Nuttall Ornithological Club.

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

. (page 8 of 50)
Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 8 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

^own in local parlance as the ^arm pf the lake.' This fine ex»

Digitized by VjOOQIC


panse, irregularly oblong in shape, resembles, as do most of the
Maine lakes, a gigantic amphitheatre walled in on every side by
distant mountains, which slope gradually from their base to the
water's edge, while the unbroken forest which everywhere clothes
the surface of the country extends down to the very shore, look-
ing in the distance like a carpet of variegated green, the lighter
colors of the foliage of the hard-wood trees contrasting beautifully
with the sombre darkness of the spruce and fir. Not a single clear-
ing or other sign of man's interference occurs in any direction to
mar the perfect setting of this forest gem. Even the little steamer,
just disappearing behind a distant point, looks as if bom to the
surroundings, and it requires no great stretch of the imagination to
fancy her a gigantic water-fowl ready to dive beneath the surface,
like the loon that has just risen in her wake. But these and simi-
lar reflections were somewhat abruptly broken by the guide, who,
having completed the arrangement of the luggage in the boat, com-
menced paddling vigorously towards the western shore, where was
to be the scene of our labors.

'' At this place the Androscoggin River leaves the lake, and its
banks being somewhat low at the point of dihauchyrtf the level
country adjacent for a half-mile or more back is periodically over-
flowed. The water, kept at a high point by dams on the river
below, flows back into the forest, and the trees, killed in former
years by similar inundations, stand in grim array like an army of
stricken giants. That such a perfect paradise for the Woodpeckers
had not been neglected was speedily manifest as we entered this
place, where several species of varying sise, from the great HyloUh
mus piUatus down to the trim little Downy, were soon observed.
Most abundant of all, however, was the handsome Sphprapiau variu$^
several individiuds being almost constantly in sight Commencing
our search for nests, we soon found ourselves confused by the very
abundance of opportunities, for not only was every tree dead and
rotten, but nearly every one was perforated by a greater or less
number of Woodpecker's holes. The method quickly adopted as
the only practicable one was to paddle about among the trees, and,
striking forcibly with an axe all that contained likely looking holeSy
watch for the appearance of the possible occupant. Proceeding in
this way, multitudes of Swallows (Tachydneta bioolor) and Grakles
(QuuecUtu purpureus) were dislodged, the former occupying deserted
nests of the smaller Woodpeckers, and the latter natural cayities

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and deserted holes of the Golden-winged (Colaptes aurcUus) and
Pileated (ffylatomtu pileatui) Woodpeckers. At length, in response
to a couple of sharp blows, the beautiful crimson-fronted head of a
male Sphyrapicw appeared in the mouth of its hole, and the bird,
after eying us curiously for a moment, launched out into the air
and alighted on a neighboring tree. A few moments' consultation
decided that the tree must be felled, as the hole was at least forty
feet up, and the trunk so rotten that it was manifestly impossible
to ascend with safety. All the Maine guides are adepts with the
axe, and on this occasion but a short time elapsed before the already
tottering trunk began to show signs of giving way. Both birds
(for the female had appeared at the first alarm) repeatedly entered
the hole, and dung against the now quivering trunk, uttering their
peculiar snarling cry. A few more vigorous blows and the huge
tree began to decline, then, gathering momentum, descended with
fearfid force, burying its full length for a moment beneath the sur-
face and half filling the boat with water. So nicely had its fall
been calculated that it came down in clear water exactly between
two other trunks which stood within six feet of each other, and
without touching either. To cut out the hole was now a matter
of little difficulty, and to our delight we foimd the three eggs which
it contained entirely imiiyured. Subsequent experiments of a sim-
ilar nature were, however, less successful.

'' Continuing our search, we soon discovered another nest in a tall
dead birch, the hole from which the bird emerged being at least
fifty feet above the water. This tree was, after careful inspection,
pronounced climbable, and the guide, with characteristic coolness,
filling and lighting his short pipe, commenced to 'swarm' up,
puffing out dense clouds of smoke as he ascended. Reaching the
hole, he quickly and adroitly attached a rope to the trunk, and,
tying a loop in the end to form a stirrup, stood in this and cut out
the cavity with his axe. This nest contained six perfectly fresh
eggs, all of which were brought down in safety. Proceeding in this
way, five more nests were discovered, but only two sets of eggs
secured, as three of the trees had to be felled, and in each instance
with disastrous results."

All nests examined upon this occasion were of uniform gourd-like
shape, with the sides very smoothly and evenly chfselled. They
averaged about fourteen inches in depth by ^\q in. diameter at the
widest pointy while the diameter of the exterior hole varied from

Digitized by VjOOQIC


1.25 to 1.60 inohes. So Bmall, indeed, wa6 this entr&nee in ^topor-
tion to the size of the bird, that in many cases they were oblige^
to struggle violently for several seconds in either going out or in.
The nests in most instances were very easily discovered, as the bird
waa almost always in the immediate vicinity, and if the tree was
approached would fly to the hole and utter a few low calls, which
would bring out its sitting mate, when both would pass to and from
the spot, emitting notes of anxiety and alarm. The bird not em-
ployed in incubation has also a peculiar habit of clinging to the
trunk just below the hole, in a perfectly motionless and strikingly
pensive attitude, apparently looking in, though from the conforma-
tion of the interior it would be impossible for it to see its mate or
eggs. In this position it will remain without moving for many
minutes at a time. The amount of solicitude evinced varies con-
siderably with different individuals, some pairs showing the most
active concern, and keeping up their cries continually, while others
take matters more coolly, removing to the nearest tree and watch-
ing in total silence the demolition of their home. In nearly every
instance, however, when the sitting bird is first disturbed, it utters
a cry which almost immediately brings up its mate. Watching
once a nest for an hour or two, I remarked that the birds relieved
each other in the labors of incubation at intervals averaging about
half an hour each. The one that had been absent would alight just
below the hole, and, uttering a low yenhicky yeuhick, its mate would
appear from within, when, after the interchange of a few notes of
endearment, the sitting bird would fly off and the other instantly
enter the hole.

One very singular fact which I have noticed is that in nearly
every tree are several newly finished cavities. In one case four
were cut open which had evidently been freshly made, all of which
were as neatly and completely excavated as the one that contained
the eggs. In addition to these there are often numerous others,
which by the dark color of the wood within are shown to have
been made in previous years. In one tree no less than fifteen
holes were counted, all of which were dug ^own to the usual
depth. Yet in no case have I found more than one inhabited, or
noticed in the vicinity any birds other than the pair to which the
^gb belonged. These holes for the most part enter the tree on
the same side, one above the other, but in some cases the whole
^runk is perforated on all sides and at irregulfur intervals. Possibly

Digitized by VjOOQIC


they are intended to accommodate the young after they have left
the nest. As an example of exceptional choice of situation, one
nest was found in a perfectly live poplar-tree of large size. The
birds had pierced a somewhat irregular hole in the trunk, where a
limb had rotted out, and, following the partially decayed wood into
the very heart of the tree, had excavated a cavity to the depth of
about twelve inches, which, when finished, was surrounded on all
sides by healthy wood of at least six inches average thickness.
The entrance to this nest was unusuaDy low, being not over eight
feet above the water. The average elevation I have found to be
at least forty feet, and many nests occur considerably higher. The
four sets of eggs taken on the occasion previously referred to are
all apparently complete, and vary in number of eggs from five to
seven, the set of five being the furthest advanced ip incubation.
Six are probably laid as a rule. The eggs vary considerably in
shape, some bemg oblong and others decidedly elliptical. They
average .85 in length by .60 in breadth. As with all the Wood-
peckers, they are pure white, but there is much less of that fine
polish than in eggs of the other species that I have examined.

When fresh, and before being blown, they resemble very closely,
both in color and size, average eggs of the Martin {Progne pur-
purea). After the young have hatched, the habits of the Yellow-
bellied Woodpecker change. . From an humble delver after worms
and larvae, it rises to the proud independence of a Flycatcher,
taking its prey on wing as unerringly as the best marksman of
them all. From its perch on the spire of some tall stub it makes
a succession of rapid sorties after its abundant victims, and then
flies off to its nest with bill and mouth crammed full of insects,
principally large Diptera, In this way both parents labor inces-
santly to provide for their hungry brood. The young leave the
nest in July, and for a long time the brood remains together, being
still fed by the parents. They are very playful, sporting about the
tree-trunks and chasing one another continually. Both young and
old utter most frequently a low snarling cry that bears no very
distant resemblance to the mew of the Catbird. The adults have
also two other notes, — one, already spoken of, when the opposite
sexes meet ; the other a clear, ringing cleur, repeated five or six
times in succession, and heard, I think, only in the spring. The
habit alluded to in Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway's ** Birds of
North America*' (Vol. II, p. 541), of "drumming" on the tree-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


trunks, is a very noticeable one, but by no means confined to this
species. A very dry, resonant limb is usually selected, and the
bird will ''drum'' in the same spot many times in succession.
Frequently a rival appears, and a battle ends the performance, but
oftener the female answers the call and joins her anxious mate.
This habit appears to be perfectly analogous in motive to the well-
known performance of the Ruffed Grouse, and is performed only in
the spring before the eggs are laid. Both young and old leave for
the South in October.

Ornithology op the Wheeler Expeditions. — This important Me-
moir,* consisting of three hundred and seventy-four quarto pages and
fifteen chromo-lithographic plates, forms Chapter III of Volume V of the
Reports of Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, and is devoted
exclusively to a systematic consideration of the ornithological material
collected by the expeditions during the seasons of 1871 to 1874 inclusive,
ty Mr. H. W. Henshaw, Dr. H. C. Yarrow, Mr. C. K Aiken, and other
gentlemen connected with the survey. The region investigated includes
portions of Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado, Arizona, and New
Mexico. Much of the matter was originally published in 1874 in a pre-
liminary report of 148 pages.t The results of the field work of 1874
are, however, here presented in detail for the first time, and furnish some
of the most interesting data in the volume. The text is written by Mr.
Henshaw, and does credit to that gentleman's well-known proficiency as
an ornithologist. The classification adopted is, for the land-birds, that
of Baird, Brewer, and Ridgwa/s " Birds of North America," while for the
water-birds Mr. Henshaw follows Dr. Coues's check-list The plates,
though well drawn, are not all quite what we should like to see them in
point of coloration.

Some few new and interesting arrangements of species and varieties are
original with the author, as in the Juncos, which are divided into three

* Report upon the Ornithological Collections made daring the Years 1871,
1872, 1878, and 1874. By H. W. Henshaw. Chapter III, Vol. V, of the
Reports of the Qeographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of
the One Hundredth Meridian, in Chaige of Lt. Geo. M. Wheeler. Published by
Authority of the Secretary of War. 4to. pp. 374. Washington : Government
Printmg-Office. 1875.

t Report upon Ornithological Specimens collected in the Years 1871, 1872,
and 1878.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


species, each having a single variety in the United States. The sjnonj-
matic lists given include only such references as pertain to the region
traversed hy the survey, therehy divesting the work of any unnecessary
cumbersom^ness. The biographical notices are excellent, and bear the
impress of vigorous and original thought, founded upon careful and in-
telligent study in the field. Indeed, so thoroughly good are they that we
cannot but wish that they were in some cases more extended ; neverthe-
less, we have valuable descriptions of the notes, habits, and nesting of
many rare and hitherto little-known species ; and when it is taken into
account that in most cases the expeditions were unable to get fairly at
work before midsummer, it is remarkable that so much was accomplished.
As a contribution to ornithology this work derives its chief value from
the additions it furnishes to our knowledge of the geographical range of
North American birds, the assigned limits of many species being con-
siderably extended, and nine entirely new to our fauna added. It is to
be hoped that " retrenchment and reform *' will not in any way cripple
the continued good work that we expect from the Wheeler Survey in the
future.— W.B.

Field and Forest.* — With the number for July, this journal begins
its second volume, considerably enlarged and improved. The articles are
varied and all valuable contributions to science, and we wish " Field and
Forest" the success its merits so well deserve. The single article relating
to ornithology brings forward quite novel facts in the history of Wilson's
Phalarope, which are unique in the history of our birds, and should
engage further attention. Mr. Kumlien describes the female as being not
only " richer dressed ** than the male, but as leaving the duties of incu-
bation wholly to the male, who in the breeding season has " invariably
the naked and wrinkled belly, characteristic of incubating birds," while
the female shows nothing of the kind. He also represents the female as
making the advances to the male during the pairing-season, and says it is
not unusual to '^ see two females pursuing one male," instead of t£e re-
verse, as is usually the case with other birds. If no mistake has been
made, these facts are among the most interesting in the annals of Ameri-
can ornithology. — J. A. A.

The Portland Tern. — Mr. William Brewster has recently published
his views respecting the character of this recently described Tem.t Hav-

* Field and Forest : a Monthly Journal devoted to the Natural Sciences.
Vol. II, No. 1, July, 1876. 8vo, 20 pp. Washington, 1876, Charles R. Dodge,
Editor. Subscription price, $1.00 a year.

t Some Additional Light oa the so-called Sterna portlandieat Ridgway. By
William Brewster. Annals of the Lye. Nat Hist, N. Y., Vol. XI, pp. 200-
207. [Published February, 1876.]

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ing given the subject careful attention, he announces bis conclusion that
this interesting form is only an unusual developmental phase of the
Arctic Tern (Sterna macrura), corresponding to a similar but heretofore
little-known (in this country at least) stage of the common Tern (7*. hi-
rundo), Mr. Brewster has gone carefully into a discussion of the details
of the question, and seems to give good grounds for his position. — J. A. A.

The Birds of Ritchie County, West Virginia. — Not long since,
the same author published a list of the birds observed by him in West
Virginia,* based on the joint labors of himself, Messrs. Ruthven Deane,
and Ernest Ingersoll during the interval between April 25 and May 9,
1874. The list includes one hundred species, with valuable field-notes,
and forms an important addition to our faunal literature. — J. A. A.

Birds of New England. — This enumeration by Br. Brewer,t of
three hundred and thirty-six species, will prove useful in showing the
recent additions to the avian fauna of New England, the presume cor-
rect distribution of the species inhabiting that section, and that certain
species accredited to it have never been obtained within its limits.
Twenty-nine belonging to the latter class are expunged, the majority, we
think, with good reason ; but does not previous record show that Quuca-
lus major, Corvus oisifragtu, Mgialitis wiUonius, Sula fiher^X and Nettion
crecca § can at least be retained as birds that have occurred here ?

Though referring to and correcting many of the errors of earlier lists,
we find no credit given to some recent authorities from which it is evident
fieu^ts were gleaned. We regret to find, too, that this, our latest corrected
treatise on the subject, omits to give the " manner and character " of the
*' presence ** of several species with quite the exactness that the record

The following, for instance, classed as summer residents (it being stated
of Corvua americantis that **a few winter"), are constant residents in
Southern New England, and one or two probably also in Northern
New England, namely, Turdtu migratorius, Corvus americanus, Picus vil-
losus, Otus vnlsoniarmSf Brackyotus eassini, Nyctale acadica, Nisus Juscus,
The following, classed as summer residents (presumably of all New Eng-

* Some Observations on the Birds of Ritchie County, West Vii^ginia. By
William Brewster. Annals of the Lye. Nat. Hist., N. Y., Yol. XI, pp. 129-
146. [Published June, 1876. ]

+ Catalogue of the Birds of New England, with brief Notes indicating thrf
Manner and Character of their Presence ; with a List of Species included in
previous 'Catalogues believed to have been wrongly classed as Bii-ds of New
England. By T. M. Brewer. Proc. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist, Vol. XVII, pp.
486-454, July, 1875.

t See linsley, Amer. Joum. ScL and Arts, Vol. XLIV, 1848.

§ Bryant, Proc. Bost. Nat. Hist., Vol. V, p. 195.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


land), seldom reach Northern New England : Cistothorius stelhriB^ Vireo
gilvusj V. flavifrons, V, novehoracensiSf Spizella pusilla, Zencedura carolinensis;
nor is the latter " rare." The following are not " rare " at Saybrook, Conn.,
but breed there regularly in more or less numbers, and probably occur all
along the Soimd shore west of the mouth of the Connecticut River : Helirvi-
therus vermivorus, Helminthophaga pinus^ Icteria virensy MyiodiocUs mitra-
tuSy as do also Siurus ludoviciantLS, and MyiardhuB crinitus ; the latter being
given as a " rare summer resident ", (of New England). The next two,
HelnUnthophaga chrysoptera and Cotumiculus passerinuSf cannot be called
"rare " summer residents of Southern New England, as they breed in num-
bers r^pilarly, especially the latter. The three following are generally com-
mon, and breed regularly in Northern New England, not " rare " sunmier
residents, as marked in the list : Perisaoglossa Hgrina, Geothylpis Philadelphia,
Contopus borealis. The following should be marked, not as " summer resi-
dents " or " visitants," but rather as visitors in spring and fall : Nummius
longirogtriiy Cotumicops (Porzana) noveboracensis, and Fulica americana,
Picoides arcticus and P, americanus are not winter visitants only, to all
New England, but are residents in Northern New England, and rare win-
ter visitants to Southern New England. Regulvs satrapa winters in num-
bers in Southern ^New England, if not also in Northern New England,
where it is nearly resident. Anthm IvdovidantLs is a spring and fall visi-
tant in New England, not " winter." Junco hyemalis hardly winters in
Northern New England, where it is merely a sunmier resident. Ectopistes
migrataria is a regular summer resident of quite all New England, though
more common in some parts than others. Ortyx virginianus does not occur
in Northern New England. Astur atricapilliu is resident in Northern New
England, winter visitant in Southern New England. Micropalama himan-
tapus is migratory along the whole New England coast.

The following should as certainly have the asterisk prefixed as any
already so marked : Mimus polyglottusy Ampelis garrulus, Euspiza ameri-
cana, Xanthocephalus icterocephaliis, Centurus caroUnus, HierofcUco islandi-
CU8, Cupidania cupido, Meleagris gallopavo, Himantopus nigricollis, Ibis
ordii, Herodias egretta, Florida casnUea, Garzetta candidissima, Gallinula
gaUata, Cygnus americanus, Anser hyperboreus, Anser gambelli, CampUh
Uemus Idbradoriiis, Gelochelidon aranea.

The specimen of Tyrannus verticalis was shot neither at Plympton nor
Pembroke, Me., but at Elliot, by Mr. GJeorge E. Brown.

In the matter of Macrorhamphus scolopaceus, Mr. Brewster was wrongly
understood, as he informs us he finds it and griseus in company. Two
varieties each of Quiscaltis, Hierofalco, and Archibuteo are given as found
in New England, and also an apocryphal little bird we are surprised to
see brought to light again, namely, Myiodioctes minutus, — H. A. P.

Digitized by



The Philadelphia Vireo in New England. — The increase and de-
crease of certain species in given localities is becoming a subject of much
interest, instances of which are cited every year. A single specimen may
be captured in a locality far from the usual habitat of its species, where it
may not be seen again for years, or it may gradually increase and later be
found as a regular autumn migrant, though not detected in the spring, and
vice versa. The above-named species was first given as a New England
bird by Prof. Charles E. Hamlin, based upon a specimen which be cap-
tured at Waterville, Me., May 21, 1863. For the next nine years it escaped
the notice of our collectors, when during a collecting trip at the Umbagog
Lake, Maine, I procured a specimen on June 3, 1872, and on the follow-
ing day, in company with Mr. Wm. Brewster, obtained two more. In a
communication from Geo. A. Boardman, Esq., he states that on June 2,
1872, he obtained a female at Calais, Me., the only one, however, which
he has met with. We did not hear of the Vireo again until September,
1874, when Mr. Brewster took six specimens at Lake Umbagog. On
September 11, 1875, I procured a female at the foot of Bipogenus Lake, a
beautiful sheet of water situated about one hundred and fifty miles north-
east from the Umbagog Lake, and observed two others. There was an
immense migration of Warblers, Sparrows, and other species on that morn-
ing, and the specimen taken was in company with the Bed-eyed and Yel-
low-throated VireoB.*

All these specimens were undoubtedly on or near their breeding-grounds,
and although but few pass through the coast States, yet it is strange that
the species should have escaped the notice of the many watchful collectors
of the present day until Mr. Brewster procured a specimen in Cambridge,
Mass., on September 7, 1876 (see Bulletin No. 1, p. 19). Three specimens
were taken during the first week of June, 1876, at Lake Umbagog, in
which locality it now must be considered as a summer resident —


Geographical Variation in the Number and Size of the Egos of
Birds. — It is not surprising that the now well-known law of geographi-
cal variation in size among birds should find expression in the eggs of
birds as well as in the birds themselves. I have only recently, however,
met with satisfactory proof of the fact, for which proof I am indebted to
the kindness of Captain Charles Bendire, U. S. A. Under date of May
21 (1876), Captain Bendire wrote me as folio wa : ** The geographical vari-

Online LibraryNuttall Ornithological ClubBulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club: a quarterly jjournal of ornithology → online text (page 8 of 50)