P. A. (Percy Algernon) Taverner.

Birds of eastern Canada online

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Birds of Eastern Canada



P. A. Taverner



No. 1563






Introduction 1

Acknowledgments 4

Classification 5

Geographical distribution

Migration 10

Protection 11

Means of attracting birds 12

Ornithological literature 13

Key to the birds of eastern Canada . 16

Explanation 16

Key 18

Systematic index 29

Descriptive ornithology (See Index) 41

Index... 285


PIATK I. A. Pied-billed Grebe 236

B. Common Loon 236

II. A. Herring Gull 23

B. Common Tern ' 238

III. A. Red-breasted Merganser 237

B. Mallard Duck 237

IV. A. Black Duck 238

B. Blue-winged Teal 238

V. A. Wood Duck '. 239

B. Canada Goose 239

VI. A. American Bittern 240

B. Great Blue Heron 240

VII. A. Sora Rail 241

B. American Woodcock 241

VIII. A. Wilson's Snipe 242

B. Spotted Sandpiper 242

IX. A. Killdeer 243

B. Bob-white 243

X. A. Spruce Grouse 244

B. Ruffed Grouse 244

XI. A. Mourning Dove and Passenger Pigeon 245

B . Marsh Hawk 245

XII. A. Sharp-shinned Hawk 246

B. American Goshawk 246

Xin. A. Red-tailed Hawk 247

B. Red-shouldered Hawk 247

XIV. A. Duck Hawk 248

B. American Sparrow Hawk 248

XV. A. Osprey 249

B. Barred Owl 249

XVI. A. Screech Owl 250

B. Great Horned Owl 250

XVII. A. Black-billed Cuckoo; Yellow-billed Cuckoo 251

B. Belted Kingfisher 251

XVIII. A. Downy Woodpecker 252

B. Arctic Three-toed Woodpecker 252

28587 1J


Birds of Eastern Canada.



Of late years there has been a great awakening of interest in the subject
of natural history. More and more people are beginning to realize the
pleasure and profit that can be derived from observation of common natural
objects. In this growing field of nature study, few subjects have attracted
so much popular attention as birds and few forms of life appeal so strongly
to the sesthetic sense. They are beautiful; they arouse curiosity; their
elusiveness piques the imagination; and by presenting constantly new
aspects they never become commonplace.

The ornithological side is one from which the problems of nature can
be successfully attacked from so many standpoints and in so many ways
that there is interesting and valuable work for all to accomplish according
to individual taste or opportunity. Those who incline towards systematic
work can split their definitions as finely as human powers of observation
permit. The animal psychologist can develop his problems as far as
ingenuity can devise methods for experimentation. The ordinary nature
lover can observe and note as painstakingly as opportunity permits; he
can record information of scientific as well as popular interest, take pleasure
in observing passing beauties, train his powers of observation, and acquire
a knowledge that greatly increases his capacity for appreciation of nature.
Even the unsentimental, practical man, who has little outward sympathy
with abstract beauty, has his attention attracted by the evident economic
value of birds.

The "Birds of Eastern Canada" has been written to awaken and,
where it already exists, to stimulate an interest, both sesthetic and practical,
in the study of Canadian birds and to suggest the sentimental, scientific,
and economic value of that study; to assist in the identification of native
species; and to furnish the economist with a ready means of determining
bird friend from bird foe that he may act intelligently towards them and
in the best interest of himself and the country at large; to present in a
readily accessible form reliable data upon which measures of protective
legislation may be based; to point out some of the pitfalls that have caught
the inexperienced in the past; and to suggest methods for their future


This work covers all the birds that the ordinary observer is likely to
meet with between the Atlantic coast and the prairies north of the Inter-
national Boundary. This region forms a natural zoological area (See
Distribution, page 8), including what may be called the eastern woodlands
of Canada, a fairly homogeneous section, physically, geographically, and
zoologically. The prairies are radically different in character and, con-
sequently, exhibit an entirely different aspect of bird life. The birds of

the open are naturally different from those of the woodlands; hence
Manitoba has been taken as the western boundary of the zoological area
dealt with in this book.

Although not a scientifically complete check-list of the birds of eastern
Canada, this book is nearly so. A few species whose Canadian status is
doubtful, and some of extreme rarity or of accidental occurrence, have
been disregarded. The utmost freedom has been used in this respect and
species have been admitted freely upon the basis of expediency; some as
being of probable occurrence and to be looked for, others as illustrating
some point of general interest more plainly than regular native species,
and some because in the past they have been confused with commoner


The systematic arrangement (See Classification, page 5, and Nomen-
clature, page 7) used is that of the Check-list of the American Ornitholo-
gists' Union, third edition, 1910, with supplements of 1912 and 1920.
Though this arrangement is acknowledged to be somewhat imperfect
and its details tentative, it is that upon which most of the recent American
bird literature is founded and is the one in common use in North America.

In the treatment of subspecies a departure has been made from cur-
rent practice, that the writer believes to represent more accurately the
facts of nature and modern concepts. Species have been treated as
aggregations of subspecies, each of equal rank and importance, and
not, as is customary, as species with subordinate subspecies dependent
upon them. The species is first given as a whole, including its sub-
specific races, and under a subhead mention is made of the special
subspecies that occur within the geographical scope of the work. This has
caused no confusion or change except in the use of vernacular names in
which the reader will find a few departures from those given and authorized
by the American Ornithologists' Union. In the scientific nomenclature
the true relative importance of species and subspecies has been expressed;
but heretofore the common names have not always reflected this conception
of subordination and this fact in many cases has caused the use of definite
subspecific terms when it was by the very nature of the case impossible to
determine their correctness or when it was inadvisable to recognize them.
Thus there has been a tendency to attach unwarranted importance to
these minor distinctions in popular as well as scientific estimation. In the
correction of this condition certain adaptations of common names have
been necessary, but as little change as possible from accepted practice
has been made. Older terms have been revived wherever possible, but as
current names have also been given no confusion should result. It has, in
some cases, been necessary to apply the recognized type subspecific name
to the whole species and to adopt a new one for the form so robbed. In
doing this it was advisable that as little change should be made in current
usage as was consistent with the end in view. Therefore, except where good
reasons prevented, the new subspecific name was formed by prefixing
an adjective to the specific term hitherto applied. Each departure from
accepted practice has been decided upon its own merits. Though there
can be little doubt as to the advisability of the principle of the reform, the
manner of carrying it out has been the subject of much thought, con-
siderable consultation with others, and some hesitation in individual cases.


The Horned Lark is one example of this problem. The type subspecies
Otocoris alpestris alpestris has generally been known as the Horned Lark
regardless of the fact that any one of the fourteen or more other geogra-
phical races has an equal claim to the name and that it is the only name for
for the species as a whole. The obvious course is to call the typical subspecies
Otocoris alpestris alpestris (which although being described first has not
any taxonomic superiority to other forms), Eastern Horned Lark and to
apply the name Horned Lark to the whole collection of co-ordinate sub-
species, making it synonymous with the scientific binomial Otocoris

The Migrant Shrike offered other difficulties. The logical proceeding
would be to call the whole species Louisiana Shrike, from its scientific name
ludovicianus. This would, however, introduce an unfamiliar name recog-
nizable by only a few. The species has, therefore, been called here the
Loggerhead Shrike, and the form of eastern Canada, the Migrant Logger-
head, on the assumption that the form hitherto designated Loggerhead can
be called, logically, Southern Loggerhead.

It would be too much to expect that the result attained will satisfy
everyone; the writer hopes, however, that it will be accepted until the
American Ornithologists' Union committee takes the matter up and makes
authoritative decisions.

In the following pa^es the number and vernacular name, with as
little modification as possible, have been taken from the American Ornith-
ologists' Union Check-list and appear first as a specific heading in heavy
type. Following, in smaller type, are the more common local names by
which the species has been or is known in various localities. The French
equivalent is then given, preceded by the contraction, "Fr.". These
formal French names have been adapted from Dionne's "Les Oiseaux de
la Province de Quebec" and are followed when possible by vernacular
terms in current use in French-speaking sections. Many of them were
furnished by Dr. C. W. Townsend who has had considerable ornithological
experience in the eastern provinces. Where French terms are missing,
there is as far as the writer is aware no accepted French name.

The latin specific name follows in italics and is always binomial.

Preceded by the initial "L" the length of the species is next given in
inches and decimals of an inch. The length of a bird is determined by
measuring it, in the flesh, in a straight line from the tip of thj bill to the
end of the longest tail feather, the bird being stretched only enough to
straighten the neck curves. The measurements given are those of the
average adult male and indicate the comparative size of the species under
consideration. They are not for specific identification, as in most species
there is more or less individual and sexual variation.

Only an outline description of species is given and where there are
illustrations, the description is omitted and the reader is referred to the

Under "Distinctions," an attempt is made to bring out the salient
points by which the species, when in hand, may be separated from other
similar forms, and the work of other authorities has been freely drawn upon
to supplement the writer's observations. Many of the distinctive points
are naturally only superficial, but all are, as far as possible, reliable.

Under the heading "Field Marks," the features by which the species
may be recognized in life are mentioned. In these the writer has been
guided largely by his own experience and has stated the points that seem
to him most characteristic. In species with which he has had little experi-
ence in life he has relied upon other writers.

Under "Discussion," as many facts of general interest relating to the
species have been included as the importance of the species warrants.
Scattered among the various species, where applicable under this head,
numerous matters are discussed and general laws governing zoological life
are stated. Many of 'these apply to a number of species and some might
well be repeated under each specific heading were it not for the constant
repetition that it would necessitate. An attempt has been made to
encourage a wholesome protective attitude from an aesthetic viewpoint.

"Nesting" is merely a brief description of the nest and its situation.
Much of this is drawn from other authors, especially from the invaluable
"Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America."

Under "Economic Status" is given a summary of present knowledge
of the species in their relation to man. Most of this is drawn from the
admirable work done by the United States Biological Survey. Of necessity
only a brief outline of the data upon which conclusions are founded can be
given and the reader is referred to ornithological literature, on page 13,
for greater details.

Under "Distribution," it has been deemed best to give the distri-
bution in such general and well understood terms that all can get at least
a general conception of the ranges of the species. The result may be a
little vague owing to the lack of sharply-defined boundaries of the ranges,
but the centres of distribution are made clear. For definite ranges the
reader is referred to the "Catalogue of Canadian Birds" by John and
James M. Macoun, issued by this department in 1909.

Throughout it has been the endeavour to avoid the use of technical
terms, substituting familiar words wherever possible. Some technical
terms, however, have no general vernacular equivalent and a glossary of
these is given on page 232.


The writer wishes to acknowledge valuable assistance received in the
course of his work from the following sources:

Mr. Frank M. Chapman, whose "Handbook" has been invaluable in
filling in gaps in the writer's personal experience; in suggesting ideas of
construction, and plan and methods of execution.

The United States Biological Survey for data on the economic relations
of birds.

Mr. J. H. Fleming, of Toronto, and Mr. W. E. Saunders, of London,
who have been untiring in giving advice and assistance from the time of
the inception of this work until its completion.

Frank C. Hennessey, of Ottawa, and Claude E. Johnson, of this depart-
ment, who are responsible for the illustrations; the former for the coloured
pictures and the latter for the line details of the key.

The late James M. Macoun, of this department, who was a constant
source of helpful advice, and who assisted in preparing the following pages
for the printer's hands.



The first step in any science is that of classification. The present
system of generic grouping of species was first advanced by Linnaeus in
his epoch-making "Systema Naturae" and has since been followed con-
sistently by zoologists. By this, species are grouped together in genera
according to fundamental structural relationships and not accidental
resemblances. The fact that upon the discovery of the laws of evolution
these relationships were found to agree with lines of descent proved the
logic of the system and gave it an added meaning. Thus the various
specific members of a genus can be conceived as having descended from a
common specific ancestor; the genera of a family from a common generic
one, etc.

Dealing only with existing North American birds, they may be divided
into a number of Orders, which are the largest groups with which the
Canadian ornithologist has direct concern. Orders are divided into
Families, Families into Genera, and Genera into Species. These divisions
may be again subdivided into Suborders, Subfamilies, Subgenera, and
Subspecies whose positions in the scheme are evident from their titles.

Though the limitations of book construction necessitate the presenta-
tion of the classification scheme as a linear succession of forms following
one another in single file, it should be borne in mind that the system is
not linear in conception. The component species instead of following a
single line of relationship and sequence from the lowest to the highest
present many parallel or divergent lines of equal or subordinate rank.
The class A ves or Birds may be represented by a tree, the height of the
tree representing time in geological ages from the earliest at the bottom
to the present near the top. The trunk should be shown as double at the
base; one stem would be a short dead stump and would represent the
fossil, toothed birds which became extinct before present geological time;
the other, large and thrifty, would represent the modern untoothed forms.
This in turn would divide into two main branches a short way from the
base and would represent the two subclasses, the Raft-breasted and the
Keel-breasted birds. The former would be represented by much the
smaller branch, whereas the latter would divide and subdivide into
branches representing first, orders; next, families; then, genera; and
finally, species.

The value of these divisions, that is, the amount of differentiation
sufficient to raise a group of genera to a family, or a collection of families
to an order, is a matter for experienced individual decision as there is no
authoritative ruling upon the subject. However, there has gradually
grown up an approximate agreement on this subject, though the constant
tendency among specialists has been to make finer and finer distinctions
and to multiply the number of the various groups.

The smallest division generally accepted is the Species. Though
everyone has a more or less accurate conception as to what a species is,
whether it be called by that name or another, no satisfactory definition
has ever been constructed for it. It is what is commonly known as a
"kind of an animal." Thus the horse is a different "kind" or species
from a donkey, a bluebird from a robin. They are sharply marked off from


each other, regularly breeding together within the species only and pro-
ducing like species as offspring. Distinct species do not commonly inter-
breed, but, when they do so, they form crosses or hybrids that are usually
sterile. Up to comparatively recent years no smaller division was recog-
nized, but with intensive study of material it has become evident to
advanced students that within the species there is considerable individual
and geographical variation.

Individual variation is the natural difference that may occur at any
time between members of common parentage such as amongst full brothers
and sisters. Just as like begets like, so within certain limits like begets
unlike, for no two creatures are ever exact duplicates. This individual
variation, usually small and irregular in appearance and direction, but
sometimes persisting progressively generation after generation in one direc-
tion, forms the successive steps by which present day evolutionists explain
the origin of new species. Individual variation, however, is disregarded in
classification unless it has proceeded far enough to produce marked
and constant differentiation over a definable natural group of a species.

Geographical variation can be regarded as the result of a common
tendency to individual variation acting over a whole community of indi-
viduals tending towards a common goal and is held to be induced and
directed by local climatic and other conditions. Thus we often find that
within a widespread species all individuals inhabiting certain localities
have characteristics that separate them from those of the surrounding areas.
Individuals in a dry desert country are apt to be smaller and lighter in
coloration, whereas those in a warm, moist country are usually larger and
darker. These differences are sometimes marked and obvious; at other
times they are so slight as to be noticeable only by comparing large
numbers of specimens and can be detected only by averages. Thus there
is every degree of differentiation, due to geographical habitat, from pro-
nounced departures from type, of almost specific value, to the finest shades
of differentiation that skilled specialists can distinguish and which are
inappreciable to the ordinary eye. The outstanding fac', however, that
prevents the most marked geographical variation from full specific standing
is that these minor forms intergrade and in intermediate localities every
shade of differentiation between the extremes can be found. Between
species this gradual merging of character is not supposed to occur, and
however fine the distinctions may be, the divisions should be sharp and
defined. We, therefore, recognize these intergrading variations due to or
based upon geographical distribution as Geographical Races, Varieties, or
Subspecies, the last term being now the most usual, and we regard them
as species in the making before the connecting stages binding them to the
original stock have disappeared, owing to the increasing sterility between
the extreme variants. Except in such rare cases of physical isolation,
as where an oceanic island habitat precludes continuous distribution,
we take, in practice, the existence of intergrades as the evidence of sub-
specific status. Besides these divisions of taxonomic value there are a
few other variants that, owing to their erratic occurrence, cannot be
recognized in our classification. These are "Albinos," "Melanos," and
"Dichromatic Forms."

Every North American bird has a common or vernacular name author-
ized by usage and recognized by the leading ornithologists and there is
seldom necessity for using the scientific nomenclature. However, it is well
for all who are interested in birds to familiarize themselves with as many of
the scientific names as possible, as they are not only necessary in more
advanced work, but they are of practical use in grasping the general
relationships between various species.

The present binomial system of nomenclature was introduced by
Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist, and embodied in his "Systema
Naturae," tenth edition, 1758, which is the authority accepted by
American ornithologists. In this system each species is given a double
name, the first term being that of the genus to which it belongs, the
second that of the species. Generic names are not duplicated within
the sphere of zoology nor are specific names within the genus. Thus,
the American Robin is Planesticus migratorius; that is, that species of
the genus Planesticus which is named migratorius. Other species of
Planesticus have other specific names.

The three objects of scientific nomenclature are exactitude, univer-
sality, and permanence. To this end the naming of zoological material
is subject to strict laws whose principles are universally accepted and
applied according to strict codes. Under these laws the scientific name of
a species is not a matter of personal preference, but is fixed, so that few or
none can dispute it, and no changes can be made in scientific nomenclature
except such as are necessary to correct current mistakes in the application
of the laws of the code. With increased knowledge it has become neces-
sary to depart slightly in letter, though not in spirit, from the strict
binomial system of Linnaeus, and by adding a third term as name of the
subspecies to make it a trinomial one. Wherever a three-term name
is used, it is that of a subspecies of the original binomial form. The first
specimen described, or the first specimen to which a name has been
attached, is regarded as the so-called "Type" form. Therefore, in dividing
a species into subspecies the form which was first named as a species
is naturally given precedence and its subspecific name is formed by a
repetition of its specific name. Thus the American Robin that was
first described and specifically named by Linnaeus in 1766 as migratorius
when mentioned subspecifically in distinction from the Southern Robin or
the Western one becomes Planesticus migratorius migratorius. The Western
Robin, first separated from it by Ridgway in 1877, was named by him as
Planesticus migratorius propinquus, and the Southern Robin by Batchelder
in 1900, is Planesticus migratorius achrusterus. In practice, where the
generic or specific names are evident from the context, it is customary
to indicate them by initial, as P. migratorius, or P. m. migratorius.

Subspecific varieties are divisions of the species and, except in special
lines of work, or where special exactitude is necessary, are of minor import-
ance. As these subspecies are also often based upon points of difference

Online LibraryP. A. (Percy Algernon) TavernerBirds of eastern Canada → online text (page 1 of 32)