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

. (page 34 of 65)
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 34 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

eyed cowbird may be seen on the roadside fences. His strikingly
red eyes and handsome glossy black coat mark him at a glance from
the other cowbirds, and when he raises his neck ruff he seems indeed
a distinguished personage.


497. Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (Bonap.). YELLOW-


Bill decidedly shorter than head, its depth through base less than half
the length of the exposed culmen ; culmen straight, flattened ; sexes dif-
ferent in size ; wing long and pointed ; tarsus nearly one fourth as long
as wing ; claws large, lateral ones reaching beyond base of middle one.
Adult male in summer : black except for yellow or orange of head, throat,
and chest, and white patch on wings. Adult male in winter : similar, but
yellow of top of head obscured by brownish tips to feathers. Adult
female : brownish, throat and chest dull yellowish, breast mixed with
white. Young male in first winter : similar to female, but larger and deeper
colored. Male : length (skins) 8.60-10.10, wing 5.32-5.73, tail 3.66-4.27,
bill .S3-.99. Female : length (skins) 7.50-8.30. wing 4,33-4.64, tail 3.10-
3.45, bill .77-.S3.

Distribution. Western North America from British Columbia and Hud-




son Bay, south across Mexican tablelands and east to Wisconsin, Indiana,
and Texas ; casually to Ontario and the eastern United States.

Nest. Fastened to tule stems or rushes 10 to 30 inches above the
water of a marsh, made of coarse marsh grasses, tules, reeds, and rushes,
woven together and lined with finer grasses. Eggs : 3 to 5, from grayish
to greenish white, profusely and evenly ^blotched and speckled with
browns and grays.

Food. Small seeds, such as wild rice, and, in cultivated districts, occa-
sionally corn, oats, and wheat ; but mainly insects, especially grasshoppers
and locusts, together with their eggs and larvae.

From their breeding grounds in the sloughs and tule marshes the
yellow-headed blackbirds scatter out and wander over the whole of
the western plains country, appearing in flocks with grackles, red-
wings, or cowbirds in the characteristic hordes of the fall migration,
or in flocks by themselves in fields and meadows, along the road-
sides, often in barnyards and corrals, and sometimes in city streets,
flocks with pompous, yellow-caped males strutting about among
the dull-colored females and young, talking in harsh, guttural tones.

Noisy at all times, they are doubly so on the breeding grounds,
where they try to sing, and their hoarse voices come up from the
tule borders like the croaking of frogs and creaking of unoiled gates.

As the young are leaving the nests in July, it is not unusual to
find flocks of old males away in the hills by themselves, taking a
vacation after their arduous duties ; but usually the fall flocks are
made up of both sexes and young. VERNON BAILEY.


General Characters. Bill shorter than head, stout at base, deeper
than broad, high and flattened on forehead, broadly parting the feathers,
rapidly tapering to acute point ; wings pointed, tail even or rounded ;
claws small, lateral ones scarcely reaching to base of middle one ; sexes
different in size.


1. Wing with middle coverts black at tips . . . calif ornicus, p. 291.
1'. Wing with middle coverts buffy, brownish, or white at tips.
2. Smaller.

3. Females lighter, buffy tints prevailing on upper parts. Southern

Arizona and New Mexico sonoriensis, p. 290.

3'. Females darker, buffy tints not prevailing on upper parts.

4. Winter females with little if any rusty on upper parts. Great
Basin district to southern California . . neutralis, p. 291.
4'. Winter females with rusty on upper parts. Oregon and Califor-
nia, west of Cascades and Sierra Nevada . tricolor, p. 292.
2'. Larger.

3. Bill relatively shorter and thicker. Manitoba to Mexico.

fortis, p. 291.
3'. Bill relatively longer and more slender.

4. Wings longer. Northwest coast district caurinus, p. 291.
4'. Wings shorter. Eastern United States to base of Rocky Moun-
tains phoeniceus, p. 290.


498. Agelaius phoeniceus (Linn.). RED- WINGED BLACKBIRD.!

Adult male in breeding plumage. Black except for red and buffy
brown or whitish shoulder patches. Adult male in winter : like summer

male, but buff of wing coverts
deeper and scapulars and inter-
scapulars edged with rusty.
Adult female in breeding plum-
age : plumage of harsh texture
compared with the silky plum-
age of the male ; streaked, top
of head dark brown, with buffy
median crown stripe and su-
perciliary ; nape and fore part
of back dark brown, lightly
marked with buffy ; shoulders
faintly tinged with red ; under
parts whitish, heavily streaked
with dark brown ; throat vari-
ably tinged with creamy, buff,
From Biological Survey, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture. or p i n ki s h. Adult female in win-
Fig. 360. ter . iighte r markings of upper
parts more conspicuous, under parts tinged with buffy. Immature male :
epaulettes flecked with black and varying from orange to red ; black of plu-
mage obscured by heavy rusty and buffy edgings above, and light ashy or
brownish tips below. Young : like adult female, but throat, superciliary,
and malar stripes yellowish ; ground color of under parts pale buffy or
yellowish with narrow dusky streaks. Male: length (skins) 8.10-9.30,
wing 4.58-4.95, tail 3.49-3.78, bill .88-1.00. Female: length (skins) 6.80-
7.45, wing 3.75-4.00, tail 2.76-3.05, bill .68-.80.

Distribution. Eastern North America to Rocky Mountains.
Nest. Attached to upright stems of sedges or reeds, or to branches of
bushes or small trees in marshes or swamps ; made compactly of dried
grasses. Eggs : 3 to 5, pale bluish, varying to olive, marked with black,
brown, or purplish gray, usually with pen lines and blotches.
Food. Injurious insects, grain, and weed seed.

In the semi -arid parts of the west where a bit of marsh is the one
green acre when the hills and valleys have turned brown in sum-
mer, the marsh birds have a peculiar charm. The red-wing, with
his black coat and the gleam of keen red from his epaulettes, is a
strong note in the landscape, but best of all is his flute-like o-ka-lee,
with its cool suggestions of marsh grass and cat-tails.

498a. A. p. sonoriensis Eidgw. SONORAN RED-WING.

Like A. phoeniceus, but larger; female much lighter, buffy tints prevail-
ing on upper parts ; throat pinkish, streaking of under parts much duller
and less striking; bill thicker. Male: length (skins) 8.15-9.35, wing
4.80-5.09, tail 3.38-3.98, bill .89-1.00. Female: length (skins) 6.80-7.86,
wing 3.88-4.15, bill .70-.84.

1 Agelaius phoeniceus richmondi Nelson. VERA CRUZ RED-WING. (The Auk, xiv. 58.)
Like phoeniceus but smaller, adult male with wing coverts deeper colored, at least in

winter ; adult female lighter colored.
Distribution. Coast district of lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and south to Costa

Rica. (Ridgway's Birds of North and Middle America, ii. 335.)


Distribution. From the Lower Colorado Valley in southern California
and Arizona south to Tepic, western Mexico.

At Phoenix, Arizona, the red-wings have been seen eating a tree-
worm which was a pest at the time.

498d. A. p. fortis Ridgw. THICK-BILLED RED-WING.

Like A. phceniceus, " but decidedly larger, with bill relatively much
shorter and thicker ; adult females, adult male in winter, and immature
males similar in coloration to the same of A. p. sonoriensis, but distin-
guished by very different measurements." (Ridgway.) Male : length
(skins) 8.35-9.50, wing 4.86-5.21, tail 3.48-4.15, bill .78-1.04, depth of bill
at base .50-.59. Female : length (skins) 6.80-7.68, wing 4.00-4.30, tail
2.80-3.27, bill .67-.83, depth of bill at base .43-.50.

Distribution. Central North America, in migrations from Manitoba
south to Illinois, Indian Territory, and western Texas, westward to and
including the Rocky Mountains, and south to Arizona and Chihuahua.

498e. A. p. neutralis Ridgw. SAN DIEGO RED-WING.

"Similar to A. p. sonoriensis, but smaller, adult female much darker,
with streaks less strongly contrasted above, those on under parts rather
broader and grayer, the upper parts with little if any rusty, even in win-
ter." (Ridgway.) Male: length (skins) 7.85-9.00, wing 4.60-5.00, tail
3.35-3.85, bill .85-.9S. Female: length (skins) 6.60-7-68, wing 3.80-4.10,
tail 2.64-3.08, bill .73-.S3.

Distribution. Great Basin district of United States, southward to
southern California and northern Lower California.

498f. A- p. caurinus Ridgw. NORTHWESTERN RED-WING.

Similar to A. phceniceus, " but wings and bill longer, the latter more
slender ; adult male with buff of middle wing coverts deeper, deep ochra-
ceous-buff or ochraceous in winter ; adult females more heavily streaked
with black beneath, and, in winter plumage, with upper parts much more
conspicuously marked with rusty." (Ridgway). Male: length (skins)
8.60-9.10, wing 4.57-5.10, tail 3.39-3.83, bill .90-1.01. Female: length
(skins) 6.80-7.80, wing 3.85-4.22, tail 2.80-3.27, bill .77-.S6.

Distribution. Northwest coast district from British Columbia south
through western Washington and Oregon to northern California.

499. Agelaius gubernator calif ornicus Nelson. BICOLORED

Adult male. Black, shoulder patch red, the middle wing coverts having
their buffy or brownish bases concealed by black tips. Adult female in
breeding plumage: nearly uniform blackish brown, throat buffy and
streaked. Adult female in winter : feathers edged with rusty. Young :
corresponding to phases of the red-wing. Male: length (skins) 7.80-8.60,
wing 4.66-5.09, tail 3.20-3.78, bill .78-.91. Female : length (skins) 6.90-
7.50, wing 3.97-4.23, tail 2.68-3.02, bill .73-.7S.

Distribution. Western Oregon and northern and central coast district
of California.

Nest. In or near marshes, on tufts of marsh grass or weeds, 1 to 3
feet above the water ; made of grasses and strips of soft bark, usually
lined with grass-tops and sometimes horsehair. Eggs: usually 2 to 4,
pale bluish green, generally spotted, marbled, and streaked, mostly about
the larger end, with brown, black, and purple.


500. Agelaius tricolor (And.}. TBICOLOBED BLACKBIBD.

Adult male. Glossy blue black, plumage with silky luster ; epaulettes
dark red, bordered with white, more or less tinged with buff ; in winter,
plumage softer, more glossy, and white on epaulettes more or less tinged
with buff. Adult female : texture of plumage like that of male ; upper
parts dusky with greenish or bronzy luster ; crown narrowly streaked ;
scapulars and interscapulars with grayish edgings ; wings with grayish and
whitish bands ; head with superciliary and malar streaks ; throat and chest
streaked ; rest of under parts dusky, with paler edgings to feathers. Im-
mature female, first utinter : like adult female, but browner. Young : like
female, but browner, and under parts narrowly streaked ; wings with two
bands. Male : length (skins) 8.00-9.05, wing 4.63-4.87, tail 3.32-3.75, bill
.S7-.95. Female: length (skins) 7.10-7.85, wing 4.11-4.32, tail 2.92-3.16,
bill .7S-.S3.

Distribution. Valleys of Oregon, California, and Lower California,
west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

Nest and eggs similar to those of phoeniceus. Eggs : 1 to 4.

Food. Young fed entirely on grasshoppers. ^


General Characters. Bill about as long as head, narrowly wedge-
shaped, acute and depressed at tip ; tail less than two thirds as long as
wing, the feathers sharp-pointed ; wing short, tertials lengthened reach-

Fig. 361.

ing almost to tips of primaries feathers of top of head with stiffened
glossy shafts ; outstretched feet reaching beyond tip of tail.


1. Yellow of throat encroaching on malar region .
1'. Yellow of throat not encroaching on malar region

neglecta, p. 293.
hoopesi, p. 292.

50 la. Sturnella magna hoopesi Stone. TEXAS MEADOWLABK.

Adult male. Similar to S. m. neglecta, but yellow of throat restricted, not
encroaching on cheeks, and yellow somewhat deeper and more intense than
in neglecta. Adult female : similar, but yellow more orange. Young :
colors much duller and markings less distinct ; black mark on chest only


faintly indicated. Male : length (skins) 7.90-9.08, wing 4.45-4.96, tail
2.50-3.12, bill 1.19-1.40. Female : length (skins) 7.70-8.10, wing 3.95-4.32,
tail 2.52-2.90, bill 1.20-1.32.

Distribution. From southeastern Texas west to southern New Mexico
and Arizona ; south to northern Mexico.

50 lb. Sturnella magna neglecta (Aud.). WESTERN MEADOW-

Adult male in breeding plumage. Crown with median buffy stripe ; lores
yellow ; superciliary buffy ; rest of upper parts grayish brown, with buffy
white streaks and black streaks and bars ; middle of back heavily marked
with black, and tertials. rump, and tail heavily barred ; outer tail feathers
mainly white ; under parts bright yellow, yellow of throat spreading over
cheeks ; crescent on breast and spotting on sides black. Adult female in
breeding plumage: similar, but paler, and yellow restricted. Adults in
winter plumage : upper parts lighter, from unworn light tips and edgings
of feathers ; black and yellow of under parts veiled by light edgings.
Male: length (skins) 8.31-10.14, wing 4.66-5.08, tail 2.69-3.25, bill 1.17-
1.44. Female : length (skins) 7.74-9.00, wing 4.12-4.59, tail 2.39-2.84, bill

Distribution. Western United States from Wisconsin, Illinois, and
Texas to the Pacific, and from British America south to Lo^er California
and northern Mexico. Resident south of 39 and in Washington and Oregon.

Nest. Usually at the foot of a bunch of grass, made of grass, gen-
erally loosely covered over. Eggs : 3 to 7, generally white, spotted varia-
bly over the entire surface with different shades of brown and purple.

"Food. Mainly grasshoppers and their eggs, beetles, the destructive
large black cricket, and other insects.

The voice of the western meadowlark is so different from that of
the eastern bird that in going west you recognize it the instant the
pure clarion notes strike your ear, whether at a wayside station amid
the puffing of the engine, or from the moving train when, with a
turn of the wing, the bird flies over the car carolling as it goes,
regardless of all but the song in its heart. "There's the western
meadowlark ! " you cry out in eager delight, and as the train leaves
him behind and you lean back on the dusty car cushions, you rest in
a world of blue sky and celestial song. The lark's notes have been
written down in sharps and flats, but the pure, heavenly quality of
the song can never be reproduced.


General Characters. Bill about as long as head, very acute ; feet fitted
for perching rather than walking ; tarsus not longer than middle toe and
claw ; side toes equal, or outer longest ; tail rounded or graduated.


1. Plumage black and yellow or orange.
2. Head mainly yellow.

3. Breast pale orange sennetti, p. 295.

3'. Breast light lemon yellow nelBoni, p. 296.

2'. Head mainly black.


3. Under parts bright lemon yellow.

4. Tail shorter than wing 1 , graduated for less than length of bill.

parisorum, p. 294.
4'. Tail longer than wing, graduated for more than length of bill.

audubonii, p. 294.
3'. Under parts orange yellow or orange red.

4. Malar region and streak over lores yellow or orange.

bullocki, p. 298.

4'. Whole head black galbula, p. 297.

1'. Plumage black and brown . spurius, p. 296.

Subgenus Icterus.

503. Icterus audubonii Giraud. AUDUBON OBIOLE.

Adults. Under parts bright lemon yellow with sharply contrasting black
head, chest patch, wings, and tail ; back varying from lemon yellow to
yellowish green ; wings with white edgings and yellowish green on cov-
erts ; tail graduated and narrowly tipped with lighter. Young : without
any black, upper parts olive-green, under parts yellow. Male: length
(skins) 8.45-9.20, wing 3.79-4.03, tail 4.04-4.18, bill 1.01-1.11. Female:
length (skins) 8.00-9.30, wing 3.70-3.86, tail 3.92-4.17, bill .86-1.04.

Distribution. Resident from southern Texas to central and eastern

Nest. Semi-pensile, woven of fine, wiry grasses and lined with grass-
tops, hung usually 6 to 14 feet from the ground in mesquite trees, thickets,
or open woods. Eggs : 3 to 5, pale bluish or grayish white, with light hair
lines of brown and dark purple ; or else the ground color obscured by
pale purple suffusion, blotched and streaked with brown and lavender.

Mr. Attwaterhas twice found the Audubon oriole near San Antonio
in the high pecan timber, and considers it a rare winter wanderer.
Dr. Merrill states that it is resident in the lower Rio Grande Valley
near Brownsville. In summer, he says, it is usually found in deep
woods away from houses, but in winter is less shy and retiring.

504. Icterus parisorum Bonap. SCOTT ORIOLE.

Adult male in spring and summer. Black, except for bright lemon yel-
low belly, shoulders, posterior parts of back, and white and yellow mark-
ings on wings and tail ; rump and upper tail coverts usually tinged with

olive. Adult male in winter : like
summer male but white markings on
wings broader ; feathers of back more
or less edged with gray ; rump and
Fig. 362. upper tail coverts more strongly

washed with olive or gray ; flanks tinged with olive. Adult female : under
parts greenish yellow; upper parts olive green, becoming yellowish on
rump and outer tail feathers, marked with grayish brown on back ; wing
crossed by two white bars, and quills edged with whitish. Immature male :
plumage varying from that of female to that of male, according to age.
Young of year : similar to adult female, but with all the wing feathers
edged and tipped with white, wing band yellowish, tail tipped with yel-
low, breast obscured by brownish, and yellow of under parts paler and
greener. Male : length (skins) 7.40-8.30, wing 3.88-4.20, tail 3.12-3.62,
bill .S2-.97. Female: length (skins) 7.25-8.00, wing 3.72-4.02, tail 3.20-
3.48, bill .80-.90.


Remarks. Dr. Allen has recorded two females showing great variation
in plumage both with throat and breast black, and one with whole head
blackish like yearling males, the other with head like the ordinary adult

Distribution. Resident in Lower Sonoran zone from western Texas to
California, and from southern parts of Utah and Nevada south to Lower
California and Mexico.

Nest. Woven of grass, yucca fibers, horsehair, cotton, and string when
available, placed usually in yuccas, but sometimes in other trees. Eggs :
2 to 4, pale blue, blotched and streaked with browns and grays.

Food. Grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, larvae, fruit, and berries.

The name parisorum is associated with interesting desert canyons
whose wide-sloping sides are covered with stones, agaves, dasylirions,
yuccas, and other arid thorn brush, and crowned with the fouquiera
whose widely spreading arms are silhouetted against the blue sky.
In the midst of a cactus wren's song, it may be, you will hear the
clear meadowlark-like note of the oriole. One that we found in such
a situation in New Mexico was a brilliant black and lemon adult in
a low juniper feeding a brood of dingy greenish yello\v young who
looked like commoners in camp clothes beside a personage in broad-
cloth. Although his family were grown and picking about feeding
themselves, their indulgent parent was diligently hunting caterpillars
for them, having time for only an occasional outburst of his beauti-
ful song. On the hills back of the Pecos River we often found pari-
sorum nests in the yuccas, sometimes in the same one with a white-
necked raven's nest. They were generally hung under the sharp
drooping blades of the yucca and woven of fibers frayed from the
edges of yucca leaves.

In the Chisos Mountains, Mr. Bailey often found the orioles feed-
ing among the flowers of a giant agave, the greenish yellow color
of which they match in a suggestively protective manner.

Subgenus Pendulinus.

505. Icterus CUCUllatus sennetti Ridgw. SENNETT ORIOLE.

Adult male. Facial mask, throat, back, wings, and tail black, wings with
white ; rest of plumage deep cadmium yellow. Adult female : under parts
pale gamboge, back and scapulars grayish. Male : length (skins) 7.40-
7.86, wing 3.17-3.36, tail 3.46-3.90, bill .78-.81. Female: length (skins)
7.00-7.50, wing 3.07-3.20, tail 3.30-3.48, bill .72-.77.

Distribution. From the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, south to

In the narrow strip between the Rio Coloral and the Mexican line
in Texas, where the dense, thorny thickets are full of cactus and low
yucca trees, the Sennett oriole makes its home. Here, as we were
looking for the nest of a verdin one day, an oriole flew from under
the drooping spears of a yucca. On inspection we found one of the


most skillfully wrought nests a bird ever made, a perfect basket,
hung by the handle to the drooping bayonets in such a way that the
sharp points protected it and yet left the bird an easy entrance. The
nest was made of yucca fiber, decorative touches being given by bits
of gray moss stuck on here and there.

505 a. Icterus cucullatus nelsoni Ridgw. ARIZONA HOODED


Adult male. Plumage yellow, except for black of oval throat patch,
fore part of back, wings, and tail, white bars and edgings of wings, and
tip of tail. Adult female : plain yellow below ; olive
green above, washed with gray on back ; wings
brownish with two white bands and whitish edgings
to quills. Young males in second year : like adult
females, but throat patch as in males. Young in
first year: like adult female, but colors duller,
plumage especially on upper parts suffused with
Fig. 363. ' brownish. Male : length (skins) 6.90-7.80, wing

3.40-3.56, tail 3.22-3.78, bill .82-87. Female:
length (skins) 6.90-7.30, wing 3.18-3.26, tail 3.17-3.28, bill .7S-.82.

Distribution, Breeds from Tepic, western Mexico, and Lower Califor-
nia north to southwestern New Mexico, Arizona, and through the southern
half of California west of the Sierra Nevada.

Nest. Cup-shaped, semipensile or securely attached to twigs on sides,
woven of materials like fresh wiry grass and yucca fibers, and placed in
such trees as sycamores, oaks, blue gums, figs, and palms ; usually made
of Spanish moss, often built in tufts of moss. Eggs : 3 to 5, speckled with
hair brown and with zigzag' markings.

Food. Insects and larvae, including hairless caterpillars and small

In southern California towns nelsoni nests familiarly in fan palms
on the streets, but in the country he affects the chaparral, coming
into sight only as he 'makes short sallies into the air or dashes past
you from one section of brush to another.

He sings when out of sight, but the song is delivered with such
fervor that you can follow him by it when he is invisible. It is a
typical oriole song, a clear whistle with a rhythmic rise and fall,
and a chatter interposed between the high and low notes that sounds
as if he were taking breath. His mate is a quasi-musician, giving
his chatter and the first strain of his song.

In southern Arizona, where nelsoni is most abundant, Major Ben-
dire says that its favorite haunts are dense, shady groves of cotton-
woods and mesquites in the creek bottoms.

506. Icterus spurius (Linn.). ORCHARD ORIOLE.

Adult male in spring and summer. Black except for dark chestnut belly,
shoulders, and hinder part of back ; brown and whitish edgings of wings,
and light tip to tail. Adult male in fall and winter : like summer male,
but feathers of scapulars, interscapulars, and sometimes head and neck,
edged with buffy gray, olive, or chestnut j those of under parts sometimes


edged with yellowish. Adult female : under parts plain canary yellow ;
upper parts olive green, grayish brown across back ; wings brownish, with
white bars and edgings. Male in second year : like adult female, but lores and
throat black. The rest of the black and the chestnut appear in increasingly
large patches till the adult plumage is reached. Young in first plumage :
similar to female, but lighter wing markings tipped with buff. Male : length
(skins) 5.80-6.50, wing 2.91-3.25, tail 2.50-2.95, bill .5Q-.69. Female:
length (skins) 5.90-6.30, wing 2.70-3.05, tail 2.50-2.90, bill .60-.68.

Distribution. Breeds in Upper and Lower Sonoran zones from the east-

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 34 of 65)