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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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 24 of 65)
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Unlike the pygmy owls the elf owls are nocturnal, spending the
day either in thickets or old woodpecker holes. Major Bendire says
they become active soon after sundown. He has had them come to
his camp, attracted probably by the insects which gathered about
the guard fire through the night.

When resting in the daytime the little owls are not too stupid to
protect themselves, as is shown by a curious experience Mr. F.
Stephens had with one. He startled the owl in a willow thicket, and
when he found it in the dense tangle, as he says, it was "sitting on
a branch with its face toward me and its wing held up, shield fash-
ion, before its face. I could just see its eyes over the wing, and
had it kept them shut I might have overlooked it, as they first
attracted my attention. It had drawn itself into the smallest possi-
ble compass so that its head formed the widest part of its outline.
I moved around a little to get a better chance to shoot, as the bush
was very thick, but whichever way I went, the wing was always
interposed, and when I retreated far enough for a fair shot, I could
not tell the bird from the surrounding bunches of leaves. At length,
losing patience, I fired at random and it fell. Upon going to pick it
up I was surprised to find another which I had not seen before, and
which must have been struck by a stray shot." (Quoted by Bendire.)




382.1. Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha (Swains.). THICK-

Bill large, tip of lower mandible elongated, cut off, and flattened ; tail
graduated for about one third its length ; cere densely feathered, conceal-
ing the nostrils. Adults : bill blackish, body green except for poppy red on
forepart of head and wings, and lemon yellow under wing coverts. Young :
similar, but bill mainly whitish and red restricted. Length : 16.0016.75,
wing 8.50-10.50, tail 6.30-7.00, graduated for 2.25-2.35.

Distribution. Mountains bordering tablelands of Mexico ; northward
casually to the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.

A flock of nine or ten thick-billed parrots seen by Mr. Lusk in the
Chiricahua Mountains came, as he says, scolding, chattering, and
calling up a canyon to the edge of the pinon pine belt, where they
devoted themselves to getting the pinones. " Investigation of their
stomachs," he says, " showed nothing but a plentiful quantity of
very immature pinones wrested from their cavities in the hearts of
the hard, green cones by their powerful beaks."





1. Tail feathers 8 Crotophaga, p. 193.

1'. Tail feathers 10.

2. Bill longer than head Geococcyx, p. 193.

2'. Bill not longer than head ........ Coccyzus, p. 195.


384. Crotophaga SUlcirostris Swains. GROOVE-BILLED ANI.
Bill thick, with a convex crest ; wings rounded ; tail feathers broad,

widening to very obtuse ends. Adults :

dull black, feathers of body with

metallic bluish, greenish, or bronzy

edgings ; wings and tail faintly glossed

with metallic bluish or violet; upper part of bill with several distinct

grooves. Young: uniform sooty black. Length: 12.00-14.50, wing 5.50-

8.50, tail 7.30-8.30.

Distribution. In Lower Sonoran and Tropical zones from southern
Texas south to Peru. Casi\al in southern parts of California, Arizona,
Louisiana, and Florida.

Nest. Bulky, made of twigs and lined with green leaves, placed often
in an orange or lemon tree. Eggs : 3 to 5, milky blue.

Food. Grasshoppers, and parasites of cattle.

The groove-billed anis are residents of the lowlands, Major
Bendire says, rarely being found at an altitude of more than 700

They resemble the cowbirds in their habit of following cattle, and
not only catch the insects that the cows start up but do a great deal
of good by relieving the animals of the parasites which infest them.
When not disturbed the birds become very tame and roost in num-
bers about the houses. Their call-note, Dr. Ralph .thinks, suggests
that of the flicker &plee-co repeated rapidly.


385. Geococcyx californianus (Less.). ROAD-RUNNER.

Bare space around eye, orange and blue; feathers of head and neck
largely bristle-tipped ; whole plumage coarse and harsh ; eyelids lashed ;
wings short and concavo-convex, with long inner secondaries folded entirely
over primaries ; tail long and graduated ; upper parts conspicuously
streaked with brownish white, most heavily on wings ; crest and fore parts
of back glossed with bluish black, changing to bronzy green or brown ;
tail long, plain bronzy, blue black, and green, graduated, tips with white


Fig. 256. Road-runner.

thumb marks except on middle feathers ; chest brownish white, streaked
with black; throat and belly whitish. Length: 20-24, wing (5.50-7.00,
tail 11.50-12.00.

Distribution. Breeds in Upper and Lower Sonoran zones, from Browns-
ville, Texas, to San Diego, California, and from central California, Nevada,
and Kansas, south across tablelands of Mexico.

Nest. Compactly built of sticks, lined variously with grass, manure
chips, feathers, inner bark, mesquite pods, snakeskin, and roots ; placed
in cacti, bushes, or low trees. Eggs : usually 4 to 6, white or pale yel-

Food. Mice, snakes, lizards, crabs, snails, grasshoppers, centipeds,
caterpillars, beetles, and cactus fruit.

The road-runner is one of the most original and entertaining of
western birds. The newcomer is amazed when the long-tailed crea-
ture darts out of the brush and races the horses down the road,
easily keeping ahead as they trot, and when tired turns out into
the brush and throws his tail over his back to stop himself. Even
the oldest inhabitant likes to talk about the swift runner whom it
takes a 'right peart cur to catch,' and who eats horned toads, comes
to drink and feed with the hens in the dooryard one day, and the
next may be hunted vainly in the dense chaparral or cactus where it
makes its home. They tell you how they have seen it mount the


granite boulders on the hills, and after strutting about with wings
and tail hanging, put its bill down on the rock and pump out loud
notes, which they interpret as love-calls for its mate in the brush
below. Many marvelous yarns are spun over the pipes about the
strange ways of this curious bird, especially about its deadly en-
counters with rattlesnakes.

The food of the road-runner may well make him of interest to
his neighbors. In southern California, where the passion vine is
used extensively for house decoration, it is infested by a pestiferous
caterpillar, which he eats with great avidity. He also affects other
pests. In the stomach of one bird, which we got in New Mexico,
there were a large black cricket, a number of big grasshoppers,
remains of a caterpillar and some beetles, a centiped six inches
long, and a garter snake a foot long ! Such an appetite surely de-
serves well at the hands of its friends.


General Characters. Bill not longer than head, and gently curved for
most of its length ; loral feathers and general plumage soft and blended ;
tarsus naked, shorter than outer anterior toe and claw.


1. Bill with basal part of lower mandible yellow.
2. Smaller, wing 5.61, with comparatively smaller and weaker bill.

americanus, p. 195.
2'. Larger, wing 5.84, with comparatively larger and stouter bill.

occidentalis, p. 196.
1'. Bill wholly black or bluish .... erythrophthalmus,p. 196.

387. Coccyzus americanus (Linn.). YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

Adults. Lower half of bill plain yellow ; under parts white or ashy ;
upper parts plain grayish brown,
faintly glossed with green ; wings
with inner webs rufous; tail
graduated, all but middle feath-
ers blue black, the outer ones
tipped with broad white thumb
marks. Young : tail feathers
duller and markings less dis-
tinct. Length: 11.00-12.70,
wing 5.40-5.80, tail 6.00-6.15 ex-
posed culmen .97-1.01, depth of

bil ifmarls. -The' smaller size From Biolo ^ ical Surve ^ **' Dept ' of ^culture.
and smaller and weaker bill dis-
tinguish this species from the California cuckoo.

Distribution. Eastern temperate Nortb America, breeding from Flor-
ida north to New Brunswick, Canada, and Minnesota ; west to South
Dakota, Nebraska, Indian Territory, and Texas ; wintering south to Costa
Rica and the West Indies ; casually to eastern Colorado, Wyoming, and
North Dakota.


Nest. A slight platform of sticks in trees. Eggs : 2 to 4, bluish greem.
Food. Largely caterpillars, but also grasshoppers, potato bugs, and
other insects.

Both of the yellow-billed cuckoos and also the black-billed have
been taken in Colorado, but their ranges have not been fully deter-
mined. As the yellow-billed moves about in a treetop looking for
caterpillars, it shows the large white thumb-marks of the under side
of its tail, and as it flies down to a fence shows the striking reddish
brown of its wings. As a family the cuckoos are little in evidence,
bdng generally hidden in some thick leafy cover looking for cater-
pillars. When they do fly their long slender bodies pass swiftly by
in a straight line to disappear in other cover.

Their presence would often be wholly unknown but for their
notes, which, like the peacock's, are considered a sign of rain rain
crows they are commonly called in consequence. They have a
variety of notes, the commonest being, as Major Bendire gives it,
noo-coo-coo-coo or cow-cow-cow. In the breeding season a number of
males sometimes get together and give a veritable cuckoo concert.

387a. C. a. OCCidentalis Eidgw. CALIFORNIA CUCKOO.

Adults. Upper parts grayish brown, with faint green gloss ; under
parts white, grayish across chest ; lower half of bill mainly yellow ; side of
head with blackish streak ; tail graduated, middle feathers like back,
tipped with black, the rest blue black, with broad white thumb marks on
tips ; wing quills mainly rufous on inner webs. Young : like adults, but
tail duller, without blue, and white not strikingly contrasted with brown.
Length: 12.30-13.50, wing 5.50-6.00, tail 6.10-6.90, bill 1.02-1.08, depth
.of bill through base .37-.40.

Distribution. Western temperate North America, breeding from south-
ern British Columbia south to central Tamaulipas and northern Chi-
huahua, Mexico ; from the Pacific east over the eastern slope of the Rocky
Mountains and western Texas ; migrating to northern Lower California
and tablelands of Mexico.

Nest. A loose platform of twigs, sometimes lined with leaves, dry
grasses, and flower blossoms ; placed usually in willow or mesquite thick-
ets, 10 to 15 feet from the ground. Eggs : generally 3 or 4, light greenish
blue, unspotted.

Food. Caterpillars, black crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects.

The California cuckoo is in all respects the western counterpart of
the yellow-billed, from which it can be told only by size.

388. Coccyzus erythrophthalmus (Wils.). BLACK-BILLED


Adults. Upper parts grayish brown, faintly glossed with green, tail
feathers narrowly tipped with dull white, preceded
by blackish bar ; under parts grayish, fading to
white on belly; bill blackish, naked eyelids
bright red in life. Young : above dull brown,
ig. 258. \vith coppery bronzy luster, becoming dull rusty


on wings and greenish on tail ; naked eyelids plain yellowish in life.
Length : 11.00-12.70, wing 5.12-5.65, tail 6.25-7.00.

Remarks. The black bill, absence of rufous on wings, and of blue and
wide white thumb marks on tail distinguish this from the yellow-billed

Distribution. Eastern North Am erica, west to the eastern foothills of
the Rocky Mountains, and from Labrador, Manitoba, and Assiniboia
south in winter to the West Indies and the valley of the Amazon. Breeds
mainly in Transition zone.

Nest . Better built than that of the other species, its platform of
twigs being mixed with inner bark, rootlets, and weed stems, lined often
with catkins ; placed usually not over 6 feet from the ground in trees or
bushes, on logs, or even on the ground. Eggs : 2 to 5, bluish green.

Food. Largely caterpillars.

The black-billed cuckoo closely resembles the yellow -billed in
general habits. Both birds have a trace of the parasitism of the old
world species, sometimes laying in each other's nests, and on rare
occasions depositing their eggs in nests of other species. This is
done more frequently by the black-billed, Major Bendire thinks.
He holds that the real cause for such unnatural behavior on their
part is not yet understood, as the cuckoos are most devoted parents.



389. Trogon ambiguus Gould. COPPERY-TAILED TROGON.

Bill short and thick, edges serrated, gape bristled ; eyelids lashed ;
wings short and rounded ; tail long with broad feathers ; feet small and
weak ; plumage soft and lax. Adult male :
face and throat black, bordered on breast
by white crescent ; rest of under parts rose -____-

pink ; upper parts metallic bronzy green ; PJ 259

wings mainly grayish ; tail with middle
feathers shading from bronzy to rich copper color, broadly tipped with
black, outer feathers white, finely zigzagged with black. Adult female :
similar, but black of male replaced by g'ray, and metallic colors replaced
by grayish brown, becoming reddish brown on middle tail feathers.
Young : head, neck, and chest dull brownish gray, most of under parts
grayish ; eye ring and bar across ear coverts white ; rest of upper parts
brown ; wings with large spots of buffy and black ; tail much like adult
female. Length: 11.25-12.00, wing 5.10-5.50, tail 6.50-7.20.

Distribution. From southern Texas and Arizona south to Mexico.

Food. Fruit and grasshoppers and other insects.

The trogon lives in pines in the mountains of southern Arizona.
Its note is described by Dr. Fisher as similar to that of a hen turkey.
The bird the doctor saw calling sat upright on a pine branch with
tail hanging, and at each note threw back its head and pointed its
bill to the sky like a peacock.




General Characters. Head with occipital crest ; bill longer than head,
stout, acute ; wings long and pointed ; tail much shorter than wing ; tarsus
only about half as long as middle toe.


1. Upper parts bluish gray.

2. Belly white alcyon, p. 198.

2'. Belly rufous torquata, p. 199.

1'. Upper parts metallic bottle green .... septentrionalis, p. 199.

390. Ceryle alcyon (Linn.). BELTED KINGFISHER.

Adult male. Under parts white, with blue gray belt across breast ;
crest and upper parts bluish gray ; nuchal collar white ; wing quills black,

Fig. 260.

marked with white ; tail with middle feathers bluish gray, the rest black,
spotted with white. Adult female : similar, but belly partly banded and
sides heavily washed with rufous. Young : like adults, but male with
breast band and sides tinged with rusty. Length ; 11.00-14.50, wing 6.00-
6.50, tail 3.80-4.30, bill 2 or more.

Distribution. North America from the Arctic Ocean south to Panama
and the West Indies. Breeds from the southern border of the United
States northward ; accidental at the Hawaiian Islands.

Nest. A burrow 4 to 15 feet long, in railroad cuts or perpendicular
banks over water. Eggs : usually 5 to 8, white.

Food. Fish, and when not obtainable frogs, lizards, Crustacea, and
insects such as coleoptera, grasshoppers, and large black crickets.

So long as the fishing is good the kingfisher is equally at home in
Maine, southern Texas, or the Yosemite, but in the Sierra Nevada
mountains the brown streams polluted by placer mining have no
attraction for him, and when you hear his rattle as you ride through
the forest you may know that near by you will find a clear mountain
brook where you may quench your thirst.

What rare spots the birds recall ! They are associated with the


quieter phases of nature, with still woodland pools and smooth lakes,
where they give a vivifying touch of active wild life. In a remote
narrow canyon, how they thrill you as they dash by overhead a
flash of blue and white !

When you are idling beside a pellucid stream like the Merced,
where each overhanging leafy branch is mirrored, each tiny fish seen
as it lies in the still water, sometimes a sudden plunge and splash
startles you from a diver who before has been watching from his
branch, as silent as the brook. He circles back to his perch, where
his fish glints in the sun as he shakes it, and throwing up his long
bill, swallows, cleans his beak on the branch, and with a satisfied
rattle turns to look about, blue crest raised, white collar shining,
and short tail tipped up in an animated way. Four plunges I
have seen him make in almost as many seconds, stopping to preen
himself only after the fourth wetting. Once when he dived in shal-
low water he did not take the trouble to fly up but stood on the sand
with tail at an angle till he had finished his fish. When watching
a pool he will sometimes stand in air hovering over the water a
moment, then rise and hover at a higher level.

Though generally found along woodland streams, the kingfishers
are seen sometimes perched on the rigging of vessels in the har-

[390.1.] Ceryle torquata (Linn.). GREAT RUFOUS-BELLIED KING-

Adult male. Upper parts bluish gray, more or less streaked with black ;
tail spotted with white ; throat and nuchal collar white ; breast and belly
rufous; under tail coverts and anal region white. Adult female: similar,
but breast grayish blue, usually bordered behind by white, and lower tail
coverts and anal region rufous. Length : 15.50-17.00, wing about 7.50.

Distribution. Tropical America (except West Indies). Casual on the
lower Rio Grande in Texas.

391- Ceryle americana septentrionalis Sharpe. TEXAS

Small ; head not crested. Adult male : upper parts green, spotted on
wings with white ; chest crossed by broad band of chestnut, bordered be-
low, by green spots ; throat, collar, and belly
white. Adult female : similar to male but with-
out chestnut, and with two bands of green spots
across breast. Young male : like adult, but
breast more or less tinged with rusty. Length : 6.75-8.50, wing 3.40-3.50,
tail 2.70-2.75, exposed culmen 1.65-1.85.

Distribution. From southern Texas and Sinaloa, Mexico, south to

Nest.. A burrow in a bank. Eggs : 5 to 6, white.

Food. Like that of Ceryle alcyon.

The habits of the little Texas kingfisher are said to be the same as



those of its larger relative. In southern and western Texas many of
its nests are destroyed by the cloud-burst floods which annually
sweep the rivers there.



1. Outside hind toe longer than outside front toe.
2. Toes 4, 2 pointing forward, 2 back.

Fig. 262.

t> 3. Nasal groove extending only about half way to tip of
bill Sphyrapicus, p. 210.

1 3'. Nasal groove extending nearly to tip of bill.

4. Plumage wholly black except for white head and
white patch on wings . . . Xenopicus, p. 207.

4'. Plumage mainly white below and spotted with white
above Dryobates, p. 201.

5 2'. Toes 3, 2 pointing forward, 1 back . Picoides, p. 208.

. 264.


1'. Outside hind toe not longer than outside front toe.

2. Head with con-
spicuous crest.
p. 213.

2'. Head without

Fig. 267.

3. Under surface of wing and tail yellow or red.

Colaptes, p. 220.

3'. Under surface of wing and tail not yellow or red ; upper
mandible with a distinct lateral ridge and nasal groove.

Melanerpes. p. 215.



General Characters. Bill straight, sqnare at tip, beveled toward end,
with sharp culmen and distinct lateral ridges, and large nasal tufts hiding
the nostrils ; tongue greatly extensile ; feet with outer hind toe longer than
outer front toe ; wing long, pointed.


1. Upper parts brown arizonae, p. 206.

1'. Upper parts black, marked with white.

2. Outer tail feathers plain white or with only two distinct bars.

3. Upper parts black, barred with white .... nuttallii, p. 205.
3'. Upper parts black, with a white stripe down back.

4. Wing coverts and tertials conspicuously spotted with white.

leucomelas, p. 201.

4'. Wing coverts and tertials plain black or lightly spotted with

5. Under parts smoky gray harrisii, p. 202.

5'. Under parts pure white.

6. Smaller hyloscopus, p. 202.

6'. Larger monticola, p. 203.

2'. Outer tail feathers white, barred with black.
3. Upper parts black, barred with white.

4. Outer web of outer tail feather barred for more than terminal

half bairdi, p. 204.

4'. Outer web of outer tail feather barred for only terminal half or

less lucasanus, 205.

3'. Upper parts black, with white stripe down back.

4. Wing coverts conspicuously spotted with white. Middle and

northern United States medianus, p. 204.

4'. Wing coverts not conspicuously spotted with white.
5. Under parts pure white. Rocky Mountain region.

homorus, p. 203.

5'. Under parts smoky gray or brown. British Columbia to Cali-
fornia gairdnerii, p. 20o.

393a. Dryobates villosus leucomelas (Bodd.}. NORTHERN

Adult male. Upper parts black, with a scarlet band across back of
crown, white stripe down back and wing coverts
and tertials conspicuously spotted with white ; outer
tail feathers plain white ; under parts pure clear
white. Adult female : similar, but without red
on head. Young : crown with red. Length : Fig. 268.

10-11, wing 5.02-5.40, tail 3.60-3.80, bill 1.40-1.62.

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

Nest. In holes in trees. Eggs : white.

Food. Larvae of wood-boring insects, ants, and a small amount of wild
fruit, berries, and beechnuts.

The hairy woodpecker, of whatever geographic race, is a quiet,
solitary bird of the timber, and you may ride through the forests
day after day without seeing it, as its surprising absence from your


records on its breeding grounds attests. A sharp peek will sometimes
reveal its presence, and if you look quickly you may catch sight of a
vanishing back marked with a white vertical line.

In working, the hairy woodpecker takes short hops up the tree
trunk, sidles around, or backs down with equal ease. It is a forest
preserver, spending its life in ridding the trees of wood-borers and
other insects that destroy them. When not engaged in getting food,
it entertains itself by drumming on a resonant branch.

The Harris woodpecker is the humid Pacific coast form of mllosus
while Cabanis is the interior form. As mllosus is a Transition zone
bird it affects yellow pines and aspens, and in the ponderosa forests
of Arizona I have seen it excavate in pine bark with wonderful dex-
terity. Instead of drilling straight down, with its head on one side,
it would fleck off and send flying the thin flakes of bark which char-
acterize the tree. In Arizona the young Cabanis woodpeckers leave
their nests about the middle of June, Dr. Mearns says, and soon after
make a partial vertical migration downward to the lower edge of the
pine belt in company with other birds that breed at the higher levels.
In winter when the timber gets icy the woodpeckers sometimes go
as low as the cottonwoods, where they are usually accompanied by
flocks of Cassin finches, red-backed j uncos, and their especial com-
panions, the slender-billed nuthatches.

393c. D. v. harrisii (And.}. HARRIS WOODPECKER.

Adult male. Upper parts black, with scarlet nape, white stripe down
back, wing coverts and tertials plain black or lightly spotted with white ;
outer primaries with white spots; outer
tail feather plain white ; under parts smoky
gray or light smoky brown. Adult female :
similar, but without scarlet nape. Young:
similar, but forehead spotted with white and

scarlet of nape extending partly or wholly over crown. Length : 9-10,
wing 4.70-5.30, tail 3.20-3.75, bill 1.12-1.40.

Remarks. The plain black or very lightly spotted wing coverts and
tertials of harrisii distinguish it from the northern and southern hairy
woodpeckers, while its smoky under parts distinguish it from hyloscopus.

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 24 of 65)