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

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about ten to one. Eggs of both species were found in the same nest I

Melanerpea erythrooephaliis. Red-headed Woodpecker. — Ex-
ceedingly abundant and very tame. By far the most numerous species
of the family.

Faloo oommonis nasTiiui. Duck Hawk. — This is by no means a
rare bird in the heavy timber of the river bottoms. Three nests were found
in the immediate vicinity of the town, and no doubt more could have been
found in localities not explored. All were placed in cavities in the top
of very large sycamore-trees, and were inaccessible. One of these trees
was felled, however, the peculiar character of the base and decided inclina-
tion of the trunk from the perpendicular rendering this a comparatively
easy matter. The swollen base of this tree was twenty-six feet in circum-
ference, the cylindrical portion of the trunk itself, some seven feet above,
being sixteen and one half feet around. The base was hollow, and had
been reduced by fire to an average thickness of less than a foot, while the
axis of the tree leaned some thirty degrees from the perpendicular. It
therefore required only the severing of the wall on the side of tension, for
a distance of four or five feet, to destroy the equilibrium of the tree,
which soon came down with a terrific crash. Measurements with a tape-
line showed the nest to have been eighty-nine feet from the ground, its
location being a shallow cavity, caused by the breaking off of the main
limb, the upper part of which projected over sufficiently to form a pro-
tection from the sun and rain. This limb was four feet in diameter ; the
total height of the tree, although the whole top had been blasted by
storms, was one hundred and fifteen feet, so that its original height must

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166 PuRDIE on (he Yellow-bellied Hyeateher,

have been not less than one hundred and fifty feet. Four full-feathered
young were taken from the nest, only one of them being killed by the Ml,
while one waa entirely uninjured. The* female parent had been Bhot a
few days before.

lotinla mlMiMlppieiuiis. Misbisbippi Kite. — This species is mock
less common in the vicinity of Mount Carmel than in the prairie districts.
Several were seen about the river, however, as well as on the border of
Washbume Pond, in the Cypress Swamp.

Cathaxiates atratQS. Black Yulturs. — Several solitary specimens
were seen in the Cypress Swamp, where it was evident from their actions
they were breeding.

Ibia alba. White Ibis. — An addition to the fauna of the State. A
flock of seven or eight individuals, all in the gray plumage of the young,
seen flying along the river about the Sch of May.



Of the breeding habits of this bird published accounts are some*
what meagre and unsatisfactory. In Baird, Brewer, and Eidg-
way*s " History of North American Birds," Dr. T. M. Brewer states
that he found a nest of this species at Grand Menan placed in the
fork of a low alder-bush. It was built loosely of soft bark-strips,
lined with light-colored grass, and much resembled the nest of the
common Indigo Bird. Other nests collected at Halifax were in low
bushes and composed of '' stubble." The eggs were chalky-white,
unspotted, and more oblong than those of the Least Flycatdier
{Empidonax minim'us). Eggs, however, found by Mr. G. A. Board-
man at Calais, Me., were dotted with reddish-brown. Dr. Coues, in
" Birds of the Northwest," simply says : " The egg of flaviventrie is
pure white, unmarked, and not distinguishable from that of E. mini-
mua." But he writes me, " I know nothing of the nest and eggs
of E. flaviventrUf but what I have read." In " Ornithology of the
Clarence King Survey " (VoL IV, p. 644) Mr. Ridgway, in a foot-note
to the Western Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (E, difficUis), remarks : "It
is with little hesitation that we consider this bird as distinct spe-
cifically from E. Jlavivenfris, Not only are there very conspicuous
and constant differences in proportions and colors (especially the

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PURDIE on the YdhW'hdlied Flycatcher. 167

former), but numerous observers have noticed remarkable and
important peculiarities in the nesting habits, the present species
almost invariably building its nest in cavities, either of stumps,
trees, or rocks, or on beams inside of buildings, — a habit not jet
noticed in E, flaviventrit^ nor, indeed, in any other species of Uie
genus." That at least the nesting habits of the two are not always
different, I think the following will show.

On a collecting trip made by Mr. Ruthven Deane and myself to
Houlton, Aroostook County, Me., during the second and third
weeks in June of this year, we were fortimate enough to secure the
much-desired nest and eggs of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. For
its possession we are under obligations to Robert R. McLeod, Esq.,
and to one of his collectors, Mr. James Bradbury, who discovered the
nest, both surrendering all claim to the prize, but desirous that a
description should be given for the benefit of all interested.

Mr. Bradbury informed us that he had found, on June 15, a nest
unknown to him with one egg. On Uie 18th he conducted us to
the edge of a wooded swamp, and, pointing to the roots of an up-
turned tree, said the nest was there. We approached cautiously,
and soon saw the structure and then the sitting bird, which ap-
peared to be sunken in a ball of green moss. Our eager eyes were
within two feet <d her, thus easily identifying the species, when she
darted offi^ but, to make doubly sure, Mr. Deane shot her. There
was no mistake ; we at last had a genuine nest and eggs of the
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. A large dwelling it was for so small
and trim a bird. Built in and on to the black mud clinging to the
roots, but two feet from the ground, the bulk of the nest was com-
posed of dry moss, while the outside was faced with beautiful fresh
green mosses, thickest around the rim or parapet. The home of
the Bridge Pewee (Sayomis fusciU) was at once suggested. But
no mud entered into the actual composition of the nest, though at
first we thought so, so much was clinging to it when removed.*
The lining was mainly of fine black rootlets, with a few pine-needles
and grass-stems. The nest gives the following measurements:
depth inside, one and one half inches ; depth outside, four and a
quarter inches ; circumference inside, seven and a quarter inches.

The eggs, four in number, were perfectly fresh, rounded oval in

* Dr. J. G. Cooper has said that the Western bu*d uses mud for the shell of
its nest. He has, however, written me that he was mistaken, and that earth is
not employed.

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168 Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama,

shape, and of a beautiful rosj-white tint, well spotted with a light
reddish shade of brown. They closely resemble the eggs of B.
difficilis I have from California, and other sets of eggs of that bird
I have lately seen. The nest and contents are now in Mr. Deane*s
collection. It will be seen that the whole affair was not unlike
the descriptions given of the nest and eggs of E. difficilis by Dr. J.
G. Cooper of Haywood, Cal.

The nests and eggs mentioned by Dr. Brewer differ so much from
those here described that it seems reasonable to suppose that there
was some error of identification in the nests foimd by him as cited
above, so great is the variation presented between his nests and
eggs and ours ; for it seems hardly probable that this Flycatcher
should be so very inconstant, both as to the materials and situa-
tion of the nest, and as to whether it lays spotted or unspotted
eggs. In the National Museum at Washington there are three sets
of eggs accredited to £, flavtventris. The eggs of one of these sets
are spotted, those of the other two are not, and these latter are
strongly suggestive of those of the Least Flycatcher ; so write me
Messrs. Robert Ridgway and H. W. Henshaw.

As no accounts of the breedmg of £, difficilis have yet appeared
in any ornithological works, the following references to the nesting
habits may be useful : Proc. CaL Acad. Sci., Vol. VI, p. 199, Dec,
1876; Am. Nat., Vol. X, p. 93, Feb., 1876; The Naturalist and
Fancier, Grand Rapids, Mich., Vol. I, p. 43, Nov., 1877.




CoosADA is a little station on the North and South Alabama
Railroad, ten miles north of Montgomery. The population, consist-
ing of planters and their attendant negroes, is sparse, and nowhere
attains sufficient density to produce a regular village. The country
is rather flat, occasionally rolling slightly, and in its uncultivated
portions is mostly covered with a dense growth of pines of various
species. There are a few dry groves of oak and " black jack," but
the hard- wood trees are principally confined to the creek bottoms
and margins of swamps, where they flourish in the typical Southern
luxuriance and variety, interspersed with cane and overrun by

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Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama. 169

numerous parasitical vines. Within two miles of the railway
station runs the Alabama River, affording, with its parent stieams,
the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and its tributary creeks and '^ branches,"
the most productive country for the ornithologist.

The following list embodies the results of my observations at
Coosada, between the dates of January 21 and April 30, 1878,
with the hearty and efficient co-operation of Mr. J. H. Bond, of
Portland, during the first nine weeks of my stay. It has not been
prepared with a view to presenting a complete catalogue of the
birds inhabiting even the limited extent of country under consider-
ation. Such was the remarkable lateness of the migration, that
additional species were detected up to the very day of my depart-
ure, and I have no doubt that others subsequently made their
appearance. Whether further investigations in the locality would
prove the occurrence there of such missing members of the supposi-
tive local fauna as Cyanospiza ciris, Helmithertis vermivorut, Helmin-
thophaga pinuSy etc., is, therefore, to some extent a matter of doubt.

1. Tardus migratorius, L. Robin. — An abundant winter visitor,
becoming uncommon towards the middle of April, and disappearing be-
fore the end of that month. The males were songless during their stay.

2. Tordua mnatelinus, Qm. Wood Thrush. — Arrived April 13
in full song. They were never very common, inhabited only swampy
thickets and hard- wood groves, and were extremely shy.

3. Tardus pallaai, Cab. Hermit Thrush. — Common and generally
distributed up to within a few days of my departure. I was surprised, in
this southern latitude, to find that the males became musical as spring
advanced. On March 16 I heard the first song, and during the following
three weeks it was one of the commonest wood sounds.

4. Mimas polyglottas, (L.) Boie. Mockino-bird. — Abundant resi-
dent. I heard the first song February 26, — a week after the birds began
to sing in Montgomery. Two weeks later I observed several pairs desul-
torily at work on their nests, but, with the exception of a single comple-
ment found on the 12th of April, discovered no eggs until about April 21.

After a brief sojourn at Coosada, I came to regard this bird with intense
dislike, on account of its extreme quarrelsomeness. Those in the imme-
diate vicinity of my lodgings were almost constantly employed in driving
other birds from the neighborhood. Upon one occasion, a Robin sitting
quietly in a tree over my head was so fiercely attacked by a Mocking-bird
that he fell almost lifeless at my feet A friend rescued him from further
injury, and after the bird revived gave him his liberty ; he had scarcely
flown a dozen yards, however, before he was again savagely set upon by a
Mocking-bird, and escaped only through his greater power of wing.

VOL. IlL 12

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170 Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama.

5. BSlmtui oarolinensis, (L.) Gray. Catbird. — Arrived April 13.
Did not become common, and was not heard to sing.

6. Harporhynohua rufua, (L.) Cab. Brown Thrxtsh. — A common
resident, well known by its alias " Thrasher." The males b^an to sing
about the 1st of April, and by the 25th of that month the females had
deposited their eggs.

7. Sialia siallB, (L.) Haldeman. Bluebird. — Common resident
During the winter they were particularly abundant, sometimes associating
with the various small Finches and Warblers, sometimes forming small
flocks by themselves. There was no regularity in the breeding of different
pairs : two nests examined on April 22 contained respectively four fresh
eggs and a brood of young several days old.

8. Regains oalendala, (L.) Licht. Rubt-crowked Kinglet. —
Numerous during the entire extent of my stay. I first heard their song
on the 8th of March, but after that date the sweet, fervid little strain filled
the woods everywhere.

9. Regulus satrapa, Licht Golden-crested Kinglet. — Common
winter visitant. Unlike the preceding species, which was often met with
singly, this bird was invariably found associating with others of its kind,
and with Creepers, Titmice, and Nuthatches. Disappeared about the first
week in April.

10. Polloptila oanrulea, (L.) ScL Blue-gray Qnatcatcher. — Ar-
rived March 25, and soon became very common. They seemed to afiect no
particular kind of growth, but were everywhere equally abundant. They
are most earnest and persevering songsters : in their frequent practice of
singing on the wing, they fairly rival the Bobolink's ardor, and had their
melodious, " mocking little strain" (as Mr. Brewster has called it) some-
what more volume, it would certainly be an unusually fine performance.

11. Lophophanes bioolor, (L.) Bp. Tufted Titmouse. — A com-
mon resident, but of quite irregular occurrence during the winter. At
times, during that season, none were to be found for several days, after
which they would again make their appearance, generally in company
with the social Chickadees, Nuthatches, etc. About February 20 they
became less numerous, and were soon met with only in pairs. I did not
succeed in finding a nest.

12. Parus oarolinenaia, Aud. Carolina Titmouse. — Not a very
common resident. Instead of the tame, unsuspicious bird I had been led
to expect, they generally proved very shy indeed. More than once they
completely baffled all my attempts at capture. The notes of this species
have generally been described as less powerful than those of its Northern
prototype. According to my experience, this is true only to a certain
extent ; certainly not so of the familiar chick-a^dee-d^Cy which was in-
variably uttered by the Southern bird as loudly and emphatically as I
have ever heard it at the North. I failed to find a nest, although the birds
appeared to be engaged in building about the second week in April.

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Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama, 171

13. Sitta carolinensis, (Gm.) Lath. White-bellied Nuthatch.
— Bather uncommon during the winter, and occasionally seen or heard
up to the time of my departure. They exhibited a preference for the pine
woods. The peculiar song of the male I first heard about the middle of

14. Sitta puailla, Lath. Brown-headed Nuthatch. — An abun-
dant resident. In the winter, when they were particularly numerous, they
associated in bands of from six to twenty individuals, and were found
everywhere, — in the tops of the tallest forest trees and amongst the
scattered pine saplings which have sprung up in once cultivated fields.
They were always full of life and activity, not only destroying their in-
sect prey with great industry, but frequently chasing each other about in
pure excess of vitality. I do not think I ever saw one employed in silence
for a minute at a time. While busily in search of food they have a sub-
dued, conversational chatter which almost exactly resembles the notes
usually uttered by the Goldfinch when similarly employed. Bather curi-
ously, the two species have another call in common : the most frequent
cry of the Nuthatch is remarkably like the Goldfinch's meditative b^yr-
bekf — indeed, I have sometimes mistaken one for the other. Both sexes
of the present bird have several other call-notes, all of which are char-
acterized by a certain reedy harshness rendering them quite unlike the
usual utterances of the two Northern species of the genus.

About the beginning of March the birds began to separate into pairs, and
by the middle of that month had generally selected their nesting sites and
commenced the work of excavating. Botten pine stubs afforded the favor-
ite situations, and nine tenths of the nests I found were within six feet
of the ground. I opened nests at intervals up to the time of my depart-
ure, and found them occupied by one, sometimes by both of the owners,
but met with no eggs until April 22 ; these (four in number) were placed
in a natural cavity in a telegraph-pole. Another nest examined on the
same day was not quite ready for the eggs.

15. Certhia familiaris, L. Brown Creeper. — Bather common dur-
ing the winter, associating with other small birds of similar habits. They
were most numerous about the third week in March, and at this time
sometimes went in fiocks by themselves, occasionally as many as a dozen
together. On the advent of warm weather, in April, they gradually dis-

16. Thryothoms Indovioiamifl, (Lath.) Bp. Great Carolina
Wren. — Common resident, inhabiting only the tangled growth of swamps
and water-courses. Generally found in small fiocks during the winter.
They were mated by the last of February, but, apparently, were not
engaged in nest-building until at least a month later. The males sang
through the winter, but not so frequently as after mating.

17. Thryothoms bewicki, (Aud.) Bp. Bewick's Wren. — Only
two specimens taken : one by myself, February 7, amongst the d^ris of

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172 Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama.

fallen trees, in a partially cleared field ; one by Mr. J. H. Bond, February
16, by tbe roadside, in piny woods ; both silent, and much less active than
the preceding species.

18. Anorthura troglodytes var. hyemalis, (Vieill.) Coues. Winter
Wren. — Not very common winter visitant, and almost invariably seen
in company i/idth the Carolina Wrens. It was the first of the winter birds
to disappear. None were met with after about February 20.

19. Ciitothonis stellaris, (Licht) Cab. Short-billed Marsh
Wren. — I captured a single pair in an old rice-field, March 21.

20. AnthuB ladoTioianuB, (Qm.) Licht Titlark. — Common dur-
ing the winter. Stragglers remained till the last of March.

21. Mniotilta varia, (L.) VieiU. Black-and-white Creeper. —
First seen on March 13 ; soon became common and generally distributed.
The males sang from the time of their arrival.

22. Parula amerloana, (L.) Bp. Blue Yellow-backed Warbler. —
— Half a dozen shy individuals met with, the first on March 25.

23. Protonotarla oitrea, (Bodd.) Bd. Prothonotart Warbler. —
Arrived April 12, in full song. After April 20, specimens were seen
almost every day, but they never became common. Their haunts were
exclusively swamps and the dense hard- wood growths of the water-courses.
I found them always active, restless, and noisy. The song is stridulous
and piercing, and suggests that of the Black-and-white Creeper, but is
more detached and much more strongly accented ; it is indicated very
well by the syllables, eh-vriasf, eh-wia'f ek-vng^^ eh-wiss^f eh-wM, eh-vnsi'^
thrwiM^. A female dissected Apnl 23 contained eggs almost ready for
deposition ; no nests, however, were found.

24. Holmithema awainsoni, (And.) Bp. Swainson's Warbler. —
On April 12, while forcing my way through the dark, rank forest which
lies about the source of Coosada Creek, I caught the final notes of an un-
known song uttered close at hand. Instantly seating myself on a fallea
tree, I awaited its repetition. The woods immediately about me were
quite dry and comparatively deserted by birds, but along the neighboring
creek many Vireos, Thrushes, and Swamp- Warblers were producing such
a babel of sounds that I feared the voice of my unknown songster might
escape me. After the lapse of a few minutes, however, a bird emerged
from a thicket within a few yards of me, where he had been industriously
scratching amongst the fallen leaves, fiew into a small sapling, and gave
utterance to a loud, ringing, and very beautiful song. Seen in the dim
light of the woods, he bore a decided resemblance to the Louisiana Water
Thrush, and his song might almost have passed for an exceptional per-
formance by that bird ; but I at once suspected his true identity, and in
a few seconds held in my hand the lifeless body of a male Swainson's

During the succeeding nine days I repeatedly and most carefully
searched this tract of woods and other localities apparently equally favor-

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Bbown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama, 173

able, without detecting additional specimens. Finally, April 22, while ex-
ploring a slough near the union of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, I
met with two more males. Piloted by their song, I readily approached
them, but, unfortunately, lost one, badly wounded, in the impenetrable

I was impressed by the absorbed manner in which this bird sings. Sit-
ting quietly upon a limb of some small tree, he suddenly throws back his
head and pours forth his notes with the utmost fervor and abandon. Dur-
ing his intervals of silence he remains motionless, with plumage ruffled,
as if completely lost in musical reverie.

25. Helminthophaga oelata, (Say) Bd. Oraj^ge-crowned Warbler.

— Only two specimens noted. My attention was attracted to the first
in a cluster of small oak-trees by the roadside, by his loud call-note,
which, to my ear, was indistinguishable from that of the Cardinal Red-
bird. This was on February 12. The second specimen I startled from a
swampy thicket, April 15.

26. DendroBoa aMtiva, (Gm.) Bd. Yellow Warbler. — Arrived
April 26, in song. But few seen.

27. DendrcBoa oannlesoena, (L.) Bd. Black-throated Blub War-
bler. — A single male found singing in thick, swampy woods, April 26.

28. Dendroaoa ooronata, (L.) Gr. Yj^low-rumped Warbler.

— Very numerous up to about the middle of April Stragglers were
occasionally seen towards the end of the month. The males began to sing
on April 12.

29. DendroBoa diaoolori (Yieill.) Bd. Prairie Warbler. — Rather
common after March 27, frequenting the edges of swampy woods. The
ovary of a female dissected about the middle of April was but slightly
developed, and I observed no signs of nest-building during my stay.

30. DendrcBoa dominioa, (L.) Bd. Ybllow-throateo Warbler.

— A single male observed March 13 ; no more seen until after March 22,
after which they were not uncommon up to April 4. At this date all dis-
appeared, and for nearly three weeks none were to be found. During the
week before my departure I met with two or three solitary males. I saw
no females. Although generally frequenting the dry pine woods, this bird
occasionally visits swampy growths of deciduous trees.

31. DendroBoa palmanun, (Gm.) Bd. Yellow Red-poll Warbler.

— Of irregular occurrence during the entire extent of my stay. Speci-
mens taken in the winter and early spring represent the newly separated
form kypockrysea; those taken later, the variety paJmarum. On April 13
the males began their simple song, and thereafter both sexes were more
uniformly and abundantly distributed.

32. Dendraoa pinna, (Wils.) Bd. Pine-creeping Warbler.— A
very abundant resident. For the first three or four weeks of my stay I
found them exclusively in the fields, forming large flocks with Bluebirds
and several kinds of Sparrows ; and it was not until the latter part of

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174 Brown on Birds observed at Coosada, Alabama.

February that they frequented the woods commonly. The females de-
posited their eggs about the last of March, judging from the appearance
of specimens dissected at that time. Young were flying generally by
April 27.

Throughout the six weeks of winter which I spent at Coosada the Pine
Warblers were uninterruptedly tuneful. No other winter birds sang so
continuously ; even the Carolina Wrens and Tufted Titmice were often
chilled into silence on raw, sunless days in February ; but, however cold
(and midwinter in Alabama is much less tropical than is popularly sup-

Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 45 of 50)