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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grayish white patch on quills ; tail white, with broad black terminal band
and about 13 or 14 narrow dusky bars. Young : black of adults replaced by
brown, mixed black and white cape of adult dingy whitish, striped with
dark brown. Length: 20.50-25.00, wing 14.60-16.50, tail 8.80-10.00, bill

Distribution. Resident along the southern border of the United States
(Florida, Texas, and Arizona) and Lower California ; extending south to
South America, Ecuador, and Guiana.


Nest. A bulky mass of twigs, flags, weeds, coarse grass, leaves, cot-
ton, or Spanish moss ; placed according to the locality in low bushes or in
high trees. Eggs : 2 or 3, ground color brown or white, generally entirely
hidden by spots of darker brown.

Food. Carrion, mice, rabbits, fish, and snakes.

The caracara or Mexican buzzard is the oddest looking bird found
in that most interesting belt of strange Mexican types, the southern
border line of the United States. In flight it has a wooden look,
given probably by its curious color pattern and long neck. Head
and neck appear like one stiff round-headed stick. Its wings look
stiff and angular too, and as it flaps along their white tips add to
the singular effect. On your first view of the bird you exclaim in-
voluntarily, "What a queer looking creature !"

In driving from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, while we found the
Swainson, Harris, and white-tailed hawks common on the open
prairie, we saw caracaras only on the mesquite or shin oak prairie.
In the mesquite one day we came to two of the birds standing in the
road beside a dead . snake. As they stood with heads raised, they
had a proud, hawk-like bearing.

South of San Ignatius, in driving through the low shin oak, we
found two caracaras perched on an isolated little round-topped oak.
They were so big and the tree was so small that they more than
filled it, looking like huge stuffed birds on meagre standards. They
were so evidently at home, sitting pluming themselves calmly
while we stared, that we looked about for a nest and soon discov-
ered it, a mass of sticks, holding a fuzzy-headed nestling, on the top
of another small round oak.

On the coast of southern Texas, Colonel Goss found the caracara
playing the part the eagles do with fish hawks. When the brown
pelicans were coming to shore with their pouches full of fish, the
caracaras would dart down screaming and strike at them with their
talons till the pelicans disgorged their fish, when the robbers would
calmly take possession of the quarry.


364. Pandion haliaetus carolinensis (Gmel.). FISH HAWK.

Plumage close, firm, imbricated, oily; feet large and strong, roughly
granular ; toes all free to the base, outer toe reversible ; claws all the
same length ; wings long, pointed ; tail short. Adult male : Head, neck
and under parts white, head more or less streaked with blackish, broad
dark streak on side of head ; breast sometimes slightly blotched with
brown; tail narrowly tipped with white and crossed by 6 or 7 narrow
blackish bands. Adult female: similar, but chest heavily spotted with
brown. Young : sexes similar to adults, but upper parts blackish brown,
feathers tipped with white or buffy. Length : 20.75-25.00, extent about
65, wing 17-21, tail 7-10, bill 1.20-1.45.



Distribution. Breeds from Hudson
Bay and Alaska south throughout the
United States and Mexico ; migrates to
the West Indies and northern South

Nest. On the ground, in trees, on
telegraph poles, cliffs, or deserted build-
ings, made of large sticks, brush, and
rubbish, such as weeds and cornstalks,
lined with softer materials like seaweed,
cedar bark, and corn leaves. Eggs : usu-
ally 3, varying greatly in size, color, and
markings. Ground color generally white,
sometimes so evenly overlaid as to ap-
pear buffy or vinaceous, and usually heav-
ily blotched with brown and wine red.

'Food. Fish.


From Biological Sur ey, IT. S. Dept.
of Agriculture.

Fig. 238. Fish Hawk.

With almost gull-like persistency
the fish hawk follows the rivers and
lakes, circling on crooked wings above
the surface of the water or perching
near the shore on the top of some old
dead tree overlooking the rippling
surface. When a fish is sighted below the long wings are folded
and with a meteor-like plunge the bird sinks into the water, imbed-
ding the long hooked talons in the back of the fish. With a few
powerful strokes of the wings it is up again, carrying the fish with
talons planted one ahead of the other in its back, to make it go head
first instead of side wise, so that it will cut the air. With its prey
the osprey makes for its nest, or if it has no nest flies to a branch
where it can devour its quarry at leisure.

Every spring the fish hawks add a new layer to the old nest, and
if undisturbed will use the same structure as long as the sticks hold
together. The nests are generally scattered and by no means com-
mon, but in places where suckers and other fish are abundant and
easily caught, the ospreys sometimes live in large colonies, coming
back year after year to the same nests. VERNON BAILEY.


365. Strix pratincola Bonap. BARN OWL.

Wings long, pointed, folding beyond tail ; tail short, about half as long 1
as wing ; tarsus nearly twice as long as middle toe
without claw, closely feathered above, slightly feath-
ered and bristly below, as on toes ; feathers of back of
tarsus pointing upward ; inner toe as long as middle
toe ; inner edge of middle claw pectinated.

Facial disk pure white to tawny ; under parts pure Fig. 239.



white to yellowish brown, dotted with triangular brown or blackish spots ;

upper parts yellowish brown, more or
less overlaid with mottled gray, finely
streaked with black and white ; wings
and tail with a few dusky bands. Length :
14.75-18.00, wing 12.50-14.00, tail 5.50-
7.50, bill .90-1 .00.

Distribution. Breeds in Upper and
Lower Sonoran zones of the United
States, from about latitude 41 (Ne-
braska), and southward through Mexico.
Migrates more or less in the northern
part of its range.

Nest. In hollow trees, holes in cliffs,
barns, old houses, and bell towers.

Food. In California, principally go-
phers and ground squirrels, together
with rabbits, birds, and insects.

The barn owl, or more appropri-
ately golden owl, spends its days in

From Biolo ? ical Survey, U. S. Dept. ^ dafk Cr6ViCe that !t findS COn '

of Agriculture. venient, f rom the hollow branch of a

Fig. 240. Barn Owl. trce to bam loftSj garrets> wells>

windmill tanks, and mining shafts. When driven out of its hiding
place in the daytime, an old owl will draw itself up, snap its bill,
and hiss at one in a way that might well terrify a nervous enemy.
At twilight it leaves its cover and with noiseless flight hurries to
some low meadow or marsh to hunt.

In California it preys mainly on gophers and ground squirrels,
both of which rank among the worst pests in the country. The
ejected pellets found around the owls' nests often contain nothing
but gopher hair and bones, and in a number of instances Mr. Clark
P. Streator has found an accumulation of two or three cubic feet of
pellets in the trees in which the owls lived. Wherever the owls are
found they rank among the most beneficial of rapacious birds, for
they not only live on gophers and ground squirrels in the west, but
cotton rats in the south, and rats and mice in the north.

When hunting, the owl's ' peevish scream ' may often be heard,
and sometimes also a note that Major Bendire compares to the call
of the nighthawk. But the hungry young make the most noise.
When camped beside an oak containing a family, Dr. Palmer found
them a great nuisance from the hissing and shrieking which they
kept up all night.

In California in winter Mr. Evermann has found as many as fifty
barn owls together in the oaks.




1. Small, wing 3.40-7.50.

2. With ear tufts (inconspicuous in young) . . Megascops, p. 181.
2'. Without ear tufts.

3. Tarsus more than twice as long as middle toe. Speotyto, p. 189.
3'. Tarsus less than twice as long as middle toe.

4. Tarsus scantily haired ...... Micropallas, p. 191.

4'. Tarsus densely feathered.

5. Ear openings very large, the two unlike.

Nyctala, p. 179.

Fig. 241.

5'. Ear openings small, the two alike.

Glaucidium, p. 190.
1'. Large, wing 11.50-19.00.

2. With ear tufts.

3. Ear openings small Bubo, p. 185.

Fig 242 3'. Ear openings large, reaching almost to top of skull.

Asio, p. 175.
2'. Without ear tufts.

3. Wing 9 inches Surnia, p. 188-

3'. Wing 12 to 19.

4. Ear openings small, the two ears not distinctly dif-
ferent Nyctea, p. 187.

4'. Ear openings very large, the two strikingly dif-

5. Toes feathered to claws. . Scotiaptex, p. 179.
5'. Tips of toes exposed . . . Syrnium, p. 177.


General Characters. Ear openings immense, almost equal to height of
skull ; ear tufts more or less developed ; wings about twice as long as tail ;
feet closely feathered to ends of toes.


1. Ear tufts short accipitrinus, p. 177.

1'. Ear tufts long wilsonianus, p. 175.

366. Asio Wilsonianus (Less.). LONG-EARED OWL.

Ear tufts dark brown, conspicuous; face mainly yellowish brown ; under
parts whitish and yellowish, with dark brown shaft streaks and hori-
zontal bars on belly; flanks yellowish brown, unspotted; upper parts



From Biological Survey, U
Dept. of Agriculture.

mottled gray, tawny, and blackish ; wings and tail barred. Length :
13-16, wing 11.50-12.00, tail 6.00-6.20, bill

Distribution. Temperate North America,
straggling south to Mexico in winter. Breeds
throughout its range.

Nest . Usually an old crow's nest built up
on the sides and lined with grass, dead leaves,
and feathers ; generally 10 to 30 feet from the
ground, in bushes or trees in swamps or on bor-
ders of streams. Eggs : 3 to 6, white.

Food. Injurious rodents, which it destroys
in vast numbers.

The long-eared owl spends its days mostly
in the thickest cover it can find, but when
this is not dense enough to prevent discov-
ery it protects itself by many curious de-
vices. It affords one of the interesting
cases where ' unconscious protective color-
Fig. 243. Long-eared Owl. ation ig comb i ne( i w i th conscious protec-
tive attitudes.' When frightened, Dr. Fisher says, it rises up,
'draws the feathers close to the body and erects the ear tufts,
resembling in appearance a piece of weatherbeaten bark more than
a bird.'

Major Bendire surprised one while she was killing a ground
squirrel. To his astonishment, as he says : "All at once she seemed
to expand to several times her normal size, every feather raised and
standing at a right angle from the body ; the wings were fully
spread, thrown up and obliquely backward, their outer edges touch-
ing each other over and behind the head, which likewise looked
abnormally large." This remarkable performance was accompanied
by a loud hissing.

The owls, though sometimes seen abroad on cloudy days, usually
hunt at night. When in Sierra Valley, California, Mr. Walter K.
Fisher encountered them as rival mammalogists. Rewrites: "I
was out one bright moonlight night in the sage brush looking for
Perodipus and observed about six of these owls flying swiftly and
noiselessly over the plain, evidently hunting mice. They were very
tame, and flew close about me, taking no notice of my presence.
They made no sound whatever."

They are generally rather quiet birds, Major Bendire says, with
low toned pleasing notes, one of which he describes as a low twit-
tered whistle. In the breeding season, however, they hoot some-
what like screech owls.

In summing up its food habits, Dr. Fisher declares it one of the
most beneficial species, as it destroys 'vast numbers of injurious


rodents and seldom touches insectivorous birds.' As it is easily
destroyed, he says it is the owl that suffers most when short-sighted
legislators enact laws for the destruction of birds of prey.

367. Asio accipitrinus (Pall.). SHORT-EARED OWL.

Adults. Ear tufts inconspicuous ; eyes with black ring and white eye-
brows ; body varying from yellowish brown
to buffy white, conspicuously streaked with
dark brown ; wings and tail irregularly
banded with dark brown and buffy or yel-
lowish brown. Young : face brownish
black, under parts plain dull buffy, tinged
with gray in front ; upper parts dark
brown, the feathers tipped with yellowish
brown. Length: 13.80-16.75, wing 11.80-
13.00, tail 5.80-6.10, bill .60-.65.

Distribution. Entire western hemi-
sphere except Galapagos Islands and part
of the West Indies ; also nearly throughout
the eastern hemisphere, excepting Austra-
lia. Breeds in the United States irregu-
larly and locally from about latitude 39 T

/, , J From Biological Survey, U. S. Dept.

northward. 6 of Agriculture.

Nest. Of coarse grass and sticks, loosely Fig. 244.

put together, and sparsely lined with fine
material and feathers of the bird. Eggs : 4 to 7, white.

Food. Largely mice ; also gophers, shrews, rabbits, grasshoppers,
crickets, and beetles.

The habits of the short-eared owl are quite unique. While most
owls live in trees and woods this bird rarely lights in a tree, making
its home in the open country, coast marshes, and islands covered
with bushes and high grass. It hides in the grass on bright days,
but in cloudy weather often hunts in the morning and evening or
even the middle of the day, flying low over the ground in its search
for gophers, mice, and grasshoppers, when its long wings make it
seem very large. On the salt marshes of Gray's Harbor, where Mr.
Lawrence found the owls flying about commonly in misty weather,
he says they looked ' as big as eagles.' There, he says, they sat
on the edges of the sloughs watching for rats. When flying high,
sporting, or chasing some large bird, he heard them give a shrill
barking call like the Td-yi of a small dog.


General Characters. Wing 12-15, rounded ; no ear tufts ; ear opening
large and with a distinct anterior flap, the two ears conspicuously differ-
ent ; tip of toe exposed.


1. Head and neck barred.

2. Upper parts dark brown nebulosum, p. 178.

9'. Upper parts pale yellowish brown .... helveolum, p. 178.



1'. Head and neck spotted.

2. Wing broadly tipped with whitish .
2'. Wing with white tips almost obsolete

. occidentale, p. 178.
. . caurinum, p. 179.

LTOIII Biological Survey, U.
S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Fig. 245.

368. Syrnium nebulosum (Forst.). BARRED OWL.

Adults. Head, neck, and breast widely barred with dark brown and
white or buffy, belly streaked with dark brown on
whitish or buffy ground ; upper parts mixed dark
brown, irregularly barred and spotted with buffy,
whitish, and yellowish brown ; wings and tail
banded. Young: entire plumage barred except
tail and wing quills, which are as in adult ; back
and wing coverts broadly barred, the end of each
feather white, giving a spotted effect. Length :
19.75-24.00, wing about 13-14, tail about 9.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Upper
Sonoran zones from Nova Scotia south to Georgia
and northern Texas, and west to Colorado.

Nest. In hollows of trees, or that of hawk or
crow. Eggs : 2 to 4, white.

Food. Mainly mice and other small mam-
mals ; also crawfish and insects.

' ' In the central and southern parts of its
range it is quite common, frequenting mostly
the heavy timbered and, preferably, swampy
tracts near watercourses, and spending the days generally in natural
hollows of trees or in dense shrubbery. Like most of the birds of
this family, it is nocturnal in its habits, but nevertheless sees well
enough, and even occasionally hunts in the daytime, especially
during cloudy weather. . . .

' ' The flight of the barred owl ... is easy, and though quite
swift at times, it is perfectly noiseless. A rapidly passing shadow
distinctly cast on the snow-covered ground is often the sole cause
of its presence being betrayed as it glides silently by the hunter's
camp-fire in the still hours of a moonlight night. Far oftener,
however, it announces itself by the unearthly weird call-notes
peculiar to this species, which surpass in startling effect those of
all other owls with which I am familiar." (Bendire.)

368b. S. n. helveolum Bangs. TEXAS BARRED OWL.

Pallid, back, wings, and tail pale yellowish brown or cinnamon, light
bars and spots on wings large and white ; light bars on tail wider and
paler than in S. nebulosum ; under parts paler, dark striping and barring
browner, ground color whiter ; feathers of tarsus buffy, without dusky
markings. Type: female: wing 13, tail 8.32. Topotype : male adult:
wing 13.64, tail 8.40.

Distribution. Southern Texas (and northern Tamaulipas, Mexico ?).

369. Syrnium occidentale Xantus. SPOTTED OWL.

Upper parts brown, head and neck coarsely spotted (instead of barred)
with round white spots ; wing quills spotted with pale brown and whitish,


and broadly tipped with whitish ; tail banded ; under parts whitish, barred and
spotted with brown. Length: 19, wing- 12.00-13.50, tail 8.50-9.00, bill .90.
Distribution. From southern Colorado and New Mexico to California
and south to Lower California and northwestern Mexico.

The spotted owl is the western representative of the barred owl,
and is so closely confined to the thinly settled mountain regions of
the west that little is known of its habits. Mr. Lyman Belding
compares its call to the barking of a dog.

369a. S. O. caurinum Merriam. NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL.

Similar to the spotted owl, but darker, with white spots and markings
restricted, especially on head and back ; wing 1 quills darker, the broad
white tip almost obsolete. Wing : 12.10 ; tail (middle feathers) 8.06.

Distribution. Coast region of Washington and British Columbia.


370. Scotiaptex cinerea (GmeL). GREAT GRAY OWL.

Ear tufts wanting ; ear openings large, with conspicuous anterior flap,
the two ears strikingly different ; bill and feet small, bill inconspicuous
among facial feathers ; toes entirely covered with feathers ; eyes yel-
low, eye ring black ; face with concentric rings of gray and dark brown ;
upper parts sooty, mottled with gray and blackish ; wing quills and tail
banded ; under parts mixed sooty and whitish, with irregular sooty streak-
ing ; flanks and legs barred. Length : 25-30, extent 54-60, wing about
16-18, tail 11.00-12.50.

Distribution. Northern North America, south in winter to the northern
border of the United States.

Nest. In evergreens, made of sticks, feathers, and sometimes mosses.
Eggs : 2 to 4, white.

Food. Mainly rabbits, mice, and other small mammals, together with

" Its great predilection for thick woods, in which it dwells doubt-
less to the rery limit of trees, prevents it from being an inhabitant
of the barren grounds or other open country in the north. It is
crepuscular or slightly nocturnal in the southern parts of its range,
but in the high north it pursues its prey in the daytime. In the
latter region, where the sun never passes below the horizon in sum-
mer, it is undoubtedly necessity and not choice that prompts it to be
abroad in the daylight. . . . The note of this owl is said to be a
tremulous, vibrating sound, somewhat resembling that of the screech
owl." (Fisher.)


General Characters. Wing 5.25-7.40; ear tufts wanting ; ear openings
nearly equal to height of skull, with anterior flap, the two ears conspic-
uously different ; feet thickly feathered to claws.


1. Wing 6.50 or more richardsoni, p. 180,

1'. Wing less than 6.


2. Lighter acadica, p. 180.

2'. Darker scoteea, p. 181.

371. Nyctala tengmalmi richardsoni (Bonap.). RICHAKD-


Adults. Eye ring black, face whitish ; under parts gray, heavily
blotched with dark brown across breast and streaked with dark brown on
belly ; upper parts dark brown, spotted with white ; flanks and feet
usually huffy, more or less spotted with brown ; under tail coverts striped
with brown. Young : face blackish, eyebrows and malar streak white in
sharp contrast ; wings and tail like adult ; body plain seal brown except
for yellowish brown on belly and flanks ; flanks more or less spotted with
brown. Length : 9-12, wing 6.60-7.40, tail 4.10-4.70.

Distribution. Northern North America from the limit of trees south
in winter to Oregon and Colorado.

Nest. Probably in holes in trees and, in absence of trees, in bushes.
Eggs: probably 3 to 7, white.

Food. Mice, small birds, and insects.

" Richardson's owl is a boreal species inhabiting North America
from the limit of trees south to the northern tier of states. ... It is
common throughout northern Alaska, wherever trees or large bushes
occur to afford it shelter. ... It is nocturnal in its habits, remain-
ing quiet during the day in the thick foliage of the trees or bushes.
In fact, its vision is apparently so affected by bright light that many
specimens have been captured alive by persons walking up and
taking them in their hands. On this account the Eskimo in Alaska
have given it the name of 'blind one/" (Fisher.)

372. Nyctala acadica (GmeL). SAW-WHET OWL.

Adults. Eye ring whitish, face streaked with dark brown ; under parts

white, streaked vertically with reddish
brown, most thickly on breast ; upper
parts olive brown, marked with white,
finely streaked on head, and coarsely
streaked or spotted on back, wings, and
tail ; feet plain white or buffy. Young :
face blackish, in sharp contrast to
white eyebrows and white malar
streak ; upper parts and breast plain
dark seal brown ; wings and tail as in
adult ; belly yellowish brown. Length :
7.25-8.50, wing 5.25-5.90, tail 2.80-

Distribution. From about latitude
50 to southern United States, breed-
ing south to Pennsylvania, New Mex-
ico, and California.
Nest. A deserted woodpecker hole, hollow of a tree, or old squirrel's
nest. Eggs : 3 to 7, white.

Food. Almost wholly mice, but also other small mammals and insects.

The deeper and darker the forest the better it suits this little


gray-coated night woodsman. In the daytime he snuggles up to
some gray trunk under the thick branches of a dark spruce, or hides
in the leafy canopy of a forest tree. At night he floats on noiseless
wings along the edges of the open parks and meadows, passing
from tree to tree and bush to bush, dropping on unsuspecting mice
that rustle the grass or venture into the open spaces under the trees,
finding an abundance of food even when the snow is deep and the
nights crisp and cold.

With the first thaws of early spring his love-song is heard, a
soft scraping note repeated monotonously in quick succession for
half an* hour at a time. It usually comes first from the woodpecker
hole where he has been spending the day, but later in the evening
is repeated from the branches in different parts of the woods. Before
the snow has all gone the eggs are laid, sometimes in the woodpecker
hole where his voice was first heard, sometimes in another near by.
By the time the first really warm spring weather has come the young
have hatched. Then the old birds are too busy catching mice for
their large family to give much time to music, and they are not
heard again regularly until the next spring. But they have many
soft little talking notes that you can hear by sleeping in their woods
on still summer nights. VERNON BAILEY.

372a. N. a. SCOtsea Osgood. NORTHWEST SAW-WHET OWL.

Similar to N. acadica, but darker, dark marking's everywhere heavier ;
flanks, leg's, and feet more rufescent. Wing : 3.33, tail 2.66, tarsus 1.03.

Distribution. Puget Sound region, north to Queen Charlotte Islands,
B. C.


General Characters. Wing : 5.40-7.80 ; ear tufts more or less con-
spicuous ; ear openings small, the two ears alike ; wings rounded, about
twice the length of the short rounded tail ; tarsus feathered.


1. Toes feathered or bristly.

2. Size larg-e, wing- averaging- about 7 or more.
3. Plumage dark and heavily mottled.

4. Dichromatic ; brown form with back deep sooty brown. Oregon

to Sitka kennicottii, p. 183.

4'. Monochromatic ; back grayish brown. East of Cascades.

macfarlanei, p. 184.
3'. Plumage pale ashy gray, lightly streaked. Rocky Mountains.

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 22 of 65)