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Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology online

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books*' nestlings of even the commoner species. I have since given
special care to the acquisition of series of specimens representing aU
the stages through which birds pass in arriving at maturity, and it
is proposed in the course of tke present paper to treat, as fiilly as
may seem necessary, some hitherto undescribed plumages of North
American birds, and also in certain instances to clear up the confu-

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16 Brewstbe's Descriptions of the First Plumage

sion that has preriously resulted either from misi^prehensioD, or
from a too free iise of certain distinctive terms.

While it is to be regretted that the specimens at hand do not
furnish full series of even all the commoner species, it is uererthelesi
hoped that, by calling attention to this hitherto neglected field, an
impetus will be given to future investigation that maj result in a
more complete knowledge of the subject than can here be presented.
Before proceeding to a detailed consideration of specimens it may
prove of interest to state briefly a few generalizations regarding the
comparative development of the young in diflerent families of

Among North American AUrices the young of most species are
bom with thin patches of delicate, soft down, restricted mainly to
the feather-tracts. Beneath this fluffy down the feathers are
already forming; these soon appear, bearing at their summits the
little tufts of down that formed the down-patches. Meanwhile the
remiges and rectrices have started, and, growing with marvellous
rapidity, the bird is soon able to take wing. The contour-feathers
have now also nearly reached their full growth, and differ in both
structure and color from the later stages of plumage, these feathers
being softer and of a more open texture than those that succeed
them. This is the stage of plumage technically characterized
throughout the following paper as the first plumage. Though eva-
nescent, it is usually worn for several weeks after the bird has left the
nest. It is then moulted, and the regular autumnal plumage suc-

The remiges and rectrices are, however, nearly always retained
until tJie next regular mouU, exceptions to this rule being afforded
by the families Tetraonidas and Puddas and the genus Philokela^
and probably by a few other groups, in which the remiges and rec-
trices are moulted with the rest of the first plumage.

The early tegumentary development of most Proscoces (birds
whose young run about at birth) is quite different : they are
densely clothed with down until of large size, when, coincident with
the sprouting and gi*owth of the remiges and rectrices, the feathers
of the full autumnal plumage appear. In short, the first plumage
of Altricial birds seems to be 'omitted or perhaps replaced in the
Prcecoces by their more complete and longer worn, downy plumage.
A few conspicuous exceptions occur among both groups. Thus,
many Baptores differ from the Altrices in being densely clothed with

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in Various Species of North American Birds, 17

down from birth until of lai^ge size, when the autumnal plumage is
immediately assumed; while among Prcecoces the young of the Tetrao-
nidce, of PhUokda minoTf and of some of the Rallidm (well illus*
trated by a good suite of Rallus virginianus), pass in succession
through two well-defined primal stages, — the downy one character-
izing their own group and the first plumage of Altrices, In the
Anatidce, and probably some other Natatores, the remiges and rec-
trices are not developed until the young bird is almost fully grown
and the autumnal clothing-plumage nearly perfect. A few fami-
lies, as the AraUtd^je, have not been fully investigated, and may fur-
nish additional interesting exceptions.

In concluding these prefatory remarks, I wish to gratefully ac-
knowledge an act of generosity on the part of Mr. Robert Ridgway.
He had some time since made investigations respecting the early
stages of plumage of birds, and had even sent descriptions of the
first plumage of some North American Warblers for publication in the
''Bulletin," when, learning of my prior researches and somewhat more
extensive material, he very kindly withdrew his paper and placed
the whole result of his work in my hands, thus enabling me to add
a number of species not represented in my collection. The descrip-
tions of these are presented in Mr. Ridgway's own words, and indi-
cated by quotation marks and his initials. I desire also to express
my thanks to my friend Mr. J. A. Allen for valuable suggestions
and information.

1. Tardus mustelinus.
First plumage : female. Generally similar to adult, but with the feathers
of crown streaked centrally with buff ; " rusty-yellow triangular spots at
the ends of the wing-coverts and a decided brownish-yellow wash on
the breast" From a specimen in my collection, shot by Mr. W. D. Scott
at Coalbuigh, West Virginia, July 26, 1872. This bird is perhaps a little
past the first stage of plumage, most of the feathers of the upper parts
being those of the autumnal dress.

2. Tardus pallasL
First plumage : female. Remiges and rectrices as in adult, but darker
and duller; rump and tail-coverts bright rusty-yellow; rest of upper
parts, including wing-coverts, dark reddish-brown, each feather with a
central tear-shaped spot of golden-yellow : entire under parts rich buff,
fading to soiled white on abdomen and anal region ; each feather on jugu-
Inm and breast broadly tip|>ed with dull black, so broadly, indeed, that
this color covers nearly four fifths of the parts where it occurs ; rest of
under parts, with exception of abdomen and crissum, which with the

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18 Brewsteb's Descriptions of the First Plumage

eentral r^on of the throat are immaculate, crossed transyersely with
lines of dnll black. From a specimen in my collection shot at Upton,
Me., June 20, 1873. This bird was very young, — scarcely able to fly,
in fact, — yet the color of the rectrices is sufficiently characteristic to sepa-
rate it at once from the corresponding stage of T, svxiinsoni, which it
otherwise ' closely resembles. Another specimen of apparently nearly
the same age, taken at Rye Beach, N. H., July 25, 1872, differs in having
a decided reddish or rusty wash over the entire plumage, and by the spots
on the breast being brownish instead of black.

3. Turdos swainsoni

First plumage : male. Above much darker than adult, each feather,
excepting on rump and tail-coverts, with a tear-shaped spot of rich buff :
beneath like adult, but rather more darkly and thickly spotted on the
breast, and with narrow terminal bands of dull black on the feathers of
the lower breast and sides. From a specimen in my collection shot at
Upton, Me., August 4, 1874.

4. Tnrdiu fnsoesoens.

First plumage : female. Above bright reddish-buff, deepest on back
and rump : feathers of pileum, nape, back, and wing-coverts margined
with dark brown, confining the lighter color to somewhat indefinitely
defined central drop-shaped spots. Lores and line from lower mandible
along sides of throat, dark sooty-brown : throat, sides, and abdomen
pale brownish-yellow with indistinct transverse bands of brown ; breast
deep buff, each feather edged broadly with dull sooty-brown ; anal region
dirty white. In my collection, taken in Cambridge, Mass., July 23,

5. MimQs oaroUnensiB.

First plumage : male. Pileum dull sooty-brown, many shades lighter
than in adult. Wings and tail as in adult ; interscapular region brownish-
ashy, shading into pale cinnamon-brown on the rump. Entire under
parts barred obscurely with dull brown on a very light ashy ground ;
crissum pale, dead cinnamon. In my collection from Cambridge, Mass.,
August 9, 1875.

6. HarporhTnohiu mfns.

First plumage. Generally similar to adult, but with the spots on the
under parts much thicker, more diffuse, and dull black instead of reddish-
brown. The pileum is slightly obscured by a blackish wash ; the rump
rich golden-brown, and the spotting on the wing-coverts fawn-color. From
specimens in my collection obtained at Cambridge, July 13, 1874.

Fall specimens differ from full-plumaged spring birds in having the
upper parts of a darker, richer red, with a much stronger rufous wash on
€he under parts.

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in Various Species of North American Birds, 19

7. alalia alalia.
First plumage : female. Above dull smoky-brown, unmarked on head
and rump, the latter slightly paler ; but marked over the interscapular
region and wing-coverts by tear-shaped spots of white and pale fawn-
color, these spots occupying the central portions of the feathers. Second-
aries and tertiaries edged, and tipped with reddish-brown ; first primary
and lateral pair of rectrices with the outer webs pure white ; inner
primaries as in adult, but with the blue of a much lighter shade ;
posterior mai^n of eye with a crescentic spot of soiled white. Under parts,
with the exception of the abdominal region, which is nearly immaculate,
pale ashy-white, each feather broadly margined with dull dnnamon-
brown. From a specimen in my collection, shot at Cambridge, Mass.,

June 8, 1874.

8. Regnlua aatrapa.

First plwnage: female. Pileum (including forehead) dark smoky-
brown ; line over the eye entirely cut oflf at its anterior comer by the junc-
tion of the dusky lores with the brown of the forehead ; tertiaries broadly
tipped with white ; breast sttongly .washed with pale fawn-color ; other-
wise like adult. From a specimen in my collection taken at Upton,
Me., August 25, 1874. A young male taken August 25, 1873, is in
every way similar. A good series of specimens of various ages shot
during August and the early part of September illustrate well the
transitional ^stages. First the brown of the pileum darkens into two
black stripes, while the line over the eye broadens to meet its external
margin. Next, two lines of yellow feathers appear inside and parallel
with the black ones, while the orange of the central space (of the male)
is produced last

9. Polioptila oaNTulea.

First plwnage : male (?). Rectrices as in the adult ; remiges paler, with
a much broader and whiter edging on the tertials ; rest of upper parts
pale mouse-color with a strong wash of light cinnamon. Entire under
parts'grayish-white or pale lead-color. In my collection, from Kanawha
Co., West Va., June, 1872.

10. ZK>plioplianea bioolor.

First plumage : male. Above dull ashy, froiital hand scarcely darker ;

sides deep salmon-color. Otherwise like adult. From specimens in my

collection obtained by Mr. W. D. Scott at Coalburgh, West Va., July -20,


11. Pama atrioapillaa.

First plumage: male. Back very dark slate without any tinge of
brownish. Beneath salmon-color, faintest on breast, most pronounced on
sides and anal region. The black on throat and pileum scarcely less
clear than in adult. From specimen in my collection shot at Concord,
Mass., June 17, 1871.

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20 Bbbwsteb's Descriptions of the First Plumage

From about the time of pairing in spring till early autumn this Tit-
mouse wears a plumage which has been almost, if not entirely, ignored by
writers. The back is clear ashy without any brownish or olivaceous
washing except in a few specimens on the rump. The under parts are
white, with barely a trace of faintest salmon on the sides of the body ; while
the white margining on the remiges is much narrowed and on many of
the feathers replaced by ashy. It may be objected that this generally
paler condition is due to the wearing of the feathers consequent upon the
continual passing of the birds in and out of their nesting cavities, but not
all of the specimens before me are in worn plumage ; one pair, taken May
12, 1876, being in remarkably perfect dress. At all events, whatever the
cause, this peculiar stage is so universally characteristic of all specimens
(at least, New England ones) taken at this season, that it certainly merits
a fuller recognition than it has up to this time received. Five specimens
examined, all collected in Massachusetts in May or June.

12. PamB hndaoniotui.
Fint plumage : female. Above olivaceous-drab, becoming much darker
and more dusky on crown. Sides and anal region very pale brownish-
rusty. Otherwise like adult. From a specimen in my collection taken
at Upton, Me., August 25, 1873. This bird is, strictly speaking, ii^a
transitional stage, having already acquired many feathers of its fall dress.
It differs sufficiently, however, from the perfected condition of the autum-
nal plumage to merit description under the above heading.

13. Pams mfesoeiui.

First plumage : male. Pileum, nape, and throat dark sooty-brown ;
back dull chestnut, tinged with olive ; sides ashy, washed in places with
brownish-chestnut Otherwise, like adult From a specimen in my col-
lection obtained at Nicasio, Cal., by Mr. C. A. Allen, May 21, 1876.

14. Bitta canadensis.

First plumage : female. Above ashy with just a shade of blue ;
pileum dark ashy ; chin and throat dirty white ; rest of under parts
like spring adults^ but with a fainter and n^ore general suffusion of
rusty. From specimen in my collection taken at Upton, Me., July 31,
1874. In "History of Birds of North America" (VoL I, p. 118) Mr.
Bidgway, in giving the specific characters of this species, says : " The
male has the chin white ; rest of under parts, brownish-rusty.* Of
the female, " beneath paler, more of a muddy white." Now, if I under-
Btand rightly by this that the breeding plumage of the adult is indicated,
I am confident that the description, so far as it relates to the male, is
incorrect From the examination of a large series of specimens, collected
in every stage of plumage and at nearly all seasons, I am led to believe
that Mr. Ridgwa/s description is applicable only to the male in full
autumnal dress, — a mistake most easily committed when it is considered

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in Various Species of North American Birds, 21

that this plumage is worn through the winter months, or nearly up to
the commencement of the breeding season, as is shown by specimens shot
on the migration through Massachusetts in April. It will be seen by a
comparison of the following descriptions that the brightest plumage is
reached in atUummU specimensy a case parallel with that of Parui atrica-
pilliu. Hence I have judged it best to redeacribe the spring or breeding
plumage, using Mr. Ridgway's words so far as they are definitely appli-
cable. The autumnal plumage is presented, I believe, for the first time.

Breeding plwnage: Adult male. "Above aahy-biue : top of head
black : a white line above and a black one through the eye." Entire un-
der parts dirty white, tinged very slightly with pale rusty on breast, sides,
abdomen, and crissum. From specimen in my collection shot at Upton,
Me., May 31, 1871.

Adult female. With black of head scarcely duller than in the male :
beneath similar, perhaps a trifle less rusty. From specimen in my col-
lection obtained on Muskeget Island, Mass., June 30, 1870. It is very
possible that this bird represents a development of plumage only excep-
tionally attained by the female ; I have seen no other specimen of that
sex with the color of the crown so nearly approaching that of the male.

Autumnal plumage of young : male. Upper parts as in breeding adults,
the ash-blue a little clearer and brighter. Chin white ; rest of under
parts brownish-rusty, paler on throat and intensifying into light chestnut
on sides. A narrow line down centre of abdomen pure white (this last
feature, though characteristic of most specimens, is wanting in a few).
From a specimen in my collection shot at Upton, Me., September 7, 1874.

Female. Pileum dork ashy mixed with black. Otherwise similar to
male and scarcely lighter beneath. From specimen in my collection shot
at Upton, Me., September 12, 1874.

The adult in autumn is paler beneath than the young.

15. Thryothonui Indovioiantui.

First plumage : male. Top of head dark rusty, each feather edged and
tipped broadly with dull black, the former color nearly eliminated by the
latter on the crown and forehead. Under parts nearly as in adult, but
more cinnamoneous ; a few narrow, wavy, and somewhat badly defined
transverse lines of black across the breast and abdomen. From a speci-
men in my collection shot at Petroleum, West Va., May 1, 1874.

16. Troglodytes a^don.
First plumage : female. Upper parts more reddish than in adult :
throat, jugulum, and breast pale fulvous- white, each feather on breast
tipped with pale drab, giving that part of the plumage a delicately scu-
tellate appearance. Abdomen whitish ; sides, anal region, and crissum
dull rusty-brown, becoming almost chestnut on the crissum. No trace
of bars on feathers of the body either above or beneath. From specimen
in my collection shot at Cambridge, Mass., July 9, 1873.

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22 Bbewsteb's Descriptions of First Plumages.

17, TroglodTtes panmlos yar. hyemalia.
First plumage: male. Bemiges, rectrices, etc, as in adult; rest of
tipper parts dark reddish-brown, becoming more dusky anteriorly: no
trace of bars except on wings and tail Beneath dull sm(^y-brown,
with a strong ferruginous suffusion on sides, anal region, and crissum ;
every feather of under parts with a bar of dark brown. From a specimen
in my collection taken at Upton, Me., August 4, 1874.

18. Telmmtodytes palostris.
Fint plvmage : female. Entire pileum, nape, and interscapular region
dull black ; no white streaking or spots ; otherwise like adult From
specimen in my collection taken at Cambridge, August 10, 1873.

19. Clfltothonui steUariA.

Autumnal plumage : young male. Above similar to adult, but darker,
especially on nape and pileum. Throat and abdomen light buff ; breast,
sides, anal region, and crissum rusty-brown, paler and with white tip-
pings to the feathers anteriorly. From a specimen in my collection shot
at Cambridge, Mass., September 19, 1870.

20. BffniotUta TarU.

" First plumage. Similar in general appearance to the adult female, but
markings, especially the two stripes of the pileum and the streaks beneath,
much less sharply defined ; the streaks of the breast indistinct gra3ri8h-
dusky, suffused with pale fulvous, those of the back more strongly tinged
with ruety. The two stripes on the pileum dull grayish-dusky, instead
of deep black. From a specimen in my collection obtained near Wash-
ington, July, 1876." — B. B.

21. Pamla amerioana.
** First plumage : male. Bemiges, rectrices, etc, as in the adult Pi-
leum, nape, rump, and upper tail-coverts dull gray, tinged with olive
anteriorly and with blue posteriorly, the back with more or less of an
indistinct patch of olive-green ; throat and eyelids grayish- white, abdo-
men, anal region, and crissum pure white : jugulum and sides of breast
pale ash-gray. From two specimens obtained at Mt Carmel, HL, July
17, 1871, Nos. 1457 and 1563, my collection. Both of these show a laige
patch of bright gamboge-yellow on the breast, these feathera denoting the
commencement of the adult plumage. One of them also has the chin
and an indistinct supraloral line tinged with yellow." — B. B.

22. Protonotaria oitrea.
" First plumage. Bemiges, rectrices, primary coverts, and alulo as in
the adult Entire abdomen, anal region, and crissum white ; head, neck,
back, and jugulum pale greenish-olive, the throat and jugulum paler and

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Allen on an Inadequate "Theory of Birds' Nests'' 23

more olive,' the upper parts brighter and more greenish ; rump and npper
tail-coverts plumbous-gray. From a specimen killed at^ Mt Carmel, 111.,
July 22, 1875 ; in my collection. In this specimen a large patch on each
side the breast is bright gamboge-yellow (as is also a row of * pin-feath-
ers ' along the middle of the throat), indicating the adult plumage.'' — R. R.

23. Helmithenu Tenulvonui.
' ** Firtt plfjmage, Remiges, rectrices, primary coverts, and alulso as in
the adult Rest of the plumage, including the whole back, lesser, mid-
dle, and greater wing-coverts, buff, deeper below, more brownish on the
back and base of the wing-coverts. Pileum with two badly defined stripes
of grayish-brown, and a narrow streak of the same behind the eye. From
a specimen in Mr. Henshaw's collection obtained near Washington in July,
1876." — RR.


By J. A. Allen.

Why the thousands of species of birds build each a peculiar nest,
differing more or less in situation and architecture from those of all
other species, is a question which has as yet received no satisfactory
answer. As a rule, the nest, including its location, the materials
and manner of its construction, is as distinctive of the species as
the number, size, form, and color of the eggs, or, in some instances^
as any fact in its history, not excepting even the details of struc-
ture and coloration of the bird itself. Why this is so we can per-
haps explain when we can satisfactorily account for the diversity
of song that is scarcely less a specific characteristic. Yet the struc-
ture and position of the nest, even among birds of the same spe-
cies, is more or less varied by circumstances, sometimes even to a
striking degree. In some cases the influence of peculiar surround-
ings is most obvious, as when, for instance, a species that habitu-
ally nests in trees, like the Carolina Dove, is found in treeless
regions to place its nest on the ground, or when a Woodpecker,
under similar circumstances, excavates for its nesting-site a cavity
in a clay-bank. Not unfrequently birds exhibit in their choice of
nesting-sites something quite akin to intelligent foresight, as is
manifestly the case when such species as the Brown Thrush and

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24 Allen on an Inadequate "Theory of B%rd£ NestsJ*

the Canada Goose, that commonly nest on the ground, place their
nests in bushes or trees in localities subject to sudden inundation.
Many species, pro6ting by dearly bought experience, will abandon,
in consequence of persistent persecution, long-occupied breeding-
grounds for those more remote from danger. A remarkable in-
stance of change in breeding habits frpm this cause is afforded by
the Herring Gull, which, to escape its human foes, has been known
to depart so widely from its usual habit of nesting on the open sea-
shore as to place its nest in trees in more or less inland swamps.
That birds have the power to grapple intelligently with unexpected
emergencies has been repeatedly shown, a most striking instance be-
ing afforded by the Baltimore Oriole, which has been observed to
repair a half-demolished nest by weaving one end of a string into
the weaker side and fastening the other end taut to a branch above.
The fact that various species of Swallows, the Wren, Chimney Swift,
and some other of our native birds which originally nested in de-
serted Woodpeckers' holes or hollow trees, abandon such nestiug-
sites for the better ones accidentally or intentionally provided by
man, shows that they are by no means the slaves of "blind
instinct," but are able to take advantage of favoring circum-

The materials used by birds in forming their nests, it has been
assumed, are those nearest at hand or most easy to obtain, or
such as their peculiar habits chance to render them most famil-
iar with, and that the mode of nidification depends upon their con-
structive ability, — upon the "tools" with which nature has pro-
vided them. This is undoubtedly to a great degree true, for it
would be hard to conceive of the construction of an elaborate nest
by any members of the Whippoonji'ill or Night-Hawk family, whose
bills are excessively weak and small, and whose feet are unfitted for
walking or perching, being barely able to support them on a flat
surface. Hence we are not surprised that they place their eggs on
the ground without the provision of a nest. Many other groups of
birds are almost equally incapable of building nests. But among
species equally furnished with the means for elaborate nest-making;
there is the greatest diversity in the results of their architectural
labors. Even when the materials employed by different species
chance to be the same, the structures resulting from their use bear
the impress of different architects. Nests of the same species also
vary greatly at different localities in consequence of the materials

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Allen on an Inadequate "Theory of Birdif Nests!* 25

most readily available for their construction being not everywhere
the same ; they also vary in accordance with the climatic conditions

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