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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Distribution. ^- Breeds in coast district of southwestern British Columbia and north-
western Washington ; south in winter to coast of northern California. (The Auk, xvi. 36.)


Gate Park, San Francisco, one day gave a good exhibition of their
methods. He took a little run forward and then kicked back with
both feet, and if there were any diminutive hillocks back of him,
leveled them, sending a shower of sand up behind him. Sometimes
he used his bill to push a bit of earth aside. After working in this
way with artisan-like regularity for some time, he hopped up on a
plant label and sat there with his long toes over the edge looking up
with winning friendliness.

The fox sparrows were to be found through the winter not only in
Golden Gate Park, but also in the small parks and cemeteries of the
city, with the white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows. But
though with the others, PassereMa was not of them, and while the
crowned sparrows were in goodly flocks he shoveled alone or possi-
bly with a few comrades. When chased by a white-crown he
gathered his feathers trimly about him and ran meekly back into the
bushes. He was evidently not as used to city life as they, for when
he came out in view it was with his red tail perked up, his wings
close at his sides, and a conscious air of appearing in public, and at
the least alarm he would scud back to cover in nervous haste.

When at home the thick-billed sparrows live in dense laurel or
evergreen thickets, Major Bendire says, but the slate-colored prefers
the more open country, living in rose and willow thickets along
streams near foothills.

In the Sierra Nevada one of the loudest and richest of the finch
songs that brighten the Transition zone forest can be traced to the
thick-billed, perched on top of a bush, his big bill and mixed reddish
brown and gray plumage distinguishing him. His song is not of the
high grade of the white-crown, but is particularly pleasing on ac-
count of its loud, cheery quality. His call-note is a sharp chip.

585b. P. i. megarhyncha (Baird). THICK-BILLED SPARROW.

Upper parts plain slaty or brownish gray, becoming rusty on wings, upper
tail coverts, and tail ; under parts with chest spots smaller, more scattered ;
tail longer than wing, bill thick. Male : length (skins) 6.60-
7.20, wing 3.12-3.42, tail 3.02-3.42, bill .4S-.54, depth of bill
at base .49-52. Female : length (skins) 6.50-7.56, wing 2.97-
3.37, tail 3.02-3.49, bill .45-.53, depth of bill at base .48-.50.

Remarks. The gray back and the thick bill distinguish
Fig. 451. megarhyncha from unalaschcensis, and its larger size and thicker
bill from schistacea ; while its smaller bill distinguishes it from stephensi.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition zone in the Sierra Nevada, both
slopes ; migrates to Los Angeles County, California.

Nest. In evergreens and thickets, usually on or near the ground, made
of plant fibers and willow bark, lined with grasses and horsehair. Eggs :
3 or 4, markings tending to run longitudinally.

585c. P. i. schistacea (Baird). SLATE-COLORED SPARROW.

Like megarhyncha, but smaller body and bill. Male: length (skins)


6.23-7.16, wing 3.08-3.43, tail 2.88-3.43, bill .44-.50. Female: length
(skins) 6.02-6.58, wing 3.02-3.21, bill 45-.50.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition zone in the Rocky
Mountain region of British Columbia and the United States ;
from Colorado to California ; wanders in winter to Kansas,
Arizona, Nevada, and California. Fig. 452.

Nest. Usually less than 3 feet from the ground, bulky Slate-colored
and well made of plant fibers, willow bark, and grass, lined Sparrow,
with horsehair. Eggs : usually 4, green or olive buff, marked with purple
and browns.

585 d. P. i. Stephens! Anthony. STEPHENS SPARROW.

Like megarhyncha, but averaging larger, with much larger
bill. Male: length (skins) 6.61-7.34, wing 3.30-3.37, tail
3.17-3.58, bill .59-. 65. Female: length (skins) 6.61-6.92,
wing 3.13-3.30, tail 3.10-3.41, bill .52-59.

Distribution. Mountains of southern California.
Fig. 453.


586. Arremonops ruflvirgatus (Lawr.). TEXAS SPARROW.

Tail shorter than wing ; wing short and much rounded. Adults : upper
parts plain olive green, wings and tail brighter ; top of head with wide
olive median stripe bordered by dark brown or blackish brown stripes ;
superciliary grayish ; lores and stripe back of eye brown ; edge of wing
bright yellow ; under parts dull whitish, chest, sides, and flanks tinged
with pale buffy. Young : dull brownish ; head without distinct stripes ;
wings and tail with greenish edgings ; belly buffy or fulvous. Male : length
(skins) 5.30-6.00, wing 2.45-2.65, tail 2.45-2.75, bill .4S-.55. Female : length
(skins) 5.50-5.85, wing 2.32-2.45, tail 2.23-2.50, bill .47-52.

Distribution. Valley of the Lower Rio Grande, in Texas, and eastern
Mexico ; casually to Louisiana.

Nest. In open thickets, made of dried weed stems, bark, grasses, and
leaves, sometimes lined with hair. Eggs : 4, dull white.


General Characters. Bill moderate ; wings short, greatly rounded ;
primaries exceeding secondaries usually by much less than bill ; tail long,
rounded ; feet large and strong, claws stout, and much curved.


1. Upper parts light grayish brown

Fig. 454.

2. Lores and chin blackish aberti, p. 368.

2'. Lores and chin not blackish.

3. Crown rufous, throat buffy mesoleucus, p. 366.

3'. Crown not rufous, throat rufous.
4. Smaller. Southern California senicula, p. 367.
4'. Larger crissalis, p. 367.

V Upper parts black.


Fig. 455.


2. Scapulars and wing coverts almost always wholly black. Eastern.

erythrophthalmus, p. 364,
2'. Scapulars and wing coverts marked with white.

3. White markings inconspicuous oregonus, p. 365.

3'. White markings conspicuous.

4. White on outer tail feathers covering more than exposed half

(beyond coverts) arcticus, p. 364.

4'. White on outer tail feathers not covering more than exposed half.
5. White on outer tail feather covering more than an inch.

6. Darker; bill and feet relatively smaller. Rocky Mountains

to Pacific megalonyx, p. 365.

6'. Lighter colored ; bill and feet relatively larger. San Cle-
mente Island, California .... clementae, p. 366.
5'. White on outer tail feather reduced to less than an inch.

atratus, p. 366.

587. Pipilo erythrophthalmus (Linn.). TOWHEE: CHEWINK.
Adult nlale. Black, except for white belly, brown sides, and white

patch on primaries, white edgings to tertials, and white
corners to tail ; iris bright red. Adult female : sim-
ilar, but black replaced by brown. Young : similar
to adults of same sexes, but streaked, and without
dark chest patch. Male: length (skins) 7.36-8.10,
wing 3.29-3.72, tail 3.48-3.91, bill .53-.5S. Female:
length (skins) 6.80-7.52, wing 3.00-3.30, tail 3.17-
3.52, bill .51-.58 ; white on end of outer tail feather
Fig. 456. 1.30-1.60.

Remarks. The absence of white on the scapular and wing coverts dis-
tinguishes the eastern towhee from the western forms.

Distribution. Breeds from southern Canada to the Lower Mississippi
Valley, and from the Atlantic to the western parts of Dakota and Ne-
braska ; winters from the middle districts southward.

Nest. On the ground or occasionally in low bushes, bulky, made of
leaves, twigs, and vines, and lined with grass stems and rootlets. Eggs :
usually 4, white, pinkish white, or brownish, thickly speckled with reddish

Food. Insects and seeds.

588. Pipilo maculatus arcticus (Swains.). ARCTIC TOWHEE.
Adult male. Head, neck, and chest black ; back black, more or less

mixed with olive gray ; belly white ;
flanks reddish brown ; wings and
tail with extensive white markings ;
wing bars and white edgings of

primaries sometimes forming a con-

spicuous patch, and scapulars heav-
ily streaked with white ; white on
outer tail feather covering more than half exposed portion beyond coverts
(1.30-1.70). Adult female: Black, replaced by dull olive brown; back
streaked with black ; throat and chest grayish brown ; white markings
obscured. Young : streaked with black over brownish ground above, buffy
below ; lighter in female ; markings of wings and tail as in adult, more or
less restricted on wings. Male : length (skins) 6.90-8.34, wing 3.33-3.59,
tail 3.58-4.10, bill .47-.S5. Female : length (skins) 7.19-8.30, wing 3.10-
3.58, tail 3.40-4.10, bill .48-. 55.


Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Upper Sonoran zones on the
Plains and eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains from the Saskatche-
wan south to southern Colorado, and from the Missouri west to western
Montana ; winters south to Texas and west to Washington ; casually to
Iowa and Wisconsin.

Nest. On the ground, made at times of pine needles and lined with

The towhees of the maculatus group are shy birds of the chap-
arral, and when caught singing on top of a bush, where you can
study the amount of white mixed with the black and brown of
their plumage, they are liable to stop short in their song and pitch
down to the ground with only an aggravating flash of the white
tail corners. And though you wait patiently, all the reward you
are likely to get is a nasal whank or a mewing tow-liee as they rattle
the dead leaves, scratching for worms under the dense cover of

Both their call-notes and songs have a quaint twang that give
them peculiar zest. One of the commonest songs in general time
and emphasis may be given as yang' ', kit-er-er.

588a. P. m. megalonyx (Baird.). SPURRED TOWHEE.

Like arcticus, but with tail, tarsus, and hind claw longer, bill larger,
and coloration darker ; upper parts
black, except for grayish rump ;
white markings much restricted, and
rufous of sides deeper ; middle of

back and tertials usually without j>i g 453.

white ; white edgings of primaries
not developed into a patch, and white space on outer tail feather not
occupying more than half of space beyond coverts (1.10-1.35 long). Adult
female: darker than female arcticus, streaks on back less conspicuous,
white tail patch smaller. Young : similar to young of arcticus, but darker.
Male : length (skins) 7.12-8.30, wing 3.29-3.65, tail 3.55-4.39, bill .48-
.58. Female : length (skins) 7.12-8.09, wing 3.13-3.48, tail 3.42-4.16, bill

Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Upper Sonoran zones from the
Rocky Mountains to California and from British Columbia south to Lower
California and northern Mexico.

Nest. On the ground or in a bush, made variously of inner bark,
leaves, and small sticks, lined with grass. Eggs : 4 or 5, pale greenish or
bluish, finely specked with brown and lavender, massed around larger end.

588b. P. m. oregonus (Bell). OREGON TOWHEE.

Adult male. Upper parts mainly black, white markings inconspicuous ;
streaks on back mainly obsolete or
concealed ; wing bars reduced to
disconnected round white spots,
white of outer tail feather reduced

to ' thumb mark,' less than an inch Fj

in length, outer web mainly black ;
rufous of sides very dark. Adult female : black replaced by dark sooty


brown or sooty black, indistinctly streaked with black ; rufous of sides
deep. Young : Darker and more uniform than young megalonyx ; throat
and chest sooty, not streaked. Male ; length (skins) 7.08-8.18, wing 3.22-
8.47, tail 3.42-3.87, bill .S4-.59. Female : length (skins) 6.95-8.00, wing
3.03-3.38, tail 3.31-3.85, bill .52-.5S.

Bemarks. In the Oregon towhee the general size and hind claw are
much smaller than in the spurred, while the absence of white markings
makes a good field character.

Distribution. Breeds in humid Transition zone from British Columbia
to San Francisco ; winters south to southern California.

588c. P. m. clementSB (Grinn.). SAN CLEMENTE TOWHEE.

Adult male. Like megalonyx, but bill and feet relatively larger and
coloration grayer ; upper parts sooty, washed with olive gray ; rump
lighter, upper tail coverts finely barred with dusky. Adult female : head
and neck dull dark brown ; .wings and tail darker ; rump gray, feathers
with dark centers and light edgings. Male: length (skins) 7.44-8.10,
wing 3.14-3.56, tail 3.48-4.06, bill .55-.60. Female: length (skins) 7.02-
8.30, wing 3.06-3.24, tail 3.45-3.76, bill .54-.5S.

Distribution. San Clemente Island, southern California.

588d. P. m. atratus Eidgw. SAN DIEGO TOWHEE.

Adult male. Deep glossy black ; wings and scapulars heavily marked
with white ; outer tail feathers with white thumb marks. Adult female :
upper parts clove brown ; throat and chest clove brown or sooty black.

Bemarks, The San Diego towhee is like the spurred, but decidedly
darker, and with white markings more restricted.

Distribution. From coast district of southern California south to Lower

591. Pipilo fuscus mesoleucus (Baird). CANYON TOWHEE.

Adults. Top of head light rufous ; rest of upper parts and sides plain
dull grayish brown ; throat buffy, finely spotted, obsolete chest patch
formed by large spots; middle of belly whitish, hinder part of belly,
flanks, and lower tail coverts yellowish brown. Young : upper parts dull
grayish brown, indistinctly streaked with darker; wing coverts largely
edged and tipped with pale rufous ; lower parts dull white, changing to
brownish on under tail coverts, largely streaked with dusky. Male : length
(skins) 7.64-8.77, wing 3.49-3.94, tail 3.77-4.23, bill .56-.66. Female:
length (skins) 7.75-8.72, wing 3.39-3.92, tail 3.71-4.31, bill .S7-.64.

Distribution. Upper and Lower Sonoran zone from western Texas to
Arizona, and from eastern Colorado south to Sonora and Chihuahua.

Nest. In mesquite trees rarely over 8 feet from the ground, sometimes
in thick bunches of cholla cactus and between the leaves of yuccas, deep,
bulky, and loosely made of coarse grasses lined with rootlets and horsehair.
Eggs : usually 3, bluish white or pearl gray, spotted and scrawled with
brown and sometimes black, and with purple shell markings.

The fuscus group of towhees, while chaparral birds of the same
general habits as the maculatus group, seem more like big fluffy
brown sparrows than che winks.

The canyon towhee, when sitting on a bush, shows his rufous
under tail coverts and raises his crown so that the color shows there.
He has a loud metallic chip, a call of four loud repetitions of the


same note, and in flight the robin-like screep' -eep-eep of his group.
In the mountains, the canyon towhees are found among rocks and
along ledges of canyons. At Mineral Park, Arizona, Mr. Bailey
found them abundant in February. They were noisy and so tame
that they would come into camp to feed on scattered crumbs and
grain. In New Mexico outside of the mountains, Mr. Batchelder
found them about Mexican villages and irrigated fields.

591b. P. f. crissalis (Vig.). CALIFORNIA TOWHEE.

Adults. Entire upper parts plain dull grayish brown, slightly deeper on
head ; throat light rufous, usually marked with dusky ;
middle of belly whitish or dull buffy, sides grayish
brown ; under tail coverts reddish brown. Young : like
adults, but browner, wing bars and edgings pale brown-
ish ; under parts dull buffy, deepening to tawny on
throat and belly, and grayish brown along sides ; ante-
rior lower parts streaked. Male: length (skins) 8.35-
9.50, wing 3.75-4.08, tail 4.22-4.55, bill .S6-.65. Female : Fi &- 46 -

length (skins) 8.24-8.60, wing 3.57-3.88, tail 4.14-4.38, bill .56-63.

Remarks. Crissalis is like mesoleucus, but larger and darker.

Distribution. California, west of Sierra Nevada, north to Mendocino
and Shasta counties, south to Santa Barbara and Kern counties, and north-
ern part of San Bernardino County.

Nest. In bushes or trees, usually 2 to 6 feet from the ground, made of
inner bark, twigs, and weed stems, lined with plant stems and sometimes
horsehair and wool. Eggs : 4 or 5, pale blue, spotted with purplish brown.

The California members of the fuscus group have a thin chip
which gives them the name of brown chippies, the robin-like call of
mesoleucus, and a song which, though a trifle squeaky for such a
large bird when heard too close at hand, has a quiet, contented qual-
ity that matches the bird's disposition and is very pleasing. When
given in concert in the canyons at dusk the song is said to be
most effective. Though shy and wary about his nesting grounds,
when his family cares are over the brown chippie comes to the door-
yard and stays there more familiarly than the Brewer blackbird.
Although he also makes himself at home on city lawns and in parks,
he is especially fond of barnyards and hay lofts, where he can
scratch in the straw and pick up seeds to his heart's content. When
he flies his short wings and long tail give him a bobbing, awkward
motion, but when sitting about the dooryard his plump, fluffy figure
affords him a most comfortable domestic look.

59 1C. P. f. senicula Anthony. SAN FERNANDO TOWHEE: ANTHONY

Like crissalisj but smaller, upper parts darker, and lower parts grayer.
Male : length (skins) 8.05-8.12, wing 3.48-3.97, tail 3.95-4.42, bill .56-.62,
Female: Wing 3.38-3.56, tail 3.93-4.02, bill .57-.60.

Distribution. From southern California south to Lower California.


592. Pipilo aberti Baird. ABERT TOWHBE.

Adults. Lores and chin blackish ; upper parts plain grayish brown,
darkest on head ; quills edged with grayish ; lower parts pinkish brown,
lighter on belly, and deepening to tawny on under tail coverts. Young :
paler and duller, breast indistinctly streaked. Male : length (skins) 8.22-
9.14, wing 3.54-3.81, tail 4.17-4.72, bill .59-.64. Female: length (skins)
7.97-8.68, wing 3.36-3.62, tail 3.97-4.31, bill .S9-.62.

Distribution. Breeds in upper and lower Sonoran zones from Colorado
to southeastern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Nest. Rarely more than 5 feet from the ground, in willow thickets,
canebrake, low bushes, or mesquite ; bulky, loosely made of weed stalks,
inner bark, grass, and sticks, sometimes lined with inner bark or horse-
hair. Eggs: 2 to 4, pale blue, sparsely marked with dark brown and

The cinnamon colored aberti is the largest of the plain towhees.
It is said to be extremely shy. Major Bendire gives its alarm note
as liuit huit. At Phoenix it is common among the mesquites and cot-
ton woods.


592.1. Oreospiza chlorura (Aud.}. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE.
Bill small, conical ; wing rather long and pointed ; tail long, rounded ;
tarsus long, nearly a third the length of wing ; hind claw
longer than its toe. (Structurally intermediate between
Zonotrichia and Pipilo.) Adult male.' top of head bright
rufous; throat white; upper parts olive gray, becoming
bright olive green on wings and tail; malar stripe and
# : $lji middle of belly white ; edge of wing, under wing coverts,

and axillars bright yellow. Adult female : usually slightly
Fig. 461. duller. Young : olive grayish, streaked with dusky ;

lower parts dingy white, chest and sides streaked with dusky ; wings and
tail like adults, but wing bars brownish buffy. Mule: length (skins) 6.21-
7.05, wing 3.01-3.28, tail 3.14-3.43, bill .48-.51. Female: length (skins)
6.52-7.10, wing 2.80-3.10, tall 2.93-3.33, bill .45-.51.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition zone in the interior plateau region
from the western edge of the Plains to Coast Range in California, and north
to Montana ; migrates to southern Lower California and central Mexico.

Nest. On or near the ground in sagebrush, chaparral, or cactus, made
of grass and stems lined sometimes with horsehair. Eggs: 4, whitish,
speckled, or sprinkled with reddish brown.

The name Oreospiza calls to mind one of the most attractive and
gentle of birds, with the memory of warm days when the smell of
the aromatic mint and Ceanothus filled the air. The green-tail fol-
lows the Transition zone chaparral from the zonal level, where a
dense brush thicket covers wide areas, and where he is one of a
number of brush birds, up to the extreme limit of the chaparral, where
there are only scattered patches of dwarf brush on high rock slides,
and where he is the one brush bird, conspicuous among the boreal
solitaires and nutcrackers.

His mewing call-note, a soft mew, mew-ah-eep, seems his most


chewink-like character and proclaims his presence, as does his song
when the ear has caught the difference between it and that of the
Passerella. Though phrased somewhat like the song of the maculatus
group, it is wholly different in quality and rendering, being more
of the bright finch type with the Chondestes-Iike burr heard in so
many finch songs, and its two emphasized notes standing out in a
medley of short notes.

His familiar voice is often heard from a wall of chaparral, but
he may generally be found perched on top of a bush, and at sight of
you will raise his rufous cap inquiringly, turning to look down so
that his white chin shows to good advantage. When seen hopping
over the ground he is as trim and alert as a song sparrow, looking
about and flashing his green tail till he disappears to scratch in the
brush. When surprised on the ground he will often run rather than
take wing. One that Mr. Bailey found on its nest at 7900 feet on
Donner Peak, California, ran silently for five or six rods through the
brush, and then stopped, to tempt him away from its brood.


General Characters. Head with conspicuous crest ; bill stout, conical,
much deeper than broad at base ; wing short, much rounded, primaries
exceeding secondaries by less than length of exposed culmen ; tail longer
than wing.


1. Feathers all around base of bill black.

2. Black frontlet wider. Eastern United States . cardinalis, p. 369.

2'. Black frontlet narrower. Texas to Mexico . canicaudus, p. 370.

1'. Feathers around base of bill not black across forehead. Arizona to

Mexico superbus, p. 370.

593. Cardinalis cardinalis (Linn.). CARDINAL.

Adult male. Crest, head, and lower parts bright red, feathers around
base of bill black ; back dull red, feathers tipped with olive gray, wearing
away in midsummer. Adult female : wings and tail dull
red ; crest partly red ; upper parts olive grayish ; under
parts grayish buffy ; chest often tinged with red ; feathers
around base of bill and upper parts of throat dull grayish ;
under wing coverts pinkish red. Young : like adult female,
but duller, the bill blackisb. Male: length (skins) 7.40-
8.40, wing 3.60-3.93, tail 3.78-4.35, bill .71-.80. Female:
length (skins) 7.40-8.15, wing 3.48-3.78, tail 3.70-4.22, bill

Distribution. Resident in eastern United States from the Gulf north
regularly to about latitude 41 ; casually northward to Ontario ; west to
edge of great Plains, rarely in western Kansas and Colorado.

Nest. A rather frail structure of sticks or fine rootlets, leaves, grasses,
or strips of bark, sometimes covered with gray moss; placed in bushes,
brambles, grapevines, or low trees. Eggs : 2 to 4, white, irregularly spotted
with purple and reddisb brown.

Food. Insects, berries, seeds, and grain.


The cardinals are the most striking of chaparral birds where they
occur. Seen against a background of dingy brush their red plumage
fairly glows in the sun till you are led to marvel at its brilliancy.

Then how their loud whistle pierces the air ! How exquisitely
rounded comes their cue-cue, and with what force follows the rapid
h ip -ip-ip-ip-ip-ip-ip.

593a. C. C. superbus Ridgw. ARIZONA CARDINAL.

Adult male. Top of head and long- crest brilliant red ; lores and
chin black, black of lores not connected across forehead unless by narrow
black line ; rest of under parts brilliant red ; back dull red washed with
gray ; wings and tail dark red ; bill very heavy. Adult female: crest, wings,
and tail partly red ; under parts dark buffy, chest tinged with red ; lores
and chin gray ; forehead dull yellowish mixed with red ; back dull gray ;
under wing coverts bright rose. Young : similar to adult female, but colors
duller ; bill blackish. Male: length (skins) 8.40-9.00, wing 3.92-4.11, tail
4.67-5.00, bill .80-.89. Female : length (skins) 7.85-8.30, wing 3.79-4.00,
tail 4.48-4.75, bill .82.

Remarks. Superbus differs from cardinalis in larger size, relatively
shorter bill, pale red of male, and broken ring around bill.

Distribution. From southern Arizona south to Sonora, Mexico.

The Arizona, like the eastern cardinals, are birds of the thickets

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 42 of 65)