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upon the abdomen, with dull black. From a specimen in my collection
obtained at Columbus, Ohio, by Dr. J. M. Wheaton.

73. Bnspisa amerioana.

First plumage. Above pale fulvous, with broad markings of dark brown
upon the feathers of the interscapular region, and narrower fainter ones
of lighter brown upon the crown. Bend of wing, middle and greater cov-
erts, fulvous. Under parts delicate fawn-color, deepest upon the breasts
No markings beneath, excepting a faintly indicated line of dusky spots
upon the sides of the breast. From a specimen in my cabinet collected
at Columbus, Ohio, by Dr. J. M. Wheaton. This bird is very yoimg,
scarcely large enough to fly.

74. CyanoBpisa oyanea.

Fir$t plumage: female. Above dark reddish-brown, slightly tinged
with olive, a few of the feathers upon the interscapular region with very
obscure dusky central markings. Beneath pale reddish-brown, deepest
upon the abdominal and anal regions ; streaked distinctly on the sides
and across the breast with dusky brown. From a specimen in my cabi-
net collected at Cambridge, Mass., July 15, 1872.

75. Pyrrhnlozla sinuata.

Fint plumage : male. Above light ashy-brown, palest on crown and
nape. Two rather indistinct wing-bands of fulvous ashy. Crest similar
to that of adult, but of a lighter red ; bill much darker than in adult
Breast and sides brownish-ash with a few scattered feathers of faint crim-
son on the median line of the breast and abdomen. From a specimen in
my collection obtained by Dr. H. B. Butcher on the Rio Grande in Texas,
August 29, 1866. This specimen was moulting, and had already acquired
many feathers of the fall dress. The red feathers of the crest and under
parts would probably be wanting in very young birds.

76. Pipilo erythrophthalmaa.

First plumage : male. Above dull reddish-olive, the feathers of the
interscapular region with dusky brown centres. Greater wing-coverts
and outer edges of two inner tertiaries, deep fulvous. Beneath pale led-
dish-brown, deepest upon sides and crissum, shading into brovmish- white
upon the abdomen, thickly spotted and streaked everywhere (excepting
on a small space upon the abdomen) with dull black. From a specimen
in my collection shot in Cambridge, Mass., June 21, 1874. In a large
series of young in first plumage much individual variation occurs. Some
specimens are thickly and finely streaked beneath with dull chestnut in
place of black, ij^hile the upper parts are dull rufous ; others, taken during
the progress of the first moult, exhibit nearly every conceivable variation
of marking in reddish-brown, chestnut, white, and black.

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Mebriak on Birds of Lewis County y New York. 123

77. Molothms ater.

First plumage : female. Above olivaceous-brown, the primaries, secon-
daries, greater and middle coverts, and every feather upon the nape and
interscapular region, edged with light sugar-brown. Superciliary line .
and entire under parts delicate brownish-yellow. The throat and lower
area of abdomen immaculate ; everywhere else thickly streaked with
purplish-drab. From a specimen in my cabinet taken at Cambridge,
Mass., August 4, 1875. A male in first plumage diflfers in being much
darker and more thickly streaked beneath. Specimens in process of
change into the autumnal plumage are curiously patched and marked
wiUl the light brown of the first plumage and the darker feathers of the
fall dress. Ail tiU remiges and Tutrices are moulted with the rest of the
first plumage during the first moult.


{Continued from p. 66.^

Melanerpes erythrooephaluB. Red-headed Woodpecker. — This
handsome bird, the most beautiful, to my eye, of all our Woodpeckers,
may be regarded as a common resident in Lewis County ; for since my
earliest recollection — and the bird has always been a favorite with me —
it has been plentiful throughout the entire year, excepting only during
those winters which followed unusually small yields of beechnuts.

Like the Yellow-bellied and Golden-winged Woodpeckers, and to a cer-
tain extent the Red-bellied also, it is generally considered a truly migra-
tory species wherever it occurs at all (in the Eastern Province) north of
the Southern States. In 1862 Dr. Coues gave it as a " summer resident " in
the District of Columbia, stating that it ^* arrives in spring usually the
last week in April ; leaves about the middle of September.'' * Tumbull
says (1860) that in East Pennsylvania and New Jersey it is " plentiful,
arriving in the latter part of April, and departing in September or begin-
ning of October." t Again, in 1868, Coues gives it as a " rare summer
visitant "X to New England, and De Kay tells us (1843) that it " arrives in

* List of Birds ascertained to inhabit the District of Columbia. By Elliott
Coues and D. Webster Prentiss. From Smithsonian Report for 1861, 1862,
p. 403.

+ Birds of East Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By William P. Tumbull,
LL D. Glasgow (Cuts), p. 15, 1869.

X Proceed. Essex Inst, Vol. V, p. 268, 1868.

Digitized by


124 Meerum on Birds of Lewis County, New Yorh

this State from the South in the early part of May, and, after breeding,
leaves us again in September ; occasionally a few remain during the win-
ter." * Hence it is not to be wondered at that when, during the winter of
1871 - 72, 1 mentioned to one of our leading ornithologists the fact of their
wintering with us in Northern New York, my statement was received
with surprise and, as I thought, no little incredulity. I therefore wrote
to my friend, Mr. C. L. Bagg, asking him to send me a lot of Red-headed
Woodpeckers as soon as possible, and in a week's time received a box con-
taining over twenty specimens, — all killed in Lewis County and when
the snow was three feet deep 1 This was proof positive. Notes kept by Mn
Bagg and myself during the past six years show that they were abundant
here during the winters of 1871 - 72, 1873 - 74, 1875 - 76, and 1877 - 78 ;
while they were rare or did not occur at all during the winters of 1872 - 73
and 1876- 77. Their absence was in no way governed by the severity of
the winters, but entirely dependent upon the absence of the usual supply
of beechnuts. While the greater portion of nuts fall to the ground and
are buried beneath the snow far beyond the. reach of the Woodpeckers,
yet enough remain on the trees all winter to furnish abundant subsistence
for those species which feed on them.

I have previously called attention to the fact that in this locality " they
subsist almost exclusively on beechnuts, of which evidently they are ex-
tremely fond, eating them, apparently with equal relish, whether green or
fully matured. It is truly a beautiful sight to watch these magnificent
birds, together with their equally abundant cousins, the Yellow-belh'ed
Woodpeckers (Sphyrapictu varitu), creeping about, after the manner of the
Warblers, among the small branches and twigs, which bend low with their
weight while picking and husking the tender nuts, — the bright crimson
of the head, neck, and breast, the glossy blue-black back and creamy- white
belly, together with the scarcely less striking colors of their yellow-bellied
companions, contrast handsomely with the deep green foliage," ♦ — a scene
suggestive of the oft-dreamed-of avian paradise amidst the rich verdure
of the tropics rather than the cold forests bordering the Canadian Fauna.
Then, as they spread their beautiful wings and in graceful undulatcoy
flight pass from wood to wood, their bright plumage glistening in the sun,
and, alighting on the farther side of some convenient tree, peep cautiously
about to see if intruders are near, one is so wrapped in admiration that he
wishes the days of sorcery and magic had not yet gone, that he might be
transformed into one of these splendid birds.

They are suspicious creatures, and if danger threatens, utter a hoarse
rattling cry, not at all in harmony with their pretty exterior, and are off
in an instant If slowly and stealthily approached, they sometimes hesi-

* Ornithology of New York, p. 185, 1844.
t Birds of Connecticut, p. 66, 1877.

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Merriam on Birds of Lewis County, New York. 125

tate before taking flight, and mn up the trunks muttering to them-
selves in a grumbling, dissatisfied sort of a way, but taking good care to
keep the tree well between them and the intruder, at whom, meanwhile,
they take an occasional peep, exposing little more than the bill and one
eye, however, so that it is no easy matter to shoot them.

During the autumn the scattered pairs for several miles around usually
congr^^te in some suitable wood, containing a plenty of beech-trees, and
here spend the long cold winter in company, chattering and chasing one an-
other about among the trees to keep warm, and to help while away the time.
" (Joe's woods," in this immediate vicinity, has long been famous as the
great winter resort for the Red-headed Woodpeckers of the neighborhood,
and it is certainly the most suitable place for their purposes to be found
for many miles around. This piece of woods, not over an eighth of a
mile in extent, contains, besides hundreds of beeches {Fa^gus ferruginea)f
a large number of elms (Ulmua americana), and white ash.trees (Fraxinus
americana) of great size, most of the tops of which are now dead. What
more favorable location than this woods could a Woodpecker desire ?
Here they have beechnuts in abundance and a bountiful supply of dead
limbs and tree-tops far above the reach of the small charges commonly
used by bird-collectors.

The Red-headed Woodpeckers have a very provoking way of keeping
on the upper side of a very high limb, so that, from below, one can get
little more than an occasional glimpse of the bird's head, and an expect-
ant gazing upward at this is very apt to prove unsatisfactory and to result
in a stiff neck. At such times, as if in defiance, their harsh rattling note
is constantly repeated, and they are rarely quiet unless taken by surprise
at close quarters, when they generally slide quickly to the opposite side
of the tree, and after running up a short distance, take flight. Still they
are by no means so noisy as the Yellow-bellied fellows, who, not content
with stretching to the utmost their vocal powers, take especial delight in
drumming on hard resonant trees, eave-troughs, and tin roofs.

Though not particularly quarrelsome in disposition, they evidently
enjoy an occasional row, both among themselves and with other inhabi-
tants of the forest. But a short time since (May 14), while passing
through Coe's woods, I heard a great commotion among the Woodpeckers,
and found a couple of Melanerpes worrying a pair of Downy Woodpeckers
(Picus puhescens), who had made their nest in a hole in the dead beech,
which was the seat of the difficulty. They chased and dove at one
another for some time, the Red-heads being the aggressive party, and made
considerable bluster and noise, but, so far as actual fighting was concerned,
neither party seemed to make much headway ; and I put an end to the
affray by shooting the MelanerpeSy who were so excited that they did
not notice me at all. At another time, in midwinter (January, 1876), my
attention was called, by the noise they made, to a pair of Red-headed
Woodpeckers who were diving at something on one of the highest limbs of

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126 Merrum on Birds of Lewis County, New York

a large elm. A near approach showed the object of their malice to be a
handsome black squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis var. leucotis, Allen), who
had been unfortunate enough to excite their ire by climbing a tree in
broad daylight. The squirrel at first evaded their attacks from above by
clinging to the under surface of the limb, and dodged their lateral shoots
by a quick side shift, but this was temporary. The Woodpeckers,
realizing that they were not tormenting the squirrel to a satisfactory ex-
tent, alighted for a brief council, during which the squirrel took occasion
to commence a hasty retreat. But the birds were at him again in an
instant, this time changing their tactics, and both dove together, the one
following closely behind the other, so that as the squirrel dodged the first
he was sure to be stnick by the second. The blows from their hard bills
were so severe and so painful that the poor squirrel had not been struck
half a dozen times when he let go his hold and fell to the ground, but
was off and up another tree before I could reach the spot I witnessed a
similar attack upon a gray squirrel (color-variety of same species) last
August, but this time the squirrel succeeded in getting into a hollow limb.
The time of year at which the above instances occurred precludes the pos-
sibility that the cause of the difficulty ^arose from an intrusion on the
nesting-grounds of the Woodpeckers, for the first took place in midwinter,
and the second after the young were fully fledged and had left the nest
Neither is it at all likely that the trouble was due to an old grudge which
might have arisen from a habit, on the part of the squirrel, of robbing the
Woodpeckers of their eggs, for the size of the animal is such as to prevent
his ready entrance into the Woodpecker's hole, and should he even succeed
in getting in he would doubtless pay the penalty with his eyes if not his
life. Hence it seems fair to conclude that the disposition of the bird is not
altogether in keeping with its pretty plumage, but that it sometimes plays
the part of tyrant over those who, from lack of wings or inferiority of size,
are unable to offer adequate resistance.

•. During the summer months, when beechnuts are striving to become
young trees, and insects are particularly abundant, they feed largely on
the latter ; and in autumn, in some parts of the country, destroy large
quantities of fruit, " ripe cherries and pears seeming to be a favorite

Like other Woodpeckers they procure larvae by puncturing dead limbs,
and mature insects by searching crevices in the bark, but, unlike other
members of the family, they also capture their prey in mid-air, after the
manner of the tmc Flycatchers. Thus occupied, I have several times seen
them from fence-posts, and twice from the dead top of " the old gum-tree"
(a large spruce), make frequent sallies into the air after passing insects,
which were almost invariably secured, so accurate was their aim. Atten-
tion has already been called to their fly-catching proQlivitiea by Mr.

* J. P. Giraud, Jr. Birds of Long Island, p. 180, 1844.


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Merriam en Birds of Lewis County, New York, 127

Samuel Calvin * and other8.t In Humboldt County, Iowa, they must
be badly demoralized, for Mr. Ctiarles Aldrich states that there they some-
times amuse themselves by biaining young poultry. He says : *' On
watching carefully to ascertain the cause, a Red-headed Woodpecker {Mela-
nerpes erythrocephalus) was caught in the act. He killed the tender
duckling with a single blow on the head, and then pecked out and ate the
brains ! " X

In the last number of the Bulletin Mr. H. 6. Bailey published a letter,
relative to the food of this species, from Mr. G. S. Agersborg, of Vermilion,
Dakota Ter., which is of such unusual interest that I take the liberty of
reproducing part of it here : *' Last spring, in opening a good many birds of
this species with the object of ascertaining their principal food, I foimd in
their stomachs nothing but young grasshoppers. One of them, which had
its headquarters near my house, was observed making frequent visits to an
old oak post, and on exaniining it I found a large crack where the Wood-
pecker had inserted about one hundred grasshoppers of all sizes (for future
use, as later observations proved), which were put in without killing them,
but they were so firmly wedged in the crack that they in vain tried to get
free. I told this to a couple of farmers, and found that they had also seen
the same thing, and showed me the posts which were used for the same
purpose." §

Gentry says that in Union and Northumberland counties, in Pennsyl-
vania, " no later than the 10th of August," he has " seen immense flocks,
numbering hundreds, in orchards, gleaning among the trunks and branches
of apple-trees, for the insects which lurk in their creviced bark. So tame
and confiding were they that it was possible to approach within a few
paces of them without exciting suspicion or creating alarm." || "Not being
a migratory species with us, in Northern New York (tmless forced to leave
by scarcity of food), they are never met with in large flocks, and their
wariness depends, of course, upon the amount of persecution to which they
are subjected. Well do I remember a winter, about twelve years ago, when
in Coe's woods 'Mr. Bagg and I used to hunt them on snow-shoes with
bow and arrow. Then they would often alight close to us, and occasion-
ally paid dearly for their audacity.

During the simimer and early autumn they are generally more easily
approached than when in winter-quarters.

Yesterday (May 29), while passing a dead stub, I noticed a Red-headed

* American Naturalist, Vol. XI, No. 8, p. 471, August, 1878.

t Harper's Magazine, and Forest and Stream, Vol. IX, No. 24, p. 451, Jan.
17, 1878.

t American Naturalist, VoL XI, No. 5, p. 808, May, 1877.

§ BiiU. Nutt. Omith. Qub, Vol. Ill, No. 2, p. 97, April, 1878.

i) Thos. G. Gentry. Life Histories of the Birds of Eastern Pennsylvania,
Vol. II, p. 148, 1877.

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128 BiCKNELL on the Carolinian Fauna

Woodpecker fly from a hole in its side about twenty feet from tiie
ground. On shaking the stub I could distinctly hear young birds within,
which greatly surprised me, for many of them are not yet breeding, as shown
by the size of their ovaries. The parent bird immediately returned,
flying about overhead, and sometimes alighted on the stub, uttering, eveiy
now and then, her characteristic ker-r-r-ruck, ker-ruck-ruck-rnck.



The restrictionary causes circumscribing geographical diTisioos of
animal and vegetable life, though as yet but imperfectly under-
stood, are well known to bear little relation to absolute latitudinal
parallels, but to be largely independent of these equidistant surface
divisions, and likewise to a certain extent uncomformable with iso-
thermal lines. The boundaries of faunal areas are usually of an
extremely irregular nature, and in their territorial relations con-
tiguous faunse often present a series of mutual interpenetrations,
the apparent invasion by one province of an adjoining district of
course being coincident with an opposite extension or penetration
of the invaded territory.

Thus from near the northeastern boundary of the Carolinian
Fauna two main branches emanate, — one striking up into the valley
of the Hudson ; the other extending along the Connecticut coast
and into the Connecticut valley, through which reaching the Mas-
sachusetts border.* The relations between these two tributaries
at their junction with the main body of the fauna to which they
belong, or their consolidation before reaching that point, is at pres-
ent but very superficially understood; but from what knowledge
we have in the matter it would appear that their interception
occurred somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson, thus includ-
ing New York City and vicinity in the angle formed by their

The northern limit of the Hudson River branch is as yet unde-

* A Review of the Birds of Connecticut. By C. Hart Merriaro, p. 1, 1877.

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in the Lower Hudson Valley. 29

tennined; but at Eiverdale, where, unless otherwise stated, the
follow iug observations were taken, the Carolinian Fauna is well
represented by the regular occurrence of such characteristic species
as Helmitherus vermivorus, HelmirUhophaga pinus, Icteria virenSf
JfytodiocUs mitrattts, Stelgidopteryx serripenniSf and Bmpidonax
aeadicus, and the occasional occurrence of other equally character-
istic Carolinian forms, notices of which follow.

MimuB polyglottis. Mockino-Bird. An individual of this 8|)ecie8
was seen on October 28, 1877, and on November 21, of the same year, a
specimen was shot from a fence by the roadside, by a friend, and kindly
presented to me. The bird had been observed near the same place on
the previous day feeding on the berries of a cedar {Junipenu virginiaTia),
It proved to be a female, and was in good condition, the stomach contain-
ing cedar berries, and also those of the common poke or pigeon l>erry
{Phytolacca). I am aware of two specimens having been seen in the Cen-
tral Park -within the last few years, probably wild birds ; and two have
recently been killed on Long Island by Newbold T. Lawrence.*

ZK>phop]ianes bioolor. Tufted Titmouse. On November 29, 1874,
one of these birds appeared in a certain piece of open woodland in the
vicinity, and for several weeks thereafter was occasionally noticed about
the same spot, and without doubt remained during the winter, as 1 am
almost certain of having heard it in January, and the following Mar^h it
was often seen or heard about the same woods, being then in full song.
It disappeared after March 28. Mr. Geo. N. Lawrence informs me that
some years ago, late in the fall, he noticed a number of these birds near
Williams Bridge, but a few miles from Riverdale.

Thrjothoma ladovioianus. CAROLmA Wren. A specimen was
taken in the late fall several years ago by Mr. W. K Babcock, on a par-
tially wooded slope extending toward the river shore. Two instances of
its occurrence on Manhattan Island are recorded by Mr. Lawrence,t and De
Kay (p. 55) speaks of having had specimens from Westchester and Rock-
land Counties, taken as late as the middle of December.

Helmithems vermivoma. Worh-eating Warbler. This species
is not uncommon during the summer, usually arriving the second week in
May (May 2, this year) ; and, in 1876, 1 knew of at least five pairs that
reared their broods in the immediate vicinity. In the previous year I
secured a nest with complement of five eggs, partially incubated on 4 une
13, and have found young birds able to fly on the 27th of the same
month. In very young birds, scarcely able to fly, the olive of the adult
is only apparent on the remiges, the remainder of the plumage being of a

* Forest and Stream, Vol. X, No. 13, p. 235, May 2, 1878.
t A Catologue of the Birds observed in the Vicinity of New York. By Geo.
N. Lawrence. 1866, p. 283.

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130 BiCKNELL on the Carolinian Fauna

general brownish and deep bufiy suffusion, very similar to the color of deaA
leaves, especially on the breast, and rendering their detection when among
the leaves of their favorite haunts very difficult. Does not this adaptation
of color to environment in the case of these helpless young appear to be an
instance of protective mimicry ?

Helminthophaga pinuB. Blue- winged Yellow Warbler. Com-
mon during the summer, and regularly breeding. Arrives after the first
week in May (May 2, in 1878), and incubation commences by the last of
the month.

Helminthophaga ohryaoptera. Qolden-winoed Warbler. —
Though this species must be of somewhat regular occurrence, I have but
one record from the immediate vicinity, a male seen on May 11, 1875.

Oporomia formoaaa. Kentucky Warbler. — Have taken but one
specimen in the vicinity, an adult male on May 30, 1875. Mr. J. Wal-
lace informs me that this species occurs during the breeding-season, at Fort
Lee^ N. J., and that some years since a nest and five eggs with the female
bird was taken at that locality. Has been found breeding at Sing Sing,
by Mr. A. K. Fisher, N. Y.*

Myiodiootea mitratua. Hooded Warbler.— Within the confines of
a tract of somewhat elevated though diversified woodland, this species
may be seen or heard every day in the early summer after the middle of
May, though 'only on rare occasions has it been noted at other places in
the vicinity. In these woods the ground reaches an elevation of (approxi-
mately) two hundred and fifty feet, very nearly as high as any land in the
vicinity, and here these birds may be found breeding indifferently on the
open or wooded summits, or at their base near the low swampy growth
bordering the woods. Owing to the encroachment of the Cow Buntings,
but a single bird was reared between two nests which I discovered in
1875. I have females in my collection representing well the state of plu-

Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 40 of 50)