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tail with my finger-tips ; but the next instant she is gone. How
quietly at the last moment she slid over the edge of the nest, barely
eluding my grasp ! A faint cry or two, and there comes the male ;
but he, gaudy little braggart ! is far better at singing brave deeds
than performing them, and will not trust himself very near, though
he keeps up a constant chirping. His mate, however, is bold enough
for both, and in her anxiety almost comes within reach of our
hands. Now look into the nest ! Beauties, are they not ) Four
of them ; rosy white, spotted prettily with umber, lilac, and a few
scattered dashes of black. Observe how cunningly the whole affair
is concealed, — ^ built close to the stem of the little fir, resting ou
the flat horizontally disposed rows of " needles," and arched, over
by the flake-like layer of twigs above. One long rootlet alone
hangs down in full view, and had it not caught my eye I might
have passed without discovering the nest. It seems, indeed, a pity
to disturb it, but we shall regret it next winter if we leave it be-
hind. Naturalists are probably not hard-hearted by inclination,
but of necessity. I dare say the female will commence another
nest before we pass here on our way back, and the male will be
singing as joyously as ever in an hour or two. Birds* grief, like
their average lives, is short, though apparently intense for the time.
It is only the end, however, that can ever justify the destruction of
a nest, and unthinking persons might, in many cases, be benefited
by contemplating a little more closely the suffering which they in-
flict

As the published descriptions of the nesting of this species are
meagre and more or less conflicting, I shall go somewhat fully into
the matter.

Location of Nest, — The nest is usually placed in a small fir or
spruce, and rarely at a greater elevation than five or six feet. The
average height would probably not exceed four feet, and I have
found some barely twelve inches above the ground. It is usually
laid somewhat loosely among the horizontal twigs, from which it
can in most cases be lifted intact. Favorite localities are the edges
of wood-paths, or roads bordered by woods, and clearings grown
up to small evergreens. Exceptional situations are the interior of



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6 BULLETW OF THE NUTTALL

the woods, where, in some cases, the nest is placed in the top of a
young hemlock ten or fifteen feet up. In one instance I found a
nest on a horizontal spruce limb in the very heart of the forest, and
at least thirty-five feet above the ground. This nest contained four
eggs, and the female bird, which was sitting, established its identity
beyond question.

Composition of Nest. — The framework is wrought somewhat
loosely of fine twigs, those of the hemlock being apparently pre-
ferred. Next comes a layer of coarse grass or dry weed-stalks;
while the interior is lined invariably with fine black roots, which
closely resemble horse-hairs. In an examination of more than
thirty examples I have found not one in which these black roots
were not used. One specimen has, indeed, a few real horse-hairs in
the lining, but the roots predominate. This uniform coal-black
lining shows in strong contrast with the lighter aspect of the outer
Surface of the nest. The whole structure is loosely put together,
and bears a no distant resemblance to the nest of the Chipping
Sparrow {Spizella socicUis).

Among nests of the Sylvicdidce, it finds, perhaps, its nearest ap-
proach in that of the Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendrceca pennsyl-
vanica),

Audubon, describing a nest from Labrador, affirms that it was
lined with " a great quantity of feathers." As regards this state-
ment, I can only say that it is entirely at variance with my own
observations, and the employment of feathers in a nest of this
character seems to me almost as mat Apropos as it would in that of
a Heron or Cuckoo.

Description of Eggs, etc. — The time of laying with this species
varies, in relation to the season, from June 8 to June 15. Four
eggs commonly constitute a set, though in some cases but three are
laid ; and I know of an instance where five were found in one nest.
They measure about .62 of an inch in length by .50 in breadth.
The usual sliape is a rounded oval, and the gi-ound-color almost
invariably creamy white after the removal of the contents. The
markings are most commonly blotches of rich, warm umber, with
smaller dottings of pale lilac or brown, disposed about the larger
end. Some specimens are, however, thickly sprinkled over their
entire surface with fine brownish spots. One set of four eggs differs
from any of the others in having a decided tinge of bluish in the
ground-color; while upon the large patches of umber which en-



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ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB, 7

circle the greater ends are di-awn numerous wavy lines of black,
precisely like the characteristic pen-markings of some of the Oriole's
eggs. With an extensive series of specimens before me, I am led
to the inevitable conviction that eggs of D, maculosa are in many
cases indistingui8ha\)le from those of D, virens, D. pennsylvanica^
and D. discolor ; and an examination of an equal number of au-
thentic eggs of the other Dendrcecce would, t am satisfied, result in
adding many more to this list In the eggs of each of the above-
named species there is an almost endless variation, and many sets
are consequently quite unique, but the type — if, indeed, any can
be established — finds equally near approaches among them aU.
Nests may, however, in most cases be relied upon, especially wheB
procured from proximate localities.

In the case of the young, both before and after they leave the
nest, this bird displays no exceptional traits. Both old and young,
when the latter have become able to take care of themselves,
join the immense congregations pf mingled Warblers, Wrens, Tit-
mice, Sparrows, and Woodpeckers, which collect in the northern
forests in early August, to be dispersed — most of them south-
ward — by the first frosts of September.

In Eastern Massachusetts this species occurs as a fall migrant
from September 21 to October 30, but it is never seen at this
season in anydiing like the numbers which pass through the same
section in spring, and the bulk of the migration must follow a more
westerly route. Its haunts while with us, in the autumn are some^
what different from those which it affects during its northward
journey. We now find it most commonly on hillsides, among
scrub-oaks and scattered birches, and in company with such birds
as the Yellow-Rump {Dendrceca coronata) and the Black- Poll (Z>.
striata), A dull, listless troop they are, comparatively sombre of
plumage, totally devoid of song, and apparently intent only upon
the gratification of their appetites. It seems, at first thought,
strange that the birds, at a season when all the rest of Nature puts
on its most gorgeous coloring, should array themselves in t heir
dullest ; but it must be borne in mind that many of them played
their part before these brilliant leaves had burst their buds, and
now, like ushers and orchestra, whose duty has Jbeen performed,
they stand aside among the audience, and watch the shifting
glories of the final transformation-scene. So let us leave them
until, attired in fullest costume, they come again to herald, with
overtiures of joyous song, the rising of the curtain on a new year.



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BULLETIN OF THE NUTTALL



ON GEOGRAPHICAL VARIATION IN TURDUS
MIGRATORIUS.

BY ROBERT RIDGWAY.

Certain differences between Eastern specimens of the common
Robin and those from the Rocky Mountains were first pointed oat
by Professor Baird, in his "Review of American Birds" (1864^
pp. 28, 29), in the following words : " In highly plumaged speci-
mens from the East the feathers of the interscapular region are
frequently, even generally, tinged with blackish in their centres,
passing gradually into ash on the edges, and the black of the head
cca83s to be abruptly defined. There is also usually a well-defined
whitish tip, half an inch long, to the outer tail-feathers. In Rocky
Mountain skins the tail is either black, except a very narrow
whitish edge, or the white tips of Eastern specimens are replaced
by a dull gray. The black of the head, too, is better defined, the
interscapular feathers more uniformly ash, and the upper parts
without the faint brownish wash so frequently seen in Eastern
specimens. There are, however, some exceptions to these features
in specimens from each locality. The colors generally of Western
birds appear to be paler." Again, in the "History of North
American Birds" (Vol. I, p. 25), the same and additional differen-
ces are alluded to, as follows : " There are some variations, both
of color and proportions, between Eastern and Western speci-
mens of the Robin. In the latter there is a tendency to a
longer tail, though the difference is not marked ; and, as a rule,
they slightly exceed Eastern specimens in size. The broad white
tip to the lateral tail-feather — so conspicuous a mark of Eastern
birds — is scarcely to be found at all in any Western ones ; and in
the latter the black of the head is very sharply defined against the
lighter, clearer ash of the back, there hardly ever being a tendency
in it to continue backward in the form of central spots to the
feathers, as is almost constantly seen in Eastern examples; of
Western specimens, the rufous, too, is appreciably lighter than in
Eastern."

Very extensive material received at the National Museum since
the above was written tends to confirm the constancy of most of
these differences between Eastern and Western Robins, while other



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ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB. 9

points of diversity, previously overlooked, have been deteoted, the
most important being the much blacker tail of Eastern birds, and
their decidedly shorter wing.

Upon the whole, the two forms seem to constitute two very
strongly marked geographical races, which may be distinguished as
follows : —

T. m^atonW. — Wing, 4.85-6.35 ; tail, 4.10-460 ; bill, from noe-
tril, .48 -.51 ; tarsus, 1.20-1.35; middle toe, .85 -.92.* Inner web of
outer tail-feather with a distinct white terminal spot Tail-feathers of
adult male dusky black, with slight edging of plumbeus. HaMtat
Eastern region, including the whole of Ala8kfi^ Eastern Mexico, and th^
eastern border of the Missouri Plains.

T. propinquusy Ridgw. (MSS.). — Wing, 5.36-5.60; tail, 4.60-4.70;
bill, from nostril, .50 -.55 ; tarsus, 1.30-1.35 ; middle toe, .90. Inner
web of lateral tail-feather with merely a narrower terminal edging of white,
or with no white whatever. Tail-feathers of adult male dusky slate, with-
out distinctly paler edges. UahitaU Western region, including eastern
base of Rocky Mountains.

We find the character of blackish centres to the interscapulars in
Eastern specimens to be too inconstant a feature to serve as a
character. No specimens of the Western series are so marked, but
many Eastern ones, otherwise typical, have no trace of these mark-
ings. It is a well-known fact that the eggs of the Western Robins
average considerably larger in size than those of Eastern birds.



UNUSUAL ABUNDANCE OF THE SNOWY OWL {NYCTEA
SCANDIACA) IN NEW ENGLAND.

BY RUTHVIEN DBANB.

Ik « recent number of this Bulletin (Vol. I, p. 95), Mr. N. C.
Brown gave some interesting notes respecting the variable abun-
dance of birds at the same locality in different seasons. I do not
think a more forcible illustration of his remarks can be cited than
the recent great abundance of the Snowy Owl in New England.
This bird is regarded as not a rare winter visitor to New England,

* Eight specimeiis.



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10 BULLETIN OF THE NUTTALL

where it is confined mostly to the coast, although occasionally taken
throughout the interior. About 'the first of November, 1876, how-
ever, large numbers suddenly appeared along our coast. This be-
ing the season when sportsmen and the market gunners were in
pursuit of water-fowl on the sea-shore, dozens of Snowy Owls were
shot by them and sent to the markets and to taxidermists, so that
during the three following weeks it was a common thing to see
them hanging with other game in the markets, or confined alive.

I first heard of them on our Massachusetts coast as ft:^uenting
the islands off Rock port, where numbers were taken. One gunner
spoke of seeing fifteen at once on a small island one foggy morning,
nearly half of which he procured. As the Owls flew around over
the rocks uttering their weird cries, they presented a scene of rare
occurrence in New England. Specimens were soon after captured
in nearly every town in this vicinity (Boston), and were sent to thq
city from various other parts of the country. Several were shot in
the very heart of the city of Boston, where they were occasionally
seen perched upon the house-tops or chui*ch-spires.

I learn from Mr. George A. Boardman, of Milltown, Me., that
they were at this time very abundant in his locality, where they
appeared as early as September. Mr. Simeon F. (/heney, of Grand
Menan, also informs me that they were never before so abundant
there as during the present season, arriving there about October 20.
He reports that eight were seen together at one time, and that on
another occasion a flock of fifteen was noticed.

Mr. N. C. Brown, of- Portland, Me., reports that about one hun-
dred and fifty were shot in the immediate vicinity of that city, and
that five flew about the building of the city for a week unmolested.
Mr. J. M. Le Moyne also writes me that the imusual abundance
of these birds about Quebec, Canada, has been the subject of gen-
eral remark.

The migration seems also to have extended far to the southward
of New England, as I learn from Mr. Boardman that specimens
have been taken as far south as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Wash-
ington. In Philadelphia Mr. John Krider, the well-known taxider-
mist, had forty sent to him for preparation during October and
November. One was taken near Baltimore during the last of Sep-
tember. I have heard of some five hundred specimens that have
been seen^ the majority of which have been shot.

Many of the specimens were in exceedingly poor condition. Of



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ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB. H

some two hundred of these Owls examined by me, nearly all were in
very dark plumage, and none wore that almost spotless dress which
we occasionally see.

The cause of the sudden visit of such an unusual multitude of
these boreal birds, coming as they did when the weather for a
few days was unusually warm for the season, the thermometer stand-
ing at 75^ at noonday, is a question not easily solved. Scarcity of
food would seem the most probable solution, or perhaps an early
severe cold snap started them on their southward flight. If so, it
seems strange that other less hardy species should not be affected
in a similar way, as but few Geese and Brant had passed south
when the Owls had been with us for a week.

About ten years since there was a somewhat similar migration
of this species into the British Provinces and New England, but
the birds appeared later in the season, and not in such great num-
bers as in the present instance.



PISTKIBUTION OF NEW ENGLAND BIKDS. — A REPLY TO
DR. T. M. BREWER.

»

BY H. A. PURDIB.

When asked, some time since, to review a " Catalogue of the
Birds of New England," by Dr. T. M. Brewer, I at first declined,
feeling that if I expressed myself conscientiously, I should give
some displeasure to its author. But I finally consented, and penned
the short article in the third number of this Bulletin, bearing the
signature ** H. A. P." I intended to give the writer of this Cata-
logue all the credit due him ; but in this, according to his reply in
the following number, I have signally failed. The tone of Dr.
Brewer's article, and the demand he makes that I must produce
something of more weight than '' unsupported assertions," " sweep-
ing generalizations," opinions and conjectures unsupported by facts,
and ** positive dogmas given out quite excaUiedrd^^ renders it neces-
sary for me, in defence, to reply somewhat in detail. He must,
however, he aware that reviews are generally limited as to space,
and especially so was the case in this instance, so that full citations
in support of my differences with him were out of place. He now



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12 BULLETIN OF THE NUTTALL

says he gave the list for what it was worth, expectiDg and desiring
to have it amended and improved; and elsewhere he has said,
" however lenient we may be even towards errors and incorrect
itatements that apjmrently might have been avoided, we should
also, all of us, never hesitate to expose and to correct) whatever we
know to be wrong.** Unhappily such an attempt on my part has
not been very graciously received. He also says " it was but an
initiative towards a complete and reliable list of the birds of New
England^*' and that it was '* at the last moment, and when it could
only be done briefly,'* that ** the character of the presence of the
species " was added, and that of course the additions were *' never
exhaustive.'* Now I will respectfully ask how the general reader
was to know this. I received the list ^'for what it was worth."
There was nothing in the introduction to show that it was not con-
sidered complete or correct.

Of course, after all that has been written upon the subject, I was
aware that generally a species is not resident iiidividually in a
given section of territory. His remark respecting the Robin, that
the birds found with us in winter are not the same as those that
pass the summer here, but *' are of a veiy different race,^^ is not at all
to the point at issue. As a species, I say Turdus migratoriti9 is a resi^
dent of New England. If, however, as he holds, the birds found in
winter are another and very different race, — as raie is now under-
stood — he should have so indicated it in the Catalogue, perhaps
as " Turdus hyperhoreuB, Arctic Robin. Winter visitant." I in-
tended in reply to cite at length all the facts that bear upon the
points in dispute, but found that to do so would require quite too
much of the valuable space of the Bulletin ; but I trust that I have
brought forward sufficient evidence to show that my statements
were not altogether " conjectures " and " unsupported assertions."

The following five species, among others, Dr. Brewer claimed
had never been taken in New England, and therefore should be ex-
cluded from the list of New England birds. In respect to this, I
simply asked " if previous record did not show that these at least
could be retained,** intending thereby to imply that I considered
this to be the case. The following are the birds and their
record : —

Quiaoaliia major. Boat-tailxd Qracrle. — *<Q. hariim^ Bonaparte.
Thrush Blackbird. New Haven. Of the Thrush Blackbird one spoci-
men only has been observed, by Dr. Whelpley at New Haven, and of



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ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB. Jg

eonrse is raie in Coxmectient." (Rev. J. H. Linsley, Cat of the Birds of
Conn., in Am. Jour. Sci. and Arts, Vol XLIV, 1843, p. 349.) "Acciden-
tal Have heard of one that was killed in Cambridge a few years since.
Mr. K A. Samuels tells me that a pair bred in Cambridge in 1861.* (J. A.
Allen, Proc. Ess. Inst., IV, p. 85, 1864.) Both these and the Connecticut
bird are cited by Dr. Coues (Proc Ess. Inst, V, p. 285, 1868) as valid.
But I understand that more recently the authenticity of the specimens
taken is doubted, they being referred to the Crow Blackbird {Q, purpurettsy.
As Mr. Linsley also gives Q. purpureas as common, I see no reason for
doubting his record. Of Mr. Samuels's birds, I have always understood
him, and he still avers that two of them, in the flesh, were brought to him
by Professor JefEnes Wyman, and tliat to his best knowledge and belief
they were shot in the Cambridge salt marshes ; that their rarity was com-
mented on at the time, and that they were not Q. purpureus,

Corms ossifragns. Fish Crow. — " Stratford," Conn., Linsley (L c).
"An occasional visitor along the southern coast of the State of Massachu-
setts.*' (J. A. Allen, L c.) "Very rare visitor in summer" to Massachu-
setts. (E. A. Samuels, Descriptive Catalogue of the Birds of Mass^ in
Kept of Sec. Board of Agriculture of Mass. for 1863.) " A rare summer
visitor, chiefly along the more southern portions of the coast" of New
England. (Coues, Proc. Ess. Inst., V, 1868.) "Coast of the United States,
from New England to Florida." (Coues, Birds of the Northwest) And
now, as confirmatory of the above, Mr. Brewster gives an instance of his
seeing it in Cambridge, March 16, 1875. (See this Bulletin, Vol. I, p. 19.)

jaglalltis wflAonius. Wilson's Plover. — Allowing that this spe-
cies has not yet been found in Massachusetts, we have : " Stratford," Conn.,
Linsley (1. c). " Appears to be rather rare, and perhaps only occasional,
as far north as Massachusetts. (Coues, I. c.) " Dr. Wood informs me that
Wilson's Plover is abundant in August on Long Island, and Mr. Linsley
has recorded it from Stratford, Conn. It hence seems unquestionable
that they sometimes occur in Southern New England, and it would not
he strange if they should occasionally reach the coast of Massachusetts."
(Allen, Am. N^., Vol. Ill, 1869.) "North to Long Island and Con-
necticut, probably to Massachusetts, but rare beyond New Jersey." (Coues,
Birds of the Northwest)

Nettion oreooa. European Teal. — At a meeting of the Boston
Society of Natural History, April 18, 1855, Dr. Bryant remarked that a
specimen of the European Qreen-winged Teal had been sent to Mr. £.
Samuels to be mounted. It was shot in Massachusetts, the first he had
ever seen in the State. (Proc Bos. «oc. Nat. His., Vol. V, p. 196.) This
instance is cited by Allen (Proc. Ess. Inst., Vol. IV, 1864) and by C. J*
Maynaid (Naturalist's Quide, 1870). " A European species, bat so often



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14 BUUETIN OF THE NUTTALL

taken on the Coast as to be foirlj considered as more than an accidental
visitor." (Coues, Proc. Ess. Inst., Vol. V, 1868.)

Sola fiber. Booby Gannet. — "Gnilford,** Conn., Linsley (1. c).
" September. Rare." Essex Co., F. W. Putnam. (Proc. Ess. Inat., Vol.
I, 1856.) Both these cases are cited by Dr. Coues in his Birds of New-
England, and the last by C. J. Maynard. (Naturalist's Guide, 1870.)

I think that the above-named five birds have as much right to be in-
cluded among those that have occurred with us as have the Mealy Red-
Poll (^giothus canescetu)j Small-headed Flycatcher (Myiodioctes minutus).
Willow Ptarmigan {Lagopu$ albus). White-fronted Goose {Anser gambeli),
and Hutchin's Goose {Bemicla hutchinst), which axe all retained by Dr.
Brewer. There are also two other birds, namely, the Blue-gray Gnat-
catcher (Polioptila aerulea) and the Blue Warbler (DeiidrcBca c€erulea%
expunged by Dr. Brewer, whose reconl of occurrence in New England
is as good as any just cited, which I am prepared to show have recently
been taken in Connecticut and Rhode Island. (See this number of the
Bulletin, p. 20.)

In regard to the Robin {TurduB migratoriua), the Crow (Cormts ameri-
eanu$\ the Hairy Woodpecker {Picus vUlotus), the Long-eared Owl (Otu$
mUonianus), the Short-eared Owl {Brachyotus camnt), the Acadian Owl
(Nyctale (icadica), and the Sharp-shinned Hawk (Nis»$ fuscus), which Dr.
Brewer classed as summer residents of New England (he saying of the
Crow that a few winter), but which I stated must be considered as con-
stant residents, at least of the southern portions, and some of them also of
the northern, I will say that a reference to the often cited local lists, and
to other writings on New England birds, quite fully confirms my remark,
these species being given as residents, some of them occurring in smaller
numbers in winter, as is to be expected, while again others are found more
frequently in winter than at any other season. I notice a slight exception
in the case of Nisvs fuBcus, a few writers regarding it as only a summer
visitant, even to Massachusetts ; but that it, as well as the others, remains
in greater or less numbers in certain sections the year round, is well known
to collectors.

In the "History of North American Birds,* by Messrs. Baird, Brewer,
and Ridgway, we find the following respecting the winter distribution
of the Robin : " In the winter months it is most abundant in the South-
em States, while in the Middle and even the Northern States, in favorable



Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 13 of 50)