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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lowed by a three-syllabled call something like ka-we' -ah. The regular
rallying cry was still different, a loud and striking two-syllabled ka-

At the Inn the birds spent a large part of their time storing food.
Observers who are in the woods in winter should try to find if such
stores are utilized.

485a. P. O. griseus Ridgw. GRAY JAY.

Similar to the Oregon jay, but decidedly larger except for feet, and
much grayer ; back dark gray instead of brown, and under parts grayish
white instead of brownish white.

Distribution. From British Columbia south to northern California east
of the Coast and Cascade ranges.


General Characters. Wing 9 or
more ; long and pointed ; tail much
shorter than wing; bill compressed,
much higher than broad ; nasal bris-
tles about half as long as bill; feet
stout. Fig: 348.


1. Feathers of neck gray or white at base.

2. Feathers of neck pure white at base . . . cryptoleucus, p. 280.
2'. Feathers of neck dull gray at base.

3. Bill larger, tarsus stouter. Washington . . principalis, p. 280.

3'. Bill smaller, tarsus more slender sinuatus, p. 279.

1'. Feathers of neck not gray or white at base.

2. Wing 10.05. Sitka to Oregon caurinus, p. 282.

2'. Wing 12.15 americanus, p. 281.

486. Corvus corax sinuatus (WagL). AMERICAN RAVEN.

Black, entire plumage glossed with lustrous purplish, tinged with dull
greenish on belly ; feathers of throat lanceolate, distinct from one another ;
feathers of neck dull gray at base; nasal tufts covering more than basal
half of upper mandible. Length : 21.50-26.00, wing 15.10-18.00, tail 9-11,
exposed culmen 2.40-3.05.

Distribution. Resident from upper border of arid Tropical to Alpine
zone in the western United States from the Rocky Mountains to the
Pacific coast, and from Canada to Guatemala.

Nest. Usually on cliffs, a mass of well-interlaced sticks lined with
cottonwood bark, moss, cattle hair, and wool. Eggs : 5 to 7, pea green,
olive, or drab, usually profusely spotted and blotched with shades of
brown, lavender, and drab.

Food. Principally carrion, dead fish and frogs, varied with rodents,
mussels, grasshoppers, large black crickets, and worms.

Where tall, bare cliffs rise from the valleys and deep, steep-walled
canyons cut into the mountain ranges, the hoarse croaking of the


ravens echoes back from cliff and wall. The higher and more inac-
cessible the cliff and the more barren and deserted the valley below
the better suited are the ravens and the more freely do they soar
and croak, flying singly or in pairs, up and down along the face
of the cliff with a spirited wildness that harmonizes well with their
background. Suspicious, wary pirates they are, always on the de-
fensive to evade attack, keeping well out of rifle range of man,
and often forced to mount to almost invisible heights to avoid mob-
bing attacks from small birds that seem to have permanent wrongs
to avenge.

They descend to lake and river shores for dead fish or whatever
the waves wash up in the way of food, make a few meals from a
dead sheep, feast on what is left when a hunter dresses a deer, and
are accused of helping out their varied bill of fare with eggs and
young from any birds' nest that comes handy. Their own nests,
placed in a niche half way up some perpendicular cliff, usually bids
defiance to all enemies. VERNON BAILEY.

48 6 a. C. c. principalis Eidgw. NORTHERN RAVEN.

Like the American raven, but larger, with larger and heavier bill ; tarsus
shorter and stouter ; more of upper part concealed by feathering of thighs.
Length: 22.00-26.50, wing 16.50-18.00, tail 9.20-10.50, exposed culmen

Distribution. Northern North America from Greenland west to Alaska,
south to Washington, northern Michigan, New Yocii, aud Maine, and south
in the mountains to North Carolina.

Nest. On cliffs and in trees, made of sticks lined with seaweed, grasses,
mosses, or hair. Eggs : 4 to 6, greenish or drab, usually profusely blotched
and spotted with browns, drab, and lavender.

Food. Largely fish offal and refuse ; also clams, and eggs and young
of waterfowl.

The northern raven resembles the American in general habits and
call-notes, and is usually most abundant in the immediate vicinity
of Indian camps on the seashore or on the banks of large rivers in
the interior.

487. Corvus cryptoleucus Couch. WHITE-NECKED RAVEN.

Black, upper parts glossed with purplish ; feathers of neck pure white at
base, nasal tufts covering more than basal half of upper mandible. Length :
18.75-21.00, wing 13.10-14.25, tail 7.50-8.60, exposed culmen 2.00-2.35.

Distribution. Mainly Lower Sonoran zone from Texas to southern Cali-
fornia, and from western Kansas and southern Colorado south through
northern Mexico.

Nest. Poorly made, usually of thorny twigs lined with yucca fibers,
deer hair, rabbit fur, bark, grass, or moss ; placed only 7 to 20 feet from
the ground, often in a yucca top. Eggs : 3 to 8, green, with longitudinal
marks of gray, brown, and lavender, sometimes partly hidden by brown
spots and blotches.

Food. Principally animal matter, including cicadas ; also refuse grain.



The white-necked raven is a typical bird of the hot Lower Sono-
ran deserts, where it seems permanently associated with tall yuccas,
juicy-fruited cactus; and the thousand thorny things of the half-
barren valleys. Half crow and half raven in size, voice, and habits,
cryptoleucus is still readily distinguished from either by both size
and voice. Social in disposition, the birds gather in crow-like flocks
in winter and feed about stockyards and corrals and even in city
streets, where they are surprisingly tame considering their shyness
outside. Even in the breeding season they are often seen in small
companies on the mesas foraging for food or mobbing a pair of the
big, hoarse- voiced sinuatm which have inadvertently entered their
domain. But more commonly they are seen in pairs flying low over
the cactus and yucca tops.

So partial are they to the tall bayoneted yuccas for nesting sites
that in western Texas few of these tree-like growths that have
reached a height of ten or twelve feet have escaped bearing one or
more loads of sticks. VERNON BAILEY.

488. Corvus americanus And. AMERICAN

Black, whole plumage glossed with violet, more strongly on upper parts ;
feathers of throat short, blended. Length: 17-21, wing 11.90-13.25, tail
6.90-8.00, exposed culmen 1.80-2.05.

Distribution. North American continent, except extreme arctic re-
gions, and Florida in summer ; south to northern Mexico.

Nest . In trees, bulky, of sticks, weed stalks, and other coarse ma-
terials, lined with roots, grass, leaves, straw, wool, or hair. Eggs : 4 to 8,
from pale bluish green to olive green or olive buff, with irregular spots
or blotches in grays and browns.

Food. Mice, rabbits, gophers, eggs and young of other birds, grasshop-
pers, weevils, cutworms, and many injurious insects; also graih and fruit.

The crow excites interest from many points of view. As an in-
dividual his droll originality and keen intelligence attract the bird
student, as a social animal his famous roosts are a seven days' won-
der to his neighbors, while as an economic problem at his name
friends and foes rise in clamor. His roosts sometimes number a
population of 300,000, when his importance as a seed-planter may
be well appreciated. But the economic point at issue in discussing
him is, does he eat more grubs than corn? Professor Beal's con-
clusions, based on the examination of large numbers of crow stom-
achs, are that " in the more thickly settled parts of the country the
crow probably does more good than harm, at least when ordinary
precautions are taken to protect newly planted corn and young
poultry against his depredations." The best way to protect corn-

1 Corvus americanus hesperis Ridgw. CALIFORNIA CROW.
Smaller than americanus, with relatively smaller and more slender bill.
Distribution. From Puget Sound to northern Mexico and east to the Rocky Moun-
tains. (Ridgway's Manual of North American Birds, p. 362.)



fields is to soak the corn in tar before planting and scatter untarred
corn on the borders of the field. A few quarts -pf corn used in this
way will protect a field of eight or ten acres. This is worth while
because of the amount of good the crow does by destroying insect
pests and field mice, rabbits, and other harmful rodents.

489. Corvus caurinus Baird. NORTHWEST CROW.

Black, upper parts glossed with dull violet. Length : 16-17, wing 10.10-
11.50, tail 5.90-7.00, exposed culmen 1.60-1.90.

Remarks. The northwest crow differs from the American crow in
smaller size.

Distribution. Coast districts from Sitka to Oregon.

Nest. In a crotch, 10 to 18 feet from the ground, made of fine sticks
and mud, lined with cedar bark. Eggs : usually 4 or 5, like those of
americanus, but smaller.

On the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay near Cape Flat-
tery I was much impressed by the sight of these small crows fear-
lessly walking or flying about on the beach among the long-beaked
boats of the Indians, where they picked up dead fish and refuse
with the assurance of chickens or pampered pets. They are said to
contend with the dogs for possession of the refuse fish on the beach,
and even go so far as to carry off fish from poles on the housetops
where the Indians have left them to dry. Their good offices as
scavengers are especially appreciated about salmon canneries and
rivers when the salmon are running.


Submenus Picicorvus.
491. Nucifraga columbiana (Wits.). NUTCRACKER.

Bill cylindrical, nostrils concealed by a tuft of feathers ; wings long and

pointed, folding to the end of
tail ; tail little over half as long
as wing ; tarsus shorter than
middle toe and claw ; claws
large, sharp, and much curved.

Adults. Body ash gray, whiter
on forehead and chin ; wings
black, with white patch on sec-
ondaries ; tail with middle feath-
ers black, outer ones white.
Young : similar, but colors duller
and upper parts brownish gray ;
under parts brownish ash indis-
tinctly barred. Length: 12-13,
wing 7.10-8.00, tail 5.10-5.40.

Distribution. Breeds in Cana-
dian and Hudsonian zones in the
mountainous parts of western
North America from Alaska south to New Mexico and Arizona, and from

From Biological Survey, 17. S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Fig. 349.


the Black Hills and eastern slopes of the rocky Mountains to the Pacific.
Casual from Dakota through Kansas. Missouri, and Arkansas.

Nest. In evergreens 8 to 40 feet from the ground, composed of twigs
and white sage, bound together by strips of inner bark, lined with fine
strips of bark, grasses, and pine needles. Eggs : 3 to 5, pale green, mi-
nutely and sparingly marked with brown, gray, and lavender, either most
heavily around the larger end, evenly distributed, or with the lower half

Food. In winter, seeds of conifers ; at other seasons, berries, lupine
seeds, insect larvae, butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles, and the destructive
black cricket. The young are fed on hulled pine seeds.

What an independent, positive character the nutcracker is! In the
mountains the sound of his rattling kar'r'r, kar'r'r, as he comes
flying in with strong, free flight, leading a black and white liveried
band through the treetops, always stirs the blood with memories
and anticipations, for he is associated with the mountain-tops, where
the conies bleat and the glacial streams flow only when the sun is

Living mainly on the crests of the ranges, the birds fly to the
high peaks to get the first rays of the sun, and when warmed go for
food and water to lower slopes. Their method of getting down is
startling at first sight. Launching out from a peak with bill pointed
downward and wings closed they drop like a bullet for a thousand
feet to the brook where they wish to drink. Sometimes they make
the descent at one long swoop, at other times in a series of pitches,
each time checking their fall by opening their wings and letting
themselves curve upward before the next straight drop. They fall
with such a high rate of speed that when they open their wings
there is an explosive burst which echoes from the canyon walls.

On Mt. Hood the Clarke crows stay with the Oregon jays around
Cloud Cap Inn, under the peak. On Mt. Shasta a few of them come
into the fir belt as low as 5750 feet, but while we were there the
majority we saw were with the alpine hemlocks and the dwarf pines
of timberline, from 7750 to 8300 feet. They ate green caterpillars
in the hemlocks and caught grasshoppers on the neighboring rocky
slopes. In places they are seen flying about among the dwarf pines
carrying the cones in their bills to branches where they can get at
the seeds by hammering off the scales. In the Sierra Nevada in fall
they feed largely on the seeds of Pinus monticola, and at such times
their movements are irregular, depending on the supply of pine
cones. When feeding it is amusing to watch them. As you walk
along the edge of the timber a flash of white and the sound of flap-
ping wings overhead call your attention in time to see the bird
light with a jet of the tail and a jerk of the wings on a terminal
cluster of cones. He hardly gets his balance so that his figure


resumes its trim form before he starts, his tail flips up, and a cone
loosened by his foot goes to the ground with a rattling thump. And
so he keeps it up, till you know when you are in his neighborhood
by the sound of cones hitting the ground. In Idaho, Dr. Merrill
found the abundance of the nutcrackers was coincident with that of
the crossbills, the presence of both birds being dependent on the food

On San Francisco Mountain, Dr. Mearns found the birds breeding
while the mountains were still covered with snow.


492. Cyanocephalus cyanocephalus (Wied.). PINON JAY.

Head not crested ; bill cylindrical ; nostrils exposed ; tail nearly square,
much shorter than wings ; feet stout, claws large, strong, and much
curved. Adults : almost uniform grayish blue, brightest on head ; throat
with white streaks. Young : dull grayish blue, lighter beneath. Length :
10.00-11.75, wing 5.70-6.00, tail 4.80-4.85.

Distribution. Breeds in piflon belt in Upper Sonoran and Transition
zones in the plateau regions of western North America from southern
British Columbia south to Lower California and northern Mexico, and
from the region of the Black Hills west to the Pacific ; casually to Kansas
and Nebraska. Migrates from the northern part of its range.

Nest. Deep, bulky, compact, made of twigs or sagebrush, lined with
plant and tree fibers, rootlets, and grass ; placed usually in pifions or juni-
pers 5 to 12 feet from the ground. Eggs : 3 to 5, bluish white, sometimes
covered with minute specks, at others wreathed around the larger end
with coarse spots.

Food. Juniper berries, pifion nuts, grain, and insects, especially grass-

The pifion jays are so inseparably associated with the pinon
pines that you can no more think of them without mental visions of
sage-covered foothills spotted with junipers and pinons, than you
can think of these dwarf forests of the desert ranges of the Great
Basin country without calling up images of straggling flocks of
short- tailed birds flapping along with crow -like flight and a weird,
crow -like ca-w' ca-w'.

The nut pine furnishes a great part of their food, and only in the
juniper and yellow pine country of eastern Oregon are they found
straying far beyond its range.

They are eminently social birds, sometimes even breeding in colo-
nies, and after the breeding season gathering in flocks of several hun-
dreds. A flock often seems to have no end, reaching for miles as
the birds scatter out and straggle noisily along through the trees.
At other times they fly in close bodies, rising and wheeling like
blackbirds and settling down together to pick grain in a stubble




[493.] Sturnus VUlgaris Linn. STARLING.

Primaries ten, but first quill minute ; bill straight, nasal feathers erect or
inclined backward ; nostrils with conspicuous nasal scale. Adults in sum-
mer : glossy greenish or purplish black, speckled with buffy brown and
whitish ; wing and tail feathers largely edged with brownish buff ; bill
yellow. Adults in winter : upper parts light brown ; under parts whitish,
spotting often so conspicuous as to obscure the underlying green and
purple. Length : 7.50-8.50, wing 5.00-5.10, tail 2.60-2.90, bill .95-1.00.

Distribution. Europe and Asia ; accidental in Greenland. Introduced
about New York city and in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon.

Nest. In holes in trees or about buildings. Eggs : 4 to 7, pale green-
ish blue or bluish white.



1. Bill short and conical.

2. Tail feathers stiff and pointed.

Dolichonyx, p. 286.
Fig. 350. 2'. Tail feathers normal. Fig. 351.

3. Four outer primaries cut out . . Callothrus, p. 288.

3'. Primaries normal . . Molothrus, p. 287.

Fig. 352.
1'. Bill not short and conical.

2. Tail feathers stiff and pointed.

Sturnella, p. 292.
2'. Tail feathers not stiff and pointed.

3. Tail graduated and folded laterally.

Quiscalus, p. 301.

3'. Tail mainly even, not folded laterally.

Fig. 355.

4. Feet weak, for perching Icterus, p. 293.

4'. Feet strong, for walking.

5. Claws of side toes reaching beyond middle toe ; .. -

males in summer black with yellow heads. ^**-*f 4
Xanthocephalus, p. 288.



5'. Claws of side toes not reaching beyond middle toe.

6. Side claws not reaching to end of middle toe ; summer males
glossy blue black Scolecophagus, p. 299.

6'. Side claws reaching to end of middle toe ;
males with red shoulder patches.

Agelaius, p. 289.


Fig. 357.

494. Dolichonyx oryzivorus (Linn.). BOBOLINK.

Bill conic-acute, cutting edges bent in ; tail shorter than wing, with
stiffened acute feathers ; wings long and pointed ; feet stout, tarsus shorter
than middle toe and claw ; claws all very large. Adult male in spring :
under parts wholly black ; upper parts black, with cream or buff y brown
patch on hind neck, light streaking on wing and fore parts of back, gray-
ish scapulars, and white hind back, rump, arid upper tail coverts. Adult
female : ground color yellowish brown, paler and plain on under parts

Fig. 358.

except for blackish streaks on flanks ; heavily streaked on upper parts ;
crown with buffy brown median stripe. Adult male in fall and winter :
similar to adult female, but streaking of upper parts blacker. Young,
first fall and winter : like adult female. Young, first plumage: like adult
female but more buffy, with necklace of faint dusky spots ; flank streaks
obsolete. Male : length (skins) 6.30-7.40, wing 3.69-4.00, tail 2.47-2.70,
bill .5S-.69. Female : length (skins) 6.00-6.55, wing 3.35-3.53, tail 2.31-
2.54, bill .57-.61.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition zone in open prairies and cleared
districts from Assiniboia south through the middle states, and from the
Atlantic west to Idaho and eastern Nevada ; migrates to the West Indies
and South America.

Nest. In a slight depression in the ground, made of dried weed stems
and grasses. Eggs : 5 to 7, from gray to reddish brown, irregularly spot-
ted and blotched with browns and purples.

Food. Insects, including grasshoppers, locusts, weevils, and caterpil-
lars ; also rice, oats, and weed seed.

The bobolink seems to be gradually spreading westward, and
wherever it goes adds another rare song bird to the country. ' Robert
o' Lincoln ' is a rollicking, joyous fellow, his song bubbling up from
a well of good spirits. No eastern orchard or meadow seems quite
complete without him and May is not May until he has come.



General Characters. Bill short, stout, conic, about two thirds as long as
head, broad ridge running well up on forehead ; wings moderate or long
and pointed ; tail shorter than wings, even, or a little rounded ; feet strong ;
tarsus not shorter than middle toe with claw.


1. Length (male) 6.60-7.65 ater, p. 287.

1'. Length (male) 6.00-7.10. Texas and Arizona . obscurus, p. 288.

495. Molothrus ater (Bodd.). COWBIRD.

Adult males. Head, neck, and chest uniform brown ; rest of plumage
glossy black with green and purple reflections.
Adult female : smaller than male, streaked
brownish gray, darker above, lighter on throat.
Young male : upper parts dull grayish brown Fi

or dark brown, feathers bordered with pale
buffy or grayish brown and whitish ; under parts broadly streaked with
brownish, dull buffy, or whitish. Young female : like young male, but

Ealer, under parts mainly dull buffy, streaked with grayish brown. Male:
mgth (skins) 6.60-7.65, wing 4.15-4.56, tail 2.76-3.15, bill .6S-.77. Female :
length (skins) 6.10-7.10, wing 3.68-4.12, tail 2.43-2.77, bill .60-.67.

Distribution. From southern British America south throughout the
United States, breeding west to eastern Oregon ; migrating to eastern
Mexico. Less common in the western part of its range.

Eggs. Deposited, usually singly, in nests of other birds, 8 to 12, whit-
ish, whole surface covered with brown specks and blotches, usually heaviest
about the larger end.

Food. Mainly noxious weed seed and insects, with a small amount of

" ' Buffalo bird' used to be one of the names of the cowbird on the
Plains, and Major Bendire says that in the prairie states now ' one
will rarely see a bunch of cattle without an attendant flock of cow-
birds, who perch on their backs, searching for parasites.' This
occupation is not interrupted by the ordinary cares of family life,
for the cowbird builds no nest of its own, but foists its offspring
upon its neighbors.

" Probably the historic cause for this remarkable habit would give
us more charity for the. bird, but it does such violence to the one
redeeming instinct of the lowest types of man and beast, that it is
hard not to regard the bird with unqualified aversion. Not only is
it entirely lacking in the maternal but in the conjugal instincts, for
it practices polyandry. On the other hand, the male cowbird is
polygamous. . . . The only thing that can be said in favor of the
female cowbird is that she takes pains to place her eggs where they
are most likely to be hatched. Major Bendire gives a list of ninety-
one birds in whose nests she has been known to leave her eggs ; but
though this includes woodpeckers, flycatchers, orioles, thrushes,


sparrows, vireog, wrens, and warblers, the birds most frequently
imposed upon are so small that the cowbird's big, crowding nestling
will be the one to survive when it is a question of size and resisting
power." (Birds of Village and Field.)

495 a. M. a. obscurus (GmeL). DWARF COWBIRD.

Similar to M. ater, but smaller. Male : length (skins) 6.00-7.10, wing
3.78-4.10, tail 2.43-2.87, bill .62-.70. Female: length (skins) 5.61-6.30,
wing 3.37-3.70, tail 2.27-2.62, bill .5S-.62.

Distribution. Breeds from southern Texas to southwestern Arizona,
and south to Lower California and Mexico.

Eggs. Deposited in nests of other birds, similar to those of M. ater.


496. Callothrusrobustus(Ca&.). RED-EYED COWBIRD.

Bill shorter than head, stout, conical, distinctly ridged, upper outline
slightly curved ; neck with soft, dense, erectile ruif ; four outer primaries
with inner webs curiously sinuated and emarginated. Adult male : iris
bright red ; body and erectile ruff black, with soft bronzy luster ; wings
and tail glossed with bluish, greenish, and purplish. Adult female : dull
black, somewhat glossed with bluish green ; neck ruffs much smaller than
in male. Young male : sooty black, under parts with feathers edged with
paler. Young female: paler and grayer than young male. Male: length
(skins) 7.75-8.80, wing 4.40-4.73, tail 2.98-3.24, bill .S8-.94. Female:
length (skins) 6.50-8.10, wing 3.84-4.16, tail 2.52-2.94, bill .78-.S4.

Distribution. Breeds from southern Texas south through eastern Mex-
ico to Central America ; migrates to Panama.

Eggs. Deposited in nests of other birds, usually 4, pale bluish green,

On the coast prairies of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas the red-

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 33 of 65)