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are easily killed at rooste, because the one being killed, the other
sit fast neverthelesse, and this is no bad commodity.*' * According
to John Josselyn, they began early to decline. This author, writ-
ing in 1672, says: *'I have also seen three score broods of young
Turkies on the side of a Marsh, sunning of themselves in a morning
betimes, but this was thirty years since, the English and the In-
dians having now destroyed the breed, so that 't is very rare to
meet with* a wild Turkic in the Woods; but some of the English
bring up great store of the wild kind, which remain about their
Houses as tame as ours in England.'' t This would seem to indi-
cate that the Wild Turkey was often doniesticated in Massachusetts,
and renders it probable that our domestic stock was by no means
wholly derived, as is commonly supposed, from Mexico. Besides
Josselyn's statement of their domestication in New England, I have
met with other statements to the same effect, and can cite numer-
ous instances of its domestication in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and
Virginia early in the seventeenth century. J

Under the name of " Pheasants," Morton and others make un-
questionable reference to the Pinnated Grouse (Cupidonta cupido),
showing that it was once a common denizen of this State. A few
pairs are still known to exist on the islands of Naushon and Mar-
tha's Vineyard, where they have of late been stringently protected
by law.

The Wild Pigeon {Ectopistes migratoria\ though by no means
yet extirpated from the State, has greatly decreased here in num-
bers during the present generation, and has not been seen within
the present century in nearly so great abundance as in earlier
times. Space will allow of reference to but few of the many ac-
counts of its former almost incredible numbers. Morton refers to
the presence of ** Millions of Turtle doves on the greene boughes ;
which sate pecking of the ripe pleasant grapes, that were supported

♦ New English Canaan, pp. 69, 70.
+ New Englands Rarities, p. 9.

t On the domesticability of the Wild Turkey of the United Stotes, see BulL
Mus. Comp. Zool., VoL II, pp. 348-852.

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by the lusty trees";* and Josselyn speaks of "the Pidgeon, of
which there are millions of millions. I have seen a flight of
Pidgeons in the spring, and at Michaelmas when they return back
Southward for four or five miles, that to my thinking had neither
beginning nor ending, length nor breadth, and so thick that I could
see no Sun, they join Nest to Nest, and Tree to Tree by their
Nests many miles together in Pine-Trees. But of late they are
much diminished, the English talking them in Nets."t Their
abundance on the Vermont border, in 1 741, is thus described by
Williams : '' The surveyor, Richard Hazeu, who ran the line which
divides Massachusetts from Vermont, in 1741, gave this account
of the appearances he met with to the westward of the Connecti-
cut River. ' For three milis together the Pigeons' nests were so
thick that five hundred might have been told on the beech trees at
one time ; and could they have been counted on the hemlocks, as
well, I doubt not but five thousand at one turn roimd/ The re-
marks of the first settlers of Vermont," continues Williams, " fully
confirm this account. The following relation was given me, by one
of the earliest settlers of Clarendon [situated about fifty miles
north of the Massachusetts line] : ' The number of Pigeons was
immense. Twenty-five nests were frequently to be found on one
beech tree. The earth was covered with these trees, and with *
hemlocks thus loaded with the nests of Pigeons. For an hundred
acres together, the ground was covered with their dung, to the
depth of two inches. Their noise in the evening was extremely
troublesome, and so great that the traveller could not get any sleep
where their nests were thick. About an hour after sunrise, they
rose in such numbers as to darken the air. When the young
Pigeons were grown to a considerable bigness, before they could
readily fly, it was common for the settlers to cut down the trees,
and gather a horse load in a few minutes.' The settlement of the
country has since set bounds to this luxuriance of animal life,"
and these birds have been driven to other districts.^ The early
history of the country shows that down to about the year 1800
this bird was found in similar abundance, at times at least, all
along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Maine, since which time
it has greatly decreased throughout this whole region.

♦ New English Canaan, p. 60. *

+ Voyages to New England, p. 99.

% Natural and Civil History of Vermont, p. 114.

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In all the early notices of the natural productions of New
England, the Crane is mentioned among the few birds usuallj
enumerated. Emmons gives the Whooping Crane (Grtu ameriea-
nus) in his list of the birds of Massachusetts, but subsequent
writers haye generally believed without due authority, and of late
it has been wholly lost sight of as a bird <^ the State. That
some species of Crane, and in all probability both species, was
common in New England in early times, is beyond question. Both
the Sandhill and the Whooping Cranes have still a wide range in
the interior, passing northward in summer far beyond New £«ng-
land. Neither species has of late been met with north of New
Jersey, where the Whooping Crane occurs only as a rare casual
visitor. Morton wrote, of " Cranes, th^ are greate store, that ever
more came there at S. Davids day, and not before ; that day they
never would misse. These doe sometimes eate our come, and do
pay for their presumption well enough ; and serveth there in pow-
ther, with turnips to supply the place of powthered beefe, and is
a goodly bird io a dish, and no discommodity.'** This shows that
the Crane, and not a Heron, is the bird to which reference is made.

The Swan ( Cygnu9 aiMricanus) is in a similar way enumerated
by different early writers as formerly a common bird of Massachu-
•setts, though of late years it appears only in our lists of casual
visitors. Morton, more explicit than most writers of his time who
refer to it, says, in beginning his account of the birds : *' And first
the Swanne, because shee is the biggest of all the fowles of that
Country. There are of them in Merrimack River, and in other
parts of the country, greate store at the seasons of the yeare. The
flesh is not much desired of by the inhabitants, but the skinnes
may be accompted a commodity, fitt for divers uses, both for
fethers, and quiles.'*t

The Great Auk {Alca impennis) has recently been added to the
list of the birds of the State, on account of the occurrence of its
bones in the Indian shell-heaps at Ipswich. There is little reason
to doubt, however, that the bird called " Pengwin," or " Penguin,"
mentioned as found from Cape Cod northward at the time Euro-
peans first visited this coast, really refers to the Great Auk. It
figures in all the early enumerations of the birds of New England

* New English Canaan, p. 69.
t lb., p. 67.

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and Newfotmdland, while it does not appear in any of the lists
referring to the region south of Massachusetts. Captain Bartholo-
mew Gosnold, in 1602, found ''Pengwins'' on the Massachusetts
coast at what he calls " Gilbert's Point," in latitude 41** W. He
says : *^ The twentieth, by the ships side we there killed Pengwins
and saw many sculls of fish."* The locality, as shown by the
context, was between the southeastern point of Cape Cod and
Nantucket Island, probably a few miles south of Egg Island. What
the bird called " Pengwin " was, that was so often referred to by
the early explorers of the New England coast, is clearly evident
from the following : Richard Whitboume, in his account of his
voyage to Newfoundland, in 1618, says, ''These Penguins are as
bigge as Geese, and flie not, for they have but little short wings,
t they multiply so infinitely, upon a certaine flat Island [Sable
Island], that men drive them firom thence upon a boord into their
Boates by hundreds at a time ; as if God had made the innocencie
of so poore a creature to become such an admirable instrument for
the sustentation of man.^t The same bird is also referred to by
Josselyn as the " Wobble." He says : " The Wobble, an ill shaped
Fowl, having no long Feathers in their Pinions, which is the reason
they cannot fly, not much unlike the Pengwin; they are in the
Spring very fat, or rather oyly, but pulFd and garbidgd, and laid
to the Fire to roast, they yield not one drop."|

This bird, so valuable as a "commodity,** and whose " innocencie **
rendered its capture so easy, doubtless did not long survive on the
coast of New England after the establishment here of permanent

Much might be added, did space allow, respecting the former
abundance of Ducks, Geese, Sandpipers, and Plovers. A few ex-
tracts on this point from Morton, in' his own quaint language, must
here suffice. " There are Geese," he says, " of three sorts vize
brant Geese, which are pide, and white Geese which are bigger, and
gray Geese which are as bigg and bigger, then the tame Geese
of England, with black legges, black bills, heads, and necks black ;
the flesh fEirre more excellent^ then the Geese of England, wilde or
tame. .... There is of them great abundance. I have had often
1000 before the mouth of my gunne .... the fethers of the

♦ Purchas's Pilgrims, Vol. IV, p. 1648.
I t IK, VoL IV, p. 1886.
X New Englands Rarities, p. 11.

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Greese that I have killed in a short time, have paid for all the
powther and shott, I have spent in a jeare, and I have fed my doggs
with as fatt Geese there, as I have ever fed upon my selfe in Eng-

'' Ducks, there are of three kinds, pide Ducks, gray Ducks, and
black Ducks in greate abundance : the most about my habitation
were black Ducks : and it was a noted Custome at my howse, to
have every mans Duck upon a trencher, and then you will thinke

a man was not hardly used Teales, there are of two sorts

greene winged, and blew winged I had plenty in the rivers

and ponds about my howse. Widggens there are, and abundance

of other water foule Sanderlings are a dainty bird, more

full bodied than a Snipe, and I was much delighted to feede on
them, because they were fatt, and easie to come by, because I went
but a stepp or to for them : and I have killed betweene foure and
five dozen at a shoot which would loade me home/'* Josselyn
says of " Sanderlins," he has known " twelve score and above kill'd
at two shots." The contrast in respect to the abundance of water-
fowl in those early times and now is too apparent to require oon^

The White Pelican (Pelecanus trachyrhynckus) is mentioned as a
former inhabitant of New Hampshire and other parts of New Eng-
land, and was doubtless in early times more or less common in
Massachusetts, where its presence is now regarded as merely acci-
dental ; but two or three recent instances of it here are on record.



The number of primaries among oscine birds, whether " nine " or
" ten," has been rightly considered an important item in classifica-
tion, ranking in value with the modifications of the tarsal envelope.
Oscine families, and even groups of families, are conveniently dis-
tinguished by this character, and as naturally as by the " booting,"
or scutellation, of the tarsus. In certain families, however, the

* New English Canaan, pp. 67 - 69.

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di^tiDction fails to hold. In the Vireonidce, for instanee, species of
the same genus have indifferently "nine" or "ten" primaries.
Thus, Vireo philadelphicus and V, gilvu9 are two species so much
alike that presence or absence of a spurious " first " primary be-
comes, the readiest means of distinguishing them. Noting this
remarkable circumstance in 1865, Professor Baird was led to look
more closely into the matter. His results are summed on page 325
qf the "Review of American Birds" (see also p. 160); from which
it appears that in those Vireos which seem to have only nine prima-
ries, two little feathers, distinct in size, shape, and to some extent in
position from the general series of primary coverts, are found at the
base of the supposed first primary ; while in those Vireos with an ob-
vious spiuious first primary, making ten in all, only one such feather
is found. " In all the families of Passeres where the existence of
nine primaries is supposed to be characteristic," he continues, " I
have invariably found, as far as my examinations have extended,
^hat there were two of the small feathers referred to, while in those
of ten primaries but one could be detected." He does not specify
how far his examinations extended.

Believing this to be an important matter, which would bear fur-
ther investigation, I have been led to look into the question, with
the most satisfactory results^ confirming Professor Baird's observa-
tions, and extending them to include every one of the North Ameri-
can families of Oscines, excepting, perhaps, Laniidas (in CoUurio) and
Ampdidce (in Ampelis), With the possible exception of the two
genera specified, I find, on examining numerous genera of all the
North American families, that those rated as 10-primaried have but
one of these little feathers, while all the rest have two.

Tl^e AlattdtdcBy like the Vtreonidce, show a variability of the
primaries. In our genus Eremophtlc^ in which only nine primaries
are developed, there are two of the small feathers above mentioned.
The overlying one is exactly like one of the primary coverts ; the
other, though not very dissimilar, more resembles an abortive
primary. In Alauda arveiMU^ where there is a minute but obvious
spurious quiU, there is but one such feather. In Galerita cristata,
with a spurious quill about two thirds of an inch long, there is like-
wise but one.

In clamatorial J^asseres, perhaps without exception, there are ten
fully developed primaries, the first of which may equal or exceed the
next ip length, Jn the single Nort;h American clamatorial family

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Tyrannidce^ I find, as before, only one of these little feathers. In
a Woodpecker, remarkable among pioarian birds in possessing only
nine fully developed primaries, the first being short or spurious,
there is also but one.

It seems to be conclusiyely proven that among the supposed
9-primaried birds, the additional primary, making ten in all, is "usu-
ally, if not always, found in the second of these little quills which
overlie the first fully developed primary ; and that it is this same
little quill which, in 10-primaried Oscines, in ClanuUores, and proba-
bly in other birds, comes to the front and constitutes the first regular
primary, — sometimes remaining very short, when it is the so-called
"spurious" quill, in other cases lengthening by imperceptible de-
grees, until it may become the longest one of all. The true nature
of the other one of these two little feathers becomes an interest-
ing question. Is it also an abortive primary, as the outer certainly
is, or is it one of a series of coverts 1

After close examination, I fail to detect any material difference in
the position of the two ; one overlies the other, indeed, as a covert
should a primary, but then the two are inserted side by side, both
upon the upper side of the sheath of the first fully developed quill.
In size and shape, the two are substantially the same ; both . being
rigid and acuminate, more like remiges than like coverts, and both
being abruptly shorter than the true primary coverts. [So far, all the
evidence favors an hypothesis that both are rudimentary remiges.
To ofiset this, color usually points the other way, as in the original
case of Vtreo flavifronSy in which Professor Baird determined the
underlying one of the two feathers to be a supposed wanting pri-
mary mainly because it was colored like the other primaries, while
the overlying one agreed with the coverts in this respect But it
will be obvious that when, as is oftenest the case, the primaries and
their coverts are colored alike, the evidence from this source fails
altogether ; and I find that the testimony from coloration is some-
times the other way. In SiUa carolinensis, for example, a 10-j»ima-
ried bird with spurious first primary, the single remaining little
feather is white at base across both webs, like the primaries, the
true primary coverts being white only on the inner web. It is true
that the overlying one of these little feathers sometimes exactly
resembles a true covert ; but so, also, does the other one in some
cases. In morphological determinations, position and relation of
parts are all-important, while mere siae, sbape, and especially fono-

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tioD, go for yeiy little. One of the two little feathers of 9-priinaried
birds, as we ha^e seen, certainly corresponds to the spurious or fully
dereloped first primary of 10-priinaried ; why may not the other be
also a primary) It is not conclusive argument to the contrary
that the feather in question is never fully developed ; nor is it an
insuperable objection that the function of the feather is certainly
that of a covert. The strongest argument against the view here
very guardedly discussed is, that if the feather be not a covert,
then the first fuUy developed primary has none, while the rest
have one apiece. While I am tax from committing myself to the
implied proposition that an oscine bird possesses eleven primaries,
I think it proper to bring the case forward as one which will bear
looking into, and which will probably remain open until the exact
relations between a remex and a ieetrix are ascertained. Should it
be determined that an Oicine may show traces of ttoo suppressed pri*
maries, instead of only the single one which certainly persists in
10-primaried birds, the ficust would tend to increase the value already
justly set upon number of remiges as a taxonomic factor. It is
generaUy admitted, and it seems to be unquestionable, that here, as
in numberless other cases, reduction in number and specialization
in function of parts indicates a higher grade of organization ; for
only the lower birds show the higher aggregate number of remiges,
and in none but the higher are the developed primaries ever reduced
to nine. A gradual reduction in the number of remiges seems to
be directly correlated with that progressive consolidation or com-
paction of the distal osseous segments of the fore limb which reaches
its dimaz in the wing of the most highly organized birds of the
present epoch.



Thb Mexicans call the Woodpeckers ^* Carpenteros," and most ap-
propriately, for the chisel-shaped bill not only serves the bird in
proouring its daily food, but is also the sole agent employed in
digging the wonderM cavities in which the eggs are laid and the
young reared. It is probable that^ putting aside the universal ene-

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my, man, the eggs and young of this family enjoy a more complete
immunity from danger than those of any other. The cunoiing orow
and noisy jay, both ever on the alert for a frolic after bird's ieggs,
are here balked ; while rain cannot enter, and the mink, weazel, and
other noxious animals find their keen noses of little avaU. Snakes
may, and doubtless do sometimes enter the holes of the lai^ger species,
but even they probably bestow more of thek* attentions on ground
and bush building birds. All the endless little artistic contrivances
for concealment so artfully employed by other birds in the construc-
tion of their nests are here needless, and consequently ignored. In
view of the manifest advantages attendant upon this mode of nidifi-
cation, it is a matter of no little surprise that Woodpeckers are not
more numerous, especially when it is taken into consideration that
the habit of roosting in holes at all seasons of the year must protect
the adults, as well as young, from many nocturnal dangers. Lack
of suitable opportunities for nesting, or obtaining food, may doubtless
be taken as explanatory of the comparative fewness of these birds in
the older settled sections. In fact, the wilderness is the true home
of the Woodpeckers, and in all primitive forest regions they abound.
There Nature reigns supreme, and in defiance of artificial laws and
cultivated ideas of sylvan beauty, allows her woods to fill with the
decaying forms of her dead subjects, — huge moss-clad trunks, pic-
turesque in shape, and by their grim, gaimt aspect adding wildness
to an already picturesque scene. In such congenial haunts these
birds find all their wants supplied, food being plenty and easily ob-
tained, and the selection of a nestii^ site a matter oi no difficul^.
Taking the seven commoner New England species, four *— J7y/otom«8
pUeattu, Sphyrapicus varius, and the two species of Picoides -*-^ will
be found almost exclusively in the forest ; while of the remaining
three, the two species of Piau are decidedly more partial to the
woods than the cultivated districts. Colaptes alone seems to have
no preferences, and is no more abundant in the Northern forests
than on treeless Nantucket, in which latter place it makes the best
of circumstances and drills its holes in gate-posts and ice-houses.

Throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and in
most sections of Northern Maine, the Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers
outnumber all the other iqpecies in the summer season. They ar-
rive from the South, where they spend the winter, from the ottddle
to the last of April, and, pairing being soon eficcted, commence at
4moe the exoavation of their nestfl» The trees usually selected are

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tirge dead birches, and a decided preference is manifested for the
vicinity of water, though some nests occur on high ground in the
inferior of the woods, but never so abundantly there as along the
margin of rivers and lakes. Both sexes work altentately, relieving
Bach other at frequent intervals, the bird not employed usually
clinging near the hole and encouraging its toiling mate by an occar
sional low cry. With the deepening of the hole arises the necessity
for increased labor, as the rapidly accumulating debris must be
removed, and the bird now appears at frequent intervals at the
entrance, and, dropping its mouthful of chips, returns to its work.
A week or more is occupied in the completion of the nest, the time
varying considerably with the relative hardness of the wood. A
small quantity of the finer chips are left at the bottom to serve as
a bed for the eggs. The birds now take a vacation, roaming through
the woods together in search of food, though frequently one or the
other remains near the nesting-place to guard the premises. The
female commences laying about the 20th of May, in ordinary sea^
sons^ and deposits from five to seven eggs. The labor of incubar
tion, like all other duties, is shared equally by the two sexes. A
Aort sketch, founded upon an extract from the writer^s journal of a
day's experience on Umbagog Lake, Ma'me, may perhaps give the
reader a better insight into the nidification of these birds than
would a more formal style of description, and it is hoped will con*
vey a sufficiently intelligible idea of the surroundings.

** Disembarking from the steamer near the head of the lake, the
dense fog, which had all the morning prevailed, began to break, riven
asunder by a slight breeze that had arisen, and drifting ofif in heavy
masses, dissolved under the influence of the sun, disappearing, no
one knows whither, as the ice had disappeared from these same
waters earlier in the spring. And' now a dozen lovely views burst
into sight. Towering mountain-summits, strips of heavily wooded
shore, long stretches of bright blue water rippling merrily under
the influence of the rising breeze, — all these appearing and disap-
pearing through rents and vistas of floating vapor, went to make up
a oenstantly shifting panorama of exceeding loveliness. But nearly
all of Nature's best efiects are transient, and, the change from
gloomy cloudiness to the bright, clear aspect 6f a June morning
being soon efifected^ we found ourselves floating near the middle of
a broad sheet of water, some four miles long by two in breadth^

Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 7 of 50)