPI KITE.

Bill small but robust, cutting edge of upper mandible scalloped ; wings
and tail moderate, two outer primaries
emarginate on inner web, and next two
sinuate ; feet short and stout ; tarsus scan-
tily feathered about half way down in
front, then crossed by large scales ; outer
and middle toes connected by web for whole
length of basal joint of middle toe ; claws
stout, much curved. Adults : head and
band across wing grayish white ; under
parts dark gray ; upper parts bluish slate, with
black tail and long black wing quills ; quills
with dull reddish brown webbing. Young:
head streaked black and white, whiter
on throat ; under parts whitish, heavily
streaked with dark brown and buffy ; upper
parts blackish, feathers with convex edges
brown, gray, or white ; tail and wing quills
black tipped with white, and without rufous
webbing. Length : 13.00-15.50, wing 10.60-
12.30, tail 6-7.

Distribution. Breeds chiefly in Lower From Biological Survey, U. S. Dept.
Sonoran zone of the southeastern United o? Agriculture.

States, westward to western Texas, south

to Guatemala ; casually in Upper Sonoran zone to Pennsylvania, Wiscon-
sin, and Dakota.

Nest. Usually an old one of its own or some other bird, in a high tree-
top; remodeled by patching up the sides with a few sticks and lining
with Spanish moss or green leaves. Eggs: 2 or 3, pale bluish green,

Food. Lizards, small snakes, and frogs, together with insects, such as
the larger beetles, grasshoppers, and locusts.


This sturdy little kite, with its quick flight and graceful form and
motions, has much the appearance of a falcon, but its weak bill and
talons give it an un-falcon-like character and mode of life. Its prey,
instead of being birds and mammals, is mainly of such low order as
insects, snakes, and frogs, and its hunting consequently lacks the
excitement of the chase. It is seen flying low over the prairies
among the brush patches, or going from tree to tree along the


331. Circus hudsonius (Linn.). MARSH HAWK.

Bill with conspicuous bristles ; face encircled by an owl-like ruff of short
feathers ; tarsus slender, much longer than middle toe and claw ; a basal
web between middle and outer toes ; claws large and sharp, much curved ;
four outer primaries cut out on inner webs, second to fifth on outer webs.
Adult male : body bluish slate, streaked with white and becoming pure
white on rump and belly ; under parts lightly specked with reddish brown ;
tail with 6 or 8 bands, one nearest end widest and blackest ; tips of wing
black. Adult female and young : brown or rusty, more or less streaked.
Length: 19.50-24.00, wing 12.90-16.00, tail 8.80-10.50.

Remarks. The facial ruff and large white rump patch are enough to
distinguish the marsh hawk in any plumage.

Distribution. Breeds from Alaska and Hudson Bay to the southern
border of the United States and winters from about latitude 40 southward
to Panama and Cuba.

Nest. Usually in a marsh or prairie on the ground among rushes, grass,
or bushes, made of dry grass strengthened with sticks and lined sparsely
with feathers. Eggs : generally 4 to 6, pale greenish or bluish white, plain,
or blotched and spotted with pale buff and brownish.

Food. Largely meadow mice, young squirrels, rabbits, and ground
squirrels ; also lizards, frogs, snakes, birds, and insects.

Marsh hawk and mouse hawk are both appropriate names for these
soft-winged still-hunters. Fields, marshes, and prairies are their
hunting grounds, and you may see them sailing slowly and smoothly
just above the surface of the grass tops, with round owl-like face
and large eyes turned to the ground beneath, and wings ready for a
quick dive. Woe to the mouse or gopher that moves in the grass
under those eyes ! Birds are not such easy prey, and few are cap-
tured except wounded game birds. Broken-winged quail, grouse,
or ducks are not left to suffer long. They are quickly discovered
and eaten.

The intelligent farmer usually recognizes the value of this hawk
and the fact that it almost never touches his poultry. He sees it
skimming over his meadows and diving into the grass for mice, and
wisely lets it live ; but nevertheless he would be surprised if he
could figure out how many dollars it saves him during the year.






General Characters. Head small, wings short, tail and legs long ; three
to five outer primaries cut out on inner webs; tail square or rounded,
about equal to length of wing.


1. Under parts gray, finely barred with zigzag lines.

2. Upper parts clear bluish gray atricapillus, p. 152.

2'. Upper parts slaty blue inclining to sooty . . . striatulus, p. 153.
1'. Under parts white, coarsely barred with reddish brown.

2. Tail rounded cooperii, p. 152.

2'. Tail even or emarginate velox, p. 151.

Subgenus Accipiter.
Length 20 or less ; tarsus feathered for one third or less of its length.

332. Accipiter velox ( Wils.). SHARP-SHINNED HAWK.

Adult male. Under parts white, heavily barred and spotted with reddish
brown ; upper parts nearly uniform bluish gray ; tail even or slightly notched,
with three or four narrow blackish bands,
and narrow white tip. Adult female : similar,
but duller, less blue above, less reddish below.
Young : upper parts dark brown, edged with
rusty and with hints of white spotting ; under
parts white, often tinged with buffy, streaked
vertically with brown ; sides and flanks barred
with reddish brown. Male: length 10.00-11.50,
wing 6.10-7.10, tail 5.80-6.10. Female: length
12.50-14.00, wing 7.80-8.80, tail 6.60-8.20.

Remarks. The young are decidedly larger
than the adults, and the breast markings are
vertical instead of horizontal.

Distribution. Breeds throughout the United
States, and in the British provinces as far north
as the Arctic circle ; winters from 40 north ;
southward to Guatemala.

Nest. A remodeled one of crow, magpie,
or squirrel, or if new, made of dry sticks sparsely
lined with inner bark or green leaves ; placed
usually in a dense conifer, about twenty feet
from the ground. Eggs : 4 or 5, pale bluish or greenish white, fading to
dull grayish white, most irregularly and heavily blotched, spotted, and
marbled with brown ; in some specimens ground color almost hidden by
confluent brown markings.

Food. Chiefly birds and young poultry, with a few mice, reptiles,
batrachians, and insects.

Among the hawks the sharp-shinned is a veritable bushwhacker.
His light body, short wings, and long tail enable him to double and
turn among the brush and branches, and in a noiseless, fox-like way
pounce over a hedgerow or brush heap into the midst of a flock of
sparrows, swoop under the low branches and pick his bird from the
ground, or dart through the treetops and snatch one in mid air from
the midst of a startled flock.

n Biological Survey, U. S.
Dept. of Agriculture.
Fig. 222.



His small size is so much more than compensated by his audacity
that one bird often becomes the terror of a poultry yard, taking the
small and half-grown chickens regularly and sometimes killing and
eating a full-grown hen of many times its own weight.


333. Accipiter cooperii (Bonap.). COOPER HAWK.

Adult male. Under parts white, heavily spotted and barred with red-
dish brown; top of head black contrasted with
bluish gray of back ; tail rounded, with 3 or 4
black bands and narrow white tip. A.dult
female : upper parts duller and less bluish
than in male ; top of head more brown-
ish black ; hind neck and sides of head
washed with dull rusty. Young : upper
parts dark brown, with rusty edgings and
suggestion of white spotting ; under parts
streaked vertically. Male : length 14-17,
wing 8.85-9.40, tail 7.80-8.30. Female:
length 18-20, wing 10.10-11.00, tail 9.00-

Distribution. Breeds throughout the
United States and southern British Pro-

From Biological Survey, U. S. l>pt
ot Agriculture.

Fig. 223.

vinces, wintering regularly from about lati-
tude -40 southward to southern Mexico,
though occasionally staying in southern

Nest. In trees, 20 to 50 feet from the
ground, often a remodeled one of other
hawks, crows, or squirrels, bulky, made of
large sticks and lined with rough outer
bark. Eggs : usually 4 or 5, pale bluish

white to greenish white, unspotted or faintly and irregularly scrawled

with brown or pale buffy.

Food. Almost entirely wild birds and poultry, but occasionally small

mammals, reptiles, batrachians, and insects.

1 ' Cooper's hawk, which resembles the sharp-shinned hawk closely in
everything except size, is less northern in its distribution. . . . The
food of this hawk, like that of its smaller congener, consists almost
entirely of wild birds and poultry, though from its superior size and
strength it is able to cope successfully with much larger birds, and
hence is much more to be dreaded. . . . The flight of this species
is very rapid, irregular, and usually is carried at no great height
from the ground, in all these particulars closely resembling that of
the sharp-shinned hawk." (Fisher.)

Subgenus Astur.
Length over 20 ; tarsus feathered for about one half its length.

334. Accipiter atricapillus (Wils.). AMERICAN GOSHAWK.

Bare portion of leg in front shorter than middle toe ; wing more than



From Biological Su

Fig. 224. Goshawk.

U. S. Dept. of

12 inches. Adults : under parts with
whitish ground uniformly covered with
finely penciled gray zigzags, touched up
with dark shaft streaks; upper parts
dark bluish gray, with black shaft streaks,
and becoming black on head ; tail bluish
gray, more or less tipped with white and
crossed by about four dusky bands,
sometimes obsolete on the upper sur-
face. Young : upper parts dull brown,
head and neck streaked with buffy sal-
mon, and rest of upper parts spotted and
edged with pale buffy and whitish ;
under parts bright buffy, broadly
streaked with dark brown. Male :
length 22.00, wing 12.00-13.25, tail 9.50-
10.50. Female : length 24.50, wing 13.50-
14.25, tail 11.50-12.75.

Distribution. Breeds in northern and
eastern North America, chiefly north of
the United States but west to eastern
parts of Washington and Oregon, and
south in the Rocky Mountains as far as
central New Mexico.

Nest. Placed high up in a large
tree, generally an evergreen, a bulky compact mass of twigs, lined with
soft inner bark, weed stalks, or leaves, surrounded by loosely arranged
sticks. Eggs : 2 to 5, pale bluish white, unspotted.

Food. Rabbits and other rodents, but mainly poultry, ducks, grouse,
and smaller birds.

As the goshawk breeds in the mountains or in the far north it is
little in evidence except in winter, but then it comes down into the
valleys and even out over the deep snow of the middle prairies.

Game birds and poultry suffer more from it than from any hawk,
and its rapid flight, size, strength, and daring combine to make it
the most destructive of the American birds of prey.

334a. A. a. striatulus Bidgw. WESTERN GOSHAWK.

Like A. atricapillus but darker ; upper parts from dark bluish gray to
sooty black ; under parts dark gray, more heavily mottled, and marked
with dark shaft streaks ; belly and thighs barred. Young : upper parts
brownish black, with buffy and rusty streakings and edgings ; stripes on
lower parts broader than in A. atricapillus, and deep black ; tail with four
blackish bands.

Distribution. From Sitka south to California and Idaho, and east to

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 19 of 65)