Copyright
Nuttall Ornithological Club.

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

. (page 3 of 50)
Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 3 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fortunate discoverer.

In the present state of our available knowledge, however,
classifying any newly acquired feathered citizen under either of
the above heads, can scarcely fail to prove a somewhat danger-
ous and arbitrary committal. Truly, in ornithology, " we know
not what the morrow will bring forth ;" perhaps it will be our
''accidental visitor" in multitudes ; or the bird which we shot
yesterday, for the first time, may never be heard from again. —
Manifestly the only thing that can be safely dose is to "make a
note of it," and calmly await future developments. Sage pro[)h-
ecy has, however, such temporary charms, that the best of us
fail to keep altogether clear of it at times, and it may not be
gainsaid that it has. its value — a value, however, that bears al-
ways a most close relation to the reliability to its author. It
possesses in addition a no small element of luck, and is in some
sort a kind of ornithological gambling, where the fate or for-
tunes of the participator are decided by the dice-throw of future
discovery.

Of the following five species, two are recorded for the first
time in New England ; two are new to the State of Maine, and
tiie last has never been previously taken in Massachusetts. Al-
though the temptation to theorize a little on the occurrence of
some of them is great, it will be at least more consistent to act
in accordance with the philosophy just advanced and simply
give the facts, leaving the commentary to future times and wiser
heads:



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUTTALL ORSITHOLOOICAL CLUB. 19

Jttwflo Ore^oTiM*, (Towns.), Sel. Female, shot in Wiitertown,
Mass., March 2dth, 1874. This speciroea is quite typical, and
its identity has been confirmed by my friend, Mr. H. W. Hen-
shaw, ivho has recently examined it.

Corvus ossifragus^ Wils. On the morning of March 16th, 1875,
I saw a bird of this species flying swiftly over our place in Cam-
bridge. It was pursued by at least twenty-five or thirty of our
common species, (Corvus Amerkanus)^ and at each renewnal of
their attacks gave utterance to its peculiar and unmistakable
notes. Having thoroughly familiarized myself with its voice
and motions in the South, where it is abundant, I feel confidant
that I could not in this instanoe have made any mistalCe. The
very fact of its having drawn the angry attention of so many
common crows, at a season too when their gregarious habits are
given up for more social relations, proves that it was to them
an object of novelty and one deemed worthy of suspicion and
hatred, I am not aware that any such feeling is maintained
when the two species come togetiier in numbers ; bat however
this may be matters little, as our bird habitnally treats all sus^
picious strangers in a like manner, and the oollector is not sel-
dom indebted for a rare hawk or owl to the watchful eye and
clamorous alarum of this sable sentinel.

Vireo PhUaddphleuM s Cass. On Sept. 7th, 1875, I shot &
female of this beautiful little species in Cambridge, Mass. It
was feeding in company with several individuals of Vireo oHoa-
cetis^ in a low willow tree.

Tringtt BairdUj Cones. I secured a fine male of this spe-
cies at Upton, Oxford County, Maine, Sept. 1, 1875. When first
observed it was sitting alone on a mud flat at the foot of
Lake Umbagog.

P/ttlomachus pugnax Gr. Female. Killed at Upton, Ox-
ford County, Maine, September 8th, 1874. It was shot while
flying on the marshes at the mouth of Cambridge River. My at-
tention was attracted to it by its peculiar hawk-like flight, which,
provided it be a constant attendant of its motions, should at
once distinguish it while on wing from any other Tringa. I
am aware that this species has already been given in Mr. G.
A. Boardmau's " List of the Birds of Calais, Me.," but Dr.
Brewer informs me that none of the specimens therein referred
to were taken within Maine limits. The ouly authentic N. £.



Digitized by LjOOQIC



20 QUARTERLY BULLETIN.

quotation that 1 can at present recollect is the record of a Mass.
specimen in *' Am. Nat./' vol. vi, p. 306. The occurrence of
the present individual so far inland is worthy of remark.



ALBINISM AND MELANISM AMONG NOKTH AMERICAN BIRDS.
BY RUTHVEN DEANE.

What a striking contrast it is as we examine a collection of
Birds, (o see one of our familiar friends standing out in hold
relief among others of its own species clad in a spotless suit, or
perhaps wearing a most variegated coloration of plumage, a
white head, a white wing, or a few white tail feathers, while the
rest of the bird retains its normal plumage.

This " freak of nature " is of more frequent occurrence than
is generally supposed, yet notwithstanding bow difficult it is for
an individual to get together any number of specimens.

I presume there is scarcely a collection of any size in the
country that has not one or more specimens represented, and
yet many of our most experienced collectors, who have shot
thousands of birds, are yet to have the luck (for sheer luck we
must call it) to add a specimen to their cabinet taken with their
own gun, and one mudt generally be content with but few ex-
amples.

During the past few years I have been fortunate enough to
add about a dozen specimens to my collection, though have only
taken an individual myself. As 1 have just remarked we may
shoot a whole season in various parts of the country, and travel
many miles without happening upon a single specimen, yet
scarcely a week passes that we do not see in some of our daily
papers that so and so recently shot a white Robin, or a white
P-nglish Sparrow was seen in one of our public parks, or a white
Blackbird is making a sensation in a certain locality, and it
must be generall}^ acknowledged that the casual observer is more
fortunate than one who is constautl}' in the woods and fields.

Pure albinism is of rare occurrence, the majority of specimens
retaining more or less of their normal dress. Of course this
disease is liable to occur in any birds, though more frequently



Digitized by



Google



NUTTALL ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB. 21

ia some families than others^ and I can now recall some fifty or
sixty different species in which it is represented.

Among the Turdida^ the Robin (T. migrator ius)^ is the only
speqies 1 have seen in the albino state, and in my experience is
the most common example among our birds, though we rarely
hear of pure white specimens, and out of some twenty I have
seen, there were not any two that resembled each other.

Among the Saxkdidm^ I have seen the Bluebird (S. sialia)
represented, the specimen being of a light yellowish cast,
tiiough traces of its normal plumage could readily be discerned*

Representatives among the Sylvicolida^ I have seen in lim-
ited numbers for so large a family, the examples being P. Amer-
icana^ a beautifully marked specimen among the collection of
the Smithsonian Institution. D, castanea^ a small poi*tion of the
forehead being white, and extending over half of the upper man-
dible. 'D.coTonata has been taken in partial state, and S,ruticilla.
^ This l^r species I shot some years ago, and it presents a curious
mixture of coloration. The black head and breast is mottled
with white, the black dorsum is replaced by bright orange, with
n few blackish feathers intermixed, while the belly and crissum
are much more strongly marked with orange than in a typical
specimen. I was attracted at some distance by this peculiar
plumage, and like all abnormal birds it was unusually shy.

Albinism among the Hirundinida is generally pure white or
of a strong yellowish cast, and I cannot recall of having seen
or heard of a specimen in only a partial state. I have seen
specimens of H. horreorum, T. Uccior^ C. riparia^ P. hirdfrons^
and P. purpurea, in this white dress. Ampelis cedrorum has
been taken in some striking stages of plumage, the crest,
wax appendages on the wings, and the yellow tips of the tail
feathers retaining color, while the rest of the body bore a
bleached out appearance.

Doubtless the FringilUdcB are represented more largely than
any family, though but eleven species have cdVne under my no-
tice. Passer domesticus being the only one pure white. A speci-
men of A. linaria was recently captured, whose plumage was
white, with the exception of the crimson patch on the crown.
The other examples are P! gramineus, M, melodia, J. Oregonus,
S. morUicoia, S. socialis, S, pusilla, Z. albicoUis, and P. tUiaca—M
these presenting a mottled plumage. In a specimen of Z. albi-
coUis, kindly presented to me by Mr. N. C. Brown, of Portland,



Digitized by VjOOQIC



22 QUARTERLY BULLETIN,

Maine, the head is pure white, with the exception of the yellow
superciliary stripe which remains and causes a marked contrast.

Tiie most interesting and striking cases of albinism are those
among the Icterida and Corvida^ and how many times have I as-
tonished disinterested persons by referring to a white Black-
bird or a white Crow, and to such persons it must indeed seem
very absurd to prefix " white"' before Blackbird, and also be-
fore Crow, for how common the comparison is, '^ as black as
a Crow,** but as previously remarked, this family are as likely
to be represented as any others. Several examples of S. magna
have been noted. D. oryzivorus has been taken in this plumage, as
has also M. pecoriSy A. phaniceus^ X. ioterocephalus^ Q, purpureas^
and C. crisUUiu, This last was a beautiful specimen of a pe-
culiar character of albinism, the bright plumage being modi-
fied as though a white veil had been thrown over it, yet all the
natural markings of the birds could be plainly seen.

I am induced to think that among the Tyranmda but few ex-
amples have been detected, as T, CaroLinensis is the only exam-
ple I have ever heard of. This specimen was in the collection
of Mr. James Booth at Niagara Falls. The bird has a stained
or creamy plumage, but the most interesting point is that the
flame-colored patch on the crown remains ; a case similar to A.
Unaria. C. auratus is the only example among the Picida that
has come under my notice. I have an extremely light colored
specimen of S, varius, which I collected at the Umbagog Lakes,
but am inclined to think that this was caused by old age.

Among the Strigidce a fine specimen of S. nebidosum is iu the
natural history museum at Niagara Falls. The only one
among the FdLcmdda^ on my list, is that of B, borealis^ a mag-
nificent example, pure white, taken on the Hobokeu marshes,
N. J. Among the Columlnda, E, migratorius is noted. Frequent
occurrences among the Tetraonida are Illustrated in C. cupidoy
B. umbelluSy and O. Virginianus, though occasional examples are
found in O. ;^itf •and L. Califanmus, A beautiful specimen of
B, umbellus was recently taken in West Bridgewater, Mass., its
plumage being white as the driven snow.

I have seen O. Virginianus having the veiled appearance aa
described in the Blue Jay.

An albino, C. fulvus var. virginicus, was shot on Cape Cod, in
September, 1875. This is the only instance which has come to
my knowledge of albinism occurring in any of our Plovers or



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUTTALL OUNITHOLOOICJLL CLtTB. 28

Sandpipers, and as these species are shot in such immense num-
bers during the migrations is it not a little strange that we do
not hear of more examples, as such curiosities are always pre-
served, even by the market gunner. P. minor and G. Wilsani
have been shot in white plumage, and thus onr four game-birds
have been added to the list

P. CetroHna^ in albinistic plumage is among the collection in
the Boston Museum. Examples of others of this family I have
not noted. I have seen nine species representing albinism among
the AnatidcB, A partial want of coloration in B, bemicla is an
interesting specimen ; A. boKhas^ Q. diseorg^ H. glaciaiis, F, affin*
is and P. vdUimtria^ bore more traces of albinism than of their
normal plumage, while specimens of B. dangttla, A. alhedUi^ and
O.fiaca^ uere pure white, this latter presenting almost as great
a contrast as in the case of the Crow. The ProceUariidcB are
represented by one species, P. giganieus^ which is in the collec-
tion of the Philadelphia Academy.

One of the finest and most attractive examples is among the
Cdyrntida^ a snow-white specimen of C septentrionalis^ which was
shot in Salem Harbor, Mass., and is now in my possession. A
similar curiosity is at the Smithsonian Institution. An albino
X. traile is in the Museum collection at Toronto, Canada. U.
grySe and M. aUe have also been recorded.

Many questions would naturally arise as to the cause of this
abnormal state in which so many of our birds are found, though
I believe it is generally understood to be a lack of the coloring
matter deposited in the cella of the feathers. It is certainly not
influenced hy any climatic changes or geographical distribution,
as specimens are taken throughout the country, and not more or
leas abundant in any locality ; nor is it caused by old age, for
we have heard of btoods of young Quail in albinistic state ac-
companied by white parents ; and another interesting example,
is that of a young Robin, milk-white, still unable to leave the
nest. This specimen was taken at Saybrook, Conn., by Mi*.
H. A. Purdie, who informs me that the parent birds were in
normal dress.

Whetlier any specimens hatched in this stage have been de-
tected to attain any of their regular plumage aftei* the moult, I
am unable to say, though should think it very doubtful. I have
heard ao instance of a white Robin building its nest for several
successive years on the same spot in an old wood-shed. This



Digitized by VjOOQIC



24 QUARTERLY BULLETIN.

was unquestionably the same bird, and its plumage remained
unaltered.

Another point still more curious is : Why are some families
of birds effected, as a rule, more than others? Cases among the
tringUUdcB^ Tetraonidas, and AncUida^ are of comparatively fre-
quent occurrence, while among such large families as the SyLui-
colidae^ Tyrannidae^ and Scolopaddae^ we bear of but occasional
examples. I will not express an opinion as to the truth of
this problem, but leave it for more experienced heads to ponder
over.

Another abnormal state (Melanism), in which our birds have
been found, is of exceedingly rare occurrence, and but five spe-
cies have been recorded on my list : — Turdzts migratorius^ Cciap-
tes auratits, Mdanerpes erythrocephaluSj Ortyx Virginianus^ and Uria
gryUe.

Doubtless many other examples of albinism, and perhaps a
few cases of melanism may be added to this list.



NOTES ON BIRDS FOUND BREEDING ON COBB'S ISLAND, VA.
BETWEEN MAY 25th AND MAY 29th. 1875.

BT H. B. BAILET.

During so short a visit to any place the birds noticed must
necessarily be only a small proportion of those actually occur-
ring. The following observations relate principally to those
breeding on the above named and two adjacent islands. Cobb's
Island is situated off Cape Charles, Virginia, and is about seven
miles long by half a mile wide and being little more than a sand
bar, is well adapted as a breeding resort for the various species
of Terns and Waders found there. The coast side of the island
is a magnificent beach which gradually rises up to an elevation
of about fifteen feet from sea level in the centre, on which there
is a rank growth of grass, while on the other side a long marsh
extends in some places as far as half or three quarters of a mile
from the main island at low water, but is nearly overflowed at
high tide. In addition to the species enumerated below there
were large numbers of shore birds migrating north, and several
sportsmen were enjoying such shooting as we never get on the



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUTTALL ORNITHOLOaiCAL CLUB. 25

New England coast, and doubtless nearly all the species of
Sandpipers, Plovers, Godwits, and Curlew, occur here both dur-
ing the spring and autumn migrations. In the fall and winter
the sea-fowl shooting is such as one would expect, and to judge
from the sportsmen's stories this is a perfect paradise for kin-
dred spirits. I must add my complaint to that of others against
the wholesale robbery of the eggs of nearly all species nesting
here. Numbers of eggers lay off the island and make the rounds
daily until procuring a cargo they leave to be followed by others.
The birds are robbed so often that they must eventually leave
for other breeding localities. Ovaries of many specimens ex-
amined by me were sadly depleted.

Dendr<Bca discolor, Bd. Prairie Warbler. A male was heard
singing in a swamp on Hog Island, and reminded me forcibly of
our own New England collecting.

Hmmdo horreorum, Bart. Bam Swallow. Several pairs were
breeding in the out-buildings connected with the settlement on
Cobb^s Island.

Ammodromusmaritimtu, Sw. Seaside Finch. Although not common it
was the most abundant land bird on the island, probably twenty pairs
breeding there. I succeeded in finding three nests, two of which con-
tained four eggs each, and one three, all fresh. They were placed in
clumps of grass, on the high ridge, in the centre of the island, very
carefully concealed, and quite neatly built of gi-asses, lined with fine
pieces of the same ; one of them was also arched over.

Agdttus phomkeus, Vieill. Red-winged Blackbird. One pair raised
a brood in a grape-vine arbor near the house and picked up cnimbs
from the piazza, reminding one of our common *• Chippy" in socia-
bility.

Canms Americanus, And. Common Crow. Several were seen
and heard on Hog Island, sometimes in company with the Fish Crow.

Comis osufragus, Wilson. Fish Crow. This species is quite
common on Hog and Mockhorn Islands, and I was fortunate enough
to obtain a set of five eggs, nearly fresh. These are very much
smaller than those of our common species, there being as mi:ch dif-
ference in sisfe as there is between those of the Raven and the Common
Crow. The nest cannot be distinguished from that of the latter, and
was about twenty-five feet from the ground, in a large pine, in-
which was also a nest of the Fish Hawk. The birds kept up a con-
tmnal croaking while we were disturbing their trersures.

Tyron/ita Caro&'nen5t5, Temin. King Bird. Several pairs had young
nearly full grown.
4



Digitized by



Google



26 QUARTERLY BULLETIN.

Pandion haUaetus, Cav. Fish Hawk. About fifty pairs were
breeding on Hog Island, which is about ten miles from Cobb's, and is a
very favorable locality, as it is covered with a dense growth of pines
which have, however, been killed off at one end of the island by the
sand being blown up year after year, and in these dead trees are the
Fish Hawks nests, some fifteen feet from the ground, and some less.
Two were found placed on the ground, although it was evident
they were once in a tree, above ground, thus showing the reluc-
tance this species has of leaving its chosen site. Some few pair
had nests in live trees in the centre of the island, which were unat-
tainable by me. The nests are veiy large, some of them would fill
a tip-cart, and the birds seem to add to them year after year ; those
on the ground being evidently the oldest, and these were fully six
feet across. The eggs were all nearly hatched, and in only one case
did I find young, but they are usually laid by the 15th of April. Sev-
eral pairs were also found on Mockhom Island, in the Heronry,

JEgialitis mlsonim, Cass. Wilson's Plover. •'Stuttering Bird" of
the inhabitants. This is comparatively a rare bird on the island, only
about a dozen pairs breeding, and their eggs are very hard to find,
being laid on the dry sand above high water mark, in a slight de-
pression, among shells, and usually in the localities chosen by the
Least Terns, and were in all cases three in number. The birds were
very shy and seldom seen about their nests.

fiiwjMi^opu»paflia<M5,Temm. Oyster Catcher. ** Rain Crow." This
species was formerly quite common during the breeding season, but
it has been driven away until now there are not more than half a dozen
pairs on the whole island, and these were distributed over its entire
length. Their nests were more than half a mile apait, and all. of
them had been robbed by the eggei-s excepting two, both of which
oontamed three eggs, and I believe this to be their full complement.
The nests are slight hollows in the dry sand, lined with small bits of
shells, and are quite easily found. The eggs are much sought ;for by
the inhabitants, owing to their size and delicious flavor, which latter
quality I cannot testify to, as none were eaten while I was there ; the
few obtained found their way into my collection. The birds are
never seen in the vicinity of the nests during the heat of the day, and
are very shy at all times.

Totanus smipalmatus, Temm. Willet. Breeds in large numbers on
the island, and are not molested while nesting, as they are left for
the fall shooting, and this is the only species that can enjoy the privi-
lege of breeding in peace, the egg^ of all the others are subjected to
all the mysteries of the cuisine. Their usual nesting place is on the
higher parts of the island, among the grass, where they conceal
their nests so effectually that it is only by flushing the female directly
from the eggs that the nests can be discovered. In this situation



Digitized by



Google



NUTTALL ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB. 27

they are very slight structures, being depressions in clumps of
grass, lined with finer grasses. The marshes are also favorite local-
ities for breeding, and in this case the nests are more elaborate, being
built up from the ground, which is wet at high tide. The eggs were
in all cases four, very slightly incubated.

Ardea herodias, Linn. Great Blue Heron. There were two Heron-
ries on Mockhorn Island, one of which contained some fifty nests ;
as they were in a swamp I did not attempt to reach them, but pre-
sume they had young. The other breeding place was on a neck of
land that i*an out ^om the main island, and here the nests were all
made in low, dead trees, and were immense afifalrs. Almost all con-
tained three or four young, nearly gi'own ; some few contained fresh
6ggs, and others had them with large embryos. Whether these
were second layings or not I am unable to say, but they undoubtedly
were, as these birds are seldom disturbed.

Ardea candidissimaf Gm. Little White Egret. One bird was
seen and a few may still breed in the Heronry, but it is exceedingly
rare now where it was common a few years since, which may be
accounted for by their being continually shot for the sake of their
feathers.

Ardea vhrescens, Linn. Green jHeron. Several pairs were breed-
ing, and all had fresh eggs, which were five in number, and most
zealously watched by their parents.

Rallus longirostrit Bodd. Clapper Rail. Very common, and breeds
in immense numbers all through the marshes and high gi'ass on the
main land. Although seldom seen the number of nests found testify
to their abundance. These are carefully concealed, but are betrayed
by a habit the bird has of bending the surrounding grass over the
nest, thus forming a complete cone which can be seen at a consider,
able distance. These usually contained eight or ten eggs, but one
that I found had fourteen, while others found nests with over twen-
ty, but it is possible that these were the products of two females.
Although immense numbers were being brought in every day by
the QggQv^^ nearly all of the nests found by me contained eggs near-
ly hatched, and I think by the first of May their full complement
must be laid.

Larus airidUa, Linn. Laughing Gull. This species is the most
abundant on the island and breeds in large colonies on every
suitable marsh. When one of their breeding places is approached
the noise is perfectly deafening and their eggs can be picked up by
the bushel. Never more than three in a nest were found but the
birds are so frequently disturbed by eggers that it is doubtful if they
ever succeed in raising a full brood. Residents inform me that as
late as August fresh eggs may be taken.



Digitized by



Google



28 QUARTERLY BULLETIN.

Sterna anglicay Mont. Marsh Tern. A few pairs were seen,
but they had not commenced to breed during my visit; they
nest here sparingly, however, as I had a set of their eggs sent me
which were laid the last of June.

Sterna regiay Gamb. Royal Tern. Called "Gannets** by the na-
tives. They have always been found breeding on a small sand-bar
off the island, bat it was washed away during the winter of '74-5,
and although the birds were flying around they bad not chosen any
spot on which to breed, but they undoubtedly did later.



Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 3 of 50)