John Richardson.

Fauna boreali-americana, or, The zoology of the northern parts of British America : containing descriptions of the objects of natural history collected on the late northern land expeditions, under command of Captain Sir John Franklin, R.N. (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryJohn RichardsonFauna boreali-americana, or, The zoology of the northern parts of British America : containing descriptions of the objects of natural history collected on the late northern land expeditions, under command of Captain Sir John Franklin, R.N. (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 64)
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to a considerable distance from the nest, by the smell of the fish that they are
unable to consume. The period of incubation is over by the middle of May ; but
the young require the aid of their parents in procuring food until the month of

The Bald Eagle resembles the Golden Eagle in the form of its wings, that are
obliquely truncated at the tips, the first feather being short, and the succeeding ones
gradually increasing in length to the fourth or fifth, which are the longest ; the
remainder diminish successively, but less rapidly than the first ones increase. The
wings are otherwise large and powerful, and their rounded form, though it may
impair the rapidity of flight in a horizontal line, fits them better for soaring
aloft in the atmosphere than the acutely -pointed wings of the true Falcons. The
great size of the Eagles seems to render it necessary for them to watch their
prey from a height at which they appear to be a mere speck when viewed from
below, and they are accordingly endowed with an extraordinary acuteness
of vision. So great is the similarity of the Bald Eagle to the Golden Eagle
in certain states of plumage, that naturalists of no mean fame, as well as less
instructed observers, have often mistaken the one for the other. The par-
tially naked tarsi, however, of the Bald Eagle, with the sub-versatile outer toe
entirely separated from the middle one, form ready marks of distinction, connected
with its habit of seeking its prey in the waters ; and there is also some difference
in the form of their bills, that of the Bald Eagle being more rounded on its ridge,
with its sides less inclined to each other. It is more difficult to find characters
that will serve to distinguish this species from the nearly allied one of the Cinereous
Eagle, or A. albidlla, of Europe. The pure white head and tail of the A. leiico-
cephala are sufficient to characterize the old bird ; but its young are so like those
of the A. ulbicilla, that Temminck considers the only marked difference to be in
the greater length of the tail of the former. On comparing the forms of the bills
of living birds of each species, I could observe the margin of the upper mandible
of the young A. leucocephala to be more nearly straight, there being only one very
obtuse lobe adjoining to the hooked point, whilst in A. albidlla the margin was
rendered more undulated by the presence of a second lobe posterior to the prin-
cipal one. These differences were, however, very slight even in the birds that


were compared, and may not be perceptible in all the individuals of the two
species. The mature Bald Eagle is rather a smaller bird, and has in proportion
a smaller head, than the Cinereous Eagle ; its lores are more feathered ; and it
has a feeble cheeping cry like a hawk, different from the more decided scream of
the latter Eagle. Temminck informs us that the Cinereous Eagle is proper to
Europe, while the White-headed Eagle is common to the northern hemispheres
of both the Old and New Worlds, although it occurs more abundantly in the latter.

Of a mature bird, killed at Hudson's Bay.

Colour of the head, greater part of the neck, and of the tail, including its upper and under
coverts and the vent feathers, pure white. The back, wing coverts, breast, belly, and thighs,
are brownish-black, the margins of the feathers being paler, approaching to a soiled wood-
brown tint. The quill feathers are brownish-black, with paler shafts. Bill straw-yellow.
Cere greeaish-yellow. Irides wine-yellow. Tarsi yellow. Claws blackish-brown.

Form, &c. — Bill three and a half inches long, and very strong, with a convex ridge curved
in a regular arc from the cere to the tip. There is a very obtuse and slightly-prominent lobe
on the cutting margin of the upper mandible, immediately beyond which the point of the bill
droops abruptly to form its hook. The upper surface of the cere is flattened. The lores are
clothed with short white hairs and feathers that project over the nostrils. The nostrils are
large, oblong, with one softer margin, which moves as the bird respires ; and they have an
obliquely transverse direction. The eyebrow projects considerably, and the eye is turned
obliquely forwards. The feathers on the head are triangular, and towards the base of the neck
they become long and pointed. The tips of the folded wings reach to the middle of the tail.
The quill feathers are acute : the fourth is the longest, the third nearly equals it ; the fifth is
about a quarter of an inch, and the second is more than an inch shorter than the fourth ; the
sixth is an inch shorter than the second, or an inch and three-quarters shorter than the fifth ;
while the first is three inches and a half shorter than the second, and just exceeds the seventh,
which is two inches and a half shorter than the sixth. The outer webs of these feathers,
from the second to the sixth inclusive, are strongly sinuated ; and the inner webs, from the first
to the fifth inclusive, are still more deeply and abruptly emarginated. The tail is rounded.
The tarsi are feathered for more than half their length ; their naked part is covered with small,
rounded, convex scales at the base and behind, and is protected anteriorly next the feathers
by five large transverse scales. The hind toe is short and strong, and is armed with a larger
nail than the others. The inner fore toe is a little longer than the hind one, its claw being,
however, somewhat smaller ; the middle toe is considerably longer, but it is at the same
time more slender and has a much smaller nail. The outer toe, though a little longer than
the inner one, is the most slender and has the smallest nail of all. There are eight or ten large
transverse shield-like scales on the middle toe, four on the hind and inner fore ones, and five
on the outer one : all their bases are reticulated. The claws are strong, much curved, and
acute ; and the middle one has a sharp-edged groove on its inner side.

D 2


Inches. Lines. Inches. Lines.

Length from the tip of the bill to the end of Length of the cere on the ridge of the bill 8

the tail ..... 38 Distance between the eye and the nostril . 1 9

„ of the tail .... 14 Length of the tarsus .... 3 3

„ of the longest quiU feather . 22 „ hind claw in a straight line . 1 6

„ of the bill, measured on its ridge .36 „ ditto, following its curvature 2 3

„ „ from the angle of the „ middle toe ... 3

mouth 3 6 „ claw .... 1 3

A young bird, measuring also thirty-eight inches in length, had a black bill^ and
plumage mostly of a dull-brown, variegated with paler brown and some white.
Its tail was blackish-brown, slightly mottled with white. It is said that these
birds do not attain their perfect plumage, with a white head and tail, until they
reach their fourth year.

[6.] 3. Aquila (Pandion) Hali^eta. The Osprey.

Genus. Aquila. Antiquorum. Sub-genus. Pandion. Savigny.

Osprey, var. A. Carolina. Lath. S>/n., i., p. 46, sp. 26. Ideji. Suppl., p. 13.

Osprey. Penn. y/re<. ZooZ., ii., p. 199, No. 91. Selby. Bri/. 0™., i., p. 12, pi. 4.

Falco Haliwctus y Lath. Ind., i., p. 18, sp. 30.

Aquila Haliaietus. Meyer. Tasch.., i., p. 25.

Fish-hawli, or Osprey. (Falco Halicetiis.) Wilson, t., p. 1, pi. 37.

Falco HaHaetus. Buonap. Syn., p. 26, No. 8.

Common Brown Fishing-eagle. Hudson's Bay Residents.

Eethin-neesew. Chee Indians.

This active and industrious fisher is well known in the fur countries as a fre-
quenter of rapids and cascades during the summer season, particularly in rocky
districts, in whose clear waters it can more readily discern its prey. It arrives
in the months of March or April, and immediately commences building a new
nest or re-occupies its old one, which is almost invariably on a tree, and is com-
posed of long sticks, heaped on each other, and intermixed with large tufts of grass,
roots, and other wrack, collected from the shores of the lakes. The choice that
it makes of a breeding-place shows that it is not a distrustful bird, for it often
places its nest near frequented paths and on a tree of very easy ascent. Wilson
remarks that the purple gra/des are permitted by this bird to build their nests
amongst the interstices of the sticks of which its own is framed, where they hatch
their young and Uve together in harmony. The same observation has been made


in the interior of the fur countries. The Osprey hiys two or three eg-o-s of a pale
cream-yellow colour, stained with blotches and spots of dull orange-brown. The
young- are hatched early in June, are upwards of two months old before they can
fly, and are fed by the parent birds even after they quit the nest. Both young-
and old retire to the south in October. I did not ascertain the exact northern
limits of the range of this species ; but during our coasting voyage along the
shores of the Arctic Sea we did not observe any kind of Eagle, and Hearne says
that none of them breed in the barren grounds north of Churchill. It seems less
capable of bearing cold than the Bald Eagle, as it quits the United States on the
approach of winter. Pennant informs us that it is very frequent in Kamtschatka,
and it is probably equally so on the Pacific coast of North America, thus extendino-
its range from the coast of Labrador quite across the continent.

It lives almost exclusively on fish, which it takes alive, being very rarely
observed to attack birds or quadrupeds, or to feed on carrion ; Wilson remarks,
that it never even picks up a fish which it happens to drop either on land or water.
When looking out for its prey, it sails with great ease and elegance, in undulating
and curved lines, at a considerable altitude above the water, from whence it preci-
pitates itself upon its quarry and bears it off in its claws ; or it not unfrequently,
on the fish moving to too great a depth, stops suddenly in its descent, and hovers
for a few seconds in the air, like a kite or a kestril, suspending itself in the same
spot by a quick flapping of its wings ; it then makes a second and, in general,
unerring dart upon its prey, or regains the former altitude by an elegant spiral
flight. It seizes the fish with its claws, sometimes scarcely appearing to dip its
feet in the water, and at other times plunging entirely under the surface with force
sufficient to throw up a considerable spray *. It emerges again, however, so
speedily as to render it evident that it does not attack fish swimming at any great

The versatility of the outer toe of the Osprey, the strength, curvature, and
sharpness of its claws, and the roughness of the soles of its feet, are pecuUarities
of structure adapted to the better securing its slippery prey ; and the shortness
of its thigh feathers, unusual in the falcon tribe, is also evidently connected with its
fishing habits. So firm is its hold, that it is said not unfrequently to perish by
having the imprudence to fix its talons in a fish of such a size and strength as to
be capable of dragging it suddenly under water. The superior strength of the

• Pennant informs us that its violent descent is compared by the Italians to the fall of lead into the water ; hence
they bestow on it the appellation of Auguista piumbina (leaden Eagle). " We never heard this name used, during six
years' residence in Italy, and the words are not Italian." Sw.


Sea Eagle enables it to profit by the greater industry of the Osprey (in the same
way that the Boatswain (Lestris parasiticus) obtains its food from the Gulls), by
pursuing it when heavily laden with a fish until it drops it^ and then snatching up
the prize before it reaches the water. In revenge, the Ospreys occasionally unite
to drive the Eagle away from their haunts.

Of a male.

Colour. — The general colour on the dorsal aspect is liver-brown, the edges of the feathers
being somewhat paler. The long and pointed feathers on the crown and hind head are white,
with brown central spots. A dark-brown stripe includes the orbit and runs along the side of
the neck to the shoulder. The quill feathers are brownish-black exteriorly, their inner vanes
being whitish, barred with brown. The tail is dusky hair-brown, crossed by eight bars of dark
liver-brown, the inner vanes of the feathers being barred alternately with dusky-brown and
soiled brownish-white. The under surface of the body is white. Bill bluish-black. Cere
bluish. Iris orange-coloured. Feet pale-blue.

Form, &c. — Bill short and strong; the cutting margin of the upper mandible is straight
to its hooked tip, with the exception of a slight angular projection near the corner of the
mouth and an obscure lobe about its middle. The nostrils, oblong-oval, extend, with a slight
degree of obliquity, nearly the whole length of the cere. The feathers of the forehead project
so as almost to conceal the cere above, and the lores are covered by dark hairs and feathers.
The wings, when folded, pass the tail about an inch. The second quill feather is the longest,
the third is scarcely shorter, the fourth is half an inch shorter, and the first is an inch and a
half shorter than the fourth, or about half an inch longer than the fifth *. All their inner webs
are narrower towards their points, but the sinuations are abrupt and distinct only in the first
three : the second, third, and fourth have their outer webs also sinuated. The tail is slightly
rounded. The tarsi, which are strong and about two inches long, are feathered on the anterior
surface only to the extent of half an inch below the joint : elsewhere they are covered by small
rounded, subangular, tiled scales, of which the anterior ones are rather the largest. The toes
are separated to their bases, and are, with their claws, nearly equal to each other in size, and
shorter than the tarsi. The fore toes are protected above by three large transverse scales
adjoining to the claws, succeeded by one or two pairs of smaller scales. Four large scales
cover near the whole of the hind toe. All the claws are rounded beneath, the middle one
alone having a nearly obsolete groove on its inner side ; they are black, tapering, sharp-
pointed, and much curved. The soles and under surface of the toes are rough, like small-
grained shagreen -f.

* In a fine adult specimen before us, just received from New Jersey, the third quill is a quarter of an inch longer
than the second, the fourth one inch shorter than the third ; but the first and fifth are precisely of the above propor-
tions. Sw.

f Each scale, in fact, is a small prickle, terminating in an acute point, perceptible to the naked eye, hut very re-
markable when viewed under a common lens ; they then present a miniature resemblance to the thorny processes on
the backs of Skates and similarly formed fish. Sw.



Inches. Lines. Inches. Lines.

Length from the tip of the bill to the end of Length of the longest quill feather . .17

the tail ..... 24 55 of the tarsus .... 2

,, of the bill from the angle of the „ of the middle toe ... 1 G

mouth ..... 1 C « of each of the claws in a straight

,, of the bill measured along the curve line ...... 1

of its ridge ..... 2 51 of ditto, following their curvature 1 7

The old female is about two inches longer than the male, has less white on the
head, and some brown spots on the breast.

An immature bird differed from the preceding- in all the wing coverts being
tipped with rusty-white, in the feathers of the top of the head having large oblong
brown marks in their centres^ in the breast being spotted with brown rhomboidal
marks, and in there being some brown spots on the flanks.

[7.] 1. Falco peregrinus. (Linn.) Peregrine Falcon.

Genus. Falco. LmN. Auctoeum.

Spotted Hawk. {Falco maculatus.) Edwards, i., pi. 3. Male, from Hudson's Bay.

Black Hawk. {Falco niger.) Idem, i., pi. 4. Female, from Hudson's Straits.

Peregrine Falcon. Penn. Arct. ZooL, ii., p. 202, No. 97.

Falco Peregrinus. Lath, /nrf., i., p. 38, sp. 72.

Great-footed Hawk. {Falco Peregrinus.) Ord. Wilson's Orn., ix., p. 120, pi. 76. Female.

Falco Peregrinus. Selbt. Bri^. Or«., i., p. .37, pi. 15. Richards. App. Parry's Sec. Voy.,

p. 342, No. 1. BuoNAP. Syn., p. 27, No. 9.
Apeestae-kseoo. {Little Eagle.) Cree Indians.

This bold and active bird is a typical species of the " True Falcons," or, as
they have been termed on account of their docility, the " Noble Birds of Prey."
They are characterised by a short, strong bill, which is curved from the base, and
is armed on each side, near the point, with an acute tooth, that fits a notch in the
lower mandible. The cere is very short, and the nostrils are small circular open-
ings, with a slender round pillar in the centre. Their wings are long and pointed,
the first and third quill feathers nearly equalling the second, which is the longest
of all. Baron Cuvier ascribes to this form of the wings the difficulty which the
Falcons experience in ascending vertically, and the consequent necessity they are
under of making a very oblique ascent in calm weather, or of flying against the
wind when they wish to rise in the atmosphere during a breeze. On tlie other


hand, their length of wing fits them for a continuous flight, and enables them,
when they have attained the weather gage, to shoot down on their prey with an
almost unerring aim and the rapidity of lightning. Their tarsi are of medium
length and are strong ; and their toes, which are comparatively long, though
sufficiently robust, are strengthened by a short membrane, which connects the first
phalanges of the anterior ones, and is most conspicuous between the two outer
ones. The claws are strong, sharp, and curved, and are well adapted to the mode
in which these birds kill their prey, which is by a stroke of the foot. There are
some prominent tubercles on the under surface of the toes, probably intended to
act as cushions in preserving the toes in the proper degree of curvature when in
the act of giving the stroke.

The European Peregrine Falcon, or, as it is termed provincially in England, the
" Duck-hawk," " Haggard," or "Blue-backed Falcon," was held in high esteem as
long as the art of falconry was cultivated, the female being most prized and em-
ployed against larger birds ; while the male, from its being one-third smaller, was
denominated a "tiercelet" or "tercel," and flown only at partridges and small
game. The Peregrine is distinguished by ornithologists from the allied species,
by the length of its wings, which, when folded, are as long as the tail ; by its having
the middle toe as long as the tarsus ; and by its having a large black mark or
whisker descending from under the eye, for an inch or more, along the side of
the throat. In the young Peregrine this mark is less distinct, being made up
of a number of spots ; but it becomes darker and more conspicuous as the bird
advances in age : whereas, in the closely resembling species, the Lanner, the
whisker is narrow in the young bird, and vanishes entirely in the old one. It is
only the first quill feather of the Peregrine that is strongly notched, near the point
of the inner web. The European Hobby (F. sub-buteo) is an almost exact minia-
ture resemblance of the Peregrine, which has not hitherto been found in America.
The Peregrine being a rare bird in the wooded districts of the fur countries where
the trading-posts are established, I did not procure a specimen on the late Expe-
ditions ; but 1 have frequently seen it whilst on the march across the barren
grounds. Of the two specimens figured by Edwards, one was from Hudson's
Bay, and the other was caught off' the entrance of Hudson's Straits. Captain
Parry likewise brought home several male and female specimens from the coast of
Melville Peninsula, some of which are preserved in the British Museum. It is a
summer visitor of the northern parts of America, and frequents the coast of Hudson's
Bay and the Arctic Sea, with the barren grounds, but is very seldom seen in the
interior. It preys habitually on the Long-tailed Ducks {Ams glacialis), which


breed in great numbers in the Arctic regions, arriving in June and departing in
September. Captain Parry observed it^, in his second voyage, following flocks of
the Snow Bunting on the coast of Greenland, near Cape Farewell. It frequents
the shores of New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the winter, and is celebrated there
for the havoc it makes among the water-fowl. Mr. Ord states that the Ducks,
vi^hich are struck by it, are lacerated from the neck to the rump : it gives the blow-
in passing, and returns to pick up its bird. Captain King appears to have found
it at Port Famine, in the Straits of Magellan ; so that it probably varies its
hunting-ground with the season, from one extremity of the continent of America
to the other. From the resemblance which the Peregrine has in voice and man-
ners to the Ring-tailed Eagle (F. chrysaetos), the Cree Indians distinguish it
by the epithet of Apeestw-kceoo, or Little Eagle.


Of an old male, from Melville Peninsula, lat. 68° N.

Colour of the head and shoulders blackish-brown, without spots. The wing coverts and
scapularies are also blackish-brown, but there are two or three narrower bars of hair-brown
on each feather. The quill feathers are blackish, with faded tips ; their inner webs are
marked with about twelve transverse oval brownish-white spots ; and on their under surfaces
there are many alternate bars of white and slate-colour, the former being the broadest. The
tail coverts are lead-grey, crossed by arrow-pointed, or heart-shaped marks of blackish-brown.
The tail is barred alternately with blackish-brown and slate-colour, the subterminal band of
the former being much broader than any of the others ; the bars are very distinct on its
under surface, where they are hair-brown and white. Under surface. The black whisker is
large and well defined. The throat and upper parts of the breast are white, without spots ; the
rest of the under parts are white, with large longitudinal blackish-brown spots on the flanks,
and small transverse ones on the belly. The under tail coverts are crossed by distant narrow
bars, and the thigh feathers are more closely barred. Bill greenish-blue. Cere and naked
skin round the eye gamboge-yellow. Iris yellow. Legs yellow. Claivs black.

Form, &c. — Bill short and strong ; upper mandible much curved, and armed with an acute
tooth ; lower mandible truncated at the tip, with a deep notch for the reception of the upper
tooth. Nostrils round, with a central point. Space between the eye and bill covered with
hair-like feathers. Eyebrow projecting ; pupil large. When the ivinys are folded, their tips
cross each other over the end of the tail. The second quill feather is the longest ; the first is a
quarter of an inch, and the third an inch shorter than the second ; the fourth is nearly an inch
shorter than the third ; and the fifth and sixth are widely apart from each other, and from
the fourth. The inner web of the first is strongly sinuated ; the webs of the second and third
are narrower towards their points, but present no abrupt sinuation : " Exterior edge of the
tip of the secondaries scolloped." (Wilson.) Taii very slightly rounded. The tarsus, an inch
and three-quarters long, is feathered half an inch below the joint anteriorly ; the remainder,



and the bases of the toes, are reticulated. Part of the first phalanges, and all the other joints
of the toes, are scutellated above. The middle toe is the longest; the lateral toes are next to
it in length ; and the hind toe is the shortest, but has the largest claw. The middle and outer
toes are connected by a short membrane. The claws are strong, sharp, and much curved.

Of the male.

Inches. Lines. Im-hes. Lines.

Length from the tip of the bill to the end Length of the bill from the anterior mai'gin

of the tail ..... 14 of the orbit to its tip ... 1 'A

„ of the bill, measured on the ridge 10 „ of the tarsus .... 1 9

„ „ from the angle of the „ of the middle toe ... 2 2

mouth ..... 1 li „ of the middle claw ... S*

An old female, from the same locality, has the dorsal aspect more dull, and a buff-coloured
breast, with some central dark streaks on the feathers. It is larger than the male.

Of the female.

Length (total) 18 Length of the middle toe ... 2 2

„ of the tarsus .... 2 4 „ of the middle claw ... 7

An immature bird, also from the same locality, has the feathers on the dorsal aspect nar-

Online LibraryJohn RichardsonFauna boreali-americana, or, The zoology of the northern parts of British America : containing descriptions of the objects of natural history collected on the late northern land expeditions, under command of Captain Sir John Franklin, R.N. (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 64)